“HELPING, FIXING, SERVING” August 23, 2015

“Helping, Fixing, Serving”

John 12:1-8

Chilmark Community Church

August 23, 2015

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

Many years ago my Sunday School teaching partner and I were preparing for our 4th grade class. That year we were blessed with 8 boys between the ages of 8 and 10. The lesson that morning had to do with the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. So we decided to invite the kids to have the experience of having their feet washed and then of washing each others’ feet. As the lesson progressed, we got to the point of filling a large basin with water and my partner asked who would like to be first?

Almost a though a secret signal had been given, 8 pairs of feet were withdrawn, pulled back under the chair rungs – – no willing volunteers. So my friend Ila and I were left with no alternative but to wash each other’s feet and demonstrate what the lesson was about.

We took a few minutes to do this and as we looked around the room, those little guys were paying attention! So we offered the invitation again. This time one or two feet were very tentatively extended beyond the rungs of the chairs. Then one pair of sneakers came off followed by a pair of socks – – and then another and another. One by one, the kids extended their feet to see what it would feel like to have their feet washed. Gradually, they experimented with washing each other’s feet with a lot of giggling and “oooooh phew!” By the end of the class we all had clean feet and we had all learned something about what it feels like to have someone kneel in front of us and serve us in a profoundly simple and symbolic act.

We have two very brief images of service in today’s text. Jesus has returned to Bethany for a visit at the home of his dear friends, Mary and Martha and their brother Lazarus. They have prepared a dinner party for him. The words of the story are sparse: “Martha served”………Mary took a pound of expensive perfumed ointment, cleansed Jesus’ feet and wiped them, not with a towel, but with her hair.

The images of the meal and the foot washing are repeated again in the later story of Jesus sharing his final meal with his friends – and washing their feet. In the later story it is Jesus who serves and washes.

Today’s story reaches the senses: the smell of lamb and grains roasting on the fire; the scent of perfume filling the house; the intimacy of Mary’s physical touch; the feel of soft hair. It’s a sensual story. It is also a story of contrasts. Death and life are present. Lazarus is newly restored, alive, from his tomb where Jesus was warned of the terrible stench he would encounter there. Jesus is on his way to his own tomb – fragrantly perfumed. Mary and Martha are extravagant in their meal preparations and the bathing of Jesus feet. Judas kind of sulks in the corner worrying about the expense.

There is a two-word sentence in the story that catches the eye: “Martha served.” Serving is what the sisters knew how to do.

A number of years ago, Naomi Remen authored an article in the Noetic Sciences Review titled “In The Service of Life”. She wrote: “In recent years, the question ‘how can I help?’ has become meaningful for many people. But perhaps there is a deeper question we might consider. Perhaps the real question is not ‘How can I help’ but rather ‘How can I serve?’ There is a difference between helping and fixing and serving.

Richard Rohr, in his book “What the Mystics Know” writes: After decades of counseling, pastoring, and clumsy attempts at helping other people, I am coming to a not so obvious but compelling conclusion: Much of our helping is like hoping for first class accommodations on the Titanic. It feels good at the moment, but it is going nowhere. The big tear in the hull is not addressed, and we are surprised when people drown, complain, or resort to life boats. Most of the people I have tried to fix still need fixing. The situation changed, but the core was never touched.

Serving is different than helping. Remen suggests that people tend to feel a sense of inequality when they are helped. The helper may feel good, but the one who is helped may feel diminished in some way. We heard this message clearly a number of years ago when we spent some time on the Lakota Reservations in South Dakota. The tribes told stories about how they had been “helped” by the US government in the form of surplus food. They had been “helped” by missionaries who wanted to convert them to Christianity. They had been “helped” by well meaning groups who sent them boxes of used clothing. But through all this helping, their health, their spiritual traditions and their strength and dignity as a tribal people were all seriously diminished. The integrity and wholeness of tribal life was eroded by the help that was extended to them. To paraphrase Rohr, all that helping and fixing never reached the core. Life on the reservations changed, but the deepest core of life was never touched in a way that would have lead to wholeness in the relationship between the Lakota people the white population.

Service, on the other hand, is a relationship between equals. Helping incurs a subtle kind of indebtedness. Serving has a mutuality about it. There is no indebtedness. In a serving relationship, I am served just as much as the person I am serving. When I help, I have a feeling satisfaction that I have done something good. When I serve, I feel gratitude. These are two very different things.

Serving is also different from fixing. Fixing arises out of seeing the world or other persons as broken. Naomi Remen writes: “When I fix another person, I see them as broken and their brokenness requires me to act. When I fix, I do not see the wholeness in the other person or trust the integrity of the life in them. Fixing is a form of judgment about the brokenness of the other person.

When I think of images of serving, one that comes to mind is hospice work. When a hospice worker receives an assignment, it is an assignment to serve. In the work of attending to the needs of the dying and to the needs of the family, a hospice worker cannot fix anything –nor can he or she really help. In hospice work there is no fixing or helping – – only service – – the service of wise and compassionate presence – – a service that addresses and acknowledges the strength and integrity of the family and the one who is dying. Hospice seeks to serve the wholeness in the life of the client and the family as death draws near.

The images of Jesus and his friends in the gospel are images of service. Mary breaks a flask of perfumed ointment to sooth and cleanse Jesus’ feet. She can fix nothing. Her act of service doesn’t help anything. Jesus already knows his end is imminent. Nothing can fix or help the outcome. There is a mystery in Mary’s service that recognizes the integrity and wholeness of Jesus, of work, of his purpose.

Judas, on the other hand, is a helper and a fixer – – sell the ointment – -help the poor. He has a somewhat self righteous tone about him and the little editorial comment suggests that his motives aren’t really all that pure.

Later on in John’s gospel Jesus is again in the company of friends. This time he is the one with the basin and towel. He extends to his friends the hospitality of serving them by preparing to wash their feet. He comes first to Peter – and Peter resists. He is incredulous at the idea of Jesus washing his feet and he refuses. Jesus responds to him: “unless I wash you, you have no part in me.” And Peter submits to being served by Jesus. Jesus doesn’t fix anything about Peter. We know this because of the way the story unfolds after Jesus is arrested. But Jesus sees something of the inherent worth – indeed the holiness – in Peter. Unless Peter allowed himself to be served by Jesus, Peter would not be able to live out a life of service.

Jesus aligned himself with the wholeness that he saw in each life he touched. He saw that wholeness in each human being waiting to be restored and he acted in service to that wholeness.

When we see this about Jesus, we can understand a little bit more about his willing attitude when Mary anointed his feet and Martha served him a meal. In the face of the unfixable that lay ahead of them all, it was incredibly important that Mary and Martha be able to serve by their devotion and their friendship and their presence in Jesus’ life. When this story is juxtaposed with the later story of Jesus washing his friends’ feet, we see that life in Christ is not so much a life of fixing and helping – – or of being fixed or helped. Rather life in Christ is a life of serving and being served.

