Friday, August 21, 2009

Sermon for the 12th Sunday After Pentecost

Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

Yes… it’s one more week of the sixth chapter of John and the bread of heaven, these discourses that have interrupted the Gospel of Mark in the Lectionary for the last five weeks in which Jesus continues to try to tell his followers a vital truth about who he is and what they, as his followers, must do to have this ephemeral concept of “eternal life.” If you can remember back at the end of last month, we began with the story of the feeding of the five thousand. This miracle that so impressed the crowd that they wanted to take Jesus by force and make him their king. We began with a crowd of over five thousand, following this Jesus, not even giving him time to step away and pray or refresh himself in solitude, and today we hear that his message has become so difficult and offensive that even his disciples are turning away.

As we know, John’s Gospel is the one that is laden with deep and mystical meaning. More than in the other Gospels, language is important in John. Words do not simply mean what they mean, and simple concepts like bread and life are deep with spiritual and theological importance. This bread that Jesus talks about is bread for the body on one level, and on another it reminds John’s hearers of the manna that God provided their ancestors in the wilderness. But it is ever so much more than that, Jesus tells them. This bread is himself, his very life; and those who eat it "will live forever." But they weren’t getting it, and some two thousand years later, we are still wrestling with it!

“You are what you eat.” Or “Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are” as Anthelme Brillat-Savarin originally wrote it in Meditations of Transcendent Gastronomy. He might have been saying tell me what it is that you take into yourself, what it is that you surround yourself with, what is it you immerse yourself in, what it is it you identify yourself most intimately with and I will know who you are.

Jesus says to his followers, “I am willing to be given to you, to be completely sacrificed for you in love, because I know who I am and that this self-giving is part of my very essence. And those who allow me to feed them, to take me into them completely will have the life that is true, that is real, that does not end. And…they will become more and more like me, more identified with me.”

“This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?” Indeed. This is not the first time the disciples have struggled to understand Jesus. Nor of course will it be the last. The scholars wrangle over whether or not it is the language of the eating of flesh and drinking of blood that offended Jesus’ Jewish hearers, or if it was simply the response to the rest of the message that they were reacting to. Becoming like Jesus. This Jesus who ate with outcasts, insisted on justice and compassion….upset the status quo. Whatever the reason, John tells us, many of his disciples fell away at that point. Apparently it was just getting too hard to follow this strange rabbi. He was asking too much. And in a kind of heart stopping moment, Jesus asks the twelve, “So what about you, are you leaving me too?” And Peter, good everyperson Peter, whom as we know doesn’t always get it right or do it well, in this case has the answer we all want to hear right then, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” We can almost hear the echo resounding down the ages from Joshua choosing “for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Throughout time it is always God who has been faithful, who has remained in relationship, in covenant with God’s people. God’s beloved have always been given a choice, and they have not always chosen to serve God. For though we too know, like Joshua’s people, God has been faithful to us, and perhaps we can think without too much trouble, at least on a good day, of the ways that God has brought us up out of slavery, of our own signs of God at work in our lives, of the ways we have been protected along the way, we also might feel with the disciples that following Jesus is just too much at times, and we, too might want to turn back and no longer go with him.

But still he keeps coming back to us. “I really am the only one who has what you need for life.” Peter knew…. and our hearts know….to whom else can we go really? This Jesus who breaks into human history as the Incarnate manifestation of God….to show us literally who God is…..this living bread….the Holy One of God who willingly sacrifices himself for us…we who are God’s beloved ones, simply so we can abide in God and God in us….what an amazing promise of covenantal relationship…. And then of course…. calls on us to respond.

Because of course there is that other part of the both/and of the Incarnation….Jesus, the bread of heaven comes to feed us God and sustain us….but for what? Perhaps this was the thing that really made Jesus’ followers turn away…. the message of radical hospitality, inclusivity and love that does not count the cost… this Gospel that led to Jesus “ascending” to death on a cross before resurrection could ever be possible.

