Loaves, Fish, and Bagels

Sunday, July 29, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
John 6:1-21

 

The gospel readings for the next five weeks are from the sixth chapter of John, known as the Bread of Life discourse. This is a change from the gospel of Mark assigned for year B in the Church calendar. Why this sudden turn or shift in direction? It’s a question we encounter in our everyday lives. The twists and turns in our journey of life can be filled both with joyful surprises and unwelcome heartbreaks. And it’s those unwelcome heartbreaks that can leave us feeling empty and lost.

In our gospel reading today the crowds that have been following Jesus, followed him all the way into the desert where they found themselves feeling empty. Jesus was aware of this, and he turned to Philip and asked him, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip started to panic. He knew that not only could they never afford to feed that large of a crowd – over 5000 – (not counting women and children because they weren’t counted) but there were no markets anywhere nearby. Fear started to set in pretty quickly. The disciples believed that they didn’t have enough. All they could see was five loaves and two fish. This story echoed the story we read from 2 Kings where it looked like there was only a handful of food available to feed a large crowd of people.

Yet, Jesus, like the prophet Elisha before him was able to see beyond what was there. Jesus and Elisha knew that God is a God of abundance. God is a God who provides. God is a God who wants to feed the world. And God is able to do just that. The problem is that we humans so often see things out of a lens of scarcity instead of the eyes of faith. We see what is in front of us – the lack, the problem, challenges to face – and they are there – lots of them. But that’s not all there is. There is more. God is more. And God meets us in the midst of the storms. There is abundance just waiting to be tapped into.

In our readings today, God provided food – more than enough food – for everyone to eat, plus some. There were 12 baskets full of leftovers. God fed the people with what was already there. When they saw lack, Jesus saw more. It’s there; we just have to see with the eyes of faith, with the eyes of abundance and possibility instead of lack and scarcity.

God provides for all our needs. God is able to feed the world, and we are the instruments through which God will accomplish that. The children’s story, “Bagels From Benny” by Aubrey Davis illustrates how God feeds the world through ordinary people like you and me. Miracles like the loaves, and fish still happen, sometimes even through bagels. Look around there is an abundance of God’s grace in the ordinary right in front of you. Give thanks and see the abundance. Amen.

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More Than Enough

Sunday, July 22, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 

What do you want?  What do you long for? Like the early disciples do you long for a quiet place of tranquility to rest after working hard? Or maybe you long to get away someplace like an amusement park for some fun and excitement? Perhaps you’ve saved up money to buy that special something that has captured your attention for a long time? There’s nothing wrong with wants and desires. There’s nothing wrong with working to get something that you really want. Sometimes wants are simple things like wanting to go down the street and enjoy some ice cream, wanting to spend a few hours in conversation with your best friend, or wanting to get away to a peaceful place. It’s okay to want things. In fact God wants us to have a life full of abundance. But there is a big difference between wants and needs. And it’s very easy to confuse the two.

And by confusing the two we set ourselves up to feeling sad, angry, or unfulfilled because what we want isn’t always what we have. We may want to be 6 feet tall, but that can cause a lot of frustration if we only stand 5 feet tall. We may want to drive around in a $929,000 Porshe, but that’s going to cause a lot of disappointment for most of us. Does anyone really need a car that costs that much? If we’re honest many of the things we own are wants and not needs. Do we really need that closet full of clothes, many that don’t even fit us? When you think about it, we don’t actually need a nice comfortable bed, but it sure beats sleeping on the floor. We don’t need electricity, but it sure is nice to have lights, a refrigerator, and a working stove. Most of the things we have are wants and not needs. It’s easy to forget that millions of people around the world don’t have these things that we take for granted. Again, there’s nothing wrong with having the things we want. What’s dangerous is when we forget that they are wants, which can lead to ingratitude, selfishness, and a lack of compassion for others.

In our story today the disciples and Jesus wanted to get away for some quiet time alone to relax and enjoy some tranquility. In fact, they needed to get away. Mark says that they were so busy caring for others that “they had no leisure even to eat.” For many people that happens far too often. You give and give, but if you aren’t careful you leave little time for yourself – even for taking time to care for your own basic needs like eating. Jesus was aware of this need the disciples had so he suggested they go away and relax for a while. But that’s not what happened. They didn’t get the tranquility they were looking for. What they got instead was something quite different. More work.

