That Which We Have Heard & Known

Occasional thoughts of an Anglican Episcopal priest

Category: Food (page 1 of 3)

Hiraeth Like Wild Mint

A Facebook friend posted a meme recently featuring the word hiraeth. That’s not a word one hears or sees very often. It’s Welsh and has no direct English equivalent. Pronounced “hear-eye’th,” it refers to a sense of nostalgia for a lost home, the sort of home you can’t ever go back to, an unquenchable homesickness.

As I pondered my friend’s meme and that peculiar sense to which the word refers, what came to mind was my grandfather’s garden in Winfield, Kansas, in which I worked alongside my cousins every spring and summer of the late 1950s.

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Greek Cauliflower & Potatoes with Olives: A Recipe

I had to do something other than read the political (presidential campaign) news, which was turning my stomach, so I went to the kitchen and created another vegan main course using cauliflower. This time, I went in a Greek direction.

Here are the players in order of appearance:

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large red onion, chopped
Generous “pinch” of salt
2 to 4 garlic cloves (to taste), minced
Two russet potatoes, peeled & cubed
One small sweet potato, peeled & cubed
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes, with juice, pulsed in a food processor
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, or 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 small or 1/2 large cauliflower, cored, broken into florets, and sliced about 1/2 inch thick
15 kalamata olives, pitted and cut in quarters
1 15-ounce can of garbanzos, drained & rinsed
1 to 2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 to 2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (optional)
VEGAN alternative: Don’t use.

And here’s the production, act by act:

potatoes

Peel & cube potatoes, microwave in covered microwave-safe bowl for five minutes.

potatochopped

Peel and chop red onion.

oniondual

Put olive oil in large frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low, cover and let the onion cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until it is lightly browned and very soft.

onionfry

Add the garlic, macerated through a press, and stir together for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, then add the tomatoes and their juice, the cinnamon, thyme, and pepper to taste; add more salt to taste, if desired. Bring to a simmer and cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time.

spicesadded

Add vinegar and water, return to simmer.

Wash cauliflower, break and chop into bite-size pieces.

cauliflower

Prepare the kalamata olives.

olives

Add the cauliflower and kalamata olives and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the cauliflower begins to turn tender.

addcauliflower

addolives

Add garbanzos and potatoes.

addgarbanzos

addpotatoes

Stir well, simmer until everything is hot (another 10 minutes or so).

stiralltogether

Stir in the parsley, taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with grains (pictured is a mixture of quinoa with brown, red, and wild rices). If desire, sprinkle with the feta (vegans will skip this, of course).

servedplate

This was when I realized that although I had prepared the parsley . . .

flatparsley

. . . I had forgotten to add it. So I put it in what remained in the frying pan and it went into the refrigerator with the leftover portion to be enjoyed later.

addedparsley

And here is the process without the pictorial interruptions:

Peel & cube potatoes, microwave for five minutes.

Put olive oil in large frying pan or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the onion and a generous pinch of salt and cook, stirring often, until it begins to soften, about 5 minutes. Turn the heat to low, cover and let the onion cook for 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until it is lightly browned and very soft.

Add the garlic, macerated through a press, and stir together for a minute or two more, until the garlic is fragrant, then add the tomatoes and their juice, the cinnamon, thyme, and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer and simmer 10 minutes, stirring from time to time, until the mixture is reduced slightly and fragrant. Add vinegar.

Add the cauliflower and kalamata olives and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the cauliflower begins to turn tender. Add garbanzos and potatoes. Stir well, simmer until everything is hot (another 10 minutes or so).

Stir in the parsley, taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve with grains, with the feta sprinkled on top if desired.

Crockpot Curried Cauliflower: A Recipe

I don’t usually post recipes, but I think I’m going to start. I created this recipe a few months ago and have been “fine tuning” it, taking out some spices (like commercial chili powder) and adding others (cumin, coriander, fresh parsley), adding ingredients (garbanzos), adjusting cooking times, etc. And here you have it, the now final official version of Crockpot Curried Cauliflower.

This is a vegan recipe. Our son, daughter-in-law, and granddaughter are all vegans (and we presume that their next child on the way in early 2017 will be as well). Our daughter is a vegetarian. My wife and I are heading in that direction; we seldom have any sort of red meat, although we do still eat dairy, eggs, and the occasional bit of chicken or fish. Some years ago, a good friend of our son referred to us as “meat minimalists” and that is probably a pretty good description.

My wife and I have had this as a main course over either white rice or quinoa. We both preferred it with rice, although we acknowledge that quinoa is probably healthier. The preparation pictured here is for a pre-season gathering of our church choir, a potluck dinner which has become a tradition in our parish; the choir and clergy gather some weekday evening before the first Sunday on which they will sing after the summer break. So we are offering it as a vegetable side dish with an entrée of fried chicken and we don’t know what else.

So here it is

Crockpot Curried Cauliflower

Here is most of the equipment you will need; a spoon is also required, but didn’t make it to the photo shoot:

the-equipment

The first step is to make a spice mixture of the following ingredients:

1 cube Knorr veggie bouillion
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground pepper
3 tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbs all-purpose flour

Crumble bouillion cube and combine with dry spices and flour; mix well and set aside.

spices

Next, you will make a sauce of coconut cream and garlic:
2-4 cloves garlic, macerated through a press
1 14oz can unsweetened coconut cream
1/2 cup water

coconut-garlic-ingred

Mix thoroughly and set aside.

coconut-garlic-sauce

The rest of the ingredients now begin to make their appearance. For the fresh vegetables, a 1/2″ dice or coarse chop is sufficient.

vegetables

2 russet potatoes, peeled, diced into 1/2-in cubes
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped

Line slow cooker (crockpot) with plastic liner bag (these make clean up so much easier). Peel & chop potatoes, place in cooker. Do the same with the onion.

potatoes-onions

Sprinkle spices-and-flour mixture over potatoes and onion; stir to coat well.

potatoes-spiced

Cut carrots into 1/2-in pieces (about 1-1/2 cups); add to cooker.

carrots-added

Stem one large red bell pepper and one large green bell pepper, remove seeds and membranes, coarsely chop, and add to cooker.

peppers-added

Drain and rinse a 15-oz can of garbanzo beans (chick peas) and add to cooker.

garbanzos-added

Cut and break into 1/2 of a large head of cauliflower into flowerettes; add to cooker.

cauliflower-added

Pour reserved coconut-garlic sauce over everything.

sauce-added

Set cooker to “low,” cover, cook for two hours.

start-cooking

After two hours, stir it all up.

two-hour-stir

Close cooker and cook for three more hours. Chop sufficient flat-leaf parsley to fill about 1/2 cup.

parsley

Add chopped parsley and 1 cup of frozen peas to cook.

add-parsely-peas

Stir it all up.

stir-peas-parsley

Cover and cook for one more hour. It’s ready.

Serve as a main course with grain of choice (white rice or quinoa both work well) or alone, or serve as a vegetable side to some other entrée.

cauliflower-curry

Here’s the recipe without all the pictures:

Crockpot Curried Cauliflower

1 cube Knorr veggie bouillion
1/2 tsp celery salt
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/4 tsp ground pepper
3 tbs curry powder
1/2 tsp oregano
1/4 tsp ground cumin
1/4 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tbs all-purpose flour

2-4 cloves garlic, macerated
1 14oz can unsweetened coconut cream
1/2 cup water

2 russet potatoes, peeled, 1/2-in cubes
1 large yellow onion, coarsely chopped
1-1/2 cups carrots cut in 1/2 in pieces
1 large red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 large green bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 can garbanzo beans, drained & rinsed
1/2 large head of cauliflower cut into flowerettes

1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 cup frozen peas

Crumble bouillion cube and combine with dry spices and flour; mix well and set aside.

Macerate garlic in press, combine with coconut cream and water; mix well and set aside.

Line slow cooker with plastic liner bag.

Peel & chop potatoes, place in cooker. Do the same with the onion. Sprinkle mixed spices & flour over potatoes & onion, stir to coat well.

Add carrots.

Wash peppers, remove seeds & membranes, chop, add to cooker.

Drain and rinse garbanzos, add to cooker.

Wash and chop cauliflower, add to cooker

Pour coconut-garlic mixture over everything.

Cover cooker and set on “Low”. Cook for 2 hours.

Stir, cover, cook another 3 hours or so.

Rinse, dry, chop parsley. Add peas and parsley to cooker, stir, cover and cook for another hour.

Serve alone or with rice as a vegan entree; or serve as a side vegetable dish with another main dish.

