St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401


  • Beyond the Silo to a Bigger Table – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    September 25, 2022

    This past week, in the newsletter, I reflected on silos and how they can be seen as a place of security, where grain is safely stored. Or a place of immobility, or even death. A silo is one of those tall, round structures seen on farms. And there is a phenomenon called “grain entrapment” or “grain engulfment.” It most frequently occurs in these silos when someone needs to move through the silo to perform some kind of task, and grain shifts beneath their feet. Entrapment describes when someone is partially submerged and cannot get out without assistance, and engulfment describes when someone has been completely submerged. Engulfment has a very high mortality rate.

    My reflection was about how we can get stuck in our silos, in what we perceive as safe behavior. But what we end up realizing is that things always shift beneath our feet. And a place that may seem safe, like a silo, ends up trapping us in the end, sometimes resulting in our death. And I asked: How is God calling you out of your silo? How is God calling us out of our silo?

    Today’s reading from Jeremiah is set after the nation of Israel split in two.  The scene is Jerusalem, the capital of Judah, which is the southern kingdom. As we may recall from these sermons the past couple of weeks, the nation of Israel split into two kingdoms. Israel, the northern kingdom, had fallen to the Assyrians about 150 years before this piece of scripture takes place. Now, as Jeremiah writes, Judah is about to fall. And Jerusalem is ground zero for the final battle. Decimation. Death. The end of God’s people.

    Yet, in the midst of the destruction, in the midst of the fear and panic, in the midst of the death… Jeremiah, our prophet, does something hopeful. He buys land. And he does so publicly, for people to see and take note. To us, it might seem foolish, even insane to do this. He’s about to lose his shirt. In his lifetime, he will not see a return on his investment. And he knows this! Because he’s asked for the deeds to be put into a safe place, an earthenware jar, where the papyrus will not succumb to the elements. He’s just thrown his money into a grave.

    Jeremiah, it seems, understands how risky so-called “safe behavior” can be. Despite the temptation to believe in the ways of the world, and succumb to the fear of scarcity in the midst of death, Jeremiah demonstrates faith in a vision that is bigger, more expansive. A vision of returning life, thriving life… because he knows God to be faithful. Because God’s power is Love.

    War, on the other hand, is always about worldly power. One entity/kingdom/nation/government… wants what another entity/kingdom/nation/government has. Even in the case of civil war, it occurs because of injustice, which is a result of those who are powerful forcing those who are vulnerable into oppression.

    This was last week’s lesson – Jesus tells us that you cannot serve God and wealth. In other words, Jesus wants us to realize that those relationships which are mediated by power and money, are bankrupt. Relationships must be founded on the love of God and he gives us 2 commandments: love God, love your neighbor as yourself. These two commandments are meant to prevent us from falling into relationships based on wealth, where the powerful take advantage of the vulnerable… and instead, cultivate relationships based in love.

    Today’s Gospel is a continuation of this lesson because it takes us deeper into the poverty of wealth, in other words, the poverty of our silos. The story Jesus tells, is of a rich man and a poor man who are neighbors. They are neighbors. One lives very well, dressing in fine clothes, eating plenty of fine food, and living in a fine house with a gate. His neighbor, the poor man, lived on the street outside the gate and was offered nothing from the rich man’s abundance.

    In contrast to Jeremiah, the person with the expansive vision, the rich man had a narrow vision. To help people understand just how narrow, Luke uses Hades – the Greek mythological land of the dead. Jeremiah’s act brings life. The rich man’s acts bring death. And this is the inevitable end of a narrow vision that fails to see the vulnerable lying at the gate. The deeper poverty of wealth is the attachment to this narrow vision.

    I had the opportunity to hear our Bp Andy Dietsche preach a few years ago. We was reflecting on the climate crisis, wondering why people are unwilling to act. He spoke about the recent NYT article in which scientists report that we’ve lost 29% of the bird population in the US and Canada since 1970 – that’s almost 3 billion birds in just 50 years. He wondered if people are in a form of denial, not able to admit… to see… that the world we love is dying before our very eyes.

    It’s as if we are the rich man standing at the gate, unable… or really, unwilling to see the most vulnerable who are literally dying at our feet. The reality is that right now the climate crisis most directly effects people who are most vulnerable – poor people, people of color, marginalized groups.

    Theirs are the neighborhoods where the toxic waste is dumped and where people are poisoned by lead in the water.
    Theirs are the communities where the devastation of natural habitats means that the wild animals who live there and upon which these people depend, are dying off.
    Theirs are the countries where food insecurity means that people starve to death because the soil is eroding at a faster rate as forests are being burned to the ground by industry, weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable, and natural disasters are happening at a higher rate.
    Theirs are the countries that are literally under water because the ocean water has risen.

    These are the new Jerusalems – lands devastated by a form of war that disguises itself as economic progress.

    A British cartoon from 1830 called The Rich Man and Lazarus

    All of the things that we have to pray about – gun violence, misogyny, abuse, suicide, sickness, white supremacy… and all the painful and devastating truths of our own lives: Death, trauma, money woes, health crises, feelings of insignificance and loneliness… In the midst of all these war-torn lands, these new Jerusalems where we feel so powerless… What can we do?

    I’m not up here shaking my finger because I’m complicit in this too. What can I do?

    Today’s Psalm:
    Happy are they who have the God of Jacob for their help, *
    whose hope is in their God…
    Who gives justice to those who are oppressed *
    and food to those who hunger.
    God sets the prisoners free
    and opens the eyes of the blind; *

    God, open my eyes!  For I am unable to understand. I am a prisoner to my fears and my ignorance. Grant me the courage to leave my silo. And give me a vision of your reign on earth.

    I’ve been talking about the significance of the Table lately. And its presence as a place where we participate in a truly transformational sacrament. I speak about the Table often because my role as your priest is to extend God’s welcome to this Table by teaching and guiding this community in the ways of God’s Love in the Christian tradition. As such, Table fellowship is my first priority. It’s something I take very seriously.

    More than anything else we do at worship, we are formed as Christians by how we understand our relationship to this Table. Because our relationship to it, determines how we envision it and, therefore, how we understand our relationship to God and to our neighbors.
    It’s here, at the Table, if nowhere else, that we are all invited to lay down our burdens and open our hearts.
    It’s here, if nowhere else, that we all share a meal with people we may never wish to otherwise associate with.
    It’s here, if nowhere else, that we are all asked to bring our whole selves to God.
    And so, it’s here, if nowhere else, that we all experience reconciliation with God.

    So, what is our vision of this reconciliation? What is our vision of this Table?
    In other words, what is the vision we have of justice? What is the vision we have of gentleness? What is our vision of love?

    My beloveds, if our vision does not include the victims of climate change, then what we are doing?
    And I’m going to ask an even harder question: If we aren’t confessing our complicity in climate change, then what are we doing?

    Because the most important question is this: In our vision of this Table of Reconciliation, exactly who is in our vision?
    Who are we including when we create a picture in our minds of the Table of Reconciliation?
    Who do we envision at this Table where we gather every week?

    It is all of us. It is the rich man and it is Lazarus. Both are at the Table.
    This is our hope. This expansive vision of Table fellowship.

    Through faith, then, we make our way towards this Table, with the courage to leave our own silos and resilience to continue towards the Reign of God, despite the pain that the world can sometimes bring, keeping the vision of an expansive Table ever in our sight, as our guide.

    All are welcome at God’s Table.