A Lutheran Says What?

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

Enough Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21 August 7, 2017

I had the privilege of leading worship at Epiphany Lutheran Church in Denver, CO today August 6, 2017. The picture attached is everyone’s placecard with their name on it on the altar. We all have a place at the table and a role in God’s Kingdom!

I need to confess something to you: I hate to cook! Love to eat, love to eat, love to eat. But the actual process of making a meal? Ugh. So it’s ironic that as someone who is constantly trying to figure out how not to cook, my vocation as a pastor working primarily with families, requires that I figure out feeding large groups of people on a regular basis. Youth dinners, confirmation evening of honor dinner, Advent Festival, Epiphany worship and Party, we’re hosting the ELCA mission developer conference in august and they asked me to figure out catering for 300 people for four days! Food is not my gift and every time I think about having to figure out food for large groups, I want to curl up in the fetal position. It completely stresses me out! And yet, it always comes together. I don’t think that anyone I was supposed to have fed, ever went away hungry-even when you throw in all the now common food allergies. And although I have a pretty strong track record of getting people fed, each time an event arises that requires food, I have the exact same feeling of worry if I can pull it off, if it will be ok, do I have what it takes to do this?

I can so relate to the disciples in our gospel text today! The people had followed Jesus out to the desert, a place with no food, no water, no food trucks or grocery stores. The people were so hungry for what Jesus had to offer, healing, comfort, compassion despite his own weariness, that they followed him with no thought of needing food or of how long they might be away from home. After all day of being with Jesus in the desert, it was beginning to get dark, and in addition to no food, the desert would be dangerous, animals, people of ill-repute, no shelter. This situation was less than ideal and probably overwhelmed the disciples. So they very practically said hey Jesus, enough with the teaching and healing for the day, send the people home to eat, and then we can go get something to eat too! But Jesus looked at them and said, “You feed them.” But Jesus, we don’t do that! We don’t have anything that is of any real use! There are too many people, and we’re overwhelmed, Jesus!

Feeling overwhelmed and powerless is more common than not I think, especially when we recognize some of the seemingly momentous challenges in our nation and in our world. I can become either so engaged that I obsess about what I can do or so paralyzed by the weight of it all that I check out altogether. There is so much: famine in South Sudan, North Korea, healthcare, civil and human rights, homelessness in Denver and elsewhere, human trafficking. And then there are my own day to day worries of the rising cost of college now that I have two children in college, retirement, work/life balance with allowing time to volunteer with agencies that address some of the bigger issues I listed a moment ago. There seems to be not enough time, energy, resources, knowledge, to tackle these challenges with the hope of making a dent into the solution. Jesus, all I have is a little, and I am confident that it is not enough!

But Jesus looks at us all and says, what do you have? Give it to me. Trust in me. You may see the world as either all or nothing, but God doesn’t. God sees creation and us as good, as enough, possessing enough and all that we need to make a difference, to be the difference in someone’s life and in creation. Do we believe that through Jesus, God has given us enough to make a difference or are we afraid that God will let us down?

So what do you have? What does God say you have? Not what the world says you have. God declares that we do have enough, because it’s not about us as individuals. It’s about all of us together. One disciple couldn’t feed the crowds, 5,000 plus women and children. All of them together in the power and care of Jesus fed the crowds. I don’t feed large groups on my own, never, it’s a team of people who do have that gift that offer their time and talents to provide the meals and this is how it happens every time, even though I worry about scarcity. Everyone is needed and we’re called to use all that we have for the sake of people’s daily, physical needs as well as spiritual needs. The kingdom of God is not about when we die, or satisfaction of our spiritual hunger, no Jesus says, “you feed your hungry neighbor, you care for your sick neighbor, you visit the lonely.” The kingdom of God is about caring for those who are suffering right here, right now and that takes all of us. Not only the pastors, the church wide staff, the synod staff, the church council-it takes everyone.

