Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Certainty and Mystery

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (Luke 12:22-32), we find our guy talking about lilies and ravens, but what he’s really teaching is how to make room at the table for both certainty and mystery.

Consider the lilies or the birds, he said. They don’t work or strive or try to change anyone or anything around them. They simply become who God has intended them to become.

They live fully in the moment, accepting the certainty and mystery of their lives.  We, too, can fully live in that certainty and mystery of life, if we’ll slow down, pay attention and deeply observe the world around us.

Those of us who love certainty will consider lilies much differently than those who enjoy mystery. Our certainty loving friends can tell us a lot about lilies – they come from a family of more than 250 genera of plants. Most of them grow from bulbs, corms, rhizomes or tubers. Lilies, they will tell us have three petals, three sepals and three or six stamen and the fruit is a three-celled capsule or a berry.

But, that tells us very little about the mystery of a lily. Mystery, theologian Matthew Fox tells us, “is that which stops us short: which touches a need deeply felt in us: which changes us by attracting us outside of our own petty worlds that we carry in our heads … to call to mind something bigger than ourselves.”

All the facts in the world about lilies will not transport us to a place of deep need within ourselves or draw us from our petty concerns, only contemplation of the lily itself can do that.  To fully consider the lilies, or the birds or the grass of the field, we have to slow down. You can’t consider the lilies in passing. You have to stop and look … and look deeply — really observe the lily, be present with the lily, smell the lily, touch it, be in the moment with the lily … and be silent.

This is how we must both handle our certainty and our mystery … by being present for both … observing them deeply and knowing that they, too, are like everything in this world … impermanent, passing away before our very eyes.

It is only in this sense of holding everything in this world lightly that we can even survive. If are too certain, or too uncertain, life will overtake us. We will either become concrete in our beliefs or swept away by every new and interesting thought or doctrine. When Jesus invites us to consider the lilies and the birds, he invites us to deeply examine everything that comes before us, contemplate it and understand that it may either enrich us in the moment or not. If it doesn’t, then move on.

Earlier in this chapter of Luke, Jesus warns his followers that those who are certain about God and how God works in the world will persecute them for questioning their certainty.  So, we’re told not to worry, to keep being in the moment, contemplating the beauty of the mystery around us, because it is those pursuing certainty who will wear themselves out persecuting others and trying to make the world in their own image.

Jubilants, we are called to live with an expansive sense of God, knowing that God cannot be captured by any one explanation, any one religion or any one doctrine or dogma. Instead, God defies definition. The God we must come to know is  both the God of mystery and the God of the certainty. We must embrace this expansive, wild God who rises above all of our ideas about the Holy. But, we must embrace both sides of the equation and hold both our certainty and mystery lightly.

Breathe deeply.

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Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Giving and Receiving

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Hebrew scripture (Genesis 45:1-15) reading this morning, we find Joseph, of the famous Technicolor coat fame, greeting his brothers who have come to Egypt seeking food because their homeland has fallen into famine. They meet Joseph, who is now a young emissary to the Pharaoh. The brothers did not recognize this fancy, Egyptian speaking man as their long lost kid brother.

And why would they? They believed Joseph had died all those years ago in that pit where left him after brutally beating him. Joseph immediately recognizes his kinfolk however … and this is where a true giver meets a group of true takers.

We have to wonder if it even crossed Joseph’s mind to exact a little revenge on his brothers for their dastardly deeds. A true taker would have wanted his kinfolk to pay for how they had treated him. But, Joseph is someone Adam Grant would have recognized as a true giver – someone who can give, even if those they give to have caused them great pain in the past.

Joseph is a true giver because he is forgiving … he is for – giving on every level.

Not only does he forgive his brothers, but he sees a grand Holy master plan in the hardships that he faced, as well as the great successes he achieved in the years since he was rescued from the pit by a passing Egyptian army official.

“God sent me here,” he tells his brothers, “to keep you alive.”

How easily it could have gone the other way for the begging, taking brothers. But, Joseph is not like them. Instead, he models to his brothers how the Holy acts toward all of us. In God’s world, humanity is all a bunch of takers … and ungrateful ones at that. We beat God up and leave God for dead in a pit every day whenever we refuse to engage in even the smallest act of giving, or even the tiniest act of graciously receiving.

None of us seem to recognize the Josephs that surround is our everyday lives … the men and women God sends ahead of us to keep us alive … to give us just what we need, when we need it, expecting nothing in return.

Oh, but we’re just as poor at receiving as we are at giving. We feel guilty when we receive, because we can’t give back, or we feel indebted, or we feel like a burden. I dare say most of us are “matchers” when it comes to receiving – we keep a tally of what we owe people and cut off our capacity to receive because we see ourselves drowning in debt to others.

But, the Josephs of this world, those givers who expect nothing in return are happy to say, “I will provide for you … with no strings attached.”

Why is it so difficult for us to accept that gift … to open our own two hands and simply receive the love and grace the Holy offers to us in every moment?

Breathe deeply.

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Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Love and Hate

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

In our Jesus story (John 21:15-19), we find our guy hanging out with his disciples on the beach, eating a post resurrection breakfast of freshly caught fish.