Through his life and death and resurrection, Jesus serves us by recognizing the wholeness and the holiness that resides in each one of us. He does not relate to us as needy, or broken or weak. Rather he serves us by honoring our strength and calling forth the best from us. If his purpose were to help us or fix us, he would only make us weaker. But Jesus calls us from weakness to strength. His loving service to us empowers us – – makes us strong.

Martha served. Mary served. Jesus serves. After Jesus had washed his friends’ feet he said to them “Do you know what I have done to you? You call me teacher and Lord –and you are right for that is what I am. So – if I your Lord have washed your feet, you ought also to wash one another’s feet. For I have set you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.”

So – the subtle call seems clear. We are called to lives of serving and lives of being served. We all know something about what this means because we live in a community that does this as part of its way of being in the world. The story just helps us do the fine tuning so that we can be more effective. May we enter the coming week with our eyes and ears and hearts wide open to whatever our servant ministry calls us to do and be in the name of God. AMEN.

Let the Healing Begin, August 16, 2015

“Let The Healing Begin”

Chilmark UMC

August 16, 2015

Numbers 21:4-9

John 3:14-22

Dr. David Carlough was a very diminutive figure with snowy white hair and he could walk into a room and make you feel better just by being there. When I was a little kid he came to the house when I was sick. He would thump and bump and probe and listen – – grunt softly and come to a conclusion. He would reach into his black bag and take out just the right medicine and give me the first dose right then and there. Then he would have a cup of tea with my mom and catch up on the family happenings before he moved on to his next visit. It is hard to find doctors like Dr. David anymore. He was more than a physician. He was a healer. Often he was not able to cure his patients, but what happened in his relationship with his patients was as important to the healing process as the pills he dispensed from his medical bag.

As a little kid, I was fascinated by that black bag. The leather handles were kind of cracked and worn. There was a stethoscope inside it and lots of bottles of pills and little white envelopes. He would put the pills in an envelopes and write instructions on it for my mom to follow. On the side of the bag was silver stick with a silver snake wrapped around it.

That serpent wreathed staff, the caduceus, has always been a reminder to me of the capacity to heal. But snakes get mixed reviews in human history and experience. On the one hand, in the Garden of Eden, the serpent is a mischief maker – enticing the woman in the garden to do something she has been forbidden to do. On the other hand, when Moses throws down his staff in front of Pharaoh, it turns into a snake that is a symbol of God’s power and authority.

Throughout history, the snake has been viewed as symbol death and of the power of evil. It has also been understood as a symbol of creation and regeneration and resurrection and healing. We see this duality in the story we are reading today.

In the passage we read from the Book of Numbers, the Hebrew people were tired of their sojourn in the wilderness. Tradition puts them at about the 38th year of their journey. They complained against God and against Moses. They were tired of wandering, tired of having no place to call home, tired of not having enough food and water – and they hated the manna that God provided for them every day. They harangued Moses: “Why have you brought us out of Egypt to die in this wilderness?” This mantra is repeated over and over again in the books of Exodus and Numbers and Deuteronomy

Long story short, God gets tired of their complaining and sends a plague of poisonous serpents among the people. The snakes bite the people and the people die. The people panic. They repent. They ask Moses to speak with God in their behalf to get rid of the snakes. Moses prays. God says make a bronze serpent – hold it up where the people can see it. If they get bitten and look at it, they will live.

The story raises a few questions. Didn’t God originally tell Israel not to make any graven images? Isn’t God breaking God’s own rules here? What do we do with a story about God’s impatience and loss of temper? How does God transform what was a punishment into something that heals?

At one time or another as we move through life, we experience the same kind of weariness and frustration that happened to Israel in the wilderness. Just when we think things can’t get any worse- -they do. A young mother is sick and doesn’t feel well enough to do the laundry and pack the school lunches– and the kids all come down with the flu. We’re at the outermost limit of our finances and the furnace needs to be replaced or the pipes freeze and cost a fortune to repair. We look to modern medicine and technology to help us get through an illness and the treatment makes us sicker than we were when we started – – and maybe we discover too late that our insurance doesn’t cover it all anyway.

Sometimes our lives are an exercise in wandering in the wilderness.

The story presents a bit of a paradox. God’s answer to the complaints of the people is a plague of poisonous snakes. They sicken and die. The thing that will save them is an image of the exact same thing that is causing their death.

In God’s paradoxical economy, the image of the serpent – the thing that caused them to sicken and die, becomes an instrument of their healing.

A close reading of the story reveals that the bronze serpent does not cure them, however. The last line of the episode reads this way: “So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.”

The story does not tell us that God removed the snakes. The story reads : Moses made a bronze serpent and mounted it on a standard; and when anyone was bitten by a serpent, he would look at the bronze serpent and recover. In the very next verse, The Israelites march on to their next campsite.

It is part of life that we hit the dark valleys from time to time – – pain, sickness, a diagnosis of cancer or Alzheimer’s Disease, the sudden death of a loved one – -these are things that happen to us on our human journey. Our most heartfelt prayers are for relief, for a cure – – we want the sickness and the pain and the sadness and the disability to go away. God – please get rid of these snakes. But death and dementia and, often cancer, and so many other conditions that afflict us can’t be reversed. Strained and broken relationships can be very resistant to any efforts at reconciliation Often, we have to come to terms with knowing that as much as we yearn for a cure there is no cure to be had. A cure means that the disease or the trouble or the snakes go away. We know that in real life, a lot of times that just doesn’t happen. Healing does not necessarily mean there is a cure for what ails us. And yet, time and time again, we are witness to the healing that may take place in the midst of the devastation.

By the time we have reached a certain age, most of us have had the experience, either in our own lives or in the life of someone we know, of witnessing a process of healing and transformation that can happen in the midst of suffering.

We may witness people becoming reconciled with each other and with God when the ultimate concerns of life are met openly and honestly. Suffering through a life threatening illness often gives people an opportunity to be clear with friends and loved ones about what is precious and important. Sometimes there is opportunity for addressing old wounds – – to give and receive forgiveness – – to set right broken and estranged relationships. In the midst of a crisis of physical or emotional dis-ease, healing happens – -even when there is no cure in sight.

God does not always cure us in the ways we want to be cured – – but God is always at work healing us in the ways we need to be healed. Our bodies are temporary vessels for the transportation of the life that God has poured into us. Our bodies fail at times. Sometimes they cannot be cured. But our souls are eternal and indestructible – – when we are wounded, we can be healed.

