23B Mark 10:17-31 Rich Young Ruler and Relationships, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, Gulf Shores, Alabama, October 14, 2018

23B Mark 10:17-31Rich Young Ruler and Relationships

Holy Spirit, Gulf Shores October 14, 2018

Bishop Steven Charleston recently posted on his Facebook Page a short piece called, “ How we are remembered.”

“Not many of us will be remembered for what we have done, though we may have accomplished a lot. As important as we once were, what remains is not what we have built, but who we have inspired. The lives we touched will go on. The minds we opened, the hearts we cherished, the spirits we set free, It is in relationship that our names are remembered. It is in how well we shared our love that will live on in ways unchanging.”1

This reminds me of the beginning of Paul’s second letter to Timothy. “I am grateful to God.. whom I worship.. as my ancestors did..when I remember you constantly in my prayers… recalling your tears… I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you.” 2

Do you think about what will be your legacy, how people will remember you? I think of Phillips Brooks, a legendary preacher, writer, social activist, innovator of modern architectural and liturgical tastes at Trinity Copley Square in Boston, briefly bishop of Massachusetts before his early death at age 58. When you see his life size, six feet four-inches statue at Trinity Boston you realize what a formidable, physically imposing man he was. Of all his accomplishments, he is now most remembered for one short poem he wrote one night on a visit to the Holy Land, “O Little Town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie” What is your “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” your life in your words by which you will be remembered? /

What about John Chrysostom, named a golden-mouth preacher of his day in the early church, archbishop of Constantinople, recognized among the Three Holy Fathers, with Basil the Great and Gregory of Naz/i/an/zus? Those who read Morning Prayer say his prayer of St. Chrysostom near the closing of the service each morning, “you have promised that when two or three are gathered together in his Name you will be in the midst of them.” That is how we remember him./ What is your Prayer of St. Chrysostom, your prayer by which people will remember you when “two or three or gathered?’/

How about St. Francis who was honored with the blessing of your beloved animals here last Sunday? He changed the church’s view on our ministry to the poor and the sacredness of God in Nature, but he is still best remembered for his prayer just attributed to St. Francis. “Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.” So, we still do not even know if he ever wrote it. What is your Prayer of St. Francis, your relationship to those in need that brought peace and love by which you will be remembered?

My Grandparents, Joe and Annie Whaley, whom by the way I am named after, mostly raised me. They nurtured me and cared for me and loved me without conditions. My greatest memory of my grandmother, however, is one single event occurring one of the days I went back to college in another state. I always go to say goodbye to my grandparent at their nearby home on my way out of town. I only stay a few minutes. This day my grandmother is playing canasta with her sisters. I kiss her goodbye and leave. Then I remember I have forgotten something. I go back to their house and my grandmother is not at the card table. I ask her sisters, “Where is she?” After a pause my Aunt Julia whispers, “She went upstairs to her bedroom to cry. She misses you so much when you are gone.”

I suddenly realize how little time I spend with my grandparents on these infrequent visits home from college. I am usually absorbed with my friends or schoolwork I bring home. I become acutely aware of how much my grandmother loves me. I run up the stairs, hug her one more time, and witness her love embarrassed by her tears. I can still feel today that love my grandmother showed me with her secretly concealed bedroom tears./ Where are your tears of love by which you will be remembered?

It is possible that you may be most remembered like my grandmother for just one small act of love?/////

We first meet the rich young ruler as children in Sunday school. Matthew is the only gospel that says he is young, and Luke is the only one who calls him a ruler. Since our familiar friend makes an appearance in all three synoptic gospels, this must be a true story, even though most of us wish that the young man had stayed home. Barbara Brown Taylor3 says because of him, we have two of the hardest sayings in the whole Bible: “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me…It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” /

This is not just a story for the Rockefellers or the Trumps. We all know that by the world’s standards, everyone in this room is “rich,” and we are all the man in this story.

