Letting Jesus Disturb Us

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

That’s what people were saying about Jesus’ sermon. And I think it’s pretty obvious that they didn’t mean it as a compliment. Jesus had just finished rocking their proverbial boats by claiming that the only way to experience eternal life is to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

I can only imagine what the response would have been if members of his audience had been the kind of sensationalistic journalists whose voices tend to dominate the media today: “Jesus of Nazareth endorses cannibalism!” or maybe “Radical leader of suicide-cult initiates followers into vampire ritual!” But Jesus’ listeners seem to have been a little more reserved than present-day news reporters, so they stopped at “This teaching is difficult”.

And who can blame them, really? We hear these words with the benefit of two thousand years of church tradition, wherein our pastors regularly give us bread and wine with the words “This is my Body” and “This is my Blood.” Those words have lost their shock-value for us.

Jesus, in this sermon on the Eucharist from John 6 (which we have been reading this month at church), is intentionally trying to disturb his audience. He deliberately wants them to feel confused and uncomfortable. Why is that? Because being uncomfortable is the best way to grow spiritually.

It’s a common notion that people turn to faith for a sense safety and familiarity in the world. The Communist philosopher Karl Marx believed that people use religious faith as a way to dull the pain of political oppression. That’s why he called religion “the opiate of the masses.” Psychologist Sigmund Freud believed that our ancestors invented God as a way of relieving their anxiety over the capricious and destructive forces of nature. Freud argued that God is a personification of these forces with whom humans can negotiate by means of ritual sacrifice. For both Freud and Marx, the purpose of faith is to ease discomfort in humans. I think many people in our day (religious and non-religious alike) view faith in the same way.

But Jesus seems to be doing the exact opposite of that in today’s gospel reading. If anything, he is making people less comfortable with his preaching. He presents this disturbing image and then does nothing to explain it or mitigate its impact on the hearers.

“This teaching is difficult,” people say.

And Jesus responds, “Good! That means you’re paying attention.”

The only guidance Jesus gives for interpreting his flesh-eating, blood-drinking imagery is this: “It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”

“Flesh,” in this instance, is Jesus’ way of describing the surface-meaning of his words, whereas “spirit” is the deeper meaning. And he makes it clear that the deeper, spirit-meaning is what he really wants his followers to understand.

But, in order to get there, they have to let themselves become uncomfortable with the language as it stands. Is Jesus really endorsing cannibalism? Does he literally want us to eat his flesh and drink his blood?

Discomfort is the richest soil for spiritual growth in a person’s life. Those who feel safe and comfortable have no reason to question the status quo or dig beneath the surface of life. Those who struggle or live with pain, on the other hand, have no choice but to go deep and ask tough questions. Often, the pursuit of wisdom can only begin in earnest once the pursuit of happiness has failed.

So, Jesus calls upon his followers to embrace the discomfort of what he is saying in order that they might look deep, past the surface-meaning of the words to touch their spiritual meaning.

And how is this message received by its intended audience? Are they willing to go where Jesus is trying to lead them? For most of them, the answer is No. John tells us, “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.”

The kind of faith that disturbs is not the kind that brings in the big numbers. Asking people to look deep into the mystery of life will not win you any popularity contests. It certainly didn’t for Jesus. One might even argue that this is Jesus’ most ineffective sermon ever when it comes to church-growth and evangelism.

But Jesus isn’t trying to win any popularity contests, nor is he interested in padding egos with platitudes and certainties. What Jesus wants is for people to grow in their relationship with God and each other. And the only way to do that is to challenge their assumptions and make them uncomfortable.

After the bulk of the crowds have left, Jesus turns to the few who are left and asks them (I imagine with a shaky voice and tears in his eyes), “Do you also wish to go away?”

And Simon Peter is the one who speaks up on behalf of the others, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

This is Peter’s great statement of faith, not the declaration itself, but the question beforehand: “Lord, to whom can we go?”

