These are Kathy Grannell Kihanya's suggestions for how you can make a difference when it comes to learning about white privilege, about racism and anti-racism.
Scripture - Mark 6:31 - 44
31 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. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?” 38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all. 42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
This week I’ve been thinking a lot about our Food Pantry - the way that we have stepped forward in this season to assist in feeding our community - keeping each other nourished not only in body, but in spirit - I heard someone this past week stop over to the Parish House and she said “I needed to lay eyes on another human being.”
In contemplating this ministry - a ministry that has impacted 35 - 40 families on Chebeague - this scripture passage that we just heard came to mind about Jesus feeding the five thousand -- probably more, because it says five thousand men, and there were bound to have been women and children in the mix.
I want us for worship this morning to reflect together on this passage using a method called Ignatian Imagination. It was developed hundreds of years ago by a man named Ignatius of Loyola who believed that God can speak to us through our imaginations in addition to our thoughts and memories, and he developed a set of spiritual exercises designed to do just that. He called this kind of prayer “contemplation” - an active form of prayer that engages the heart and mind and stirs up thoughts and emotions.
He developed this method of experiencing the scriptures by placing ourselves fully within the narrative. The idea is that we become onlookers or participants in the story and give full rein to our imaginations -- there’s no worry about letting your imagination run wild because for Ignatius, the Holy Spirit is the one guiding our perceptions as we enter the story.
And so when we place ourselves in the story, we not only see Jesus as he speaks to a blind man, we feel the heat of the sun on our faces, we see the dust kicked up by the road or the smell of fish by the sea. We see the emotions on the faces of those around us - hope, desperation, curiosity. We may even be the one Jesus interacts with. But above all, we watch Jesus in the way he walks, his gestures, the expression on his face, the look in his eyes, the sound of his voice. We not only hear the words he speaks, but imagine the words he might have spoken, the miracles he may have accomplished, the other lives he might have changed.
In his spiritual exercises, Ignatius selects some passages that might be fruitful for imaginative exploration. These passages are scenes of Jesus acting - interacting with others, making decisions, ministering, healing, and moving. In this, we aren’t supposed to think about Jesus, but experience him as he encountered others. In this way, we can meet him for ourselves, see him in action, and draw closer to him.
So we’ll hear this passage read again, and I’ll break from time to time to ask questions that are meant to prompt your imagination, and we’ll have a couple of moments of silent reflection to let your creative juices flow. Notice what arises...and notice the thoughts and feelings that are sparked by this.
31 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.
Take a moment to enter the scene. What is the setting? What are the sounds, sights, and aromas?
Imagine that you are one of the disciples, coming back to Jesus after he had sent you out into the countryside, so busy you had no time to eat. How does your body feel after a day of speaking with people, walking from town to town, healing, and teaching? What expression is on Jesus’s face as he speaks?
32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
What do you feel upon arriving to this deserted place? What do you feel watching the crowds approach? What’s going on in your mind as you watch Jesus interact with the crowd? Do you speak to anyone? If so - who are you talking with and what do you say?
35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37 But he answered them, “You give them something to eat.” They said to him, “Are we to go and buy two hundred denarii worth of bread, and give it to them to eat?”
What do you feel in this moment? How does Jesus react to these words and how do you respond? What is the crowd doing right now? What do you hear around you?
38 And he said to them, “How many loaves have you? Go and see.” When they had found out, they said, “Five, and two fish.” 39 Then he ordered them to get all the people to sit down in groups on the green grass. 40 So they sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties. 41 Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.
What is going through your mind as you are watching Jesus perform this act? Are you still one of the 12 - or do you find yourself in a different location - a bystander, one of the crowd, or someone else? What are you feeling as you see this scene unfold?
42 And all ate and were filled; 43 and they took up twelve baskets full of broken pieces and of the fish. 44 Those who had eaten the loaves numbered five thousand men.
How do you imagine everyone receiving the food? Eating the meal? What expressions are on the faces around you? What does the atmosphere feel like? How do you envision the leftovers being collected? How does this experience leave you feeling?
As we come our of our time of contemplating this story - what struck out to you? What did you notice or feel in the story that you hadn’t given consideration to before?
What did this experience leave you with? An invitation? A challenge?
