Monday, August 24, 2015

Sermon: The Armor of God: Weapons of Mass Transformation - Rev. Karen F. Siegfriedt

The Armor of God: Weapons of Mass Transformation   Ephesians 6:10-20; Proper15/B
By the Rev. Karen F. Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA  8/23/15

            Khaled Asaad was a Syrian archaeologist and the head of antiquities for the ancient city of Palmyra.  This city of Palmyra is in the Syrian Desert, northeast of Damascus, and is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Khaled Assad was a highly respected scholar engaged in many excavations, working alongside of Americans and Europeans on archaeological missions.  He was fluent in Aramaic (the speaking language of Jesus) and became an expert with antiquities and museums.  He was a gentle soul, very knowledgeable, and the father of eleven children. 
Unlike many others, Khaled had rejected several opportunities to flee after the Islamic State takeover of Palmyra in May of 2015.  Perhaps he thought that his reputation and his advanced age of 81 might shield him from the militants’ wrath.  Unfortunately, he guessed wrong.  Last week, jihadists dragged him to a public square where a masked swordsman cut off his head in front of a crowd.  They then suspended his blood-soaked body from a traffic light. 
We have all heard about the depraved nature of the Islamic State, militants who think nothing of crucifixions, beheadings, gruesome killings of the elderly, and sexual enslavement of young women.  In response to these killings, there is a coalition of countries trying to stop and eliminate these terrorists who are bent on destroying those who do not support their ideology.  This coalition (who opposes the Islamic State) is currently focused on warfare, including airstrikes, shelling, and boots on the ground.  It is believed that if we kill them all off, there will be peace in the region.  But life is not that simple.  Underneath the concrete, hostile acts of these terrorists, emanates a larger, darker, evil force.  Some of this darkness arises from within the militants’ souls & minds while the forces of darkness have infected their society.  Military agression against the enemy is only a temporary solution.  Standing up against the powers of the world that corrupt and destroy the creature of God and holding firm in our conviction of goodness, is the only permanent way to end the cycle of violence that has dominated society.
In today’s reading, Paul tells the Ephesians:  “Our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil…”  It sounds a bit ethereal.  How could Paul say that the enemy is not blood and flesh when he himself has been imprisoned by soldiers, the flesh and blood of the Roman Empire?  I think his point is this:  While violence is carried out by real people, real flesh and blood, the underlying motives that push such people to carry out unspeakable acts are spiritual forces of evil that come from within and permeate a wounded society.  And even if we were to kill off all of those people who commit acts of evil, unless we deal with the forces and passions that motivate them to commit such acts, history will continue to repeat itself. 
Paul uses theological language to speak about these forces and passions that corrupt and destroy the creatures of God; images such as darkness, spiritual forces of evil, and cosmic powers.  When I think of these destructive forces within people and within society, I think of things like fear, hatred, anger, ignorance, prejudice, greed, wanton destruction, self-centered privilege, distorted ideologies, violence, and the total disregard for human life.  I think of psychological forces like automatic negative thoughts, post-traumatic stress, paranoia, resentment, and obsessive thinking.  All these forces infect people and motivate them to hurt others, hurt themselves, and damage relationships.  And while we have the military means to kill off the flesh and blood soldiers who perpetrate violent acts, unless we address the spiritual forces of evil that infect our world, our minds, and our individual lives, we will remain stuck in continual cycle of war, conflict, and broken relationships. 
It is with this insight in mind, that Paul advises the Church in Ephesus to use the tools that God can provide in order to stand firm against these spiritual forces that are causing them so much fear and anxiety. He says:  “Put on the full armor of God, so that you may be able to stand firm on that evil day.”  Let’s take a closer look at this spiritual insight and see if it might help us to stand firm as we ourselves are assaulted by the slings and arrows of life.
            This letter to the Church in Ephesus was written for people who were being discriminated against for their allegiance to Christ.  The city itself received some special favors from the Roman Empire and so its citizens wanted to make sure everyone gave their allegiance to the emperor first and foremost.  The Christians refused to do this and for that reason, they were pushed to the margins of society.  Looking at what happened back in the 1st C is not too different from what is happening today in Syria with opposing groups.  There is a mind set that “if you are not with us, then you are against us,” and so you must be eliminated from the equation.  How should we respond to this kind of thinking?  How can we stand firm for goodness and truth and compassion in the face of such ignorance?  What kind of protection can we equip ourselves with so that we do not get sucked into a cloud of fear?  Paul suggests a wardrobe of divine armor. 
Paul tells the church in Ephesus:  “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of God’s power.”  What exactly does that mean?  Is being strong in the Lord different from being a strong human being? I think so.  People often associate being strong with having power, getting one’s way, imposing one’s will, beating the opponent, not buckling under pressure, being tough and aggressive.  But Paul was not interested in this kind of power.  He did not see strength in domination or high status or outsmarting one’s opponent.  Being imprisoned himself for spreading the gospel, he saw his true strength in humility, obedience to the good news in Christ, self-discipline, self-sacrifice, self-denial, and speaking the truth.  When faced with the forces of evil, he did not recommend weapons of mass destruction.  Instead, he recommended weapons of mass transformation, the armor of God, in order to withstand being pulled into the darkness.
            Note that God’s armor is designed to help folks stand fast.  It is not armor for aggressive action. Standing fast does not require a person to hurt a neighbor in any way, nor does it require the use of violence to fight violence.  The armor of God is to empower believers to withstand the evils that surround and threaten them.  The nature of this armor is specifically defensive.  The only equipment of attack is the sword, which is the word of God.  And with this spiritual sword, we are to boldly witness to what is true, honorable, just, pure, and good.  Believers are to be girded in truth, righteousness, faith, peace, and proclamation, immersing themselves in prayer at all times for their defense and strength.
            I have to be honest with you.  I am not a pacifist!  The presence of ISIS, terrorists, and those big corporations who are truly running the world, really frighten me.  Deep down inside, I would like to wave a magic wand and get rid of the whole lot.  But I also know that this would be a temporary solution that would do little to prevent another generation from rising up in the future.  The wounded condition of the world is a spiritual issue that requires a spiritual solution.   And that is what today’s reading is all about.  For instance, there is not much truth telling going on today.  On the one hand, there are the big lies that nations, greedy corporations, and unworthy media outlets feed us.  But on the other hand, we too are part and parcel of this power of deceit when we speak half-truths, tell white lies, break commitments, and engage in fantasy thinking.  And so we have to fasten the belt of truth around our own waist to breakdown the power of deceit, at least on a local level.
            There are many structures and institutions in society that do not fully care about the common good, resulting in an unjust economy and the denial of human rights.  And so we have to put on the breastplate of righteousness and strive for justice and the dignity of every human being.  That is why it is so important for us to study the issues and examine our conscience before going to the voting booth.  
            And when it comes to peace, there still remain many conflicts between nations today.  But there is also a spiritual force of fear and resentment within people’s hearts, which cause them to strike out with anger and injure their personal relationships.  I know for myself that when someone hurts me or I see acts of destruction, my first impulse is to want to eliminate or punish the perpetrator.  But if I truly desire peace among nations, then I need to cultivate peace in my own heart.   Paul says:  “As for shoes on your feet, put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.”
            In closing, I want to reflect on the life of Jimmy Carter who is now facing end of life issues.  During his presidency, he made some strategic errors and failed in a military attempt to rescue the American hostages being held captive in Iran.  This lost him a second term as president.  But what people all over the world will remember him for is not for his military prowess but rather his spiritual wardrobe, the armor of God: truth, righteousness, peace, and proclamation. 

