You can play bingo during my sermons. Each time I say one of my trademark phrases, mark your spot. Prizes can be claimed after worship. Good Luck!
1. Start with some specific gratitude. Write down three things for which you’re grateful. What, in your life, at this moment, are your grateful for? Put that down on paper.
2. Look at those words and let the words look at you.
3. Why are you grateful for those three things? What is about those three things, that if removed, your life wouldn’t be as rich full as you see it today? Think about those answers in your mind.
4. On your list of three gratitude points, pick one with which to engage today. If you are grateful for something, can you acknowledge that gratitude beyond writing down on a piece of paper?
5. Write down three ways you might engage with one of the areas of your life that fuels your sense of gratitude today.
Come and take a seat,
In the place,
By the window,
Near the tree,
This is here,
and your spouse to be,
To see each other,
While I look beneath,
The tiny fissures,
Between the smiles,
Where you’d rather,
Not be bothered,
Not printed, placed,
Or even sold,
We shall speak of love,
And emotions old,
round the northwest corner,
Of your soul,
Why are we here?
Why do we love?
In these moments,
Fleeting and mere,
Ask them now,
For the demands of life,
Stalk us in ways,
We know not how.
Jesus isn’t in danger of becoming a commodity. Jesus is a commodity. He is bought and sold on the closed market of religious ideology. Only the specially trained brokers and traders decide what he’s really worth or who might receive shipments. At the close of business each day, someone arbitrarily decides, the memes are posted, and we told this is who Jesus is today. However, I’m not speaking about our own day and time. Jesus is a marketable product shipped for sale around the world each day. This is the religious landscape we inhabit. No, the story I want to tell isn’t solely about the phenomena of turning Jesus into whatever we want him to be whenever we want him to do something for us.
Despite what we believe, we didn’t create this modern narrative. There is a different story, where this idea of a commercialized Savior took hold, grew, and spread during the earliest days of Jesus’ ministry. If we want to understand why we see Jesus as a religious totem, a cosmic snow globe to shake and solve our problems on demand, John’s gospel provides a window on the origins of the misunderstandings at the heart of how we view Jesus today.
Jesus has done the unthinkable. With no resources, budget, or long term plan to “do it again”, he’s fed 5000 people. The people who witnessed the unimaginable act of love are dumbfounded. They do not know how to respond to the gift or the man who made it possible. The question words flood their minds. Why would anyone give anything so valuable away for free? Why would someone with the ability to feed people not monetize that skill for his personal, financial, or even political gain?
Somewhere down the line, the “how” question is asked. How did he do it? How did Jesus take nothing and make something? Was it a magic trick? Was it a miracle? When I read John’s gospel, it is as if the “how” is taken for granted. This may be because they witnessed the miracle first hand. In the first century, “how” wasn’t a big deal. One might argue these crowds were used to miracles and miracle workers. It is the “why” or the implied “why” questions which seem more important. Why did you do this, what does this mean for the bigger picture, and what are you going to do about the bigger picture? Surely, if someone can turn multiply a tiny number of loaves and fishes, political, social, and economic liberation ought to be easy.
Having bread, the ability to eat, equals freedom. If you can eat you can move, you can fight back, you have strength. This is why one person in the crowd draws the obvious parallel between Moses’ role in feeding the Israelites manna from heaven and the liberation of Israel itself. Here’s where things start to go awry. Jesus is talking about freedom; a liberation on multiple levels. We, like those ancient Israelites, have a one track mind when it comes to liberation. Some assembly may be required and we want Jesus to provide all the tools. If we decide the assembly is complete, we walk away, under the allusion we are free while never realizing we’re worshiping things instead of believing in a God.
As the conversation unfolds, it’s clear to Jesus (and the reader) that the people interacting with him are looking for a formula. Now that they’ve got Jesus, they want to press him. “Release the formula for the spiritual widget,” they ask. Tell us what we must do, what is required of us. Boil it down to something, nice, simple, smooth and easy; like a product on a shelf. Give us the recipe to your bread, that’s all we want, and we’ll believe in you.
