I stayed home from church today. I stayed to make soup with the Holy Spirit. Not
just any soup mind you, but my own Vegetable Soup. You know the kind, soup
filled with chopped fresh potatoes, celery, carrots, turnips, garlic and
shallot and fresh herbs. All of them carefully
chopped up into bit sized pieces.
There is something comforting about chopping vegetables, watching the pile grow. Each vegetable adding their own special color, fragrance, and appeal to the pile. Shallots and garlic add their pungent scents, while potatoes add earthiness and carrots and tomatoes add a bit of sweetness. I did notice that the carrot coins kept rolling around the counter as if they wanted to escape. Celery’s spiciness is always appealing to me. I love the color contrast between the red pepper and the parsley it always makes me smile and HS, that’s Holy Spirit for those of you not on speaking terms, said, “my favorite is the hot banana pepper you add in just the right amount to give a bit of heat to the soup. Please don’t tell Jesus that he thinks I’m weird.”
HS, and I discussed the value of each vegetable and whether
or not it was suitable for such a wonderful soup. We pared and peeled when
needed and over-all we decided I had picked good vegetables from the market. HS
also reminded me that I had some fresh tomatoes that would add a nice bit of
freshness. These were the last from my garden, so I offered a prayer and HS
blessed them. I mean you can’t have too many prayers or too many blessings, can
I then went out into my garden and HS and I picked rosemary,
sage and fennel. Thanking each one for their contribution to the soup. We only took a little of the thyme because it
needs to grow a bit more, it’s a bit over picked, and HS said the basil was
just too tired and needs to go live with her now.
HS asked if I had any frozen or canned vegetables available
and looking through the freezer, I found a packet of squash and peas adding
them to my growing pile of vegetables. In the pantry, I found corn, beans, and
garbanzo beans which when rinsed to remove excess salt (who wants that in their
soup) added them to the bowl.
After browning the shallot and garlic, adding chopped fresh turmeric
and a couple strands of saffron (yes. I use saffron) I dumped all of the chopped,
frozen, and canned veg’s into the pot along with vegetable broth, water, and
all of the chopped herbs. HS asked me “will
you be adding the secret ingredient” and I said “Shhh, If I tell it wouldn’t be
a secret.” HS blessed our efforts and
our soup is now simmering to wonderful goodness. We are currently considering baking a loaf of
I suppose you think I am weird, imagining I am cooking
alongside the Holy Spirit. Well one, I don’t care what you think, and two, how
do you know I wasn’t. You see I often
feel I am not alone, that someone walks beside me, or sits with me as I read. I
guess I could be insane, but I rather think that it doesn’t matter. I sit and meditate, I offer prayers, and they
must go somewhere don’t they. So why couldn’t the Holy Spirit come and spend
time with me as I cook?
I’m not one to run around and brag or tell people “Jesus
saves” (he doesn’t by the way, but I’ll save that thought for later). I rather
let what I do and say inform people. I will share this soup with others,
guests, (Luke hint, hint) and of course my husband will enjoy our efforts. I have been known to take soup to those who
need it because feeding others always brings a smile to their faces, and mine,
besides it is a mandate of the Holy Spirit.
To create something that will nourishes others is such a
wonderful feeling. To feel the vegetable
in your hand, pick it from the ground or vine gives me a connection with all
creation. I know where my food comes from, how it was grown I watched the sun shine
on the baby plants and the rain water it. I watched as the bees pollinated my
tomato blossoms and herb blossoms and we shook the dirt off of potatoes,
carrots, and onions, so yes, I know where my food comes from and who to thank.
I am grateful for the opportunity to spend time with the HS to offer my thanks
for food that feeds my body as her presence feeds my spirit. So, if I think the Holy Spirit is right there
with me in the kitchen it means I know who to thank for all I have
“Why not share your recipe and a prayer, now that you have
made everyone hungry?”
“What a wonderful idea.”
“Ok, here is my Basic Vegetable soup recipe for you to
change up and make your own.”
