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Heaven shall not wait
For the poor to lose their patience,
The scorned to smile, the despised to find a friend:
Jesus is Lord: he has championed the unwanted;
In him injustice confronts its timely end.
-J. Bell

Sermon Video

This Week’s Sermon Was Drawn From the Following Scripture

John 6:1-15

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

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Something Truly Sacred

Rev. Fred “Mister” Rogers taught that to appreciate your neighbor is to participate in something truly sacred. If you have not seen “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”[1] please go see it. Not only will you be proud to be a Presbyterian, you might leave wondering about how people will remember you. You have something to share with this world that people will look back on with appreciation. Do not wait to share it.[2] You have something to share with this world that people will look back on with appreciation.

Scarcity

The latest from the Pew Research Center[3] finds that U.S. income disparity is widening at alarming rates, and, if there is any truth to trickle down economics or “rising tides lifting all boats” it is not borne out in the stories of real people. Small wonder that we were told this week by a billionaire to ignore what we are reading and seeing.[4] If we ignore our experiences, we will never know what is true, including our true selves.

The Event

Author Douglas Rushkoff[5] writes of his recent experience with the richest of the rich after being engaged to speak to an exclusive group of investment bankers. Here is his story in his words.[6]

 I was ushered into what I thought was the green room. But instead of being wired with a microphone or taken to a stage, I just sat there at a plain round table as my audience was brought to me: five super-wealthy guysyes, all menfrom the upper echelon of the hedge fund world. After a bit of small talk, I realized they had no interest in the information I had prepared about the future of technology.

Slowly but surely…they edged into their real topics of concern. Which region will be less impacted by the coming climate crisis: New Zealand or Alaska? Is Google really building Ray Kurzweil a home for his brain, and will his consciousness live through the transition, or will it die and be reborn as a whole new one? Finally, the CEO of a brokerage house explained that he had nearly completed building his own underground bunker system and asked, “How do I maintain authority over my security force after the event?”

The Event. That was their euphemism for the environmental collapse, social unrest, nuclear explosion, unstoppable virus, or Mr. Robot hack that takes everything down. This single question occupied us for the rest of the hour. They knew armed guards would be required to protect their compounds from the angry mobs. But how would they pay the guards once money was worthless? What would stop the guards from choosing their own leader? The billionaires considered using special combination locks on the food supply that only they knew. Or making guards wear disciplinary collars of some kind in return for their survival.

That’s when it hit me: At least as far as these gentlemen were concerned, this was a talk about the future of technology. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. The future became less a thing we create through our present-day choices or hopes for humankind than a predestined scenario we bet on with our venture capital but arrive at passively. This freed everyone from the moral implications of their activities. Technology development became less a story of collective flourishing than personal survival.

When the hedge funders asked me the best way to maintain authority over their security forces after “the event,” I suggested that their best bet would be to treat those people really well, right now. They should be engaging with their security staffs as if they were members of their own family. And the more they can expand this ethos of inclusivity to the rest of their business practices, supply chain management, sustainability efforts, and wealth distribution, the less chance there will be of an “event” in the first place. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future.

Luckily, those of us without the funding to consider disowning our own humanity have much better options available to us. We don’t have to use technology in such antisocial…ways. We can become the individual consumers and profiles that our devices and platforms want us to be, or we can remember that the truly evolved human doesn’t go it alone. Being human is not about individual survival or escape. It’s a team sport. Whatever future humans have, it will be together.[7]

The Scripture Lesson

Today’s scripture is a story of collective flourishing right under the nose of the exploitive Roman colonization that had led to renaming the Sea of Galilee “The Sea of Tiberius” after the emperor. The emperor’s “renaming rights” have long expired, and it’s long been called Galilee. That’s what happens with earthly rulers: the power expires. You are here at church to participate in something that does not expire, does not sour, something enduring, something big and alive that will never die, and it is illustrated in today’s gospel story.

Feeding the Multitude

The mob of Jesus fans approaches, and testing Philip, Jesus asks, “How’re we gonna feed all these people?” Philip answers, “Even with six months’ wages, there’s no way.” Perhaps this was Philip’s “Event.” Then, Andrew spies a young man with the loaves and fishes and says, “We could try stretching out these loaves and fishes, but what are such little portions among so many people?” Andrew, aka Captain Obvious, tells Jesus that food is scarce, and what are our little contributions going to do to help anyway? (Who feels, like Andrew, that my little bit can’t help anybody? The need to too great?)

And Jesus says, “Have everyone sit down for this.”

Then, the writer of John’s gospel lets us know that this story is relevant to San Francisco by stating: “there was a great deal of grass in the place.” [Just keeping it real for the culture. Sorry, tacky joke. Couldn’t resist.] Then, Jesus initiated a miracle — not with a cost-benefit analysis, not with a spreadsheet or a market study but — with gratitude, blessing what they had. Gratitude is that powerful. Try it. After feeding everybody, they wound up with twelve baskets of leftovers, symbolizing one for each tribe[8] of Israel—in other words, plenty not just for the super rich but for everybody. A miracle.

Miracles

Miracles—writes theologian Douglas John Hall—do not impress the post-Enlightenment mind. Instead, stories of miracles actually repel belief today. We find ourselves joking about once-sacred things—“as in Jesus Christ Superstar, when Herod invites [Jesus] to ‘walk across my swimming pool.’”[9]  In the absence of personal experience, events once-revered become (pretty good) jokes, but the miracle of feeding the multitude is reported in all four versions of the gospel[10] reassuring us that the Lord will provide. Always has. Always will.

