Renouncing Domination

Renouncing DominanceA sermon preached for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost on Mark 9:30-37 and James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a on September 23, 2018 at St. Luke's Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas.

I didn’t look at the Gospel reading when I picked this Sunday to receive new members. It’s just the best day that worked on the calendar. Had I looked at our passage from Mark and shared with our new members that this is what they’re getting into, I would have expected them to say, “no way!” or as even Christians in Texas say, “hell no!”

• “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again”
• "Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all."
• "Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me."

That list doesn’t have a lot to recommend being a follower of Jesus—being killed, being last, being servant all, and making children and other vulnerable of society the most important. 

The disciples are afraid and confused. If Jesus continued down this path, what would happen to the them? Would they also suffer and die? Would they also be expected to hang out with the lowest of the low and the worst of the worse?

In their fear and confusion, the disciples did what most of us do when our sense of security and identity is threatened—they jockeyed for position and power. Who was the greatest among them? Who was more important? James and John, the “sons of thunder?" Or perhaps Peter and Andrew—all strong-armed fishermen. Fighting with each other about who would dominate in their discipleship was more comfortable than dealing with the reality of what kind of Messiah Jesus really was.

This reaction to assert dominance is almost like a human reflex—when we our self-interest is threatened, we try to assert power over others or over the situation with whatever we’ve got—status, wealth, skin color, pedigree, resources, smarts, muscle, education, or communal clout.

We see this pattern repeat itself across cultures and continents throughout history: from personal relationships based on the dominance of one over the other, to whole societies that support systems of violence to keep one group on top: apartheid, slavery, the Trail of Tears, the Holocaust, the Rwandan genocide, the white supremacy movement, and the list goes on. Jesus knows that personal and social dominance has destructive and deadly consequences for those on the bottom. Our passage from James calls this “disorder and wickedness of every kind.”

The irony of this passage is that the disciples exhibited the very behavior Jesus was speaking against. Jesus embodied the kingdom of God as a place that renounced dominance--where everyone has an equal place at the table.
• the tax collector received forgiveness next to the pharisee;
• the woman is healed beside the man;
• the foreigner is welcomed next to the Jew,
• the poor are empowered beside the wealthy,
• the sick and outcast are embraced beside the governor,
• the lame are loved next to the king.

True greatness, Jesus says, is not to be above others, but to be least of all and servant of all. It is not to ascend the social ladder but rather descend it, taking the lowest place and reaching those society has rejected. It is not to seek the company of the powerful, but to welcome and care for the most vulnerable, such as the child that Jesus embraced and placed before his disciples.

Jesus shows that God’s love and forgiveness is completely disconnected from human values of dominance, power, wealth, status and prestige. That’s why Jesus was killed—because he threatened the dominant social position of the religious leaders who had the corner on the market for dispensing God’s goodies—a merit system of blessings according sacrifices made, offerings given, and laws followed.

Jesus wasn’t killed because God needed a human sacrifice in order to love and forgive us. Jesus was killed because he offered God’s love and forgiveness freely to all, especially to those who didn’t “deserve it.”

Radical grace and a level social and religious playing field threatened those who need to dominate others to feel security and identity. That’s why Jesus says that the only way we can see, understand and embody God’s all-embracing love, God’s radical forgiveness, God’s open table, is if we get off our high horse and serve those we think are beneath us.

But when we are used to privilege, it’s hard to willingly give it up for the well-being of someone else, or just because Jesus asks us to. When Dan and I were first married we lived in Detroit. I had served a church there for one year and when he finished seminary, he moved there to join me and look for his first church. Not many people were interested in urban ministry, so we figured he would get a call pretty quickly.

Also, Dan has pedigree out the proverbial “wazoo.” His first ancestor landed in Massachusetts in 1640—and Nathan Hale, Lucretia Mott, Herman Melville, Gerald Ford and whole catalog of other notables decorate his extensive family tree. To top that off, he’s a 6th generation Presbyterian minister and his ancestors started or served churches in more states than I can list, his grandfather served in the Philippines and China, and his father served in the highest position of the national church, equivalent to our presiding bishop. He’s wickedly smart, has a nearly photographic memory, and is tall, dark and handsome to boot (How have I lived with this guy for 28 years?! ;) ). If anybody deserved a call to a church it was Dan Little. That conversation with the disciples about who’s the greatest? Dan had all of them beat in the dominance-game, hands down!