My prayer for you is:
Holy Spirit, we ask you to bless the ground that nourished our
vegetables, the sun that shone upon them, and the rain that watered them. Bless
the hands that harvested and carried them to us and bless the hands that
prepared them. May this soup bless our
bodies as you bless our souls. AMEN
Ruth’s Vegetable Soup (This recipe freezes well)
4 cups vegetable broth or 2 cups broth and 2 cups water
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon butter
Vegetables: (all vegetables are optional, add meat if you wish)
Carrots (diced), Peas, Corn either Fresh, frozen, or canned
½ of a small to medium shallot, diced
1-3 garlic cloves, minced,
1 15oz. Can diced tomatoes
1 or 2 medium fresh tomatoes, diced
½ to 1 red pepper, diced
Either 1-3 small hot banana Peppers, or 2 chipotle peppers, (+1 to 2 tsps.
adobe sauce), Diced
and Herbs: (change up the herbs to your taste)
1 teaspoon dry Turmeric or 2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh
few threads of saffron
1 teaspoon dried thyme or 2 teaspoons fresh thyme
½ teaspoon Herbs de Provence
2 teaspoons fresh rosemary
2 fresh bay leaves
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Melt the oil and butter in a large soup pot, add the onions
and garlic. Add the turmeric and saffron, cook until the onions are soft and
golden. Add the celery and peppers to
the pot stir until covered in the turmeric liquid. Add the rest of the vegetables, broth (or
broth/water), herbs and spices. Simmer
for 1 to 2 hours until all vegetables are “al dente.” Serve hot with fresh bread. If you wish top
with sharp cheddar cheese and chives.
Note: This is an
easily modified recipe. You can add
squash, or other vegetables, or change herbs or spices (I use Turmeric because
of its anti-cancer properties). Fresh Parsley is lovely. You can add meat to this but I am a
vegetarian so that is problematic for me.
I wonder if one of religions biggest difficulty is that we
cannot respond to joy. We remember and celebrate our failures but do not
remember or celebrate our successes. In the Hebrew bible it is the battles that
are recorded not the moments of peace. In the Christian New Testament, it is
the pain and sorrow that is highlighted not the holding of a child or the
details of the wedding. We live a
Yes, there are moments in scripture where joy can be found
but if you stack them up against the moments of violence you will discover that
violence tips the scale. In Christianity
the most important holiday is Easter, the resurrection, but it is Maundy
Thursday, and “Good” Friday that receives the press. The return of
Jesus must have been incredibly wonderful, people must have been overjoyed. But
that is not what we hear.
Why are the happy
times, the good times not news? Today the only things on news shows of any kind
are who killed who, who challenges who for power, who hates who. That is not the world I want to live in, but
it appears that is the world we have created from the very beginning.
Violence seems to be hardwired into who we are. Our earliest
ancestors survived on meat killed by their own hand or by other predators. I
get that, I understand the need to eat and feed our families, but there is
always a but isn’t there, the vast majority of humans don’t need to kill to
eat. Most of us can go down to the local market and get what we need. Yes, food inequality exists, and it does so
because we have people who feel they are the only ones and “hoard”
resources. There are enough resources on
this planet to feed every man, woman, and child without letting anyone suffer,
or go hungry.
We have that inequality because we have people who claim
ownership to more than they need and we have others who will fight, even kill,
to get their share. Not a pretty picture of humanity, the supposed children of
God. The prophets, Jesus, Buddha, and Mohammad all tried to change us from
petty, hording, selfish people. We haven’t listened, we continue to be selfish,
we continue to champion and celebrate hate and violence, and we continue to
destroy the planet we live on for our selfish, violent ends.
But, again with the but, If, just if, we imagined a world
where violence didn’t exist what would it look like? What if we celebrated the
joy of life lived with each other, what if we celebrated the joy of living on a
planet that is amazingly beautiful and filled with joy? How would that world
look like, what would we look like? What would our communities look like? You
know I can’t imagine it because I have no words for that kind of joy, that kind
of celebration, that kind of love. Imagination doesn’t need a written word, but
it does need visual ones and within our human existence there are no words,
visual or written, that can describe that kind of life. That makes me sad, very
So much of our lives are made up of survival, of protecting
ourselves from what is outside our door that we have forgotten life in the “Garden”
where fear and hate and struggle were unknown.
I hope we never make it to the stars or find people on other planets
because we in our infinitely violent, stupid, selfish ways would destroy them.
All of this doesn’t mean we should stop recognizing
suffering and be modern day Pollyanna’s. No that isn’t what this all about,
rather it’s about ignoring the good in this world, pushing it aside to revel in
sorrow, in violence, in pain, and in hate.
When we push joy aside and only focus on the non-joy (is that a word?)
we make our lives smaller and we choose to live lives that are less significant.
We are approaching what should be a time of great joy in the
Church calendar. Advent and Christmas should be a time filled with joy of
anticipation of new life. We should be celebrating what will come from
welcoming the joy of the Eternal Holy Spirits gifts. We won’t though will we? I
have grown to hate Advent and Christmas because I see too much selfishness, a
selfishness that locks out most of the world’s poor from a share in that joy. At
this time of the year we share with those less privileged and then forget about
them for the rest of the year. At this time of the year we give, often
abundantly, not as an act of grace, but to clean our souls. Jesus taught the
joy of giving from our abundance was supposed to happen all year long, every
day, every hour. Somehow, we’ve forgotten that.
