Monday, August 22, 2011

Who Do We Think We Are?

Scripture for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost includes Exodus 1:8-2:10; Romans 12:1-8; Matthew 16:13-20

This has been a summer of stories from the Hebrew Bible. If you like the romp we’ve taken through the Book of Genesis, you can give the credit to the new table of readings adopted by the Episcopal Church, the Revised Common Lectionary, an ecumenical system intended to increase the likelihood that many Christian denominations are hearing more or less the same portions of scripture today, and to increase the number of scriptural options the local congregation gets to hear.

So, if you don’t like the increased exposure to ancient patriarchal stories that tend to beat the one drum of how the chosen people Israel came to be, then you can blame that on the Revised Common Lectionary. I could be braver about that, and admit that from that lectionary’s options I’ve made the choice this summer to expose you to readings of Torah rather than more customary portions from the prophets.

And I’m sticking to Torah as we ride today from the first of the five so-called Books of Moses, Genesis, to the second, Exodus. We fled like refugees with Jacob from Canaan to Ur of the Chaldees then migrated with him and his abundant new family back again to Canaan. We followed Joseph into slavery in Egypt, watching him rise to royal rank as deputy to Pharoah, and in time be reunited with his squabbling vindictive brothers and their aged father Jacob, whose name was also Israel.

Jacob and Joseph cycles done, today we enter the cycle of Moses stories. They start at a time when “a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph.” The extended family of Israel in Egypt had multiplied like loaves and fishes (you thought I was going to say rabbits), to a point where Pharoah felt threatened by the rising number of resident aliens in his land. He depended on their manual labor—they were the field workers, brick-makers, pyramid-builders, and nannies helping to hold Egyptian society together (does this sound familiar?). But Pharoah worried that Hebrew loyalty might not be counted on. I wonder if he knew how astute an observation that was theologically, for their loyalty was invested in their God, not in their Pharoah.

So he summoned his advisors to develop oppressive policies. I imagine the Pharoah’s police were authorized to demand a photo ID whenever they encountered someone they thought might be one of them. It doesn’t sound as if Pharoah’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents deported Hebrews back to Canaan: Pharoah had no intention of losing slave labor. But they surely made it hard for the Hebrew people to have a life. In fact, Pharoah ordered the termination of health care for resident aliens: the Hebrew midwives were ordered to kill all male children born to the daughters of Israel.

Loyalty is exactly what those Hebrew midwives showed! They let those boy babies live, claiming to the authorities that Hebrew women were so vigorous that they gave birth before a midwife could arrive. And because they honored God, we’re told, God gave those midwives families (I wonder if those bold ladies whom even Pharoah couldn’t mess with didn’t create nursery shelters to keep those little boys alive).

Thus enters Moses. The man who will one day part the waters of the Red Sea to free his people enters their bondage borne upon the waters of the Nile. As the story of Joseph required his being lifted from the well where his brothers had dumped him and then sold him into slavery, so the story of Moses has him escape slavery by being lifted from the Nile, and by royal hands. You can see that Moses has a rather enchanted story, sung over many centuries to extol both the goodness of God and the superiority of the Hebrew people who could outmaneuver Pharoah’s repressive ways.

That the first five books of the Bible are known as the Books of Moses tells us how important this baby boy would be. Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace laureate and interpreter of Judaism, describes Moses in ways that resemble how Christians may see Jesus: “Moses, the most solitary and most powerful hero in Biblical history… Moses, the man who changed the course of history all by himself… After him, nothing was the same again… His passion for social justice, his struggle for national liberation, his triumphs and disappointments… his requirements and promises, his condemnations and blessings, his bursts of anger, his silences, his efforts to reconcile the law with compassion, authority with integrity—no individual, ever, anywhere, accomplished so much for so many people in so many different domains.”

