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05.02.2021 Building the Church Together 1 Corinthians 3.1-15 Sermon Summary

The Apostle Paul was a celebrity and he was also controversial. He had his critics. He had his competitors. So it’s no wonder some people attached their egos to him. They boasted about their relationship with him. They looked down on others.

Wrongly attached egos is a sign of immaturity. We were created to grow increasingly attached to God, not anything else. God did not call the church to immaturity, and the church at Corinth, with their wrongly attached egos, was immature. Paul’s response to this situation shows us how to build the church together.

The Corinthians were blessed with leadership; Paul and Apollos in particular. Paul appears to have planted the church. Apollos was an early pastor. Paul was the kind of leader who saw leadership potential in everyone. In dealing with the boasting around himself and Apollos he wrote, “What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each.”

Some leaders mold others in their likeness, and some people want to be molded. But for Paul, everyone has an assignment. 

Some leaders project that they can step in for anyone else, and some people believe this about leaders. For example, people say, “Call the pastor, she’ll know where the new toner cartridge is.” But for Paul, everyone has an assignment.

Some leaders seek all the credit or take all the blame for their organizations. And some people go along with this. But for Paul, everyone has an assignment.

Paul compares the church to a field. There are many with assignments in a fruitful field. Someone prepares the ground, there is a sower, someone who waters, someone who weeds. There are people who harvest and others who transport to market. There are sellers. Everyone has an assignment.

Paul also compares the church to a building. Here again, there are many assignments. Someone prospected the location for the building. Someone dug the foundation. Another laid the foundation, and others build upon it with various materials. The building is sold by someone. Everyone has an assignment.

Paul writes that, “Each person must choose how to build.” He recognizes the responsibility we all have in and for the church. He calls us to stewardship. He calls us to build the church together. How are you choosing to build?

It’s Important because “the Day” reveals our choices. Paul refers to a “Day of judgment.” He’s got in mind a “final judgment” at the end of time—a cosmic, heavenly ordeal. But that didn’t happen as soon as Paul thought, and now we look back after 2000 years and see that “the Day” is a series of ordinary, this worldly trials.

The past fourteen months has been our “Day.” And what our Day has revealed is that at Faith Presbyterian Church we have a staff of builders.

A church can have maintainers or builders. Maintainers keep us someone else’s achievements; builders bring their own achievements. Maintainers repeat what has been done in the past; builders respond to present realities. Maintainers view change with skepticism; builders look for opportunities in change. Maintainers are guided primarily by the past; builders primarily by the future. 

Maintainers dread the Day; builders prepare for the Day. Maintainers are thankful to be alive when the Day is over; builders are thankful to learn what the Day reveals and to start building again.

Our Day of pandemic has revealed that we have builders on our staff. And I’d like to introduce you to them.

Jim is our custodian. During this Day he has found things to clean, paint, repair, move, and attend to that ordinarily he’s too busy to do. He has prepared our building for another day, one when we can return it to full use and capacity. He has been helped by Lloyd, Mary, Helen, Bob and several other volunteers. 

Carol is our music director. She has found musical pieces for instrumentalists and rearranged vocal pieces for smaller choirs. And she has become an amateur record producer so we can enjoy the gift of music during remote and hybrid worship. She has been helped by Charles, Linda, and our deep pool of musicians.

Kari is our bookkeeper. She has spent the Day “journaling” which means moving money from Peter’s line in our budget to pay Paul’s expenses, because things we thought we were going to pay for we haven’t, and things we could never have predicted now require our attention. Kari was instrumental in securing our payroll protection loan, and her management of our online giving has grown exponentially. She has been helped by Tom.

Carolyn and Britton are the leaders of our ministries to families with children and youth. They each bring decades of experience from camps and congregations. We hired them during the Day of pandemic, and with faith and courage they said yes and began building online and hybrid children and youth ministry from scratch. They have been helped by Julie, Cathy, Jan, Mary, and many parents.

Liz was also hired during the Day. She is unknown to most because she accompanies our musicians on the piano from another room or at another time and is recorded. For musicians to offer their gifts in worship with no congregation present is a huge adjustment. Yet week in and week out, with little to no personal relationship with us (yet), Liz gets help from our singers and instrumentalists to bring us music.

In 2000 Mazda Car Company launched a new marketing campaign. It was so successful they didn’t retire it until 2015. It was based on a boy named Micah Kanters who is now a thirty-one year old lawyer. With Mazda cars flashing across the screen, Micah whispered, “Zoom, zoom.” I want to introduce you to honorably retired Presbyterian Minister “Zoom, Zoom” Susan. She is our own Micah Kanters. Susan has moved many meetings and small groups for our church and presbytery online to Zoom. She has been helped by Dave and our small group leaders.

Barb is our primary pastoral visitor for people in homes and hospitals. During the Day she has moved her care from in house to on phone. And her flock has grown as we have welcomed more people to the church resulting from online worship. When they feel safe to have her do so, Barb brings Communion to these remote saints. 

And finally there is Amy, who during the Day has turned business as usual into starting a new business. We moved from printed bulletins to worship aids and slides. She has had to balance managing online school for her child and in office presence for our congregation. She has turned from supervising building use to monitoring virus precautions. We’ve moved from Word to Docs, she works on both PC and Mac, she has begun tracking new data, and continuously tests new online meeting platforms. Amy has been helped by Cathy and Connor, Dee, Cassie, Linda, Charles, Dan, and Nathan.

These are our church staff with just some of their volunteers. As Paul described, they each have their own assignment. But they are more than merely a church staff. They are builders. Their work is surviving the Day. Faith Church is surviving the Day. Yes, some things are burning away and we grieve their loss. At the same time, new things are being built. And this is thanks to the staff, our volunteers, and all our church leaders.

Recently the Personnel Committee performed a compensation review. They discovered that most of our paid staff are at or above average salary compared to churches similar to Faith. In my opinion, they all should be significantly higher than average, for all of them are better than average.

Average is for maintainers. We have builders. Average churches have already begun to close and are not likely to survive another Day of judgment.

I give thanks to the Session for ordering this review and recognizing that our staff deserves more. And I am grateful to the Renewal Committee for urging this Staff Appreciation day upon us. 

Our staff of builders is above average, and so is our church, and to remain so it depends on them.

But it also depends on you. We can’t be more than average without exceptional volunteers. We can’t be more than average without encouragement. We can’t be more than average without financial support. We can’t be more than average without prayers of thanks. Those variables depend on you.

