Growing Together: Food, Faith, Justice. A conversation of the Lower Merion Faith Community
Following on the conversations of the Lower Merion Faith Community regarding racial equity, we have decided to some actual steps to act upon our conversations. The issue of food insecurity and inequity is at the heart of the racial divides we experience. Not all communities have equal access to food and fresh produce. Many in our own communities suffer from food insecurity.
During our program on Monday, March 15th, Growing Together, we heard from grassroots organizations and faith based communities who are directly addressing the food inequities in their communities. Our desire in Lower Merion is gather the faith communities towards a common goal of maximizing the community gardens in Lower Merion to grow fresh produce for food pantries in the region. In some instances we will expand gardens while in others we will build gardens at faith communities that want them while still we will recruit volunteers from communities that do not have gardens to work in existing gardens.
At GPC we have three raised beds on site, and Margaret has three raised beds at her home which are part of the Victory Gardens of Bethel AME Church in Ardmore. There are two work days that we are setting aside for now on April 18th and 25th to start this project. This is a great opportunity to get outside and work side by side with members from our community and other communities.
To sign up for the Lower Merion Work Day, click here.
Mark 15: 1-47 & John 18: 33-19:42
We have witnessed the Crucifixion today, once again hearing of the trial, suffering and then death of Christ. The words are familiar, with both Mark and John agreeing on major points of the story. But the differences are also very telling. And these differences really poise difficult questions for us.
It is clear that for the actual telling of the story of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus, both Mark and John speak from a strong witness tradition. Jesus was arrested by the Jewish authorities, sent to Pilate for punishment, Pilate finds little blame upon Jesus but is convinced by the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ guilt and therefore sentences Jesus to crucifixion.
So what is the difficulty? It lies in the exchange between Jesus and Pilate, as over time it seems the early followers of Jesus sought to portray and more sympathetic view of Pilate. This is hard to reconcile with what we know historically about Pilate, a bloodthirsty and violent governor of Palestine. The question this poised for us, two thousand years later is, what do we make of this political revisionist history?
Crucifixion was a punishment of Rome for those people who committed acts of sedition and violence against the Empire. Rarely, if ever, did Rome get involved in religious struggles and disagreements among the people under the empire’s rule. Furthermore, Jewish leaders in the past had punished blasphemers without Roman oversight in the past. Why this rush to place the emphasis of guilt for Jesus’ death on the Jews and not the Romans? We tend to view the death of Christ as having religious roots, but his form of death and how it happened more reflected a political punishment, which occured at the hands of the Romans.
Why was the church so quick to vilify the Jewish community? Why was the church so quick to try and present a softer image of the Roman Empire, an image that history does not support? Does it make a difference our faith if we view Jewish death as religious more than political? While there is no doubt both play a role in his crucifixion, we cannot ignore the role of the status quo, the powers of this world, to kill Jesus.
If the powers of this world, which the Gospels point to the satanic forces, where the cause of Jesus death, then in placing blame for his death on the Jews, have we ignored the real power behind his death? The same power that even today oppresses others?
Charles Baudelaire wrote in the 19th Century, ” The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
The leaders of the Presbytery of Philadelphia have created this service for the faithful.
Mark 14: 12-72 & John 13:1- 18:27
No that is not a typo, that whole portion of John is covered in this devotion. Both portions of scripture speak to the evening of Jesus’ betrayal, but the Gospel of John encompasses the Farewell DIscourse which provides the bulk of moral and ethical teachings that Jesus provides to the disciples. Some sections we have read already, but there are a couple of themes to list up.
The Gospel of Mark provides the narrative of the Last Supper, the prayer at Gethsemane and the Betrayal. There a several items that appear and overlap in the Mark and John tellings, which signifies what the early church held in common. Notice the exhortation to treat others as if a servant to them, a theme we recognize from John yet appears in Mark as well. Then again notice that the Words of Institution that are used in our communion liturgy appears in Mark while it is the Great Commandment that appears in John. Ours is a tradition that is woven together from several witnesses in the early church.
