Homily for a ministers’ retreat

This homily was given at the vesper’s service on 10 April 2012 during the spring retreat of the Pacific Central District chapter of the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association. As usual, the homily as delivered differed from the reading text below. Homily copyright (c) 2012 Daniel Harper.


The reading comes from the Gospel attributed to Mark, chapter 10, verse 46 to the end of the chapter:

As [Jesus] and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.” So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.” Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.


The reading this evening tells about an incident that took place when the wandering rabbi and rabble-rouser Jesus was making his way towards Jerusalem where he planned to celebrate Pesach, or Passover. So this little story was supposed to have taken place just a day or so before Jesus overturned the tables of the moneychangers, just a few days before the first day of Pesach, just a few days before the Roman authorities who ruled over Jerusalem arrested Jesus on trumped-up political charges and then sentenced him to death by crucifixion.

Let’s review what happens in this story: Continue reading “Homily for a ministers’ retreat”

Heaven on Earth

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto, California, at the 9:30 and 11:00 worship services. As usual, the sermon below is a reading text. The actual sermon as preached contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2010 Daniel Harper.

We all know what heaven looks like, don’t we? It has nothing to do with religion, it’s a part of our popular culture. You go to heaven and you get a long white robe, a halo, a palm frond, and a golden harp. Mark Twain parodied this version of heaven in his book Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven. When Stormfield, a crusty stormy old sea captain, finally gets into heaven, after a few misadventures, he gets suited up in proper heavenly fashion, and then goes off to find a cloud:

“When I found myself perched on a cloud, with a million other people, I never felt so good in my life. Says I, ‘Now this is according to the promises; I’ve been having my doubts, but now I am in heaven, sure enough.’ I gave my palm branch a wave or two, for luck, and then I tautened up my harp-strings and struck in….”

But Stormfield knows only one tune, and everyone is playing something different, and after 16 hours of it, it gets pretty tiresome. Stormfield strikes up a conversation with the fellow on the next cloud over, and the fellow says to him:

“‘Are you glad to be here?’

“Says I, ‘Old man, I’ll be frank with you. This AIN’T just as near my idea of bliss as I thought it was going to be, when I used to go to church.’”

So the two of them walk off, dump their robes and harps and halos, and go find something else to do. Now if you want to go to that kind of heaven, and get your white robe, and your golden harp, and your palm branch, and your halo, well, go for it. But I have no interest in going to that kind of heaven, and no particular interest in talking about that kind of heaven.


What if heaven has nothing to do with golden harps, and halos, and white robes, and clouds? What if heaven is not the afterlife? What if heaven is not a place separate from earth? What if heaven is for everyone?

Historically, the Universalist side of our religious tradition affirmed that everyone gets to go to heaven, based on the logical reasoning that if God is indeed good, then God would not damn anyone to eternal torment, since such damnation would be unspeakably evil. This was a radical idea in its day, but the Universalists did not stop there. Many Universalists abandoned traditional ideas of heaven, and began to wonder what it would be like if we could create a heaven on earth, here and now.

Back in 1943, when most of the world was embroiled in war and violence and killing, the Universalist Church of America issued an “Affirmation of Social Principles” which begins as follows: “We Universalists avow our faith in the supreme worth of every human personality, and in the power of me [and women] of good will and sacrificial spirit to overcome all evil and progressively establish the Kingdom of God.” To progressively establish the Kingdom of God; to progressively establish heaven on earth. Such an ideal does not require a literal belief in either God or heaven; rather, this is a statement that presents us with the possibility that we can truly live out our highest ideals.


Now that we have established what heaven does not look like — no halos, harps, or clouds — we might ask what a Unitarian Universalist heaven might look like. And I have an answer that is of great relevance to us here in Silicon Valley: a Unitarian Universalist heaven might just be the World Wide Web.

Tim Berners-Lee is the fellow that developed the World Wide Web, and as it happens he is also a Unitarian Universalist. Back in 1998 on one of his personal Web pages on the World Wide Web Consortium’s Web site, he posted an essay titled “The World Wide Web and the ‘Web of Life’,” in which he says that although he developed the Web before he discovered Unitarian Universalism, he feels there are parallels between the philosophies underlying each. Unitarian Universalists, says Berners-Lee, “meet in churches instead of wired hotels, and discuss justice, peace, conflict, and morality rather than protocols and data formats, but in other ways the peer respect is very similar to that of the Internet Engineering Task Force. Both are communities which I really appreciate.”

