Monday, August 31, 2015

To the well-organized mind...

(The rest of that Dumbledore quotation is "death is but the next great adventure," but that is def not the theme of this post. It just hopped into my head, as the words of Dumbledore often do.)

Last week was orientation for the new LEVN program year, and hot damn and hallelujah am I exhausted. 

It was pointed out during the week that, by its end, I'd have worked 13 days straight. That's fairly unusual for my 3/4-time job. But these two weeks were not your average two weeks! It was prep-prep-prep and go-go-go! (Don't worry, fellow self-care advocates! I'm taking some comp time this week.)

In preparation for all the paperwork and liturgy of a week of orientation, I put nearly two reams of paper through our office printer. Sorry about that, trees, but the U.S. government and banks and stuff still demand hard copies of important things, and our budget for this year did not include a tablet for each of our corps members, from which to read the daily office. So! Pages on pages on pages it was.

To my deep existential satisfaction, all the paperwork was ready when it was needed (though errors in filling out required additional copies), all the liturgies had accompanying scripture, all the handbooks were bound and ready to be shoved on a bookshelf somewhere. 

I had a to-do list of to-do lists (not a joke) and everything was crossed off and everything was done. 

As an enneagram 6 and an ESFJ, this place just may qualify as mine and happy.

When everything that is within my control is as it should be, I am, occasionally, able to step back and allow the rest of the world to happen.

Since the music was selected and bulletins were printed well in advance, and our superb guitarist was able to practice with me, we closed out the commissioning service on Friday with my all-time favorite hymn, Let Streams of Living Justice. 

By the time we hit the rousing third verse, someone near me was singing an ad-lib harmony (none is written) and I could scarcely sing for grinning:

"Your city’s built for music: we are the stones you seek.
Your harmony is language. We are the words you speak.
Our faith we find in service, our hope in other’s dreams,
our love in hand of neighbor - Our homeland brightly gleams!
Inscribe our hearts with justice, your way – the path untried:
Your truth – the heart of stranger, your life – the Crucified!"
This is what we do here. This is what I work for. This is what happens when I've quit worrying and begun to sing. Welcome, 2015-2016 program year. We have work to do. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

A case of the Mondays, or something.

Like all good blog things I ever do, what I'm about to commit to is inspired by Anne.

You see, Anne is a math teacher. She has 180 days of instruction, and so recently she posed the challenge to herself to post something on her blog each of those 180 days. I am really excited to read so many words from Anne, and also to let it go when she forgets, because, friends!

I am not a math teacher.


My LEVN corps members write weekly blog posts (one of the eight of them, on a rotating basis) that post to our website each Monday. We have them do this because it's an excellent opportunity for (forced) reflection about their work, their house, and their spirituality. Check 'em out via this shameless plug.

Since I do not have a weekly preaching gig here, I have fallen out of the habit of theologizing my experience. I'm not holding my Bible in one hand and my newspaper in the other with the goal of producing written reflection. I am, though, holding my Bible in one hand and twitter in the other, which is an interesting glimpse into what shapes my worldview.

I bet you can guess where this is headed.

Each Monday of the 2015-2016 LEVN Program Year, expect to see words here about what's up with me and God and the gang. Since you, too, are part of the gang, dear reader, you'll likely see something of yourself in this experiment, since you and I are probably engaging in other media.

Cool. Maybe I will fail. Maybe even next Monday. But I certainly cannot achieve this goal if I do not set it!


Sunday, August 16, 2015

Flesh and Blood -- A Sermon on John 6

I preached this sermon to the good people of Messiah Lutheran Church, usually pastored by my seminary classmate Tyler.

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always.

Preachers often call these several weeks in the summer the “bread” season, because each week, Jesus tells us that he is the bread of life, or something similar, and we reflect on what it is to consume the bread and the wine that are the body and blood of Christ.

In my life, in August, I have heard sermon stories about bread-baking, and family traditions, and mealtime rituals, and theological explications of the real presence, and lists of people allowed and disallowed at the table, and calls for returns to full dinner church, and any number of things that weasel their way under the umbrella of bread.

But is this, truly, bread season? It sounds to me like this is flesh season. This week, the words of Jesus are:

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh….very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

The key word in this passage to me does not seem to be “bread” but rather “flesh.” These days, we don’t get a lot of use out of the word “flesh.” Maybe we talk about things being flesh-toned—like fabrics or crayons. And maybe we say “fleshy” instead of “fat” to talk about a rotund body. For the most part, though, we’re so averse to anything visceral—fleshy, bloody, guts, eew—that we’ve abandoned the word altogether.

However, this context—eat my flesh, drink my blood—has become so familiar to us, as Christians. We are not scandalized by these words, we are comforted. We recognize this command, and we nod. In a few minutes, we’ll follow those directions and receive the bread and wine together.

