Via Negativa: Our Hunger for Faith

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Matthew 6:24-34), we find our guy, like the prophet Joel (Joel 2:21-27) before him, turning his attention to the beauty of creation all around them.

He starts talking about birds and lilies – and tells his audience not to worry about their lives, what they will eat or drink or wear. Jesus tells them not to worry about right now – and not to worry about tomorrow. God knows what you need and God will provide these things.

It makes you wonder if Jesus was just a little bit off his rocker. I mean, has he taken a good look at the world? In his time, as well as in our modern time, there is a lot to worry about. In Jesus’ time, as in our time, starvation is a very real worry for many people – and not just in some far flung part of the world – there are people starving in the city of Columbia right now.

In Jesus’ time, as well as our own, there are people who sleep under stars every night, and not because they have chosen to leave the comfort of their home for weekend of camping. This is how they live, without a four walls, a roof and a floor to call home. Homelessness continues to be a growing problem in our world.

Poverty, too, persists since Jesus’ day – people without enough money to feed or clothe themselves, and yet, Jesus has the temerity to say, “Do not worry?” What world is he living in?  He’s living in a dangerous world – a world that threatened the order of the society around him and continues to threaten our modern day society, if only we’ll actually live into what he calls us to do.

The passage we read this morning starts like this: “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

Which master do we serve in the United States of America? Despite the God-soaked political waters we swim in – we do not serve God. We serve wealth. We worship money. We publish lists of the most wealthy people on earth – give them accolades, treat them like kings and queens. We serve them. We build our economies around the idea that wealth is better than poverty, that more is better than less, and that getting all we can before we die is entire purpose of life.

“No one can serve two masters,” Jesus says, because when we choose to serve wealth instead of God, we worry constantly. We check our bank balances obsessively. We get security systems at our houses to protect our stuff. We worry about whether or not we’ll be able to buy the best and latest gadgets for Christmas. We worry about whether we’ll have the most state-of-the-art car, and heaven forbid, we can’t walk around in last year’s fashions.

We live in an economy where we have faith in stuff, faith in money, faith in wealth – and this is exactly where our leaders want us to be. They want us to live in an anxious state of scarcity, afraid that there won’t  be enough to go around. That way, we’ll laud them when they hoard their own wealth. We’ll give them tax breaks, call them “job creators” and make them our heroes.

Money, per se, is not the problem – it’s that money is finite, and whenever we crave anything finite, we can never have enough of it, because there isn’t enough to go around. That drives us to want to get all we can for ourselves while we can.

Jesus invites us to consider a different world – a world where we put our relationship with the Holy first – where we put our faith exclusively on the Lord of creation, not the lord of money. This is the world of the infinite. Here, we find an infinite supply of faith, an infinite supply of love, an infinite supply of generosity, and an infinite supply of peace.  This is a place that operates on a different economy.

When new friends come into my life, or when I get a new puppy or kitten, I don’t have to ration out a finite supply of love to the growing list of people and creatures around me. No! When more people and creatures come into my life, my love multiplies. It grows large enough to cover them all. In this Holy economy, love cannot be stockpiled or hoarded like money – instead it grows and flows with abundance.

When we enter into this world we find our worries disappear – we understand there is more than enough for all of us, and this is a world where our faith grows and flows with abundance. There is no scarcity, which is really what creates our fear and worry.  Abundance produces freedom.  The choice is ours, which master will win our faith?

Breathe deeply.

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The Paradox of Gratitude

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

It was 13th century theologian Meister Eckhart who said, “If the only prayer you say is ‘thank you,’ that will be enough.”

When we think about generosity, we don’t often think about saying thank you, because, well, we’re the ones giving something away. We may expect to be thanked, but not to say thank you. But, being a good receiver is part of generosity. Often the best way we can give is to receive – and to receive with generosity of spirit.

It’s often easier to give than to receive – because by receiving we think we are taking, or incurring a debt. But receiving is part of giving. Like the yin and yang, the two are not opposites, but pieces of the same whole – that holy whole that is the true energy of this universe.

To receive generously, we must remember to say thank you – and remember that true generosity never counts the cost or incurs a debt – but simply sends the energy of love in, through and around this world.

Sometimes, though, we can give generously to people who might never think to say thank you, or who may never know that it was us who gave so wouldn’t even be able to thank us if they wanted to. But, being able to say “thank you” in the midst of generosity is what makes the whole thing a holy endeavor. The giving and the receiving are intrinsically linked, two sides of the same coin – and even if it is never said, the thank you is always implied.