What might you be feeling led to offer that God might bless and multiply?
I offer this poem as we start to move into prayer:
"Just a housewife"
By Cordelia Baker-Pearce.
I packed five cakes of bread and two small fishes,
Sent him off, my youngest lad,
To take his father's dinner to the field.
Came back alone he did, all goggle-eyed.
My fresh-baked bread that varmint gave away
To some young travelling preacher out of Galilee.
It fed five thousand people.
What a tale!
It can't be true... but if it is.
What kind of dough did these hands knead
Melissa: It may feel odd that we’re still in this virtual space on the Day of Pentecost, the day we celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit to those first disciples, known as “the birthday of the church.” We’re going to hear two different stories about the gift of that Spirit, first from the Gospel of John - which gives us one story, and second from the book of Acts - a story that may be more familiar to us.
First we will hear John’s account, which takes place on the day of Jesus’s resurrection.
Gloria: 19When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 20After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” 22When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” - John 20:19-23
Melissa: Jesus breathed onto his followers the Holy Spirit - which is a beautiful image of the life of Jesus being breathed into us. Spirit and breath often go hand in hand. Our next reading explores a different image - that of wind and fire! We’ll be hearing this scripture read in a variety of languages.
Melissa: Throughout this season, we have proclaimed that love is that which binds us (the root of “religion”) to God, to Jesus, to each other. Love IS our religion. On the day of Pentecost, the church received the power of the Holy Spirit to let this message flow out from all, to all. The power of this message is ever-so important to offer to the world today. The Spirit is poured out on each one of us so let us be a community of messengers letting living compassion flow from our hearts.
Two things from these passages stand out to me - even as they make different claims about how the Holy Spirit came to be with the disciples.
The first is from the Gospel of John. This is the same day as the resurrection, it’s the first time Jesus is appearing to the men, they’re all locked away in the house after Mary Magdalene had shared the news that Jesus was, in fact alive, and they’re all afraid. Jesus comes into their midst, speaks peace - breathes the Holy Spirit onto them, and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.” In the Greek, the verb tense used is a command. And order. Take it. It’s not an invitation, it’s not a suggestion, it’s something you have no choice but to do. And with this power of the Holy Spirit comes the authority to forgive and absolve sin...or not.
The second is the image of fire from the book of Acts. Tongues of fire descending on those early followers of Jesus - again, hidden away together - fire that empowered them to speak boldly and that enabled the crowds to hear the message of Jesus in their own native language.
Fire and wind - forces that are uncontrollable, that have the power to change the environment. Fire warms, and wind cools - but both can unsettle and destroy - tearing down what was built and forcing reconstruction and renewal.
The crowds on that day witnessed the wind and the fire disrupting and deconstructing everything they thought they knew about who God was, who they were as a people, and about what God was up to in the world through Jesus. The Holy Spirit blew through that community so fiercely, the crowds thought that people were drunk. And instead of dismissing the event or saying, “well, that was interesting” before getting back to their regularly scheduled lives, or trying to stifle the message that God was about a new thing in the world and pretend like it never happened and get back to normal - the crowds responded by aligning their hearts with the Spirit of God - choosing to let the wind and fire burn away the old and carry them into the waters of baptism and into the way of Jesus.
In the midst of the disrupting power of the spirit, they chose not to go back to normal.
It makes me think about where we are today, Jesus breathing on the disciples to confer the Spirit...and we’re in the middle of a pandemic that manifests primarily in difficulty breathing...and we’re in this moment when our Black siblings are having their breath taken away…. And the tongues of flame sweeping through those early Jesus followers…can bring the refining fire to point us to a new way of being and living - painful and uncomfortable as it is.
We have this unique inflection point where we have choices to make about what we’re going to do going forward. There is immense pressure to act as if nothing ever happened when it comes to the pandemic - albeit a socially distanced, masked, increased attention to hygiene kind of normal. And that push towards normal comes from our government, from marketing, from the left and the right - all wanting us to move on as if nothing disrupted our routine.
Lest we forget, however, that normal was the problem...the normal we’re being pushed to get back into is one marked by exploitation of our planet, extreme wealth inequality, racial oppression and violence - we saw that one pretty clearly this week, a broken health care system, and injustice throughout the entire fabric of society. This pandemic has revealed the cracks in the system built to support the privileged.
