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July 2006

Spreading the Miracle

Spreading the Miracle
Mark 7:1-8
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
30 July 2006

Back in the 1960’s Bruce Lowe was a pastor in Louisiana at the height of the Civil Rights movement. When Bruce took a stand in support of integration, the result was that he had to leave his pastorate; many were not prepared to hear a prophetic voice. Bruce then spent the rest of his working life as part of the federal government’s effort to integrate hospitals in the South. Bruce would make sure that African-Americans were receiving the proper medical care.

In his eighties, retired and enjoying life, Bruce, who had already worked tirelessly for civil rights, encountered a new issue. His friend Louise was concerned that her gay brother would go to hell because he was gay. Bruce’s initial reaction was that homosexuality is a sin, condemned by scripture. However, his wife Anna Marie was the one who said that surely Louise was wrong. Anna Marie’s compassion and Bruce’s commitment to civil rights, led him to study this issue. Now, I ask you, how many folk who are in their eighties would read sixty volumes of scholarship on a particular issue to make sure that they have an educated understanding?

As a result of his research, Bruce came to the opinion that instead of condemning same-sex relationships, there is actually biblical support for the blessing of such relationships. But Bruce didn’t stop there. I think if the story ended there it would be impressive enough, but that’s only the beginning.

Bruce wrote an extensive letter to his friend Louise arguing for the biblical support of same-sex relationships. Friends encouraged him to post the letter on-line, which he did at the website Since posting the letter, Bruce has received over 3,000 responses. He’s had folk inform him that his letter kept them from committing suicide. He’s received e-mails from around the world from people seeking help and advice.

I know that there are a number of folk in this congregation who have read and been encouraged by the Letter to Louise. Over the last year and a half, you have shared these stories with me. I was very interested by Paula Sophia’s. When I recommended that we honor Bruce as our first Hero of Hope recipient, she was quite excited and enthusiastically supported the idea. Then Paula told us a story about the Episcopal diocese of Oklahoma. When Bishop Moody was trying to decide whether to support Gene Robinson, the first openly gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, Bishop Moody read the Letter to Louise. Bruce’s work convinced the bishop to support Gene Robinson. Not only that, when Bishop Moody informed all the parishes in the state about his decision and why he had made it, he also sent along a copy of the Letter to Louise to every Episcopal parish in the state for them to use in their dialogue on the issue. I’m not sure that Bruce knew that story before today.

In my own life there is a curious connection. After I had come out to my mother, she called her good friend Carrie Oertlie, the chaplain at Baptist hospital, to talk through the issue. Carrie gave Mom a copy of the Letter to Louise to read, which Mom found incredibly helpful. A couple of weeks later Mom mentioned to me that there was this great document that I should read and when she told me what it was, I told her that not only did I know about and had read it, but that Bruce and Anna Marie were dear friends of mine and members of the church I was serving at the time.

I first met Bruce and Anna Marie at the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship General Assembly in Atlanta in 2001. Our denomination was debating homosexuality for the first, and so far only, time. I was serving my church in Fayetteville, Arkansas and had no clue that I’d eventually be Associate Pastor at Royal Lane. During the debate on homosexuality, I sat with a group of Royal Lane members, including Bruce and Anna Marie. I remember being quite encouraged that this elderly, respectable couple were so strongly on the side of gay equality. I regret that Bruce never gained the floor during that debate, because he would have spoken eloquently and passionately in support of gay people. I count it a great fortune in life that I subsequently came to serve at Royal Lane and become close friends with Bruce and Anna Marie.

Bruce has worked tirelessly on behalf of gay equality in Baptist life. He writes letters and speaks with Baptist leaders regularly. He has organized discussion groups and has worked to get more dialogue going. Many of his efforts have not been realized, because there is a lack of courage on the part of many of my former colleagues to publicly state what is their personal opinion. But Bruce is still there kindly and gently nudging and encouraging them. Bruce is now 91 and keeps up with his efforts to improve life for those of us in the GLBT community.

Allow me one tangent. Probably the most courageous thing that Bruce and Anna Marie ever did for me is that they agreed to become high school Sunday school teachers when they were in their late eighties. Though they only served with me in this capacity for a few months, I know that they touched the lives of young people who got to learn from this courageous, prophetic, and compassionate couple what it truly means to be a Christian.

Over the course of this month I have been preaching about the miracle that is the Christian church and specifically the miracle that is the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City. We have a powerful and important ministry to reach out and touch the lives of people in this community and in this state, and because of our connections with the Cathedral of Hope in Dallas, Texas, our ministry is national and international.