Our young man is posed, respectful with impeccable manners. He kneels at Jesus’ feet. He addresses Jesus as “Good Teacher.” Then he lets it slip about his wealth, “What must I do TO INHERIT eternal life?” This is a rich person’s question, someone thinking about a trust so his children can avoid probate at his death, considering whether to develop a charitable lead or a charitable remainder trust for his estate, not preoccupied by lesser questions such as, “Where can I find work?” or “Where can I find food for my family today?” 3

Jesus looks down at the man kneeling before him and sees an exceptional, successful hard-working leader, who innocently asks about achieving a good portfolio in heaven as he has been developing on earth. He sees eternal life as a good investment.

Jesus, as he so often does, reframes the question in terms of living in “God’s kingdom” today, in the present, not just in the future.5 Jesus tries to get him back on track by saying, “You know the commandments,” and without hesitation, the young man recites half of them and adds a little extra one, “You shall not defraud.”

“Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth,” he says, and Jesus looks directly into his eyes with unconditional love. Jesus looks at him with those X-ray eyes that parents have. He loves what he sees, a real seeker. Some translations use the Greek word agapao indicating that Jesus actually reaches out and gently “caresses” him. This is the answer that we often miss in this story. Jesus loves the young man. Jesus comes into relationship with the young man and sees what is lacking. He is missing a real relationship with God and especially others.

Jesus’ examination then goes deeper into his soul, and like a physician making an astute diagnosis, he says, “You lack one thing.” Jesus sees a man whose relationship is to his wealth, not to the people around him.

How the young man’ heart must be pounding. At last! Jesus will write a prescription to satisfy that deep hunger, the answer to the emptiness, the longing that money and work cannot buy.

Then like the blade of a skilled surgeon’s knife, Jesus cuts to the heart of the achievement issue, “Go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” Wow! Do you feel the impact of that?.

“At that saying his countenance fell, and he went away sorrowful; for he had great possessions.”///

Do you wonder what happens next? What is the ending? My midrash is that the man follows Jesus from afar but at some point, as we all do on our journey, is moved even more by Jesus’ teachings, or maybe by the events of Good Friday. He decides to give all to the poor. He meets up with some of the disciples he has gotten to know and after the resurrection is present at Pentecost. I believe this ending because this true story is so well told in all the gospels. I think the rich young ruler also told his own story to so many people that most Christians knew it when the gospels were written. Telling our story is a part of following Jesus.///

One last message in this story is is often missed. When Jesus tells the man to give everything away, Jesus is simply speeding up the process that he and each of us will go through. We have no choice but to give it all away, for it most certainly is not going with us into eternal life. Even if we plan on leaving everything to our children, we are still giving it all away.4 //

Today Jesus offers a prescription for the kingdom of God, right now, right here, not at a later date. Jesus looks with love into the eyes of each of us as he did for the young man and asks us to come and follow him, turn our lives and our will over to him, tell our story, be in relationship with him and in relationship with each other, especially with those around us who are in need.// ////

This is how we will be remembered.

Joanna joannaseibert.com

1 Steven Charleston Daily Facebook Meditation

2 2 Timothy 1:3-6.

3 Stephen Crotts, “The One That Got Away,” Lectionary Homiletics, October 2000.

4 Barbara Brown Taylor, “The Opposite of Rich,” The Preaching Life, 121-126.

5 David Howell, Feasting on the Word, year B vol. 4, pp. 164-169.

22B Children and the Kingdom, Mark 10: 2-16, Cape Giradeau, October 7, 2018

22B Children and the Kingdom

Mark 10:2-16, Cape Girardeau, October 7, 2018

Jesus precedes Marion Wright Edelman as president and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund. While most people in authority in the first century ignore anyone shorter than their own kneecaps, Jesus intently looks to see what is going on down there. He observes toddlers hanging on to their mother’s skirts shrinking away from stray dogs, wagon wheels, and donkey dung. He sees them trying to keep up with the grown-ups, walking gamely at first but then quickly defeated,/ finally limping along with one arm pulled high almost out of joint by tall people with giant strides, developing what is described medically as nurse maid’s elbow.