Hospitality Creates Covenant: Sermon for Pentecost 9, Proper 11C (17 July 2016)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 17, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Proper 11C of the Revised Common Lectionary: Genesis 18:1-10a; Psalm 15; Colossians 1:15-28; and St. Luke 10:38-42. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Trinity-EHPSt. Paul’s Parish hosted the weekly “ice cream social” that accompanied the Community Band Concerts on Friday evening on the Town Square during summer. We’ve done this before although not for a few years (we tried for three years running to be host, but each Friday we were assigned during those years there was a thunderstorm and the event was rained out).

Whenever we do this, I always stress out about it! I’m just sure we won’t have enough pies, or enough ice cream, or enough volunteers . . . or that if we have all of those things, there won’t be enough people at the concert to buy all the pies and ice cream we have . . . or that it will be rained out. Although the latter has (as I said) proven to be the case more than once, none of the other worries has ever materialized. We always have more than enough pies baked by parishioners, more than sufficient ice cream, and enough volunteers that we trip over one another. And, when it doesn’t rain, the event is a great success, as it was on Friday. So why do I worry?

On Friday evening, Ray Sizemore and I worked the pay station, as we have done before, and during a lull in business he asked, “What are you preaching about on Sunday?” I borrowed a line from a good friend of whom I have often asked that question and gave a one-word answer, “Jesus.” But then I followed up that the theme is likely to be hospitality inasmuch as the Old Testament lesson is the tale we have just heard of Abraham entertaining the three angels of God at the “oaks of Mamre” and the Gospel lesson is the story of Mary and Martha of Bethany hosting Jesus at dinner.

And it has occurred to me that those pre-event worries I always experience are not unlike the pre-dinner-party jitters many hosts or hostesses may have (and that I certainly have) before receiving guests into our homes. We want to make a good show. And yet hospitality is not about us; it’s not about the host. Hospitality is about the other, the guest; it’s all about the guest.

The root of the word hospitality is the Latin word for “stranger,” which occurs in ancient literature in two forms: hospes or hostes. From hospes, we get our words “hospital,” “hospitable,” and “hospitality.” From hostes, we get our words “host,” “hostel,” or “hotel;” interestingly, we also get our words “hostile,” hostility,” and “host” meaning an army of enemies from the same root. Thus, two different ways to interact with “the stranger.” We can treat him or her as a guest or as an enemy, with hospitality or with hostility. The biblical value, as illustrated by our scripture readings today, is hospitality.

In the first story we have Abraham and Sarah, together with their servants (including Sarah’s handmaiden Hagar and her son by Abraham Ishmael) camped out at what our text calls “the oaks of Mamre.” The Hebrew actually says that the trees in question are not oaks but terebinths, a relative of the pistachio which was grown for its berry; the family is camped in an orchard owned by a friend of Abraham, Mamre the Amorite.

It is the hottest part of the day, the family are reclining in the shade of the pistachio trees, Abraham at the opening of his tent. This seems a reasonable thing for a 99-year-old man to do, especially one who may be recovering from a recent circumcision! If we read the Book of Genesis as telling Abraham’s story in chronological order and with events relatively close together, as the rabbis tell us we should, it was just a few verses before this story that Abraham, together with Ishmael and all the men of his household, has just (as Prof. Samuel Giere of Wartburg Seminary puts it) “had his foreskin lopped-off,” probably with a stone knife. Thus, it is somewhat surprising and perhaps meant to be a funny story that, upon seeing travelers approach at this out-of-the-ordinary, extremely hot time of day, this post-circumcision 99-year-old man leaps up and runs to greet them. (Commentary on Genesis 18:1-10a)

But this is no joke! The story underscores “the high value placed on hospitality in the Ancient Near East. * * * Suffice it to say, the physical mark of the covenant does not prevent Abraham from extending lavish hospitality: the washing of feet, rest, freshly baked cakes, a roasted calf, curds, and milk. Abraham assured that these guests were welcomed most properly.” (Ibid.)

Dennis Bratcher of the Christian Resource Institute reminds us:

Hospitality customs in the biblical world related to two distinct classes of people: the traveler and the resident alien. In most translations of the Bible, there is little attempt to try to separate the two. Even in the original Hebrew and Greek, different word are sometimes used interchangeably for the two groups. Either is called a stranger, one who does not belong to a particular community or group. Other terms applied to either or both are: foreigner, alien, sojourner, wayfarer, or gentile. In Israel, the law protected the resident alien, a foreigner who had settled permanently in the land. He could not own land, but he could participate in communal activities. The traveler, however, was extremely vulnerable. Only the force of the customs of hospitality protected him. (Travelers and Strangers: “Hospitality” in the Biblical World)

This particular story is part of a larger, novel-like narration about Abraham, toward the end of which in Chapter 21 of Genesis, we learn that Abraham “planted a tamarisk tree in Beer-sheba.” (v. 33) The Hebrew word for the tree in question is aishel which is made up of three Hebrew letters – aleph, shin, and lamed. These letters, the rabbis tell us, form an acronym for the three major components of hospitality: eating (achilah), drinking (shtiyah), and escorting (leviyah). Abraham’s memorial tree, dedicated to God, underscores the importance of hospitality, of the proper treatment of the stranger, the traveler, and the resident alien. (See Daniel Lasar, Southern Hospitality, Torah from Dixie)

On the cover of your bulletin is a version of the 15th Century Russian monk Andrei Rublev’s beautifully composed icon of this story, sometimes referred to as “The Icon of the Holy Trinity.” The alternate title for the icon on is “The Hospitality of Abraham,” which highlights the effort Abraham puts into welcoming these strangers who turn out to be angels of God, or in Christian understanding, God’s own self in the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. Rublev’s point seems to be that hospitality is about the other, the guest, especially, it is about the guest who may be unknown to us. The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds us, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb 13:2)

In our Gospel story, Mary and Martha entertain the One whom we know and believe to be not merely an angel, but God Incarnate. In Jesus’ time, “hospitality was a highly valued and presumably widely practiced custom among pagans, Jews, and Christians. Hosts were expected to provide food, shelter, amenities, and protection to … traveling strangers, who [as the Letter to the Hebrews suggests] sometimes turned out to be gods incognito. In Greek culture, Zeus was celebrated as the god of hospitality, and the practice of hospitality (among other things) separated high Greek civilization from the ‘barbarians.’” (Mikeal C. Parsons, Commentary on Luke 10:38-42)

The story is a familiar one to us, rather simple in the telling: Martha extends hospitality to Jesus, bustling about doing all of the tasks of playing host. Mary, on the other hand, sits at Jesus feet and listens to his teachings. Martha, attending to the details of hospitality, complains that Mary has neglected those duties and asks Jesus to tell Mary to help her. Jesus responds that Mary has chosen what our translation calls “the better thing.”

However, many if not most New Testament scholars urge us, as Karoline Lewis of Luther Seminary does, to see this as a story not “about comparison but completion.” She says this story is not an invitation “to pit one expression of belief, of discipleship, of service, of vocation, against the other.” Rather, she argues that “this story has nothing to do with who is better and everything to do with who matters . . . this story is not preoccupied with proper acceptance and has everything to do with whom you accept.” “To favor Mary,” Lewis says, “is to say Jesus discounts service. Which, if you read the Gospel of Luke, makes no sense at all. And makes Jesus make no sense at all. To favor Martha would be to say service is all that matters. Clearly, both matter, if you read the Gospel of Luke carefully.” (Dear Working Preacher, “No Comparison”)

What both of our scriptural stories teach us is that hospitality is not about the things we do for the guest so much as it is about the gift of ourselves to the guest. Mikeal C. Parsons of Baylor University says of the Gospel story, and I would say the same is true of the Genesis reading, that its

social ethic provides a solid foundation for Christian habits and practices both within the community (we have unlimited responsibilities to fellow believers) and with the world (we are called to provide Christian hospitality to those unlike us in nationality, faith, or ethnicity and assistance to those in immediate crisis). Christians are called to extend hospitality both as hosts and guests, and to fellow believers and non-believers alike. Such hospitality calls for personal and intimate engagement in a way that an insipid value such as “tolerance” does not. We are not called simply to “tolerate” or “endure” those not like us; rather the ancient “Christian virtue” of hospitality demands that we engage and interact with the Other, whether we are guest or host. (Commentary on Luke 10:38-42)

The extension of hospitality in its three major component forms – eating, drinking, and escorting – is more than a token of friendship. Dr. Bratcher asserts that by extending hospitality we form “covenantal commitment” between ourselves and the other. ” One of the most despicable acts in the ancient world,” he reminds us, “was to eat with someone and then betray them” (Obadiah 7; Ps 41:9; John 13:18). This code of hospitality is the basis of that warning: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares” (Heb 13:2). You do not want to fail to form that covenant of hospitality with the angel of the Lord, with God’s own self.

It is that covenant relationship to which Paul refers when he writes in today’s epistle reading, “Christ Jesus is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation,” and “in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven.” In Jesus, God has extended a gracious hospitality to us, and it is now our calling to extend the same reconciling hospitality to others. Remember last week’s summary of the Law: “Love God. Love your neighbor. Change the world.”