We’ve seen how Brown and Black people are more likely to contract COVID because they are more likely to work frontline jobs and live in crowded conditions where social distancing is impossible. We’ve seen how much of a difference a reduction in carbon emissions has made for our planet. We’ve seen hospitals unable to have the protective equipment needed to do their jobs. We’ve seen people who make more on unemployment than they do at their day job. There are things we’ve witnessed during these past two months that we cannot unsee. Knowledge that we cannot forget. Stories that aren’t just stories, but people’s daily lived realities. And just like the crowds on Pentecost, we have the choice, to say, “oh, well, that was an interesting time, wasn’t it?” as we are pressured to get back to the normal that may have worked for us but not for many, many people - or we can stop and choose to live a different way. Refuse to go back to normal. Let the wind and fire finish its work in our hearts to bring us to a more just way of living with each other and with all creation.
I believe this is part of what the church is meant to embody in the world - a different way of being together, a community of people following Jesus that invites and challenges the world to strive for right relationships between people and between all of creation. As Rev. Allen Ewing-Merrill of the BTS Center put it, the church is to be “a Gospel-shaped, Love-fueled, Spirit-led, peace-loving, justice-seeking, destabilizing agent of change, not a stabilizing preserver of the status quo. And that’s what Pentecost is all about.”
To me, this circles back to the first disciples receiving the Holy Spirit as depicted in the Gospel of John, where Jesus basically commands his disciples to take the Holy Spirit, and as a result, to be the ones to hold others accountable for their sins. Some of what we’ve put up with as normal has perpetuated our cycles of systemic injustice and global devastation. We have an opportunity in this moment to call our culture to account - and to examine ourselves as well - as we, too, have this challenge as a church to not go back to normal, but to use this moment to continue following the wind and fire of the Holy Spirit and be the church.
We’ve been on this discernment journey over the past eight months as we’ve considered our relationship with the wider United Methodist Church. We completed the required sessions together, and that’s something to celebrate. We’ve put in hard work together, we’ve learned together, and we’ve had honest conversations about our values and the incompatibility of our values and that of the UMC. But I think what has also become clear is that there is more work for us to do - not only in terms of what we wrestle with being part of the UMC...but also in terms of where the Holy Spirit truly is leading us. I believe we have seen glimpses of that as we’ve seen what we’ve done as a church in serving this community - both those near and far - during the pandemic. The movement of God’s spirit has been powerfully present with the food pantry ministry - what else might God be inviting us into as we serve? What about in the ways we worship? There, we won’t be able to go back to normal - no singing, no hugs or handshakes - in worship we will have to find new ways to worship God together. I think, too, about our children, and the opportunity we have to address how we can help them become the people God has created them to be - as I think about the way many of them have disengaged from church to be the clearest sign that our normal wasn’t working. We have questions to answer about how we nurture one another’s faith.
We’re in a moment when the Holy Spirit has swept through and deconstructed much of what we knew about our world, about church, and about ourselves. Are we willing to resist the urge to go back to normal so that we can follow the Holy Spirit into a new way of being?
Melissa: So take a moment to look around the room you are in. Find one object in the room that represents the pressure to get back to normal - and if you can go get it, I invite you to do so. If you can’t get it, just make note of it. We’re going to share about our objects in a moment. [pause to allow time to do this]
Breaking Open our Lives with Discussion
Leader: Our theme scripture says, “they ate their food with glad and generous hearts.” One way we can be glad and generous is to share about how we are finding strength, hope, love and peace in these days. This is part of “breaking bread” with each other as we break open our hearts to one another as well. Maybe even help each other rekindle the Jesus fire within.
Share about the object you found - what pressure to get back to normal does it represent? How do you feel called to live differently?
What is it that your heart is on fire for?
What winds of change you want to blow through your life?
Finally, what do you feel is at the heart of the matter of life?
Each week, we have an activity or two to spread Goodwill throughout our communities. This week - chalk art! Get out onto the roads, since many of us don’t have paved driveways, and write some messages to share with your neighbors that they are loved, that there is hope, love, and peace!
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.