Friday, July 17, 2015

You Are God's Beloved

You Are My Beloved
Proper 11B- Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

When I got a listing of the lessons and hymns for today the Gospel was listed as Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 (The Feeding of the Five Thousand). Then I went and read the selected verses and lo and behold, no feeding, no five thousand. What we are left with is the prologue and epilogue to the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which story, by the way, is told and retold six times across the four gospels. Twice in Mark alone if you don’t mind it being a mere four thousand the second time.

This means, I am guessing, to focus us on the fact that the people need good shepherds. Had the feeding story been included we could contrast feasting with the good shepherd with the previous story of what it is like to feast with a notoriously bad shepherd, Herod. With Jesus everyone gets enough, no one gets too much, and there are leftovers for tomorrow, like the story of manna in the wilderness with Moses and his crowd of escapees. With Herod, a notoriously bad shepherd, if you are person of extraordinary faith, you lose your head – literally, as in John the Baptizer meeting a nasty end. I think we are meant to consider, the way Mark lays it out, just who would be the good and bad shepherds today.

Also left out is the moment when Jesus asks the disciples to feed this “great crowd” for whom he has compassion, we see the disciples pleading the gospel of scarcity and urging Jesus to instruct the crowd to go shopping and let the market forces do their magic. Jesus of course has none of this and says sit them down in green pastures like we read in the 23rd psalm, and feed them yourselves. That’s what my father’s kingdom is all about – compassionate interdependence, not rugged independence. My banquets, and the heavenly banquet, are not going to be at all like those with Herod and all the other bad shepherds. We are to be all about hospitality, not hostility, generosity, not the exercise of power and manipulation. We are to welcome people, all people, not tell them to go away and take care of themselves. We are here to care for one another.

Then he sends them ahead, because remember, he is looking to get some rest from it all. They’re in the boat, a storm comes up, while he is doing his centering prayer he sees they are afraid and walks by the boat. The text says, “He intended to pass them by.” That sounds strange to us until we recall that God instructs Moses to stand in a certain spot while “I pass you by,” and God tells Elijah to stand in a certain spot and “I will pass you by.” So “passing by” is God’s way of saying, “Hey fellas, it’s Me!” As usual the disciples don’t get it. They think he’s a ghost. Worse still, we are told, they do not understand about the loaves. You can just about see Jesus shaking his head, holding his head in his hands. When will they ever learn, when will they ever learn. The text says they are hard-hearted. (hard-heaerted in Biblical terms means hard-headed since the Bible understands the heart as the home of knowledge while the head is the home of feelings)

This is where the epilogue picks up. Just as the crowds got to where he was going to rest before he did in the prologue, so they do it again in the epilogue. If you have ever seen the Sea of Galilee you understand. You can see all around the lake and no matter where Jesus tries to go, people can see where he is going even if the disciples have no clue. Note also they are bringing the sick, the halt and the lame from all over and “laid them in the marketplace,” exactly where he refused to send them at dinner time. Seems he intends to transform the marketplace into a kind of health-care exchange.

It’s astonishing really. He does nothing. He says nothing. There are no requirements, no talk about “faith.” Note the absence of any mention of the disciples who are still befuddled about the bread. The people are pictured as merely touching the “hem of his cloak.” “And all who touched it were healed.” The Gospel of the Lord! Praise to you, Lord Christ! What are we to make of all of this?

For one thing, perhaps, we are meant to be those who understand about the bread. After all, he teaches us to pray for bread that is given daily, not storehouses filled to overflowing. But then, just what is this daily bread?

If I had to hazard a guess I would say it is love – not just love, but the love of God. For me one of the keys to Mark’s gospel is in the very beginning. There is no birth story. Rather, a full grown Jesus steps onto the scene and joins in the Baptism of John. When he comes up out of the water, a voice says, “You are my beloved with whom I am well pleased.” Now as we all know, on page 298 in the Book of Common Prayer it says by water and the Holy Spirit those who are baptized are incorporated into the Body of Christ. Which I take to mean, when we are baptized there are tiny cherubim and seraphim flying around us whispering in our ears, “You are God’s Beloved! God is well pleased with you!” As we “grow up” we forget we ever heard that good news. Things happen. We lose faith in ourselves. We lose faith in others. We simply lose faith.

That’s when we need to be more like the people in the prologue and the epilogue to this story: we need to hurry and rush to those places to which Jesus goes to get rest before he even gets there, wait for him to arrive, and then touch the hem of his garment. The bread and the healing we need are to remember who we are and whose we are: We are God’s Beloved. God is well pleased with us! To internalize this good news I turn to Buddy Holly and the Grateful Dead and begin to play and sing:

I am well pleased with you

I am God’s Beloved
God is well pleased with me

I’m gonna tell you how it’s gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
I’m gonna love God night and day
You know our love not fade away

Our Love’s bigger than a Cadillac
God ain’t never gonna take it back
God’s love’s bigger than an SUV
No one can take it away from me
You know our Love not fade away

If you don’t believe I’ve been redeemed
Then come on down to Jordan’s stream
Up in the Sky what do you see
The Holy Spirit comin’ down on me
The Holy Spirit comin’ down on me

I'm gonna tell you how it's gonna be
God’s gonna give God’s love to me
A love to last more than one day
A love that's love - not fade away
A love that's love - not fade away
            -Buddy Holly, Norman Petty, adapted by Kirk Kubicek
              Copyright Sounds Divine

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Interdependence Day

Familiarity and The Common Good
Mark 6:1-13

Jesus, as we recall from last Sunday, had just performed two astonishing healings: the woman with the flow of blood for 12 years, and the 12 year old daughter of Jairus, a synagogue leader. Astonishing in that the woman who was an outsider, unlike Jairus, literally with sheer grit, hope and faith in Jesus just touched the hem of his garment – and in the “great crowd,” Jesus noticed that power had gone out of him, and recognized the woman for her persistence and her faith despite all odds. Perhaps this nameless woman of faith was an inspiration to Bree Newsome who took matters in her own hands to take down the Confederate Battle flag outside the South Carolina State House. It is undeniable that these two women have a lot in common. It would not be going too far to suggest that Jesus would recognize Bree Newsome for her persistence and faith to do the right thing despite all odds.