I love it when Peter says this. I consider it to be one of his finer moments as a disciple. He answers Jesus’ question with another question, and a vulnerable one at that. I can hear the trepidation in his voice. He really doesn’t have anywhere else to go. The basis of his faith is not an absolute certainty that provides a sense of safety and security, but a deep trust in his friend that has been born of miles walked together and a sense of helpless desperation. “If Jesus is making me uncomfortable,” Peter believes, “it’s for a very good reason. If I can follow this rabbit-trail to wherever it leads, my hunch is that I will be glad I did.” Peter’s faith is born of personal trust, not absolute certainty. And the evidence of that faith is his willingness to stay in relationship with Jesus, even when the going gets tough and Jesus is being very confusing and disturbing.

This is where faith in Jesus begins to look very different from the conventional faith of polite, civil religion. Just as the purpose of Christian faith is not comfort, but disturbance, so also the process of Christian faith is not absolute certainty, but personal relationship. Jesus doesn’t ask us, “Do you understand me?” He asks us, “Do you trust me?” He doesn’t ask us, “Will you defend my doctrines from the heathen?” He asks us, “Will you love me in the least of these?”

Faith, for the Christian, is a personal journey undertaken with Jesus. Its hallmark is the willingness to keep going, even when Jesus says and does things that are confusing and disturbing. We keep on walking together. We stay in this relationship, not because we don’t have our doubts and struggles, but because we trust that our friend will never lead us astray.

If you’re here this morning and you find yourself struggling with doubt, if there are things about Jesus that make you uncomfortable, I want to invite you to keep walking. I won’t try to resolve those questions for you; I won’t even tell you that you have to figure them out for yourself. Because, at the end of the day, Christian faith is not about arriving at a comfortable answer to our questions; it is about continuing your journey with Jesus and allowing him to lead you from question to question, deeper and deeper into the mystery at the heart of everything.

If you find yourself being disturbed on this journey, it’s a good thing: it means you’re paying attention.

Lex Orandi

Lex Orandi

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Here, at long last, is a big project I have been working on this year:

Lex Orandi: An Ordo for the Divine Office based on the Rule of St. Benedict and the Book of Common Prayer (pdf file)

It is not a complete breviary that stands on its own, but a guide for praying the Office in a manner similar to the monks at St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers.

While not an exact replication of the Liturgy of the Hours at St. Gregory’s, Lex Orandi has been adapted to fit the schedules of people who live outside the monastery, but still want to pattern their prayer life after the Benedictine spirit.

While Abbot Andrew Marr​ and the brothers have helped me in this project and granted permission to reprint select portions of their Office (e.g. the Confraternity Prayers), Lex Orandi is an independent publication that has not been authorized or endorsed by St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers. Its use is not required.

Thank you to the community of St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers for your friendship, support, and guidance in this labor of love. It is my joy to make it available online for free to anyone who wishes to use it.

The Chef and the Meal

The Chef and the Meal

Today’s sermon at North Presbyterian Church.

The text is John 6:35, 41-51.

Think about your favorite food.

For me, it’s pasta (in all its glorious varieties: shells, bowties, linguine, angel hair, spaghetti, penne, rotini…). And it goes with almost any flavor (meat – chicken, steak, bacon, shellfish; vegetables; sauces – pesto, alfredo, tomato; nationalities – Italian, Asian). Pasta is my ultimate comfort food. It’s carbalicious!

When we think about food and why we eat it, the first and most obvious answer is that we crave sustenance. Our bodies need food in order to stay alive, but that’s not the only reason why we eat. Think about your favorite food again. When do you crave it? When you eat your favorite food, is it simply a matter of biological survival or is there another reason? Dry bread and water can fill our stomachs and keep us from starving to death, but comfort food feeds something else inside us: the hunger for pleasure. So, there’s more than one kind of hunger (and more than one way to satisfy it).

Some people are said to be ‘starving for attention’ and will sometimes resort to ridiculous or destructive behaviors in an effort to satisfy that need.

