We’ve all heard of the shopping frenzy of “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday”, #GivingTuesday is an opportunity for us to give back and to give thanks.
Your ministry reaches far beyond your walls and even around the globe. On Tuesday, December 1, we invite you to join us in the #GivingTuesday global celebration of generosity by supporting Acts of Wisdom, a faith-based nonprofit organization within our synod dedicated to assisting those in rural Africa in their quest to obtain an education.
How can I help?
Celebrate #GivingTuesday and consider supporting the mission and ministry of Acts of Wisdom. If you are in a congregation, please considering including the bulletin insert. Perhaps your congregation or youth group could do a special offering.
Many of us have been incredibly fortunate to never have to experience some of the difficulties of the world – going hungry, not having access to clean drinking water, and not having access to a quality education.
Through our generosity and support, we can see how people’s lives are touched by the gospel, how their lives are transformed and renewed, and how their communities live in hope.
$15 – Books a child needs for an entire year $50 – Books & supplies a child needs for an entire year $250 – Mini boards for an entire classroom $500 – A computer for their computer lab $750 – Lab supplies for science classes $1 K – Supplies for teachers $2.5 K – Books for an entire grade level $3.5 K – Books and supplies for an entire grade level, including teacher supplies $5 K – Books and supplies for an entire grade level, including teacher supplies and desks $10 K – A library for a school – walls, shelves, and books
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
Throughout history threats and acts of intimidation have been used to oppose those who call for justice in the lives of people who are marginalized, imprisoned, oppressed, or losing their lives. As people of faith, we gather at the foot of the cross of Jesus to resist this oppression. We join our voices to the voices of all who seek a fair and transparent investigation of the death of Sandra Bland. We say, with them, “Black Lives Matter.”
Recently, people of every faith, and those with no faith, have gathered in front of the Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas to proclaim that “Sandra Bland’s life mattered. It still matters. Sandy still speaks.” Rev. Hannah Adair Bonner, a United Methodist pastor, has been a faithful, prayerful, steady presence in front of the jail, along with the other conscientious participants.
On Sunday, August 9, the crowd was larger than the daily gathering. Rather than respond graciously to those exercising their constitutional rights to petition the government and gather for prayer, Waller County Sheriff Smith demeaned the protestors. He later said to Rev. Bonner, “Why don’t you go back to the church of Satan that you run?” Since then, we understand the sheriff’s office has taken other actions to intimidate the protestors standing in vigil for Sandra Bland.
Rev. Bonner and those with her are a living witness to what it means to be the church. They are working to tear down the walls of classism, sexism, and racism while building bridges of unconditional love. Their presence in these vigils embodies what it means to be Christ in the world.
We stand in solidarity with Rev. Bonner, and all who gather outside the Waller County Jail to protest and pray peacefully. They are bravely doing Christ’s work. Their peaceful actions demonstrate how Christians respond to injustice with love. We join with them in committing ourselves and our prayers to the important work of building bridges to those divided from us by reasons of hatred, fear, racism, injustice, and oppression.
Finally, and most importantly, we remember and proclaim that Sandra Bland was a beloved child of God. Her life mattered to her family. It mattered to her friends. It mattered to God, just as her life, and all black lives, matter to us. We, therefore, urge the Sheriff’s Department to act with restraint, compassion, and kindness toward all who are gathered outside the Waller County Jail to bear witness to Sandra Bland’s life.
