Saturday, September 19, 2020

Pentecost 16A

Matthew 20:1-16

1"For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2After agreeing with the laborers for the usual daily wage, he sent them into his vineyard. 3When he went out about nine o'clock, he saw others standing idle in the marketplace; 4and he said to them, "You also go into the vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.' So they went. 5When he went out again about noon and about three o'clock, he did the same. 6And about five o'clock he went out and found others standing around; and he said to them, "Why are you standing here idle all day?' 7They said to him, "Because no one has hired us.' He said to them, "You also go into the vineyard.' 8When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his manager, "Call the laborers and give them their pay, beginning with the last and then going to the first.'

9When those hired about five o'clock came, each of them received the usual daily wage. 10Now when the first came, they thought they would receive more; but each of them also received the usual daily wage. 11And when they received it, they grumbled against the landowner, 12saying, "These last worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the day and the scorching heat.' 13But he replied to one of them, "Friend, I am doing you no wrong; did you not agree with me for the usual daily wage? 14Take what belongs to you and go; I choose to give to this last the same as I give to you. 15Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or are you envious because I am generous?' 16So the last will be first, and the first will be last."

Psalm 145:1-8

1I will extol you, my God and King, and bless your name forever and ever.
2Every day I will bless you, and praise your name forever and ever.
3Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; God's greatness is unsearchable.
4One generation shall laud your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.
5On the glorious splendor of your majesty, and on your wondrous works, I will meditate.
6The might of your awesome deeds shall be proclaimed, and I will declare your greatness.
7They shall celebrate the fame of your abundant goodness, and shall sing aloud of your righteousness.
8The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.


Biblical Parables

As we've observed, Jesus' parables aren't earthly stories with a heavenly meaning. They are comparisons or analogies, originally named for "one idea thrown alongside another." With parables and in other ways, Jesus took time and care showing his followers what a grace-filled world would look like and feel like. Jesus was passionate about everyone having enough to meet their basic needs independent of their abilities or actions. Jesus consistently demonstrated how the Reign of Heaven / Kingdom of God's style and substance would be ordered if God truly was the one in control, meaning if people kept covenant with God, with one another, and with all creation.


Together

There are several possible interpretations of this parable that's unique to Matthew's gospel. Jesus starts with, "the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner (literally a household steward or manager, although later on verse 8 tells us "the lord of the vineyard said to his manager," so roles are somewhat conflated) and then fills out the story with a cast of characters and their attitudes. Jesus tells us the kingdom of heaven is like; he doesn't say "God is like."

Yes, God's way or the Kingdom of Heaven is about unearned, unmerited grace and not about measurable transactions. We've mentioned "exchanging gifts" is a contradiction.

Yes again, humanity and all creation cannot survive – let alone thrive – without a full measure of the material and social resources they need to be healthy and whole. Every year for the month of September through the first Sunday in October the church has an option to observe the Season of Creation instead of or in tandem with the other assigned lectionary readings. This year's overall focus is Justice for the Earth; for this Sunday 20 September the theme is "There is enough for our need – not our greed."

Jesus lived out, talked about, and called us out to social and economic justice as God and the commandments envision them. There is enough for our need – not our greed. How many times have you seen statistics based on that fact?

We find the ten words or commandments of the Sinai Covenant in Deuteronomy (and in the book of Exodus). The Torah (Pentateuch, Five Books of Moses) and especially the book of Deuteronomy articulate a way that provides for a community taking mutual care of one another. Ideally that would happen almost by default as they farmed the land, harvested its agricultural bounty, and distributed it to feed and nourish everyone. Again the best case scenario would be each household caring for its own plot that (ideally!) would be free from paying tribute to overlords or imperial rulers, and would have no need to hire outside labor.


Where we Live / COVID-19

In some ways Jesus lived in a social and economic world very different from our twenty-first century one. We've seen tenant farmers, artisans (Jesus followed in Joseph's path as a tekton, a kind of carpenter), and fishermen in the gospels. We know taxes from the occupying imperial Roman government were excessive and extreme. Food insecurity was rampant, with resulting chronic illnesses that resulted in an inability to work and bring in any income. It was moment by moment subsistence for most of the people; even Rome's minions weren't necessarily as well off as they appeared because of the high taxes and tribute they owed.

In some ways Jesus lived in a different world from ours, yet there are thousands of mostly immigrant day laborers working in fields all around us. Especially with the current pandemic, many families in this city and county are food insecure. You've probably seen news segments of school districts, restaurants, and other entities helping provide basic family meals? Many many younger children and youth had depended on getting breakfast and lunch at school for their total daily nutrition. The city of Los Angeles has a notorious number of food deserts, defined as no healthy food options such as supermarkets or farmer's markets within a radius of about one mile.

On the other side of the world, individuals literally captive to the need to feed and house their families have became indentured as field, mine, and factory workers. I've seen interviews where children happily report they get to enjoy a meal "almost every other day." There is enough for our need, but not enough for our greed.

In today's narrative, the guy doing the hiring met his own agreement to pay the workers the "usual daily wage." He did nothing unfair or unjust. There is enough for our need – not our greed. He well may have distributed his own wealth evenly in order to benefit the greater good of the broader community to which everyone belonged. We don't know; Jesus doesn't interpret this parable.


Comparisons

We humans tend to compare ourselves with other people, to compare where we are now with where we were then or hope to be in the future. We instinctively label pay and circumstances fair or unfair. Verse 15b, literally reads "is your eye evil because I am good?" The green eye of envy appears if it perceives someone else getting what we want or think we've earned. If we were meeting in person I'd ask if anyone knew the origins of that phrase, but now I need to look it up myself.


