Friday, October 20, 2017


 "If what's loosed on earth will be loosed on high/it's a hell of a heaven we must go to when we die."
- Josh Ritter, Thin Blue Flame

In Rachel Held Evans' book, Searching for Sunday, which is being read in Adult Formation, there is a chapter entitled "What We Have Done" which is written as a litany. In the first half of the litany, she goes through terrible things done by the church over thousands of years of history, followed by the response, "Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy." In the second half of the litany, she gives thanks for men and women throughout the thousands of years of Christianity who stood up to violence and injustice in the name of Christ, who were pioneers for the Gospel, with the response, "We give thanks."

We probably have all heard the proverb, "Confession is good for the soul." Confession is also good for the community and the Church. At St. John's we practice open confession on a daily basis through our services of Morning Prayer and Eucharist. The Gospel of Matthew tells us that confession of sins was part of John the Baptist's ministry at the Jordan River. Those coming to be baptized confessed their sins before they were baptized. Confession allows us to be open with our mistakes and recognize our own imperfections. Once we confess, we are able to seek forgiveness, which is a good practice for everyone, including community groups. We have more power than we think we do in affecting the lives of those around us.

For all the hurts done by St. John's,
Lord, have mercy.
For all the hearts broken by the community,
Lord, have mercy.

For all those who have been open about their sins and have sought forgiveness,
We give thanks.
For those who stand up to violence and injustice in our community,

We give thanks.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Funeral Sermon - B. Kim Murray

I first met Robin Murray in April of last year. I was here for my interview visit and she and I and Kaycee and Kathy Rogers went to breakfast at Amazing Foods together. I remember that breakfast fondly for many reasons, pretty much all of which had to do with the company I found myself in and the conversation we had (and of course, partially because of the delicious food). What Robin told me that day was that she was a golf widow, which was also my first experience with that term. Kim, Bear to his friends, was seriously fond of golf. From what I have heard, he golfed three days a week, eleven months of the year. I have also heard that he only talked about two subjects, golf and Robin, for he had found himself a wonderful wife and friend in Robin.

Kim was also a member here at St. John's and a participant in our weekly Wednesday night bible study group, a missionary representative on our Honduras mission trip and loved delivering Christmas presents with the Daughters of the King to Sugar Valley Lodge. He had a hearty laugh and he was a straight shooter, you always knew where you stood with him. He had good relationships with many in our community and I know that there are many here today who will miss him.

Thankfully, Kim had a relationship with God and he knew the Christian promise and hope. He knew that he had been baptized and marked as Christ's own forever. As Jesus says in the gospel passage today, the only requirement for eternal life is belief. While belief is not always easy to maintain all the time, we can be comforted by the promise Jesus gives us. Anyone who hears what Jesus says and believes in him will have eternal life. 

Even better, Jesus promises that the kingdom of God is already at work. The hour is coming and is now here, says Jesus, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God - Kim is listening directly to Jesus now. Death does not have the last word when one believes in Jesus Christ. 

Perhaps you doubt Jesus. Perhaps you doubt that any of us will have eternal life. Perhaps you doubt that Jesus has conquered death. The reading from Lamentations which we heard earlier speaks to the steadfastness of God.  The Bible shows over and over again how steadfast God is in keeping his promises. Over and over again, humanity makes mistakes and messes up, yet God is always there and always keeping the promises. God's love for us never ends.One of the many names for God used throughout the Bible is Comforter. Not the big fluffy kind which we all put on our beds in the middle of winter, but the kind who is present every time you need him. God is the Comforter who is present in the midst of grief and trouble. Every time something bad happens, God is right there with us, working in ways we cannot see. Holding us with great love. 

In the midst of the sorrow of losing a wonderful man, faithful husband, and marvelous photographer and golfer, God is present with us, keeping his promise. All who believe in him will have eternal life. God is faithful, even in the midst of death. Jesus walked through death and death could not conquer. So, while we know death separates us in this world, death does not have the last say.

As always, Robin, rely on God. But also rely on the community of faithful believers gathered about you this day. It is through each other that God works, through conversation, connection, and community. God will be with you, as well as the members of St. John's, to help you in the midst of your grief. Trust in God's promises and be comforted. As it says in the Pascha Nostrum, the Christ our Passover, that great Easter chorus, "Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. For since by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. Alleluia!" Amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Proper 22A - The Parable of the Wicked Tenants

Martin Luther once said that sometimes you have to squeeze a biblical passage until it leaks the gospel. Sometimes it is simply harder to find the good news than other times. Some passages practically preach themselves and its almost an effort to find something to say without simply repeating the passage, while on the other hand, some passages need squeezing to figure out.

In order to work through the gospel passage from Matthew today, I am going to look at each of the characters of the parable Jesus tells the crowds, including the chief priests and Pharisees.  We are going to start by looking at the tenants, then the servants, then the son, and lastly the landowner.

The tenants.  In thinking about the tenants, I can understand how they probably had a connection to the land and the work of tending the crops and watching them grow. Working with the land brings a connection which still many farmers and gardeners know very well. Watching plants grow and become something useful and beautiful is a wonderful business. Unfortunately, the tenants also got a little greedy and covetous. They wanted what wasn't theirs for their own. They were in the business of stewardship, yet they wanted to own. They were renters, yet they wanted to be owners. They wanted to keep everything for themselves. And in a way, since they collaborated together, they were conspirators, working collectively against the landowner. They were obviously determined people. They went out of their way to do something different to each of the servants sent to them. I imagine they were normally pretty good people, and certainly didn't think of themselves as bad people. Perhaps they had felt threatened by the servants who came to collect and acted out of fear, worried they would have nothing left to live on after the owner had taken all the harvest. They were thinking about themselves first.

The servants of the landowner. They went out as sheep into the midst of wolves... especially the second group of servants. They would have known what had happened to the first bunch. Which probably would have made them question why they were going and if they should have taken some personal protection with them. Who knows, maybe they did. Yet, they followed their master's instructions and went to do as the master asked them. We don't know what they would have felt, though I imagine some trepidation on their part, not knowing what would happen. They were obedient to the landowner.

