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Monday, August 20, 2018

August 19, 2018 - Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Eating His Flesh - Gnawing on Christ

This week I identified again with those in the crowd listening to Jesus in the Gospel verses. I imagined myself hearing his words in verse 51, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

Like the crowd, I probably would have disputed what he said. Without knowing anything about the Last Supper, the crucifixion and, perhaps, the resurrection; there is at best a cloudy cultural context for these metaphors. Most in this crowd never heard, much less participated in communion, so why these words at this time?

I admit identifying with the crowd in this way is vainglorious. I have a modern sensibility rather than an ancient one. I have not made animal sacrifices in my religious past as they would likely have done. I never worshiped a God that I felt required a blood sacrifice. I also don't have a flesh and blood Jesus speaking in front of me now like Jesus was speaking to them.

In Pastor Ray's sermon he told the story of a girl who took the words of institution literally and when her pastor said "The body of Christ given for you" the girl let out a loud, disgusted, "Ewww". Pastor Ray described the mixed reaction from the congregation by saying, at that moment, it was as if blood had been splattered across the altar.

Jesus / God / Christ on the cross is a scandal. Jesus talks about his upcoming death as a scandal. In verses 49-51, Jesus speaks about "eating" the bread from heaven, using the common greek word esthio. In verse 53, however, Jesus switches to a less common word, trogo, which has a meaning closer to "munch" or "gnaw."

It is a graphic word for the noisy eating of an animal. The sound of the eating is not so much evoked as far as what I read; but rather an urgency, a desperation in taking sustenance. Bob Dylan wrote about urgency and dependence like this in his song Solid Rock.  His lyrics first bring to mind what God says in Job, "I'm hanging on to a solid rock made before the foundation of the world" and then "And I won't let go and I can't let go" which he repeats three times.

Is eating the flesh of the Son of Man and drinking his blood as urgent and desperate as that word would suggest? As a Lutheran my faith in communion is that it is sacramental union as Martin Luther described in his 1528 Confession Concerning Christ's Supper:

Why then should we not much more say in the Supper, "This is my body," even though bread and body are two distinct substances, and the word "this" indicates the bread? Here, too, out of two kinds of objects a union has taken place, which I shall call a "sacramental union," because Christ’s body and the bread are given to us as a sacrament. This is not a natural or personal union, as is the case with God and Christ. It is also perhaps a different union from that which the dove has with the Holy Spirit, and the flame with the angel, but it is also assuredly a sacramental union.

Jesus, in John's gospel, speaks in metaphors. I understand metaphorical truth. The questions Pastor Ray asked last week stay with me however. Is Jesus who he says he is? and, basically, Do we become something different after communion? Put another way "Do we really become what we receive and, if so, what does that mean?"

Perhaps declaring my personal faith may help here. I may become aware of Christ's presence during communion. When I do this awareness is not contingent on what is in my mouth or temporarily in my stomach. I don't believe what is important in our spiritual life depends on participation in Sunday communion or that sacrament must be performed in a particular way. I don't think someone who has never taken communion has no life.

I want this post to turn into my prayer. Let me see what is being revealed at this moment. I see that following Jesus is not simply about sentimental love or comfort since he argues with the crowd and is not spiritually comforting them. Physically feeding people is of secondary importance since he downplays the physical feeding with the next crowd he addresses after the 5,000 and does not feed them. Following Jesus is also not simply about reasoning or understanding each word that comes from his mouth since this crowd could not possibly understand or follow what he is asking be done.

As I referenced in my last post the manna of my ancestors may not necessarily sustain modern faith alone. When I look to scripture working in kairos time (God's time) rather than chronos (our time or chronological time) inspiration comes. For example the words about eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood may not have made sense in chronological time but with hindsight there is a powerful truth to be discovered.

When I look the language of the Bible as metaphorical, even when it describes historical events, inspiration and faith fills my soul. Trying to determine how to harmonize, homogenize and make the Gospels all consistent in each literal detail presented seems to be a trivial exercise. Using details to describe the overall message each Gospel is communicating makes more sense.

Also this moves the wisdom and counsel contained in the Bible naturally into the present. As Mark Hanson titled his book Lutherans are "Faithful, but Changing".