Bishop Michael Rinehart
Please email the synod office with the following information, if you’d like to be added to this letter of support: Name, City, State, Faith (if applicable)
Rev. Dr. Jay Alanis, Austin, TX, ELCA
Rev. Sandra Barnes, Slidell, LA, ELCA
Rev. Julie Blum, Seattle, WA, ELCA
Rev. Samuel D. Brannon, Austin, TX, ELCA
Rev. Dr. Ginny Brown Daniel, Spring, TX, UCC
Rev. Jennifer E. Boyd, Danbury, CT, ELCA
Rev. Dr. Don Carlson (Retired), Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Margaret C. Casper, Galena, IL, ELCA
Rev. Andrew V. Chavanak, Falls City, NE, ELCA
Rev. Michael Coffey, Austin, TX, ELCA
Rev. Kathleen Davies, PCUSA
Fredericka DeBerry, Brenham, TX
Rev. Dr. Dan De Leon, College Station, TX, United Church of Christ
Shari Duminy, Omaha, NE, ELCA
Rev. Peggy A. Edge, Houston, TX, Disciples of Christ
Diana Edis, Columbia, SC, Lutheran
Rev. Dr. James Fowler, League City, TX, ELCA
Paula Fox, Bryan, TX
Rev. Brad Fuerst, Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Kristin Galle, Spring, TX, UCC
Rev. Lura Groen, Houston, TX, ELCA
Amy Gulliksen, Carrollton, TX, ELCA
Rev. Laura Hall-Schordje, Chicago, IL, ELCA
Megan Hansen, Conroe, TX, PC(USA) Ruling Elder
Rev. Karen Hanson, Red Wing, MN, ELCA
Rev. Barbara Harrison Condon, Idaho Falls, ID, ELCA
Beth Hartfiel, Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Emily Heitzman, Chicago, IL, PCUSA serving in ELCA
Rev. Peder Hinderlie, Milnor, ND, ELCA
Rev. Glenn Hohlt, New Ulm, TX, ELCA
Rev. Nancy Jaster, Woodhull, IL, ELCA
Rev. Sandra Jones, Aurora, IL
Rev. Cheryl A. Lamaak, Georgetown, TX, ELCA
Rev. Jen Kindsvatter, Cypress, TX, ELCA
Rev. Ann Koopmann, TX, ELCA
Rev. Jennifer Shimota Krushas, High Point, NC, ELCA
Rev. Dr. Duane Larson, Princeton, IA, ELCA
Rev. Michael Lawrence-Weden, San Antonio, TX
Rev. Paul Lubold, Pittburgh, PA, ELCA
Rev. Blair Lundborg, Conroe, TX, ELCA
Rev. Br. Chris Markert, Galveston, TX, ELCA
Andrea Martinez, Houston, TX
Rebecca McDonald, Cypress, TX, ELCA
Rev. Cora Lee Meier, Mesa, AZ, ELCA
Chris Michaelis, Chicago, IL, ELCA
Rev. Dr. Robert G. Moore, Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Arthur Murphy, Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Dr. Liz Nash, Austin, TX, UCC
Rev. Kerry Nelson, Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Diane M. Olson, Milwaukee, WI, ELCA
Betty Owens Geary, Houston, TX
Rev. Priscilla Paris-Austin, Seattle, WA, ELCA
Rev. Charles Parnell, Brenham, TX, ELCA
Br. Michael Patterson, OLF, Cypress, TX, ELCA
Rev. Angela Renecker, Winlock, WA, ELCA
Rev. Mindy Roll, College Station, TX, ELCA
Rev. Lynette Ross, Houston, TX, UCC
Mark Ruch, The Woodlands, TX
Susan Ruch, The Woodlands, TX
Rev. Karl Runser, Lock Haven, PA, ELCA
Rev. Clint Schnekloth, Fayetteville, AR, ELCA
Rev. Bill Schwertlich, Katy, TX, ELCA
Rev. Timothy Seitz-Brown, Spring Grove, PA, ELCA Rev. Denise Seymour, Burton, TX, ELCA Rebecca Shields, Houston, TX
Rev. Shelley Simmont, Comfort, TX, ELCA
Laura Sims, Arlington, TX, ELCA
Rev. Geoff T. Sinibaldo, Old Saybrook, CT, ELCA
Rev. Aaron Stockwell, College Station, TX, UUA
Joe Swanson, Lexington, KY, ELCA
Joanna Thornton, Houston, TX, ELCA
Rev. Kim Truebenbach, Giltersville, PA, ELCA
John Turnquist, Magnolia, TX
Rev. Ron Unger, Kenner, LA, ELCA
Donna Vass, Houston, TX, ELCA
Christina Velez, St. Petersburg, FL, Catholic
Rev. Rachel M. Wangen-Hoch, Sedro-Woolley, WA, ELCA
Joe Watt, Beaumont, TX
Rev. Justin White, Greenville, MS, United Methodist
Rev. Deanna Wildermuth, Mercer Island, WA, ELCA
Nadine Wildrick, Hockley, TX, ELCA
Tom Wildrick, Hockley, TX, ELCA
Rev. Donna M. Wright, Cheltenham, PA, ELCA
Rev. Edward Wunderlich, Waller, TX, ELCA
2 Samuel 7:1-14a – David wants to build God’s house, but instead God will establish David’s house, his offspring. OR Jeremiah 23:1-6– Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! The days are coming when I will raise up from David a righteous branch.