The message we proclaim is the radically inclusive message of Jesus, who welcomes all people to participate in the life of God. It is a vision that comes from Jesus, who defied the religious traditions of his day in order to include those people who would otherwise be excluded.

These gospel texts today are simply representative of what we’ve seen throughout the Gospel of Mark this year. In response to the stubborn dogma of the Pharisees, Jesus proclaims

Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.

In 2006 disciples of Jesus still must utter those sentiments against religious institutions who would deny equality to those Christ is closest too. The church universal continues to participate in racism, sexism, homophobia, and the oppression of immigrant workers. True disciples of Jesus, however, understand the liberating, compassionate vision of Jesus and live into that reality in their daily lives. Our mission, the miracle we have to share, should occupy us every day.

And it isn’t simply the message that it is okay to be gay and be a Christian. Yes, there are many people who need to hear that message. Many of the folk in this room have powerful stories about how they struggled with being gay because of their commitments to Christianity. Just today Michael Bratcher was talking with a new friend of his and told him that he would be going to church tonight and invited the friend along. The young man was shocked to learn that there was a church for gay people. A place like the Cathedral of Hope or a person like Bruce Lowe is a witness that faithful, committed Christians can be gay or straight.

But in the last year we have come to realize that our vision is not limited to this important aspect of our ministry. I would remind you of the slogan that Judy Hey coined for us, “The gay church where it is okay to be a Christian.” Our vision has always been one of reclaiming Christianity, and I think that needs to be our challenge as we approach our sixth anniversary. More often then not when I encounter people out in this community gay and straight, they are more shocked that I’m a minister than that I’m gay. Many people think that Christianity is irredeemable -- that the church has hurt too many people and been too much a source of destruction and harm. The evidence is overwhelming, especially in this state where right wing religious zealots have abused positions of political power in ways that oppressed instead of liberated, that destroyed people instead of showing compassion, that robbed people of hope and instead fostered despair.

I think our challenge is to reclaim what it means to be a Christian. It’s not about a bunch of rules and purity codes. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to be a radical participant in a community of liberation, compassion, and hope. And we’ve already seen encouraging signs of how that vision is getting out there. Gwen and Philip O’Brien have joined this church because Philip realized one day that he could no longer be a part of a church that excluded people.

So our challenge in the next year and coming years is to take the message of Jesus out into our community. Not just to the library commission when they segregate gay themed books or to the school board advocating for the protection of GLBT students. We need to be there alongside our Mexican sisters and brothers when they are standing up for their basic human rights. We need to walk with our African-American sisters and brothers when they commemorate their civil rights movement and remind all of us that racism is still a serious problem. We need to be there with the poor when minimum wage reform comes up for debate again. We need to advocate for better health care for our senior citizens. We need to encourage the government to do right by our veterans and service people and quit treating them as expendable for a political cause instead of as human beings of sacred worth.

Today we honor someone who stands as a symbol of courage and hope. Not only that, he stands as a symbol for what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. It is an adventure that never stops, no matter what our age, health, or situation. Let him be an encouragement to us as we live into our vision as the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City.

So, I present to you my good friend and role model, the Rev. Bruce Lowe. When I first e-mailed him asking him to accept this award, this is the response he sent to me:

Scott, I have just read your incredible message, and all I can think of is that I have no business accepting a "Hero" award. Anna Marie is lying down at the moment, so she doesn't know about it yet. Without question, she will agree that I don't deserve it.
But your kindness and the support others have given you about this make me think I would be an ingrate to decline it. And I suppose Anna Marie would agree with that. So unless she vetoes it, I shall, with much gratitude, accept.
Scott, this is one of the biggest surprises I have ever had, and I can't thank you and your people enough. The Lord's richest blessings be on you and your work. Bruce

Sharing the Miracle

Sharing the Miracle
Mark 6:30-44; Acts 4:32-35
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
16 July 2006

When learned authors first began to approach the Holy Scriptures with skepticism and raise questions about the authenticity of Jesus’ miracles, this story of the feeding of the multitudes came in for lots of questioning. Unlike some of the other miracle stories, this one was deeply embedded within the core narrative of the Jesus story. It was more difficult to explain it as some later addition by superstitious and gullible gospel writers. So, a variety of “explanations” were crafted. One explanation was that Jesus had a secret group called The Order that ran around Palestine helping to fabricate his miracles. In this particular instance The Order had deposited huge amounts of food in some hidden cave and that Jesus passed out the food from this hidden reserve. Almost all of these “explanations” were as difficult to believe as the original story was for any true skeptic.

But one explanation caught on. Instead of supernaturally multiplying the loaves and fishes, Jesus’ actions had caused the multitudes to share from the stores of food that they each had but had been unwilling to share with one another.

