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Brian's Blog

  • April 19, 2015

    Dear President Obama ...

    Dear Mr. President,

    I hear that you’ll be coming to my neighborhood this Wednesday for Earth Day. Thank you so much for coming. If you want to stop by for coffee or lunch, I’d love to have you!

    I lived in the Washington, DC, area for most of my life, but chose to move to SW Florida (Marco Island) because I love the beauty and wildlife of this region, especially the Everglades and Ten Thousand Islands.

    Whenever I can spare a few hours from my work as a writer, speaker, and activist, I get outdoors to enjoy manatees and alligators, tarpon and snook, gopher tortoises and burrowing owls, swallow-tailed kites and bald eagles, cabbage palms and cocoplums. I volunteer in a number of initiatives to protect endangered species and ecosystems so they aren’t poisoned by polluters or destroyed by so-called developers.

    That’s why I’m glad you’re coming here to draw attention to our region. We are blessed with natural treasures, but we are plagued by even more threats poised to plunder them - for short-term corporate and political profit.

    Recently, a group of brave activists in the region managed to run off a Texas firm that was trying to frack the Everglades. But environmental successes are rare in a state whose politicians think Florida can never have too many sleazy strip malls, cheap hotels, or paved-and-gated communities ... and who remain in either ignorant or feigned denial about global warming and sea level rise in the very state that will suffer most from it.

    You’ve heard that our governor told state employees they can’t use the term “global warming.” I can tell you that I’ve heard similar stories - and worse - from wildlife biologists and other environmentalists here. For example, environmental professionals have been told not to use the word “environmental monitoring” because, according to our governor, “monitoring kills jobs.” They have to use words like “research” instead of “conservation” because our governor and his allies, in spite of the fact that they love to wave the “conservative” flag and appear on "conservative" cable TV, seem to care little about conserving Florida's environmental treasures.

    Judging by what I see here in Florida, "conservative" actually means "exploitive." It seems to me that spokespeople of the dominant political narrative here have never met a long-term natural public asset that they don’t want to convert into some rich donor’s short-term cash asset.

    This breaks the hearts of those of us who believe in values that transcend cash value.

    As a committed Christian, former pastor, and faith-based activist, I agree with St. Paul who said, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.” My faith teaches me that the Creator deemed creation “good” and “very good.” That means all creation has an inherent spiritual value that matters more than monetary value. Each time I see an osprey circling or a dolphin leaping or an old-growth cypress towering into the Florida sky, their inherent value inspires me with awe, wonder, worship, and gratitude … and their transcendent value motivates me to speak from my heart on their behalf.

    So thank you, Mr. President, for coming to the Everglades on Earth Day to celebrate the value and beauty of my neighborhood. Thank you for all you can do to save this beautiful and fragile part of the world that is suffering because of human greed, ignorance, and political cowardice.

    With gratitude and respect,

    Brian D. McLaren

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  • April 18, 2015

  • April 11, 2015

    How America Became "Christian" -

    Fascinating and disturbing interview with Terry Gross and Kevin Kruse here:
    http://podcastdownload.npr.org/anon.npr-podcasts/podcast/381444908/396402359/npr_396402359.mp3?orgId=1&e=396402359&d=2949&ft=pod&f=381444908&_kip_ipx=728755950-1428754115

    To adapt a quote, we might say, "In the Soviet Union and China, capitalism conquered socialism and communism. In the USA, capitalism conquered democracy and Christianity."

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  • April 10, 2015

  • Hypocrisy indeed: David Cortright gets it right

    Quotable:

    President Obama has said the United States supports the goal of achieving a world without nuclear weapons, but some in his administration seem not to have gotten the memo. The Washington Post article has a stunningly cynical yet honest quote from the former White House Coordinator for Arms Control Gary Samore, replying to South Africa’s nuclear negotiator:

    “Nuclear disarmament is not going to happen…It’s a fantasy. We need our weapons for our safety, and we’re not going to give them up.”

    This from the person responsible for managing the President’s supposed commitment to disarmament. Hypocrisy indeed.


    More here.

