The Servant-Leader

Following the Transfiguration, Jesus once again draws a large crowd and heals a possessed boy. It seems Jesus couldn’t go anywhere around Galilee without tripping over a demon.

After this healing, Jesus goes undercover, once again, through the Galilee, apparently undetected. Jesus needed time to continue his trainings and teachings with the disciples. He knew his time was short. He didn’t need any more interruptions.

Without mentioning names, Jesus obliquely says that the Son of Man will be killed and will rise again after three days. This is the second passion prediction Jesus made to the disciples. None of the disciples asked any clarifying questions.

With, perhaps, a few exceptions, everyone has experienced a time when a teacher, professor, or instructor has asked a question and no one raises a hand.

There are likely several reasons for this: someone is sure they have the answer but don’t want to show off or be the only one with a hand up, some may not want to raise a hand and be “the nerd” (our son fits that category), or some may not be sure they know the answer and don’t want to risk being wrong in front of everybody, or some just have no clue what the answer is.

These are true story examples of some class behavior. A student remembers back when this student took drivers ed and the teacher asked if anyone knew what the raised bumps between lanes were in the roads. A guy raised his hand, was called on, and said in all seriousness, “for blind people so they stay in their lane.”

Everyone turned and stared at him in silence. The teacher had this look on his face like, what? Then everyone started laughing and his buddy next to him whacked him in the arm saying, “you’re joking.” But he just turned to his friend shrugging his shoulders. So, the teacher set him straight. He never raised his hand in class again.

Another student related, “I watched one facepalm after my classmate said this, “Ugh! I don’t even know what a verb IS!” This was in an advanced linguistics course for would-be English teachers.

We can only speculate about why the disciples were afraid to ask Jesus any questions. The tongue-tied, no questions asked, disciples, end up at Capernaum, which is on the north shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus’ headquarters was in Peter’s house.

Jesus knew they were arguing and unless Jesus was hard of hearing, he knew what they were arguing about. It is rare for an argument to be whispered. (Though, I have seen it done. You know, when someone whispers, our hearing gets notched up.) Jesus asked what they were arguing about. Again, none of the disciples wished to raise their hand with an answer to Jesus’ question.

When Mark refers to the disciples, he is referring to the people Jesus is teaching. These were likely some or many more than the twelve apostles. To make the distinction, Mark says that Jesus sat down with the just the twelve.

Jesus said that to be a leader, one must put everyone else ahead of the leader. We usually think of a leader with people following, which is kind of what those words mean. Jesus, though flips that concept on its head.

In order to serve others, the servant-leader must know them. Afterall, how can one serve if the need is unknown. The servant-leader must connect with others on a personal level. Only then can the servant-leader meet the needs and cares of others. These connecting actions create gratitude in the receiver and joyful hearts for the giver and the receivers.

A lot of people would not recognize someone who was a braggart and was often in people’s faces, literally and figuratively as a servant-leader. It would seem to be the opposite persona for Muhammed Ali. The disciples asked who was the greatest. They never met Muhammed Ali.

I remember watching the opening ceremonies of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics. The opening ceremonies have entertaining performances, the parade of the athletes, and speeches by Olympic officials and local organizers. The highlight, though, is the lighting of the Olympic flame.

I think a part of the reason for this is that the person who lights the flame is usually the best kept secret in the world. Usually, the first one in the stadium is a world-class runner for the summer games. Even if very well known, that will not be the person lighting the flame. The torch gets passed off several times heightening the speculation of whether or not that will be that person who lights the flame.

The torch reached the top of the stadium and I assumed that Janet Evans, an Olympic swimmer would light the flame. At the last minute, a figure appeared from the shadows and was handed the torch. It was Muhammed Ali, an Olympic gold medalist. The place erupted. Ali held up the torch high in one hand and his other hand was shaking from his Parkinson’s disease. That scene is forever in my mind. (If that wasn’t exactly as it happened – don’t tell me.)

Muhammed Ali was involved with more than thirty organizations, including the Andrea Bocelli Foundation, the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the Muhammad Ali Parkinson Center, the NAACP, and the Special Olympics.

“Ali traveled to numerous countries, including Mexico and Morocco, to help out those in need. In 1998, he was chosen to be a United Nations Messenger of Peace because of his work in developing nations.” (Muhammad Ali – Quotes, Record & Spouse – Biography)

“Religious tolerance also played a large role in his life. Though he was devoutly Muslim, he regularly met with leaders of other faiths to impart a greater understanding between the religions of the world.

“Ali said to CNN, when asked about 9/11, ‘Rivers, ponds, lakes, and streams – they all have different names, but they all contain water. So, religions all have different names, but they all contain the same truths. I think the people of our religion should be tolerant and understand people believe different things. It’s a shame that this (tolerance) didn’t happen before.’” (Muhammad Ali had a lifelong mission to help those in need (

Just by coincidence, a documentary series about Muhammed Ali, servant-leader, was on PBS. Though a Muslim, Ali reflected what Jesus was teaching the twelve.

Jesus is giving an example of one of the aspects of the realm of God. It is one where gratitude for what God gives us is received in love. This love is then reflected to everyone around.

Jesus makes his point with a child. This is going to sound harsh, but it was the social hierarchy of Jesus’ time. Men were on top. The wealthy on the very top and then the small middle class, and then the masses of the poor. Next were women. After women, were children, regardless of gender. It was a big deal for a child to reach adulthood. The child was no longer at the bottom of society. Some of those traditions and celebrations continue to this day, like bar-mitsvahs.

Jesus puts a child in front of the twelve. This may look to us like a cute moment, but it anything but that. Jesus chose the lowest member of society. In another moment of upending social norms, Jesus declares that anyone who welcomes a child also welcomes Jesus and the one who sent Jesus. In other words, welcoming the least in society is welcoming God.

“A father had the right to punish, sell, pawn off, or even kill his own child.”[1] Our views have improved towards children since then. Yet, I still hear over and over again about children being our future. Maybe, we should appreciate them for who they are now. The disciples were arguing about who was the greatest. Well, the greatest is a child. (Muhammed Ali wasn’t born yet.)

Human beings are tribal. It’s in our DNA from tens of thousands of years before history. We like to hang around with people like us and avoid others. In prehistoric times, we might not know if others from another tribe are going to be peaceful or are arriving to take our food and anything else. It was survival thing.

Jesus wants us to remove those boundary feelings that might well up with a stranger or strangers. Instead of assuming what another wants from us, we are to consider what we might give or at the very least, to make a connection.

What will I do about these things when I leave here? I don’t know. It’s in my DNA to be suspicious. But Jesus points me to a new reality that can erase animosity in the world.

[1] Marty, P. W. (2001). Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B. In R. E. Van Harn (Ed.), The lectionary commentary: theological exegesis for Sunday’s texts, volume three (p. 244). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

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Strength in Community

When our son, Brian, was about three years old, we got a dalmatian puppy. When dalmatians are young, they are a handful. Brian couldn’t say spots. It came out as pots. We wanted to name her Daisy, so we registered her name as Daisy May Potts. Even after she was full grown, Daisy always considered herself a lap dog.

One night we had spaghetti with a tomato sauce and we knew that Brian was going to make a mess, which would provide us with some Kodak moments we could use when he was older.

I don’t remember the exact details, but it must have begun when Brian accidentally dropped some spaghetti on the floor. Of course, there was our spotted companion who eagerly gobbled up what was dropped. This was very amusing to Brian. So now, he would pick up some spaghetti and throw it to the floor. Daisy would jump on it while Brian giggled, which meant he would do it over and over again. Also, Daisy accumulated some red on her coat.

Brian did produce the expected face covered with tomato sauce moment. We don’t know where those pictures are today or if we even have them anymore. Maybe we gave them to Brian.

Crumbs are an inevitable part of dining, whether you are a child or an adult. That’s why God invented napkins. It is true today and it was probably true as long as there have been human beings.

We were gone for three weeks in August 0f 2021. We were in Utah when the Caldor fire broke out. We kept track of it through the internet and on TV news. Utah Idaho, and Wyoming weather forecasters included California smoke forecasts in their TV segments. Wildfire smoke was a constant on our trip. As the fire approached Placerville, Brian was on standby to get important documents out of the house.

When we dined in restaurants during our trip, we had napkins on our laps. (It’s expected in polite company.) We didn’t bother, otherwise. We were careful to keep the crumbs on our plates. Jesus made trips, too, and he tried to have a vacation or two.

We are in a portion of Mark’s gospel that is like a travel log.

Jesus was in the Gennesaret region, north of the Sea of Galilee, when he decided to go to the Phoenician coast city of Tyre, which is now in Lebanon. The Canaanites we read about in the Bible were Phoenicians. Phoenicians were once a mighty trading people who settled in much of the Mediterranean. After Alexander the Great and then the Romans, that was, essentially, the end of that.

Still, Tyre was an impressive city in Jesus’ time. It would be rather cosmopolitan and it would be really non-Jewish. Jesus was in enemy territory. However, Tyre might have been more welcoming than the constant attacks from the temple authorities that Jesus endured in the Galilee.

