The poor will always be with you. Thanks be to God.

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IMG 9989 4 4963 SBI 300754413There is only one miracle that appears in all four Gospels – the feeding of the multitude in the wilderness. It actually appears in two different versions in the first two Gospels so you could say this miracle appears six times in all. There’s no other thing that Jesus does that is featured as prominently. It’s reasonable to assume that this was very important to the early followers of the Way.

We tend to imagine that in a time of military occupation, the people of Israel were looking for a messiah that would deliver them from that bondage – but we don’t remember what sign they imagined would signal that the Messiah had come. In reading through the literature of that time, the defining sign was supposed to be the return of the Manna, the food that God provided for the people in the wilderness after Moses led them out of Egypt.

This feeding of a multitude, on a mountain, in a lonely place from the simple meal of a poor boy, signals clearly to the people of the time exactly who Jesus is, though they misunderstand the implications. After demonstrating that evening, following the miracle, that his advent means much more than they imagined, he begins to teach them about the true bread and what it means for the community he is gathering.

It’s striking that it’s a the poor that provide what is necessary (we know this because barley bread was the food of the poor in those days). There’s a deep spiritual lesson here – beyond the sign and the teaching.

What’s the point of the church communities we so cherish?

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IMG 1093As a bishop, most times when I visit with a congregation, we quickly start to talk about the challenges the congregation is facing. Those challenges start with not having enough money to do the things we want to do. Many of the challenges being managed have to do with the building in which the community gathers. Some of the concerns are about the lack of people, or the lack of a certain group of people (usually children). Sometimes we talk about the music program.

You see a pattern?

We spend a lot of time focused on maintaining the community in which have found acceptance, love and support. It’s a place where we’ve found meaning. And it’s becoming something we long to maintain – even come close to worshiping rather than the God who gathered us into the community.

But it’s rare that people begin by telling me the concerns of the community in which they live. It’s rare that we even get to discussing that at all.

But that’s what God’s mission has a church for – to address the needs of the community in which they find themselves. We have something to offer to them. But we are going to have to meet them where they are, not invite them into where we are.

If we can get that right… well, that would really be something.

“When the elephants fight, the grass is trampled”. What we can learn from the execution of John the Baptist.

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IMG 0821This week’s Gospel tells of the events surrounding the execution of John the Baptist, whom Jesus describes as the greatest of the prophets, by order of King Herod. Herod makes this decision as a result of a rash promise promise to Salome, daughter of Herodias, his wife, during a banquet celebrating his birthday. Herod doesn’t actually want to kill John the Baptist, but he’s more afraid of losing face in front of his party guests than he is of the divine consequences of murdering a holy man.

That decision to kill rather than be embarrassed or lose social status isn’t all that foreign to us today. Modern nation states essentially do the same to their own people or to the powerless of other nations when they act to preserve their place in the global economy or international rankings. And we do harm to ourselves and each other with our modern “influencer” culture. And all of us remember the pain and shame of Middle School…

Learning to leave that behind is one of the most consequential and freeing choices a human can make.

Every human has value. Every human is gifted. Even our neighbors.

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IMG 0803This weekend’s Gospel, appointed for the same day that people in the USA are observing Independence Day, recounts an unusual event in Jesus’ life – when he is amazed at people rather than them being amazed by him.

The beginning of the reading tells of how Jesus’ childhood friends and neighbors couldn’t imagine that he was anything more than the child who had grown up beside them. And when he performed miracles and taught with authority, they had no way of recognizing the greatness that was in our midst. That experience is rather common with all us. Not the encounter with the Only-Begotten Son of God, but of a childhood friend who turns out to be much more than we anticipated.

Jesus experience with the people among whom he grew up is reminder for us that the folks around us, every one of them, while familiar, and sometimes easy to overlook, are gifted and infinitely valued by God. And that insight is actually a key pillar for the democracy we are still trying to perfect.

Faith is what we are left with when hope seems absurd.

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Vvv 0216 img 1330 838Faith is the last resort when everything else has failed.

It’s the absurd hope that insists on believing in the possibility of a way forward even when there is no hope.

Our small faith, nurtured into a larger life, gives life even as we and the ones we love are passing away. I don’t understand it – somedays I find it pretty thin gruel. But it’s what we have, and it has been enough to keep moving forward toward a deeper relationship with God.

Don’t be surprised by the storms we encounter when we take the Gospel to the regions beyond.