That for which we are not grateful, we take for granted. And what the Eucharist teaches us is that God responds to gratitude with blessing. At the Table God blesses gratitude with presence, with intimacy, and with grace. Things we take for granted? They see God withdraw. Walk in nature and take it for granted? You won’t see God revealed there.

May we be a grateful congregation, serving alongside our staff, encouraging them, financially supporting them, and giving thanks to God for them. And may God bless our building the church together, each with our own assignment, and with Christ as our foundation. Amen.

04.04.21 Start the Stone a Rollin’ Mark 16.1-8 Sermon Summary

One year ago when churches, most of which were closed, were asked what they were going to do for Easter 2020, many said, “We’ll celebrate Easter when we reopen.” Then the pandemic dragged on into the summer, then into the fall. Some tried to reopen; many did not.

A year has passed. I say we’ve been in a year-long Lent. But we are here this morning. Christos anesti! Alithos anesti! Christ has risen! He has risen, indeed! We have a renewed hope. There are vaccines approved and more coming. We have a better understanding of the virus and what we can do to avoid it.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, we all need to take the Sabbath. For many people the pandemic imposed a Sabbath with the interruption of routine. Some lost all or part of a job. Others began working at home. Some were able to increase their physical exercise. Others did pandemic projects. Many used the time to refocus their lives.

Others, however, had no Sabbath at all. Their work increased with continuous adaptions. I’m thinking of teachers, medical professionals, and many small businesses owners.

But we need to take the Sabbath. It is the blessing in disguise of this pandemic. God commanded the Sabbath so we would stop, so that we would reflect, so that we could ask some questions.

Mary Magdalene, Mary mother of James, and Salome took the Sabbath. They took time to reflect and time to ask questions. One question in particular rose to the surface: “Who will roll the stone away?”

The day before, Jesus was crucified and buried. The next day his bodily anointing needed to be refreshed. The women had prepared spices, but who would roll away the stone?

This is a question of accepting reality. It is a question of grief. It is a question of taking a step forward. The Sabbath allows us time to accept reality, to grieve, and to envision a next step. This is one of the great gifts of the Sabbath, and why God commanded us to take the Sabbath: To accept reality, to grieve, and to envision a next step.

The women had envisioned the next step, a next step toward a new normal. They had Jesus’ teaching. They had Jesus’ community. But they did not have Jesus—not anymore. They would remember him at Passover every year as the new Lamb of God. 

But the next step today was anointing his body, and before that could happen, the question had to be answered: “Who will roll away the stone?

This was the first of many unresolved questions. Where should we go? Should we stay in Jerusalem? Should we go back to Galilee? Should we retrace the master’s steps?

And there were other questions about leadership. Should we turn to Peter, James, or John? Maybe one of Jesus’ brothers? What about Mary Magdalene?

Well, they set out for the tomb with the first question unresolved. But they arrived at the tomb and discover the first question had been answered. “Who will roll away the stone?” Jesus had rolled it away! For Jesus had been resurrected from the dead!

All other questions now had to be re-asked. All other questions now had to be re-answered. Because Jesus was not gone; Jesus was alive! Now the next question was, Where shall we go? 

And the answer they learned: Galilee! Back to the beginning. Back to former life. But it would be different.

Let me ask you something: Don’t you want to go back to Galilee? Don’t you want to go back to church, back to school, back to shopping? Aren’t you looking forward to going back to dining out, traveling, visiting friends, throwing parties, handshakes, and hugs? 

Don’t we want to go back to the NEW new normal—because the old new normal is gone—Jesus has risen. The NEW, new normal awaits; a new normal with Jesus in it.

Many of us can’t go back. Many of us have experienced an irreversible loss—a loss of life, loss of health, loss of relationship, or loss of opportunity. We’ve experienced losses that don’t allow for a return or even some sort of resemblance.

Yet even in these situations the Risen Christ is present, returning to lead us into a new life. Even here, there is hope.

The return to our Galilee awaits. We’re not there yet. It will be different. And it will be OK. The Resurrected Christ will meet us there.

We’ve spent the last year in Holy Saturday, in that Sabbath between Friday and Sunday. Let’s take time to ask the questions, to think about the new normal—not the one without Jesus, but the one with Jesus. 

The first question of the women, “Who will roll away the stone?” had its answer: The Resurrected Christ had rolled the stone away. So now with these women, who are going back to Galilee, let us say– 

We are looking forward to a new normal of a different kind of potluck. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’!  We are looking forward to a new normal of a different kind of fellowship. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’!  We are looking forward to a new normal of different ways of learning. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’!

We are looking forward to a new normal of different ways of worshiping together. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’! We are looking forward to a new normal of different ways of serving our neighbors. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’! We are looking forward to a new normal of different ways of praying to God. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’! We are looking forward to a new normal of a different way of being church. We don’t yet know exactly how, but start the stone a rollin’!

Yes, Lord! Start that stone a rollin’! ‘Cause we have questions, and we wanna go back to Galilee, and Jesus is alive. We know you can do it. We know you will meet us there. We know it will be a new normal. We know it will be different. 

We don’t yet know exactly how, Lord, but start the stone a rollin’! Cause we are ready! Alleluia! Amen!

3.28.21 Abide with Me Mark 14.32-42 Sermon Summary

Throughout worship this season of Lent we have focused on one event for each day of Holy Week.  We started on Sunday with Jesus’ Triumphal Entry. We heard from Saul the animal rental associate. From his perspective, Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem served as publicity for the Kingdom of God and as protest against the Kingdom of Rome.

On Monday we witnessed Jesus turning the tables of money changers and animal dealers. We heard from Daniel who was convicted of living a non-religious life when not in religious activities.

Tuesday we watched Jesus answer the question of paying taxes to Rome. Amram a disciple of the Pharisees discovered that all things belong to God—even Amram’s own life. He wondered whether he could he spend his life following Jesus?

Come Wednesday evening an unnamed woman anointed Jesus’ head. Later we listened as Meshulam a chief priest and co-conspirator to assassinate Jesus reflected on Jesus’ teaching that God’s Kingdom is “doing what you can do.” He wondered if there’s room in Jesus’ Kingdom for him.

Thursday evening Jesus washed the disciples’ feet. Eliezer one of the disciples was there. He was challenged to learn that calling Jesus “Rabbi and Master,” “Teacher and Lord” did not a disciple make. Instead Jesus is mostly interested in love and service.