In Jesus’ day, children are side items, not main events. They are gifts from God who will be useful later on to care for their parents, work the family business, bring money to the family from a marriage dowry. Meanwhile they are non–entities-fuzzy caterpillars to be fed and sheltered until they turn into butterflies. Children were more often treated as slaves than as honored members of the family.

But Jesus seems to like them just as they are, which is unusual for a man, especially a bachelor. He is not afraid of babies. He takes them in his arms and blesses them. He knows how to put his hand behind their wobbly heads, how to pass them back to their mothers without dropping them. Even the two-year old toddlers do not bother him. He never asks their parents to please take them to the nursery. When his disciples scold people for bringing their children to church, Jesus is indignant. This is how to enter the kingdom, he says. Children are showing us how to become full-fledged citizens of God’s realm, not later but right now./

This story is not as radical today as it was back then, for we are much more tuned into our children than first-century Palestinians were. Far from ignoring children, we sometimes tend to idealize them, dressing them in Strasburg fashions, putting them in first grade French classes, setting a place for them at adult dinner parties, spending our every waking hours taking them and cheering them on at sports events, and goodness knows we won’t go into what grandparents do for them. Maybe we lavish the attention on children we wish someone had lavished on us,/ or we see another chance to be a child again, but in any case, children are visible and audible in our adult world today, and we are better people because of their presence.

We know children are innocent, playful, probably our best role models of living in the present moment. But like adults they can be noisy, destructive, self-centered and sometimes surprisingly cruel. Jesus is not holding children up as moral examples for us to imitate. He tells us in order to come into God’s kingdom we must come as a little child. Barbara Brown Taylor describes this as a pretty amazing admission fee.

Do you want to spend some time with God? Then get down on the floor with little Zoe. Get finger paint all over your clothes and laugh at her words and funny faces and never mind that you have more important things to do, like finishing the laundry or earning a living. She is not a side item. She is the main event. Opening yourself up to her is better for your soul than finishing a project or getting a raise or even reading a whole book of the Bible.

There will be no paybacks. Oh, she may shout your name the next time she sees you and run to hug your knees, but you can not list her as a job reference or ask her to lend you money to get your car fixed. She is not in charge of anything. She cannot buy you anything. She will not even remember your birthday or invite you over for supper with friends. She has no status, no influence, no income, which makes her great in God’s eyes. She is just what you need. And you learn from her that it is what you do when you think no one is looking,/ with someone who does not count,/ for no reward,/ that ushers you into the presence of God.

Do you see what Jesus is up to? It is one more of his lessons in the topsy-turvy kingdom of God where the first shall be last and the last shall be first and everyone who thinks he or she is on the top of the heap is in for a big surprise…. And Jesus is not talking just about children either. He is talking about all the ones in this world with no status, no influence, no income… the working poor, the homeless, the disabled, the mentally ill, the sick, LGBT persons thrown out of families because they want to become the person God created them to be, immigrants, abused children, abused men and women, Third World persons. God is daring us to welcome all as bearers of God, to believe that God’s hierarchy is the reverse of our culture’s.//

This is Jesus’ second children’s sermon in two weeks. He must think children are very important. (the first was two weeks ago in Mark 9:30-37). Maybe it is because he recently found the disciples playing the “Who’s the Greatest” game on the road to Capernaum. These are like Jesus’ graduate students comparing GRE scores. They are his top-level managers who have just finished Harvard’s continuing education management course. They are wondering who will be picked to be at that top tier./ But they are really arguing about who is greatest because they cannot understand what Jesus has just been saying about being killed. They are afraid to ask, and so they go as far away from the subject as they can by playing status games instead.

We know what that is like. When we are scared of something. act as if there is nothing wrong. Change the subject, talk about something else instead, something that makes us feel big and strong. That is what the disciples were doing, and that is why Jesus sits them down, honors the children their mothers are bringing to him and gives his followers an advanced leadership seminar right then and there. When the disciples try to keep children away from Jesus, he says, “ Let the little children come to me. If you do not receive the kingdom of God as a little child, you will not enter it.” Instead of a power point presentation, he illustrates what he means using that old show and tell method. He takes a little child in his arms. They want to know who is greatest,/ so he shows them: twenty-six inches tall, limited vocabulary, unemployed, zero net worth, nobody. God’s agent. The last, the least of all.

