Pentecost 22 – Praying With Our Hands

Frying Onions

Emmanuel Church has been a busy place this past week!

It’s a practice in the Anglican Communion to bring news — or bring greetings, as they say in East Africa — of our families and communities that are held together in the bonds of affection.

I bring greetings now from our very lively community of Soup’s On, Emmanuel Church’s  feeding ministry.

#PrayingWithOurHandsIt is Emmanuel’s turn to host to Soup’s On the first Tuesday of every month, although our parish historians tell me that we actually started the Newport feeding ministry that is now sustained by churches and aid agencies all over Aquidneck Island.

A different church or team of churches hosts Soup’s On every night of the week, and MLK hosts breakfast almost every day.  But it all started right here at Emmanuel.

What I can see just by looking is that Soup’s On is an amazing ministry.

Soup’s On is also one of those ministries where those who are most involved — those who do the most — also seem to get the most joy from their work, and walk with God as they do it.

Those who do the most, who give the most — are the ones who feel the most involved in, and strengthened and nourished by — the community.

This past Tuesday night, when I walked into the Library, the tables were fully set with Emmanuel’s beautiful Blue Willow plates.

Gift wrapped boxes with table numbers identified each table for serving purposes, and the most delicious, warming smells of roast pork and squash casserole filled the room.

The kitchen was busy with our volunteers, both regular parishioners and wider community members who always come.

Dennis, our neighbor and parishioner, sang and played the guitar.

There was a sense of abundance, grace, and God’s love in the room.

These are great moments for Emmanuel Church — when we all gather around the table in fellowship and get to know each other.  Soup’s On is just one of the many ways to join in.

The really holy stuff happens in community.

This time last year, I was just beginning my year’s fellowship in Jerusalem.

I remember that right about now, just before the holidays, I learned a lesson about community that probably sank in even deeper because I got to see it in a different context — in a whole different culture.

I do a lot of praying with my hands.

Lots of people do, I think, although they may not call it that.  But there is something about the process of planning, walking, discerning, choosing, carrying, chopping, frying, measuring, timing, hoping, simmering, blessing, and giving that is almost liturgical.

I find that these steps, thoughts, sights, touches, and smells guide my intentions and thoughts, and cause me to engage in a generative process that is my prayer.

The day I’m remembering this time last year was already a cooking day.  We were getting ready for St. George’s Cathedral’s Christmas Bazaar the next day.  The Western expats in the College — the Dean, Richard Sewell, the Course Director, Mary June Nestler, and me — had gotten together to plan and coordinate our oven and dish availability.

Just among the three of us, we were making a pineapple upside down cake and oatmeal bars (Mary June), brownies (Richard), and date balls (me).#PrayingWithOurHands

We assembled our precious elements of vanilla, perfect medjool dates from Jericho, chewy, caramelly, and sweet.  Bittersweet chocolate, oats, brown sugar, butter, and eggs.  And, of course, even more butter.  I texted my sisters for our favorite old recipe, and Carrie found and sent her beloved copy of our common prayer.

On our prayer list as we worked were all the ministries of the Diocese – St. George’s School, St. George’s College, the Princess Basma Center, which is the rehabilitation center and inclusive school for disabled children, and the cancer hospital in Gaza.

We added another prayer as we learned a friend’s daughter’s pneumonia hadn’t responded to initial antibiotics. We decided that we would assemble dinner for the family.

I did a quick round of the shops on Nablus Road heading toward Damascus Gate.  It was our third rainy, chilly day in a row in Jerusalem.  I gathered tomatoes, tomato paste, and pasta at Genia’s uncle’s grocery store on Nablus Road.  Genia is the Palestinian Christian registrar at the College.   I picked up fresh baked bread at the open stand across Suleiman Road, and onions and garlic from the vegetable man around the corner.

I bumped the two-wheeled canvas market cart that Mary June and I bought to share down the ramp side of the old stone from Damascus Gate to look for ground beef.

I turned onto the right fork to find the Jewish butcher.  I asked for ground turkey, pointing at turkey legs in his refrigerated case at the front of the shop. I don’t have it, he said, as I looked again at the turkey in the case.

Hmm. Ground beef?  I asked.

 You want to make spaghetti, he said, nodding knowingly.

My friend’s daughter is sick, I told him. I want to make spaghetti for the family.

I watched as he ground the beef, cutting and adding fresh flat-leaf parsley, coarse Kosher salt, and garlic with the beef to the grinder.  He kneaded the mixture that emerged, carefully patting it into shape before packaging it.

I hope she feels better, he said, as he put the ground beef in a bag.

#PrayingWithOurHandsSamer Bassa, the gardener for the College and the Cathedral and an observant Muslim, added his prayers as I returned.  He picked me a handful of beautiful bay leaves for the spaghetti sauce as he asked how our friend’s daughter was.

Back in Mary June’s kitchen, the scent of frying onions wafted up like incense, as our interfaith prayers joined in the spaghetti sauce.  We rolled our prayers into date balls, and turned out more prayers in the pineapple upside down cake.

I thought of Psalm 141:

Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as an evening sacrifice.

On Sundays, here in church, we pray in our service.  We worship God in the Episcopal Church tradition.

Those who are involved in Soup’s On, like on this past Tuesday night, are worshiping too.

They’re praying with their hands.

And as it is with many ministries, those who are most involved — those who do the most — also seem to get the most joy from their work, and walk with God as they do it.

Those who do the most, who give the most — are the ones who feel the most involved in, and strengthened and nourished by — the community.

Isn’t that what Jesus is telling us in our gospel today?

He turns the Sadducees’ trap question about which of seven brothers is a woman’s husband in the resurrection into a liberation of a woman in community.

Which of the seven — ALL now dead — brothers is the woman’s husband after the resurrection, the Sadducees ask?

Wait — Really?

The Sadducees were a Jewish sect that didn’t believe in the resurrection, but they based their trap question on Mosaic law:

The woman was required to marry each of the seven brothers in succession to give her first husband children after his death.

Jesus defeats the Sadducees’ legal argument quickly and neatly.  (Jesus is an excellent rabbinical scholar, and knows scripture way better than the Sadducees do.)

Jesus shows that Moses himself — the great Jewish prophet the Sadducees trust in — Moses believed in the resurrection but the Sadducees do not!  Well, SNAP!

Jesus said:  the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.

More important than the simple upending of the Sadducees’ trap, Jesus refocuses all of us on the woman’s humanity, instead of her societal role of giving a husband children, even if she has to marry every last brother in the family to do it.

Community matters.  Relationships matter.  Belonging matters.

It’s community, and our relationships with each other and through each other with God — that matter.

I invite you to find your way to join in community at Emmanuel Church.  Find the way that fits you best, whether that is volunteering with Emmanuel Day School, serving on the Altar Guild (or re-creating the Flower Guild!), supplying or managing Coffee Hour, joining the Choir, becoming a lector or an intercessor, or offering yourself for leadership on the Vestry.  Also, Foyer Groups are a great way to get to know each other in small groups.

Most importantly, make a financial pledge to support our community at Emmanuel.  Increase your pledge if you possibly can.

Our Christian community at Emmanuel Church is strengthened and supported by your stewardship, but as with any ministry, we who are stewards grow and are strengthened in measures far greater than any financial gift we can give.

The really holy things happen in community.  Amen