10-06-13 Who Cares?
“See How They Love One Another” –Tertullian
Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4, 2 Timothy 1:1-7, Luke 17:5-10,
1 Corinthians 9: 1-7, 12, 19-23 In chapter 9 of his letter to the Corinthians, Paul articulate his struggle with who owes him what and vice versa, resolving the conflict with the purpose this freedom in Christ serves. We read the beginning and struggle and the concluding “a-hah.”
World Communion Sunday began in the 1930s when Hugh Thomson Kerr persuaded other Presbyterians to “designate one Sunday as a day that American Christians would join brothers and sisters around the world at the Lord’s Table. It was a way of demonstrating the mutual care of Christians everywhere, of tasting the kingdom, if only for an hour.
It was only as Christians practiced this annual ecumenical sacrament that we become aware of complicated “one table” turns out to be.
What guests are really welcome?
Who serves? Are we called to be masters or mustard seeds?
What food must be served, or may be served?
Can rice be the body of Christ?
That was one rousing debate when I was in seminary. One common response was "Who cares" about such minutia?
Another response was "who cares" - for the people hungry to receive God’s grace where western bread is unknown? Who cares, for a gluten intolerant youngste turned away from First Communion in Boston that year?
What do we require in our representations of the body of Christ?
Does the loaf we share look, small, taste just like the one Jesus broke in the upper room?
Do the words we speak sound just like the ones coming from the mouth of Jesus, who spoke Aramaic? If Jesus walked in today just as he walked out in the middle of the first century of the Common Era, would we insist he perfect his English accent before we tried to understand him? (Remember that when Bishop Devadhar comes to visit in a few weeks!)
The early Christians were known for this, “See How They Love One Another!”
But its so complicated trying to actually sit at one table isn’t it?
In the long years of practice before the final feast we discover how hard it is to remember who the host is. And whether the host is a gatekeeper or grace maker.
Do you know where the gatekeeper image originated?
At night, as Shepherds brought the sheep into the fold (often a cave in the hills), they made a gate with their legs for the sheep to pass through. A good shepherd would hold the sheep between his knees for as long as it took to make sure the sheep was well and unharmed. They intimately examined each sheep as it passed. The gatekeeper is the grace maker.
But what is the body of our Good shepherd and how do we receive it?
Is it communion if the celebrant is in one city and the people are in a dozen others, in the common space of the Internet or the cloud?
Can virutal space be sacred space?
What makes space sacred? What makes the Body of Christ?
One summer while serving a tiny Scottish “kirk,” John Buchanan, now editor of the Christian Century, remembers hearing this story from a pastor in the next village.
He was an infantryman in the British army in WWII and ended up in a prisoner of war camp in Poland. The conditions were dreadful. There was no heat and prisoners were given a single bowl of thin soup, and a small crust of bread daily. Men were starving, sick, filthy, and desperate. Suicide was a very real option. All one had to do was run toward the perimeter of the camp and leap against the barbed wire fence. Guards would immediately shoot and kill anyone trying to escape.
In the middle of the night he walked to the perimeter and sat down beside the fence to think about going through with it. He heard a movement in the darkness fro the other side of the fence. It was a Polish farmer. The man thrust his hand through the barbed wire and handed my friend half of a potato. In heavily accented English he said, “The Body of Christ.” (CC 10-2-13 page 3).
Who cares for the broken in body, mind and Spirit?
How do we re-member, put back together the body of Christ that is broken?
In the summer of 2010 I was in New Mexico on renewal leave. One of many highlights was a weeklong theology seminar on Water and Baptismal Theology hosted by Larry Rasmussen of Union Theological Seminary.
That Tuesday we received an invitation to the Okhay Owingeh Pueblo’s Feast Day. About 30 of us loaded into ramshackle vans to time arrive before dawn. We joined members of the pueblo in an immaculate old Roman Catholic Church, the thrid built since that village had briefly been the first cpaital of New Mexico. When one more woman was needed to halp carry statues of saints to the river for blessing, one of us was hospitably recruited. There were more of "us" than "them."
Men with drums and guitars led the small procession through cottonwoods, about a mile from the village to a river as the sun peeked up.
The Pueblos's Governor was waiting on the bridge to exchange appreciations with the young new priest. It was quite clear that the priest was the welcomed guest. The Governor was the voice of the pueblo permiting the church to live in it. The ceremony was simple and lovely, lowering the statues down to be blessed by the river water that fed the people and the corps of the pueblo.
We walked back to the church to wait for mass, surrounded by symbols of faith painted, carved, stitched and woven over centuries. The choir director, a retired nun with a huge smile, made sure that we visitors were oriented and welcomed before the service.
The Gospel was read for this feast day in Tewa, Spanish, & English. A small choir of very elderly women led singing in the same languages.
The preacher, Deacon John Bird, invited all present (now 250-300 people) to his house for lunch, and meant it, confident that his wife could handle the crowd! (Who cares for the travelor?)
There’d been some murmur among visitors before the mass. The former priest was known for giving annual abrupt and emphatic instructions about who might receive the host. “Do we or don’t we” wondered we protestants. But the new priest, gently gave the historical welcome to members of the Roman Catholic Faith, in a way that suggested the sheep would not be divided at the altar (though afterward he thanked the few of us who did not go forward for honoring their tradition). Whether we did or we didn't, grace was offered.
What I remember most from that day happened after the mass just as we were all poised to follow our nose to John Bird’s house for lunch and our ears to the drums preparing for buffalo dances.
The priest stepped forward and, with a face animated by solemn joy, told us what we’d just been part of.
This background I learned later gives his words even more meaning:
When the first Europeans came in 1541, they made this pueblo the capital of New Mexico for a time.