Moses lifted up the bronze serpent in the desert for the healing of the people so that they might live – even though they weren’t finished suffering and struggling and wandering. John’s gospel draws on the wilderness story. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” Our tradition affirms that Jesus’ death and resurrection have the power to transform and heal human experience. At the end of his life, Jesus was literally lifted up in a public place so that people could see him. His Roman executioners made an example of him – – to frighten Jews into submission and obedience to Roman oppression. It was the worst that Rome could do. But out of that violent reality something else emerged – something Rome didn’t count on. A small community of Jews witnessed what happened. They lived through the terrible events and had a totally different experience of what death could mean for a new and transformed life.

This is the Divine Paradox…. The things that we fear the most and that cause us the most suffering – – loss, illness, disability, aging, dying – – all have hidden within them the ultimate healing and transformation we need in the service of our own wholeness. The death of Jesus as a healing event remains a mystery. Paul talks about Jesus emptying himself on the cross. The mystics say that this radical emptying is required of us so that the only thing that remains alive in us is the presence of God –and that is the ultimate healing – – when we are no longer living in a state of feeling separate from God – – when we are, indeed, in eternal life – – now in the present moment. Any major life crisis has the potential for emptying us – bringing us to the point where there is nothing else we can do – -to a point where the only possibility left is the graceful healing power of God.

From a composite of the stories of the crucifixion we hear some of Jesus’ words at the end: My God – why have you forsaken me? The human cry of all who suffer when there is no cure in sight . I am thirsty. Father, into your hands I commend my spirit. It is finished. From there he undergoes a most radical transformation moving from suffering through death to life in the resurrection. We go through this same process when we are emptied through the suffering and disappointment and frustration and doubt that we encounter as we move through life.

It takes a radical trust to let go of our own expectations of how life should unfold. It takes a major investment of courage to let ourselves be transformed and healed in the midst of suffering. But the principle is there. Snakes happen. Crucifixion happens. Hidden within the worst of the worst is the healing, transformative power of God. May we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear and the heart to understand the truth revealed in these words : And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that whoever trusts in him may have eternal life.

In Everything God Works for Good: August 9, 2015

Romans 8:28-39 In Everything God Works for Good

August 9, 2015

Chilmark Community Church

United Methodist

Rev. Armen Hanjian

A women dies. Her grief-stricken husband sits at the funeral home as friends and relatives pass by to offer words of sympathy. A few religious folk often share: ”All things work together for the good to them that love God.” It doesn’t feel like it rings true. He goes home even more confused and hopeless.

I’ sure most of you know what I’m talking about. That phrase from the King James Version “All things work together for the good” can explain anything in life. One of the high spots of the R.S.V., which had available older manuscripts than the 1611 KJV, has the verse reading “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose,” You see the difference? Things can’t work; rather, it is God who works in everything, and the good news is that God works for our good when God’s purposes and ours are the same.

You think, “Well that helps, but how can you read a paper or watch the TV and be made aware of droughts, wild fires, murders and such and still say God works for good in these things.

Ralph Sockman once said that the only way he could understand this verse was to think of it in terms of a ship. There are parts of a ship which taken by themselves would sink. The engine would sink. The propeller would sink. But when the parts of a ship are built together, they float. So with the events of my life. Some have been tragic. Some have been happy. But when they are all built together, they form a craft that floats…and is going someplace. And I am comforted.”

It’s one thing to say God created everything (many people tip their hat to God or give a wave). It is a far greater statement of faith to say God works in everything, even in the worst thing you could imagine, even an unjust execution. In the short view, even the disciples thought God’s purposes would be thwarted by Jesus being nailed to a cross; but in the long view, God will not be permanently or ultimately defeated.

Fearful people put Jesus to death; nevertheless, by his stripes we are healed. What about Jesus in all this? As any of us would, he prayed the cup of pain and suffering he had to drink would pass by. But he went on and said to God, “nevertheless, not my will, but thine be done.” And for reasons only partly understandable, Jesus suffered and died. It is important to see that Jesus in his prayer trusted God’s will; he did not ask so much for an explanation, as he did for power to overcome or withstand the suffering. The important thing was not that everything would turn out rosy, but that nothing could separate him or us from the love of God. “In everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to

his purpose.”

Let’s not miss the truth that not only does God work, but that God cooperates with us. The Good comes when we cooperate with God; not when we work it out all by ourselves and not when we turn it all over to God to work out, as did the college student on taking a Christmas exam. The question was, What causes a depression?”

The student wrote, God knows! I don’t. Merry Christmas!” The paper came back with the professor’s notation: “ God gets 100. You get zero. Happy New Year!” If we turn everything over to God or if we turn nothing over to God, God wins and we lose. Both God and we win when there is cooperation.

.as when a little boy asked his father for help in repairing his

wagon. When the job was done, he turned his face upward and said, “Daddy, when I try to do things by myself, they go wrong. But when you and I work together, they turn out just fine.”

John Oman, in his book, The Paradox of the World,(p.30) has pointed out how all persons are used by God. He writes:

“All of us alike are God’s instruments. By not setting of our hearts on wickedness or doing evil with both our hands can we prevent God from using us. Our folly will serve Him, when our wisdom fails; our wrath praise Him, though our wills rebel. Yet, as God’s instruments without intention and in our own despite, we generally serve God’s ends only as we defeat our own. To be God’s agent is another matter. This we are only when we learn God’s will, respond to His call, work faithfully together with Him, and find our own highest ends in fulfilling His.” You could add, no one is good for nothing, you can always serve as a bad example.

So the real question is not will God use me, but whether I will be an unconscious tool or God’s conscious partner – a yoke fellow.

To know that God is your active partner is the source of inexhaustible strength.

Whatever you do, don’t get the impression that God works for us just because we love God. Jesus said, God sends the rain upon the just and the unjust alike and the sun shines just as brightly on the good as upon the evil. None of us has merited God’s help. It is God’s free gift to all. We are blessed not because of our good works, rather we are blessed because our purposes and God’s purposes are one. Paul put it this way: “The whole creation is on tiptoe to see the wonderful sight of the children of God coming into their own.”

What the Christian faith affirms is that there is a divine purpose to this creation in its entirety; namely, that we children of God come into conformity with the image of Christ – Christlikeness. God has called us to this end and we believe God can and will finish what God has set out to do.

If we do believe that God’s good pleasure is to will our highest good even in the happenings of the world around us, then, the first question which always must be asked is, “How is God working for good here? We are not through with crime and violence and drugs until we ask, “How is God working for good in these social illnesses?

And you are not through with that problem of yours until you ask, “How….” (thoughts from Let Us Break Bread Together, p119)

When we are on God’s side it doesn’t matter who is working against us for nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God. The early Christians knew that as they faced a hostile world. They faced death unflinchingly. Unlike many of us whose anxieties over things make us miserable, those pioneers of the

Christian way kept things in their perspective by keeping their eyes on Jesus – their living companion. Then, as now, a true

Christian is, by nature, an optimist. Those who flounder in fears do so because they leave God out. They think they must pull themselves up by their bootstraps and they only sink deeper in the mire of fear. They fail to count on God’s activity.

