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, https://www.cjnews.com/culture/entertainment/superhero-stories-are-parables-about-exclusion

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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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Doubting Good News

I remember as a kid that I was prone to exaggeration – not that I’m not now. But for a me and my friends, it was this way of looking at the world as more than it really was and maybe safer than it was. My friend John had a set of army men, though I wasn’t in to that too much, it was fun spending time playing with them with John. We had mock battles moving the men like chess pieces, though I never heard of chess at that time.

 

As I grew older, I was attracted to stories that were bigger than life. I can’t remember how old I was when I got a copy of Pecos Bill. It was a book of tall tales by a fictional Pecos Bill in the western U.S. It later became a Disney film. This was a book of gross exaggeration and unbelievable exploits. But it was a fun read for a kid. It is now classified as fakelore.

 

Even older still, I would buy the latest issue of Mad Magazine. After a couple of years, I caught on that Mad was making fun of contemporary characters, fictional and real, and corporations. What still stands out for me was one story in particular, “The Day Perry Masonmint Lost a Case.” Hamilton Bugerbits was delighted.

 

Though attracted to these stories, I learned what was real and what was fake. I also began to learn what was true and what was false when I heard some story or tale from a friend. I struggled with trusting a friend versus being skeptical that something really happened. Slowly, I learned that if I asked questions about the story, I could either get a confession that it was false, or be convinced it was true, or be left with doubts when the story was artfully defended.

 

There was certainly trust in what was broadcast on the news. Reporters were trained to be objective. And when a reporter strayed from the truth, they were typically fired. The news organization had to maintain the trust of the people by verifying their stories.

 

Then came social media. In a hyper-political atmosphere, anything that might put an opponent in a bad light was shared seemingly exponentially. There was no need to check if it was true or not. Just click “share.” It was just too juicy not to share.

 

Which, of course, brings me to Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The allegation is that Cambridge Analytica, a U.K. company, used Facebook data gathered from Facebook users, without their permission, to influence the 2016 elections. They are also accused with creating fake news targeted at their preferred audience.

 

These are all problems that law enforcement, but to a greater degree, Congress, needs to sort out. The issue I am looking at is where along in our development did we stop evaluating what was true and not true. Or why are we skeptical of people of an opposing opinion and totally trusting of anyone who shares our outlook.

 

I, for one, have not canceled my Facebook account, if that is even possible. I have dead friends that Facebook wants me to wish them happy birthday. But I have stopped using Facebook, looking at Facebook, except to wish people happy birthday. Otherwise, Facebook is dead to me.

 

Whenever we hear or see something that seems dubious, it probably is. There are fact checkers like Snopes that make it easy for us to check stories for their veracity. There some things that are just too good to be true. Like, maybe, someone rising from the dead.

 

The Sunday of resurrection must have been surreal for the disciples. After their leader was arrested, most of them fled. Jesus was then executed on a cross. Then the day after the Sabbath, Mary Magdalene announced that she saw Jesus. Peter and John confirmed that the tomb was indeed empty.

 

They were still huddling together, keeping the doors and windows shut and locked. I would imagine that if they heard a sound or a knock on the door they would all jump. At least Jesus formed them into a community where they could trust and lean on one another. This was much better than all them running off on their own. They needed one another after the shocking events of the past few days.

 

Some may have been wondering about Mary’s proclamation of seeing Jesus. Was she telling the truth? Was she deliberately being cruel with such news? Was it fake news? They likely believed that the tomb was empty, but there could be many explanations for that.

 

Probably sometime around mealtime, Jesus appeared out of nowhere. The doors were still locked. Yet there was Jesus. Jesus greeted them in peace.

 

We need to remember that they understood that once someone dies, they knew they would never see them again. Yet there is Jesus. It was a lot to take in and Jesus knew that. That is why Jesus showed them the holes in his hands and feet where the Roman nails were driven. Once that all sunk in, then they rejoiced that Jesus rose from the dead. As John puts it, they didn’t see Jesus until after Jesus showed them his wounds.

