A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

But Wait! There’s More! Sermon on John 21: 1-14 May 12, 2017

*From Wednesday April 19th, 2017. I’m catching up on posting sermons! you can watch on http://www.bethany-live.org

Anyone watch the late night infomercials for knives or hoses, or protein shakes or whatever? After the host shows you all of the features of the product that you can’t live without, they say, “but wait, there’s more!” and then either offers you two of the product or bonus items to enhance your product experience. The 21st chapter of John, reminds me of these infomercials. Scholars speculate that this chapter was not part of the original gospel, it was an add on by someone in the Johannine community, an epilogue if you will. Could be the same author, but we really don’t know. It’s as if the writer of the gospel, or someone close to the writer, said, oh but there’s more!

Post resurrection, the disciples might have felt a little lost, perhaps suffering from some post-empty tomb let down. After the euphoria of the initial event wore off and they had seen Jesus and he had blown the Holy Spirit into them (a sort of Pentecost in the book of John), they were left with a “now what??” So life went back to being ordinary. They went fishing, back to their day jobs if you will and it all seemed rather dull. What does being a disciple look like now that Jesus has risen and is no longer with us day to day? They knew what day to day ministry with Jesus in their midst had been like: healing, teaching, miracles, signs. But now?

So fishing it was. But they didn’t catch anything. They had to have been frustrated and disappointed. They couldn’t even succeed at their previous vocation! Then some guy from the shore says, hey did you try the other side of the boat? Yeah, right, like 10 or 15 feet matters on the big sea of Galilea. But they did it, and it did make a difference! In the abundance of the fish, the disciples recognized that it was Jesus who had given them the instructions! Jesus was with them, even when they didn’t recognize him! But wait, there’s more! AND then to top it off, Jesus asked for some of the 153 fish they had caught and cooked breakfast for them! There was plenty for all!

Like the disciples, I think that we quickly forget that with Jesus, there is always more than we can see, more than we can imagine and more waiting for us than we can ever know. We get stuck in the day to day, the ordinary and forgetting that Jesus always meets us in the ordinary and the day to day. The disciples were fishing, not healing, performing miracles, not teaching the Torah, but fishing. Yet, Jesus came to them in that ordinary event to show the extraordinary abundance and grace of God. I don’t think that it’s an accident that the writer of this chapter wants us to make connections with Jesus’ calling the disciples to come and see, connections with God’s abundance in feeding 5,000 with two loaves of bread and five fish, and with the Eucharist meal. Perhaps those in John’s community needed a reminder that Jesus will be present, God’s abundance is real and to trust these promises in the ordinariness of their lives. Perhaps we need these reminders as well.

Reminders to wait, there’s more. What we think is the end, with Jesus, is actually only the beginning. Everyday Jesus calls us into newness of trust in his presence and abundance. How often as the church do we think that we know how to do this ministry thing, that is fish for people. We cast our nets into the waters of thinking that Sunday School, worship, or confirmation programs, or outreach programs or music is the only way to grow ourselves and others as disciples and sometimes we come up empty and we get frustrated, or disappointed. Or we get busy in our lives and become complacent our personal prayer and bible study habits and feel dry or disconnected with God? We get caught in returning to what we always know, getting stuck in ruts and forgetting to look up and see Jesus on the shore asking us to try a new thing. Something that might be as simple as casting on another side though, might make all of the difference. It makes the difference because we’re trusting in what Jesus wants us to do and not how we’ve always done it. How are we being opened up to seeing Jesus anew in a post-resurrection world where everything is different and can never be the same? How do we see that over and over, Jesus comes to us, to show us a new thing and fill our nets, for Jesus provides and provides in abundance, even if we’re not seeing it yet.

