Mark 13: 1-18
The Rev. Peter Faass
You can tell we are approaching the season of Advent by the apocalyptic stories in Daniel and Mark. Daniel was written during the brutal persecution of the Jewish people by the Seleucid emperor Antiochus Epiphanies during the second century BCE. In this passage, the Archangel Michael tells the people, “There shall be a time of anguish, such as has never occurred since nations first came into existence.”
In Mark, the writer reflects on the Jewish revolt against Rome in the seventh decade, CE. Jesus says, “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines.”
Well, I say, let the good times roll!
As we enter the holiday season and want to sing about Glad Tidings of Great Joy, the mid-November scriptures talk about famine, war, earthquakes, and a time of unprecedented anguish. Between Syria, California, Indonesia, global warming, and our nation’s political dysfunction, Daniel and Mark have pretty much described our own time. Maybe we are in an apocalyptic era.
Perspective, though, is important when we consider that possibility. Every age has experienced events that were thought to be the end-of-time apocalypse. Christian millenarianism – the belief that the tumultuous, chaotic end, preceding Christ’s second coming, would occur at a century or thousand-year mark, has frequently come in and out of vogue. Yet despite how awful world events have been, we’re still here.
Remember Y2K on New Year’s Eve in 1999? Y2K (“Year 2000 Bug”) was the belief that computer technology could not handle the switch into a new millennium. Experts feared that all computer systems would crash, sending the world into chaos. That wasn’t a potential theological apocalypse, although the way computers have become gods to us, we might have thought so. We were terrified of the potential havoc Y2K would bring to our world. And we’re still here.
Currently, we have a right to be worried, even fearful. Many feel a sense of despair and hopeless. Things are not good.
A few of our Wednesday morning Bible Study participants felt that the way the Gospel ends by saying, “This is but the beginning of the birthpangs” exacerbated those feelings. The phrase seems to indicate eternal labor with no resolve in a baby’s birth. I have never delivered a baby, but I suspect women who have will attest that the prospect of eternal birth pangs is a pretty awful thing to contemplate.
When this passage is compared to other sayings of Jesus, as well as other Christian Testament texts, this is not what the passage intends. It is not a hopeless ending.
Mark’s text reflects the social upheaval and civil strife that engulfed Judea during the Jewish revolt against Rome. That included that insurrection’s eventual defeat and the subsequent diaspora of the Jewish population. It also included the total destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, whose grandeur the disciples fawned over a few verses earlier.
In response to their awe of the Temple, Jesus says: “Do you see these great buildings? Not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.” No matter how grand, secure and indestructible buildings or institutions may appear, they can all be overthrown, they all can come tumbling down.
This is not necessarily a bad thing. Buildings and institutions often outlive their usefulness, at least in their current iteration. How many of us thought that the venerable American institution Sears would ever go bankrupt?
Sometimes institutions become corrupt, even evil, serving their self-interests over people. They need to go. This was the case with the Temple. Jesus repeatedly condemned the self-serving religious institutionalists who manipulated religious laws to their own benefit, but to the detriment of the people they served. The Temple and the religious leaders became corrupt. Jesus knew the Temple will fall as a result, and he told the disciples this. I’m sure they were astonished. How could the massive and influential Temple complex ever come down?
Yet, systems that become evil must be torn town. This even includes our religious, government and business institutions.
While the Temple’s destruction was seen as an apocalyptic disaster that made the Jewish people feel hopeless, it released the Jews. It especially released those of the lower castes from the abusive system that corrupted the Temple. It was an evil system that needed to come down. Looking back on history, we see that this is often true.
In John Meacham’s “The Soul of America: The Battle for Our Better Angels,” does this brilliantly. He examines the various apocalyptic times in American history, like the Civil War. For many that war was a time of hopelessness. Yet, Meacham shows how the tearing down of corrupt, immoral systems, ideas and institutions – like slavery – created new opportunities for a better way of life. Doing so always resulted in a more hopeful and salvific future.
With the Civil War, America moved from slavery to emancipation, because growing numbers of American people realized how evil slavery was. They made a choice in the face of an apocalyptic time to do something about it. While full equality and civil rights were not achieved in that moment, it was a significant move forward in resolving injustice.
Meacham quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: “The course of history is directed by the choices we make and our choices grow out of the ideas, the beliefs, the values, the dreams of the people.”
Christians can chose the values and beliefs of Jesus, or the values of empire. We can choose between hope or hopelessness.
In the moment, apocalyptic events seem as if they will be endless. Yet, it is critical to remember that the Bible tells us God is redemptive, even when it does not appear so in the moment or this life. We dimly see through a mirror. Hope in the midst of despair can be hard to see. Yet, it’s there. We must hold fast to it and make choices.
In Daniel, despite the Archangel Michael’s prophesy that there would be anguish like has never been experienced, he also says that in time, “your people shall be delivered.” That’s God’s message of redemption in a time of hopelessness.
That redemption is a tenant of our faith, which will get us through the worst of any apocalyptic time. That knowledge may not completely mollify the pain or fear, but it invites a wider, more divine understanding of that pain and fear in our lives and world. That’s what we profess happened in the crucifixion.
In the crucifixion, the pain was unbearable.To the witnesses who observed it, it all seemed utterly hopeless for Jesus and his disciples. It was a moment of intense apocalyptic disaster.
But then Resurrection happened. Hope rose from the ashes of destruction. Death itself – that most fearsome and hopeless of all apocalypses – was trampled down. A new, better way of life came into being. Both the Daniel and Mark passages invite us to hold fast to the redemptive promises of God in the midst of our own apocalyptic trials at the micro and macro levels.
We are called to be faithful and trusting disciples during apocalyptic times tp proclaim the Gospel of hope. The apocalyptic times are not the end. In fact, if we choose wisely, they are the beginning of something new and better.
I Mean to Be One Too
The Rev. Peter Faass
Have you ever heard someone’s name mentioned and you exclaimed, “Oh, they’re a saint!” You say this because you know the positive character of that person, a character that seems saint-like to you.
Maybe you’re having a conversation with someone and they offer to do something for you, and you say to them “What a saint you are!” In this context, the person offers something that eases your burden. Grace Taylor, Nancy Morrow and Sarah Gage almost always put the bagged sandwich lunches together for me the week that I am scheduled for St. Herman’s. All I have to do is deliver the lunches. These women ease my burden, and I often tell them they are saints!
Our understanding of saintliness and of who is (and who isn’t) a saint has changed significantly over the years. Dare I say, it has evolved. At one time, sainthood was reserved for the iconic great past figures of the church: Peter, Paul, Mary, and Francis. These were the ones we lifted up on All Saints Day as we remembered their extraordinary lives: Lives of fealty to God and Christ-like behavior. They were also lives that we believed were beyond our own capacity to live - or at least their perceived extraordinary lives.