Before WW I I, a manufacturing company in NJ received an urgent message from a customer in Japan who had purchased a piece of equipment. It read “Machine does not work. Send man to fix.” The man was dispatched, but before he had a chance to carry out his assignment, the company received a second message, “Man too young. Send older man.” The company wired back: “You had better use him. He invented the machine.” We believe this old world was made in the mind of God, and that is why we commend it, with all the things that have gone wrong, into the hands of God.

We firmly believe and find comfort in the fact that “In everything God works for good with those who love Him, who are called according to His purpose.” And why not- it is God’s world isn’t it?

Hymn: “This is My Father’s World”

2015 Mission Trip to Ghana

October/November 2015

Mission Trip to Ghana

The Following Are Approximate Costs for the Following Itineraries

Depart Boston, Miami, Tampa or Toronto – Tuesday October 27, 2015. Transfer in Heathrow, London, or Amsterdam for 7 hour flight to Accra, Ghana, West Africa. Arrive at Accra, the next evening and immediately depart for Ho.

This trip will be our last trip to Ghana

During our Ghana stay, we will primarily be housed at the Kekeli Hotel, the Social Center of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in the city of Ho. Clean and comfortable, with air-conditioning, each room will be for two guests and will have an in-room bathroom, cold water shower, and sink. Bottled drinking water will be available for meals, in room and travel use. Meals will be prepared and served in the dining room of the hotel and will feature a mixture of Ghanaian and continental food, sensitive to our dietary needs. Three meals a day are included in the cost. All fees, tips, lodging and ground travel as well as admissions are covered. This includes 12 days in Ghana, departing November 10, 2015 and arriving back November 11, 2015

Lodging for the trip to Cape Coast-Elmina area is in process of being settled.

The Ghana experience will include a Worship opportunity in a village in the region of Ho each Sunday. We will join the people of the villages and communities of the Volta Region. All participants on the trip will participate in age/skill appropriate mission projects to include such things as physical labor at a work site, teaching in a school in the Ho district, work in a medical clinic, presence in a hospital, or with the EP Church. During the time in Ghana, we will arrange cultural presentations of some of the following: arts, dance, drum, song, fabric making, culture, and/or history.

We will mke a four-hour trek to Cape Coast area where we will visit a Slave Fort and Kakum National Park which has a canopy walk over the rainforest.

Afternoons will be reserved for periods of rest and relaxation or free time for exploring the city and market of Ho and perhaps a visit to Tafi Monkey Sanctuary, Wili Waterfall or Keta Sea Defense.

Ghana (Estimated): $2,800

Plus Visa Required: $60-100 Plus Shots required: Yellow fever, malaria meds, etc.

Contact: The Rev. David Christensen telephone: 1-860-759-0791

Box 50, West Tisbury, MA 02575 email: dgcatbcc@aol.com

Send Deposit of $500 by August 20, 2015 mailed to Rev. Christensen

Send Payment of $1,000 by September 15, 2015 mailed to Rev. Christensen

These 2 checks should be made out to “The Federated Church” with the notation “Ghana Travel.”

Balance Due $1,300 in cash carried to Ghana

Ghana Trip: October 27, 2015 – November 11, 2015

Living With Abundance 8/2/15

Living With Abundance

Ecclesiastes 8: 8-16

Luke 12:13-21

Vicky Hanjian

August 2, 2015

Well, this is a doozy of a parable – one that causes us to question “What did he mean by that?” This is Jesus – speaking to his disciples apart from the crowd of thousands who are literally trampling on one another in their efforts to get close to Jesus.

And then – – an interruption – -seemingly out of the blue. A man emerges as an individual out of the crowd and asks Jesus to settle an inheritance dispute. We struggle with Jesus’ response. It almost seems out of character – lacking in understanding and compassion. He asks the man “Who makes me a judge or arbitrator over you?” We would rather that Jesus listened to the man’s complaint against his brother – – and give him advice for how to resolve it – – but Jesus does not answer him directly. He abruptly gives a terse teaching, presumably turning back to his disciples…and facing the crowd: “And he said to them ‘Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”

In a way, these words kind of set us up to understand the parable that follows as story warning us about the dangers of greed. But our Bible study last week took us in another direction – toward the question of how do we live with abundance?

The opening line of the parable reads “The land of a rich man produced abundantly” – – Apparently he was a reasonably good steward of his good land. He farmed it well and it produced a bumper crop that year. One almost wonders if he was surprised at the bounty as he talks to himself. “What am I going to do with this? I have no place to store this much food.” One might also wonder if he might also have had a bumper crop of zucchini or tomatoes or kale – we tend to ask the same questions as the height of the summer harvest comes on. What are we going to do with the abundance?

The farmer’s answer is to tear down his existing barn and build a bigger one. All week long I kept hearing the classic line from “JAWS” in the deep background: “We’re gonna need a bigger boat!” The farmer needed a bigger barn. So far, so good. He’s doing the prudent thing – taking care of the bounty – – making adequate storage so it doesn’t spoil or get wasted. Greed does not seem to be the issue. When the barn is built and all of the grain is safely under cover, he takes a few moments to sit back and relax – maybe he has the great feeling of satisfaction that comes when the last of the pickling cukes have been sealed in their jars and the tomatoes have all been turned into sauce for the winter, and the last of the beans have been blanched and placed in the freezer.

The Farmer kicks back in his rocking chair on the porch. Maybe a glass of wine and some good cheese (grape juice if he is a Methodist!). He rejoices – – talks to himself: “Soul – – – time to relax – – you have enough to last for many years – – Eat! Drink – Be merry!” Oooops! God appears in the story and puts another spin on the farmer’s deep satisfaction: “You fool! You won’t live through the night! When you are gone, who will own all that you have stashed away?”

But maybe the story isn’t about a greedy man – – maybe it’s about a person who just doesn’t know what to do with abundance. The version of the gospel that we read pictures God saying: “Fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you.” There are other translations that read “Fool! On this very night they

(all your possessions) are demanding your life from you.” Is it possible that the abundance the Farmer was celebrating was also the thing that put his soul in danger? Parables pose disturbing questions. What do we do with abundance?

There is a clue about a possible meaning hidden in plain sight in the parable. The farmer says to his Soul: “eat, drink and be merry”. – The way we most commonly hear it is “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die.” So familiar – where does it come from? We heard it in the reading from Ecclesiastes. The opening words of the book of Ecclesiastes are most often read as “vanity upon vanity, all is vanity” or “Utter futility! All is futile!” But the Hebrew word hevel that gets translated as vanity or futility also means “insubstantial” “impermanent”, even “vaporous”. The message of the book of Ecclesiastes is not that life is vain or futile, but rather that life is transient and impermanent. Ecclesiastes is a guidebook to living without permanence and security while still finding joy in living.1 So when Jesus includes the phrase “Eat, drink and be merry” in his parable, he drops a clue that says “dig here for treasure.”

