Friday, March 26, 2021

Palm Sunday - sermon for Week Ending March 27, 2021


Matthew 21: 1-11.                 

When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey colt tied. Untie him and bring him to me. If anyone says anything to you, just say this, ‘The teacher needs it.’” This took place to fulfill what had been spoken through the prophet, saying, “Tell the daughter of Zion, Look, your king is coming to you, humble, and mounted on a donkey.” The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; they brought the donkey and put their cloaks on it, and Jesus sat on it. A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, “Who is this?” The crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”


One of the many things I love about New Vision is that we don’t check our brains at the door. We are always interested in exploring new ways to experience the mystery that we call God and new ways to read and interpret the stories in the bible. And much of the time, that means letting go of the interpretations we grew up with. Growing up, I was taught that just about everything that happened in the Old Testament was really a prophecy about Jesus, who would come to save the Jews from themselves, because they had gotten it all wrong, but they rejected him because he wasn’t what they thought he would be. He was too Christian for them or something. I know now, because I use my brain and read books, that the Hebrew Scriptures are about liberation from slavery, exile and return, covenant, and how we are supposed to treat each other. And that the gospels were written by Jews for Jews as communal memory, influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures, first century rabbinic Judaism, and oral stories about Jesus. And Jews during that time were a diverse group who had many choices. They could be Pharisees or Essenes or Sadducees, or become followers of John the Baptizer or Jesus of Nazareth. A few months ago, we looked at the Sermon on the Mount as the Rabbi Jesus’ interpretation of Torah, with the help of Jewish and New Testament scholar Amy-Jill Levine and I found her work so insightful that I bought the Jewish Annotated New Testament by Levine and Marc Brettler. I thought it would be interesting to use it for Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, which is often read by Christians as anti-Jew, with the Jews labeled as Christ killers, as it was written, portraying Jesus in the tradition of the biblical prophets, who also brought good news to the people. The end of the passage even says, “This is Jesus the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.” From the beginning, it is Israel’s history that tells us what is going on and why when Jesus enters Jerusalem. The city is holy now as it was then. It’s the capital of Judea and the site of the temple. It’s Passover, the feast of freedom described in the book of Exodus that every Jew celebrated. Tens of thousands of people from the Jewish diaspora made pilgrimages to the city for the festival. The text says that Jesus entered the city from beside the Mount of Olives, riding on a donkey, a reference to the book of Zachariah, which chronicles the return from Babylonian exile and the restoration of Jerusalem, describing the coming of a great king, a king of peace. It says, “Rejoice greatly o daughter of Zion, sing aloud o daughter Jerusalem. Your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious. Humble and riding on a donkey. He will cut off the chariot and the warhorse from Jerusalem and he shall command peace to the nations.” What the NRSV translates as Triumphant, Levine says, really means, in Hebrew, righteous. The focus for Zachariah and for Matthew and for Jesus is the power of justice. And the word Humble, like the word Meek, as she explained in the beatitude, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” in Hebrew, does not mean gentle or submissive, but someone who will not lord it over others, who will take their place with those who are suffering, who will bring peace through compassion and understanding. In verse 9, the crowds shouted Hosanna, which in Hebrew means, “Save Us.” “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord” is an allusion to psalm 118, one of the Hallel or Hallelujah psalms sung by the pilgrims as they came to Jerusalem and sung at the Passover supper. Levine points out that the salvation sought in most of Israel’s scriptures was not spiritual but physical. Save me from slavery. From famine. From exile. It’s the same for the people in this story. And for us. She says, “The crowd wants what we all want: political reform, compassion rather than conquest, a balanced budget, affordable healthcare, clean water, peaceful streets, and lower taxes.” This also describes the kingdom of Heaven that Jesus has been speaking about, that he told us in the Sermon on the Mount was already present, if we just do what he taught us to do. If we live the way he taught us to live. What did he say? Create a community of love and compassion and justice and equality. Help make a world where angry thoughts don’t have the opportunity to lead to murder. Be aware of our own privileges and work to help those that don’t have the same benefits. Realize that we are all in this together. Know that our value doesn’t lie in what position we hold, but in what we contribute to the world. Treat one another with kindness and dignity and respect. And share what we have with each other. That is what Jesus learned from his bible, and that it what he taught us, not just with words, but with the way he lived his life. May we follow his example with the way we live our lives. Amen.

