Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sermon: More than crumbs

More than crumbs

         They had heard that this man healed, that this Galilean taught with authority, that he had gained a following, and in fact had fed 5,000+ of them with a few loaves and fishes.
         And so these religious elites from Jerusalem came to check him out—see if the stories were true, if the hype was real…
         They came to see if Jesus was offering more than crumbs… more than crumbs.
         Let us pray

         These religious folk from Jerusalem were wondering if Jesus was offering more than crumbs—though they wondered that aloud in the form of an accusation
—Jesus’ followers weren’t following the rules—they were not washing their hands with a fist full of water before they ate. They weren’t following the tradition of the elders…
         You see, some 600 years before Jesus’ day the first temple in Jerusalem was destroyed
—the center of Jewish religious life was laid waste
—you have to understand this was God’s house in a rather literal sense
—the prophet Ezekiel even describes God’s glory lifting off and leaving the temple at its destruction… it seemed God’s promises, God’s very presence among God’s people—had ended

And from the ashes Judaism reformed itself in several ways, tried to be temple-less, asked strained and scary questions,
“What does purity look like without a location?”
“How do we remain holy without the Holy of Holies?”
“Are we still God’s chosen people, if God has chosen to leave the building?”
And one answer to these questions was a decentralization of Purity, holiness, and peoplehood. The Pharisees looked to preserve what remained of temple holiness by bringing that same holiness out into all the world
—the family table treated like an altar, the home a home for holiness, and every meal a kind of sacrifice…
And, if meals are sacrifice and tables are altars, you can see why questions of food become fundamental? You can kinda get why the 5,000 eating in a way that honors, or doesn’t honor, the temple and 600 years of tradition to a tee, could call down the wrath of the high ups from Jerusalem.
This question is a big deal—these traditions—in fact, we find many of the first fights in the church to be about food—food fights… who can eat with who, and how and what is on the menu? Fighting about the very same traditions as the Pharisees.

On one hand, holiness in every aspect of life is truly a laudable goal—I really mean that… this is why our holiness must exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees…
On the other hand, it feels a little like they are picking up the crumbs, the crumbled bits of temple dust, and preserving it for its own sake.

It’s a common thing to do, preserve a tradition for its own sake
—I’m sure you’ve all heard the one about the family recipe for pot roast that starts with cutting the ends of the roast off—but when you go back to its origin that step was there because the great grandma didn’t own a big enough pot… (Rocket ships—horses)
(communion rail, Mitre, Chasuble) 
(Rex, the mission developer’s dog)… That was the way it had always been done—that was the tradition of the place, you can’t have bible study without tying Rex up out front first…
         They’d been captured, however comically, by their past.

         And it is no secret that the church is often captivated by its past
—just as the Pharisees were chasing the holiness of the first Temple, we too often chase the high points of our past
—remember when there were 100 students in Sunday school, 
remember when larger society cared what we had to say about current events and sensitive subjects, 
remember when God was really active in our congregation…
         And so quickly we ignore what is right in front of our noses—we will never be satisfied and never have enough, if we don’t see what God is up to right now, providing for us right now!
         Just as the Pharisees dismissed the feast of bread and the presence of Jesus, the Church can miss our calling because we are looking backward. We grasp at crumbs when a feast awaits us.
         But sometimes tradition can blind us to much more serious problems, it can whitewash and warp holiness into death dealing abuse…
         I don’t think I’ll ever forget the interview with a priest up in Boston when the abuse and cover-up was exposed up there, as it is now being exposed out in Pennsylvania
—he was an elderly priest, who explained that he himself had been abused by a priest as a child and so when he witnessed priests abusing children as a Seminarian he started doing the same, because he thought it was part of being a priest… what a tradition to pass down…
         This isn’t even hording crumbs, it is passing off poison as bread
ruining lives,
killing communities,
slaughtering souls. 

         And Jesus doesn’t let us get away with any of it.
         Jesus doesn’t let us chase evaporating holiness held up in the cell of history, or let us delude ourselves, or peddle poisons.
         He tells it like it is, makes us look at our underbellies, doesn’t let us externalize our character in some sort of head-fake, but makes us look at our heart and our intentions…
         For we are captive to Sin with a big S, not sins plural—the human condition is such that even holy traditions can be trashed, even past experiences of God can be deeply distorted and misused.

         Where then is holiness, purity, the Kingdom of God…where is the bread of life to be found? In Jesus, the one who offered more than crumbs, from nearly nothing he provided a feast for many.