It is appropriate to spend some time in prayer over these passages for this is where Jesus is laying the foundation for the new community that was to emerge. The table becomes an important place for worship and fellowship for the early believers. The teachings of Jesus in Mark and John that occur on this night, as the teachings that guide as a community, Communion and Table Fellowship are not just part of our existence, we exist because of Communion and Table Fellowship.
But notice as well, that even though table fellowship and communion are critical to the community, so is the reality of betrayal and sin. For in both witnesses, Jesus is betrayed, not just by Judas, but by all, as all his followers fall away. It is a fine line between communing with Jesus at the table but then walking away at any moment. This temptation is ever present in our lives, how do we deal with it?
Jesus dares to dine with us, dares to us. Provides nourishment and knowledge. Do we lean into this life, or do we approach the Table with one foot out the door? If we witness to the Crucifixion, are we all in, as Jesus is, or are we holding back parts of ourselves?
Mark 14: 1-11 & John John 17: 1-11
This is a poignant time in Jerusalem, Passover is around the corner. Passover has become of time of heightened concern by the Romans because nationalist sentiment takes over Jerusalem. Over the years, the Romans had built a troop pavilion and tower that overlooked the Temple so that they could respond quickly to any disturbances.
It seems the Jewish leaders are also on high alert as well, as they fear the power and influence of Jesus who has become a darling of the crowds. So concerned are they that they plan to arrest Jesus when he is isolated since they fear the masses. The passage ends with the arrangement that
Even the disciples are rather tense, as we hear of the story of the woman who anoints Jesus is chastised for wasting money. It is a fraught time, and everyone is feeling it, Romans, Jewish leaders, Jesus’ followers, all are being swept up in the tensions of the day. The tensions are a collision of different agenda, different desires. The betrayal by Judas is rationalized by the author as Judas witness the waste of the perfume and perhaps because he does not sense that Jesus is going to confront the Romans as he wishes.
The reading from Mark forces us to look at our own agendas this week. What is it that we are seeking from God? What do we want God to do? Are we concerned about God’s Will or just our own? As Jesus enters Jerusalem, we see the agenda of so many, but the only agenda that Jesus seems concerned with was the action of this woman who ends up anointing him. The author creates the possibility that this anointing is the anointing of Jesus’ body for burial. Are we comfortable with God’s agenda or do our desires push us to turn away from God’s Will?
Jesus farewell prayer in the Gospel of John speaks to Jesus’ willingness to complete the work of the Father. He has given over to the Will of God and speaks of this task being completed. Jesus has revealed the Will of God to those who the Father has given over to him. Now Jesus prays that the Father will continue to care for the followers of Jesus. Jesus understands that the world will be against his followers, that the tensions of Jesus day will not necessarily dissipate but instead will continue in new forms.
Do we recognize that Jesus is praying for us as we too face many tensions? Do we know that we are supported in pursuing God’s Will, that Jesus Christ himself is praying for us? Consider that in the midst of recognizing what was going to happen to himself, Jesus takes time to pray for you and me. As we face the anxieties and tensions of the world, as we live in this in between know, let us remember that Jesus is praying for us.
Mark 13 & John 12: 27-36
The Gospel of Mark, as the earliest gospel, is written right after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and contains a very strong apocalyptic world view. The writer and the community that the gospel was written for believed that Jesus’ return was imminent. The sign of the destruction of the Temple, being told in this passage, was the beginning of the days when Jesus was preparing for the return.
The author’s message to the faithful is the same message that is common in the Jewish apocalyptic tradition, to stay faithful, that the Lord will redeem the righteous. The early church did face persecution at times, it faced a difficult relationship with its Jewish co-religionists. It was a difficult time as the early believers, mostly Jewish, had to cope with a Roman Empire that was very antagonist to the Jewish community that had rebelled against the empire in the 60’s. The message of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark is to remain faithful, that the Lord will come.