Friday, March 12, 2021

Movie With A Message - The Hundred-Foot Journey - Sermon For Week Ending March 13, 2021

The final movie in our movies with a message sermon series is the 2014 film, The hundred foot Journey,  which is available on HBO Max and Amazon Prime. It’s about an Indian family that immigrates to Europe after their Mumbai restaurant was firebombed, and their matriarch was killed. While driving in search of a location for a new restaurant, they end up in a small French village, and Abbu, the family patriarch, declares that fate brought them to this place, and it is here that they will open their new restaurant, which will be called Maison Mumbai. The middle son, Hassan, who cooked with his mother in the restaurant in Mumbai, will be the cook. Soon, though, they discover that across the street from their new restaurant is a French restaurant owned by Madam Mallory, where everyone eats, including the president of France,  and conflict begins. Although it delves into serious subjects, like prejudice against “outsiders,” The hundred foot journey is hopeful movie, showing people overcoming their distrust of those who aren’t like them, which leads them from competition to cooperation, from “us” and “them” to “we.” It is also a coming-of-age tale, has two sweet love stories, and as we saw in the clip, food is its own character. But its primary motif is the journey, and it presents all kinds of journeys, from Hassan’s family’s journey from India to France, adapting to a different culture, facing prejudice, and making personal sacrifices, to Madam Mallory’s journey to prove to herself and everyone else that her restaurant is the best, by earning a second Michelin star, to Hassan’s journey from Indian cook to French chef. The focus, though, is on the hundred- foot journey of the title, the distance between the two restaurants that each of the main characters takes, a physical and symbolic journey that involves a crucible moment for each of them, that leads them to let go of their own egos and work together. Madam Mallory makes the first move, when on Bastille Day, Maison Mumbai is fire- bombed, injuring Hassan, and graffiti is painted on their wall that says, “France is for the French.” When she finds out that one of her own cooks was responsible, she fires him and gives the rest of the staff a lesson on nationalism and prejudice, a lesson she is still learning herself, and takes the hundred -foot journey to personally clean off the graffiti. Her gesture leads Abbu to make one of his own. Then Hassan, whose hands are bandaged from the fire, asks her if they can make an omelet together. As we saw in the clip, they do, mixing French sauces and Indian spices, and after one bite, she realizes just how talented he is, more talented than she is, and she offers him a job as sous chef at her restaurant. Abbu, who before had accused her of trying to steal his son and the cook of his restaurant, now agrees to allow him to work for her. And Hassan leaves behind all he has ever known to become a French chef. Once these characters are able to see that different doesn’t mean bad, they grow closer and closer. By the end of the movie, the hundred -foot path between the two restaurants is well-worn, as their love of good food and their love for each other fuses together two families and two cultures. The journey to the togetherness that they found was not easy for any of them. It took them realizing how unnecessary the divide between them was, and being willing to lay down their armor and step out of their comfort zones in order to try to bridge that divide. It takes that for us to bridge our divides too. What can we do to get to the place of acceptance and understanding between ourselves and those we have considered others?  Study the different cultures and religions of those we share the planet with? Learn the language of the people we work with? Read books about how to become anti-racist and anti-homophobic and anti-xenophobic and put what we learn into practice? Climb down from our ladder of privilege to walk in the shoes of someone who is not privileged? New Vision has always been a bridge builder. Our community conversations 3 years ago brought together a diverse group of people in our town to discuss racism and homophobia and inequity. The theme was finding commonality and respecting diversity. These conversations led to our involvement in the Fernandina Pride Parade and Festival, and they were the foundation for the anti-racism work we are currently engaged in. But there is always more that we can do to help turn “us” and “them” into “we.” Build back trust after centuries of discrimination and dismantle those systems of discrimination. As we saw in the movie, the best way to bridge the divide between us is to physically get together, to worship and eat, socialize with and get to know people of different races and cultures and orientations and gender identities. After the pandemic is over, I want that to be one of our primary goals, to purposefully build relationships with people in our community who have different backgrounds and life experiences. I think it will be a major step for uson our journey to become the beloved community that Jesus wanted for us.