I know it seems a small thing, no matter how much I may have worried and stressed out about it before hand, but that is what we did by hosting the ice cream social. We served about 300 pieces of pie and nine gallons of ice cream to the good people of Medina; we told them about our church and invited them to worship with us; we informed some teens about our youth group and we invited music lovers to attend one of our Brown Bag Concerts. If we brought a little light into just one person’s life, I think we did a good thing; I think we changed the world.

And that’s an important thing to remember this week as our region hosts one of the major political party conventions. There are going to be a lot of opportunities to disagree with people about politics; remember that they are also opportunities for hospitality. Remember, we are not called to argue or debate with people nor are we called to convince them of our view points; we are not called simply to “tolerate” those not like us nor are we called to “endure” them; rather, “the ancient ‘Christian virtue’ of hospitality demands that we engage and interact,” that we chose “the better thing,” that we enter into covenantal commitment. In the words of that simply stated summary, the code of hospitality bids us to love God, love our neighbor, and change the world.

Let us pray:

Gracious God, as we enter into the final months of the presidential election cycle, we pray in the spirit of St. Francis, that you would make us instruments of your peace, sowing seeds of merciful love and fierce hope; may we be servants of your holy, creative will, always and ever mindful that as you blessed Abraham, you bless us in order that we might be a blessing to the world; may we, like Abraham and Sarah, like Martha and Mary, offer gracious hospitality to those we welcome to our region as they assemble here this week at the Republican National Convention; guide their work and grant them and us wisdom, courage, a moral imagination, and the capacity for civility and grace to disagree without disrespect; in the name of Jesus who summarized your holy Law reminding us that the greatest commandments are to love you and to love all our neighbors as ourselves. Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Receiving Hospitality: Sermon for Pentecost 7, RCL Proper 9C (3 July 2016)

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A homily offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on the Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, July 3, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Proper 9C of the Revised Common Lectionary: Isaiah 66:10-14; Psalm 66:1-8; Galatians 6:1-16; and St. Luke 10:1-11,16-20. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Cajun Stir Fried Liver and Okra (Dirty Rice)Take just a quick look at me and you will know that I like to eat, probably too much. I like to cook; I like to entertain and have dinner parties; I like to go to dinner parties; I like to enjoy good restaurants; I like to go to not very good restaurants, too. I like to eat. So when I read a story in which Jesus tells his followers, not once but twice, to eat, it makes me happy. Except for the part where he tells us to not be picky. “Eat and drink whatever they provide . . . eat what is set before you.” (Lk 10:7,8) Yeah . . . but, Jesus, what if it’s, like, okra or liver or raw oysters?

I have a friend who is a priest in the Anglican Church of Canada. He grew up in the cattle country of Alberta, studied and was ordained in Ontario, and took his first solo assignment on the coast of Labrador, where he served three small seaside parishes. On his arrival, he was quickly invited to dinner by nearly every family in the three congregations and scheduled several of these in rapid succession. Unlike me, my friend loves seafood and was looking forward to feasting on the fresh catch from off the maritime coast. But instead of fresh seafood, his first hosts fed him canned beef. So did the next . . . and the next . . . and at the end of his first week in Labrador, a place known for its fishing industry, he’d had four canned beef dinners.

He also got a call from the bishop at the end of that first week and, when asked how things were going, expressed his disappointment in these dinner offerings. The bishop laughed out loud and then explained to my friend that his parishioners were fisher folk. Seafood was cheap and abundant for them, so that’s what they had every day at nearly every meal. For them, a special occasion, like dinner with the vicar, required a special meal and “special” to them meant beef; most of them couldn’t afford fresh meat from the butcher, so next best was a canned beef roast. The priest might be disappointed, but his parishioners were paying him the highest compliment of hospitality, serving what for them was the most festive of meals. “Eat whatever they provide; eat what is set before you.” Receive hospitality graciously for you do not know the circumstances from whence it is extended.

Paul K. Palumbo, a Lutheran missionary, has written of his similar experience among the poorest of the poor in Latin America:

[E]very time we sat to eat rice and beans, we received . . . a steady diet of honor and humility. To be served rice and beans prepared over a stone oven fueled by wood in dirt-floor houses on the only little table in the house was an honor. To be told the stories of our host families’ lives over the meal was an honor. To have the tiny house in which we were guests rearranged so that we might have a bedroom to ourselves was an honor. The tendency, of course, was to raise one objection or another, that what was set before us was not to our taste or, more typically among our group, that it was too much for a poor family to spend on rich North Americans. These objections were both true, perhaps, but for the sake of the gift and for the sake of learning to receive, it was important to eat what was set before us. (Texts in Context: Eating What Is Set before You)

And that, I think, is the point of this admonition that Jesus gives the 70 (or the 72) not once but twice, to eat what they are provided; they are to learn to receive. They had a lot to give, teaching and admonition, the good news of the nearness of the kingdom of heaven, healing of infirmities both physical and spiritual, but they also had to learn, learn to receive.

That’s a very hard lesson to learn. As some of you know, my wife was hospitalized for several days week before last and being with her in the hospital reminded me of my own experiences being a patient, and how difficult that is! You’re lying in bed (a strange electrical bed all sorts of controls that, even if you can reach them, you can’t figure out). Usually you’re tethered by a needle in your arm to a bag of something hanging out of reach behind your head; you may be wired up to some sort of monitor or connected by a plastic tube to an oxygen valve in the wall. You can’t even get out of bed without assistance, let alone do anything else. You can’t just go to the kitchen and make yourself a meal or a late-night TV snack. You can’t wander down the hall to find something to read in the next room. You can’t do anything for yourself. You must receive the ministrations, the ministry of others. And some of us are just not very good at that because we’ve never learned how to do it. We hear Paul tell the Galatians, “Bear one another’s burdens,” and what we understand is that we must be the burden-bearers; we seldom, if ever, understand that sometimes we must receive the gift of others bearing our burdens.

This is why, instead of sending his messengers out fully equipped and prepared, Jesus sends them with “no purse, no bag, [not even] sandals,” (Lk 10:4) and instructs them to “eat whatever is put before you.” In order to learn to receive, we have to eat whatever we are served, even if it is our own sense of self-sufficiency; we have to swallow our pride and in doing so we receive a precious gift.

Melissa Bane Sevier is a Presbyterian pastor who writes of her experience traveling abroad as an illustration of this gospel passage:

Jesus tells the seventy to receive whatever hospitality is offered. That’s odd. We expect to be told to share hospitality, not to receive it. How happy we are when someone thanks us for a nice meal or is grateful to have a place to stay. When the worshiping community extends hospitality to the stranger, the person on the margins, the immigrant, that community finds itself warmed and renewed by the act of giving.

And yet, receiving is also a gift to oneself and to the giver. Some of the most memorable travel moments I’ve ever experienced happened in some of the poorest places, when my friends and I were offered a simple meal of homemade tortillas, bananas and papayas picked from village trees, and ice cold Coke bought from the local tienda.

Thousands of miles from home, we were served a meal that transcended language and culture with its hospitality and welcome. It was more than we could have asked or expected, and it made us feel at home.

Jesus knew what he was doing when he sent out the seventy in twos. We don’t have to go to a foreign country to be on the journey together. We share memories and adventures. Sometimes we remember the wolves, and can laugh together at the ones who were mean but not really dangerous. We encourage each other to watch out for the truly alarming. But mostly, we talk about those lovely situations where we were given incredible hospitality, where we were welcomed. Sometimes it is hard for us to accept those gifts of hospitality, for we have been trained to give rather than to receive. But Jesus wanted the seventy to know the joy of receiving. (Melissa Bane Sevier, Two-Way Blessing)

And why do we have to learn this joy, this lesson of receiving from others?

Do you remember the old television show All In The Family. The main character, Archie Bunker, was fond of saying, “As the Good Book says . . . .” and then he would quote Poor Richard’s Almanac, or an Aesop’s Fable, or Ann Landers, or any number of other sources, but never anything that actually came out of Scripture. How many of us grew up believing that “God helps those who help themselves” was straight out of the Bible? Well . . . it isn’t! And, in fact, it’s diametrically opposed to the lessons of Scripture! “There is no king that can be saved by a mighty army; a strong man is not delivered by his great strength,” says the Psalmist (33:16; BCP version). In Proverbs we read, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight.” (3:5, NRS) And again the Psalmist says, “It is better to rely on the Lord than to put any trust in flesh,” (118:8, BCP version) even – or perhaps especially – our own!