The son of the landowner. I feel bad for the son in a way and also not totally bad for the son. He didn't have too much choice in the matter, his father sent him to look after the family landownings and to take care of the family business. He did have some choice, so he could have said no. He must have realized that the situation wasn't good. If the landowner trusted his son to go do his business, then he would have already known that the two groups of servants hadn't made it back alive. He probably guessed that his future was very uncertain with the tenants. Yet, he still obeyed his father's wishes and went.

The landowner.  I must admit, the landowner amazes me. He must have been a very generous and gracious man! I mean, after the tenants had killed the first bunch of servants, I would not probably have given them a second chance. I probably would have gone in there with some highly skilled security professionals to take care of business. Yet, he gives them multiple chances to do what they are supposed to do. He keeps forgiving them and showing them grace and mercy. He gives them three chances! At least, that we know about.

When Jesus asks the chief priests and Pharisees, the crowd in the Temple where he is teaching, what will happen after the son is killed, they answer by saying, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death, and lease the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the produce at the harvest time.” Yet, what Jesus says to them next, tells them that that is not what the landowner would do. The landowner had more than enough reason to kick the tenants out before the son was killed, yet he did not do so.

Matthew tells us at the end of this passage that the chief priests and Pharisees do realize that Jesus was talking about them. They were being greedy and covetous like the tenants of what is God's. Of course, we all would like to think of ourselves in the place of the landowner or the son or the servants... gracious and generous, obedient and servant-like. Unfortunately, the real question is... how often are we like the tenants? Holding back from God, wanting what is not ours, not listening to God's messengers, or even his Son? The easy analogy is God being the landowner, Jesus being the Son, the prophets of Israel being the slaves, and sadly, the rest of humanity being the tenants.

The former Noble Prize winner in Literature, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, wrote, "The line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart." Especially in our current society, where everyone wants to blame someone else, another state, another socio-economic group, or the other political party, we have to admit we are more like those tenants than we would ever want to admit. We have choices to make, and sometimes we make them out of fear or greed, like the tenants in the story. We want to think of ourselves as good people, but sometimes evil gets the best of us.

Thankfully, like the landowner in the parable, God is full of mercy and grace and forgiveness. God gives us new chances everyday. New chances to choose the good, to choose to follow the call, to be good stewards of all the abundant gifts God has given us. Like that landowner, God will continue sending us messengers after messengers after messengers, letting us know he cares, waiting for the fruits of the Kingdom. God forgives every time we make a mistake, and helps us get back up and moving forward again. May we all use our new chances this week to choose God's kingdom. Amen.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 3

What happens if I pledge and cannot keep my pledge?
We realize due to circumstances outside of anyone’s control, people are not always able to keep their pledge. We ask that if you find yourself in such a situation that you tell the priest so that we know for budgeting purposes.

How many people do pledge to our church?
The last pledge campaign at St. John’s was in 2014. We had 32 participants in the pledge in 2014. We are hoping that our participation rate will exceed that of 2014 this year!

What is the tithe?
The tithe is a scripturally based understanding of giving back to God through the church. Tithing is the practice of giving the first 10% of all your income to the church.

Who decides how much we should give?
You do! We ask that you take some time to pray and look at your own budget to discern how much you can give to the church.

How can we support our church without money?
There are many ways you can support the church without giving money. Other ways are leading a fundraiser, volunteering for a ministry, volunteering during clean up days, inviting people to visit and join our church, and praying for our church.

Can I pledge something besides money?
While we need monetary funds for many things in the church, we are also in need of support in many other ways. Time and talents, and other gifts, can be pledged by speaking with the priest. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Working in the fields of the Kingdom

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

My parents have had this scene happen to them many times. I remember such instances with my brothers... they would ask one to make dinner and he would immediately say, No! Of course, after a couple of minutes he would realize that if he didn't make dinner, we weren't going to be eating dinner and he would get up and make dinner. While on the other hand, my youngest brother used to say yes to pretty much anything you asked him. Whether or not he was actually do what he agreed to do was very much up in the air. (He has gotten better about this... sometimes now he actually says no. He used to play the game where he would say yes and then procrastinate as long as he could to see if someone else would do it for him.) Naturally when Jesus asks the chief priests and elder who is doing the will of the father, they have to answer honestly and say the first son, because he actually did what the father asked. He said no at first, but he still did what was asked of him. While the second son doesn't actually do anything. 

For better or for worse, God created humanity with the gift of free will. We are able to make choices for ourselves, to say yes or to say no. We are able to choose to do what others ask us to do or we can say no. Usually with other people I caution saying yes or no to everything, the best way forward is typically discernment about what they asking you to do and whether or not you can do it. Interestingly, we have the same ability when it comes to God. If God asks us to do something, we have the ability to make a choice. Jesus always allowed the people around him to make that choice. From the beginning to the end of his ministry, Jesus allowed people the choice as to whether to follow him or not. As an old priest I once knew said, "Judas was free to betray him, Peter to deny him, and the disciples to desert him—and they did. And so the question lands in our own laps again. Will we GO and work in Jesus' field of souls as free citizens of his Kingdom that begins in its planting and its watering here on earth?" (H. King Oemig) 

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

The first son in the gospel passage answered the question with a resound, "I will not." Yet, at some point, he experiences a change of heart. He changes his mind about doing what his father had asked him to do. We don't know why, we don't know how it happened, yet we know it did. He goes out to the fields and works. Jesus almost makes it sound like it is so easy to choose to do God's will, though we know it is not always that easy. Kingdom work, working in God's fields, the way God wants us to do so, is not the easiest thing to do in the world. In fact, it would be much easier to say yes... and then not do it. Which is in fact the route the chief priests and the elders seem to have taken.

Sadly, the chief priests and elders were too concerned with their own authority and power, as evidenced by their question to Jesus at the beginning of the passage, than to go work in God's fields. "By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?" Voltaire suggests that we should judge people based more on their questions than their answers. Whoever asked this question gave their own concerns away. They were having personal authority issues. The chief priests and elders said that they belonged to God and walked in his ways, and yet they were not willing to do what God through Jesus was suggesting they do. At the end of the passage they have to acknowledge that their behavior betrays them. Whereas, the tax collectors and prostitutes... who certainly didn't start out following God, end up being the ones who do God's will, because they were the ones repenting, being baptized by John, changing their hearts and starting to live new lives, following God through Jesus. The tax collectors and prostitutes were going into the Kingdom of God already. 

Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom?

Luckily for us, this is a question we get to answer over and over again. We are always being given opportunities to go work in the fields of the Kingdom of God, and every time we are given the opportunity, we have the free will to say yes or no. 

[Today, we will baptize Deacon, at 4 months old, into the family of God. But this doesn't mean he doesn't have this choice ahead of him. He does. He has his entire life as a family member to make the journey, to learn and grow and build and make mistakes and carry on.  To decide for himself, as all of us do, whether he will go and work in the fields of the Kingdom of God.]

All of us have this option, and even better, it doesn't matter when on the road we start saying yes and going. 

You've heard the expression, better late than never? God seems to have an interesting sense of timing and late doesn't seem to be in God's vocabulary. Every moment, any moment, is the right moment to start following Jesus. To experience a change of heart and mind and go out to do the work God has given us to do. Even those chief priests and elders... they still had time, time to have a change of heart. 

God gives us grace. Makes allowances for changing our minds, we are able and allowed to do so. God gives us grace when we decide we don't want to follow his way, and when we experience that change of heart that takes us back to following his path, God welcomes us back with open loving arms. God cuts us some slack. We should probably do that for ourselves and others as well. 

So when you are going... when you are wandering around this big wide world... when you are living your daily routine in Franklin and the surrounding area, listen to what God is calling you to do. Listen for the question, Will you go and work in the fields of the Kingdom? Don't worry about it if you make mistakes along the way, if you say yes or no, if you go or not go at first. It is never too late to begin to follow Jesus.  


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 2

 How much should we give?
There is not a magic number for how much anyone should give. Traditionally, the tithe is set at 10% of total income. However, any amount which stretches you to know that you are giving without sending you into (more) debt is acceptable.

How can we help our church have more money?
Naturally, giving to the church is one way people can help the church have more money. Other ways include doing fundraisers for the church, inviting people to visit and join the church, finding grants and scholarships for different ministries of the church, and praying for the financial stability of the church.

How can children tithe?
It is a great idea to involve your children in giving back to the church! Children can tithe or give back in many ways alongside adults. If they have an allowance, they can save 10% of their allowance to give back to God. If they don’t, they participate in volunteering to work fundraisers, volunteering for appropriate service projects, and giving clothes or toys as donations when the church does drives.

How long could we sustain our church with only investment income?
Less than 3 and a half years. Partially because some of our investments have restrictions on them determining for what they can be used. Our music, choir, and altar flower ministries would all far outlast the building, the staff, and any programs we would be able to fund on investment income.

Am I the only one who doesn't tithe?
NO! People give at lots of different percentages of their total income. While we do not know how many people at St. John’s do tithe, because we don’t know people’s salaries, we do know not everyone can afford to tithe, as much as they might wish to.

Would it help if I were only able to give $5 more each week?

YES! Every little bit helps. An increase of $5 every week ends up being a $260 dollar increase over the course of a year. $260 would completely fund some of our Bible study and formation groups, or even allow us to start a new one.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Stewardship Questions and Answers, Part 1

Stewardship is the keeping, tending, safeguarding, and giving back of the gifts which God has given to us.

Why give?
God created us to be givers. God created us with the ability to give gifts to other people and doing so brings us joy and gratitude.

Why should I pledge versus simply giving?

Pledging helps both the giver and the church. Pledging helps the giver be intentional about what they are giving and by giving the gift spiritual grounding. Pledging helps the church in the budgeting process and by having an estimate of how much the church can expect to receive during any given time period.

If we were all to tithe would it be enough? Does tithing keep the church "open"?
With an Average Sunday Attendance of 75, with a range of family incomes between $15,000 and $100,000 on a normal bell curve, we would far exceed our current budget requirements if everyone tithed. Yes, tithing does help to keep the church “open.” However, it is not the only way to keep the church open.

How much does our church need?
Our current budget is at approximately $232,000 a year.

How does tithing help our town/community?
St. John’s has extensively given back to the community of Franklin throughout it’s lifetime. We support different organizations throughout the area, we give through different outreach programs, and most of all, we feed the hungry every month.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Stewardship Sunday 2017

Today is Stewardship Sunday! Which means that it is the start of St. John's Stewardship Campaign! Yay! I know you are all absolutely thrilled! Lets talk about money! It has been a few years since St. John's had a stewardship campaign. The last few years, the financial focus has been on the lift project, hoping to install a lift in the Parish Hall to help people get from the top to the bottom floors and back up more easily. While we are still working on that project, and I hear good things about how it is progressing, this year we are going to have a Stewardship Campaign again. We are asking for pledges for next year, and this is an opportunity for all of us to think deeply about what we are giving back to God in our lives.

In Paul's letter to the Romans today, we hear him say that whether we live or die, we are the Lord's. We hear Paul say that we are accountable to God. In his letter, he was mostly addressing behavior, especially the behaviors which created factions in the early church. Today, we still need to hear his reminder that we are accountable to God for our actions and behaviors. What does it mean to be accountable in the church? Well, like anywhere else, when you say you are going to do something, you have to follow through on doing so. When we say we want to give back to God, we have to follow through on what that means. As part of that, we are accountable to God for what we do with the gifts which God has given to us, including our financial resources. God has given us so many gifts! God has given us life, faithful communities, supportive families, stable housing, healthy nourishing food, safe clean water, the ability to find fulfilling work, or at least work which allows us to pay the bills. God abundantly gives to us, even when we don't give back. God continues to give to us because God loves us. As St. Augustine said, "God loves each of us as if there was only one of us." God has been loving us since before Abraham left his father's house, and Moses led the Israelites to freedom, before Jesus came to save us, and Paul shared the good news with the Romans, God loves us and gives us abundant gifts.

All the way back from the time of Moses, people have been recognizing God's abundant gifts and giving back out of gratitude. Traditionally, this giving back looked like giving back a tenth of the harvests from the fields and vineyards and gardens. People brought their grain, olives, wine, and livestock to the temples and holy places to give them back to God in gratitude for what God had given them. Today, we don't tend to have extensive fields or vineyards or gardens, we earn our living, not from the ground, but by working for companies and businesses and our harvest is the money we earn. When we give back to God in the form of money or volunteer time, we continue this tradition of giving back to God.