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  • April 9, 2015

  • April 8, 2015

    Q & R: Starting a group?

    Here's the Q:

    Hi I live in the Hamilton, On, Canada and would love to start a group or join a group already Walking on the Road. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    Here's the R:
    I worked hard in designing the book to make it super-easy for groups to use. You'll find lots of resources here … and you'll see posts from some other groups using the book here.

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  • April 6, 2015

    A resource for bishops, executive presbyters, DS's, priests, pastors, Bible study leaders, and others ...

    Many brave souls stepped out to try We Make the Road by Walking for some or all of the 2014-2015 church year. Reports have been so encouraging. I just learned that the book will come out in softcover in June, which will be an advantage for using the book in groups for 2015-2016. Here's a note I received recently:

    I want to let you know that we have had several covenant groups read your Lenten section together. The group I facilitate is such a gift, and I wanted to share about it quickly with you: it seems to me that this group embodies your hope for the book.

    We are only 8-10 or so depending on the week. We are from a wide range on the socio-economic spectrum, of 3 different ethnicities, in different places (in our abilities and limitations physically and educationally) not to mention theologically. Half come from the church, half come from the neighborhood.

    One just received their first housing through a voucher program; one is a single dad; one has cerebral palsy; all are beautiful creatures of God.

    Your book decentralizes leadership so everyone feels welcome, despite their education or literacy level. Those that feel comfortable read a paragraph and pass the book around the circle. Our discussions are lively and spirited (we never finish in our timeframe!) and the participants are engaged and ALIVE! …which was your hope in writing, I believe, and I wanted you to know that it has come to be in this little corner of [Texas]! Thanks be to God!


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  • Dean Gregory Jones gets it right ...

    on Institutions. Here.
    Quotable:
    We need a richer Christian account of vibrant institutions that is cognizant of personal as well as institutional sin and redemption. For, as Heclo notes, “institutional thinking has to do with living committed to the ends for which organization occurs rather than to an organization as such.” And Christians should have a clear sense of the end for which we live and move and have our being. We are well-equipped to narrate the vices and virtues that are intrinsic to thinking institutionally.

    In this time of cultural turmoil, when economic challenges are troubling even strong institutions, we cannot afford any longer to be cynical about or hate institutions. It is time to develop a robust Christian theological imagination for, and understanding of, them. Indeed, we need to learn, by God, to love the institutions we need.

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  • April 5, 2015

  • Easter Sunday

    This is an excerpt from We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 33: The Uprising Begins (Easter Sunday)
    +++++

    Ezekiel 37:1–14
    Luke 24:1–32
    Colossians 1:9–29

    Let’s imagine ourselves with the disciples on the first Easter Sunday.

    Here’s what we heard. At dawn, before the sun has risen, some women who are part of our movement went to the tomb to properly wash Jesus’ corpse and prepare it for burial. When they arrived, they had a vision involving angels. One of the women claimed that Jesus appeared to her. The rest of us think it was just the gardener.

    The gardener! What a place to be buried—a grave in a garden! A bed of death in a bed of life!

    The women came and told the disciples. Peter went running back and found the tomb empty. Empty! And the burial cloths were still there, neatly folded. Who would take a naked corpse and leave the bloody cloths that it was wrapped in? Peter wondered what was going on—but he didn’t have any clear theory.

    We all speculated, but none of us knew what to think. We decided to go back home. That’s where we are now—walking on the road back home. It’s about a seven-mile walk to our little town of Emmaus. It takes a couple hours. Along the way we’ve been talking about all this, trying to come up with some kind of interpretation of the events that have transpired. Now we notice this other fellow walking toward us, a stranger. We lower our voices. He comes a little closer.

    “What are you folks talking about?” he asks.

    One of us replies, “Are you kidding? Are you the only person in this whole region who doesn’t know all that’s been happening around Jerusalem recently?”

    “Like what?” he asks.

    We tell him about Jesus, that he was clearly a prophet who said and did amazing things. We tell him how the religious and political leaders came together to arrest him. We go into some detail about the crucifixion on Friday. “We had hoped,” one of us says, and pauses. “We had hoped…that this Jesus was the one who was going to turn things around for Israel, that he would set us free from the Roman occupation.”