Poverty is a kind of hunger. The lack (or perceived lack) of access to material resources drives much of our consumer economy. For that, we have money that can buy us anything we need or want, from pancakes to politicians.

Ignorance is a kind of hunger. For that, we have information: loads and loads of information (some of it more reliable than the rest). At this particular moment in history, we have terabytes of raw data pouring down through the information superhighway at every moment of the day or night. You’ve got questions; Google’s got answers (but not necessarily good or right answers).

Loneliness is hunger. For that, people seek out all kinds of connection with each other in the form of real or simulated intimacy.

Boredom is hunger. For that, we have an endless supply of entertainment available 24 hours a day. If you don’t like what’s on one channel, or station, or website, you can just push a button and find something else that you do like.

Pain is another kind of hunger. We might not think of it as such, but those who live with chronic physical or psychological pain often describe it as a kind of gnawing, hollow emptiness that never goes away. People in pain are hungry for relief. This is a particular hunger that I encountered time and time again when I worked as a substance-abuse counselor. Most, if not all, of the recovering addicts I worked with used their drug(s) of choice as way to numb the pain they lived with. The insidious thing in this case is that the cure is often worse than the disease. The drugs they took to numb the pain ended up causing even more suffering, which drove them to seek out even more drugs, which caused even more pain… etc.

These are just a few examples of the different species of hunger that human beings experience. If we kept going, I’m sure we could name even more. And it seems like the world has some kind of product or service to offer us for every imaginable hunger of body or mind. Of all the cultures that have existed in every time and place of human history, the one we live in prides itself in being able to satisfy every whim and desire of its inhabitants. Compared to our ancestors (or to fellow humans in other parts of the world today), we live in the very lap of luxury. Even our pets live more comfortably than humans in other times and places. By all rights, we should lack for nothing.

However, that’s simply not the case. Our society has ample food, water, clothing, medicine, information, entertainment, drugs, and sex. But are we happy? Have our hungers been satisfied? No, they have not.

In fact, the great irony is that those who possess most of the aforementioned resources seem to be the most miserable of all. Nothing is ever good enough, big enough, fast enough, or pleasurable enough to finally fill that internal void they feel. Ask any investment banker: How much money is enough? Just a little bit more…

There is another kind of hunger, one that can’t be filled by any of the products or services offered in the marketplace. A famous philosopher named Blaise Pascal described such a hunger like this:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God himself.”

Some, paraphrasing Pascal, have described this hunger as “a God-shaped hole” deep within the heart of every human being. Nothing else can fill it, except God and God alone. It is a spiritual hunger that cannot be satisfied by any of the products or services offered by our capitalistic society.

This is the hunger that Jesus is hinting at in today’s gospel reading when he tells us:

“Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Humanity’s deepest hunger is for God and Jesus offers us himself as the food we crave.

What we Christians believe about Jesus is that he is the incarnation (i.e. “embodiment”) of everything that is Divine. In the person of Jesus Christ, humanity and divinity are joined together. This is one of the things that makes Christianity unique among the religions of the world: we find our connection with God, not in a sacred book or a series of devotional exercises, but in a person. And it is in this person, Christ, that we find the deepest of hungers being satisfied.

There are two ways in which Jesus satisfies our spiritual hunger: as our Chef and as our Meal.

Jesus is our Chef in the Church’s ministry of the Word. He prepares and presents that which will satisfy our hunger. Our spiritual food comes from him. The Scriptures are the menu from which he draws our sustenance. The only difference is that we don’t get to pick and choose what we will order. Chef Jesus decides what’s for dinner. Our only choice is whether we will eat what he offers. We can leave this gourmet meal untouched on our plate if we so choose, but we will walk away still hungry. Similarly, we can skip the main course and gorge ourselves on dessert, but a diet of nothing but sweets will make us simultaneously fat and malnourished. A balanced spiritual diet means that we take from the Scriptures, not just what we want to hear, but what we need to hear (whether it tastes good or not).

