You’re hungrier than you think you are (Sermon)

Two years ago, I folded my belongings into a couple of suitcases and flew to Boston. As part of a gap year between undergrad and seminary, I had signed up to work at a monastery. This monastery’s mission to provide a place of retreat for anyone who wants to come for a few days of reflection and quiet.

Within a few days of my being there,  I realized that most of the work I’d be doing had to do with chopping vegetables and making beds rather than praying at all hours of the day and night. (We prayed a lot too. But there were a lot of vegetables and beds in the mix.)

Another intern asked about this, and one of the monks said this, that “when someone comes on retreat, we find that often what they need most immediately is a good meal and good night’s sleep. You see what, we don’t realize is that we’re often more tired than we think we are. We’re often hungrier than we think we are.”

We’re hungrier than we think we are.

Food. Rest. Shelter. These are the most basic needs we have as human beings. If we don’t have food, or adequate sleep, then we can’t function. If you haven’t eaten in the past 24 hours, you’d probably find it hard to listen to this sermon, or recall what the readings were about.

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Jesus knows this too. In the Gospel reading today, the crowd following Jesus has had quite a journey. They’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee, and followed Jesus up a mountain. Imagine hiking a mountain just to hear a sermon? These people are so fascinated by Jesus that they’ve been traveling for hours just to hear what he says.

Perhaps they’re so excited about finally catching up to him that they are able to ignore the emptiness of their stomachs. The kids who cry are told to hush—“shhh, that’s Jesus. We need to listen to him”.

You see, I think that’s the pedestal we sometimes put Jesus, and even the whole Bible on. Jesus, the teacher of morals, who speaks the beatitudes on repeat at tells us to love our neighbor. The Bible, Holy Scripture, full of rules for how we need to live our lives as Christians. “Shhh, it’s time for Jesus”.

Jesus isn’t really on board with that though. He doesn’t want to be on a pedestal. He doesn’t want to be on an earthly throne—the writer of John’s gospel tells us that later, Jesus leaves because he “realized they were about to come and take him by force to make him king”. Jesus doesn’t want to be king, but what he does want is the child who is crying in hunger.

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When the crowds draw near him, everyone saying to one another—“shhh, look, it’s Jesus!” Jesus says to Philip “hey, we got any bread? Know of any stores nearby?”. Imagine standing there in the front of the crowd, listening to Jesus ask where to buy bread for you. Suddenly, you feel all the adrenaline drain away, and you feel a dull ache in your belly. “Oh. I’m starving. I didn’t realize I was that hungry.”

We’re often hungrier than we think we are. Maybe we think we need wisdom or good advice, when we actually need food. Perhaps we think we need to study harder, or do better work, when actually, we need sleep. Maybe we think that our colleague needs motivation when she’s actually been sleeping in her car for two weeks. Perhaps we wonder why our friend is so different now when he’s actually been rationing what’s left of his pantry until the next paycheck comes.

As people who live in a first-world country, most of us don’t think about these basic needs very often. But I think in the process of focusing on other things, like work, school, relationships, and the digital world, we have a tendency to forget that our bodies need care and attention too. We’re not brains living outside of a body. As Jesus knew well, sometimes we need to take a step back and realize that we’re never going to be able to listen to his teachings, much less put them into practice, if we’re hungry.

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We’re hungrier than we think we are.

I read an article this week that was arguing that the Episcopal Church had become too obsessed with what it called “social justice”, and had forgotten that the true message of the Gospel is the salvation of souls. And while I believe that Jesus Christ came into this world to save us from our sins, our gospel lesson todays shows us that it’s hard to tell the good news to people who don’t even know where their next meal is coming from.

Jesus fed and healed people as he preached the kingdom of heaven, and our call is to do the same. We can share that Christ has come only when we’ve also shown the love of Christ by feeding, clothing, and giving shelter to those who need it.

If you remember nothing else, remember this:

Take care of yourself. Take care of other people.

We’re all hungrier than we think we are.

 

Preached on 7/29/18 at Ware Episcopal Church

“Do not let me hear of the wisdom of old men” (Sermon for St. John the Evangelist)

This time of year, we spend a lot of time with each other. Yes, we spend a lot of time in church. But we also spend time at home—clustered around a Christmas tree with family, or traveling to see loved ones. This is a season that celebrates being together.

So today, here we are—to celebrate another holiday—the feast day of St. John the Evangelist. It is one that I think really gets to the heart of this life of being together. The readings cover every part of our experience—from the intensity and power of God himself, to the fractions and fissures of human companionship. Moses, in the crevice of a rock, experiencing God physically present. And Peter and John on the beach with Jesus.

Peter—because ironically, a feast day celebrating the life of John ends up featuring Peter more prominently than the Beloved Disciple. This continuation of Peter’s post-Resurrection beach conversation with Jesus is the same one where he is asked if he loves Jesus, and is commanded to feed my sheep. Can you imagine, after that exchange, looking back over your shoulder and saying to the risen Lord—well… what about HIM?

I imagine Peter telling friends or grandchildren this story. He’d shake his head, looking back, wishing all over again that he could put his foot in his mouth. Why did I have to say that? I’m bet you can remember the last time you said that to yourself. I know I definitely can.

