4th

Picture from Radical Tenderness Project by Kristen Trudo: https://www.radicallytender.com/karen/

On August 6, 2017, I was invited by Rev. Rebecca Turner, my former supervisor at Faith Aloud, to preach and preside at Christ Church United Church of Christ in Maplewood Missouri. I chose the Matthew 14:31-21 story about Jesus feeding the five thousand with five loaves and two fishes, and initially titled it “God’s Banquet.” It’s still an accurate title, but as the sermon wove itself into the threads of my heart, I would give it an equally true name: “Love Letter to Sad Revolutionaries.”

Because we know people who engage in movement / liberation / social change work, the kind of change your entire life kind of work, whose hearts are always a little broken, who can’t leave but who are so traumatized that it feels impossible to stay, who don’t want to hear the word “movement” ever again.

This is for the people who were never in it for ego. The people who held suffering in their hands and refused to let it go, until it might transform into something new. And maybe they are still waiting.

Here we go.

Matthew 14:13-21 NRSV

Feeding the Five Thousand

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

God’s Banquet / Love Letter to Sad Revolutionaries

Five loaves and two fish fed over five thousand people. All ate and were filled, and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. THAT was the miracle.

So many people fed with so little. THAT was the miracle, or was it?

Maybe I’m wrong, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Jesus wasn’t really planning on dinner that day. He didn’t want to be around people AT ALL. Here’s this rabble-rousing rabbi, prophetic preacher, street medic, organizer of a poor people’s movement, who suddenly can’t stand to be around his beloved community? He can’t get on a plane or go for a drive, so he does the next best thing and hops in a boat to get away, take a breather, go FAR FAR FAR away from anyone he knows, at least for a little while. Maybe some of you know what that’s like.

Some of you know that’s not someone who wants to have a dinner party. That’s someone who has a serious case of sadness. Jesus. Is grieving.

Let’s rewind for some context.

Earlier in chapter 14, before the feeding of the five thousand, Matthew tells the story of how Herod the Ruler killed John the Baptist. John the Baptist was a co-organizer of the resistance to Roman rule, who agitated religious leaders for conspiring with the state, and wore itchy camel’s hair so that he could never be comfortable. John the Baptist refused to stay asleep to the suffering of his people, he preferred to stay WOKE.

And Herod the Ruler hated him for it. John the Baptist was always gathering people in the wilderness and getting them all riled up about changing their ways and talking about how oppressive the empire of Rome was. I mean, don’t these people have JOBS to do instead of whining in the wilderness, and didn’t John understand that the empire of Rome is the greatest empire there ever was, and if he hated the modern trade routes and clean water systems SO MUCH, why doesn’t he JUST LEAVE and GO BACK TO WHERE HE CAME FROM?

Then John the Baptist had the nerve to say that Herod the Ruler couldn’t have Herodias, because of some Jewish purity laws about avoiding incest or marrying someone else’s wife. Herod would have let it go if it weren’t for the fact that John the Baptist had SO MANY FOLLOWERS. John the Baptist was consistently doing protests at the Jordan River because “Water is Life,” and people were turning up and turning out in droves.

Herod the Ruler knew that if he did anything to John the Baptist, there would be huge public backlash. He might even have a rebellion on his hands.

But then Herodias’ daughter who was also Herod’s stepdaughter danced before Herod and his guests, and she pleased Herod so much that he promised her anything she wanted. And like any beautiful daughter of a powerful woman, she said, “Give me the head of John the Baptist here on a platter.”

Herod the Ruler made a promise, in front of his distinguished guests, and he couldn’t have them or the public think he was a weak man. So, ignoring his fears of rebellion, he gave the command to execute John the Baptist, a popular political prisoner. Matthew chapter 14 verses 11-13 said, “The head was brought on a platter and given to the girl, who brought it to her mother.

His students came and took the body and buried it; then they went and told Jesus. Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself…” and you know the rest.

Matthew wrote miracle stories about Jesus as lessons to the early Jesus movement. So many people fed with so little. THAT was the miracle, or was it?

Those who have experienced the deep grief of mourning a life taken far too soon know that grief has the ability to make time stop, the world stand still, your eyes into oceans, and your food into sand. Everyone mourns differently, but Matthew’s Jesus does what many of us might do: retreat, isolate, push people away.