Monday, August 13, 2018

August 12, 2018 - Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - Are You What You Eat?

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filledMatthew 5:6 

"But he (Jesus) answered and said, it is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God"  Matthew 4:4

People will, at times be hungry. Man does not live by bread alone, but living things also do need bread / food.

Pastor Ray played with that today in the Children's Time. He asked the children, "What is your favorite food?" Pizza and spaghetti were two responses he received. "Could you live off pizza and spaghetti alone?" he asked and he was answered "Yes!" He, of course, countered by saying that would not be a healthy diet. This, of course, was an obvious reference to one of Jesus's responses to the temptations.

Pastor Ray also preached on the phrase "You are what you eat". Apparently the earliest known printed example of the expression is from an advert for beef in a 1923 edition of the Bridgeport Telegraph, for 'United Meet [sic] Markets'  "Ninety per cent of the diseases known to man are caused by cheap foodstuffs. You are what you eat."

Of course the congregation was amused by the idea of this phrase coupled with the previous pizza and spaghetti answers.
In the context of church the spaghetti answer also brings to mind the humorous Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or Pastafarianism. This was first described in a 2005 tongue-in-cheek letter written to protest the Kansas State Board of Education decision to permit teaching intelligent design as an alternative to evolution in public school science classes.

The author demanded equal time in science classrooms for "Flying Spaghetti Monsterism", alongside intelligent design and evolution. The central belief is that an invisible and undetectable Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe. This is an argument that the philosophic burden of proof lies upon those who make unfalsifiable claims, not on those who reject them

Humor aside, we are in the middle of Sundays focusing on the first of God's metaphors in the Jesus "I am" statements. Jesus uses metaphors, not similes. Pastor Ray was using the phrase "You are what you eat" to encourage contemplation of becoming what we receive at communion. He summarized a number of questions he initially asked down to two:

Is Jesus who he says he is? 

If we are what we receive during communion, what do we become when we receive the communion bread?

There are simple, common sense, answers and more questions to arrive at the truth. Jesus is not truly bread, a gate, or a vine because these are metaphors. I don't want to get ahead of myself, however. To move on, Jesus did not say "I am bread" but rather"I am bread of life."  What is the bread of life?  When talking about eternal life, Jesus uses the present tense when he says “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life” (John 6:47)  The details of eternal life that Christ is talking about in this life is unknowable except through faith.

What do we become when we receive the bread? also has a common sense and, perhaps, a more faith based answer. Common sense answer is I am who I was because I only ate bread dipped in wine. The faith based answer is harder. Are we Christ's body on earth? Perhaps C. S. Lewis is correct "He (Jesus) has what I call "good infection." Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else."  Yet there is only one God. The temptation in the Garden of Eden is purportedly about the human desire to be God.

There are theologies built up around each of these answers, theological structures that are constantly made with the help of the Bible. They serve as our own Towers of Babel or fortress walls. We try to reach new understandings of God and defend these theologies. We think we build these towers and walls with scriptural truth but, instead, we use bricks of our own making with Bible verses as our base material. This can not lead to solid understands or defenses of faith. Yet the need remains to articulate the kind of Christian you are to yourself.

Perhaps Jesus offers an invitation or something to ponder on where to find authentic and solid rock on which to build. Notice the metaphoric language that must be used since there is no other language to use. Jesus says, "This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died." Perhaps this is a subtle suggestion that what sustained our ancestors may not sustain us.

We come to God's table and renew a relationship to live. We eat the flesh and blood of Christ to sustain ourselves - not as a passive, inherited tradition from our past life but a change of perspective of how we live in the community of the faithful.

Matthew 43:Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed" 

Forgive me for using another metaphor because these are the only words we have but Jesus must be the corner stone of our faith and the Bible only gives us the truths our understanding can accept at any given time.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

August 5, 2018 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - Call Us Home Liturgy and Baptism

Creator always brings enthusiasm and joy into our service when there is a baptism to celebrate and we celebrated Stefan's baptism today. Pastor Ray's first baptism at Creator. Stefan's mother, Karen sings in the choir and I felt many members gave the music a special gusto. It was hard to tell, however, because today's setting was Call Us Home and Creator also has a special place in our hearts for that music, Susan Granata, one of the composers of the setting, was an Interim Pastor at Creator and helped form the community.