There was one inner-city church in Detroit that was open, and the Presbytery decided that would be a good place for him to go. They offered him the job, they agreed on salary, he signed the papers, we announced at our wedding that after 4 months of looking Dan finally had a call! We flew off to our honeymoon, so relieved that we were coming back to 2 incomes because we weren’t going to make it on my salary alone.

The problem was, the Presbytery didn’t really ask what that inner-city congregation wanted—they just acted like the dominant church structure they were used to being. As soon as we got home from our honeymoon, the presbytery office called and said, “we made a mistake, you don’t actually have job. The congregation really wants an African American pastor.”

Of course, we agreed that was important in their context; we understood the need for an African American pastor, and we didn’t have trouble with that at all. We did struggle with the fact that the presbytery didn’t have the humility to really talk with the congregation before offering Dan the job. Even more difficult was to confront our own assumptions of privilege—that Dan had a “divine right” to a job—and none was forthcoming.

He had to earn some money, so he tried to become a waiter at a very fancy restaurant, but because he had no serving experience, they made him a bus boy. His pedigree, and 4-year master’s degree didn’t matter. Both the customers and the waiters treated him like dirt, and he cringed as the waiter’s mis-pronounced the French wines, resisting the urge to correct them.

Eventually Dan became an interim pastor and became ordained, but losing that job and bussing tables was a crucial learning experience for both of us. “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all." This was not an experience of service that Dan chose, but it has helped both of us choose service rather than domination and self-interest at other times in our life. Through this, Dan gained a necessary experience of humility, of being on a bottom rung, a willingness to learn, an awareness of his privilege, and the ability to choose against it and against his self-interest, for the sake of others.

All of this was crucial for him to serve his next call, an African American congregation on the southwest side of Kansas City, Missouri. Dan entered that setting as a student of the culture and the neighborhood, rather than marching in as the white ministry expert.

Jesus invites us with the disciples, to choose service, humility, equality, and radical grace for everyone—especially those on the margins, whom society has rejected, who live on the bottom rung, who make us uncomfortable or who seem beneath us. Following Jesus faithfully is extending his generous welcome to everyone we meet whether it’s the homeless person on the corner, a neighbor wearing a hijab, someone in the LGBTQ community, or an immigrant who speaks another language.

We can acknowledge and deal with our insecurities and fear, but not allow them to feed dominance-behavior. Rather, as followers of Jesus, God calls us to set aside whatever privilege we have —look others in the eye, and as with our children this morning, be willing to learn, humble enough to listen, interested enough to engage, and fearless enough to love. Then we are “full of mercy and good fruits,” as James says, “without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”

When we as the church lead our society in these kinds of behaviors in our daily lives and in our public witness, then those who operate on dominance fueled by fear and insecurity, lose their power to frighten and divide our communities. Then we can proclaim that Jesus’ loving embrace is radical enough to include even them!

That’s the Gospel that’s easy to miss when Jesus invites everyone to the table—the wealthy and the dominant aren’t replaced by the poor and outcast, they are brought together! We are brought together as a community, whose behavior is changed by a love that none of us deserve, putting us on a level playing field where even death itself has no power!

What does St. Luke’s—old and new members alike—say to that? “Hell, yes! and Amen.”

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Youth Sermons after Experiencing the National Youth Gathering!

2018 GatheringLogo colorThe ELCA National Youth Gathering happens every three years, and I was blessed to arrive at St. Luke's in Richardson, Texas in time to join another adult leader and three young women in Houston, Texas June 27-July 1. What follows are the three short talks given by each youth at the worship service sharing their experience! The theme of the Gathering was, "This Changes Everything" based on Ephesians 2:8: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.

Caroline: My favorite part of the Youth Gathering was all of the speakers we got to hear. I loved hearing their stories and the struggles they had, and how they got through them. It was inspiring and I left with a new perspective on my faith. Two of my favorite speakers were stolen by the other two youth, but hey, maybe it was a sign from God that I should do my speech on someone else.

