Bread and Betrayal, Fifth Sermon in Series, “Memorable Biblical Meals”

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I.

Meals were immensely important in the time of Jesus.  This was true for a multitude of reasons. Let me mention a few.
First, the whole concept of profuse hospitality that had been alive in the Hebrew experience this since monotheism was born carried into the home. If visitors, aliens, and others were welcome, and they were, to come up to one’s home and ask to join in a meal or for a place to sleep or something of that nature; if that much concern was to be shown to an unknown, then surely, certainly, there was intense concern for family around one of the key issues of hospitality–namely, taking a meal together.
Implied in what I have just said is the reality of acceptance of those people with whom one ate.  To be at table together by its very nature showed acceptance of others invited to share in the same meal.  One did not share a meal with an enemy, at least knowingly.
It was not happenstance that caused the Lord’s Supper, a true communal meal, to find its way into the center of the practice of Christianity.  What we remember when we gather for communion is Jesus’ sacrifice of himself for doing good. Jesus lost his life, as you well know, because he stood for good, goodness, godliness and would not retreat from his perception that God is love, spilling into the lives of all people.  He would not tickle the Roman emperor’s fancy by denying his, Jesus’, convictions in order to praise the Roman Empire and its carefully conceived collection of deities.
So that conflict and that loss are always in the back of our minds when we come to partake of the elements of communion. What we enact, though, when we come to celebrate the Lord’s Supper goes back to being at table at any meal.  If I sit with you at table then I accept you; I affirm you. I trust you. I take you to be someone who has my back, if you will, whether or not that always turns out to be the case.  Again, I am not going to share a meal, conversation, and time with someone whom I know to be against me, someone who clearly has shown or otherwise made known that she or he has no regard for my well wellbeing.
Most meals in Jesus’ day included only family members, not guests. The family may have been the extended family, probably was. Then as we’ve noted sometimes there were unexpected guests, but most of the time when there was a meal families were eating together except at expanded celebrations with feasts to celebrate the major Jewish holidays.
Let me mention a third reason why the partaking of a meal with someone was considered so important in Jesus’ millieu. The preparation of a typical meal was a long, involved process. There was no fast food of course; maybe some loaves of bread would have been made ahead, bread that might last a couple of days, but not very long.  Wine was made ahead, of course, and kept in wineskins for some time. Otherwise, everything had to be prepared freshly from scratch.
Most of the cooking was done by the woman of the family or the women in the family beginning with getting to the market early enough in the morning to purchase the best items, the freshest items; pulverizing wheat stalks into flour for bread, building a fire over which the food would be cooked, and so on.  Perhaps there was some awareness, therefore, though hardly enough I’m certain, of the gift of the meal.  Someone had paid for the items that made up the meal. Someone had labored, diligently labored, to prepare and serve the meal so there was a gift involved in sharing what was served at table.
Given the background and context of meals, then, only good should happen during and as a result of sharing a meal together.  Notice that I said, “should,” and if I had not you would be saying it silently for me. Sadly, good alone did not/does not consistently happen as a result of sharing meals together.
I stumbled across an article about the importance of meals in modern-day US America.  The headline proclaimed:  “Experts everywhere agree: Sharing meals helps cement family relationships, no matter how you define ‘family.’”  The article quoted author Miriam Weinstein extensively.  Ms. Weinstein is the author of a popular book titled, The Surprising Power of Family Meals.
Quoting the author now:  “Sitting down to a meal together draws a line around us.  It encloses us and, for a brief time, strengthens the bonds that connect us with other members of our self-defined clan, shutting out the rest of the world [just long enough to accomplish that].”
The article reports on the results of numerous studies that concur with Weinstein’s findings.  Here are some proven benefits of families taking regular meals together except when your children are in their two’s and their teens.  Just kidding.  I threw in that last part, but it’s just a painful joke.  We have to find a way to be at table even with those family members who don’t want to be there with us and who, thus, do everything within their power to make the rest of us sitting there uncomfortable if not exasperated.
Everyone in the family is benefitted from sharing meals together, assuming that the food served has been prepared from fresh and wholesome ingredients, not ingredients that are spoiled and will make most or all members of the family ill.  If that occurs, there’s a different kind of bonding that takes place as family members wait for the next available bathroom.
We can’t get to all age groups, so let’s focus on how quality family meal time benefits the children of the family.
Children who, most of the time, have at least one daily meal with their families get better grades, develop healthier eating habits that they will carry into adulthood, have closer and more positive relationships with parents and siblings, have greater tenacity in resisting peer pressure to get into trouble, and more strength and resilience in bouncing back after one of life’s crises.  More whole family meals at home was the single strongest influence in better achievement test scores and fewer behavioral problems at home, at school, and elsewhere.
Children naturally depend on parents to model good health for them, for the kids.  How did we do with that, my fellow parents, or how are we doing with that?  Researchers say that most US American kids, 70 percent of them, learn what they know about health from their mothers while 30 percent learn how to be healthy or not from their fathers.  If you have two mothers like Lillian, then you get 140 percent of your health information from your moms.  These statistics assume a two parent, in tact family unit.
Because feeding is the most basic animal form of caring, sharing meals is one of the most central family bonding acts.
More meals at home resulted in less obesity for all members of the clan.
As a result of little lessons about table manners, kids learn to share and think of others. By saying, ‘please,’ and, ‘thank you,’ researchers tell us that we recognize the humanity of our tablemates, acknowledging the fact that they deserve respect just as we also deserve respect.
About 20 percent of US American teenagers tell therapists and research specialists that if they have less than tree whole family dinners weekly, there is a high degree of stress in the family most of the time.  Teens from homes where at least five whole family meals are shared in a week’s time, about 7 percent of the total–not so good!!!–report that stress is rare in their families and tension between family members unlikely.
Direct quote from the article:  “More than a decade of research by The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University has found that the more often kids eat dinner with their families, the less like they are to smoke, drink or use drugs.”