This makes me wonder if we think big enough about what God can do in our lives. When the disciples cast their nets on the opposite side of the boat, as Jesus directed them to, it says that they caught 153 fish that they hauled to Jesus on shore. Some have speculated on the importance of that number, but the crux of it is that it’s a lot of fish that they brought to Jesus. And I think that is the point, there’s more! The disciples then hauled the fish to Jesus. Our job is to bring people to Jesus, all people. The disciples didn’t have a say in what fish came, and neither do we. When we forget to look up and see Jesus asking us to do a new thing, who are we excluding from Jesus’ abundance? Jesus is about gathering all of us into his arms and this gets uncomfortable for us. It might mean gathering people whom we don’t like, or don’t like us. People who look different, eat differently, talk differently, think differently. But we’re called to catch them with Jesus’ net of love and inclusion. But wait, there’s more.

The disciples weren’t sure what to make of Jesus appearing to them in their ordinary lives. We too struggle to remember that Jesus indeed, comes to us at school,  when we’re with our friends, at soccer, at work, at home, caring for a loved one, and yes, at church, but not only at church, to show us that there is always more. It’s why we come to the table of Holy Communion when we gather, we gather in the promise that there is more, more Jesus that fills us, meets us here and out in the world. The powerful promise that the writer of the 21st chapter needed us to hear is that there is always more-over and over again, Jesus comes to us, to fill our nets, and provides abundantly. So just wait, there is more! Thanks be to God!

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Come to the Table: Holy Communion 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 Sept. 7th, 2016 September 8, 2016

*You can go to http://www.bethany-live.org to view the worship service.

When I was interviewing for the position of pastor of faith formation here at Bethany, one of the topics of conversation came around to how to build community. My answer? It may be very simplistic but it was this: “Feed them!” I personally think that most of our Bethany Fund should be spent on food to gather people. After all, food is central in all of our lives, everyone regardless of any differences, we all have to eat! We need food to physically live, to be healthy and for children to grow up thriving. But I also think we also need food emotionally and spiritually. Eating a meal together reveals a lot about who we are, what we like or dislike, how or where we were raised, (so much of our food preference is geographical). It’s an intimate and vulnerable act, as who doesn’t at least once a meal accidentally spill a little, have something on their face or in their teeth. You can’t always be on your best behavior as you eat and as this is true for all of us, meals are also the great equalizer. The likelihood of a small faux pas is equal among us all. This is why I think so many first dates are meals, or why we invite people we want to get to know over for dinner. We’re willing to risk the vulnerability in order to find out more about people because we know over a good plate of spaghetti a good story will also be told.
Special meals also gather our families and loved ones together at points during the year. Perhaps it’s Thanksgiving at Aunt Jane’s where you know Uncle Joe will show up with questionable stories for the children and questionable behavior. Or it’s Christmas, when certain foods from your family’s heritage are concocted and served along with the stories of the recipes and the history of Great Grandma Mary’s cake. Or birthday dinners where you know an embarrassing story about when you were three is bound to be told. We might face attending these meals with some ambivalence, wondering why we go, yet go we do, to be a part of something, to be connected to the whole of your family and close friends, and to hear the stories once again.
The early church community gatherings revolved around a meal. A real, actual meal. I don’t know if it was potluck or if the host house prepared it or how that worked, but we read in the Bible over and over the importance of gathering for a meal. A meal prepared for three strangers who suddenly appeared from the desert, a meal where all shared what they had and no one had any need, a meal where food purity laws went out the window for the sake of sharing the good news of Jesus will supposed outsiders, a meal where eyes were opened in the breaking of the bread, a meal that proclaimed the promises of God, a meal that binds us as brothers and sisters in Christ.
Gathered around a table, we all sit eye to eye, elbow to elbow, nourishing our bodies together. Even when we sit with people we don’t know, or don’t like or think shouldn’t be allowed at the table. Paul was struggling with this issue with the Church in Corinth. The fledgling church was gathering for meals, but gathering under the auspices of society where some were in and some were out. They forgot the radical invitation to the table from the One who ate with tax collectors, prostitutes, the unclean and the undesirable. They had prettied up their tables and were making sure that who was at the table was acceptable by the laws of society and not embarrassing in any way.
When Paul first connected with the people of Corinth, he gathered them not just around food but the story of what truly fills and satisfies, the story of Jesus Christ. The story of Jesus’ love, his love for the whole world to the point of death-not death for the sake of death-but death for the sake of not making choices out of fear, scarcity or despair. Death that could not and would not be the final word. God transformed death into life-abundant life and hope. This story brings everyone in need of this reality, this truth, to the table. All of us are in need of this story and all receive it equally-no one receives more or less, no one gets fancier dishes, no one gets it first or last-but we come as one people to the table where there is room for all and enough for all.
Paul tells the Corinthians the story of the meal that Jesus shared with all of his disciples. Those who loved him, those who would deny him, those who would doubt him and yes, those who would betray him. All were at the table. There was no pecking order, no exclusion for bad behavior or dysfunction, only open invitation into the story of unending love and grace for all no matter where you may be in your own story with God.
So, yes my answer to building community and the Kingdom of God is to feed people. Not because I think it’s a good idea, but because God does. God sent Jesus to walk around with us, turn our few pitiful loaves and fishes into banquets, to fill our nets with more fish than we can eat in a day, a week or a month. Jesus who over and over again sets the table, invites us all to join and fills us with what we need to share the table with our neighbors, coworkers and family. We share the stories of our hearts, of our experience with the difference that Jesus Christ makes in our lives. How Jesus’ love opens us up to see those whom no one else does: those who are hungry, those who are sick, those who are despised, those who no one will eat with. At the meal of Holy Communion, we are part of the story that calls to us to see and sit with on another how God does-with love, mercy, vulnerability and compassion. Every meal we eat is a continuation of the story being in the community of God’s people whether you are at home with your family, eating at work, or eating alone. The promise from Jesus is that every table is sacred space that proclaims the presence of God and God’s promise for abundant life now and forever. Jesus says, “Come. For all is ready.”