Of course, there is another side of this idea. We also want to be good stewards of all the gifts God has given to us. If we are to be accountable to God, we have to use what we have with God in mind first. Stewardship is the idea of keeping, tending, safeguarding, and giving back of the gifts which God has given to us. When we are good stewards of what has been given to us, we take care of it and use it as it is intended to be used. Stewards on estates were tasked with the good management of the property so that it would make money for the estate. Stewards on airplanes are supposed to take care of and keep safe all those on the plane for the duration of the trip.

In the gospel passage today we hear of some people who have not been good stewards. They are in debt, greatly in debt. However, the one receives an abundant gift, the gift of mercy and grace, debt forgiveness. He does not have to pay back a huge debt that he owes. That is a wonderful gift! Yet, he is not a great steward of that gift. He gets forgiveness, and then turns around and refuses to share. Its doubly saddening that he refuses to share the gift of forgiveness given to him, because he got it for free and it would have cost him nothing to share.

However, God calls us to be good stewards of all the gifts given to us. Money, life, time, forgiveness, and love. God created us out of love and continues to give us abundant gifts. As God gives to us, God created us to be givers as well.  God created us with the ability to give gifts to other people, and, well, I don't know about you, but doing so brings me joy and gratitude. When we are able to give to other people or to groups, we are able to share the abundant gifts we have received. I think of the last few weeks and the abundant generosity we have seen here at St. John's in order to send supplies to the people of Houston who lives have been completely altered by the Hurricane Harvey. We had collected enough for two trucks!

When it comes to sharing and giving, we at St. John's have done marvelously. I have high hopes for our Stewardship Campaign because I know how much we have to give. God has given to us abundantly and now we have an opportunity to share. Amen.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Rally Day 2017

Rally Day 2017

Here at St. John's, the community has been through many new eras. It has seen new centuries. It has seen new technological advances. It has seen the changes in cultures throughout the years. Each time has been death and a rebirth, a new era created through belief in the vision and faith in the journey. With the changes going on in the world, St. John's is facing a new era.

I'll tell you what about this new era though, the destination hasn't changed. We are moving forward towards Jesus' second coming. We are moving forward towards the kingdom of heaven. We are moving forward towards the fulfillment of salvation for all people. The destination hasn't changed. We are still walking towards the vision of peace on earth through God's love.

The Israelites were starting a new era with the Passover as told in the passage today from Exodus. From that day forward, they were marked. They were going to be saved from the Egyptians by God. They were going on a journey which would last for years. They were starting something new.

Even Paul in his letter to the Romans seems to think that a new era was emerging. He says that it is now the time to wake from sleep. Now is the time to realize that night is over and day is beginning. It is a new era.

This new era isn't going to be like the last era though. Over and over again I've heard in churches, that if only we could get everyone back into church, the church would grow again and be perfect again... like it was in the golden age. Sadly, this kind of thinking relies on some very incorrect assumptions. The first is that there has ever been a golden age in the church. The church has gone through booms and busts throughout its life time. This church, St. John's... well... its had its fair share of booms and busts. It took thirty years for this church to get to having long term regular weekly worship services... there were years when nothing happened on our property except whatever the animals who lived in the first brick church did. There were of course times when the regular attendance was around 120 people every week and groups had regular attendance every week.  Perhaps those were the golden days.

The second incorrect assumption about this desire to return to the golden age of the church is that people left because of something outside of the church. It was the golden age! Of course, there wasn't anything happening in the church that would drive people away... unfortunately this is not always true. The number one reason people leave churches is because they have been hurt by the community. They have either experienced something painful because of another member of the church or because some hurt was done by the community as a whole. Of course, there are simply other reasons people don't come to church, death, moving, and working being the other big reasons.

We cannot change that our community has lost members due to death, moving, or people having to work on Sundays because of our current economy. What we can change is whether people leave our community or fail to return to our community because of the past hurts they have experienced.

When we talk about the hurts that people have experienced by churches or by church communities, I am talking about experiences of alienation, exclusion, broken confidentiality, prejudice... We hear about instances of churches hurting people in cases where churches don't allow LGBTQ members to participate or push them out entirely. We hear about instances of churches spreading rumors about sexual activities... and we think, phew! That doesn't happen at my church! Yet, people still get hurt by churches in ways such as when one person is kept from joining the Altar Guild because other members of the Guild don't think that person would fit the group, or when none of the children will talk to another child because he or she smells bad, or if someone else shares information about another to people they didn't want to know. 

We have to ask forgiveness for what we have done in the past. We can only walk forward together, and building a solid relationship together requires being practiced in the art of forgiveness. We have all been hurt by the church or someone else in the church at some point in our lives. As a community, who have we hurt? Who has been turned away by us? If you or anyone you know has ever been hurt by the church, by this church, I apologize. I am very sorry.

We are being called into a new era, something big and new is waiting for us in the future... the dawn is about to break... as Paul tells us in the passage from Romans. And as I said last week part of the process of changing and being reborn is seeking forgiveness. Jesus tells us how to seek forgiveness from each other in the passage this week. Not in a self righteous way... going to talk to someone doesn't mean hitting them over the head with feelings of pain. Perhaps they did not mean to cause hurt or their actions were not wrong.

"We sometimes invoke the words of Jesus based on the premise that we are always right and the other wrong. Real life is seldom that simple. The complications of someone’s motivations are complex and not always clear to us. The wisdom in Jesus’ advice is not for us to be condemning the offender unless they repent. The wisdom is to go and talk to the person who is our brother or sister and check things out. It may simply be a misunderstanding; or we ourselves may be in the wrong. This good news passage is all about clearing the air, not fumigating the enemy." (

As Matthew promises us at the end of the gospel passage this morning, any gathering of two or three Christians, including those in which people are hurt, is one where Jesus is present. Which means that when we go to talk to someone with whom we have had issues, Jesus goes with us. When we meet up for lunch or dinner outside the church, Jesus goes with us. When we start a new ministry and only a couple of people show up, Jesus is with us.