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Rembrandt Christ in the Storm on the Lake of GalileeThis weekend as we observe Juneteenth as a federal holiday for the first time in American history, and celebrate the month long observance of Pride, we have a Gospel reading about the storms on the Sea of Galilee. 

Tertullian first noted that these storms arose as the disciples were crossing to Gentile lands, under the control of the Roman Empire. He remarked that the Church in those days experienced conflict and persecution as it sought to include people who had been previously excluded from the promises made to the Children of Abraham. I find that his wondering about that image till have power and meaning today as our denomination and others work to bring people previously excluded from the full participation in the Church and in Society into new and restored relationships.

Jesus is with the disciples in the boat as they cross the stormy sea then and Jesus is with us now. And still we struggle with having faith to believe that his presence provides all that we need when the winds howl and seas surge.

God is making the Kingdom manifest, not us.

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97E1AA18 6D26 4947 9DE2 C8EE63AFA7ECOne of the basic teachings of Christianity is that it is Jesus who saves us from the consequences of our misbehavior, from our sins. We can not, and do not save ourselves. That’s both deeply freeing and very hard to internalize. Even though I know it I still act as if I don’t really believe it – and believe that if I just work hard enough, I can manage my salvation.

There’s a similar thing that I hear lately in the Church regarding the in-breaking of the Kingdom of God, the manifestation of God’s Reign on Earth. It seems that if we just educate people properly, or do the right things for the environment, or use the right theological formulas to explain doctrine, we can by our efforts make God’s Reign real.

We can’t. And we aren’t expected to either. We are charged with announcing it, and we are charged with discerning how and where it is present, but we are not expected to grow it into reality by ourselves. That’s God’s work, not ours. It’s freeing to realize that – and to recognize that the reality of the Kingdom or the future of the Church is not dependent on our efforts.

The more we align ourselves with God, the more Creation is returned to its original intent.

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The great warrior alexander LThis Sunday’s Gospel begins with people trying to understand how Jesus is able to cast out the spiritual powers that have rebelled against God. People try to understand what is happening in earthly terms, in light of their experience in a created order that has gone sideways from God’s original plan. And when they do that, they fundamentally miss the point of what is happening.

The key to understanding this parable (as Jesus describes it) is to keep in mind the pleas of the Hebrew people to the Prophet Samuel many years prior to Jesus’ actions. In those days the people beseeched God to grant them a King – so that they could be like all the other nations of the Earth. God and the prophet try to explain why this is not good for them, but they insist, and the story of the nation takes a complicated turn away from the path they had been following.

But it’s the idea of a nation ordered on a hierarchy of power that helps unlock the deeper meaning behind what Jesus is telling the people of his day – and ours.

God loves us. There’s not much we can do about that except accept it.

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A heart made out of water splashes H7EhCZg0Jesus came into the world proclaiming God’s love and not God’s condemnation of the world. We humans are exceedingly good at condemning ourselves and each other – particularly the people we know, or at least think we know. But God’s not human. And our ways our not God’s ways.

This Sunday, rather than preach on the ancient doctrine of the Trinity as the revealed truth of God’s nature, I’m taking a different tack. As we emerge from the pandemic and start to count the cost, I’m seeing people who are exhausted, bitter and cynical about many things. That’s understandable. This has been a hard time and we have all borne difficult burdens, some more than we thought we could manage.

And in times like this, when we’re at the end of what we think we can endure, rather than trusting in God’s love, we turn on ourselves and our neighbors. So this Sunday’s Gospel, an odd one to my mind for Trinity Sunday, spoke to me more of the truth of God’s love for us than it did as a way of opening up the mystery of the Trinity.

 

The Wind of God in 2021

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Kiel weekA year ago we had dreamed of reopening congregations in Rhode Island on the Feast of Pentecost. But it was not to be. But this year, in 2021, on this Feast Day, the Governor has removed our restrictions on gathering so carefully and deliberately, the day has come. It will be a while before things seem more like they did prior to the beginning of the pandemic. But the Spirit of God has brought us to this day and we can all rejoice that it has arrived.

Rhode Island takes sailing seriously; very seriously. And if you’ve sailed at all you know how important it is to pay attention to the wind, to the shifting directions and the sudden changes in speed. It seems to me, on this Feast of Pentecost, that we can meditate on the lessons learned on the bay and apply them to the life of our congregations. If we can pay as close attention to the Holy and Divine Wind of God as we do in a sailing race, then we can move outward on the waters, retelling a hurting world that God is active and present to them.