We have to give up our sense of self-sufficiency; we have to learn to receive the ministry of others so that we can receive the ministry of God, so that we can trust in the Lord with all our heart. “For thus says the Lord:

I will extend prosperity to [Jerusalem] like a river,
and the wealth of the nations like an overflowing stream;
and you shall nurse and be carried on her arm,
and dandled on her knees.
As a mother comforts her child,
so I will comfort you;
you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.
You shall see, and your heart shall rejoice;
your bodies shall flourish like the grass . . . .
(Is 66:12-13)

Theologian Elizabeth Webb (an Episcopalian, by the way) writes about this passage from the Book of Isaiah, echoing Pastor Sevier’s observation that the joy of receiving hospitality “makes us feel at home:”

The comfort that Mother God provides for her people is the comfort of home; restoring the people to the place they belong, rebuilding their ruins, and washing them in riches and security (see also 49:13, 51:13, 52:9, and 54:11). Under God’s nurturing care, the very bodies and spirits of God’s people receive restoration (verse 14).

The word translated “bodies” in the NRSV should more properly be translated “bones,” which speaks to the sense that despair can settle in and take over our very essence, and which emphasizes that God can reach in and restore that essence to joy. The home in this world that God provides for us is within the circle of God’s own arms, and in that place the tired old bones of humanity flourish again. Deep within our bones we are weary and broken, and deep within our bones God’s nurturing love reaches in and restores.

Joy and comfort. Milk and water. Weary bones refreshed and restored. In the midst of the thundering of condemnation and retribution, it is this quiet passage of maternal care and human delight that gestures more particularly to the presence of God with God’s people that their bone-tired bodies and spirits might flourish again, like the grass. (Elizabeth Webb, Commentary on Isaiah 66:10-14)

It is precisely that sort of internal transformation that Paul writes about in today’s passage from the Letter to the Galatians when he says that, by “the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, . . . the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” In their book The First Paul: Reclaiming the Radical Visionary (HarperCollins:New York, 2010), Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan, argue that what Paul means is that he has left behind “the world of imperial normalcy,” the world characterized by “‘domination systems,’ societies ruled by a few who used their power, wealth, and ‘wisdom’ to shape the social system in their own self-interest.” (Pg 136)

In its place, transformed by God’s maternal hospitality in Jesus, Paul embarks on what Prof. Sarah Henrich calls the “crazy project” of imagining a world where human beings “eschew the measurements of value used in the everyday world,” where people “devote themselves to one another’s well being, confident that there would be others who would care for them.” In other words, Paul urges the Galatians and us to imagine (and create!) a world where we have learned the lesson of receiving hospitality, where we know how to accept the ministration and the ministry of others, and thus can receive the maternal hospitality of God.

Henrich writes:

Perhaps the best way to fire our imaginations and live in accord with [Paul’s vision] requires us to do the burden bearing more graciously. That is, we are privileged to hear one another’s dreams and desires, to continuously extend the tables at which we sit, the suppers we call Holy, to make room for folk who will see gifts and challenges that surprise us. In listening, in surprise, in hospitality for a moment we catch a richer glimpse of God’s reality and find the energy of the Spirit, lest we grow weary. (Sarah Henrich, Commentary on Galatians 6:[1-6]7-16)

“Carry no purse, no bag, no sandals.” When you enter a house, say first “Peace to this house!” “Eat and drink what is provided; eat what is set before you.” It may be okra or oysters or canned beef, but whatever it is it will be more than you could have asked or expected, and it will make you feel at home. Receive from others the gift of their bearing your burdens, and you will know the comfort that Mother God provides for her people. “As a mother comforts her child, so [God] will comfort you;” your bone-tired body and spirit will flourish again; and your name will be written in heaven. Amen.

(Note: The accompanying illustration is a plate of Cajun “Dirty, Dirty Rice” which includes sautéed pork liver and okra. This is definitely not something I would ever want to eat, but my readers may be interested. The recipe can be found here.)

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

An Ordinary Olive Grove – Sermon for Maundy Thursday, 24 March 2016

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A sermon offered by the Rev. Dr. C. Eric Funston on Maundy Thursday, March 24, 2016, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Exodus 12:1-14; Psalm 116:1,10-17; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26; and St. John 13:1-17,31b-35. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Gethsemane Olive TreesThey have had their dinner during which, predicting his death, Jesus has instructed them to share bread and wine again and again in his memory. Jesus has washed their feet. He has given them his New Commandment, “Love one another.” Now, dinner ended, it is time for a stroll in the garden.

In 2014, when Evelyn and I were privileged to visit Jerusalem and spend some time in the Garden of Gethsemane, what struck me most (and I admit that this entirely pedestrian and not the least bit spiritual) was how very similar the trees there were the olive trees she and I had in our front yard when we lived in Las Vegas! And as I have contemplated our experience with olive trees, it has struck me how appropriate that location was, how illustrative and instructive it is that Jesus prayed amongst olive trees.

The first thing that I can tell you from experience is that olive trees are messy! They are a broad-leafed evergreen, which means they are constantly shedding leaves. The olive leaf is only about an inch or two long and about a half-inch wide. They have a lovely glossy deep green color on top, and a pale silvery green underside. They are tough and very stiff, especially as they dry out. This makes them impossible to rake up! Our life with olive trees was a constant battle with cleaning up leaves that didn’t want to be cleaned up. Furthermore, at the beginning of the growing season, the olive blossoms produce huge amounts of yellow-tan pollen that blows all over everything, and then the blossoms themselves fall off. We had a large in-ground pool in Las Vegas; keeping it clear of olive leaves, olive pollen, and olive blossoms was simply impossible! And, finally, there is the fruit itself. Olives seem to have a hard time holding on to their fruit; it drops about as often as leaves. I guess in commercial groves enough must stay on the tree to make their cultivation financially viable, but our ornamental trees seemed to lose more fruit to the wind than there was left on the tree to harvest.

And isn’t that what life is like. It’s messy! Jesus praying amidst the messy olives of Gethsemane reminds us that Jesus meets us in the messiness of life, that he redeems messy human life. There is not a single person on this earth, and never has been, whose life is not in same way a mess. Every one of us has problems, some worse than others; we all struggle with issues and circumstances. Some of them we share with each other and we get one another’s help, but some of them scared us so badly that we keep them to ourselves. We put on a brave face and we smile through them and meanwhile the messiness eats us up inside . . .

So we go someplace by ourselves and throw ourselves on the ground and pray, “God, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me….” (Mt 26:39) The truth is that that is the very place where God meets us: in the messiness of life, in the brokenness of life, in the painful chaos that we cannot, on our own, make orderly, and neat, and fixed. If you read the Bible, if you really read the stories of the Old and New Testament, that’s when God shows up in people’s lives; at the worst possible time, when everything is breaking down and going to pot, that’s when God shows up.

That’s what was happening that night in Jesus’ closest companions’ lives. They had “hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel” (Lk 24:21), but after they made that great entry into Jerusalem everything had changed and gone from bad to worse, and at dinner instead of talk of overthrowing the oppressors and taking the throne he had spoken of betrayal and death and sacrifice. Instead of proclaiming a “new world order,” he’d gotten down on his knees and washed away the dirt from their feet. Not in their political dreams of revolution, but in the messiness that they had walked through, in the messiness they had tracked into the Passover Feast, that was where Jesus met them.

The messiness of the olive grove in which Jesus prayed reminds us of that: that God meets us in the messiness of life.

Olives are also long-lived. They aren’t the longest lived of trees. Those are the bristlecone pines (pinus longaeva) of my native state, Nevada. In my college years, as I have mentioned a time or two before, a common pastime of my friend group was backpacking and wilderness camping. During the late spring and summer months, one of our favorite places to go was an area called the Mammoth Lakes region of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. On the inland side of the Sierras in that area is a subsidiary range on the California-Nevada border called the White Mountains. This is the location of the oldest living tree on earth. The US Forestry Service claims that in the White Mountain forest there is a bristlecone pine that is over 5,070 years of age. They will not identify the particular tree, but they do acknowledge that it is in the southern part of the White Mountain range. That is exactly the area where we used to hike and camp, so it’s possible that I have sat beside that elder-statesman tree. I always marvel at old trees and what they must have witnessed!

I felt that way amongst the old olive trees at Gethsemane. But while the domestic olive tree (olea europea) can live for hundreds of years, they do not live as long as bristlecone pines. None of the trees currently in the Garden of Gethsemane were there at the time of Jesus. The eight oldest olive trees in the grove (which, by the way, what it was and is, a grove not a garden) have been analyzed and the scientists who did so say they date from the early 12th Century. They are genetically identical; they share the same DNA. They appear to have been cultivated from a single parent tree which, in the 12th Century, was reputed to have witnessed events of Holy Thursday night. Father Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Franciscan Custos of the Holy Land, has suggested that that 12th Century cultivation of these eight trees was “a deliberate attempt to pass on a precious heritage for future generations.” (Reuters news article, October 19, 2012)
In any event, Jesus at prayer amongst the long-lived olive trees reminds us of the promise that he will make to his disciples after his Resurrection: “Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mt 28:20) Indeed, it is true that God has been and always will be yearning to be with us. As one of our Eucharistic prayers puts, “Again and again, [God] called us to return. Through prophets and sages [God] revealed [God’s] righteous Law.” (Eucharistic Prayer C, Book of Common Prayer 1979, p 370)

The longevity of the olive trees under whose branches Jesus prayed reminds us of that: that God has always been there, has always wanted to be in relationship with us, and in Jesus has promised to be with us always, longer than the life of the olive, longer than the life of the bristlecone pine, longer than we can imagine.