So, the speaker I chose was Will Starkweather, who struggled with anxiety and depression, and turned to self-harm to help him cope. It was something he could control in an uncontrollable world. He did this for a while, and finally one day decided to talk to his pastor. He went to him with this fear, and this anger, and this hurt, and this shame that was inside him, and his pastor responded with 4 words. “You’re going to hell.” This broke him.

Will stopped going to church, dropped out of school, fell into a deep depression, and continued to cut. The next two years he tried to get his life in order. He went back to school, found a new church, and was playing guitar in their praise band. He wanted to join the church, but was felt that he was too broken.

Eventually, Will got up enough courage to sit down sit down with their pastor, and for the second time told his story. She also responded with 4 words, but this time those words were, “There’s grace for that.” Those words changed his life, he began to share his story and help others. Will is now a Lutheran pastor!

Whatever we go through, whatever we deal with, whatever mistakes we make, “there’s grace for that!” And that’s something we all need to be reminded of—no matter what, God offers us grace and love.

Ashley: My favorite part of the youth gathering was meeting new friends and seeing old friends. My favorite speaker was a transgender girl who was only a 11 years old. Her name is Rebekah Bruesehoff and she came to the Gathering stage with her Mom, Jamie. Rebekah was born a boy physically, but from a very young age, she knew that she was a girl inside. Her family and school worked with her to make the change physically and emotionally into being the girl she knew herself to be.

I found this to be inspiring because I have a friend who is going through a similar transition. Rebekah helped me to understand it and gave me hope for my friend.

Rebekah and her mom are committed to sharing their family’s story to bring hope and support for transgender kids worldwide. I was amazed at 11 years old that she spoke to us—a stadium full of 30,000 people! But she has already been on TV, spoken to politicians, and has been a positive role model since she was 8 years old.

As Rebekah said to us, "we don't have to wait until we’re all grown up to make an impact, we can be hope for the church and for all people. They need us."

Virginia: My favorite part of the Youth Gathering was listening to all the speakers. They gave me deeper faith in God, and more hope for our church. The speaker who affected me most was Maria Rose Belding. She said that there was more than enough food in the world, but in the US, we throw away 40% of it. The US is not suffering from drought or crop and economic failure, yet 1 in 8 people still need to rely on food pantries for enough to eat while so much is wasted.

Maria quoted 2 Corinthians, where God says, “my grace is sufficient for you, for power is made great in weakness.” At age 14, she started a non-profit called MEANS, which matches retailers who have extra food with food pantries who can distribute it. They have moved 1.8 million pounds of food in their first 3 years!

I found this very powerful because of what she said next. She said she believed she was "shattered beyond all repair." She is diabetic, has major depressive disorder, 8 diagnoses and 9 prescription medications. And the worst part was, in her last two years of high school she was raped by her mentor for thinking she might be queer. When she went to her congregation, she was told she was dirty and unclean, that no one would want to marry her because she wasn’t “pure.”

She then went on to say that, “we are not what has been done to us, but what our Savior has done for us.” There is more than enough hope in the world for us! We are not dirty, used or broken, but we are loved enough by God!"

This was the most powerful story to me. I consider it a beacon of hope for anyone who thinks of themselves broken beyond repair. Through God’s love, we can make a big impact for others like Maria is doing.

Powerful experiences! Our next Youth Gathering is June 29-July 3, 2021 in Minneapolis--we hope you will start planning now to be there, as a youth, an adult chaperone, or volunteer!

 

 

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The Lord's Supper: We Are What We Eat

We Are What We Eat in the Lords SupperA sermon preached on August 19, 2018 for the 13th Sunday after Pentecost on John 6:51-58 and Proverbs 9:1-6 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church, Richardson, Texas

I like to call this passage from the Gospel of John, “Jesus’s Vampire Diaries.” In the first 52 verses of chapter six—all Jesus talks about is bread—he feeds 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish, he calls himself the “bread of the life” and then, “I am the living bread” and after that, “the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” We have been hearing about it for four Sundays and there’s one more to go—thank goodness the youth are sharing their experiences at the Youth Gathering next week instead!