    We walk on a few steps, and he adds, “And this morning was the third day since his death, and some women from our group told us that they had a vision of angels who said he was alive.” It’s pretty clear from the tone of his voice that none of us take the report of the women very seriously.

    That’s when the stranger interrupts. “You just don’t get it, do you?” he says. “This is exactly what the prophets said would happen. They have been telling us all along that the Liberator would have to suffer and die like this before entering his glory.” As we continue walking, he starts explaining things to us from the Scriptures. He begins with Moses, and step by step he shows us the pattern of God’s work in history, culminating in what happened in Jerusalem in recent days. God calls someone to proclaim God’s will.

    Resistance and rejection follow, often culminating in an expulsion or murder to silence the speaker. But this isn’t a sign of defeat. This is the only way God’s most important messages are ever heard—through someone on the verge of being rejected. God’s word doesn’t come in dominating, crushing force. It comes only in vulnerability, in weakness, in gentleness…just as we have seen over this last week.

    At this point, we realize we’ve reached home already, and as we slow down, the stranger just keeps walking. We plead with him to stay here with us, since it’s getting late and will soon be dark. So he comes in and we sit down at our little table for a meal. He reaches to the center of the table and takes a loaf of bread and gives thanks for it. He breaks it and hands a piece of it to each of us and…

    It hits us at the same instant. This isn’t a stranger…this is…it couldn’t be—yes, this is Jesus! We each look down at the fragment of bread in our hands, and when we look back up to the stranger…he is gone!

    And we start talking, one interrupting the other. “When he spoke about Moses and the prophets, did you feel—?” “—Inspired? Yes. It felt like my heart was glowing, hotter and hotter, until it was ready to ignite.” “Did this really happen, or was it just a vision?” “Just a vision? Maybe a vision means seeing into what’s more real than anything else.” “But it wasn’t just me, right? You saw him too, right? You felt it too, right?” “What do we do now? Shouldn’t we…tell the others?” “Yes, let’s do it. Let’s go back to Jerusalem, even though it’s late. I could never sleep after experiencing this!”

    So we pack our gear and rush back to the city, excited and breathless. On our earlier journey, we were filled with one kind of perplexity—disappointment, confusion, sadness. Now we feel another kind of perplexity—wonder, awe, amazement, almost-too-good-to-be-true-ness. “Do you realize what this means?” one of us asks, and then answers his own question: “Jesus was right after all! Everything he stood for has been vindicated!”
    “Yes. And something else. We never have to fear death again.”

    “And if that’s true,” another answers, “we never need to fear Caesar and his forces again, either. Their only real weapon is fear, and if we lose our fear, what power do they have left? Ha! Death has lost its sting! That means we can stand tall and speak the truth, just like Jesus did.” “We never need to fear anyone again.” “This changes everything.” “It’s not just that Jesus was resurrected. It feels like we have arisen too. We were in a tomb of defeat and despair. But now—look at us! We’re truly alive again!”

    We talk as fast as we walk. We recall Jesus’ words from Thursday night about his body and blood. We remember what happened on Friday when his body and his blood were separated from one another on the cross. That’s what crucifixion was, we realize: the slow, excruciating, public separation of body and blood. So, we wonder, could it be that in the holy meal, when we remember Jesus, we are making space for his body and blood to be reunited and reconstituted in us? Could our remembering him actually re-member and resurrect him in our hearts, our bodies, our lives? Could his body and blood be reunited in us, so that we become his new embodiment? Is that why we saw him and then didn’t see him—because the place he most wants to be seen is in our bodies, among us, in us?

    It’s dark when we reach Jerusalem. Between this day’s sunrise and today’s sunset, our world has been changed forever. Everything is new. From now on, whenever we break the bread and drink the wine, we will know that we are not alone. The risen Christ is with us, among us, and within us—just as he was today, even though we didn’t recognize him. Resurrection has begun. We are part of something rare, something precious, something utterly revolutionary.