And why did they get more work? Jesus could have ignored the crowds and stuck to the original plan. He could have walked right past them and did nothing. Jesus could have told the disciples to schedule appointments for these people for another day and then he and the disciples could have gotten the rest they not only wanted, but needed. But Jesus “had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” Their need to be fed, and healed, and cared for were greater than Jesus and the disciples’ needs. And the part of the text that was omitted in our readings today, Jesus fed the 5000 hungry people. He had compassion on them and Jesus has compassion on us and our needs.

Mark is not suggesting that we neglect our own needs, but rather that we must take care of ourselves because there will be times when we are pulled in a different direction, when we are called to take care of someone else’s need, and we have to be ready for that. Jesus regularly went away to deserted places in order to restore and refocus himself in order that he could carry out God’s mission. As followers of Jesus we have to be on the lookout for how we can be Christ in the world and show his love and compassion to others. We have to be aware of the needs of each other and work to do something about it. From listening with compassion, to walking or running to raise money for a worthy cause, nurturing a community garden to help feed others, to visiting the sick – there is something that we are each called to do.

Jesus saw that the people in Mark’s gospel were desperate for a shepherd – someone to lead and guide them, someone to love and encourage them, someone to be with them and not abandon them. Jesus was willing to be that shepherd, that leader. That was the whole purpose of his mission on earth – to be the leader who would reveal God to us. Because like sheep without a shepherd, we fall into the hands of danger very easily. We confuse our wants and our needs and we could easily be led astray by those who tell us what is best for us.

The compassion of Jesus is the core of who he is. It is the core of who God is. God created a beautiful and sinless life and yet humans destroyed that. God wanted a peaceful existence for everyone, yet humans hurt one another and inflict violence against each other. God wanted people to live in eternal joy, yet sickness and death entered the world through sin. So the Triune God somehow separated that blessed Trinity, while at the same time keeping it intact, and sent Jesus to make everything right again. The cost of dying was not what God wanted, yet out of God’s great love and compassion Jesus sacrificed himself for us. Jesus gave up his wants for our needs.

We all have a need for love and belonging. Many people will tell us those needs can be fulfilled in a number of ways, but the only true way is through a relationship with God. Because things won’t fulfill us, people will let us down, the people we love will get sick and die, and what we are left with without God will be total isolation and hopelessness. That is why when we have God in our life; we have everything. God hears our cries. God provides for our needs. God loves us with an everlasting love. God has compassion on us and will never leave or abandon us.

All the things we have are blessings from God. When we look around and see all the things we have that are more than just needs, we must give thanks. We are blessed more than we know. For even when we struggle, even when we are in pain, God will never abandon us. God is with us in the person of Jesus who died, and was raised and lives so that all of us will forever live united with God as well. We may need things in our lives, but our greatest need is God. And the good news, the great news is that God is here with us. God will never forsake us. God will always have compassion for us. And that is enough. God is more than enough and we are more than enough to God. We are God’s beloved children. And in that we give thanks. Amen!

 

Defining Moments & the Power of Choice

Sunday, July 15, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 6:14-29

Our story today begins with a flashback, and a gruesome one at that! Herod hears the news of the disciples preaching and healing and he thinks it is John the Baptist come back from the dead. Was he afraid? Filled with guilt that he was the one who ordered John killed? It’s not unlikely that Herod’s impression of Jesus in this situation was much like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Terminator, “I’ll be back….to get you.” Herod had reason to be afraid. He didn’t really want to kill John, but as our story illustrates he did, and in a gruesome way. Why? Power. Plain and Simple. Our readings over the last month have focused a lot on God’s power revealed in Jesus who used his power to heal. Yet today we see how human power can be used not to heal but destroy.

Herod had a lot of power. He was the ruler of the kingdom and he had the power to do whatever he wanted, but he didn’t always use that power for good, but for evil. Herod Antipas was known for his contempt of the religious practices of the Jews. He even built his capital city – Tiberius – on an ancient burial ground leaving the city unclean for religiously observant Jews. He made decisions based on what was good for him, not what was best for others. That was clearly evident when Herod held an elaborate birthday bash in honor of himself, and how he backed himself into a corner. Because of his pride he foolishly promised to the girl who danced for him anything she wanted. And as you heard in the story it resulted in John’s death. If Herod didn’t keep his promise he would have lost his credibility as king. So Herod had a choice – his reputation or John’s life. He chose his own glory and reputation over truth and justice and compassion.

