What are you?

It has finally happened. People in the Messianic Jewish congregation I’ve been fellowshipping with have finally started to ask me which direction I’m coming from. They want to know if I am Jewish or Gentile. I counter with “Why does it matter?” and they get sheepish. It shouldn’t matter to them, because it doesn’t matter to God.

When the angel announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, the message was for “all people”

“10 But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:  11 Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David.” (Luke 2:10-11)  

The prophet Isaiah tells us that foreigners who follow the ways of God will be welcomed.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord minister to Him, love the name of Yahweh and become His servants, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold firmly to My covenant— I will bring them to My holy mountain and let them rejoice in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be acceptable on My altar, for My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” (Isaiah 56:6-7)  

Peter says the same in Acts 10:34-35
34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him. (HCSB)

A little later in that story, we find that the Holy Spirit has chosen people who are not Jewish –
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers[h] who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God. Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days. (Acts 10:44-48)

King Solomon says the same.

  32 Even for the foreigner who is not of Your people Israel
but has come from a distant land
because of Your great name
and Your mighty hand and outstretched arm:
when he comes and prays toward this temple,
33 may You hear in heaven in Your dwelling place,
and do all the foreigner asks You.
Then all the peoples of the earth will know Your name,
to fear You as Your people Israel do
and know that this temple I have built
is called by Your name.

(2 Chronicles 6:32-33) 

Peter, the one upon whom Jesus built his church, noted with astonishment that the Gentiles received the gift of the Holy Spirit.

44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came down on all those who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astounded because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. 46 For they heard them speaking in other languages and declaring the greatness of God. Then Peter responded, 47 “Can anyone withhold water and prevent these people from being baptized, who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?” 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked him to stay for a few days.  (Acts 10:44-48)

His viewpoint was that if God chose these people (the Gentiles), then who where they (the Jews who believed in Jesus) to refuse them the sacrament of baptism.

We are all one in Christ – there is no distinction.

Peter also says

34 Then Peter began to speak: “Now I really understand that God doesn’t show favoritism, 35 but in every nation the person who fears Him and does righteousness is acceptable to Him.  (Acts 10:34-35)

If God doesn’t show favoritism, neither should we.

After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith.  (Acts 15:7-9)

 

The apostle Paul, in his letter to the Galatians says –

27 For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ like a garment. 28 There is no Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, heirs according to the promise.  (Gal. 3:27-29)

Likewise, Paul says in his letter to the Colossians –

11 In Christ there is not Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all. (Col. 3:11)

To the Ephesians he says –

The Gentiles are coheirs, members of the same body, and partners of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Eph. 3:6)

Jesus says we are equal, like brothers – with nobody greater than another.

The disciples often argued about who was more important among them –

46 Then an argument started among them about who would be the greatest of them. 47 But Jesus, knowing the thoughts of their hearts, took a little child and had him stand next to Him. 48 He told them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in My name welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me welcomes Him who sent Me. For whoever is least among you—this one is great.” (Luke 9:46-48)

And the letter to the Romans –

28 For we conclude that a man is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God for Jews only? Is He not also for Gentiles? Yes, for Gentiles too, 30 since there is one God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. 31 Do we then cancel the law through faith? Absolutely not! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:28-31)

 

In Acts 15:6-11 we read

Then the apostles and the elders assembled to consider this matter. After there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them: “Brothers, you are aware that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles would hear the gospel message and believe. And God, who knows the heart, testified to them by giving the Holy Spirit, just as He also did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, cleansing their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why are you testing God by putting a yoke on the disciples’ necks that neither our ancestors nor we have been able to bear? 11 On the contrary, we believe we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus in the same way they are.”

 

And likewise, just after the first Lord’s Supper –

24 Then a dispute also arose among them about who should be considered the greatest. 25 But He said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles dominate them, and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’  26 But it must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and whoever leads, like the one serving. 27 For who is greater, the one at the table or the one serving? Isn’t it the one at the table? But I am among you as the One who serves. (Luke 22:24-27)

 

Jesus didn’t care if someone followed him in the way he taught.  What was important was that they do the work of God.  That was how you knew they were OK.

49 John responded, “Master, we saw someone driving out demons in Your name, and we tried to stop him because he does not follow us.” 50 “Don’t stop him,” Jesus told him, “because whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50)

Jesus tells the Jewish religious authorities that they aren’t guaranteed into the kingdom of heaven in the Parable of the Tenants.