Now we arrive at Friday, a day of betrayal, estrangement, and isolation

Through reading the various gospel accounts of Holy Week, we have seen that there are differences in the Gospels. There are four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. They were named in the century following Jesus. They share some material and each contains unique material. 

They are not eye-witness accounts of historical events though there is something historical behind their stories. Rather they are testimonies of faith intended to evoke faith, challenge faith, and strengthen faith.

One reason they differ is because different communities experience Jesus differently. We experience Jesus differently in liturgical churches vs. revivalist churches, in Black churches vs. Latin American churches, for example. And Pentecostals certainly experience Jesus differently than Presbyterians.

If one experiences Jesus differently, one will speak about Jesus differently. This has been the case since Gospel times. Mark’s Jesus, for example, is a demon-casting teacher, always on the move, and desperate to be delivered by God. On the other hand, John’s Jesus is a slow-talking theosophist so close to God as to be hardly distinguishable.

Holy Week (Jesus’ Passion Narrative) accentuates the differences among the Gospels. We see different perspectives, watch different experiences, and hear different testimonies. Whereas John’s Jesus presents God to us, Mark’s Jesus presents us to God. 

In first person as Jacob, stealthily

It’s me Jacob. You know me as James the brother of John. I’m one of the “big three” along with Peter. It’s the middle of the night, which for us Jews is the beginning of the day. You see we recognize God was at work in the world five days before creating us on the sixth day. God is still working before we wake up, so our day starts in the evening. God works secretly before we work publicly. 

But it’s hard to know how God is working in the middle of this night. It’s dark—really dark. I’ve never seen such darkness . . . or felt it either. And we’re so tired. Adonai, are we tired! What a week!

Passover is full of feasting and festivities. This year it also has a lot of flag-waving. Would Jesus lead a revolt? It seemed like it on Sunday when we had the protest march into Jerusalem. Then on Monday Jesus called us to repentance. Tuesday he said “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s but give to God what is God’s.”

But Wednesday a woman interrupted our dinner with an anointing of Jesus’ head. He talked of death and dying. And earlier tonight Jesus washed our feet like a slave would do! It reminds me of his interpretation around breaking bread and pouring the cup as presenting his own death out of love.

Then he led us to Gethsemane and told us to watch and pray. This was a theme in Jesus’ ministry, this vigilance in prayer. He said without it you miss little glimpses of God and of the Kingdom. If you miss those glimpses you may get discouraged. You can’t join God’s mission. You may even lose faith.

Nothing really new, going to Gethsemane. Jesus took me, John, and Peter a little further. That wasn’t really new either. We were the three with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration. And then he went even further—and again this was not really new. Jesus often withdrew by himself to pray.

We asked him once how to pray. He taught us to pray for the Kingdom and for God’s will, to give thanks for daily sustenance, to shed the burden of sin through forgiveness, and to ask for deliverance through trials and temptations. He did this kind of meditative prayer often, so tonight really wasn’t so different.

But we were so tired! The week’s activities, the past months of itinerant preaching, our own ministries of teaching and healing, all this uncertainty about death had all taken a toll. It is like a virus engulfing the world, not knowing if it would happen, when it would happen, or what the result would be.

John and I are concerned for our dad Zebedee. I know parents are concerned for their children. There’s instability in our nation, fighting among our fellow Israelites, and divided leadership between the Pharisees and Sadducees, the Zealots and Herodians. Jesus wanted to unite us all—even the Samaritans! So much partisanship. So much anxiety. So much fear. Exhausting!

I’m even tired of praying. So tonight when Jesus went off to pray, we caught a few ZZZs. We woke up to Jesus shaking his head over us. “Could you not stay awake one hour?” Had it been an hour already?! That happened two more times. Three hours Jesus spent praying!

No, we couldn’t stay awake. We couldn’t watch and pray. We missed the glimpses of God and of God’s Kingdom tonight. Because none of what happened next seemed related to the Kingdom; it just seemed so dark.

Jesus abruptly ended when Judas showed up—where had he been, anyway? And he wasn’t alone. He kissed Jesus which set off a chain of events. There was shouting and scuffling and accusations. Was the revolt beginning? Or something else?

As they started to remove Jesus some women started screaming and some men fought back. And there was talk: “Well, he must have done something otherwise the authorities wouldn’t be doing this.”

We looked around at the lanterns and torches, at the swords and clubs, at the religious officers and Roman military contingent and got really afraid. “This thing is going sideways,” we said and we didn’t know what to do. 

Should we stay and get arrested? Wait for God to do something? Retreat and regroup? Or should we run for our lives?

It was the middle of the night! Darkness was all around. Injustice was winning. And we were powerless. So we fled. We totally took off in every direction—each man for himself, and the women, too. What else could we do? It was so dark. And we were so tired. 

So here we are, huddled in small bands. Peter was here but he took off towards the palace of the High Priest. Earlier Jesus told Peter, “Before the dawn is announced you will deny knowing me.” Dawn is about to break. I can hear the roosters crowing. 

Supposedly God has been working already in this day, in the darkness while we slept. Now our work is supposed to begin. I cannot predict what this Friday holds. But Jesus saw it coming, and even though the trial ahead appears like it’s going to be a hard one, he seemed to be at peace with it. Must be all that prayer.Strange—the dawn is breaking but it still feels pretty dark and I’m still so tired. But we disciples have work to do. Each sunrise calls us to a new day.

03.21.21 The Forgotten Lesson of Jesus’ Last Meal John 13.2b-5, 12-17, 20 Sermon Summary

Jesus’ last night in the Gospel According to John’s is quite different from the other Gospel accounts. First, it does not occur with the Passover meal but the night before. Second, the teaching and prayers of Jesus span five entire chapters in John. But the most unique aspect of John’s Gospel was omitted by the other Gospels and is still largely neglected by the church today. It is the forgotten lesson of Jesus’ last meal.

NB: This sermon is delivered in first person.

Hello my name is Eliezer which means “my God is help.” I’m a disciple of Jesus. No, my name doesn’t appear in the lists, but I was there with many others at Jesus’ last meal.

It was Passover week and lots of pilgrims had come to Jerusalem to commemorate our feast of freedom. Some came to celebrate, others to reconnect with religion. Some came with a knife to grind with Rome.

We came with Jesus the rural Rabbi from Nazareth in Galilee. He inspired us with his teaching, some of which was new and some was just new spins. He gave us hope with his healing, some of which was physical and much of which was spiritual.