Now, it’s really gone off the tracks. Jesus’ actions are linked to their belief in his identity, mission, and purpose. We’re not going to believe in you unless you give us what we want, unless you give us a product we like and think we need. They will not believe in Jesus unless he does something they determine is worthy of their belief. We would never do that, would we? The United Methodist Church or its people would never set a challenge for Jesus, a hoop to jump through, and say our faith in Jesus (and our institution) is dependent on how Jesus meets our expectations of what we think we deserve? Do this Jesus, or else? Or else, we might schism, people might get mad and leave, and many might become righteously indignant. Or else these ideas built on your teachings may be so corrupted as to be unrecognizable from the movement you intended?
At the climax of “A Few Good Men”, Colonel Nathan Jessup (played by Jack Nicholson) is being cross-examined by the brash Navy lawyer, Lt. Daniel Kaffee (played by Tom Cruise). In their final heated exchange, Lt. Kaffee is waiting for Col. Jessup to answer a question. Once Jessup begins to answer, he closes his remarks with these words, “I don’t give a damn what you think you’re entitled to.” Like Lt. Kaffee, we want the truth. I’m not sure we can handle the truth.
In the back of my mind, when Jesus is pressed by the product shoppers for one more “more miraculous sign”, I can hear Colonel Jessup’s words in Jesus’ mouth. “I don’t give a damn what miraculous sign you think you’re entitled to.” We’re so busy looking for signs and being amazed by testimonies that we’ve forgotten how to believe in the beauty of belief itself.
1. You’re not alone. Though you may feel alone, you can find support for what’s going wrong and right in your life. Help is matter of asking.
2. If you need to be alone, find a deserted place make some mental space to listen.
3. Try to open a door for someone, say “bless you”, let others go ahead of you, or commit to other tangible acts of giving everyone the intangible gift of respect. What we make the mental commitment to act upon in public will shape our spiritual values.
4. How can our lives, as we take our tangible actions and intangible thoughts (i.e. respect, empathy) be combined to ultimately reflect those things for which we are thankful?
5. Are the most important things in our lives determined by our own choices someone else making a choice on your behalf?
1. Expect to encounter the divine in the lives of others.
2. Giving away love, joy, or kindness are things done not for tangible benefits. They are the most valuable things we own which others need to receive without condition.
3. Find some shade and allow the day to sink in.
4. Pick three small stones. Each stone represents something you need to let go of. Cast them into a body of water, throw them into the woods, do something to let these things go. Repeat this each day if needed.
5. Awareness is more than looking both ways when you cross the street. It is an understanding that your life impacts the lives of others on multiple levels.
1. Part of being vulnerable is being able. What are we able to do if we’re open to the world?
2. Abraham Lincoln appears on both sides of the one cent coin. His silhouette can be faintly seen sitting inside the Lincoln Memorial on the reverse side of the penny. In much the same way, worry and planning are two sides of the same coin, one is simply much bigger than the other, depending on the emphasis we place (or which side we look). We have the ability to make “worry” the almost unseen Lincoln. Yet, will we make that choice?
3. Keep informed about the conflicts in the world that aren’t being discussed in the news. Syria and Ukraine are still unstable regions which impact the entire world. Learn about what’s happening in places like the Congo and Zimbabwe.
4. Is there a distinction between the things we take for granted and the things we should be grateful for as a matter of course?
5. The intersection of things which seemed incompatible at the time but functioned beyond the wildest of dreams of human imagination has defined human history. What are writing off because of the appearance of incompatibility?
1. The Chinese character for “think” integrates 2 ancient forms of the character for “brain” (upper part) and “heart” (lower part). Head/heart. When your head and heart work together you move from your comfort zone to a place where the boundaries of empathy have been removed. (This symbol also looks vaguely like a toilet with handles. But that’s just me.)
2. Park further and walk a little longer. What’s more important, doing what you’re doing or spending time looking for the perfect space? Step out of your comfort zone that demands you find the “right” space.
3. Remember your inside voice, what you think is funny, insightful, and witty might not be to the family of visiting tourists from sub-Saharan somewhere. Sometimes stepping out of your comfort zone may involve whispering.
4. You’ve got to get out of your boat at some point. The fear of walking on water is the summation of all those tangible fears of drowning and reaching for help without any support. The support surrounds us, we’re not going to fall, and hands reach for us each day. Whatever boat you’re in, there’s no need to be adrift any longer.
5. Cognitive disconnections with reality will push you to trust not what you see but what you hear. Listen to the still, small voices. Step back and listen. What is behind the clouds? After those cars go by, there is silence. In the cacophony of images, there is sound in the silence.