Tuesday, October 15, 2019

SERMON: "Seven Baskets Left Over"

At the Table with the Community Church of Durham
October 13, 2019 + World Communion Sunday
Dave Grishaw-Jones

A Meditation on Mark 8:1-21


In the story, which is not just an old story but a pressing and contemporary one, the great
crowd drawn to Jesus, attracted to his message, excited by his courage: the great crowd is hungry.  And Jesus pulls his inner circle in tight, in very close, and he opens his heart to them.  “I have compassion for the crowd,” he says.  Don’t miss this, friends, this opening of Jesus’ heart to his disciples, to his inner circle.  If you choose Jesus, if you follow Jesus, at some point he opens his heart to you.  Which is of course the beating heart of God in the world.  Which is of course the love that makes the planets spin and the universe shine.  Watch out!  Your heart’s gonna feel something.  That’s the risk you take with Jesus.    

“I have compassion for the crowd,” Jesus says.  Because they’ve been out there with him for days: and they’re hungry.  Because they’ve been impoverished by Roman colonialism: and they’re hungry.  Because they’ve been chased from their lands and their crops and their traditions: and they’re hungry.  That word ‘crowd’—or ochlos in Greek—distinguishes this particular throng as the forgotten poor, the struggling masses, the crowd living paycheck to paycheck, prayer to prayer.  “If I send them away hungry to their homes,” Jesus says, “they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.”

Now I know this is the United Church, and we’ve got a hundred different versions of Jesus and who he is, and what he means, and how he fits into our lives.  But no matter where you start—progressive or evangelical, orthodox or universalist—this is one of those texts you just can’t sidestep.  Jesus opening his heart to his disciples.  Jesus aching aloud for the suffering of the poor.  If we’re going to make Jesus the cornerstone of our Christian practice, if we’re going to be a United Church of Christ, his compassion for the crowd is like the lifeblood of our spirituality.  It carries the oxygen around the body.  It distributes the energy and purpose from limb to limb, and organ to organ.  We’re not merely talking about ethical obligations, although they’re part of the mix.  But we’re talking about spirituality and love.  Living freely and bravely in the Spirit of God. 

“I have compassion for the crowd.”  Jesus is opening his heart to you and me.  Right here in Durham today.  This is something like the lifeblood of our spirituality.

And this is where the notion of incarnation—the embodiment of God—is so powerful, so energizing, and so disruptive in the church.  If Jesus is the embodiment of God in the world, the word made flesh, that Word, God’s Word is Compassion.  “I have compassion for the crowd,” he says, out there in the wilderness, “for they’re hungry and they’re about to faint and there’s nobody out here gonna feed them.”  I have compassion for the crowd.  And I’m moved to do something about it.


And then Jesus gets into it with his disciples.  Seems like he’s always getting into it with his disciples.  They’re stuck in this spirituality of helplessness, this spirituality of scarcity, this spirituality, if we’re honest, of the marketplace.  “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”    Remember: this is not just an old story, but a pressing and contemporary one.  “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”  We just don’t have enough resources in this land to care for the refugees coming across.  We just don’t have enough jobs in this economy for the immigrants looking for a better life.  We just don’t have enough money in the system to give folks a living wage.  We just don’t have bread in the basket for the millions of children who go hungry every night.  Do you see how this spirituality of helplessness, this spirituality of scarcity is all around us?  And isn’t it odd that it seems even more pervasive, even more restrictive, even more entrenched in affluent cultures, and affluent nations, and affluent communities?  “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?”  Can’t be done. 

And Jesus does what Jesus so often does: Jesus asks them a pointed question.  Do you know that, if you read the four canonical gospels from beginning to end, Jesus is more inclined to ask a great question than to answer one?   He’s a rabbi, after all, and like a great rabbi Jesus invites curiosity, bewilderment and human discovery in the hearts and spirits of those he loves.  And here, in today’s text, he asks the simplest question of all, which turns out to be the most provocative and transformative question the disciples or the crowd have ever heard.  “How many loaves do you have?”  “How many loaves to you have?”


And they have seven.  Seven loaves. 

And with those seven loaves, Jesus inaugurates an entirely new spirituality.  Make no mistake.  He inaugurates an entirely new spirituality.  (And sisters and brothers, siblings of God, it can change the world, this new spirituality.)  Jesus takes the seven loaves, and he prays over them.  He thanks God for every wisp of grain, and for every drop of rain, and for every ray of sunshine, and for every hand that tended every field.  And he prays—big time—over the seven loaves.  Inaugurating an entirely new spirituality.  And he breaks them in his hands and he gives all the pieces to his disciples to distribute.  (By the way, that’s you and me, the disciples.  We’re the distributors!)  And then he does the same with the few small fish that turn up.  He prays over the fish.  He thanks God for every flowing stream, and for every winter shower, and for every fisherman and every net and every catch at the break of day.  Inaugurating an entirely new spirituality, you see.  Abundance, not scarcity.  Generosity, not helplessness.  And he gives the few small fish to his disciples too.  And they distribute the fish, and the bread, and the whole crowd eats. 