 

So, Jesus started over from the beginning, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:21b) Jesus told them that just as God sent Jesus, so now does Jesus send them. Jesus did not come back to pick up where he left off. Jesus came back as a visible confirmation that death was defeated. And Jesus came back to commission the disciples to spread Jesus’ word and teachings to the world.

 

In order for that to happen, they needed to be guided by the Holy Spirit. This was given to them from Jesus by Jesus’ breathing on them. The Greek is tricky here. Wind, breath, and spirit are all the same word in Greek, pneuma. Jesus’ breath is the Spirit.

 

Having received the Holy Spirit, Jesus gives them the authority to forgive sins and to retain sins, if necessary. Only God can forgive sins as the religious leaders often pointed out to Jesus. But by having God the Holy Spirit, they, too, can forgive sins.

 

The only gum in the works was that Thomas was off doing something and was not present. Perhaps, he was shopping for dinner. Needless to say, the disciples were really excited to see Jesus alive. When Thomas returned they probably jumped Thomas with their enthusiasm at seeing Jesus.

 

Well, Thomas would have none of that. Thomas needed to see Jesus’ wounds in his hand and his side. Maybe someone was playing a hoax on his friends and Thomas thought them gullible. Thomas thought they were just giving him “fake news.”

 

A week from that Sunday, Jesus appeared again the same way he did the previous Sunday and with the same greeting. This time Thomas was there. Jesus went directly to Thomas. Jesus challenged Thomas to put his finger in the hole in Jesus’ hands and to place his hand into Jesus’ side. Jesus told Thomas, “Do not doubt but believe.”  (John 20:27c)

 

This incident has forever plagued Thomas. When someone is skeptical, that one may be called a Doubting Thomas. We seem to be more and more bombarded with announcements and stories that are not true. We have a right to be skeptical. Yet we trust the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection to know that it really did happen.

 

Thomas’ response is the only time these words are uttered by anyone in John’s gospel, “My Lord and my God.” (John 20:28b) Of all the disciples, Thomas is the only one, in John’s gospel, to declare Jesus’ true identity. All the others were just too excited to make any declaration. They were just excited to see Jesus again. Yet it was Thomas, the skeptic, who sees and declares who Jesus really is.

 

Even then, Jesus doesn’t give Thomas a pat on the back. Jesus doesn’t say, “Thomas you’re so smart in figuring out who I am.” Jesus, instead, tells Thomas that seeing him and recognizing the true Jesus is no big deal. Thomas didn’t believe when he didn’t see Jesus. Thomas only believes because he saw Jesus. So Jesus says, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.” (John 20:29b)

 

Blessed are we who have not seen and yet believe. Now there are mystics who did see Jesus, but very few have done so through the centuries since Jesus’ resurrection.

 

John concludes that Jesus did many signs that John did not record. John just picked out the stories that he thought would be the best ones to convince a reader that Jesus is who Thomas said he is. And that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. These are two titles found in Jewish scripture and tradition. John must be writing to Jews more than gentiles, even though John is rather hostile to Jews in his gospel.

 

John gives us a contrast through Thomas. There is the pre-appearance, skeptical Thomas. Then there is the true believer, post-appearance Thomas. John says that through believing we will have life in Jesus’ name.

 

We have been harsh, over the years, with Doubting Thomas, but maybe we should be more like Thomas. We need to verify what we see and hear and then we can proclaim the good news rather than fake news.

 

 

Text: John 20:19–31

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Fighting for Non-violence

“Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida walked out of their classrooms Wednesday, (March 14, 2018,) gathered on the campus football field, and embraced each other. As the school chorus played inspirational music over a loudspeaker, the students chanted in unison: ‘MSD! MSD!’

“It was a month to the day after a former student wielding an AR-15 assault-style rifle strode into one of the school buildings and opened fire, killing 14 students and three staff members.

“The Parkland protest was echoed in schools across the nation as students staged 17-minute walkouts — one minute for each of the shooting victims — aimed at pressuring federal lawmakers to enact gun control laws. The Parkland students argue such laws will protect others from having to face the kind of trauma they experienced.

