But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children (Deuteronomy 4: 1-2, 6-9)
...be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves….Religion that is pure and undefiled before God...is this: to care for the orphans and widows in their distress. (James 1:17-27)
Jesus said, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride , folly.” (Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23)
Sometimes what the scriptures offer us is not only perfect, but exactly what we need to hear at a given moment. And I really wrestled with what I wanted to share with you this morning thinking that perhaps I could add something to what has already been given to us in these lessons.
So over the week, while sitting in the classroom, in the hotel room, in the airport, I wondered what we might hear and learn from these texts. My initial thoughts were:
--It’s been 10 years since Hurricane Katrina. Did it impact your life? If not, why not? If so, in what ways? Was it another one of those defining moments in our life as a country where we came together to support one another, or did we turn a blind eye to the suffering of those who are different from us? Was it a wake up call about climate change for you? Was it the first or 50th time that you became aware of the impact of climate change on the most vulnerable among us? Was it an opportunity for you to recognize the connection between poverty and racism that has continued to exist in our country even though we claim equality and justice for all? What did you learn from the events of Katrina, that you want passed on to your children and your children’s children?
--How do we take care of one another? What does it mean to be “doers” of the word? Don’t I already have enough on my “to do” list? What if we revision what it means to be a “doer”...that it isn’t about creating a checklist or todo list on how to be a “good Christian”. What if it means opening our hearts and minds to hear God calling us to re-member ourselves, to see each other as the perfect children of God, to love one another as God loves us, to share all that we are and all that we have with each other, with the creation, with our communities...that this is to be a “doer” of the world.
--I spent 16 hours in a classroom learning about the African diaspora, how the culture, music, spirituality, work, and traditions of Africa--the Kems, the Nubians and the Kush--moved along the river Nile, throughout what we know as the African continent, and throughout the world via the trading of goods, the trading of people, and the intermixing and migration of people over centuries all the way back to the Paleolithic era. We talked about our percussive beginnings as people; that drumming was a call & response with the earth and other species, and with one another over long distances. We talked about the power of “right speech” and “truth telling” through our bodies, our songs, and our stories. We talked about being prophetic in our words and actions. We talked about the reciprocal relationship that we have with one another, the Divine, the world, and all of creation.
And I know that somewhere in all of my thinking and tinkering around with the words from Deuteronomy, from James and the Gospel of Mark that all of this matters and is connected...that there is a sermon in there.
Then I made the decision that I sometimes talk too much. And right now, I feel that there is wisdom, stories and reflections in this room that need to be shared. So I’m going to stop talking and invite you to talk.
I’d like you to break up into little groups of 2...preferable not with your spouse or the person you’re sitting next to...so you’re going to have to move to a new seat, but take your bulletin with you because you’ll need it. It’s ok, you can do this.
Now that you’re in your groups, I invite you to share with your partners what in these lessons is important to you...which of the words or phrases is drawing you in, challenging you, or recalling a memory. Why do these words or phrases matter?
I’m going to time you, so that each person has 3 minutes. The first person will share without interruption from their partner. Once you have finished sharing, say thank you to your partner for listening. Then you’ll switch. Share without interruption. Say thank you. At the end, we’ll share as we feel called.
Don’t be anxious. You don’t have to “fix” anything for each other.
Time for sharing…
Holy God, empower us to be doers of your word. Bless us in our doing. Help us not to ignore the cries of those in need, but to respond in loving service. Be with us at all times and in all places as we tell our stories to our children and our children’s children, so that we can re-member that all of us are your beloved children. amen.
In 1970, Carol Hanisch wrote an article titled “The Personal is Political” which appeared in the anthology, Notes From the Second Year: Women's Liberation. This title was the rallying cry for women throughout the second-wave feminist movement of the 60s and 70s, and with the questions of equal pay, family leave, and women’s rights over their reproductive choices once again entering into the conversation, this phrase is making a comeback.