 

It Never Ends #itsagoodthing #itsaGodthing John 6: 1-21 Pentecost 9B July 26, 2015 July 26, 2015

One of the principles of teaching, especially younger children, is repetition, repetition, repetition. When I was a director of a preschool, I had some parents who wanted their children to come five mornings a week, which was fine, I was clear that the curriculum would be the same. They often then said, “oh maybe my child will get bored.” But those of us who have spent any time around young children know that they will want you to read the same book over and over, play the same game with them over and over, sing the same songs over and over, and watch the same video over and over.  So we patiently (mostly!) reread the books to them, replay the games, and yes tolerate the same song or video over and over. If you’re lucky, you’ll like some of these activities too! Repetition is how our brains gain mastery over a skill or a concept. Now repetition is not necessarily the exact same thing over and over all the time. It can also be variations on a theme that broaden and deepen our mastery of a skill, or even expand our knowledge within that skill set.

I am a violinist and the old joke of “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice!” is correct! I would practice scales, then etudes based on the scales, then I could play harder and harder pieces that the scales and etudes I had practiced hours and hours prepared me for. All of the hours spent in a practice room, often came along with me in daily life. I would hum the pieces, listen to them on tapes (!) and of course the music would get stuck in my head! As a music major, I lived, breathed and ate music. If you want to get good at something, you need to do it over and over, learning nuances of the skill, until it becomes second nature and part of who you are. Young brains are not the only brains that benefit from repetition for mastery of a skill, those of us who are “a bit older” benefit as well; the more that we see or do something, the better, the more it sticks with us. Professionals in any field will tell you that they have to keep practicing; they have completely immersed themselves in their craft.