II.
We are thinking together today about “bread and betrayal,” so I thought it would be worthwhile to think about some of the most remembered turncoats in history before we get to our primary character and focus.
Guy Fawkes was one of several British Roman Catholic revolutionaries who plotted to blow up most of England’s aristocracy in 1605.  To set this in a bit of context, 6 years after this plot King James released for distribution his famous or infamous Authorized Version of the Bible, in time to be called the KJV, the King James Version of the Bible.  It’s important to remember that King James employed professional biblical scholars to do the translation work.  He may have had opinions about certain subjects that caused a translation committee to lean a certain way for the sake of their powerful monarch, but the King himself, as far as I know, did none of the translation work himself.  Back to Guy Fawkes in 1605.  The Gunpowder plot was stopped by authorities who caught Fawkes before he could carry out his plan to kill off the aristocrats.  Rich or not, they were his fellow citizens, and he turned on them.  He was willing to kill them for the benefit of the non-wealthy like himself.   He was sentenced, in 1606, to be hung, drawn, and quartered, but he foiled all the King’s men by jumping from the scaffold at the last minute; this turned out to be a suicide though he may not have intended that.
Robert Hanssen was a police officer in Chicago who, in 1976, let that job to become a Special Agent for the FBI.  In ‘79, he became involved with the FBI’s counterintelligence unit.  Scholars of American History tell us that this professional move “paved the way for some of the most treasonous acts in American history.”  In 1983, Hanssen was reassigned; this transfer was to the Soviet espionage.  He was an ultra techie guy who used computers and surveillance equipment to their maximum potential.  He got to know some key people at the Kremlin ending up selling lists of FBI double agents, those appearing to work for the Soviets but actually working for the US.  He commanded huge sums of money for the information he could provide, and he quickly became filthy rich. His own brother-in-law ratted him out, and he was easily convicted.  He is serving a life sentence in solitary confinement at the supermax security facility in Colorado.
I don’t think I’d put Jane Fonda, “Hanoi Jane,” on a list of super traitors, but some did and do.  She was vehemently opposed to the Vietnam War.  As the war continued with no end in sight, she sympathized with North Vietnam who was our enemy in the conflict.  She went to North Vietnam and became involved firsthand in getting to know, she thought, what was really going on.  She took pity on the North Vietnamese and spoke out in their favor to her fellow Americans.  She interviewed numerous POW’s for television news back in the US, and those prisoners almost across the board spoke of how well their captors were treating them.  After the war and their release, many of those same POW’s said they knew that had to tell Ms. Fonda what she wanted to hear or face consequences worse than they already endured once she took her leave.  Many Americans including plenty of military brass wanted her tried for treason, but she was somehow able to escape it.
Julius Caesar appointed himself “dictator for life” of the Roman Empire.  He was a violent man whose ways of abusing his people resulted in his assassination.  Caesar’s own nephew, Brutus, joined in the secret plot to kill this dictator for life.  He was therefore a traitor to his uncle and his family as a whole.  A group of senators with the help of Brutus killed Caesar with their bare hands.  The attack was so violent that many of the senators were themselves injured trying to kill their leader.  The famous quote, “Et tu, Brutus?”, was uttered by Caesar as he saw the depths of his betrayal by his subjects, most painfully by his own nephew.  Brutus would take his own life 42 or so years before Jesus was born.
How about Benedict Arnold?  He was an American general in the Revolutionary War who, during the war, decided to change his allegiance to the British. One of his first responsibilities as a British supporter was to help the British takeover the American fort at West Point, New York.  He failed.  Is there anything worse in public life than a failed traitor?  Benedict Arnold boarded a ship under the cover of darkness on its way to England.  Turns out the British didn’t like or respect a traitor even if he had come over to their side.  General Arnold died in poverty and virtual anonymity in Canada as the nineteenth century was dawning.
Of course, there are other kinds of betrayal other than being traitorous to one’s country.
I could mention names like John Edwards and Tiger Woods in this context, and you’d understand why.  I could mention Jerry Sandusky in this context, and if you believe the charges leveled against him as the jury did, then you’d understand why his name could be mentioned in a sermon on betrayal.
I could bring up the fallen television evangelist, Jim Bakker, and if you remember him and Tammy Faye, you know immediately why I could call his name in this sermon.  You may remember their wildly popular television show, “The PTL Club.”  PTL stands for “Praise the Lord.”  They built a huge, loyal group of viewers who kept large sums of money flowing into the all aspects of the Bakkers’ ministries and the lavish personal lifestyle.  After a while, criticism and proposed scrutiny of Jim Bakker’s fundraising and financial methods.  In 1979, a story appeared in The Charlotte Observer, and I remember this vividly.  Being a seminarian at that time, these kinds of stories really caught the attention of myself and my colleagues.  The Charlotte newspaper, which was surely a thorn in Bakker’s flesh, charged that hundreds of thousands of dollars raised allegedly for international mission efforts were actually spent for PTL upkeep, the air-conditioned dog house they built for their pet, the his and her matching Rolls Royces, and the gold pipes they had placed in their Florida condo.  Investigations began, but investigators never seemed to be able to get their teeth into anything solid.  Finally, the IRS got involved and found $13 million Bakker couldn’t account for.  He finally told the IRS that the only way this could have happened was for the devil to have gotten into his finance computer.  Even this was dismissed by the Justice Department.  Finally, even with the vast amounts of money still flowing into the PTL organization, Bakker was in serious debt, and he knew that a church secretary with whom he had been having an affair was about to report her situation to the press even though Bakker had given her $265,000 to keep her mouth shut.  When his debt reached $130 million he filed for bankruptcy at which point there was a major investigation leading to convictions, 24 of them–all related to mail and wire fraud.  The judge sentenced him to 45 years in person and a half million dollar fine.  He only served 5 of those years before another judge shortened his sentence and set him free.  He is now pastoring a church devoted, he says, to winning the whole world to Jesus Christ.

III.
Judas Iscariot.  Of course, his name had to come up in this sermon.  In fact, he’s the central character on whom you’ve been thinking the sermon centered.  We’ll see.
This is what one internet source reports about Judas:

According to the Bible, Satan “entered Judas” before he betrayed the son of God to Roman authorities. This infamous member of the Twelve Apostles betrayed his friend for money alone – thirty pieces of silver. Judas arranged a special signal to let the authorities know the identity of Jesus Christ: he would kiss Jesus to identify him. This “Judas kiss” led to the prosecution and death by crucifixion of the Son of God, and puts Judas Iscariot at number one as the most notorious traitor in human history:  Judas died shortly after his monumental act of greed.

The first time I ever heard Judas mentioned in a potentially positive light was when I was taking an introductory Second Testament course as a freshman in college. The course was called simply “Jesus,” and many of you have heard me say on more than occasion that it was one of the great courses of my academic career.
Dr. Bill Blevins gave me the tools, the information, and the impetus to start thinking about Jesus as a real person–not, as he said, the stained Jesus.  As long as Jesus remained stuck in stained glass, he was the divine prisoner of the church; no one could know him, from those sources, as a real person–human even.
As the course was coming to a close we were concentrating on the passion and execution of Jesus by the Romans, and in the process of going through the events known to us about the last hours of Jesus’ earthly life, Dr. Blevins mentioned that Judas might well have been the one among the 12 closest male followers of Jesus who had the most confidence in Jesus’ ability to overthrow the Romans and give the Jews their freedom.  This is what those who entertained messianic notions about Jesus wanted from him.
In recent years this stream of thought has been taken up by some of the Jesus Seminar scholars, notably John Dominic Crossan and Marcus Borg, and what I heard from the gifted Bill Blevins 40 years ago I’m hearing from Jesus scholars today.
The church as a whole has not, by any means, bought into this notion that Judas was a good guy rather than an evil traitor.  There are thinking people, though, who believe he was no villian.
Regardless of who believes what about Judas’ role in Jesus’ execution by Rome, Jesus was crucified by Rome.  Now, I want to say that I’m a fan of the idea of Judas as a good guy so Jesus’ death was his worst nightmare.
At a meal, Judas finalizes his plans to betray Jesus to the enemy, but much more is going on here than meets the eye.  As I mentioned at the beginning today, for something bad or evil to happen in or around a shared meal made it worse, whatever it was. Jesus at that table was celebrating with his closest, dearest, most trusted friends and associates. Certainly all 12 men in the men’s group were there at that meal, and probably also the women, who were very close to Jesus and who were with him as much as their family responsibilities would allow, very likely were there at the Last Supper.
Here’s the twist though.  Judas, though he loved Jesus, thought Jesus was too soft, and his proclivity toward pacifism would not let him become aggressive with the Romans.  Therefore, Judas came up with this plan to force Jesus to take action, to defend himself and his ministry.  Judas believed that if he helped the authorities take custody of Jesus with talk of imprisonment and execution, Jesus would come out swinging.  No.  It didn’t work.  Jesus couldn’t be tricked into being someone other than the person he was.
Worst nightmare. I already said it, and I’ll say it again:   Judas’ worst nightmare.  In the hands of a handful of Jewish leaders first then Rome, Jesus did not come out swinging.  Jesus did not indicate that he wanted to fight the Romans.  Jesus did not start trying to put Jewish troops together to take on the mighty Roman Empire.  He moved closer by the minute to Calvary and his execution by crucifixion.  Once Judas realized how out of control things were, he killed himself.  He couldn’t bear to ponder what he had done to the one whom he probably loved and respected more than anyone on earth.
Those who want to keep trying to prove that Judas was the chief of all traitors focus on the payment to Judas for his assistance.  Thirty pieces of silver–a pittance.  Maybe enough for Judas to buy groceries for a week.  That was just a business formality.
As Judas walked toward the place where he would end his earthly life, he remembered that just a few hours earlier he had been with Jesus at table. The men loved each other, just as Jesus loved all of his followers, male and female.  This is part of what kept Judas going, part of his reason for being.
Jesus never betrayed a soul, and Judas surely aspired to live like Jesus, with Jesus’ values.  Jesus had said so unforgettably, “There is no greater love in the human family than when one person lays down her or his life for someone else.”  That kind of ethic leaves no room for betrayal.  Someone has pointed out that those “who disliked the inclusiveness of Jesus labeled him ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners’ (Lk 7: 34).  But, Jesus knew very well the power of inclusiveness, expressed in his table fellowship.”
I’m so glad that I get to sit at table with you frequently–the table of communion and the table of fellowship.  Being with you at table reminds me that we will be there for each other no matter what.  The affirmation others show us by being at table with us is a major source of strength for the journey.
Pass the bread, please.

