Bread for everyone…

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We’ve been revisiting familiar bible stories with the goal of hearing them again for the very first time. For this to happen, we must come to the texts from a different perspective. This doesn’t make the process less exegetical, but it does reframe how the content is mined. Rather than using a line by line extraction, I pull back and capture the larger thoughts within the original language and textual timeline.

Today we are looking at John 6 and the miracle of feeding the five thousand. The familiar sermon is that Jesus feeds five thousand people and proves he is God. Nothing wrong with that. The common application to our faith is that God can do much with very little. Nothing wrong with that either. But is there more?

Yes. I believe so.

This miracle requires context (which proves my exegetical process). I’ve shown over the last few weeks how Jesus’ miracles cause him to gain notoriety.  I’ve also shown how through his miracles, he is subverting religious institutions by proclaiming that God isn’t quarantined in ritual or religious practice.

John 5:19-46 are the “tweener” verses between his miracles. These are not filler. They are square in the face confrontations with leaders of the ruling religious class. Jesus emasculates the containment system that claims to know God (religion) but somehow questions who Jesus is. This proves that if religion had any idea of who God was or how God acts, they would be receptive to Jesus who was sent by God to do God’s work. Religion diminishes Jesus’ work because it was not done according to tradition nor does he follow the rules.  Rule keeping is the best religion can offer.

Jesus offers something different.

By chapter 6, John is recording a movement. A cage fight is emerging. It’s religion in one corner and Jesus’ unorthodoxy in the other. The setting is the Passover in early Spring, the usual time for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, except Jesus is heading in  another direction (v. 1). The crowd is not local. The crowd has been growing from all over the region and thus the numbers will be down at the temple. Masses are electing to follow the man who claims to come from God rather than go to the religious delivery system. Why do rituals in the temple when the power of God is clearly out among the people? (Few pastors will ever preach this.)

Barley blooms early, thus the boy with a sack lunch had barley loafs, which are the first fruits of the ground. Historically, these are offered to God (Leviticus 18:13) which Jesus does (v.11), and then he gives it back to the people. In the Jewish religion this was reserved only for Aaron and his family, a blessing for serving God in the tabernacle. Now Jesus is extending “Aaron’s portion”  to everyone.

Passover isn’t for the religious elite, but all comers.

He’s saying, “everyone gets the blessing of passover”, without having to journey to Jerusalem, without homage to religious leaders, without the worthiness contest. Everyone gets plenty (v.12) no one is left out, the judgement of God has passed over everyone, no exclusions. No tribal, economic, or religious distinctions. There is bread for everyone.

The feeding of the five thousand is a countercultural passover for those who can’t or won’t buy into the religious pilgrimage. It’s for those who would rather see God than do religion. The fact that twelve baskets were left over is not incidental. This ensured each disciple would have a “memento” of what the new passover looked like. Personal experience (v.40-theoron-seeing/experiencing) with God surpasses ritual every time. “Everyone seeing the son and believing will have eternal life…” (John 6:40)

Allow me to add another layer.

This miracle is best seen within the context of the following “Bread of Life” discourse (v.22-59). These texts are Jesus’ clinic on the passover to all the religious who were in Jerusalem during the miracle and on their way back (v. 24-25).

Both passages begin with a crowd (v.2 & v.22), both sought Jesus because of his signs (v.2 & v.24), and both point to the fact that Jesus is the prophet of God who has come into the world to do God’s work (v.14 & v.29). Like the “tweener” passage in chapter five, this is square in the face of the religious who struggle with believing that God can work outside of their particular framework (v.30). Are you any better?

Back to the cage match. Have you ever talked about God with a very religious person?  If so, then you know how certain they are. They bring up tradition, follow protocol, and talk historically. Jesus reframes tradition, and demonstrates something “greater than Solomon” is here right now (Matthew 12:42).