    It feels like an uprising. An uprising of hope, not hate. An uprising armed with love, not weapons. An uprising that shouts a joyful promise of life and peace, not angry threats of hostility and death. It’s an uprising of outstretched hands, not clenched fists. It’s the “someday” we have always dreamed of, emerging in the present, rising up among us and within us. It’s so different from what we expected—so much better. This is what it means to be alive, truly alive. This is what it means to be en route, walking the road to a new and better day. Let’s tell the others: the Lord is risen! He is risen, indeed!
    +++++

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  • April 4, 2015

    Holy Saturday

    This is an excerpt from We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32C: Doubt. Darkness. Despair (Holy Saturday)
    +++++

    Psalm 77
    Psalm 88
    Ecclesiastes 1:1–11
    Job 10:1–22
    Let us imagine ourselves with the disciples on that Saturday after the crucifixion. We are hiding together in a home, engaged in sober, somber conversation.
    Perhaps our descendants, the disciples of the future, will call this a day of waiting. But we are not waiting. For us, there is nothing to wait for. All we know is what was lost yesterday as Jesus died on the cross. For us, it’s all over. This is a day of doubt, despair, disillusionment, devastation.

    Certain details of the killing yesterday are hard to shake. Jesus, carrying his cross on the road to Golgotha, surrounded by women who were weeping for him. Jesus telling them, “Don’t weep for me. Weep for yourselves and your children.” What did he mean? Was he telling them that the violence spilling out on him was only a trickle of the reservoir that waited behind the scenes to flood the whole region?

    Then there was Peter…so full of bluster at dinner on Thursday, such a coward later that night, and invisible all of yesterday. And Judas—to think we trusted him as our treasurer! At least the women stayed true…the women, and John, who was entrusted with Mary’s care as her surrogate son. None of us can imagine what yesterday must have been like for Mary. She has carried so much in her heart for so long, and now this.

    Then there was that strange darkness, as if the whole world were being uncreated, and there was that strange rumor about the veil in the Temple being torn from top to bottom. Was that an image for God in agony, like a man tearing his clothes in fury over the injustice that was happening. Or was it a rejection of the priesthood for their complicity in the crime—a way of saying that God was done with the priests and the Temple, that God would welcome people into the Holiest Place without their assistance? Or maybe it could mean that God is on the loose—that God is through with being contained in a stone structure and behind a thick curtain and wants to run free through the world like the wind? That’s a nice sentiment, but not likely from today’s vantage point. Today it best symbolizes that no place is holy any more. If a murder like this can take place in the so-called Holy City, supported by the so-called Holy Priesthood, then holiness is nothing but a sham. It’s a torn curtain, and behind it only emptiness lies.

    On top of it all, we have to come to terms with the fact that Jesus seemed to know all this was coming. True, at the last minute, just before the betrayal and arrest, he prayed that the cup might pass from him. But he had been telling us that something terrible was coming—telling us since back in Caesarea Philippi, when Peter confessed him as the Liberating King and the true Leader, telling us in many ways, even in his parables.

    He loved life. Yet he did not cling to it. He loved life. Yet he was not controlled by the fear of death. In the garden Thursday night, it seemed as if to him, the fear of death was more dangerous than death itself, so he needed to deal with the fear once and for all. But look where that got him. Maybe it would have been better for him to flee back to Galilee. Lots of other people are living in communes out in the desert, waiting for Jerusalem and all it represents to crumble under its own weight. Maybe that was what we should have done.

    But it’s too late now.

    That one Roman soldier was impressed by him, but the others—all they cared about was seeing who would win a dead man’s garment with a roll of the dice. True to form—playing games and obsessed with clothes and money to the very end!

    Then came that moment when one of the rebels who was being crucified with Jesus started mocking him. When the other rebel spoke up to defend Jesus, Jesus said those kind words to him about being with him in Paradise. Even then he had compassion for someone else. Even in death he was kind to a neighbor. And finally there was that haunting moment when he spoke of forgiveness…for those who were crucifying him, and for us all.

