Drinking Our Fill of the Spirit
Readings:1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
John 6: 51-58
You can see a video of sermon below. An approximation of the sermon follows below in text.
A word to the wise: If someone tells you that God spoke to them in a dream, and due to their wonderful prayer, God is going to make them the best that ever was, and better than anyone else in the future, and furthermore, God is going to make them very rich and fill them with power and glory…take it with a grain of salt. In God’s other encounters with people in the Bible, God doesn’t say such things.
I read this passage about Solomon with some suspicion, and I’ll explain why in a moment. But first, let me set the stage by explaining the monarchy of ancient Israel as we know it. In the time of the prophet Samuel, before there were kings, Samuel judged over Israel. This means he was appointed by God to mediate God’s will for Israel. God would speak through the prophet, and the prophet would direct the people. The Israelites had many battles with the Philistines, and they usually lost, but Samuel had just successfully led them in a crucial battle. Nevertheless, after this victory, the people of Israel said, “We want a king like all the other nations have.”
Samuel was upset and reported this to God, and God said, “They are not unhappy with you. They do not trust Me. So go ahead—give them the king they demand. But be sure to warn them about what this king is going to do to them.”
And so Samuel did. He said, “Okay, you can have a king, but he is going to take your sons and daughters and make them drive chariots and work in his palace. He is going to take a tenth of all you have. And he is going to enslave you.”
And the people said, “Wonderful! Give us that king.”
Thus began the so-called United Monarchy of Israel. The first two kings, Saul and David, did not do these things. They spent their reigns consolidating many tribes and cultures through battles and alliances so that Israel gradually grew into a united kingdom.
Solomon was the king who did these things that Samuel warned about. Always pay attention to Bible selections in the lectionary that leave out a section. That may be a sign that the lectionary designers don’t want you to know something. And in the missing verses from First Kings today, we learn that Solomon began his monarchy by killing anyone that posed a possible threat to him. He wanted to consolidate his power and his privilege by eliminating these threats.
Next, he spent seven years building a house for God. This was a lavish house full of golden goblets and bowls and stands, built with the cedars of Lebanon. He brought in gold and silver and bronze from other places. Where do you think he got all of gold and silver? Do you think people just gave it to him? He took it from people.
And to build this house, he enslaved his own people, the people of Israel. It wasn’t Pharaoh who enslaved them; it was their own king. He spent seven years building this lavish house for God. Then he used those Israelite slaves for thirteen more years to build a house for himself. He needed such a massive housing complex because he had 700 wives and 300 concubines. How wise is that?
Of course, God had given Godself an escape clause. God visited Solomon a second time, reiterating the promise to Solomon. But God added that these blessings upon Solomon would last as long as Solomon remained faithful to God’s laws and statutes, especially the law that Solomon worship only the one, true God. If he failed, the monarchy would be divided forevermore.
Unfortunately, some of Solomon’s wives worshipped other gods. And to please them, Solomon also made offerings to other gods. And so God said, “That’s it! You have not followed Me exclusively, so your kingdom will be divided.”
And sure enough, this happened when Solomon died. His son Rehoboam tried to become king, but a challenger named Jeroboam successfully challenged him for most of the land and people, and Israel and Judah were forevermore a divided kingdom.
We too live in a divided kingdom. One can see that quite easily in our political parties and political debates as people vie for the power and privilege of the Presidency of the United States.
But the most persistent and pressing and poisonous source of division in this country is racism.
We see this in the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, one year after the killing of Michael Brown.
We can see this in the protests and riots in Baltimore this past spring over the death of Freddie Gray, whose back somehow was broken in two in the back of a police van.
We can see this in the story of Sandra Bland, who was on her way to a new job in Texas and was pulled over for failing to use a turn signal to make a lane change so she could get out of the way of a police car. She was thrown to the ground and arrested, and she died in her jail cell.
There are countless examples like this.
We also have the example of the National Civil Rights Pilgrimage Weekend this weekend in Hayneville, Alabama. It is held every year to commemorate the martyrdom in 1965 of Jonathan Myrick Daniels, a white Episcopal seminarian from Massachusetts. Jonathan answered Martin Luther King’s call for clergy and seminarians to come to Alabama and join the march from Selma to Montgomery, and Jonathan came with others.