So says Tim Berners-Lee. I would explain it this way: both Unitarian Universalism and the World Wide Web are designed to foster communities based on networks of trust and mutual respect, networks where you are judged by your contributions, not by your age, race, class, or social status. Neither Unitarian Universalism nor the World Wide Web are always successful in fostering those networks of trust, but that’s what they’re designed to do. The fundamental metaphor of each is a web: a web of information and communication for the one, and an interdependent web of all existence for the other. This is an ecological metaphor, which implies that individuals are part of a non-linear, non-hierarchical system; and this metaphor helps us remember that we are all interdependent and interconnected.

I’ll let Tim Berners-Lee tell you how this relates to heaven, although he doesn’t use that word. I’ll intersperse a little commentary among Berners-Lee’s words:

“The is one other thing that comes to mind as common between the Internet folks and the Unitarian Universalists [says Berners-Lee]. The whole spread of the Web happened not because of a decision and a mandate from any authority, but because a whole bunch of people across the ‘Net picked it up and brought up Web clients and servers, it actually happened. [Commentary: Just like heaven, the ideal of the Web existed, not as something that would happen later if you were good, but something that could happen now if you put in a little effort.] The actual explosion of creativity, and the coming into being of the Web was the result of thousands of individuals playing a small part. In the first couple of years, often this was not for a direct gain, but because they had an inkling that it was the right way to go, and a gleam of an exciting future. It is necessary to Unitarian Universalist philosophy that such things can happen, that we will get to a better state in the end by each playing our small part. [Commentary: Heaven is like the World Wide Web, it will happen if each of us makes a little effort to make it happen.] Unitarian Universalism is full of hope, and the fact that the Web happens is an example of a dream coming true and an encouragement to all who hope.”

If people of good will and sacrificial spirit put their minds to it, they have the power to overcome chaos and evil and progressively make real idealistic utopian visions. By working with, not against, the power of the interdependent web of all existence, we can actually makes our ideals come true.


Believe it or not, this same basic concept can be found among the earliest Christian communities, before the creeds and dogmas mucked everything up. Those early Christians were trying to figure out how to live out the teachings of the rabbi called Jesus. Some of the parables of this rabbi named Jesus seemed to imply that heaven was about to burst upon us, not after death, but really soon, maybe now; in fact, some of those parables could be interpreted as meaning that heaven is happening here and now and you and I can be the causes of it [e.g., Matthew 13.33], or that heaven is happening here and now but its growth is obscured from view [e.g., Mark 4.26-29].

These early Christian communities tried to create institutions that would encourage the emergence of heaven in the here and now. (Mind you, the later creeds and dogmas have obscured much of this from our view, but this really did happen.) Twenty years after Jesus was executed by the Romans, Christian communities had a weekly meal that was central to their worship services; I’m not talking about communion, I’m talking about the agape meal. The idea was that the rich folks would contribute the bulk of the food and drink, so the poor people could come to church and eat their fill. People being what they are, sometimes the rich people, who did not have to go to work, would start early and eat all the food they brought before the poor people showed up after work [1 Cor. 20-21]; Paul of Tarsus chastised the Christian community of Corinth for allowing exactly this kind of behavior. But the ideal was that each person would bring as much food and she or he could, and those who couldn’t afford to bring any food could come and get one good meal each week.

This egalitarian communal meal, which was abandoned by later Christian communities, was a way of living out and actually experiencing the connectedness and interdependence of all humanity. This essential interconnectedness of all humanity was what Jesus meant when he talked about the Kingdom of God, or the Kingdom of Heaven [Bernard Loomer, “Unfoldings II,” pp. 2 ff.]. So the communal meal of early Christian communities was a way of teaching the whole community about the interdependent web of all existence, the Web of Life.

This is not unlike what we do with our second Sunday lunches here in our church. On the second Sunday of the month, Susan Plass and Edie Keating and their helpers put together a meal while the 11:00 worship service is going on. When the 11:00 worship service lets out, we all walk over to the Fireside Room next door, and load up our plates, and sit down at a long table with other people from our church. There is a suggested donation of four dollars to pay for second Sunday lunch. I trust that if someone is waiting in line to eat and cannot afford to pay the four dollars, the people next to him or her will say, Go ahead and eat anyway. And I know that some people contribute more than four dollars, because they have the money and they want to make sure everyone else can eat.