Jesus’ banquet in the desert where all, regardless of status, gender or importance were fed equally and fully, draws us to the table of Holy Communion, where we are all gathered, filled until satisfied and nourished with the true presence of Christ. Christ’s presence in the bread and in the wine enters into us, fills us with God’s love and abundance and reveals that we don’t need to be overwhelmed, we aren’t hopeless or helpless, we aren’t alone, we have enough, we are enough and we are loved wholly and unconditionally. Even the pieces of ourselves that we think are broken and useless, like the left over broken of pieces of bread and fish, Jesus will gather up, and use to reveal the promises and glory of God to all people. God’s power is revealed in the abundance and gathering  of broken pieces. Jesus says his broken body is power to connect us together in love. Nothing is wasted in God’s economy, God sees our true value and our gifts and calls us to live into them with freedom and joy and calls us to the table over and over again to be reminded of this abundance, that we are enough and we have a place at the table. Thanks be to God!






Children’s time:

How many of you help out at home? Do you have chores? Do you do every chore that has to be done in the house? NO! You share the work! One person can’t do everything! What about here at church? Do you help out sometimes, either by singing, or reading or giving smiles or hugs? Yes! In our bible story today over 5000 people, it said 5000 men plus women and children so maybe closer to 15000 people, were listening to Jesus and Jesus was healing them, teaching them and telling them about God’s love. Then it got to be dinner time and there was only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Is that enough food for 15,000 people? No probably not! But Jesus knew that God would provide and that if everyone worked together, there would be enough. So he told the disciples to get to work, he prayed to God, said thank you for what they DID have and handed it out. Do you know what? Everyone had enough food! No one was left out. Now it could be that when some food was shared, other people who also had food shared too, that still makes it a miracle of people sharing and loving each other. But it also reminds us that God says we are to know that we have everything we already need to help people, even if it doesn’t seem like it, even if we’re little and young. How can you help people?
A reminder of having enough and Jesus being with us is holy communion. God calls everyone to the table to remind us that we are one people in God. Have you ever seen a name plate on a table at a party so that people know where they are to sit? Well, we’re all going to fill out name plates and put them on the altar to show us that God says this is where all of us, all people sit, at the table with Jesus forever! Write your name and put it on the altar before you sit down. Let’s pray.


God’s love, children swearing, failure and other realities of sowing seeds July 13, 2014