There is nothing wrong with abundance. There isn’t anything inherently wrong with being wealthy. The farmer got into deep water when he thought he could hold on to his bounty and it would insure that his life would unfold in pleasant ways. He put his trust in his wealth for his well being. But, as Ecclesiastes reminds us, Death is the great leveler: rich and poor, powerful and powerless, wise and foolish, we all fear the advent of death because it destroys our illusions of permanence.2

So, perhaps Jesus wanted his friends to know that nothing is permanent – wanted them not to get too attached to things the way they are. Even his life among them was not permanent. Maybe he wanted them to know that it was the abundant grace of God that would keep their lives full and rich. But the grace of God cannot be stored up against the future either. It flows out to us beyond all measure, filling us with a sense of well-being, guiding us when we need it, healing us when we need it – -but it is continually moving – – never the same from moment to moment – never the same from person to person. We cannot save it up for the future. If we try to keep it for ourselves, it sort of shrivels and dies. The power of God’s love is often referred to as “Living Water” – – living water is water that moves – a downpour of rain – the oceans – the rivers –Jesus referred to himself as Living Water and reminded the woman at the well that whoever drank from him would never be thirsty again. We are the recipients of all that flowing, moving, thirst – quenching grace. Through the life and teaching of Jesus, God pours forth abundant spiritual wealth. We cannot contain it. We cannot limit it. We cannot store it up for the future. Indeed, we have to continually empty our barns. We pay it forward. For God’s love to work in the world, it has to reach us. We have to receive it. We need to let it flow through us. We extend generosity and hospitality to others out of our abundance. We offer compassion in place of judgment. We seek justice in place of power. When we obstruct the flow of grace – – perhaps like a farmer storing up his abundance in his barns instead of sharing it with others, we die. Not physically, perhaps – – but our spirits shrivel and dry up. We become smaller – dehydrated, if you will – than we are meant to be.

With the writer of Ecclesiastes, at the communion table, we come and share together in the symbols of the abundant, Life-giving, Life-saving generosity of God through Jesus. We eat – and we drink – and we are surely called to be joyful and merry, even in the face of all that is imperfect in the world. Our story ends differently from that of the rich farmer. When we share the abundance, we do indeed have life. Jesus said “I have come that you may have life and that your life may be abundant.” In communion, the barn doors are open wide – and all who want to come are welcome to join the party. May it always be so.

1 Ecclesiastes Annotated and Explained by Rabbi Rami Shapiro , Skylight Paths Publishing Woodstock, Vermont, 2010 p.2

2 Shapiro, p. 74

1854 A Folk Opera

1854 is about and inspired by, the Vineyard mid-19th century abolitionist movement .  Come hear about its creation.

On Sunday, August 16th at 4:00 p.m. there will be a presentation regarding a developing folk opera, 1854 . This presentation is meant to give the audience an inside look into how such a piece of musical theatre is developed. A storyboard of sample scenes, plus early musical renderings of two scenes that begin 1854 will be presented. Questions are welcome. This demonstration is meant to benefit the further development of 1854. Afterwards, a free-will offering will be requested.

See the links below to learn more.   Listen to sample here.  Beautiful!

WHEN YOU PRAY…July 26, 2015

“When you pray….”

Luke 11: 1-13

Chilmark Community Church

July 26, 2015

Vicky Hanjian

Jesus’ disciples said: “Lord, teach us to pray” – – and Jesus gave them a prayer that has sustained and nurtured human beings for 2000 years. It is so much a part of the fiber of our being that we take it for granted. For many of us, it was the first prayer we were taught as young children. For many years it was part of the “morning exercises” in the schools that people of my generation attended. As I worked my way through it for this morning’s sermon, I discovered that each line is a powerful prayer all by itself, so that is how we’ll look at it together.

When Jesus prayed this prayer himself, he addressed God personally. He would have used the word “Avi” – – an intimate address which means “my father” – – we have received the prayer using the word “avinu” – – which means “our Father” – -so one of the things that we notice is that right from the first words, the Lord’s Prayer establishes incredibly intimate, spiritual relationships – not just between us and God, but between us as siblings –as children of God. When we pray “Our Father…. we acknowledge that we are beloved children of the Holy One – – and that we are beloved together in the sight of God. If we only focused this interrelatedness between us and God and between each other – – it would be enough of a prayer to change the world. As children of the Holy One we carry within us our Divine Parent’s attributes of compassion, justice, loving – kindness, forgiveness, grace and mercy as part of what it means to be most truly human. Life fully lived as children of God could transform creation.

Which art in heaven”….. reminds us that while we do indeed embody the attributes of God in our physical nature, we are not all there is. While the Holy is immanent and dwells within us and among us, (God has pitched a tent in our midst) God is also transcendent – – un-nameable – – and un-tameable – – elusive – -often hidden – – a God who must be sought out. While God loves us as a parent loves a precious child, God cannot be domesticated.

So – when we pray “hallowed be thy name” – – we enter a kind of mystery.

Both the Old Testament and ancient Jewish literature indicate that God’s name is sanctified, made holy, by the way in which God’s people act. There is a story in the Book of Numbers where God instructs Moses to speak to the rock to provide water for the children of Israel because they are thirsty. Moses, however, struck the rock causing water to issue forth. The Lord responded to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not trust me, you did not treat me as holy, before the eyes of the children of Israel, therefore, you will not enter with this assembly into the land that I gave to them.” Moses and Aaron by their lack of trust and their disobedience failed to sanctify God; we can assume, then, that their obedience would have sanctified the name of God. God’s name is sanctified, honored and made holy when we live out the command to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength – – and love our neighbor as ourselves. We either magnify God’s name – make it holy – or we profane it – make it unholy – by the way we live in the world.

All of the people who call upon the name of God, – – -Christians, – – Muslims, – – Jews and all the variations within those broad categories – -we all have a pretty spotty record when it comes to “hallowed be thy name” – – our history together has often been a history of suspicion, misunderstanding, hatred, violence, unwillingness to forgive – -all of which make the name of God unholy. If this were the only line of the prayer and we prayed it with the intention of fulfilling it – – this prayer too could change the world.

Just in case we do not yet get the point, Jesus adds another line – – “thy kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” – – – John Dominic Crossan calls this a radically subversive prayer. At the time the prayer was recorded Rome was the kingdom and Caesar was god. The prayer undermines the power and authority of Caesar. It shifts the power and the glory to the One who transcends political power. The willingness to pray “thy kingdom come” sustained the Jewish community that evolved around Jesus and would eventually become the early church. It gave our ancestors hope. Caesars have come and gone in every age over the last 2000 years – – the prayer for God’s kingdom on earth continues….. and it must not stop….. The headlines remind us daily that the Caesars continue to demand allegiance and obedience. They usurp power over human life that belongs only to God. Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done is a prayer of hope in the face of the worst that can happen. We continue to pray it because we still await the fullness of God’s kingdom of justice and righteousness and peace to prevail.