But there is more to the Web of Life than giving food to someone who doesn’t happen to have four dollars in their pocket on the second Sunday of the month. You never know who you’re going to wind up sitting next to at one of these second Sunday lunches. I like them because my partner and I don’t have children, so our second Sunday lunches are about the only times I sit down at a meal with children and teenagers. You might wind up sitting next to someone who grew up in another country, and there’s a good chance you’ll sit next to someone with different skin color than yours. You might wind up sitting next to someone who has a different accent than yours — as someone from eastern Massachusetts, I always wind up sitting next to someone with a strange accent unless I sit next to Phyllis Cassel who also grew up in eastern Massachusetts. This is the beauty of these second Sunday lunches — you wind up sitting near people with whom you might otherwise not share a meal. You understand your place in the diversity of humanity, and you understand how we are all connected and interdependent in the Web of Life.


I would like to return for a moment to Mark Twain’s story about heaven. It turned out all right for Captain Stormfield in the end. He left his cloud, dumped the robe and halo and harp and palm leaf unceremoniously along the road, and eventually winds up running into Sam, an old friend of his, who tells him, “‘It’s the same here [in heaven] as it is on earth — you’ve got to earn a thing, square and honest, before you enjoy it….’” — and when it comes to happiness, Sam tells Captain Stormfield that there’s plenty of pain and suffering in heaven, too, because, says Sam, “There ain’t a thing you can mention that is happiness in its own self — it’s only so by contrast with the other thing…. Well, there’s plenty of pain and suffering in heaven — consequently there’s plenty of contrasts, and just no end of happiness.” But we don’t need some supernatural heaven in the afterlife; we can institute heaven here on earth. We can, if people of good will and sacrificial spirit work together to progressively establish a world of justice and goodness. As Captain Stormfield might put it, “‘That’s the sensiblest heaven I’ve ever heard of, Sam….”

Kingdom of Heaven, Interdependent Web

This sermon was preached by Rev. Dan Harper at First Unitarian Church in New Bedford. As usual, the sermon below is a reading text. The actual sermon as preached contained improvisation and extemporaneous remarks. Sermon copyright (c) 2008 Daniel Harper.


This reading is from a small book titled Unfoldings, lectures by Bernard Loomer.

“The Synoptic Gospels [that is, the Bible books of Matthew, Mark, and Luke] should be the possession of the Unitarian Universalists as much as any other group. What I perceive may be “old-hat” to Biblical scholars, but if so, they have failed to make it clear to us peasants….

“In the Synoptic [Gospels] we have the situation of a man born out of [or] within a covenantal tradition, a tradition in which the laws and statues of God were important. This God was the god of the people who were to follow these laws, and they were to be his people. This is the tradition out of which Jesus came, and out of this tradition arose the historical notion of the Messiah — the one who was to redeem Israel.

“Jesus has been accorded many titles. He has been called Savior, Leader, Shepherd, Counselor, son of god, Messiah. But his intellectual gifts have not been recognized (even when the term “intellectual” has been more carefully defined). It was he who discovered what he called the “Kingdom of God” — what I call the Web of Life — surely one of the great intellectual and religious ideas of the Western world.

“As I define it, the web is the world conceived of as an indefinitely extended complex of interrelated, inter-dependent events or units of reality. This includes the human and non-human, the organic and inorganic levels of existence.

“Jesus discovered the reality of the Web. He began his public ministry by announcing its presence and its fuller exemplification [which he called], the “coming kingdom.”…

“…In the Synoptic [Gospels], Jesus is not the central reality. The Kingdom is the central reality. He describes this reality, but the Kingdom does not exist for his sake. He serves the Kingdom and draws his power from it. The Kingdom was not created because Jesus was of supernatural origin. The Kingdom was never created. The discovery was that the Kingdom is a given of life itself. It was not created by Jesus. It was not created at all. It is simply inherent in life itself.”


According to the retailers, Christmas started right after Hallowe’en. According to the traditional Christian calendar, the Advent season, the lead-up to Christmas, began last Sunday. However you figure it, the Christmas season is full upon us. You can’t walk into a store at this time of year without hearing sugary-sweet renditions of various Christmas songs, you can’t drive down the street without being assaulted by over-the-top Christmas decorations, you can’t listen to the radio without hearing Christmas songs written and performed by fading rock stars.

