Javier Ocampo


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8/25/2019 Podcast of The Rev. Javier G. Ocampo 

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(John 6:24-35) It’s the Message, Not the Meal, that Counts

“do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…”

“i am the bread of life.  Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”   

What powerful messages!

I believe that we are all born into this world with a hunger, a yearning: 

To be fed

To be comforted, held in the arms of one who loves us

I think we also long to be connected, to be one, with each other and with our source.and if we’re aware of our yearning, we spend the rest of our lives trying to find the nourishment, the comforting, and the oneness that lasts and distinguish it from things that may be a temporary “fix,” but aren’t lasting.

That’s not an easy task!

 one of my earliest opportunities to learn that lesson happened when i was 3 years old.

I was in my parents’ bedroom when i saw it, the most beautiful purple container—a deep purple with a curved shape. I dragged a chair over and climbed up to the dresser to get closer.  I saw the purple bottle, picked it up,

And took a deep drink of my mother’s evening in paris perfume.

 trust me, it did not fill me in the way i thought it would.

In fact, i’m still trying to figure out how something that looked and smelled so good could taste so bad!

The gospel passage we just heard speaks to our yearning, to our  hunger and thirst.

It also gives us some clues on how to find the nourishment that doesn’t end.  

The story deepens if we scroll back in the book of john and add a couple of things that happened the day before the part we just read.

On that day, jesus had taken a small amount of fish and bread and fed 5,000 people.

Later that night, he went to join his disciples who were in a boat caught up in stormy weather, and he walks on the water to reach them and reassures them that they are safe. 

In short, jesus has been pretty busy.

And now some of the people who had shared in the fish and bread have been searching for him.  Jesus is aware that they are basically looking for another meal, and he calls them on it. 

He says, you didn’t notice the signs i gave you.

Basically, they missed his message.

 and it’s the message, not the meal, that matters.

Javier, in his own message in the bulletin last sunday, and elizabeth, who preached that day, both suggested that part of what took place in feeding all those people might have been this:  when a boy in the crowd offered up the food he had brought for himself to be shared, then others began to do the same thing.

So, jesus’ message might have been this: 

There is “enough” for all of us, even when we are afraid that things are scarce.  But it only works if we are willing to share enough of what we have with those who have none.  “share what you have.”

And the story about jesus walking on water: i am not a scripture scholar by any means, but what strikes me about that event isn’t how jesus joined his disciples, through a miracle on the water.  It’s what he did—namely, he showed up at a frightening time and said, “i am.  Do not be afraid.”  Do not be afraid. He used that phrase so many times, that i have to think it’s one of his most important messages has for us.

I don’t know about you, but i have to admit that i identify with the folks who were trailing after jesus, those who didn’t take in his  message.

 so often i get my shoe laces tangled up chasing after something that i think will fill me or satisfy me, when i’m actually running in the wrong direction! 

I suspect that i’m not the only one here who struggles with that.

There are lots of things that can derail us, throw us off track so that we miss the things that matter most, things that are lasting.  Those derailers are unique to each of us. 

Believe me, i have many!

Like letting my “to do list” dictate how i should spend my time,   telling me that getting the dishes done beats out taking a walk to look at the sky and appreciate the flowers.  (the fact is that there probably won’t be headlines in the washington post announcing “messy kitchen at barb and kathy’s house”!)

Sometimes i miss what matters because i’m in too much of a hurry to take time to listen to someone.

Or when i keep feeding my anxiety about how something is going to turn out.  You know, i suspect that my family invented the concept of useless, unnecessary worrying.  As if we thought that by worrying hard enough over something, we could keep bad things from happening. 

So, i ask you, and i ask myself: 

What are the things that distract you from “food that lasts?”

What are the things that really matter to you?

What experiences, what people have brought you nourishment that has really stayed with you?

What fills you with light

With awe

With love

With a sense of peace

Wouldn’t it be good if we worked at choosing to be with those things?

 i re-learned 2 things in this past year, that i think we all know.       Kathy and i took many of the things we owned and gave some to family members, but mostly donated them as we got ready to move to a smaller place, a rental apartment.

First, i learned that our “stuff,” much as we may love it, really isn’t that important.  We knew that, but, once we started letting go of it, we realized how attached we can become to some things. 

The second is that what does matter is relationship, not just with family and people we know, but with total strangers.  A part of us hungers for being connected with other people.  Again, i knew that, but i never realized how many opportunities we have to do that with people we don’t know. 

We are living in an apartment building that has wonderful diversity.  And kathy and i have had a lot of special moments of what i would call “elevator connections.”

You never know who you’re going to find in an elevator, or who might get on with you at the next floor.