The third thing we know about olives is that they are nutritious. Dozens of health-protective nutrients have been identified in olives. The high monounsaturated fat content of olives has been associated with reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. They are very high in vitamin E and other powerful antioxidants. Studies show that they may protect against osteoporosis and cancer. Olives are good food.

Many years ago I read an interview with the abbess of a Zen Buddhist convent in Tokyo. The interview had to do with the convent’s reputation not only for spiritual nourishment, but for very good food as well. Abbess Koei Hoshino said in that interview, “We receive three graces from food. First, we become healthy in mind and body; second, we have the ability to be thankful for all things, and to maintain that state of mind; third, we are able to work for others with our mind and body. We will be able to give to others. Those are the virtues we receive.” (T. King, The Spiral Path, Yes International:1992, p 161) A Christian monastic, Brother Peter Reinhart makes a similar point: “Food is not only a basic human need, it is also a sacred symbol: God in a multitude of forms and bodies. It is a focal point of fellowship and celebration.” (Sacramental Magic in a Small-Town Cafe, Running Press:1994, p xxii)

When we end our Eucharist this evening, we will go into the Parish Hall for a short time of fellowship, a simple meal recalling the Passover meal Jesus shared with his friends. We share simple foods: bread, cheese, wine, fruit, olives. We do not presume to call our meal a Passover feast; we give it a different name: The Agape Meal. Agape is one of the Greek words translated into English as “love”, so the meal is sometimes called a “love feast.” Scholars tell us that in early Christian practice a similar meal was nearly always shared whenever the faith community gathered for the Eucharist; the two rituals when hand-in-hand. A core tradition in the early church, the Agape Meal explicitly recalls not only the Last Supper, but all the meals Jesus shared with his friends and disciples, including the post-resurrection meals recounted in the Gospels of Luke and John. “It is a focal point of fellowship and celebration.”

The fruit of the olive trees amongst which Jesus prayed reminds us of that, of the Christian sacramental view in which ordinary things – ordinary food shared with ordinary people – can be instruments of grace embracing us in God’s immediacy, God’s intimacy in our lives.

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus took ordinary food, the bread and wine of a meal, and instituted the Holy Eucharistic. He took an ordinary towel and a basin of water and commanded his disciples, “Love one another as I have loved you.” He prayed in an ordinary grove of trees and reminded us that God comes to us in all the messy ordinariness of life, always and forever, and with immediate and intimate grace.

Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Give Us Today Our Daily Bread: Second of a Series – Sermon for Advent 2 (6 December 2015)

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A sermon offered on the Second Sunday of Advent, December 6, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are Baruch 5:1-9; Canticle 16 [Luke 1: 68-79]; Philippians 1:3-11; and Luke 3:1-6. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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bread_1863824cIt’s the Second Sunday of Advent so according to our lectionary tradition, we hear the words of John the Baptizer, the voice of one crying in the desert, calling us to clean up the roadways and build a straight path for God’s coming. We are all familiar with the Baptizer. He’s some sort of cousin of Jesus. He’s a bit of a wild man; he lives in the wilderness wearing rough clothing and eating only what foods he can pick from desert plants and animals, “locusts and wild honey” is the way the evangelists put it. This year we hear Luke’s version of John’s story.

Later in his gospel story, Luke relates a tale of Jesus angrily denouncing the leadership in the towns of Galilee who refused to listen either to the Baptizer or to Jesus. Jesus says to them: “John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a drunkard….’” (Lk 7:33-34) John refused to eat bread, but for Jesus bread is an important element of his ministry; he even taught us to pray for it. So, today, we continue our examination of the Lord’s Prayer with the next petition: “Give us today our daily bread.”

Why do you suppose John refused to eat this staple food that Jesus found so important? There are two related reasons. The first is that bread and wine are processed foods associated with settled communities; for John, as for many prophets, the settled communities were places of corruption. John would have nothing to do with corrupt society and bread, for him, was a symbol of that society.

Luke tells us very clearly in political terms when John appeared on the scene. He situates the advent of the Baptizer and his revelation in the temporal context of the native ruler Herod, the local but foreign governor Pilate, and the final authority who sits above all, Tiberius. Our translation says it was during the “reign” of Tiberius, the “governorship” of Pilate, and the “rule” of Herod. However, the word Luke uses for Herod’s dominion is “tetrarchy” and for both Pilate’s and Tiberius’s governance, his word is “hegemony” (hegemoneuo and hegemonia, respectively). “Tetrarchy” refers to the fact that imperial Rome had divided Palestine into four arbitrarily defined regions and imposed on them the rule of puppet kings. “Hegemony” denotes a kind of imperial governance in which political domination is maintained by military force. In other words, Luke describes the very sort of corrupt and unjust political society that John eschewed and symbolically rejected by his refusal to eat bread.

John’s prophetic message is a call to build a straight, level, and smooth road for God, but as the scribe Baruch points out that road will be a two-way street. As Baruch puts it, “God has ordered that every high mountain and the everlasting hills be made low and the valleys filled up, to make level ground, so that Israel may walk safely in the glory of God.” On that road, says Baruch, “God will lead Israel with joy, in the light of his glory, with the mercy and righteousness that come from him.” In other words, the justice which John found lacking in settled communities and in the hegemonic domination of imperial Rome will be found on the road prepared in the desert.

The second, related reason that John will not eat bread has to do with ritual impurity. The Jewish Virtual Library’s commentary on the Baptizer tells us, “The reference to John not eating bread or wine probably indicates that John preferred to eat foods that had not been processed by human hands and would not therefore be susceptible to impurity. For this same reason John was said to have eaten locusts and honey (Matt. 3:4), both of which were regarded by his fellow Jews as pure items of food.”

In many ways, John and Jesus were polar opposites. They seem to have had the same goal, the restoration of justice and righteousness in Israel, but their approaches were very different. If John was overly fastidious about ritual purity, Jesus doesn’t seem to have given a hoot about it! He regularly dined with tax collectors and outcasts, allowed prostitutes to touch him, touched dead bodies, conversed with gentile women, and allowed his disciples to eat without washing their hands (and presumably did the same himself). He just doesn’t seem to have cared much about the purity laws.

But Jesus did care about justice and for Jesus that is precisely what bread represents. If bread was John’s symbol for corrupt and unjust hegemony, for Jesus bread is the sign and symbol of divine righteousness and justice. He would even say of himself that he is “the bread of God . . . which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world;” “I am the bread of life.” (Jn 6:33,48)

I believe that a poem by the anti-Nazi poet and playwright Bertolt Brecht would have resonated for Jesus; it is entitled The Bread of the People:

Justice is the bread of the people
Sometimes is plentiful, sometimes it is scarce
Sometimes it tastes good, sometimes it tastes bad.
When the bread is scarce, there is hunger.
When the bread is bad, there is discontent.

Throw away the bad justice
Baked without love, kneaded without knowledge!
Justice without flavour, with a grey crust
The stale justice which comes too late!

If the bread is good and plentiful
The rest of the meal can be excused.
One cannot have plenty of everything all at once.
Nourished by the bread of justice
The work can be achieved
From which plenty comes.

As daily bread is necessary
So is daily justice.
It is even necessary several times a day.

From morning till night, at work, enjoying oneself.
At work which is an enjoyment.
In hard times and in happy times
The people requires the plentiful, wholesome
Daily bread of justice.

Since the bread of justice, then, is so important
Who, friends, shall bake it?

Who bakes the other bread?

Like the other bread
The bread of justice must be baked
By the people.

Plentiful, wholesome, daily.

“The bread of justice must be baked by the people” just as the road in the desert, the straight, level, smooth road of justice and righteousness must be cleared and built by God’s people.

Jesus taught us to pray for this bread, the bread of justice, daily in the Lord’s Prayer: “Give us today our daily bread.” This is a petition for more than food, for more than nourishment.