And yet, of all the patriarchal figures we’re meeting this summer, Moses is the one who least needs to hear St. Paul’s warning “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think…” He is shown constantly questioning his own qualifications, retreating from center stage because he doesn’t speak well in public, is subject to abrupt changes in mood, doesn’t always play well with others. “And yet. Were it not for him, Israel would have remained a tribe of slaves. Living in the darkness of fear…” says Wiesel.

“Who do you say that I am?” asks Jesus today. Moses asked a similar question of God, with each seemingly impossible demand God made of him in that long struggle to deliver Israel from Egypt. He asked it also of his countrymen, as they expected the impossible of him, while shamelessly rejecting his authority and tempting him to despair.

“Who do people say I am?” asks Jesus. Students of Matthew’s Gospel might say, “You are the new Moses,” for Matthew draws so many parallels between the two men that you can hardly miss his point.

Both Moses and Jesus are known through the gifts of God’s Spirit emanating from them, freeing the people around them, blessing the world through them.

Guess what? The same is true of you. Paul teaches us that today: “We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us…”

Who do we think we are?

Who does God believe we are?

As Christians, we answer those questions from out of our spiritual practice. Our praying, our worshiping, our life in community, our stewardship of resources, our outreach and mission, our reading and study (especially of scripture) teach us who we are: on a good day, gift-bearers, Spirit-emanators, liberators, blessers. And on many a day, unqualified to lead, unaware of what God is doing around us, more conformed to the values of the world than transformed by renewal, sometimes just about able to get up, show up, and cope. We know Moses had those days. Jesus must have, too.

But such lean days are within our spiritual practice. Learning from our summer patriarchs, the very name Israel means “the one who struggles with God and prevails” (though not in any hurry). And, we could add, struggles with faith, with hope, with love. Hand in hand, our summer Gospels have revealed the Christ who is with us not only on good days, but throughout stormy ones as well.

Who do we think we are? Who does God believe we are?

Gift-bearers in a culture of scarcity. Spirit-emanators in a society splintered by blame and abuse. Liberators in a time when many are in paralyzing bondage to fear, and in repressive reaction to fear. Blessers in an apathetic world.

Some days more than others, we know who we are and we do what God’s grace and gifts enable us to do. Each day, our spiritual practice reminds us whose we are, and draws our attention off ourselves and onto movements of grace and gifts within the one body of Christ in which we are members one of another.

All this knowing and doing and reminding and drawing and belonging are gifts and signs of Jesus Christ and we have them entirely because of who he is and what he does in all who recognize him, all who trust him.

(For Elie Wiesel on Moses, see his "Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends", Summit Books, 1976. Quoted material is from pp. 181-183.)

Friday, August 19, 2011

Throwing the Life-line

Scripture for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost includes Genesis 45:1-15; Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matthew 15: 21-28

My father crossed the Atlantic in 1908 at the age of two, with his mother and sister, in steerage. His father and older brothers had come across from Scotland earlier, and I assume that once they had found work, it was time for the family to reunite in the new world.

What caused them to emigrate was never discussed in our family, but for sure it was hardship, not enough to go around, a chronic lack of work, poverty. I have from my father some of the precious things they brought with them: a punch bowl—a punch bowl, for heaven’s sake!—and a set of dessert plates with spaces in the rims for threading ribbon. These people were going to have a life again! Had these been wedding gifts? They’re in surprisingly good shape, once carefully packed in that steamer trunk, kept now for nearly a century on one set of shelves after another, silent reminders of a great and challenging journey compelled by hard times. Reminders, too, to be ready to celebrate, once good times came.

For a family, such a momentous move may come seldom. But if you could imagine time-lapse photography capturing all the movements of migrating humanity, from the beginning til now, planet earth would seldom be still. Some of those migrations would be massive, like the one going on now in East Africa, as Somalia empties itself one way into Kenya, another into Ethiopia, both of those nations increasingly desperate to stem the tide and bring pressure upon Somalia to take care of its own (which it won't, perhaps can't) or, failing that, to press other nations to intervene and locate new camps within Somalia.