    Normal, sane people would have said, “God, damn them to hell forever for what they have done!” But not Jesus.“They don’t understand what they’re doing,” he said.

    What did our leaders think they were doing? Protecting law and order? Preserving the status quo? Conserving what little peace and security we have left? Silencing a heretic or blasphemer? Shutting down a rabble-rouser and his burgeoning movement?

    Right up to the last minute we dared hope that God would send in some angels, stop the whole charade, and let everyone see how wrong they were and how right Jesus was. But no last-minute rescue came. Only death came. Bloody, sweaty, filthy, ugly death. Just before he died, it seemed that even he had lost faith. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” he cried. Maybe some shred of hope remained, though, because his last words were, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit.”

    Now. Now, he is dead. Does that mean this uprising is dead, too? We feel a chill as we realize that possibility. What do we do now? Do we leave, go back home, pick up our lives where we left them before all this started for us? Do we try to carry on the teaching of a…dead, defeated, failed, and discredited leader? Do we turn cynical, disillusioned, dark, bitter? Fishing and tax collecting will seem meaningless compared to the memories of these last three years. But that’s all we have left…fishing, tax collecting, and memories. The adventure of Jesus is dead and done.

    Maybe we have all been fools. Maybe Pontius Pilate was right when he told Jesus that truth didn’t matter, only power matters—the power of swords and spears, chariots and crosses, whips and nails. Or maybe the Sadducees and their rich friends in Jerusalem are right: life is short, and then you die, so amass all the money you can, by any means you can. And while you can, eat the best food and drink the best wine, because that’s all there is.
    Wine. That brings us back to Thursday night there, around the table. “Remember me. Remember me. I will not eat of this until…” Until?

    Did Jesus really believe that death wasn’t the last word? Did he really believe that there was any hope of…

    That’s too much to believe today. Today, we sink in our doubt. Today we drown in our despair. Today we are pulled down, down, down, in our pain and disappointment. Today we allow ourselves to question everything about the story we have been told.

    Creation? Maybe God made this world, or maybe it’s all a cruel, meaningless joke.
    Crisis? Maybe violence and hate are just the way of the world. Maybe they’re not an intrusion or anomaly; maybe they’re the way things are and will always, always be.
    Calling? Forget about being blessed to be a blessing. Today we lie low and nurse our wounds. It is a dangerous world out there. We would be wise to stay inside and lock all doors.
    Captivity? Who cares if Moses succeeded in getting our ancestors out of slavery in Egypt? Jesus failed, and there’s no Moses for us now. We’re still captives, worse off than we were before that crazy Galilean came and raised our hopes.
    Conquest? If the most violent win and the nonviolent are killed, what kind of world is it?
    Conversation? Today it seems that the skeptics and doubters were right. There’s nothing to say except, “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity!” Today’s lament feels like the only sure truth in all the sacred Scriptures!
    Christ? What Christ? He lies in a grave, cold and dead, and with him, all our hopes for a better way to be alive.

    +++++

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  • April 3, 2015

    Good Friday

    This is an excerpt from We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32B: Everything Must Change (Good Friday)
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    Psalm 22
    Luke 22:39–23:56
    Let’s imagine ourselves with the disciples just before three o’clock on this Friday afternoon. A few of us have come together to talk about what has happened over the last twenty-four hours.

    It all started falling apart late last night when Judas, accompanied by a little band of soldiers, came for Jesus. All we could think about was saving ourselves. Only Peter and John had the courage to stay with Jesus for a while. But by the time dawn came, Peter was having an emotional breakdown and John had run away, too. The next thing we knew, about nine this morning, Jesus was carrying his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. It was obvious he had been beaten, scourged mercilessly, mocked, and tortured. He was hardly recognizable.

    By noon, he was hanging on the cross.

    During the last three hours, some of us have gathered at a distance to watch. We’ve been silent, lost in our own thoughts, but no doubt all our thoughts have been running the same circuit through the same shared memories.