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Living as if the Needy Don’t (Fourth of Sermon Series, Memorable Biblical Meals)

I.
The easiest way for me to deal with people in need asking for help whom I know that I can’t help is to ignore them as best I can. I don’t want to see the looks in their eyes several hours after I’ve encountered them. I don’t want to have to be engaged in conversation with one more person I can’t help, trying to explain why I can’t give her or him anything after I’ve just exited the grocery store with a couple of sacks of groceries in hand. If I tell the truth, frustrated that I feel forced to explain and reveal my personal business, I sense that my “excuses,” sound to the person in need like pitiful piles of nonsense–though they are not: “I don’t carry cash,” and “I give all I can manage each month to organizations that feed the hungry.” I don’t want to wake up the next morning and, first thing, remember the hand-lettered signs they held at intersections or on corners. So, again, the easiest way for me to deal with a problem I cannot solve and may not even be able to make a dent in is to ignore the harbingers of human need themselves.
Not for a second do I defend my responses as exemplary. I’m not at all proud of the pattern into which I’ve fallen; thus far, it’s an emotional survival technique, but I cannot preach this sermon without being honest about how I respond to the needy, the hungry in particular. I am not the person to look to if you want to figure out how to respond as Jesus would have responded. I am not the person to emulate if you want to preserve all that is possible of the needy person’s dignity.
My previous two congregations were urban churches where knocks on the door asking for help of all kinds were a part of practically every day. In both cases, we as a staff tried to divvy up responsibilities for daily door duty; the pastor took his turn with all the others.
In both places, we had cash at first, which we converted to vouchers; then, we found out the vouchers were being sold by some of those we tried to help, and the proceeds from the sales were purchasing drugs. The Board of Finance and the Board of Ministry in both cases wanted to get me off the door as soon as possible. I gave away everything we had. I believed every story I was told. Even if I didn’t wholeheartedly swallow every detail of every tale told to me, I was at least highly sympathetic with the factors that had put a person into a position to have to be going from church to church asking for food, even if some were con artists. A surprisingly large number are since churches are widely regarded as easy marks.
A suburban congregation as a rule has many fewer people knocking at the door asking for money or food, but it still happens here on occasion. In place of knocks, though, we are likely to get phone calls and an occasional email from a high tech needy person using a computer in a public library. “If you have funds to share, please deposit them into my Pay Pal account, and may God bless you.”
Silverside Church doesn’t ignore the needy, the hungry or any others. One of the things our congregation doesn’t do well is to toot its own horn, and while that has merit in some respects the end result is that people, often our own friends and members, don’t have any idea what we are doing to make a difference beyond these lovely walls. Periodically, I think we have to make known where our benevolence dollars go so those who are supporting us know that their money isn’t just going to repair aging roofs and pay a small set of salaries. We have one Board whose exclusive responsibility it is to lead the church in its support of causes that help the needy; we call this board the Board of Outreach, and the current chairperson is Marsha Mah.,, We give budgeted and over-and-above-budgeted monies to benevolent causes most of which, not all, deal with helping hungry and homeless people–largely in Wilmington, but not only in Wilmington. Combined, there have been years when gifts to the indigent have totaled a third of all dollars that pass through this place in a year’s time. Here’s a horn toot: that’s remarkable for any congregation, especially a small congregation, and you need to know that what you sacrifice to contribute to the church is making a huge difference in the lives of countless needy people, locally and around the world.
Broadly, members and friends of Silverside Church, through their contributions to the Church, support not only our operational needs for keeping a staff and a building going here at 2800 Silverside Road, but also we support with dollars and person-power locally where we can the following programs that minister to the needy, the hungry in particular: the Christmastime Adopt-a-Family community project through which we provide for three or so families (usually) assigned to us by the Claymont Community Ministries staff Christmas gifts for each member of the family, funds and/or supplies to meet actual needs made known to us, and the fixings for a very nice Christmas meal; the annual America for Christ offering through which we try to help meet the needs of some struggling people in our own country such as the first round of Hurricane Katrina survivors; the Claymont Food Pantry, which is like a small grocery store with the goods supplied by people like us creating a means for people with the need for food to come into the Pantry and gather food for individuals and families as if in a small grocery store; the Delaware Food Bank; Emmanuel Dining Room, which I often mention, so most of you know that this is the ministry that has an organization, usually a church, preparing and then serving the noon meal for hungry folks in downtown Wilmington one day per month, which for us is the 13th; Friendship House, a multifaceted ministry program foundationally directed toward the multiple needs (clothing, food, job training, pastoral care, and so on) of the homeless–from street addicts to couples and whole families left homeless because of foreclosures in these economic times with our main involvement with the hungry being those meals served at Andrew’s Place and Epiphany House; Meals on Wheels, continuing a very longstanding project for Silverside members and friends along with many others in our community who deliver a hot, nutritious noon meal to a homebound person every week day; Project Purple, a church and community effort for the homeless on nights when trying to sleep outside would be deadly–so when the temperatures get to a certain low, ministry participants make loads of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and rush them downtown to a central shelter that will add hot beverages and share with other shelters all over the city; the Souper Bowl Offering taken on Super Bowl Sunday and applied at the discretion of our Board of Outreach to a pressing hunger need typically close at hand; and the World Mission Offering, which sometimes goes to hunger-related causes and sometimes not.
That’s a lot, and I’ll bet many of you didn’t know how far reaching your financial gifts were going. The good news is, I probably omitted something!
II.
The infamous biblical meal at the center of our thoughts for today is really a series of meals, but essentially the same characters are involved. The story is a fictional tale, one of Jesus’ parables, and the parable has a nickname, “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” Some traditions give the rich man a name, Dives, but the version with the nameless rich man is probably the one original with Jesus because of what he wants to emphasize in his timeless tale.
In this world, everybody who was anybody knew the rich man’s name, and only a handful of people knew the poor man’s name; but those who remembered were also insignificant, societally speaking, so he was primarily known as the troublesome poor guy who hung out at the rich man’s gate asking the rich man and his endless flow of guests to ease his misery a bit by tossing him a few of the crumbs that were being swiped off the tables and on the floor for the dogs to come through and gobble up, thus also cleaning the floor.
From all indications, though the poor man sat there day by day in hope of help, not a single individual tossed him as much as a crumb. Most ignored him. To most he didn’t exist; he was invisible. He was neither acknowledged nor noticed. The rich folk walked over him like an irritating bump in their important pathways. I’m very sorry to tell you and ashamed to admit the truth, but it is the truth. Considering my current and historic behavior, if I were a character in this parable, I’d have been one of the rich people ignoring the destitute man one day after another. I should be ashamed, and I am.,, Back to the name thing. As Jesus told the parable, the hungry man ignored by every other earthly character in the parable has a name. How could that have been possible? If bad guys and gals get enough notoriety, we remember the names of even the sleaziest politicians and criminals who commit the most heinous crimes, though we probably don’t recall for long, if we ever knew, the names of their victims like those of the movie theatre assassin in Colorado. I appreciate the Holocaust Museum, and AIDS Quilt, and other vehicles of memory for this very reason. Those who unjustly lost their lives are remembered. Square by square, engraving by engraving those whom many others intended to forget are not forgotten after all.
So, Jesus tells his stirring story, leaving hearers then and now squirming in their seats, and his original hearers who experienced culture and day to day life the way he did were troubled because the rich man remained nameless, and the poor man’s name was continually called. That is preparation, though, for the climactic irony in the story. At death, the rich man remains nameless and is separated from God while Lazarus, the poor man (not to be confused with Jesus’ real world friend whom Jesus resuscitated from death), keeps his name and awakens from death in God’s abode where Abraham, the founder of monotheism no less, is his guide, representative, and friend.
Nothing in the collective Jewish mindset of Jesus’ contemporaries made a place for such an upheaval of propriety. Many of them, including many of the poor in Jesus’ hearing, were thinking to themselves, “Something is very wrong here!” The fact was, however, that something, finally, was terribly right.
You might be interested in knowing that a theology of a significant life hereafter, as opposed to the long prevailing idea of life in the next realm as nothing more than a shadowy leftover of what life had been in this world, was at least in part related to the sense on the parts of some philosophically and justice oriented thinkers that few people got their true dues as of the ending point of life in this world. The really evil weren’t punished sufficiently and, therefore, needed to be notified formally that the way they’d lived had been a way of choosing to be separated from God for eternity–not in a place with temperatures as we’ve had in Delaware this week, but in nothingness. The biological end of life in this world was also the end of spiritual life and any possible connection to God for them. Conversely, the truly good often were rewarded insufficiently for the good they’d done in this world so there needed to be, and surely was, a place where just deserts were served; this is a part of how a concept of heaven came to be.