In women’s clergy circles, the phrase has morphed a bit though. Now our rallying cry is “the pastoral is political”. There is a sense of calling people’s attention to not only women’s issues, but also issues of racism and classism that have continued to polarize our communities. There is a return to the scriptures to find themes of liberation and freedom from oppression as a way of renewing our sense of care for women and children, the poor and oppressed, the marginalized and most vulnerable in our communities. And so for me, it is no surprise that daily within my Twitter and Facebook feeds I see links to essays about the church’s responses to movements such as “Black Lives Matter,” or to women’s reproductive health issues, or to women and children escaping domestic violence situations. Unfortunately, these issues are no longer “once in a while events”...but daily happenings in our cities and towns. And the church, as ministers of the Good News of God, as messengers of hope, healing, and reconciliation, can no longer be silent. The pastoral is indeed political.
But let me be clear...this is not a new phenomenon for the church to respond to the world. It’s all throughout our scriptures.
In the book of Joshua, we see the people of Israel being faced with a challenge. Do they follow the “false gods” and the gods of those with whom they’d been in battle with, or do they stay devoted to Yahweh. Their leader Joshua asks them to make a choice, and so in recalling their history--the people say, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods; for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.” In the midst of war and struggle, in the midst of liberation from oppression, in the midst of the wilderness and desert, God was there. And so they will continue to be faithful to God.
You see, as the psalmist reminds us, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted”. The Lord is near to those ravaged by warfare, dispossessed and exiled, who wander in the wilderness to escape slavery and persecution. The Lord is with those who have been marred, grief stricken, and down-trodden. The Lord was with those who marched for freedom across the desert, across the bridge in Selma, and now marches along with the mothers, sisters and wives who grieve the loss of their children, brothers and husbands to violence.
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reminds those early Christians to be strong, stand firm, proclaim the gospel of peace and pray in the Spirit at all times. While Paul uses military armor images that don’t necessarily speak to me, I understand what he’s getting at. In the face of humiliation and persecution, in the face of the stress and strain brought on by the world around you, in the face of what seems like the end of the world, be strong, stand firm, pray, and proclaim the gospel of peace. On Wednesday, I stood in solidarity with women and men who choose peaceful protest over destruction of the environment. There were songs, laughter, and wisdom shared in our gathering and the presence of God was in our midst. You see, “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
And in this last of the bread of life readings from the gospel of John, when the people are beginning to grumble because “this teaching is difficult” and the call to discipleship challenged them to be different from the status quo, to see the world through a lens of love and forgiveness, to be willing to give up everything---EVERYTHING---to follow this Jesus, this bread of life, when those people walked away, Peter said, “We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” We have come to believe and to know.
Peter and the other disciples had started to experience first hand what the Lord could do. They had been present at the miracles and the healings. They had distributed the loaves and the fishes to those who were hungry. They had remembered their ancestors who had been given manna in the wilderness...and they believed. “The Lord is near to the brokenhearted.”
We live in strange times my friends. We live in a world where we are inundated with the stories of fear and grief from war and oppression. We live in a world that is rapidly changing from the effects of climate change. We live in a world that still does not value everyone as a beloved child of God. And it would be easy to feel overwhelmed and tune out. It would be easy to feel overwhelmed and think you needed to single-handedly change the world, become discouraged and then drop out. But being the idealist that I am, I believe we have a better option, or as the ethicist, Walter Wink would say, a third option. We have the choice to complain that this is all too difficult, or we can be strong, stand firm, pray, and proclaim the gospel of peace, knowing and believing that God is near the broken hearted and choose to serve the Kingdom of God. We don’t have to be “the frozen chosen” anymore. We can be the ones who serve in whatever way God is calling us as individuals and as a church.