When I first encountered this explanation of the feeding of the multitudes, I was quite intrigued because it made an important spiritual point. This account tells us that the real miracle was getting people to overcome their self-centeredness and to become generous and hospitable with one another. Getting people to do that would be as difficult as supernaturally multiplying the food.

Though I want to develop this as one point that we can take from the story, there is more to be said about it. Writing a century ago, Albert Schweitzer says:

How is the historical element in it to be got at? Certainly not by seeking to explain the apparently miraculous in it on natural lines, by representing that at the bidding of Jesus people brought out the baskets of provisions which they had been concealing, and, thus, importing into the tradition a natural fact which, so far from being hinted at in the narrative, is actually excluded by it.

Schweitzer interprets this story as being a symbol of the Messianic feast:

With the morsel of bread which He gives His disciples to distribute to the people He consecrates them as partakers in the coming Messianic feast . . . The feeding of the multitude was more than a love-feast, a fellowship-meal. It was from the point of view of Jesus a sacrament of salvation.

John Dominic Crossan takes the text even further. This story follows upon the text that we read last week, where Jesus commissions his followers to take his message into the homes of peasants, proclaiming a radical new form of community as symbolized by the shared table. Now the disciples have come back to Jesus who when he goes to debrief the disciples is followed by the multitude. It is as if the peasants to whom the disciples have gone now all come together. This is the new community that Jesus is bent on establishing. And they come together to share a meal and experience abundance. The hows do not concern Crossan who is more concerned with the theological point that the author is trying to convey, which is a community “based on an egalitarian sharing of spiritual and material power at the most grass-roots level.”

When I had originally planned to preach this text, I was going to point out that it calls us to live lives of generosity and hospitality. However, my reading of Schweitzer and Crossan reminded me that there is much more to this story. We are dealing with a ritual that symbolizes salvation, a sacrament that expresses deep theological truths about Christian community. So, the point of this story is even more important than what I had originally planned to share.

That gets me to a question that I introduced last week. What can we as individuals do to participate in the mission and vision of this church?

In our membership vows, we commit to the church our prayers, presence, generosity, service, and growth. At the heart of all of these is a commitment to community. We commit that we will continue our own spiritual growth, because we know that that will benefit others. We commit to pray for one another. We commit to support our ministries by our giving and our service. And, most importantly, we commit to being present with one another, not just in Sunday worship but in other aspects of our lives.

These vows have a dual aspect. As we live into them, we grow and develop as individuals because we also benefit from the presence of the community around us. And the community benefits because of our presence in its life.

But, as this Gospel reminds us, we aren’t dealing with five steps to self-improvement or five goals for church growth. We’re not simply talking about stewardship; we are talking about the core doctrines of the Christian movement. Our sharing openly with one another is a sign of salvation and a fulfillment of the kingdom of God.

Of all the many ways that we can share ourselves with one another, tonight I need to focus on our commitment to generosity, our financial stewardship. I’ve been here more than a year and though I’ve briefly mentioned financial stewardship, I haven’t really preached about it until tonight.

We know that Jesus’ message was profoundly economic. He preached during a period when the debt and tax burden was destroying the peasant class. When in the Lord’s Prayer he said “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors,” he wasn’t talking about sins or trespasses, he was talking about debts, financial debts. God’s will would be done on earth as it was in heaven if the people had their daily bread and were freed of their debt burden.

Jesus preached the Jubilee, that ancient Jewish law that was rarely practiced. The year of Jubilee was to come around every seven years and in that year all debts were to be forgiven, people were to get their land back, slaves were to be freed, and the land was to lie fallow so that creation and society could be restored. One aspect of the Jubilee is that it teaches faithful reliance upon God to provide. Jesus doesn’t seem to be preaching following the ancient custom by holding the Jubilee year during his ministry. Instead, Jesus seems to be preaching that the principles of the Jubilee should become the basic principles of human economy. There is evidence for this in the social economy of the early Jerusalem church as described in this Acts passage.

Human economic systems have developed far beyond what they were in first century Palestine. Occasionally movements have corrected serious sins of our economic life. We must not forget the abolition of slavery, the end of child labor, the development of standards for food production, clean air and water acts, and others. The church has often called attention to the failures of our economic systems, including the Social Gospel Movement, the Catholic Worker Movement, and the Latin American Liberation theologians who lived and worked in the slums with the poor.

Despite some true successes, our economic system continues to oppress. The division between rich and poor continues to grow dramatically. Laborers must leave home and travel across borders to find adequate pay. Women are compensated at lower levels than men for the same work. And the environment continues to be exploited.