Psalm 89:20-37 – I anointed my servant David, and my hand will always be with him. OR Psalm 23 – The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)
Ephesians 2:11-22 – You uncircumcised were once strangers to the covenant, without hope, without God. You who were far off have been brought near. He has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances that he might create one humanity out of two. No longer strangers.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – Jesus to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while.”
Hymns:No Longer Strangers (David Haas, from Gather), It is Well With My Soul
Long ago when I was learning to type, I used to delight in typing letters to my friends without pressing the space bar. Now when you don’t press the space bar you’ve got a real mess and there is much decoding to be done. It is the spaces in between that enable us to understand the message.
Life is very much the same. It is the spaces in between that help us understand life. But some of us keep forgetting to press the space bar. And why do we forget? Well, many of us have the disease that some doctors are calling hurry sickness. – Macrina Wiederkehr
Learn to pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up with you. – Doug Kling
A great book to read about the importance of taking time for rest, Sabbath, is The Power of Pause, by Terry Hershey. It might be a good book to read to prime your thinking for preaching on the gospel text this week.
Jesus has a rough go of it in Mark 6. Jesus preaches in his own hometown on the Sabbath. He is not received well. “Is this not the carpenter?” They ask if this isn’t the son of Mary (Mark never mentions Joseph, Mary’s husband, in his gospel), the guy with four brothers and some sisters. (It’s a stretch to hear these brothers and sisters, so we ought to read it as Mark writes it – these are his actual siblings). Jesus is astonished at their unbelief of these people in his hometown.
Following this, Jesus sends the disciples out to preach repentance (like John), to anoint and heal the sick and to cast out demons.
Then Jesus’ forerunner, the prophet John, is beheaded. In Mark’s gospel, the earliest of the four gospels, no familial connection is mentioned between Jesus and John. John is simply a prophet who is baptizing with water and announcing that another, greater prophet will be coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized by John, implying that perhaps Jesus might have, at first, been one of John’s disciples. It is important to note that Jesus does not begin his ministry in Galilee until after John is arrested (Mark 1:9), causing some to conjecture that Jesus’ ministry is, in part, sparked by John’s death. What if Jesus began with the intention of carrying on John’s ministry during his imprisonment? However, differences emerge in their ministries right away. For instance, John’s disciples fast, while Jesus’ disciples do not fast. In any case, the prophet who baptized Jesus is now dead. This must weigh heavily on Jesus and his disciples.
His poor reception in his hometown, the sending of the disciples, and the death of John the Baptist all likely took it out of Jesus. He needed time away, and perhaps the disciples did too, after teaching and healing in the villages of Galilee. We read, therefore, in this Sunday’s gospel:
He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
When was the last time you went away to a deserted place by yourself to rest for a while? Whether you call this a retreat, a vacation, or continuing education, Jesus invites you to take time away from the rigors of your life and ministry, “and rest a while.” This is an excellent text for this time of year, when kids are out of school and people are taking vacations.
A recent article in Fortune Magazine said most workers in the U.S. don’t take all their vacation time. The U.S. Travel Association found that U.S. workers generally leave five vacation days on the table. A Huffington Post article reported that 42% of U.S. workers took ZERO vacation time in 2014. Is it any wonder stress is the number one killer in the U.S?