In the First Testament, in Hebrew scripture, there is really no idea of hell; everyone, moral and immoral, goes to the abode of the dead. Generally, rewards and punishments are not meted out; a bare existence continues for all people who in this world were three-dimensional, but in that world are nothing more than shadows of what they had been. The beginnings of a longing for a heaven may be noticed in ancient Hebrew theological reflection, but nothing well or fully developed shows up.
In the Second Testament, in Christian scripture, there is certainly a doctrine of hell, though it doesn’t get much attention; and there’s is a finely developed notion of heaven not only as the abode of God, but also the abode of all those who by their actions in this world indicate that they wish to continue throughout eternity in God’s more intimate embrace.
OK, so Lazarus dies, as Jesus tells his parable, and he’s eating well and having a good ole time with Father Abraham. God is somewhere nearby, but doesn’t make a personal appearance. Lazarus discovers that he hadn’t been just a prop in this world, just an empty poor person draining the society in which he lived and offering nothing to be betterment of humanity. In fact, he had been a good man. He was devoted to God and didn’t curse God for his plight as one of the many hungry people in his time and place. Thus, after he’d felt his last pang of hunger in this world, he awakened in God’s abode at a Sunday brunch that was to die for, in a manner of speaking, where the jazz ensemble was playing “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham. Oh, Rocka My Soul,” and a server was saying, “I highly recommend our Hummus Souflle, Sir.”
Far, far away from such joy was what’s his name, the rich guy, who’d also died, but who awakened to find himself hungry and thirsty. Soon he will disintegrate into nothingness, but in the short span of time he has, he has the gall to call for Lazarus to sprinkle a few drops of water on his parched tongue and to get word to his brothers that there are consequences for ignoring the needy. Abraham doesn’t allow Lazarus to speak to the man who had tormented him for years; instead, Father Abraham himself speaks and says, “Surely you can see the huge chasm that separates you from us; there are tobe no water deliveries. And as for your brothers, they’ve been taught the same truths you were taught but chose to ignore. A reminder at this late date isn’t going to change how they’ve chosen to focus their gaze. Like you, they have chosen to live as if the needy didn’t, and, as for all of you, the feasting of the former world will one day come to an abrupt, eternal stop.”
III.
I don’t think Jesus told this parable to threaten anyone. I do think, however, that Jesus believed we are what we do, not what we say. I also think Jesus knew what real ministry is all about and who, in reality, were his true followers. At every turn, the issues are detailed by our actions, not our proclamations. What I say is only of value if it connects honestly with how I act.
Jesus, carrying on the tradition he learned from his ancient forebears, said ministry to the poor is paramount in any faith community connected to the God of monotheism, the one and only living God there is. It’s not a nice little extra touch to leave a little time and money for the poor; serving the poor is paramount. For most of us, at home and at church this requires a reversal of how we live. What is central becomes a nice little side touch, and the little extras here and there become core values. I think of the needs of the poor before I buy my iPad and its monthly upkeep, not after I’m committed to two years of tender care and financial responsibilities for my unnecessary tech product. And do I really need designer labels more than a hungry baby needs milk?
What a party pooper I am today huh? Nobody much lives with a sacrificial commitment to the poor the way Jesus did except maybe for Mother Teresa who, it turns out, was crabby and rude to anyone who wasn’t dying on the streets of Calcutta and except for Bill Perkins who gave up his clerical collar for a pair of bibbed overalls. The Roman Catholic Church will certainly make Mother Teresa St. Teresa, and that same church will certainly NOT make its former priest, Father Bill, a saint because he left the priesthood and married his amazing companion in life and in service, Marcie. Bill and Marcie Perkins in my eyes are saints just the same. They are living out the true ministry of Jesus right before the eyes of Wilmingtonians, though most don’t know it.
Marcie and Bill, and those who work with them like our own Gordon Umberger, begin their ministry to the needy by noticing them and giving them names. One evening a few years ago, Gordon invited me down to talk about fatherhood with a few of the addicts in his housing and recovery program. It turns out that addiction has severed many a relationship between parent and child. Masterful at his long time ministry, the very first thing Gordon did was to take me around the room before we gathered in a circle of conversation to introduce me to each person who’d be involved in the discussion that evening–each one a respected individual with a name, regardless of how many times he’d fallen off the wagon.
The law in Jesus’ day required lepers to become invisible. A diagnosis of leprosy meant immediate quarantine at a distance from a leper’s home, family, friends, and community of spirituality. The main concern was disease control, but there was also a concern that if the disease came as the result of God’s punishment of lepers, no one wanted that curse to rub off on them either. If a stranger were passing through an area and happened upon a leper colony unawares, the lepers were required by law to scream out, “Unclean! Unclean! Get away from us now! Do not come near us!”
Jesus spat in the face of that law and intentionally went out to the lepers, ignoring their warnings, and standing among them like they were real, like they were there. Imagine that! Sometimes, he was able to heal them, sometimes not, but at the very least he left with them the blessing of self worth, the blessing of being persons of real worth with real needs.
I lived in New Orleans when AIDS was first getting its name. Thank goodness for all the progress that has been made in treating the disease and building respect for those afflicted with the disease since that time in the mid 80’s. Though the disease finally had a name, it was still much misunderstood, and when someone was diagnosed with the curse that was still widely thought at the time to be a disease reserved only for gay men, the patients, modern-day lepers all the way, were typically popped into isolation rooms within Intensive Care Units. Since the medical world didn’t know how the disease was spread, being airborne at the top of the list of suspected means of contagion, every precaution was taken when visitors were allowed to enter, and typically visitors meant only immediate family members and a few willing clergy. Boyfriends, partners, lovers were considered out of the loop so they were generally excluded.
When I’d go to visit an AIDS patient who, by the way, had no reasonable hope of recovery–Magic Johnson being a notable exception–the ICU staff required me to wear what they wore every time they entered the isolation room of an AIDS patient: surgical cap, gown, gloves, and mask. They weren’t ignored like Lazarus was by what’s his name, the rich guy, but they were ignored in the way lepers were in Jesus’ day. They were removed from the sight of the general public and kept out of sight, sometimes even after death. When I came to serve in Baltimore in the 90’s, many churches would not permit the funeral of an AIDS patient to be conducted on their premises or buried in their church-owned cemeteries.
Families of deceased AIDS patients who wanted a religious service for their sons in a church had to add to the already endless list of details any bereaved family had to go through the pain and embarrassment of calling around from church to church to ask if that church and its minister would offer funeral rites to a man who had died from AIDS. The vast majority of the time, the answer they heard was, “No.”
I’m happy to say that there was never any consideration at University Church of saying, “No,” to any such request. I can tell you with a heavy heart and a measure of anger remaining that we were among the very few churches who would offer funeral services for AIDS patients and bereavement ministry to their families, including their lovers, left behind. I wasn’t proud of every aspect of that church, but when it came to compassion and a refusal to turn eyes away from any sufferer, they were at the top of the small list in and around in Baltimore.
In those days, many AIDS patients who did get well enough to go home between hospitalizations for such recurring disorders as pneumosistis pneumonia had trouble getting meals if they lived away from compassionate families or near families who’d long since disowned them. Getting food to AIDS patients became a specialized ministry for which volunteers were in very short supply. Having AIDS was bad enough, don’t you think? How could anyone exacerbate the pain by making it difficult for AIDS sufferers at home to get food? Society at large wanted to continue ignoring AIDS patients even if they were hungry by pretending that they didn’t exist.
I can imagine, soberly and parabolically, that one fine morning an AIDS patient who’d died in the night awakened to find himself in God’s embrace. He could breathe freely; the pneumonia had disappeared during what TRU-DEE calls his transition, meaning his move from this realm to the next; and also all the sores on his body and in his mouth were gone. God was calling him by name and making sure he was well-fed and assured of his self-worth founded on God’s enthusiastic love for him.
Far, far away, there was a church board along with its pastor who ironically had died the same night the AIDS patient died. They were yelling to the AIDS patient and suddenly remembered his name, even though the pastor had preached sermon after sermon saying AIDS was God’s punishment on gay men and that homosexuality automatically meant hell and even though that board had voted not to allow Arthur’s funeral to be held on their “sacred” grounds.,, “Arthur, remember us from when you grew up in our church? Remember the vows you made at confirmation, Arthur, about helping people in need? Well, we’re really hot and thirsty over here. Could you spin over and sprinkle a few drops of water on our tongues and a few crumbs of something to eat? And by the way, could you make a run back to one of our board meetings and let the people know that you made it to heaven after all?”,, A voice rumbles in response, perhaps it was God’s voice, “Arthur is busy getting measured and fitted for his heaven-wear; you know how fussy gay guys can be about their attire. Well, that carried over to heaven FYI. As far as the board meeting, no; he can’t cross the chasm back to where he was treated as if didn’t even exist. Besides all the board members already made the same promises at confirmation that Arthur made when was a teen.” Suddenly, Arthur looked dapper, and the pastor with his board disintegrated.,, Don’t fret. It’s only a parable.
Rev Dr David Albert Farmer
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On Saturday, July 21, 2012 at 5:05 PM, Rev Dr David Albert Farmer wrote:

