Rev. Molly Baskette ~ First Church Berkeley UCC
Mark 8:14-21 ~ Tenth Sunday in Pentecost
“The Love Economy”
August 13, 2017
Now the disciples had forgotten to bring any bread; and they had only one loaf with them in the boat. And he cautioned them, saying, “Watch out—beware of the yeast of the Pharisees and the yeast of Herod.” They said to one another, “It is because we have no bread.” And becoming aware of it, Jesus said to them, “Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not perceive or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes, and fail to see? Do you have ears, and fail to hear? And do you not remember? When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” They said to him, “Twelve.” “And the seven for the four thousand, how many baskets full of broken pieces did you collect?” And they said to him, “Seven.” Then he said to them, “Do you not yet understand?”
I stared at the blank page for a really, really long time trying to start writing this sermon. This is another week in the world when talking about the love of God as a solution to the world’s ills just seems hopelessly inadequate, if not dangerously naive.
In Charlottesville, Virginia, the KKK and other white supremacists marched in huge numbers on Friday and Saturday. They don’t even bother wearing masks anymore. The governor declared a state of emergency. Some of our friends and UCC clergy colleagues were in the streets making a witness for justice, or barricaded in churches surrounded by men carrying guns and holding torches. A young white man drove his car at top speed into a crowd of young activists, their bodies tossed in the air like confetti, before driving away, killing one of them and wounding many others.
And let’s not forget that this week the spectre of nuclear war, swift and disastrous, has risen from its dusty slumber. We’ve watched the news ticker, praying for cooler heads to prevail, re-learning what to do if a nuclear weapon is detonated, say, 10 miles away and we are not obliterated but must live in the aftermath.
At times like this a story about the daffy disciples not having enough bread and Jesus’ exasperation with them seems so quaint, and utterly irrelevant. I meant to preach a sermon on how to love after you’ve been hurt, how not to let bad breakups or flawed parents or any other way that love can go wrong keep you from loving again. But it seems so trivial in the light of those tiki torches held by Richard Spencer and his minions, in the light of an imagined mushroom cloud over San Francisco or LA. Hence the blank page.
And yet, I’ve been sitting, as many of you have, with the Bible and a blank page for a very long time. We know that if we are willing to sit quietly enough, to let God get in a word edgewise, that we will get some wisdom that will help us going on living, and living with fierce joy. We know that in every atom of the Bible, even the strange and wonky and inscrutable bits, the same Spirit pulses, the morse-code message of Love, if we have the eyes to see it and the ears to hear it.
So let’s begin.
The disciples are in the boat with Jesus, headed across the lake. It’s not a long trip, but they are freaking out about not having enough snacks. Jesus is trying to teach them something: “beware the yeast of the Pharisees and of Herod.” He is, of course, talking about the Pharisees and Herod, the two main political and religious leaders trying to end Jesus and his movement by any means necessary. I can imagine he was trying to teach the disciples about how insidiously false religious teachings work, politics disguised as religion, the politics of scapegoating and dog-whistle calls to religious purity and consolidation of wealth and class power function to maintain the status quo. But the disciples can only think with their bellies, and imagine Jesus is judging them for not having brought enough bread.
ARGH! How is he going to get anywhere with these people?
Jesus, I think the religious term is, loses his mind. “Why the h-e-double l are you still talking about BREAD? Do you have no idea what is going ON out there people? And when have you gone hungry ONCE? Have you already forgotten those two miraculous feedings I just did? How much was left over the first time? 12 baskets, that’s right. How much was left over the second time? SEVEN. JEEEEEEZ. When are you going to trust? When are you going to believe?”
The fundamental problem is, the disciples are still living by the myth of scarcity. It doesn’t matter how many times they experience the miraculous, generous, supererogatory love of God–in the most tangible terms possible, twelve baskets overflowing–they default to the fear that there’s not enough. In their world, the math is simple: addition and subtraction. More for your means less for me. They don’t yet understand that God is a multiplier, that God is quantum, that God is thinking and moving and creating circles around us.
And for this reason, Jesus calls the disciples hard-hearted. It is kind of a weird thing to call them. Hard-headed maybe. Or rocks for brains. But hard-heartedness implies frostiness, cruelty. The disciples may be idiots, and cowardly, and prone to overly worry about what’s for dinner, but they’re not cruel.
And yet, the end result of an unwillingness to see, and hear, and be whatever the opposite of hard-hearted is, is sometimes cruelty. What if they’d refused to follow orders at the miraculous feedings, and people went hungry? Or what if, in their fear that there was not enough, they let fear crystallize into anger and aggression, and not only withheld from others, but started taking what didn’t belong to them? Not just bread, the means of living, but the very lives bread is intended to preserve?
The Greek word for “hard-hearted” is sklerokardia. Sclerotic veins are gunked up and won’t let blood through to the heart. A heart that itself is hard can’t do what it is supposed to do: love.
