Being Drawn to Jesus

 

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

August 12, 2018

John 6:35, 41-51

When I was getting ready to enter fourth grade, I asked my parents if I could play football. I had played baseball for a couple of years and decided that I wanted to try a new sport. It didn’t take me long to realize that I did not like running as a fourth grader. Although, I would come to look forward to it as I got into my late twenties.

I begged my mother to let me not play because I disliked all the running and it seemed that whenever I did something wrong, the coach would make me run around the practice field. I remember the sobbing that took place in the back of the car and my mother’s words that I would finish what I started. I am proud to say that I did finish out the season and that I never put on a football uniform again!

This could also explain my fear of physical education in junior high and high school. I was not very good at team sports and when we would line up to be picked my anxiety would rise because I knew that I would be one of the last ones to be picked. This truly hurts when you are that age and did not do much for my self-confidence. I would focus more on academics and look for other ways to be part of something. This could be why I chose to play tennis in high school because at the most you were only on the court with one other teammate. While we may feel left out, Jesus draws us into himself, to love us and so that we can begin a relationship with God that will direct and guide our life.

This morning, it appears that Jesus is on the outside looking in. The Jewish leaders that have gathered turn hostile in our lesson as we work deeper into the sixth chapter of John. Unlike the other gospels, Jesus has no problem declaring that he is the son of God. He expands that image even more in this chapter by declaring that he is the bread of life. A bread that fills one for all of eternity.

The gathered leaders reject this notion. Jesus is the last one that they would choose to be on their team. His mother is Mary, and his father is Joseph. They know where he came from. It is ludicrous for him to say that he comes from God. However, Jesus does not let this detour him. He continues to say that those who are drawn to him will know God and will learn from God.

Jesus’ teaching in the synagogue is one that not only troubles the leaders gathered but it also speaks counterintuitively to their understanding of the Torah. This is not what they are expecting, and it is not what they are ready for. If Jesus is who he says he is, that means their authority is in question and that they must hand it all over to God. They are threatened by Jesus and do not understand how they will be drawn to him to get to know God. In their minds, they know who God is and for them, God is not in the image of Jesus that is standing in front of them. Things just are not adding up!

It is nice when everything adds up to a concise answer. Isn’t it?

Just ask an engineer or a mathematician. Everything must add up and be precise so that the answer is clear for all to see. For safety’s sake, we would like everything to add up, so planes stay up in the air and cars stay safely on the road. Because of this, we like the answers given to us. When we are confronted with the mysterious words of Jesus in this morning’s lesson, we are left scratching our heads. We too, like the Jewish leaders, are wondering how we are going to be drawn to Jesus. Some of us may get it. More power to you. Some of us catch glimpses of it and yet thirst and hunger for more. Did you know that for most of her life, Mother Theresa was constantly searching for God and felt at a lost? Some of us may just go along without attempting to further our spiritual journey and become complacent where we are.

We reject the things that are right in front of us. We reject those that try to help in times of need. We reject words of acknowledgement. We reject common sense. Now, I am not saying we all do this, but I am sure there are times that we could agree we hedge in that direction. Through our social culture, we have been told that we must be strong and independent. We have been told that it is weak to turn to others for help. Therefore, we crack under the pressure and respond in negative ways to our environments when faced with adversity. We are disturbed and threatened when we are told that we will be drawn in regardless.

In light of my experience in Phys. Ed. during junior high and high school, I would have loved to be drawn in. I would have loved the opportunity to not have to worry about when I would be picked to be on someone’s team.

This is what we find in Jesus! He comes to us willing to break down any barriers that may be in our way to knowing him in a fuller and deeper way. A way that leads us through any troubles and challenges that we may encounter. A way that leads to the foot of the cross and the waters of baptism where we experience a new birth. A birth that is like no other. A birth that washes us clean and sends us out into the world to proclaim the good news!