It seems Jesus was in need of a break from the Galilean crowds and their demands and the heckling from the Jewish authorities. The people of Tyre would not care about some itinerant Jewish preacher wandering into town. Even then, Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Jesus’ plan failed.

At least one person knew who Jesus was and she took her shot at getting Jesus to help her. She was not a Jew, but she was desperate for help and didn’t seem to care about religious pedigrees. She may have thought that if this Jew can help her then who cares if he is a Jew.

An additional impediment was that a Jewish man could not be seen with an unaccompanied woman. It is especially bad if that woman is not a Jew. The woman’s desperation is acute and societal bounds must be broken. She has nothing to lose but her daughter. Jesus would be justified in kicking her out.

This woman’s daughter had what Mark describes as an unclean spirt. It is unlikely that the Phoenician woman cared whether the spirit was clean or unclean. That is more of a Jewish distinction that would have made little sense to her. This phrase, unclean spirit, is used elsewhere in the New Testament implying demonic possession.

This unnamed woman begged Jesus to cast out the demon inhabiting her daughter. Jesus may have been perturbed that he was asked to do work, work that he went to Tyre to escape from. Jesus went to Tyre to rest. It is like being on vacation when you get a call from work. You might think to yourself, “Well, I got to take the call, but I don’t have to like it.”

Jesus dismissed the woman by telling her that the children are to be fed first and not have their food taken and thrown to dogs. Very few dogs would have minded that. In other words, Jesus is there for the Jews and gentiles are no better than dogs.

This woman was not only persistent, but she was also very quick and clever. She brushed off the insult of being compared to a dog and said that even dogs eat the food that children drop (or throw) on the floor. I have seen with my own two eyes a child throw food to the floor and then giggle, I mean giggle, when the dog rushes over to eat the thrown food. You know, tomato sauce is unbecoming on a dalmatian. The woman would be satisfied with a crumb.

She won the argument. The woman assumed the role of a prophet and confronted Jesus, reminding him of his responsibility to humankind and not just the Jews. Jesus relented. Jesus declared that the woman’s daughter was healed, the demon is gone. The woman returned home and her daughter was cured.

Cynically, it might be noted that Jesus’ healing of the woman’s daughter was just to get rid of her. Whatever Jesus’ motive was for the healing, it was done. More significantly, Jesus expanded his healing ministry beyond Jews to someone who was not a Jew. Gentiles were no longer excluded from Jesus’ grace.

Jesus then headed north on the coast to Sidon, another Phoenician city, then he turned east toward the Jordan River that is north of Galilee. Jesus went past Galilee to the Decapolis, a region of ten gentile cities or towns. Just to emphasize, Jesus traveled through predominately Jewish territory to go to another gentile region. We are not told where in the Decapolis Jesus went. Just a note, the Galilee region was not exclusively Jewish.

Jesus’ reputation apparently also traveled from nearby Galilee to the Decapolis. Again, religious affiliation was no impediment to the local people and it is now no impediment to Jesus. Some people bring a deaf man who, understandably, has speech issues. These people more than likely spoke Greek. Jesus spoke Aramaic. There is no mention of a translator or if anyone was bilingual.

These people wish Jesus to heal a man’s impediments. They were probably relatives, but Mark gives no details about the man or those who brought him.

In first century Palestine, a man with these disabilities would not be pitied. He would be considered a sinner and that somehow, he deserved being deaf with a speech impediment. He must have lost his hearing later in life, because he is not a mute. His deafness would have put him on the bottom rung of society. Even the poor would be thought of as betters.

Jesus privately took the man away from the crowd. Whereas Jesus healed from a distance in the previous story, Jesus is now very hands on. Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. Jesus put his spittle on the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up and prayed.

Now we get back to language. Jesus says, “Ephphatha.” It is an Aramaic word that literally means to open the womb, but was also used to figuratively perceive or understand something. For example, to open one’s ears to hear or listen or interpret. When Mark translates Ephphatha into Greek, he uses the word dianoichtheti. This means to utilize or perceive a body part. Or our English translations keep it simple and say, “Be opened.”

Whereas, the Syrophoenician daughter was healed without Jesus’ presence, Jesus puts a lot at play in this healing. He uses touch, spit, prayer, and a command. Presumably, Jesus is commanding the man’s ears. Before Jesus commanded a demon.

Immediately, the man could hear and speak plainly. The man was restored to society. Jesus seems to have returned the man back to his friends and family, because he orders them to tell no one about what just happened. Of course, they go blabbing about it to seemingly anyone who would listen, which is pretty ironic.

Now we have to give them some slack here. Here is this man who was deaf and couldn’t speak well and now he can. People are going to ask what happened. The friends and family can either lie or tell the truth. They chose to tell the truth. Jesus healed the man. “He even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” (Mark 7:37c)

Here, we hear two healing stories in the midst of a pandemic. Unlike most of Jesus’ healing interventions, these two are for gentiles and not Jews. Pandemics are nothing new. Jesus and the disciples likely never physically endured a pandemic. But there were many pandemics before their time and we might assume they heard stories of ancestors who survived them. An argument could be made that if not for a pandemic that wiped out most of the Roman army, Rome might have never fallen. Or, at least, not as soon as it did.

Our pandemic is different from all the other pandemics before it. Vaccines are relatively new in medicine and human history. The vaccines that are available to us now were made in record time using new technology. This created some skepticism. Yet, they work and work very well. Thousands of lives will be saved because of the innovation of mRNA.

Jesus gives us a pathway in these difficult times. Even in the midst of a pandemic, we are separated in the response to it. Jesus’ response to need, even though it was initially relucent in the first case, was compassion.

Jesus did not just heal physical or spiritual issues. Jesus restored the victims to society. We live in a time when people are divided into camps. In a pandemic with people dying, we are driven by fear. We are driven by a fear of death and from infection. We are driven by fear that our freedom is being taken away from us.

I don’t like wearing a mask. But I will if it makes others feel more comfortable. I got vaccinated so I would not have to wear a mask and also so I would not end up in a hospital and possibly die. Granted, I am closer to the end than to the beginning, but I would like to stick around a little while longer.

Perhaps, the question for those who are hesitant in getting vaccinated might be, “What would you do to help the people around you, your family and friends?” Making the question open ended might provoke solutions we have not thought of before. Doing nothing, though, is not an option.

Many of those who were infected with COVID-19 and survived continue to suffer from the aftereffects of the disease. The little Syrophoenician girl was healthy until she wasn’t. What were her aftereffects from demonic possession? She couldn’t see a therapist, because they hadn’t been invented yet. Injuries to one’s mental health, in those, days were to just deal with it on your own.

In order to help those with lingering COVID and other scars, we need to work together. That means we need to be less selfish and put away our animosity toward those with differing views. We can get out of this mess if we work together.

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Being Fed

There is a phrase that is not used much anymore. It was used as a metaphor to describe something stupendous or miraculous. It goes something along the lines of, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread.”

It probably started when someone thought sales of bread would increase if there was a machine that would slice the loaf of bread before putting it in a bag. Before that sandwich slices were cut from a loaf of bread and that bread was likely not packaged. If I were to cut sandwich slices from a loaf of bread, one slice would be obviously bigger then the other. With sliced bread, they are all the same width, except, maybe, the heels.

In this country, I think we take bread for granted. Back when I was a tyke, lo these many years, I was taught that bread was life. Maybe because of sliced bread, we mainly, I think, buy bread for sandwiches. It doesn’t seem too necessary for our lives, especially when we have access to so much food.

When I was young, bread was like a side dish. We had bread and butter on the side of our plates. Of course, it was usually sliced bread, but it could be a dinner roll, which I still see at Thanksgiving. In later years, we never had bread at meals, unless it was a sandwich.  

Suzie and I see typically three lectures from one of the Great Courses on Wednesdays. We just finished one about the birth of civilizations. In almost every case, a civilization occurred after people became an agrarian society. This allowed the population to increase and as the population increased, then someone had to be in charge and there had to be more complex organizations. Also, trading was expanded, which was probably the catalyst for writing.

In the old world, every agrarian society domesticated grain. In west Asia and the Mediterranean, it was principally wheat. In east Asia, it was rice. There is some debate if the domestication of wheat and barley was for food or for beer. The jury is still out. Humans being humans, I’m betting on beer.

Whether it was for bread or for beer, the staple food of the ancient world was grains. In the new world, it was principally tubers. In the ancient world, people starved if there was a bad grain harvest. Society and civilization depended on grains.

Today, we don’t depend on grains, but they remain a part of our diets. The loaves of sliced bread we get in the store seem to be shorter than they used to be. Even then, they are bigger than the loaves that were part of the miracle of the Feeding of the 5,000. Those loaves were about the size of two dinner rolls we would use today. The people of Jesus’ time depended on bread. The alternative was starvation.

The middle part of John’s chapter six follows the feeding of the 5,000 with five barley loaves. The people wanted to seize Jesus and make him king. Alarmed, Jesus goes and hides. Everybody’s bellies are full. The sun is setting and the vast crowd is hanging out.