Today I was going to preach on love, and God’s crazy math. I was going to say that, as we sang at the beginning of worship today, Love is something if you give it away–you end up having more. I was going to say that the hard-heartedness Jesus accuses the disciples of is an end result of buying into the myth of scarcity–the myth that I have to get what I need first before I can begin to give you what you need, and that there is not enough, so someone has to go without. And of course we know that when it comes to love, the myth of scarcity is a sham. It is obvious to a toddler that love MUST be given away to in fact BE love; that love withheld is not love at all, but hard-heartedness.
It is so interesting to me that the battle cry of the white supremacists in Charlotte was “You will not replace me,” or the more specific, anti-Semitic “Jew will not replace me.” It doesn’t sound like a neo-Nazi war slogan so much as the whine of a jilted boyfriend. It is the threat of the abuser, who mistakes ownership and total control over another human being for love. But I also hear in it the fear of abandonment, of irrelevancy, the scarcity myth at play: there aren’t enough jobs, there isn’t enough wealth, there isn’t enough room for me here anymore–you want to disappear me, so I am going to disappear you FIRST. I’m going to do to you what I fear you will do to me if you get the upper hand.
And that’s what’s known as projection. When you can’t bear to see the ugliest or saddest or most fearful thing in your own heart, when you can’t bear your own vulnerability, you project it onto the Other in full technicolor.
And I long to answer, in a way their ears will hear: we don’t want to replace you. We want to INCLUDE you. There are not many sides. There is only ONE side.
But we cannot know this, really know this, until we are able to see God, the great Unifier, the common denominator, in the Other. Richard Rohr said God’s universal love is recognizing oneself in the other by realizing they are not other! But this takes a great deal of willingness to be vulnerable and open, open to our own sin and to the full humanity of others. And so many of us are trained to hard-heartedness.
Because what if we are vulnerable and it comes back to haunt us? What if we give our love away and we don’t end up having more? What would that do to us? We want to protect ourselves from future hurts. We find it hard to believe anyone trustworthy of our hearts, so we decide to keep them all to ourselves and adopt a bunker mentality against love, against any future vulnerability. We are safe. No one can hurt us.
But at what cost? What is an acceptable price for our safety? We can ask this question in so many situations. We can ask it of ourselves personally when we have been through a bad breakup, or are wrangling in a tense marriage, when we become parents and find that our hearts are now walking around outside our bodies.
And we can ask this question politically, as a neighborhood and nation. The hermit kingdom of North Korea is not the only one with a bunker mentality. How do we, especially white people and people with a little money, insulate ourselves from the pain and need of our neighbors and beyond? How do we exempt ourselves from the struggle for full equality and the well-being of all human beings?
In the question of what may happen in the standoff with North Korea, who is expendable in the pursuit of my security? Is it OK with me if 10 million people in Seoul die to draw fire from San Francisco?
And even closer to home, the white supremacists are on tour, targeting liberal cities in the West as a way of striking at the heart of the Left. They are coming back to Berkeley in two weeks. I’ve been ignoring them thus far. I told myself it was because it was better not to amplify their signal, to draw attention them. But that’s only part of the truth. The whole truth is: I haven’t wanted to get hurt. I have children to think about. But at what cost my safety, my invulnerability? We will only dismantle racism in America when enough white people decide to risk their own necks for black and brown people; when we are visible in great numbers in the public square, answering misdirected hatred with holy love and soul force.
Brene Brown, the sociologist and vulnerability guru, says that FAITH minus VULNERABILITY equals EXTREMISM. Wow. Let that sink in. She says spirituality is inherently vulnerable, that it means believing in things we can’t see. It means living not by a math that is addition or subtraction, but by a physics that is quantum. It means to stop worrying about what’s for dinner, like the disciples, and to find our power to feed the world.
Jesus called his disciples hardhearted. What if the opposite of being hardhearted is not being softhearted, but being brokenhearted? What if that’s our vocation? To be not halfhearted, but wholehearted. To be not hardhearted, but brokenhearted. The author Cheryl Strayed urges us to have the courage to break our own hearts. Jesus didn’t just break his own heart, he broke his whole BODY for love’s sake. That was the example he gave us, and he did it to expose cowardly violence, prejudice and hate. He did it to connect and unite us–and it worked! Here we are, together! Two thousand years later!
So whether we are healing from a wounding breakup or wondering how to keep our kids safe as they grow or absorbing the possibility of nuclear war or staring down white supremacists, we are called to vulnerability and to love. We are called to wholehearted, tenderhearted, brokenhearted living, because the alternative is a fate worse than death.
Here is a little love story. When I first moved here, Bill Walzer hosted one the small groups I gathered to get to know you all. He was coming off a bad breakup, and he was sad and crying a lot. His daughter, who must be wonderful because her name is also Molly, suggested he just numb out. And he said something like: “That’s not the way it works, honey. You can’t just numb selectively. You can’t just feel the good feelings and not the bad ones. And I’m not willing to do without joy and tenderness because I hate feeling sad or scared.”
Hardheartedness means we can’t feel others people’s feelings, and we can’t even feel our OWN. Let me tell you about the value in being brokenhearted. It means you can feel EVERYTHING, the good as well as the bad.
Beloved, go forth today and FEEL because God calls you to a world-changing brokenhearted vulnerability that will be the engine of Her unstoppable LOVE.