Many of these saints had done less than saintly things at one time or another. Some were even downright scoundrels! Paul was a murderer. Peter denied Jesus. Francis was a spoiled, indulgent little rich boy who liked to party. Mary, well, she was pretty close to perfect. But remember she could be a bit of a maternal nudge (remember the wedding at Cana). On the other hand, she was a Jewish mother, so she was just living her role. All these folks got redeemed one way or another, which is good news!
All the faithful departed – those ordinary people like you and me – were relegated and remembered on All Souls Day November 2. We had a day for commemorating the Christian superheroes on All Saints Day, and All Souls day for everyone else. It was a two-tier form of honoring people; the greater and the lesser.
This two-tier system is kind of a hard sell when you have another theology that says we have all been made equal by a loving God. All equal but two tiered, evokes the flawed policy called separate-but-equal. In God’s reign, separate-but-equal, like all two-tiered systems that divide people, is an oxymoron. I think this contradiction is what moved the church to reconsider who was and was not a saint.
Today, the understanding is that we are all saints – or at least we all have the potential to be. This theology of universal sainthood is writ large in that perennial favorite All Saints Day hymn, I Sing A Song of the Saints of God. with its litany of everyday folks who are saints: a doctor, a queen, a shepherdess, a soldier, a priest. The universality of the ordinary people who are saints is captured in the closing lyrics, “You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains, or in shops, or at tea; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”
That’s a paradigm shift in the theology of saints and sainthood. These days, we honor specific folks for exemplary Christian lives, by commemorating them with special days on our liturgical calendar. But this is not an elevation of status above the rest of us, but rather highlighting lives of Christ-like behavior, which we are called to emulate.
The psalmist this evening expresses this universality. He asks,
"Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? " *
and who can stand in his holy place?"
4 "Those who have clean hands and a pure heart, *
who have not pledged themselves to falsehood,
nor sworn by what is a fraud.
5 They shall receive a blessing from the Lord *
and a just reward from the God of their salvation."
(Ps. 24: 3-5)
The psalmist is describing an entry festive procession into the Jerusalem Temple. According to the Law, one was required to be fastidiously and ritually pure to do so. The psalmist asks who really is pure enough that they can face God in God’s Temple and be a part of this procession?
The reply is those with clean hands, pure hearts, who do not engage in falsehood and do not commit fraud, are the acceptable ones.
In that reply, the psalmist deconstructs what was formerly required for entry into the Temple, which was an elaborate, involved, and often cumbersome set of rituals and behaviors to be acceptable to do so. You had to be super-pure; be a super-saint. It was a two-tiered system.
Now, there is a paradigm shift: Those who try to live good lives are allowed to process and enter the Temple. What was a two-tiered system (those who were ritually super pure and those who were ritually less-than-pure) has been eradicated. As long as you worked to lead a decent life, all are welcome. All are the same before God.
The Book of the Revelation to John further eradicates tiers; the tier between God, who is up in heaven, and we mortals, below on earth. The scene described is of the end of time when all things that God intends for Creation, come to fruition. We call this the reign of God. This is not some far off, distant time. Jesus told his disciples when they asked about God’s reign that, “the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17:21) In eschatological terms, we live in an already, not yet, state of being. The reign of God is coming, but it also already exists.
John indicates this truth as he tells of seeing God descend from heaven to earth:
“See, the home of God is among mortals.
He will dwell with them as their God;
they will be his peoples,
and God himself will be with them;
he will wipe every tear from their eyes.
Death will be no more;
mourning and crying and pain will be no more,
for the first things have passed away."
What had been a two-tiered separation between us and God is now gone. God desires to be with us, not far off. God’s strongest desire is to walk life’s journey with us. To comfort and console us. To take away all the pain, loneliness and grief that we experience.
This eradication of tiers is one of filling every valley, making low the mountains, of making the crooked paths straight and the rough places plain. It is God’s desire for us and Creation. We humans created the tiers, the differences, and the things that keep us apart, not God.
So, dear saints of God, on this All Saints Day, know that you are saints and that eradicating the tiers and the differences is holy, saintly work. We may be imperfect at it, but that’s okay, because God is with us. On this day, remember that God dwells with you as you do this saintly work. On this All Saints Day and every day, God is well-pleased when you mean to be one too.
Rev. Peter Faass
Oh my gosh! This Gospel story is not what I needed to hear this week. The world is so filled with bombastic braggadocio these days that encountering the arrogance and hot air of James and John just about undid me. We experience so much unrelenting pride, egotism and self-importance assaulting us daily, that we hope to find some respite in church. But that’s not the case today. “Oh please, not the disciples too!” I thought, when I read this passage in Mark.
James and John, AKA the sons of thunder - that alone should tell us something about their personalities - sure had high opinions of themselves. That thunder moniker is revealing; it indicates they were big Type A extroverts with lots of bravura and bluster. They were the kind of people who suck the air out of a room as their inflated egos shove everyone else up against the walls. People who waste no opportunity to let you know how smart, savvy, well-connected, and rich they are. They certainly don’t miss any opportunity to take care of themselves. You know the type: Two scoops of ice cream for them, one for everybody else.
“’Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ (Now there’s a red flag statement, if ever there was one) And [Jesus] said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’”
These two guys are schemers. They must have been on a coffee run at Starbucks when Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. You remember, right? “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” No meekness here. As Jesus speaks of his kingdom, these guys see an opportunity to jockey for positions of great power and authority in the new Jesus administration. They want first dibs on being Secretary of State and Secretary of Defense, acquiring all the power and benefits that accrue to these positions. Worse yet, they do it behind the backs of their other ten colleagues. You may have run into people like this in the workplace, or your family or – heaven forbid – the Church!
James and John were prepared to throw the other disciples under the bus to get what they wanted – wealth, possessions, power and status. They wanted the government planes and expense accounts. They wanted the glory and all its trappings they believed Jesus would deliver, and they were hell bent to get it, regardless of how that impacted others.
Things haven’t changed much from the first century to the 21st. Encountering the tidal wave of arrogance, hubris and greed that washes over us these days is not only appalling, it’s exhausting. It’s a trail to read or listen to the news anymore. I really need a good dose of humility right now. I think we all do. I crave quiet and unassuming, not loud and arrogant.
The truth is, I think people who are quiet, thoughtful, self-effacing and humble have the most to offer. And I think this is true because they are of God, because these qualities are incarnated in Jesus. “The last shall be first,” he said. Don’t rush for the place of honor at the head of the table at a banquet.