Another beautiful moment was when some visitor's, young girls. felt comfortable enough to come in during the service rehearsal before the service and danced to the music we were practicing. That gave our rehearsal an extra boost of joy.

There is a lilt and zeal to many of the pieces that form the Call Us Home setting. There is also an energy when Creator joins to perform this that keeps it from being in any way sung mechanically or by rote. The Communion hymn is called The Bread of Life so it very appropriate that this is the setting we use when we focus on these bread passages from John.

Singing the music pieces about bread soothed my soul where the Gospel passage had agitated caused some questioning. Bread of Life from Heaven; The Bread of Life ; Let Us Break Bread Together; One Bread, One Body, and Send Us Out all kept bread on our minds as a metaphor and as bread God gives us to eat.

This is the bread we sang about ignites my imagination. No shaming of people for coming to Jesus because they may have wanted physical bread. The pieces always kept close to the characteristics of real bread as well so the bread of life or heaven did not dissolve into an abstract concept.

August 5, 2018 - Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost - Maybe We Need Another Sign

Today's Gospel takes place on the opposite shore of the Sea of Galilee where the crowd has followed Jesus. There is a different message in this context than in last week's Gospel. The message is delivered using a narrative pattern that is often found in John. The back and forth Jesus has with the woman at the well, Nicodemus and the crowd gathered the day after the feeding of the 5,000 all share this narrative pattern.

In these accounts Jesus answers questions that have not been asked and does not answer direct questions directly. When this happens the people who encounter this Jesus may appear thick headed and never "get" what Jesus is teaching them (with an added implication that Christians up to today understand the teachings of Jesus better). I normally don't think Jesus or the narrator would agree with this 'thick headed" assessment of the other but Jesus comes close here,  

In verse 30 of today's Gospel the crowd asks Jesus “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform?"  Perhaps unreasonable questions from those who were taught and then fed the day before on the other side of the lake. Yet remember they ask this after Jesus has told them the reason he believes they have followed him. 

The crowd's questions and the answers of Jesus particularly echo the dialogue between the woman at the well and Jesus. The talk here is of bread rather than water. Jesus speaks in both about valuing what is eternal in comparison to what perishes or is consumed. Both express their desire for the eternal and ask of Jesus. "Lord/Sir give me / us the eternal water / bread rather than the everyday water / bread" (John 6:34, John 4:15). 

In this Gospel when the crowd finds Jesus they ask "Rabbi, when did you come here?" Jesus does not answer their question directly but, instead, observes "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." and then comments, "Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

A first reaction to this text is to agree. The eternal may be preferable to the perishable. However this immediately becomes problematic. The choice between the eternal and the perishable are not mutually exclusive. Life in our world is mostly based on working for what is perishable. Working for the eternal alone is not a choice any living being can make and stay alive for long. 

The crowd may, in fact, think they are working for the eternal. Last week's Gospel said they recognized "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.".There may be some who would argue they need to believe Jesus was God, not a prophet. However, considering Elisha fed 100 people with bread, this might be more the result of the ambiguity of the sign rather than the crowd's belief or unbelief in Jesus. 

Others may suggest Jesus is teaching a lesson like Matthew 10:29 "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father's care.". Rather than worry and work for everyday food the crowd should trust God to provide. A counter argument to this is the crowd may have thought that Jesus would provide both perishable and eternal food. God could provide in this way. The crowd's presence here might well be considered "work" for the food that endures. 

Indeed, the crowd asks, "What must we do to perform the works of God?" and Jesus answers, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." This is another moment where, like Nicodemus. Jesus won't directly answer a question that contains incorrect assumptions. Here the crowd want to know actions that are guaranteed to be works of God while other actions are not. They want to earn their wings. They want a transactional Jesus who, if they act in a particular way, will reward then. The answer Jesus gives restores God's and man's relationship without centering on judgment of human actions and allocating appropriate rewards or punishments.