We humans are the youngest of the species on this planet and
unless we change how we view the world we will not survive to be the oldest,
and we will take the rest of creation with us.
I hope that will not be the legacy of the sad, strange species called Homo
sapiens, sapiens, my fear is it will be.
2 I was sleeping, but my heart was awake. A sound! My love is knocking: “Open for me, my sister, my dearest, my dove, my perfect one! My head is soaked with dew, my hair, with the night mists.” 3 “I have taken off my tunic— why should I put it on again? I have bathed my feet— why should I get them dirty?” 4 My love put his hand in through the latch hole, and my body ached for him. 5 I rose; I went to open for my love, and my hands dripped myrrh, my fingers, liquid myrrh, over the handles of the lock. 6 I went and opened for my love, but my love had turned, gone away. I nearly died when he turned away. I looked for him but couldn’t find him. I called out to him, but he didn’t answer me. 7 They found me—the guards who make their rounds in the city. They struck me, bruised me. They took my shawl away from me, those guards of the city walls! 8 I place you under oath, daughters of Jerusalem: If you find my love, what should you tell him? That I’m weak with love!
I have always loved poetry. In college I had a professor who called them paintings with words. And, like a good landscape some poems are just what you see, such as Fog by Carl Sandburg:
The fog comes
on little cat feet.
It sits looking
over harbor and city
on silent haunches
and then moves on.
And then there are the Picasso like poems, you know, the ones you have to think about, they say one thing and mean another such as the opening lines of the Song of Solomon:
2 Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth—
for your love is more delightful than wine.
3 Pleasing is the fragrance of your perfumes;
your name is like perfume poured out.
No wonder the young women love you!
4 Take me away with you—let us hurry!
Let the king bring me into his chambers. (1:2-4)
For all intents and purposes this is nothing more than a love poem about a young couple in love. But if we look closer there is more than one meaning hidden in these beautiful words. We can read this as love poetry or we can interpret the Song of Songs as an allegory of God’s love for the Hebrew People, or Christs love for the church. I am sure if we sat down we would find another allegory that would work just as well.
The Song of Songs, as it is titled in the Hebrew bible, is one of five books called the “Five Scrolls.” They are The Song of Songs (a collection of eight poems), Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations and Esther. Of those five, the Song and Esther are the only two books in either the Hebrew or Christian canon that never mentions God, which makes them unique.
Sometime between the third and fourth century CE the Hebrew Canon was pretty much finalized. The discussion of the inclusion of the five scrolls, especially the Song of Songs, into the Hebrew Canon was fraught with controversary. The Song is after all very erotic and sensual poetry. While the poems use inuendo and metaphor instead of openly sexual language it was still not considered quite proper. It was eventually included because the Song was understood to have a more important meaning than simply love poems used for wedding ceremonies. Rabbi’s, such as the second century Rabbi Akiva, defended its inclusion saying, “while all of the sacred writings are holy, the Song of Songs is the holy of holies!”
Christians have also had a hard time accepting the Song as part of holy scripture, many considered it scandalous and not appropriate for Holy Bible. Christianity’s nearly 2000-year-old toxic attitude about sex has kept this sacred writing, that shows women in a positive light, from being studied and enjoyed for what it is. In The Forgotten Books of the Bible (2018) Robert Williamson writes “the third-century Christian theologian Origen warned . . . “that all but the most spiritually advanced people should abstain from reading the Song.” There was a fear that women who read the Song would somehow be “corrupted” and develop strange sexual longings to the detriment of the male ego. The uptight fathers of our faith simply could not accept that biblical writers could compose something as sensual and erotic as the Song of Songs! Yet Jewish tradition attributes these 8 poems to Solomon the son of David, the same David who stole Bathsheba from her husband, and the same Solomon who had 700 wives. Sexuality was Okey Dokey for biblical men, but women weren’t allowed to have the same urges. The shaming of women and blaming women for imagined male problems has been part of our culture long before St Augustine felt guilty about having sex. It is only now that we are seeing women courageously stepping up and saying no to male oppression and openly affirming they too are sexual creature’s beloved by God.
By the fifth century CE the Christian Biblical cannon was closed, which included our New Testament books and the Hebrew bible as the Old Testament. By accepting a majority of the books in the Hebrew Cannon the Christians of the 5th century was accepting the Song of Songs’ Jewish interpretation, with a minor variation. Jews interpreted the poems as God’s love for Israel and Christians as Christ’s love for the church, so not really all that different. But there is one more way to interpret the Song of Songs, and for us today, that is the interpretation I find so interesting and important. Let me describe the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs.