Meanwhile, the disciples were also hanging out. They also don’t know where Jesus was and it seems they didn’t want to stay at that site. So, they got into to their boat to go back to Capernaum, without Jesus. It was night when a storm came up and they could not row against the storm. They were terrified seeing Jesus walk toward them. Jesus got in the boat and poof, they put in at Capernaum.

The next morning, the crowd woke up to find a boat gone and rightly assume that Jesus didn’t leave with the disciples. Jesus is still seemingly missing.

So, they got into the remaining boat to go to Capernaum, in case Jesus was there. Presumably, all 5,000 did not try to get into that one boat. You know, some had to go to work. Some had to go shopping. Some had to deal with in-laws. You know the stories.

They get to Capernaum and their hunch was right. Jesus was there at Capernaum. But there were only two boats and Jesus didn’t get in either one. They were puzzled and asked Jesus how did he get there? That was a question that Jesus did not want to answer. They saw the feeding of the 5,000 with their own eyes. Jesus telling them that he walked on the Sea of Galilee might be over the top.

Jesus rightly tells them that their efforts to find him are only because of the miracle of the loaves. It might be relevant to note here about the feeding of the poor in the ancient world. The percentage of the poor in the Roman world was about 90%. It was a subsistence existence.

Each day was an exercise in getting something to eat. In the cities if the poor did not eat, there were riots that could topple the government. The emperor in Rome made sure grain was always supplied to the people of Rome. Wheat was sold at a steep discount, subsidized by the government. A lot of the Roman expansion was to find new sources of wheat.

Jesus providing enough bread for the multitude to eat made Jesus look like the emperor. They think they found someone who could relieve them of the threat of hunger that they lived with every day.

Jesus says they are looking for him, not because of signs, but because they had their fill of bread. Ironically, the miracle of the loaves was a sign. Mahatma Gandhi said, “There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.” The crowd was hungry, but they failed to see God when God was right in front of them.

Jesus is going to try to tell them that Jesus is not there for their physical or even their political needs. Jesus is there for their spiritual needs. The bread that they ate perishes. There were leftovers. If not eaten soon, it will rot. (That is, after it gets so hard that it breaks your teeth.)

What they need to work toward is “food that endures for eternal life.” (John 6:27b) It is this food that will be given by the Son of Man. It is God who has sealed the Son of Man. So, by implication, food for eternal life comes from God. Notice that Jesus does not explicitly say he is the Son of Man.

Jesus’ statements must have provoked a lot of questions. They certainly do for me. But the first question is about what we might do to perform the works of God. Jesus isn’t going to make this easy for them. Jesus’ answer is to believe in the one God sent.

When Jesus says that their work (and presumably, our work) is to believe the one whom God has sent, our first impression is that Jesus is talking about himself. And that is a pretty good assumption. But did God only send one person that we are to believe? Well, there were hundreds of Old Testament prophets. All of whom God sent.

We know about the two great prophets Elijah and Elisha. We presume that they were illiterate as there are no writings ascribed to them. The prophet Elisha impossibly feeds a hundred people with 20 loaves. Then there are the literary prophets that are in the Bible – the literate ones. Plus, King Saul prophesied as did King David. In fact, there are many unnamed prophets mentioned in scripture. They were all sent by God.

Guess what? We are all sent, too. In baptism, we promised, or it was others who promised on our behalf, a bunch of promises that we are to do on God’s behalf. The Baptismal Covenant provides the outline of what God sends us out to do. It is a short but difficult list. When we do those things, we are doing the work of God. With a few exceptions, God works in this world through us. The first thing is to believe in the one whom God sent, Jesus.

In Ephesians 4, Paul says, “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:11-12) Elsewhere, Paul describes other gifts given to us by God to do God’s work in the world. But notice that there were prophets in New Testament times, too, as there are today.

Prophets are significant to us, because we believe that they speak for God. There were people who said they were prophets, but were rejected. That happened in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and even today. Scripture is the test of the legitimacy of a prophet. But prophecy is one of the gifts we may receive. There are other gifts we may be given to further God’s work. We may have one gift or two or three as no one has every gift, but Jesus. We collectively do God’s work, powered by the Holy Spirit.

Well, that is a summary of centuries of theological reflection that the crowd around Jesus did not have the benefit of. However, they wanted a quick and easy answer. They figured out that Jesus was claiming to be sent by God, but they will not take his word for it. They want a sign, as if the loaves were not enough.

They challenge Jesus to tell them what work he is performing. Again, were the loaves chopped liver? No! They hadn’t even invented liverwurst yet, let alone sliced bread!

They go on by recounting the story of their ancestors who ate bread, the mana, in the wilderness. It is really unclear if the crowd are relating the miracles of the loaves to the mana in the wilderness and thereby equating Jesus with Moses. But if they are making that link, Moses was sent by God and so Jesus would have to be sent by God, which they seem to be disputing. Talk about a tough crowd.

Jesus tells them that it was God who sent bread from heaven, not Moses. Jesus says, “it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.” (John 6:32b) That mana stuff was fake bread. It went bad if it wasn’t eaten the same day (unless it was the sabbath).

The bread that God gives is better than that mana stuff. The bread that God gives is better than the loaves they ate the previous day. The bread of God comes from heaven to give life to the world. That sounds pretty good. They want Jesus to give them that bread always.

Then in verse 35, we get the punch line of John’s chapter six. “Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’” (John 6:35)

When Moses asks God what name to give to the Israelites if they ask who sent Moses, God answers, “I am.” I am sent Moses. I am provided bread in the wilderness. “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is the I am.

Jesus is the bread of life. That statement leads us to Holy Communion. When the consecrated bread is given, typically it is said, “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven.” We very purposefully, though subtly, link consecrated bread with bread from heaven promised by Jesus. Only this bread is not mana. It is Jesus.

We are spiritually fed by the bread that is Jesus. Our physical needs of eating and drinking are necessary for life. If we go to Jesus, we will never be spiritually hungry. Those who believe in Jesus will never be spiritually thirsty.

Being spiritually fed, we are given the energy to share our gifts with others. Jesus is not some historical figure we read about on Sundays. Jesus is present to us, in the here and now, in the Eucharist. It is Jesus’ presence in the here and now that informs us and empowers us to do God’s work in the world.

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Blessings After Loss

2020. What a year. It is this time of year where families and friends gather together to give thanks. I remember what that was like. I remember the Thanksgivings of years gone by.

These last years, we would gather with our daughter-in-law’s family in Pleasanton. We would catch up with everyone’s lives and, more importantly, be with our grandchildren and they with both sets of grandparents. Several years ago, our son cooked a turducken. A couple of years ago, we gathered at our daughter-in-law’s grandmother’s home in Escondido. There was always quite a feast in either place. We always brought home leftovers.

Ah, those were the days. This Thanksgiving the two of us are staying home and being socially distant, but not from each other. We are going to have Cornish Game Hens. Back in the day, I could eat one of those at one sitting. Those days are gone. So, there will be leftovers.

Isn’t the concept of leftovers a sign of abundance? There are places in the world that don’t observe a thanksgiving type of holiday. There are places in the world where leftovers are a foreign concept. There are people in our country and in El Dorado County who do not experience leftovers.

We have stories of Jesus being at feasts. Jesus refers to feasts in some of his parables. The miracles of the loaves are signs of plenty and of Eucharist. Eucharist literally means thanksgiving. When we celebrate the Eucharist, it is a ritual of thanksgiving. However, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has taken that away from us, as well as the gatherings of families and friends this time of year.

Still, Jesus points us to plenty and thanksgiving. With some exceptions, Jesus preached and taught to poor people. They were not familiar with leftovers. Each day began with a reckoning of where the day’s meals would come from. Jesus gave people hope. Scarcity is not part of God’s plan.

We are blessed to have our feasts with family and friends. Even those in this county who find it difficult to find enough to eat, can eat their fill this Thanksgiving and every Thanksgiving at St. Patrick’s in Placerville. And there will also be leftovers.

This virus has taken us to a desert land of isolation. Granted, we are not entirely isolated. Suzie and I go to the store, but not much of anything else. We hope to travel again next year after the vaccines are out. It is interesting that when Pfizer announced the successes of their vaccine, Zoom’s stock fell.

To be a leper in ancient times was to lead a life of isolation. People would run away from lepers. They depended on the generosity of people to leave them food and to make sure to not hang around to see who picked it up. When Jesus healed ten lepers, the only one to give thanks was the former leper who was not a Jew. The Samaritan was grateful for having his life returned to him. Today we have cures and vaccines.

Pfizer’s vaccine for this coronavirus and the other vaccines that will likely soon be out give us hope. There have been many pandemics throughout history and there were likely many others in prehistory. The human race persevered, though there were severe losses. Medical technology is much better now and it gets better every year.

We can see the light at the end of tunnel now. Next year will gradually see improvements in infection rates and the economy. We can give thanks for hope.

It is a message of hope that Moses gives the Israelites as they prepare to enter the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. They traveled long through the Sinai desert and have finally reached their destination. This is mainly Moses’ fault. Being a male, he never stopped and asked for directions.