    We’ve been remembering last evening in the Garden, before Judas showed up. We kept falling asleep as Jesus prayed: “My Father, if it is possible, take this cup of suffering away from me. However, not what I want but what you want.” With tears and in great distress, he prayed a second and third time. But the thrust of his prayer shifted from what might be possible to what might not be possible: “My Father, if it is not possible that this cup be taken away unless I drink it, then let it be what you want.” In the second and third prayers, he was clearly preparing to die.

    But why? Why was there no other way? Why did this good man—the best we have ever known, the best we have ever imagined—have to face torture and execution as if he were some evil monster?

    As the hours drag on from noon to nearly three o’clock, we imagine many reasons. Some are political. The Pharisees were right to be concerned last Sunday when Jesus came marching into the capital. First our little parade—the Romans would have called it a rebellious mob—proclaimed Jesus as king. From there, he marched into the Temple and called it a hideout for crooks, turning over the tables and upsetting the religious economy. Only a fool would do things like these without expecting consequences. Jesus was no fool.

    We think about more spiritual reasons for this to happen. Jesus has told us again and again that God is different from our assumptions. We’ve assumed that God was righteous and pure in a way that makes God hate the unrighteous and impure. But Jesus has told us that God is pure love, so overflowing in goodness that God pours out compassion on the pure and impure alike. He not only has told us of God’s unbounded compassion—he has embodied it every day as we have walked this road with him. In the way he has sat at table with everyone, in the way he has never been afraid to be called a “friend of sinners,” in the way he has touched untouchables and refused to condemn even the most notorious of sinners, he has embodied for us a very different vision of what God is like.

    At dinner last night, when he knelt down and washed our feet, and later when he called us his friends, what was that supposed to mean? Was he trying to show us that God isn’t a dictator high in the sky eager for us to cower in fear at his feet? Was he inviting us to think of God as the one who is down here with us, who stoops low and touches our feet—as a servant would? Was he telling us that God would rather cleanse us than condemn us? If that was the case last night, what could this horrible day be trying to show us? Could there be any meaning in this catastrophe playing out before us now?

    And then we think: if Jesus is showing us something so radical about God, what is he telling us about ourselves—about human beings and our social and religious institutions? What does it mean when our political leaders and our religious leaders come together to mock and torture and kill God’s messenger, God’s beloved child, God’s best and brightest? How misguided can our nation be? Is this the only way religions and governments maintain order—by threatening us with pain, shame, and death if we don’t comply? And is this how they unify us—by turning us into a mob that comes together in its shared hatred of the latest failure, loser, rebel, criminal, outcast…or prophet? The Romans boast of their peace, and our priests boast of their holiness and justice, but today it all looks like a sham, a fraud, a con game. What kind of world have we made? What kind of people have we become?

    One minute the crowds were flocking to Jesus hoping for free bread and healing. The next minute they were shouting, “Crucify him!” And we, his so-called disciples, we are no better. One minute we were eating a meal with him and he was calling us his friends. Now here we stand at a distance, unwilling to identify ourselves with him and so risk what we is going through.

    It has grown strangely dark now, in the middle of the afternoon, and in the darkness, even from this distance, we can hear Jesus. “Father, forgive them,” he shouts. “For they don’t know what they are doing.”

    Forgive them? Forgive us?

    Our thoughts bring us again to the garden last night, when Jesus asked if there could be any other way. And now it seems clear. There could be no other way to show us what God is truly like. God is not revealed in killing and conquest…in violence and hate. God is revealed in this crucified man—giving of himself to the very last breath, giving and forgiving.

    And there could be no other way to show us what we are truly like. We do not know what we are doing, indeed.

    If God is like this, and if we are like this…everything must change. Everything must change.
    +++++

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  • April 2, 2015

    Maundy Thursday …

    This is an excerpt from We Make the Road by Walking, Chapter 32 A: A Table, a Basin, Some Food, Some Friends …
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    Let’s imagine ourselves near Jerusalem. It’s Thursday night, and we are walking the road with Jesus’ disciples on Thursday of this climactic week. What a week it has been! It all started last Sunday as Jesus led us in that unforgettable parade into Jerusalem. And then there was that scene at the Temple. That sure stirred things up! Every night we have slept outside the city and returned the next morning for more drama. One day there were confrontations with the religious scholars and Pharisees; the next day, more controversy with the Sadducees. Jesus has issued lots of dire warnings about the fate of the Temple, which upsets many people because it’s the center of their whole world. And earlier today, just as Jesus sent two of us to find that donkey for our parade last Sunday, he sent Peter and John to find a man carrying a water jar so they could prepare the Passover meal at his guest room tonight.