Of the three ways to interpret the Song of Songs, the first and foremost way is love poetry. The 8 poems celebrate young love, specifically the love between a young girl who cares for a vineyard and a young shepherd boy. The family wants to shelter their daughter, believing she isn’t ready to have a serious relationship, and, they would be wrong. Here she sings;
1 All night long on my bed
I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
2 I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.
So I looked for him but did not find him.
3 The watchmen found me
as they made their rounds in the city.
“Have you seen the one my heart loves?”
4 Scarcely had I passed them
when I found the one my heart loves.
I held him and would not let him go
till I had brought him to my mother’s house,
to the room of the one who conceived me.
Certainly not the words of an immature child. This poetry unabashedly celebrates the love between two people. There is no embarrassment or shame attached to their joy in their bodies and their total enjoyment of the pleasures of sex. The poems describe flirting, and playful language highlighting the excitement and joy the two lovers have in the presence of each other. To read the Song of Songs as paean to the sacredness of love is to remember and relish our own experience as lovers. That is what love poetry is for.
Unfortunately, the Songs of Songs has been ignored and push aside for so long that most people have never read it, and some don’t even know it is part of Holy Scripture. That is a real shame. Here is a biblical book that shows women in a favorable light, as a human who thinks, loves, celebrates, experiences grief, and loneliness just as men are depicted in scripture.
Our culture has always had a problem with sex and the church has had a role in creating that problem. Since the beginnings of the church we have had an unhealthy relationship with our bodies. This has resulted in half of humanity being told to be ashamed of who they are and the other half doing the shaming. Saint Augustin of Hippo (354-430 CE) played a huge role in how women were viewed and treated by the church. He was man consumed by guilt and one of those guilts was his guilt for having sex. His beliefs that women were the cause of mans downfall, i.e. Eve, were instrumental in the churches views on women. Having a Holy Book in the Bible celebrating the passion of young lovers’ and the enjoyment of each other signals the importance of loving and being loved.
The image of the strong female character, even though still a teenager, is an important image that empower women and girls, something our church fathers were very much against. The male church leaders were not in favor of giving up the power they had in the church to women. In this time of the “METOO” movements it is vital that positive images of biblical women be highlighted. It is time for women to claim their rightful place in God’s Kingdom, not as a second class, appendage to the male’s ego’s, but as equal partners in Gods creative universe.
The second, and third, way of looking at the Songs is with allegory. The interpretation of God/Christ, as the male character, and the people of Israel/the church as the female character is the traditional Jewish/Christian interpretation. Jewish tradition reads the Song during Passover as a reminder of God’s love by rescuing the Israelites from Egypt and the care God gave them during the Exodus. One beautiful passage describes God’s embrace of Israel, “His left arm is under my head, and his right arm embraces me.” (Song of Songs, 2:6) An intimate picture of God holding and loving humanity. Christians rarely read the Song, which is a sad commentary on our inhibitions.
At the beginning of this article I quote a passage from the song that paints another picture of God as the male lover. The lover comes late at night to the woman’s door and when she is slow to respond to his summons he walks away. When our young woman opens the door and finds him gone she runs into the street to look for him but instead is found by the guards and is abused and assaulted.
One interpretation alludes this passage to the Babylonian Exile, when God abandoned the Hebrew people. However, most Jewish, Christian, commentaries I read seemed to pass over this with a statement that acknowledges Gods inconsistency in dealing with the Hebrew people, or the Church, throughout history. But I find this passage disturbing. The idea of God simply abandoning humanity in times of suffering, pain, and crisis is abhorrent. How can a loving God do that? This leads into the Third and final, allegorical interpretation.
What if we identify God as the female lover and the male lover as the people of God? How does that change our view of the Song of Songs, of God, and of our role in our relationship with God? Reading the allegory as the female character transforms the Song of Songs. No longer is God the lover who goes gallivanting around the countryside, while the lady waits patiently for his return. God now is the one who says,
“I looked for the one my heart loves;
I looked for him but did not find him.
I will get up now and go about the city,
through its streets and squares;
I will search for the one my heart loves.” (3:1b-2a)
Now it is God who is the constant one, who waits for, and longs for the one she loves to return from wanderings and come into her arms. Humanity is the one who leaves, abandoning God. It is Humanity that turns away from the door when we believe God doesn’t answer quickly enough. It is God who risks being assaulted and beaten because she goes into the dark to find us. God’s claim on each of us is not of our doing, we are Gods because of God’s love for us. God’s love has nothing to do with faith, no, rather it is the matter of divine certainty. In a bad parody of Captain Picard, God made it so. When we read these words:
Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame. (8:6)
. . . we no longer hear humanity asking God to remember us but rather we hear God’s voice giving us the assurance that God will never forget, can never forget us, even unto death.