            Since leaving the White House, he has put his faith into action in ways that have transformed the world.  Putting on the breastplate of righteousness, he set up the Carter Center in 1982 as a base for advancing human rights.  He has spent his time, talent, and treasure to advance disease prevention and eradication in developing nations.  With the shoes of peace, he has traveled extensively to conduct peace negotiations and observe elections.  With the sword of the word of God, he has boldly spoken out against exorbitant campaign spending, saying that America is "no longer a functioning democracy" and now has a system of "unlimited political bribery."  He has maintained his courage and perseverance in the face of so many obstacles by immersing himself in prayer.  One man, one faith, one baptism, and our world has become a better place because of him.  Just dare to imagine what we could do if we were to put on this same armor of God.  That would be good news for all of us!

Monday, August 17, 2015

Amador Community News: Monday, August 17, 2015

Amador Community News: Monday, August 17, 2015: QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Many are attracted to social service - the rewards are immediate, the gratification quick. But if we have social jus...

Sermon: An Invitation to Wisdom’s Banquet

An Invitation to Wisdom’s Banquet 
Readings: Proverbs 9:1-12; John 6:51-58    Proper 14/B
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA  8/16/15

            Have you ever received an invitation to a wedding banquet and decided not to go?  Maybe you had a previous engagement and just couldn’t make it.  Or maybe the wedding was far away and the travel expenses too much.  Maybe the invitation was from a distant relative whom you did not know very well or maybe you were just too ill to travel.  There are a lot of excuses for not attending special banquets.  Many years ago, my uncle invited me to attend a family gathering with my cousins.  One of these cousins was a conservative police officer from the south and I was concerned that he would be judgmental of me.  I had been working very hard at the time and just didn’t want to deal with potential negativity.  So I made the excuse that I was too busy that weekend and opted out.  Looking back, I feel as if I had made a mistake and missed out on a once-in-a lifetime celebration.