42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:

“‘The stone that the builders rejected
       has become the cornerstone;
this was the Lord’s doing,
    and it is marvelous in our eyes’?

43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits.   (Matthew 21:42-43   ESV)

In a similar concept –

John the Baptist gets angry with Pharisees in Matthew 3:7-10.

7 When he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to the place of his baptism,[b] he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? 8 Therefore produce fruit consistent with repentance.  9 And don’t presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that God is able to raise up children for Abraham from these stones!  10 Even now the ax is ready to strike the root of the trees! Therefore, every tree that doesn’t produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.

He says that it doesn’t matter if you are related to Abraham.  God can do anything, and can make children of Abraham without the need for human involvement.  What matters most is that you produce fruit of the Spirit.  Blood doesn’t matter at all, but action.

 

(All translations are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible unless otherwise noted)

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What should Church be?

For many people, church looks like this at the most basic level
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Yet remember that the angel said to the women who went to find Jesus at the tomb –

The angel said to the women “Do not be afraid! I know that you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. Why are you looking among the dead for the living? He is not here – he has been resurrected!” (Condensed Gospel rendition)

The church as we know it is dying.

The Christian faith tradition must change what it looks at in order to survive. It must change from being a religion of rites and creeds.

It must stop being an institution focused on
the historical Jesus
and the future Jesus
and learn to BE Jesus right now,
to the people in the world.

It must stop the idea of “Bringing people to Jesus”
(preaching the Gospel)
and start living the idea of “Bringing Jesus to people”
(living the Gospel)

Many people have left church because they know that something is missing.

There are many large abandoned church buildings.
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And at the center of them is the altar, a shrine to death, to sacrifice.
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For many, church is a place of divine insight, of sudden epiphanies

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But then when they leave, the everyday world is dull and boring.

For many, church is a sanctuary against the storms of life

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But does this teach them to live in the world?

Perhaps Church can be seen as a boat, to rise above the dangerous waters, or to safely travel to visit or help others.
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Each person gets their own boat. They learn how to row it themselves. They develop the strength to help themselves and to help others.
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It is a place where we can each learn how to learn and grow safely. Others watch our progress and make sure we are not going to get hurt. They cheer us on.
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It needs to be a place where we can learn that right here is where God meets us – that God loved us enough to come down to Earth to be with us and live among us. That God loves us enough to still be with us right now, right where we are. That God wants to work through us, and with us.
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Church should be small, human sized.
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It should be intimate and personal.
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Why have we so long built churches that are immense, that dwarf us, that make us feel insignificant?
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They feel lonely, cold, isolating.
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They are out of proportion with us.
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When God came to earth, God came as our size. The Temple is not a place, but within us.

Often churches are built far away, high up, hard to get to.

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This is especially true of monasteries. They are places to retreat from the world.

Jesus tells his disciples that they are to be in the world – not apart from it. Jesus trained them to feed, to clothe, to help – everyone, not just those who are “in”.

For so many, God is seen as immense, and difficult to get to.
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There are narrow paths, and gates, and boundaries in the way
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We need to break apart the idea of church. We need to see through it, to reinvent it.
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Even modern churches, while looking different, still have the perspective wrong. The focus is on the preacher – on one person. The people sit passively, staring in the same direction. If they speak at all, it is from a script (a hymnal, a prayer-book) Only one person is allowed to speak something different, to direct the service.

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This sets up a hierarchy – of one person higher than the rest. This is directly opposed to what Jesus wanted, who wanted us to have only God above us. To have a person above us is to make them into an idol.

I’ve met many people who’ve left church for all of these reasons. They felt lost, alienated, alone. They too read the Gospel and met the real living Jesus and made a home for him in their hearts. They know that Jesus says that the Church is us – people, doing the will of God here in the world.

Yet, God says that people were not made to be alone. We are meant to be in community. We are meant to live and work and be together. No one person has everything required. We must work together.

Church needs to be all of us working together to help others. It isn’t a building or a place. But even if we remove the idea of the church being a building, we still have to remember the ideas that have long been part of church, so even when we take the Church out of the building, we must still make sure the old ways don’t come along.

It must be open to all.
It must be human-sized.
It must not be led by a single person – all must participate.
It must be a place where all can grow.

Again- it sounds like I’m talking about a place – an institution. I’m not. Certainly, people need to gather together occasionally. People cannot truly connect online. But, the money raised from members cannot go to a building or a salary. It cannot be inward-based. This will cause self-collapse, and is the opposite of what Jesus wants. The Church cannot support the church. The Church – the Body of Christ, must give aid to the world. That is where tithes must go. Outward.