Considerations

• Do you place yourself anywhere in today's story? As someone who worked hard all day? As someone who started working at the last hour and got the same pay as the others? As the person who needed to harvest their grapes at their peak of perfection? As someone else? Or not at all? Why?
• Most contemporary scholars don't make the landowner / hiring boss a cipher or stand-in for God, and the role does have some discontinuities. But if he doesn't symbolize God, how about identifying him with one of God's people who try to distribute scarce assets in ways that benefit everyone? Or is that a possible scenario for Jesus' time, but not for where and how we live today?
• How would you define "grace"?
• How do we live in ways that are covenantal / relational rather than transactional?
• But aren't exchanges such as labor for dollars, cash for groceries necessary? I'll mow your grass if you gift me your (heirloom) tomatoes and melons.
• Do you still sometimes compare yourself to other people?
• What's your spin on the last shall be first and the first shall be last?
• When there aren't enough living wage jobs for everyone and/or not enough workers with needed skills to fill available jobs, what is the role of industry? Of non-profits? Of local, regional, national governments? Of the church—both national church bodies and local congregations?

All of these are made up of individuals, some of whom are members of the Abrahamic faith traditions along with others who yearn for justice and a common wealth, and they can be powerful together.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Pentecost 15A

Romans 14:1-12

1Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions. 2Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables. 3Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them. 4Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.

5Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds. 6Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.

7We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves. 8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord's. 9For to this end Christ died and lived again, so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.

10Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister? Or you, why do you despise your brother or sister? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11For it is written, 'As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.' 12So then, each of us will be accountable to God.


Psalm 103:1-13

1Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless God's holy name.
2Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all God's benefits—
3God forgives all your iniquity, heals all your diseases,
4God who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5who satisfies you with good as long as you live and renews your youth like the eagle's.
6The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed.
7The Lord made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel.

8The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
9He will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger for ever.
10He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who live in awe of him;
12as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us.
13As a father has compassion for his children, so the Lord has compassion for those who fear him.


Psalm 103 / Romans / Being Church

We often think of God blessing us, of God blessing all creation. Psalm 103 wonderfully asks us to bless God!

Check out the long list of gifts as God forgives, heals, redeems, crowns, satisfies, renews, vindicates, justifies, bestows mercy, grace, compassion. Surprisingly, the Hebrew for "steadfast love" in this passage isn't the famous chesed—It's plain old regular love.

• But how do we bless God?

Although the four canonical gospels are our primary sources about Jesus and about life together in Christ, Paul's explanations and encouragement to live the way Jesus models and calls us to are so clear it can be easy to forget he wrote Romans about 30 years prior to the CE 80 date generally considered most reliable for Matthew's Gospel, our main gospel account for this lectionary year. However, the content of all four gospels already was making rounds in the oral tradition, as were many written documents about Jesus' life and ministry. Doubtless Paul had studied those.

Romans is Paul's carefully thought through, mature theology, the seventh and the latest of his undisputed epistles. Although "undisputed" means he definitely wrote those letters, they probably received some edits from others as they circulated to different churches, so every single word and phrase is not necessarily from Paul.

We've now journeyed 75% of the way through another year of grace, and almost everything about the past six months has been a strange trip. For six plus months we haven't had the give and take of live discussion of scripture or the followup interpretations and reinforcements of music, preaching, and sacrament. This year emphasizes Matthew's gospel, but today we'll consider another passage about being church "in Christ" from the apostle Paul's letter to the church at Rome.


Today's Reading from Romans

In last week's second reading, also from Romans, amidst discussing what we owe, what we ought to do, Paul reminded us we owe each other only love: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

The situation that prompted today's passage was Roman Christians divisions over dietary laws 14:2 – vegetarians versus omnivores?! and special observance of particular days 14:5 – set apart feast days versus all days alike (all days sanctified?).

This isn't about doctrine and behavior central to Christianity. This isn't about Jesus crucified and risen, about Jesus' charge to baptize and to celebrate the Lord's Supper. It's not about loving one another.

They had become seriously split over peripheral non-essentials. Paul calls them back to the foundational fact of togetherness in Christ, to the basic attitude and action of agape love that's God-like, grace-filled, unconditional life-giving care of another, love that emerges from a decision of the will, not from fleeting whims.

As Paul discussed obligations, debts, payback, what we ought to do – both financial and behavioral – he reminded us we owe each other only love: "Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

In today's reading, Paul calls the Romans Christians and his future readers (that includes us) back to the essential practice of love in the midst of non-essentials. Especially Reformers Martin Luther and John Calvin talked about practices and behaviors neither commanded nor forbidden by Jesus and by scripture. You may have heard or seen the word adiaphora? That could include dietary practices Paul specifies here, it would encompass observing the sanctoral cycle that commemorates festivals, saints, and past church leaders: Transfiguration; John the Baptist; Augustine; Susanna, John, and Charles Wesley; John XXIII; Teresa of Kolkata… Paul also suggests if eating meat or sushi around your vegetarian friends offends them, you might not do it when they're near. If someone considers Gregorian chant anachronistic and irrelevant for worship during the year 2020, maybe omit it from your regular hymnody? Very seriously, if your drinking wine or beer or other spirits tempts your acquaintance who's been clean and sober for 6 years, please abstain when you're together. Etc.

Regarding worship and individual lifestyles, different streams of Christianity have had different habits, preferences, and practices. Even within the same Christian tradition or denomination, different local churches can feel worlds apart. And that's more than okay!

"Why do you pass judgment on your brother or sister?" Romans 14:10

Do you think someone else's Hillsong music is inferior to the songs you prefer to sing in church? Is non-organic produce the ultimately deal-breaker?

Paul constantly reminds us Jesus' death and resurrection is the reality that informs and determines the church's life and witness.

• How do we bless God?


