Sermon for 7/29/18 John 6:1-21

This Sunday starts the first of five Sundays that we will spend in John, chapter six. The first of five Sundays that will talk about bread. Or, as I like to think of it, carb loading. I am telling you this now because if you start to think that the scriptures are sounding a lot alike its because they do. But, I am hoping to run a few themes through my sermons over the next five weeks. I want to invite us all into thinking about and conversation surrounding what it means to be fed so that we can feed. I also want us to have the refrain of John 3:16-17 in the back of our heads as we discuss these readings each week. Just in case you forgot, let’s refresh our memories on the verses of John 3:16-17, which I believe to be the heart of the Gospel of John. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” I am going to be referencing this a lot over the next few weeks.

This feeding of the 5000 is probably one of the best known Biblical stories, in my opinion. It is one of the only stories that appears in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND John. In Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Jesus tells the disciples “you give them something to eat.” And then Jesus does the greatest party trick ever since turning water into wine: he takes 5 loaves and 2 fish and makes them a feast. There was more than enough for everyone. There was so much in fact, there were how many baskets left over? (12). An abundance of bread and fish. More than those gathered could even eat. In fact we are told that Jesus told the disciples to gather up the fragments left over after everyone was satisfied. Jesus didn’t let everyone have just a few bites and then declare the party to be over. Nope. Those 5000 gathered were satisfied. Can you imagine 5000 people being satisfied with something? I find it hard to please one tiny person…let alone 5000.

Another interesting detail in this story is the setting. In all of the other gospels, we are told that those gathered are in a grassy area. In the Gospel of Luke we’re told that they are gathered in a desolate area (Luke 9:12). But, as we look at verse 10 in this reading we are told that there is a “great deal of grass.” Once again, this is an abundance. Remember last week’s psalm reading? Psalm 23. He makes me lie down in what? Green pastures. Additionally, if Jesus is the good shepherd and we are his sheep, the abundance of grass provides for plenty to eat in a very literal sense, right? Because what do sheep eat? Grass! (Thanks to Rev. Dr. Karoline Lewis for inspiring this line of thinking.)

But now I want to turn to the piece of this scripture that I think really makes it different. It’s a small detail and it can easily be missed, but it is crucial, so I don’t want you to miss it. Look at verse 11. Let’s read it again. “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when HE [emphasis mine] had given thanks, HE [emphasis mine] distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.” Who fed those gathered? Jesus! This is the only version of this story where Jesus himself feeds those gathered. The other gospels have the disciples doing the feeding. The crowd is receiving the bread of life from the bread of life himself. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only son….”

Before we get too wrapped up in additional details, maybe we just need to step back and call a thing what it is. This is called being a theologian of the cross. Luther said that sometimes we just need to call a thing what it is. And while it’s all too easy for us to say “look! This reading talks about communion. This reading is like what happens at the last supper. This reading is about this or that or whatever. What if this reading is as simple this: people were hungry and Jesus fed them. That’s it. Sometimes we make mountains out of molehills (as my dad would say). Sometimes a reading really is just about something as basic as feeding people. And is there anything more Jesus like than this? People were hungry and he fed them. Not only did he feed them, but he fed them until they were satisfied and fed them with abundant amounts left over. “God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world…”

This was not a one time deal. In our lives, Jesus is the one who feeds us with abundance. And we are fed so that we ourselves can feed. That’s what grace does. Maybe you don’t realize it, or maybe you don’t call it that. But, God, through Jesus Christ, fills us up with grace. And there is always an abundance of it. More than we could ever need. Jesus is always feeding us. It’s not always food, either. We are fed with mercy, love, grace, forgiveness. We are fed with opportunities, time, relationships, and second chances. We are fed with words, music, cards, emails, and phone calls. We are fed by visits, casseroles, and shared tears. We are fed. We are fed. We are fed. And what do we do with the abundance that Jesus gives us? We are fed to feed.

We feed others, literally. We feed others through our food pantry and our backpack program. We feed others with our generosity of finances. Our current level of mission support is 15%. This helps programs like Lutheran camps, colleges, seminaries, missionaries, Lutheran Services in Iowa, Lutheran World Relief, and on and on. We feed others with prayers. We feed in hospitality. I pray that part of the reason why people keep finding us and keep coming back here is because they feel welcome. That is Jesus Christ just spilling out of us. When we take seriously “for God so loved the world” then we can’t help ourselves. We do the same. And do we always get it right? No. Sometimes we are fed and then keep to ourselves versus fed to feed. The idea of scarcity of abundance enters our hearts and minds and we want to keep all we have for ourselves. So thank God the scripture is “for God so loved the world” instead of “for we so loved the world.” It is God through Christ alone that feeds the world. And feeds us.