For instance, there was the “flower guy”

He was holding a huge bouquet of flowers, when we joined him on the elevator, and when we asked him, “who is the lucky person?” 

He said, “my wife,”

We asked “is it a special occasion?”

“no, it’s just that she didn’t feel good at all this morning.”

“boy are you ever good medicine!” We said. 

Weeks later, we got on the elevator, and i heard a male voice say, “i’m the guy with the flowers, and this is my wife.”  We had a conversation about how lucky each of them felt to have the other.  You know, you can get a lot done in an elevator, even if you’re together for just 3 floors!

Young couple

On another occasion, a young couple got on the elevator with us, and kathy (my beloved extrovert) said to the tall young man, “you look like my grandson.” (the grandson is 6’ 3”).   The woman standing next to him turned to kathy and said, “i was on the elevator with you once, and you said i looked like your granddaughter.” We all laughed, including kathy, and i told them, “she carries 9 grandchildren with her in her heart all the time, so she’s seeing people she loves in you!” And you know, i think that’s true!

And every time we have seen that couple, well,  it just feels good. 

The asian woman

Sometimes, you don’t even have to talk:  i was out walking one morning and saw an asian woman doing a walking tai chi with gentle, graceful movements.   She smiled at my frantic anglo power walk and imitated me.   And i followed suit with a fairly pitiful attempt at tai chi.  Neither of us could speak the other’s language, but there was a lot of smiling and laughing.   

Two days later, i saw her again, and, you know, we were both really delighted.   She waved me over, and the next thing i knew, she pulled out her iphone and we were taking selfies!

All of this without a word.  That moment held such a sense of surprising connectedness, that it made my day. 

I haven’t seen her since.  There’s a hampton inn nearby, so maybe she was a tourist here on a brief stay who wanted to get a picture of a crazy american.  But i don’t think so.

I prefer my version of the story, and i’m stickin’ with it, because

I think i have learned that if we really pay attention, we will recognize and appreciate the oneness that we already are with each other.


There is another part today’s gospel that really strikes me.

I have to confess here that, when it comes to the confusing idea of the trinity, i have always been a “holy spirit” kind of gal. 

I have had to struggle to “get jesus.”  In fact, when the people in the methodist church i grew up in asked me if i “got” jesus, i wanted to run as fast as i could in the opposite direction!

So, i was purplexed by part of this passage we heard today:

When the people in the crowd ask him:  how do we do god’s work,

Jesus says “believe in the one he sent” what does that mean?

What does it take to believe in him?

And what does it mean when he says “i am the bread of life.  Come to me, and i will give life to you.”

How do we “come” to him?

I think it means that we don’t only imitate him, by trying to live our lives the way he lived his.

But we take in his message.  We take him in.

To take in his message and absorb it in such a deep way that it becomes more than just words.

Hear some of his messages now:

Share what you have

Love and take care of one another

Don’t be afraid

Know that you are deeply loved

We “consume him” somehow—not literaly, but as a metaphor,

And it changes us.  It becomes part of us.

So, let us feast on his simple, but powerful message,

And we will feel fed, comforted and loved, and connected to each other, to our loving source, and to the rest of creation.

Because i think that’s how jesus gives us life.


A Religious Dialogue on the Meaning of the Transfiguration

I have just returned from the World Council of Churches or the WCC. Let me briefly introduce what the organization is and what I did there. It is an ecumenical organization, which means it is made up of several different Christian denominations—over 350 actually! This includes many of the mainline protestant denominations such as the Episcopal Church of the United States as well as many Orthodox churches: the Russian, Bulgarian, and Greek Orthodox churches for example. The Roman Catholic Church is not a member but has a permanent observer status and cooperates closely with the WCC on common issues. I interned in the interreligious dialogue and cooperation department. A lot of what my department does is teach lay people, like you and I, as well as religious leaders, different methods of having conversation about religious topics. I want to give you an example of a tool today: it is called the dialogue of religious experience. What we do first is choose a topic: today it will be the gospel passage about the Transfiguration of Christ. Then we would gather members of different Christian traditions together and ask them, how do you understand the transfiguration of Christ?

Unfortunately, members of the World Council of Churches’ Ecumenical Institute could not join us today, as the plane ticket from Switzerland, is a little expensive, (pause) but they gave me permission to share their answers with you. Imagine there are three people sitting right here, on the chancel steps, talking with you.