We were excited to go to Jerusalem and to share Jesus with more people. Some of us have big plans for this Jesus-movement. We need to grow in our numbers. We need to increase disciples if we are to succeed. And things looked pretty good early on. We had a political demonstration march to start the week, then we staged a protest in the Temple. Jesus taught, healed, and disputed with the religious authorities. The crowds were loving it.

To us disciples Jesus had also been talking a lot about other things. He taught that giving up life was the key to finding it. He said the Kingdom of God belonged to children. And earlier a woman anointed Jesus which he said was for his own death. He even said that her actions would be remembered in the tales of the Kingdom.

And Jesus often said things like, “the greatest among you will be the servant of all.” We jockeyed for greatness all the time. James and John asked for the thrones to the right and left of Jesus in the Kingdom. They also wanted to rain fire on the Samaritans who didn’t show us hospitality.

None of us want to be servants. We don’t want to be slaves—especially to “all.” We debated whom Jesus meant by “all.” “All his followers,” said some. “All Israel,” said others. “All men,” some said.

Interpretations aside, Jesus in his own ministry eventually included Romans—even soldiers and politicians, children, and women like that anointing woman and the women at the meal tonight. Which brings me to my story.

We want to grow our numbers but Jesus seems to want to reduce them. Here’s what happened tonight. Jesus often uses props in his teaching. While we were all reclining at table enjoying our meal—talking, listening, and some laughing—Jesus quietly got up, put on a costume of a slave, filled a basin with water, and started washing our feet.

Talk about awkward! None of us had thought about that. There wasn’t a slave in the house to do it so we just didn’t do it. Peter, a climber like James and John, refused at first until Jesus said he couldn’t share in the Kingdom with Jesus without the washing. Then he demanded a whole bath!

Well, eventually Jesus finishes, puts his Rabbi clothes back on, and starts teaching. “You call me Rabbi and Master,” he said, “Teacher and Lord, and I don’t doubt you. That’s what I am. You listen to my instruction. You sometimes serve me.” That sometimes stung a bit . . . “So if I, your Teacher and Lord, become your slave and wash your feet, so you should do the same for one another.”

I thought about our earlier debates, the ones about “all.” Now I wondered about this “one another.” It makes sense to serve one another among the followers of Jesus, to help out other followers of Jesus.

But then I remembered the meal at Simon the Pharisee’s house and the Roman centurion’s slave Jesus healed. I remembered the Royal family’s son, also healed, and the son of the widow at Nain, raised. I thought about the daughter of the Canaanite woman Jesus healed and all those in the crowds Jesus fed without qualification.

I was remembering these things when Jesus said, “The world will know you are my disciples by the love you have for one another.” I realized, “one another” doesn’t mean us; it means the world. This is why we followed Jesus to begin with. Jesus came to us, to those of us who felt so worldly, like such failures, like hypocrites. Jesus came to us and he served us.

I didn’t really get it until this week. I listen to the Teacher’s words; I confess the Master as Lord. But that is not enough. Jesus isn’t just our Rabbi and Lord. He loves us. And in a grand display of that love he washed our feet. He served us. He became our slave. “Call me Teacher and Lord,” he says. “But above everything else, love me and love others as I love them.”

You know we’re called “disciples” but are we really? Do we really shape our lives around his teaching? We’re called “fools” but do we act foolishly like the anointing woman? We are called “messengers” but do we proclaim God’s Kingdom in this world? We are called “servants” but do we serve others as slaves?

Jesus also calls us “friends” but are we really? Do we really love him? Because if we did we would serve him. We would serve one another. And we would serve the world.

Jesus said whoever receives the slave receives him. And whoever receives Jesus receives God. If we want people to know God and to receive Jesus, then we have to serve them. The thing that counts most is faith working through love. (see Galatians 5:6)

Well, it was an amazing meal. We had lots of meals with Jesus. People remember different things about them. This one we’d rather forget. Who wants to be told their relationship with Jesus as “teacher and lord” is incomplete? Who wants to be told we’re supposed to be slaves to all?

This is not Jesus’ most popular message. Like I said, it seems he was trying to reduce our numbers, ‘cause it makes me wonder about myself. Can I make the move from disciple of Jesus to slave to all?

With the faith of Jesus growing inside me I believe I can. My name is Eliezer, after all, “God is my help.” I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.

03.14.21 Disciple who Believed Mark 14.1-11 Sermon Summary

NB: This sermon is presented in first person

Earlier tonight, we caught a break. For four days tensions have been mounting. The rural rabbi Jesus came to Jerusalem during Passover Week. It is no surprise. There are pilgrims from all over. Some are here to party. Others to pray. Still others to politicize.

Jesus did all three. On Sunday he mocked the procession of the Roman proconsul Pilate into the city. Monday he demonstrated extremist views on prayer. Yesterday and today he spoke through parables, teachings, and debates with the Pharisees, Sadducees, scribes, Herodians, and us Chief Priests.

My name is Meshulam. It has two meanings. One of them is “friend.” During this week we have gone from concerned to offended to fearful. And now we just wish  Jesus was dead.

But the crowds love him. They love him more and more as the festival nears. So we couldn’t get him. Here in Jerusalem Jesus is surrounded by crowds. At night he goes to Bethany. Tonight he was at Simon the Leper’s house—we weren’t going near that place!

We needed a secret opportunity. We needed a betrayer. Thank Adonai for Judas! Earlier tonight he came to us saying he wanted to betray Jesus. We were overjoyed. He didn’t say exactly why, but he told this story about one of Jesus’ disciples.

There was this woman at Simon’s house who interrupted the meal. She broke an alabaster jar of fine nard and anointed Jesus’ head. Something like that, it was probably worth 300 denarii. That amount could feed a household for a whole year! It was ridiculous! It was extravagant!

I know there are times to give such gifts. Thanksgiving for deliverance, for example, or to offer a share in a great harvest or fortune. Perhaps to provide for people in need, or to provide for the Levites who didn’t get their own land to farm. We give such gifts to remind God of the covenant or as an offering for sin.

As an aside, lately Jesus has been referring to his life as a “ransom for the liberation of people from sin.” That would certainly change the priesthood! What would we do with no more offerings?!

Well, this woman made her offering and it wasn’t for sin or thanksgiving. It certainly wasn’t providing for the poor. Jesus said it was a preparation, an anointing of his body for death. He said the poor you can always help, but he wouldn’t be around forever. (Hopefully not after this week!)