People can meet in small groups, in each others’ homes.
They can meet in school gyms (they are not being used on the weekend)
They can meet in community centers or hotels.

There are plenty of already-built places that have meeting areas that are either free or inexpensive.

But when they meet, it must be a place to organize to go out into the world, to bring Jesus to people, by feeding, clothing, healing, visiting.

Not by preaching the Gospel,
but by living it.

(All pictures are from Pinterest)

Jesus does not punish.

We must remember that the Good News is indeed good. Here are some verses from the Gospels that remind us of that.

Jesus came to save people’s lives – not destroy them.

Luke 9:51-56
51 When the days were coming to a close for Him to be taken up, He determined to journey to Jerusalem. 52 He sent messengers ahead of Him, and on the way they entered a village of the Samaritans to make preparations for Him. 53 But they did not welcome Him, because He determined to journey to Jerusalem. 54 When the disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to call down fire from heaven to consume them?” 55But He turned and rebuked them and said, “You don’t know what kind of spirit you belong to. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy people’s lives but to save them,” 56 and they went to another village.

Jesus came to save – not condemn.

JN 3:17
“For God did not send His Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”

Jesus tells us what to do if we have interpersonal problems. Note these words are not about if you think someone is sinning, but if you and another person have problems.

MT 18:15-20
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and rebuke him in private. If he listens to you, you have won your brother. 16 But if he won’t listen, take one or two more with you, so that by the testimony of two or three witnesses every fact may be established. 17 If he pays no attention to them, tell the church. But if he doesn’t pay attention even to the church, let him be like an unbeliever and a tax collector to you. 18 I assure you: Whatever you bind on earth is already bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth is already loosed in heaven. 19 Again, I assure you: If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am there among them.”

Jesus came to be a servant, not a taskmaster.

MT 20:25-28
25 But Jesus called them over and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. 26 It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life—a ransom for many.”

Jesus came to find and rescue the lost.

LK 19:1-10
“Today salvation has come to this house,” Jesus told him, “because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save the lost.”

MT 18:11
“For the Son of Man has come to save the lost.”

Jesus came to save the world and not to judge it.

JN 12:44-47
44 Then Jesus cried out, “The one who believes in Me believes not in Me, but in Him who sent Me. 45 And the one who sees Me sees Him who sent Me. 46 I have come as a light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me would not remain in darkness. 47 If anyone hears My words and doesn’t keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.

We, as Jesus’ followers, must follow his example of being full of mercy and kindness, seeking to help people and not to condemn them.

Thanksgiving thoughts

I saw this picture recently

pilgrim refugee

…with these words….
1) “Where would we be if the Wampanoag hadn’t helped the Pilgrims?”

2) “Where would the Wampanoag be if they hadn’t helped the Pilgrims?”

These are two different thoughts, and both worthy of consideration.

These are good things to think about right now in light of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing for their very lives from areas of war and oppression. These are good things to think about in the week before we in America celebrate a day dedicated to giving Thanks.

The Pilgrims left England because their way of worship wasn’t allowed. They wanted to worship God in a manner that differed from the official Church of England. The Church of England was, at the time, equivalent with the government of England – go against one, and you’ve gone against the other. The punishment was fines for lesser offenses, and execution for greater ones. They decided to leave rather than change their way of worship, knowing that where they were going to was completely alien to them.

The people who lived in the area the Pilgrims landed were known as the Wampanoag, and they made sure that the Pilgrims had shelter and food. If it weren’t for them, the Pilgrims would have died out in short order as they were not used to living off the land. This is where the first Thanksgiving came from. Two different groups having dinner together. Sharing. Peaceful. Even though they didn’t share the same language or culture, they lived together in harmony.

However, over the course of time, the Pilgrims expanded and pushed out the Wampanoag. The Pilgrims weren’t interested in sharing. They’d forgotten their debt to the Wampanoag. They’d forgotten the tenants of their faith. Their diseases killed off the natives as surely as their guns did. The Wampanoag didn’t have a chance.

Native Americans all over the USA are marginalized. They live in reservations, they have low-paying jobs, little education, and rampant alcoholism. They lived much better before the white people came and imposed their way of life on them in an effort to “help” them. They didn’t need help. They were fine. They only needed help after the Pilgrims (and other settlers) came with their diseases and an insatiable need for more and more land.

How does this relate to today’s issues? If we in America show compassion to people who are different from us, will that result in our being pushed out, in our being killed? Will this nation become a Muslim nation? Wouldn’t this be fair, after what our ancestors did to the natives who were here?