We all make excuses from time to time not to attend a particular banquet.  We are either too busy, preoccupied, or not in the mood.  Occasionally, when we refuse such an invitation, we miss out on an important opportunity of what could have been a great blessing in our lives.  In today’s readings from the bible, we are being invited to attend a banquet.  In the Book of Proverbs, Lady Wisdom invites us to join her to feast at her table.  In the gospel of John, Jesus invites us to a heavenly banquet where he is the food.  These banquets are metaphors to dine at the table of wisdom.  Wisdom is the ability to think and to act, using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight to uncover the truth and to help us make choices that lead to an abundant life.  For Christians and Jews, God is the ultimate source of wisdom.   It is this subject of wisdom that I would like to focus on today.  There is a short supply of wisdom these days along with teachers of wisdom.  Why do you think that is?  Sure, there are plenty of self-help gurus and professional coaches strategizing business, weight loss, and even romantic success.  However, they often charge for their books and services and some are anything but wise. The dynamic among these so-called teachers of wisdom is much the same:  They know something the rest of us do not know and for a price, they will share it.  So instead of turning inward to connect with the divine source of wisdom, we often turn outward, believing that someone out there has the answer. The idea of wisdom as being a free and fabulous banquet offered by God, available to the poor as well as to the rich, is alien to our current gnostic-leaning culture.

In our first reading from the Book of Proverbs, the virtue of wisdom (that deep, life-giving understanding) is personified as a lady throwing a banquet.  It is a great image!  It begins as follows: Lady Wisdom has built a large house.  She has prepared a banquet meal with roasted lamb and exquisite wine. Lady Wisdom then goes to town, stands in a prominent place and invites everyone to the banquet saying:  Are you confused about life and don’t know what’s going on?  Come with me!  Eat of my bread and drink of my wine.  Leave your impoverished confusion behind!  Walk up the street and live with meaning and purpose. (Interpretation of Proverbs 9)

            Lady wisdom invites us to “eat of her bread and drink of her wine” just as Jesus invites us in today’s gospel. We can choose to respond to wisdom’s invitation or we can choose to remain ignorant and remain in darkness.  Unfortunately for our country and our world, many influential leaders refuse to feast at wisdom’s table.  They prefer to eat at the tables of power and money.  We are suffering from their shortsighted choice.  Here are some of my favorite quotes about wisdom from the Old Testament:

- With God are wisdom and strength; it is the Lord who has counsel and understanding. Job 12:13
- If you would only keep silent, that would be your wisdom! Job 13:5
- Happy are those who find wisdom, and those who get understanding. Proverbs 3:13
- For wisdom is better than jewels, and all that you may desire cannot compare with her. Proverbs 8:11
- Wisdom is at home in the mind of one who has understanding, but it is not known in the heart of fools. Proverbs 14:33
- To get wisdom is to love oneself; to keep understanding is to prosper. Proverbs 19:8
- The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight. Proverbs 9:10
            In today’s gospel reading, Jesus also invites us to a banquet saying:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh... 55 For my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.” {Jn.6} There is something about ingesting the essence of Christ that gives us life and leads us onto the path of wisdom. For some, this spiritual saying remains a mystery.  For others, it is a sacrament of grace.

The gospel of John describes Jesus as the “word of God” or the wisdom of God made flesh.  The gospel of Luke tells us that at a very early age, Jesus grew and became strong, filled with wisdom.  As an adult, Jesus was honored as a wisdom teacher.  People from all walks of life clamored to hear him speak.  He invited his followers to leave behind the conventional wisdom of the day and to live instead by an alternative vision; a vision radically centered in God and not in the culture.  For instance:
            (Material below from Marcus Borg)

Conventional Wisdom
Jesus’ alternative wisdom
God is a punitive lawgiver and judge
God is gracious
A person’s worth is determined by measuring up to social standards (money, education, position)
All persons have infinite worth as children of God, from the lowest to the greatest
Sinners and outcasts are to be avoided & rejected
Everyone is invited to the banquet in the KOG
Identity comes from social traditions
Identity comes from begin centered in God
Strive to be first
The first shall be last and the last shall be first
Preserve one’s own life above all
The path of dying to self and being reborn leads to life abundant
The fruit of striving is reward
The fruit of centering in God is compassion

            Where did this alternative wisdom of Jesus come from?  How was he able to see things differently even though he was steeped in the traditions of his culture? The reason Jesus was able to see things differently was because he had a radically different experience of reality, an experience of being deeply connected to God.  When we see the world through the eyes of God, we are more able to extricate ourselves from a fear-based culture to a compassion-based reality.  This new way of seeing calls us to challenge the conventional wisdom of our culture and leave it behind so that we help create a world centered in God.  Jesus offered his followers these short, pithy, memorable sayings of wisdom:
- What shall it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?
- Let him who is without sin cast the first stone. 
- Do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink or wear.  Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.  Are you not of more value than they? 
- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
- For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
- If you abide in my word...then you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free.
- Give to the emperor what belongs to the emperor.  Give to God what belongs to God. 
- I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.
            Jesus also shared his wisdom through short stories called parables like the Good Samaritan and the Prodigal Son.  In these wisdom stories, Jesus focused on the virtues of compassion and forgiveness.  Seeing is central to the wisdom teachings of Jesus and so there are many references to light and restoring people’s blindness.  So like Lady Wisdom, Jesus invites us to eat with him at the heavenly banquet so that we may see the truth and become like him.  What a wonderful invitation.  But unfortunately, like my refusal to attend my uncle’s gathering some 25 years ago, many of us are just too busy or preoccupied or simply not interested to attend this heavenly banquet. 
           