Jesus is our Meal in the Church’s ministry of Sacrament. The Chef becomes the Meal in the Sacrament of the Eucharist. The New Testament letter to the Hebrews says it a little differently when it describes Jesus as both the priest who offers the sacrifice and the sacrifice itself, which is offered. Jesus says this quite explicitly in today’s gospel when he tells us that “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” In some mysterious way, the Chef is also the Meal.

We Protestants have done a very good job of recovering the ministry of the Word in the life of the Church. We have translated the Scriptures into languages that people can understand. We have placed the Bible into the hands of every believer, saying, “Take and read! These are the words of eternal life!” This is a good and necessary thing.

But we have not done so well when it comes to the ministry of Sacrament. The Eucharist has been too long neglected as a means of grace on par with the Scriptures. Too many of our churches treat it as an afterthought: a mere remembrance of past events, to be celebrated only occasionally and infrequently.

We have become like restaurant critics, who read the menu and study the recipes without ever actually tasting the food ourselves. John Calvin, the founder of our Reformed tradition, in his most famous book, warns us:

“as long as Christ remains outside of us, and we are separated from Him, all that He has suffered and done for the salvation of the human race remains useless and of no value for us. Therefore, to share with us what He has received from the Father, He had to become ours and to dwell within us.”

It is not enough that we know about Christ in the Scriptures; we must also come to know Christ intimately in the Sacraments. Christ dwells within us by faith and the power of the Holy Spirit as we receive his Body and Blood into our own bodies and bloodstreams.

If you’re here this morning and you find yourself still hungry inside after tasting everything the world has to offer, then you’ve come to the right place. Listen to the words of the prophet Isaiah:

“You that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

Come to the Table; Come to Christ. Receive into your hands and hearts the One who is both Chef and Meal, both Priest and Sacrifice. Heed the invitation of the psalmist: “Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

As it says in the Book of Common Prayer: the bread and wine of the Eucharist are “The gifts of God for the people of God. Take them in remembrance that Christ died for you and feed on him in your hearts by faith, with thanksgiving.”

The Bread of Life

The Bread of Life

Today’s sermon from North Presbyterian Church, Kalamazoo.

The text is John 6:24-35.

One of the occasionally amusing (and often annoying) things about living with young kids is that they tend to believe the world revolves around them and their desires.

My family and I stopped at a rest area in Ohio when we were traveling there a few weeks ago. On our way back to the car, my six-year old declared that she wanted a lollipop. I refused, wanting instead to get back on the road as quickly as possible.

She whined, “But I want a lollipop!”

I had a snappy comeback: “And I want kids that aren’t whiny!”

“Well then,” she said matter-of-factly, “you should have bought me a lollipop.”

I lost. She still didn’t get a lollipop, but I still lost the argument. To be honest, I didn’t even feel all that bad it. I was more impressed than frustrated. That was a remarkable amount of witty logic for a six-year-old to employ in the heat of the moment, but it was all in the service of satisfying her own desires.

That’s the way kids are, isn’t it? Their needs and their wants take precedence over every other concern. My experience as a parent is confined to the world of babies and toddlers, but I’m told that teenagers are the same way.

And it’s not just kids and teenagers either. A few years back, I read a book on relationship advice with friends. The theme of this book, like so many self-help and pop-psychology books on the market, was “how to structure your relationships so that your needs will be met and your desires fulfilled.”

All in all, it wasn’t a terrible book, but I noticed how the author kept putting the individual’s needs and wants in first place over the needs of the relationship, the family, or the community. The book assumed that a self-centered view of reality was normal and healthy.

So, it’s not just kids that do this. Adults too are capable of selfish temper-tantrums. People of any age can fall into that trap of Me! Me! Me!

Jesus found himself in the middle of just such a group in today’s gospel reading. This passage comes directly on the heels of last week’s reading, where Jesus miraculously fed a crowd of five thousand people with only five loaves and two fish. This event got people’s attention, so they start following Jesus en masse.

