REVERB, LUKE WINSLOW: PROPER 12C

REVERB, LUKE WINSLOW: PROPER 12C


This prayer that Jesus gave to his friends on their way to Jerusalem was, for me, almost as familiar as that pledge of allegiance they make you memorize when you’re a kid. Any time I was at some social event where these were brought up, the words were always easy to bring to mind. The kind of easy where it’s so familiar and so repeated that the words start to lose their meaning. But today I want to have that same desire the disciples had, to break open the fallow and dormant ways of seeing the world we’re used to and to receive Jesus’ gift of a new way of being in the world. I think using food as a lens, which we’ve been doing this month, is going to be a fun way of playing with this and seeing what can come out.

In the first line where Jesus says, “hallowed by your name and your kingdom come,” there’s something very particular being pointed to. As we know, this was subversive in a dominant culture where to hallow anything other than the Roman mythology of an omnipotent Caesar was intolerable. Caesar’s kingdom was built on what Jesus names a little later in Luke as the word mammon, which is wealth that comes from surplus, extraction, accumulation, possession. But Jesus says you can’t serve two masters, only one: God or mammon. There’s a parallel here to the Exodus story where the Israelites had just left behind their place of slavery and were learning to live on the land.

The Caesar of that time, Pharaoh, had forced these people to build giant storehouses of grain and food to supply his way of living, and only giving them some according to how he worked them. The Israelites had to learn to be dependent on God’s sustenance, manna, in order to live outside that context of empire food, centered on hierarchy and security. And the story is clear: although the community did not always know where this kind of food would come from or how, the manna always would, and not only that, there would be more than enough as long as they didn’t try to hold onto it and save it. This “daily bread” for the Israelites is the same thing Jesus shows us to pray for in Luke. You can only have one master: manna… or mammon.

Today’s mammon is the fast food drive thru. It’s the Walmart grocery aisle. It’s Coca-Cola. We might not have a Pharaoh or a Caesar dictating how we eat, but we do have this dominant culture that has socialized us into all kinds of harmful, unhealthy, and violent ways of relating to our bodies, the land, and each other. A theologian remarked a couple years ago that the fast food drive through is about as anti-eucharistic as it gets, but if they were in Seattle today they might update that with this whole Amazon Prime Now thing. At least to get a bean burrito at Taco Bell, you had to say a few words through a PA system menu screen to another person on the other side of the wall, and maybe a few more at the drive thru window to give your money. But with this Prime Now thing, you can order some food and 20 minutes later have it arrive with a ring of the doorbell. No human contact necessary, no interpersonal interaction, no relationship. In other words, in our society today it is possible to eat without ever having to depend on someone for the usual exchanges to get that end product that is food. (Though, in a way, you’re still “depending” on the chain of exploitation and manipulation that is the entire capitalist economy.) See, that qualifier is only necessary in such a culture where we live under this illusion of autonomy and independence. This is our mammon! Are we lamenting this every time we use the drive thru and the grocery aisle? We need liturgies of lament that remind us every time we participate in this system of just what we’re missing out on, the eucharistic relating to land and food that Jesus’ prayer is pointing to. Maybe we should add a line of confession on to our traditional graces before a meal, not letting ourselves forget about the realities of the fallen, incomplete, unjust food system that had at least some part in what’s on our table. Without this conscious awareness of how our mammon culture functions to keep this illusion going, how can we desire anything different? I think this is basically what is going on in the Lord’s Prayer.

The way from mammon to manna for us today isn’t to just be at ease with whether the eggs are “free range” or whether the berries were picked by union workers or how all the Amazon cars are Priuses, at least. The Lord’s Prayer is specific: God’s kingdom come, God’s will be on earth as it is in heaven. It doesn’t really matter whether this year’s new Caesar will be Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton, I don’t think our food system is going to change regardless. It won’t be God’s kingdom come unless we’re talking about a radically different way of relating to food, and today’s Colossians passage hints at that. “For in Christ the whole fullness of God dwells bodily.” I think Paul is suggesting that any food-way that exists within the bounds of an empire economy will only be a shadow of how we’ll relate to our bodies and the land in Christ’s kingdom.

And I think that’s what Jesus is trying to show us in the last few lines of the prayer. In this new community he’s leading us into, food is a means of reconciliation. It points to God’s original intent for what food will be for humans and all creatures—food is an invitation to belonging. Not only with one another, when we invite friends over for dinner or have pie contests at church, but a means of membership in this vastly complex ecosystem that is God’s earth, which we explored here last month. “Forgive us our debts as we forgive the debts of others.” See, this point is going to look different for us according to our social location. For those of Jesus’ disciples who were coming from the lower class of laborers, whose work was taxed by the Roman government and had to work harder because of the debt they were forced into, they were ready to have their debts forgiven. That is a very real reality that Christ desires for this new community. But for the former tax collector disciples, coming from the relatively upper class, it’s not so easy to forgive debts. That’s why so much of the rest of the Book of Luke has Jesus calling out rich people—when one has done everything according to the law but “walks away sadly” when Jesus calls him to give away his riches, we see how hard this can be for we privileged hearers.

This is all directly translatable to food, is it not? How many people on the streets of Seattle need good, nourishing food, and don’t have access to it because of the “debt” that is unemployment or, let’s be real, minimum wage employment? And how many of us with privileged access to food—are we doing good with what is given us by releasing our less privileged brothers and sisters from their food debt by sharing whenever we can? Every time I see my friend Bobby playing his guitar outside the University Trader Joes, I grab him a chocolate milk and an apple and sit with him for a bit. Every time I see my friend Sam on the corner of 15th and Dravus, I run into the QFC to grab him a Pepsi and a Clif Bar and sit with him a bit. Sooner than later I hope these friendships can deepen to the point where I’m inviting Sam and Bobby over to my community house’s weekly dinners where half the food is coming from the backyard garden and the food and conversation is nourishing and filling in the deepest possible way. I don’t want to be like the man that Jesus speaks of after the Lord’s Prayer, the man who wasn’t feeling very selfless that day when his friend needed some bread at midnight. Yes, it’s inconvenient to our sense of independence and entitlement built into us by this empire culture, but how else will God’s kingdom come than through our everyday decisions?

These are a few small ways for me to enact the Lord’s Prayer in my own life. And when we fight for better, living wages for our working brothers and sisters, we sow the seeds of a better food reality so that people won’t have to work two or three jobs just to keep food on the table for their families. It’s all interconnected. And as Jesus repeats over and over again in his interactions with the Pharisees throughout Luke, what’s the point of saying the words of a prayer if we’re not embody it through our actions? Blessed are those who say the words of God and do them. Here, in this community, we can embody the Lord’s Prayer in how we do food. When we share food, and thus, our time and our money and our selves, we get to ease these burdens of debt or false independence in the most tangible way. Maybe not every meal of every day, not yet, and yet, Jesus says, this is how we pray.

 

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