Being Neighbors

"Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:10

Most times Paul uses the word law he means sacrificial, ceremonial law (including circumcision), but in this case he's referring to the ten words or commandments of the Sinai covenant.

This week's passage reminds us being in Christ, crucified and risen, is our essential identity. Aside from Word and Sacrament that in the Holy Spirit literally equip us for lives of agape love, most ceremonial, dietary, and other practices in church and in other aspects of everyday life are neither commanded nor forbidden; they are matters of indifference, or adiaphora. However, just as we've discussed regarding neighborology, or the word about being neighbors, we need to consider the position, the needs, histories, sensitivities, and sometimes even preferences of the other.

• How do we bless God?


Distinctive Differences / COVID-19

Christians legitimately may disagree about many incidentals of our lives together, both as siblings in Christ with those in other traditions, and within particular congregation(s) we identity with and participate in.

• What practices have you differed and maybe argued about in churches you've been part of?
• What practices have you differed and possibly argued about in your nuclear or extended family?
• What opinions do we differ about at the ballot box?
• Are propositions and initiatives that have become so common west of the Mississippi (but virtually unknown on the other side of that river) a good idea or not?
• Has COVID-19 changed or modified your opinion as to what's really important?
• Has COVID-19 reinforced some of your convictions? Has it softened some of them?
• How do we welcome each other despite our differences?

You may have heard, "In essentials unity, in nonessentials liberty, in all things charity." Several denominations and other groups use that phrase as a sort of tagline, and they describe Paul's counsel very well.

• How do we bless God?

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Pentecost 14A

Romans 13:8-14

8Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.

11Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; 12the night is far gone, the day is near. Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light; 13let us live honorably as in the day, not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy. 14Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

Prayer Psalm 119:33-40

I desire the path of your commandments, the path of life in you.

Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.
Give me understanding, that I may keep your law and observe it with my whole heart.
Lead me in the path of your commandments, for I delight in your way.
Turn my heart to your decrees, and not to selfish gain.
Turn my eyes from looking at vanities; give me life in your ways.
Confirm to your servant your promise, which is for those who fear you.
Turn away the disgrace that I dread, for your ordinances are good.
See, I have longed for your precepts; in your righteousness give me life!

I desire the path of your commandments, the way of your love.


Climate Justice – Racial Justice – COVID-19

Anyone who tries to comprehend the scale of destruction caused by hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, and wildfires, the centuries-long history and ongoing reality of white supremacy (in the USA and other countries, too), the immeasurable losses and increasing uncertainty from COVID-19 realizes no individual or group can change any of this on their own by themselves…


Romans

Again today we have a reading from the letter or epistle to the Church at Rome. Romans is the seventh and the last of Paul's undisputed epistles. "Undisputed" means writings that carry marks of his authorship in terms of vocabulary, syntax, grammar, sentence structure, and theology. At the time he wrote Romans, the apostle Paul hadn't yet been to Rome.


Law & Gospel

Sometimes we contrast Law and Gospel when we interpret scripture, but God's law and God's gospel both are gifts of grace that mirror each other.

"Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law." Romans 13:8

Almost every time the apostle Paul uses the word law, he refers to ceremonial-sacrificial-ritual law and not to the ten words [decalogue] or commandments of the Sinai Covenant; but here he definitely means the commandments. He even specifies four of them!

In today's reading from Romans, all the words translated into "love" are agape in Greek. Agape love is God-like, grace-filled, unconditional, life-giving care not based on emotion or whims. Agape love guides and fills the Ten Words of the Sinai Covenant that was God's gift to the people before they crossed the Jordan River into land where they'd settle and farm. Inspired and enacted through us by the Holy Spirit, as "Working Papers" for our life together, the commandments help us create heaven on earth.


Politics & Economics

Every since solitary Abram left Ur of the Chaldeans as the beginning of his descendants becoming more in number than grains of sand on the shore or stars in the night sky, being human has meant being governed and/or governing others; being human has meant barter and exchange in order to meet everyday needs.

• Political? Scripture is loaded with verses and passages about living together and interacting with each other.

• Economic? Scripture is full of information and counsel about money, payments, and related obligations.

A cash economy (rather than barter or trade) as the primary means of payment and exchange evolves when a population becomes large enough. We necessarily think and act in transactional ways. How much do I owe on my car note? Do debits and credits on this spreadsheet balance or not? Can I afford this purchase or would it be wise to compromise by getting something less expensive or not buying anything at all? Wants versus needs?!

In the world of the bible, debt and sin essentially were synonymous. Jesus walked, talked, and taught in a world colonized by yet another empire, where "regular people" constantly got slammed by imperial taxes, where most of the "little people" owed their souls to the company store.

Today's second reading tells us we owe each other only love!


This Time / This Now

"Besides this, you know what time [season / kairos] it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers." Romans 13:11

The bible has two different words we translate into "time": chronos is similar to our clocks and calendars that situate an action at a measurable point—our regular appointment every Monday at 3:00pm, another day, another dollar on 25 October 2024 are chronos or chronological time. Kairos is an unrepeatable, life-transforming point—the birth of your child on a particular Wednesday at 6:32am; the Declaration of American colonial Independence from Britain on 04 July 1776 are kairos moments.

In this short reading from Romans, Paul says this right now, this very moment, is the right time to practice love for everyone. Don't wait! Just do it! We've heard about living on borrowed time, a phrase that often refers to someone whose physical life has continued beyond a predicted "expiration date." We've been learning verifiable facts about COVID-19, planet earth, and groups that have been left behind, left out…


You Are What You Eat / We Are What We Wear

"Put on the Lord Jesus Christ." Romans 13:14

This is the same word as putting on clothes—literally "Clothe yourself in Christ." What you wear at least partly reveals who you are. Some professions have a distinctive uniform that announces who you are and why you're here. With fire and law enforcement personnel (for example), official garb and gear can be necessary and functional. Other situations have more flexibility. Where do I plan to go today? Which of my identities will I mostly rock? What's the weather forecast?