My first teaching job out of college was as a lead preschool teacher at a childcare center name Over the Rainbow that was shortly bought out by a local church in Lincoln, Sheridan Lutheran. My very first day was Dec.26th, 1993, I had just graduated on the 18th (so you can imagine how happy my parents were that I already had a job!) and honestly, I was fairly confident at 21 in my teaching abilities. I had graduated magna cum laude and had been awarded the outstanding student teaching award. I had it goin’ on. So, I came in my first day with lessons, songs, stories, and lots of lovely ideas of how the children and I would spend our days learning, playing and growing. The morning went fairly well and it was time for recess. Which in NE in the winter is a process with young children. I had 16 four and five year olds to get coats, hats, gloves and boots on. Even that went well. They dutifully made a little line and we went outside. They played well for about 15 minutes and I gave the two minute warning as you should with young children and then called out it was time to line up. All of the children did this except Daniel. Daniel kept doing whatever he wanted. I walked over to him and said, “Daniel, you must not have heard it was time to line up.” He looked up at me and said, “No, I heard you b*^%$.” Well, this was not covered in any of my classes, needless to say. He and I went back and forth for a bit and then I realized I was going to have to break a rule of teaching and simply pick him up and drag him inside. I was fairly certain I would be dismissed and go to jail for child abuse as he fought me and didn’t go quietly. He screamed obscenities in front of all of these other young children. So, on my first day, I was going to need to explain to a young mom why her sweet, four year old princess now knows the F word. The rest of the day did not go any better. Daniel screamed obscenities all the way through nap time, hurt other children and was so disruptive that I couldn’t even get through a lesson, a story and any of my lesson plans. Turns out that Daniel came from a difficult living situation of dad in jail for armed robbery, deep poverty and neglect. Any seeds of boundaries, love and even education seemed to not take root. And I was pretty sure that none of the other kids were getting anything either because all of my time was spent dealing with his behavior. Most of the time I felt like a failure as a teacher (and maybe even as a person) to this class and all they would remember is chaos. I know very little of what happened to Daniel, only that in elementary school his behavior did not improve despite all of the work and love myself and others had done with him. He didn’t thrive and I’ve always wondered what more I could have done.
We live in a culture that tells us to avoid failure at all costs and if you do fail, for all that’s holy, don’t tell anyone or admit it. Blame someone else for the shortcoming. But if you succeed, take all of the credit and know it’s because you earned it and deserve it. But here’s the reality of life: what takes root and grows and what doesn’t, is a mystery. And an example we’re all familiar with is our own faith in Jesus Christ.
In our 21st century pluralistic and global world, Christians are not the majority in many parts of the world. In the US and in CO, Christianity is the minority. And those of us who proclaim Jesus as the way, the truth and the life wonder, why? The story of God’s amazing and unconditional love and grace took root in us somehow at some point. Now maybe we can point to all of the ways that the seeds of faith were scattered to us: Sunday School, or a good pastor, or a loving church community, parents and grandparents who passed on the faith, and those things are good. But how many people around us had the same experiences and yet don’t believe? What do we do about that?
I don’t think our situation as 21st century followers of Jesus is that far off from that of the first followers of Jesus. Those following Jesus were in the minority, most definitely. Jesus was walking around, in the flesh, performing miracles and teaching people and yet far more people didn’t follow than followed Jesus. For the disciples this was perplexing and curious. Why didn’t others see what they saw? What would it take to convince them? Should they work harder? Offer whatever the people want to hear? Was this ministry of Jesus a failure?
In this section of Matthew, Jesus and his message were meeting resistance and it was getting hard. Jesus decides to share this parable of the sower to the large crowd, and the disciples, who heard it very differently than I think we do today. We tend to focus on if we are the seed or the sower or get all hung up on the types of soils that Jesus talks about. We wonder which soil we are or which type our neighbor is, but I don’t think any of that is Jesus’ point. I think that the point of the parable comes in verse three, the very first sentence: “Listen! A sower went out to sow.” Or hear it this way: Listen! God went out to love. God went out to spread the seeds of love and mercy in all sorts of unlikely places not worried about the outcome. God wasn’t afraid to go to the hard, rocky places, to the thorny places where one can get hurt; to the hot, dry places where life is difficult. God didn’t stick to the soil where success was assured. God was’t worried about failure, only that the seeds went everywhere to everyone.
Jesus is naming some realities of ministry and of life that we can’t escape. We will go out with this amazing story of God’s abundance, grace and love and there are rocks, thorns, birds, hot sun, lack of water and nutrients, and all sorts of obstacles to the word of God taking root in the lives of people and in us. There will be more failures than successes in ministry. We will try ways to nurture the growth of the word of God in ourselves, the neighborhood and in the world that maybe won’t work. We will try different ways of worship, education, Sunday School, youth group, confirmation, walking with the community, and serving that may or may not take root. But…what if something we try does take root and is more fruitful than we ever imagined? What if we quit focusing on what didn’t go well and focus on what is growing and is bearing fruit right before us? I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Jesus ends the parable with the witness of the abundant harvest. Even in the face of failure, there can be a harvest that defies imagination.
Last October when Lois and I went to Aspen for the think tank on faith formation, there was a young lady there, Katie. We got to talking and she mentioned that my name was familiar. After putting together that she was a life long member at Sheridan Lutheran, she realized I had been her preschool teacher in that class with Daniel. But she didn’t mention Daniel at all. She did say she remembered stories I had told, songs I had taught and the prayer we did before snack and lunch. She told me how much she had loved going to preschool and that she used to cry on the days she didn’t go. It seems despite what I thought of as failure was a seed taking root in Katie.
She was at the time the worship leader for a mission development in Lincoln and she is now spending this year with Young Life and then will be going to seminary. I’m not taking credit for the Holy Spirit’s work in Katie, but I was sure I was such a failure of a preschool teacher to that class and I have thought about that many times. But God says what might look like failure to us, look again, for God is at work. Don’t miss what God is doing abundantly right in front of us because we are obsessed with the failures. That doesn’t mean that we give up on the Daniels but we shouldn’t lose sight of the Katies either. We keep following God out to all kinds of places for God’s seeds of love to be sown through us in people and places we would never expect. God understands that following Jesus is hard and won’t always take root how we expect but God promises to be with us on the path, in the rocks and in the thorns and to love us no matter what. God says there is always more than we can imagine, always more than enough and always room for everyone. And Jesus proclaims to us “Listen! God is going out” with us, to sow seeds in us and through us for the sake of the world. Thanks be to God.