The crowd asks, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?" If Jesus will not detail what actions the crowd should take, then perhaps he will declare how he will reward them. They proceed giving what they feel is a historical reward as an example "Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, "He gave them bread from heaven to eat.' " 

Now the crowd and Jesus both start to blur what is perishable and what is eternal bread.  They bring in other descriptions. The crowd references bread from heaven. Jesus modifies this to the true bread from heaven. Manna was perishable bread. The crowd asserts that their ancestors received this perishable bread from God. Since bread was provided at the feeding of the 5,000, they see the multiplication as bread from heaven as well, and bread they can eat.

Jesus responds, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."  The He in "He gave them bread" could be misconstrued as Moses but it is doubtful many in the crowd thought Moses, rather than God, gave their ancestors the bread. 

Yet, by starting with this correction, Jesus addresses another of the crowd's assertions indirectly. Jesus denies Moses was the provider of the manna and, together with that, a potential indirect denial. Jesus may not consider that manna is true bread from heaven. In effect the crowd saying that the bread making of the first two barley loaves used in the bread distribution was a miracle that was also provided by God the day before. God certainly provides all bread, perishable and eternal, but that may confuse what Jesus is teaching.  After addressing that confusion Jesus moves to calling eternal bread the true bread from heaven.

The crowd responds "Sir, give us this bread always." and Jesus says "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" The crowd's response may mean they have understood this answer. It may be their prayer to God for manna forever. The poetry and metaphor in Jesus's answer moves me to reflect on the heart of communion. And these verses in John are more troubling than they have been for me in the past.

Starting with what Jesus directed at a crowd "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves."  This hangs in the air - an accusation against the crowd and against generations to follow, including myself, and I truly feel on the other side of the lake from the 5,000 being fed. Last week I couldn't recognize the voice of Jesus relating the feeding of the 5,00 to someone else. I go over and over in my head how to make these words come out of the mouth of the compassionate Jesus I know.   

This is Jesus acknowledging the crowd are bringing the mystery of God  under human control. In the Gospel of John, “sign” is used to mean “miracle.” where the Word reveals himself to the world and to his own. If the Word is not revealed to the world as a sign, is the sign yet to happen? Jesus states the crowd ate their fill of the loaves and did not come to him because they saw the sign. 

The day before this was the feeding of 5,000. In today's Gospel reading Jesus says "Whoever comes to me will never be hungry" He directs this to many in the crowd who were fed the day before. People that physically came to him on this side of the lake had a choice to go somewhere else to eat. Jesus apparently looks into the hearts of all those hearing him on this side of the lake and believed that none of them saw the sign.  

This is a crowd that came to him like the crowd did the day before. On the other side of the lake there was no qualification to be part of the sign. Belief in Jesus was not required. All were fed with perishable bread. There is no suggestion that there were people there who were not fed or did not participate. 

On this side of the lake there is also no qualification.  Everyone who hears Jesus is told that they did not see the sign, Jesus speaks words at heart of Christian belief and yet when I look these particular words this encounter doesn't feel complete like it was on the other side of the lake. The compassion of Jesus is not shining through like it did the day before. Instead Jesus says, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry". This crowd came and no one is fed in John's account of this day.

"I am the bread of life."  is the first of the "I am" statements of Jesus. Three of them reference life. They are:

I am the bread of life - John 6:35-48
I am the light of the world - John 8:12 9:5
I am the gate - John 10:7
I am the good shepherd - John 10:11-14.
I am the resurrection and the life - John 11:25
I am the way, the truth and the life - John 14:6
I am the true vine - John 15:1-5

I drew some understanding of life and death as talked about here in what Matthew 8:22 means when stating, "Let the dead bury their own dead". I thought I had some understanding what Jesus meant with the three "I am" statements about life. Yet I don't think the life here can only be concerned with eternal life. Nor that it means Jesus will not show compassion for those who have physical hunger and thirst. Nor that it means the hunger and thirst for the eternal is more important than physical hunger and thirst.

The words of Jesus here "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves." and "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."" are words. These words for me today obscure the compassion Jesus acted on in the feeding of the 5,000. If the only bread that concerned in this statement is eternal bread for eternal life what has changed from the day before where the crowd was fed?

"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty"  If what Jesus said here is about more than eternal life then our everyday world makes this "I am" statement suspect. Many in our world do hunger and thirst despite attempts to come to Jesus. That is the condition of our lives. Jesus knows this. And if we interpret his words instead to mean that Jesus is manna, the bread from heaven, how does he satisfy physical hunger like manna does?

