Superman Returns
The End of American Hegemony

From Miracle to Table

From Miracle to Table
Mark 6:1-13
by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones
Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City
9 July 2006

Judy and Linda simply did not want to go. They were in Dallas visiting friends and those friends said they wanted to take Judy and Linda to church. But Judy and Linda were not interested in going to church. They told their friends, “no.” Repeatedly. However, since Judy and Linda could never be rude, these were always polite no-s, so eventually they caved and were dragged to the Cathedral of Hope by their friends. They were making those faces at each other that couples make to convey their discomfort, those faces that hopefully no one else recognizes.

But when they got to church, it wasn’t what they expected. From the moment they entered, they felt something special. As the service began, they began to cry. They cried throughout the service. They didn’t stop crying.

It was a baptismal service. At the end, Michael walked down the aisle sprinkling the congregation with water. A drop fell on Judy’s cheek, and she can still feel that drop today.

John Dominic Crossan, who is a scholar of the historical Jesus, considers this Mark passage to contain the “heart of the original Jesus movement.” This is a passage about mission. Not mission as we normally conceive it, but mission in the sense of a lifestyle. As in “my mission in life.” Jesus was teaching a lifestyle, and it is captured in this passage.

Now, Jesus could have stayed in Nazareth and built a pretty effective ministry. He could have set up shop in a comfortable location and allowed folk to come to him for healing. He might have become important in Nazareth, the local boy made good. He might have brought honor and benefits to his family.

But that’s not what he did. Instead, Jesus went about among the villages teaching. And he commissioned followers to do the same. Though Mark tells the story as a one time event involving the commissioning of the Twelve, we know, because this story and references to similar events occur in various other New Testament sources, that we probably aren’t talking about just a one time event. It seems to be a pattern in the early Jesus movement that Jesus was constantly sending his followers out on these journeys.

Who are these people that Jesus is sending out? They are the people whom he has already touched. Crossan calls them “healed healers.” These are the people, men and women, whom Jesus has already healed or exorcised. These are the people who have already heard the message of repentance for the kingdom of God is at hand.

This is the pattern. The mission of the church is staffed by those people who have already been touched by the church’s mission. People who have already received some form of healing. Judy and Linda’s friends, for example, had received healing, and they were ready to share that healing with others. Once Judy and Linda received the healing grace that they needed, they dedicated their lives to making sure that others heard that message too. And how many of us have been healed as a result of their faithfulness to Christian mission?

What did these healed healers do? They went out into the villages, into people’s homes, and ministered to them. They got out among the people who needed them most. The earliest Jesus movement was radical. It was not sufficient to go into a town and preach in the marketplace. It wasn’t Jesus’ original vision to establish locations and have people come to them. Though these methods were later used by Christians, they don’t originate with Jesus. Jesus’ vision was far more radical. He sent disciples out into the homes of the peasants, and they were to rely on the peasants for their support.

In 21st century culture, the principle is still the same. We are being faithful to Jesus when we get out and among the people who need to receive Jesus’ healing ministry. We need to be building homes with the poor or visiting the sick in the hospital, sitting with grieving widows or ministering to orphans.
And notice that Jesus isn’t calling for people to simply donate their funds. In fact, he says not to bring your money along. Jesus’ vision isn’t simply generous almsgiving, as important as that may be. This passage is about spending time with those in need to the point of identifying with them. This passage calls us to ask ourselves some difficult questions.

Now, why does Jesus expect the disciples to rely for their food upon the generosity of the peasants? Because this will create communion. The disciples will build real, authentic relationships by sharing the hospitality of strangers.

Have you ever noticed how important meals are to the story of Jesus? Well, there’s the feeding of the five thousand. And the feeding of the four thousand. And dinner at Zaccheus’ house. And the Lord’s Supper. And the meal on the seashore after the resurrection. And the supper with the two disciples in Emmaus. And the wedding feast in Cana.