How does the church prophetically speak against economic abuses while at the same time fulfilling the dictates of the gospel? Well, it helps when we take actions like recycling, lobbying on behalf of minimum wage reform, drinking only fair trade coffee, refraining from supporting companies that exploit laborers, or buying as much of our food from local farmers and ranchers as possible. But, the truth is that any liberal or progressive can take those actions based on rational arguments or natural compassion.

What uniquely can the church do? We can live according to our story, and our story tells us that the church should be a counter-cultural force. And how is the church a counter-cultural force?
One way is by engaging in sabbath. Sabbath is not merely a day of the week in which Jews do no work, sabbath is a principle of how to live. Americans work more than any other industrialized people. We get less time off and what time we do get we take less of than any other people. No wonder we are physically and mentally unhealthy. Instead of taking the advances of modern society as an opportunity to work less and be more efficient in that work time, we have just added more work to our lives. The irony is that the advances of modern life provide us with the ability to dramatically restructure our lives in ways that Jesus and his followers could have only dreamed of. But we aren’t taking advantage of it. The scriptural story tells us that while we should be involved in productive labor, we should also rest and play and enjoy a quality of life. We are not cogs in a vast machine of production, we are human beings, children of God. So, we must live counter-culturally and according to the Christian story and not get caught up in the rat race. I know that most of us are powerless to change our work situations, but where we can, we should.

The other way that we can live counter-culturally and according to the scriptural story is by spending our money differently than society tempts us to. I think that scripture called for believers to share a portion of their property for two primary reasons. The first is that it helped individuals set priorities and make the choice to at least commit part of themselves to opting out of the economic system. The second is that it helped to build community, in fact a community of witness that would demonstrate to the larger society that life can be lived differently. Both of these teach us to rely faithfully upon God to provide.

I don’t think that the primary reasons were so that individuals could receive tenfold blessings or even so that the work of the church could be supported. In fact, the Acts passage makes it pretty clear that the church wasn’t supporting ministry programming as much as it was creating community between rich and poor.

But over time, as the early church began to grow, it sought financial support for ministry. Lydia seems to have served as a benefactor for Paul’s ministries. The church in Antioch seems to have raised funds to send missionaries. A collection was taken from the Asian churches in order to support the Jerusalem church during a famine. And some think that Paul’s letter to the Romans was basically a fundraising letter hoping that the Christians of Rome would support his plans to travel to Spain.

As a matter of our life together, then, we make decisions and set priorities as to how our funds will be spent. These days Christians decide that some ministry tasks are so important that we want to provide the person a living and the ability to carry out their work, so we pay a full time wage with benefits so that they can be free to fulfill a calling. And we spend money on advertising, office supplies, buildings, etc. All of these are ways that we function within our current culture but in a way that attempts to speak to and challenge that culture.

So, I’m asking you to make financial commitments to this church not simply because you believe in its mission and vision. I’m not asking simply because the ministry priorities that we have set require funding to continue and to grow. Nor am I asking because you will receive blessings and grow spiritually. I’m asking because when we commit our financial resources to the formation of Christian community we are speaking prophetically to the world at large and helping to realize one part of Jesus’ message about the kingdom. As such, we are participating in a sacrament of salvation. That’s what today’s gospel has to teach us.

Gearing Up for Vacation

In two days I fly to Sarasota, Florida for a week of vacation! This is the first real, week-long vacation I've taken in two years. The last was my trip to Chicago in September 2004.

I haven't been in Florida in 20 years (seriously) and have never been to Florida. A couple of church members have a time share condo there, and they invited me to come and stay for a week. I can't wait to lie on the beach and read and look at hot boys. How much relaxing fun is that going to be!

In fact, I've been spending time working on the stash of books I'm going to take along. I went to Borders on Friday and spent a couple of gift cards that I had saved up. I bought a collection of WH Auden poems, not so much for the trip, but because I needed it. I bought Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian and plan on taking it on the trip. This book was recently named the fourth best American novel of the past quarter century. I didn't know anything about it, but put it high on my list to read soon. I also got a V. S. Naipaul novel. I've been meaning to read some Naipaul since he won the Nobel prize, and he's been on my wish list for a couple of years (no one EVER buys you anything from that, as Joe Hill told me way back when). I'll probably take that on the trip as well. I'll probably also take Billy Budd, which I've never read, and Zadie Smith's On Beauty. Mom had loaned me the latter some months ago, and it has been in the stack to read. Time last week had an article on young writers and said that Zadie Smith was the best and this was her best work, so I bumped it up the list as well.

Now I often read four or five books when I'm on vacation, so the fifth one is Barbara Brown Taylor's memoir on why she left the ministry. I assume those five will do me, but I might take a sixth just to be safe. If so, it will probably be some Armistead Maupin. Gosh, if I read all of this, I will have so dramatically moved through my reading list that I might have to go buy more books after the vacation!