Where we go with Jesus, we build together a better church. Better relationships between people means a stronger church. A church more likely to walk together into the unknown of the future together, in love, in grace, and with forgiveness.

The last thing about forgiveness is that we aren't just going to need it now... in making sure we can move forward and not having the past drag us down. The fact of the matter is that in our new era... in the grand future, we are going to need to know how to forgive, both ourselves and others. We are going to need to know how to talk to one another in order to repair relationships. Trying new things means making mistakes. Making mistakes means people can get hurt. People getting hurt means that forgiveness needs to be practiced. Having more people in a community means more forgiveness is required. Thankfully, Jesus is with us. Jesus is helping us forgive and move forward.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Chapter 25 The Heavenly Banquet

After years of being a Christian and working with the food pantry, Sara Miles finally comes out to her mother about being a Christian. Her mother had been an atheist most of her life and stood against the destructive components of the Christian church. But Sara finally decided to share with her mother about what she loved about Christianity over lunch. "It wasn't official Eucharist. It was real communion, with all the incomplete, stupid, and aching parts still there. Made by human hands, out of meat and hope, incarnate: what the Russian mystics called "a foretaste of the heavenly banquet, where none are left behind."" (278)

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Chapter 25 The Heavenly Feast

While others found the food pantry to be way too much because of all the crazy people and the noise and the abundance of food that was free, Sara Miles describes how this fact alone mimics the sacramental way of being. "I thought the sacraments were a sign of God's grace precisely because they were so over the top: so abundant, so beyond human calculation, spilling over the unprepared and pious alike, feeding the world wildly." (267)

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Chapter 24 Sharing Jesus

After a couple of years of working for St. Gregory's food pantry, Sara Miles describes how her sense of mission changed. "My only sense of "mission" now was to show others that they, too, could feed and touch and heal and love, without fear. To catch them up in the desire to see more, taste more, without caring if they got a doctrine right or became a regular at my church. To get them walking, without the safety net of ritual correctness, along the path that Jesus blazed and to share the feast of their lives with others." (266)

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Chapter 24 Containing God

"When it came right down to it, the God that I'd found was a God who lived on earth, who knew what it was like to walk around in a body, fight with religious authorities, hurt his mother's feelings. "We walk the road, Lord Jesus, that you trod," went one of my favorite hymns." (264)

"And rather than protecting me and sealing me off in a community of shared doctrine and rules, this truth thrust me into the wildness of faith. I didn't need a creed to artificially connect me with other believers: It was the ragged vastness of our different spiritual lives that pointed, for me, to a larger force. It made me even more of a believer to accept that none of us, fundamentalist or radical or orthodox, Muslim or Jew or Christian, could adequately sum God up." (264-5)

Monday, August 21, 2017

Chapter 24 The Cost of Faith

There are many different costs when it comes to believing and following the way of Jesus. Sara Miles describes some of her battles with understanding the costs of faith after her conversion. One of the hardest things to come to terms with was how very much alike we all are in the body of Christ. "Christianity, if it was all I'd come to believe, demanded that I understand exactly how like everyone else I was. And it was this realization that would not go away, even as I battled with the costs of faith." (262)

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Take This Bread Book Study Discussion

After a few months of reading Take This Bread by Sara Miles, we will be gathering for discussion about the book and the questions that have been online next Sunday, August 27th, at 9:00 am in St. John's Parish Hall. I hope you will join us!

Friday, August 18, 2017

Chapter 23 Who is God?

One of the biggest religious questions of all time is simply a question of identity: who is God? Every one who lives into a spiritual life asks this question, or a similar form of it, at some point along their journey. 

""I don't have the slightest idea what God is like, really," preached Rick. "All I know is what I see God doing, in my own life and in the lives of the people around me."" (257-8)

How would you describe who God is?

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Chapter 23 Christian Fighting

Sadly, Sara Miles found that there was a lot of push back against her idea of having food pantry on Sundays. She was surprised and disappointed, though she fought hard for her idea. 

It is surprising to many people how much Christians fight among themselves, and on a wide variety of topics. In the last ten years, Episcopalians have fought themselves on every level, in congregations, in dioceses, in provinces, in the national General Convention, in the Anglican Communion. 

"The endless fights among the faithful had prompted Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, to write that "unity is a gospel imperative when we recognize that it opens us to change, to conversion: when we realize how our life with Christ is somehow bound up with our willingness to abide with those we think are sinful, and those we think are stupid."" (255)

""In plain words," as the archbishop said, "unity is a gospel imperative to just the extent that we find it hard."" (256)

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Chapter 23 Sunday Dinner

Among her ideas to expand the reach of the food pantry, Sara Miles wants to start a food pantry on Sunday afternoons at St. Gregory's. She was hoping that people would come for church and lunch and volunteer at the food pantry as an outpouring of love from Sunday morning. "I believed the food pantry represented the best of St. Gregory's practices and values: its openness, its inclusion, its beauty, and its invitation to participate in creating something together." (251)

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Chapter 22 Abundance

Sara Miles had written a prayer for the food pantry, which was sung every week with the Lord’s Prayer. It went like this: “O God of abundance, you feed us every day. Rise in use now, make us into your bread, that we may share your gifts with a hungry world, and join in love with all people, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” (247)

Monday, August 14, 2017

Chapter 22 Multiplying the Loaves

Unfortunately in San Francisco, the poverty situation is in a place where even being open every week and having opened 9 other food pantries, St. Gregory’s was still having to turn away people at the end of the day because they didn’t have any more food. Then something big happened.

“Then I saw the news: St. Gregory’s Pantry was awarded two hundred thousand dollars. We were going to get an escrow account, disbursed at twenty thousand dollars a year for ten years, because “St. Gregory’s Pantry has a tiny operating budget and no staff, but it has accomplished great things.”” (245)

Friday, August 11, 2017

Chapter 21 Baptism

One of the children who started coming to the food pantry started asking Sara Miles about the baptismal font outside the back of the church. Explaining baptism to this girl made her think about baptism in a new way. “Baptism, if it signified anything, signified the unavoidable reality of the cross at the heart of the Christian faith. It wasn’t a magic charm but a reminder of God’s presence in the midst of unresolved human pain.” (236)

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Chapter 21 Matrimony

When the state of California allowed gay couples to get married, Sara found herself in a position to be able to get married. Her partner and herself agreed, and got married at the courthouse. However, the next day, St. Gregory's had a blessing and celebration for them and a few other couples. 