This fact is one that has been true from the beginning of creation. The Bible is God’s story of meeting humanity over and over with God’s words and signs of love and reconciliation. God rescuing the Israelites through the Red Sea, God sustaining them in the desert with manna, God giving boundaries for living as community,  God revealing God’s work through prophets, God being present in all times and in all places, in exile, in restoration, in the rebuilding of the temple. God tells us the story, sings us the songs and reveals signs of God’s presence over and over and over. God created us to need repetition, to see and hear the story from all of these different experiences. God reveals what God is up to in so many different ways, including revealing Godself in the earthy, fleshy, and tangible Jesus, who walked in our midst as another repetition of God’s love for the whole world.

We have this story that we have heard over and over of Jesus feeding large crowds of people. It is repeated in every gospel. We know it well. It would be simple to reduce our John story today to be about feeding the hungry, proclaiming God’s generosity and abundance in the witness of our human tendency for scarcity, fear of what we don’t understand or Jesus who offers us miracles of God’ power.  This witness from John is also those things and those are important concepts to consider: We have enough, God provides and so share! But I figured you might already know that and would want more than an eight word sermon.

Here is what the true miracle is about with these two seemingly unconnected stories of bread, fish and water: God through Jesus is singing to us again a song in a different key, so that we might see and hear again, God’s work of love and reconciliation in the world. The writer of John begins this story with the reminder of all of the signs that Jesus has already shown the people. In the signs, Jesus is revealing to the disciples and to the crowds,  that once again that God is doing a new piece based on an old scale. Our 2 Kings reading this morning is an echo of Jesus feeding the people on the grass, with the question of “Is there enough for all?” and the resounding response from God of “Yes!” ringing in our ears. God never gives up on breaking into our ever day lives with abundant love.

This story is one witness of our need to practice gratitude for God’s presence and generosity, to practice being part of a larger crowd, to practice knowing that nothing is simply a left over, everything has value and is not wasted in God’s kingdom, to practice waiting for Jesus and not ditching him (does that bother anyone else?),  to practice remembering that Jesus comes to us no matter where we are, and to practice not being afraid. Like the disciples, no matter how much we see God, experience God and encounter God, we forget and rely on our own abilities, what we think we have or don’t have and we think that we can just leave Jesus somewhere on the shore while we head out to sea.

We gather together each Sunday to practice all of these things-and they are a lot! We practice being in community, praying, abundance, generosity, gratitude, hearing the story and being in Christ’s presence. We practice in this space, it’s like our practice room, so that we when we leave, prayer, generosity, hospitality, love, abundance and the story of God’s work in and through Jesus Christ, is second nature and is a little more stuck in our heads, in our hearts and in our actions.

Each time we practice, we hear the story a new way, we encounter Christ in bread, wine, in water, or in the word, we immerse ourselves in the life and love of Christ and this love from God  is part of who we are and can’t help but to spill out into the whole world. This week we will host and invite the community and families into our practicing of love, generosity, abundance and gratitude through VBS.  The worry of enough room will give way to laughter and close bonds shared, worry of enough snacks will give way to leftovers, fear of things not going just as planned will give way to Jesus coming to us and saying “It is I. Don’t be afraid!”   We will all encounter Christ in yet another way that will add to our understanding, we will repeat the stories, the songs and the love of God being revealed in our midst. We will tell the story to one another of God’s abundance, love and how God calls us to immerse ourselves everyday with the practices of repetition of prayers, gratitude, love and generosity of all that God has first given us.

God repeats those themes in us and promises to reveal over and over how we are forgiven, we are loved and how we are sent to share over and over with the whole world that there is enough, there are leftovers-always room for more-and God is with us in every time and in every place. God promises to immerse us with signs of love, generosity, grace and hope today, tomorrow and forever.

I don’t know about you, but I’ll never be bored with the repetition of that story. Amen.

