Sunday, July 29, 2018

When Little Becomes Enough: John 6:1-21 - 10th Sunday after Pentecost

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
The windmill and the barley by Ken Douglas on flickr.  CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

One of the hardest parts of visiting a congregation for the first time is the communion.
  Every church is different in how they do it.  Even Lutheran churches are different.

When do you come forward?  Where do you go?  Do you stand or kneel?  What if they use common cup?  What if the wine’s sour?  What do you do if you eat your bread before dipping it into the chalice—or if you drop it in?

If you go to a Presbyterian Church, they may give you communion in the pews.  But do you need to wait because they eat and drink all at the same time?  And how do they manage to cut the bread into perfect little cubes?

Perhaps you’re not allowed to take communion—because you’re not a member of their church.  What if the church doesn’t believe in the real presence of Christ in the sacrament—and it’s just a memorial feast.  Should you still take it?

These are just a few of the many communion conundrums we Christians so aptly create.  But to me, the biggest communion conundrum is that our tables are empty.  Wine and loaves abound—but relatively few are coming to the feast.

This is the opposite of the conundrum facing Jesus and his disciples in today’s Gospel.  A crowd of 5,000 people has followed Jesus out into the middle of nowhere, on account of the signs he was doing for the sick. 

Immediately, Jesus asks his disciple Philip, “where are we to buy bread for these people to eat? 

Philip says, “Six month’s wages wouldn’t be enough to give everyone even a little.”  And with Giant Eagle and McDonalds 1,900 years away, no one would have that much food at the ready.

Just then, Andrew points out a little boy who has five loaves and two fish.  A small amount of food for him and his family; and merely crumbs amid so many people…

Nevertheless, the child hands over the food to Jesus—and you know what happens next.

When people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “this is indeed the prophet who is come into the world.”

That’s what this is all about.  Yes, Jesus can feed 5,000 people with five loaves and two fish.  But the sign isn’t that Jesus is the world’s first and foremost purveyor of fast food. This is a sign that Jesus is God’s son; the Word made flesh, full of grace and truth.  This is also a sign that people’s hunger matters to God.

But still I wonder about this little boy…  Why did he do what he did?  Because he saw the signs Jesus was doing for the sick?  Or was it because he knew people were hungry and wanted to help?

Would you have done this while you’re standing in the middle of nowhere with thousands of hungry people around you?  I know I couldn’t.  If that’s all I’ve got, and I certainly cannot afford to lose it!

But Jesus shows the crowd who he is through the meager gifts this little child hands over.  And it turns out that five loaves and two fish were enough.

As we face our dilemma of plenty of loaves but no one to eat them, Jesus is testing us as he did his disciples on that grassy hillside.  The Feast of Life is spread before a world full of broken, lost, and rejected people.  For all the sheep without a shepherd…  God’s children are hungry for food and longing for shelter in the age of plenty.  What will you do?  What will we do?

The easiest thing to do, of course, is nothing.  Just stay the course and see what happens.  We can wax nostalgic about the days when the church was at the center of people’s lives and the stores weren’t open on Sundays; we can look at fast-growing megachurches and wish we could be like them… We can surrender ourselves to the situation—that there’s not enough and that we aren’t enough. 

Or, we can recognize Jesus present among us and BELIEVE that he is determined to give himself away as bread for the hungry.  We can believe that our neighbor’s struggles, pains, and unmet needs matter to him—and act. 

A child’s meager offering of food was enough to feed the five thousand when it was put into Jesus’ hands.  Jesus is still working these kinds of signs.  I’ve seen a get-well card bring a nonbeliever to faith in Christ in this church. The best day in a child’s life happened when he put on a hooded sweatshirt he found in our clothing closet.  Lives shattered by the death of a loved one have been healed. 

Furthermore, we have young people in our congregation who trust Jesus like the boy with the five loaves and two fish.  On our first day of Vacation Bible School, we challenged the 52 children in attendance to bring their friends.  The very next day, we had eighty children.  Every time we’ve challenged our young people to invite others, they’ve always come through in a big way.  We have a lot to learn from our young people!

We’re here to help each other recognize all the gifts Christ has brought together and to encourage each other to use them and share them with the confidence that Jesus can accomplish far more with them than we ever could ourselves!

Ministry is all about seeing the signs Jesus is doing and being the signs for the world. The adventure of ministry is going out of our comfort zones, facing our fears, and trusting Jesus to accomplish what we ourselves cannot.  When it comes to Christ, loaves abound.  He wants all to be fed and know that they matter to God.  And Jesus wants you to be that sign that says to another, Jesus is real, he loves you too, and he can raise the dead. 