It is not just that meals figure importantly in the stories of Jesus, but they are important in his theology as well. Meals are intimate things, especially when you invite someone into your home, to your table. Just think what goes into that. Before someone comes over to eat, you first have to take time to invite them. Then you usually clean the house. You have to prepare the meal, which includes shopping and cooking and setting the table. Then there is clean-up. Not to mention the conversation and entertainment during the meal. If you are the host, you end up spending a great deal of time just to show a kindness to this person or persons.

The shared table stands as a symbol for the radical community that Jesus is trying to create. It represents the church’s mission, which is the formation of that community.

We represent that radical message every week in the observance of communion. We are inviting everyone to participate in the Jesus movement by communing with one another. It is part of Jesus’ healing message.

Crossan talks about this passage as the movement from miracle to table. The mission begins with healing and culminates in community. So, here is the essence of the early Jesus movement, healed healers sent out among the people who need their ministry most with the goal of building authentic, radical community.

And that’s who we are. In 2004, the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City adopted vision and mission statements. Our vision statement reads:

We are a people who serve in the manner of Jesus – with compassion, inclusion, liberation, and hope.
Our mission is to empower all people to experience the presence of God, to grow toward wholeness, and to act in love.

I believe our congregation stands at a crossroads. We are in a period of transition. We have entered into a year of dialogue with the United Church of Christ, exploring affiliation with that denomination. As a part of that process we are writing by-laws and creating structures and making decisions. We’ve got months ahead in which we must take significant actions. What those choices will be and even how we make them will define our identity as a congregation.

We have developed a faithful, effective, important ministry. We are touching lives, which is clearly evidenced by the 18 people who are currently in our membership class. Throughout this community I hear positive comments. “Oh yeah, I’ve heard about your church and have been meaning to visit sometime.” Or praise for some event or ministry of ours. Plus there are the more personal moments. The stranger who calls for help. The sick person visited in the hospital. The wheelchair ramp that we built for one of our own.

Yet we do stand at a crossroads. Is there more ministry for the Cathedral of Hope – Oklahoma City? Can we do even more to live into our vision and mission?

We rightly value what we have right now. But I think that most of us have a vision that even more lives can be touched. There are even more people like Judy and Linda who need the healing that only a church like ours can provide.

Plus there are the tangible things. We want a building. We want an office with equipment and staff. We want more resources. I want to remind us that those things are not ends. We don’t need an office simply to have an office. We only deserve an office only if it can become a way to fulfill this mission of Jesus, to reach people with healing, to form community. We must be constantly aware of what our ends are and not to confuse the means for the ends.

So, how do we get there? What can we do? My answer is “be faithful.” We must be faithful followers of Jesus. If the essence of the Jesus movement is healed healers sent out among the people who need their ministry most with the goal of building authentic, radical community, then we must do that.

At our recent Council on Ministry meeting, we discussed many ideas on how to do that. The United Church of Christ local Oklahoma Association has two on-going mission projects. The first one has been underway for awhile and the second is in its earliest stages. The first ministry is at the prison in Watonga. Our Oklahoma prison there is home to a number of prisoners from Hawaii. The State of Hawaii does not have room for all of its prisoners, so they contract for them to be kept in various other states.

Now, imagine what it must be like for a native Hawaiian to be kept in prison in Oklahoma. He would be completely isolated from family and friends, basically unable to receive any visitors that would keep him connected to the outside world. He would be completely cut-off from the natural environment that is central to his cultural identity. Just imagine having never lived that far from the ocean and then coming to Oklahoma. A further problem for these prisoners is that many elements of the Native Hawaiian religion are prohibited by the regulations of our state prisons.

Seeing a need, the United Church of Christ Oklahoma Association decided to find a way to help. There’s not much they can do except minister to these prisoners by being present. Just visiting them is the primary ministry of this project.