We all have choices to make. Each and every day we are confronted with making choices. Some choices don’t require much sacrifice like what clothes we’re going to wear, or what we’re going to eat, or what television show we want to watch. But other choices aren’t so easy. Like those people who wonder if they will even have food to eat, clothes to wear, or a place to sleep. And a really hard choice for almost everyone is whether or not we will let fear rule our lives.

The choice to embrace faith over fear is a powerful one. Faith compels us to follow a God whom we cannot see, and trust in God’s promises – even those that have not yet come to fruition. We live in a society that increasingly is run by fear. We are told there are all kinds of things to be afraid of and how we need to buy or do things to help us feel more secure. Fear is a powerful way to control people and get them to follow even the most hideous of ideas. Herod did that in ancient Rome, Hitler did in in Germany, other leaders do it today, and we do it to ourselves. We can get paralyzed by fear and worry. We say things like, “What if this doesn’t work out? What if I fail? What will people think of me? What if we don’t have enough? Evil thrives on fear because fear causes us to do things we wouldn’t normally do. Fear causes people to hate rather than to try and understand. It causes people to hurt others to get what they want themselves, and it causes people to kill – either a person’s body or their spirit. Look at Herod, he killed because he was afraid of what others would think and what would happen to himself. Fear makes us focus on ourselves and that is the definition of sin – turning in on ourselves. And we can’t deceive ourselves – we all sin and are capable of committing the most horrible of crimes. We may not actually commit those crimes, but the ability to do so lies within us all. The difference lies in the choices we make.

The choice to focus on God makes all the difference in the world. Focusing on God gives us hope and confidence because no matter what we face, we know God is with us. Think of the difference it would make if when we had an argument with someone we paused to focus on God. Wouldn’t we discuss things with a lot more grace and understanding? What if instead of worrying and giving in to fear we focused on God and trusted that God’s promise to be with us always was really true? Wouldn’t it still our fears and bring us peace? What if we chose to live everyday giving thanks to God for what we do have instead of focusing on what we don’t? Wouldn’t we walk with a livelier step and smile a lot more? What if when faced with a horrible circumstance we chose to continue to look to God for the strength to get through it rather than give in to despair? Wouldn’t we have a compass to guide us through all our days?

God wants the best for each and every one of us. Yes, telling the truth and calling a thing for what it truly is important. I’m not talking about a Pollyanna kind of life where we ignore the horrible things that happen in this world. I’m talking about walking with confidence knowing that God’s power is greater than all the forces that try to pull us away from God. We have a choice, just like Herod had a choice – to choose God over anything else – over as we say in our baptismal promises, “over the devil and all his empty promises.” God’s promises are not empty, and God is true to them.

Each day we can renew our baptismal vows by making the choice to be part of a movement – followers of Christ – who choose to trust in God over trusting in ourselves. We can make a choice to be part of a group of people – the church – who may not be perfect, but who strive to be authentic. Because that is what God asks of us – to be authentic, who we are – flaws and all – and use our unique gifts to the glory of God.

When we are faced – like Herod – with a tough decision, what we do in that moment defines us. We need to ask ourselves not what will others think, but what will God think. If the choice we make cares for the well-being of someone else, if it leans on the side of grace, forgiveness, love and compassion then rest assured God is pleased. For Jesus said, “Whenever you do it to the least of these you do it to me.” We have a choice to act like followers of Christ or not. We have a choice to worship God in all we say and do or not – to follow Christ’s example. Christ had a choice, to live for himself or to die so that others might live. He chose love; he chose us. How can we not choose to live our lives for him! Amen!

 

No Ordinary Hands

Sunday, July 8, 2018
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church
Mark 6:1-13

Ordinary things can often go unnoticed, and their value not seen. That’s why today along with congregations all over the globe, we celebrate Sea Sunday. Today, we take time to think about and pray for seafarers whose jobs are frequently taken for granted. Every day cargo containing things we use every day has to be transported across the sea, and these individuals put their lives at risk. We don’t often think about that. In a recent update from the Albany Maritime Ministry they reported that last year 180 piracy and armed robbery incidents were reported to the international Maritime Bureau. Ninety-one seafarers were taken hostage and 75 kidnapped. These ordinary individuals are facing extraordinary dangers in order to be of service to so many, but their work is seldom recognized. It’s seen as ordinary.