In today’s text, Jesus goes from talking about eating his flesh as the bread of life, to drinking his blood—Vampire Diaries. He tells us to “drink his blood” for eternal life. I always find this passage a bit distasteful—sure it’s a metaphor as St. Augustine, St. Aquinas and Martin Luther all believed, but why does Jesus have to be graphic?

We can understand why they were so many who argued with him and balked at Jesus. It’s such a scandalous image for Jews since drinking any blood, let alone human blood, was forbidden by the law in Leviticus 3 and 17, and Deuteronomy 12. Also, as a metaphor, drinking blood was not an image used for receiving divine revelation.

Furthermore, Jesus ups the ante in the way he talks about “eating his flesh.” In the earlier verses in chapter 6, Jesus uses a metaphorical word for “eat,” as in “I’m hungry enough to eat a horse.” But in this passage, Jesus uses a different word for eat, which means to eat physically, not metaphorically. And it’s noisy eating at that, almost like an animal—“to chomp” or “munch.”

Great. So now while we drink his blood, we’re invited to gnaw on his flesh. This was so offensive and hard to understand, that at the end of this chapter, in verse 66, many of Jesus’ disciples (outside of the 12) left and stopped following him.

So, why the offensive and graphic imagery, and why does John include it in his Gospel? Verses 55 and 56 give us insight into what Jesus is really after: “my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”

No one can deny that eating and drinking is necessary for physical life, and Jesus uses this fact of life to graphically show the depth of his abiding presence in us. Leviticus and Deuteronomy affirm that “the life of every creature is its blood” (Lev 17:14, Deut. 12:23). One scholar unlocked this passage for me with this insight, “In the physical realm one of the most powerful examples of shared life is eating and drinking—the laying down of life by a plant or animal, and the inter-penetration of life as molecules are transferred, thereby nourishing life” (InterVarsity Press Commentary).

First, a plant or an animal lays down its life in order for us to eat and survive. We don’t this about his very often, but sacrifice is the basis of the kosher food laws in the Jewish tradition. After eating meat, one must wait six hours before eating dairy. In St. Louis, we lived in an Orthodox Jewish neighborhood for five years, and my neighbor across the street, Ellen, explained to me that keeping Kosher means you can’t eat anything without thinking about it—without acknowledging that a sacrifice has been made for us to eat, drink and live.

This adds meaning to our table prayers, does it not? We pause before we eat, not only to give thanks to God for food and sustenance, but to acknowledge that another part of God’s creation—plant or animal or both—had to sacrifice its life, for our life.

It’s no wonder that Jesus uses the imagery of eating and drinking to call us into an intimate relationship with him! We have the benefit of hindsight, hearing these words after his death and resurrection. In John, Jesus describes that his impending death will become the sacrificial food and drink which gives us life, here and now, and for eternal life! His victory over death restores our relationship with God and will raise us up to new life on the last day.

Secondly, when we eat and drink, our body is changed—"molecules are transferred, thereby nourishing life”—what we eat becomes part of us. Jesus sacrificed his life for us and wants that sacrificial love to transform our own physical reality, and how we experience daily life! Talk about, “we are what we eat!”

“My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” These words provide John’s version of the Lord’s Supper. An activity that’s necessary for life—eating—is transformed into a meal that nourishes not just the body, but our soul, with a love that lasts for eternity.

Salvation encompasses all of life—physical and spiritual—so through Communion, we take Christ and his sacrificial, life-giving love, into our innermost being and let it change who we are today. We become what we eat, abiding in Christ as he abides in us. “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life,” says Jesus. He wants us to see that this eternal life begins now, with our mutual indwelling.

In Proverbs, Wisdom invites us to this same table that foreshadows Christ. Wisdom beckons us to feast on the Word of God, allowing it to change us in our inmost being: “Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.” Wisdom calls us to abide in God, to eat the bread and the drink the wine of God’s presence and understanding. With his graphic teaching, Jesus echoes this voice of Wisdom, calling us away from immaturity, discomfort (and vampire jokes), into insight and faith.