There is, hidden in this petition, one of the strangest words in the New Testament. It is the word which our English bibles translate as “daily” although it doesn’t actually mean that. It is translated that way because, in all honesty, no one is exactly sure what it means. The word, in Greek, is epiousion; it is a compound word made up of a root meaning “substance” or “being” (ousion) and a prefix meaning “over” or “above” (epi). It is what linguistics scholars call a hapax legomenon, “something said only once.” The word epiousion appears only in the New Testament Gospels, and only in this line of the Lord’s Prayer as recorded by both Luke and Matthew.

What is it meant to convey? No one knows. The Gospel writers were reporting in Greek something Jesus said probably in Aramaic, but no scholar has ever been able to suggest an Aramaic original. Translating the Greek backwards into Aramaic yields no intelligible clue. When the first translators of the Scriptures from Greek into Latin undertook their task, being ignorant of the word’s actual meaning (whatever it may be), they took a hint from the words just before it in the text – “this day” in Matthew, “each day” in Luke – and rendered it as quotidian, which means “daily”. And thus it entered the liturgical rendition of the prayer known to us.

St. Jerome, however, when he undertook his new translation into Latin, refused to guess. He simply rendered the Greek into equivalent Latin, creating the term supersubstantialem, “supersubstantial”. “Give us today our supersubstantial bread.” Whatever do you suppose that might be?

Even though he refused to translate it, St. Jerome had two suggestions for how to understand it. First he suggested “that it means ‘for tomorrow’ so that the meaning here is ‘give us this day our bread for tomorrow’ that is, for the future.” (Commentary on Matthew 1.6.11) In this sense, this petition could be understood as a prayer for God’s abundance. Jerome’s second suggestion is that it means that “bread which is above all substances and surpasses all creatures.” (Ibid.) He seems particularly to have had in mind the Holy Eucharist.

Now I would make no claim to greater scholarship than St. Jerome, but I do want to suggest another connection that may have been there for Jesus, and that is the bread of the Passover feast, the Seder. Among some Jews today, during the ritual of the unleavened bread or matzah, each person is invited to hold a piece of matzah. The leader of the ritual says: “This is the bread of affliction which our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” Then in silence all break their matzot in half and they listen to the sound of the bread of affliction cracking open. All then say together:

May our eyes be open to each other’s pain.
May our ears be open to each other’s cries.
May we live with greater awareness.
May we practice greater forgiveness.
And may we go forward as free people
able to respond to ourselves and to each other
with compassion, wonderment, appreciation, and love.

All of the broken matzah are put together on a single plate and the prayer continues:

Let all who are hungry come and eat.
Let all who are in need join us in this Festival of Liberation.
May each of us, may all of us, find our homes.
May each of us, may all of us, be free.

In this ritual of the Seder, the matzah is understood to be changed. It ceases to be the bread of affliction and is transformed into the bread of hope, courage, faith, and possibility. The bread of affliction becomes something greater than it was, something above its original being, something more than its original substance; it becomes the bread of justice.

This, I suggest, is what Jesus taught us to pray for on a daily basis, the bread of affliction transformed into more than its original substance, something greater than its original being, the supersubstantial bread of justice.

Just as the road in the desert, the straight, level, smooth road of justice and righteousness called for by the Baptizer must be cleared and built by God’s people, so “the bread of justice must be baked by the people.” That for which Jesus teaches us to pray each day, we must do the hard work of creating: hope and courage, faith and possibility, righteousness and justice.

Give us today our daily bread. Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Overflowing Abundance: Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12B, 26 July 2015)

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A sermon offered on Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 12B, Track 1, RCL), July 26, 2015, to the people of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio, where Fr. Funston is rector.

(The lessons for the day are 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; and John 6:1-21. These lessons may be found at The Lectionary Page.)

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Tabgha Mosaic FloorSo this is a very familiar story, right? Actually, two very familiar stories. We all know about the feeding of the 5,000. All four gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – tell it with slightly varying details. We all know about Jesus walking on the water. Three of the four gospels – Mark, Luke, and John – include that tale, again with slightly varying details. We sometimes mix up those variations, but basically the stories are the same so no big deal.

The problem is that we know the stories so well that we don’t know what we don’t know about them. We think we know the whole story, but we don’t! And one of the things we don’t know, as Evie and I discovered when we were in Palestine last summer, is the geography of the feeding of the multitude. So I thought start with a sort of geography lesson, if that’s OK with you? OK?

OK.

I want you, first, to think about what you know about Lake Erie. You know that it’s up there, north of us somewhere. You know that at one end (the western end) are Detroit and Toledo and at the other (the eastern end) is Buffalo. You know that the far shore is a foreign country called Canada, and you know pretty well where the cities and towns are located along the American shore.

So now I want you take Lake Erie and rotate it 90 degrees. Buffalo is now at the lower end; Toledo is at the top; the foreign country called Canada is still on the far shore. If we come down the near shore from Toledo, we’ll come to (among other places) Maumee, Sandusky, Lorain, Cleveland, Ashtabula, Erie.

By rotating Lake Erie, we’ve oriented it in the same way the Sea of Galilee is oriented and, by a strange coincidence, many of the places we know of along the shore of the Sea of Galilee are in relationship to one another in much the same way as places we know along the shore of Lake Erie! So … Bethsaida – you remember Bethsaida, it’s where Jesus healed a blind man and it was the hometown of Philip, Andrew, and Peter – Bethsaida would be about where Detroit is. Capernaum, which Jesus sort of made his home base and where Peter actually seems to have lived, would be about where Toledo is. A place called Tabgha, which is probably where the feeding of the 5,000 took place, would be about where Sandusky is. Gennesaret, which is where Mark says the apostles were headed when they saw Jesus walking on the water, would be about where Cleveland is. Tiberias, a resort city built by Herod Antipas (the king who beheaded John the Baptist), would about where Erie, Pennsylvania, is. Finally, go way away from the lake to Cincinnati, that would be about where Nazareth, Jesus’ hometown would be.

Except … shrink everything by at least a factor of ten, because that’s how much bigger Lake Erie is than the Sea of Galilee; that’s how much bigger Ohio is than the region of Galilee. So, now, Cincinnati/Nazareth, instead of 250 miles from the lake is 25 miles away, and Toledo/Capernaum, instead of being about 40 miles from Sandusky/Tabgha is less than 3 miles away. And the other distances are similarly reduced, but remember . . . they didn’t have cars and interstates; they would have been walking or riding a donkey on dirt paths, or maybe sailing or even rowing a fishing boat on the lake.

So let me tell you about Tabgha. Until 1948, when the Israelis uprooted its residents, there was a village there and had been for centuries; now it is simply an agricultural area and a place of religious pilgrimage. The name is a corruption of the Greek name of the place, Heptapegon, which means “seven springs;” its Hebrew name is Ein Sheva, which means the same thing. It is venerated by Christians for two reasons; on a bluff overlooking the place is where the feeding of the multitude is believed to have occurred and on the beach is where the Risen Christ is thought to have had a grilled fish breakfast with Peter during which he asked him, three times, “Do you love me?” At each location, there is a shrine and a church: the first is called The Church of the Multiplication; the second is called “Mensa Domini” (the Lord’s Table) and also known as the Church of the Primacy of Peter.

A Fourth Century pilgrim from Spain named Egeria reported visiting, in about 380 CE, a shrine where the Church of the Multiplication now stands; in her diary, she tells us that the site had been venerated by the faithful from the time of Christ onward. Shortly after her visit, a new church was built there in which was laid a mosaic floor depicting the loaves and fishes. That floor still exists today – a picture of it is on the front of your bulletin.

The reason I spend so much time on the geography of the place is this: we all know the story of the feeding of the 5,000, but sometimes we think to ourselves, “It probably wasn’t that big a crowd.” We think John and the other evangelists, or whoever first told the story, may have been exaggerating. But consider: it’s only about an hour’s walk from Capernaum to Tabhga, only an hour from Genessaret, only an hour and a half from Chorazin, maybe two hours from Bethsaida or Tiberias, perhaps several hours from Nazareth and more distant towns. But if one had a donkey or a horse, or if one could come over the water by boat, the time would be considerably less. If Jesus and his companions were there for several hours, word could easily have spread and people from all those places and more could have come to see this famous prophet and miraculous healer. Each of those places I’ve named was an important agricultural or fishing site, a residential center, a political center; each had a fairly large population for the time. It’s entirely possible that, hearing that this famous teacher was there, a crowd of thousands could have gathered there, a crowd of thousands who dropped what they were doing and headed out to see, not thinking about supplies or provisions, a crowd of thousands without enough to eat.

So there they are. Jesus has been teaching and healing, and it’s getting late, and people are getting hungry, and there’s nowhere to buy anything. Philip and Andrew are getting worried; they don’t know what a big crowd of hungry people might do, so they talk with Jesus about it. They want him to send the people away. After all, there’s nothing nearby, but (like I said) it would only take these people an hour or two to walk back home or to someplace where food could be found. But Jesus says, “No. They’re here because we’re here; we have to take responsibility for that and feed them.” Andrew says, “We’ve checked the supplies and all we have are these two fishes and five loaves (which, by the way, we didn’t bring; some boy brought them as his lunch, some boy with more smarts than a group of grown men).”