In Mark’s gospel today the people hearing Jesus had the same problem. They didn’t know who Jesus really was. The people of Nazareth only saw the Jesus they had always known. At first they were in awe with his teachings. “Where did this man get all this?” They couldn’t believe the wisdom given to him and the power he possessed. But then they remembered. Wait, this is Jesus, Mary’s son. Mary’s son, mind you, not any mention of Joseph. For many, his paternity was questionable right from the start. But he was like any other Jewish child – he got dirty playing outside with his friends, he fell down and skinned his knees, he cried when his relatives died, and he went to school.

And as he grew he learned the family trade and Joseph taught him everything there was to know about carpentry. Jesus had ordinary hands – hands that were callused and rough like every other tradesman in the village, hands that studied the Hebrew Scriptures – the Torah – like every other Jewish boy. And as the people heard him teaching with such authority they soon questioned, who was he to be preaching in the synagogue with new and challenging ideas? He didn’t go to any special schools to learn this. And so naturally when the people in Jesus’ hometown remembered all they knew of him over the years, they thought, “wait, these ordinary hands hold no special power! Who does he think he is!” Jesus was filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, but because of their unbelief the people of Jesus’ hometown couldn’t see it. They couldn’t look beyond the ordinary, and therefore couldn’t receive the blessings that were waiting to be received. They had put up a wall.

Our human sinfulness puts up walls too – walls of fear, prejudice, or selfishness – walls so dense and thick like a great dam that we push back the healing waters of blessings that God is ready to bestow on us. Just like the people in Jesus’ hometown, we often fail to see that God’s power is alive and working in the ordinary everyday people and things of this world. Yes, we are ordinary human beings, and God wants to work through us. Yet we often can’t believe that this is true. So we put up barriers because maybe we feel we or others have nothing to give. We are too ordinary. How can God work through me? How can God work through them? We try to rationalize these ideas – too old, too young, too simple, too different, too weak, too sinful, too far gone, too…ordinary.

Henri Nouwen in his book The Wounded Healer, tells a story about a fugitive hiding in a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became afraid. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill everyone if they didn’t hand over the fugitive before dawn. The minister didn’t want to hand over the fugitive or see the villagers killed so the minister went to his room and read his Bible hoping to find an answer. He read “It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.” So the minister told the soldiers where the fugitive was hiding. The entire village celebrated because their lives were saved, but the minister was deeply troubled because the fugitive was killed. That night an angel came to him and asked “What have you done?” the minister said, “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said, “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the ministered asked. Then the angel said, “If instead of reading your Bible you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”

When we take the time to put aside our excuses and really see beyond the ordinary, we see the Messiah. Christ is revealed in the waters of baptism and in the bread and the wine of the Eucharist. He is revealed when we open our hearts and hands in hospitality, in love to everyone, just like Jesus. His outstretched hands were more than ordinary because of his extraordinary love for all the world.

Don’t mistake the ordinary things of this world as insignificant – simple gestures of kindness and compassion make a difference. We are not ordinary people, but beloved children of God. Our vocations –– whatever they may be: teachers, office workers, accountants, social workers, librarians, seafarers….are not ordinary jobs; they are callings from God. This is not an ordinary worship service, but a place where people can experience the living God. Invite them here. They may just be waiting for that invitation. Ours are not ordinary days; they are gifts of God to be treasured.

The Messiah was hidden among the ordinary and still is. Where do we see him? Where do we experience him? Is he only seen in the eyes of those whom we call friends or through the eyes of faith can he be found in those places where we are afraid to look?  He is closer than we realize and it’s our calling to be his hands in the world. It’s our calling to let the Messiah be revealed through us – ordinary people transformed by God’s grace – no ordinary grace, but God’s extraordinary, unconditional, unfailing love.

Look into the eyes of those around you – really look – and you will see the eyes of the Messiah. Take their hand and reach out with the hands of Christ’s love, for his are not ordinary hands. They are the outstretched hands of God’s grace opened wide that have poured out on those who believe salvation, peace, and real freedom. The freedom that comes from living in the grace of God. We have been given an extraordinary power and responsibility from Christ to spread the gospel message ¸to live the gospel message. This is no ordinary mission we have been called to. It is God’s holy work. Live it to the glory of God! Amen.