In the end there is no right or wrong way to read the Song of Songs. Read it as love poetry and revel in the celebration of young bodies, young people in love. Read it allegorically with God as the young man who passionately loves humanity, calling us beloved. Or read with God as the female lover who claims us before we claim her. Who waits for us to finish our wandering and return to her. Who goes into the dark and risk the divine life for us.
The Song of Songs is not shameful, rather it is the celebratory expression of human sexuality, and God’s passionate love for us. There is no other book in scripture that can express in a better way the passion and intimacy of God’s love for us, our love for God, and our love for each other.
As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
— Psalm 42:1
This picture from the Jewish Mindfulness Face Book page started me day-dreaming about standing on the bridge and listening to the forest around me and I thought how lovely and restful. So today I offer you an opportunity for a little springtime dreaming. I invite you to use this photo for the practice of Visio Divina. Before you begin, sit for a moment with your feet on the floor, close your eyes and breathe deeply, letting your body relax and open your soul’s heart. Now open your eyes and let your imagination and God’s love lead you through the following steps.
Study the picture slowly, taking a first glance noting the colors, trees, the water, places and things. Imagine what smells you might detect, water, earth, green growing things. Remain with the image for one to two minutes. If you would like, jot down a few words about the image.
Take a second, deeper, look. Where is there movement? What relationships do you see? Engage your imagination. Where are you in the picture? What do you see from that perspective? What deeper meaning emerges?
Respond to the image with prayer. Did the image remind you of an experience, person or issue for which you’d like to offer thanksgiving or intercession? Offer your thoughts as prayer to God.
May all your dreams be filled with flowing streams, warm sunshine and cool shade.
Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God,
serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.
–1 Peter 4:10
Jesus Washing Peters Feet
Ford Madox Brown, 1821-1893
My morning’s meditation topic was “service” and it started a train of thought (ok it was actually a brain worm but let’s not quibble) about how I “serve” others. I must admit there are times when I am not very nice and I do it only because I have too or to prevent an argument. I am quite good at rolling the old eyeballs in those instances.
But that is not what Jesus taught; the Gospel of Mark records Jesus saying “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35b) In fact all through scripture we are called to be God’s servants and, from my perspective, if we are all, humanity and creation, images, the manifestation of God in the world then it makes perfect sense that we are also servants of all we encounter, human or otherwise. To be a true witness of the resurrection is to serve, with joy, our fellow travelers on this planet. That means caring for the earth and all that lives on it. It means caring for those who cannot care for themselves, speaking up for those who have no voice and doing all with grace and with every ounce of our God given gifts. One of my favorite rituals is foot or hand washing. To personally hold someone’s hand or foot in your hands, pouring the water over them, wrapping them in a towel and then look them in their eyes and tell them they are beloved by God gives me chills.
But rituals aside service means anything that places you in the position of servant. Cleaning the home of an elderly friend or family member, mowing the lawn and weeding the garden when you know the owner can’t bend over anymore, creating a garden and sharing the harvest with neighbors or a shelter all are ways we may offer our service. But there are even simpler ones that often get overlooked; such as picking someone up for an event, calling on the ill, taking out the garbage or keeping a room clean. These are services that make life easier for others and, when done with joy, happiness in our own lives.
So this week I am challenging you to 1) notice when you do a simple act of service, and 2) if the opportunity comes up to offer your special gifts to others to give it a try. When you do you are witnessing the resurrection in action and love blossoms.
15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16Then Jesus* said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you,* none of those who were invited will taste my dinner.” ’
On a warm June afternoon in 2000 I was sitting at the entrance to the primary hotel in Vallejo CA. I was waiting for a bus to come and deliver John to me who was coming from the Oakland airport. I could hardly contain myself, you see in just a few short weeks I would be retiring from my consulting job and moving back to Edmonds. John was coming to help me pack-up the apartment and drive with me back to WA. We would be married in September. This was the beginning of 6 months of celebration that has extended into nearly 16 years.
I had accepted an invitation, I said yes. I knew that in that acceptance I would now be living a new life and one that would require me to make the choice to change from a life of taking care of only me to taking care of someone else. Now that’s a huge change for someone who was 53 and never married. But it was a choice that I have been grateful for ever since. You see by accepting the invitation I was transformed from a stranger into a member of a community. And, as a result I was blessed with a new life that has had its challenges and its joys. That’s what happens when you chose to transform your life. Life can be a bed of roses, but what you must remember is roses have thorns and you can be sure you will sometimes get stuck with one, or more, of those thorns.