There’s something else Jesus taught: When you do give to the poor you give to him. This woman gave to Jesus now. She’ll probably give to poor later. She apparently has a heart for giving. Plus she didn’t care what others thought. She entered Simon’s home, interrupted the meal, and weathered the judgment.

And for what?! To show up everyone? Out of some obligation or debt? Jesus said it was for his death. It turns out she was the only one who understood. Three times Jesus predicted his death. He knew we would reach a breaking point. He knew we were going to win.

Eventually, despite the crowds, we were going to get him. He predicted this and she believed him. So Jesus commended her for “doing what she could do.” You can’t eliminate power like ours. But you can do what you can do. That’s why Jesus said what he said: In the whole world, wherever his message is proclaimed, what she did will be told in remembrance of her.

It’s like he was saying, “The Kingdom of God is doing what you can do even if you know you’re going to lose.” She did what she could do. She believed Jesus. She was the first disciple to do so. And then so did Judas.

He came to us earlier tonight ready to betray Jesus. He told us this story. “What is her name?” I asked. “Meshulam, I don’t know,” Judas said. “Nobody knows.” She remains anonymous. She could be anyone. ANYONE can do what they can do. Even you. Even me.

Well, the disciples were so concerned about money and extravagant gifts, we promised to pay Judas. After all, that’s the second meaning of my name “Meshulam.” It means “friend,” but it also means “paid for.”

Judas and I are new friends: It only seems right to pay him. Now all we have to do is wait. But I have this nagging feeling: This anonymous woman’s actions and Jesus’ words about her—“She did what she could do”—got me thinking: What can I do?

Does Jesus deserve more of my attention? Should I invest more in Jesus? Does the Kingdom he proclaims warrant gifts from me? What if God really is with him? What if God really is with the poor?

This woman understood Jesus. I’m afraid I may be beginning to understand also. I may be paying too much for my friends. Maybe I should be more like this anonymous woman. It’s something to think about while there’s still time.

03.07.21 Giving to God Matthew 22.11-20 Sermon Summary

Tuesday of Jesus’ last week is the one filled with the most conflict and controversy. Following the grand entrance of Sunday and the “cleansing” of the Temple on Monday, Tuesday sees questions regarding Jesus’ authority, arguments over fine points about the Law, parables, and prophecies.

Jesus’ inquisitors include Sadducees, Law scribes, priests, Herodians, and Pharisees. Today we hear from one of the disciples of the Pharisees, a man named Amram.

N.B. The rest of this message is presented in first person. 

We thought we had him; and we needed to get him—after that spectacle on Sunday and the display yesterday! I say “we” but I’m just a disciple of the Pharisees. My name is Amram which means “exalted nation.” 

I follow the Pharisees because they want a holy nation. They’re for practicing the rites of the Temple at home. They want to please God and bring a blessing upon our nation.

Recently we’ve found ourselves allied with the Herodians. We normally oppose the Herodians because we want a Davidic king. Herodians are content to continue Herod’s dynasty. Herod is a vassal of Rome, installed as the “King of the Jews” but really only nominally so. He is building us a huge Temple, though.

Normally Herodians and Pharisees are opposed to each other but a common enemy has made us friends. That common enemy is Jesus. 

Pharisees oppose Jesus because he preaches a righteousness distinct from one’s actions. It is a righteousness apart from the time we spend doing righteous acts. His approach allows more common people to be righteous—people who don’t really have the kind of time Pharisees do to observe all the rituals. 

Herodians oppose Jesus because he preaches a Kingdom of God that is distinct from the Kingdom of Rome. This means he preaches a Kingdom distinct from the Kingdom of Herod.

Anyway, the Pharisees sent me, a disciple, and some Herodians to trap Jesus. And we thought we had him. If we could get Jesus sideways with Rome, especially during Passover when the Roman proconsul Pilate was also in town, we knew that Rome would take care of him.

And few things express our problem with Rome better than taxes. Most people oppose taxes. They may disagree with the military even though they enjoy the protections the military ensures. They may have a problem with the politics but they enjoy the religious benefits politicians offer—like our huge Temple.

And most people don’t think about the roads, the clean water, or the trade taxes make possible. So questions about taxes get people mad, and we asked Jesus: “Jesus, you teach truth. You’re impartial. People look to you for religious leadership. Is it right to pay taxes to the emperor or not?”

Now Jesus often used parables to teach or illustrate and so it was no surprise when he asked for a tax-coin. I thought he was just buying time. See, if he said yes it is right to pay taxes to the emperor, we would accuse him of being unfaithful to our religion. But if he said no it’s not right, then he could be seen as unpatriotic to the empire.

I wanted to impress everyone so I reached into my bag and pulled out a handful of coins. Some had no image at all. These are the Temple coins. I picked this one up yesterday after Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers. But the tax-coin, called a denarius, is imprinted with symbols of Roman importance—just like all national coins are. I handed the tax-coin to Jesus and put the rest back in my bag. 

“Whose image and inscription is this?” he asked. “The emperor’s,” someone answered. “Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s,” he continued, “and give to God the things that are God’s.” Then he flipped the denarius back to me. 

There was silence as we thought about this. Then some murmurs. Then some gasps. Then some chuckles. And finally there was some small applause. I noticed the oldest among us simply nodded then quietly and slowly walked away. 

I looked around like the last guy to get a joke. And then I got it. Jesus sprung the trap we set, but he wasn’t in it. I was in it. The joke was on me. 

“Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s.” Of course the coin belonged to the emperor. I didn’t make it; Rome did. It only has value because Rome says it has value. I live in a Roman territory so I use Roman coins.

“Give to God the things that are God’s.” That was easy—Sabbath, study, worship, and prayer—God deserves all these. The Pharisees also want this. But then I remembered Moses standing before Pharaoh after the plague of hail. Pharaoh pleaded and Moses responded, “I will call upon God and the hail will stop so that you know the earth is the Lord’s.” (Exodus 9:29) And I remembered the Psalm of David which begins, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it; the world and all those who live in it.” (Psalm 24) 

“Give to God the things that are God’s,” Jesus said. There’s nothing that doesn’t belong to God! Everything belongs to God! The Temple coin AND the Roman coin. The Sabbath day AND the work days. My words in prayer AND my words in conversation with others. ALL belongs to God. Give it ALL to God. 