“More than 3,000 walkouts were planned around the world, organizers said (which included many in California: including Sacramento, El Dorado, and Amador Counties).

“Said Stoneman Douglas junior Susana Matta, ‘We are here to protest because we know that more can be done, not just statewide but nationwide.’

“The students are working hard to maintain the momentum of their movement; they know such persistence is necessary if they are going to persuade lawmakers at the state and national level to take more action.

“Thousands of students also gathered on Pennsylvania Avenue in front of the White House, holding colourful signs and cheering in support of gun control.” (CBC News)

Guns are not evil. People can be evil and evil people can be violent. Human beings have invented many tools. Human beings seem to naturally invent tools to get a job done. When human beings took up war to settle differences or to violently take what another group has, tools were made. Some the greatest inventions in history are products of war.

 

We continue to perfect more efficient ways to kill each other. Of course, the ultimate is nuclear weapons. They are very efficient. Short of nuclear weapons, we also continue to perfect conventional weapons with the goal to kill the most people in the shortest time. The one of the latest innovations of this is the assault weapon.

 

Some think that we live in very violent times. However, a careful review of history reveals that ancient times were much more violent. The Romans invented a way to produce the most pain and torture to kill someone – crucifixion. It seems that the Roman aristocracy were immune to violence. Crucifixion was a gruesome way to pacify a vast empire.

 

For Jesus and his followers, things were dangerous and tense. Jesus travels to Jerusalem, against advice for his safety, to raise Lazarus from the grave in Bethany. Bethany is just over the hill, the Mount of Olives, from Jerusalem. The disciples rightly knew that the religious authorities would likely seek Jesus’ life. Jesus ignored their advice.

 

After Lazarus was raised from the dead, the religious authorities conspired to have both Jesus and Lazarus murdered. Jesus was threatening their authority. Jesus’ popularity was diminishing the people’s piety for the temple rituals.

 

Then to add insult to their misery, Jesus rides a donkey triumphally into Jerusalem. Everyone must have noticed the commotion. Jesus’ riding into the city on a donkey would be known by everyone, including the Romans, that it is kings who ride into their capital city on donkeys. The crowd is behind Jesus, making it difficult to arrest him, at least, not openly. They can’t kill Lazarus without killing Jesus, because Jesus would probably just raise him up again.

 

Jerusalem was abuzz with the story of Lazarus rising from the grave. With the Passover approaching, people from everywhere were in Jerusalem and for many of them, this is the first time that they learn about this prophet from Galilee.  They join the Jesus bandwagon too. The Pharisees throw up their hands because “the world has gone after him.” (John 12:19b)

 

Jews from all over the empire and outside the empire were in Jerusalem for the Passover. Practically all Jews from outside Palestine spoke Greek. When John says that some Greeks wanted to meet Jesus, John means Greek-speaking Jews. These Greek speakers seemed to have noticed that Philip was among Jesus’ followers and asked if Philip could arrange a meeting. It was likely that Philip knew Greek.

 

Philip does not seem confident enough to speak to Jesus directly, so he asks Andrew to help him out. This also may be out of concern that potential assassins might try to get close to Jesus and these Greek speakers needed some sort of vetting.

 

When Philip and Andrew approach Jesus with the request, typical Jesus does not give a yes or no answer. Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.” (John 12:23b) Perhaps there was some discussion about how safe it would be for strangers to get close to Jesus. Jesus is saying that it didn’t matter if they were assassins or not. Jesus is about to die anyway.

 

Jesus explains his statement with a brief parable. You can’t get wheat unless you take a seemingly dead seed and put it in the ground. You bury it like you would a dead person. Only then can this dead thing live and bear much fruit. I think what Jesus was saying is that the Jesus movement cannot thrive unless Jesus dies. Only then can Jesus’ message flourish.

 

Jesus then says something totally outside logic and our instinct for self-preservation. Those who love life will lose it. Those who hate their life will have eternal life. Again, I think what Jesus was saying, not literally, is that we are to live our lives with a goal of eternal life and not with a goal of living life to its fullest or hedonistically.