Baptism clothes us in Christ; "dresses us up" in the Holy Spirit of creation, redemption, and sanctification. Baptized into the Trinity we wear a life of agape love that regards every human, critter, and natural neighbor as infinitely valuable and not as objects to be used, exploited, and discarded. During Luke's lectionary year we discussed neighborology – the word about the neighbor – a lot! Agape love is a major word and action about our neighbors. Agape love regards everyone and everything as created in the divine image.


Today's Questions

• Are love and hate opposites? I've heard indifference is the opposite of love. What do you think?

• Or can both be the case?

In addition to the gift of prayer that connects us to the heart of God, how can we fulfill God's obligations and demands by loving right here and now (especially in the USA) related to:

• COVID-19
• Environmental degradation and climate justice
• Racial/ethnic justice and reconciliation – would these possibly include reparations for certain groups?

I frequently point out our actions are synergistic and add up to more than the sum of their individual parts. There's been too much online pushback related to mask-wearing; apparently physical distancing is most effective around other people, but masks help some. Along with the rest of the world, the USA needs elected and appointed leaders who will love Planet Earth into revitalization and restoration. One person=only one vote? Yes, but those votes add up and countless elections have been won or lost by a single yea or nay. It feels to me that in those cases indifference would be the opposite of love.

• What actions would you ideally take related to these three concerns?
• If ideal can't happen, where would you start?

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Pentecost 13A

Romans 12:9-21

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are.

17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. 19Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." 20No, "if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads." 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


Prayer Hymn by Colin Gibson

Where the road runs out and the signposts end,
where we come to the edge of today,
be the God of Abraham for us,
send us out upon our way.

Lord, you were our beginning,
the faith that gave us birth.
We look to you, our ending,
our hope for heaven and earth.


When the coast is left and we journey on
to the rim of the sky and the sea,
be the sailor's friend, be the dolphin Christ
lead us in to eternity.

Lord, you were our beginning …

When the clouds are low and the wind is strong,
when tomorrow's storm draws near,
be the spirit bird hovering overhead
who will take away our fear.

Lord, you were our beginning…


COVID-19

Who would have imagined the year 2020 would bring a global pandemic? As we know, the Corona virus (not caused by Corona Beer that reported diminished sales) invaded the planet and changed everything. It has devastated lives and the economy, made everyone wonder when staying safer at home, wearing masks, and physical distancing will end. I wonder if this long stretch qualifies as a time of exile from our usual? Is it a time of sabbath ceasing from typical productivity? Is this a long winter anticipating the arrival of spring? Is it something else? Is it possible we won't have a name for it until life opens up more and we return to more normalcy? In any case, we all continue to be thankful for and pray for essential workers and for an effective vaccine.


Romans

Today we have a reading from the letter or epistle to the Church at Rome. Romans is the last of the apostle Paul's seven "undisputed" letters or epistles that bear unmistakable marks of his authorship in terms of vocabulary, syntax, and sentence structure. The dense book includes Trinitarian theology of creation, redemption, and sanctification. Today's second reading provides a list of in-your-face exhortations for our attitudes and behaviors.


Pauline Lists

The apostle Paul loves to make lists! His most famous list may be the Fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23: "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." These are the words the NRSV uses; check out other translations! In a list that precedes this one, he contrasts these desirable qualities with what he calls works of the flesh. In several places Saint Paul lists his own credentials and qualifications.


Today's Scripture

With this type of list it's easy and helpful to compare different translations, and to compare the English words with the original Greek. to do. How about defining these traits for yourself and/or describing situations where drawing on them would be life-giving to yourself and the people around you? If we were meeting in person we'd probably do that and likely have time for only a few of them. I'm thinking of illustrating this passage with expressive colors and typography—no representational images.

For today here's a random comparison of a few words in New American Standard Bible (NASB), New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), King James Version (KJV), and The Message (MSG). You probably own several bible versions and you can find many online to compare translations of this and other passages. We need to keep in mind that every translation is an interpretation, even when there's a clear word-to-word parallel. We've mentioned how after people called it a paraphrase, a remix, or another type of version, the late Pastor Eugene Peterson insisted his Message Bible was a translation he originally made to contextualize scripture for the congregation he was serving.

The Greek language has at least four words for love; today's reading from Romans refers to 3 of those 4 kinds of love!

• agape – God-like, grace-filled, unconditional, life-giving care not based on emotion or whim
• storge – instinctive, familial- and familiarity-type affection
• philia – friendship, love in action with of all that implies. This Romans passage says "philadelphia" a word we know well from the Pennsylvania City of Brotherly Love, so philia means "Love ya like a brother or a sister. Like my own sibling." Although this is the only place Paul uses the word philadelphia, you can find it 6 other places in the NT (teaser: you can research those for yourself)
• eros – root of our words erotic and erotica, the meaning goes far beyond simply sexual to any pleasure or affinity that involves our senses

• verse 9a
love = agape
Greek is un-or anti-hypocritical [love]
NASB is most literal, "without hypocrisy"
NRSV genuine
KJV without dissimulation
MSG love from the center of who you are; don't fake it

• 9b
hate, abhor evil MSG="run for dear life from" evil

• 10a
Greek is philadelphia
NASB Be devoted to one another in brotherly love
NRSV love one another with mutual affection
KJV kindly affectionate with brotherly love = literal philadelphia
MSG Be good friends who love deeply

• 10b
Greek is philo (brotherly, sisterly, sibling love) + storgoi, from storge, one of four Greek words for love
NASB give preference to one another in honor
NRSV outdo one another in showing honor
KJV in honor preferring one another
MSG practice playing second fiddle

• 11a
NASB not lagging behind in diligence
NRSV Do not lag in zeal
KJV Not slothful
MSG don't burn out

• 11b
serve, serving the Lord. Greek is doulos (slave) rather than diakonos (servant. where we get our word "deacon")

• 12
NASB devoted to prayer
NRSV persevere in prayer
KJV continuing instant in prayer (different use of instant them we have for "be there in an instant," instant pudding, instant gratification, instant oatmeal)
MSG pray all the harder

• 13
hospitality here is another "phil" root word. MSG advises us "be inventive in hospitality" What examples of inventive hospitality can you imagine?