The notion of this is counter-cultural. The teachings of Jesus do not always coincide with the practices of this world. This is radical! In this radicalness, we experience a love that breaks us free from the chains that hold us back. The chains of our own sinfulness that we are called to repent of daily. This radical love meets us where we are.

Being drawn to Jesus Christ should provide a sense of comfort and fulfill the gospel promise that is given to us through our ancestors. We are drawn to Jesus not once though; we are drawn over and over again as we are reminded of his saving grace that was brought into the world to remind the world of the love that God has for all of creation. It is a love that knows no boundaries and a love that draws all of creation into the loving embrace of a God that knows where we are.

Being drawn to Jesus and learning from God is grace at work. It is a grace that walks with us in our journey to fully being in relationship with the creator whose image we reflect. It is a grace that meets us at the table and offers the body and blood of Christ so that we may encounter Jesus in the most intimate way possible and be filled so that we may share with others.

Let us pray. Drawing God, enable us to put down our guard and welcome your presence into our congregation, our families, and our lives. As you draw us to yourself, may we be open to encounter you in new and meaningful ways that gives us life and hope for things to come. Amen.

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Review: Your God is Too Glorious by Chad Bird

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With thanks to Englewood Review of Books for the opportunity to review this title

Does the notion of God being too glorious make you shudder? Surely, it is not possible for God to be too glorious. It is God that has created the world and every breathing plant, animal, and creature that resides on it. It is God in Jesus Christ that gave up his life on the cross so that we may see what the love of God means for us and the life everlasting that flows from it. It is Jesus that is resurrected on the third day to conquer death once and for all. How can this be too glorious?

The gospel of John is all about the glory of Jesus and lifts it up for all too see! As I picked up Chad Bird’s newest book, I questioned exactly what he meant by the title. It seems at first a little off putting. That is, until you read the subtitle, Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places. This begins to shed a little light upon the main title. Using both stories from his personal life, and those of friends and acquaintances, Bird descends into the thesis that we do make God too glorious. Bird’s offering could be compared to Walter Wangerin Jr.’s latest offering, Wounds are Where the Light Enters. While Wangerin has many titles and years of experience to his repertoire, Chad Bird does an excellent job of standing right up there with him.

Bird’s stories are ones that can bring tears and an ache in the heart for everything that has happened to the people in them. Since the time the apostles began spreading the good news across the countryside of Israel and into the Diaspora, God has slowly been lifted to a place where the ordinary person cannot even think about reaching. It was Martin Luther that sensed this in the early sixteenth century and brought God back to the people in a Bible that could be read by the common people. God was not something that was outside of their grasp, only to be born by clergy, but a God that is with them in their daily lives.

As Bird presents throughout his ten easy to read chapters, God is awesome and wonderful. However, we have made God too glorious, where we have chosen to remove God from our daily lives and reserve God only for Sunday mornings. We have thought at times during the last millennia that God is not of this world, but only created the world. Yet, God is of this world and was present with us in Jesus Christ and continues to be present with us through the Holy Spirit and Christ guiding us. It is time that we begin to see God in the people that surround us and events that happen to us during the week.

Yes, God is extraordinary. Yet, this does not keep God from being in the ordinary events and occasions that occur daily. Bird discusses how God is present with us at times on “unseen altars” (pgs. 52-55). These “unseen altars” are present all around us. Perhaps even in the room where you are sitting to read this review. Those altars he says, “Look like a rocking chair where a mother cradles her crying infant to her breast. . .. look like a John Deere driven by a farmer who pulls a plow to ready the earth for seed. His cap is stained with sweat. His callused hands are the résumé he has. . .. look like a taxi, honking and weaving its way through the labyrinth of New York City traffic. They look like an outpost in Afghanistan, where a Marine holds a rifle in his hands and dreams of holding his three-year-old daughter again. . ..” As ordinary as these contexts may seem to us, they are not ordinary for God. In each of these contexts, God is present.