In Saturday’s newspaper, I kept my eyes open to discern where wisdom was operating in our society.  While there were a few hints of Lady Wisdom’s presence, most of what I read was the result of human blindness; people choosing a life of foolishness over a life of wisdom.  Here is some of what I read:

- Outdoor pollution contributes to the death of 1.6 million people in China every year.
- Three CHP officers were arrested and are held in the killing of a Turlock man back in 2012.
- More California babies born are addicted to drugs & need to go through a painful process of weaning.
- One letter to the editor defended the use of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima.
- An inmate was slain in Folsom Prison by rival gang leaders.
- Thunder Valley will increase the number of slot machines.
- Bay Bridge jumper survives.
- High poverty rate found in Fresno.
- Greece’s economy is still in a mess. 
- Islamic State chief raped U.S. captive Kayla Mueller repeatedly using religion to justify sex slaves.
- Toxic plume of lead, arsenic, and other heavy metals reaches Lake Powell.


            “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”  It seems to me that we can feast at the banquet of wisdom or at the table of folly.  What table we choose to eat at will ultimately determine the future of our health, our society, our nation, and our world.  Jesus said:  “I am the living bread that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”  May God grant us the grace and the wisdom to feast at this table!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Sermon: Feeding our Spiritual Hunger with the Bread of Life - Rev. Karen Siegfriedt

Feeding our Spiritual Hunger with the Bread of Life    Reading:  John 6:35, 41-51     Proper 14/B
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA  8/9/15