“A year later, Mercedes would hand me an envelope at the food pantry, apologizing that it had taken her so long to give us an appropriate wedding present. “Sara y Marta,” she’d written on the greeting card, which was in flowery Spanish and featured embossed, entwined gold bands. Inside, Mercedes had tucked a Western Union money order for two hundred dollars, which she’d put aside, week by week, from her housecleaning wages. “Your holy matrimony and true love,” she’d printed carefully at the bottom of the card, “is a gift from God.” I cried as I read over the prayer from the marriage rite in the Book of Common Prayer. It had new meaning for me. “Make their life together a sign of Christ’s love to this sinful and broken world,” the prayer said, “that unity may overcome estrangement, forgiveness heal guilt, and joy conquer despair.”” (235)

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Chapter 21 Rites

Healing happened at the food pantry, without any doctors, nurses, or priests. Many came and were healed through the love and prayer they received.

“I didn’t believe in miracles. And yet I had begun to believe in healing. I saw that you could be changed, opened to experiencing your life differently, made more whole, even as your body was falling apart. That you could be healed from fear by touch, even when you remained sick.” (231)

When have you experienced healing?

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Chapter 20 Reframing

Sara’s friend Steve would visit from seminary sometimes and enjoy the simplicity of the food pantry. While other people see the food pantry as helping people, the volunteers saw it as community building. “”Like, its not about doing charity for poor people. We’re bringing people together to share food and praise God. What else do you want? That’s church.” “That’s communion,” I said. “Jesus’s Table.”” (223)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Chapter 20 Cooking with My Brother II

Sara Miles and the priest Paul Fromberg start cooking lunch for the volunteers every week. They cooked real food, and a wide variety of it, and while they did they talked about everything. One of their conversations was about the Virgin Mary.

""Right. Here's the radical thing about Mary: She doesn't need a man to have a baby. Her virginity means that her womb belongs to her." "And that she's willing to be taken over," I said, reaching for a spoon. "To let God move in her and not know what's gonna happen next." "Exactly," said Paul. "The thing about modern fundamentalists is that they think they can control God like a piece of technology and that they're the only ones who have the secret code." It was a huge relief to me to have a friend who could get beyond conventional discussions about religion. So many of the arguments between left- and right-wing Christians, fundamentalists and Episcopalians, Roman Catholics and Pentecostals, seemed to hinge on the idea that their own sect had the correct practice, "the secret code," that would save the followers and make God reward them. That was idolatry, as I saw it: magical thinking, pagan religion. I didn't think God needed humans to practice religion at all: God didn't need to be appeased by sacrifices or offerings or perfectly memorized quotations from the Bible spoken in the right order. God was not manageable. Human beings might want rituals, but it was dangerous to confuse the rituals with an ultimately unknowable God. That led to crusades, sectarian killings, the casting-out of heretics -- in fact, to the murder of Jesus, who dared to challenge the religious authorities with raw truth. "The message of Jesus," Paul told me, mixing a black bean salad, "is the only cure for religion."" (221)

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Episcopal Sacraments

In Chapter 21, Sara Miles talks about the different sacraments and sacramental rites of the Episcopal Church and how they were translated into the life and community of the food pantry. The Episcopal Church recognizes two Sacraments: Baptism and Eucharist. Along with the Sacraments, the Episcopal Church recognizes five sacramental rites, which means they are like sacraments, yet not with the same kind of necessity. The Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer puts it this way, "Although they are means of grace, they are not necessary for all persons in the same way that Baptism and the Eucharist are." (BCP 860)

The sacramental rites include confirmation, ordination, matrimony, reconciliation, and unction. As you can see, not everyone is called to ordination, not everyone is called to matrimony. Yet, we recognize these rites as ways in which people experience God and God's grace. The Catechism doesn't leave it just to those seven ways though. One of the questions it asks and answers is "Is God's activity limited to these rites?" The answer is a resolute no. "God does not limit himself to these rites; they are patterns of countless ways by which God uses material things to reach out to us." (BCP 861)

Sara Miles finds all of them are part of the life of the food pantry in different ways. Where do you see these sacraments in your life?

Friday, August 4, 2017

Chapter 19 New Sight

Sara Miles describes learning many surprising things on her new Christian journey, however she wasn't always prepared for what Christianity taught her.
"Instead, religion was like learning how to see. I was trying to make meaning from things I hadn't previously paid attention to -- the events I hadn't bothered to see and the people I didn't want to." (211)

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Chapter 19 Wisdom

Sometimes wisdom comes from the strangest places as Sara Miles found out with her volunteers. Even the most outcast of the misfits could offer another wisdom for life. 

""Honey," she said, "you can't change people; you just have to forgive them."" (209)

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Chapter 19 Misfits

Sara Miles describes how the volunteers started eating lunch together each week. "I'd described the pantry from the beginning as communion. But I'd forgotten that communion was above all a meal. Those first few years at the pantry, the volunteers ate the way cooks do: poorly, in a hurry, carelessly." "We'd grab whatever was at hand and eat as we worked, until one day when the truck arrived so early there was no setup left to do, and I made a pot of soup. I had no idea how hungry we'd been. Soon I'd convinced the Food Bank to deliver all our food early, and I was cooking soup for ten, then fifteen, then twenty volunteers." (207) Soon all the volunteers were gathering for a meal together before the food pantry opened, gathering at a table together to share in a meal. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Chapter 18 Abundance

Sara Miles and her food pantry were facing an expansion problem. They didn't have enough money and they didn't have enough volunteers. They wanted to find a way to feed more people, but they didn't know how. God had an idea.

"Steve sent me a note complaining about yet another boring liturgy discussion at staff meeting. "But on the bright side," he ended his note, "some guy just phoned the office and wants to give you twenty-five thousand dollars. Call me."" (200)

When the courts had extra money from large settlements left over after all the class members in a suit had entered their claims, the money was given to charities recommended by the lawyers. In this case, one of the lawyers recommended the Food Pantry at St. Gregory's. This was a huge opportunity. 