With the next line, it is as though Jesus knew that we, as his followers, might lose hope – – get discouraged – – maybe even lose our way – – trying to live faithfully in a world that is so challenging. On every side we are confronted by hunger, homelessness, violence, racism, destruction of human life, political discord, aggression – – – only if we are sound asleep can we escape from so much of what the world hands us every day. Often a sense of powerlessness and even hopelessness may creep in. And indeed, at times we really do simply need to turn it off – or at the very least turn down the volume. Jesus says “pray this way… Give us this day our daily bread…” the words are reminiscent of the near starvation of Israel in the wilderness – – and the Holy One’s grace in providing manna for them to eat. They were instructed that they should gather just enough for the needs of the day. They were not to gather any more than that because if they tried to keep it over night it would get moldy and rot. The idea is that Israel was to learn to trust that they would be given exactly what they needed to get through the day – no more – and no less.

This simple line may well be the most challenging one spiritually. Jesus invites us to be open to trusting that when we open ourselves in prayer, we will receive everything we need for the journey. It is challenging because it implies that we need to do something that we don’t always do very well – – – and that is that we have to LISTEN. This daily bread is what sustained Jesus during his own time in the wilderness. It is what he fed on in those quiet moments that he stole out of his busy days of teaching and healing. He made time for manna. He went into the quiet recesses of his inner sanctuary where he could listen for the Divine Flow of love and wisdom and power and direction and guidance and strength that sustained him. When we pray “give us this day our daily bread” we need to stop and spend time listening for the silent voice of God so that we can receive the bread as it comes.

And then we come to “forgive us our debts or our trespasses as we forgive our debtors or those who trespass against us.” Two ancient verses from the Hebrew Scriptures inform this part of the prayer: “you shall love the Lord your God” and “you shall love your neighbor who is like you – -you shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Early in Genesis, we learn that God created humankind in God’s own image. Whether we like it or not, we are all bearers of the image of God. When we wound each other, when our relationships are broken, we wound God. We cannot get any closer with God than we are with each other. It is as though God might be saying to us: ‘If you love your neighbor, I can be relied upon to be fully available and present to you. But if you do not love your neighbor, if you cannot forgive one another, then you will feel my absence and separation.’

Our ability to forgive one another is directly linked with our relationship with God. When we are not able to forgive one another, our relationship with God is fractured. God loves not only us, but also the person with whom we are in conflict. So – when we pray “forgive us as we forgive others” – – there is a lot more at stake than meets the eye.

Perhaps one of the more difficult parts of this prayer is the line “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” – – – What are we to do with that?

I want to suggest that this line of the Lord’s Prayer is a powerful call to personal responsibility for how we conduct our lives. We humans embody and are energized by two conflicting centers in our personalities – we come into the world with them as basic equipment that carries a lifetime guarantee. Jesus knew them as “the inclination to evil” and the “inclination to good”. There is no moral judgment attached to either inclination –they simply are what is. We have the ability to think and speak and act from either center – either from the needs of our ego – or from the desires of the Spirit. Both are necessary for survival. Our job as followers of the Way is to keep them in balance and make the choice for the movement of the Holy Spirit as often as we can. When we are operating solely from our most self centered, selfish inclinations, we have the capacity to conceal the beauty of God. When we operate from our selfless, generous side – we have the capacity to reveal God. What Jesus is saying when he says “lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil” is that we can pray that every choice and every action in our lives might reveal God rather than conceal God. I don’t know about you, but this is a part of the prayer that I have to pray not only every day – but from moment to moment every day. Just taking on the work of personal responsibility for every word that comes out of my mouth is a daunting endeavor. Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil……

The prayer ends there. The doxology that was added on to the end of the prayer later is: “For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory – -forever – – – A kingdom that already is and a kingdom that is not yet. So – when we pray it together or individually we become co-creators with God. By joining ourselves to God through the prayer Jesus taught, by intentionally shaping our lives to conform to the prayer, we become participants in the building of God’s realm here on earth.

May The Holy One help us to be the prayer that we pray. AMEN

A Prayer for our church in summer

Spirit of the Living God, be with our kaleidoscopic little church,.  We are many faceted and multi-shaped, with fragments that focus and focus again, always in different patterns as we turn to the light of Your Presence.  Help us to love those patterns and the turning, and to trust in the beauty of the wholeness we yearn for.  Help us to find our wholeness in you.  AMEN

Breaking the Cycle July 12,1015 by Vicky Hanjian

Context for 2 Chronicles 28: 8-15

The history of the people called Israel is pretty splintered and tortuous. For generations they were a loose conglomeration of twelve different tribes descending from Jacob the patriarch of Jacob’s Ladder fame. The great King David managed to pull the 12 tribes of Israel together during his reign and unite them into a more orderly. David’s son Solomon continued the rule. But after Solomon died, the United Monarchy split into two independent states. This is when the Samaritan people come into being. The tribes organized geographically – – The Samaritans in the north and the Tribes of Judah in the south – – and they became bitter enemies. Because most of our story comes down to us through the chroniclers of The Tribes of Judah, we get a pretty negative picture of the Samaritans – murderers, rapists, plunderers. In addition to the deep political rift, the Samaritans and Jews were deeply divided about which group had the true faith and which group were the heretics.

We enter the story through the vignette that Jim will read from 2 Chronicles.

 

CHILMARK COMMUNITY CHURCH

BREAKING THE CYCLE”

2 Chronicles 28:8-15

Luke 10:25-37

Vicky Hanjian

July 12, 2015

A lawyer comes to Jesus and wants to know what he has to do to obtain eternal life. He questions Jesus in order to test him. The lawyer asks a question that has no answer. Jewish belief affirms that eternal life is a gift freely given by God – neither the lawyer nor anyone else has to figure out how to obtain it.

So, never one to give easy answers, Jesus answers the question with another question: “What is written in the law – what do you read there?” The very knowledgeable lawyer quotes a combination of verses from Deuteronomy and Leviticus on the love of God and the love of neighbor: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and with all your strength and with all your mind;1 and your neighbor as yourself.2 – – This satisfies Jesus and he affirms the lawyer. Your answer is a good one – – fulfill these two commandments and you will indeed live” – – Jesus might have added that if you do just this much, you will live abundantly.

But the lawyer has an agenda – the verse says he wants to justify himself –he wants to look good in his own eyes. So he pushes Jesus a little further – ahhh – I must love my neighbor as myself – – but who IS my neighbor? Jesus answers with a story.