The whole crowd eats, and they’re filled.  And I’ve got to imagine that there’s laughter out there in the desert, as they’re eating.  Laughter that climbs the hills and bounces back.  And I’ve got to imagine that there’s joy out there, as they’re passing the bread around and the fish.  The kids diving in, the elders wiping fish scales off their lips.  Eating all they need.  All they need.

And there’s so much out there in the desert, this is in the story too: there’s so much food and so much love and so much grace and so much God, that they take up seven baskets left over.  Go ahead and say that with me: “SEVEN BASKETS LEFT OVER!”  Say it again: “SEVEN BASKETS LEFT OVER!”  Enough to take back to town.  Enough to take door to door.  Enough.  Enough.  Enough.  

So my friends, I don’t think this is a story about magic.  There’s no doubt in my mind it’s miraculous; but I don’t think Jesus is much interested in magic.  What Jesus dares us to invest in is a spirituality of abundance, a spirituality of generosity, a spirituality of grace.  We know where his heart’s at: his heart overflows with compassion and love and delight.  His heart brims with confidence in the abundance of the fields, in the abundance of the rivers and lakes, in the abundance of the sun and rain and creation itself.  You have enough, he says to the church today.  You are enough, he says to the church today.  The way, my Way, is a way of abundance.

So we are called, you and I, to walk that Way together.  In a world of walls, we are called to knock them down.  There is enough, we say to the world.  We are enough.  In a world of poverty, we are called to enact justice and mercy.  There is enough, we say to the world.  We are enough.  In a world of fear and anxiety, gated communities and suspicious security systems everywhere we look, we are called to fearlessness and love.  There is enough, we say to the world.  We are enough.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Thursday, October 10, 2019

COURAGE: Brother Phap Man and His Witness

WATCH: Today's Arrests in NYC

At 1:20, you'll see footage of Brother Phap Man as he's arrested with many others in New York's Time Square.

A PRAYER: "Be His Holy Calm"

I'm told that my friend, Brother Phap Man, may well be arrested today in New York Citiy, as part of the organized resistance to climate change and societal inaction.  He asked for my prayers, and I trust many others will want to join me in holding him and his companions in deep gratitude and peace.  Here's the prayer I've sent along to Brother Phap Man in New York.

Reconciling Spirit of the Wind and Sea,
Resisting Spirit of the Prophets and Dawn,
Renewing Spirit of the Fields and Forests:
Bless your child, your servant, your son.
Anoint his body with balance and strength.
Fill his soul with deep and nurturing peace.

In moments of tension, be his holy calm.
In moments of uncertainty, be his sweet faith.
In moments of risk, be his unwavering hope.

And, through his humble courage,
Sow seeds of love, seeds of blessing, seeds of promise:
For the Community of Life, the One Earth,
And all the beings and lovers and little ones 
Who are and will be at home with us here.
Amen and amen.

Saturday, October 5, 2019

A LETTER: "Bowing to You with Palms Joined"

Dave with Brother Man in January 2019
This letter comes from the heart of a dear friend and brother, Brother Man. He writes out of that heavy heart, but channels his deep and abiding love all the while, inviting us to awareness, wakefulness and solidarity in purpose. I give thanks for him, and pray God's blessing upon his continuing witness and practice. I hope you'll join me in sharing his words widely! ~ DGJ 

Dear beloved teachers, family, friends, friends of the Earth, 
Dear spiritual teachers and leaders everywhere, 
Dear beloved peoples of all origins, 
Dear beloved Mother Earth, 

Today I feel inspired and called to write to you, in humility and reverence and respect. I write to ask for your care, your help, and your support for people everywhere, of all species and origins, and for the Earth: our home. We are Earth peoples. I am writing to you today about a movement that I’m supporting called Extinction Rebellion, a global movement of resistance, and sharing why I think it’s so crucial for all of us to consider. 

My heart is a little heavy with some fear and the weight of responsibility. My deep wish is to write not for myself or from my own voice, but with the voice of my ancestors, including all land and spiritual ancestors. I do not wish to fail. At the same time, I also feel the energy of life flowing through me, supporting me with joy and courage. I know I add this voice to the voice of multitudes everywhere. 

It is important to me to put this as plainly as I can. From where many of us on Earth stand, we see we have arrived at a crossroads—at a crisis of enormous magnitude. I think many of you see this. I do not want to spend much time trying to convince you of this; it may be something that you do not see. But many of you do see this and are willing to see this. It is to you I wish to speak. It is enough to say that we have entered an age of extinction, driven by climate change and other human-induced factors, on a sweeping and devastating scale. Approximately 200 species—from our family of life, our relatives—are vanishing every day. The harm being done and the threat to everyone—or as I say, ‘peoples of all species’—has never been greater in human history on Earth. 