Rev Dr David Albert Farmer <pastor777@silversidechurch.org> wrote:
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When Sharing Means Starving (Third in Series, “Memorable Biblical Meals”)

 

 

 

I.
When there’s just enough food to prepare a modest meal for one and two or more people who need that food to survive, who gets the food?  The dominant person in the handful of would be survivors?  The dominant two in the group who will share what is really only sufficient for one?  Equal division of whatever is left, however meagre, among all who remain?  We’ve already heard an account this morning of a very current and real story about some refugees from Niger sharing from the limited portion of food onto which they are clinging with some nearby refugees from Mali, West Africa.  Caritas International has this brief report about sharing that means starving.  The news brief has a title:  “Niger’s Poor Share Last Food with Malian Refugees.”

 

According to the authorities in Niger, more than 30,000 Malians from the Ménaka area and an estimated 8,000 Niger nationals [who had been] living in Mali have found refuge in Niger since the beginning of the year, fleeing the fighting between government forces and armed groups. In a refugee camp in Mangaize, Caritas Niger provides food and other aid to the refugees. There are more than 3,000 in the camp.

 

Last week we read during our “Response of the People,” a line from acclaimed novelist, Jack London, who said something along the lines of giving a hungry dog a bone isn’t charity unless you’re as hungry as the dog.  London wrote one of the handful of books that captivated my imagination and conscience during my early teen years, Call of the Wild.  Somewhere in our world today, there are those who, if hungry, would hardly worry about a hungry dog at all; they’d eat the dog and call their meal a feast.
If someone is so hungry as to be down to her or his last meal, sharing is gallant, but probably won’t do too much toward the prolonging of life for self or the others with whom food might be shared.  Still, there is something grandly human about someone sharing her or his last meal with someone else who is also starving.
Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats–with the sheep representing those who lived according to God’s standards, if you will, and the goats symbolizing those who live for themselves alone as if God and their fellow humans didn’t exist.  The sheep and the goats are grazers and generally have little awareness of what is going on around them.  They, in their respective groups, simply move from one patch of weeds or grass to the next.  Not only are they unaware of what’s going on around them, but also moments of self-revelation and self-understanding escape them.  What I mean is that they have little or no awareness of whether they are sheep or goats.  They just do what they instinctively do.  They, in other words, don’t wake up every morning and bleat, “I am so glad to be a sheep,” or, “I’m so glad to be a goat.”  Not a lot of humans do that either, so don’t look down your noses on the sheep and the goats.  Perhaps the sheep are more passive if a goat wanders over into sheep territory, but not dependably or dramatically.
So, Jesus pictures the end of time symbolically, never literally, and the assignments are being confirmed in regard to who spends eternity in God’s more intimate embrace and those, in stark contrast, who have made decisions in life demonstrating that they wish to have no connection to God in this world or in any world.  The sheep are delighted they are being herded to the world of perpetual grazing while the goats are confused and frustrated–according to the parable–about why they are being herded away from God and into a wasteland where there’s a hardly a thing to chew on for nourishment.
Both have the same questions of Jesus who is overseeing the transition into a new world for each group based on the choices they made in this world.  Doctrine, catechisms, and creeds have nothing at all to do with who goes where; all that counts is how they lived, in their sheepness or their goatness.   The question from both sides is the same, though.  Why are the sheep getting the thumbs up sign, while the goats are getting the thumbs down sign?
Well, Jesus said, “It has noting to do with wool versus coarse body hair.  It has to do with how sheep and goats, who naturally represent human beings in the parable, treated those in need around them.  If you went to see people locked away in darkened jail cells and if you regularly made clothing contributions to Good Will and if you did something to see that the hungry people around you were fed, you were a sheep, and you prepared for your future, without much thinking and planning, by doing these bothersome acts on behalf of those in need.  To the goats, Jesus’ explanation was the opposite:  you grazed and grazed and grazed with no thought of others around you who had inadequate clothing to protect them from the elements, who were justly or unjustly slammed into the stocks of a maximum security prison, and people who were hungry practically every day of their lives you ignored, you were a goat.  Your future will not be in a place where it’s summertime and the grazin’ is easy.
Some from each group wanted to know why what they had done or not done mattered.  This is a summary of what Jesus said to some of the goats:

 

“I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then [the goats] will ask, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and did not take care of you?”  Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not care for any one of the least of these, you did not care for me.”