And yet, the people hear the news of John the Baptist’s death, and they follow Jesus, this sad revolutionary in a boat, on foot from the towns. It’s a giant funeral procession, but it’s also a wake for those who are woke, a resistance march for a popular political prisoner. Jesus goes ashore, and he sees a great crowd, and that’s when it clicks: “I’m not alone.”

Maybe the miracle is not so much that many were fed, but that the meal happened at all.

That this poor people’s movement came through for this sad revolutionary in a boat, and reminded Jesus that he wasn’t alone.

That the people followed him with more faith than his students, because they had created a movement family who were more willing to stay out late in the wilderness, than go home and wait for oppression to break in during a no-knock raid.

That the people reminded Jesus that he wasn’t just an ocean of pain but he was also a healer and street medic who brought people into community.

That when the people learned that John the Baptist was executed by the state, they didn’t hide in fear, but left their homes, and held a public repast for John the Baptist, a meal to honor John’s life and to encourage the living to go on and continue his witness.

That this meal had twelve baskets left over, symbolizing abundance for the twelve tribes of ancient Israel that lived under Roman occupation in modern-day Palestine.

The good news is that even in a world full of grief where good people are taken far too soon, we don’t need to wait for miracles to happen. God is in and among us, the sad, the lonely, the grieving, and the willingness to come alongside those in pain is miracle enough to sustain us for the long journey to liberation.

Thanks be to God.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

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Last year, I compiled a list of resources for Jesuit Volunteers on racial equality here. It is interesting to look back on what I referred people to, and the snapshot in my thinking on racial justice at the time. Some things have changed, others have remained the same. I don’t focus so much on bookmarking articles, for one. I’m more interested in taking action with communities.

This year, I compiled a list of resources for Jesuit Volunteers on justice in St. Louis as well. These resources were inspired by a driving tour we did to prepare them for service in St. Louis. We have some woke folks, including people who asked about black-owned business, how to invest in North City without swooping in unwanted, and how to engage in the Movement for Black Lives. We talked about payday lending, food deserts, redlining, private security firms, state surveillance, and police brutality. There is more work and learning to do.

Let me know, what would you add?

Anti-Racist Events:
Sun 10/23 1-5p
Sun 10/30 6-7:30p
Organizations:
Metropolitan Congregations United http://mcustl.com/  
Metropolitan Congregations United is an interdenominational, multi-racial community organization of religious congregations in the St. Louis Metropolitan Region that are working for a common purpose: to create a better life for all residents.
 

HandsUpUnited is a collective of politically engaged minds building towards the liberation of oppressed Black, Brown and poor people through education, art, civil disobedience, advocacy and agriculture.

Organization for Black Struggle http://obs-onthemove.org/

THE ORGANIZATION FOR BLACK STRUGGLE was founded in 1980 by activists, students, union organizers and other community members in order to fill a vacuum left by the assaults on the Black Power Movement.

Latinos en Axion STL http://www.latinosenaxionstl.org/

Latinos En Axión STL is a grassroots organization created by and for Latino immigrants. We seek to promote individual transformation while we teach community engagement for social and economic justice.   

Palestine Solidarity Committee http://www.stl-psc.org/ 

Saint Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee (STL-PSC) is a project of the St. Louis Instead of War Coalition. We began organizing against Israeli Apartheid and the Israeli occupation in 2009 in response to the calls of Palestinian civil society for organized action against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.

CAIR-MO http://www.cair-mo.org/

CAIR-MO vision is to be a leading advocate for justice and mutual understanding.

Our Mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

International Institute https://www.iistl.org/

With America’s population now drawn from virtually every corner of the world, our nation must grapple with both the promise and risk of being a global society. In addressing this challenge, the International Institute of St. Louis and other members of the century-old USCRI network serve as valuable resources to national policy makers, local communities, governmental bodies, and human service agencies.

Black/Pro-Black Business:

Progressive Emporium & Education Center https://www.facebook.com/ProgressiveEmporiumandEducationCenter/

Bookstore

SweetArt http://sweetartstl.com/

Cafe & bakeshop & art

Diner’s Delight 1504 S Compton Ave, St. Louis, MO 63104

Soul Food, visited by Obama

Cathy’s Kitchen 250 S Florissant Rd, Ferguson, MO 63135 

New Orleans, Mexican, American… based on food from owners’ travels… and it’s all done well. Cathy will take a picture with you if you want. There are desserts in glass jars. 

Blank Space STL https://twitter.com/blankspacestl

We host concerts, art shows, film screenings, parties, meetings, lectures, classes, discussion groups, game nights, and MOST things that draw people together.