So, what does this kind of life look like? What does it mean today to feast on the wisdom of God, to abide in Jesus and he in us, to receive Christ’s sacrifice in our innermost being and let him change us so that we become what we eat and taste eternity? While some saints and mystics of the church prayed for a constant, conscious awareness of God, it’s perhaps better for us to reflect on moments of abiding in God.

When I was in seminary, I met a Melody, who was a couple of years ahead of me, and she shared an experience of Jesus’s sacrificial presence for her. Sitting with a group of female students, she shared her experience of being raped. When her assailant left, she was left lying on her back, under bushes, covered in dirt and shame and pain. And while she laid there, she thought, “Jesus knows what this feels like.” It was one moment, almost a fleeting thought, but she hung onto it, “Jesus knows what this feels like.”

Melody allowed the flesh and blood Jesus into her innermost being; abiding in him and he in her. Jesus’ sacrifice gave her body and soul life in that moment, reassuring her that she was not alone, that Jesus would walk with her in her pain, and that her life was not over. It was a moment of abiding in Christ, “Jesus knows what this feels like,”—a transfer of molecules that enabled her to get up and get help. Melody became what she ate—Jesus’ love and life for her no matter what—and it changed her experience of this tragedy and helped her to heal.

When was a moment for you that Jesus’ presence was experienced, when you were changed inside by love, and able to move forward? It could be a moment of unexpected peace amid turmoil, or a time when you felt really loved, or when you suddenly knew the right thing to do during a time of confusion, or a moment when you were in pain, but didn’t feel alone—moments of eternal life here and now.

“Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” My husband likes to tell a joke whenever he eats eggs and bacon. “In an eggs-and-bacon breakfast, what’s the difference between the chicken and the pig? The chicken is involved, but the pig committed.”

Jesus Christ, our Savior who came to us in flesh and blood is committed—committed to sacrificial love and eternal life for us at all costs. Living in this kind of spiritual relationship with the indwelling Christ, is physical, it’s communal, it’s participatory, it’s experiential—it must be all of these things, or we couldn’t become what we eat—Jesus Christ’s body in the world.

For God’s presence in, with, and around us to be real and abiding, God gives us all our senses to make his love tangible—to eat and drink, to taste and see, to touch and feel, to hear and smell, to share and love—not alone, but together as God’s people who embody this committed Christ to one another.

That’s why, two weeks ago, we smelled baking bread as we heard about Jesus as the bread of life. Last week we looked at visual images of a quilt and prayer shawls to see what Jesus as living bread can look like during a crisis.

This morning, Jesus invites us to have true food and drink, to eat his flesh and drink his blood so that he will abide in us and we in him. Instead of serving one kind of bread, Tim and I will have large trays with all kinds of bread—seed bread and cranberry bread, muffins and donuts, whole grain and pita, even vegan and gluten-free breads!

As the body of Christ’s sacrifice is offered to you, pick a bread that tastes like soul-food and salvation, love and wisdom, life and nourishment. Pick a bread that helps you taste and see that the Lord is good. Come forward and ask Jesus to enter your innermost being, abide in him as he abides in you.

And then watch, watch for that holy “transfer of molecules” this week, giving you a new experience or insight, into Jesus’ presence and love for you. Come to the table of Christ, where you will become what you eat, embodying Christ for the world.

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Living Bread in the Pit of Despair

blogpic BreastCancerQuiltA sermon preached on August 12, 2018 for the 12th Sunday of Pentecost on John 6:35, 41-51, 1 Kings 19:4-8, and Ephesians 4:25-5:2 at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Richardson, Texas

Have you ever felt like you were in the pit of despair? Like things couldn’t get any worse? Like the light at the end of the tunnel is really a train heading right for you?

Elijah, in our first reading is in the wilderness, sitting in this pit of despair. He had been faithful to God when Israel was worshipping pagan gods. King Ahab was persuaded by his wife, Jezebel to abandon the worship of Yahweh and turn to her god, Baal, and her campaign was succeeding. They had destroyed the altar of the Lord and all the other prophets in Israel were in hiding, so Elijah was all alone.