 
Some of those sheep to whom Jesus spoke in what was probably a parable based on a vision had undoubtedly shared with other sheep and maybe a goat or two the last few inches of their grazing space, after which there was no known food for any of them.
It was stunning to hear Jesus say that every hungry person you either fed or ignored represented all others who were hungry, and he himself in some kind of way represented each of those needy people so when someone fed the hungry they were feeding Jesus, and when someone left a prisoner to rot away in prison, not only the prisoner herself or himself but also Jesus in a way was the left and forgotten behind bars.
With no more explanation than that, Jesus, as usual, abruptly ended his parable leaving his hearers to ponder whether they goats or sheep.  Did they take any time to show any interest in the well-being of the hungry, those without clothing, and those in jail?  If they had routinely ignored these kinds of people, they were goats; it was way too late to start acting like a sheep.

II.
Robert Bulwer Lytton:

 

We may live without poetry, music and art.
We may live without conscience and live without heart.

We may live without friends; we may live without books.
But civilized folk cannot live without cooks.

They may live without books, what is knowledge but grieving?
They may live without hope, what is hope but deceiving?

They may live without love, what is passion but pining?
But where is the one who can live without dining?

Here’s a stunning thought to keep in your consciousness, and those faithful few in our church family who feed the hungry monthly at Emmanuel Dining Room a meal that has been prepared mostly if not exclusively by Marie Neal reveal that they are living out a significant theological claim according to Mahatma Gandhi.  Remember this simple sentence:  “God comes to the hungry in the form of food.”  M. F. K. Fisher (Mary Francis Kennedy Fisher, the most pivotal food writer in the twentieth century, so I’ve been told) hits the same nerve with her insight:  “Sharing food with another human being is an intimate act that should not be indulged in lightly.”
Fran Lebowitz reminds us that food is an important part of a balanced diet.  And the late Erma Bombeck, one of those people who couldn’t help being funny, once remarked or wrote:  “Never order food in excess of your body weight.”
Years ago when our sons were tykes, Lindon and I had them in the French Quarter on a Saturday morning, as usual, before the tourists raised themselves from their raucous activities of the night before and flooded diners and cafes to ingest as much coffee as possible in as quiet an atmosphere as possible.  For some reason, we’d chosen an outdoor cafe rather than our usual haunt, and one of the Jackson Square clowns who was gearing up for a day of forming balloons into all types of requested shapes while spitting out a one-liner here and there happened to walk by our table while he was trying out a new hopefully hilarious line.
Other clowns along with the artists who were permanent fixtures at their respective places in the French Quarter were supposed to give thumbs up or thumbs down to the new joke; this was also a way of letting other would be funny types know that the joke was already owned.  I remember this vividly and chillingly a quarter of a century after the fact.  Said the clown, his face all made up to hide his true identity, “I have a solution to our social problem here in New Orleans:  let the hungry eat the homeless.”
Everyone in his hearing froze.  No one laughed.  No one spoke.  We all just stared at him, and innocents like our sons, then five-ish and three-ish, were horrified.  The clown paid no attention to the resounding rejection tossed his way in response to his cruel, pathetic attempt at humor.  Did he take the hint?  Not at all.  We stayed a while longer that morning than we usually did, and the Saturday morning crowds began to ease in.  Several times while making a dog shaped balloon or the shape of something else from a balloon–remember, this was the French Quarter–he used his quip to unsuspecting tourists who thought the only reason to be in the Quarter was have fun and spend lots of money doing so.  “The answer to our social problem in New Orleans is simple.  Let the hungry eat the homeless.”
A few laughed a bit until what they’d heard sank in; then they went stone faced, and some walked away from the creation they’d ordered from the clown who, by the way, appeared to be quite a young man.  After having driven away most of early customers, I went over to him–much to the humiliation of my now ex-wife–and I said to the clown, “Hey, Pal, why don’t you find someone to poke fun of other than people who are suffering?”
He told me with a clever collection of expletives to butt out, and then he said, “I’d make a balloon in your likeness to take home so you can remember me, but they don’t make balloons that large except for the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.”  Zing!  That was the day I gave up talking to clowns.
I had a hard time finding Lindon and the boys.  She’d taken them into hiding behind some column in the square.  Walking around in circles a couple of times in search of my clan, the clown couldn’t help but see me again, and he yelled out, “Hey, Mr. Bleeding Heart.  I can say whatever I want about the hungry and the homeless.  I’m hungry, and I’m homeless.  Do you have any better solutions than for me to laugh through the absurdity and the pain?  The makeup covers my humiliation, but that’s all it does.”
I can’t tell you how bad I felt even though I didn’t think he should be yelling out his would-be joke.  I walked back over to him and said, “I’m sorry about the plight you’re in, and I’m sorry I made any comment at all about how you choose to deal with your struggles. I can’t make a dent in your situation, but my church will provide a clean, safe place to sleep for a couple of weeks and decent food during that same time.  Maybe an alternative will pop up with a a little time not to have to worry about where you’ll sleep or where you’ll find food to get through the day.”
“Oh my God,” he said, “this is funnier than any of my jokes–a priest, a man of God, with a wife–I guess she’s a wife–and kids–I guess they’re his–offering me a place off the streets for two weeks and a supply of worry-free food for the same two whole weeks.  Wow!  What then, Father?  Are you going to be the one to come and tell me it’s time to get out of my safe sleeping space and that food once again will be for me catch as catch can.  Will you have the guts to do that?  Or will you send the nuns to spring the bad news in your sorry behalf?”
“I wish I could do better.  I wish I could offer more, but this is all I can do for now.”
“No, Father, it’s not,” he said, “let me stay at your house and eat your food with you and your family.  Then I’ll believe you give a damn.  Otherwise, leave me the hell alone, and get busy feeding the homeless to the hungry!”
Paul Roberts first wrote a book he titled The End of Oil.  He followed it by book published under the title The End of Food in which he wrote about we first world types “make, market, and consume food, which leaves too many people fat and too many others starving.”