Kindness and generosity should always evoke a thank you, even if it is only from the giver. If we cannot say thank you for the ability to be generous, then our generosity is not genuine – we’re just going through the motions. This is the miracle of generosity – even if no one we give to ever says thank you – a genuine act of generosity has both giving and receiving in it, because when we truly give – when we give without strings attached, with an attitude that does not count debt and expects nothing in return – we receive way more than we can ever give. We receive the rush of knowing that we have helped another human being. More than that, we receive the gratitude of the Holy who thanks us with more and more blessings and more and more opportunities to give generously and love wastefully.

I don’t know why Eckhart said his now famous phrase, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it came to him while he was doing an act of generosity – feeling the grateful thanks of the Holy moving in, through and around him as he blessed the life of another human being.

I invite you, Jubilants, to give generously, love wastefully, open yourself to generously receive from others and always remember to say thank you.

Via Negativa: Our Hunger for Love

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

“Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might.”

YOU shall love. You SHALL love. You shall LOVE …

This particular piece of Hebrew scripture (Deuteronomy 6:1-9) is so sacred to the Israelites, it has a name all its own. This particular verse is called “The Shema.” It spells out, quite clearly and succinctly, the basic tenet of the Jewish faith – to love God, with everything, no matter what. No matter what fates befall you, whether it be good fortune, bad fortune, indifferent fortune, whatever. If you’re safe and at home or in danger and exiled to a foreign land. If your crops are good, or die in the fields before harvest. If your storehouse is full or empty: “Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might.”

This is the prayer to be said in the morning and in the evening. This prayer is so central to the Jewish faith that it is to be taught to children, to be spoken while at home or on the road, to be said when getting up and when going to bed, to be written on your hand, on your forehead and on your doorposts. This prayer undergirds the entire faith of the Jewish people.

“Hear, O Israel. The Lord our God is one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and all your might.”

This is not a kind of love you give because God is good to you. This is not the kind of love you give because you’re grateful for every blessing you’ve received or all the material wealth God has given to you. No, this is a crazy love – a love that gives of itself no matter what – a love that God expects no matter what is going on in your life.

“You shall love …” the passage says – not because God loved us first, not because God gives us good things, not because God is never absent, not because of anything God could do for us. “You shall love … ” simply because God is – not because of anything God has done or might do.

“You shall love …” is not a command to do one thing in order to gain another thing. It is not a bargain or a conditioned kind of love. “You shall love …” means just that – you shall love, with no strings attached, no expectations, no conditions, no limits, without thinking, without judging, without counting what you gain or what you lose by loving.

“You shall love …” It is nothing more than a call to come into relationship with the holy and with each other. It is a call to open our hearts … no matter the danger, no matter the cost, no matter the consequences. Do whatever it takes to remind you, tell it to your kids, recite love day and night, write it on your hand, write it on your forehead, write it on your doorpost. “You shall love,” in all circumstances.

As Rumi reminds us love “risks everything and asks for nothing. Love gambles away every gift God bestows.

“You shall love …” even if it costs you everything.    That’s some crazy love.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Negativa: Our Hunger for Generosity

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story, (Mark 12:38-44) we find our guy hanging out at the temple in Jerusalem. He’s dropped in to do a little people watching … and what he sees is a deep lesson in generosity.

While he is watching many rich people came  by and put in large sums of money in the treasury box. Now, how in the world would Jesus know who was rich and who was poor? Certainly, their manner of dress would give them away – the rich would like to dress in more ostentatious or fashionable clothing. Like the scribes Jesus talks about, they’re probably in long, beautiful robes, made of the finest material.

The other people around them were also probably noticing them and honoring them or trying to rub elbows with them to improve their own social standing by being seen with them. They would probably go from the alms box to the best seat in the temple. So, the rich were pretty easy to spot because they made a big show out of their giving.

The widow, though, she’s a different story. The other people at the temple were so busy ingratiating themselves to the rich or fawning over their hand-woven robes that they probably took little, or no notice of her as she approached the treasury. Jesus, however, saw the amazing generosity of this woman who had been marginalized into invisibility by the society she lived in.

As a widow, this woman had no role in society – and most likely very little money. The inheritance from her husband would not have gone to her, but to her oldest son. So, she goes from being dependent on husband, to being dependent on her son, so her fortunes rested on whether or not sonny-boy had any love or compassion for his dear old mom.

Apparently, this widow was not well-taken care of by a son, or perhaps she only had girls, which meant her money would have gone to some other male heir who may have rejected her. Either way, widows in Jesus’ world had little chance to provide for themselves and were always relying on the kindness and generosity of others.

Perhaps that’s what made this widow put everything she had – two little “mites” or copper coins, which weren’t worth much – into the treasury. Perhaps she had received amazing acts of kindness and generosity from others that opened her heart so wide that she was able to be a channel for that kindness, giving away the last bit of her money to the temple.

Honestly, I think the lady was crazy. Not to give her last bit of money away, but because she gave it to the temple. Just before the widow gets to the alms box, Jesus has already warned us of the treachery of the institution she is giving to.