And then, Jesus turns around and shines the blinding light of truth on their self-centered obsession with their own needs and wants. He says to them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”

People are interested in Jesus because of what he can do for them. He has demonstrated an ability to meet their needs and fulfill their desires, therefore they are interested in following him (but only because “[they] ate [their] fill of the loaves”). Their own selfish needs and desires still sit enthroned at the center of reality. They are only interested in Jesus because of what they think he can do for them.

But Jesus isn’t about to start playing that game. His reason for performing this miracle was not to meet their needs, but to serve as a sign. Sign is the term the author uses for Jesus’ miracles in John’s gospel. They are called signs because the point is neither the miracle itself nor the need being met, but the deeper truth to which the miracle points.

Jesus’ goal is not to cater to their whims and desires, but to direct their attention toward the truth on which their lives are founded. This is why he tells them, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life”. It’s not about the bread, it’s not about their needs, it’s about God. God is the true center of reality, not us with our individual needs and desires. Therefore, our relationship with God is never a means to an end, but always an end in itself.

When Jesus’ multiplication of loaves and fishes draws comparisons between himself and Moses, who gave the Israelites bread (manna) in the Hebrew Bible, Jesus once again directs the people’s attention back to God: “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.”

Notice the difference in verb tenses here: It’s not about Moses, who gave (past tense); it’s about God, who gives (present tense). God gives us each day the things we need (i.e. “our daily bread,” so to speak), not to fulfill our desires, but to remove the obstacle of our constant obsession with our own needs and wants so that we can then focus our attention on what really matters. If we stay focused on our own needs, then we’re missing the point.

I think people tend to remain stuck in this self-centered existence because, in a practical sense, they are atheists. Regardless of whether or not they profess faith in a God or practice a religion, they live their lives as if there was no God, no one looking out for them, no one loving them, and no arms holding them now and for eternity. This “practical atheism” (as Dr. Martin Luther King called it) is far more dangerous to Christian faith than the “philosophical atheism” held by some people. Practical atheism, living as if there was no God, keeps us trapped at the center of our selfish little universes, driven by the force of our own insatiable hunger.

Jesus comes to set us free from all that. What Jesus ultimately wants for us is a life that is deeper, richer, fuller, and more abundant than a shallow, self-centered existence driven only by urge to satisfy our desires. Jesus gives us this day our daily bread so that we can look past the bread itself (i.e. “the food that perishes”) and look to Jesus himself as the “bread of life” (i.e. “the food that endures for eternal life”).

We are called upon to do that very thing each Sunday in the Eucharist: with the eyes of faith, we look past these elements of bread and wine and see in them the real spiritual presence of Jesus himself, the bread of life. We are fed here with the bread of his Body and then sent back out into the world, where we can stop obsessing over our own needs and desires and look past the elements of our circumstances to “seek and serve Christ” in everything and everyone.

This is what it means to live a Christian life, a life that is centered in Christ. This is the “abundant life” that Jesus offers us in the sacrament. It’s not about us and our needs; it’s not about bread; it’s about Jesus, and Jesus is “the bread of life. Whoever comes to [him] will never be hungry, and whoever believes in [him] will never be thirsty.”

Sitting Down and Giving Thanks

Sitting Down and Giving Thanks

The text is John 6:1-21

Has anyone ever solved a complicated crisis by panicking? I doubt it. (But that hasn’t stopped us from trying.)

When unexpected events occur, people tend to react strongly as the “fight or flight” response kicks in. Scientists refer to this as the sympathetic nervous system. It’s that part of the human brain that immediately kicks into gear during a crisis. The pulse races, blood-pressure rises, and muscles tense as the body prepares to either run or fight.

This response is rooted in our evolutionary need for survival. Our ancestors’ bodies, going back millions of years, were hard-wired to react in this way whenever a predator or enemy appeared. The sympathetic nervous system (i.e. flight/flight response) is our brain’s way of keeping us alive in dangerous situations.