The manna in the wilderness is a great story that Judaism has retold for centuries. Yet, a day earlier, bread was given to thousands in the wilderness. Religion entombs God in the past, while Jesus proves God works here and now. The burden of belief has been lowered to believing only the miracle before us today. A bar based on historical belief is too high for most people. This is the meaning of the bread of life. Do we go back to the story of manna? Or do we wake up to the bread before of today?

I’m critical of the church not because I’m disgruntled or angry, but because I seek its reform. I believe we’ve become too focused on building the historical case for belief that we’ve lost the ability to see the bread before us. All over the world people are having transforming experiences with life. Yet the most religious among us still insist that God can only be experienced and understood within their own preferred box. This story reminds us that the bread of life is for everyone. The nuance is that the unbeliever is NOT the irreligious. The unbeliever is the religious person who can’t “see” that “the bread of God has come down from heaven and gives life to the world” (v.33).

May we all discover the bread of life within every moment of today.

 

 

Break the Sabbath and I’ll heal you…

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We’ve been retelling familiar bible stories that we’ve heard many times. As an online pastor, I have worked to free myself from any denominational or institutional frameworks that curtail the hermeneutical (bible interpretation) process or set a specific agenda for teaching. This allows me to go deeper and wider, beyond the boundaries of common tradition, following the flow of the spirit into new horizons. This scares traditionalists whose rigid framework guards against change and new perspectives.

John 5 tells of a mystical pool of water in Jerusalem called Bethesda. It was believed that if the still waters become “stirred” (v.7), that the spirit of God was moving and the first person in the pool would receive healing.

Healing is synonymous with liberation. It was also “First come, First serve.

An invalid had been sitting by this pool for 38 years when Jesus walks over to him and asks: “Do you want to be healed?” 

The invalid tells Jesus that no one will help him into the water, then others get in first. I’ve heard sermons teaching these were excuses. Perhaps, but they are his imprisoned reality nonetheless. Self-pity is our first prison from which we are freed. 

Healing is synonymous with freedom. What is your “imprisoned reality?”

Religion is like the imprisoned reality of the invalid. Religion has proximity to the pool where magical stuff is supposed to happen, but it never gets in the water. It doles out pseudonyms (fake ID’s) through its assimilation programs which give us a false hope by pitting us against everyone else rather than uniting everyone.

Jesus responds by dropping a nuclear bomb on the invalid’s imprisoned reality. He tells the man; “Get up, pick up your matt, and walk.

Most sermons stop here and celebrate that Jesus healed the man. This is fine, but it misses the subversive statement Jesus is making.

It was the Jewish Sabbath. Keeping the religious day holy meant not working. Carrying a bed matt around was work. So was walking around. Jesus was saying; “Your healing comes by breaking the Ten Commandments” or “Your freedom comes by breaking with religion.”

In fact much of Jesus’ controversy is that he performed his works on the sabbath, thus breaking religious law. That’s really important. Jesus said he was Lord of the Sabbath (Mark 2:28), and that “The sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). His message exposes how religion imprisons humanity while unaffiliated faith liberates us.

Jesus offers something beyond ritual, dogma and religious practice. He provides the  liberty that religion promises but cannot deliver. His message is that love surpasses religious conformity. Mercy NOT sacrifice (Matthew 9:13).

Like the religious elite of Jesus day, modern Religious leaders are often caught up in their tradition, buildings, staff, budgets, plans, programs, and their doctrine. Most are struggling to get by and Jesus is asking, “Do you want to be healed?” Like the invalid, healing comes with a counter-intuitive departure from the rules. Lawbreakers experience a liberty that abiders can’t possess (more on this in a second).

The invalid in this story parades around on the Sabbath with his bed and is the talk of the town. Open violations of law are intolerable for systems that uses fear for behavior modification. The loss of fear by the invalid equates to the loss of institutional power. Jesus knows that fear, not love, makes people compliant to their prison. Hell is actually our inability to break free of institutional power.

How does institutional religion react? They diminish the invalid. They cast doubt on the liberty and ultimately squash anyone who subscribes to a reality beyond their propaganda. Institutions steal personal power by defining reality for others.