• 15
Feeling what the other person feels = empathizing, though it says be of the same "mind" rather than emotion

• 17b
Greek approximately is put best construction on everything
KJV Provide things honest
MSG discover beauty in everyone

• 18
peace here is irenic absence of conflict that can be the start of friendship and cooperation
KJV as much as lieth in you, live peaceably
MSG If you've got it in you, get along with everybody

• 19
beloved / be-loved has the agape love root
Greek orge equals English anger, indignation, avenging, vengeance, revenge. It may or may not relate to English orgy that didn't connate licentious excess until a couple of centuries ago.

• 20
feed, water [clothe, house] your actual enemies in all four versions. I'll add enemies along with others you have serious differences with.

• 21
The final flourish, "overcome evil with good" is identical in the first three translations.
MSG wonderfully tells us, "Don't let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good."


Saturday, August 22, 2020

Pentecost 12A

Isaiah 51:1-6

1Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. 2Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. 3For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

4Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. 5I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. 6Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

Prayer: Psalm 138

1I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart; before the gods I sing your praise;
2I bow down toward your holy temple and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness; for you have exalted your name and your word above everything.
3On the day I called, you answered me, you increased my strength of soul.
4All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord, for they have heard the words of your mouth.
5They shall sing of the ways of the Lord, for great is the glory of the Lord.
6For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly; but the haughty he perceives from far away.
7Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies; you stretch out your hand, and your right hand delivers me.
8The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me; your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever. Do not forsake the work of your hands.


Isaiah Overview

As we continue moving through the season of the church, time of the Spirit of Pentecost in the church's year of grace, again this week we have a reading from the long book of Isaiah. Backtracking to last week's outline of the 66 books of Isaiah:

• 1st Isaiah – chapters 1-39 before the Babylonian exile

• 2nd Isaiah – 40-55 during the Babylonian exile

• 3rd Isaiah – 56-66 after the exile, mostly addressed to people who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild city, temple, and their own lives. Some individuals and groups decided to remain in Babylon.

Each large section is mostly by the same author; each includes passages almost definitely written by one or more other individuals. All 66 chapters emphasize God's sovereignty, power, and rule; the entire long book reveals a broad universalism of God's love and redemption for all creation everywhere. Together with his eighth century counterpart Amos, 1st Isaiah brings us the earliest articulation of true monotheism.


Today's Reading

Listen to God and look back! Look way back now—right now! Remember your source, your roots, your human ancestors. Notice what God has done and trust that same God's promises for your future. Notice where you've been, how far you've traveled, how you got to where you are, the hope you have for God's eternal future.

To remember literally is to reassemble something that has been broken apart, torn apart, dismembered, dissembled into multiple pieces.

Look back and remember! God spoke these words via Isaiah when many of God's people had been deported to Babylon—another(!) empire. They'd arrived and literally sunk roots in the Land of Promise after that long trek through the exodus desert after being liberated from Egypt. Please note: this is a v-e-r-y long timeline, and all of it could not have been part of the living memory of any individual, but everyone would have known the history extremely well because they would re-member, re-tell, and re-live it frequently. Isaiah reminds the exiles of their extraordinary history with God's extraordinary faithfulness. In Hebrew, listen and hear are the same word... In times of discouragement, we need to listen to, hear, and remember our own histories with God and God's faithfulness. We can recall our own sometimes surprising faithfulness, as well.

Look back to your past, to where you've been in order to gain hope for the future. Most likely you've heard (1)If you keep looking back you won't see where you're going; and (2)if you don't look back, you won't learn from the past so you'll make those same mistakes. Both are true.

• What family memories are especially important to you? Why?
• Any family memories you'd like to forget? Why?
• What memories of your current place of worship and service are especially important to you?
• What memories of your entire history with the church and churches you've been a part of are particularly important to you? As much as I enjoy encouraging everyone else to tell their stories, if we were meeting live I'd tell everyone the church at first for me was Corita Kent's art and Dietrich Buxtehude's music. Strange? Probably not, since God always contextualizes God's actions to each individual's and community's time, place, and interests.


Lord's Supper

In his first letter to the Church at Corinth, the apostle Paul recorded the chronologically earliest account of Jesus institution of the Lord's Supper in the upper room. We sometimes call this the Founding Meal. Holy Communion on Maundy Thursday especially remembers that time and place.

1 Corinthians 11:23-26

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "Take, eat; this is my body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of me." In the same manner he also took the cup after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me." For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death till he comes.

Remembering Jesus

Jesus' liturgy of Bread and Cup makes us one with God's people in every place and time. The Anglo Saxon Lord provided the loaf of sustenance to the people; Jesus was born in Bethlehem, "Little Town of House of Bread." In Semitic languages, cup has the same root as the word for door or entryway; in Jesus' world, a cup was an icon of a person's role or calling in life. Every celebration of Holy Communion remembers, retells, relives, and anticipates Jesus' and the entire church's past and future. When we celebrate Holy Communion (the Eucharist, Lord's Supper, The Sacrament—different names reflect various aspects of the Bread of Life and Cup of Salvation), the Eucharistic Prayer includes a section called the anamnesis, or remembering. Typically it mentions creation, the exodus (freedom from empire), the promised land, prophets, homecoming, Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. As the anamnesis recounts the history of God and God's people, it makes God's past and future actions present to us here and now. If you have any old printed Sunday bulletins at home, check out the Eucharistic Prayers.