This is a good thing and we should give thanks for it, but it has its limitations. If “fight” and “flight” are our only possible responses to crises, we will never rise above the level of instinctively reacting to every new situation in fits and starts that are probably not very helpful to the resolution of our more complex problems. In order to solve these crises, we need to change way we think.

There is an interesting sentence, often falsely attributed to Albert Einstein: “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” (Note: Einstein never actually said this; what he said was, “a new type of thinking is essential if mankind is to survive and move to higher levels.”) Either way, the point is the same: that it is essential for human beings to find some way of relating to our problems that transcends the reactivity of fight vs. flight. We have to “raise our level of consciousness,” in a manner of speaking.

I believe Jesus presents us with just such an opportunity in today’s gospel reading.

It begins with a crisis: a massive crowd of people with not enough to eat. Jesus starts by naming that crisis. He doesn’t gloss over the problem or ignore it; he simply states it like it is, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

The disciples react with their standard fight/flight programming. You can hear the desperation in Philip’s voice as he exclaims, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” And Andrew, though he tries to think creatively, still comes up short, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” They can’t imagine an immediate solution, so all they see is the problem. What we have here are disciples in a moment of full-on panic.

Jesus’ response in this moment is characteristically unexpected and counter-intuitive. He says to them, “Make the people sit down.” This is the exact opposite of what one would want to hear from a leader in a moment of crisis. Our fight/flight response wants to shout, “Don’t just sit there, do something!” Our panicked reaction demands instant gratification. But Jesus tells us the opposite. He says, in effect, “Don’t just do something, sit there!” When I picture this conversation in my head, I imagine Jesus having to repeat himself a lot.

Jesus: “Make the people sit down.”

Disciples: “What?”

Jesus: “Make the people sit down.”

Disciples: “Why?”

Jesus: “Just do it. Trust me.”

What he does next is equally counter-intuitive. He takes the meager offering given by the little boy and gives thanks. Sitting down and giving thanks are literally the last two things that panicked people will think of doing in a moment of crisis. They would much prefer to get up and run, fretting the whole way home.

But Jesus knows something the disciples don’t: sometimes the solutions to our problems only emerge when we give ourselves the space to sit back, quiet down, get centered, and take stock of what we do have. Once we’ve removed the blinders of crisis, an “attitude of gratitude” can show possibilities where panic shows us only despair. Jesus understands this truth; and he wants us to understand it too. That’s why his first response in an emergency is to sit down and give thanks.

The amazing thing is that this course of action ends up being far more productive than anything offered by the panicking disciples. As we all know, a miracle happens. What’s interesting is that this is the only one of Jesus’ miracles (other than the resurrection itself) that is recorded in all four gospels. What’s even more interesting is that no one sees it happen, or even knows it has happened until after the fact.

There is no description of the bread as it is multiplied in the crowd. The people simply eat and continue to do so until everyone has had “as much as they wanted.” Somewhere, somehow, something miraculous has happened, but no one can explain it. There is simply this hidden abundance that emerges out of the perceived scarcity.

And Jesus does nothing to explain himself in this moment. He simply lets the mystery remain a mystery. What he does instead is invite his disciples to “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” I think he does this as a reminder to them for future reference. He wants them to look back on this moment and see how God was able to do so much with so little. He wants them to adopt a similar posture of sitting down and giving thanks in the midst of a crisis.

This pattern of action has the power to raise the level of human consciousness above the panic-driven fight/flight response. Jesus, in this miracle, gives us the wisdom and power to look beyond the crisis of the present moment and cultivate open minds that conceive creative solutions to pervasive problems. This is what it means to look at the circumstances of our lives through the eyes of faith, instead of the eyes of fear.