Master Pieza http://masterpieza.com/

Pizza, owned by my friend’s husband. So good & crispy!

One Dish Wonders http://onedishwonderful.com/

Started by Ms. Annie Magny, One Dish Wonders is a casserole baking business that offers families home-cooked meals. Check out her catering options as well!

Journalism 

Sarah Kendzior https://sarahkendzior.com/

St. Louis American http://stlamerican.com/

Recommended Education

Forward Through Ferguson http://forwardthroughferguson.org/ 

We Live Here http://news.stlpublicradio.org/post/we-live-here-st-louis-coded-conversation-about-race-and-class

Ferguson and Faith http://www.chalicepress.com/Ferguson-and-Faith-P1541.aspx

I was research assistant for this book.

Ferguson is America: Roots of Rebellion http://fergusonamerica.com/

The Griot Museum of Black History www.thegriotmuseum.com/

 

I ride the bus everyday. During the week, I wait at bus stops near Sts Peter & Paul Catholic Church, a church that feeds people at 5pm from Monday through Friday. And I have some stories. Names edited for confidentiality.

The first time I noticed Frank, he was carrying a chair. Over his shoulder, a wooden chair with teal vinyl cushions, a cane in his other hand. It was impossible not to notice him. Who carries a damn chair out and about on the sidewalk? Where did he get that chair? Did he carry it every day?

“Hey beautiful, I brought this chair for you.”

Like hell you did. You don’t even know me.

“Want to sit down?”

“No thanks,” I smile big. It’s my policy to smile big when I turn someone down, especially if they are nice about asking. No matter how gross or weird I feel about the request, I smile big. It reduces the likelihood of violence. It disarms people. It’s expected.

Except when they are rude. If they are rude, I wear a flat affect. That comes from the time I worked in a state psychiatric facility. Flat affect means there is nothing to react to. Resting social worker face.

“Okay then,” he replies. And sits.

The next day, he is sitting in his comfy chair again. “Do you want to sit down?” he asks.

“No thanks,” I smile big.

“Okay then.” Time passes. My bus is taking a while. He ambles over to me, an earnest expression, his ruddy face gets in my space. I bristle but stand firm. “What’s your name?”

“Karen.”

“My name’s Frank.”

“Nice to meet you.”

He sits back down.

“Karen, let me show you something.” He reaches into his duffel bag, pulls out an envelope full of pictures.

“This might be weird to show you… but I want you to see something.”

Oh dear.

He pulls a photo of him and a young woman. The young woman has his face, but with blonde ringlets. She looks chipper. He looks chipper. When was this?

“Now look at this picture.”

He pulls out another photo. The young woman is mirrored.

“Are they twins?”

“Yes, they are. They’re my daughters. Can you believe it?”

“Yeah, they have your face.”

“When I see you at the bus stop, I think of them.”

The day after, there he is again. He’s on the bus bench, a black bench with hostile anti-sleeping dividers. His comfy chair is behind the fence, broken, collapsed by the dumpster.

“What happened to your chair, Frank?!”

“Someone vandalized it. They broke it,” his buddy answers for him. Frank looks serious, crestfallen.

“It happened this morning. Isn’t that terrible?” Frank inquires.

“Yeah, that’s awful. I’m sorry.”

“Ah it’s alright. Hey, you want to sit down?” asks Frank.

“No thanks,” I smile big.

“She’s always going to say no,” says Frank’s buddy.

“And I’m going to keep asking,” Frank answers.

“And she’ll keep saying no!” exclaims Buddy.

“…or maybe one day she’ll say yes,” adds Frank’s other buddy.

“And maybe another day she’ll say no,” responds Buddy.

“But it’s up to her isn’t it?” Frank looks at me.

Buddy 1 and Buddy 2 look at me, too, expectantly.

“Yes it is,” I answer.

The bus arrives, beeping its way down. I take out my bus pass and walk into the bus, ushered by a chorus of goodbyes.

“Bye Karen!”

“It’s always nice to see you Karen!”

“See you later Karen!”

 

Readings and sermon, with full acknowledgement that it might feel a bit weird/silly because this is recorded with a webcam, rather than with an audience. But sounds fine audio-wise (although there are a few minor hiccups/misreadings)!

Alternate titles include: You Can’t Stop the Revolution and The People United Will Never be Defeated.