The End of American Hegemony

Time magazine's interesting cover article "The End of Cowboy Diplomacy" raises an interesting question. Has the period of American hegemony as the lone global superpower ended after only fifteen years? And has its downfall been precipitated by the overreach of hegemonic power by the Bush administration?

What's the evidence that American hegemony has ended? The evening news. Iran and North Korea openly flout the Western world because they have no fear that American power will be used against them. We have little influence over our historic allies. Russia and China are more likely to exert their will. High oil prices bring wealth and power to states who use that wealth and power to counter American will. Etc.

The groundwork for the New World Order following the Cold War was established by that skilled diplomatic President, George Herbert Walker Bush, and his very capable administration. America would lead through moral and diplomatic influence, exerting its force when necessary with international cooperation and through the established procedures of international law. In effect, finally realizing the dreams of the architects of the post-World War II international order, which dreams had been delayed by 40 plus years of the Cold War.

With that basic groundwork, the world quite successfully saw a series of quick achievements: a rather smooth collapse of the Warsaw Pact, a generally smooth break-up of the Soviet Union, a quick easing of fears of the (at the time) quite controversial reunification of Germany, the creation of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process that began at the Madrid Conference organized by US Secy of State James Baker, and, of course, the ousting of Saddam Hussein from Kuwait by an unparalleled international coalition.

I still think that a seminal moment in this creation of a New World Order went and still goes largely unrecognized. In the winter of 1992 George HW Bush had a summit with Boris Yeltsin. The Soviet Union had come to a quick end in December 1991, so Yeltsin, as the President of the Russian Federation, now found himself the head of state of a new independent country. At this meeting Yeltsin proposed that the two countries shift their nuclear doctrines away from mutually assured destruction to cooperative security. Russia and America should cooperate in their nucelar programs and in a strategic defense initiative (aka Star Wars) to provide security for the democratized world and its allies and protect the world from the threats of the few remaining rogue states. The mutual power of a coalition that would include the US and Russia and all of their historical European allies could surely contain the few remaining aggressors around the globe, as had been demonstrated by their dealing with Hussein.

Now that vision was never realized and saw a series of failures in succeeding years: Somalia, the Balkans, Chechnya, Rwanda, the on-going pain in the ass that Saddam was, the Taliban, and, of course, the rise of al-Qaeda. I still believe that an opportunity was missed in the early nineties to continue creating international structures that would have been able to deal more effectively with these situations. However, the US elected a president who was not experienced in foreign affairs and though he would have achievements later, the window of opportunity was lost. It is also possible that the Bush-Yeltsin vision would not have been able to successfully deal with world events even if it had had a chance to develop. As George Will reminded on This Week on Sunday, what this administration has learned in Iraq is the true lesson of conservatism, government cannot control events.

After 9/11 it appeared that there would be another opportunity to establish a new order of international cooperation. In fact, there was greater mutual good will in the fall of 2001 than there had been ten years before. All that was gone, of course, a year and half later because this administration made the horrible decision to invade Iraq without following the precedent set by the President's father.

Even after the invasion, the American will could still be enforced because we had demonstrated our military might. The insurgency brought that to a halt, as insurgencies have done eventually to every empire that overextended itself from the ancient world to the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 80's. I guess we considered ourselves exempt from world history?

Now our bellicose rhetoric is dying down because our military might is questioned. And we have made a mockery of our own moral authority at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and Haditha. No, we actually did that when we chose to flout international law and invade Iraq in the first place when our original reason for opposing Hussein in 1991 was that he was flouting international law by invading a country and in this new era of global cooperation we weren't going to let that happen.

From Miracle to Table

From Miracle to Table
Mark 6:1-13
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
9 July 2006

Judy and Linda simply did not want to go. They were in Dallas visiting friends and those friends said they wanted to take Judy and Linda to church. But Judy and Linda were not interested in going to church. They told their friends, “no.” Repeatedly. However, since Judy and Linda could never be rude, these were always polite no-s, so eventually they caved and were dragged to the Cathedral of Hope by their friends. They were making those faces at each other that couples make to convey their discomfort, those faces that hopefully no one else recognizes.

But when they got to church, it wasn’t what they expected. From the moment they entered, they felt something special. As the service began, they began to cry. They cried throughout the service. They didn’t stop crying.

It was a baptismal service. At the end, Michael walked down the aisle sprinkling the congregation with water. A drop fell on Judy’s cheek, and she can still feel that drop today.