The other association mission project is exploring how the UCC can be involved in the Tar Creek project. Tar Creek is a body of water in Ottawa County in Northeastern Oklahoma. In fact, it runs through the neighborhood of Miami that I grew up in. Tar Creek is severely polluted as a result of the lead and zinc mining that occurred in the tri-state region through much of the twentieth century. We knew it was dirty. What we didn’t realize is that Tar Creek represents what may be the worst environmental disaster in American history. It is the most expensive EPA Superfund site in history. And it looks like only the surface has been scratched exploring the extent of the environmental damage and the poisoning of water, land, and people. I wonder about the effects on myself.

Our congregation is exploring how we can be involved in these projects. Plus, we talked about other issues and other events. We will keep participating in Habitat for Humanity. Some of us are active in business, political, service, and arts organizations. Paula is planning a prayer service for Iraq. David Disbrow is looking into how we can be involved in future minimum wage reform efforts. Tom is gathering information about the AIDS Walk. Mary Jane has a wonderful idea for ministering to women in our county jail that she is working on. We in the GLBT community want others to help us in our civil rights struggle, so we are also exploring how we can build bridges with our sisters and brothers in other civil rights struggles, including immigration issues. And I’ve had some conversations around the idea of starting a Circle of Hope in Lawton, probably with the help of some sister UCC churches.

Now, hopefully you are asking, how can we do all of that? Well, we can’t if the same 15 people try to do it all. Most of our leadership is over-extended as it is. So, as we take on new ministry we need new people to step to the plate, either to take on these new ministries or to take over some other job and free someone else up to lead in a new direction.

Plus, we need creativity and imagination, enthusiasm and energy.

If we want to minister to more people, then we’ve got to go out to where the people are. Just like the disciples of the early Jesus movement, we’ve got to get out and among those in need. And in the process we’ve got to work at building real, genuine relationships, creating an authentic, radical community. It’s not just about a service project or an event every couple of months, it is a lifestyle. We are “on mission” in our everyday lives, embodying Christ. This is not about us becoming programmed to death. That wouldn’t be effective ministry. It’s really about raising our consciousness and developing that sense of mission as part of everything we do. Next week I’m going to speak specifically about what we can be doing as individuals to participate in this miracle of hope.

As we go through this period that requires us to make all sorts of new administrative decisions, we need to stay focused on the central elements of our life together. The most central thing is our worship of God. It is theologically true that all of congregational life should flow from worship. We happen to exist in a situation in which it is also practically true because the only time we are all together is when we meet for Sunday worship. It is in this context that we weekly enact rituals that dramatize the healing ministry of Jesus. These rituals not only dramatize some past event, they participate in a sacred reality that creates opportunities for healing and fellowship in the present. That was Judy’s and Linda’s experience.

So, I’m sometimes asked why we celebrate communion every week. The answer is because it is central to who we are. We proclaim a message that all are welcome to be part of God’s community, and no matter how often I say that or how many times we sing it, in communion every week we act it out. The table is a miracle. It does what we have considered impossible. It heals us. It breaks down our walls and opens us up to relationship with other people. And that miracle occurs because Jesus offered himself first and was resurrected as a symbol that his way of life would bring newness and wholeness. We have the greatest good news ever, and we need to share it. We come here to the table to receive healing and then we take these gifts and share them with others so that they too might be healed. Who knows what other Judy’s and Linda’s are out there needing healing?

We are travelers on a journey together. A journey of boldly proclaiming God’s good news to a world in need. A journey that requires us here and now to live God’s way. A journey that can only be faithfully completed if we learn how to interact with other people and live a life of extravagant generosity and grace. The journey of a community whose basic rule is that we are united in our diversity. A journey that despite whatever difficulties can be filled with joy and peace. A journey that begins and ends and is overwhelmed by one basic idea – this is a journey of love.


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I really liked this post, Scott. Especially the way you speak of outreach. "But that's not what He did." Love it.

As far as Tar Creek is concerned, I would be happy to dig up some information on environmental impact and pollution remediation for you. I have a plethora of environmental engineering resources at my disposal.


My thoughts exactly.
Keep up the good blogging.
"All my music is free."

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