“The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve.” (Mt.20:28) “He poured water into a basin, washed the disciples' feet.” Jesus is all about humility and becoming the servant of all. So when I say I want more humility, I’m saying I want more Jesus. I want more Jesus-like behavior.
Following Jesus is about service to others. He literally exhausts himself trying to drill that message into his disciples. Following Jesus is about taking the lower seat at the banquet, not the one flanking the host. It is about caring for the least of those among us, not sucking up to the well-connected and the powerful. It is about loving our neighbors as ourselves. Not trampling over others to get what we want.
This servanthood roll is our prime directive from God. We should hold adherence to it as a yardstick by which we measure not only the moral quality of our own lives, but of those running for elected office in all levels of government, and of CEO’s, CFO’s, stockholders, bishops, priests, deacons, and all who lead in the Church (in other words, of all people).
What the world needs now is humility, compassion and love. Despite how many believe, these qualities of humility, compassion and love are not signs of weakness – of being a so-called snowflake – they are signs of moral strength. Of ethical strength. Of Jesus’ strength.
We've experienced this Jesus strength when we serve others. These are moments where we have put someone else's needs first and ours last. This isn’t because we want something in return, but solely from the sheer delight of serving, as Jesus calls us to.
Those are moments when we volunteer for St. Herman’s, or helped a friend in need, or comforted and encouraged someone in despair, or lent a hand to someone who is ill by cooking a meal or running an errand. When we do these things, we experience the joy of giving ourselves to another person. When we do these things, we make ourselves vulnerable to the needs of others – we don’t jockey to get the best for ourselves. In these compassionate acts of putting others first, we have been rewarded not simply by the gratitude of the recipient but by our own increased sense of purpose, fulfillment, courage, and – hopefully, as Christians - of building up God’s reign.
My appeal to you in these days of an often savagely unsympathetic, selfish, arrogant, and mean-spirited culture is to build on these experiences. Heaven knows there is no dearth of opportunities to do these things in this congregation. The good stewardship of time and talent is equally as important as our treasure.
When you give of yourself to others, Jesus is at work in you - and he will continue to do good works through you if you desire. Make Jesus’ humility and compassion for all God’s children the context of your life, this church, our communities and this nation in which we live.
In so doing you will be Jesus’ hands at work in the world. And this work has the power to heal the cancer of arrogance, greed and “MeFirst-ism” that is assaulting us. Let it be so.
The Rector's Stewardship Sermon
Mark 10: 2-16
The Rev. Peter Faass
Oh, isn’t this just lovely! Today we have the confluence of two topics that create the perfect homiletical storm: Jesus’ challenging declaration about divorce, and the beginning of the parish’s annual stewardship campaign! Divorce and money. What preacher doesn’t pray for the opportunity to preach on these two topics, together no less. Not!
I don’t want to be flip; divorce is a painful subject that impacts all too many of us. After all, we proclaim when we marry two persons, “Those whom God has joined together let no one put asunder.” That’s a serious statement with the potential, if we violate it, of putting us in conflict with God. So, arriving at the point in a marriage when it is clear that there is no other option left but to dissolve the relationship, is no small thing. That is not a decision to be taken lightly. Regardless of the circumstances, divorce always causes pain and suffering to someone; to the couple, children, their families, and the couple’s support communities. Divorce hurts everyone.
Jesus is asked by the Pharisees, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He replies by saying, no. To do so is to commit adultery. He uses the Biblical passage we use in the nuptial blessing to justify this: “the two shall become one flesh,’” He says. “So, they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
These words can be devasting to people of faith who may be contemplating a divorce, or who have gone through one. They can drive people away from the One who we believe, “stretched out [his] arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of [his] saving embrace.” That anti-divorce pronouncement can seem more of a driving away than an embrace during one of life’s most traumatic events, just when people most need that saving embrace.
Two things about Jesus’ encounter with the Pharisees:
Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, John the Baptist had been arrested and executed by King Herod over the issue of divorce. John had railed against King Herod because he had married his brother Philip’s wife, Herodias, who had divorced Philip in order to marry Herod. Is your head spinning yet?
John rejected the Mosaic law that allowed a man to divorce a woman by simply writing a certificate of divorce and putting her out of the house. It is important to note that the Herodian household was both Jewish and Gentile, and Gentiles allowed both a man and a woman this avenue for an easy divorce, ergo Herodias initiating her divorce from Philip. John was no less amused by this Gentile practice than the Jewish one: he saw both as contrary to God’s intent. His speaking out about it got him killed.
Jesus is aware of this and of the Pharisees’ malice - yet he doesn’t dodge the question. Yet, he undergirds John’s position on divorce, even though doing so places him in a precarious theological and political position, threatening his own life. Why does he do this?
According to Mosaic Law, a woman could be divorced because, “she does not please [her husband] because he finds something objectionable about her, and so he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.” (Deut. 24:1)
What options did a divorced woman have? Not many:
Talk about being cast into the direst of vulnerable states! Jesus will have none of it.
Neither will the Episcopal Church, which allows for a divorce and remarriage, because we understand that there are times when to stay in a marriage creates a situation of dire emotional, spiritual and even physical vulnerability for one (or both) of the married couple. The truth is, Jesus is concerned with the vulnerability, dignity, health and well-being of people - not the act of divorce itself.
In chapters nine and ten of Mark, Jesus cites children (3 times) – the most vulnerable of the vulnerable – as those who we must become like in order to truly follow him. “Let the little children come to me;” he tells the disciples. “Do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.” And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
Ultimately, this passage on divorce is about stewardship: Stewardship of those most vulnerable in our society. In this case, women who are imperiled and abused by a harsh patriarchal culture, and children whom that culture sees as non-persons. The Gospel and the entire canon of the Bible is about God’s call to us to exercise good stewardship over the entire creation and all its inhabitants.
In Genesis, God calls us to rule over Creation. “To rule” doesn’t mean to abuse, dominate, take advantage of, or even destroy Creation; it indicates we are partners with God in the care of Creation.
Everything in the Hebrew and Christian texts calls to:
To be human – to be made in the image of God – is a call to practice good stewardship.
As faithful followers of Jesus, stewardship is something we are supposed to do every day. For better or worse, the church primarily focuses on stewardship in the autumn as an annual stewardship campaign. To the point of being cringeworthy, almost everyone associates the annual stewardship campaign with money. It’s all about the coin.
Truth be told, it is about the coin. The coin – and our giving generously of it – not only engages in good stewardship of our money, but it allows us as a congregation to engage and promote all the other ways God calls us to be good stewards. That is critical work.