Jesus is telling us that when we are organizing our lives, we are to look for the little child around us to be reminded that God organizes things differently. If we want to enter the kingdom and welcome God into our lives, there is no one whom we may ignore. In the topsy–turvy kingdom of God, the most unlikely people are most likely to be agents of God, the ones who live in the world below our kneecaps, the ones who are stuck at the end of the unemployment line, the invisible people we work with for years whom we know only by their first name/ if at all, those living at our state and federal prisons, the harried woman at the checkout counter at our grocery store, the server at our fast food restaurant, the orderly in the hospital, our friend in the nursing home we have forgotten…invisible people. Jesus calls us to start seeing the unseen, not because it is virtuous, not so we can congratulate ourselves on being the greatest. Start seeing the invisible because to receive them is to receive Jesus. This is where Christ likes to live. When we reach out to invisible people, that is where we will find Jesus . ///

Sam Lloyd also believes that there is one more reason Jesus keeps talking about first century children. They represent our honoring and welcoming the child within each one of us, that piece of us made for wonder, delight, and vulnerability. They represent our reclaiming our capacity for wonder—slowing down and taking the foot off of the gas pedal. They are our connections to the present moment, the Christ within us.

There are some brief moments in our service today where the children in our midst and this child within us makes an appearance. When we come to communion, as we walk down the aisle, kneel and hold out our open hands to receive the bread and drink from the cup, for that moment we surrender to become needy, dependent, childlike, ready to receive the Love we most need. That child within is hungry and so longing to be fed and to connect us to the God of Love.

As we leave that rail, if we want to continue to enter God’s kingdom, there are so many more ways, and we do not have to go far. Jesus calls us to go out into this needy world and find someone we, our society considers a nobody. Look into their eyes, really look at them, offer that same hand that once held that bread and …. say hello again to God within them.

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com

Barbara Brown Taylor, “Last of All,” Bread of Angels, pp. 131-135.

Mary Hinkle, “Seeing Things,” Living by the Word, pp. 131-133.

Richard Donovan, “The First Children’s Sermon,” Sermonwriter Proper 20B, 2006.

The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, “Jesus and Children 20B, A Child at the Center, Washington National Cathedral Sermon.

12 step Eucharist 17B Graft in our hearts St. Mark's Episcopal Church Little Rock September 5, 2018

17B Graft in our hearts the love of your Name

 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

12 step Eucharist September 5, 2018

In our gospel tonight Jesus reminds us that it is not what we put into our bodies  that causes us to sin. Now we alcoholics and addicts know well that Jesus is not talking about physical food or drink because that is certainly what finally got us into trouble. Jesus is referring to  spiritual and intellectual food that we take in. It is what happens to the words, thoughts, actions that we hear and see and allow to penetrate our body and reach our heart, and then how our heart reacts to them  can cause us to sin, to develop character defects. Someone harms us. We want to hurt them right back. Someone does not treat us with the respect due. We make sure they are put in their place. Our children act out. We throw up our hands and scream at them.

Ours is a God of love and I love all the ways scripture and sacred writings  give us images to pray and  meditate on about changing our heart. Our collect tonight talks about “Graft in our hearts the love of your Name.” Some of you master gardeners know more about grafting than I do, but I hope you can identify with the personification of the word heart. Graft in our hearts the love of your Name.  Graft meaning to insert, implant, transplant into our hearts God’s heart of love.

 There are many other personifications of our hearts.

In Lent in Morning Prayer we often read the Prayer of Manasseh (BCP pp. 90-91) where we appeal to God for forgiveness as we “Bend the knee of my heart.”  Our image is bowing our body and especially our heart as we ask on the bended knee of our heart for forgiveness for the harmful things we have done to others. Another great prayer image.