• When you remember Jesus, what memory from scripture or from your own experience comes first to you?
• What is your favorite Jesus story in the gospels?
• What do you most often emphasize regarding the Sacrament of the Altar (Martin Luther's terminology)?


Remembering during COVID-19: Hope for Our Future

The pandemic with its social, economic, health, and everything fallout has exhausted everyone. From a few casual conversations I know I'm not the only one in no hurry to return to live indoors worship or dine again inside at a sit-down restaurant. But does anyone want to enjoy Al Fresco lunch or dinner together soon? I might be open to that.

Six months away from church campus, six months of masks and physical distancing, six months of updates on infections and deaths, about restaurants, retailers, and real lives of real people. Our emphasis on doing God's Work with Our Hands is theologically accurate and necessary, but we need to take care not to place too much trust in ourselves or in other fallible humans who all are near the top of the exhaustion scale. As we affirm our baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection along with our identity as the Body of Christ we need to remember we are not Jesus. We are not anyone's Savior. We hear in today's scripture:

Listen to God, pay attention to what God proclaims and teaches. Look to our source and our roots in God's life and God's actions. Celebrate God's justice, light, deliverance, and reign. Hope in God's power and salvation.

Besides those words recorded by Isaiah, today's opening prayer from Psalm 138 celebrate God's presence and actions: God's name, God's steadfast love and faithfulness. God's word, God's ways, God's glory, God's deliverance. God's purpose. The work of God's hands! Interesting phrase as we prepare a virtual God's Work-Our Hands day. Trust God's promises. Hope in God, not in ourselves, not in each other, not in the church. Yes, the church is a divine organism dedicated to all creation, but it's also a human institution dedicated to God, and we all know a whole lot about those human constructs.

Listen to God's word; look to our source and our roots. Where we've been; what God has done and still promises. Several times recently I've mentioned the previousness of God— the reality God already has been to our future, the truth God already is at our future, and God waits for us to get there.

Maybe too many questions this week—making up for last week with none?

• How does re-membering the past give us post-COVID-19 hope?
• How do we do that?! Talking with people who've been there with us? Looking at photographs and scrapbooks? Reading the bible? Some other technique?
• Does knowing about previous vaccines help us believe we'll soon have one for this virus, or does it make us doubt, especially when we know (for example) seasonal influenza changes some every year so flu vaccine needs to be reconfigured every year?
• Does knowing linear time is one of God's essential gifts that helps us navigate our daily lives make it easier or more difficult to believe God has been to our future? Answering again for myself, having studied scripture to some extent and been on this earth a few decades, I think I know "the rest of the story" but resurrection from the dead always surprises me.

Saturday, August 15, 2020

Pentecost 11A

Isaiah 56:1-2, 6-8

1Thus says the Lord: Maintain justice, and do what is right, for soon my salvation will come, and my deliverance be revealed. 2Happy is the mortal who does this, the one who holds it fast, who keeps the sabbath, not profaning it, and refrains from doing any evil.

6And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord, and to be his servants, all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant— 7these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. 8Thus says the Lord God, who gathers the outcasts of Israel, I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.

COVID-19

Hope for an effective vaccine continues as more people in the USA test positive, too many ignore physical distancing and mask-wearing mandates, as schools, students, teachers, parents, administrators at all educational levels wonder how to proceed. In any case, healthcare professionals and other staff, essential workers such as grocery store employees, police, and fire personnel deserve our ongoing prayers and gratitude.


Prayer: Psalm 67

May God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah.
That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.
Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
O let the nations be glad and sing for joy: for thou shalt judge the people righteously, and govern the nations upon earth. Selah.

Let the people praise thee, O God; let all the people praise thee.
Then shall the earth yield her increase; and God, even our own God, shall bless us.
God shall bless us; and all the ends of the earth shall fear God!


Isaiah Outline

Short overview of the long book of Isaiah that's in three distinct sections and from three different primary authors:

• 1st Isaiah – chapters 1-39 before the Babylonian exile

• 2nd Isaiah – 40-55 during the Babylonian exile

• 3rd Isaiah – 56-66 after the exile, mostly addressed to people who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild city, temple, and their own lives. Some individuals and groups decided to remain in Babylon.

Despite clear-cut authorship of each section of the 66 chapter long book of Isaiah, all three also include material whose overall style doesn't accord with the rest and that's almost definitely from another writer.

All of Greater Isaiah(!) brings us magnificent inclusive universalism that's not squishy, sweet, contentless New Age, but reveals a God who reaches out with love and mercy to all people and all creation everywhere. Together with his eighth century counterpart Amos, 1st Isaiah brings us the earliest articulation of true monotheism.


Today's Isaiah Reading…

…easily can be misunderstood as it begins with God telling the people to act with justice and righteousness and then redemption – "deliverance" in the NRSV – will arrive. That feels backwards and theologically, it is. This scripture reading – and sometimes others – may appear as if grace is conditional and happens as a result of our behaviors (works-righteousness), but with God that's never the case.

In Deuteronomy 4:7-8 we hear, "What other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?" God gave (I love the word bestowed) the commandments as a sign that God was close to the people and as a gift to enable them to blossom and thrive.

Related to December holidays of Christmas, Chanukah, and Kwanzaa, sometimes we talk about "exchanging gifts" or a workplace "gift exchange" but an exchange is an economic transaction, and by definition a gift cannot be earned or paid for. On those holidays we either give presents or perform transactions; it cannot be both.