            There is a cartoon on Face Book showing Jesus holding up 2 fish and 5 loaves before a crowd.  As he lifts up the fish and bread, people in the crowd begin to make comments like:  “But I am a vegan.  I am gluten free.  Are you sure there is no mercury in the fish?”  It is pretty funny yet it shows just how much our society has changed along with our relationship with food.  Today I would like to talk about feeding our spiritual hunger with the “Bread of Life.”  I will use today’s gospel as my text.
            A priest from Senegal, a country in West Africa, tells the story of going back home after studying in America.  Tribal people in Africa are used to going with very little food and then holding a large feast after a successful hunt.  These people had heard stories about the plentiful food in America, so they asked the priest if Americans ate a lot.  He told them, “Compared with the Senegalese banquet, Americans do not eat a lot, but they eat all the time.  They expect food to be provided the instant they notice that they are hungry.  Fast food on demand is a hallmark of American culture.”  (NIB VII)
            Our society has become obsessed with food.  We eat all the time.  For years, cookbooks were the largest genre of books sold.  Today, there are thousands of websites advertising recipes of all kinds.  Many folks have developed a love-hate relationship with food.  On the one hand, we tend to eat larger portions, processed packaged food, and fast foods which often are cheap, filling, and tasty.  On the other hand, we spend over $20 billion/year on weight loss schemes including diet books, pills, and liposuction.  We exercise less, work more, and sometimes we only have enough time to pack a leftover pizza and a diet coke into our lunch box.  It is into this context of eating and dieting, that today’s gospel speaks about the “bread of life,” a promise that we will never go hungry.
            For five weeks, our lectionary is presenting a ‘Bread of Life’ theme.  A few weeks ago, it started with the story of Jesus feeding the crowds.  These were the folks who had set off on foot to hear Jesus speak and to avail themselves of Jesus’ gifts of healing the sick. When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion for them for they had been with him for almost three days and had nothing to eat.  {Mark 8} So Jesus calls his disciples together to help solve the problem but they are stymied on how to proceed to feed this many people with so few resources.  With a few donations of bread and fish, Jesus gives thanks to God, breaks the bread, and distributes the food, all of which satisfies their hunger. 
            Now African Christians can relate better to this story than do North Americans.  Africans know that people are able to undertake a journey of several days with very little food and water on hand.  They know what it feels like to have an empty stomach yet they are not afraid to travel long distances.  When we Americans hear this gospel, we are puzzled.  It sounds like a strange tale and we immediately try to figure out how Jesus was able to feed the crowd with so few resources.  Maybe instead of speculating about miracles, we need to ask instead:  “Is there something about Jesus that would justify going to a deserted place to hear him speak without any ‘fast food?  And if so, what is it?     There should be no real puzzle in how to feed a hungry crowd.  It takes faith, compassion, a vision, leadership skills, generosity, and fortitude. Whenever I hear this story of feeding the 5000, I am reminded of our Interfaith Food Bank here in Amador County where over 70 families are fed each day.  This food bank was born out of a vision when 16 local churches worked together to set a plan in motion that resulted in the opening of the Interfaith Food Bank in 1998 with a community development block grant.  On a smaller scale, I think back to the end of June, when the people of Trinity Church started out with nothing but empty boxes and by the end of the food drive at Safeway, we collected $1025 and 3656 lbs. of food for the Food Bank.  Like Jesus, we had compassion, a vision, leadership, generosity, and the willingness to tackle the problem of food insecurity here in our own county. 
            However, feeding the stomach should not be the only concern for people of faith.  We also need to feed our soul, that authentic part of ourselves which can direct our thoughts and actions so that we may become the people that God created us to be.  It is to the health of this spiritual self that Jesus speaks to in today’s gospel when he says:  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
            There are many kinds of breads out there promising to fill the void in our lives but oftentimes they are only empty calories that leave us craving for more.  There are many voices out there that speak to our own desires and immediate gratification.  They are often so strong, that they can drown out the voice of God, which truly satisfies our cravings.  There are advertisements everywhere, encouraging us to buy bigger, better, faster, and more.  And while all of these things can temporarily bring us a little happiness, we often find ourselves hungering and thirsting for more. 
            So where do we go from here as followers of Christ?  Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  This is a spiritual saying that calls us to tend to the health and wholeness of our soul.  Without a healthy soul, without a mature spiritual life, our thoughts become distorted and our actions become self-serving.  As this happens, our egos take control, allowing deceit and selfishness to diminish our best selves. But the Bread of Life calls us back to live in the spirit of God where we can gain wisdom in ordering of our lives and our nation.  The Bread of Life calls us to discern the truth and to choose our leaders who strive for justice, peace, and the dignity of every human being rather than choose a political party.
            I recently read an article describing the leading candidates for president as being ignorant and vacuous, unparalleled in modern times.  It said:  “The mere possibility that one of them might ascend to the highest office in the land at a time when America is besieged by record inequality, grinding poverty, a shrinking middle class, billionaires who have more power than at any time since the robber barons of the 19th century, a world environmental catastrophe in the making, the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of global terrorists- that possibility is almost as terrifying as anything I’ve ever witnessed in American politics.”  (Robert Reich)  What a sad commentary on the state of our nation.  But it doesn’t have to be this way if we nourish our souls with the Bread of Life.
            Each Sunday we come together in prayer, to hear the gospel, confess our sins, and gather around the Lord’s Table in Holy Communion.  This is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward grace in which we are strengthened for our journey to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We come to this table not for solace only, but for strength and renewal, believing that God’s grace can transform us into faithful disciples, endowed with compassion. 
            Originally, the service of Holy Communion took place in people’s homes during a meal.  As Christianity expanded, the practice of Holy Communion took place in churches, where there was no meal but rather a formal service where the bread and wine were sanctified, becoming the body and blood of Christ.  Today, as we continue this tradition of over 2000 years, I am often asked:  “How is Christ present in the elements of bread and wine?”  This is an important question.  Jesus actually said two things about what we call Holy Communion or the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (i.e. Thanksgiving).  He said:  “This is my body” and “do this in remembrance of me.”  Some people (like Catholics and Orthodox Christians) focus on the words: “This is my body.”  These are Christians for whom the consecrated bread and wine convey a tangible encounter with the risen Christ.  And so participating in Holy Communion each week becomes a vital part of their spiritual nourishment.
            There are other Christians (such as Baptists and Presbyterians) who focus on the words:  “Do this is remembrance of me.”  For them, the bread and wine are simply visual aids and a reminder of Jesus’ life and death.  It is a powerful way to remember Jesus’ words, actions, and spirit. 
            So where do Episcopalians fall on this theological spectrum of Holy Communion?  While we don’t require a particular understanding of Holy Communion in order to participate in the sacrament, most Anglicans understand the Holy Eucharist as being both the real presence of Christ as well as a memorial of the Last Supper, recalling Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  It is hoped that as we eat of this sacred bread (his body) and drink of this blessed wine (his blood), we become like him, transformed in mind, body, and soul.
            Describe the service of Holy Communion/table/elements.



            Jesus said:  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”  This is a saying that feeds the soul and its spiritual hunger.  It is also a truth which when embraced, can inspire us to generously share our resources to help feed the bodies of those who have physical hunger. So come, eat, and be filled with the Bread of Life! 