    Every Passover all Jews remember the night before our ancestors were liberated from slavery in Egypt. We celebrate a night of great anticipation. We associate each element of the meal—bitter herbs, unleavened bread, a lamb, fruit, and more—with different meanings from the liberation story. But tonight, at this special Passover, the focus isn’t on the distant past. It’s on the present and what will soon happen. Jesus draws our attention not to the lamb, but to a simple loaf of bread and a cup of wine. Near the end of the meal, Jesus lifts the bread and gives thanks for it. He says, “This is my body, given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he lifts a cup of wine and says, “This cup is the new covenant by my blood, which is poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.” He adds, “Whenever you take this bread and drink from this cup, do so in memory of me.”
    Our first reaction is shock. To ask us to remember him suggests he will soon die. We know he has mentioned this several times, but now it hits us: he really means it, and it’s coming soon. Our second reaction? To speak of his body and blood this way sounds repulsive—like cannibalism! Why would we want to eat human flesh or drink human blood! That’s unkosher in our religion, and downright uncivilized! What could Jesus possibly mean by these strange words?

    But before we can ponder the meaning of Jesus’ strange words any more, he adds to our shock by speaking about one of us being his betrayer. That quickly gets us arguing about which one of us would do such a terrible thing. Soon, we’ve moved on from arguing about which of us is the worst disciple to arguing about which of us is the greatest. It’s pretty pathetic, when you think about it. It says a lot about us disciples, and a lot about human nature, too. Jesus is trying to tell us he’s about to suffer and die, and all we can do is think about ourselves, our egos, our status in the pecking order!

    Even this becomes a teaching opportunity for Jesus. Gentiles, meaning the Romans who occupy our land and seek to dominate us in every way, play these kinds of status games, he says. They cover up their status games with all kinds of language games. “That’s not the way it will be with you,” Jesus says. “Instead, the greatest among you must become like a person of lower status and the leader like a servant.”

    Years from now, when the Fourth Gospel will tell the story, it will make this theme of service the focal point of this whole evening. It won’t even include the bread and the wine and Jesus’ solemn words about them. It will put center stage the dramatic moment when Jesus strips off his normal clothing and puts a towel around his waist. He pours water in a basin, stoops as a servant would, and washes the dust from our feet, one by one. When he finishes, he explains that he has set an example—of humble service, not domination—and he means us to imitate his example. Later, after the meal, he will expand “Serve one another as I have served you” to “Love one another as I have loved you.”

    Both ways of telling the story of this night lead us to the same meaning. The original Passover recalled one kind of liberation—liberation from slavery in Egypt. This meal suggests another kind of liberation—liberation from playing the shame games of rivalry, pecking order, domination, and competition to reach the top of the pyramid of pride. If the first Passover gets people out from under the heel of the slave master, this holy meal leads people out from the desire to be slave masters in the first place. This meal celebrates a new model of aliveness—a model of service, of self-giving, of being blessed, broken, and given for the well-being of others.

    It’s pretty predictable, I guess: to see how we disciples completely miss the point and turn that holy supper into an argument, a contest for who will be the greatest, who will have the most status at the table, who will be excluded. But in spite of our anxiety and rivalry…

    Jesus, the patient teacher…
    Jesus, the humble leader…
    Jesus, the king of self-giving sets an example of service. And in that context, he asks us to remember him—not primarily for his great miracles, not primarily for his brilliant teaching, but primarily, essentially, for this: that he gives himself like food for us, and for the whole world.

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  • April 1, 2015

    Start Your Week with This

    Another great song from Rob Leveridge:

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