In a world that is increasingly uncaring about the exercise of good stewardship (not only for the most vulnerable but for just about everything we are called to be good stewards of), the Church remains a beacon of hope in role modeling a better way of life for all people.
So yes, the annual stewardship campaign is about the coin, because the coin allows us to do all this and more. I pray you give from abundance, not meagerness, to this stewardship campaign. Doing so enables us to continue role-modeling and live into the stewardship for all the Creation and its inhabitants that have been given into our care.
Boys will be Boys - Really?
Mark 9:30 - 37
The Rev. Peter Faass
“[Jesus] asked them, ‘What were you arguing about on the way?’ But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest. He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”
Thank goodness no one ever argues about who is the greatest among us anymore - not!
We live in an unparalleled era of greatness attainment; of ruthless manipulation, abusing others to gain what we want: money, status, power, sexual gratification, you name it. Usually it’s some combination of them all. I don’t know about you; I feel as if I need a shower with hot, steamy water and lots of soap after reading the latest news. The behavior of so many people is grimy, especially from those who would deem themselves greater than us. Swamps are not being drained - and pigsties are being built.
For too many, being "the greatest” means being able to satiate every whim when you desire it. It’s the culture of instant gratification. Being great means being powerful, having authority over others, and exercising power through your position, wealth and sexual dominance. This results in mental, emotional and physical violence for those you believe you’re greater than. This cultural understanding of greatness is almost entirely imbued in a male-dominated world . . . like in Jesus' time.
The #MeToo movement certainly has exposed us to the underbelly of our male-dominated culture and the gross mistreatment of women. The continuing revelations of ongoing and unpunished clerical abuse of children in the Roman Catholic Church reminds us that those in positions of moral authority can be subject to abject moral failings.
The sports world is culpable as well, and the indecent behaviors are not limited to women (although there’s no shortage of that). Penn State and Ohio State had cultures where people turned a blind eye to young boys and male athletes being raped or sexually molested for years. Do I need to even talk about our elected officials in government who believe their "greatness" entitles them to abuse, manipulate and harm others to feed their greatness?
Our culture is filled with men who have been steeped in a culture of male superiority and dominance from birth. This ethos of “take and do what you want, whenever you want it” is nurtured as an entitlement of gender. This ethos gets distilled in the frequently offered and morally bereft phrase, “Well, after all, boys will be boys (wink, wink)."
A late night television host recently quipped, “If you believe that all this sexual violence we are being made aware of is legitimatized by the belief that boys are just being boys, you should not be able to raise boys . . . or girls. Maybe you can raise a potted plant.”
So much of what we encounter in this desire to be the greatest and the most powerful, regardless of the behavior or resulting cost to others dignity, self-worth and well-being, revolves around children: specifically, how we treat and teach them.
Let’s examine Jesus’ encounter with his argumentative and power-hungry disciples in today’s Gospel, where he cities children as the counterpoint to their inappropriate desires for greatness.
The child of antiquity was a nonperson. If children were useful, it was only to the degree they could perform work. This culture dictated that children should be working, or if they were too young, with their mother (another nonperson.)
In pagan Greek culture, it wasn’t unusual for children to be used for sexual gratification, especially in a mentoring relationship between a man and boy. So, what Jesus does and says with this child he takes in his lap is shocking! He has elevated this nonperson to the status of a role model follower of him.
“Whoever wants to be great must be like this child,” he proclaims. “Whoever wants to be first must be last in the accepted hierarchy and a servant to others. Just like this child.”
Jesus again reverses the world order of the dominant culture. The whole reason for his ministry (in fact his whole life) is to deliver the countercultural message of God’s reign, the path to our salvation. Following Jesus requires a total reversal of status, and it insists we adjust our values to align with that reign.
The most critical way to nurture the values of God’s reign begins with how we raise our children. At Christ Church, we nurture our children in Jesus’ ways as a core value of our faith community. Our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program is the cornerstone of this endeavor.
From a very young age, children in this program are taught the intrinsic value of every human being and to respect the dignity of each person as a beloved child of God. It’s paramount we teach them the value and dignity of every person – as Jesus taught us. We treat children with the dignity they have and deserve.
The goal is that these values become fully woven into the fabric of their lives, especially when they are reinforced in their family life, school, and elsewhere. When that occurs, these values become obvious to their conscience, souls, and hearts. It becomes part of who they are as they become adults.
A person who has these core values hanging as a moral plumb line in their life doesn’t rape someone, or abuse them for self-gratification. They don’t climb over people like so much chattel to ruthlessly achieve through any means possible, power and wealth. They don’t treat others like disposable possessions or property. They don’t lie to save their own skin when they are wrong. They don’t rip children away from their parent and incarcerate them in cages because they believe immigrants and brown-skinned people are sub-human. They don’t justify shooting first and asking questions later because of a person’s skin color. They can’t become white supremacists. They don’t because they can’t. They understand what real greatness is.
The way we treat and raise our children matters because it is a measure of our discipleship to Jesus and the Gospel. If we view children as Jesus does and raise them with his values of dignity and love, it changes the world. It’s why Jesus wants those who accept erroneous values of greatness to become like children. Becoming like a child means loving without prejudice or fear. Doing so transforms us into Jesus’ likeness.
The radical grace of God that Jesus proclaims and lives completely obliterates the world’s notions of greatness based on status, wealth, power, and sexual dominance. Perhaps that is one reason why so many resist grace so much. It is often much more appealing to be great on the world’s terms than on Jesus’ terms. That’s evil at work when we succumb to that belief. Greatness on Jesus’ terms means being humble, lowly, and vulnerable as a child. Greatness on Jesus’ terms is risky; it means living counter to the prevailing culture. As Jesus repeatedly teaches, his way to greatness is the only path of true life. That makes it all worth it . . . for our children - and ourselves.
Charlie Buss Funeral Homily
The Rev. Peter Faass
I don’t believe there is anywhere in this 33,000 square foot building that Charlie Buss' hands did not touch over his six decades of being an active member of this parish. Like King Midas, his touch made everything more valuable. Unlike King Midas, this was not a curse but a blessing. Where would we be without his golden touch, without his ability to do so many things? Where would we be without his gifts and generosity?
Charlie was a skilled craftsman, especially in woodworking and carpentry. It was one of many traits he shared with Jesus.