If you’ve been attending a Lutheran church for any length of time, you’ve heard the words of institution over and over and over again—take, eat, this is my body; take, drink, this is my blood—to the point where it may, on some Sundays, not feel like it means much of anything.

But, if you, like me, are a lover of words, you may see in this gospel text the glorious promise in these words: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”

You’ve heard the phrase “you are what you eat,” yeah? Truly, you are, because the nutrients your body gets from the food you put in your mouth is what the cells, as they reproduce, are building themselves of. I, for one, am largely made of coffee, of spinach, and of strawberry ice cream.

So what could these words of Jesus mean, then? That Jesus wants us to be made of flesh and of blood? Looking around, we seem to have that covered.

A 13th-century French rabbi named Ramban said something really interesting about this whole eating flesh and blood thing. Remember how, in the Torah, God gave the Israelites very specific prescriptions for their meat—they had to be sure to drain all the blood out of the flesh.

As a vegetarian, these details are all sort of gross to me, but, Ramban explained that the reason for this is that in the time of the Israelites—and in the time of Jesus—it was believed that if you ate meat that contained the blood of the animal, the blood, which contained the soul of the animal, would sort of transfuse with your blood and your soul and you would start to become like that animal.

So what Ramban is saying is that Jesus wanted people to consume that which would imbue them with his best characteristics—compassion, hospitality, love, justice.

What Jesus is explaining to us is that, if we do not consume the bread of life and wine of salvation we will have no life in us. We will not literally die of starvation if we do not receive the Eucharist on a regular basis. But we will not truly live. We will not thrive.

Sometimes I worry about this line “your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and they died,” because one could be led to think negatively of our Jewish forefathers, that their consumption of the manna God provided them was somehow in error. Their deep faith and the manna from heaven led them to the Promised Land. Their covenant was kept.

And Jesus is talking not about literal food, like manna—though his ministry does not ignore physical hunger—but rather he is setting the table for a new covenant. Times have changed. The Jews are up against new powers and principalities, new challenges, new fears. They needed a new way to thrive.

Because what we consume consumes us. We live in a very consumptive world right now—the United States of America is built on our consumption. Our economic stability is reflected in “consumer confidence”—I don’t think I have to tell you about the volume of food, gasoline, water, and other resources we consume on a regular basis. We know.

We know because it is so easy to be consumed by the idea that we live in a world of scarcity, where there is not enough food, or water, or gasoline to go around; we believe we have to grab and hoard. Part of why we consume in this manner is because we are also consuming and being consumed by dangerous things like fear. We are consuming a 24-hour news cycle predicated on keeping us glued to the TV—we are told about disasters, and accidents, and dangerous people, and scandals, and wars, and violence. Many of us start our days this way! No wonder we’re so harried.

When we consume all of this fear, we are bound to perpetuate it. When we consume the world around us—full of its prejudices, hatred, racism, sexism, imperialism, xenophobia—we will continue to be people of fear.

The good news is that there is good news! Jesus has come to us this morning—once again!—to say that he is the bread of life from heaven—true food, true drink—by which we will have life and life abundant.

If we eat this flesh and drink this blood, we will consume his love of neighbor, his work for justice, his prophetic speech, his hand outstretched. We will become people of truth, people of grace, people of love.

If we turn down the fear once in a while and listen, instead, to the Word, we will hear the world anew.

So, come—eat, drink, and live.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Since I'm like definitely the last person alive who hasn't read Brené Brown's books, I almost don't want to post about diving into Gifts of Imperfection--like I'm so late to the party, all of you will be astonished and think I'm lame.

Since you've read her book(s) and watched her TED talks, you know that fear is bullsh, because if you shame me for being late to the shame resiliency party, you suck.

So! I'm just stopping by, briefly, to let you know what I am enough and you are enough!

Maybe you knew that already, maybe you forgot, maybe you never knew. I don't know where you're at but I now know more about where I'm at, and where you might be?

We're all in this together, as usual.

Cool. Bye!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Get Up. Eat.

[I preached this sermon to the good people of Calvary Lutheran Church, usually pastored by my seminary classmate Kirsten.]

I Kings 19:4-8
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:35, 41-51

Grace and peace from God our Creator, hope in our Redeemer Jesus the Christ, and the promised gifts of the Holy Spirit are with you, always. Amen.

We're in the midst of several weeks—like every summer—in John’s gospel, talking about bread. Why the composers of the lectionary chose August for this task, I’m not sure. I’d much more easily conjure delightful images of steaming loaves of bread coming out of the oven and warming my kitchen if this were November or February—instead, I’m sweltering in the Sacramento heat, reluctant to consider turning on my oven.

Fortunately, bringing the good news and breaking bread with you this morning did not involve any time in an overheated kitchen, just a while with these words, listening for what God is telling us about the bread life again this time. 

