I was saddened this week to read about the tragic death of Anthony Bourdain, the famous chef and food journalist.
What a week, right?
The designer Kate Spade and the chef Anthony Bourdain, each dead by suicide.
It is a reminder to us all about how important it is that we care for one another, and help those who are suffering from depression to get the treatment they need.
We need to learn how to push beyond appearances and be available when people need us to be.
I especially feel that in the case of Anthony Bourdain, who is being remembered as a complicated, but wonderful man.
His book, “Kitchen Confidential,” was a powerful description of what it was really like to work at a high-end Manhattan restaurant.
The short answer was that it wasn’t pretty.
When Bourdain said that, he had a way of making you listen.
So when he issued the stern admonition: “Do not order fish on Mondays,” you listened.
The New York Times said that this single warning alone effectively torpedoed the sale of seafood in Manhattan restaurants on Sundays, Mondays, and Tuesdays…for ten years.
But the thing I am remembering today is his work on television.
I’m told that if you are a food person, there are lots of shows to watch right now.
There are lots of celebrities to follow. There are lots of techniques to learn and lots of signature dishes to experience in any number of wonderful places, and any number of noteworthy characters to take you there and show you how it’s done.
But within that world, Bourdain was different.
For one thing, his food shows were as likely to feature cooking from a take-out place in Detroit as they were some high-end destination restaurant in Dubai.
Bourdain wanted to know what and how people ate as part of their daily lives, wherever it was they were from.
And a big part of his work, too, involved simply eating with people from different backgrounds and points of view.
He believed in the power of the table that way.
As one tweet I say on Friday put it:
“Anthony Bourdain had one of the only shows on t.v. that tried with all its might to teach Americans not to be scared of other people.”
What a worthy project that was, especially now.
Frankly, if only our religious institutions embodied that same commitment to finding common ground around a common table.
If only we did so with just a fraction of Bourdain’s openness, curiosity, and hospitality.
What remarkable things about our neighbors we would be learning if all across the country and the theological spectrum, that were our focus.
Praise God, the Holy Spirit would be hovering over every church in the country every single day.
What a remarkable witness it would be.
We’re not there, yet. Not today.
Sometimes, I admit, that gets me down.
And yet, I take comfort this morning because, as our Gospel reading makes clear, this challenge of witness…this challenge of engaging our neighbors would have been familiar enough to Jesus, too.
Mark’s story this morning comes from the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, in the days just after he first calls his disciples.
It was a heady time.
Very quickly, it seems, his message has started to catch on.
The crowds coming to hear him along the Sea of Galilee have started getting bigger.
They’re big enough that now Jesus has to preach from the bow of a boat anchored a few feet offshore — which was kind of the ancient world’s cheap solution for stadium seating.
The people want to hear what he has to say.
He’s begun healing, too.
That actually turns out to be more of a thing, because controversially, Jesus is willing to heal even on the Sabbath.
That gets the attention of the powers-that-be.
It tells us something important about those powers that a man can come up out of nowhere and start healing the sick — I mean, doing legitimate, honest-to-goodness, “take up your pallet and walk” type healing…un-withering people’s hands kind of healing…the casting out demons kind of healing…
A man can appear and start doing all of that, and their reaction is: “Not on Sunday he’s not. Doctors offices are supposed to be closedon Sunday. This did not get approved…We have to get down there.”
Little surprise that, if that’s their m.o., then what they see…what they find when they arrive there doesn’t change their mind one bit.
They they are with their clipboards, writing it all down furiously…every last detail…every quotation…word for word…every little thing they overhear in the crowd.
Finally, one of them gets a little sick of all these bumpkins getting so excited, and sneers and says something like, “This ‘rabbi’ sure does seem to know a lot about demons….Wonder how that happened….” Says it just a little too loudly, accidentally-on-purpose.
Another one picks up on that line and says, “Hmm. Wonder if this is ‘heal now, pay later’….”
And another says, “Wow…I sure hate to see someone take advantage of desperate people…Who does that?”
However it is that they do it, whatever it is they say, somehow, click by click, moment by moment, comment by comment, they shift the tone of this event.
It’s no longer about what’s happening and how wonderful it is.
It’s about this guy, and the fast one he’s trying to pull.
And the point is not simply that they think Jesus is a bad guy.
It goes further than that.
What they’re actually saying is that he’s sub-human.
When they say that Jesus “has an unclean spirit,” they’re staking their expertise, their reputation for righteousness, their long church resumes against this guy who showed up by the seashore.
It’s not simply that they disagree.
It’s not that his approach looks to them like it’s disruptive or different or disrespectful.
They’re inclination is to suggest that he’s somewhere between some sort of two-bit demon and the Prince of Darkness himself.
That’s what they want people to think. That’s the rumor that they’re trying to spread around.
And this is very serious, church, and we have to pay attention to that because that’s what religion…that’s what their commitment to their faith has taught them to do.
Religion has the capacity to be the greatest label-maker that the world has ever known, and that’s just what’s happened here.
Now it’s important to note that this doesn’t simply mean that they would be considered bad Christians.
They would also have been considered bad Jews.
Scripture in both testaments is emphatic about the importance of honor and dignity for all people, strangers and kinfolk alike, as a central expression of righteousness.
These particular people have lost their sense of that.
And for us, all these years later, it remains tremendously hard to hold onto.
But the point is that compared to these distinguished visitors, Jesus represents a very different kind of faith.
Because Jesus recognized that, all too often, religion seems to provide excuses for avoiding and excluding the people who scare us most…the ones who challenge us most…the complicated folks who push us most.
He wants to teach us to look beyond labels, beyond externals, and into the very heart of all Creation.
He wanted a church that worked with all its might to teach us not to be scared of other people.
In fact, he wanted a church that was willing to work seriously at learning to love them.
Is church the only place to get that kind of faith?
I don’t think so.
Sometimes I think we learn more about each other by trying to agree on what toppings to put on a pizza than we do from months of sitting next to each other in church…not that you shouldn’t come to church.
But the practice of the kind of life that Jesus wants is bigger than one hour on Sunday, or one building and its programs.
In a very different context, Anthony Bourdain was someone who showed us how powerful breaking bread together, and cultivating true curiosity about one another can be.
He taught us the power of moving past our fears and preconceptions to learn the truth for ourselves.
At its best, in even deeper ways, the church has always remembered that, too.
And our challenge today is to make sure that we never forget it.
In a world beset with so many differences and so much fear, we are called to live differently.
And the world is called to know us by our love.