Food for thought:

Han & Minjung Theology –

Minjung Theology: A Korean Theology of the People

Minjung Theology: A Korean Contextual Theology – A. Sung Park

COINTELPRO –

The FBI’s Covert Program to Destroy the Black Panther Party

Democracy Now! COINTELPRO

Why the Government’s Monitoring of the Black Lives Matter Movement Should Come as No Surprise

Gentrification as colonialism –

Documentary – Gentrification: The New Age of Gentrification

Gentrification: The New Colonialism in the Modern Day Era

Where the White People Live

False solutions to pain –

Apartheid

“Not in our Name!”

Border Walls

Pope Francis: Building Walls is Not Christian

Highways

Highways Jammed through Poor Neighborhoods

Municipalities

Let it Go: Time to Disincorporate St. Louis Municipalities

FOCUS St. Louis on Municipalities

Charter Schools

A dozen problems with charter schools

Don’t renew TFA’s contract with SFO- From a former TFA teacher

Teach for America Undermines the Fight for Racial Justice

Tenant farmers as rural, disenfranchised whites –

Trump Supporters Aren’t Stupid

Misc –

For the Sake of All

Dr. Jason Purnell & Reinhold Neibuhr Award

Forward Through Ferguson

Thank you:

Melissa Sternhagen – For being a kindred spirit and being thoughtful about what it means to be a white co-conspirator… and understanding that never in a million years would I want to “pulpit-jack” you!

Lorren Buck & Korla Masters – For interrogating the text with me and wrestling with its troubles.

Chelsey Hillyer & Amy Stark – Moral support and being human together.

Harrison Sand – For putting up with my external processing.

Mama – For reminding me to read the Bible.

Testimonials:

Your sermon rocked! It was the best damn sermon about rocks I have ever heard.

“It’s great when you can smack people upside the head and make them laugh at the same time!”

“Praise is political… praise God!”

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Photo Credit: Bryce Krug

Reading the Signs of the Times

Regina Purnell-Gray, Kevin Kriesel, Deborah Krause

Excerpts from “Forward through Ferguson,”
the report of the Ferguson Commission

In 2013, as we prepared to celebrate St. Louis’ 250th birthday,  leaders debated whether or not to engage in community-wide planning, in a wide assessment of the region. Increasingly, civic leaders said no, and it didn’t happen. But on August 9th, young people said yes. We have a Commission because our region’s youth, through their actions, demanded that we rethink things. Youth voice brought us to this moment.”

Mothers and fathers, extended families, faith communities, neighbors and leaders need to be there to support their hopes and dreams. We want to see our children and every citizen living peaceably, protected and safe without harassment. This requires intentional action to build positive relations between community members and police.”

To be faithful to this moment, we must respond and work together with young people to bring about change for their generation, and the next. Leaders are dealers in hope. The commission’s challenge to the leaders of this region – no matter how, where, or who you lead – is to engage in the hard work of creating real hope.”

*Scripture Readings

Toni Crigler

           Psalm 118:19-24 CEB

 Left:            Open the gates of righteousness for me

so I can come in and give thanks to the Lord!

Right:                    This is the Lord’s gate; those who are righteous enter through it.

Left:            I thank you because you answered me,

because you were my saving help.

Right:                    The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone!

                   The Lord has done this and it’s amazing to witness!

Left:            This is the day the Lord acted; we will rejoice and celebrate in it!

        Mark 12:1-12

12 Jesus spoke to them in parables. “A man planted a vineyard, put a fence around it, dug a pit for the winepress, and built a tower. Then he rented it to tenant farmers and took a trip. When it was time, he sent a servant to collect from the tenants his share of the fruit of the vineyard. But they grabbed the servant, beat him, and sent him away empty-handed. Again the landowner sent another servant to them, but they struck him on the head and treated him disgracefully. He sent another one; that one they killed. The landlord sent many other servants, but the tenants beat some and killed others. Now the landowner had one son whom he loved dearly. He sent him last, thinking, They will respect my son. But those tenant farmers said to each other, ‘This is the heir. Let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ They grabbed him, killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

“So what will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy those tenants and give the vineyard to others. 10  Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. 11 The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing in our eyes?”[a]

12 They wanted to arrest Jesus because they knew that he had told the parable against them. But they were afraid of the crowd, so they left him and went away.

One:            Hear what the Spirit is saying to the church.

Many:          Thanks be to God.