I know that today may have felt a bit more like a Bible study verses a sermon. But, I wanted to lay the groundwork for the next 5 weeks. We are going to hear more about the bread of life. We are going to hear more about abundance. We are going to hear more about being fed. I hope your takeaways for today are that Jesus is the one who feeds us and feeds us with abundance. And that we are fed in order to feed. I challenge you, my beloved, to keep your eyes open for the ways that God, through Jesus Christ is feeding you. Be prepared, even expect to be fed to an abundance. Then, keep your eyes open for the ways we feed others through the power of God. “For God so loved the world” and the world is so hungry.

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Sermon for 7/22/18 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

I have a complicated relationship with food. I know I am not alone in this. I enjoy food when I am happy. I enjoy food when I am sad. I use food in celebration. I use food in sorrow. I also know that food is a resource that many don’t have the luxury of enjoying to the extent that maybe they would like. I don’t know if any of you have done this. But, it’s not uncommon for me to open our fridge or pantry, see it full of food, and yet declare “we have nothing to eat.” If you have kids in your house or remember having kids in your house, I am sure that this idea is nothing new. But, what do I want? Hmmm… good question. A friend of mine used to joke that he wanted to open a restaurant called “I don’t know. What do you want?” I often forget that my hunger cannot always be fixed by food. Sometimes my body is physically hungry, yes. But, there are times when I am hungering for something else. Something I don’t always know how to get or something I don’t always know how to label.

You may not have heard it on first read, but eating and being fed is mentioned a few times in today’s reading. We are told of the disciples ministry. They have been healing, teaching, feeding, preaching. They have been giving a lot of themselves. They have been so busy, we’ve been told, that they haven’t even had time to eat. Jesus invites them, even encourages them to go off to a deserted place and rest. Jesus knows, and it’s a good lesson for us to learn as well, that we cannot pour from empty pitchers.

Even though they attempt to go get some rest, the disciples, along with Jesus were literally running to catch up with them. I kind of pictured those scenes that I have seen on documentaries of people (mainly young girls) trying to run and catch up with the Beatles tour bus. People trying their hardest to run and catch up with John, Paul, … Jesus. (Did you think I was going to say George and Ringo?) And Jesus saw the crowd. Do you remember what he compares the crowd to? A sheep without a shepherd.

Let’s think about this for a moment. A sheep without a shepherd. Now, let’s think in the actual sense, not the metaphorical sense. Do sheep without a shepherd necessarily know where they are going? So, do they know where to find places to sleep, eat, or drink? No. Sheep without a shepherd could literally die. Of course, Jesus felt compassion for them. This is Jesus after all. Now, let’s think in a metaphorical sense about what Jesus is doing for those people, what the shepherd is doing for those sheep. In turn, what Jesus is doing for us.

All we need to do is look at that familiar psalm from today to remind us of what the shepherd does for his sheep. He provides for all of our needs. He leads us to still waters, where we may rest and get nourishment. He calls us to rest in green pastures. A sabbath of sorts. The shepherd offers us protection, comfort, and peace. He prepares a table, which harkens images of a feast. He feeds us spiritually, emotionally, and physically. The shepherd provides the sheep with more than they could ever possibly need. And, maybe most importantly, the shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, offers us a life long relationship. “And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long” is the promise of accompaniment and a relationship where Christ will never let go of us.

So, when the crowd gathers around Jesus and he looks at them like they are lost sheep, he yearns to be their shepherd, offering them all they could ever need and want and more. Obnoxious abundance, really. The sheep may not know what they want, but they know they are hungry. They are physically hungry and perhaps hungry for more than what the world can give them. They are hungry for spiritual food that only Christ can provide. Maybe you can relate.

Is your soul feeling unsettled? Maybe it’s been feeling that way for a while. Do you feel like you’ve been running, trying to catch up with Christ? Are you longing for a rest but the demands of this world keep finding you? Do you feel like you are hungry but have no idea for what you hunger or even how to be fed? Do tears, anger, frustration, or just general unsettledness come a little too easy these days? Perhaps it’s time for us to go off to a deserted place. A place where all of the distractions of this life disappear and we are left to rely only on God because that is all there is. Perhaps we’re being called to a deserted place where there will be green pastures, still waters, and cups that overflow. Perhaps we’re being called to a place where rest isn’t a suggestion, but a requirement. Maybe we’re being called to a place where we will finally be fed whatever it is that we are hungering.