The Deuteronomy reading takes place as the long journey through the Sinai is ending and the Israelites are on the verge of entering the Promised Land. Moses is giving the Israelites their final instructions.

Moses knows these people. As he related to God on several occasions, these are a thick-headed people. No matter how faithless they may seem, Moses would remind God that they are God’s people, for better or worse. So during their journey, God would relent and help them out.

Knowing these stiff-necked people, Moses is reminding them that at the end of their journey, their exodus, is made possible through God’s grace. They are entering a good land, a land that will bless them with food, water, metals, and maybe even wealth.

They traveled through a wilderness where water was scarce into a land where water flows seemingly everywhere. Now Moses was saying this at the Jordan River. The lake to their left is dead. The river is meager, nothing anywhere near the grandeur of the Nile. The land around the river is only green near the water and everywhere else is desolate.

In spite of the meager surroundings, there are hills on the far side of the valley. It is in those hills that Moses’ promised glory of water, wheat, barley, vines, fig trees, pomegranates, olive trees, and honey are to be found. It kind of sounds like Moses is leading them into El Dorado County.

This is a land of bounty that made the trip from Egypt worth it. They will not hunger. They will eat their fill. With their full bellies, they will bless God for all that God gave them.

That vision reminds me of some past Thanksgivings when I finish the meal and sit in my chair and wonder how I am supposed to get up and move. Will my legs be strong enough to lift all the pounds I consumed? Obviously, this is a first world problem.

Yet way back then at the edge of a Charlie Brown river Moses describes a place of bounty. It is a Thanksgiving speech, except for the “thanks” part, though Moses implies who should be given thanks.

Moses reminds them that as they flourish in this land that it might be easy for them to take all the credit for their good fortune. They are to remember God and how God led them from slavery to freedom and to this good land. When their barns are full and their flocks have multiplied and their gold has multiplied, they are not to forget what God has done for them.

They are to remember that God gave them water when they were thirsty. God delivered them from poisonous snakes. God fed them with mana when they had no food to eat. I think Moses is saying that that their very lives were saved by God.

The way they are to remember God is by following God’s commandments and laws in a grateful response for all that God did for them. They are to give thanks for all that God did for them. Part of those commandments and big chunk of the laws are about worshipping God and how they are to do it.

Certainly, the Israelites can gain wealth through their own hard work in the fields and in the mines. They will not get rich by sitting around drinking wine all day. Though that doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but too much of anything is not good. It is God that will give them the resources to make their lives better through their own hard work.

As Paul mentions 2 Corinthians, the one who sows little will get little and the one who sows much will receive much. As God blesses the abundance, then it is incumbent to give abundantly. Our lives are enriched through our giving. (Paraphrasing 2 Corinthians 9:6-12)

Whether it is Paul’s message or Moses’ prediction of a future abundance, we are blessed to have more than many people in the world. Many of us will have leftovers this weekend. Some us will have somebody else’s leftovers.

After giving this great vision of a bountiful future in this new land, Moses gives the Israelites the bad news in the next chapter. You see, there other people already living those hills. They might not like strangers showing up and taking what they want. That is the theme of almost every western movie.

(Just as a side note, the violence that is depicted during the Israelite occupation as told in the Bible does not have archeological collaboration. In fact, Joshua and Judges contradict each other on several points of occupation. Archeologists and others are still trying to piece together the puzzle.)

Moses’ message is a reminder to the people to be grateful. Grateful for their freedom, for getting out of Sinai, and for the fruit of the land that they will occupy. No one person can take full credit for her or his achievements. It is out of gratitude that we share what we have and give thanks for the blessings we receive.

I assume that nearly everyone in the world has some kind of loss due to the pandemic. At the same time, we don’t get through life without loss. Yet, there is hope. Even Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof had hope in his poverty that he would be a rich man. He was blessed by a great wife and five daughters, all of whom challenged him. We even receive blessings in a pandemic. It is those blessings we acknowledge and give thanks for.

This Thanksgiving, let us give thanks that our lives not like, not like, a fiddler on the roof!

Text: Deuteronomy 8:7–18 (NRSV)

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Healing What Ails Us

Like sheep without a shepherd they gathered. More and more, they gathered. Which way would they go? What would they do next? Their purpose, though, was clear. Just read the signs: “Black Lives Matter; No Justice, No Peace; I Can’t Breathe, Veterans for Peace; Don’t Hurt People; Ignorance = Fear.”


Here are a few excerpts from an op-ed by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the LA Times: “Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer.


“Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.


“So, maybe the black community’s main concern right now isn’t whether protesters are standing three or six feet apart or whether a few desperate souls steal some T-shirts or even set a police station on fire, but whether their sons, husbands, brothers and fathers will be killed by cops or wannabe cops just for going on a walk, a jog, a drive. Or whether being black means sheltering at home for the rest of their lives because the racism virus infecting the country is more deadly than COVID-19.”


One of the points Kareem and others make is that for racism to end in this country (and probably other places, too), white people need to do the work. Jesus is looking at the protesters and has compassion for them, just as he did for the crowds that followed him.


Matthew 9:35 begins with a summary of Jesus’ ministry. Jesus was an itinerant preacher and healer. The way Matthew phases it, Jesus left no town or village in the Galilee region unvisited.


And in every place, Jesus healed everybody. Jesus was very inclusive. It should be noted that not everyone who lived in this region were Jews. In fact, Jews were relatively new to the area. The Romans allowed Herod the Great to settle Jews in the Galilee region. Jesus cured “every disease and every sickness.” (Matthew 9:35b)


Jesus had compassion on the people who crowded around to see him. They seemed lost. They were harassed, presumably by Roman soldiers. It was as if they were sheep left to fend for themselves wandering around the country-side with no clue what tomorrow will bring.


Then Jesus spoke to his disciples in a curious way. Using an agriculture metaphor as he often does, Jesus says that the harvest is really big, but there are few workers to bring in the harvest. It was as if there were 5,000 acres of vines and five people to pick the grape clusters. That would mean a lot of dropped fruit.


So, Jesus asked the disciples to ask the “Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” (Matthew 9:37b) It is assumed that Jesus is not speaking literally. Who is the Lord of the harvest? If it is supposed to be Jesus, then why would Jesus ask them to ask him to send out laborers? Is Jesus referring to God? If so, then what purpose does Jesus have?


The conventional wisdom is that the disciples upon hearing Jesus say this believe Jesus is referring to them as the laborers. It is like the commercial where a meeting is being run by Amy Poehler and she says everyone gets a corner office, but the building must be changed. Then she says, “Chad.” And Chad realizes he has been tasked to do the impossible of giving everyone a corner office.


Jesus decided that he can’t do all this healing, curing, and exorcisms all by himself. So, he shares his authority with the apostles. Then Matthew names them. The gospel writers are not on the same page when it comes to the names of the twelve. Only in Matthew do we see the name of Matthew, the tax collector, as an apostle.


These twelve are to go out only to Jews. In fact, they are to avoid any place where there are gentiles. It is the Jews who are “the lost sheep of Israel.” (Matthew 10:6b) In addition to all that curing and cleansing and casting out, they are to proclaim the good news. And the good news is, “The kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 10:7b)


What did Jesus mean by that? A better translation might be, the kingdom of heaven approaches. It is not a location thing. It is a timing thing. Jesus believes that the end of the earth is nigh.


That was 2,000 years ago and here we are with a COVID-19 pandemic and trying deal with systemic racism. Where is the kingdom of heaven? There is no cure, yet, for COVID-19. We have spent centuries dealing with racism in this country and our country is not alone with this problem. The awful thing is that people demonstrating in the streets are risking a COVID-19 death, because it is that important to them.


In the current discussions about race, there is an important point that was made. It is not enough to declare oneself as not racist. One must be anti-racist. The distinction is that the former is passive and the latter is active. It is not enough for black people to make a stand against racism. White people must take a stand. That is the only way things will change.


Where is the kingdom of heaven? It can be here. The kingdom of heaven is a place where racism has no definition because it is unknown. Jesus went out to all the people of Galilee, regardless of who they were. Jesus commissioned the apostles to go the Jews. As much as the Jews could be the establishment in Roman occupied Galilee, it was Jews who had to change the Jews and proclaim the kingdom of heaven. We are challenged to follow in the apostle’s footsteps and be anti-racist.


There was and continues to be a sense of the kingdom of heaven in the Middle East. The culture of that area has, for centuries, had a strong sense of hospitality. It was and is an obligation to take care of whoever arrives at your door step.


When Jesus sends the apostles out with no money and instructions accept no money, to go out with minimal clothing, they are to rely on the hospitality of strangers. They need not worry about eating, because they will be fed.


When our ears hear this leap of faith that the apostles are being asked to do, we might wonder if we could ever do this. In the United States in the twenty-first century, it would be scary. But in the Middle East, it would be expected that you would be taken care of. So this is not that big a leap of faith as we might think it is.


But just in case they are not welcomed somewhere, which would be a serious break in the culture, they are to leave that town and not even carry its dust with them. This is a Jewish custom so that in case the dust is unclean it can be left behind.