John Dominic Crossan, who is a scholar of the historical Jesus, considers this Mark passage to contain the “heart of the original Jesus movement.” This is a passage about mission. Not mission as we normally conceive it, but mission in the sense of a lifestyle. As in “my mission in life.” Jesus was teaching a lifestyle, and it is captured in this passage.

Now, Jesus could have stayed in Nazareth and built a pretty effective ministry. He could have set up shop in a comfortable location and allowed folk to come to him for healing. He might have become important in Nazareth, the local boy made good. He might have brought honor and benefits to his family.

But that’s not what he did. Instead, Jesus went about among the villages teaching. And he commissioned followers to do the same. Though Mark tells the story as a one time event involving the commissioning of the Twelve, we know, because this story and references to similar events occur in various other New Testament sources, that we probably aren’t talking about just a one time event. It seems to be a pattern in the early Jesus movement that Jesus was constantly sending his followers out on these journeys.

Who are these people that Jesus is sending out? They are the people whom he has already touched. Crossan calls them “healed healers.” These are the people, men and women, whom Jesus has already healed or exorcised. These are the people who have already heard the message of repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand.

This is the pattern. The mission of the church is staffed by those people who have already been touched by the church’s mission. People who have already received some form of healing. Judy and Linda’s friends, for example, had received healing, and they were ready to share that healing with others. Once Judy and Linda received the healing grace that they needed, they dedicated their lives to making sure that others heard that message too. And how many of us have been healed as a result of their faithfulness to Christian mission?

What did these healed healers do? They went out into the villages, into people’s homes, and ministered to them. They got out among the people who needed them most. The earliest Jesus movement was radical. It was not sufficient to go into a town and preach in the marketplace. It wasn’t Jesus’ original vision to establish locations and have people come to them. Though these methods were later used by Christians, they don’t originate with Jesus. Jesus’ vision was far more radical. He sent disciples out into the homes of the peasants, and they were to rely on the peasants for their support.

In 21st century culture, the principle is still the same. We are being faithful to Jesus when we get out and among the people who need to receive Jesus’ healing ministry. We need to be building homes with the poor or visiting the sick in the hospital, sitting with grieving widows or ministering to orphans.
And notice that Jesus isn’t calling for people to simply donate their funds. In fact, he says not to bring your money along. Jesus’ vision isn’t simply generous almsgiving, as important as that may be. This passage is about spending time with those in need to the point of identifying with them. This passage calls us to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Now, why does Jesus expect the disciples to rely for their food upon the generosity of the peasants? Because this will create communion. The disciples will build real, authentic relationships by sharing the hospitality of strangers.

Have you ever noticed how important meals are to the story of Jesus? Well, there’s the feeding of the five thousand. And the feeding of the four thousand. And dinner at Zaccheus’ house. And the Lord’s Supper. And the meal on the seashore after the resurrection. And the supper with the two disciples in Emmaus. And the wedding feast in Cana.

It is not just that meals figure importantly in the stories of Jesus, but they are important in his theology as well. Meals are intimate things, especially when you invite someone into your home, to your table. Just think what goes into that. Before someone comes over to eat, you first have to take time to invite them. Then you usually clean the house. You have to prepare the meal, which includes shopping and cooking and setting the table. Then there is clean-up. Not to mention the conversation and entertainment during the meal. If you are the host, you end up spending a great deal of time just to show a kindness to this person or persons.

The shared table stands as a symbol for the radical community that Jesus is trying to create. It represents the church’s mission, which is the formation of that community.

We represent that radical message every week in the observance of communion. We are inviting everyone to participate in the Jesus movement by communing with one another. It is part of Jesus’ healing message.

Crossan talks about this passage as the movement from miracle to table. The mission begins with healing and culminates in community. So, here is the essence of the early Jesus movement, healed healers sent out among the people who need their ministry most with the goal of building authentic, radical community.

And that’s who we are. In 2004, the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City adopted vision and mission statements. Our vision statement reads:

We are a people who serve in the manner of Jesus – with compassion, inclusion, liberation, and hope.
Our mission is to empower all people to experience the presence of God, to grow toward wholeness, and to act in love.

I believe our congregation stands at a crossroads. We are in a period of transition. We have entered into a year of dialogue with the United Church of Christ, exploring affiliation with that denomination. As a part of that process we are writing by-laws and creating structures and making decisions. We’ve got months ahead in which we must take significant actions. What those choices will be and even how we make them will define our identity as a congregation.

We have developed a faithful, effective, important ministry. We are touching lives, which is clearly evidenced by the 18 people who are currently in our membership class. Throughout this community I hear positive comments. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about your church and have been meaning to visit sometime.” Or praise for some event or ministry of ours. Plus there are the more personal moments. The stranger who calls for help. The sick person visited in the hospital. The wheelchair ramp that we built for one of our own.