The first comes from my friend from Russia who describes himself as Russian Orthodox. He looked at me, eyes full of excitement, and said, in the transfiguration, Jesus glows. He GLOWS. I said, ok, yes, a dazzling light, but this isn’t too exciting. Moses glows when comes down the mountain. Saul was blinded by a glowing light. Jesus is divine, of course Jesus can glow, why not. He told me, Katie Beth, you are missing the point. Jesus didn’t walk around glowing all the time. This was a special event—a time when God the father (or mother) made Godself visible, just like with Moses, and just like with Saul. But this time, this time was different, Peter, James, and John—they did not have to have their eyes covered. They could see because what they were seeing was Jesus, the human Jesus fully united in the life-giving love of the triune God. Remember, you have the whole trinity there. Jesus is transfigured by God the father, Jesus’ divinity is revealed, and then a cloud appears—the Holy Spirit—and the voice of God booms, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” This light, the light around the transfigured Jesus it shows us what our life as humans can look like. What it would mean if we were fully united in the life-giving love of the triune God. We would GLOW.  Maybe you have been lucky enough to meet such a person. Recall a mother, after giving birth, in English we say she glows. Or perhaps you have had a mentor or someone telling you about a profoundly spiritual experience, and while they express it, they just glow.

Turning to the next person, she describes herself as a Korean American Calvinist Methodist. For her, the transfiguration is the most important holy day because it is celebrated twice: always the Sunday before Lent and its own special feast day in August. In the transfiguration, she sees the lived purpose of Christianity. Here are James, John, and Peter witnessing the transfiguration, Peter starts talking about wanting to set up booths for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. See, at this time, it was likely Sukkot, the Jewish festival of booths, where the Jews commemorated the time they lived in exile in the desert building these temporary booths and taking a pilgrimage to the Temple. So my friend sees this as Peter suggesting that they camp out on the mountain for a while. Even though James, John, and Peter were frightened by the transfigured Jesus accompanied by other these important leaders of their faith, there was also something very attractive about being in the presence of the divine, so much so that they not want to leave. But the Gospel of Mark, and Matthew, and Luke all mention the voice of God the Father (or Mother) saying This is my son, whom I love or I have chosen, Listen to Him. Then the Gospels talk of the disciples and Jesus going down the mountain, which suggests Jesus does not allow them to stay. What follows in the Gospels are stories of Jesus healing, teaching, or sending out more disciples basically continuing his ministry with the disciples learning, helping, or being sent as needed. So for my friend, the point of this story is that we cannot stay on the mountain top. We can go to the mountains, or the church, or any place where we experience the presence of God most fully, but we are not to stay in this place. We are to take the glow we receive back down the mountain to our ministries in our communities or the places we are called to be.

The third comes from a person who is Indian and describes herself as a secular person with Christian and Hindu parents. She is a human rights lawyer working with stateless populations. Recall to be stateless means to not be eligible to hold a nationality—citizenship in a country. It makes it very difficult to do things like own property or move freely. A current famous example would be the Rohingya—they are a population living near the borders of Myanmar and Bangladesh, yet neither country will claim them as citizens. So this friend, when she hears any Bible story, she tends to see it in the context of statelessness because Jesus, a forced migrant from birth, can arguably be said to be stateless. Of course, nation states did not exist in 1st century middle east in the same way they exist now, but her point holds. The family of Jesus could not return to Nazareth after his birth because Herod, a state leader, was ordering the death of babies. Similarly, who else is present in the transfiguration, Moses? Moses is also arguably stateless. Remember the image of Moses floating down the Nile in a basket, being adopted by Pharoah’s daughter? Moses being sent away from his mother to protect him from Pharoah’s order that all the Hebrew babies be drowned. And then there’s Elijah at the transfiguration, what about Elijah? He is known as Elijah the Tishbite. The origins of Tishbite are debated, but ultimately most people think that at the very least it suggests Elijah is a resident alien, ie someone living in a place that is not his nationality. So for my Indian friend, it is extremely important that at the transfiguration, a milestone event in the life and ministry of Christ, a reconfirmation of Christ’s divinity, that it is stateless people who are used by God and elevated. For her it is a clear indication that we as Christians should respect those who are stateless and work to better their situation. Apparently the pope agrees, in case you missed it, the internet in Europe just about broke after the Pope made a statement about the Rohingya being the presence of God.   

So here in our dialogue of religious experience about the Transfiguration, we have heard three perspectives: the first from a follower of Russian Orthodoxy, which put great emphasis on the light, the glow around Jesus, and how we as humans can draw so close to God that we too can experience this glow; the second from a Calvinist-Methodist, who focused on taking the mountaintop closeness with God back in one’s community or place of service, and one from a secular person, who sees in it the story of stateless people, generally considered the least in society, honored by God. None of these views is particularly more “correct” than another—they all come from a Biblical grounding. It is in understanding these views we come to see the purpose of the dialogue. If we had mentioned the transfiguration in passing and just moved  forward, assuming everyone had the same understanding of what it meant, this may have resulted in intense confusion. In clarifying how each person understands something, we can learn from each other and grow our ministry.