But – should we allow fear to rule our actions? Jesus tells us repeatedly to not be afraid. Jesus tells us repeatedly to love our enemies, to feed the hungry, to clothe the naked.

Is there another way to act, other than the way we always have? A middle ground?

There is a fabulous re-imagining of Europe meets the Native Americans in Orson Scott Card’s book “Pastwatch: the Redemption of Christopher Columbus” – where time travelers go back to the natives and secretly inoculate them against the diseases. They also strengthen the native’s opinions and actions so they won’t let the Europeans push them down. They are able to live in peace after this.

Our government says they are worried about Sharia Law – forgetting that their ancestors pushed their own version on to the natives. We need a whole new way of thinking – where people share ideas and work together, with nobody higher or lower.

This is an amazing chance for us to learn from the past and re-vision a new future. This is a time of testing, where we can welcome in the stranger and become stronger because of it.

Consider a garden – one with just one kind of flower is boring. Having many makes it look beautiful.

Consider an orchestra – one with just one kind of instrument is dull. Having many makes it sound beautiful.

Consider a soup – one with just one kind of seasoning makes it taste bland. Having a variety makes it taste wonderful.

This is America – the land of immigrants. The land of second chances. The place where we say we are “The melting pot”, where we say “E pluribus unum” – which means “Out of many, one”.

It is time to let love and compassion rule us rather than fear.
It is time to truly be the “Christian” nation we say we are and take in the stranger, the lost, the refugee. Not because they are Christian, but because we are. Not to turn them into Christians, but for us to prove it through our actions.

Jesus himself was a refugee.

Matthew 2:12-15, his adopted father Joseph gets a message from God in a dream to escape their home and flee to a foreign land, because Herod had ordered every child under the age of two to be slaughtered.

“13 After they were gone, an angel of the Lord suddenly appeared to Joseph in a dream, saying, “Get up! Take the child and His mother, flee to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you. For Herod is about to search for the child to destroy Him.”14 So he got up, took the child and His mother during the night, and escaped to Egypt. 15 He stayed there until Herod’s death, so that what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet might be fulfilled: Out of Egypt I called My Son.” (HCSB)

Jesus himself was homeless –

In Matthew 8:20, talking to a man who wants to be his disciple –
20 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” (HCSB)

We must welcome the refugee. We must do this fearlessly. We must do it because Jesus would do this. As his disciples, we have to.

The life of following Jesus isn’t simply about everlasting life after we die. It isn’t a life where we say the words and get the prize. It is a life where we live, every day, a life of trust and hope and joy, right now, serving everyone as if they are Jesus, and serving everyone as Jesus would serve them.

This is a living faith. Let us act like it.

Who are the Samaritans? And why is this relevant today?

There are many stories in the Gospels about the Samaritans. Why are they referenced? Who are they? Why is the fact that they are Samaritan significant? I believe a little background is in order to help us understand the Gospel stories in question.

The following is taken from the Wikipedia article “Samaritans”. It is rather long. For our purposes the entire article can be reduced to these few paragraphs –
—————————————
“The Samaritans are adherents of Samaritanism, an Abrahamic religion closely related to Judaism. Samaritans believe that their worship, which is based on the Samaritan Pentateuch, is the true religion of the ancient Israelites from before the Babylonian Exile, preserved by those who remained in the Land of Israel, as opposed to Judaism, which they see as a related but altered and amended religion, brought back by those returning from the Babylonian exile.

Ancestrally, Samaritans claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) who survived the destruction of the Kingdom of Israel (Samaria) by the Assyrians in 722 BCE, as well as from the priestly tribe of Levi.

Samaritan historiography places the basic schism from the remaining part of Israel after the tribes of Israel conquered and returned to the land of Canaan, led by Joshua. After Joshua’s death, Eli the priest left the tabernacle which Moses erected in the desert and established on Mount Gerizim, and built another one under his own rule in the hills of Shiloh.

The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel who were descendants of the “Ten Lost Tribes” taken into Assyrian captivity. They had their own temple on Mount Gerizim and claimed that it was the original sanctuary. Moreover, they claimed that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text produced by Ezra during the Babylonian exile.

Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another.”
————————————————–

The stories that have Jesus directly interacting with Samaritans are:

Jesus and the Samaritan woman JN 4:1-42
The parable of the good Samaritan LK 10:29-37
The ten lepers LK 17:11-19

You can look the verses up in your Bible, online on BibleGateway.com, or by using the search feature on this blog on the far right column, towards the bottom.