Meanwhile, this famine respects no national borders and asserts itself as a regional disaster. None of its fleeing refugees will be carrying punch bowls or dessert plates, though we pray that they will see good days again, sooner than later. As they flee, they are barely able to carry themselves. People in many nations are feeling the distress of hard times. The peoples of East Africa are in the hardest of times, and we do right to keep plugging away, week by week, gathering our gifts in Raile’s Bowl, multiplying those gifts by matching dollars through our mission funding, and helping three world-class organizations do good in our name, the World Food Program, Doctors without Borders, and the International Rescue Committee.

Famine is the back-story of the Joseph saga coming to us from the Book of Genesis. Last week, we watched his brothers sell Joseph into slavery after that youngest upstart brother with the big ego had pressed their buttons one time too often. By the hindsight of a couple of decades living through the disaster of his own hard times, Joseph tells those same brothers, “It was not you who sent me here, but God…” And “here” was Egypt, where Joseph, by his talents and gifts and sheer chutzpah, had become like a father to Pharoah, a royal advisor to the king who was treated like a god.

Joseph, poster-child of resilience and making-the-best-of-a-bad-situation, impresses his masters by his natural talents, charm, and efficiency. Promoted and placed in the household of Potiphar, a royal officer, Joseph runs afoul of Mrs. Potiphar who is attracted by his physical beauty and then quickly frustrated and embarrassed by his principled rejection of her campaign to seduce him. This lands Joseph in jail, where he shows his stuff by correctly interpreting the dreams of two of Pharoah’s key servants imprisoned for displeasing their king. Meanwhile, Pharoah himself struggles with the meaning of mysterious dreams, so Joseph makes his mark as a psychoanalyst to the king, interpreting his dreams.

Joseph goes from strength to strength and glory to glory, and soon he is put in charge of the royal response to a massive famine in the land. Wisely, Joseph stockpiles foodstuffs while he can, filling Pharoah’s warehouses. The famine worsening, people line up at those warehouses for relief. When they can no longer pay with money, they pay with the deeds to their land, and, as the famine reaches yet deeper and wider, they indenture themselves as slaves to Pharoah.

Presiding over this national disaster is Joseph, Joseph the Just as Jewish tradition remembers him. Instituting a national system of slavery is far from just, but at its primitive best the story has Joseph saving the lives of the Egyptians and matching the inexorable collapse of that economy with the unifying order of central authority.

All of which is back-story to what is foremost throughout the Book of Genesis, the birthing of the nation Israel and God’s fulfillment of the promises made to Joseph’s paternal forebears, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel, to settle them in a land, and to bless the world through them.

Though veiled, that fulfillment is happening before their eyes. Joseph has been a blessing to Egypt, serving its Pharoah and saving its people. And with that regional famine afflicting the land of Canaan where Joseph’s family of origin were still tending their sheep and claiming the land as theirs, the only way they would survive was by migrating south to Egypt where the food was, and where—who could ever have guessed it?—Joseph of the mighty ego, rejected by his brothers, had been given such power that he could welcome as resident aliens not just his father and brothers and families, but all their tribal counterparts who would have ridden the coattails of this miracle and been rescued from poverty. So down from the hill country they came in their donkey carts, their punch bowls and dessert plates packed for the journey. One day, generations hence, their descendants, numbering in the many thousands, would follow Moses out of Egypt and across to Canaan, into what they would call the promised land. The witness and message of the Bible as a whole, both Hebrew and Christian testaments, is, as Paul says today, that “the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.”

And universal, international, multicultural, so these readings suggest today. To fulfill the covenant promises made to Israel, God is at work in Egypt, to bless Egypt. In our Gospel, Jesus the Messiah blesses a Canaanite woman and recognizes that this crossing of boundaries helps fulfill his mission to serve and save the house of Israel.

She and Jesus cross two boundaries to have this encounter. He is a Jew from Galilee to the north, she a Gentile from the coast, from what was in ancient times Canaan, the original “promised land” that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob/Israel colonized. This is an Arab woman who approaches Jesus. The first step was his, as he crossed from his country to hers. Culturally, just as great a step is taken as a woman speaks in public to a man, and the man replies.