As we know from the biblical narrative, grace-filled life with God starts with the gift of creation, continues with the astonishing gift of redemption, and then moves on with the Spirit-filled gift of the law with guidelines for living as redeemed people. You remember how God gave israel the Ten Words or Commandments of the Sinai Covenant after they'd been released from slavery in imperial Egypt, but while they still were trekking toward the Land of Promise where they'd settle down and need to know how to live as neighbors to one another and to the surrounding non-israelites? Where they'd need to "hold fast" to God's covenant of grace?

In addition, as God's people responded to grace in loving, justice-oriented ways, those around them would begin to know God through the presence and actions of God's people. What is more, eventually in Jesus Christ God kept both sides of the covenant and fulfilled it – held fast to it – for everyone everywhere in a way Israel never could.

This opening passage of Third Isaiah reminds us of holy demands of a holy God to do justice and righteousness, and to keep Sabbath. It also reveals a God who loves, includes, and embraces everyone—including Israel's enemies! From Isaiah 56:7, the cornerstone of the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown LA announces "My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples." This is ecumenical cooperation between very different, quite similar, and closely related Christian denominations—it's also interfaith, just as it was during Third Isaiah's sixth century.


Sabbath

The official Sabbath day never changed from setting apart the hours from Friday sundown through Saturday sundown, but we often expand the word "sabbath" to describe any time of rest from productive activity, for any time specifically for God, for worship, for family, for not conceding to the demands of empire. Maybe ironically, when an academic goes on a sabbatical year or semester they expect to study and produce, but it still is a refreshing period of apartness from normal expectations and involvement.

Because of Jesus' resurrection on Sunday, Christians typically worship and whenever possible refrain from paid work and other busyness on Sundays, but that's not possible for everyone. Most Sundays most pastors are on the clock! Sunday employment slots obviously need to be filled by health care, police, fire, transportation, and other essential personnel. Nowadays most retailers stay open on Sundays so need to stay staffed. However, human bodies and spirits require regular time away from being busy, time to simply be, and scheduling a regular time of sabbath is not only important, but necessary for good mental health and physical health.

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Pentecost 9A

These reflections on Matthew's loaves and fishes the lectionary appointed for Pentecost 9A (last Sunday) is for Sunday 09 August that's technically Pentecost 10A. Next Sunday we'll be back on track with the lectionary.

Matthew 14:13-21

13Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick.

15When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves." 16Jesus said to them, "They need not go away; you give them something to eat." 17They replied, "We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish." 18And he said, "Bring them here to me." 19Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

20And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Justice is important, but food is essential.


COVID-19

The sixth month away from church campus! Our sixth month needing to be the best friends and neighbors possible by maintaining physical distance from non-household members and never going outside our own domain without a face covering! I'm not the only one who's angry and outraged at people who have increased the rate of spread and slowed the recovery process by ignoring government mandates and common sense.


Prayer from Psalm 145

All your works give thanks to you, O Lord; all your people bless you. All creation proclaims your glory and celebrates your power, revealing to the world your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your reign. You are a God faithful in all your words, gracious in all your deeds. You uphold all of us who fail and fall; you raise us up in our weariness. All eyes look to you, our Source; you sustain us with food as harvests happen.

You have met us as Lord of goodness and grace; you always have been slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love and compassionate to all your creatures. You are with us even before we seek your presence. Our songs and actions praise you; all creation will bless you forever and ever.

Amen!


Feeding 5,000+

Justice is important, but food is essential.

Every scriptural instance of water isn't about baptism; every reference to grain or grape isn't about the Lord's Supper, but these gifts of creation always remind us of God's physical provision and God's call to us to steward creation. Today's story of five loaves of bread and two fish is amazing on many counts—among them the fact all four gospels include it. For easy comparison I've pasted the other three at the end of this post.

We sometimes parallel Jesus feeding hungry people in this untamed setting with God feeding wanderers in the Exodus desert. The Old Testament consistently makes abundant food the icon of the completion of redemption of the Messianic Time. As creatures who bear God's image, we recognize food as the primary symbol of human hospitality. Everyone reading this could write or talk paragraphs of food-related experiences of disappointment, surprise, and redemption; I'll write a few, too.

Have you heard of or eaten Ezekiel 4:9 bread? In its scriptural context the bread is both ritual and nutrition, but for now, paraphrased from their website: Sprouting and combining these six grains and legumes creates a complete protein that parallels the protein in milk and eggs. The protein quality is about 85% as efficient as the highest recognized source of protein; this bread contains 18 amino acids.

Gathering 5,000 people was an act of sedition punishable by crucifixion; 5,000 formed a military battalion.

This particular feeding event happened during the grain harvest, close to Passover. Barley was the poor person's grain because the king and other rich people got most of the wheat, but to its advantage, barely is ready for harvest earlier than wheat, and barley grows well in ground that's less good than the high quality earth wheat requires. Barley also was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the Promised Land! Most of Jesus' disciples were fishers by trade; in the surrounding culture, fish was a food of the gods. Plus, we have the initialism ichthys where the letters of the Greek word for fish are the first letters of Jesus Christ Son of God Savior.

just as too many people worldwide and in our backyards are food insecure, food scarcity was one of many indignities of imperial Roman occupation. Equally indignant is the fact most metropolitan areas in this country have food deserts, with no healthy food available within a reasonably walkable radius.

You may have read interpretations that claim loaves and fishes suddenly multiplied out of nowhere, but God generally doesn't operate that way. In his Girardian lectionary commentary, Pastor Paul Nuechterlein says people would not have ventured into that isolated area without some snacks. He says (1)people probably were hoarding their food because they feared not having enough in the future. Given the rampant food scarcity then and there I'll suggest many of those 5,000 (men as well as women and children, making total count even higher) did not have any food with them, but I do agree people who'd brought some very very definitely wanted to hang on to what they had.