III.
Elijah was the greatest of the prophets in all of ancient Israel.  Once he was on his own in the ministry, Elisha went to a little city or town called Zarephath.  Upon his arrival, he happened to see a widow gathering firewood, and though he didn’t know her he asked her for a drink of water.  When she stopped what she was doing to get the prophet his water, he added, “While you’re getting the water please bring me a piece of bread.  I’m hungry as well as thirsty.”
If that sounds a little presumptuous on the part of a stranger, we have to remember the prevailing standards of hospitality among ancient Hebrews, which made asking such favors and granting them perfectly alright.  Her response, however, stunned prophet.  She blurted out despairingly,  “By the living LORD your God I swear that I don’t have any bread.  All I have is a handful of flour in a bowl and a bit of olive oil in a jar.  I came here to gather some firewood to take back home and prepare what little I have for my son and me.  That will be our last meal, and then we will starve to death.”
Without ministering to her pain, had he not heard that she was about to prepare the last pitiful meal she’d ever prepare before death through starvation took both of them, Elisha (who’d skipped pastoral care courses in seminary) said, “Don’t worry about it, lady.” Don’t worry about it.  This guy had to be nuts.  How could she not be worried?  Who could have avoided worry in such circumstances?
Stoking her suspicions that he was a nut case in clergy frock, not that nutty clergy are or ever have been in short supply, he doesn’t seem to realize how ridiculous what he is saying sounds to her.  This is what he said, though, “Go on and prepare your meal.  But first make a small loaf from what you have and bring it to me, and then prepare the rest for you and your son.  For this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says; ‘The bowl will not run out of flour or the jar run out of oil before the day that I, the LORD, send rain.’”
At this early point in the story, we have learned at least three important lessons:  1) to be very careful about which clergypersons you trust; 2) that the widow and her son were at the point of starvation because there was an unrelenting drought in their land, not because God was punishing them; and 3) that God was already in the process of restoring the land to pre-drought conditions.  Until then, food items could not grow, and livestock could not be kept alive.  Even so, the widow took a chance that the preacher and his directive were legit, and what really did she have to lose anyway?
Well, the woman was willing to share even though sharing for her would speed up immanent starvation for her and her son.  That’s some serious kind of sharing, don’t you think?  What the prophet had promised her could easily have failed to come to pass.  Then he would have slickly swindled the widow and her son out of a third of all they had to eat in the world by claiming that God said he should have the first of the three wheat-cakes she cooked.   In this case, though, God rewarded the widow’s generosity, so the story goes, and the first time she realized it was when the flour bowl and jar of oil that had been empty the night before were full and ready to become breakfast the next morning.  That phenomenon continued until the rains began, and the crops grew.  Then she and her son could grow and purchase the food supplies they needed to remain well fed.
Lessons from this food story in Hebrew scripture at the end of the poignant, edgy tale.
Natural disasters are a part of human experience, and even those who consider themselves closely related to God are not exempt from the effects of such disasters.

1) God does not cause or allow natural disasters; neither does God take away nature’s own self-healing capacities.
2) Prophets should be required to take pastoral care courses in seminary.
3) People with little or no financial resources before a natural disaster hits will be in even more vulnerable places once the effects of the disaster begin to be felt throughout the affected community.
4) Sharing by those with next to nothing may be rare, but not unheard of.
5) Finally, when a meal is served and a clergyperson is present, the clergyperson eats first.  Amen.

Contagious Sharing (Part 2 in Series–after a four week break–“Memorable Biblical Meals”)

I.
A poetic thought from poet Charlotte Bronte: “Happiness quite unshared can scarcely be called happiness; it has no taste.” I had a sense of what Ms. Bronte describes when each of our sons were born. Of course, Lindon and I had our own private parental and wonder to share only with each other, but the event was somehow still incomplete until I could call my family members and close friends and share the life changing news with them. Sharing gave the happiness a great flavor for sure.
In my Introduction to Homiletics course at the seminary we spend a good part of one whole weekly class session simply contemplating some of the abundance of definitions of the word “preaching” down through the years.  One of my favorites, and this one happens to relate directly to what we’re thinking about today, is:  “Preaching is a starving person sharing bits from small portion of bread she or he has in hand with others who are starving.”  In this definition, in this situation, bread is God’s love and the good news about it.
Television great, Andy Griffith, died this week at a young 86.  Before he was Matlock, Griffith played small town sheriff and single dad, Andy Taylor.  I was a huge fan of both of his major television characters.  As Sheriff Taylor, he spent a great deal of time teaching his son Opie about real-life lessons and not missing out when Opie taught him a thing or two.
An episode aired when I was about six years old in which Andy believed he needed to teach Opie a few things about sharing, but Opie had already learned a great deal about it unbeknownst to his Pa.  That week’s story went something like this.
Andy is upset when he finds out that Opie gave only three cents to a charity drive.  Andy believes he hasn’t taught well in this area so he sets out to teach his good hearted and precocious son about how important it is to share with others less fortunate than he.  Andy finds out the reason Opie can’t contribute more to the present drive because he is saving up to buy his girlfriend Charlotte a gift, and Andy is appalled.  He assumes that Opie is making plans to squander his money on toys to enhance his relationship with Charlotte; we all know how fragile young, young love can be.  Andy appears to be kidding with Opie to make his point, and he calls Opie a playboy, which Opie doesn’t understand at all.  Dear old Aunt Bee scolds Andy for not having more confidence in Opie to do the right thing.   In the end, it is Andy who is in the wrong and who must, therefore, eat crow when Opie tells him he is saving his pennies in order to buy Charlotte a new coat for the coming winter because her mother can’t afford one.
There is all kinds of potential sharing. Good news, as I’ve just mentioned. Bad news through which in the retelling I find a measure of strength from the person I love or trust and am willing or compelled to share news that has derailed my comfort or equilibrium. Children share with their parents or grandparents, with or without being aware of it, an enthusiasm for living that sometimes slips away from us when we wrestle with life’s  pressures and absorb what aging steals from us.
There is tangible, material sharing that ranges all the way from sharing a kidney or a lung or bone marrow to sharing housing with the post-hurricane homeless to food with the hungry. There are boatloads of first world capitalists, and that includes prosperity gospel preachers, who hate the fact that the book of Acts passes along a part what we presume to be factual early Christian reporting about EXTREME SHARING in some or all of the earliest Jesus Movements trying to get along after Jesus’ unjust Roman execution.
When I was a kid growing up at the Beaver Dam Baptist Church in Halls Crossroads, the pastor of the Broadway Baptist Church in the city of Knoxville, a few miles away, Dr. Lewis Rhodes, preached positively on this pericope and as a result came to be called a Communist by his detractors, in and outside the congregation.

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need (Acts 2:45-46 NRSV).

Politicians enhance our lives by keeping the truth ever before us. Sharing life with a healthy significant other doubles our joys and halves our sorrows, as some traditional wedding ceremony language puts it. And the work of a parent is almost always at least 50 percent sharing and often 100 percent sharing. In one of his lessons or sermons, Jesus deals with this very subject:

Is there anyone among you who, if your child asks for bread, will give a stone? Or if the child asks for a fish, will give a snake? (Matt 7:8-9 NRSV).

Let me encourage you not to take what I’m saying here as an impetus to SHARE all that free, unsought advice you’ve been just dying to share with so many people. I’m sure you’ve heard it said, and rightly so, “Most free advice is worth exactly what it costs.”

II.
Today’s challenge question is: are we born inclined to share or disinclined to share? Each of us will formulate our own answer and share results in the narthex!
A team of developmental psychologists, Katharina Hamann and Michael Tomasello, created a test of sharing for kids at the Max Planck Institute in Leipzig, Germany. In part one of the three-part experiment, two kids have to pull a rope to get some marbles out of a marbles machine; the result of part one is that about 75% of the time the two kids, and the psychologists were working with three year olds, equalize their holdings with little or no conflict–a mirror of how the budgeting process works here at Silverside. Either the kid with more marbles spontaneously hands over enough marbles to make it even Steven or Stefanie; or the “poor” kid asks for one or more marbles, and her or his request is immediately granted.
A reliable experiment, though, cannot have only one condition in its potential processes so Hamann and Tomasello devised two other versions of the study to make their research fully reliable. Why had there been such high rates of sharing since many of us know three-year-olds who are often reluctant to share new treasures?
New twist.  Children who took part in the second approach found marbles already waiting for them in cups when they first walked up to the machine. No was work required.  it was a finder’s keeper’s deal. If you had the bad luck to find yourself in front of the cup with one marble, then your partner was very unlikely to offer you one, much less several, and you’d be unlikely to ask.  If you bothered, you likely heard, “No way!” Only about 5% of the time did any marbles change hands.
Third variation. Things start off just as in the first situation; you and your partner see two ropes hanging out of a machine.   As you both start tugging it becomes clear that they are two separate ropes. You pull yours, and one marble rolls out into your cup. Your partner pulls the other rope and is rewarded with three marbles.  That’s what the marble machine was programmed to do. What happens next?
In the words of the experimenters, it’s a puller’s keeper’s outcome. Even though both kids did the same work (rope pulling) at more or less the same time, you both know that you didn’t really collaborate to produce the wealth. Only about 30% of the time did the kids work out an equal split.
Take heart.  Tomasello discovered that chimpanzees doing tasks similar to these do not share the spoils in any of the circumstances. They just grab what they can, regardless of who did what.