Later, Jesus catches up to the man and says: “I see you are well, sin no more so that nothing worse will happen to you” (v.14). I’ve heard sermons which suggested Jesus is saying that his sin caused him to become an invalid, and that future sin will bring something worse. This saddens me. That is yet another power play designed to keep people trapped in fear. The opposite of what this story is promising to do.

Jesus statement is a loving but sobering reminder of his present reality. It means his freedom, which is expressed by his present sin of violating the sabbath, could get him killed by the religious elite. Jesus is saying “You’re healed, you’re free, but not everyone is. Those enslaved in fear, or whose identity and power is wrapped up in the system, will deeply resent you and try to harm you.”

Subverting institutional power will come at a cost. The path of healing offered by Jesus stands right in the face of the ethical violence imposed upon us by institutional power. It may cost us severely to freely walk away, but it will cost us far more to stay. The only way to obey the 4th commandment and keep it holy was to break the tradition of keeping it.

The good news (gospel) of liberation/healing is not a world with no rules, but a world governed by one rule: LOVE. If we think we have God within our highly structured, organized, and dogmatic containment system, then we have a religion and not God. If fear makes us unable to leave such a system in our search for healing/liberty, then we have become the invalid.

Perhaps the most liberating nuance comes once we gain the eyes to see beyond the power plays. It’s where we regain our personal power to “sin no more” (v.14). It’s how we know we are healed. Only the person free enough to break the rules is free enough to keep them in love. Once fear loses its grip, obedience can emerge from the pure motivation of love. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). Only by leaving religion are we free and empowered enough to restore it.

When others don’t SEE you…

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John 4:43-54 depicts Jesus’ second “sign.”  With a causal reading, it’s simply a story of Jesus healing a man’s son. At closer examination, something bigger emerges which I hope will resonate with you.

Many of you write and share with me your journeys. We’ve each come to know the exile of following the voice of God within us. This deep yearning, groaning, or cry within us has an expanding effect. Unfortunately, the institutions in which we find ourselves are not so flexible. The new wine begins to pressurize our old wine skins until some sort of rupture appears. Integrity to this cry requires us to leave.

From the outside looking in, it appears as if you are the problem. It was you who just couldn’t fit in or remain agreeable. You couldn’t cut it. Some event revealed you to be a dissident and so you have been marginalized or put to the sidelines. The old system cannot tolerate the new questions emerging within you.

Welcome to the Exile. Here in the desert, you’ll find your true self. Not the pseudonym your institutions gave you throughout your life, that’s not really you. You aren’t your job title, your income, zip code, denomination, or the people with whom you associate. You’re waking up to knowing who you really are and it’s a painful, lonely process. Face it, you’re the weirdo or outcast now.

But a blessed one.

While your family, community, church, religion or institution may reject you, or diminish you, it’s my hope that you will be comforted as you witness this story playing out in your very life.

“A prophet is without honor in his hometown” (v.44) This statement by Jesus is like a GPS coordinate for his state of being which is exile. People are enamored with externals. Institutions and communities validate performance. His hometown saw him turn water to wine (ch. 2), they had gone to the feast (v.45), and his fame was spreading. Trick ponies are only known by their tricks. Perhaps his community grew up too close to Jesus. They shared his upbringing but missed his life. True loneliness is to be surrounded by friends and family and remain unknown. Ever feel that way?

Returning to Galilee he was welcomed (v.45), so how does that fit with dishonor? Jesus’ own community, family and friends knew what he did but not who he was. They didn’t honor our “value” him, only what he could do for them. It’s the unwelcoming welcome. It’s the external display, perhaps a cultural gesture, which seems nice on the surface that makes the disconnect so loud. It probably felt very fake, or contrived.

When the Royal official comes from Capernaum requesting that Jesus heal his son, Jesus immediately recognizes his motives. “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe (v.48).” John doesn’t record Jesus as having healed anyone so how did this official know that healing was on the menu of possibilities? He saw Jesus as his chance, it was his desperate need to save his child’s life, who could blame him?

Our needs make us self focused causing us to miss others.

