This morning, the heroes of both our stories from scripture are widows. Widows, women whose husbands had died. Women who had no financial support. Women who were pitied. Women who often had children to feed and clothe but no means to do so. Women whose lives were hard—and not beautiful.
In the early 1500s in Germany, the Roman Catholic priest and professor Martin Luther, after reading and studying scripture in its original languages, after countless hours of prayer, after searching his soul, protested the exploitation of the common people of Germany by the church. He called out for theological reform, for an end to the church’s abuse of power, for deeper study and reflection on scripture made accessible to the German peasants.
In 2011, I attended my first meeting of CORA, the Council of Religious Advisors, for the downtown ASU campus. A table full of pastors and campus ministers, and we all wanted college students to be part of our ministries, me included. We gazed expectantly at the ASU liaison assigned to us, the gatekeeper for things like tabling space and event space and student email lists. She didn’t fulfill our wishes.
The cross is an ubiquitous Christian symbol. We wear it around our necks and on our tee shirts. We hang the cross on the walls of our homes, over our rearview mirrors, and on our car bumpers. We create cross crafts at church events and purchase greeting cards with cross-themed art. The cross appears everywhere in churches: on steeples, in chancels, in paintings, on and above altars, on paraments, on hymnal covers, embroidered on stoles, outlined by our own hands after we dip our fingers in the water of the baptismal font. We deeply associate the cross with Christianity.
I had always imagined these passages where Jesus and the Pharisees spar as similar to what I imagine the WWF is. “And here comes Jesus, wise rabbi, God’s son, coolest kid in town. He’s so wise the Pharisees won’t know what hit them!” Screaming crowds, fancy outfits, and consummate professionals almost dancing through an exploration of God’s law, complete with swagger and showboating. Silly me.
It’s not your imagination. We really have been reading through John chapter six for the last six weeks, a passage in scripture dubbed The Bread of Life Discourse. In these six weeks, we have heard the story of the feeding of the 5,000 followed by four weeks of Jesus teaching: I am the bread of life. I am the living bread. Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day. This final week, we hear the disciples, and they’re complaining. “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” Indeed, Jesus’ teaching is difficult. He teaches the people to eat his flesh and drink his blood. He teaches the people that he came down from heaven. He teaches the people that, if they eat of this bread and believe in him, they will never be hungry or thirsty again.
Consider for a moment all the ways we feed people at Grace: pancake breakfast and GLOW, heat respite and during Grace Room distribution, fellowship following traditional worship, stewardship brunches, past pig roasts and Oktoberfests, the Reformation and centennial celebrations, funeral lunches and WELCA Bible study goodies, snacks shared when hungry people appear at the office door, council snacks and occasional luncheons like the WELCA Christmas concert luncheon, not to mention all the other groups who serve food from Grace like Native American Urban Ministry, Trevor's Vision, Oasis Church, and anyone who holds their wedding reception or engagement party or renewal of vows reception here. At first glance, you'd think we were in the business of feeding people!
One Sunday during my first call, I woke up crabby. I woke up grumpy. I woke up disillusioned. I had regularly worked 65 hours a week and led worship and visited people in the hospital and led and planned youth activities and worked and led Bible studies and volunteered in the community and gone to meeting after meeting and had difficult conversations with critical people and worked and worked. And on that particular Sunday morning, it all seemed for naught.
n our reading from 2 Corinthians, the apostle Paul speaks of a rival group of Christian missionaries. According to Paul, these were the “super-apostles.” He actually uses this phrase in 2 Corinthians 11:5. But he meant it tongue in cheek because they were, apparently, violent, arrogant, moralistic, and power hungry. In our reading, Paul describes how these Christian missionaries boast, how they puff up their chests, how they number their own accomplishments, how they share their exceptional relevations with the world.
Jesus is out of his mind. That's what his family thinks. That's what the crowd thinks. Healing swarms of people and calling tax collectors and fishermen to follow him, Jesus upsets the expectations of those who know him and love him best. But more than being out of his mind, the scribes, who are part of the Jewish religious institution, believe that Jesus is Satan. They think Jesus is evil. Preaching, praying, cleansing lepers, healing people, teaching about fasting and the sabbath, and calling disciples, Jesus not only upsets familial and communal expectations; he upsets the heart of the religious institution of the day. He doesn't fit in the box in which the scribes place God, so they assign Jesus to an entirely different box. The scribes can't see what the readers of the gospel of Mark see—that God is at work in the life and ministry of Jesus, doing something new and unexpected.