“Tomasello believes that the ‘share-the-spoils’ response emerged at some point in the last half-million years, as humans began to forage and hunt cooperatively. Those who had the response could develop stable, ongoing partnerships. They worked together in small teams, which accomplished far more than individuals could on their own.”

The hymn we sung during the early part of the Gathering is one of my favs. Dr. Phillip Landgrave was a professor of church music at my seminary. He set the words to a Grace Noll Crowell poem to music, and I first sung it from a xerox copy in seminary chapel–before, of course, it had found its way into print. Crowell was once the poet laureate of Texas. By the way, the Mormons like her hymn too and have it in their 1985 hymnal. Chances are, you and Mit Romney have enjoyed the same hymn. You could have that added to your bumper sticker!
I’ve shared this with many of your before, probably around Thanksgiving time, but its meaning is dramatically more expansive than as limited by one time of year.

Because I have been given much, I too must give.
Because of thy great bounty, Lord, each day I live.
I shall divide my gifts from thee with every sister/brother that I see,
who has the need of help from me.

Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care…
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share–
my glowing fire, my loaf of bread,
my roof’s safe shelter over head
that s/he too may be comforted.

Because I have been blessed by thy great love, dear Lord,
I’ll share thy love again according to thy word.
I shall give love to those in need.
I’ll show that love by word and deed,
thus shall my thanks be thanks indeed.

III.
The story from the ministry of Jesus about Jesus preaching to 4,000 to 5,000 men plus their wives and children and then feeding all of them when the disciples, for once, are on the ball enough to recognize reality.  “Excuse us, Jesus, sorry to interrupt your masterful but very long sermon, but the people have become so enthralled in your inspiring but extended message and have stayed so late in the day that some of them are beginning to get hungry.  Even if you dismissed them right this minute, which it doesn’t seem like you’re quite ready to do, many of them have quite a ways to go to get back home, and they ran out of food before you finished the first part of your extraordinary sermon.”
Jesus responded to them, “My, my, how time flies when one is preaching sermons on mounts or plains.  Anybody have any workable ideas for how we can get this problem addressed ASAP?”
One of the disciples, let’s say Thaddeus because he’s always overlooked, wanting a pat on the head from Jesus that day spoke out and said, “I saw a little boy who seems not to have eaten a bite of the lunch his mother prepared for him; there are still two fish and five cakes of bread in his lunch basket.”
For some readers and hearers of this story, ancient and modern, this is essentially where the story stops.  Jesus hears that someone has a little food on hand so he, Jesus, works miracles over the minuscule portions of food and ends up multiplying it so extensively that thousands of people are fed until they are full leaving leftovers.  For those who interpret the story in this manner, the miracle is God’s power working through Jesus to take a little bit of food and turn it into a lot of food.
You may remember that when Jesus was struggling with his call to ministry, one of the temptations he knew he would have to put away was utilizing his God-given powers to create bread from desert stones, a skill that would mean he and presumably those who served with him would never have to be hungry.  Even if they came home late at night after a day of fishing, carpentry, and preaching, teaching, healing–no worries!  Jesus could snap the fingers of his rugged wood worker’s hands and turn a pile of rocks into pounds of pita.
That is not how it was supposed to be for Jesus and those who served with him.  Sometimes, they didn’t have safe places to sleep at night; they didn’t always make it home from a day of laboring.  And just because they may have found decent accommodations didn’t mean that they would always sleep with stomachs full.  No, they knew what it was to share the little food they had on hand with those who were hungrier than they were so that they–Jesus and his disciples–heard and felt their stomachs growling as they finally fell asleep from exhaustion.
A commitment to be a follower of Jesus never has meant–not at the beginning and not today, Jolly Joel Osteen and Cheeky Charles Stanley notwithstanding–that those serving according to the example of Jesus would always be on the side of the haves while only the unfaithful would ever have to do without.  That was a serious theological misconception that Jesus tried to erase from contemporary (to himself) theological thought.  Honoring God, even serving with one’s all as Jesus did, would not, cannot, will not, and never did mean that you’d be provided for while those uncommitted to Jesus’ ways or ambivalent about them would comprise the company of suffering.
Now, I could almost end my sermon right here, but, of course, I won’t.  I won’t because, even though some few of you would happily sacrifice the correct interpretation of one of the stories about Jesus in exchange for a little more time at the pool on a day like today, I would not have taken you to what I think is the true meaning of the story of the little boy’s fishes and loaves, which becomes an essential life lesson for those of us who would dare to serve as Jesus served.
With that in mind, let’s jump back up to the part of the story where one the disciples seems to believe that he has come up with a way to feed the masses with one little boy’s meagre lunch, something that amounted to two fish about the size of sardines and five loaves–meaning cakes of flat pita.  The disciples colleagues are trying to have a good laugh at the expense of their comrade.
Some of them said, “Ooh.  Aah.  Let’s make you president of Bread for the World.  You’re brilliant beyond words, but be sure to hire a top flight accountant like Matthew here since you obviously have a great heart with no ability to count.”
Before the taunting continued, Jesus said, “Hold on here.  Thaddeus just might be on to something.”  And Thaddeus was about as surprised as were all the others.
Still in executive session in the middle of his marvelous sermon for the day, Jesus said, “If this kid has food he hasn’t eaten, there must be others who still have something on hand, even if it isn’t very much.  If we could get every one here to pool the food she or he has remaining, we might be able to solve the problem.”
Back in his preacher voice now, Jesus says, “To bring our Gathering this afternoon to an end, we’re going to eat together by asking everyone to be willing to share all she or he has letting it become a part of a massive covered dish buffet that will benefit all who are here.”
The little boy was the first to bring his lunch forward.  Not everyone in the huge crowd could see him, but several could.  Inspired that a little boy would so readily do what Jesus would do, several others came forward as well.  Untapped volunteers stepped forward immediately to help the disciples begin sorting and serving the food.  As this happened, some of those who’d at first thought, “I’m not about to give away my food.  I’m going to nibble on it, on the way home,” had changes of heart, and before they realized what they were doing there they were as well sharing all they had at the moment for the wellbeing of the whole crowd.  Contagious sharing.  It’s a beautiful thing, don’t you think?  And its message is hardly limited to food.
I have a pint of blood that my body doesn’t need at the moment, until my body can replace what gets removed and placed into a blood bank to help some anonymous person out there get better and/or stay alive even though that person is sunning at a pool somewhere right now unaware that she or he, in the not too distant future, will be hit with a medical condition requiring blood that matches her or his type.  Without it there is no hope of recovery, but because someone on a whim with work friends skipped lunch and hit the blood bank one day or someone keeping a monthly appointment at the blood bank as usual had shared the substance that is a biblical symbol, a synonym even, for life, health is restored, or a life is literally saved.
In countless areas of our communal lives, sharing that becomes contagious sharing is the answer to suffering, pure need, and absolute injustice.  There is at least one thing each of us can share this very day, other than a piece of our minds with another driver on Concord Pike, that can make a life changing difference to someone today or next week or next winter.  When sharing becomes of way of life, with no thought or worry about who the recipient of our act of kindness may be, the world may truly be changed for the good of all.

Because I have been sheltered, fed by thy good care…
I cannot see another’s lack and I not share–

Amen.