We are familiar with the narrative – a traveler walking along a notoriously dangerous road – gets beaten and robbed by armed and dangerous criminals and is left for dead at the side of the road. People walk by. There are dozens of interpretations about the motivations of the priest and the Levite and the reasons why they both pass by on the other side of the road. Over centuries of translation and interpretation, the parable has been overlaid with stereotypes – the most common one being that the priest had to stay ritually pure in order to perform his ceremonies in the temple and so could not risk contaminating himself if the man were dead. The Levite had to attend to his tasks involving the care of the temple precincts – and also could not risk contamination. Amy Jill Levine, in her book Short Stories By Jesus points out the flaw in these arguments that would excuse the priest and the Levite – -First, they were both headed down to Jericho away from the temple in Jerusalem. Maintaining ritual cleanliness was not an issue. They were headed away from the temple, not toward it. Second, Jewish law places the highest priority on the care of the dead.

Neither Jesus nor Luke gives the priest or the Levite any excuse for passing by. Indeed, there is no acceptable excuse. Their responsibility was to save a life, and they failed. Saving a life is so important that Jewish law mandates that it override every other concern – including keeping the Sabbath. If the man had, indeed, died, their responsibility was to bury the corpse. They failed here as well.3

Levine cites Martin Luther King Jr. as having the best explanation for why the priest and the Levite refused to help the man lying in the ditch. King preached this: I’m going to tell you what my imagination tells me. It’s possible these men were afraid….and so the first question the priest and the Levite asked was, ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Samaritan came by, and he reversed the question: ‘If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’ Whatever the motives of the priest and the Levite, King is correct. They, like the lawyer, thought only about themselves, not the man in the ditch.4

Jesus is a master story teller. He uses the familiar device of the formula of three. It’s exemplified in a joke or story that begins with “a minister, a priest, and a rabbi walk into a bar”…. If the joke starts out with “a minister, and a priest – – the third person in the trilogy is expected to be the rabbi. We are primed to hear that.

Jesus tells a story that includes a priest and Levite. In Israelite story telling the formula of three anticipates that the third party is always an Israelite – – so a story might begin with “a priest, a Levite and an Israelite walk into a bar”…. (That wouldn’t happen – but you get the point). People listening to the story would be primed to expect that if a story included a priest and a Levite, it would also include an Israelite.

Jesus’ listeners would have been jarred by the lack of compassion on the part of the priest and the Levite. They would have been expecting the third person to be an Israelite – an Israelite would be the one who stopped to help.

But, this is a parable – – and parables are quirky and designed to make us think.

Instead of an Israelite being the third person – – the one who stops to help is a Samaritan. As AJ Levine puts it: “In modern terms, this would be like going from Larry and Moe to Osama bin Laden.”5 Samaritans, age old enemies of the Jews were hated and feared and reviled.

There is a significant shift in the story as the Samaritan is introduced. Jesus’ words about the priest and the Levite are quite sparse. But a lot of attention is given to the Samaritan. “The robbers steal and wound, while the Samaritan tends with his own goods. The bandits leave the man half dead, while the Samaritan returns him to life. Whereas the priest and the Levite go out of their way to avoid the victim the Samaritan literally goes up to him and shows him compassion.

As we heard in the passage that Jim read from 2 Chronicles, the Samaritans are not the good guys. They are to be understood as the enemy – as the oppressor. They were not a benevolent people. “Jewish listeners hearing Jesus might balk at the idea of receiving aid from a Samaritan. They might have thought ‘I’d rather die than acknowledge that someone from that group saved me.’ ”

And yet – – it is the Samaritan who gets involved. What makes him different?

The parable tells us “But a Samaritan, while traveling, came near him; and when he saw him he was moved with pity. He went to him.

He was moved with pity and he went to him……..the phraseology is reminiscent of the way in which God speaks to Moses way back in the early chapters of Exodus when God says to Moses: “I have seen the misery of my people…I have heard their cry…I know their suffering and I have come down to deliver them out of Egypt…”6 God sees and hears and knows and acts to save God’s people. This is good news.

In 2 Chronicles we heard that terrible warfare had taken place. 200,000 wives and sons and daughters from the tribes of Judah –southern Israel – were taken by the Samaritans. To put that in perspective, that is about twice the summer population of Martha’s Vineyard at the height of the season. The age old trilogy of raping, pillaging and plundering of the Southern tribes of Judah had happened.

The Samaritan military carried back their human and material booty to the northern regions of Samaria. Without warning, the prophet, Oded jumps into the post battle celebration. Speaking in the name of God he says to the Samaritan army, ”yeah – -God was angry with the tribes of Judah –that’s why you were able to win the battle against them – – but you have really over done it – -you slaughtered them with such rage that it reached the heavens – – now it is YOU who are guilty of sinning against God. Now listen to me! Send back the prisoners you have taken.”

The leaders of Samaria don’t want to be guilty before God – they know what they have done was wrong. Not only do they instruct the soldiers to give up their prisoners – they see to it that the prisoners are clothed, and fed, that they have sandals for their feet, that they are soothed with healing balm for their wounds. The weakest ones are placed on donkeys and the soldiers escort them all back home to their fellow Israelites in Jericho. The behavior of the earlier Samaritans

sets the story line for the parable that Jesus spoke. The similarities are remarkable given that the stories are recorded more than 800 years apart in time.

Parables are designed to jar us into a new way of seeing things. Jesus’s short story invites us to examine our stereotypes – – the ways in which we characterize whole groups of people as though everyone in a particular group is the same as every other one. The world is rife with stereotyping. White people stereotype people of color. Northerners stereotype southerners. Protestants stereotype Roman Catholics. Christians stereotype Jews. Jews stereotype Europeans . . The stereotypes are most often negative and the human connection is severely damaged.

The parable was jarring for Jesus’ listeners. For them, there was no such thing as a good Samaritan. So – why did Jesus tell this story? Is it possible that he wanted his followers to broaden their notion of what humanity is about? Was he calling them and us to see the humanity of the people we stereotype and fear?

It is a very current issue for as we continue confront the tragedies that have consumed the headlines over the last year as this country continues to struggle with legacy of racism that tests us on a daily basis.

At the end of the parable, Jesus returns to the lawyer this way: ”Which of the three men was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?”

In parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus confronts us with a paradox that stretches us almost to the breaking point. He makes the treacherous enemy the instrument of healing and reconciliation. Indeed, the hated and reviled Samaritan fulfills the attributes of a loving and compassionate and healing God. It happens in 2 Chronicles – -it happens in Luke – – and both stories are a recapitulation of God’s energetic declaration of love for God’s people as the birth pangs of liberation from Egypt begin.

The combined stories have been told for over three thousand years. Stories witnessing to the passionate desire of God to break the cycle of violence and bondage, hatred and revenge that has afflicted God’s people from the beginning creation.