Though he doesn’t, at first. She has shouted across all the gulfs that separate them (race, sex, religion), begging him to intervene on behalf of her tormented daughter. Jesus does not answer.

“Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us, just like that!” the disciples tell him. Perhaps when he sees how closed they are to her, he opens to her, crossing that gulf with thin words—like when a sailor on a rescue boat throws a lifeline to a boat in distress, he hurls a heavy knot (it’s called a monkey’s paw) wound around a stone and tied to a light line that the receiving sailor can pull across. At its far end is the heavier lifeline that will pull to safety.

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. It isn’t fair to take bread out of children’s mouths and throw it to dogs.” That’s about as thin a line of compassion as a man can toss.

“You’re right, Master, but beggar dogs do get scraps from the master’s table,” she says, catching that monkey paw in mid-air. She realizes that his replying means that he is opening to her, and she will not miss this moment. She will pull that thin line, and pull, and pull until that strong secure lifeline is in her hands. Subtly, he rises and opens to her the moment… to which she decisively rises, and in her bold appeal for God’s help, Jesus recognizes the same gracious God who has ordained his bold mission.

“For the love of God is broader than the measure of the mind; and the heart of the eternal is most wonderfully kind,” we sang, moments ago. That’s what our readings today announce.

And they challenge us to complete the verse: “If our love were but more faithful, we should take him at his word; and our life would be thanksgiving for the goodness of the Lord.”

Today’s Bible voices urge us to step across the boundaries of nations, look across the gulf of race and class, and gain from East Africa fresh perspective on our own relative distress, and from our own relative abundance throw the lifeline.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Keys to Metamorphosis

Scripture for the 8th Sunday after Pentecost includes Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Romans 10:5-15; Matthew 14:22-32

Our exposure to scripture this summer has featured the series “As Jacob’s world turns.” His saga, rife with treachery and deceit while also rich with perseverance and faithfulness, now rolls into the Joseph saga, featuring Jacob’s favorite son. Yes, batten down the hatches: we’re in for two or three more weeks of patriarchal stories.

Like the story of Jacob and his brother Esau, Joseph’s cycle of stories begins where brothers have become enemies. You would think that Jacob might have learned to avoid favoritism: it was his being the apple of his mother Rebekah’s eye that helped set the stage for a whole generation of trouble. But Joseph is the brightest star in his father’s sky, because Joseph is the son of Jacob’s first love, his deceased wife Rachel, “the son of his old age,” as we heard today.

That creates a whole nest of angry brothers. Do you remember the musical, “Joseph and his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat”? While the other boys, the older brothers, got their clothes at J. C. Penney, Jacob took Joseph to Ralph Lauren.

Having reached the ripe age of seventeen when we meet him today, he can’t be expected to be the soul of discretion. Add to this the fact that he’s a dreamer—literally, he’s his father’s boy, for you remember how Jacob was visited by God in a dream, way back when. Joseph’s dreams predict his own bright future, and while a more circumspect young man might have kept those nocturnal visions to himself, Joseph is neither endowed with humility nor likely to pass up an opportunity to announce to his his brothers his superiority. The natural results of such self-celebration we heard today. They hated him.

There’s no one better than Elie Wiesel to comment on the patriarchal stories of the Book of Genesis. He offers an overview of the Joseph saga, and says that what this story is all about is “man’s capacity for transformation. The tale of Joseph is the tale of a metamorphosis—no, a series of metamorphoses.

“First, a family metamorphosis: a favorite child falls victim to his own prerogatives.

“A social metamorphosis: a poor immigrant becomes a huge success in his adopted country,” Egypt.

“A political transformation: a servant turns activist and changes the socio-economic policy of the land,” as Pharoah’s Egypt struggles with severe famine.

“A philosophical or artistic metamorphosis: the slave turns into a prince,” the stuff of opera and drama.