Feeding our Spiritual Hunger with the Bread of Life

Feeding our Spiritual Hunger with the Bread of Life    Reading:  John 6:35, 41-51     Proper 14/B
By the Rev. Karen Faye Siegfriedt; Trinity Episcopal Church, Sutter Creek, CA  8/9/15

            There is a cartoon on Face Book showing Jesus holding up 2 fish and 5 loaves before a crowd.  As he lifts up the fish and bread, people in the crowd begin to make comments like:  “But I am a vegan.  I am gluten free.  Are you sure there is no mercury in the fish?”  It is pretty funny yet it shows just how much our society has changed along with our relationship with food.  Today I would like to talk about feeding our spiritual hunger with the “Bread of Life.”  I will use today’s gospel as my text.
            A priest from Senegal, a country in West Africa, tells the story of going back home after studying in America.  Tribal people in Africa are used to going with very little food and then holding a large feast after a successful hunt.  These people had heard stories about the plentiful food in America, so they asked the priest if Americans ate a lot.  He told them, “Compared with the Senegalese banquet, Americans do not eat a lot, but they eat all the time.  They expect food to be provided the instant they notice that they are hungry.  Fast food on demand is a hallmark of American culture.”  (NIB VII)
            Our society has become obsessed with food.  We eat all the time.  For years, cookbooks were the largest genre of books sold.  Today, there are thousands of websites advertising recipes of all kinds.  Many folks have developed a love-hate relationship with food.  On the one hand, we tend to eat larger portions, processed packaged food, and fast foods which often are cheap, filling, and tasty.  On the other hand, we spend over $20 billion/year on weight loss schemes including diet books, pills, and liposuction.  We exercise less, work more, and sometimes we only have enough time to pack a leftover pizza and a diet coke into our lunch box.  It is into this context of eating and dieting, that today’s gospel speaks about the “bread of life,” a promise that we will never go hungry.
            For five weeks, our lectionary is presenting a ‘Bread of Life’ theme.  A few weeks ago, it started with the story of Jesus feeding the crowds.  These were the folks who had set off on foot to hear Jesus speak and to avail themselves of Jesus’ gifts of healing the sick. When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion for them for they had been with him for almost three days and had nothing to eat.  {Mark 8} So Jesus calls his disciples together to help solve the problem but they are stymied on how to proceed to feed this many people with so few resources.  With a few donations of bread and fish, Jesus gives thanks to God, breaks the bread, and distributes the food, all of which satisfies their hunger. 
            Now African Christians can relate better to this story than do North Americans.  Africans know that people are able to undertake a journey of several days with very little food and water on hand.  They know what it feels like to have an empty stomach yet they are not afraid to travel long distances.  When we Americans hear this gospel, we are puzzled.  It sounds like a strange tale and we immediately try to figure out how Jesus was able to feed the crowd with so few resources.  Maybe instead of speculating about miracles, we need to ask instead:  “Is there something about Jesus that would justify going to a deserted place to hear him speak without any ‘fast food?  And if so, what is it?     There should be no real puzzle in how to feed a hungry crowd.  It takes faith, compassion, a vision, leadership skills, generosity, and fortitude. Whenever I hear this story of feeding the 5000, I am reminded of our Interfaith Food Bank here in Amador County where over 70 families are fed each day.  This food bank was born out of a vision when 16 local churches worked together to set a plan in motion that resulted in the opening of the Interfaith Food Bank in 1998 with a community development block grant.  On a smaller scale, I think back to the end of June, when the people of Trinity Church started out with nothing but empty boxes and by the end of the food drive at Safeway, we collected $1025 and 3656 lbs. of food for the Food Bank.  Like Jesus, we had compassion, a vision, leadership, generosity, and the willingness to tackle the problem of food insecurity here in our own county. 
            However, feeding the stomach should not be the only concern for people of faith.  We also need to feed our soul, that authentic part of ourselves which can direct our thoughts and actions so that we may become the people that God created us to be.  It is to the health of this spiritual self that Jesus speaks to in today’s gospel when he says:  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
            There are many kinds of breads out there promising to fill the void in our lives but oftentimes they are only empty calories that leave us craving for more.  There are many voices out there that speak to our own desires and immediate gratification.  They are often so strong, that they can drown out the voice of God, which truly satisfies our cravings.  There are advertisements everywhere, encouraging us to buy bigger, better, faster, and more.  And while all of these things can temporarily bring us a little happiness, we often find ourselves hungering and thirsting for more. 
            So where do we go from here as followers of Christ?  Jesus said: “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”  This is a spiritual saying that calls us to tend to the health and wholeness of our soul.  Without a healthy soul, without a mature spiritual life, our thoughts become distorted and our actions become self-serving.  As this happens, our egos take control, allowing deceit and selfishness to diminish our best selves. But the Bread of Life calls us back to live in the spirit of God where we can gain wisdom in ordering of our lives and our nation.  The Bread of Life calls us to discern the truth and to choose our leaders who strive for justice, peace, and the dignity of every human being rather than choose a political party.
            I recently read an article describing the leading candidates for president as being ignorant and vacuous, unparalleled in modern times.  It said:  “The mere possibility that one of them might ascend to the highest office in the land at a time when America is besieged by record inequality, grinding poverty, a shrinking middle class, billionaires who have more power than at any time since the robber barons of the 19th century, a world environmental catastrophe in the making, the possibility of nuclear weapons falling into the hands of global terrorists- that possibility is almost as terrifying as anything I’ve ever witnessed in American politics.”  (Robert Reich)  What a sad commentary on the state of our nation.  But it doesn’t have to be this way if we nourish our souls with the Bread of Life.
            Each Sunday we come together in prayer, to hear the gospel, confess our sins, and gather around the Lord’s Table in Holy Communion.  This is a sacrament, an outward and visible sign of an inward grace in which we are strengthened for our journey to seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbor as ourselves.  We come to this table not for solace only, but for strength and renewal, believing that God’s grace can transform us into faithful disciples, endowed with compassion. 
            Originally, the service of Holy Communion took place in people’s homes during a meal.  As Christianity expanded, the practice of Holy Communion took place in churches, where there was no meal but rather a formal service where the bread and wine were sanctified, becoming the body and blood of Christ.  Today, as we continue this tradition of over 2000 years, I am often asked:  “How is Christ present in the elements of bread and wine?”  This is an important question.  Jesus actually said two things about what we call Holy Communion or the celebration of the Holy Eucharist (i.e. Thanksgiving).  He said:  “This is my body” and “do this in remembrance of me.”  Some people (like Catholics and Orthodox Christians) focus on the words: “This is my body.”  These are Christians for whom the consecrated bread and wine convey a tangible encounter with the risen Christ.  And so participating in Holy Communion each week becomes a vital part of their spiritual nourishment.
            There are other Christians (such as Baptists and Presbyterians) who focus on the words:  “Do this is remembrance of me.”  For them, the bread and wine are simply visual aids and a reminder of Jesus’ life and death.  It is a powerful way to remember Jesus’ words, actions, and spirit. 
            So where do Episcopalians fall on this theological spectrum of Holy Communion?  While we don’t require a particular understanding of Holy Communion in order to participate in the sacrament, most Anglicans understand the Holy Eucharist as being both the real presence of Christ as well as a memorial of the Last Supper, recalling Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  It is hoped that as we eat of this sacred bread (his body) and drink of this blessed wine (his blood), we become like him, transformed in mind, body, and soul.
            Describe the service of Holy Communion/table/elements.