And there I was, an aspiring Pharisee concerned about holiness, holding a Roman coin. I was caught holding the bag. I was amazed. People looked at me and some laughed under their breath. I dropped the coin and walked away.

I began to think: Everyone is a disciple of some philosophy, a disciple of some way of thinking. We’re all disciples of some way of acting. I was a disciple of the Pharisees. But Jesus also has disciples. I wondered: Maybe they have room for one more?

But then I thought, Since our whole lives belong to God, how far will Jesus take his teaching? How far will his disciples? Will they give their lives to God? I don’t know if I could do that. 

But if we did as Jesus taught, if we gave to God what belongs to God, if we gave God everything, that would change our religion. It would certainly change Rome. It would lead to what my name means, Amram, the exalted nation, a nation exalted because it is truly blessed. It might even lead to the Kingdom of God.

So I ask myself, Whose disciple will I be? Whose will you be?

02.28.21 Why Was I Spellbound Mark 11.12-20 Sermon Summary

NB: This sermon was preached in first person as Daniel—a nominal Jew at the time of Jesus.

Greetings from Jerusalem! My name is Daniel and I’m here for the Passover celebration. It’s always a spectacular event, but something happened this morning that really got me thinking. 

It was at the Temple in the court of the gentiles. You know about the Holy of Holies in the Temple. But he Temple complex was HUGE. Around the Holy of Holies was the courtyard of the priests, then the courtyard of the– males, then of the females, and finally the courtyard of the Gentiles. The whole thing was five football fields long by three wide. King Herod began constructing the Temple forty-six years ago and it won’t be done for another twenty years.

This is actually our second Temple. The first was destroyed – but we’ll get to that later. Anyway, this Temple is huge and just now it is very busy. It’s Passover week, our annual feast of freedom when we celebrate our exodus out of Egypt and from slavery. Today Rome on everyone’s minds: “When will we be free from them?”

Pilgrims have come from all over. Some just want to party. Some are here with politics in mind. And some, like me, are trying to reconnect with religion. (It’s been a while . . .)

It’s the second day of the week. There are tons of people around our huge Temple complex. This morning a rural Rabbi named Jesus went crazy. If he did what he did at your church everyone would know. But here at the Temple? Hardly. Still, those who saw it will never forget.

It reminded me of Sabbath School and when we learned about Jeremiah. He was a prophet about 600 years ago. Back then it was the Babylonians who were bearing down on us Jews. Jeremiah tried to warn us. “You come here to the Temple and think it is safe – ‘The Lord’s house!’ you say. But you don’t act justly towards one another. You oppress the undocumented, the fatherless, and single mom. You steal, commit adultery, and swear falsely. You have made my house a den of robbers. Amend your ways, or I will destroy this house.” (see Jeremiah 7:1-15)

People didn’t like Jeremiah’s preaching, of course. They threatened Jeremiah with execution. But Jeremiah was right. The people didn’t change and the Babylonians destroyed the Temple. God had warned through Jeremiah and yet the Temple was destroyed.

You know, truth is the truth irrespective of anything else. It doesn’t care if you have a different opinion. It doesn’t change just because you may feel uncomfortable. You may have a contrary history or tradition—it doesn’t matter. Truth doesn’t care if you have power. Eventually truth overcomes all these.

Truth is very patient. It waits through our denial. It abides our justifications and rationalizations. It outlasts whatever is popular. Jeremiah stood on truth and it took a toll on him. But “Wisdom is vindicated by her children.” Jesus said that. (Luke 7:35)

And now he was here in our Temple, the second Temple Herod is rebuilding, preaching just like Jeremiah. Jesus overturned the tables of the money changers and the animal sellers. At first this was confusing. 

Pilgrims need animals. And they need Temple money—like when you go to another country and exchange your money for their currency. I looked at the animals and I compared the prices. Everything was kosher. What was Jesus’ problem?

It wasn’t the business. It wasn’t the Temple. It wasn’t the exploitation of pilgrims. I’ve thought about this all day and I think his problem was indifference. 

Passover, Hanukah, Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter—these are supposed to be times of prayer, of paying attention to God, of rededication. They’re supposed to deepen our love for God and love of neighbor—even love of enemy if you follow Jesus. They are supposed to make us more like God and more just towards others.

I thought about people like me. I’m cordial, generous, and kind at the Temple and during the festivals. But otherwise I’m suspicious, protective, and defensive. I live like there are sacred times and places—the Temple, Sabbath, and festivals. And then everything else—the other days of the week, my business place, and my other hangouts.

I separate Sabbath and weekdays, religion and politics, prayer and business, and ritual and relationships. I’m named for Daniel who kept faith his whole life, in prayer and in politics, but I don’t live up to my name. 

I live my life “out there” and then come “in here” for worship. I have made God’s house a den of robbers. I am the robber. I have robbed my neighbor of justice. I have robbed myself of being God’s child. And I’ve robbed God of the gratitude he deserves. 

Well, Jesus came in and called a halt. He called for repentance—“Stop and think for a moment!” And with changed thinking, follow with changed action. Like Jeremiah, Jesus called for truth. I was spellbound. Lots of us were. 

So time will tell I guess. They threatened Jeremiah. Tradition says he was eventually stoned to death. Now Jesus has been threatened. I’m certain Rome and some religious leaders would like nothing better than his death. Crucifixion has the betting odds just now.

The Temple was destroyed in Jeremiah’s time. I wouldn’t be surprised if Rome destroys it in our time. I believe that truth prevails over falsehood so I think about this: If Jesus is preaching the truth, I wonder how truth might overcome his execution?

But more importantly, how will truth overcome my life? How much time do I have to change my ways? Can I stop robbing my neighbors, myself, and God? Will this place be a den of robbers? Or can I help make it a house of prayer?

These are the questions I’m asking now thanks to Jesus. Maybe you have some questions of your own to think through. Like I said, time will tell.

02.21.21 Political Rally for Jesus Matthew 21.1-11 Sermon Summary

NB: This sermon was preached in first person.

Yo, my name is Saul. I’m what you might call an animal rental associate. My shop is on the edge of Jerusalem, the Bethphage side. Jerusalem is bustling just now. We have pilgrims from all over. It’s Passover week. That’s the festival when we Jews commemorate our liberation from slavery in Egypt. It’s feels like Margi Gras or St. Patty’s Day. 