However, I hadn't considered:

(2)Nuechterlein brings up cultural and religious concerns about purity codes related to what you eat and who you eat with—remember how Jesus eating with outcasts and sinners sooooo was not supposed to be done?! Pastor Paul says the real miracle here was people getting over their fears of not enough and opening their table to their neighbors; he calls this the "Miracle of Opening the Human Heart to Abundance." There really was plenty of food to go around, and… twelve baskets of leftovers. The New Interpreters Bible says they were LARGE baskets! We frequently read or hear there's enough food worldwide to feed everyone, but not many behave as if they believed it.

At many points in Jesus' ministry we recognize his "Taking – Thanking – Breaking – Giving" as a eucharistic action that like our own, participates in the redemption of all creation. Food no longer is an imperial commodity to be traded or sold, but a covenantal gift to be received.


Living with Others

The world has seen an unfortunate series of imperial governments (Egypt, Babylon, Assyria, Persia, Rome, Spain, Netherlands, Great Britain, USA, more?); beyond those, food production has assumed an imperial force of its own – sometimes called Big Ag – that mostly runs on greed and exploitative market forces. Making a comprehensive list is impossible, but realities of that system include: federal subsidies to farmers not to grow certain crops; costs of depleted farmland; the overall price of extracting petroleum and minerals to build and run farm equipment, along with trucks and trains that haul everything; health and related human costs to field workers… those who make the money externalize the costs to someone else. You can add to that short list. And organic certification doesn't always mean free from accretions of empire.

We are what we eat – we literally embody nutrients we consume, as well as the labor of people who grow, produce, transport, prepare the meal or the drink or the snack. We literally embody actions that contribute to ruining the land and the environment. We literally embody diseases and death Big Ag has caused farmers, farmlands, and farmhands. With costs of packaging, transportation, and distribution not necessarily being lower, organic certification doesn't always negate those costs.

We can move away from imperial forms of production and distribution to covenantal methods that emphasize our kinship and our common wealth.

• Besides shopping at farmers markets and planting gardens, what can we do?


Living for Others

Justice is important, but food is essential.

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?"

• What does grace taste like?

Food at the crossroads of empire and covenant

We often feel the best communion bread is baked locally from scratch: confirmation students in the church kitchen; a long-time member in his own bakery; a young couple as a family project with their kids. That feels fabulous, but can our feasting around the Lord's table transform and redeem breads and vines from Big Ag? We may have purchased it with legal tender or an item we bartered, but what if "the buck stopped" there and as we gather around God's Table as God's people, the only cost for the bread and the fruit of the vine is receiving them? What if we extended that cost-free inclusion beyond the community of faith formally gathered around Word and Sacrament on a Sunday or Feast Day? The sacraments form models for our behaviors outside the designated sanctuary, for acting in Jesus' name as God's hands when the church leaves the building.

Eating together nourishes spirits and relationships.
Eating together heals individual and social bodies.
Food is essential—community is equally so? An old transit station poster reminded travelers, "loneliness can kill people."

• What are some of your best memories and favorite examples of sharing food or something else you already had that someone else needed?


Into a Future

Humans often have a scarcity mentality and tend to stockpile for leaner times. Part of that is logical because of our own experiences and observations. Besides, it would be stupidly irresponsible not to set aside some of everything aside for that "rainy day" that's sure to arrive and stay a short while or a long one. We humans assume scarcity; we probably all have had times of not enough or at least needing to carefully ration what we have, but right now as pandemic stimulus packages for individuals and businesses run out, it has become frightening for many. Small and large restaurants, other businesses that provide goods and services have run out of money and out of time or will do so very soon. Every other day we hear about another long-established retailer filing for bankruptcy! Even setting aside financial considerations and not factoring in unhealthy amounts of social isolation, every one is metaphorically in a lonely, desert-like place of desolation.

The USA is the wealthiest country in history. Numbers shift all the time, but if it were a sovereign nation, California would be… Google just told me the world's fifth largest economy, "ahead of India and behind Germany." In the power of the Holy Spirit of resurrection, we need the miracle of opening our hearts to abundance and solidarity. We also need the miracle of electing and appointing governmental leaders who create life-giving budgets that redistribute "what we already have with us" to those in need in ways that will start to mitigate the seriously skewed current arrangement of assets. Debt on every level downstream of the very top is at the heart of any imperial economy.

Today's assigned gospel reading is about bread and fishes for 5,000 plus hungry people.

God calls us to follow the example of Jesus' first century-followers by sharing what we already have with us, not fearing future scarcity or the unknown of sitting down at the welcome table with strangers.

• In addition to life-giving ministries of prayer, what can we do?
• What do we already have with us that can help our neighbors in need?

Through the presence and work of his followers:

• Who is Jesus?
• Who are we?

Justice is important, but food is essential.

• Psalm 78:19b "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?" Can we spread a table in this pandemic wilderness?

• What does grace taste like?




Mark 6:35-44

35When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, "This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat." 37But he answered them, "You give them something to eat." They said to him, "Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?" 38And he said to them, "How many loaves have you? Go and see." When they had found out, they said, "Five, and two fish." 39Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42And all ate and were filled; 43and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.


Luke 9:12-17

12The day was drawing to a close, and the twelve came to Jesus and said, "Send the crowd away, so that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside, to lodge and get provisions; for we are here in a deserted place." 13But he said to them, "You give them something to eat." They said, "We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people." 14For there were about five thousand men. And he said to his disciples, "Make them sit down in groups of about fifty each." 15They did so and made them all sit down. 16And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. 17And all ate and were filled. What was left over was gathered up, twelve baskets of broken pieces.


John 6:1-14

1After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, "Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down." Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."