I invite you to read these stories now, either again or for the first time, knowing the huge rift that was (and still is) between these two faith traditions. Notice how Jesus bridges these traditions to point them towards the One True God – with no more divisions. Jesus says that we are to love God where we are, that there isn’t a specific place to worship (not a mountain or a temple). Jesus says that are to love everyone equally, and this includes those people who historically have been our enemies.

What does this tell us about what the Church is – is it a place, or a way of living?

What does this tell us about how we are to interact with people of other faith traditions?

What does this tell us about how we are to show the love of God in the world, as followers of Jesus?

What does this tell us about including and excluding?

Specifically relevant to the issues of the day, what does it tell us about refugees who are of other faith traditions?

The map and the treasure

I recently went on retreat at a Benedictine monastery. Their website says that “You’re invited to join us any day for prayer or Mass in the Archabbey Church.” They pray five times every day, and have mass every day. They make a point of saying that the Rule of St. Benedict says “All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.” They say that “Hospitality is a Benedictine tradition.”

Their guest house is impressive. They even build guest rooms into their seminary. The meals are generous and filling. There is dessert with lunch and supper every day.

But the hospitality isn’t everywhere, and it doesn’t cover everything. There are quite a number of areas that are off limits. The signs are a bit distressing. And, you don’t get communion unless you are Catholic. Even though guests are to be welcomed as if they are Christ, even though they are welcomed to come pray with the monks, they can’t take communion. I made sure to ask the monk who was leading us (a Methodist group) on tour “Are we, or are we not allowed to receive communion?” and he said “I’m sorry, I’m not able to give you permission.”

He isn’t able to give me permission, because he is just a monk. Even the abbot, the monk in charge of the abbey, wouldn’t be allowed to give me permission. Only the Pope would. I’m working on a letter. I’m not kidding.

This is a Catholic rule, not a Benedictine rule. It is very painfully obvious to me that the Rule of St. Benedict is far more inclusive than the Rule of the Catholic Church. It would appear to me that they should offer communion to anyone who wants it, in the spirit of being welcoming and treating everyone as if they are Jesus. Following the rule of the Catholic Church, even Jesus wouldn’t be allowed to receive communion, because he is Jewish.

I’ve wrestled with this for years. This isn’t the first time I’ve written about this. Just look up “Communion” in the search field or in the tag cloud and you’ll see plenty of other of my musings on this subject. But this time was different. This time I invited Jesus into it. This time I started the weekend with the intention of meditating with Jesus about the goal of unity and inclusion for everyone. This time I was on a mission, and Jesus was my guide.

So how can the Church be inclusive and unified with contradictory policies? They say one thing, and yet do another. How can we welcome everyone as Christ if we put up signs or have policies that essentially say “You are welcome, but only so far, and only so much”?

There are plenty of signs throughout the grounds that say “off limits” in one way or another – –
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The tabernacles are all locked. These are the boxes in the chapels that hold the consecrated host. Catholics believe that Jesus is physically present in the communion wafers once they are blessed. Those that are not used at the mass are put into a tabernacle, locked away, and a candle left burning nearby.
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The vials for holy oil are in a special container with locks on it –
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In spite of all these “off limits” signs, there is a place that is truly special and yet has no doors to block it, no barricades. I knew when I saw a picture of this place when researching the monastery that I had to spend time here. This is a shrine that holds the consecrated host, but it is far fancier than the ones in the other chapels. The “Blessed Sacrament Chapel” is in a special alcove behind the organ in the abbey.

Their website says that “The tabernacle and its tower were fashioned from the altar used in the Church from 1909 to 1968.” The tower over it is called a “baldachin”. There is a much larger one over the altar in St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. It is used to indicate a holy place is underneath it.

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Here I prayed, asking Jesus about this rule. Should I take Communion anyway? This was on Friday. I was still unsure if I should even go to mass on Sunday, knowing that I wouldn’t be officially allowed. Sure, the priest wouldn’t know that I wasn’t Catholic. But I know.

I prayed, barefoot on that cold marble floor.
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I sat near the windows, looking at the shrine, with all that gold, all those gems. I wandered around that little chapel, taking pictures of the windows and ornaments, wondering about how many hungry people could have been fed with the money spent on these things.

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And then I heard Jesus say into my heart – “Why are you crying over the map, when you have the treasure?”