Royal officials expect royal treatment. He wanted Jesus to travel twenty-seven miles back with him, but instead Jesus just tells him: “Go, your son shall live (v.53).” This is not a warm engagement with all the formalities, Jesus was not impressed with his position or status. The official was likely wondering if Jesus was just brushing him off. Nonetheless he went. On his way back he ran into his servants who confirmed his son was healed precisely at the time Jesus told him to go.

The grace that bubbles up in this is amazing to me. Jesus meets this guy right at his point of need, and while disappointed, he nonetheless honors the request. It’s like he’s saying, “You came for a treat, well here it is.” Only when he’s miles away does he potentially get a glimpse of who Jesus really is.

To know and be known is the most intimate expression of love. Lovemaking typifies this in the physical sense, but it’s also true in non-physical relationships. Sexuality is diminished when we “take what we want” from others and use them. Throughout scripture our base level of engagement with Jesus is to use him for what we want. This is understandable since we are creatures that must learn how to love. Getting to what Love desires of us means we must get over ourselves.

Jesus exemplifies this with a tremendous move of grace. He holds nothing back. He freely gives of himself and allows others to satisfy their needs. What kind of King serves like this? He knows that once our most pressing needs are satisfied, we will be able to go deeper. All spiritual journeys start by asking for God’s hand, and progress into asking for God’s face. Some never progress and God remains the unknown servant. “You know neither me nor my Father. If you knew me, you would know my Father also” (John 8:19).

The cry of the exile is one of homesickness. It’s only satisfied by knowing and being known. Every other external thing is empty vapor. The Grace of God to act first is revolutionary.  All religions paint God as reactionary, but Jesus flips the script and subverts that idea. By healing the officials son, he demonstrates that he will love us whether or not we learn how to love. He knows the difference between what we think we want, and what we really want, and unconditionally provides both if we but ask.

And that’s where we come full circle. The deep longing, moaning or cry within us turns out to not be us at all. Its the cry of Love seeking a face into which to gaze. It’s the yearning to know and be known. Not to be known as anything other that what we truly are–and whatever we may think that is, it’s the very place where Grace says “go.”

Will we go on with the distraction of our needs or will we stay long enough to welcome love and be known?

The Catering Gap

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The book of John (chapter 2) records an event that isn’t found anywhere else. It’s the story of Jesus’ first miracle where he and his disciples are invited to a wedding in Cana in the region of Gallilee.

Jesus grew up in Galilee so he and his mother were likely close to the wedding party. During the festivities they run out of wine and we all know the rest of the story… Jesus first miracle is essentially a clean up job for a catering disaster.

Or is it?

Why does John record this story? There are countless interpretations ranging from practical to really symbolic. Perhaps John’s goal was to free our minds with this story. To play with it, contemplate it, and mine it for its many treasures.

The illuminated gem within my sight is not the actual miracle. There are diamonds in Jesus’ seemingly curt response to his mother, the clear endorsement of high quality wine,  and the backstory of the betrothed, but I keep coming back to the stone jars (v.6).

For me, this story is all about the containers and the subversive subplot that he is inaugurating.

Jesus could have miraculously filled empty wine containers as he did later when loaves and fish spontaneously filled the empty baskets (Luke 9:10-17).

Jesus deliberately picked six, 20-30 gallon stone water jars.  Verse 6 tells us these containers were used for the Jewish rites (ritual) of purification. Since they were empty, or at least in need of filling, we determine that these were used by many of the guests and the wedding host.

In Jewish culture, the ritual of washing is a big deal. Historians say this rite preserved the Jews in times where diseases had regionally spread. In fact, Jesus and his disciples are chastised later by the religious elite in Mark 7:14 because they aren’t practicing in this ceremony. In that passage, Jesus teaches that we are not defiled (made unclean) by things on the outside, but things on the inside.

Jesus is sending a message.  “We won’t be needing these anymore… I’m bringing in a kingdom where purification is inside out, not outside in… all wedding guests are free to enter the festival joy.” This is a miracle, yes, but the big story is essentially; “out with the old, in with the new.”  The best wine comes last. If you want the good stuff, you must first consume the old stuff.