Then instead of the house of Israel being the sheep, the apostles are the sheep. Snakes must have possessed wisdom, because the disciples are to be as wise as serpents.


However, there is danger. Preaching what Jesus preaches will make some people angry. Jesus is rocking the boat. The kingdom of heaven is not the status quo and people in power like the status quo.


The nice thing is that they will not need lawyers when they are dragged before governors and kings. Their words will come from the Holy Spirit.


How will people respond to the message of the kingdom of heaven? Not well. Brothers will betray one another as will parents and children and some will be put to death. They will be persecuted. They will not even be able to finish traveling to all of the towns before the Son of Man comes.


Jesus is not clear who the Son of Man is and neither is Matthew. That might be because Matthew doesn’t know or it is to be kept a secret. We may assume it is Jesus but Jesus does not say so. Besides, it wouldn’t make any sense because Jesus is standing right in front of them. So, it must be somebody else. There is a sense that the Son of Man is going to show up in a very short time, maybe a month or two.


We still wait for a supernatural cleansing. Of course, maybe, the Son of Man has already come and we are the ones who are tasked to take the apostles’ place. The demons of violence, hatred, and division seem to be gaining strength all around us. We are called to name them and cast them out. While we may not have the gift of raising the dead, literally, we can raise people out of despair, grief, racism, and helplessness. Afterall, it must be easier than giving everyone a corner office.


What does the kingdom of heaven look like? It does not look like protesters calling for social justice. It does not look like empty streets for fear of infection. It looks like love. There was song sung by Martha and the Vandellas called Dancing in the Streets. Dancing in the streets is what the kingdom of heaven looks like.

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God’s User Agreement

When I download an app, I typically will either check the box that says I read the user agreement or scroll to the bottom of the agreement so that the installation can continue. I suspect that most people do the same thing. I mean, I want the software and it really doesn’t matter what is in the user agreement.


I also believe that the software companies know that we don’t read the user agreements. I don’t have Tumblr, but after some googling I discovered that they put some interesting things in their user agreement. Here are two examples:


Their community guidelines prohibit impersonation with a specific example:

“Don’t do things that would cause confusion between you or your blog and a person or company, like registering a deliberately confusing URL. Don’t impersonate anyone. While you’re free to ridicule, parody, or marvel at the alien beauty of Benedict Cumberbatch, you can’t pretend to actually be Benedict Cumberbatch.”

In their privacy guidelines, they even add some positive affirmation:

“Reblogs, Likes, and Replies (sic) are a matter of public record, so if you’re truly ashamed of your desires it’s best to keep them to yourself. Buy why? Be proud of who you are. You’re beautiful. We’re looking you in the eyes and telling you how beautiful you are.”[1]


User license agreements are basically, contracts. Lawyers always say to read a contract before you sign. However, I’ll bet most lawyers don’t read the user agreements of the apps they download.


In the Episcopal Church, a document called a Letter of Agreement is negotiated and signed by the rector, the Senior Warden, on behalf of the Vestry, and the bishop. It is basically the bishop’s document that can be tweaked by the vestry and/or the rector. Any tweaking must be approved by the bishop. It spells out compensation, vacation times, and benefits, mainly.


It is a contract. But the church wants to use more words and letters to make it seem less legal. This is from a church that has canon law. Go figure.


God works through covenants. A covenant is a contract. You’d think that God is a lawyer or something. It started in the beginning, with Adam and Eve and later with Noah. After those things didn’t go so well, God made a covenant with Abraham. God will be with Abraham and his descendants and they will have God will be their god. The world will know God through the descendants of Abraham.


God spoke through Isaiah reminding the people of another covenant and said, “I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations.” (Isaiah 42:6b) Through Isaiah and the prophets, God told the Jews that they were to be the light of the world, to bring the world to God through them. But they didn’t do that.


After the Babylonian exile, they said they didn’t want foreigners. They said, “We won’t marry foreigners. We won’t touch or deal with foreigners, because we need to stay pure.”[2] They looked inward upon themselves.


God was not pleased. So, God sent Jesus. Jesus reminded them that they were to be a light to the world. They didn’t like that. Jesus was rocking the boat. So, the authorities decided to get rid of him. That didn’t work so well either.


Jesus knew that he could not be the light to the world all by himself. The message cannot stay inward it needs to go outward. The crucifixion was actually a favor. Jesus came back to commission his disciples to spread his word throughout the world – a much more effective strategy than Jesus trying to cover the world all by himself. Instead of the world going to Judea, the disciples would go out to the world.


It didn’t take Paul long to figure out that strategy. For Peter, it took a bit longer. But that’s Peter. God had to give Peter a vision to convince him that God was for everyone, not just the Jews. (Acts 10:9-23)


It was that vision that convinced Peter he could go to the house of a Roman officer – that gentiles are all right, after all. Jesus’ message is for all people. Though the Jews were and still are the chosen people, God’s message of peace and love was and is proclaimed throughout the world by Jesus’ followers.


Jesus’ mission only began after his baptism. Jesus was anointed “with the Holy Spirit and with power.” (Acts 10:38b) As Peter describes it, Jesus began his teachings and healed people after Jesus was baptized. In other words, baptism is a powerful act.


Peter’s sermon in our reading from Acts is shorter than mine. It is a summary of who Jesus is and what Jesus stands for. It is Peter’s declaration that gentiles are welcome in the Christian community. Indeed, there are no outcasts in Christianity.


In the act of baptism, a human being pours the water or directs the immersion of baptism, but it is God who acts and God acts with power. Personally, I believe that the Holy Spirit guides us to seek baptism, if our parents or others didn’t already make that choice for us. I think it was the Holy Spirit who guided Jesus to John to be baptized in the Jordan. But still, the Holy Spirit becomes fused with us in baptism.


This spiritual aspect of baptism creates a covenant between the person baptized and with God. As the priest or bishop says during the anointing following a baptism, “You are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever.”[3] This is a perpetual bond. God wants us. God will not let go of us, even if we turn our backs on God. The Holy Spirit will tug at us. We can accept the tug or reject it. But the Holy Spirit will never give up.


Baptism is sticky. It stays with us when we worship and when we don’t. God does not let go. We may push away, but God does not let go.


Baptism is our initiation rite giving the one who is baptized membership in the church. We are joined with Christ in baptism. Cornelius the centurion and his whole household were baptized by Peter after hearing the gospel. We are made ministers in baptism. Baptism makes us a Christian, not an Episcopalian, not a Roman Catholic, not a Baptist, not any other denomination in Christianity. We belong to Christ and not to a specific denomination.


Being infused with the Holy Spirit at baptism, we are given gifts for ministry. All of the charisms that Jesus had are available to us. However, we only get a few of them. It takes the whole church together to continue Jesus’ ministry with Jesus’ gifts. If you like doing something and you are good at it and it reflects love, then that is your spiritual gift. (I add that love part, because we recently saw the movie, The Irishman, and he had gifts but not a lot of love.)


Because God and the church are kind of lawyerly, when there is a baptism (and occasionally even when there is not a baptism) we recite with the ones being baptized, The Baptismal Covenant. It is a contract that the baptized make with God. It also reminds us of the contract we made with God.


These are promises we make. They are difficult promises, but they lay out the goals of being a Christian. The Baptismal Covenant is the contract we make with God. It is our User Agreement.


Jesus’ message of peace, justice, and compassion were echoed by Peter in his sermon. We promise in The Baptismal Covenant to do these things as well. They are difficult. But we can do them with God’s help.




Text: Acts 10:34–43 (NRSV)


[2] Paraphrasing Ezra and Nehemiah

[3] Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 308.

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Saints to the Rescue

On October 23, 2019, Bob Valette took off from the Sonoma County airport with a tanker full of repellant. Meanwhile, his son Dustin Valette was making sandwiches for 60 people in his Healdsburg restaurant, conveniently named, Valette Restaurant. He was doing this while coordinating food relief efforts for the evacuees.


“Valette is working with Chef Kyle Connaughton of Single, Catelli’s Domenica, and helpers from the community (Costeaux provided the bread) to feed the approximately 60 people at the Healdsburg Community Center taking refuge from the (Kincaid Fire). They served about 200 the next night.


“As (Valette) packed up his car with sandwiches–made with long loaves of fresh French bread, heirloom tomatoes from his own garden, meat and cheese from his restaurant kitchen — he realized the irony of such fancy sandwiches in an emergency. But that’s what he does, and that’s what he knows. And food, after all, is love. And a good sandwich takes just as long to make as a bad one.


“Also ready to assist is a state-of-the-art mobile kitchen built by celebrity chef Guy Fieri after the Tubbs Fire. Having been involved in other recent fire relief efforts, he has seen the devastation up close and was instrumental in the buildout of a custom kitchen that could serve thousands.


“Fieri has worked closely with Chef Jose Andres and World Central Kitchen, a collaborative chef collective that works with the Red Cross to provide meals in disasters. Jose Andres, who was nominated for a Nobel Prize for his worldwide food relief efforts tweeted this morning that he was (there) for Sonoma County if needed.