Sara went to find other places to start food pantries.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Chapter 18 Manna

Sara Miles was so surprised that most of her volunteers for the food pantry were not members of St. Gregory's. "Jeff wasn't surprised at all when I told him we now had twenty-three volunteers -- only two of them from St. Gregory's, and the rest people who'd come to get groceries. "Why not?" said my spiritual director. "It feels great to give stuff away. Look what it's done for you." He added, "And if you're poor, how often do you get to give? Here, you hand good food to two hundred and fifty people in an afternoon, and they're all smiling at you and saying 'Thanks.'"" (199)

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Gratitude Practices

In the last twenty or so years, psychologists and sociologists have been studying a new cure to depression issues: gratitude practices. Social scientists have been finding that if a person writes down a few specific things for which they are grateful for each day, they find their lives being more satisfying, fuller, and happier.

In Christian tradition, we have a long history of giving thanks through worship and praise. Unfortunately in some senses over the years, the personal nature of the Eucharistic act of gratitude has been lost. People don't associate going to church with being thankful for other aspects of their lives. However, there are ways of bringing this association back and making gratitude a daily part of Christian life. Keeping a gratitude journal or jar, sharing gratitudes with other members of the congregation, and reviewing your gratitudes help cultivate a new attitude and make it easier to give thanks to God for all the gifts He has given us!

Friday, July 28, 2017

Chapter 17 Healing

One of the priests Sara Miles worked with at St. Gregory's was The Rev. Paul Fromberg. He explained part of his spiritual journey to becoming a priest like this:

""It was clear to me that a lot of suffering was chemical, not just psychological. I felt, as a talk psychotherapist, I'd be fooling people and not giving them what they needed. At the same time, I was beginning to believe that Word and sacrament might have something to do with healing."" (188)
How do you find healing through Word and Sacrament?

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Chapter 17 The People of God

Sara Miles shares stories of learning about the good things and the bad things of the Christian people. "The sense of chosen-ness, of a special society of the initiated, is pervasive among Christians. I remember being shocked when I discovered that the phrase "the people of God" was churchspeak for "churchgoing Christians of our denomination"; I'd thought, naively, that it meant all God's people, all humanity." (179)

What does the phrase "the people of God" mean to you?

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Chapter 17 The Desert

Sara Miles had an experience with someone who was a food pantry volunteer. The volunteer's boyfriend was regularly beating her up and threatening to kill her, so she stole his gun and brought it to the church to hide.
"That's what church was for, I realized: a place to bring the ugly, frightening secret you couldn't tell anyone else about." (184)
Sara Miles hid the gun  and the volunteer moved away from her boyfriend. Later, Sara and the St. Gregory's parish administrator, Steve, took the gun to the police. ""You just made the high point of my career as a parish administrator," said Steve. "I never imagined I'd show a cop something that would make him say 'Holy shit.'" "Yeah, well," I said, "I guess this is what you call the Christian life."" (185)

While this was an extreme situation, Sara did care for and provide a safe space for that volunteer. When have you found yourself in a surprising situation because of your faith?

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Chapter 16 Holiness in Life

Sara Miles started to come to a realization about the Christian life: “The words I read and prayed, and the different acts of a liturgical year, continued to bounce off one another: walking, talking, carrying plates of food to a table, eating. Somehow the sanctified and ritual parts of church, as I told Jeff, were merging with the parts that reminded me of ordinary life: dinner parties, working in a restaurant kitchen, hanging out with my friends. “It’s like there’s not really a line between what’s holy and what’s not,” I said in amazement. “Or not such a sharp one.” “That would be correct,” said Jeff.” (173-174)

Monday, July 24, 2017

Chapter 16 Words and Acts

As Sara Miles dives deeper into her new faith, she learns what is meant by the struggle to understand God.  She relates what her priest says about understanding the Word of God and the persistence of humanity in relationship with God. 

“”The Word of God,” he said, “is what’s heard by the people of God when the Bible is read.” That meant the Word was living not because it was magical but because over and over, down the centuries, believers wrestled with texts, adapted them, edited them, interpreted them, swallowed them whole, and spat them out. The stories in the Bible were records of human attempts to understand God – attempts that were hopelessly incomplete. But, through words and acts, we kept trying.” (171-172)

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Spiritual Direction

One of the Christian practices Sara Miles describes taking part in throughout her time at St. Gregory's is Spiritual Direction. Spiritual Direction is a practice where usually two people meet together at regular, agreed upon, intervals to discuss how the person seeking direction is encountering God in their life. The Director listens, gives perspective, suggests new ways of looking at situations, and asks questions in order to help the directee deepen their relationship with God. Spiritual Direction has been a part of the Christian tradition since biblical times, when new converts were given a mentor who would help them on their journey.

While Spiritual Direction typically takes place in an established relationship, there are also retreats offered throughout the country at camps, retreat centers, monasteries, and convents which offer a more intense experience of spiritual direction, with sessions each day. Sometimes these retreats are offered in conjunction with specific topics in mind.

Spiritual Direction is not just a part of the Christian tradition, but also a part of the Jewish and Muslim traditions, along with many other religions. Having a spiritual teacher or mentor leads to stronger, deeper, and more durable relationships with God and has been considered a wise move for centuries.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Chapter 15 Faith and Certainty

 For Sara Miles, who had been through wars before, going through war while being a Christian was much different than her previous experiences. 

“Being a Christian in wartime, for me, was turning out to be the opposite of having “God on our side.” It meant expanding not just a personal capacity to suffer but the personal and institutional capacity to dwell in ambiguity and unsettledness. It occurred to me that the church was a place, maybe the only place, where that could happen.” (167)

“”You know,” I told Jeff, the next time I saw him, “when I was looking at it from the outside, faith seemed to be about certainty. What a surprise.”” (168)

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Chapter 15 Differences of Faith

Sara Miles shares some of her experience with spiritual direction; talking with someone else specifically about her spiritual life. During the period right after September 11th, 2001, Sara experienced some difficulty relating to other denominations of Christians. Luckily her spiritual director was able to help her out. 

