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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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."