Last Sunday I met with the vestry to talk about what visions we have for this coming year. We did this in the framework of the 5 Marks of Mission, which call us back to our Baptismal Covenant. And when we talked about how we are currently proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom, I was proud of us! We talked about how important our little church is to the community of Hood River because of our ministries related to FISH, the Warming Shelter, Free Clothes for Kids, the Voucher Program, AA, and Little Feet. We talked about learning more about our Latino, Hispanic, and Native brothers and sisters. We talked about the need to understand better how the prison industrial complex works in our society and the role of the church in system. We talked about the importance of teaching and modeling compassion for those who are not like “us”. We talked about the importance of the ministry of presence to one another. And we talked about how we can be stewards of God’s good creation. Together we decided to be strong, stand firm, pray and proclaim the gospel of peace in our neighborhood and in the world.
Cody is going to be heading off to Whitman next week to start the next part of his journey to adulthood. This is an amazing moment in his life and the life of his family. And Cody, if there was one thing I’d want you to take with you to college, it would be this: know in your mind and believe in your heart that Jesus is with you. When things get tough, know and believe that God is there. When things are joyous and wonderful, know and believe that God is there. And when it’s your turn to help someone else in need, remember to be strong, stand firm, proclaim the gospel of peace, and pray in the Spirit at all times.
In thinking about the readings for this morning’s service, I was struck by this sense of instruction that is found in all of the lessons.
In the Old Testament reading from 1st Kings, Elijah is instructed by an angel to “get up and eat” as a way of being prepared for his journey, and subsequently his ministry.
In the Psalm, the poet is instructing others about faithfulness in times of discomfort--that even in moments of dis-ease, exile, fear and sorrow, proclaim the greatness of the Lord.
In Ephesians, Paul is instructing the early Christians about how to be in right relationship with one another and with God--to speak truth, to not sin, to share with those in need, to be kind, forgiving, and imitators of God.
And in the Gospel of John, Jesus is giving further instruction about what it means that he is the bread of life--that he will provide everything that is needed to be spiritually whole, so s to be able to go into the world and do ministry.
Instructions on how to live.
We’re surrounded by instruction manuals. My parent’s generation had an instruction manual for raising children thanks to Dr. Spock. This was one of the first in a long line of self-help life instruction books. There’s Life’s Little Instruction Book and Everything I Need to Know I learned in Kindergarten, Everything I Need to Know about Love I Learned from a Little Golden Book, and other quick witted and humorous options. There’s the Dummy Series as well...iPhones for Dummies, Investing for Dummies...even The Bible for Dummies.
If printed instruction materials aren’t your thing, there is a plethora of how to’s and Do-it-yourself websites...whether it’s how to can peaches, how to throw the best backyard bbq, or teach your cat to walk on a leash. There are instructions everywhere.
Even at church we have instructions. Our prayer book is in essence a set of instructions. It tells us how to perform liturgical rites, it offers us charts to determine the date of Easter, what readings to use if we’re in year A, B or C. It provides us with prayers to use at certain times, the definition of Original Sin, and can offer a definition of the Trinity. There are a whole lot of instructions in our little BCP.
And there’s other customary instructions as well at church---when to stand up, sit down, kneel, how to place your hands to receive the bread and wine, when to cross yourself, and when to bow.
Honestly, sometimes we just put the instruction manual aside and try to figure it out for ourselves. We can’t be bothered with instructions. Or we think we’re smart enough not to need them. And maybe this is sometimes true.
But, for the sake of argument, let’s look again at the instructions provided for us in the lessons this morning in the context of our shared life together.
In doing an internet search for an Instructed Eucharist--you know, where you’re taught about what each step in our service represents theologically, or what it refers to historically, or how it identifies us as Episcopalian--in doing an internet search, I discovered there were just over 200,000 results---that’s 200,000 sets of instructions on how to teach and explain the Eucharist while you’re leading it simultaneously. Really?!? Do we need that many sets of instructions? Apparently Google thinks so.
Anyway, in my perusing of some of these instructions, I found some that I want to share with you, in conjunction with today’s readings. Something about these particular instructions were...well, you’ll see.
These excerpts of instructions are from Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in the Diocese of Northern California (http://www.trinitycathedral.org/worship/instructed-eucharist)
One way to celebrate the presence of God is in the Holy Eucharist. Eucharist comes from a Greek word which means "thanksgiving." In the Eucharist we offer our thanks for God’s great gifts to us, remembering especially the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son our Lord Jesus Christ.