His hands meticulously built the various stations in our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd children’s Christian formation atria. He was the only person in the parish who could install the brass marker plates on the columbarium niches without marring the frontal piece. Of course, he owned this teeny, tiny screw driver that was required to do so. It was but one of his many tools of the trade that allowed him to do such wonderful things. He built the elegant ambry where the reserved Sacrament and Holy Oils are kept in our chapel. For years, he created a unique and enchanting annual Christmas gift out of wood that he then made multiples of and shared with family and friends. Maybe the most well-know of those Christmas gifts is the nativity set that he created as a sort of Busses Rubik puzzle. I love putting that Nativity set out during the Christmas holidays every year. Putting it back after the holidays into the form, which is the outline of the manger; well not so much! It can be very frustrating trying to figure out how those pieces representing the Holy Family and the animals fit back in. I have often suspected this was a bit of a wry joke Charlie played on all of us. Aha, let’s see if they can put it back together again!
He also did mundane carpentry. Charlie fixed off-kilter doors, put shelving up, installed the processional cross holder, worked on the sanctuary parquet floor, and repaired loose kneelers on chapel chairs. He did a lot with great competence and better yet, with joy. Those gifted hands touched so many places and things in this church. He made them holy for us. Charlie holiness surrounds and embraces us.
Charlie was an inaugural member of the Wednesday morning Bible Study I started twelve years ago; initially we met at Panera at the Van Aken Plaza. When Panera moved to University Heights, we relocated to J. Pistone down the street. He was a faithful attendee. Like the mailmen of old, “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night" kept Charlie from attending Bible Study. Only having an obligation to do some ad hoc legal work prevented him from attending; and even then, he would still come for a portion of the class, dressed in a suit and tie. Invariably, he was the first there. I beat him once, which shocked both of us! When he arrived, he would set the tables and chair, getting us ready for our group. He ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS read the NRSV version of the Gospel lesson we studied. That was his translation, and his claimed role.
Charlie really loved to read. He was also a lector. There was something very comforting listening to him. His strong, steady and gentle voice gave a reassuring measure to God’s word.
After reading the scripture on Wednesday mornings, he was often quiet during the group discussion. He certainly was attentive to the discussion, and occasionally he would offer some insight or idea. But mostly, he was quiet. He was in many ways an introvert, and someone who processed what he heard.
I sometimes thought Chalie’s quietness was the result of some of the provocative things I would say to stimulate thought and dialogue. He may have thought I was a heretic at times, but if he did, he never said so. He was too much of a gentlemen - and a gentle man - for that.
Of course, music was Charlie’s passion. He was a faithful choir member since he was a young boy. He loved the choir and the music of the Christian Church. It is said that he who sings, prays twice. Well, if that’s true, Charlie got a lot of prayer time under his belt. Whether it was Sunday morning worship, the high holy days, Evensong, Advent Lessons and Carols, Caroling at Shaker Gardens or the annual Choir Christmas party, Charlie was there singing his heart out to the glory of God.
Charlie was an avid supporter of our Concerts at the Crossroads series. He and Kerrin always attended our concerts.
He was always the first to arrive for choir warm-up on Sunday mornings. He would dress in his red cassock and cotta and then come and sit in the Good Shepherd room, talking to folks. In retrospect, I think that his early appearances on Sundays were really about him and his partner in crime, Nat Cooke, nabbing cookies from the coffee hour table, before it was actually coffee hour! Who was going to tell these two pillars of the church, that they couldn’t do that?!
Charlie was a long-time participant in the Boar’s Head Festival at Trinity Cathedral every Christmastide. He loved the pageantry, the drama, the festiveness and the costumes! He and Kerrin told me that Boar’s Head made their Christmas celebration complete every year. The event – like all else Charlie was involved in - will be much diminished without his talents and enthusiasm.
Charlie served on Vestry as parish treasurer, and was a valuable member of one of our two teller teams. These teams count and record all the Sunday and other service collections, plus any other income the church receives into our office. He was the main man for making the weekly deposits. This is not the most exciting or sexy work in the church, but like everything he took on, he did so faithfully. You could always count on Charlie. He took his volunteer roles as seriously as if they were a paid position.
More than anything else, I will remember Charlie as Mr. Pancake. You know what I mean, right? For years, he was the heart, soul and face of our annual Shrove Tuesday Pancake Supper. At some point, he got the handle Mr. Pancake. Who will forget those suppers with the aroma of freshly fried pancakes wafting through the church like incense? He always organized a team of great volunteers. Our kitchen would be abuzz Shrove Tuesday afternoon with chopping, mixing, frying, setting tables and, oh yes, the sacred task of carefully pouring out the authentic – no ersatz – maple syrup into creamers. It was quite a feast and a labor of love by all involved under the careful tutelage of Charlie. I am really going to miss Mr. Pancake.
I never heard Charlie complain. That’s an astounding thing to say about a lay person in the world of the church. I assure you, there is no dearth of complaining in this line of work. For six decades, he saw a lot happen in the life of this parish, which would lead to complaining and some egregious behavior from clergy and laity alike. He weathered those behaviors stoically, sure in his faith that God would get this parish to a better place.
Charlie also weathered the controversies that our beloved and recently deceased Byrdie Lee spoke about in her writings; intentional racial integration of this parish, Prayer Book revision, women’s ordination, acceptance of LGBTQ folks, the conflict between proponents of various liturgical styles. I don’t know what his stance was on those issues during those tumultuous times (I can make an accurate educated guess), but Charlie never wavered in his commitment to Christ Church and this faith community. That was first and foremost for him. He could have fled to other churches like so many others did. But he didn’t. He put Christ and Christ Church before his own personal needs or biases. That gets him a whole lot of jewels in his crown in heaven.
Charlie really strived to be a friend to all and to accept each and every person for who there where, and where they were on their journey. If that’s not following the commandment to love your neighbor as yourself, I don’t know what is. It made him a pastor and an evangelist for the faith.
In our letter to the Romans passage today, St. Paul writes, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us . . . I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Charlie Buss intimately knew that love of God in Christ Jesus. It was incarnated for him in this parish, in his ministries and in all the people of God he encountered over his years here. That love was worth the world to him, which is why he stayed through thick and thin. Like St. Paul, he knew there was absolutely nothing that would, or could separate him from that love of God he knew here. Such was his faith.
A couple of weeks ago, I visited him at the Hospice of the Western Reserve. It was a Sunday and a Gospel Choir was scheduled to sing in the common room that afternoon. Kerrin and Teri Lynn were there and they left the room to listen to the choir. I found myself alone with Charlie for the first time since he had decided to no longer receive treatment for his cancer.
Charlie was so beloved that his room often resembled a church convention with the number of people visiting. He also had some pretty fun Happy Hours in that room!
He knew he was near the end of his life. I took his hand and asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about, or any issues he was concerned about and wanted to discuss. He looked me straight in the eyes, squeezed my hand and said, no. Everything was just fine. So, I asked if we could pray together, which we did. I truly believe that as the end of this earthly journey approached that Charlie was at peace with his life and with all his relationships. That is a wonderful and all too rare state of grace for many on the last leg of life’s journey. I’m glad he had it.