In the marriage ceremony if the Song of Solomon (8:6) is read, we will hear, “Set me as a seal upon your heart, .. for love is stronger than death.” A seal upon our heart..a seal is a substance joining two together. It can be a substance with something stamped on it or a badge saying that this document comes from the sender. If we view this in our relationship to God we are asking to be stuck to God like glue and marked as at baptism, “marked as Christ’s own forever.”  

Again in a Morning Prayer Canticle,  the Song of Ezekiel (36:26), God says, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” What a great image for our  prayers:  asking God to take away our heart of stone.

My favorite image of our heart is in the Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict. The founder of the Benedictine monastic tradition’s very first words to us are, “Listen with the ear of your heart.”  What an image for our relationship to God and our neighbors. Listening to God, listening to those we meet with not just the outer part or pinna or lobe of our ear, but with the middle and especially the inner part of our ear and connect what we hear to our heart that no longer is a heart of stone but has been tightly grafted to the love of God.

Hold on to these images of our hearts in the coming weeks.

Listen with the ear of your heart.

Graft in our hearts the love of your Name

Set me as a seal upon your heart

Remove from me my heart of stone

We will have a test about the hearts on February 14th.

Joanna. Joannaseibert.com




17B Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23 "Revelation," Flannery O'Connor, Pharisees, and Mary Grace, St. Mark's Episcopal Church, Little Rock, AR, September 1, 2018

17B Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. “Revelation,” Flannery O’Connor, Pharisees, and Mary Grace

September 1, 2018 St. Mark’s Joanna Seibert

The Pharisees and some of the scribes, the religious leaders of the day, have heard about Jesus/ and have come all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee to see him for the first time/ up close and personal. Jesus is already suspect since he left his steady job in Nazareth to roam the countryside with no visible means of support except from a few women. HMMM… OOOH, right away they eye him not following the law, disobeying the purity codes, no hand washing. Oh goodness, there is more. “Also, many other traditions,” not washing the cups and saucers. They don’t hesitate to question Jesus, and in return he comes right back with scripture from one of his favorite parts of the Hebrew Bible. “Isaiah wrote about you hypocrites. You honor and worship God with your lips, but your heart is far from God. You honor your own traditions, not God’s commandments.” Then Jesus gets really fired up describing that it is not what goes into a person, but it is what comes out. It is about what happens when the outside touches the human heart inside of us/ and whether we respond with love and peace or we respond with one of the twelve evil intentions he describes. I suspect we all are pretty familiar with at least a few of them. /

Perhaps if Jesus wanted to tell a parable today to teach us about “honoring God with our lips, but defiling him with our hearts, he might send to our computer’s “in box,” Flannery O’Conner’s last short story, “Revelation,” for our required reading this Labor Day weekend. I will entice you with the story’s cliff notes.

The scene opens in the waiting room of a doctor's office in the South, where a smug Ruby Turpin is chatting amiably with another woman who is a stranger to her, as Ruby surveys the room and sizes up the other people seated around her. (Her name Turpin, reminding us of turpentine, may give us a clue about her real personality.) A gospel hymn plays on the office radio, “When I looked up, and He looked down.” The woman Ruby talks to/ sits near her overweight homely daughter, Mary Grace, whose face is blue with acne. Mary Grace also is reading a thick blue book. She is home from a school in the north called Wellesley College.

(I hope you are paying attention to the names of the characters and O’Connor’s description of the them, Turpin, Mary Grace, blue.)

Mrs. Turpin feels a tremendous degree of self-satisfaction regarding her own position in the world/ and in this doctor’s waiting room. Her caste classification boils down to race and ownership of land. Since she and her husband Claud own a house and a little land to raise pigs on, she considers herself obviously superior to people who own only a house. And since she is white, she considers herself superior to any blacks, regardless of how much property they own. But after this her classification system breaks down. She cannot decide what to do with people who have a lot of money but are common,/ or those who have "good blood" but have lost their money and have to rent. What she is really thinking, however, is how could anybody in any way be superior to Mrs. Turpin?