Friday, March 5, 2021

Movie With A Message - Nomadland - Sermon for Week Ending March 6, 2021

Our Movie with a message for this week is Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand, which won the Golden Globe award for best movie last Sunday. It is streaming on Hulu. It is based on the book Nomadland: Surviving America in the New Economy, about van dwellers, mostly older folks who find that even though they have worked all their lives, their retirement benefits aren’t enough for them to rent a home or stay in their home after the death of a spouse. So they buy a van or a cheap RV and live in it, traveling the country, taking  part -time jobs in order to buy gas and food. The book was written by Jessica Bruder, a journalist, who lived and worked as a van dweller for three years. The movie was adapted and directed by Cloe Zhao, who won the Golden Globe for best director. She spent 5 months in a van shooting Nomadland across 5 states, hiring many of the real van dwellers as extras and to play themselves.  Even though the main character, Fern, is fictional, the life that that it portrays is real. The setting is 2011 and the van dwellers are mostly people who couldn’t recover from the 2008 recession. Fern is a woman in her 60s who worked with her husband at the Gypsum factory in Empire, Nevada. When the recession hit, and there was less need for sheetrock, the plant closed, and in less than a year , Empire’s zip code was discontinued, as banks foreclosed and people moved away to find jobs.  Fern’s husband died during that time, and she only had social security, which wasn’t enough to live on.  A friend told her about a website called Van Dwellers,  so she bought an inexpensive van and became one of many older, dispossessed  Americans who live in their vehicles. Her first road job is in an Amazon Warehouse. You might know this, but I did not.  Amazon has a job program for van dwelling retirees. They pay their campground fees and pay  to them to stock merchandise during their busy seasons.  So if you are driving around the country, living in your van, there are Amazon warehouses where you can get a job during Christmas. Fern’s other jobs included, working the line for the sugar beet harvest, working in a rock quarry, and being a camp ground hostess, which basically meant cleaning the bathrooms and emptying trash cans.  Along the way, Fern met Bob Wells, who plays himself in the movie, the person who made the website, so that van dwellers could meet up once in awhile.  Bob hosts a rendezvous once a year at an Arizona campground, as a support system for van-dwellers who need help.  There, they trade can openers for pot holders, learn how to patch tires and find the safest illegal place to park in different towns. It’s a sad predicament that they try to make the best of. The primary theme of the movie is economic injustice. The fact that, because of circumstances beyond their control, older Americans, most of them women, cannot afford to pay rent and buy food,  so live in their vehicles, eat canned soup off a hot plate,  and go to the bathroom in a bucket, while begging for low paying, temporary jobs is a travesty. As one of the documentaries I watched about van dwellers said, “The three legged stool of social security, private pensions, and personal savings has given way to a pogo stick, with social security as the only wobbly leg.”  Fern puts it more bluntly, saying, The American dream is a lie. The Amazon Camp force is blatant exploitation of cheap seasonal labor by people who can’t even afford a home. Because I am a person of privilege, before I turned 65, I naively thought that all of Medicare was free.  Medicare is very expensive. The majority of older people in our society can’t afford it. What does it say about us that we treat our elders this way? Another theme in the movie is loss and grief.  Like most of the people she meets, Fern is alone. She lost her husband Bo, her home, her town, and her friends. At one point, she goes back to Empire to sell what little she had in storage there, and she walks through what is now a ghost town, we can see in her face and her gait what all this loss has done to her. Like so many of the other van dwellers, she is grieving.  We don’t see her doing anything enjoyable, just existing from one day to the next. Finally, though, there is the theme of community. Nomadland reminds us that we can find community anywhere, no matter how poor our circumstances. While Fern keeps mostly to herself, she does make some good friends.  And the scenes of the real van dwellers show how much they depend on each other, enjoy each other’s company, and come to love those they only see a few times a year. The need for community is the reason Bob Wells started the website and the meet-ups. And they are a lifeline for  them. It seems that almost all of my sermons have a theme of community. I think it’s because community is so important to me. Even when we desire solitude, we still need to know that there are people who care about us, and who we can depend on. Jesus taught us about community in the Sermon on the Mount and in the way he lived his life. And we, who today are marking one year since we worshipped together in our sanctuary, are just as strong a community as ever. We love each other, and we are there for each other, not matter what.  And that is something we can all be grateful for.

New Vision and Progressive Christianity

 New Vision is a Progressive church. That doesn’t mean that you must be progressive to be a member here. It mainly means that your pastor an...