The “map” is the way you get there. The “treasure” is what you are seeking. The “map” is the communion wafer. The “treasure” is Communion with Christ. Why was I so upset over not being able to participate in a symbol, when I already had what the symbol represented? I have Jesus in my heart. That is the goal. That is the treasure. Once he has been welcomed in, there is no need to have the symbol of communion again. It points the way, while Jesus is the Way.

Yet I am still sad. I’m still sad over the painful exclusionary practices of an institution that represents Christ. I’m crying over the harm that their policies cause – and the hypocrisy of them. You can’t say you are welcoming of guests and yet put up signs saying that guests are not allowed. You can’t say you are hospitable and then not allow everyone to take communion.

The symbol matters. It matters because it shows that they still do not have Jesus in their hearts. If they did, they would understand that they can’t put up walls and barriers of any sort.

But then, let’s go deeper. This is about more than the symbol of communion or signs saying “off limits”. I say, not one more church building should be built until poverty is eradicated. When all people have food, clothing, and homes, then, and only then, can more churches can be built. People have to come first. Until then, these church buildings are empty shells, they are tombs. They are shrines to a dead faith that cares more about ritual and rules than reality. This applies to all denominations.

Think of how many people could have been housed with all the effort and money put into this place.
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The roofs are made of stone or terra-cotta tile. Very durable. Very expensive
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Even the downspouts are expensive – copper!
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How many poor people could have been fed with all of that money and effort put into these buildings? The Church is missing the point of how to serve Jesus. He said “Feed my sheep”, not “Build a huge church and hide yourself away in it, separated from the world”.

The reality of the living Christ is too important to pass by. All too much, Christians are focusing on a Jesus who existed “back then” in the stories in the Bible, or in the future, in a time of glory when he will come again. They focus on his death and his coming again, without the middle bit. They miss out on being united with Jesus right now, not just when they die. They live their whole lives in hope of “eternal life” with Jesus, completely passing by the opportunity to have a full life now, with Jesus in their hearts.

This is why I’m sad. I’m sad because the truth of Jesus hasn’t entered into the hearts of the faithful and into the Church. I’m sad that their policies and rules prove that their hearts and souls are not in synch. They say they are welcoming and hospitable, and yet their actions, deep down, prove otherwise.

Did I go to mass? Yes. Did I take communion? No.

Up until the very last minute I prayed about it, asking God what I should do. I went to mass and got up when it was time to get communion. Two of my friends who were on the retreat with me remained in their seats. In the queue, I prayed, asking God to direct my actions. And in response, my arms went up and crossed over me, as if on their own. To cross your arms over your chest, hands holding your shoulders, is a sign that you cannot take communion. It is to ask for a blessing only. When my arms came up, I knew that was what God wanted for me to do. The tears began to form in the corners of my eyes, and I let them come. Misty-eyed, I stood before the abbot who was administering the communion wafers. I bowed to show reverence for Jesus. The abbot muttered some blessing that I could not hear, and I walked away, tears streaming down my face.

I want them to see me cry. I want these brothers to see how painful this rule is. I want them to know that it does not build up the Church. I want their hearts to open. Perhaps they could practice a bit of conscientious objection, and refuse to take communion until all people can take it?

While on retreat, I got another answer from Jesus in the form of the reading for the day. It was from Haggai 2:3-9. (HCSB)

3 Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Doesn’t it seem like nothing to you? 4 Even so, be strong, Zerubbabel”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Be strong, Joshua son of Jehozadak, high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land”—this is the LORD’s declaration. “Work! For I am with you”—the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.5 “This is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid.” 6 For the LORD of Hosts says this: “Once more, in a little while, I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea and the dry land. 7 I will shake all the nations so that the treasures of all the nations will come, and I will fill this house with glory,” says the LORD of Hosts. 8 “The silver and gold belong to Me”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts. 9 “The final glory of this house will be greater than the first,” says the LORD of Hosts. “I will provide peace in this place”—this is the declaration of the LORD of Hosts.

What I got out of this was that the day is coming when the Lord will rebuild the House. Not the Temple, but the entire Church. It isn’t a building, after all, but a collection of people, united as the Body of Christ. Each believer that has Jesus as his or her guiding force inside is a stone that builds up this Church.

Also part of my intention for this weekend was this verse –

10 Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth. (Psalm 46:10, ASV).

Yet when I looked it up in the translation I brought with me, it was rendered as –
“Stop your fighting—and know that I am God, exalted among the nations, exalted on the earth.”

What I got out of this was this – it isn’t for me to worry about. God’s got it.
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