As much as I want to fault Peter for his comments, I can’t help but think that the act of looking over a shoulder and asking “what about her?… what about him?” is very much part of our human lives together. Perhaps it’s from jealousy. From curiosity. From pride. But why do we keep looking behind us—we who are beloved of God? Are we afraid that someone else will appear—better equipped, more obedient, easier to love? Are we afraid of stepping out of bounds, of doing something too heinous, all the while forgetting that we are the people for whom God’s love was intended?

Peter was worried that John knew, had, or was, something that Peter was not. And he was afraid. Peter was right, at least partially. The Beloved Disciple did know something Peter had not yet learned. Our legacy of St. John the Evangelist is him—

Reclining near Jesus at the last supper,

taking Mary, Christ’s mother, into his own home,

asking who in the world could betray our Lord,

looking into the tomb of the risen Christ and immediately believing…

This is a legacy of love. John knew, with certainty, that he was loved by Jesus, and knew that this love would not waiver. I think that it is said that Jesus especially loved him because in a ministry of trying to convince a world of his mission of love, John was someone who really got it. John, I imagine, was the disciple who had some sense of the Father’s love, and who loved in return—like that friend who you can look at in the middle of a crowded room and know that they understand exactly what you’re thinking, how you’re feeling—John was one of the few who had an inkling of this mission of love to the world. Even Jesus, the Son of the God, must have looked at John some days, and said to himself “well, thank goodness there’s someone who gets it”. To know that you are beloved by God is to know the heart of God.

To know that you are beloved by God is to know the heart of God.

This is what Peter was missing, in his look over his shoulder, in his fear of being replaced, in being less trusted than John. Jesus’ answer sounds harsh, but what he’s saying to Peter is “why does that matter? You are my beloved”—I love you, and I need your help.

The poet T.S. Eliot penned the following lines in his Four Quartets—one of my favorite poems:

“Do not let me hear

Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

I can imagine the regret Peter felt when he thought of his words, because I cringe internally at Peter’s jealousy, his looking over his shoulder, knowing that I have done the same thing at least in the past 24 hours… What makes this story hit home inside of us is not the knowledge that we are better than Peter, but that we are the foolish Peter, who cannot help looking over his shoulder at John, asking “what about HIM?”. I take comfort in hearing of the folly of old men—their fear of belonging to others, to God, because it is only then that I can hear the words of Christ. “why does that matter? You are my beloved”—I love you.

The wisdom of humility is knowing that we need love. To give oneself over, like John, to love Christ, and to be beloved of Christ is to give everything up except the certainty of love. When we know of love, when we know the heart of God is love, this is everything we were made for. This is what we are called to live into. And humility is Peter perhaps telling his friends, his children, that yes, I was foolish and didn’t know—I didn’t know what mattered. But now I know, and we today know, that we are beloved children of our Savior, who says to us “what matters is this—I love you, and I need you, to feed my sheep”.

(Preached at Ware Episcopal Church on 12/27/17)

weekend reflections v.2

planning// Being in the middle of the semester means that my life is quite regimented. I’ve been attempting to just keep my schedule straight between school, work, and fun (who knew that one had to schedule fun?). But the holidays are coming up, and once my assignments for the quarter are done, I’ll be able to leave for a month, to celebrate, to see dear friends. On hard days, the promise of Christmas break keeps me going.

thinking// Obviously I’m thinking about things like church history, canon law and translating hebrew. But in my spare time, I’ve been preparing for the new Murder on the Orient Express movie (Kenneth Branagh! Judy Dench!). Although I’m not quite excited about Poirot’s new mustache, I’m ecstatic about everything else. I’ve watched both the Albert Finney and David Suchet versions, and I have to track down my print copy before next week.

being// I’m trying very hard to schedule a weekly Sabbath, and to do things other than just work and classwork. Last week was not terribly restful but this weekend should have a bit more space for rest and reading. Monday is the semester’s quiet day, meaning more reading, and more sleep than usual.

creating// I’m finishing a small design and coding project. I forgot how much I loved coding, and I’m hoping to find a few more coding projects in the future.

 

Happy weekend, my friends!

Poetry on Proverbs 1:10-16

“My son, don’t let sinners entice you. Don’t go when they say: ‘Come with us. Let’s set up a deadly ambush. Let’s secretly wait for the innocent just for fun. Let’s swallow up the living like the grave–whole, like those who go down into the pit. We’ll find all sort of precious wealth; we’ll fill our houses with plunder. Throw in your lot with us; we’ll fill our houses with plunder. Throw in your lot with us; we’ll share our money. 

My son, don’t go on the path with them; keep your feet from their way, because their feet run to evil; they hurry to spill blood.” Proverbs 1:10-16

Sometimes fairytales tell us
that villains are evil,
hideous and warped.
Witches,
evil men with maniacal
laughs, stepmothers.

An extortion to avoid evil
caricatures, showing
perhaps a root form,
but not the vowels,
embellishments
the accent marks.

In Hebrew, sometimes
a root is (almost)
undecipherable because
grammatical rules swarm
round it, a mask.

To say evil has a mask is
still to simplify. And in
simplification, more danger
like prophetic tales
from fathers
“my son…”

But my teacher says
you have to know the grammar
to find the root
you have to
know
the root to have
a stab at
the what changed.