This, more than anything else, is what I think we need in our present-day society. We live in a media-saturated culture that boosts TV ratings by advertising one crisis after another. In the noise of chaos, pundits and candidates are shouting back and forth at each other, bewailing problems and demanding instant solutions. We divide ourselves into polarized tribes and factions with an “us vs. them” mentality. And the only result from this approach is more panic. Our current state, as a culture, is that “low level of consciousness” that is ultimately powerless to solve any of the persistent problems we face as a planet. The best this level of consciousness can do is replace one set of problems with another, going around and around ad nauseum on this dysfunctional carousel without end.

But Jesus offers us a way off the merry-go-round, a way to break the cycle to a new level of thinking. It is sitting down and giving thanks.

We should make room for that kind of intentional sitting down every day. We need a steady diet of prayer and meditation in order to keep our minds centered on God in the midst of daily chaos and crisis. This is the primary work exemplified by monks and nuns in various religious traditions around the world. They sit long enough to hear that “still, small voice” speaking the Word of Love directly to their hearts. It may not sound like literal words or look like an ecstatic vision, but you can see the effect in the way they live. And one need not be a monk or nun to benefit from it. All of us can make space for that voice in our lives, even if it is for only a few minutes every day. We can read a passage from the Bible, say a few prayers, but mostly listen and sit still in the silence. This little discipline can bring us a long way toward that raised level of consciousness that makes a difference in the way we approach life’s problems.

The other thing to do is give thanks. This, of course, is something else we can (and should) do on our own every day. But there is a special way in which we do this every week as the Church. The Greek word for “giving thanks” is eucharistia, which is where we get the word Eucharist, which is another name for the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion). The Church gathers together each Sunday to celebrate the Eucharist: we take this little offering of bread and wine, give thanks and bless it, break the bread, and distribute it to everyone.

When we give thanks (Eucharist), we remember all the good things God has done for us in the creation of the universe, the preservation of life, the wisdom of the prophets, and above all in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In response to God’s goodness to us in all these things, we offer back to God everything we have and everything we are, we ask God to send the Holy Spirit upon the gifts to bless them, sanctify them, and transform them (and us) into the Body and Blood of Christ.

In a global economy that runs on crisis and scarcity, the act of giving thanks for the goodness and abundance around us is nothing less than radical and revolutionary. It undermines the foundational principle upon which capitalism and consumerism are founded. We are invited, brothers and sisters, to “be the change we wish to see in the world,” not by jumping up and panicking, but by sitting down and giving thanks for all that God has done for us in Christ Jesus.

Is there Enough to go Around?

Is there Enough to go Around?

Originally posted on North Presbyterian Church:

The text is Mark 5:21-43

Is there enough to go around?

“A great crowd gathered around Jesus.” Somebody once counted as many as five thousand (not including women and children). The crowd followed him “like sheep without a shepherd” and “pressed in on him.” Obviously, there was no way for him to minister to so many people. Faces blurred together. Names would be forgotten. Obviously, someone’s needs were bound to be overlooked in the mix.

Is there enough to go around?

Time was short and running out quickly. Jesus had to move fast. The word “immediately” appears no less than 41 times in Mark’s gospel; 3 of those times are in today’s reading alone. Jesus is always in a hurry. No one could expect one man to be “All things to all people.” Obviously, some people would have to wait until Jesus came back through town next time… except that…

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Mythbusting: “It all depends on you”

Mythbusting: “It all depends on you”

Originally posted on North Presbyterian Church:

The text is Mark 4:26-34.

We’re going to do a little bit of “myth-busting” this morning. And the “myth” we’re going to “bust” today is this: It all depends on you.

This is one of the great myths of modern society. It says that we are the masters of our own destiny. It says that, through the power of reason and technology, we can answer any question and solve any problem. If only we would put our mind to it, there is nothing we cannot do.

Like any good myth, there is some truth to this one: We humans, corporately and individually, certainly have a role to play in the unfolding plan of destiny. Reason and technology are wonderful things that give us insight into the way things are and how they might be made better. Hard work and determination have their place, and are necessary to apply the truths…

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