We have special food and religious ceremonies. There’s a wide continuum of people. Some come just for the party atmosphere. Some want to re-connect with their religion. But there are others who are political about it. They want to get the Romans out of our land. 

This year represents some special excitement, because Jesus is coming. He’s gained a lot in fame and following. Let me tell you about what happened at my shop on Sunday.

Two guys came up and started untying a couple of my animals. That’s like you going to rental car company and jumping into a car and starting it up. They said Jesus told them to come. I asked them what they were doing with two of my animals. This started a bit of an argument between them. 

It all started with a quotation from one of the prophets, Zechariah 9:9. It says, “Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”

So one of the guys says, “We need two animals because Zechariah says so.” The other responds, “That’s not literal, it’s poetic. It’s called parallelism.” “No, the clear sense of scripture is unambiguous, a donkey and a colt.”  “Actually it’s one animal referred to twice.”

“Take both!” I yelled at them. Apparently not everyone realizes that what Bible says and what it is saying are different. 

They were surprised at my willingness to let my beasts go. You might be also. Some have said I was moved in the moment—like by the Spirit. Others say Jesus knew and exercised some supernatural power over the whole situation. Some say I knew the scriptures and recognized what was going on.

Explain it however you want. But the whole thing was planned. Political rallies like this don’t spontaneously appear despite what some people say. This was planned.

Jesus planned his entrance into Jerusalem quietly for two reasons. The first was publicity. Tensions had been mounting around Jesus. Three times on the way he predicted his death. Most of this was because of his message about the Kingdom of God. People were being healed, the deaf heard, the blind could see, the lame began walking, the mute could speak. I even heard some dead people were raised!

Some people had called Jesus “Son of David.” Now Jerusalem is David’s capitol and so it seemed Jesus was coming to claim it back from Rome. When people heard “David” they thought of Goliath and all the warrior things David did. But when Jesus heard “David” he thought of the shepherd of the people—poor people like us, which is what “humble” actually means in Zechariah 9.

And that’s why the donkey. It was a spectacular stunt. Didn’t know Jesus? You do now! People recognized it, too. They laid their cloaks and branches before Jesus and started singing. The first reason Jesus planned the grand entrance was publicity.

The second reason was protest. Remember, it is Passover week. It’s one of our big festivals—the freedom festival. All these pilgrims are here, all wanting freedom from Rome. 

Pontius Pilate the Roman ruler also marched into town Sunday. He had war horses and chariots and banners and standards and weapons and marching bands. He wanted to remind us, “Rome gives you freedom and can take it away.”

But Jesus’ message was, “NO! God gives you freedom and what you do with it determines how much more you get.”

Rome proclaims, “Caesar is Lord!” But Jesus teaches, “Worship the LORD your God and serve only him.” Rome projects peace through power. But Jesus teaches peace through love and justice. That’s actually what “triumphant” means in Zechariah 9—it means “righteous” as in social righteousness. Nobody in need because everybody shares.

This is the Kingdom Jesus preached. He calls us to a willingness to humbly approach poverty so that others don’t have to live in it. To a willingness to yield some of our rights so everyone can enjoy life. And this is what eventually saves us, which is what “victorious” means in Zechariah 9. And that’s why we shouted “Hosanna”—Save us!

Look, the more the world looks like Jesus, symbolized by his entrance into Jerusalem, the more it will look the Kingdom of God and less like kingdom of Rome. The two reasons Jesus made this entrance were publicity and protest. For first timers to Jesus, they asked, “Who is THIS?” For those more familiar with Jesus, we asked, “Who IS this?”

Maybe you’re asking those questions. Maybe you’re a part of the crowd. Who is this? What kind of Kingdom is this? Will you live like Jesus? Will you live in such a way as to bring this Kingdom to reality?

Take a few moments to think about that. I’ve got a paying customer to take care of.

02.14.2021 Divine Digestif, Luke 24:13-36, 49, Sermon Summary

Our last “dining with Jesus” worship falls today on Transfiguration Sunday. This commemoration precedes the beginning of Lent each year. The reason Transfiguration Sunday always appears before Lent is because it is a preview of Jesus’ resurrection. The purpose is to motivate us during the upcoming Lenten fast. Our passage can be read same way.

In contrast to last week’s meal, this meal was the one that captivated the early church. This is why they broke bread every week in worship and daily in their homes and with others. In this meal the resurrected Christ is made known. The Last Supper remembers Jesus. It first looks back before anywhere else. This “first supper” encounters Christ. It first looks around and then looks ahead at the Resurrected Lord. 

Today the phrase which stands out to me is: “They stood still, looking sad.” I’ve always assumed the two disciples showed sadness because of their grief, confusion, or shock. Certainly there is some of that. 

But Luke uses a specific and rare word (skythropos) to describe them. It means, “gloomy, sullen, downcast.” The only other place it appears in the Newer Testament is on the lips of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount related to fasting. He commands his disciples not to let their faces appear this way, for that is what hypocrites do. (See Matthew 6:16) Their faces are disfigured in their resentful obedience.

What Luke’s word suggests to me is that deep inside—maybe because of previous disappointments? or because Jesus had told them? or because the Scriptures had taught them?—they knew that God was behind Jesus’ death. It may be unconscious now, perhaps due to grief and confusion, but God was behind his death. They didn’t like that. And it showed on their faces.

This is true for many of us. We have a hunch God is behind the events in our lives. It may be unconscious—perhaps due to pain, anger, injustice, or confusion. We’ve had to accept difficult realities. But we’ve heard God is still God and we’re asked to believe.

The two on Road to Emmaus were asked to believe several times. When they report that, “It’s been three days . . .” they must be aware that the third day is a symbol from the Scriptures that God is about to intervene. They report that the women couldn’t find Jesus’ body. But women’s testimony was insufficient on its own in those days. The women reported a vision of angels saying Jesus was alive. But that would still be hearsay. Then they say “some of us went and found it as described.” But that is still inconclusive.

These two had not seen. They had only heard. But they were being asked to believe. Their situation causes me to think of what Jesus will say to Thomas a week later: “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe.” That wasn’t Thomas. That wasn’t these two. And sometimes that’s not us. 

They and we are “slow of heart to believe,” in Jesus’ words. So Jesus reminds them from the Scriptures as he interprets them around his death. Then their hearts begin to “burn within them” as they begin to believe. But they don’t fully realize what Jesus is saying until they recognize him. And they don’t fully recognize him until he breaks the bread. When they finally do realize and finally do recognize, Jesus disappears.