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. ”

“They devour widows’ houses,” and here is this widow  giving every thin mite she had to this awful institution. How does that make any sense?

I think this widow instinctively understood something that theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer would expound upon thousands of years later as he sat in a Nazi prison for trying to assassinate Adolph Hitler – the idea of “cheap grace.”

This is what the long-robed scribes embodied – a cheap grace that demanded little from them except to give from their abundance and enjoy the accolades and admiration of the world around them. That cheap grace is still available in many churches today!

This widow, however, practiced what Bonhoeffer called “costly grace,” which required her – and us – to give everything we have – our last dime, our last ounce of energy, our last drop of compassion – to anyone who is in need, whether they be friend or foe – whether they be an institution we love, or an institution we hate.

The widow gives because she is a witness to “costly grace” to an institution that sold, and continues to sell it at a deep discount. The widow gives because she understands that, even though this form of organized religion will devour her on the spot, her generosity is a witness against the temple’s greed and indifference.

Jesus recognized, and invites us to recognize, that her giving is a revolutionary act. Her gift will not be appreciated. It will never be acknowledged, and the money changers may even toss out her meager gift – but by giving she “has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury,” because she has given her all, even to an institution that does not deserve it.

This is the key to generosity, Jubilants, we give wastefully, not worrying whether those who receive are “worthy” or not. We give as a witness to the wasteful love that the Holy has bestowed on each of us. This love cannot be hoarded, or it turns into the corruption Jesus condemned the temple for. This love turns bad when you try to store it up.  The only way to keep it fresh, to keep it going, is to give it away – even when it is the last ounce of love you have.

Breathe deeply.

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Songs used this Sunday:

Hand to Hold On To – John Mellencamp
Kind and Generous – Natalie Merchant
Try a Little Kindness – Glen Campbell

Via Negativa: Our Hunger for a New World

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

To be honest, sometimes I hate this world. I hate the injustice. I hate the suffering. I hate the poverty. I hate the despair. I hate the grief. In these moments, I completely understand the attraction of end of the world predictions. The world is going to hell in a hand basket and I feel helpless to stop it. I see the injustice, the pain, the suffering, and I can’t do anything to stop it. The world breaks our hearts and eventually we become numb to it. Forsaking this world for the next becomes a pretty attractive idea — let God destroy all this madness and take us to paradise. When I reach this point I find myself wishing all those end of time prognosticators were right, and this world would just end. This is the point where I find myself angrily shaking my fist at God and asking, “Is this the best you can do?”

When I finally calm down, though, I hear God pose the question right back to me, “Is this the best YOU can do?” Look closely at what Jesus is telling his disciples about this world in our Jesus story this week.  Everything he talks about – wars, rumors of wars, famine, nation rising against nation, even earthquakes, these are all man-made events. Remember, we can’t read our modern knowledge of science into this text. In Jesus’ time, earthquakes were the result of man’s disobedience to God – not the natural shifting of tectonic plates. Earthquakes were seen as a divine omen or a divine punishment because of something humans had done or had neglected to do.

Whenever we read this passage (Mark 13:1-8), we immediately think that Jesus is predicting the end of the world. This is known as an “apocalyptic” passage.

But the word “apocalypse” doesn’t mean “the end of the world,” it means “revelation” – and this is what Jesus is giving his disciples, and us, in this passage.

He’s telling us this world, full of war and starving people, is definitely NOT the best we can do. Instead, he’s revealing a whole new world — one that we can create.

These signs, he said, are not signs of the end, but instead are “birth pangs.” The pain of birth is not the end of creation, but the beginning. Jesus is asking his disciples, and through this scripture, Jesus is asking us to stop living in a world torn apart by war and famine. Instead, we are called to bring about the end of the world as we know it – and give birth to a new world.

As followers of Christ, we are called to create a new world – a world without greed, a world without injustice, a world without hunger, a world without poverty, a world without suffering, a world without despair, a world without grief. The end will come, Jesus said – but it’s the end of a world that sorely needs to end – a world where it’s “us” against “them.”

The world we are called to create is the one Rumi talks about – that field out there beyond wrongdoing and rightdoing. That field where we can meet and lie in the grass together — all of us in the world lying together in peaceful silence, where the words we use to divide one another — like “each other” no longer make sense.

Both Jesus and Rumi are calling us to a world where there is no “us” and “them” but instead into a world of wordless peace. We get there when we begin to see the world as not “us” versus “them” but as “some of us for all of us” – where we understand that we’re called to be healers of the world, to give hope to those in despair, to give food and clothing to those in need, and to bring about the end of a world filled with greed and injustice. We are to witness, and give rise to, the birth of a new world.

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