Consider this, if we are going to be about the risky business of preaching a prophetic word, it might not always be received with joy. If we are going to be carrying out a healing ministry in the community, where will we go to fill up when our tanks are empty? I am not just talking about pastors. I am talking about the risky ministry of all the baptized. In my book Learning to Pray Again: Peace and Joy Through an Ancient Practice, I make the case for daily prayer, weekly Sabbath, and annual vacation. We need rest if we are going to do our very best work.
Jesus understood this. The text says that they were coming and going so much they barely had time to even eat. Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with being devoted to what you do. There’s nothing wrong with loving it. It becomes wrong when it starts eating away at you or your relationships. Jesus knew his ministry and that of his disciples would deteriorate if they didn’t find time for renewal. If Jesus needed time away to recharge, isn’t it likely that we too need that?
Does your congregation do an annual spiritual retreat? If so, this might be a great time to promote that event and encourage people to make it a priority. Invite people to think through their year. When are they going to take time for prayer and reflection, fun and play? When are you? Plan it out now. Put it in your calendar. If you don’t, the pressures of daily life and work will come crashing in, crowding out time for respite. Failing to plan is planning to fail.
The crowd sees them leave in the boat and follows them around the lake on foot. When Jesus and his disciples reach the shore, the crowd is are already there. You may feel this happen as well, as people follow you into your vacation, these days perhaps electronically. It would be easy to feel irritation, but Jesus felt compassion for them, sheep without a shepherd.
Our text skips over the feeding of the multitude. We will pick up that story next week, although from John’s gospel (also chapter 6). We pick up the story with another boat landing, and Jesus being mobbed by those in need of healing.
I’ll speculate a bit about two things. First, in a society without hospitals as we know them, itinerant healers were abundant. The line between medicine and religion was blurred. Praying, touching, anointing, bathing, and healing were all tied up together. What makes Jesus stand out is the fact that he is not charging for his services. This is not mentioned in Mark’s gospel, but Matthew makes it clear in his version of the sending (10:8), “Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus is giving away freely that for which the Temple authorities require a sacrifice, and the itinerant folks require drachmas. In other words, free healthcare is the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry. We get here a clear picture of Jesus’ ministry. He’s not some hippie living off the land. He is very, very busy. He is mobbed wherever he goes. People are lining up. They’re even climbing the roof, digging holes, and letting down the sick on stretchers. They’re desperate. Jesus and his disciples are working hard.
Second, we must see these events as conditions that lead to the miraculous feeding of the multitude. All of these events create the conditions for the miracle: the rejection in Nazareth, the planning, training, and sending of the disciples, the death of his baptizer, being mobbed by those in need, being exhausted, and needing rest. Perhaps the most amazing things God will do in our lives and ministry will be after the difficult, painful, seemingly impossible things.
So when the storms of life assail us, when the difficult things seem unbearable, when you are at the end of your rope and desperate beyond words, it may be at that very moment that the most powerful stuff will happen. To quote from 2 Corinthians, where we spent much of June…
But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. – 2 Corinthians 4:7
Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me,but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. – 2 Corinthians 12:8-9
Mother Teresa says, “God cannot fill what is full.” And so we empty ourselves, sometimes by our own choice, other times, not, praying that God will fill us.
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself… – Philippians 2:5-7a
Come away to a deserted place…
He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. – Isaiah 40:29-31
Bonds the congregation together, building strong friendships.
Grows faith through prayer, study, and caring conversation.
Closes the back door of the church.
Creates cell groups for care, service, and mission.
In most cases, churches will have as many small groups as they have small group hosts. If 5 small group hosts are recruited, a church will generally have five small groups. So, small group ministry is really an exercise in leadership development.
Recruiting small group hosts can be fun. There are lots of people who love to open up their homes. Other times there are also people who are happy to lead a group, but would rather not be a host home. These two kinds of folks can be paired up. Here’s how to get started.
Decide how many small groups you want. Here’s my challenge. Take your average Sunday worship attendance and divide it by ten. Shoot for at least that many groups. If you have 200 on a Sunday, that’s 20 small groups. Believe me, its not as hard as you might think.