So then Jesus goes to his hometown and the reception he receives is incredibly underwhelming! Who does this son of a carpenter think he is? He is just an ordinary man like us, grew up among us, lives among us – he is no different than any of us! As Kurt Vonnegut once preached on a Palm Sunday years ago, leave it to a crowd to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. It has been suggested that it is because of their familiarity with Jesus that they fail to recognize the holy, the presence of God, in the very ordinary young man who grew up in their midst.

I have known such familiarity to make it difficult to see the extraordinary in the ordinary, yet the great saints and mystics of all religious traditions are those always seeking to open our eyes to the holiness in our midst. I was mindlessly flipping tv channels when I hit upon Amy Goodman and Democracy Now. I was about to flip back to Seinfeld re-runs when the story of Bree Newsome was truly inspiring. The voices of women who were in Charleston to support her were compelling. The fact that she had a partner, a spotter – she did not run off and do this act of civil disobedience in the tradtion of Thoreau, Pete Seeger and so many others, on her own,  but had partners and supporters on hand – just as Jesus does not send the disciples out on their own, but in pairs.

Note carefully that the disciples are to travel light – really really light. No two tunics, no money, but rather they are to live off the generosity of those they are sent to proclaim the message of God’s kingdom, those they are sent to heal, those they are sent to bring back to life. They are not to be independent by interdependent on one another and others – others they don’t even know and have never met!

Then Amy Goodman switched to a retrospective look at Pete Seeger and his career as a prophet and social critic with the power of song. I didn’t move until I heard Pete singing, at age 94, We Shall Overcome.

It got me to thinking about how the power of such songs often wanes with our familiarity with them. Just as these stories in the Bible become so familiar we lose sight of all that is in there – like the touch of humor Mark lends to the story of Jesus’ rejection in his hometown: “And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.” Really? That’s all?

So on this Independence Day weekend, I got to thinking: I grew up in a small elementary school where our music teacher, Miss Gulbranson, taught us This Land Is Your Land. It was in the song book we had in school. It would be a number of years later, after my Uncle Lee gave me a copy of Bob Dylan’s first album that I had even heard of Woody Guthrie, an inspiration for Dylan, a singing partner of Pete Seeger’s. And probably a few years later I learned that Woody had written This Land Is Your Land. By now we are all familiar with it – perhaps too familiar to know he wrote it as a protest song – he was bothered, in 1940, by the popularity of God Bless America against the backdrop of the depression, the Dust Bowl, the impending war with Germany and Japan, the struggling labor movement, and the sight he could see outside the window of his hotel room in New York City: people, poor people, hungry people, unemployed people standing in line outside the Relief Office hoping, like the woman in last week’s story, to get some relief themselves. The original song as Woody wrote it went something like this:

    This land is your land, this land is my land
    From the California to the Staten New York Island,
    From the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf stream waters,
    God blessed America for me.
    [This land was made for you and me.]

    One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
    By the Relief Office I saw my people —
    As they stood hungry, I stood there wondering if
    God blessed America for me.
    [This land was made for you and me.]

I recall reading an interview with Arlo Guthrie some years later in which he describes Woody, dying of Huntington’s Chorea, a devastating disease, taking him out into the back yard and teaching him one song he was sure people would forget. That song, ironically, was This Land Is Your Land, now a staple of American education, and somewhat domesticated from our familiarity with it. Arlo also recalls his mother coming home from a trip to China to tell Woody that a group of school children sang the song to her!

After listening to replays of Amy Goodman interviews with Pete Seeger, who passed away last year, I sat down with my guitar to sing the following songs.

If I Had A Hammer

Where Have All the Flowers Gone?

Our founding fathers and mothers declared independence, that is true. But it was a collective independence, not individual independence. The Declaration was inspired in part by the Roman hero, Cincinatus who embodied the essence of Civic Virtue, putting the good of the community before his own good, AND resigning the office to which he was called once the job was done – very much as George Washington did after serving as commander in the War for Independence, and after two terms as president. Both men went back home to be ordinary farmers.

The extraordinary in the ordinary: it is sometimes hard to recognize because of our familiarity. Yet, songs like Where Have All The Flowers Gone and We Shall Overcome once had the power to end a war and finally to bring the civil rights wrought out of the civil war in the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the constitution into reality.

Woody and Pete were dismissed as outside agitators, along with Paul Robeson, Martin Luther King, Jr, and this week Bree Newsome. But the recognition of their influence by ordinary people all over the country resulted in many people doing small ordinary things that eventually bear fruit for us all.

Jesus was about the common good. The framers of the Declaration of Independence were about the common good. We can and ought to celebrate these truths, self-evident as they are, side by side on this holiday weekend, and sixth Sunday after Pentecost. This land was made for you and me, not just me, not just you, but for us all. Some events of these past weeks have recognized this, and for this we say, Amen! Alleluia!