And while all this sounds great in theory, life still happens. We all still have things that demand our attention. Work, the field, our kids, the laundry, dishes, groceries, our health, and on and on. I am sure there are many who would either love a spiritual retreat if it weren’t for the time away, the cost, and the logistics. Others may think the idea of a spiritual retreat actually sounds like torture. Whatever the case may be, we actually engage in a spiritual retreat each time we gather here. You are able to be fed every time you come to this table. You are fed physically, yes, but spiritually as well. And while Kiersten will be splashed in the promises of a lifelong relationship with Christ today, we can all do this on our own. After all, Luther believes that we should all participate in a daily remembrance of baptism. Perhaps that is the food for which your soul hungers. Maybe you just need to be reminded that you belong to someone. You are loved. You are beloved. You are worthy of being fed, being nourished, and you are most certainly worthy of rest.

This is what I am going to do for you today, my beloveds. I am going to leave the cover off the font here. As you leave today, maybe you will want to dip your hands in and splash yourself. Maybe you will play with the joy of a child. Maybe you will drink like a thirsty athlete. Maybe you will just be satisfied with one drip. Maybe you will stay at the font and linger for a while or maybe you will just dip and run. While what is in this font looks like water, it is food for a thirsty soul. God gives us all that we may need. Maybe what you need today is to remember who you are. Who you are is a child of God. Maybe what you need today is to remember whose you are. You are a child of God who belongs to God. So come and drink, come and splash, come and rest my fellow sheep. The shepherd is calling.

 

Sermon for 7/15/18 Mark 6:14-29

Mark is the shortest of our Gospels. It moves quickly and doesn’t spend a lot of time on details. Much of what happens in Mark happens “immediately.” So I find it interesting that a Gospel that is so short and not very detail oriented spends around 16 verses talking about the beheading of John the Baptist. People who say that the Bible is boring or confusing may need to read this story. It has everything that a good soap opera has: sex, adultery, lust, violence, imprisonment, power, and a party. Riveting stuff.

So, let me make sure we’re all clear on what is going on before we get too deep here because this story can be a bit confusing. There’s King Herod (his father was known as Herod the Great. So, good luck measuring up to that). King Herod married Herodias who was actually his brother Philip’s wife. Now, Herod’s daughter in this story is also referred to as Herodias. However, in other gospels, she is referred to as Salome. Then, of course, there’s John the Baptist. Do you know who is only mentioned in this story once? Jesus! But, John the Baptist is a disciple. He was on the outreach committee of Jesus’ posse.

Now, this story comes right after the text we heard last week. In last week’s text, Jesus sent the disciples out two by two to proclaim repentance, to cast out demons, and anoint those who were sick and cure them. Our scripture today picks right back up where we left off. “King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known.” King Herod had heard what the disciples had been doing. What Jesus had the disciples doing. John was sent out to encourage people to repent, King Herod included. Herod wasn’t really supposed to be married to Herodias. Philip wasn’t dead yet! Herodias didn’t like John and wanted to kill him. Herod feared John because John was righteous and holy. The plot thickens. Here’s what this story comes down to: power is one heck of an intoxicating drug.

John the Baptist wasn’t killed because Herodias asked for it. John the Baptist was killed because he represented a new kind of power. And that was a threat to Herod. He was power hungry. He would do anything to prove he had power and so he had John the Baptist killed. The crazy thing was is that John the Baptist didn’t have the same kind of power that Herod had. John the Baptist didn’t have money, or palaces, or armies, or servants. However, he did have Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit behind him. That made Herod fearful. And instead of trying to understand John the Baptist or Jesus’ message and the power of the Holy Spirit, Herod had him killed. This is the same reason that Jesus was killed. His version of power was somehow a threat to the Roman empire. They observed Jesus’ power of healing, feeding, and teaching and that was a threat to their piles of money, thousands of soldiers, and acres of land.

The quest for power wasn’t a problem just during the time when Jesus walked the earth. It continues to be a problem every single day. In fact, so many of the problems of this world come down to one central issue: power. The issue of illegal immigration is one of power. What if an immigrant comes into this country undocumented, takes my job, and takes my wages. That means they are taking my power. The issue of gun control is one of power. If you take away my guns, I won’t be able to protect myself or my family and you’re taking away my power. Our current administration, whether you like him or not, is very concerned about power. He speaks of the press the way he does, he speaks of other world leaders as he does, and he tweets as he does as a way of maintaining power. Power, my beloved, is one of the most intoxicating drugs in the world.