Many who study the climate very carefully predict from direct evidence and observation that the time available for us to make a concerted global response may be limited to just a few years—or that we may already be too late to avert global catastrophe for life on Earth. 

Looking at a looming disaster and the devastating loss of life around us, it is natural to feel grief, shock, disbelief, fear, outrage, anger, despair, collapse, numbness, or other potent emotional forces. Please take the time to be with these feelings. We need to take time to hold and be with our emotions, and to receive support from those around us. These emotions are teachers, and they can be a source of power if we know how to embrace them and not become overwhelmed. In a time of crisis, it is essential that all those who see it marshal all of their spiritual and physical energies to meet the moment, and call on others to meet that moment, too. We are called to meet this crisis of extinction not with panic, but with a sense of calm, with steadiness, with togetherness—and also with extraordinary and fearless action arising from a place of deep wisdom and compassion. 

Without this kind of energetic selfless action—starting now—it is unlikely that our young people—our children and their children—will inherit a livable future. Our generation bears a great responsibility. 

I am a Zen Buddhism monk, born and currently living in the United States, on Turtle Island. I belong to the particular spiritual stream cultivated by Master Thich Nhat Hanh—the Plum Village community of practice, also called the Community of Engaged Buddhism. I also belong to the Christian stream of practice, as I returned to my Christian roots from my mother’s line and took baptism as a young person. And I also carry within me the ancestors of my father’s spiritual lineage, Judaism. These roots and lineages are deeply valuable and precious to me. 

I want to address first my most immediate community: the Plum Village Sangha. I see the powerful efforts of our community on so many fronts: to raise awareness, to reduce suffering, and to heal wounds in our human and non-human family. I see the Earth Holders of our Sangha supporting healing and well-being for our entire planet. In the past year, I have been on Pilgrimage, seeking insight, wisdom, and understanding. I’ve met with many small communities throughout the United States, communities committed to understanding and love. All of the members of these communities have taught me so much about the power of love, the power of community, the power of networks and organization, the power of compassion. For this, I am overwhelmed with gratitude. Your heart is in my heart. I want to ask you—all of you in these communities and beyond, as you feel called—to learn about, support, and respond to Extinction Rebellion. Or to support or create your own movements of resistance and defiance to stand up to the extreme violence, injustice, and oppression taking place every day, all over the Earth. 

Our teacher, lovingly called “Thay” by his students, has said over and over again that ours is a community of resistance, of revolutionary love. There are so many ways to stand up to injustice, and each of us may be called in a different way. However, I don’t think we need to create our own movement of resistance. Extinction Rebellion is a global movement working to disrupt the processes driving climate change and species extinction by making specific demands of our governments. They are using powerful nonviolent direct action, in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi, to wake us all up. They are opening so many important pathways to contribute and actively challenge these processes of destruction, which are driven by the systems of inequity and violence within our society and culture. They are demanding that governments and institutions acknowledge our state of crisis and take necessary action. The values and commitments of Extinction Rebellion are deeply aligned with Buddhist values like truth-telling, nonviolence, community building, regenerative (life-sustaining and healing) culture, protection of life, appropriateness, and non-blaming, among others. 

Our own Plum Village community was shaped by and formed during the conflict of the Vietnam War when our teacher formed the Order of Interbeing (OI) to work for peace and social change. The first OI members, including Sister Chan Khong, risked their lives to do this work—not taking sides in the conflict and thereby being seen as enemies by both sides. Later our teacher traveled throughout the US calling for an end to the violence, and working with many organizations, including the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) to help stop the war. Today, we have an extraordinary opportunity to respond to suffering on a far greater scale. Given the magnitude of the current crisis, it is essential that we partner with coalitions beyond our immediate community. Extinction Rebellion is inclusive and welcomes all people—and all parts of all people. 

Of course, there are many movements and actions addressing climate change today. Regardless of the movement, the Buddhist call to compassionate action and active response is clear. We know from our chanting of the Discourse on Love, that we are called to respond with compassion, ‘just as a mother loves and protects her only child at the risk of her own life.’ The first of our precepts we call ‘Reverence for Life.’ It enjoins us to do everything in our power to protect life. 

To the peoples of all the spiritual traditions of South Asia and East Asia, and to the wider community of Buddhist practitioners and monastics within this stream: I trust you can also see the alignment of our values with this movement, the call to Ahimsa, and the need for fearless and compassionate action. 