In the decades that followed, the people of Ohkay Owingeh, like other Pueblo Indians in New Mexico, suffered under an oppressive Spanish rule in which they were conscripted into forced labor, required to pay demanding taxes in goods, and their religious activities were suppressed. By the 1670s there was a great deal of discontent amongst the Pueblo peoples which came to a head in 1675 when 47 Pueblo religious leaders were jailed in Santa Fe and were subjected to whipping for practicing their religion, viewed by the Spaniards as idolatry. Four of the men were hanged [leading to the first rebellion of Native Peoples in the region.]
In the eighteenth century the Spanish authorities, realized that the 1680 rebellion had been caused in great part by their harsh treatment of the Indians, and after the Re-conquest they adopted a much more lenient attitude. By 1820 the pueblo people were given citizenship and the right of local governance. (www.newmexicohistory.org)
Now, in June 2010, for the first time in 400 years of Roman Catholic worship, the gospel had been read in their native language, Tewa. And for the first time the word had been preached by a member of the Pueblo, John Bird, celebrating his first anniversary as a deacon, with his grandson, John Bird, serving at the altar.
What a holy moment!
And we really were welcome, all of us, at his and every neighbor’s house for lunch, a ritual of deep hospitality that was as much a part of the festival as the mass, the dancing, and the market.
It’s taken a while for we human beings to confess that we are all one species, This is a fairly recent development in human history. When the Israelites spoke of “Goy,” (in hebrew) or “Ethnos,” (in greek), Words we usually read or hear “Gentiles,” it meant literally, “those who are not us.”
Not that long ago in our own history, Teddy Roosevelt’s Asian policies were based on a color code offered as scientific knowledge at the time, the whiter the skin, the more human the race. In fact the very notion of race developed as a rationalization for nineteenth century slavery.
It’s taken a while for we human beings to confess that we are all one species,
It may take a while longer to recognize that we are one flock.
Our sight and hearing get caught on the perimeter of our own life, our own tribe, and we draw a line around the ones we think we can take care of, around those we count on to take care of us. That's enough.
The apostles demanded that Jesus increase their faith in their little circle. Do it, Lord, do it! And Jesus jabs back, claim just the little faith you have and you will know that it’s not about you having more, its about you sharing more, serving more. Think mustard seed instead of master!
We are born to serve God no matter how hard we try to flip that boat over in the water. God doesn’t care about you because you are great. God cares about you because God is God and you are God’s creature.
Paul struggled with this in his relationship with the Corinthians. Something’s poking at him like a sharp stick. Who owes me what and what debts do I owe? Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. Your faith, he reminds the Corinthians is the fruit of my labor. I own you! You owe me! Who will care for me?
It’s more than an ego trip; it’s a matter of how he’ll sustain a living (one reason he remained unmarried). By his work Paul has earned the right to physical support.
Paul finally resolves the conflict by declaring that freedom in Christ is freedom, not obligation, to serve the others God places in our lives. And just as he is free in Christ, those he has led to Christ are free. So he remains a tentmaker to put food in his mouth and clothes on his back rather than risk owing anything to the church. The collection he takes goes to Jerusalem to feed the poor. He is born to serve God, not to be served.
Freedom: The gospel is not that there is still more to come in the future. It’s not about going to heaven when we die, or about being forgiven now and awaiting freedom later. It’s not about experiencing the sacred in the midst of the secular. Neither is it a new teaching or a new moral code. It is the promised ‘power of God for salvation’ (Romans 1:16)–a power that frees us from all that opposed God and God’s will and all that alienates us from ourselves and each other. This power frees us to live according to God’s original plan, where selfless sharing, justice, mutuality, respect, trust, forgiveness and joyful community become realized. Charles Moore
The Okhay Owingeh Pueblo’s hospitality extended to letting us watch the buffalo dances throughout the hot day. Not meant for entertainment, but a moving, physical expression of prayer, the buffalo dance involves every member of the community, from tiny toddlers stamping feet to practiced leaders. All were viscerally involved in a communal prayer of movement, with meaning known only to the members, but blessing shared with guests. This is worship at its best, catching participants up completely in an offering of praise, a rehearsal of identity, a community re-creation, a respectful interaction with guests of other traditions without losing an iota of the integrity of their own.
If this faith community let the Holy Spirit carry us, where would the dream beat lead?
Who cares? God cares.
O LORD, we watch those who suffer cry for help, and are hard pressed to see your answer some days. Are you listening?
We do not understand why you do not step in and stop the violence.
We see a young mother confused to the point of danger gunned down in our capital and mourn for her life, her infant, and for police officers who had no wish to harm her.
We hear of hundreds found bobbing the waters off Italy in a desperate journey gone wrong.
We check the local police log in case heated arguments or drug busts have come closer to our own homes.
It is hard to see what you want us to see, Lord. It is hard to keep our eyes open. We would rather dreams the dreams of sweet, false, innocence.
But you promise to come to those who watch and wait.
And so we will keep watch to see what you will say to us.
When the headlines scream we will hear the needs of men and women and children.
We will look and listen for the vision your heart desires in this time, in this place.
We will look and listen until it becomes as clear to us as our neighbor’s face, no matter where they come from or what language they speak.
Make us mustard seeds, soften our shells as
we become so rooted in prayer that, as our Bishop urges us,
we draw the strength and power to do greater things in ministry and mission
for the Glory of God as disciples of Jesus Christ
filled with the power of the Holy Spirit.
Even if it means letting go of things that are sacred to us…
Including our fears.
Karen L Munson
United Methodist Pastor & Liturgical Artist