Plan on a short study (4-8 weeks). People will by nervous about making a commitment with no end date, but most people will consider something that goes 5 or 6 weeks. Once they try it, they might like it, so set a finite time frame for your study.
Pick an interesting topic. If this is your first time around, choose something that will have broad appeal. A good experience will make it more likely that you’ll do this again.
Start brainstorming hosts. Make a list. Consider some of the groups you already have. Is there a choir? Would they consider being a group? How about the Council or Board? Are there existing small groups or Sunday school classes? Committees or teams? The leader of this group may or may not be your host. Make a hit list.
Think geographically. What are a half a dozen of the neighborhoods in your area? Some people will choose a small group based on location. It’s close and convenient, and it’s fun to get to know neighbors. Are there some natural leaders there? Add some ideas to your list. Try to get a group in every neighborhood.
Think demographically. Could someone host a young adult group? A singles group? A seniors group? A men’s group? A women’s group? Some people will choose a group that fits their stage in life, like parents of young kids or empty-nesters. Consider names based on these kinds of groups and add names to your brainstorm list.
Think about times. Some people will choose a group based on when it fits into their schedule, rather than geography or demographics. Is there an early morning group for early risers? An evening group for night owls? Weekday groups? Weekend groups? Add these names to your list.
Pray about it. Take time for silent prayer. In your mind think through the faces of people in your congregation. Faces will appear. Ask other key leaders, “Who would make a good small group host in our congregation?” Look at your church directory. Flip through the names. Are there people who jump out as obvious leaders? Add them to your list.
After you’ve brainstormed a lot, hopefully you’ll have more names than you need. Prioritize and start inviting. If there are a lot of names, have a team to help recruit. Make phone calls or face-to-face visits. Don’t recruit through email or bulletin announcements. You want to choose the right people for specific reasons. Choose healthy people you would want to have hosting your own group. Tell them why you chose them and why you need them.
Have a clear, written job description you can send them, like the one below. People want to know what they’re getting into. Let them know you don’t need Bible scholars. You need welcoming hosts who will invite people and ask questions that are provided. Let them know you’ll have a meeting (perhaps a lunch after church) to train them and give them everything they need.
Encourage as many groups to meet in homes as possible. This builds community. When people have been in each other’s homes, a bond has been created. Relationships tend to move past mere acquaintance. In some cases, you may find people who want to host, but don’t want to lead and vice-versa. Be prepared to team these folks up. It can be challenging to be both the host (welcoming and providing food) and the leader (convening the group and asking the questions). Two are better than one.
Never twist arms. Give people time to think and pray about it. Let God be a part of the process. It is amazing how people respond if they believe they are a part of what God is doing. If they say no, thank them for considering it. If you have to shame someone into doing something, they won’t do a good job, and they’ll resent it later. You want a coalition of the willing.
That’s all there is to recruiting. After you make your visits, things will shake out. Some will say yes, and some will say no. It’s okay. If you have discerned well, most of your folks will say yes. Being in community is fun. The number one reason people join churches is to make friends. The odds are on your side.
In then end, if you have a dozen small group hosts, you will most likely have a dozen groups. Put a sign up sheet in the foyer of your church for every group. On the sheet have a smiling picture of the small group leader host. List the time, dates, and place for the gatherings. Put these up a month before the series begins and let people sign up. They will. Allow people to sign up online and by phone as well. Keep the sign ups in sync. Some groups will be small and some will be large. It’s okay.
Occasionally, you’ll have a group with a low sign up. Maybe the time is not the most convenient. Saturday morning at 7 a.m. seemed like such a good time when they planned it. Or maybe they live in a remote place, far from the church. Help them out. Brainstorm names with them. Encourage them to invite their friends and neighbors. Is it okay if they’re not members of the church? Of course. The group may end up small, but hey, wherever two or three are gathered…
If you’re fortunate, 1/4 of participants may be non-member guests. That’s fantastic. Perhaps some of them will come to hear the message on Sunday, that ties into what the groups are all studying together. Some groups may even want to sit together.