At times we may feel as Paul did, that we “struggle against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places” and that we need to “put on the whole armor of God” on to help us deal with whatever we encounter as we live this countercultural message of the Gospel. While we may not face life and death choices, we are all asked in ways both large and small to take stands for truth and righteousness, and to proclaim the gospel of peace. Through our baptismal vows we promise to proclaim by word and example the Good, News of God in Christ, to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves, to strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being.”

You are what you eat. It is all of this that we commemorate and celebrate in our Eucharist. The great both/and. Jesus, bread of heaven feeding us the perfect gift of God that will not fail…but also our knowledge that this is bread for a journey, …that we have placed on us by virtue of our baptism a call to use the nourishment we are given to do as Jesus did to bring about God’s kingdom here on earth….to act in turn as Jesus did, even if it calls us out of our comfort zones, even it calls us to sacrifice. We cannot feed others if we ourselves are not nourished. Do we allow Jesus to feed us? In the Word and in Spirit, in community and in the Eucharist? Are we open to receive? Can we, like Peter answer Jesus, with open hearts, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

The Hearing

My congregant M who is L's sponsor went to his hearing. He approached L's PD with a letter attesting to L's hard work to build a life and the fact that M believed that this "failure to report" was really just an honest mistake on L's part. The PD had no idea who L was and wasn't even sure he was his client. Yep and he was to represent him in court. L was to be first up on the docket, but the judge moved him to the end so the PD could at least read his file. The long and short of it is that based on what M told the PD, he managed to get another hearing on September 8, and bail is reduced to $5000 (which is still out of reach for L or his wee church). We are still working on some type of intervention in conjunction with his therapist, and he is getting visits from folks in the church and from me. This is, as C pointed out, a far cry from the first time he was there. But still, he is there, and there is not a good place to be, and clearly his representation leaves something to be desired! The two-tiered justice system in this country makes me want to scream and tear my hair. This is the same PD he had the first time. The one who, IMHO did not do such a great job of explaining all the ramifications of what it would mean to his whole life if he pled guilty to this crime that L was saying he did not do. But this is where we are today. There is no undoing the past. Appeals, it appears are not even possible at this point...what is done is really done. So pray on for L that he can hang in there until September 8, and for the wisdom and compassion of the judge on that day that she can see that he is not a menace to society and let him go to try again to make a small life with his D.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Deja vu All Over Again

So I saw him...back in that same ugly orange and brown visiting room where our relationship began. He is, as expected, distraught and frantic. "I forgot, I just forgot. I remembered one day, and the next I was going to and then I forgot again, and then I thought I already had, or I wasn't sure and then I forgot." Yes this is how his brain works. He was in tears for the hour I was there. He doesn't get why his family is harassing D, he's upset that she felt she had to go back home, but he understands her need to feel safe. He says they were starting to talk about a future together. So we prayed he and I...for his strength and courage, for him to stay focused and out of trouble in jail. We talked, too. About that relationship with D. I told him that after this is all said and done that can still come to be....I wanted so badly to give him something to hold on to in this dark time, a vision of a better and, my endlessly hopeful self believes, still-possible future. I reminded him that he is not alone in this, that he is beloved of God and of a human community who cares for and prays for him and will do whatever is possible to help him and D in this difficult time. And I reminded him of my lady pastor "peeps" and told him I had already asked them to pray too.

His hearing is tomorrow morning at 8:30. His therapist is talking to his social worker. I'm calling her too. Other than that....all we can do is pray.

Friday, August 14, 2009

L's Life Now

This is a sad story and a true one. But I also have to say it has its moments....God working, the incredible kindness of one human being to another, a small stirring of hope for faithful love amidst chaos....