Yet we do stand at a crossroads. Is there more ministry for the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City? Can we do even more to live into our vision and mission?

We rightly value what we have right now. But I think that most of us have a vision that even more lives can be touched. There are even more people like Judy and Linda who need the healing that only a church like ours can provide.

Plus there are the tangible things. We want a building. We want an office with equipment and staff. We want more resources. I want to remind us that those things are not ends. We don’t need an office simply to have an office. We only deserve an office only if it can become a way to fulfill this mission of Jesus, to reach people with healing, to form community. We must be constantly aware of what our ends are and not to confuse the means for the ends.

So, how do we get there? What can we do? My answer is “be faithful.” We must be faithful followers of Jesus. If the essence of the Jesus movement is healed healers sent out among the people who need their ministry most with the goal of building authentic, radical community, then we must do that.

At our recent Council on Ministry meeting, we discussed many ideas on how to do that. The United Church of Christ local Oklahoma Association has two on-going mission projects. The first one has been underway for awhile and the second is in its earliest stages. The first ministry is at the prison in Watonga. Our Oklahoma prison there is home to a number of prisoners from Hawaii. The State of Hawaii does not have room for all of its prisoners, so they contract for them to be kept in various other states.

Now, imagine what it must be like for a native Hawaiian to be kept in prison in Oklahoma. He would be completely isolated from family and friends, basically unable to receive any visitors that would keep him connected to the outside world. He would be completely cut-off from the natural environment that is central to his cultural identity. Just imagine having never lived that far from the ocean and then coming to Oklahoma. A further problem for these prisoners is that many elements of the Native Hawaiian religion are prohibited by the regulations of our state prisons.

Seeing a need, the United Church of Christ Oklahoma Association decided to find a way to help. There’s not much they can do except minister to these prisoners by being present. Just visiting them is the primary ministry of this project.

The other association mission project is exploring how the UCC can be involved in the Tar Creek project. Tar Creek is a body of water in Ottawa County in Northeastern Oklahoma. In fact, it runs through the neighborhood of Miami that I grew up in. Tar Creek is severely polluted as a result of the lead and zinc mining that occurred in the tri-state region through much of the twentieth century. We knew it was dirty. What we didn’t realize is that Tar Creek represents what may be the worst environmental disaster in American history. It is the most expensive EPA Superfund site in history. And it looks like only the surface has been scratched exploring the extent of the environmental damage and the poisoning of water, land, and people. I wonder about the effects on myself.

Our congregation is exploring how we can be involved in these projects. Plus, we talked about other issues and other events. We will keep participating in Habitat for Humanity. Some of us are active in business, political, service, and arts organizations. Paula is planning a prayer service for Iraq. David Disbrow is looking into how we can be involved in future minimum wage reform efforts. Tom is gathering information about the AIDS Walk. Mary Jane has a wonderful idea for ministering to women in our county jail that she is working on. We in the GLBT community want others to help us in our civil rights struggle, so we are also exploring how we can build bridges with our sisters and brothers in other civil rights struggles, including immigration issues. And I’ve had some conversations around the idea of starting a Circle of Hope in Lawton, probably with the help of some sister UCC churches.

Now, hopefully you are asking, how can we do all of that? Well, we can’t if the same 15 people try to do it all. Most of our leadership is over-extended as it is. So, as we take on new ministry we need new people to step to the plate, either to take on these new ministries or to take over some other job and free someone else up to lead in a new direction.

Plus, we need creativity and imagination, enthusiasm and energy.

If we want to minister to more people, then we’ve got to go out to where the people are. Just like the disciples of the early Jesus movement, we’ve got to get out and among those in need. And in the process we’ve got to work at building real, genuine relationships, creating an authentic, radical community. It’s not just about a service project or an event every couple of months, it is a lifestyle. We are “on mission” in our everyday lives, embodying Christ. This is not about us becoming programmed to death. That wouldn’t be effective ministry. It’s really about raising our consciousness and developing that sense of mission as part of everything we do. Next week I’m going to speak specifically about what we can be doing as individuals to participate in this miracle of hope.

As we go through this period that requires us to make all sorts of new administrative decisions, we need to stay focused on the central elements of our life together. The most central thing is our worship of God. It is theologically true that all of congregational life should flow from worship. We happen to exist in a situation in which it is also practically true because the only time we are all together is when we meet for Sunday worship. It is in this context that we weekly enact rituals that dramatize the healing ministry of Jesus. These rituals not only dramatize some past event, they participate in a sacred reality that creates opportunities for healing and fellowship in the present. That was Judy’s and Linda’s experience.