I realize that I’m letting my cynicism show through. I admit it, I’m a Scrooge. I’ll spend the next few weeks going around saying, “Bah! Humbug! Christmas humbug!” every chance I get. I know that there are plenty of people, probably many of you in this room, who love Christmas — who love the songs, who love the over-the-top decorations, who love to shop — and if you love Christmas, well then (as my Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother used to say), bless your heart. We all get our joy in different ways at this time of year — some people like to shop, some people like to wear reindeer antlers on their head, and people like me enjoy saying, “Bah! Humbug!”

Yet all of us, the whole range of people from Scrooges and Grinches, all the way to Santas and Christmas elves — all of us usually stop at some point in the frenetic Christmas season and say something like this: “But you know, it’s important to remember that Christmas is really about the birth of Jesus.” I do that about once a week — for example, I’ll see some particularly egregious Christmas display in a store window, and I’ll stop and say to myself, “But you know, Christmas isn’t about consumerism, it’s really about the birth of Jesus.” That’s about as far as I get before I burst out with “Bah! Humbug!” and all thoughts of Jesus leave my brain. If you are a lover of Christmas, perhaps it happens to you when you’re singing along with the car radio, “Here comes Santa Claus, here comes Santa Claus, right down Santa Claus Lane,” and you’ll pause in your singing and think, “But you know, this isn’t about Santa Claus, it’s really about the birth of Jesus” — and then the chorus will come around again, and you’ll start singing, and all thoughts of Jesus leave your brain.

When I do actually find the time to think about Jesus during the Christmas season, about all I think about is that well-worn, familiar story that we tell about the birth-night of Jesus: you know the story, with angels and shepherds and the three wise men, and the stable with the animals who can talk and mean old King Herod and the star that shone above Bethelehem. None of which actually has anything to do with Jesus, when you come right down to it, and much of which isn’t even in the Bible. Baby gets born, miraculous things happen — these are myths about Jesus, but they really don’t say much about who Jesus actually was. I guess if you’re a traditional Christian, at Christmas time you can think about how Jesus was the son of God, but as a Unitarian that has very little emotional resonance with me. Even then, I’ll bet most traditional Christians are like me and spend very little actual time thinking about Jesus.

So this year, I wanted to take one Sunday during the Christmas season when I didn’t talk about the usual Christmas story, and when I didn’t just completely ignore Christmas. I wanted to take one Sunday this year to talk about the really amazing accomplishments of the adult Jesus.

I’ve decided that what really impresses me about Jesus of Nazareth is not his spiritual accomplishments, admirable as those might be; not his concern for the poor and marginalized people of the world, as much as I find that worthy of emulating; definitely not the myths about being a son of God nor the myths about supposed miracles nor the story of his miraculous birth. These are all wonderful stories, but I’ve decided that what really impresses me is Jesus’s intellectual accomplishments.

1. The first time I seriously considered Jesus’s intellectual accomplishments was when I read a short lecture titled “The Synoptic Gospels” by Dr. Bernard Loomer; and we heard an excerpt from that lecture in the second reading this morning. Bernard Loomer was a professor of theology at the University of Chicago, and later professor of theology at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California. While he lived in California he started attending the Unitarian Universalist church in Berkeley, under the influence of his second wife, and shortly he was invited to give a series of informal talks to members of the Berkeley church; the second reading this morning is an excerpt from one of those informal talks.

In this lecture, Bernard Loomer tells us that “It was [Jesus] who discovered what he called the ‘Kingdom of God’ — what I call the Web of Life — [and this is] surely one of the great intellectual and religious ideas of the Western world.” Loomer tells us that once you understand Jesus’s concept of the Web of Life, you will be transformed by a realization of how everything is interconnected — humans are interconnected with humans, with other life forms, even with the rocks and soil — and as you understand more and more about the Web of Life, as you trace out all these interrelationships and connections, you will continue to be transformed.

Furthermore, in another one of these informal talks, Loomer tells us that to understand the Web of Life in this way forces us to think about morality and ethics in new ways. Loomer says, “Holding the notion of the Web that I do, I do believe that what I do makes a difference…. Once I have done something, there is a sense in which that act becomes public property….” So you see, understanding the Web of Life isn’t some dry, meaningless intellectual activity — understanding the Web of Life doesn’t just change the way you understand the world, it changes the way you live your life.