I haven't posted about L for quite some time now. He had sort of dropped out of sight after he got out of CH for the second time last winter. He went to live with his mom in the town south of here after he had a falling out with the woman whose house he had been sharing here in town and he had not been keeping in touch. He'd not been in church either, all of which were not good signs. I'd run into him in town one day and he didn't look or sound good. He said he couldn't remember his mom's number, but I gave him mine and he promised to call me. He didn't. I heard through the grapevine (not always reliable) that he might have a girlfriend, he might be moving. I also heard he was not doing well and might be back into some old unhealthy behaviors.
Over the spring and summer I thought about him and prayed for him daily, as he is on my prayer list. But a couple weeks ago he started coming into my mind in an urgent sort of way. I started having the kind of feelings I had when I met him for the first time and God kept pushing me back to that darn jail with the sense that I just had to go see that kid whether I wanted to or not! Maybe it was because it was close to the anniversary of his baptism...I don't know. But I just could not lose the sense that I simply had to get in touch somehow. So I rooted around and found his mom's address in my planner and sent him a note....I let him know he was in my thoughts and prayers and that I missed him. I reminded him that his baptismal sponsor M lived just down the road a bit in his same little town....and I gave him M's cell number and told him I thought M would not mind if he called him....for a ride to church, to talk....or for whatever, because M had pledged to support him when he agreed to be his sponsor.

Well, turns out he did use that number to call time of need. L was arrested last night and he asked his girlfriend D to call M and his wife and ask them to help her deal with it. They called me and the three of us were in court this morning for his intiial hearing. Seems that he forgot a very crucial thing he was supposed to do that could cost him another five years of his life in prison. A simple notification...I think a slip of mind for him, not a malicious act. He and D had moved three weeks ago into their own place and he failed to notify the people who were to be notified of such things. He does not process things well, or remember them. His next hearing is Tuesday. His bail is out of reach for his girlfriend, his church. So there he is the same jail where we first met. I called his therapist. On Monday she will contact his public defender to see if there is anything by way of all the issues he deals with that qualify here to stop this. It should have the first time and did not. Perhaps we can keep this whole thing from getting even more absurd. People with problems that cause the kind of poor judgement he has need help or perhaps treatment, or even "keepers" of some sort to watch over them to protect them from themselves, for heaven knows they are their own worst enemies, but certainly not punishment in prison. And besides, it's a waste of a good jail cell to lock up this befuddled child that could be used for a real a criminal.

His family, shall we say, has some issues. They don't seem to like L's girlfriend. Perhaps because she is a positive influence on him. For whatever reason, they have taken a rather strong dislike to her, and they are the kind of folks you would rather not have disliking you...and they make that apparent. They scared her and she did not want to stay alone in the apartment. So this afternoon, M's wife R drove her three hours to her folks where she will stay till we know what is going to happen with L. R called me when she got home and told me that D wants me to let L know very clearly that she loves him and is not leaving him and will hang with him no matter what. Apparently D heard L's mama telling him something quite different as he was leaving court today, right before his brother offered to beat her up.

Sunday there will be a jail visit again. And yes, I will be telling L that D is safe and not deserting him. The harder thing will be to tell him I do not have bail and that it's unlikely that will be coming, but that we are going to do our best to see that justice is done...this time.

So once again....please, please, pray for my friend L?