Today’s scripture is not only about choosing between accepting and refusing an invitation to a banquet given by an upper class gentleman, it is about choosing between accepting or refusing to live a transformed life of free grace in the way we were meant to live. It is choosing to live as a member of a community rather than being a stranger, and, to decide living a transformed life means accepting all of that life of grace. It means we are to commit to live that life no matter what gets thrown at us or how many thorns we run into. Living a transformed life of grace doesn’t mean there won’t be thorns, or potholes, or great sorrows on your path. It means we are given the strength to walk through them because we aren’t traveling the road alone.
Our story this morning is about a man who has invited his friends and, probably, business associates to a banquet. In the first century preparing a large dinner was not an easy process. Different items were served depending on how many people RSVP’d the invitation. If only a small number accepted then chicken fish or duck may be the main course and a larger number would result in the host preparing anything from a one lamb or oxen to preparing many.
You have to remember there was no refrigeration so all of the food had to be prepared and eaten before it spoiled. To help prevent food wastage two invitations were sent out. The first invitation invited the guests to the dinner and they responded yes or no but the time of the dinner was not given. When all is ready the host sends out a second invitation calling the people to the prepared dinner. It was extremely rude to accept the first and not come for the second invitation because that meant a huge waste of resources for the host.
The householder has invited the guests and now sends his servants to call them to the prepared dinner. But despite accepting the first invitation all of his guests find excuses for not attending. The first guest refuses because of business issues. The second guest let’s his possessions take precedents over his social obligations, and the third puts his home and family above attending to a promise already given. I suppose to us these don’t seem like unreasonable reasons for not attending but what if we look at the story from a different direction.
First of all this isn’t a story isn’t about an ordinary householder. No, our host happens to be Jesus who is inviting his guests into a relationship that will transform their lives. How does the story and the excuses change when we see that it is Jesus who is inviting us into a banquet that will transform us from strangers into the Children of God in order to live a new life? How will that perspective change the way we hear this parable?
So here is how the story might sound if we told it as if Jesus was throwing this shindig? The guests Jesus first invites to his amazing banquet are those he expects will accept the invitation because they already understand, or he thinks they do, what it means to live the transformed life He is offering them. Jesus wants them to come and celebrate with Him, to become part of the new life that only happens when we accept the Divine invitation. An invitation of free grace to live the life we are meant to live in the presence of God, Jesus and Holy Spirit. So he sends his disciples out to bring his guests to the party; the food is ready, wine is poured, the orchestra is tuning up for an all night event. But his disciples come back and tell him all have refused, all are too busy with the details of life, the minutia of daily living. So what does he do, after all he has a hall prepared, food on the table, wine chilling, and musicians waiting? Well, Jesus did just what he told his disciples to do when he sent them out to preach and the invitations they gave were refused. He “dusted the dirt from His sandals” and turns his back on those who refused him and sends his disciples out again into the streets to bring in whomever they find to the party, the good and the bad, the worthy and the unworthy. These guests are the disadvantaged of the Jewish people; tax collectors, prostitutes, the homeless, and the ostracized because they are different. But still he has room so he sends out his servants again this time to the people from the roads and byways around the city. These are the people normally not considered part of the ‘Jewish family,’ these are the gentiles, the ultimate outsiders for the Jewish people.
How would we identify these people with those from today, the 21st century? Well think of who are our people of the streets and you might first of all think of “Nicholsville,” or the man or woman standing on the corner with a sign that says “Homeless vet, needs food and job,” and think of the shop keepers in the poorest parts of Seattle, or any town for that matter. It was people like these who were the ones who were welcomed into Jesus’ party. They were the nobodies of the town and here they were going to a big shindig given by the most important person in town. Now think of those people outside the Christian circle of community, Muslims, Buddhists, Jewish, atheist, and agnostic. Those might be our version “gentile.”
Can you imagine how they all felt? Can’t you just hear them as they walk to the mansion, “Jesus invited me, me, to his party,” “You too, I can’t believe it,” “I was invited too, and get this, the woman said come as I am, and it didn’t matter if I’m not part of the Christian faith. He just wants me to celebrate the Divines presence in my life as you celebrate it in yours, how cool is that.”
Unlike Jesus’ first guests these guests weren’t concerned about who they would be sitting next to at the table or who might make a big splash in the news media. It didn’t matter to them that the person next to them was a drug addict, a thief, a prostitute, a shop keeper, a prosperous business person or followed a different faith, they were all children of the one God. They didn’t care if Jesus was failing or succeeding in life. They were excited about being invited. They understood the importance of being invited to this banquet, this table. They wanted to have new lives. Unlike those first invited they knew their old lives weren’t working for them and they were willing to change and live new lives, transformed lives of grace that had meaning and where all people are recognized as family and community despite who they were or how they walked their way to God.