 

What if there’s not enough Jesus for everyone? John 10:1-10, Easter 4 May 11, 2014 May 11, 2014

What are you afraid of in your life? Are you afraid of not having enough money next month? Not having enough time to get important things done? Are you just afraid of not being enough? Good enough, smart enough, relevant enough? We inhabit a culture that tells us daily that there is not enough to go around. Every piece of advertising on all of our media sources bombard us approximately 8-9 hours a day with the premise that we are lacking something. We need this wrinkle cream, we need this car, pair of shoes, this procedure, this piece of technology. We don’t have enough, or just need a little bit more, or scarier yet, we could run out of what we need or want.
And it’s not just in advertising. Watch the news and on a global level you can witness countries jockeying for resources-oil, water, weapons, and sadly even people. We see the mentality of “us versus them”. Either we have enough or we don’t. It’s enough to make you scared, scared for your family, scared for your future and your present. This fear seeps into our subconscious and invades every aspect of our lives together. We ask the question everyday as almost a reflex: “What about me?” This question has the potential to rule every decision we make and every relationship we have.
This fear and questioning invades our lives together as church, too. We ask when we come to worship or to a ministry meeting: “what about me?” Is this for me? Is it for adults only? Is it for youth and children only? Is it for the pastors (you know, the experts) only? If something is for me, then it must not be for someone else. Or conversely, if an activity, a song or a sermon is for someone else, then there must not be room for me. We tend to operate in what I call (maybe I heard it somewhere) a “theology of scarcity.” There is only so much to go around. Only so much love, only so much grace, only so much forgiveness, only so much community, and only so much Jesus. If we’re not careful, all of those things might get used up and then what?
This theology of scarcity is not new. This has been part of the human condition since the garden of Eden where the first two human beings decided that they needed to be sure to have their fair share of knowledge and power with God. But God doesn’t let us sit in this idea of scarcity. In the gospel of John, we read over and over how God creates “more than enough” out of not enough. God’s love for the world spills over and comes to dwell with us in the flesh, full of physical life in Jesus. Provided more wine at a wedding when only plain old water remained. Five loaves and two fish fed 5,000 people. Healing a man born blind so that he could belong again because there was room for one more in the community.
There is enough to go around. In these ten verses of John 10, Jesus attempts one more time after healing the man born in blindness to proclaim that all are cared for, no one is out, there is always room for one more in God’s heart, community and kingdom. Jesus uses terms like being the gate and being the shepherd. These are not meant to say that there is a narrow way and only some will make it. Those images are to say that Jesus will make a way for us. Jesus tells the disciples and us that he will call us over and over until we DO hear the voice of love, acceptance and inclusion. Jesus says it all in verse 10: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
Jesus uses the plural pronoun “they.” Not just some or you as an individual but “they”- the entire community- or as John 3:16 reminds us the whole broken world. And not just any old life as the world proclaims it of not enough or either/or thinking but abundant life. Abundance is overflowing, more than we know what to do with, enough for all, room for all. It’s the opposite of either/or it’s “and. ”
At synod assembly this weekend it was easy to see how there is room for more in our church and in our neighborhoods. We have mission starts all over the country and world that don’t take away from already existing ministries but expand the love of God to a new group of people. We have see partnerships between denominations that strengthen the ministries in both church bodies. This year our theme was Gifted to Grow and we celebrated all of the ways that we as the Rocky Mountain Synod grew in God’s love, in God’s mission and in relationship with one another. The theme for the coming year is Life Together. Together. Not as a homogeneous lump but together in diversity: latino communities, urban, suburban, rural, bi-lingual, established, developing, small, medium and large, and all of the ways that we are one body of Christ with many different gifts. It is marvelous to witness and humbling to know that we participate in these relationships in direct and indirect ways.
Here at LCM this summer we too are focusing on “together.” Growing in Faith Together will be a time between worship services-our two very diverse expressions of worship to our loving and unifying God-for us to think about living into a theology of abundance. There will be something for you-yes you. You who love Bible study, you who love to paint or draw, you who love to sit and discuss life with a dear friend over a cup of coffee, you who love hymns, you who love praise music, you who love to serve, you who love justice, you who are young, you who are….well not so young. We have this Holy Spirit filled moment this summer to explore what it means to live into this abundant life that Jesus offers unconditionally for all, including those brothers and sisters whom we have yet to meet and welcome into our midst.
I know that I can get sucked into the lie of scarcity that the world sells us at the speed of light. I know that I have to work to remember that the more room I make in my life for loving and serving my neighbor, the more God provides that space. I know that I can forget that God brings life from what looks like certain death and I know that I forget that the tomb is empty and so life is pregnant with possibility and hope. This is why we gather as the people of God to tell each other the story week after week. We tell the story of freedom from fear of scarcity in bread and wine and in belonging to a God who loves us unconditionally in water and word. We gather to be that memory of abundance of the love and mercy of God for one another- not just for one another for this neighborhood, for this city, for this state, for this world. We have a message for our neighborhood that is unique and can’t come from anywhere but God’s people: the good news that in Jesus we have abundant life here, now and always, God says we are enough as we are and that God gathers all of her children in love no matter what. Let’s claim and proclaim that message loud and clear.
We are people of abundance; people of the risen Christ; people of love; people of the kingdom and community of God. Even when we still wonder “Is there enough for me?” God answers with a loving “Yes!” There is enough life, abundant life, in Jesus Christ for you and for us all! Thanks be to the God of abundance. Amen.