            Jesus said:  “I am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry.”  This is a saying that feeds the soul and its spiritual hunger.  It is also a truth which when embraced, can inspire us to generously share our resources to help feed the bodies of those who have physical hunger. So come, eat, and be filled with the Bread of Life! 

Monday, August 3, 2015

Sophia's Well of Wisdom - August 2015

SOPHIA'S Well of Wisdom Newsletter
August 2015
The Spiritual Sun
THE SPIRITUAL SUN
We are in the hot days of August, the presence of the sun rules life in so many ways. Let me share some ways we can benefit from the energies that we are gifted with through a spiritual reflection of nature. Most of August is influenced by the energies of Leo. It is said that Leo is rule by the Sun at three levels: The physical sun, The Heart of the Sun, and the Spiritual Sun. 

Below is the meditation we enjoyed at this mornings Wisdom Circle. 

The meditation was taken from Chapter 24, Leo: Incoming Energies, Wisdom of the Zodiak, Vol. 2 by Torkum Saraydarian. 

The evolution and transformation of humanity is not related to knowledge but to the reception and assimilation of energies and the actualization of those energies.

 The intention of full moon meetings is to create group magnetism. When people sit with one intent, one focus, in silence and in tune with these Cosmic energies, they create a magnetic field. This magnetic field slowly attracts the energies and fills the centers in your aura, which gradually affects your life.

 At the period of the full moon, you contact zodiacal energies, slowly your aura receives them. As time passes, your aura assimilates these energies, which then go to the centers. The centers then transmit the energies to the glands, which in turn transmit the energies to your organs and physical body. In this process, the zodiacal energies become actualized to some degree.

 The full moon period is a time when you pull yourself together into your inner center. This is a very healing process. Whenever you are together, centered within yourself, you can heal yourself. You can energize your whole system. But when you are scattered, you leak energy and you leak concentration of consciousness.

 Full moons are days of serving yourself, serving your group, and serving humanity as you bring these energies down and spread them to your homes, your neighbors, your nation, and to the world.

 Leo energy creates individuality. Herd-consciousness stops and you become yourself. You feel that you are you. Leo energy exercises a tremendous influence in your consciousness to make you an individual - not a sheep in a herd.