“”There have always been different ways of being a Christian,” Jeff said. “Claim your own, keep going.”” (163)

What is your Christianity?

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Chapter 15 Faith and Politics

In the aftermath of September 11th, 2001, Sara Miles found another new perspective on Christianity.“This was what it meant to be a Christian for me: that in the midst of undeniable suffering, it was possible to summon up gratitude and praise. “All of us go down to the dust,” we sang, “yet even at the grave, we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.” That had been a breathtaking moment, a brief space in which I could feel  the violent reality of human life collide with a faith that, beyond the very worst we could do to one another, there was God.” (159-160)

“In that dark time, I was inching toward what religious traditions called “orthopraxy” (right practice) rather than orthodoxy (right belief). I was hearing that what counted wasn’t fundamentalist theology, or liberation or traditional or postmodern theology. It wasn’t denominations or creeds or rituals. It wasn’t liberal or conservative ideology. It was faith, working through love.” (161)

“But faith working through love: That could mean plugging away with other people, acting in small ways without the comfort of a big vision or even a lot of realistic hope. It could look more like prayer: opening yourself to uncertainty, accepting your lack of control. It meant taking on concrete tasks in the middle of confusion, without stopping to argue about who was the truest believer. Whatever else, I could at least keep working in the pantry, feeding as many people as I could.” (161-162)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Chapter 14 Heavenly Banquet

Sara Miles says she had an epiphany one day: "I understood why Christians imagined the kingdom of heaven as a feast: a banquet where nobody was excluded, where the weakest and most broken, the worst sinners and outcasts, were honored guests who welcomed one another in peace and shared their food." (158) All from working at the food pantry. 

How do you best understand the kingdom of heaven?

Monday, July 17, 2017

Chapter 14 Gleaners

Sara Miles connects her understanding of what is going on in the American food system with the food system in the Bible. Second Harvest Food Bank and organizations like it are providing the work of the gleaners. 

"To feed the hungry with the excess of an unfair system: to make bread out of injustice. It was like the Bible verse that instructed people how to leave food for gleaners: "When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow."" (149)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Food in the Bible

"Take this Bread" is largely focused on the intersection between Christianity and food. Sara Miles, the author, describes her journey to becoming a Christian in midlife through her journeys working in restaurants and, eventually, running a food pantry. Her relationship with Christianity is largely mitigated through food, through communion and sharing food with others.

So what does the Bible have to say about food?

In the beginning, God created vegetarians. Adam and Eve lived in the garden and only ate what grew in the garden. However, Noah was allowed to eat animals, though not blood. Later on though, Moses was given lots of dietary rules and restrictions about the food the people of Israel were allowed to eat. (Today, following the scriptural rules for eating and drinking as described in the Hebrew Scriptures is known as keeping Kosher.) Unfortunately, these rules started creating problems for people. When Jesus was alive, he sometimes ate and drank things that broke Kosher laws. By the end of Acts, Peter has a vision that opens up the rules of eating and drinking fully.

The Bible has lots of stories of people eating and drinking together. It includes parables which help explain some of Jesus' teachings through food. We cannot allow different kinds of food to separate us from one another. Grounded in our common need for energy and sustenance, food is something that brings us together as people of God.

If you'd like to read more, here is one great article about food in the Bible by Scott Munger.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Chapter 13 Chief Cornerstone

"Once I picked up a huge grapefruit and showed it to a volunteer from St. Gregory's. "That's the stone the builders rejected," I said, quoting Scripture aloud with only a twinge of embarrassment. I could see, now, how we were like that, too: the volunteers, and the families who came for groceries. Each of us, at some point, might have been rejected for being too young, too poor, too queer, too old, too crazy or difficult or sick; in one way or another, cracked, broken, not right. But gathered around the Table in this work, we were becoming right together, converted into the cornerstone of something God was building." (139)

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Chapter 13 Serving

Sara Miles's food pantry volunteers have lots of great wisdom to share.

"Lawrence Chyall, a tall, bookish guy with decades of work as a restaurant maitre d', dropped by on his day off. Calm and unflappable, he organized our chaotic line outside, dealing with hungry poor people as graciously as he did with rich, cranky customers. "It's all about 'Your table is ready'," he said." (135)

""I'm not a good enough person to stand up there in front of everyone," he said. "I'd have to be a whole lot more holy." I laughed. "The thing about serving," I told him, "is that it's not about you."" (135)

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Chapter 13 Church of the One True Sack

Once Sara Miles and her volunteers started the food pantry, it took off like a shot. It grew fast and bonded together into something people really could start believing in. 

"We were making a church. "Church of the One True Sack of Groceries," Steve said. "The Jesus Christ Love Shack," I said, "and House of Prayer for All, alleluia." (134)

"All we had to do was open the door. Hundreds of hungry people would walk in. And in the presence of shared food and the immediacy of such visible, common need, visitors could blurt out anything, open themselves to people totally unlike themselves, act out of character." (138)

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Chapter 12 Yearning for Baptism

“Now here I was, an adult, with an irrational yearning for it—almost a hunger. The idea seemed dangerous and seductive, and I’d tried to resist it. I’d stand there at the Table, looking out the doors at the rock font, and try not to see the water spilling forth. I impetuously called Mark, my Lutheran friend, and asked if he’d be my godfather. I told Donald I wanted to be baptized. Then, full of dread and superstition, I backed out.” (122)

Have you ever really really wanted something, only to be given the opportunity to have it/do it, and then backed out? 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Chapter 12 A Different Everyone

“You can’t be a Christian by yourself.”

Its a saying Sara Miles brings up again and again, and its a saying that has rung true throughout the Church's history. Many have tried. Many burn out with the effort. Unfortunately, its as true as it is wise. 

You can't be a Christian by yourself. 

I would say, in a very Trinitarian spirit, that you need at least three other people in order to be a Christian. 

In order of importance, the first other person you need is God, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. 

And then of course, you need someone else to learn from, learn with, to pick you up, to pick up, to help you when you're feeling discouraged, to remind you of God's love for you... to be on the journey with you. 

And... even if you don't want them, you also need someone to challenge you, to help you see God in new ways, to make you get outside of yourself and your ideals and to make things dirty and messy and confusing... that way you go back to that first person: God.