What Jesus was offering wasn’t a new idea for his banquet. For centuries the Prophets of Israel were telling the people the same thing. Moses says in Deuteronomy (30:19b) “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.” In Proverbs 9 Wisdom calls to the people:
4“You that are simple, turn in here!” To those without sense she says, 5 “Come, eat of my bread and drink of the wine I have mixed. 6 Lay aside immaturity, and live, and walk in the way of insight.”
And through Isaiah God tells the Jewish people:
6 “ theLordof hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.”
In the New Testament James writes:
6 “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
God has been inviting us to the table of grace since the beginning. She spoke through the fathers of the Jewish people, through the prophets, sent her Son and spoke through the disciples. But we have let greed and self-centeredness takes precedence over the original message of grace.
But what does it mean to choose life? Well “When you say ‘Yes’ to life you say ‘Amen’ to all of life as a package deal. Thereafter the so-called problems you have with personal injustice do not arise. You renounce your concept of victimhood and the old impulse to complain about being unfairly treated.” A “commitment to life . . . refuses to make any distinction between your outer life and your inner life, or between secular and sacred spheres of life, or between loving God, loving all of life, or loving one’s neighbor, no matter who they are. Nor does it distinguish between your current life concerns or your eternal concerns. On the contrary, it simply calls for an unhesitating and unreserved ethical response to the call of life, the call of Jesus, God, and Holy Spirit – right where you are at this moment in time, at this point in your life,” to live a life where you defend justice for all and refuse to accept injustice for anyone as an expedient to living. That is what Jesus taught, that’s grace. It’s not new information, its old stuff we haven’t listened to, at least not for long time.
No matter how you tell today’s story it’s about Divine invitations, the acceptance of grace, and how you live once you’ve accepted God’s grace. When John asked me to marry him, I had a number of options. Like the first invited guests I could have refused and that would have been that. I don’t know where I would have been 16 years later but I am quite certain it wouldn’t have been here. But I did say yes and again to that yes I had options as to how I was going to live within this new relationship. One way was I could continue to behave as I have always behaved, just as the first guests invited to the banquet. Taking care of me, making sure I had what I wanted and what I needed. Yes John would be there but our relationship would not have been very deep because I wouldn’t have let him into the deeper part of me, the part of me that would have built the relationship where both of us would have lived a transformed life. But I chose to say yes and I chose to attend my life banquet. I let John into my heart and said we are partners and what I do and what you do will affect and change who we both are. We looked at the covenant of our marriage and said we do this together as one, not as two people living their own lives in one house. When I accepted John’s invitation to marry, when I accepted that covenant, I had no clue as to what that might look like, but I knew I was going to have to change if I was going to make my life with John. And yes it hasn’t always been sunshine and flowers. Sometimes we have had our thorny moments. But it was because we chose to live a life together as one that we had the strength to overcome all thorns and rocks in our path. While my wedding story wasn’t about God’s grace specifically, by accepting my invitation I discovered grace in a way I did not expect, and that is how it sometimes work.
As many diverse faith community’s we are given a Divine invitation to free grace every time we choose to come invite to our tables all people no matter who they are. We have heard this invitation before and we accepted it with our desire to be who we, as individuals and as communities, were meant to live. We are invited to a banquet of grace, welcoming every single one of us to the head table, and No questions asked about our past or how many times we haven’t understood, if we believe a certain way, or look a certain way. No the Divine wants us to come and join Her. To laugh and sing and eat together, to tell jokes, and play games. To dance to the music that life brings us, and cry together when life brings us sorrows. We are asked to change who we are at our deepest level and live grace filled lives that do not see differences between us, whether they are gender, racial, religious beliefs, cultural, social, or political. He asks us to live a life where we see only brothers and sisters and not people of different abilities, colors, faiths, or cultures.
We can change the world we live in, we can change the world by being the people we are meant to be, a people of grace, by being a people who refuse to accept evil, greed, and self-centeredness as the status quo. We can change the world by refusing to accept war as the only solution, or that homelessness and hunger is just part of life. We can change the world by seeing each other as the Children of God, living the life God meant us to live.