Inevitably Ruby Turpin's reflections break into speech; she joyfully says, "If it's one thing I am, it's grateful. When I think who all I could have been/ besides myself/ and what all I got, /I just feel like shouting, 'Thank you, Jesus, for making everything the way it is!' It could have been different!... Oh, thank you, Jesus, thank you!"

 At that moment Mary Grace apparently can no longer tolerate this self-congratulatory blather and hurls her blue book, which happens to be called Human Development, /at Mrs. Turpin, hitting her over the left eye. Mary Grace then lurches across the waiting room and lunges for her throat. Mary Grace is subdued and falls into some kind of fit. Mrs. Turpin leans over her and "the girl's eyes stop rolling." At this point Mrs. Turpin asks her, "What have you got to say to me?" Mary Grace answers as she is carried from the waiting room to a psychiatric hospital, "Go back to hell where you came from, you old wart hog!" /

Mrs. Turpin finds this comment very unsettling, and she wonders if it may be some message from God, who may be trying to intervene in her life. "How," she asks God later, "am I both a hog and me? How am I both saved and from hell?"

In O'Connor's world-view, however, both of these things are perfectly consistent. O'Connor believes that Mrs. Turpin is indeed a hog, just like the ones she raises, who live in a pig-parlor where their feet never touch the ground. And simultaneously, Mrs. Turpin is saved because everyone is entitled to God’s saving grace. That Mrs. Turpin is neat and clean, pleasant to the black workers, and volunteers time at her church is nice, but it is not what entitles her to God’s grace; God’s grace is offered freely to all: prostitutes, tax collectors, poor and well to do blacks and whites. Remember that the harbinger of this message in O’Connor’s story is named Mary Grace.

  Still anxious, Ruby Turpin returns home. While working on her farm she questions God out loud. As she contemplates the "message" God has sent her, she has a vision of the souls of the characters from the waiting room walking up to Heaven. “There were whole companies of those who are dirt poor, /clean for the first time/ and bands of blacks in white robes,/ and battalions of people she considers freaks and the lowest dregs of society shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end, the rear of the procession is a tribe of people like herself and Claud who have always had a little of everything and the God-given wit to use it right. ..They are marching at the end of the line, behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They alone sing on key. Yet she can see by their shocked and altered faces that even their virtues are being burned away.” Ruby Turpin is at the end of the line, but she and all the souls are shouting Hallelujah.////

There is of course one difference between Mrs. Turpin and the Pharisees and the scribes. When Ruby Turpin has “the book thrown at her” she stops/ and turns around in her mind to see if there is a message. The Greek word is metanoia, to turn around, to repent. We know from later on in our story that most of the Pharisees and scribes never turn around, repent. They will only look for a way to destroy the messenger. Jesus’ message of change is too painful. The message is outside of the box of their tradition, now human tradition. They have forgotten the essence of God’s commandment of love and grace open equally to all, to everyone. Period./

My experience is that there are people in our lives today at church, the workplace, at home, at school, on the streets who are speaking to us about changes we need to make in our spiritual and physical lifestyles,/ our addictions,/ our prejudices,/ the things that come out of our mouths that defile us,/ but we, like the Pharisees, fail to listen to them. The message may be too painful, or we do not see the messengers as persons of authority, because we are superior to them because of our education, our wealth, our social standing, our race, or the land of our birth. Each of us will have the opportunity this week to encounter Mary Grace and her blue book of Human Development./

O’Connor says Mary Grace may not be pretty. Mark says Mary Grace will not be the authority figure we are accustomed to hearing. Mary Grace may not wash her hands. Mary Grace may not be able to sing on tune or even speak our language. She may be someone we would unconsciously consider beneath us.

Brother L’Esperance from the Society of St. John the Evangelist writes that “Revelation is not a far-off event that happened in some by-gone time. Revelation is something that is happening in the here and now.