After the march, he did not return to his classes in seminary right away. Jonathan said he didn’t want to appear like the Great White Northerner riding in on a white horse to save the day and then leave. So he stayed, and eventually he was arrested along with other protesters for picketing white-owned businesses that refused to sell to black customers. When he and his companions were released from prison, he was walking down a street in Hayneville with two African American teenaged girls, including Ruby Sales, and also a white Roman Catholic priest named Richard Morrisroe.
A white man came out of a shop with a shotgun and pointed it at them. Jonathan grabbed the back of Ruby Sales’ shirt and pulled her to the ground. Then the man shot Jonathan, and he died.
I have to admit that I am a bit embarrassed by some painful ironies inherent in the National Civil Rights Pilgrimage Weekend. It’s somewhat embarrassing that the pilgrimage weekend frequented by Episcopalians focuses on the death of a white martyr when there have been so many more black martyrs in this civil rights struggle, most of whose names we do not know. It is true that our Presiding Bishop-Elect, the Rt. Rev. Michael Curry, is there at the weekend, our first African American Presiding Bishop-Elect. And he will lead them in a commemoration of all the martyrs of the Civil Rights struggle.
The other painful irony about this is that the Episcopal Church remains one of the whitest Christian denominations in the United States. And the reason for that is racism. When I moved from the Roman Catholic Church to the Episcopal Church, I was shocked at how overwhelmingly white most Episcopal churches are. As a Catholic, I was used to worshipping with Latino and Filipino and Vietnamese Catholics. It’s true that the diversity was due to the long practice of colonialism by the Catholic Church. It is also true that the Spanish Franciscans enslaved Native Americans in California to work their missions. Nevertheless, in its current state, the church has a fruitful diversity to it.
While in Alabama, Jonathan Daniels tried to integrate an exclusively white Episcopal parish. With the permission of the rector, he invited black worshippers to church with him, but they received very hostile treatment.
Here in Pasadena, we have a similar history. In 1909, eight black women met in a house on Del Mar Street to start their own church because they were not welcome at predominantly white Episcopal churches in the area, including All Saints Pasadena. So they started St. Barnabas in Pasadena, a historical black Episcopal church that exists to this day.
In South Pasadena in 1954, they had “sundown” ordinances. After they built the 110 freeway, South Pasadenans were afraid of too many people of color coming, so they prohibited people of color from living in South Pasadena. People of color could come during the day to work there. They would work in shops and mow lawns and be housekeepers. But they had to leave by sundown.
I am glad that we commemorate the martyrdom of Jonathan Daniels because he is a wonderful example of a white ally who put his skin in the game. He committed his own flesh and blood to the fight for liberation and salvation for other people.
We see these words “flesh” and “blood” in our Gospel reading today, and they are repeated several times. We are in our fourth week now of what is called the Discourse on the Bread of Life in the Gospel of John. In the first three weeks, Jesus divided the loaves and fishes and described himself as the Bread of Life. The emphasis is on Jesus as the real food, the source of wisdom and truth and faith for those who partake of him.
This week, the reading takes a somewhat shocking turn as Jesus repeatedly mentions his own flesh and blood. He says, “Unless you eat and bread and drink my blood, you will have no life in you.” This language can be heard as negative and cannibalistic. As you can see in the Gospel, even the listeners of his time found his language disturbing. And in fact, references to eating people’s flesh and drinking their blood were reserved for demonic actions in the Hebrew Bible. But Jesus makes no apology for his language.
The New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, says that this passage in the Bread of Life Discourse takes a sudden turn. The shocking language signifies a new meaning. Not only is Jesus the source of wisdom, the real food, which he emphasizes in the earlier passages of John. Now Jesus is emphasizing the Eucharistic meaning of his life. That is, Jesus is committing his own flesh and blood, giving his own life, so that others may find new life through him. He puts his skin in the game.
Brown warns us about “overspiritualizing the Eucharistic reality of flesh and blood.” By that, he means we should avoid turning the Eucharist into a ritual of thanksgiving without fully engaging in the truth of the real Passion of bodily sacrifice.