But Jesus wasn’t sent into this world to have the power of a dictating ruler like Caesar or Herod. Jesus came to turn the idea of power upside down. Jesus spent much of his ministry noticing the unnoticed and just by doing that, gave them power. When Jesus cured the hemorrhaging woman, he gave her the power to interact with society again. When Jesus met the woman at the well, he offered her forgiveness and reestablished her place in society and her power. When Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, he showed that not even death had power any more. And for those in governmental power, that was a threat. If you can conquer death what kind of ruler are you? And those in power were scared and threatened. And when our power is threatened we do stupid illogical things.

What people didn’t realize is that the power that Jesus had wasn’t the power that the world was used to. His power actually benefited the powerless. Jesus wasn’t of any threat except to those who were afraid their power would be taken away. For those who didn’t have any power to begin with, Jesus was and still is good news. When we are brought to these waters and splashed with grace, just as Timothy will be today, we are washing away the powers of this world and replacing them with the powers that come from Christ alone. These powers that come from Christ give us the ability to see injustice, work towards reconciliation, fight for those on the margins, and be in service with and to one another. Most importantly, those waters allow us to be bathed in grace when we forget it’s all about Jesus and instead work for the powers being all about us.

I shared this with council last week, but it deserves to be said again. There is a rhythm to our worship. We gather, we heard the Word, we are fed with the meal, and then we are sent out into the world to share the good news. One of the last things we say before worship ends is one of the boldest and most daring proclamations we say all service. I usually say something like “go in peace to love and serve the Lord” or “Go in peace, Christ is with you” and you all say? (“Thanks be to God.”) When really, the world has us trained, maybe even encourages us to say instead “Go in power to love and serve yourself.” Or “go in power! You’re in this alone.” We know as Christians and as disciples that’s just not true. We also know that the powers this world gives and promises will always fail us. The powers given to us in baptism are the only ones that can sustain our lives. When you are able to use your Christ-given powers to seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, then you are truly powerful. The powers of this world are nothing compared to the powers of Christ. Show me a power in this world that can defeat death. Show me a power in this world that can give hope to the hopeless. Show me a power in this world that can raise up the lowly and give status to the marginalized. There is nothing in this world that can compare to Christ. Because Christ’s love is the most powerful weapon on Earth. And that alone is enough to make others scared. So go out there, my beloved, and love the hell out of this world.

Sermon for 7/8/17 Mark 6:1-13

**NB: the sermon is shorter this week as those of us who attended the ELCA Youth Gathering shared about our experiences. For a full recap, check out our Facebook page: Elvira Zion Lutheran Church. **

 

Last week, 31,000 Lutherans gathered in Houston for the ELCA Youth Gathering under the theme of “This Changes Everything.” The guiding verse for the Gathering was Ephesians 2:8 “for by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” I assumed that the “this” in “This Changes Everything” was grace. And while that’s not wrong, we also learned that God’s hope, God’s love, God’s grace, and, of course, Jesus changes everything. We heard stories from people that had been changed by God’s hope, grace, and love. We heard of people learning about Jesus and it changed their lives. We were swept away by the infectious music that praised Jesus. And all of us, in one way or another, were changed.

In Mark’s Gospel today, Jesus sends the disciples out to villages to teach. He also gave them “authority over the unclean spirits.” He sent them out very specifically and with specific instructions. They went out in pairs and took nothing with them except a staff, the shoes on their feet, and maybe a tunic (but not two). They were to heal, teach, preach, feed. Basically, they were to be the eyes, hands, and mouth of Jesus. However, the disciples were told that if they did not receive a welcome, to shake the dust off their feet and go on their way. And we may think that is rude, but it is possible that we have all turned away Christ on occasion. Maybe it’s been in the ignoring of the immigration crisis at our borders, thinking poorly of the single parent using a food assistance program, or, sadly, we often ignore Christ when he comes through the voice of our youth.

“What can you possibly know” we say “you’re still so young and have so much to learn.” And we ignore Christ. The dust settles long before we realize our mistakes. So today, my beloved, you will hear from four of your youth. These four were Jesus to me while we were in Houston. I learned with them and from them and I am better because of them and Kristi. And our stories are not just limited to today. What we experienced in Houston will go with us for the rest of our lives. And sometimes our stories will be welcomed. We’ll be offered a seat at the table, something to eat, and space to tell how we encounter Jesus. And other times, we will be shooed away and will have to shake the dust off our feet. That won’t detour us. When Jesus changes you, as he has for the 6 of us, and, I hope, all of you, you will go to any lengths to share the good news that God’s love, hope, and grace, and most importantly, God’s son, Jesus, does, in fact, change everything.