I did a fair amount of listening this week. Thursday night was the GOP’s first televised debate of the primary season. Don’t worry—the guest preacher is not about to take sides from the pulpit! It’s amazing to me that several months prior to a single vote being cast, we’re already knee deep in political conversation, advertising, debating, accusing, demeaning vitriol. 

Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has something to say about this behavior. How we conduct ourselves in social disagreements is always a challenge, but Paul reminds us to control ourselves. 

“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths,” he says, “but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.” 

We should, in all exchanges, build one another up. In what ways do the words of our Presidential hopefuls build us up? Build up our nation? Build up the opposing party? Fat chance.

“Putting away falsehood,” Paul writes, “let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” 

We’re members of many things. This church, maybe. A book club, a PTA, a gym, a political party, a frequent flier program, a family, a union, a food co-op, a neighborhood association. 

We are members, first and foremost, of the Body of Christ. As members of one body, we are called to be Christ’s hands, feet, ears, heart in the world. God’s work, our hands, our t-shirts might say.

In this Gospel text today, it’s very clear that Jesus’ words about bread were, well, not very clear. He opens with “I am the bread of life.” And immediately, his hearers are like, “What? First he’s Jesus, now he’s bread, who is this guy? He can’t’ve come down from heaven…he grew up around the corner from me.”

Jesus repeats himself, as usual, hoping that some form of the sentence will reach them. “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness and died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that you may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Now we’re talking. Not only is Jesus the metaphorical bread of life, but the bread he intends us to eat is his flesh. As we can imagine, this is not exactly what his Jewish hearers were used to hearing. We have chapters and chapters of Mosaic law that explain just what Jews are supposed to eat, and human flesh is definitely not kosher. 

It’s language like this that got Jesus in trouble in the first place—and got Christians the grisly, incorrect rumors of cannibalism. The important, lasting piece here, though, is that the first thing the world knew about Christians is that they ate together. 

An Episcopal priest named Cathy Campbell wrote a book about the Christian relationship with food. She says, “Food is a social good. Throughout history, people have used food to express hospitality. Christ’s ministry was no exception. Yet Jesus’ table etiquette subverted all the ways in which we commonly create distinctions among food, people, or places at the table. Jesus took his faith into the company of tax collectors and sinners, of thieves and criminals, of the forsaken.”

When we gather at the table, we gather with all people at all tables. We are all members of this diner’s club. 

There are no rules, here. There’s no etiquette class, no dress code. Jesus ate with whomever was hungry—not who was wealthy or worthy or socially acceptable. Jesus did not exclude people from the table, and neither should we. 

We don’t have to know anything about theology or be able to explain the “real presence” to experience it. All we need to know is that we are hungry. 

And boy, are we hungry. When Jesus said, "I am the bread of life," he did not specify that he was the bread of life for some, but that whoever eats this bread will live forever. This morning is the one-year anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, infamously gunned down in Ferguson, Missouri last year. The ensuing Black Lives Matter movement has come from a deep hunger for justice, and has spread across this great nation to every community, in some way, black and white. Many preachers, some maybe even this morning, will say that Jesus said "all lives matter," but they will not know what they are doing. Jesus said marginalized lives matter--women's lives matter, the poor's lives matter, sick lives matter, ostracized lives matter. Black lives matter.

When Jesus broke bread with the disciples at the Last Supper, he acknowledged their hunger. He knew that every day for the rest of their lives, they would gather around a table to eat. Each time they did this, they were to recall that moment and that ministry. He knew that, very soon, they’d be broken—he’d be broken—we’ll be broken. But he knew, too, what words to say. “Do this for the remembrance of me.” That word, remember. It’s the opposite of the grisly dis-member. To re-member is put back together. To re-unify. To make whole. 

When we remember Jesus in this bread and wine, we are re-membered, to God and to one another. 

In the Old Testament reading from 1 Kings, Elijah lies down in the desert defeated. It’s a little dramatic, if you ask me, but I’m sure there are days when I, equivalently, lie down on the couch, defeated. But a still, small voice says “Get up. Eat.” The journey is long, and you need to be nourished. 

This final stretch of summer, this may be a journey of great joy—maybe it’s been full of family vacations and days at the lake and the state fair and weddings and grandparents. Maybe it’s been exhausting.  Maybe it’s full of deadlines at work or the stress of getting the kids out the door to the lake, or the expenses of back-to-school shopping, or the relentless 106-degree temperatures. Maybe you’re lying down in the desert, defeated. The good news is that there is good news. God comes to you, too, today. 

Our God created us and so understands us—our bodies need nourishment to function. Our spirits, too, need nourishment. We need water and cakes in the desert, and we need bread of life from heaven. We need to get up and eat. 

So, sisters and brothers, come to the table. Eat this bread that has come down from heaven, so that you may live. Amen.