Eucharist is only one name for this service. In the Greek Church it is called the Divine Liturgy which refers to God's people worshipping together. Sometimes it is called the Holy Communion, the Lord's Supper, and sometimes the Mass. But whatever name we call it, it is one of the most important ways for us to come to meet God. This is why for almost 2000 years, Christians have come together Sunday after Sunday and sometimes even during the week. They have come to offer themselves to God and to receive God into their lives in a very special way.
It is also important for us to remember the Eucharist is not something that only a priest does; it is something we do together in community with each other and with God.
There are two parts to the Eucharist...service. The first is "the Word of God," [which] includes (1) the opening prayers, (2) lessons from the Old and New Testaments appointed for the day, (2) the Church's statement of faith, the Nicene Creed, and (4) the intercessions or the prayers of the people. The second part of the Eucharist is called the Holy Communion during which bread and wine are offered, consecrated or set apart, and then received by God's people with thanksgiving.
At the offertory we are reminded that all we have is God's gift and that we are offering God’s gifts back to God as a sign of thankfulness.
We now begin the second part of the Eucharist. In the early days of the Church, worshippers brought their own bread and wine to the service. The deacons chose what was needed for the consecration, and the rest was set aside for the poor. Today we usually have the ushers bring the bread and the wine to the altar. The bread and wine are called OBLATIONS. Bread, wine and money offered at the Altar represent our lives, our work, our recreation, our families and our community. In other words, we offer to God all that we have and all that we do.
In the Gospel lesson for today, Jesus teaches that we can not live by bread alone, but that we need the Bread of Life. A way to think about this in the context of our life together is that if we do not share the gifts that we have been given, our life together is less fulfilling...we aren’t able to do the ministries we feel are important to this church and the community. To share our gifts is to simultaneously receive. In giving, we receive that which is life giving--grace, forgiveness and love.
The Priest now says the PRAYER OF CONSECRATION.
This prayer reminds us of God's love for us and salvation history...that Jesus Christ came to share our human nature and to live and die as one of us, so that we might be brought back to God. We are also told of the last supper, and Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. Finally, we ask for the gift of God's holy Spirit and that we might faithfully receive the precious gift of Christ's Body and Blood in the form of Bread and Wine.
We taste and see that the Lord is good.
Holy Eucharist is a drama. It reenacts the offering of Christ and makes it real in our lives. Whether we "feel" Christ's presence or not, he is with us, according to his promise.
This is the Bread of Life. Christ is with us, even if we can’t touch, taste, see, or smell him, he is has been given to us in the spiritual transformation of the bread and wine into the body and blood. Through these gifts, we receive God’s power, love and strength.
As soon as everyone has received Communion, some of the consecrated Bread and Wine is reserved for the sick and those who are unable to come to church. It is kept in the Aumbry - - the beautifully adorned cabinet over which the sanctuary light burns - - symbolic of the Presence of the Risen Lord.
Throughout the week, the sick and shut-in members of our congregation receive this reserved sacrament so that they might share with us in Holy Communion. In other words, since they cannot come to Church, we take Church to them. Together we bless and proclaim God’s work in the world and in our lives just like the psalmist did.
After receiving communion, you will see that we’ve come full circle. As we prepare to leave, we’ll be given instructions again. We will go back out into the world--but we will be centered in a life to be be lived and shared. We will go back into the world so that we may do the work that God has called us to do . . . wherever we may be: in our homes, in our schools, in our work and in our play. We have been fed with spiritual Food--the Bread of Life. God has given us the strength to live our lives as faithful followers of Christ our Lord--to be kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.
The prayer book, the lessons for the day, even the Eucharist itself is part of God’s instruction manual for us. These instructions aren’t useless. These instructions aren’t binding and constricting--there’s room for creativity in approach, for singing, dancing, laughing, and any number of ways to share the Good News. These instructions are a way of life, based in the Bread of Life that draws us together in community as beloved children of God.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.