“Jesus said, "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.”
We mourn the loss of our brother Charlie. He was a faithful companion to us in many lovely ways during our earthly journeys. His departing from us hurts. He will be missed in ways we have not even imagined yet. But we are comforted by the rich and deep experiences of love we had with him. We are comforted knowing that Charlie was a man who heard Jesus’ words and believed them. He also lived them, which of course is the whole point of the Gospel: To live the words of Jesus and build up God’s reign in our lives. Charlie did that. He was a good and faithful servant. Because of that, Charlie does not come under judgement, having lived a life worthy of the name Christian. He has passed from death into life, into that place where there is no longer any pain or sorrow, but only joy and life eternal. That is the promise we have been given in Jesus. That is the promise realized for Charlie. Which causes us to rejoice!
If heaven has any deferred maintenance, Charlie is probably fixing it right now; his trusty tools in hand. I’m sure that the heavenly hosts are pleased to have his voice added to their number. And I suspect there’s a six pack of Black and Tan at the heavenly banquet table just for Charlie. But look out, God, if Charlie gives you one of those wooden nativity sets. I hope you have better luck at putting that puzzle back together than the rest of us.
Taking the Life of Jesus into Us
John 6: 56 - 69
The Rev. Peter Faass
For the past three weeks, the lectionary has given these “I am the bread of life” passages of Jesus. We have heard much about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. In today’s reading, he tells his followers, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”
These passages can be off-putting, especially when they come so relentlessly every week. They certainly were to some of Jesus’ disciples. In today’s reading, we hear that, “When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ Such was their offense that many walked away from following Jesus.”
We, too, can find these teachings difficult and be offended. Our being off-put often derives from our literal understanding of these sayings. They sound cannibalistic, making them seem grisly and gross.
Those disciples of Jesus’ who adversely respond do so for a different reason: their objection is based on the consumption of blood taboo in the Mosaic Law. Leviticus 17:14 says, “For the life of every creature—its blood is its life; therefore I have said to the people of Israel: You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood; whoever eats it shall be cut off.”
In Jewish theology, the blood represents life. As blood is let and a creature dies, it loses its life. To Jews, blood belonged to God, because God is the source of all life.
Even today, this prohibition against consuming blood is so strongly ingrained in the Jewish psyche that even many secular Jews cannot bear to eat a rare steak or a juicy hamburger. Kosher butchers heavily salt meat to drain every drop of blood from it. It is why Jewish cooking relies on the slow braise and not the hot grill for its recipes: Well-done meat is the goal.
Contemporary Christians of course cannot but help think of the Eucharist when they hear these passages. Our Eucharistic Prayers use this blood and body/flesh language. “Sanctify [this bread and wine] by your Holy Spirit to be for your people the Body and Blood of your Son.”
John has no true institution of the Last Supper occurrence as Matthew, Mark and Luke do. These “eat my flesh and drink my blood” passages are as close as it gets, but they get the point across.
I think Jesus understands that his teaching about eating his flesh and drinking his blood will cause an adverse or visceral response in many. He also hopes that some will take the deep meaning of the Leviticus prohibition about the blood being life originating in God, and understand how he is applying this understanding to his own life. When he says, “you must drink my blood” he is saying you must take my life into the very center of your being. My life, like all life, belongs to God. In other words, we must take Jesus’ life into the very core of our hearts and become transformed. By taking Jesus into us, we ascent to being in him and he in us, therefore abiding in one another, as the text says.
Maybe put more succinctly: By eating his flesh and eating his blood we feed our hearts, minds and souls on Jesus. By doing this, we are revitalized by his life until we become filled with the life of God.
This may be the most important act of the Eucharist: feeding our hearts, minds and souls on Jesus in the sacrament of his body and blood, so that we become filled with the life of God.
Ideally, we do this as a community. Just as the Eucharist creates fellowship with Jesus, fellowship is created with those who commune together in the sacrament. As St. Paul states in Romans (12:50), “so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.”
In the Eucharist, our fellowship derives from the mutual indwelling of Jesus and the believer. The greater community is formed from those who share in Jesus’ presence in the bread and wine with each other.
I love to cook. Some of the recipes that give me the greatest pleasure are the ones my mother and grandmother passed on to me. When I make a big pot of thick pea soup with ham, or am at the stove frying up Dutch apple pancakes, I am filled with the presence of my mother and grandmother. We abide in each other through this meal I am preparing and then eat.
In an essay titled, “Re-creating Our Mother’s Dishes,” theologian Boyung Lee writes, “Even though I was cooking by myself in the kitchen, I was in communion with many people to whom I was indebted for who I am, and to whom I am accountable.”
That’s how I feel when I cook my family’s heirloom recipes. I am reminded as I cook, smell and eat that I am indebted to my forbearers for who I am. I am also accountable to them as a person, because they have given me life literally, and through our cultural heritage and family lineage. I better be faithful to those sacred recipes correctly that they passed on to me, or look out!
This is how it is when we take Communion and eat the meal of Christ’s body and blood. We are reminded of who and whose we are. We remember we are indebted to Jesus through whom we receive authentic and eternal life. We are also indebted to all the communion of saints with whom we have shared this meal over the years. We are accountable to them as well, to continue to take the life of Jesus into us – into our very hearts – and to the live the life God calls us to.
John 6:51 - 58
The Rev. Peter Faass
How many of you are familiar with On the Rise Artisan Bread and Pastries in Cleveland Heights? Awesome place, right? On the Rise is like a foretaste of the heavenly banquet for me. The authentic French baguettes, the epis, the rustic Italian loaves, the cinnamon and raisin bread, that gorgeous round cardamom bread that looks like the sun, the spectacular olive loaf, the Challah, the Pullman.
I haven’t even mentioned the croissants, tarts and cookies! It is dangerous to let me loose in there. I’m told to pick up a baguette for dinner and I come home with an armload of breads and desserts for an army. If bread is the staff of life, On the Rise is its genesis.
On the Rise is opening a kiosk in the new Van Aken food court across the street this fall. Our current food desert in the district is going to turn into a cornucopia of deliciousness.
Jesus said, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.” Of course, he wasn’t speaking of On the Rise, but sometimes I feel like I have entered into eternity when I eat their food.
Jesus speaks of the bread as his body. “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.” He continues, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life.”
The Gospel of John is filled with Jesus making these metaphors:
Of course, Jesus is not literally any of these things (Biblical literalists take note):
He metaphorically functions as these things in our lives when we follow him. He is the door through which we gain authentic life when we pass through it. He is the light that guides us through the dark places in life. He is the Good Shepherd who watches over us through thick and thin. He is also the bread of life which, when we eat it, gives us eternal life.