“As Valette brought the sandwiches to the community center, surrounded by smoke and crawling with reporters, he smiled as his friend Ken Rochioli of KR Catering pulled up with more trays of food. Rochioli was stopped by reporters for an interview. Valette snuck by, saying that he needed to get back to his restaurant because he had an entirely new menu to prepare at the restaurant that evening. Not to mention helping with dinner for 200 at the shelter.”[1]


In a lot of disasters, evacuees eat a lot of stale food. I observed during the Camp Fire and the Kincaid Fire that chefs mobilized to prepare food for the displaced. Instead of stale sandwiches, they were served feasts.


If you had your power turned off like us, there were no feasts unless you ate out, somewhere. One night, we had peanut butter sandwiches for dinner, because we didn’t dare open the refrigerator door. All the food in the refrigerator and freezer had to be thrown out anyway.


Feasting is an act of hospitality. Jesus depended on hospitality as he preached in Galilee and as he journeyed to Jerusalem. The gospel writers do not note that people threw money at Jesus. Most of Jesus’ followers were, likely, not very wealthy.


In Luke’s gospel, we find Jesus entering Jericho. In Luke, Jesus has a long journey from Galilee to Jerusalem. Luke’s phrase is, “He set his face to Jerusalem.” Luke’s scene is like a rock star walking down Israel with a growing crowd following along. It is to be accepted that most in the crowd were enthralled with Jesus. But there were likely some who wanted to bring Jesus down.


Jesus enters Jericho. This is an odd place in Jesus’ journey. Jesus travels down the highlands, but now he is in the Jordan Valley. Jerusalem is over the top of a long uphill walk from Jericho. Jericho was a major commercial city. It was at the crossroads of trade routes. It was more cosmopolitan than Jerusalem. There were likely many cultures coexisting in Jericho. Mark Antony once gave Jericho as a present to Cleopatra.


Jesus is near Jerusalem and his fate. It would be two days from Jericho to Jerusalem, because Jesus will have to stay in Jericho on the sabbath. The day after the sabbath will be Palm Sunday.


We are then introduced to Zacchaeus. We are told he is rich, because he is a tax collector. Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus. The only problem was there was the throng already following Jesus and the added people of Jericho were crowding around Jesus. Zacchaeus couldn’t see Jesus because he was height-challenged. Zacchaeus wasn’t going to let his handicap stop him. So, he climbed a tree.


Now what happens next is interesting. Jesus sees Zacchaeus in the sycamore tree and calls him by name. How did Jesus know Zacchaeus’ name? Jesus tells Zacchaeus to come down, because Jesus is to stay that day in Zacchaeus’ house. I’ll bet it was a really nice house.


The gospel writers are in agreement that tax collectors were sinners. Zacchaeus received his wealth from the good people of Jericho on behalf of the Roman Empire. Zacchaeus’ sin was likely that he was a collaborator with the occupying, foreign army.


The heart of Zacchaeus’ sin, though, was greed. It was greed that made him rich. Yes, people can get rich by being greedy. People can also lose much by being greedy. Just watch most any game show. People don’t win Survivor by being nice. Greed prevents safety upgrades to electrical lines, leading to blackouts and wildfires.


The residents of Jericho must have resented seeing their money in Zacchaeus’ house. As they watched Jesus inviting himself into Zacchaeus’ house, everyone, no exception, condemned Jesus’ actions. Even the apostles’, who must have been near Jesus, must have joined in the complaint.


Zacchaeus, too, heard the grumbling. In an act of repentance, Zacchaeus pledges to give 50% of what he has to the poor. In addition, Zacchaeus will repay anyone whom he defrauded four times the amount fraudulently taken.


Of course, Zacchaeus knew he could live quite comfortably on half of what he has. Zacchaeus also makes no pledge against future earnings. As to the potential fraud, if someone could prove that Zacchaeus defrauded them, then they would also be accusing Rome of fraud and that accusation could result in death for the complainant. Zacchaeus has a lot of loop holes. On the other hand, Zacchaeus is also being generous.


For Jesus, it was enough. Salvation has come to the house of Zacchaeus. I don’t think it was the amount of money that impressed Jesus. It was Zacchaeus’ change of heart. That’s what counts. People who strive to do good, people who try to treat people well, are not Jesus’ target audience. People despised Zacchaeus for the things he did. Zacchaeus had a change of heart and that is what Jesus seeks. One who was lost, was found.


Another way to say a “change of heart,” is to say conversion. Conversions come in many flavors. Obviously, there are religious conversions. They can be varied. One may convert from one religion to another. One may convert from no religion to a religion and one may convert from being religious to an atheist.


A conversion can be a change in attitude. One can convert from a consumer of resources to a conserver of resources. Someone might convert from not caring to study to being a hard-working student.  Someone thinking climate change is a hoax to making life-style changes to reducing that one’s carbon footprint.


Then there is the act of conversion. Zacchaeus had a seemingly instant conversion that resulted from his encounter with Jesus. Some people have instant conversion experiences. I believe that most of these come as a result of a series of encounters with the end result being the conversion. For example, after many encounters with Christians and reading about Jesus, a person might have a dramatic event that tips the person into faith. Also, someone might see constant images of damage to the planet, but a particular event tips them into conservation.


Zacchaeus changes his outlook, his world view. This story has an unspoken theological problem that is related to being a saint. Jesus declares salvation has come to Zacchaeus’ house. The story implies that it was Zacchaeus’ declarations that brought salvation. But we say that one must be baptized to be a Christian and have the path to salvation. Certainly, Zacchaeus could have been baptized later. However, there was yet no Christian church.


This is an issue in considering Zacchaeus’ status, but it also includes all of Jesus’ apostles and disciples. I know of no record of Peter or any other of the twelve apostles ever being baptized. Baptism was and is a requirement for Jewish converts. So I assume the view was if you were a Jew and a follower of Jesus, baptism was unnecessary or assumed.


These assumed unbaptized early pillars of the church are called saints. We even name churches after them. Though, I don’t recall a St. Zacchaeus’ Church, but who knows? Maybe there is one. Saint Paul uses the term, saint, broadly. For Paul, a saint is anyone who is baptized. Paul refers to the recipients of his letters as saints. I don’t know if Dustin Valette is baptized, but he is a saint.


So, that is why there is a day (and a Sunday) that honors all the saints. Of course, All Saints’ Eve is also called All Hollow’s Eve or Halloween. On November 1st and, optionally, on the following Sunday we honor all the saints living and dead. We honor all the baptized, all those grandfathered-in saints, and especially those who experienced a change of heart and changed their lives and the lives of those whom they knew. Most of all, we honor us.



Text: Luke 19:1-10 (

[1] By Heather Irwin, Sonoma Magazine

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Triune Love

Our brains are way too small to comprehend God. The Trinity is what makes sense of what we know about God, even though we really can’t fully explain it.


John Wesley once said, “Show me a worm that can comprehend a human being, and then I will show you a human being that can comprehend the Triune God.” Martin Luther’s comment was even more to the point. “To try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”

I tend to agree with Justo Gonzalez who once said, “Trinity is a mystery, not a puzzle. You try to solve the puzzle; you stand in awe before a mystery.”


We run into this problem of addressing the Trinity in how to address God in prayer. The typical formula for Christian prayer is to begin the prayer by addressing God in general or addressing the first person of the Trinity.


The prayer closes by reminding ourselves that we pray through Jesus. This is because Jesus promised that whatever we ask Jesus it will be done by his father. Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son.” (John 14:13, ESV)


Now if we want to be really ambitious in prayer, we might add the Holy Spirit in there too, like we might do on Trinity Sunday. At times, a prayer might be concluded by adding the whole Trinity by person, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”


Only rarely, have I ever heard or seen a prayer that begins by addressing the Trinity. When that happens something really big is coming, like a confession.


So, I will examine the thing we cannot comprehend. I will begin a crazy quest. Let’s begin with the first person of the Trinity, sometimes called Father. And let’s begin by looking at a classic prayer.


When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we begin by saying, “Our Father.” We are addressing God, but we say, “Our Father.” What does it mean to call God, “Father?”


This comes from Jewish tradition. When Jews refer to a father, they can mean a direct biological father or they can mean a relative or a rabbi may be called “father.” Abraham is sometimes referred to as “father Abraham.” This is because there is a sense that we are all children of Abraham.


There are several Old Testament examples where God is referred to as “Father.” The same reasoning is that we are children of God. The term was used before the Babylonian exile, but became more popular after the return from the exile. This may be because there was a great desire for more intimacy with God so that the mistakes of the past are not repeated and the Jews would not be exiled again.


When Jesus taught his disciples how to pray, Jesus taught them a typical Jewish prayer. Jesus began with, “Our Father in heaven.” This might be because there will be no question about what father is being referred to here. It is God – in heaven. The prayer addresses God. Jesus could have begun by merely saying, “God.” Instead, Jesus chose a term with more intimacy.


Now a side note. When we say God the Father, we are repeating centuries of tradition that we inherited from middle eastern and Roman cultures. God gets the Father role for Jesus because Mary is his mother. It seems to me that God is beyond gender.