To all Abrahamic Faiths, the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim peoples, who share common roots—to my many brothers and sisters in these traditions: I trust that you can see the strong and powerful calling of the prophets to stand up with all of our energy for truth and justice, and for the restoration of a culture of equity, responsibility, and relationship within the magnificent creation of life. Now is the time to support each other, seeing that we all share common ground and common roots in the call to create a just society and to protect all life on this planet. I trust you are responding to this call and will continue to do so. 

To spiritual leaders and teachers everywhere: I am deeply grateful—humbled—by your courage and your model, for you call for us to act together in harmony to protect life. 

To business and corporate leaders, investors, and people of wealth: now is the time for us to act together and to share in common cause, as we share one common home. As Dr. King has taught us, ‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’ I see that all of the profit we have generated, all of the wealth that exists—all the material and spiritual support for all that is—has come to us directly and freely from the Earth. Now is the time to return that wealth to the Earth. We must find ways within businesses and companies to devote all profits and all wealth to restoring well-being and health on our planet. We need you. Let us find creative ways to give back the wealth to the people—the peoples of all species—from which it has sprung. We can do this by investing in processes that share wealth, protect life, and reverse the processes of climate and ecosystem destruction. The wealth and abundance, the richness of the Earth belongs to us all. 

To political leaders everywhere: the time to act decisively has come. The needs of all peoples, of all species, are clear. We must transform our political systems from ones driven by destructive consumption, and economies based on exploitation and greed, to systems that honor relationship and reciprocity, that preserve well-being and care for all species on Earth. We must take action to tell the truth about the crisis at hand and we must take immediate action to change course. Solutions are available and practices like citizens’ assemblies can make the process of transformation of our governmental policies possible. 

To humans everywhere, people of all spiritual traditions, and to all the indigenous peoples of Earth: you have brought so much love and wisdom to the human family through your teachings about respect, care, reverence, protection, and reciprocity. You have taught us about the power of relationships and our interconnection with all life. It is urgent that we as humans restore this body of wisdom, these ways of knowing, to all cultures and societies around the world. The survival of much of life depends on it. And to those suffering from oppression and poverty, those treated unjustly, those harmed over so many generations, including indigenous peoples, African Americans, people of color, and others: it is clear that oppressed people all over the Earth are bearing the brunt of climate-related suffering. You have long led the struggle for justice and equity, and have shown again and again the path and power of nonviolence and solidarity. I do not doubt that you will continue to rise together and to lead—in the strength of siblinghood with all beings—calling out for justice, for healing, for the restoration of lands, and for reparations and redress for harm done. I humbly wish to add my support, and my voice to your voice, to keep learning. 

To the larger body of life on Earth: it is time that we recognize, in deep humility and gratitude, our dependence and our kinship with you. It is time that we begin to restore our relationships, that we make right and repair the harm done, that we begin to honor you as peoples—peoples with inalienable rights and sovereignty, deserving of protection and respect. 

Gretta Thunberg, the sixteen-year-old climate activist has said that now is not a time when we need hope, but a time when we need action—that hope will spring from our courageous action. I hear her saying that we should not attach to false hopes. Thich Nhat Hanh has said that it is important to face the impermanence of our species—our possible extinction—so that we can move from despair and fear towards love and fearlessness. From this place, we will find the call to action. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

WATCH: "I Want the Best for You"

Every family, every community must work out justice, imagine justice, enact justice in a fair and decent way. Justice is painful and critical. What strikes me here, in today's sentencing and this young man's testimony, is the powerful place of forgiveness in the midst of that struggle. In extending forgiveness and compassion, he opens up a way into the future, even a future of deeper and lasting justice. How powerful.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

WATCH AND LISTEN: "All My Relations"

I'm looking forward to the first of these "Pod Chats" tomorrow--and the chance to listen, listen, and learn!

Monday, September 16, 2019

DISCIPLESHIP: "Isaiah 6:2-10"

The Prophet
By Alexander Pushkin
Translated by A.Z. Foreman
Click to hear A.Z. Foreman recite the original Russian

My spirit was athirst for grace.
I wandered in a darkling land

And at a crossing of the ways
Beheld a six-wing'd Seraph stand.
With fingers light as dream at night
He brushed my eyes and they grew bright
Opening unto prophecies
Wild as a startled eagle's eyes.
He touched my ears, and noise and sound
Poured into me from all around:
I heard the shudders of the sky,
The sweep of angel hosts on high,
The creep of beasts below in the seas,
The seep of sap in valley trees.
And leaning to my lips he wrung
Thereout my sinful slithered tongue
Of guile and idle caviling;
And with his bloody fingertips
He set between my wasting lips
A Serpent's wise and fork├Ęd sting.
And with his sword he cleft my chest
And ripped my quaking heart out whole,
And in my sundered breast he cast
A blazing shard of living coal.
There in the desert I lay dead
Until the voice from heaven said:
"Arise O Prophet! Work My will,
Thou that hast now perceived and heard.
On land and sea thy charge fulfill
And burn Man's heart with this My Word."