What Jesus means is that to truly have life, we must drink deeply of the life of the Spirit. Drinking deeply means entering fully into the Passion of Life, the good and the bad, and the struggle for liberation and salvation. Otherwise, this becomes a highly stylized ritual with no real meaning—people drinking from golden goblets in their palaces, secure in their privilege.
Our African American brothers and sisters could not be said to overspiritualize the Eucharistic reality of flesh and blood. They have committed their bodies to the struggle against racism, willingly and unwillingly. In his book The Cross and the Lynching Tree, the famous black liberation theologian James Cones equates the many lynchings of African Americans to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Not just the torturing execution, but also the resurrectional power, the power to bring new life to the struggle for liberation.
Our Latino brothers and sisters cannot be said to overspiritualize the Eucharistic reality of flesh and blood. They know what it is to die in the desert as they try to cross the border because border agents have removed sources of water so that they will die of thirst.
Our Asian brothers and sisters know what it is to have skin in this game: There are the many Japanese who were imprisoned in Manzanar. There were the Chinese workers with deplorable working conditions who built the Transcontinental Railway and the Central Pacific Railway so that white railroad investors and businessmen could become rich.
Due to racism, they have no choice but to have their skin in the game.
The very dangerous temptation inherent in white privilege is that white allies can choose whether to engage fully or not. We can live a half life, not a real life, by shrinking away from this struggle, by not drinking deeply of the Passion of life as Jesus did.
There are many ways for white allies to drink deeply of the life of the Spirit in this struggle. We can get educated about the lives of others. Read the novels of Toni Morrison. Watch Black Entertainment Television. Go see “Straight Outta Compton” in addition to “Ant-Man”.
We can apologize and make amends. I am so impressed with the idea of Sorry Day in Australia. Every year on May 26, Australians have public speeches and events to say they are sorry for the things done to aboriginal peoples in Australia. The Australians from Europe used to take children away from aboriginal people and put them into centers to force their assimilation into white Christian culture. The Episcopal Church and other institutions in the United States did the same to Native American children in the United States.
We also can engage fully in the struggle. I experienced a very real example of this years ago in Sacramento. I had a brand new cell phone, and as I was getting out of a car one day, it slipped out of my pocket and fell only about a foot. The phone broke, even though there wasn’t even a scrape on it. I took it back to a Verizon store, and the person in the front said, “Just take it back to Customer Service, and they’ll give you a new phone.”
As I stood in line waiting to be served by a white woman, a Latino man was being served by a young white man. The Latino man was wearing a white t-shirt and blue jeans, and there were grass stains at the bottom of his jeans. I imagined that he had been cutting people’s lawns all day. His phone, the exact same model as mine, had also suddenly stopped working, and he was asking for a replacement.
The young white man said, “You must have dropped it or something.”
“No, I didn’t,” the man replied.
“Well, then you must have banged it on something.”
“No. It just stopped working.”
The young white man was very angry and said, “This is the second time you have brought a broken phone back to us. You must have done something! Wait here.” Then he went in back.
Now it was my turn to be helped, and I was nervous. Surely I was not going to get a new phone, and I didn’t want to get the same treatment this man had received. I explained what happened to the woman, and she turned the phone around and said, “There is no visible damage. We will give you a new phone.”
Suddenly I felt the tremendous embarrassment and shame of white privilege wash over me. I started to say very haltingly, “Why are you giving me a new phone when this man—“. Just as I gestured toward the customer to my left, the angry young white man returned from the back and said to him, “Fine! We’ll replace your phone.” He shook his finger at the man. “But that’s the last time.”
I was chagrined, but I thought to myself, “Well, at least he’s getting a new phone.” So the Latino customer left, and I left. But afterwards I thought, “No! I should have said something when he was there.” I could have said, “I am sorry that you were publicly humiliated.” I could have said to the young white man, “You cannot speak to him that way. I was treated with far more respect.”
But I’m glad that it happened because I have learned from that hesitation. Now, when I see such occurrences, I feel empowered to say something, to get involved.
If we don’t, we are in danger of the turning the Eucharistic feast into the drunken debauchery of white privilege that anesthetizes itself from the real life of our brothers and sisters.
But when we do drink fully of the Spirit and enter the real Eucharistic life of liberation and salvation of everyone, we join with our brothers and sisters in a vast, diverse, united kingdom of Jesus.