“And finally, a purely Jewish metamorphosis: a young refugee, without friends or connections, builds himself an astounding political career culminating with his accession to the post of chief royal advisor,” right-hand man to the Pharoah.

“No wonder,” says Wiesel, “that in our traditional literature Joseph is the object of passionate admiration bordering on worship. Here is a Jew whose tribulations had a happy ending, who owed his success to no one, who imposed his ideas on hostile surroundings thanks only to his natural gifts, who transformed exile into a kingdom, misery into splendor, and even humiliation into mercy. He was indebted to no one and that made him a free man, a man free to do whatever he chose.

“…Abraham is respected and admired; Isaac is pitied; Jacob is followed; but only Joseph is loved.

“…Abraham was obedient, Isaac was brave, Jacob was faithful. Only Joseph was just.”

All this transformation, you recall, happened in the land of Egypt, a nation we watch changing before our eyes today. Let’s pray that the Mubarak trial will help the people of Egypt hear a calling to a finer purpose than revenge, will help that nation metamorphose out of violence into peace, out of corruption into justice. If not, the future of a free Egypt could be in peril.

The transformation of a people is underway also in our Gospel today. Crowds play a role in the birthing of a new social order: we have seen that in Egypt, and there has been a large crowd in an open place in our recent portions of Matthew’s Gospel. Last Sunday, Jesus gave his disciples the greatest challenge they had ever faced: feeding a hungry crowd that numbered in the thousands. He also gave those disciples the best object lesson ever: When faced with an impossible task, generously model the first step towards the remedy, then trust God to be at work among the people. We have seen a similar model at work in this Arab Spring: at its start, handfuls of protestors boldly, generously, modeled the first step toward remedy, trusting God to be at work in the people. Risky, for sure. So, it seems, five thousand men (not counting women and children) were fed.

It is fresh from that public demonstration that Jesus despatched his worn-out disciples to get some rest, away from the crowds. Fishermen that they were, the twelve took to their boats. Jesus climbed a steep hill for his solitude, and from that vantage point he kept an eye on the twelve, and noticed their emergency, how a storm was engulfing them. And while I have no pet theory about what happened next, I see the point: that Jesus is the Messiah who is forever with his people, right in the thick of all the changes and chances and storms of this mortal life.

Following his own model from the feeding story, Jesus generously models the first step towards the remedy, then trusts God to be at work among the people. He walks toward them, calls out to them when their terrors multiply at the very sight of him and they mistake him for the Grim Reaper. He urges them to take heart and not be afraid—not that feelings should be denied, but that fear distracts people from the metamorphosis they must make. Trust, only trust, will focus them on that transformation.

Peter, always first among the twelve (first to get it, first to flub it), does what he sees his Lord doing: he will lead his brothers through this crisis. Jesus agrees: “Lead, Peter, come.” And his first steps are God at work in him. Then Peter notices the wind. The force that makes him lose balance. The distraction that breaks his focus. The opposition. The distance yet to go. The improbability of it all. And it sinks him. And his next step is God at work in him: “Save me!” he cries, honestly, openly, while simultaneously Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him, all of a moment.

“You had it right in those first steps,” I hear Jesus say to him. “More of those, next time. And remember to choose who and what you pay attention to.”

There are keys to proper metamorphosis, as disciples, as nations, as people of God: Trust God to be at work in first steps. Lead by generous modeling of the first step, trusting God to be at work in the people you lead and serve. Pay attention to whomever, whatever, wherever you recognize the call of God to originate. Let distractions sink around you, as you keep balance. When you lose balance, reach for the hand that reaches for you.

And, to do justice to Joseph today, shed all illusions of superiority. We’re all in this metamorphosing of the human race together, and the sooner that religions and nations cease believing that they are called by God to be exceptional and exclusively special, the sooner we may be free to know and love and serve the one God who works in people’s transformation, meets people in their throes of change, steadies people for the work of metamorphosis (the reaching-out), and calls people to lead.