Jesus assures them it will be enough, tells everyone to sit down, blesses the food, and the picnic starts. Sure enough, there is enough. More than enough. Jesus, being environmentally aware, instructs the apostles to pick up after themselves and the crowd, and they gather the leftovers (all four of the gospels tell us) into twelve baskets. The Greek word used is kophinos, which the lexicon tells us is a wicker basket, probably a large one like a hamper. Twelve large hampers of leftovers! This isn’t simply a story about miraculously feeding a big bunch of people with a small amount of food…. this is a story about overfeeding a big bunch of people. This is a story about God’s abundance.

When Evie and I lived in Las Vegas, back before I was ordained, we used to go to a restaurant there called Keller’s. One of the things I liked about Keller’s (besides the really great food and their superb wine cellar) was that if you took home any leftovers, they made it an event. They were proud that you were taking home their food. Instead of a paper sack or styrofoam box, you got a work of art. Someone in the kitchen obviously knew the art of origami, so your bit of leftover chicken breast might come back to you packaged in a graceful silver swan; your second helping of trout, in a beautiful gold fish; your half-a-piece of cheesecake in a gorgeous multi-colored gift box.

I’ll bet that as people left the field at Tabgha that afternoon, they were sent home with leftovers, some more of the bread and fish to see them on their way. I’m pretty certain they didn’t get Keller’s origami packaging, but I like to visualize the scene that way with those thousands of people carrying silver foil swans, gold paper fish, and multi-colored paper gift boxes. Although I’m sure they didn’t have those pretty packages in their hands, they carried something even more precious as they made their way back to Bethsaida (up there about where Detroit would on Lake Erie) or Capernaum (sort of where Toledo is) or Genneserat (kind of where Cleveland is) or the longer journeys to Tiberias (about where Erie would be) or even distant Nazareth (far away like Cincinnati).

They carried the abundant, overflowing grace of God, what Paul called “the riches of [God’s] glory.” They carried the assurance in their hearts that they had been cared for with “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge” and that they had been “filled with all the fullness of God.” They knew, because they had seen the evidence with their own eyes, tasted it with their own tongues, and carried it away in their own hands, that the power of God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”

Today, we are going to baptize Tatum E________ K_________; today, we are going to welcome her into the household of God in which that promise of abundance is realized; today, we are going to assure her that, as Mark says of the crowd in his telling of this story, God in Christ Jesus has abundant compassion for her. Whatever may happen in her life, whatever stormy seas she may sail, she has only to look (as the apostles looked from their boat) to see that Jesus is there and he will calm the storm.

These are familiar stories; they are familiar because they are important; they are so important that all four of the gospels tell them. They are important because remind us, they assure us of God’s overflowing, abundant love and grace of which there is always more than enough.

Let us pray:

O God, your Son Jesus Christ fed the crowds out of his copious compassion; he stilled the stormy seas with his plentiful power; and he prepared his disciples for the coming of the Spirit through the abundant grace of his teaching: Make our hearts and minds, and especially Tatum’s heart and mind, ready to receive the overflowing blessings of your Holy Spirit, that we may be filled with your grace and strengthened by your Presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Uplifted Hands: Dashed Expectations in the Holy Land – From the Daily Office – July 4, 2014

From the Psalter:

Let my prayer be set forth in your sight as incense,
the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 141:2 (BCP Version) – July 4, 2014)

Today, we lifted up our hands for prayer in two important places: on Mt. Gerzim where the Hebrews confirmed their covenant with God by affirming the blessings and curses commanded by Moses, and at Jacob’s Well where Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman.

Today, is the Fourth of July! In this part of the world, it is remembered as the anniversary of the defeat of the Crusaders at the Horns of Hittim by Salah Eddin (“Saladin”) in 1187. There were fireworks last night and will be again tonight, but those are for Ramadan and will continue every night for the month. In any event, happy Fourth!

Our day began with an interesting drive to the top of Mt. Gerizim where most of the few remaining Samaritans (a community of 776 people at this time) now live. The drive was “interesting” in the sense of the old Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.” We drove through narrow, winding, climbing city streets; our driver Ismain’s skill in piloting this large travel coach is phenomenal. He takes it places where I would simply say “No,” and not take my Honda Pilot!

Part way up the mountain we found the road blocked by a double line of large stones across the pavement. Ismain, Keith, and Mark got off and kicked the stones out of the way, then Ismain was confronted by a mute who demanded money — he gave him a dollar bill (US currency is widely used here) and then the mute grabbed several pieces of candy from a basked Ismain keeps on the dash. Further up the road, we encountered a third row of stones — Mark and Keith moved those aside without further trouble.

Through a gate (and past an Israeli “settlement” — they are literally everywhere and in the most inappropriate locations) we entered a village of modern stone buildings. Not what I had expected the Samaritan town to be. My expectations were even further dashed when we parked, got off the bus, and walked to the Samaritan Museum. The door was locked, but an elderly man in a long grey gown and a red Fez-like hat quickly came and unliked the door. This turned out to be Priest Husney Cohen, one of the Samaritan priests and general manager of the museum. Inviting us to take a seat in the several chairs set up lecture-hall style, he began turning on flat-screen TVs, satellite receivers, and other high tech equipment, waving a universal remote control about like a magic wand! So much for my expectations of an “ancient religion”!

He was, nonetheless, a gracious and ingratiating informant about the Samaritan people and their religion. His brother (who is 80) is the current High Priest; Husney (who is 70) is next in line, and his sister’s husband would come after him. The High Priest is always the oldest male in his family. He told us that when he succeeds his brother, he will be the 164th High Priest in direct line of descent from Adam!

He showed us the ancient Hebrew Torah scroll maintained by the Samaritans, explained how their worship and beliefs differ from those of the Judeans (the Jews), and showed us other implements of their worship, including a huge canopy of fruits made by their women for the Feast of Sukkot (Tabernacles). He also explained how their understanding of the Hebrew language is slightly different from that of the Jews. “We,” he said, “are the real Israelites.” He made the claim (with some historical validity) that the Jews of the southern kingdom are the descendants of only two of the original twelve tribes of Israel, Judah and Benjamin, while the Samaritans are the descendants of the other ten tribes who broke from the kingship of the Davidic dynasty and created the northern kingdom (which called itself “Samaria”).

Following his presentation, I was able to chat with him about his life and family. I asked if he had children and it turns out he has two sons and three daughters. One of his daughters runs a nursery school, one is a pharmacist, and one works for Hewlitt-Packard. I asked if his sons would succeed him as priest and he said, “Oh, no! Because they are tall like me, they are professional basketball players.” That “ancient religious community” expectation was not only dashed, it was completely obliterated!

Bidding Priest Husney farewell, we made our way to almost the top of the mountain where there is an outlook over the valley toward Mount Ebol. This is the place on which Joshua and the Hebrews, following a commandment of Moses, performed the ritual of the Blessings and Curses. We read both the Deuteronomy passage (Moses’ words) and the Joshua passage (recording the actual event). As we were doing so, an Israeli soldier appeared seemingly out of nowhere fully armed and armored for battle! Mark told us he was there for our protection because Jewish groups often come to this place to recall their heritage and might be targets for a “crazy sniper” in the city below.

We returned to the Samaritan village and to a cafe next door to the museum where we had a lunch of the usual salads and some very tasty, very tender roast chicken.

After lunch we returned to Nablus to visit the Greek Orthodox Basilica of St. Photini. “Photini” (which means “enlightened”) is the name given by the Greek tradition to the Samaritan woman Jesus met at Jacob’s Well. The Basilica is built over Jacob’s Well which is accessible in a lower church chapel; we actually drank water from the Well! It is cold and sweet. The well is (as the woman told Jesus) very deep!

The Bailica is an amazing place. It has been restored by the current priest, Fr Justinus, who wrote most of the icons on its walls — he is a very talented iconographer. For me, the most moving — and the most troubling — is one of his immediate predecessor Fr Philomenas who was martyred by Israeli settlers. He was hacked to death with axes and cut into pieces! The icon depicting this is painted on a pillar in the church. I asked if there were reproductions among the several icons for sale, but the Arab caretaker (with a sad, ironic look) said, “We are not allowed to.” Such is life in Israeli occupied Palestine.

Fr. Justinus, deeply aware of the transitory nature of life, in his restoration of the church built into it (in the entrace courtyard) his own tomb. He walks past it everyday as it is between the priest’s residence and the door of the church.

Our visit to St. Photini was all-at-once spiritual, moving, and disconcerting. To lift our spirits, and to celebrate Independence Day, Iyad (who is still not back with us) treated us to a sweet — some kunafeh — at a local shop. I’m growing quite fond of this sweet, flowery, goat cheese dessert. I’m going to have to learn to make it.