Perhaps, once again, this is a reflection to illustrate "The mystery of God cannot be brought under human control". I am still searching, however, for why Jesus makes this harsh, and potentially spiritually degrading, judgment against a crowd that he fed or helped feed the day before.  

Sunday, July 29, 2018

July 29, 2018 - Tenth Sunday after Pentecost - Leftovers or The Mystery of God not being under Human Control

Today's Gospel is the first of 5 weeks of John where bread is the subject of the readings. Pastor Ray began by labeling the two stories told by John as the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes and the Walking on the Water miracles. He focused on the abundance highlighted in the feeding of the 5,000.

The feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus walking on the water have been known to me throughout my life. In fact the mysteries or signs of these miracles become obscured by familiarity. For example, in my imagination, the miracle is as Pastor Ray labeled it, the multiplication of loaves and fishes. Yet that is not stated in John. We are only told the people ate all the bread and fish they wanted and that the fragments of leftover bread filled twelve baskets. How this was done remains a mystery.

Being obscured by familiarity was broken this week by the Oblique Strategy card I drew - Take away the elements in order of apparent non importance. The strategy illuminated the verses. Viewing this John account detail by detail forced a fresh examination.  

Look at a detail in this fresh look. The narrator of John intrudes and comments on the story in the sixth verse "He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do." This is offered as an explanation to Jesus asking Philip "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" Yet how would the narrator know this? Jesus would need to recount this later and essentially say, "Well, I already knew what I was going to do. I was just testing Philip at the time." This is not a voice of Jesus that I recognize from the Gospels.

There are differences in detail between the Mark account last week and the John account this week. In Mark's account the crowd came to the place in advance of Jesus and the disciples and met Jesus as he came ashore. In today's gospel Jesus goes up on the mountain with the disciples and sees the crowd coming. This is not to dwell on discrepancies in the Gospels but, rather, to show the points and perspectives each Gospel find that are important.

Pastor Ray talked about how easy it is for Christians to sacramentalize this miracle. I agree. Jesus will do it himself a few verses from this in John. The crowd obviously draws the parallel between Jesus and Elisha when they see Jesus as a prophet. They know the scripture we read in today's First Reading - 2 Kings 4:42-44. This shows Jesus is also sacramentalizing scripture which makes his actions all the more powerful.

As I debated which elements would be taken away based on apparent non importance the most important detail in each of these stories was "apparently" the miracle itself. Take away the qualifier "apparent" however, and the list is very different, particularly after last week's set up.

The plan is for Jesus and his disciples to rest and recuperate. That does not happen. In the first story Jesus is moved, by compassion, to feed people. Teaching and feeding the crowd was not initially part of his personal plans. Pastor Ray preached that Jesus feeds without any qualification. There is no question about whether the crowd deserved to be fed or limitations based on any logistical consideration. This detail shows that there no qualifications brought in by his individual preferences or plans he may have in mind.

Another detail to reflect on is the concern Jesus has to sit people down on the grass before distributing the loaves and fishes. This may be viewed as an unimportant detail. If, however, this is seen as an invitation to table fellowship without a table or a link back to the crowd as sheep being fed, the crowd sitting on grass may be extremely important.

This next detail that comes up is an issue that Jesus will address further in John. Is the crowd gathered because they see Jesus as a Santa Claus figure who will provide all that is asked of him? The prosperity perspective of the Gospel comes into full play when the crowd wants to make the Santa Claus Jesus their king. He resists these efforts by retreating. More about this in upcoming posts but it is apparent Jesus will not show his power directly as a king would when addressing basic human needs.

Jesus walking on the water also becomes strange when the story is examined detail by detail. The disciples go down to the sea and get in the boat and start heading to Capernaum. The time moves from evening into night signifying hours have past and still Jesus has not yet come. The obvious question is did they still expect him to come? Did they expect him to arrive on another boat? Even if he did take another boat, would they still be expecting him after they had rowed for miles? Wouldn't a reunion happen only when both boats reached their destination?