(For more of Elie Wiesel on Joseph, find his book "Messengers of God: Biblical Portraits and Legends", Summit Books, 1976. The quoted material here comes from pp. 139-141.)

Monday, August 1, 2011

Resources of Heaven, Known on Earth

Scripture for the 7th Sunday after Pentecost includes Genesis 32:22-31; Romans 9:1-5; Matthew 14:13-21

On the main stage of scripture this summer has been the drama of the Jacob saga from the Book of Genesis. He has tricked his brother Esau out of his inheritance rights, then fled the country both to escape Esau’s wrath and to find a wife. Make that two wives, we saw last week, and a tribe of children (make that twelve tribes, in time), all of which was indeed a long story covering twenty years and a major humbling of cocky Jacob.

Now it is time for him to return to the land of Canaan, the new and so-called Promised Land which Jacob’s grandfather Abraham and father Isaac and their generations had been settling, claiming as given to them in the providence of God. At a deeper level, these stories are about the creation of the nation Israel. We heard this morning the pivotal story of Jacob being renamed Israel. For God’s promises to be fulfilled, Jacob/Israel must be reconciled with his brother Esau, who occupies the land.

Burning in Jacob’s memory is his brother’s hot anger at being deceived, twenty years ago. Is it typical of some of our fears that we don’t give other people credit for having changed since we last offended them?

The context for our portion of the story today is this. Every creature making up Jacob’s world is in caravan approaching the border: his two wives, their maids, all the children those several women have brought into the world by him, goats, sheep, camels, cows, bulls, donkeys, and assorted servants. Many hundreds of animals and dozens of people are encamped at a place called Mahanaim, as Jacob gets his act together.

He sends emissaries to Esau, with a prepared speech alerting Esau to what he doubtless already knows: Jacob is coming with an entire village of family and retainers, and wants to find favor in Esau’s sight.

Something is lost in transition here. Jacob’s agents hightail it back to report that they found Esau, “and he is coming to meet you, and four hundred men are with him!” Nothing is said about what was said in their encounter with Esau, leaving Jacob to fill in the blanks.

Is it human nature that, in the absence of knowing, fearing takes over; and in the presence of a guilty conscience, fearing multiplies? Jacob, greatly distressed, reverts to type (he is a prototype Episcopalian) and first, before praying, problem-solves… and then prays. He divides his caravan into two companies, hoping to cut his losses if Esau attacks.

Then he prays, “I am not worthy of the least of all the steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan; and now I have become two companies. Deliver me, please, from the hand of Esau, for I am afraid of him; he may come and kill us all, the mothers with the children. Yet you have said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be counted because of their number.”

The next day, Jacob selects a present for Esau: two hundred female goats and twenty male goats, two hundred ewes and twenty rams, and on it goes (you get the idea)—we’re talking a major financial stimulus package. Again, emissaries are rehearsed for a speech to Esau. Jacob sends this whole bleating, mooing, whinnying parade on it way, and, before settling down for the night, says, “Perhaps he will accept me.”

But this night, Jacob will not be settled. He rises and sends on its way all that remains of his caravan across the ford of the Jabbok, an eastern tributary of the Jordan River. He is left alone. But not alone. A lot remains to be settled, and Jacob wrestles with all his life. He wrestles not just with his issues: it is an actual opponent he fights. The other half of his long-divided self? Even when Jacob is at his lowest, he does not give in. His adversary pleads, “Let me go, for the day is breaking, and a far more important thing must happen…”

“Not unless you bless me,” stammers Jacob. And in the exchange that follows, Jacob emerges with a new name, Israel, the one who strives with God and with humans, and prevails. Jacob has been struggling with God, and wins God’s blessing. That, says the story, is the story with the nation Israel.

There is quite a struggle going on in our Gospel today. One crowd after another presses in on Jesus for his blessing, his healing, his teaching. He has to escape, for his soul’s health. He takes a boat. They follow by the land route. His heart melts at their neediness.