 

Jesus is trying to give Andrew and Phillip eternal lessons, one more time. Jesus knows his time on this earth is short. His disciples are still not clear on what Jesus is about, but Jesus hasn’t given up on them. Jesus could ask to be spared from what will soon happen to him. But he knows that that is why he came to the world. His demise is part of his mission.

 

Anyone who serves Jesus must follow him. Wherever Jesus is, the servant will also be. If we serve Christ, we will one day be with Christ. God will honor anyone who serves Jesus.

 

Jesus confesses that his soul is troubled. Jesus knows how he will die and it not by an assassin’s blade. Nobody in her or his right mind would be willing be crucified. Jesus is aware of the agony that awaits him and he is rightly apprehensive.

 

Jesus seems to be arguing with himself out loud. Should he ask God to forget the whole thing and prevent this horror from happening? No. Jesus is in Jerusalem to face the cross. The grain of wheat must die to flourish.

 

Jesus says, “Father, glorify your name.” God responds from the heavens, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” (John 12:28b) The crowd around Jesus, Andrew, and Philip heard the voice. It was so unexpected and out of line with nature that many thought it was thunder. Others said an angel was talking to Jesus.

 

Jesus corrected them. The voice came for their sake, not for Jesus’. The time of judgement for the world was right then. The ruler of the world will be driven out.

 

When Jesus is lifted up from the earth, he will draw the whole world to himself. This tells the crowd how Jesus will die. When the Romans lift Jesus on the cross, the whole world will come to Jesus. We are drawn to God only through the cross. Without the cross, nothing else makes sense of Jesus’ ministry.

 

According to John, Jesus takes his throne on the cross and judges the world. What Jesus is judging is a world that embodies domination, violence, and death. This is the world that is represented by the Roman Empire. Unfortunately, these things didn’t die when Jesus died. They didn’t die when the Roman Empire died. They continued and we still see them today. When those things die, Jesus’ kingdom will come.

 

Whenever anyone uses power over another, there will be judgment. Whenever anyone harms another person, there will be judgment. Whenever anyone dies, there will be judgment. Jesus went to the cross without a fight. Jesus died on the cross to expose the ugliness of the world. We, as Jesus’ followers, are called to expose the ugliness of the world so that the world can be redeemed.

 

This means that silence is not an option. We cannot accept conditions in our localities, state, and nation when love is not the standard. Like on The Body Snatchers movie, we are to point and screech. Jesus passively succumbed to a violent empire. We are to reject violence and hate. We cannot use violence to meet violence. Our voices shall not be silenced.

 

 

Text: John 12:20–33

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Confronting Evil

I was at Our Saviour, Placerville, about a year when a couple told me about the home they bought in south El Dorado County. It was on several acres with a pond and a barn. They then said they were disturbed about some things happening at their home. There were things happening that they could not explain. They told me about a prior owner who did things around the house that are happening at that time without their help. There were other unexplained things as well.

 

I can’t share the exact details with you, because I don’t remember them. Except for these unexplained phenomena, they really loved their house. They didn’t want to sell it, if they could avoid it. They said their home was haunted or possessed. They wanted my help. They asked for an exorcism.

 

I had never before had a request for an exorcism and I have not had one since.

 

There are a lot of things about parish ministry that they don’t teach in seminary. Exorcisms are one of those things. I remembered that there was a page about exorcisms in The Book of Occasional Services. The entire subject was covered in one paragraph. Basically, it reads, ask your bishop. I told them I would have to talk to the bishop and I would get back to them.

 

So, I called Bishop Lamb. I related their story and their request. What Bishop Lamb told me was to do a house blessing. I thought, “I can do that.” Way back when we lived in Ogden, Utah, we saw “The Exorcist.” I was relieved that I wouldn’t have to do that.

 

So, we scheduled a house blessing. I said the liturgy and prayers from The Book of Occasional Services, splattering holy water to and fro.