 Right here, today.” //

And we are just at the right place today at St. Mark’s! This week a multitude of events will begin  that can bring revelation, a new way of life. There is  a retreat Saturday with Barbara Crafton,  also the catechumenate program, EfM, and most especially the five-week parish wide spiritual tune-up during  the formation hour where adults and children will meet St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century monk who developed simple tools that have connected men and women for centuries to a personal God. /

I pray that in these coming weeks we like Ruby Turpin will have a “revelation,/ a revelation” and will look Mary Grace directly in the eye,/ attempt to sit a little closer to her in the waiting room of our hearts/ and if possible,/ ask her to tell us a little more about God’s plan for Human Development/ so that we can keep singing Hallelujah/ with her/ in tune/ or out of tune.


Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation,” The Complete Stories, 448-509, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux 1989.

Karen Bernardo, “Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Revelation,' Storybites. 2018.

 “The Eyes Have it, Flannery O’Connor’s ‘Revelation,’ William Andrews,  The Literature of the American South, A Norton Anthology,  Norton 1998

Br. Rovert L’Esperance, “Revelation, Society of Saint John the Evangelist, ssje.org  Daily Email.

Joanna joannaseibert.com

14 B John 6:35, 41-51 Babette's Feast, Holy Spirit Episcopal Church

14B John 6: 35, 41-51

Gulf Shores, Alabama,  Holy Spirit Episcopal Church, August 12, 2018

Babette’s Feast

“Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”’/ Today’s gospel is about an alternative kind of spiritual food,/ a new experience of love,/ and a different form of sacrifice. Amy Jill Levine refers to the parables as Jesus’ short stories. This is my favorite short story of food, generosity, love, and sacrifice that I think is a modern parable Jesus might use for  today’s gospel.

Hallelujah! This one word is repeated over and over again by an elderly villager in Isak Dinesan’s short story, Babette’s Feast. The Danish movie received the Academy Award in 1986 for Best Foreign Film. The story takes place in a remote Jut(hut)land community in western Denmark. Babette, a refuge from the 1871 civil war in Paris arrives mysteriously one night to be the housekeeper and cook for two aging sisters, Martina and Phil/i/ppa. She is sent there by Philippa’s former singing coach who wanted Philippa to become an operatic star. Both pious sisters have given up their own lives and loves to carry on the puritanical ministry of their deceased father in this small costal settlement. Their father was the founder of a religious sect based on a return to Reformation principles. Martina was named for Martin Luther and Philippa for Luther’s friend, Philip Melanchthon.  

As the years pass, Babette’s only French connection is a lottery ticket that a relative renews for her each year. And you guessed it, after twelve years in exile she wins the French lottery, a prize of ten thousand francs. At the same time the sisters are planning a simple celebration with the remaining congregation on the hundredth anniversary of their father’s birth. Babette surprises the sisters by offering to prepare “a real French dinner” for the event with some of her money. The two sisters live to serve others; they are unacquainted with being served. The exchange between the sisters and Babette is an icon illuminating the generosity of God and our response to that generosity. The sisters reluctantly agree. /

Since their charismatic father’s death, the congregation has become joyless. Old quarrels and fears have resurfaced. One woman constantly nags a man about whether God will forgive them a sin of their youth. The old hymns they sing fail to bring any sense of comfort or fellowship. The sisters’ devotion to the community is no longer appreciated. What is ultimately lacking in this remote congregation is grace. Their religion has become abstract, remote, a set of brittle orthodoxies rather than a living faith, not unlike the religion of the Jews questioning Jesus in today’s gospel.

 Soon the sisters become alarmed as they grasp the scope of Babette’s plans when boatloads of supplies arrive from Paris, a live turtle, quail, exotic wines. As Babette begins her elaborate preparations, the sisters fear they have led their congregation to a Satanic Sabbath by a sorcerer.  They meet with the group and decide they will eat the meal, but they will pretend they have lost their sense of taste. They will make no comment on the delicacies they have never seen or eaten before,/ pretending they are eating their usual diet of bread-mush and boiled cod. They will subtly  reject the gift./

