Preacher: Jessie Houff
Scriptures: Ephesians 5:15-20 and John 6:51-58
We continue our unplanned Bread series this week with yet another scripture on eating and drinking the symbolic body and blood of Jesus. These last few weeks we’ve reflected on the miracle of feeding the 5,000, Jesus walking on water and guiding his disciples to safety, and last week we shared communion together. We know that bread is life – not necessarily physical bread that feeds our bodies, but Jesus as our life and our answer. We’ve been talking a lot about food and giving thanks for everyone at God’s table.
Many of you may know that I have been very active in the church to organize young people to work for inclusivity and accessibility in the Church of the Brethren. Everyone being accepted at God’s table is very important to me. All this talk of bread lately gets me excited because I personally love bread, and yet I am constantly thinking about persons who have extreme allergies, that if they eat bread of any kind it’ll send them straight to the hospital. And while I’m so happy we have the technology and the resources (and Jacob Crouse) to figure out this amazing Hybrid church, I’m also sad that folks who Zoomed in last week couldn’t partake in the communion bread Nate shared with us because it was delicious. There is so much to be thankful for, and even still I am constantly thinking about how so many people are excluded in some way.
Something I have been thinking about a lot lately is our society’s obsession with binaries – situations of either/or, this or that. There are countless examples. Black and white. Right vs. Wrong. Evil vs. good. The bible contains a lot of binaries when it comes to language and getting the point across quickly. In the Ephesians scripture, we hear about the “wise” and the “unwise”. We also learn about the disciples and their doubt – “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” They took what Jesus said VERY literally. The binary here is doubt versus belief.
We cling onto these binaries because it’s easily digestible. Are you this or are you that? Are you morning person or a night owl? Do you drink Coffee in the morning or Tea? They’re easy questions and usually people gravitate towards one or the other. There’s even a game called “Would You Rather…” where people come up with two totally opposite things and folks have to choose one. And you HAVE to choose one, you’re not allowed to say, “Well, it depends”. You must choose one. That’s the game. I’ll be honest, It’s really fun to play.
When I was a middle school art teacher we played this game a lot. There was a book in our center called, “Would You Rather…” and it was filled with either/or situations wherein you had to choose which one you would rather do or be. When Covid hit and we had to move our programming to Zoom, I put together would you rather games for my students. I’d share my screen and have two pictures next to each other on the screen and they would use their annotate tool (basically a marker that you can scribble on the screen so everyone can see) and circle the picture they would rather. For example, I put up pictures like Skydiving and A person reading a book. The question of course is would you rather go skydiving or read a book in your room. This was to see who in the group was adventurous and who was maybe content with the simpler things. Another example I put up was a picture of Anime characters and a picture of Pixar characters. They had to choose which cartoons they preferred to watch. It’s fun to see which side folks chose and we would talk about why they chose the picture they picked.
So yes, it’s a fun game. But there’s another game that I played at a weekend retreat in college that is comparable to Would You Rather. I don’t recall the name, but it was a spectrum game. In the room was a long line from one side of the room to another. This was the spectrum line. On one side of the room was one extreme answer, such as “yes” or “agree”, the other side was the opposite extreme, “no” or “disagree”. The facilitator of the game would pose a question or statement and everyone in the room would have to place themselves somewhere on the spectrum based on their answer or opinion. For example, one question or statement might be, “Christmas is the best holiday ever – Agree is on the right, disagree is on the left” and everyone would put themselves on the spectrum where they felt based on that statement. Then we would discuss. Folks on either extreme would explain why they thought Christmas was the best or not and we’d also talk about folks who were in the middle. Some folks may like Christmas but not necessarily think it was the best holiday EVER. Another example I remember was the statement, “You can date someone who is from a completely different religion and it will work out fine”. This question was interesting because it’s completely dependent on the situation. There is no “right” answer. And there isn’t meant to be a “right” or “wrong” answer. The point was to get us to discuss and see where folks were on the spectrum of opinion. We got to hear stories of folks where this situation worked and where it may not have worked. It was really interesting to hear other people’s opinions.
There are so many spectrums in our day to day lives that we don’t always think about. We are so caught up in those either/or situations. The media certainly doesn’t help and the news – it divides us as a country. Republican vs. Democrat. You one or the other and if you’re in the middle, we just don’t know what to do with you. Are you a cat person or a dog person? YOU CAN’T BE BOTH!