When Jesus says that we must eat his flesh and drink his blood, he is not being literal either. This is not some grisly cannibalistic ritual we are engaged in, despite some accusations to the contrary. The bread represents his body, his flesh.
In the prologue of John we are told, “In the beginning was the Word . . . and the Word became flesh and lived among us.” Jesus is the incarnate, or in-the-flesh Word of God. Jesus came to earth so that through his spoken and lived word, he could show us how to live as children of God. So, in the context of John’s theology, when Jesus tells us that we must eat his flesh to gain eternal (or authentic) life, we are in fact called to eat and live the received Word of God that he gives to us.
If we are to distill it down to its essential core, the Word Jesus gives us is summed up in the words of the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, the distillation of the Law to love God and to love one’s neighbor as one self, and the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved us. All the rest is, as they say, commentary.
To eat Jesus’s flesh is to eat and live these words; they are the Word that he incarnates. The Collect for the Sunday closest to November 16th speaks to this understanding eloquently. In it, we pray, “Grant us so to hear . . . read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest [the Holy Scriptures], that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life.”
When we do this, it causes a paradigm shift in our lives, moving us away from a way of life that is life-denying to a way of life that gives us authentic, and as Jesus says, eternal life. By that, he means eternal life here and now, in this moment.
Earlier, I mentioned that the Van Aken district is currently a food desert. That’s a bit of hyperbole. There are some great places to find good food within a short distance from here, although you need to drive to them. That situation promises to resolve itself soon with a wide array of food and drink options across the street. But food deserts exist, literally and metaphorically. In many urban areas like Cleveland, people do not have access to grocery stores that offer good, wholesome, life-giving foods. Options are limited to fast food and junk foods, which are readily available but not wholesome. Consistently eating these foods causes obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes. They are life-denying foods. That’s a literal food desert.
There are also metaphorical food deserts. These are deserts where the food of nutritious words are in short supply. The only words available are fast, junky and degrading.
These are metaphorical deserts, but they are no less arid and no less life-denying than the literal ones.
In a commentary on John’s bread passages, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry asks, "How is it that God is trying to feed the world, not on fast food, but on gourmet [food] that gives life?"
When food that's readily available is not healthy, how do we feed the people of God? And more importantly, how is the Bread of Life trying to feed us?
I believe we can transform this current metaphorical food desert by eating the bread that is the Word of Jesus’ flesh. It is through eating, inwardly digesting and living on this bread that the Church offers gourmet food - not fast food - to the world.
This is how God wants to feed the world. This is how The Bread of Life Jesus feeds us, and then has us feed others so that we all gain the promise of eternal life.
Mark 5: 21-43
Rev. Peter Faass
There has been a lot of conversation about civility and uncivility. People taught to be civil in all circumstances feel threatened by what they see as an all-out assault on human and civil rights happening in our nation. Whether it’s the legitimizing of extreme rightwing, white supremacist, neo-Nazi ideology; ripping immigrant children away from their parents as they try to find refuge in our country; or banning Muslims from entering our nation, millions feel imperiled by the disregard not only of decent civil behavior, but by the threat against the very values upon which this nation – celebrating its 242 birthday this week– was founded.
Those who adhere to authentic traditional American and Gospel values struggle with what it means to remain civil in the face of this outright assault. Many feel that the assault is so great (even worse with the impending retirement of Supreme Court Justice Kennedy) that all restraints on civility are over. That it’s time to take off the proverbial gloves in a fight seen as an existential threat to the democratic values of justice and equality (and as a follower of Jesus) to the baptismal values that respect the dignity of every human being and seeking and serving Christ in all people. As a result, we have seen people taunt and heckle various political leaders and their employees in restaurants, movie theaters and at their homes.
Episcopalians especially find themselves in a conundrum. We are polite and non-confrontational to a fault. We get teased about our manners and our passions for polite societal behaviors like correct silverware. But how aghast are we when someone disregards or maligns the dignity of others?
Thomas J. Sugrue is an author and a professor of history and social and cultural analysis. He wrote an article in the June 29 New York Times opinion page, “White America’s Age-Old, Misguided Obsession with Civility.” He writes that the current discomfort and opposition to disruptive and impolite behaviors sees people referring to the civil rights movement of the 60’s and yearning for a less confrontational opposition. “The theme: We need a little more love, a little more Martin Luther King, a dollop of Gandhi. Be polite, be civil, present arguments thoughtfully and reasonably. Appeal to people’s better angels. Take the moral high ground . . . Above all, don’t disrupt.”
Sugrue says that’s revisionist history and mythical thinking. “But, in fact, civil rights leaders, while they did believe in the power of nonviolence, knew that their success depended on disruption and coercion as much — sometimes more — than on dialogue and persuasion. They knew that the vast majority of whites who were indifferent or openly hostile to the demands of civil rights would not be moved by appeals to the American creed or to bromides about liberty and justice for all. Polite words would not change their behavior.”
“King aimed some of his harshest words toward advocates of civility, whose concerns aligned with the hand-wringing of many of today’s politicians and pundits. From his Birmingham jail cell, King wrote: ‘I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Councilor or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice.’ King knew that whites’ insistence on civility usually stymied civil rights.” And King’s and other civil rights leaders’ nonviolent yet disruptive proactive behaviors caused President Kennedy to move on the Civil Rights Act of 1964.”
Christians must always hold the plumb line of respecting the dignity of every human being in the center of our lives. As followers of Jesus, it also means entering the Temple and being disruptive, overturning the money lenders’ tables and confronting abusive systems. On this July 4th weekend, we cannot forget the colonial disrupters who tossed crates of tea into Boston Harbor when a system wantonly abused the people.
Today’s Gospel offers two powerful witnesses who respond to seemingly impossible and hostile situations.
“Now there was a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years. She had endured much under many physicians and had spent all that she had; and she was no better, but rather grew worse.”
Everything about this woman made her anathema to the society she was in: her condition rendered her permanently impure, an alien, a pariah who by her presence was believed to render others impure. She persisted to meet Jesus, believing in his justice and desire for dignity, health and wholeness for all.
Others see her as uncivil, because she disorders the accepted system. Yet her behavior is rooted in the desire of God’s justice for all people. I think of the parallels to parents who risk everything to bring their children out of violent, gang-ridden and impoverished Central American nations to our nation for a better and safer way of life. They come despite the hostile government beliefs that see them as “less than” and unclean. The migrants disrupt that evil system and push toward our nation’s beacon of peace, freedom and justice.