Jesus walks on the sea and comes near their boat. The disciples are terrified but, after he speaks, they want to take him in the boat. Whether he actually gets in the boat is not specified in this particular translation but immediately after their desire to get him in their boat is expressed, they reach their destination.

This takes us back to the sermon Pastor Ray preached where he gave us a choice of whether there was a multiplication of loaves or whether the miracle was accomplished by people sharing what they already had with them. John does not give us clues on this but rather uses language in both these stories that is strange and undercuts what is being seen as important if these verses are viewed as a newspaper report of a miracle that could have been videotaped.

A good eye witness reporter would have told us whether this happened by multiplication or by sharing with the feeding of the 5.000. The reasons the disciples left Jesus behind and when they expected to encounter him again before he walked on the water would have been included in any good news article.

Obviously these things are not deemed important in how these accounts come to us. Yet these are the questions our minds today immediately confront. We don't first reflect on what the scripture might reveal as important.

Is multiplication over sharing a better option for Christians to believe? Did he actually walk on the water or was the sea shallow where he did this? Interestingly the truth of the feeding of the 5,000 in John is only found in examining the leftovers and the impact of walking on the water is recorded mostly in the disciples' reaction to the event. In both stories the strongest evidence of miracles comes indirectly.

One approach to answering what John is emphasizing is to take a step back. Is the important question whether God chooses to reveal power in our natural world in a supernatural way?  We have looked so far at answers that are predicated on this account basically being a poorly written newspaper article or promoting metaphors that are not factually "true" in the everyday world in which Jesus lived. The reason this must be a poor newspaper article is that the critical how questions on every reader's minds encountering this are not addressed in the reporting.

Certainly the language and construction of the narratives in John are not easily categorized. We don't necessarily even have words for a category it may fall under, although some have tried. Leonard Sweet came up with a word, narraphor, that attempts to address the language of the Bible for today's readers. Sweet observes our culture speaks in story and images. People today long for “stories built around a metaphor set to a soundtrack.” And to communicate the gospel in a relevant way, he asserts we have to learn and speak like this to relate God's message.

We are wired for stories. We become our stories. Our search for identity is not primarily a search for principles or world views. Story and image form the heart of our self-conception. We don’t seek values and principles and props alone. We want narraphors that help place us in the world, within ourselves, and to know our God better. This becomes an evermore deeply involving pursuit with images that constantly offer more passionate soundtracks The pursuit belongs to us personally while also remaining above our power.

The summary of today's Gospel in the bulletin states it nicely, "The mystery of God cannot be brought under human control."

Monday, July 23, 2018

July 22, 2018 - Ninth Sunday after Pentecost - Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Pastor Ray's sermon focused on Mark 6:31,  "He (Jesus) said to them, "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while." For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat."

More specifically he preached about the Greek word eukaireó which is translated here as the word leisure in the Gospel. He explained it was not leisure time as we would think of it, but rather a different way of experiencing time instead of  the other Greek word for how time is normally experienced - chronos.

He spoke about eukaireó as what is perceived when we lose track of chronos time. When we become absorbed in a particular moment this is an eukaireó moment or God's time (perhaps timelessness would be more appropriate). When perceiving the world kairologically, the beauty and perfection of the moment, points to the beauty and perfection of every moment and other moments we have experienced in the past of this awakened feeling.

Pastor Ray asked if anyone had experienced this in worship. A few hands went up. He commended us, at the end of the sermon, to build in more eukaireó time for ourselves. Later in the service, during our Prayers for the People, we prayed for places of rest where we could be renewed for mission. This prayer highlighted central issues with what we consider our normal ways to worship, what was preached in today's sermon, and what ultimately happened in today's Gospel text.

Personally I raised my hand becuase I have experienced eukaireó time (as the word is defined here) in worship a long time ago. That service lasted for two hours so I believe others experienced that moment in that service as well. Yet our Sunday worship times, as today's annotations in the bulletin accurately described, are not patterned to invite us to perceive the world kairologically.

I heard a number of people complained about that service. Those people obviously did not perceive the eukaireó moment. I would say that is because Sunday worship stresses something spiritually different. I will quote from the annotations "The basic pattern of this service - gathering, word, meal, and sending - is a structure that focuses on what the church holds in common" This includes a common church mission.