There are spectrums for every single identifier we have for ourselves: race, sexual orientation, gender. We are so obsessed as a society to “figure each other out”. Yes we are all children of God and it shouldn’t really matter, but it would be ignorant of us to forget that we do live in a society where we are different and should celebrate that diversity. I’ve had difficult conversations with people close to me about some of these spectrums, for example the gender spectrum. This is VERY confusing to a lot of people. It’s said in the first book, “God created man and woman”. And it was intended for the man and the woman to be together and populate the earth. Therefore, everyone on the planet is either a man or a woman and there is no room to be anything but.
But oh, dear church, there is so much room for exploration. There are folks in this world that do not identify as EITHER a man OR a woman, but they live somewhere in between. The idea of the stereotypical man – strong featured, provider, masculine, and the stereotypical woman – dainty, nurturing, feminine, soft, is flawed. Not everyone fits into those tiny boxes. And this is confusing for a lot of people. We are so set in our ways of “normalcy” that when we see a man wearing make-up and a dress, we think that’s not correct. When we see a woman with short hair wearing a tux instead of a wedding gown, that’s not correct. That’s not normal. But I am telling you now, it most certainly is correct. When someone feels comfortable enough to truly be what and who they want to be, THAT is true. That is correct. I would much rather see someone challenging those social norms of gender and expression than someone who is dressing and acting the way they think they should dress and act just because of their assigned gender.
I was scrolling through Instagram a while back and came across the most beautiful way to describe this idea of everything being on a spectrum. Michaela Nicole is a writer and seminary student who identifies as non-binary, meaning they do not identify necessarily with any gender. Michaela uses pronouns they and she interchangeably because they do not feel any real association with the either/or of life. Michaela wrote a beautiful reflection on the idea of spectrums and the bible. I’d like to end today’s sermon with her words. They are titled, “a little reflection on Genesis 1” and I would like to read it to you all today.
by Michaela Nicole (she/they)
“i’m nonbinary. how does this reconcile with the verse, “male and female he created them,” you may ask?
the variety in God’s creation emphasizes God’s creativity as an artist. Genesis gives us several examples of this.
God made “day and night.” this sounds like a binary, similar to “male and female,” right? but that isn’t quite all we experience in 24 hours. sunrises and sunsets do not fit into the binary of day or night. yet God paints the skies with these too.
On the second day God separated the sky from water. seems like another binary. yet the clouds hold water for us in the sky, the condensation and rain cycle refreshing our earth constantly. the sky, separate from water, contains and releases water.
God also said “Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.” that isn’t the full story, either. consider marshes, swamps, bogs, and fens. not fully land, not fully waters. there is such glorious variety in God’s creation.
We see another binary in the celestial bodies God made: “the greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” and then, almost as a footnote, “and the stars.” there is more than just sun and moon in outer space. planets, asteroids, black holes, supernovae…….
side note: these magnificent stars hundreds of times more massive than our sun, as simple as that to God.
“and the stars.” I marvel. Hallelujah
“God created the great sea monsters” and “every winged bird of every kind.” a split again between water and sky. yet we see creatures like penguins that are definitely a “winged bird,” but do not fly and instead walk and swim.
and finally “male and female he created them.” first off, intersex people exist.
but, and perhaps more importantly, friends, look around. listen. do you have friends or family that say they don’t fall under “male” or “female?” if so, honor that.
does all this variety invalidate God as creator? of course not!
I believe that this instead is an example of how authors weave words to tell a story. we see the author in Genesis give examples of the extremes that God creates. It doesn’t exclude the possibility of more.
and so we worship the God of more. The God of the marsh, the penguin, the God of the sunrise, the cloud, the supernovae. The God of the nonbinary.
you are loved. -m.”
We live in a world of unknowns. We live in a world where there is Twilight, dusk, sunrises and sunsets. Where there are platypuses, hippos, and spider crickets. Where humans are not judged based on their body parts and gluten free bread is offered to those who need it. We live in a universe where stars are thousands of times the size as our sun. Where the Milky Way is just one tiny microscopic speck amidst the vastness of space. Where a boy can wear a dress, a girl can be called “Billie”, and a human can be non-binary.
Let us go into the world today and celebrate the God of More. May it be so. Amen.