For the modern church, we wonder how long we must be faithful? When will Jesus return? What happens when we see so much devastation around the world? Are these signs of the end? It is hard to be faithful in trying times, like even during a pandemic. But the modern church is not the only body of the faithful who has been challenged by the delay in the Parousia, the Return of Christ.
The Gospel of John was written perhaps two generations after Mark, it is written to a community that must cope with the delay in Jesus’ return. How do we explain this delay, but more importantly how do we deal with the delay? Jesus in the Gospel of John speaks of a realized understanding of the history of salvation in John 12: 27-36. Jesus speaks as things have been already determined.
Notice how the prayer of Jesus begins with a sense of doubt, “Now my soul is troubled..” mirrors some of the human emotions that we hear in Jesus’ prayer at the Garden of Gethsemane. But these doubts are quickly dispelled because Jesus knows that God’s Will will be done, there is no doubt. For John and John’s community, the presence of Christ in the world has changed history, God’s plan of salvation has come to fruition. Those who live in the light are already saved, this is not something that will happen in the future, it is now!
While John points ahead to the future of Jesus’ return, the author also emphasizes that we need not wait for that future, we are saved now and are called to live as those saved and prepared to meet Jesus at Jesus’ return. The world is divided in the Light and the Dark, those who See and those who do not See, the faithful are those who See and live in the Light.
These two readings sum up the theological understanding of Now and Yet Not Yet! In otherwards, we live faithfully in this time, recognizing that God has empowered us through the Spirit, but we also wait for the return of Christ. Our challenge it to find the strength to live in this in between time. As we witness to the Passion of Christ, we witness to the Power that enables us to live in this in between time.
Mark 11: 12-19 & John 12:20-26
The Gospel of Mark traces the journey of Jesus for the week, while the Gospel of John during the Passion narrative focuses more on the Farewell Discourse and Last Supper narrative leading up to the Crucifixion. Our readings for today show the divergence, with Mark speaking about the Temple while John speaks of the ministry to the Greeks.
Whereas the Gospel’s of Matthew and Luke have Jesus enter Jersusalem and immediately go to the Temple to overturn tables etc, in Mark, the Temple scene occurs the following day. But before the Temple scene, there is the interesting exchange with a fig tree to recount. Jesus, traveling once again from Bethany to Jerusalem, which is not small journey, is hungry and finds a fig tree on the way. He attempts to pick some fruit of the tree, not finding any, he curses the tree. Later, when the disciples pass the same tree, it is withered.
The question of bearing fruit is truly the point of the stories for today. When Jesus enters the temple and casts out vendors etc, he is not condemning the activities at the Temple, for they are required. Sacrifices are needed, money needs to be changed. The question needs to be asked, why was Jesus upset? We have no clear answers this but perhaps what sparked the rage of Jesus was too much emphasis on the merchantilism of the Temple. Maybe there were business activities that were occuring in the Temple that was not part of the Temple activity, or perhaps people were being gouged on prices for the things that were needed to properly worship at the Temple.
The connection with the fig tree helps to call into question how should Israel be being fruit? Were the activities at the Temple about bearing fruit? Was the actual worship at the Temple bearing fruit? Was Israel, in its worship of God, bearing fruit? And most importantly, are we bearing fruit? Or are we like the fig tree, empty?
Notice, that while Mark emphasizes the humanity of Jesus, who is hungry and looks for a fig to eat, the Gospel of John again speaks of the Son of Man, the son of the Father who will be exalted. When the Greeks come to Jesus, he speaks of the need to follow him in their lives and sufferings. Notice, there is no talk about the Temple or following the Torah. The Gospel of John demonstrates how the Church had shifted its emphasis from the Jews to the Gentiles. Yet the challenge is to bear fruit. Notice the symbolism of the seed of grain that must die in order to bear fruit. The call of the faithful, whether Jew or Gentile is to bear fruit.
Are we like the fig tree? Or the grain that falls to the ground?