Jairus, the synagogue leader’s daughter is ill, “at the point of death.” He begs Jesus to come and heal her. So, he goes. “On the way messengers come to say the girl has died. When they came to the house of the leader of the synagogue, he saw a commotion, people weeping and wailing loudly. When he had entered, he said to them, ‘Why do you make a commotion and weep? The child is not dead but sleeping.’ And they laughed at him.”
Jesus is mocked and derided for believing that good can come out of this seemingly hopeless situation. We can hear them saying, “Who is this snowflake?
Jesus disrupted the systems of death that diminish the dignity of people. His was uncivil behavior because it confronted the accepted norms. He told the people to believe in the face of hopelessness. Out of death and despair, he brought life, because life for all is justice for all.
Both the woman and Jesus engaged in what would have been considered uncivil behaviors. These behaviors denied the norms and beliefs of a culture that believed that not all are worthy, and that the ways of death trump life.
Their faith in justice and life propels them to act. Their actions in the face of seeming hopelessness tell us to be persistent, believe in your cause, and be proactive, even if it means being uncivil.
Sugrue continues: “History is a reminder that civility is in the eye of the beholder. And when the beholder wants to maintain an unequal status quo, it’s easy to accuse picketers, protesters and preachers alike of incivility, as much because of their message as their methods. For those upset by disruptive protests, the history of civil rights offers an unsettling reminder that the path to change is seldom polite.”
It’s not about manners; it’s about justice and righteousness. In the current climate, politeness is a privilege we cannot afford. As followers of Jesus, we must lift our voices and literally say no to the hate that has reared its ugly head in our nation. We must be disrupt, overturning the tables of those who would deny the dignity of every human being. Indeed, who would deny their very humanity? We are called to disrupt the powers that threaten the dignity of human life. We must do it nonviolently, but do it we must. For our fellow sisters and brothers, and for God’s reign.
It’s not about civility. It’s about justice.
Going to the Boundaries
The Rev. Peter Faass
Several years ago, when Christ Church folks went on pilgrimage to Israel, we stayed a few nights in Tiberias at a hotel on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. It was beautiful. Part of our tour included a trip in a boat that replicated the kind of boat Jesus and the disciples were in during today’s Gospel story about the storm on the Sea. While described as a sea, this body of water is really more aptly described as a lake; in fact, its alternate name is Lake Gennesaret, referring to the town of Ginosar on its northwestern shore.
The Bible says that the Sea of Galilee is where Jesus walked, preached, calmed the storm, and granted miraculous catches of fish, and upon whose waters Peter walked, at least until he took his eyes off Jesus.
Having been there, I find it difficult to imagine a really violent storm imperiling people on this body of water. It’s not big – on a clear day, you can see from shore to shore. It’s not really deep, although at the time we were there, Israel was heavily reliant on the Sea of Galilee for fresh water and the shores had receded dramatically – in places over 100 feet - from overuse.
While the disciples and Jesus (asleep in the stern) sailed the Sea, “a great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.” Such was the ferocity of this storm that the disciples feared they’d perish. As several of the disciples were seasoned fishermen and familiar with the Sea, we can deduce that the account is authentic and this was one doozy of a storm.
In the various cultures of the ancient world, water represented disorder and chaos. In the Genesis creation story, “the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.” Out of this formless void of water, God begins making order, putting creation together. Creating out of chaotic water is a common creation theme in near-eastern cultures. The mythological and poetic imagery of God triumphing over the raging, disordered waters is something the disciples would have understood. It also makes the answer to their question about, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” when Jesus stills the storm, self-evident. Jesus has God’s power to still the storm; he has the power to make order out of chaos. Jesus has the power to save even in the worst circumstances.
This story reminds us that Jesus consistently puts himself into liminal places. He likes to show up at literal and metaphorical boundaries and thresholds - especially if they are dangerous, or the threshold is considered taboo in the society in which it exists. Jesuslikes to push the envelope.
In the passage immediately following this one. Jesus goes to the opposite, Gentile side of the lake shore. He encounters a man with an unclean spirit – most likely epilepsy - who had been chained in the local graveyard. It is also an area where vast herds of swine are grazing. This is a threshold place for a Jew to be: an unclean graveyard, Gentile territory and amongst unclean animals. Yet Jesus goes there and heals the possessed man. He does this despite cultural taboos and what religious authorities say about him.
In another instance, he goes to a tax collector’s home and he dines with people who were considered notorious sinners. Again, he did so despite prevalent establishment beliefs that this was undignified and unclean. Any time he contacts a person with leprosy or with an uncontrolled flow of blood, he goes to the border of a taboo boundary between what is considered holy and what is believed to defile.
In a culture that disregarded children, Jesus crossed a societal border when he took a child in his arms and stated, “If anyone causes one of these little ones . . . (we might hear, these little ones with brown skin and who speak Spanish) to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”
Throughout the Gospel, Jesus repeatedly goes to liminal places where insiders have built borders and walls between themselves and perceived outsiders. And each time, Jesus crosses that border, ignoring what others think is right and wrong. He does this so that he can offer healing and compassion to the outsider, the alien, the sick and the despised. He does this to role model that only love is the way in God’s economy.
The Sea of Galilee is such a liminal, marginal place that was a significant physical border between peoples. Geographically it separated Jews, who lived on its western shores, from Gentiles, who lived on its eastern shores. Sociopolitically it separated the humble Galilean fisherman who depended on its fish for a livelihood from the Roman Empire who taxed those fish heavily. The Sea kept populations separate and it fed imperial appetites; appetites which needed to keep people under their control and living marginally, in order to be satiated.
That’s how dividing lines work: they allow us to keep what’s known on one side and banish whatever makes us fearful, unacceptable or what is unknown to the other side of the wall.
Each time Jesus goes to these dividing walls he indicates to us that these separations don’t work and that he intends to tear them down because they are not of God. They are not about loving neighbor as self.
Jesus meddles with borders because he wants to bring order and justice to the chaos and injustice that borders and walls inflict on people. He goes to the margins because the reign of God extends divine holiness and a commitment to human well-being to places and people that we have said were beyond the limits of our human compassion and caring. He goes to the margins to love people that we have said we don’t care about.
Jesus invites us into the boat with him. He is sailing to the borders, to those places where human fear and hatred keep people on the margins. The trip will be chaotic at times. The winds will rough and the boat will be in danger of being swamped by the violent sea. But the boat’s destiny is safely guided by the only One who can and will still the storm and bring order and justice out of the chaos we experience. When we are in that boat with him, we hear his voice saying "Peace! Be still!” It is his voice and love that will tear down all those boundaries and walls in the world that imperil us, so that we all may be one.