 

They reported to me a few weeks later (they weren’t regular attenders) that the strange goings on in their home were gone. I served at Our Saviour for 15 years. In those 15 years their home was normal after the house blessing.

 

I am a skeptic when it comes to supernatural stuff. Yet, there I things I have heard about that I cannot explain and no one else has explained. What happened at this couple’s home, I cannot explain. These are very rational people. I had no doubt that what they saw and what they heard was real.

 

Like the man born blind in John’s gospel who said, “I could not see and then I could see.” Well, all I know is that there were weird things and then there weren’t weird things. I have no idea what it was. All I know is that it left.

 

I have never had anyone stand up in church and ask, “Have you come to destroy us?” (Mark 1:24c) I hope it never happens. Now, I have had some schizophrenics tell me some really weird stuff that they think they saw, but nothing like what happened when Jesus went to synagogue. Mark sets up the scene by identifying a man in the synagogue who had an unclean spirit.

 

I am a little puzzled what constitutes a clean spirit and an unclean spirit. Jews labeled almost everything as clean and unclean. Clean is good and unclean is to be avoided. We might assume that an unclean spirit is evil. Someone with an unclean spirit will not act rationally. Maybe that is why booze is referred to as spirits.

 

I hope that no one in Capernaum ever had a seemingly crazy person yell out during the service. This man, and they were men in a first century synagogue, stood up and addressed Jesus as Jesus was teaching.  In this early stage in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus is already known as a rabbi or teacher.

 

The man knows Jesus’ name and where he came from. Whatever Jesus was teaching about, the man took personally. “What have you to do with us?” (Mark 1:24b) The man identifies Jesus as a man from Nazareth, but then he says he knows who Jesus really is, “the Holy One of God.”

 

Jesus did not ask his bishop what to do. Jesus did not do a synagogue blessing. Remember that in Mark, Jesus’ identity is a secret. Yet, it is the demons who out Jesus. Jesus ordered the unclean spirit to be quiet and to come out of the man. The man convulsed and the unclean spirit left with a cry.

 

The people who heard Jesus were astounded at his teaching. It was not anything that they had heard before. Jesus’ authority comes from God as was mentioned in the Old Testament reading, that a true prophet “will speak in my (God’s) name” (Deuteronomy 18:19). On top of that, the unclean spirits obey Jesus. The synagogue story spreads throughout Galilee.

 

This is the first of many people who are to receive an exorcism from Jesus. My rational mind might think that maybe what they considered to be possessions by demons or something else were really physical sicknesses, like epilepsy. Several of Jesus’ exorcisms probably fall in this category.

 

Yet, this story seems different. This wasn’t epilepsy. It doesn’t sound like schizophrenia. Jesus was challenged by something that had a rational fear for its existence. Jesus does not destroy the unclean spirit. Like the house in El Dorado County, it leaves and presumably goes somewhere else. Some other poor bugger will be possessed. That makes me wonder how many times Jesus exorcises the same unclean spirit.

 

Evil does not always appear supernaturally. Almost all evil in the world is done by human beings. We state in our baptismal vows that we “will persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever (we) fall into sin, repent, and return to the Lord.” (BCP p.304)

 

Resisting evil begins with us. We must repent our wrongs. Once that is done, then we can call out the evil around us. Evil likes to live in darkness and the shadows. It likes to do its work in secret and behind the scenes. Only when evil thinks there is a sanction for its work, does evil show itself for all to see.

 

When evil is made manifest, evil counts on silence. It the duty of Christians, obeying our baptismal vows, to name evil.

 

I assume that the people of Capernaum ministered to the man who had the unclean spirit. Once someone repents of evil, it is also our duty to minister to that person. We are to forgive and bring people to the light of Christ.

 

Christmas 2009 It is unfortunate that Larry Nassar refused to take responsibility for his actions. The judge was disgusted with his letter to her. We condemn Larry Nassar and pray that he repents. Even if we did not do anything as horrible as Larry Nassar, repentance is still our duty. Let us pray that Nassar comes to the light and that our institutions will reform themselves and resist evil.

 

 

Text: Mark 1:21–28

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