They had been asked to believe. They had been led to belief. They believed. And then that’s all they were left with—an encounter with the risen Christ around a meal. 

Now we are asked to believe. Whatever trials we are facing, whatever hardships we are enduring, God is yet behind them. And the promise of resurrection waits to be fulfilled. 

Michelangelo Caravaggio painted this sermon in 1601. It is called “Supper at Emmaus”, and depicts the moment of the disciples’ recognition. Jesus has just set the bread down before them. The disciples are astonished. One is pushing back his chair. The other has his hands outstretched as if to maintain his balance. Both are leaning in to Jesus. They believe! Caravaggio wants us to believe also. 

The painting is life-size. It leaves a space at the table for us. Jesus’s one hand reaches out to us while the other reaches for a third piece of bread. The disciple’s outstretched arms span the distance between Jesus and us. The basket of fruit is about to topple off the table unless we enter the painting and grab it. Just as these disciples were asked to believe, so are we.

Luke closes the day with the disciples all together offering hearsay evidence to one another. “He has appeared to Simon!” “He appeared to us in Emmaus!” Then Jesus comes again and shares another meal of fish. He again opens the Scriptures to them. Then he promises them the Holy Spirit.

Today we also encounter Jesus in the breaking of bread, in the sharing of fish, and in the divine digestif—a drink of Spirit concluding a meal to help us to digest until we dine with Jesus again. 

Lord, we celebrate special times of breaking bread as the church, and we trust in your promise to reveal yourself in such celebrations. But you are sovereign to reveal yourself in the breaking of any bread, in the pouring of any cup, in the fellowship of any who desire your presence. And so we pray your Spirit will prompt our curiosity and meet our need for you at every meal we enjoy. Amen

02.07.2021 Waiting Tables Luke 22:14-27 Sermon Summary

As we near the end to our “Dining with Christ” worship series, we come to the most well-known, remembered, and influential meal in the church since the third century—the “Last Supper.” Since the third century the church has made the “Last Supper” the first supper, but it really is neither.

I know it seems obvious to us, after eighteen centuries of practice that this is the meal of Jesus that counts the most. There is no doubt it is essential to understanding the gospel of Jesus. But as Robert J. Karris states,

This meal is the last symposium meal in a sequence of meals celebrated by Jesus, “glutton and drunkard, friend of toll collectors and sinners.” When the Lukan Jesus says in 22:19: Do this in memory of me, he is not just referring to the Passover meal he is celebrating with his male and female disciples, but to all the meals he has celebrated in his ministry. (Eating Your Way Through Luke’s Gospel p. 89). 

This is just one of the reasons to celebrate Communion weekly. This meal reflects so much.

For Jesus, meals are not just fuel for human activity. They are occasions for ministry, for proclaiming the Kingdom in teaching and healing. But more, meals not just a platform for ministry. For Jesus meals were ministry. With Jesus, meals are the Kingdom.

In Jesus’ coming, the Messianic banquet has arrived. We still pray for the Kingdom to come in its fullness. We still eat meals with Jesus until the Kingdom comes in its fullness. Paul reminded the Corinthians: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” And still we work with Jesus until the Kingdom comes in its fullness by serving “the least of these” as urged upon us in Matthew twenty-five.

Nonetheless, our dining with Jesus is a kingdom event. Jesus is our waiter and our host. Great waiters guide the selection of food. They can comment on the dishes. They suggest drink pairings. They create community. In the end, great waiters facilitate an experience. Jesus facilitates an encounter with the Kingdom. 

In Tim Chester’s A Meal with Jesus, he reminds us how food is related to salvation, how Jesus’ meal practice—culminating to this point in the Last Supper—relates to our salvation. Personally, I find his conclusions very challenging regarding my own relationship with food.

Food is a symbol of our dependence on God. We depend on God’s creation to produce food for our consumption. And we depend on God’s creatures which sacrifice their lives for our food.

And food is a reminder of our human interdependence. We are dependent upon those who grow, harvest, transport, and cook our meals. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his famous last Christmas sermon makes this point clear:

It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality. Did you ever stop to think that you can’t leave for your job in the morning without being dependent on most of the world? You get up in the morning and go to the bathroom and reach over for the sponge, and that’s handed to you by a Pacific islander. You reach for a bar of soap, and that’s given to you at the hands of a Frenchman. And then you go into the kitchen to drink your coffee for the morning, and that’s poured into your cup by a South American. And maybe you want tea: that’s poured into your cup by a Chinese. Or maybe you’re desirous of having cocoa for breakfast, and that’s poured into your cup by a West African. And then you reach over for your toast, and that’s given to you at the hands of an English-speaking farmer, not to mention the baker. And before you finish eating breakfast in the morning, you’ve depended on more than half of the world. This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality. (Trumpet of Conscience, pp. 71-72)

Food is the symbol of our dependence on God and human interdependence. It reminds me of Christ’s summary of the Law, that the Greatest Commandment is love God and love your neighbor.

But also: Food is a symbol of our sin. The first human disobedience was around food. Jesus’ first act of obedience was fasting from food. The first temptation he resisted was making food from stones. He quoted Deuteronomy 8:3—“We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.” And yet Deuteronomy goes on to say, “The LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity” (8:7, 9)

Dining with Jesus reminds us of all this. The Last Supper summarizes all this. And we need the reminder. Food still symbolizes our sin. American Christians (not just Americans) spend fifty billion dollars on dieting ($50,000,000,000). That’s more than we offer missionaries. Now apart from genetic factors that lead to dieting, realize that food symbolizes our gluttony as we diet to counter overconsumption. And food symbolizes our vanity as we diet to change our appearance. We use food to comfort ourselves. We use drink to medicate ourselves. Instead of a right relationship with God, we look to a distorted relationship with food.

The Last Supper, with its use of symbolic food, summarizes Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom. It summarizes whole Bible’s emphasis on food. Every meal, when dining with Jesus, can make us more mindful of the Kingdom as we thank God, as we remember our neighbor, and as we share with the hungry. Dining with Jesus can correct our relationship with food.

“Do this in remembrance of me,” were Jesus’ words at the Last Supper. “Do this.” Thank God. Love your neighbor. Provide for the needy. Freely you have been served by Jesus; freely serve.

Dine with Jesus and enter the Kingdom. What is God saying to you about your relationship with food this day? What is God saying to you about your relationship with others around food this day?