Sunday, July 22, 2018

The Rhythm of Discipleship: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

30The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
53When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. 54When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, 55and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. 56And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. (NRSV)
Trommel und Trommelstock - Köln Marathon 2017 by Marco Verch on Flickr. CC BY 2.0

At Lutherlyn, we played the game Two Truths and a Lie.  I’m going to give you three statements, and I’m going to poll you on which one isn’t true:

1. A three-year-old recently said our Sunday worship service is fun.
2. A mother with no family ties to any of our congregations drove her daughter thirty miles to our Vacation Bible School, because she loves it so much.
3. A woman gave $1,000 to our church because of her fond memories of growing up here in the 1980’s.

Which one of these is isn’t true?

Well, all three are true—because I can’t lie in church!

The amazing thing is that there are tons of great stories just like these about what Jesus is doing in people’s lives through our church.  The only problem is that we don’t often share these stories.  Then, we miss out on the hope and joy Jesus is creating right in our midst.

Today’s Gospel begins with Jesus’ disciples sharing with him and one another all that they had done and taught when Jesus sent them out two by two into the surrounding towns and villages.  

Afterwards, Jesus invites them away to a deserted place so that they can rest—because thus far, they hadn’t had any time to eat.

But it wasn’t long before a huge crowd began waiting for Jesus—and he has great compassion for them, because they are as sheep without a shepherd.  They come from all over, bringing the sick on mats.

And once again, Jesus teaches, and Jesus heals.  

What strikes me is that there were surely enough sick people around to keep Jesus and his disciples busy 24/7.  It would seem appropriate, then, for Jesus to press forward with this work until there wasn’t anyone left to heal.  It would seem inappropriate, foolish, and even selfish for Jesus to go away, and then spend precious time teaching and chatting.  

Can you imagine walking into a store only to be told by the person behind the counter, “I’m on break!” or “my shift’s over;” or even stranger than that, “I’m reading my bible right now, and you’ll have to wait”?

This sequence of events highlights just how out of sync Jesus is with the rhythms of our modern-day world.

For starters, rest is for the weak.  Functioning without rest is a badge of great honor.

Furthermore, time is precious—and you’re always going to want something to show for it!

You’ve got to stay on top of your to-do list!  There’s meals to cook; grass to cut; an inexhaustible supply of dirty laundry…. The kids need to be taxied from here to there, so that be well-rounded and qualify for college scholarships.  An aging parent is relying on you to stay in their own home and out of the nursing home. Deadlines at work are approaching and the boss is on your case. Your promotion and pay raise are on the line.

And then there’s all the vacations you want to take; trendy restaurants to eat in; the big games you don’t want to miss.  

“Busy” isn’t a big enough word to describe how we live.  In reality, we are religious in our pursuit of what matters most to us.  And still, we wonder why we feel so empty; so frustrated; so bored even.  We wonder why we’re not happy.

The problem with running on a hamster wheel is that sooner or later, you’re going to realize you’re not a hamster!  God did not create you to prove to yourself and everyone else how successful you are as an employee, parent, and child; nor did God create you for the maximum enjoyment of all the stuff our materialistic and image-obsessed society has to offer.  The life God intends for you is teaching (and learning), serving, telling, and resting.  

When Jesus saw the crowd, he had compassion on them and began to teach them many things.  They were sick, broken, rejected, and poor—and they needed to hear a word of assurance from God.  Even more than literal bread they need the heavenly bread that is the Gospel; the truth of God’s mercy and forgiveness.  Those whom the world rejected needed to hear that God loves them unconditionally.

Jesus does the same for you.  You experience this as Sunday worship; bible study; prayer and private devotion.

Once Jesus taught the people, he then served them.  He ministered among them.  You who are fed with God’s Word compelled by it to serve.  Your eyes are open to the cries of God’s children.  Your heart is encouraged to love.  You see God’s love in action when you minister among those in need—and when others minister to you.  

As you see God’s power at work, you are going to tell others about it!  God’s mighty acts can’t be kept secret.  The discouragement and frustration we experience all too often turns to hope and eagerness as we talk about what God has been up to—and give thanks.  

Then finally, you are invited to go away with Jesus and rest.  You must stop and let Jesus do for you what you cannot do for yourself.  Your fed and nourished with Word and Sacrament—and the rhythm of discipleship.

If this does not describe your existence, you’re malfunctioning!  The church is malfunctioning!  Anxiety, frustration, and emptiness are signs that death is at work in you.  But it’s not up to you to get yourself out!  Jesus has compassion for you—and he comes to break the vicious cycle to lead you into the life that is really life.  

As we look to our future as a congregation, as you look ahead to your day or your week, there must be teaching, serving, telling, and resting.  This is the rhythm of discipleship.  This is the liturgy of life.  This is the life of a sheep in Christ’s sheepfold.  This is the life you are meant to live.