At the end of the parable, Jesus turns to us, standing in the lawyer’s shoes and asks “Who was the neighbor to this man?” With the lawyer, we get it. We know it’s “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus says very clearly “Go and do likewise.” Sounds like marching orders to me. AMEN

1 Deuteronomy 6:5

2 Leviticus 19:18

3 SHORT STORIES BY JESUS: The Enigmatic Parables of a Controversial Rabbi by Amy Jill Levine, HarperOne, NY, 2014. p.94

4 MLK Jr. cited by A.J. Levine p.94

5 Levine p.95

6 Exodus 3:7,8

Becoming Bread 7/5/15

Becoming Bread1

John 6:48-59

Chilmark Community Church

Rev. Vicky Hanjian

July 5,2015

I am the bread of life.” “I am the living bread.” Familiar words for sure. So familiar that we don’t often stop to ask ourselves “What did he mean by that?” This morning’s sermon will focus on a possible meaning – not the only one by any means – – perhaps just one more way, among many, to think about what Jesus meant.

I have a friend who used to be a professional baker. Every night she would enter her bakery kitchen to begin the bread making process.

A huge Hobart mixer stood on the floor at one end of the kitchen. The bowl of the mixer was big enough to bathe in.

The flour went in the bowl by the pound rather than by the cup. When a recipe called for eggs, they went in by the dozen rather than one or two at a time. The Hobart did the heavy work of kneading the mixture into a thick, sturdy dough. The dough was then transferred into a large 5 gallon bucket with a loose fitting lid to raise in the refrigerator overnight.

I happened to stop in early one morning as the dough was coming out of the fridge. After a slow rise overnight, the dough had puffed up and over the top of the bucket and was wearing the bucket lid like a hat. There was a hint of plump white arms reaching out and over the rim of the bucket – – all very reminiscent of the Pillsbury Doughboy. As my friend and I talked about the way she worked with the dough to get it to rise properly, I couldn’t help noticing that she was describing a relationship that required attentiveness on her part. Bread dough has a life of its own. There were days when the rising dough would kind of pull her along and she would just hope that she could keep up with it. On other days she would have to shepherd the dough along to get it to rise properly. The bread was a living organism. Watching my friend bake bread was watching a living relationship in action.

Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven…whoever eats this bread will live forever…and the bread I will give for the world is my flesh.” As he talked about offering his flesh and blood, some people heard his words literally and were deeply disturbed and angry about what they thought they heard. Jewish practice forbids the consumption of meat with the blood still in it. Those who heard Jesus’ words with a literal mind put early followers of Jesus on the defensive against what some were certain was a pagan religious practice. But we have the ability take a step back a little from the literal image of Jesus offering his flesh and blood, and what we discover is that Jesus was offering was a way of entering into relationship – – a very deep and intimate relationship with himself – indeed a relationship so intimate that it might be compared to consuming him and allowing him to fill us the way a good loaf of homemade bread fills us – – allowing him to enter us through our hearts, to nourish our minds and enliven our souls. Through the metaphor of bread, Jesus taught about the kind of relationship he wanted with and for his friends and followers.

I think his invitation to partake of him as Living Bread frightened some of the people who heard him. Sometimes it frightens me!! I do not know where my life will go when I allow myself to enter into this relationship – if I allow the Living Christ to course through my veins, and shape my thinking and my doing and my being. Who would I become? Who would you become? What might we become together as the body of Christ? In my former parish in NJ, there were a lot of children in the congregation. Our Methodist custom is to invite everyone to the communion table, regardless of age or level of understanding or connection with the church. And so the children and adults would come together for the sacrament. We usually had a whole loaf of bread that I would break in half. I would offer the bread to each person to take however much or little they wanted. We received communion by intinction – each person would dip their piece of bread in the common communion cup and then consume it.

The adults were always very polite and careful and correct. Most would break off a tiny piece so they would not drop any crumbs on the carpet. They would barely touch the bread to the juice in the chalice so they could get it to their mouths without dripping any on their clothing or on the floor. Month after month one woman explained to me that she only took the tiniest crumb from the crust because that was all she deserved. But the children….the children would dig their small hands deep into the flesh of the loaf – – thoroughly embarrassing their parents by the large pieces they took. They would plunge the whole piece into the chalice and relish the dripping bread as they put it into their mouths. More than once I came away from the sacrament with grape juice stains on my robe…….But the children had intuitively grasped the meaning of Jesus’ intent……and they wanted as much as they could get. When the service was over, they would often crowd around the communion steward as she cleared away the bread and the cup and they would jostle each other for more. The children themselves have become an eloquent metaphor for what Jesus was offering when he offered himself as Living Bread – – a rich, generous extravagant offering of his life to be lived in each of us.

Back to my baker friend. There were times when I walked into the bakery just as the bread was coming out of the oven. When the bread was cool enough to handle, out would come a tub of butter and some good cheese. We would break off slabs of warm bread and we would eat and share a few moments of our life journey together. We would laugh – – sometimes we would cry – – we would offer each other strength and encouragement and support for whatever we needed to accomplish that day. The sharing of bread, the sharing in our love for one another, the sharing of our respective journeys, always sent me back into my day refreshed, renewed and joyful. My friend no longer bakes professionally and those yeasty, buttery moments are a thing of the past. But the memory of those early morning feasts still sustains me. In the mystery of shared bread, we had become bread for one another.

The mystery of shared bread. Jesus offered himself as bread for our lives so that we might become bread for one another. But part of the mystery is we do not feed on the bread of Christ for ourselves alone. We receive the gift of bread in community so that we might be nurtured and sustained and strengthened for the purpose of becoming bread for others. This is what “church” is about – – it is about coming together to find strength and nourishment for ourselves so that we can become strength and nourishment for others. This is not a romantic notion. Sometimes it can be really messy – just as literally breaking bread can be messy. It has to do with accepting and caring for and supporting each other – listening with sensitive care – mourning with each other – – loving without condition – being Christ-the-bread for one another. In a small church in the center of a small community, we actually know quite a lot about how this works. It isn’t glamorous. Sometimes it takes a lot of patience and forbearance. It isn’t even always pleasant – but being bread for each other – – sharing life with each other is what we are called to do. It’s that simple – – – and it is that mysterious.

In her little book entitled “Becoming Bread” Gunilla Norris has written these words: We are united through sharing…our lives are made new…meaningful. “Take. Eat. This is my body,” said Jesus when he broke bread at the last supper. Then he gave his life for us. Behind all communion is the knowledge that we must give our lives to each other, for each other. And when we do, we can mourn, we can trust, we can forgive, we can treasure, we can even face our deaths. In sharing, the meaning of our lives is given back to God. The One who gives. The One who receives. The One who is.2

As we share in the sacrament of communion today, may the symbols of the bread and the cup confront us with the mystery of the invitation to intimate relationship with the Living Christ….and may the symbols challenge us to become living bread for one another. Amen.

1 From the title of the book Becoming Bread by Gunilla Norris Bell Tower New York 1993

2 Norris Becoming Bread p. 67