During this visit, Jesus and Peter have what must have been a very perplexing conversation for both of them. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves him, and three times Jesus answer, “Yes, of course I do.”

But, as odd as the conversation sounds in English, it’s positively startling in the Greek version. The first two times Jesus asks Peter, “do you love me,” he uses the word agape for love. This is the word we use when we talk of that expansive, unconditional love, or good will, for others. This kind of love is enormous, and doesn’t depend on us actually liking the object of our agape love, but it does depend on us having awe and reverence for the tent of the Holy pitched within the person we are directing that agape love at.

When Peter answers those first two question he responds, “You know that I love you.” But, Peter uses a different word for love. He says, “You know that I phileo you.” This word, phileo, means to like, to have affection for, a brotherly or sisterly love.

Finally, on that third time, Jesus asks Peter, “Do you phileo me?”

Again, Peter affirms that he does indeed, phileo, or deeply likes Jesus. It’s like Jesus is asking, “Do you LOVE me?” and Peter is responding, “Of course I love you, bro! Mean it!”

Reading this passage in a new way, you know Peter’s words must have cut Jesus deeply, but perhaps they didn’t surprise him because this conversation comes after Peter had denied even knowing that Jesus dude when the Romans came along and strung him up on a cross.

Perhaps, when Peter had seen what the authorities had done to Jesus for talking about that agape kind of love, he realized what the price would be if he actually embraced the ultimate power, and danger, of that kind of love.  Perhaps, even in this conversation with Jesus, Peter was hedging his bets, splitting semantic hairs over love with Jesus.

But, we’re all very much like Peter, wanting to be loving yes, but only to a point. It’s not so much that we reserve the right to hate, but we reserve the right to limit our love – to give just what feels comfortable … that phileo kind of love that only demands a little bit of our affection, and not that agape love that can demand everything from us, perhaps even our very lives.

It’s no wonder we’re afraid of the power of love – it can make one person weep and another one sing. It can make us sad, it can make us mad – either emotionally or mentally. The power of love is almost as strong as hate, and is often even more dangerous, not just to the object of our affection, but to ourselves as well.  This is why the world tells us to temper our love – reserve it for those who deserve it – and hate those who don’t.

But, Jesus still asks us today, through this passage, do we agape love him, and through him love the whole world, or are we still like Peter, only able to extend phileo – or brotherly and sisterly love this world?

Breathe deeply.

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Via Positiva: Room at the Table – Room for Life and Death

By: JUBILEE! Minister Rev. Candace Chellew-Hodge

With passion pray.

With passion work.

With passion make love.

With passion eat and drink and dance and play.

Why look like a dead fish in this ocean of God?

–Rumi

In our Jesus story (Matthew 14:13-21), we find our guy’s disciples getting a little hungry. The crowds had been following Jesus around all day and night was beginning to fall. The disciples come to Jesus and ask for a break.

“Send the crowds away,” they ask Jesus, “so they can go into the village and buy food for themselves.”

Certainly, even today, Jesus’ response seems as perplexing to us as it was to the disciples back then.

“They don’t have to leave,” Jesus says. “You feed them.”

And, again, the disciples … and we … completely miss the point. The disciples go right for the literal interpretation of Jesus’ words and complain that they’ve only got a few loaves of bread and some fish and that won’t feed everyone gathered here.

You can almost hear Jesus’ forehead smack into his palm. It seems like he performs the miracle of the loaves and fishes just to shut them up and perhaps he’ll try another day to teach them … and us … about the pop-corking party of life and death they are taking part in, whether they realized it or not.

What we, and the disciples, miss is that just before this act of giving life in the form of food to the crowd, Jesus was grieving the death of his friend John the Baptist at the hand of King Herod. He had withdrawn from the crowds when he heard the news, to grieve in private. But, the pop-corking party of life was still teeming within the crowds that followed him. Despite his private grief, Jesus still had a duty to take part in life’s party.

He did not send them away so he could continue to dwell on death, and he did not avoid his own grief by immersing himself in his work. Instead, he tried to teach his disciples a lesson on making room for both life and death … which they completely missed, of course.

“You feed them,” Jesus told his disciples, and continues to tell us. We cannot avoid our responsibility in either life or death. We must be present for it all. When we float like a dead fish in this ocean of God, we feed no one. When we avoid death at the expense of life, we feed no one. When avoid life and become enveloped by a fascination with death, we feed nobody.

To truly feed ourselves and others, we must be willing to embrace, and live into the paradox of this world – where life and death both have a role to play.

The idea of a cheeseburger in paradise, Jubilants, embraces both life and death in so many ways … the sacrifice of the animal for the meat, the giving of the cow for the cheese, the grain for the bread, the vegetables for the fixin’s … all of nature contributes to this feast.

The cheeseburger itself, however, when consumed in excess, can become the cause of our own untimely death … but, taken together … eating a cheeseburger in this paradise we call life, can be one way to honor, and embrace, this pop-corking celebration of life and death.

Breathe deeply.

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