 Saraydarian lists four signs that show we truly have become individuals. The ideas expressed in italics are my reflections on the signs listed below after meditating on each sign.


1.  The first sign is that you have a  
choice
 It is very important to develop the power to choose, especially during the Leo full moon. 
As I contemplate this first sign, I realize that I have not always exercised my power to choose. As we shed the hold that social and cultural institutions have had over what we believe, we finally come to the place where we can choose our own thoughts, views, and values. When we shed the hold emotions have over our reactions, we finally can choose responses that support ourselves and others. When we shed the hold that habits and addictions have over our behavior, we finally can choose actions that are healthy. 

2.  The second sign is thinking. 
An individualized person, one who has passed through the discipline of Leo energy, knows how to think by himself. 
We only have to observe our thought processes for a couple of days to know that we have little control over the thought mechanism. Its like the mind does its own thing based on who or what controls it. The whole purpose of a meditation practice is to learn how to be a true thinker.  Until we can think for our selves and not by our programming, or through guilt and association, or by what is expected from others, we are not really individual thinkers. When we become true individuals we think for ourselves. 

3.  The next sign is asking questions. 
Because you are becoming an individual, awakening and becoming an human being, you have questions. 
As an individual thinker, we don't take anything for the truth just because someone or some organization tells us to, no matter who that person or organization is. We ask questions, we listen to the voice inside us that says "this doesn't make sense". We go inside to see what resonates with our deeper knowing. We listen to our intuition that tells us something is or is not right. We ask questions even of God, who isn't bothered by our questions. In fact, I think God is pleased that we are beginning to seek the truth from within ourselves, because that's the only way to truly be free (Jesus is reported to have said that).

4. The next sign of an individualized person is that he tries to find the causes of events and circumstances. 
An individualized person asks, "What is the cause?"
Until we are able to discern cause and effect, we cannot fully respond to life as an individual. Self-deception causes us to not see what is behind the illusions we believe. When we have had enough of that, we begin to look for the causes behind things, no matter where that investigation takes us. 

Seed-thought for meditation: What choices do I need to make in my life - physical choices, emotional choices, mental choices- so that I become truly genuine, my True Self?  
I meditated on this seed thought and came up with one choice for each area. On the physical level, I have a choice what I eat, and I choose to eat food that is a source of health for my body. On the emotional level, I choose eliminate behaviors that express irritation with others. On the mental level, I choose to stop the flow of negative thoughts as soon as they pop into my head, rather than indulge them. 

 
This is a good exercise to do during the influence of the Leo energy as it will help us further advance toward being true individuals. Give it a try and let me know what you came up with. 




August Blessings, 
Patsy

AUGUST EVENTS

We begin August with the Wisdom Circle Theme: The Wisdom of Communal Life. The last two months, we have explored the Human Constitution from the ego personality to the individualized soul. We strive for the soul-infused personality. This month's theme will take us deeper into that inquiry by looking at relationships or communal living. Patricia Green hosted the first Sunday 8/2 with the topic "From Selfishness to Selflessness". Tracy Johnson will host Sunday 8/9 with the topic "From Irritation to Equanimity." Lynnea Honn will introduce the larger picture on Sunday 8/16 with the topic "War and Forgiveness." Marilyn Nutter hosts the topic "The Wisdom of Sacrifice" on Sunday 8/23. On Sunday 8/30 Patsy Fine hosts the final topic on "The Wisdom of Art and Culture." Join the Wisdom Circle on Sundays from 10 am to 12 noon. We begin with meditation, followed by communion and then the Wisdom Circle. 

Women Writers meet on Mondays at 6pm. 
 (Lynnea Honn - 304-6174)

A Course in Miracles meets on Tuesday at 7pm
(Shari Anderson - 296-1342)
Sacred Dance meets on Wednesdays at 12 noon
(Amel Tafsout - 245-3220)

SPECIAL EVENTS

MEDITATION CLASS begins Wednesday 8/5 at 6pm. Lynnea Honn and Patricia Green will host the class that meets on Wednesdays for five weeks. For information or to register call Lynnea at 304-6174. 

massage-woman3.jpg
REIKI HEALING CIRCLE meets Saturday 8/15 at 10am. Reiki practitioners and those interested in healing work are invited to this free community event. Wear comfortable clothes and be prepared to both give and receive spiritual energy work. We will begin with a Reiki Meditation then proceed to the healing work.  All are 
welcome to join the circle.


WISDOM LECTURE.  Patsy is viewing an online workshop onthe The Rainbow Light Body from 12 - 4pm on Saturday 8/22. Immediately following the workshop, Patsy will review her notes for all who are interested on the major ideas of the Light Body, a leading concept that comes up in the major religions as the potential of humanity. 

SOPHIA'S Well of Wisdom 
270A Hanford Street
Sutter Creek, CA 95685
Rev. Patsy Walker Fine, D.Min., Spiritual Director

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