So, I’m sometimes asked why we celebrate communion every week. The answer is because it is central to who we are. We proclaim a message that all are welcome to be part of God’s community, and no matter how often I say that or how many times we sing it, in communion every week we act it out. The table is a miracle. It does what we have considered impossible. It heals us. It breaks down our walls and opens us up to relationship with other people. And that miracle occurs because Jesus offered himself first and was resurrected as a symbol that his way of life would bring newness and wholeness. We have the greatest good news ever, and we need to share it. We come here to the table to receive healing and then we take these gifts and share them with others so that they too might be healed. Who knows what other Judy’s and Linda’s are out there needing healing?

We are travelers on a journey together. A journey of boldly proclaiming God’s good news to a world in need. A journey that requires us here and now to live God’s way. A journey that can only be faithfully completed if we learn how to interact with other people and live a life of extravagant generosity and grace. The journey of a community whose basic rule is that we are united in our diversity. A journey that despite whatever difficulties can be filled with joy and peace. A journey that begins and ends and is overwhelmed by one basic idea – this is a journey of love.

Superman Returns

I did enjoy it. There are some really great things about it. But I kept feeling like it could have been better than it was. The NYTimes review also made me think. It has some finely-tuned criticisms. For example, it compared the film to the Passion of the Christ for the way it must beat up our hero savagely in order to achieve salvation.

It was much more angst-ridden than the 1978 film that is does so much to give homage to. Maybe this is part of my on-going puzzlement with how angst-ridden so much of our current art is?

Yet, I feel that the Superman of Superman II had a more realistic internal conflict than this one does. I will say that the some of the father-son moments, particularly between Jarel and Kalel, really got to me, for the obvious reasons that such things in even hokey films do for me.

The visual spectacles were sometimes sublime. And I loved the art direction's ambiguous mixing of the 30's and the present with such a timeless look.

2 1/2 film reels
4 popcorn kernels

The Devil Wears Prada

I LOVED this movie. It is my favourite of the year so far.

Though many of my friends have always been able to see a movie once and then memorize lots of lines to sprinkle later in their conversation, I've never had this skill. But this time, I've been quoting the movie for a week!

My favourite line is "I'm one stomach flu away from my goal weight."

The first thing to notice about this film is the clothes. OMG, they are amazing.

And then it is the sharp, witty script as delivered by some fine performers. Anne is rather dull, but she's just what that role needed. Meryl is in as fine a form as she has ever been. Surely she has now achieved full gay icon status. Hopefully she'll win some sort of major award for this role.

Though the film has its schmaltzy moments, the overall work is quite good. I can't wait to see it again.

4 film reels
5 popcorn kernels

Corporate America More Progressive Than the Church

Majority Of Major US Firms Now Offer Domestic Partner Benefits
by Newscenter Staff

June 29, 2006 - 11:00 am ET

(Washington) For the first time the majority of the country's biggest corporations are offering benefits to the same-sex partners of workers according to a new study released Thursday.

As of June 1, 2006, 253, or 51 percent, of the 2006 Fortune 500 companies provided benefits to employees’ same-sex domestic partners.

The report, prepared by the Human Rights Campaign, also shows that 86 percent of Fortune 500 companies include sexual orientation in their non-discrimination policy. As well, 81 percent now include the terms “gender identity” and/or “gender expression” in their non-discrimination statements — 10 times the number that had such policies in 2001.

In releasing the report in Washington the HRC said that the American workplace has reached a milestone.

“While protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Americans are stalled in Congress, corporate America continues to surge ahead. This isn’t a Democratic or a Republican issue. It’s an issue of basic fairness and good business,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese.

“As ‘The State of the Workplace’ shows, an investment in equal benefits is minor to the employer but priceless to employees. By removing barriers to employee success, corporate America is ultimately removing barriers to the success of companies across the nation.”

The report, called “The State of the Workplace for Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Americans 2005-2006,” is produced annually by HRC.

It also notes improvements on the state level despite setbacks in a number of areas on the issue of same-sex marriage.

In 2005, Montana became the 13th state to extend domestic partner benefits to state employees, the report noted. The state was joined by 16 local municipalities that extended domestic partner benefits during the period covered by this report. As of June 1, 2006, a total of 201 cities and counties granted equal benefits to employees’ partners.

Seven states prohibit discrimination in private sector employment on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity — California, Illinois, Maine, Minnesota, New Mexico, Rhode Island and Washington, plus the District of Columbia. Three states — Illinois, Maine and Washington — joined the list since Jan. 1, 2005. Ten additional states ban workplace discrimination exclusively on sexual orientation.

© 2006