 Soon it is apparent in our story that Babette has become a vessel for the incarnation, for grace itself. Her meal is both a feast and a sacrifice; and, like a sacrament, it has an efficacious effect. Martina, Philippa and the others come to the elaborate dinner in their staunch plainness. The feast table is resplendent with silver candles, fancy serviettes, sparkling china./ A last minute guest, General Lorens Loewenholm, who does not know about the “no response pact,”  also is resplendent in his Swedish cavalry officer’s uniform. He tastes the first wine to be served, the Amontillado./ “The finest wine I have ever tasted!” he says. Next come real turtle soup and Blinis Demidoff, thin pancakes with caviar and sour cream. At the general's astonished exclamation of “incredible!” the other diners sit quietly eating and drinking with the same blank, disinterested expressions they have had every day for thirty years. One of the women tastes the vintage champagne and innocently, wonderfully describes it as a kind of lemonade./  The finest wine is poured for each course. The main course is Cailles en sarcophages,/ truffle stuffed quails in their pastry shell coffins. Hmmm. Were quail served at another feast some years earlier in another wilderness with another delicacy called manna? In typical French style the next course is salad, then cheese, cake, exotic fruit, brandy and finally coffee. //

Too much food for 9 am!

 But the meal works mysteriously on the guests in unexpected ways. Some reminisce about their absent master, making the feast a true memorial meal./ But our fortuitous military guest, Lorens,/ Martina’s former lover, perceives the meal, and the hand behind it, for what it is,/ just as the disciples on the Emmaus road came to recognize the Lord in the breaking of bread.

As you have guessed, Babette formerly owned a famous Paris restaurant. Lorens recounts from memory only one comparable meal, years ago in Paris, prepared by someone with the “ability to transform a dinner into a love affair that makes no distinction between bodily and spiritual appetite.”

As the extravagant celebration works its transformation, the polarities begin to blur; the distance between seemingly opposites fades. Bitterness is replaced by sweet exchanges. Phil/ippa sings with an angelic voice; the company silently, peacefully listens,/ feeling, remembering./ Martina and Lorens gaze lovingly at each other;/ the other two diners who agonized over a past elicit relationship kiss; other conflicts are touched and resolved.

The concluding highlight of the story is the General’s speech. He expresses the Pastor’s words spoken so long ago, illuminated now for all. “Mercy and truth, my friends, have met together. Righteousness and bliss shall kiss one another.”

Babette finally reveals to the sisters that she is indeed the famous chef of the Cafe Anglais - an artist who longs to express her creative genius. She tells them that the cost of the dinner was all of the ten thousand francs. She is now poor. The village and the people are her home forever.1,2,3

Jesus says, “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever.”

Today’s gospel is about another heavenly banquet, the Holy Eucharist. It is about another feast by the one who gave all that we too might be transformed, that we might know in our minds as well as our hearts the great love of God for each of us, so that we might have new life today, the beginning of eternal life. This modern story of love and sacrifice was Babette’s own version of the Eucharist, illustrating the life changing transformation, our own transfiguration that can occur when we partake of this sacrificial meal of grace and love, remembering…remembering….remember. Frederick Buechner writes that there are two ways of remembering. We go back from the present into the past. We are back with our spouse on our wedding day./ The second is to call the dead past up to the present. We remember those we loved who have died, our spouse, our mother, our grandmother or grandfather and we feel them beside us. This is what Jesus means when he later says, “Do this in remembrance of me.” ( 1 Corinthians 11:24). The Eucharist is not a nostalgic trip. It is a real presence of Jesus that we are called to bring up.4 This is what happened at Babette’s Feast. What returned from the past to the present was love, joy, reconciliation. The same joy and celebration and love are offered here at this very table.  Come; let us now partake of God’s Feast. Hallelujah!  

1Robert A. Flanagan, Babette’s Feast: The Generosity of God, Jacob's Well, Spring/Summer, 1998.

2Steven D. Greydanus, Babette’s Feast, Vatican film list, 1987.

3Valerie O’Connell, Babette’s Feast, a review.

4Frederick Buechner, “Memory,”  Originally published in Wishful Thinking and later in Beyond Words, Frederick Buechner Quote of the Day, August 1, 2018.