Now, I have friends who like to reason this miracle away by saying something like this: How could five-thousand people show up, families with children, and no one thought to bring something to eat? The miracle is that Jesus taught them to share! I agree that would be a miracle, and I would settle for this interpretation if the text said that happened. But it is so much more. Hall says that “what is truly wonder-full is not that a (seeming) human [Jesus] could multiply loaves and fishes in so astounding a manner but that this (truly human) human being [Jesus] could represent, by his words and deeds, such signs of hope and healing that…needy people would follow him…and feel that their hunger…had been [satisfied].”[11] When we explain away miracles, we miss what is truly extraordinary, and our daily grinds are full of miracles. Begin with gravity.[12] Gravity works beautifully. If it changed just a little, we’d be in a mess. I am grateful for gravity. Gravity is a miracle. That’s a bit simple, but…

Earth is crammed with heaven
And every common bush afire with God;
But only [those] who see, takes off [their] shoes…
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861)

Night Sky & The Sovereignty of God

We looked up at the night sky, and my husband Lou, who is blind, asked me, “What do you see?” The southern Oregon sky was sparkling clear that night, and what I saw was vast and breathtaking. (Do you ever get out of the city to just look at the night sky?) “Describe it,” he said, as if I could sum up sidereal beauty or infinity in words. But I’m a preacher, so I started talking.

“Well, there are about a dozen stars that seem brighter than all the others. Behind them, there’s another, I don’t know, thirty or forty stars that seem a little less bright, but they’re still clearly visible. Then, behind them, there are hundreds of dimmer stars, too many to count. And I cannot tell that, behind all those stars, there are just millions and billions more.”

I wound up downloading an app called Night Sky[13] that can tell me what I’m looking at. It reminds me everyday to look up. The ISS is flying overhead. There’s water on Mars. The earth is small, and our problems are solvable. Just as the answers to Philip and Andrew’s concerns came when Jesus appreciated the multitude, the answers to questions we don’t even know how to ask are out there in the starry firmament. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never overcome it.[14] There is enough, for God is sovereign: unconditional, absolute, boundless, free. Rejoice, be glad, for the injustices of earth will, one day, have to confront the justice of heaven. A sung paraphrase[15] of Psalm 9:

Poor folk won’t always be forgotten,
nor will the hopeless hope in vain.
Rise, God, restrain the cruel exploiters,
strike them with fear.

God has prepared a throne for judgment;
nations will know who reigns supreme.
God will judge all the earth with justice
and equity.

May God indeed empow’r the weary,
and for the troubled be their tow’r.
Lord, do not turn from those who seek you,
trusting your name.

Sing, sing to God among the nations,
proclaim your great avenger’s name.
God keeps in mind all the afflicted;
God hears their cry.

So, with a full heart, God, I praise you,
grateful for all you are and do.
I shall sing out for you, the highest,
I shall rejoice.[16]

Amen, amen, it shall be so.

[1] It’s got 99% positive reviews on Rotten Tomatoes. What are you waiting for?

[2] Linda Holmes, “Pop Culture Happy Hour” National Public Radio July 4, 2018, accessed online at <https://www.npr.org/series/pop-culture-happy-hour/2018/07/04/625340884/pop-culture-happy-hour-wont-you-be-my-neighbor> (July 10, 2018)

[3] Kochhar & Cilluffo, “Income Inequality in the U.S.” Pew Research Center, July 12, 2018, accessed online at <http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2018/07/12/income-inequality-in-the-u-s-is-rising-most-rapidly-among-asians/> (July 20, 2018)

[4] <https://www.rawstory.com/2018/07/trump-rallies-supporters-ignore-reality-just-remember-youre-seeing-not-happening/>

[5] Douglas Rushkoff’s website: http://www.rushkoff.com

[6] Douglas Rushkoff, “Survival of the Richest” Medium, July 5, 2018, accessed online at <https://medium.com/s/futurehuman/survival-of-the-richest-9ef6cddd0cc1> (July 20, 2018)

[7] I have edited this story for preaching purposes — clarity, brevity, etc. I encourage you to read the full account, or listen to it, on the Medium site.

[8] The 12 Tribes discussed online at <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/the-twelve-tribes-of-israel> (July 28, 2018)

[9] Douglas John Hall, Feasting on the Word: Year B, Volume 3, John 6:1-21.

[10] Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:31-44; Luke 9:12-17; John 6:1-14

[11] Hall, Feasting.

[12] Rob Brezny, Pronoia: The Antidote for Paranoia (San Rafael: Televisionary Publishing, 2009), Gravity.

[13] Night Sky Stargazing App, promo video at <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R2DOFSQVtg> (July 4, 2018)

[14] The Gospel of John begins with this theological statement (John 1:5).

[15] Recordings from Iona and more at <https://www.giamusic.com/products/P-428.cfm> (July 28, 2018)

[16] John L. Bell & Graham Maule,  (Song) “Poor folk won’t always be forgotten” from Love + Anger: Songs of Lively Faith and Social Justice (Chicago: GIA Publications, 1997), 32.  “This song is a paraphrase of verses from Psalm 9 and does not follow the strict chronological order of the Hebrew original. Does your suffering need company? Read the Psalms. All human emotions are in there, even the darkest.

 

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