God did something radical. God took on human flesh and gender in the incarnation. Jesus was human and divine. AND, and he didn’t go crazy. He was focused.


As Paul reminds the Romans, we have access to God through Jesus. (Romans 5:10f) Through Jesus we receive God’s grace and many benefits: justification by faith, peace, hope, and sharing in God’s glory. Jesus shares his relationship with God to us. This can only happen because Jesus is God. This is a divine act.


It was only Jesus who could destroy the bonds of death. It was only Jesus who could resurrect and ascend into heaven. All of this was prefigured by the few that Jesus brought back to life after they died. The last person Jesus did this for, Lazarus, was the last straw for the authorities and led to Jesus’ execution. And in that crucifixion, sin was vanquished and we were reconciled with God – a divine act.


Jesus’ divinity provoked a problem for Christianity. If Jesus is God, are we monotheists or polytheists? The early church struggled to define it. It was largely accepted that Christianity was monotheistic. The sticky part was defining Jesus with God – but Jesus is God. How does that work?


The settlement came with the Council of Nicaea which produced the Nicene Creed, version one. Jesus is of one being with God the Father. Jesus is eternal from before time and forever. It was a majority vote and those opposed continued to oppose Jesus’ oneness with God for centuries. The difference in theology was very fine.


Once the relationship of God and Jesus was officially resolved, the question of the status of the Holy Spirit needed resolution. Christians used the term Father, Son, and Holy Spirit from the first century. In Matthew, Jesus commands us to baptize in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit would be with them.


The Holy Spirit comes from Judaism. The Spirit was active in creation in Genesis 1. The Spirit is referred to in the psalms and the prophets.


We celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Sunday by recalling the disciples receiving the Holy Spirit giving them the power to proclaim Jesus’ story and teachings. This was a divine spark. Paul refers to the Holy Spirit many times as, principally, the engine of the church and of Christians.


The First Council of Constantinople amended the Nicene Creed to include the Holy Spirit as God and as proceeding from the Father, not the Father and the Son. That was a western, unofficial, addition.


In John 16, Jesus promises that the Spirit of truth will guide us in all truth. Then Jesus implies that the Spirit will, in essence, impart God’s wisdom to us through the Spirit. Jesus combines the Trinity by saying that Jesus has all that the Father has and the Spirit will declare to us what Jesus has. I have no clue how all of that works but I have experiences of it.


The core of God’s expression to us is love. That is the core of our relationship with God. That is what Jesus commanded us to do. That is what the Holy Spirit declares to us. I suppose, I could summarize the Holy Trinity as three expressions of love. But that might create more problems than it solves.


It is this incomprehensible, divine, love that beckons us. Our response is to return God’s love and to love one another. This gives us a taste of the divine. As Paul says, “The same Spirit agrees with our spirit, that we are God’s children. But if we are children, we are also heirs. We are God’s heirs and fellow heirs with Christ.” (Romans 8:16-17a, CEB)


The Holy Trinity is in many ways incomprehensible. There is one God. However, we experience God in three ways. I don’t think that God is limited to three, but that is what we perceive. The glue is love. We are created, in love, to have a relationship with God. To make that love visible, Jesus came among us. The Holy Spirit makes those connections permanent for those who choose to see.


“God is love” (1 John 4:18b) and we are “children of God.”[1]  If we never experienced love, then there would be no God. We get a taste of God’s love here, in this life. Yet, there is a much greater love that waits us in the life to come.


Text: John 16:12–15

[1] Children of God has Old Testament roots, but is explicit in: The Beatitudes, John 1 and 11, Romans 8 and 9, Philippians 2, 1 John 2, 3, and 5.

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Welcoming Superheroes

Michael Fraiman shares this, “In the universe of Marvel’s Jessica Jones, society is not friendly toward people with ‘abilities’ – (in other words) superheroes (and) super villains …. These people storm across the city, leaving a trail of explosions, craters and frightened bystanders. People don’t know how to act around them.


“There’s a scene midway through the show’s second season wherein the superhero is drinking whiskey on her couch with a guy who, until basically that moment, seemingly hated people like her. He asks ‘How is it you are who you are?’


“’That’s always the question,’ she deadpans, staring straight ahead. ‘What are you, how did you end up like this and are you gonna kill me?’


“It’s the dejected response of one who’s sick of being “othered” – seen as foreign, curious, exotic and dangerous. The law discriminates against her. Society doesn’t accept her. People freak out when they meet her.


“That Jones’s creator, like many comic-book masterminds, is Jewish shouldn’t surprise anyone. Societal exclusion is a common theme among Jewish artists. But Jews are in a better place now than a few decades ago, and other groups arguably have it worse: those who identify as gay, trans, black or Muslim in Western culture fight the same discriminatory battles from the fringes of society.


“The metaphor reaches back to the origins of comics. In the 1930s, Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the sons of Jewish immigrants, created Superman. In the 1960s, Stan Lee (née Lieber) created Spider-Man, the X-Men, the Hulk and dozens more. Comic books were born during a time when anti-Semitism was far more potent, when heroes could celebrate being different and stand in solidarity with one another.


“Jessica Jones was not born during that era. She was created in 2001 by Brian Michael Bendis, a Cleveland native who went to a private modern Orthodox boys (sic) school and met his wife through Hillel. The Netflix adaptation is helmed by Melissa Rosenberg, who rekindled her Jewish identity when she moved to New York City in her late teens.


“While the show itself barely touches on Judaism (aside from a notably accurate shivah scene early in season 2), it nevertheless oozes with conventional Jewish themes, constantly questioning the correct moral answer to injustice in a seemingly godless world. Is killing ever justified? How do you react to prejudice? …”[1]


In Acts, we have another story of Jewish exclusion. Perhaps, it is also a story where the shoe is on another foot.


Paul and his companions go to the “place of prayer.” This was outside of the city where they were staying. It was by a river. This is in Greece and it seems that Jews were not allowed to congregate in the city.


It was likely a Saturday, the sabbath, when they encounter a slave-girl who has a gift of foretelling. In the comics, she would be a superhero. As a slave she was at the mercy of her owners. The owners seem to earn their living on this gift of the slave-girl.


Like a young sibling who won’t go away when you trying to be with your friends, the slave-girl hounds Paul and his companions. This slave would yell out, “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” (Acts 17:17b) Well, it’s true. This went on for days.


Now Paul does not impress me as someone who shirks attention. In fact, I would think that if someone is shouting out his mission, he would welcome it. Not only was she like a young sibling who won’t go away, she is also like one that repeats everything you say. After many days, Paul had enough.


We are not told if the spirit of divination was a good spirit or a bad spirit. Maybe, it was just an annoying spirit. In Jesus’ name, Paul orders the spirit to leave her. It wasn’t immediate, but it was soon.


The slave-girl’s owners now saw their income going to zero. This was very distressing to them. The slave-girl seeing her value also go to zero must have wondered what her fate would be. Her future looked dim.


The slave-girl’s owners want redress. The owners seized Paul and Silas and brought them before the authorities. The charge against them? They are Jews and they are promoting un-Roman ways. The crowd also got riled up and attacked the missionaries. The magistrates ordered them stripped, beaten, and thrown into prison with their feet placed in stocks.


Around midnight, they were singing hymns and praying. The other prisoners listened to them, like they had a choice?


Apparently, the earth was a music critic. Paul and Silas’ singing seems to have provoked an earthquake. It was so violent that the prison doors were opened and the shackles were loosened. Oddly, the earthquake did not wake the jailer. It was after the quake that he woke up and noticed all the prison doors opened.


Rather than face torture and possibly death, the jailer was going to do himself in. Paul stopped him. When the jailer looked in, he saw that everyone was still in their places with bright, shiny faces. Maybe the biggest miracle in this story is that the freed prisoners didn’t leave.


The jailer brings Paul and Silas out and makes an unusual request. “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30b) Why would a gentile who likely had no conception of Christianity ask such a question? And what is it that he wished to be saved from? A divinity? The authorities? His boss? It also implies that the jailer believes he is lost.


Taking the jailer’s question to be a spiritual one, Paul respond that he and his household must believe in Jesus. It is unclear if the jailer ever heard of Jesus, an executed Jew from Palestine. And it is not enough that the jailer believes in Jesus. His household must as well.


So, Paul and Silas went to the jailer’s house to tell them about Jesus and Jesus’ teachings. The jailer washed their wounds. Then as soon as possible the unnamed jailer and his household were baptized.


After the baptism, likely at the same river that Paul and Silas were going to on the sabbath, they went to the jailer’s house for the post-baptism feast and party. If Paul and Silas were arrested on a Saturday, the baptisms took place on a Sunday. They rejoiced.


There are a lot of slaves in this story: the girl enslaved by men and a “spirit,” the girl’s owners are enslaved to greed, the magistrates are enslaved to the demands of the crowd, the jailer is enslaved to a system that demands his suicide if he fails, and Paul and Silas are enslaved to the “Most High God.”