The jars essentially divided people between clean and defiled, valid and invalid, in or out as all religion does. Jesus redeems the tools of division to unite everyone in joy.  Ritual cleansing creates a false separation between people. Jesus isn’t having this, he offers an open bar for all comers.

Consider the setting of this story. What is more joyful than a wedding? The wedding is fitting because Jesus’ ministry is about joining all people and God. Weddings are what God’s work is all about. Uniting. Committing. Loving covenant.

Jeremiah 31 prophesies about the NEW way in which God will be joined or wedded to humanity. No more ritual and ceremony for the elite, but all people will know him based on what God does in the heart of everyone (v33-34). Earlier in that chapter, (v12) Jeremiah tells us that “over wine… our lives will be like a watered garden and we will languish no more.”  The miracle is not so much the wine as it is the new covenant (marriage).

This is the significance of the stone jars: ritual is replaced with festival joy. Ceremonial water no longer cleanses us, flowing red does this now. We are not “wed” by our efforts to scrub ourselves, rather all guests are made clean by the most costly wine, offered freely, in abundance to all.

The wedding or joining has begun. The repurposed jars tell us that the means of finding God is not religion. This might be a hard one to swallow, but there is no purification process; we’re already clean. Our process is learning how to believe it. The old stone containers entombed an angry God who required separation from unholy defilement. Now Jesus is repurposing the heart of stone with a heart that flows red which cleanses all (Ezekiel 36:25-26).

“…I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Jesus told Peter “the one who is bathed need not wash” (John 13:10). The wine in the washing jars means the washing is not necessary. For many this will be a huge sticking point especially those whose faith is trapped in sin-washing and appeasement.

This gets interesting as we consider those who came late to the party. Where are the newly arriving guests to wash ceremonially? The implied answer is: “You’re clean, come join the party.”  The latecomer has no means of ceremony. They are not to remain outside undefiled, but simply enter the festival joy? These only get the best wine.  Just as the vineyard laborers in Jesus’ parable, the “last shall be first”(Matthew 20:1-16). This is theme is repeated in Jesus ministry, the religious cannot get over this (Luke 15:28).

Jesus “hour” had not yet come (v.4) meaning that this wasn’t his wedding. Nontheless, he honors the master and the bridegroom’s family by ensuring the festival continued successfully. He made the catering disaster his problem when clearly it wasn’t- ”What does this have to do with me?” (v.4).  He knows covering the gap like this is costly, he fulfills (Exodus 4:25) and foreshadows the upper room (Mark 4:24) in a crypto description as the bridegroom of blood. The wine that cleans and covers the gap is symbolic of his blood.

The wedding at Cana is called the first miracle, but its really the only story in scripture. God is making a New covenant with all of humanity. It’s not based in religion, ceremony, or human effort, but solely upon the love and grace of God. All are invited and able to enter joy. Under the old covenant, we all run out of wine and are disgraced, but now the Best Wine removes our disgrace and puts us in the center of festival joy.

Come to the festival, the wine is amazing.

3- Decentralization has no King.

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Last week I showed how blockchain technology promises to be so disruptive because it stems from a deeper, inner spiritual reality that has been disruptive to all institutions of power. Subversion takes many forms but is an unstoppable cosmic power. “Even now the axe is laid to the root…” Matthew 3:10

How do you feel about pharmaceutical companies creating healthcare policies which promote greater sales of their drugs? What about chemical companies dumping pesticides and GMO’s into the nations food and water supply? What about banks and the finance industry profiting on peoples savings and pilfering as much as two thirds of our retirement savings? Do you trust the government to look out for your best interest when it comes to your health, retirement, and finances?

If these issues make your blood boil, then you (whether you know it yet or not) are a part of decentralization. The revolution of decentralization has begun and it will not stop. It’s our William Wallace cry for freedom. I showed last week how this is actually a cosmic force within all humanity.