After that — it was back to the hotel for a rest, then dinner, and then a night on the town … except that I begged off the late-night outing. I just wasn’t up for it.

So it was a day of humorously dashed expectations and of sadly bittersweet reality. I’m amused by the image of the Samaritan priest defending his ancient faith, his belief in his descent from Adam, his insistence that his small remnant people are the true Israel, while at the same time exhibiting astonishing proficiency with modern technology. Did I mention that he has a Facebook page and a Twitter feed? On the other hand, I’m deeply troubled by the martyrdom of Fr Philomenas, by the senselessness of Israeli settler violence against innocent people simply because they are Arabs, by the Arabs need for vengeance. My expectations of a peaceful, purely spiritual pilgrimage and retreat are equally, much less humorously, dashed.

I lift up my hands, O Lord. Let my cry come to you. Let there be peace in this land.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

Food & Fruit in God’s Vineyard: Another Holy Land Day – From the Daily Office – July 2, 2014

From Matthew’s Gospel:

Jesus told a parable: “Listen to another parable. There was a landowner who planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a wine press in it, and built a watchtower. Then he leased it to tenants and went to another country. When the harvest time had come, he sent his slaves to the tenants to collect his produce. But the tenants seized his slaves and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other slaves, more than the first; and they treated them in the same way. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir; come, let us kill him and get his inheritance.’ So they seized him, threw him out of the vineyard, and killed him. Now when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Matthew 21:33-41 (NRSV) – July 2, 2014)

Today we went to many places where Jesus taught, many places where he told parables. We drove all around and all over God’s vineyard – or so it seemed.

Today’s breakfast at the Sisters of Nazareth Guest House was rather different from our breakfasts on other days at St. George’s. This was more European: a soft sesame sprinkled baguette, salami, cheese, a variety of fruit spreads (and some chocolate spread), orange juice, hard-boiled eggs. When we checked in last night, I said to Evelyn, “This is a French order. We’ll have real coffee!” I was wrong. The ubiquitous packets of instant coffee (Nescafe seems most popular in this country) were on the table. The cheese was surprising, too: what I would call “American processed cheese food” in individually plastic-wrapped slices, not real cheese. Nonetheless, a filling breakfast.

After breakfast, we headed to the River Jordan, just up from where it enters the Sea of Galilee. This is not where tradition says Jesus was baptized by John, but is a more secluded spot where Iyad likes to bring pilgrims. Keith Owen presided as we renewed our baptismal vows, asperging the group with an olive branch dipped in the river, then Mary Carson and I anointed any who wished to receive it. I somehow got so caught up in everything that I forgot to take any photographs! I’ll rely on others to supply those.

Several of us waded into the river (it has a soft sandy bottom, not muddy thank heaven) and I can personally attest that the River Jordan is NOT chilly and cold despite what the song says. We filled several bottles with river water to be used in baptisms back home.

Back on the bus (with wet sandy feet) and off we went to the Sea of Galilee proper where our first stop was the traditionally identified Mount of the Beatitudes where there is a Barluzzi church – one of his earliest and not as impressive as the others we’ve seen. Lovely gardens filled with citrus trees as well as many kinds of flowers. Lots of people from all over the world. After our visit there, we drove a short distance to the top of another hill (one someone is using as a repository for old tractors) and got off the bus. Iyad told us we were going to take a walk down the hill to another site much more likely to have been the site of the Sermon on the Mount. This site, Mark tells us, was identified by a Benedictine monk named Bargil Pixner who set up a very rustic outdoor chapel.

We hiked down the hill seeing numerous orchards of a variety fruits all around us, although we were hiking through desert terrain; we stopped at Pixner’s chapel, where Liddy Hoster presided as we celebrated the Eucharist. (Several of us took pictures of her doing so — and I regretted not asking anyone to do so when I celebrated yesterday. O well…..) Then a short climb down to where the bus was waiting. Stopping short of the bus, Iyad explained to us how Jesus could have preached to 5,000 or more people in this place, and Mark — standing at the mouth of a cave in the hillside — demonstrated the acoustic properties of the cave, which amplified his reading of the Beatitudes so that we could hear it quite a ways a way, even with intervening motor traffic!

From there, we walked past the bus to Mensa Christi (Table of Christ), another Barluzzi church commemorating Jesus’ post-Resurrection breakfast of grilled fish with the disciples. This simple chapel is right on the beach of Lake Galilee. Several of us waded in and I collected three small stones to place in the font when we baptize back home. (I had planned to bring back stones from the Jordan River but the place where we renewed our baptismal vows was not stony, so I got them here.)

Then back on the bus! You kind of get the story of this pilgrimage so far — lots of stuff to do, many places to go and see, lots of riding on the bus. This time our ride ended at the Tanurin Restaurant where we enjoyed a lunch of (basically) fish and chips preceded by the usual assortment of salads: ginger marinated carrots, tabouleh, cabbage slaw (this time with sesame seeds added), a spicy tomato and onion relish, pickled corn kernel salad, hummus, cucumbers in a sour cream dressing, all served with lots of pita (including, this time, pita toasted with butter, basil, and garlic). Then the main course of fish with French fries. We had the option (which two of us took) of getting a whole roasted St. Peter’s fish – most opted for a simple filet.

After eating fish, we went for a boat ride! We went to the Man in the Galilee Museum where a First Century boat has been preserved and put on display, watched a video about the preservation of the boat, then went for a ride on an excursion boat. The wind kicked up while we were on the water, so we had some appreciation of the story of the storm that frightened the apostles (although our storm wasn’t really very scary).

Next we went to Capernaum, a short bus ride away, again past numerous fruit orchards. Here a very modern church built in the 1990s in the shape of an eight-sided flying saucer is literally suspended from black stone pillars over the excavated ruins of an octagonal Byzantine church believed to have been built on the traditional site of St. Peter’s home. A Roman era synogogue is nearby (like almost next door!) and has been partially restored. The “flying saucer” church has a glass floor through which the ruins of the Byzantine church can be seen!

Our final location of the day was at Tabgha (the name is an Arabic corruption of the original Greek name meaning “seven springs”) where a modern Benedictine monastery and church commemorates the feeding of the 5,000. In front of the altar is the mosaic of loaves and fishes which is famous to the area.

After that, it was back to the Guest House to take a quick shower before Iyad shared with us a “surprise.” The surprise was a trip into the caves under the Sisters’ convent where some ruins discovered in the middle of the 20th Century are believed to be the home in which Jesus was raised! There is also a cistern showing years and years of use and, further down, a burial tomb of exactly the sort that would have been used when Christ was crucified. The whole narrative of his removal from the cross, his placement in the tomb prepared by Joseph of Arimethea, and Mary Magdalene’s trip to the tomb on Sunday morning now makes so much more sense!

Then dinner (a sensible European meal of meat and potatoes), compline, and bed — but not before a walk through the market area of the town and a stop at the local sweets shop!

Mark Stanger, our priest guide (Iyad’s assistant on this tour), commented that a visit to a Middle Eastern sweets shop smells like a visit to Crabtree & Evelyn because they use so many floral flavorings (like rose and geranium). So it was! We went to one where the pastries are all laid out on large trays – you fill a plate and pay by weight. I had baklava (both the traditional and “bird’s nest” style), kanafeh (a goat cheese concoction), semolina-almond balls (a sort of donut hole that has been described as “deep fried honey”), qatayef (a small cinnamon-flavored pancake folded and stuffed with nuts and dried fruit), and freshly made halvah. The plate of sweets was at least 10,000 calories and a diabetic coma waiting to happen, but O, my! it was good! (Although, people keep assuring me that just like coffee hours at church, food consumed on pilgrimage has no caloric content.)

As we traveled throughout the day, one of the recurring images was of food and the production of fruit. There were vineyards to be sure, but also orange groves, mango orchards, banana plantations (yes! bananas!), olive orchards, and others; and then there were those meals! This can be a fruitful land and could be even more so if the tenants would stop fighting with one another, and cooperate with the landlord and with each other. Unfortunately, they seem little inclined to do so — God doesn’t need to put these “wretches to a miserable death;” they are doing that themselves. The news of the day, again, was filled with mentions of the kidnapping and killing of teenagers. We enjoyed a lovely day in a land filled with sadness. It’s all very confusing.

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A request to my readers: I’m trying to build the readership of this blog and I’d very much appreciate your help in doing so. If you find something here that is of value, please share it with others. If you are on Facebook, “like” the posts on your page so others can see them. If you are following me on Twitter, please “retweet” the notices of these meditations. If you have a blog of your own, please include mine in your links (a favor I will gladly reciprocate). Many thanks!

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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.

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