A Lutheran Says What?

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

A Pack of Gum and the Kingdom of God, John 6: 35-51, Pentecost 11B, Aug. 9th, 2015 August 9, 2015

My son Andrew’s love language is gifts. If you know anything about the Five Love Languages Book you’ll know that someone whose love language is gifts, love not only to receive gifts but to give them. It’s more than just a gift exchange at Christmas. If I go to the grocery store and bring back a pack of gum for Andrew, he is as happy as it were Christmas morning and he received everything on his list. He finds joy in the everyday ordinary gifts that might come his way, even second hand gifts. I recently gave him an old netbook and he was as happy as a clam even though it is slow and doesn’t really have a battery life anymore. You see, what Andrew really likes about gifts is that someone is thinking of him. When you offer him a pack of gum you picked up at the grocery store that says to him, “I was thinking about you even though we weren’t together.” For Andrew, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, this has been a great reminder to me as his parent. He naturally sees the special where I see mess, ordinariness or something to complain about. How many of us would look at a pack of gum and say, “This isn’t a special gift! Isn’t this just some Trident from the impulse buy section by the cash register at King Soopers?” When really we shouldn’t complain because the gift isn’t really the object but the relationship the object implies.
I think we often miss the extraordinary in the ordinary. We look at the world so practically, logically and we attempt to make sense of all of our interaction with each other and even with God, through the lens of ourselves, our perspectives and our own motives. But God reaches down to us and disrupts our way of seeing the world. This is being revealed as we move through the 6th chapter of John a bit more and we see Jesus in the aftermath of the feeding of the 5,000. Jesus fed them all and had leftovers, walked on water, and began explaining that it is God who has sent Jesus and promises to fill them with good things always. And in our latest installment of the story, Jesus reveals that God’s way is different from our way. God’s promises are richer than we could ever imagine, God’s love is deeper than we will ever know and God’s grace is more expansive than we can wrap our heads around. Jesus is using the very ordinary, everyday bread to try and get the crowds to catch a glimpse of what God is up to in the world through Jesus. This isn’t about following certain rules, being in the right place at the right time, or some sort of magical experience. No, this is about the reign of God that really frees those who are in any captivity, that really feeds all who are hungry, that really gives hope to the hopeless and mercy to the brokenhearted. This is God walking around with us in our ordinary lives, loving us and forgiving us in concrete, ordinary ways that reveals more plainly than we are willing to admit that God is in everything, in everyone, and is everywhere, all of the time. God is in the ordinary bread and the crowds, more accurately translated as the Judeans than the Jews, won’t believe it.
Jesus is special? This carpenter’s son? This boy with whom we used to go to synagogue? This dirty, scruffy, rough around the edges guy who hangs out with even dirtier, scruffier and rougher people is going to give us the eternal life with God? God has come down to us here on this ordinary countryside and not in the temple?
Like the Judeans, we don’t recognize Jesus all of the time because we like God clean, in pure white robes, holy in a special place and only on high holy holidays. You know so that we can control and keep track of where God is, what God is doing and who or what God is working through. We like God in a nice pretty box with a bow. That makes more sense to us. After all, that’s how we think about our lives with each other, some people have more status and clout and they often look like it. There are just certain people who should be kept at a distance, such as celebrities, politicians and those whom we might admire.
But praise God, that’s not how God works. God sees the extraordinary in the ordinary. God created us, ordinary people, in God’s extraordinary image for relationship with us. Jesus, as God made flesh (you’ll recall from John 1), is all about God’s deep desire to be with us. God’s motive is only to offer us all of Godself, as everything and the only thing that we need, even if we can’t recognize it. It’s not magic, it’s not self serving, it’s not God in a special place with special things, it’s God in the ordinary, objects and people so plain, that we are apt to miss it as the crowds did.
It’s completely extraordinary that Jesus gathers us, ordinary people, with ordinary lives, each week around an ordinary wooden table, with bread we bought at an ordinary grocery store and frankly pretty cheap, ordinary wine and grape juice. But don’t miss it, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary because the love and mercy of Jesus reveals our relationship with God. Jesus is present and promises to be in the ordinary each and every day of our lives, not just in beautiful worship spaces on Sunday mornings. It’s extraordinary that Jesus is sent to gather all people to God for eternal relationship with God and, extraordinarily, with each other, since all are created in God’s image. The extraordinary work of God is not nice and neat, it’s not linear, we don’t always see it, or get it but Jesus says that God is always at work where you least expect it. It might look like a pack of gum from the impulse aisle or a dirty, messy throng of people eating bread and fish with bare hands on the ground.
God is always at work in our relationships at our jobs, our schools, and in our neighborhoods. God is at work in our political systems, our social systems and anywhere two or three are gathered, so yes, even the DMV! I saw God at work this weekend as I ran the Ragnar Relay Race with 11 other pastors in the mountains. You would think that it would all be very competitive at a running race, but it was a place where I watched strangers offer encouragement, water, accompaniment, food, rest, and relationship. Ordinary water shared, revealed God’s work of relationship with us and for each other, ordinary food shared God’s work of nourishing us and each other, ordinary words of encouragement shared God’s work of caring for our spirit and for each others spirits.
Where will you see God’s extraordinary work in the ordinary this week? How will we as a community reveal the work that God is doing in us, for us, and with us for the sake of the world? Ordinary bread, ordinary wine, ordinary water, ordinary words do extraordinary things in the kingdom of God. We are transformed by these ordinary things to be the extraordinary people that God created us to be. God’s extraordinary love is at work in you, in me and in all of creation. Jesus has indeed come to us from heaven, from God’s kingdom as an ordinary person, not be set apart but to walk with us, each and every ordinary day, offering us deep and real relationship with God, now and forever. Thanks be to God!

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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.