 

Shopping and the kingdom of God November 27, 2013

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We’ve all seen the Facebook articles or news sound bites, “Stores are open on Thanksgiving-will you boycott?” Or “These stores will not be open on Thanksgiving to allow their families to be together.” We all then think: ‘Oh those evil corporations making people work on Thanksgiving,” or “Good for those other businesses who have the correct morals and values.” But then comes the dissenting point of view: what about those who won’t get paid for missing work on Thursday? If you are an hourly employee (as are most retail workers), then a day off equals no pay. Happy Thanksgiving?
As usual, the issue of stores being open or not on Thanksgiving is not black or white, right or wrong. Shocking. We have a consumer culture; we want what we want, when we want it-which is now and for a good price. I am not necessarily critiquing that fact. I am as guilty of that as the next person. I am aware of the complexity of all of this. Our global market makes this all the more overwhelming. Do we buy what we can afford even if the company doesn’t have the most ethical worker practices or do we spend three or four times as much for the same item? For some in our society the latter is not even an option. Do we condemn them as unethical? Do we assume that their morals are not as high as our own? We might, but I would suggest removing the log out of our own eye before removing the sliver from our neighbor’s eye.
I think that the problem is bigger than a store being open on Thanksgiving or not. It’s bigger than Black Friday deals and “door buster” sales. In our rock throwing at corporations and malls, we are avoiding what is really going on: we continue as humans to try and fill our emptiness, uncertainty, self doubt and insecurity with stuff. Again, not pointing the finger at anyone but myself. The stores would not be open or even thinking about being open if they thought that no one would come. But we will come, even if we don’t on Thanksgiving or Black Friday out of a false sense of self righteousness. It’s not like I am not buying Christmas gifts. I am as sucked into the cultural misnomer of what Christmas should actually be as the next person. As much as I would like not to be and in some ways eschew the societal norm of a consumerist Christmas, I am as part of the problem as much as Macy’s, Kohl’s or any of the other department stores.
What will it take for us to be filled by global hunger, poverty and illness being eliminated? What would the world look like if we all operated from a theology of abundance (enough of everything: food, housing, clothing, love, grace and mercy) instead of scarcity? What would the world look like if we all truly believed that our worth was simply as children of God? What would the world look like if we all trusted one another to care and love each other as Christ has first loved us? Is this the kingdom come of God in the world? How are we participating in God’s mission of all of the above in the world? How are we participating in God’s reconciliation of all of creation which is why God became incarnate? I think these are the questions and blog posts that we should be discussing. For the record, I will not be shopping on Thanksgiving or Black Friday. I will probably just wait for cyber Monday, I need something to do after staff meeting.