The banquet meal is ready to be served: lamb roasted, wine poured out, table set with silver and flowers. . . . Jesus goes to town, stands on the street corner, and invites everyone within the sound of his voice: Come, rich and poor alike, come the worthy and the unworthy, come with me, oh come, and celebrate the joining of our spirits! I’ve prepared a wonderful spread—fresh-baked bread, carefully selected wines. Leave your lives of self-centeredness, loneliness, fear, poverty, greed, and come, celebrate with me! Come celebrate a life with meaning, a life of grace. Come change your lives, remember to live transformed, not only your inner selves, but also your outer selves. Put on your cloak of joy and celebration and come, walk up the street to a life with meaning.”
 Cupitt, Don: Life, Life, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, CA, 2003, pg 6-7.
16But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well, if even death parts me from you!’ — Ruth 1:16-17
I have been blessed in the last 16 years to have had some lovely people in my life. Most of them are not related to be by blood. I seem to make ‘family’ from the people I meet rather than from people I am related to. You see most of my closest blood relatives have passed but regardless of that I was never close to them. They didn’t understand who I was or what I was. In my eyes they were often quarrelsome and petty, easily offended and really only wanted me around if I could do something for them. The very idea of simply enjoying each other’s company just for the fun of it never entered their minds. At least that is how I perceived fit. It is always possible that I was just overly picky.
So I created my own family groups from people I enjoyed being around and who enjoyed being around me. Most of the time it was a small group but over the last 16 years my ability to create family has reached new heights. Now I have a very large extended ‘family’ made up of a few cousins I’ve reconnected with, my husband’s family, and those who I have been adopted, and those who have adopted me. It is a rather happy group of people who enjoy each other’s company, even if we don’t always agree on politics or religion or liking chocolate (actually our disagreements are what is the most fun). As a result I am blessed by friendships that go much deeper than being just a friend. These are people who when I need them they are there, and when they need me I am there for them.
I have never believed the people we meet and interact with in our lives are the result of a coincidence. No, I believe we are drawn to those who the Spirit knows we need, or who need us, at just the right time. The people who are the most important to us, whether they are relatives or not, are often the ones the Spirit uses to speak to us or provide us with that essential ingredient of life, love.
The lovely people in the above photo are my husband John 2 of his sons, 4 grandchildren and a daughter-in-law what are closer to me as family than most, not all because I do love my newly discovered cousins, of the group I was born into. They have been there when I am ill, at the celebration of life’s grand markers, and when I just need someone to talk to. God blessed me with their presence and I am grateful for each of them, they bring joy into my heart. As Ruth says to Naomi “where [they] go, I will go.”
Your prayer this week is to offer prayers of gratitude for those in your life who have blessed you with their presence. They may be a relative, or they may be good friends but all are blessing in your life.
My prayer, God I am grateful for the people in my life who I call family. You, Great Spirit, have blessed my life with compassionate, joyful, generous of heart people, I thank you for each and every one of them. Amen
And now faith, hope, and love abide,
these three; and the greatest of these is love.
1 Corinthians 13:13
FAITH, HOPE, LOVE
faith, hope, love
in faith an elderly Priest and his wife
waited for their first child
in faith a maiden utters the words
“Here Am I”
in love a child leaps in the womb
at the approach of the pregnant Mary
in love a bridegroom
takes a pregnant girl as his wife
in love Mary lays
her first born in a manger
in love the angels sang
and a star appeared
in hope the shepherds
came to the stable
in hope Magi followed a star
to kneel at the feet of a carpenters son
Faith, Hope, Love
all three were needed
for the greatest of miracles
but it was Love that conquered all
— Ruth Jewell, December 21, 2015
Meditations for a Mindful Advent
Queen Anne Christian Church
Slow down . . . seek hope
Buy less . . . create peace
Eat less . . . embrace joy
Worry less . . . give love
Prepare your heart for new birth.
An Advent Prayer
God who causes stars to burn and energy to flow,
may Your presence be made known to us in new ways.
When we wonder where You are, shine Your light in new ways.
When we wonder why bad things happen, help us to find all of Your Goodness.
When we feel hopeless, help us to become Your hope in the world.
You have created us out of stardust, and breathed into us life.
In You, all things are possible, and all things are created new.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer, as we await the birth of the light of Christ
may we come to You in new ways on this journey of faith. Amen.
Love – The Fourth Week of Advent Light four candles and pray “an Advent Prayer.”
Meditation Snowflakes, leaves, humans, plants, raindrops, stars, molecules, microscopic entities all come in communities. The singular cannot in reality exist. — Paula Gunn Allen
All this hurrying soon will be over. Only when we tarry do we touch the holy. — Rainer Maria Rilke
Morning: In anticipation of the day, call to mind the people you will meet.
Evening: As the day ends, where did you tarry, where did you glimpse the holy?
Offer a prayer for those in need of Love; include yourself