Keep in mind, people are herd animals. We need to be in relationship. Most people yearn for good friends. You’re doing something that people really want and need. You are providing a platform. Have fun with it. When the series ends, think about when the next one will be. Don’t be surprised if half of your groups want to continue when the series is done.
Sample Group Host Job Description
Thank you for agreeing to be a small group host. Small groups bond people together, build strong friendships, welcomes newcomers, grow faith through prayer, study, and caring conversation, close the back door of the church, and create a forum for care, service, and mission.
Here’s the job:
Attend a training session.
Set the time, dates and place for each meeting of your group.
Invite people to participate in your group.
Pray daily for those in your group.
Provide food, snacks and/or beverages for your group, or establish a rotation for others to do so, if you are the host.
See if any in the group need childcare. If so, ask the group to chip in for a babysitter to be present in another part of the house, or a nearby home.
Prepare for the group gathering. Read the lesson and become familiar with the discussion questions you will be asking.
Help the group develop a covenant at the first gathering. See example below.
Begin and end each session with prayer. You can lead this, delegate it, or hopefully involve the entire group.
Ask the discussion questions, or invite the group to trade off doing so.
Stay attentive. Don’t let a big talker dominate the group. Tend to those who may be particularly needy. A group can be supportive, but cannot be group therapy. If you need help talk to the pastor or the small group coordinator.
Encourage the group to worship on Sunday and listen to the message.
Encourage the group to consider some kind of service project together, with a meal or a party of some sort following.
We agree to meet on the following days:
At the following time (beginning and end times):
At the following place(s):
Who will bring food:
How we will handle child care:
We will do the daily devotions and worship together during these five weeks. We will call if unable to attend the group gatherings.
We will share openly and listen non-judgmentally.
I will contact _____________________________, if I am unable to attend a small group gathering.
Psalm 24 – The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof. OR Psalm 85:8-13 – I will listen to what the LORD God is saying. (Ps. 85:8)
Ephesians 1:3-14 – The sentence that never ends: Blessed be God who chose us before the foundation of the world, destined us for adoption, as a plan for the fullness of time to gather all things in him…
Mark 6:14-29 – Herod, Herodias, and John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
I want to take a moment and say a word of thanks to Andrea Martinez, who reads, edits, formats, and posts these every week!
We are in chapter 6 for the rest of the summer. This week, July 12, and next week, July 19, we are in Mark chapter 6 for the Gospel reading. Then, we will be in John 6, July 26 through August 23, the bread texts. For the epistle text, having finished 2 Corinthians, we are now in Ephesians the rest of July and August through the 23rd.
This is one of the things I have learned to love about being a pastor. The Bible is an intriguing book – a library of books really. There is wisdom and history. There are stories about life and death. There are dysfunctional families, broken people, and stories of redemption. Underneath it all lies a message of incredible hope for the world that God created and loves with an everlasting love, that even death cannot destroy. Reading this book and engaging the lives of real people is an incredible joy. Proclaiming hope in a culture that often exalts death is a privilege. Inviting people to live life with spiritual depth and awareness is a great passion for most pastors. Seeing them come alive and gather together around serving the world and following the way of Jesus is a kick.
Let’s look ahead to what’s in store for the rest of the summer. This coming Sunday we have the Herod’s banquet of death, at which John the Baptist’s head is served on a platter. We’ll contrast this with the “Feeding of the 5,000” which is coming up in a couple of weeks. Next Sunday we have an introduction to the stories of the “Feeding of the 5,000” and “Jesus Walking on the Water”, followed by the conclusions. We save the feeding story for the following week.
This week’s text about Herod’s banquet of death must be considered together with the “Feeding of the 5,000” which follows it. Mark has placed them side-by-side intentionally. We will read the feeding story in a couple of weeks (but from John’s gospel, the sixth chapter). This coming Sunday – Herod’s banquet. These are two very different meal stories, as Barbara Lundblad and Gordon Lathrop (The Four Gospels on Sunday) have both so articulately pointed out.
Herod’s Banquet of Death
This story is not a “happy text” on which to preach. But it’s real. Rule by violent domination is the story of world history. Herod commands fearsome power. He maintains that power by fear. Herod’s banquet is very different than Jesus’ banquet of which we’ll read in a couple of weeks.