———————

Sermon: Living in the Plot Twist

Pastoral caregivers know that sarcasm is the language of anger, and if we are to believe Mark, Jesus is pissed. After all, Jesus is steeped in han, described by minjung theologians as what you feel when your people have been exploited, brutalized, and killed by colonizers for years. That bitter-hot feeling of rage and resentment that makes your blood boil, twisting your insides into knots, overwhelming you with the need to fight for justice or risk being eaten alive from the inside by han, this inherited sickness that you get when you have been sinned against throughout time and space, across generations and across the diaspora.

Han runs through Jesus’ veins as he tries to organize a liberation movement with the Roman Empire’s COINTELPRO tracking his every move. He’s fighting for the people, but the people get on his nerves. They ask, “Isn’t this the bastard son of a working class man? Where did he go to high school? Nothing good comes from that neighborhood.” Just as Jesus’ temper is really getting out of control—he cursed a fig tree for failing to bear fruit when it was out of season and he flipped a bunch of tables in church—the religious establishment cranks up the heat, “By what authority are you doing these things? Who gave you this authority to do them?”

Jesus claps back: “Haven’t you read this scripture, The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness?”

The story of oppression says that our world is defined by the builders, those with greater privilege and power, who create and guard our systems and institutions, who decide which stones can remain in the vineyard and which stones are to be rejected. The story of oppression says that God planted our world and went on vacation. You’re born into your position and your story of oppression: whether you are servant/slave, tenant farmer, or landowner’s child. Servants and slaves might be in the best position to be prophets, but are dehumanized and exploited, at risk for being brutalized or killed. They ask, “Why are things this way?” Tenant farmers might be able make a living off the land, but are fearful of being exploited or becoming the lowest rung on the social ladder. They ask, “How can I make sure I am never the slave?” The children of landowners might be able to inherit wealth and status, but are vulnerable to being killed by those who have little to lose and much to gain. They ask, “What can I do to put distance between myself and those people?”

The world is filled with exploitation and violence, greed and fear, death and destruction—Isaiah 5 says that when there is injustice, everyone is trapped in suffering. Privilege doesn’t save the landowner’s child and violence doesn’t save the tenant farmer. So often we think that the solution to all of this is to build apartheid walls, or border walls, or freeways and highways and municipalities and electoral districts and charter schools and suburbs and gated communities and “up-and-coming” neighborhoods that all essentially do the same thing… because gentrification is the new colonialism. We believe that threats always lie outside the fence and outside our borders, when in fact, Mark tells us that threats are on the inside.

With a clapback from Psalm 118, Mark writes a plot twist into the story of oppression: The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. The Lord has done this, and it’s amazing to witness. In Isaiah 5, the vineyard has been cleared of stones, but in Psalm 118, the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone. Psalm 118 is a song for survivors who are chanting at the gates of righteousness, impatiently waiting for the Temple doors to open so they can praise God.

They’ve been distressed, so they praise God. They know that God is on their side, so they praise God. They know that haters gon’ hate, so they praise God. They know it’s better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in mortals, so they praise God. They know it is better to take refuge in the Lord than to put confidence in any politician, so they praise God. The military might of entire nations surround them on every side, so they praise God. They push hard and are falling, so they praise God. It feels like God is punishing them, but STILL they survive, so they praise God.

Find a neighbor and say, “Neighbor… praise is political.”

Find another neighbor and say, “So neighbor… praise God.”

The story of oppression says that the world is being cut apart by walls and fences, we are surrounded by death and destruction, and God is on vacation. But the story of resurrection is the plot twist that says, our world is being rebuilt by the survivors, the strong, stubborn stones that stayed in the vineyard, even after the builders of white supremacy, racism, and colonialism tried to cast them out.

The stones that the builders rejected have become the cornerstones. We will not be cut apart by walls and fences, but will be built up into a new kindom of God. We may be buried and left for dead, but in the spring, we rise. God is not on vacation, but God IS ordaining new management. In the stones the builders rejected, God is still speaking, and teaching, and learning, and listening, and building, and resisting, and dreaming, and fighting, and rising, and always arriving. Therefore we are not moving forward in spite of Ferguson, but through it. The Lord is doing this, and it’s amazing to witness! …so can I get a witness?

Amen. ————————————————————————————————-

Benediction:

May you go forward through Ferguson, out into the streets to let the survivors make disciples out of you, remembering that praise is political. The stones the builders rejected have become the cornerstones! The Lord has done this and it is amazing to witness! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia!

Other reflections & acknowledgements forthcoming.