Paul and Silas’s enslavement is a positive one, the others’ not so much. The troubling part of this story is the slave-girl. Paul frees her from her “spirit,” but she remains a slave of her owners. Paul does not invite her to the spiritual freedom of Christ. The jailer and his household are baptized, but the slave-girl seems ignored.


When that younger sibling is hounding us, our typical impulse is to get away. Paul gets away by banishing the slave-girl’s “spirit.” And Paul seems happy to be rid of her. In this story, she seems like collateral damage, the outcast.


Perhaps the younger sibling that hounded us, really just wanted to feel included with ourselves and our friends. Being obnoxious may be a cry for inclusion. But then again, it might be just to be a desire to be obnoxious. In any case, how does that person we exclude feel when we walk away?


Sometimes – we just need to take a breath and ask ourselves what another person is feeling and, maybe, provide a little empathy.



Text: Acts 16:16–34

[1] Michael Fraiman, “Superhero Stories Are Stories of Exclusion,” The Canadian Jewish News, May 9, 2018,

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Bonds of Love

This isn’t very new, but I assume most of you are aware that some genius somewhere researched female DNA (because it only works with female DNA) going back in time to discover the first Homo sapiens mother. Somebody had to be the first of us.


Now I am guessing here, I’m guessing that her name was not Eve. Maybe it was Ugh. Up until now, we needed a woman and a man to make a human being all of these thousands and thousands of generations. Now we just need a woman. The time when we won’t even need a woman anymore is just around the corner. The question that needs to be asked with any new technology is, “Given we can do it, should we?”


On July 25th, Louise Brown will turn 40 years old. I expect a lot of media attention toward the end of next month. You might be asking, “Who is Louise Brown?” She is quite famous, but not for anything she did. She is famous for being born. Her birth weight was five pounds twelve ounces. Louise Brown was conceived in a petri dish. She is the first baby born from IVF, In Vitro Fertilization. This was an ethical challenge for the church, for medicine, and for politicians. But it was also hope for millions of childless couples.


Louise lives in Bristol, England. She works in a shipping office. She is also available and does many speaking events. IVF co-creator Robert Edwards received the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine and attended Louise’s wedding. By the way, she has naturally conceived children.


Shortly before the death of Pope Paul VI, when asked for his reaction to Brown’s birth, the patriarch of Venice, Cardinal Albino Luciani (later Pope John Paul I), expressed concerns about the possibility that artificial insemination could lead to women being used as “baby factories,” but also refused to condemn the parents of the child, noting they simply wanted to have a baby.


Even for an IVF baby, having a family the old fashioned way was what Louise did. A child raised by a mother and a father, statistically, has a better chance of becoming a stable adult. Yet there are many successful people who were raised by one parent.  There is not enough data yet to measure children raised by gay parents.


There are natural bonds created with the birth of a child. We know of instances where that has failed, but these are rare exceptions. For years and years, I have heard of the love and attention that grandparents have for their grandchildren. Until we had a grandchild, I had no idea how strong that bond is. And the kid isn’t actually ours! I don’t know about anyone else, but the hopes and dreams I had for our children was just the same as for our grandchildren. Amazing how that works.


Yet the bonds of love between anyone can be broken. We do things that are not loving toward those we love. That is the human condition. Maybe we should blame Ugh. Though I think it happened with our ancestors before Ugh. The danger of these bad actions is to harm or even break the bonds of love between two or more people. Recovery and forgiveness takes time.


Except for sociopaths, we feel shame when we break the bonds of affection. So, Boogah or Adam and Ugh or Eve, hid themselves when they broke the only rule God gave them. Rather than take personal responsibility, the blame game ensued. “It wasn’t my fault. It was her fault.” “It wasn’t my fault. It was the serpent’s fault.” After all the dust had settled and trust was broken, Adam and Eve were banished from the garden, but they still had each other. The example of God’s love continued and life went on.


The serpent, on the other hand, was cursed to run around without legs. We often associate the serpent with Satan, but God was pretty explicit in saying the serpent is an animal. I guess this serpent was the Boogah or Ugh of all snakes. It seems though that the serpent did act very Satan like. Satan is the heavenly district attorney. Satan never understood why God would bother with humanity and repeatedly tried to sabotage the relationship. Sometimes, bonds are sabotaged.


The story of Adam and Eve is a story to try to explain how evil entered the world. It was perplexing to humanity for many, many centuries to explain why we continually mess up. For the ancients, anything that could not be naturally explained was explained supernaturally. When things were amiss, either the gods or some evil entity was to blame.


It also took many centuries for the idea of there being only one God to be settled among first, the Israelites, and then the Jews. After they accepted one God, the question became, “What do we do with the gentile deities who seem real, at least for the gentiles?” The solution was not to dismiss them but to reclassify them as enemies of God and therefore they became demons.


Jesus attracted attention for casting out demons. Apparently, Jesus raised such a ruckus that people began acting irrationally. They had no concern to even eat. This was becoming a scandal in Nazareth. The neighbors were talking. All the things they had heard about their Jesus just sounded crazy. Jesus must no longer be of a sound mind. Jesus’ family was embarrassed. They left Nazareth to try to restrain him.


Meanwhile word had gotten back all the way to Jerusalem. Some scribes were dispatched to take care of the problem. The scribes make copies of scriptures and so are well versed on what the scriptures say. The things they heard about Jesus had a different explanation than the one floating around Nazareth. This Jesus fellow must be possessed by demons. Not only is Jesus possessed, he is possessed by the granddaddy of all demons, Beelzebul. No one can cast out demons except the ruler of demons. Beelzebul was the head god of the Philistine pantheon. The Canaanites called it Baal.


The accusation made no logical sense and was easily picked apart by Jesus. Would Satan remove Satan from heaven? No. Besides, if demons were casting out demons then they would not survive. I guess even demons have a sense of self-preservation. It is interesting that Jesus shifts the personification of evil from Beelzebul to Satan. From a gentile being to a Hebrew being. Jesus will not accept the existence of a supernatural, gentile being. For Jesus, Beelzebul does not exist.


But that does not take away from Jesus’ argument. Satan cannot defeat Satan. If Satan were to do such an irrational act, Satan would be finished. Jesus illustrates this with a short parable. If someone wanted to take on something like a Goliath type man, that would require getting that big man out of the way. Satan is very strong, but Jesus is stronger. Jesus can subdue Satan and retrieve all the souls that Satan has imprisoned.


Jesus says that sins are forgiven. But Jesus draws the line when it comes to blaspheming the Holy Spirit. They will go too far if they do that. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is unforgiveable. Blaspheming the Holy Spirit is an eternal sin. The scribes calling Jesus’ spirit, the Holy Spirit, an unclean spirit gives them an eternal sin that can never be forgiven.


In spite of Jesus’ ingenious defense of being possessed, Mary and Jesus’ brothers are unconvinced that Jesus is sane. They ask someone to go and ask Jesus to come out to them. Such family matters are best done between family and not with a crowd of Jesus worshippers around.


Jesus rejects their request and Jesus rejects his bonds with them. Rather, Jesus extends his bonds of affection to all the people gathered there. If Jesus’ family wants to say something to Jesus, then they can come and say it in front of everyone. For everyone there are members of Jesus’ family. In fact, all who do the will of God are members of Jesus’ family.


Mary had a unique bond with Jesus as a son and her first born. She must have been devastated by this rejection. Mary and Jesus’ siblings were doing what was done in those days. Anything a family member does brings shame or pride to the whole family. In modern parlance, they were trying to do an intervention.


It seems that in spite of Mary’s spiritual experiences of Jesus’ birth and of what kind of person Jesus is, Mary was not yet on board as the mother of the son of God. There is no evidence that Jesus’ siblings were ever on board during his lifetime. It was only after the resurrection that some joined the movement.


If Mary had been onboard before this embarrassing encounter, Mary would have known that Jesus’ bonds go beyond his biological family. Jesus did not come to give the word of God to just his family. Jesus was sent to the world and not just Nazareth.


Jesus calls himself the son of man and the son of God. As son of man, Jesus belongs to humanity. The human race is Jesus’ family. “Whoever does the will of God is (Jesus’) brother and sister and mother.” (Mark 3:35) The son of man will come to restore Eden to the world, paraphrasing Daniel 7.


As son of God, Jesus is bonded to God and lord over creation. The love God has for creation and in particular, us, is the same love that Jesus has for creation and us, all bonded together by the Holy Spirit. Jesus becomes incarnate to cement God’s love for us for all time.


People misinterpreted Jesus’ casting out of demons. The Jerusalem authorities assumed that if it was not sanctioned by them then it must be some evil entering the world. Jesus’ family thought he was nuts.


Jesus’ healings were signs of a return to Eden. It was a beginning. Jesus’ actions may have seemed abnormal because it did not reflect human nature. And not just human nature, they were acts of power. People fear unexplained power. Instead of fear, Jesus’ intent was to spread love for one another, one person at a time.


How do we transform the world? One person at a time. Though we were not made to bond with every child, every grandchild born in the world, we can choose to do so. If bonds don’t come naturally, we can form our own. Thereby, we will fulfill Jesus’ command to love one another.



Text: Mark 3:20–35

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