Herod’s banquet is not in a deserted place like the “Feeding of the 5,000”, but in a “lavish place” as Lundblad points out. There is plenty, excess even. It is a place of power. Call it a power lunch. There is plenty for a few, while the masses starve. Women are brought in to perform and pleasure the powerful men. A powerless prisoner is executed for entertainment. The leftovers are not twelve baskets of bread, but death and decay: John’s head delivered on plate, like a pig, the final course. Important officials are invited. Herod’s wife is there, the one he stole from his brother, an act of power which John the Baptist denounced.
Is it possible to maintain an empire and feed people who are hungry? The leftovers of empire have almost always been destruction and death – even in the name of peace and security. There is always enough money for weapons, but never enough to feed those who are hungry. Into such a world, Jesus comes with an alternative vision.
We who live in the world’s most powerful empire must ask this question: When do the bloody sacrifices of being an empire compromise our ability to serve the world, to be a blessing?
Jesus’ Banquet of Life
In contrast to Herod’s banquet, Jesus’ feast is in a deserted place – a place to which he took his disciples for rest, but the crowds followed. It is not in a lavish place, like Herod’s banquet. Those invited to Jesus’ feast are not the few, the rich, and the powerful, they are the poor, the lame, and the blind, as in Isaiah’s prophecies. This is consistent with Jesus’ preaching (Luke 14:13).
Herod takes a lot and brings of it only death. Herod consumes. Jesus multiplies. Jesus takes a little and makes a lot of it. He spreads things out so that everyone has enough.
The feeding is an apt parable for a hungry world. “That’s communism!” someone said to me once. “No, it’s enough-ism.” It’s not about everyone getting exactly the same. That might not be fair. It’s about making sure everyone has enough, that’s all. This is a not so radical concept. It will not bring capitalism to its knees. People aspire to more than just “enough.” But clearly, there are many in our world who do not have enough. Half the world lives on $2/day. One quarter live on $1/day. The thing that drives me nuts is that we have the wealth, and now the technology, to feed everyone. We seem to lack the will. This is my sin too. Me having more is more important than everyone having enough. I reaffirm this self-centered reality with nearly every non-essential purchase.
In a wealthy society we want to sanitize Jesus, spiritualizing him to have nothing to say about the material. Any honest reading of the gospels will dispel this myth, but we’re pretty committed to it. “You give them something to eat,” is Jesus’ strong call to the disciples, right up there with, “When I was hungry you gave me food” and “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”
When we ponder the world’s need, like the disciples we moan, “The problem is just too big.” Lundblad comments:
Jesus knows we are perplexed, but my excuses are no better than those of the disciples! Jesus knew long ago what economists and hunger activists tell us now: we have everything we need to end world hunger. It would take $13 billion a year. That’s not even 3% of our defense budget.
What to do?
How might we live so that our churches look more like Jesus’ banquet than Herod’s banquet? What if our congregational meals were free to the poor? This is how the concept of the potluck emerged. Those who can bring, bring. Those who can pay, pay. Those who cannot, do not.
Here’s another idea. Why not collect food for a rainy day? Here in the Gulf Coast we face hurricanes annually. Most families need to save enough food and water to last 72 hours in case of a hurricane. Power will be out. Credit cards won’t work. Grocery stores and gas stations will be closed. What if our congregations saved food too? So when the storms come, we can share with those who have evacuated or didn’t save enough food (or shell-shocked Northerners who have just moved down and haven’t figured out this is an annual event). We could bring canned goods and bottled water each week as part of our offering, and save it up for an emergency. Then, in the fall, when hurricane season is over, we could share that food with the local food bank. Just a thought. This might be a great way to live into all the bread stories we’re going to be reading in August. What if, while reading about bread, we collect “bread?”
Stories like this may not be pleasant to hear, but they remind us of what the lust for power can do. Jesus invites us to imagine a different way of being in the world. Let’s invite our people to imagine and live into a loaves and fishes world, over a Herod’s platter world.