He organized a great showdown of which God, Baal or Yahweh, would send fire onto their sacrifices. Yahweh won, of course, sending fire that consumed an entire bull, all the wood it rested on, and the 12 jars of water Elijah poured over it to make it especially dramatic. There was no doubt who was the true God, almighty God! But Jezebel became so angry that she threatened to kill Elijah, sending him into hiding in the wilderness, where we find him under a solitary broom tree. He was alone and depressed and ready to die. Was there no reward for remaining faithful to God? Elijah was running for his life with no one to help him. He was in the pit of despair, believing that life couldn’t get any worse; the only light he could see at the end of the tunnel was the train of Jezebel heading in to kill him. Elijah felt like a failure—he had given up, losing faith that God was really watching out for him.

That’s the problem with the pit of despair—we can be so lost and so despondent that we blame ourselves for being a failure while believing that God has abandoned us. We may have tried to do everything right—go to church, say our prayers, behave the way our Ephesians passage describes, being kind and tender-hearted, and forgiving. But then something happens out of our control—like a job lay-off, a major illness, the loss of a friend, the death of a family member—and it feels like God is a Jezebel who’s out to get us. It feels like our faith is slipping away.

This was my experience when I was diagnosed with that Jezebel, breast cancer. It’s one thing to say I am a survivor—and believe me, I am so grateful! But it’s harder to admit that while I was in treatment it felt like I was losing my faith.

I have shared that I am a “type A” personality and it seemed my cancer had the same characteristics—it was an overachiever in every way:

• I had a 3 cm tumor that didn’t show up on any mammogram and a rare, second kind of cancer ;it had spread to the lymph nodes, and all of it was invasive;
• I had a double mastectomy within 2 1/2 weeks of being diagnosed;
• I needed more chemo treatments that most other women I met in treatment;
• Eleven days after surgery, I was hospitalized with blood clots in my lungs and a rash all over my body;
• After 6 weeks of radiation I ended up with a severe frozen shoulder that required another surgery.

The most difficult time for me came after my 2nd chemotherapy treatment in January 2008. I had only been at my new call at St. Mark’s in St. Louis for a year. The doctor said that some people receive a chemo treatment on Friday and are back to work on Monday. Well, I don’t know who these bionic people are, but I was not one of them. I was plastered to the bed and had to go on disability for nearly 9 months during treatment. My kids were still young—in 3rd, 5th, and 7th grades, and I couldn’t take care of them.

In the throes of chemo, it was hard to experience my own faith; to feel the presence of God in the hundreds of hours I spent alone in bed. I experienced a dark night of the soul like nothing I have ever known. I realized how easy it is to be positive, to believe, to have hope when you feel good. But when you don’t have the energy to hold the phone to your ear while you're lying down, well that’s another story. I thought surely if the cancer didn’t kill me, the chemo would. I understood in a way I never have before, Elijah’s despondency under the broom tree, as well as Job’s experience, and the Psalms of lament. During that dark night of the soul, I wrote my own psalm of lament. Part of it reads,

Don’t you care, God? Does it mean nothing to you that I have served you, given blood, sweat and tears for your church, for your children? Can you ease the pain, the discomfort, the difficulty just a little bit for me? Can you not see the blood-thinning, weak, aching, lost misery of your servant? The psalmist cries, ‘in Sheol who can give you praise?’ (Psalm 6:5b.) Indeed, in chemo hell, who can give you praise? Not me. For here, you are silent; as quiet as the pillow to which my hairless head is stuck in numbing immobility.

If this was the only thing going on in our life, it might have felt manageable. But our life was a catalog of calamity. In the previous 6 months, Dan’s uncle died, my favorite aunt died, and worst of all, Dan’s mom died of Alzheimer’s only 7 weeks before I was diagnosed. In the middle of my treatment, my father-in-law was diagnosed with stage 4 brain cancer. A week after his diagnosis, we received a $10,000 tax bill due a mistake our accountant made, and that was on top of the $10,000 in medical expenses we paid out of pocket with good insurance!