When Jesus talked about the Kingdom of God, he was talking about the Web of Life. Forget what the orthodox Christians and the fundamentalists tell you about the kingdom of God — they have missed the main point. The Kingdom of God isn’t some place you go to after you die — it is a state of being that is available to you here and now. The Kingdom of God is the Web of relationships that requires you to understand how you are linked to a Web of existence that includes all other people and all other beings; the Kingdom of God is a way of understanding that what you do with your life matters a great deal.

2. Once we start to take Jesus seriously as a great thinker, once we peel away layer upon layer of ritual and creed and dogma and orthodoxy with which the church has plastered Jesus for hundreds of years — once we consider Jesus as a great thinker, suddenly some of the things he says begin to make more sense. Like the parables of Jesus, those short, pithy stories that he told to his followers — some of those parables of Jesus don’t seem to make much sense when you first hear them. Oh, you know what you’re supposed to believe they mean, because the traditional Christian churches have told us what we’re supposed to believe — but often the things the churches tell us don’t make sense. Take, for example, this misinterpreted parable:

Jesus told this story. He said: “With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable shall we use for it? It is like a grain of mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in the shade.” [Mt. 13.31-32] Now I don’t know much about traditional orthodox Christian interpretations of the Bible, but I think most churches interpret this parable to mean something like this: have faith in God, believe in God, and your faith will grow, and you’ll get to go to heaven after you die — or something like that. To my way of thinking, that’s a narrow and even wrong-headed interpretation of this parable.

Bernard Loomer tells use that the Kingdom of God means the same thing as Web of Life, and with that in mind let’s reconsider this old familiar parable. This parable is not about what happens after you die, this is a parable that uses a vivid and convincing image to tell us what is happening all around us in the world. When you plant a seed — and I mean literally plant a literal seed in actual dirt — a plant will grow from that seed, and that plant will be a heck of a lot bigger than the original seed. And when a plant grows, it does not grow in isolation from other living beings — when a person plants a seed, the plant grows out of the soil under the influence of sun and heat and rain, and other living beings live in and under and around that plant; and all these things are connected in the Web of Life — the human being who plants, the seed which grows, the soil and sun and rain, the birds which nest, all these interrelationships are revealed in the simple act of planting a seed. Which brings us to the moral or ethical point: someone sows a seed; some human being takes action; and like every human action, this act of sowing the seed has effects that ripple throughout the entire Web of Life. This is the Kingdom of God, according to Jesus — the complex interrelationships that connect us with all other human beings and all other living beings and all non-living things. This is why harming the ecosystem is evil. All this is revealed in a simple parable about a mustard seed.

This is a different way of thinking about Jesus, isn’t it? Jesus was more than some guy wandering around in the desert dressed in a bathrobe, getting born in a stable with frankincense and myrrh, and growing up to perform supernatural miracles. Jesus was a profound religious and ethical and moral thinker. And when you start to consider Jesus as a powerful religious thinker, even some of the so-called miracles begin to make sense. Take, for example, the story of the feeding of five thousand [Mk. 6.32-44]:

3. Jesus and his disciples are trying to get away from the crowds that follow him everywhere, so they take a boat and go out to this lonely place, far from any village. But the people figure out where they’re going, and by the time Jesus and his friends land, there are five thousand people waiting for him. So Jesus starts to teach them, and this goes on for hours. By now, it’s getting late, and the followers of Jesus pull him aside and say, Hey, send these people away to all the nearby villages to get some food. Jesus replies, No, you get them something to eat. His followers say, What, you want us to take a thousand bucks and go buy some bread and bring it back to them? No no, says Jesus, how many loaves of bread we got right here? His followers say, We got five loaves of bread, and a couple fried fish.

So Jesus tells everyone to sit down on the grass, and all five thousand people sit down. Being a good Jew, Jesus blesses the bread, using the traditional Jewish blessing: Blessed are you, O Holy One, Creator of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth. Then, so everyone can see, Jesus breaks the bread, and cuts up the fish, to be handed around. Miracle of miracles, there’s plenty of food to go around, and indeed there’s twelve baskets full of food left over when everyone has eaten enough.