Is it to protect him—or to protect themselves—that his disciples interrupt his flow of compassion, tap their wristwatches, cast a disapproving look around the barren landscape, and say, “This place is a wasteland. There’s no time left in the day. Send these people away to the villages before the stores close—or we’re going to have a catastrophe on our hands!”

“They need not go anywhere. They need you to feed them.”

“But… but…”

“Yes. And, and… Bring to me here the food you have.” In John’s version, a child provides the loaves and fishes. Here, it must be the disciples who empty their pockets, and among them is barely enough to feed the twelve. “Take no staff for your journey, no money, nothing extra,” they quote him to one another under their breath. “Of course that’s all we have.”

And yet it is not all they have. So many ages ago, Jacob dreamed of a ladder uniting heaven to earth, announcing that the resources of heaven are available on earth, not because they are earned or deserved or even recognized, but because it is God’s nature and desire to give.

So it happens on that hillside. What happens? They balance the budget between what they have and what they need. Jesus takes the little that came out of those abstemious disciples’ pockets and makes a big deal of that bread and fish. He takes them into the public eye, gives God the eye, blesses the problem of not-enough by breaking it open to public scrutiny, and reveals how this is simultaneously the solution, the giving that he models for the disciples to do, and they in turn model for each person in the crowd to do, each person who has (tucked away in unabstemious pockets—no one told them not to be prepared) sharing with each who has not.

There’s much to be learned at the new Neighborhood Center food pantry in North Adams, on Eagle Street. Stuart, Cynthia, Rich, perhaps others of you too, can tell stories like some I’ve heard: how community members come with so little, need so much, get what’s available to be shared, then come back a couple of weeks later with something they want to share, like supermarket coupons they can’t use. And how, at the end of a Wednesday the shelves are bone bare, but by the time next Wednesday rolls around the shelves are full again—the up-front volunteers may not know how that happened, while the back-room crew of shelvers know just where that food came from, having unloaded the Food Bank truck that someone’s giving has paid for, and having emptied the shopping bags of nonperishables from local donors. And it’s all amazing and very Godly.

No less now than two thousand years ago, Jesus’s disciples are called to feed the crowds. Those in whom the Messiah is glorified are given the Messiah’s work to do. That may be at the Neighborhood Center where, last Wednesday between 9 and 2 one hundred families were served, lined up along Eagle Street waiting their turn. And it will be in the refugee camps of Kenya and Ethiopia and in the chaotic nation of Somalia, where hundreds of thousands, the vanguard of millions, are in danger of death by starvation.

And it will be in Washington, where it is given our elected representatives to deal with national debt and credit, to model abstemiousness without failing to feed the hungry, without creating yet more hungry, and without passing the bill to our children and grandchildren.

What ever became of Esau and Jacob/Israel? Since this isn’t appointed to be read next week, let me tell you:

“Now Jacob looked up and saw Esau coming, and four hundred men with him. So he divided the children among Leah and Rachel and the two maids. He put the maids with their children in front, then Leah with her children, and Rachel and Joseph last of all. He himself went on ahead of them, bowing himself to the ground seven times, until he came near his brother.

“But Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him, and they wept. When Esau looked up and saw the women and children, he said, ‘Who are these with you?’ Jacob said, ‘The children whom God has graciously given your servant.’ Then the maids drew near, they and their children, and bowed down; Leah likewise and her children drew near and bowed down; and finally Joseph and Rachel drew near, and they bowed down. Esau said, ‘What do you mean by all this company that I met?’ Jacob answered, ‘To find favour with my lord.’ But Esau said, ‘I have enough, my brother; keep what you have for yourself.’”

Then there follows a very civilized exchange: “No, I insist!” “Oh, I couldn’t possibly.” “No, I urge you to accept…” And so Esau did accept, and did what was wanted by Israel, the man (the nation) of problem-solving and of prayer.

May such a good reconciliation be achieved in Washington tomorrow, an outcome that models giving, forgiving, sharing, and the acceptance of responsibility.