I was so depleted and overwhelmed, I was afraid I was losing my faith. I found it hard to pray, I couldn't feel God with me like I have at so many other times in my life. Why do I share this with you in such detail? Because if you are in the pit of despair, have ever been in the pit of despair, or might some day find yourself in the pit of despair, I want you to know that I know, so you won’t be too afraid or ashamed to talk with me.

When Elijah gave up on life and on God, an angel came and ministered to him, providing him warm cake and water. Elijah’s provision in the wilderness echoes the manna God provided to the Israelites in the wilderness and foreshadowed Jesus Christ. In our Gospel reading Jesus says, “I am the bread of life…This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread.”

Elijah and Jesus show us that when we are in the pit of despair, God comes to us as living bread! Two servings and Elijah is energized for 40 days! In my pit of despair, Jesus came to me as living bread through the kindness, generosity, tender-heartedness of others—like angels bringing warm cake and water. I couldn’t pray, but I knew other people were, so I relied on their prayers, and eventually mine came back. I couldn’t feel the presence of God, but I could see Jesus in all the people who helped us. Some days it was hard to believe that I would ever feel well again, but others believed it for me, and that was enough to see me through. In fact, God showed up a lot—more than I can recount. God showed up in angels of flesh and blood and love that I could hang onto.

My parents made multiple trips to St. Louis from Texas to care for us, offering living bread. Two friends, who are both pastors and my two sisters took precious vacation time to help us, giving us living bread. Other friends brought lunch and scripture and prayers on numerous occasions—all of them, angels with warm cakes and fresh water. My Bishop came to visit me. I confessed to him I was afraid I had a weak faith, but he wasn’t concerned about that. It was a better day, and in his suit and dress shoes, he walked along the creek in the backyard with me—a gift of living bread. My husband, Dan wrote on a Caringbridge website to keep everyone updated and each night he read everyone’s prayers and words of encouragement—like angels flying in from around the country offering living bread. I received enough greeting cards to wallpaper two bathrooms—more living bread. Both of our congregations, our neighbors, and friends brought us meals—living bread for my family. Parents from our kids’ soccer, basketball, and baseball teams picked them up and dropped them off—living bread. My brother, Doug, sent me a Mother’s Day card—inside was a check for $7,000. I didn’t feel I could accept it, but he said, “I can’t take chemo for you, I can’t do radiation for you, but I can do this, so please let me.” Living bread. Dan—who was in pain himself over his mom's death, his dad's illness, and his fear of losing me—held our family together with the help of all these gifts of living bread. St. Mark’s made a quilt for me with each family making a square, and they wrapped me in love. Other’s made prayer shawls—angels offering comfort and hope.

Elijah’s problem was not that he was alone, but that he THOUGHT he was alone. Once he ate the angelic cakes, God sent him to appoint a new king as well as Elisha who became his disciple. We can have too individualistic an understanding of our faith experience. Together, we mediate, embody, and make known Jesus, the living bread come down from heaven, for each other. We have faith because we are in community—the community believes with us and even for us when we’re in the pit because we are Christ’s living bread together. It turns out that during treatment, I had the strongest faith I’ve ever had, because it was faith not of my own narrow experience, but the Living Bread of Jesus in the faith of others who carried me.

Some of us are in a time of despair—and need to receive the gifts of love and support from others to get through a current crisis. If that’s you, please be honest about your pain, and willing to receive help from the angels around you who can be the living bread of Jesus for you. Let me know what would help you so we can be faith for you. Others of us are in a season of giving, able to be the living bread Jesus uses to bring food, love, hope and comfort to those who are in the pit. If that’s you, please notice and ask what would help those in a crisis.

Because Jesus is the living bread who came down from heaven for our sake, the Jezebels of this world had no power over Elijah, and they have no power over us. The light at the end of the tunnel is always Christ, offering what we need, and using us to feed others the bread of life. Together our Psalms of lament turn into Psalms of joy, like Psalm 34, our opening Psalm of praise, “I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears. This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord, and was saved from every trouble. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him and delivers. O taste and see that the Lord is good!”

Look around you, St. Luke’s, taste and see the living bread of Jesus Christ!

 

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linda anderson little
Linda Anderson-Little

Quotation of the Week

The church does not have a mission in the world, God's mission has a church in the world.

 

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