Traditional Christians believe that Jesus did something magical to the bread so that it somehow multiplies. If you want to believe that old traditional interpretation, feel free to do so. But instead of some supernatural miracle, I believe what happened was an even bigger miracle, and it went like this:

Jesus had spent the whole day teaching people about the Kingdom of God (what we call the Web of Life), teaching them about how every person and every thing is interrelated. And while he’s teaching them, he’s looking out at the crowd, and he sees that some of the people have brought food with them, and they’re surreptitiously nibbling away on their food, ignoring the fact that many other people have no food at all. Jesus also knows that his followers brought along five loaves of bread and two fried fish, enough food for the thirteen of them, as long as they don’t have to share it with anyone. So what does Jesus do? He gets all five thousand people to sit down, and he says to them: OK, now we’re gonna eat — here, we got five loaves bread and two fish; being a good Jew I’m going to bless them, then I’m gonna break them up and share them with all five thousand of you — and you know what? if you’ve been listening to what I’ve been saying all day, we’ll have plenty of food for everyone here.

As Jesus says this, I’ll bet you could see the truth dawning in people’s eyes. They had been listening to Jesus teach about the Kingdom of God, and now he’s telling them to follow what he taught. So everyone who has food shares it around; the followers of Jesus help distribute everything. In the end, everyone has enough to eat, every single person there, with plenty of food left over.

As I say, if you want to believe in some supernatural miracle, please do so. To me, that’s a good way to let yourself off the hook — if some all-powerful daddy God is going to solve all your problems, then you don’t have to take personal responsibility. I believe Jesus is teaching us to take personal responsibility for all our relationships within the Web of Life.

And in fact, the early Christian church lived out this kind of teaching. You all know about the Christian ritual of communion, right? If you go to a Catholic church and take communion, it’s all symbolic, right? — I’ve never done it, but I’m told you get a little wafer of bread, and it’s all a symbol. Same thing in most Protestant Christian churches — you get a sip of wine or maybe grape juice, and a little crumb of bread, and it’s all a symbol. But in the early Christian church, records show that communion was a real meal — they talk about bringing olives and cheese and bread and wine and lots of other good things to eat. It was a symbolic meal, but it was also a real meal, because some of those early Christians didn’t get enough to eat all week, and they really needed that big meal on Sunday that was communion. So it was that those early Christians truly lived out the teachings of Jesus — they truly lived out their understanding of the Web of Life by sharing their food with each other.

Our church is definitely not a traditional Christian church. We stopped doing traditional Christian communion more than a century ago. Yet if you want to see a Jesus-type social-justice-oriented communion, come to our social hour after the worship service. Maybe we don’t have communion, but if you come to social hour after church you will discover that someone has made soup, and you can get a hot meal after church. And on some Sundays, we’ll have pizza of some other food out for a nominal cost, but if you don’t have any money, we don’t mind if you take some anyway. (We do ask people to come to the worship service first, to be a part of the religious community.) In other words, we live out the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand right here in our church. This is why I don’t need a supernatural explanation for that story of feeding the five thousand, because I’ve actually seen with my own two eyes how a community of people can share food among themselves, and have plenty to go around. By the way, any time you want to bring food to church, you can sign up to make soup, or just bring some good food to share.

I should add one last thing about the story of feeding the five thousand: if you really think about, which is harder to believe:– the supernatural explanation, that God made food appear? — or the other explanation, that if you give them a chance, people will be amazingly generous? Contemporary American society would rather believe the supernatural explanation than believe that we are all are capable of being amazingly generous. No wonder the traditional Christian churches emphasize supernatural miracles. But I’d rather believe people are capable of amazing generosity. And the funny thing is that each year at Christmas time, it seems to me that I see acts of generosity that equal to the story of the feeding of the five thousand. So maybe we do live out the teachings of Jesus at Christmas time, even if we don’t think much about it.

I started out by saying that each Christmas season, most of us try to stop and remember that Christmas is actually about Jesus. Now we’ve taken our obligatory time to reflect on Jesus. We’ve done it a little differently this year: we have taken the time to think about Jesus as a great intellectual leader, someone who discovered what he called the Kingdom of God, which we may prefer to call the Web of Life.

Now you’ve spent your time reflecting on Jesus. Now you can go out an indulge yourself in however you like to celebrate this holiday — shopping, decorations, saying “Bah humbug,” giving gifts, being generous to charities — whatever it is you do. And don’t forget to indulge yourself in the constantly growing knowledge that you, too, are an essential part of the whole Web of Life, that you are essentially connected with all that is.