Friday, August 07, 2009

Friday Five: Wind in My Sails

Sally says: "I am taking a break from packing to move this week and following my family up and down the beautiful North Norfolk Coast as they take part in a dinghy racing competition. Yesterday as a rare treat Tim and I took out a friends Albacore dinghy. With the children soon all leaving home we are considering buying one to replace our smaller Enterprise racing dinghy Wild Goose. So why all of this boaty information? Well because sailing is a family passion, we love the water and the wind, and take delight in the fresh air and quiet, but also in the competition, striving to do our best!"
How about you?
1. Is there a sport/ hobby that is more of a passion than a past-time for you? I have been called variously a "Jill-of-all-trades," a generalist and a Renaissance woman ( and of the three I have to say I prefer the latter.). I think this means I am interested in/passionate about, and maybe even skilled at a whole host of things. But whether I can ever "settle" on one of them long enough for it to become my thing, now there's the problem. I love music and play, sort of, a whole host of instruments, none of them at performance quality. I sing, passably. I knit and crochet....veeeerrrrrry slowly. I recently started doing watercolor and am having fun producing paintings. I love trying to capture my beloved prairie light that way as well as in photography. I write passionately in various capacities. None of these qualify for me as mere past-times....they all have way more meaning than that, yet none have the all consuming hold that I see in some folks who have that one thing that they do as in "Joni is a GOLFER." or "Bob SCULPTS." And as for sports....none really. I was raised to be sort of a girly little girl and the active life has come to me not so much a sporty passionate kinda girl.
2. Outdoors or indoors? Both.....
3. Where do you find peace and quiet? On my porch swing, on my yoga mat, in breath, on the altar, with R, in conversation with friends.
4. A competitive spirit; good or bad, discuss...Yes, again both/and. I have one. Just ask anyone who has ever played anything with me. I like to win! But it's all in good fun.
5. Is there a song a picture or a poem that sums up your passion ? Bonus for posting a video/ link. It would have to be the world's most complex collage. Maybe someday I will write it, or compose it, or paint it, or knit it.

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Bike Story

One of the first things I came to know about R when I met him is that he is a "love by doing" kind of guy. Oh, not that he is inarticulate or anything. We have wonderful and wide-ranging conversations about anything and everything. But when it comes right down to it....if you want to know who he him in action. So this whole bike thing really should have come as no surprise to me.....

As some readers of the blog know, I bought myself a bike for my birthday. I was taken by the lovely purple color, and yes, the low-low price at the big box store. I was also taken in, I fear by the smooth talk of the guy who said he knew how to assemble the bikes. He's the husband of an ex-coworker, and as such, I was more than willing to believe him. Perhaps he was truthful, and the bike was simply a lemon, or his rhetoric outweighs his skills. At any rate, the loss of the pedal on the first ride was not a fluke. The bike was not up to par. The rear brake would not release, the frame was funky, and the whole bike just wasn't right! We had both looked at it and made a decision that the best thing was to take it back and get a refund. I knew this meant I would likely be bikeless at least for a while, as I had looked at the other discount place in town (what we have here for retail options) and there was nothing in my price range that looked any better, and the local bike shop was waaaaaay out of range even for a "starter" bike. I was feeling kind of bummed about this and R knew it. We had fun even on our ill-fated starter ride with my crummy bike and were looking forward to going riding together before the summer waned. But no bike was better than this bike, we reasoned. And maybe next year, I could afford a good one from the bike shop, or maybe I'd run across one somewhere yet later in the summer. *sigh* We planned to take the lemon back the next night after work.

The next afternoon was sitting at my desk when an e-mail popped up from R. "I found you a bike." The very same bike shop that had looked aghast and appalled when I asked them if they ever had anything in a used bike "just happened" to have a lovely women's used Schwinn commuter, all tuned up and ready for resale when he called them. just have to know the right people in a small town! We went over after work and clinched the deal (which he also negotiated fabulously, BTW). I LOVE this bike!!!! It rides great and I feel free and safe and balanced on it in a way that I have not felt on a bike since I was a kid! Turns out he had been on line that day checking out the local "traders" for bikes too, before calling the bike shop. He really put himself into this for me and I was blown away. No one has ever done anything like this for me before...just saw something that I needed and gone and worked at getting it for me. And of course I reacted to that in kind, which kind of stunned R. His version of the story can be told in two seconds and five words, "I found Kate a bike" and he sees it as no big thing. But to me it's all about the way he loves, and who he is and the way my life has changed. I am no longer the only one taking care of me. I don't have to figure it all out, fix it all, cover it all. The buck doesn't stop here anymore, and that feels so incredibly good!

Every time I look at that pretty white bike with the purple-ish trim I have to smile. It's a symbol of love to me. Just like my clean gutters and our lovely garden and the fans that run again and all the other little things that work again that didn't before he was in my life. I understand how God loves me better since R is in my life. I get in a new and visceral way what it is like to be feel deeply cared for, surrounded, protected and nurtured by love. I am so blessed. And so grateful.