All the notes explaining how the service is ordered today was a constant reminder of where we should be at any particular time. Our Sunday worship is not designed for the congregation to lose track of time and where they are in the service. The eukaireó moments Pastor Ray described are ruptures in the way reality is normally perceived. Hardly moments where there will be public agreement on what is happening nor can be planned.

When we prayed for places of rest where we could be renewed for mission in our Prayers for the People it felt appropriate. Sabbaths from work are spiritually healthy but we shouldn't confuse those places of rest with the eukaireó moments in our lives.
Eukaireó moments are slipped into and out of without plan or by individual will.  Reading further into today's Gospel provides a helpful illustration of this characteristic. Jesus says to the disciples "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while". The account goes on to tell us as they went for this rest the crowds saw them going and recognized them. They all hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them

Jesus has compassion for the crowd, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. Later, in the verses left out of this week's Gospel, we find that Jesus and the disciples fed them as well. The disciples did what Jesus told them to do to feed the hungry crowd.

This did not mean that they needed to be more intentional about resting to inspire their perception of particular moments. Neither would I say the miracle mission of the moment was more important than perceiving the world kairologically. The Gospel does not prioritize one above the other. Christianity is love in action but that does not mean that the church in the world is judged or based on the works done in the name of the church.

Chronos and eukaireós — Today's translation was not the precisely the definition of "our" time and "God’s" time that I have been given before. In the past I thought the 3 year lectionary cycle was much more critical to being aware of eukaireós. I was told standardizing the readings over three years was designed to make the church think about and / or experience the cyclical nature God's time.

The lectionary emphasizes deeper re-readings of the scripture content. It also unbinds us from many chronos moments we find ourselves living out in our daily life. Thirdly the lectionary provides memory bridges to other moments in the past when these verses were encountered in previous years. I have even heard eukaireós used to help understand how God's kingdom is both coming and is at hand in our world.

I am not pushing for a final definitive resolutions or rigid definitions to chronos and eukaireós. It is best not to limit ourselves. There are as many possibilities to enter God’s time as there are people and none of these possibilities should be dismissed out of hand.

Monday, July 16, 2018

July 15, 2018 - Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - Today's Worship

There was the debut performance of a new piece Matt Weiers and I collaborated on writing called We Congregate. Shirley, Matt and I led the congregation in the music.

We Congregate

Sometimes our hearts are shaky, at times our faith feels strong.
We gather here for worship we congregate and belong.

We congregate! We congregate! We congregate!
We gather here and belong.

We listen when God's silent, and when God's voice is strong.
We gather now to hear and reply to God in our song.

We congregate! We congregate! We congregate!
Reply to God in our song.

Sometimes our hearts are iron, it's hard to sacrifice,
But when we act together, we are the body of Christ.

We congregate! We congregate! We congregate!
We congregate and belong.

This is part of a liturgy that Matt is currently writing for Creator. The title was my homage and nod to a beautiful and plaintive Rocco DeLuca song Congregate released in 2014. I felt like performing DeLuca's song, even with the talent and instruments to do it, would not connect with many Creator members who prefer light, joyous and up-tempo songs with energy.

Like today's Gospel about King Herod, DeLuca's lyrics to Congregate shifts our focus to what should be the importance of our Sundays together. DeLuca's words depict the lights going out, the storms coming, the ground shaking but the refrain offers it's own faith:

And I will help you.
'Cause you will help me through
The trouble at the gates of this heart

The lyrics today hopefully shift their focus as well. Trying to make our purpose in life about the faith we may or may not have in our creeds inevitably leads us to viewing any doubts we may have with guilt. We live our life floating between the first verse, "Sometimes our hearts are shaky" and the last, "Sometimes our hearts are iron." When the lights go out, the storms come, the ground shakes or when a beheading happens there will be trouble at the gates of the heart.  We are very unlikely to avoid every crisis in life will have us encounter but we can help each other through at those times.

For Children's Time the Day Camp Lutherwood leaders taught us a Day Camp song with accompanying motions. Like We Congregate part of the participation was in unison clapping.

Trey put together a photo presentation of this summer's ELCA Youth Gathering in Houston.which included our Creator contingent and what they did.