Having eyes to see, then we realize that we don’t hate politicians, or CEO’s or Investment bankers, we hate the institutional control they have over us.  Institutional powers are the real kings of oppression.  “Our battle isn’t against flesh and blood, but rulers and authorities…”(Ephesians 6:12).

The introduction of blockchain technology means that power, control, and domination need no longer be centralized to institutions, corporations or governments. It’s a potential platform for an integrated global humanity.

We know the usual hierarchy. The masses feed the higher levels of institutional power and those at the top have disproportionately more economic, racial, and political power than everyone else. This creates competition and corruption as people jockey for top spots so they can have their unfair share. Meanwhile, the poor, the unbankable, or those who can’t compete in the market are left with crumbs, deeper enslavement, and the byproducts of corruption.

 

Jewish history shows us that corrupt kings were never the plan, but instead were demanded by the herd. “...”appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations.” (1 Samuel 8:5).  People don’t really want to be free and personally empowered. The rejection of their prophet Samuel (read- voice of God) is the rejection of personal responsibility and love.

The way this looks in our world is a false binary political system. Those who want less of a king are those who can compete in the marketplace and gather more resources than what the government can provide. Those that can’t or won’t compete in the free market, can gather more resources via a king than they can on their own. It’s a false binary, because both sides are actually the same oppressive king that keeps demanding more. The poor and the rich both believe that the opposite side is taking from them, but its actually the king. 

Not to sound cynical, but America is not really a democracy although that is its propaganda. America is really a corporatocracy. Little kings pay the big kings to force compliance of the slaves. The propaganda machine convinces us that our kings know whats best for our health, our finances, and our families, and that we’d be lost without them. We abdicate our personal power and wealth to the kings that lull us to sleep with entertainment, fear and infighting. They deflect any blame by pitting us against each other with their two party system, and news that keeps us distracted, angry and fearful.

This was never to be the plan for God’s free people. We were to be a people governed by the law of love. One law, when deeply followed, solves every problem by subversion.

This is why the blockchain spells trouble for the establishment. Thus we would expect to hear Big Pharma, Big Agriculture, Big Finance, and Big Brother all warn against crypto currencies and the new applications of blockchain technology. This also spells trouble for those who are dependent on the king to fight for them. (1 Samuel 8:19-20)

Can you see the deeper issue? It’s always a spiritual reality that manifests into a global problem. The king gets to define the problem as something like unemployment, housing, personal or civil rights, energy, transportation, communication, homeland security, immigration, taxes, and so on. Each definition is designed to divide the nation and reinforce our need for a king to sort it our for us. Each day it takes more freedom, more resources, more of our humanity, while it promises a better tomorrow.

In reality, every problem is actually a truth problem. It’s something we don’t know or won’t do. There is no poverty problem, only people who don’t know something or won’t do something. There are no political problems, ecological problems, corruption problems, or financial problems. Only truth problems. How we understand and apply the truth that we are able to grasp has everything to do with the amount of pain and suffering that exists in the world. Truth is spiritual in its nature and redemptive in its application. If we turn to a king, we trade wider truth for narrow truth.

BUT…

There is a new generation that is leading the path to global decentralization and ushering in a new world.  Those whose consciousness has risen beyond bigotry, competition, and otherness, are uniting via the blockchain and establishing global ecosystems that have the power to displace all centralized power centers for the good of all humanity. It is the global church, though few would ever describe themselves that way. In their wake is redemption, renewal, and hope. Imagine a world where companies like Monsanto, Goldman Sachs, or Pfizer are subverted like Blockbuster,  record stores, or printed newspapers–It’s coming!

Decentralization is total disruption. Decentralization is complete subversion, not an overtaking or overpowering. It has the potential to arrive on principles of equity, grace and love, but that may be too good to be true. The greatest challenge still remains. As in the days of Samuel, the herd may not want freedom and empowerment.  Thus I fear we may not do a good job stewarding this amazing technology.

At least we can be sure that the New world is here the moment we wake up and regain the lives we have sold to our kings.