Many times, we find ourselves in situations that appear hopeless and we think we just have to ride them out. Yet, the awesome God that chose to enter this world in a newborn baby, walks with us this very day to guide us through those times that we feel lost or stagnant. It does not look glamorous where God decides to reside in our lives. It truly is the lowest points that God uses to show us that we are made for much greater things. The church is no different. We think we need to make everything glitzy to attract and grow congregations. However, God is present in the ugly and unpleasant. As Bird speaks of the seminars that are always claiming to solve all the church’s problems, he says, “The subtext of every one of them was the same: what you’re doing now is not enough. Not relevant enough. Not revolutionary enough. The time has come to recreate and refine the church’s dull image.  What she desperately needs to do is sexy herself up. What the church desperately needs, however is the ecclesiastical equivalent of a boob job and memberships at God’s Gym. She needs more flat tires” (pg. 131).

These flat tires we encounter along the way, in our personal and communal lives, is where the work of God becomes most evident. Unfortunately, while God is present, we choose not to see God in the times that are great, and everything is running along smoothly. It is in the flat tires that God is visible, and we open our hearts to the glory of the creator and savior of the world. Bird shows the visibility of God in these flat tire situations which then can prepare for those times when we feel as though we are on top of the world.

Resuscitating a Lost Language: A Review of Jonathan Merritt’s Learning to Speak God from Scratch

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The language that we use to speak of God has evolved over time and Jonathan Merritt puts out the call for us to reestablish our foundation. Learning to Speak God from Scratch is a way to examine our beliefs and reach out to generations that did not grow up knowing God in a religious setting.

We must remember that the Bible as we have it today has been passed down through numerous generations with many additions and subtractions and what we find ourselves reading today is the best rendition of the original intent, hopefully, inspired by God. Our Israelite ancestors did not originally share their faith through written word. It was an oral tradition that was passed down from generation to generation which was finally put to animal hide, papyrus, or paper. The writers did the best they could to get their thoughts down. Yet, even from oral to written text, there is a loss of the intention of the original meaning.

This evolution has never ended as we can walk into any book store and find numerous translations of the Bible, with each claiming to be better to reach a certain segment of society. This is the visible reality of our faith today. This boils down to the point that the majority of people do not know how to share their faith so that others can understand. As a pastor, I am no stranger to this and just when I think I have a great sermon, I am reminded by those listening that it either went over their heads or they did not pick up what I was laying down.

Merritt calls us to reexamine those words that we utilize to share our faith and realize that their meanings too have evolved over time. Many times, we make the definitions fit into our way of thinking that makes us comfortable. For example, in our current immigration battles in the United States, we look over what Jesus meant by neighbor. We do not truly welcome in the neighbor as Jesus would have when we refuse to support and welcome refugees and those seeking a better life. Instead, we lock up our neighbors and separate their children from them.

Merritt explores and attempts to build a definition for many others words and ideas as well, including Yes, Creeed, Mystery, Grace, Brokenness, Saint, and Family, just to name a few. These discussions bear some personal stories as well as getting to the root of the biblical foundation of the words. Many of the words have been co-opted to serve our own purposes over time. Or simply, in our more secular society, we have chose to overlook words and disregard their meanings. There is a language barrier that has developed over time. Merritt is attempting to break down this wall.

By learning to speak God from scratch, the hope is that we will be able to reach out with a new profound proclamation. It is not a new message, just a renewed way of saying it. This is a good start on the journey to listening to God in our lives and therefore sharing that story with others.

Learning to Speak God from Scratch is scheduled to be released on August 14. Thanks to the publisher for an uncorrected proof copy to review.

Looking for a Sign

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Photo by Kaique Rocha on Pexels.com

August 5, 2018

John 6:24-35

A very religious man was once caught in rising floodwaters. He climbed onto the roof of his house and trusted God to rescue him. A neighbor came by in a canoe and said, “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll paddle to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A short time later the police came by in a boat. “The waters will soon be above your house. Hop in and we’ll take you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

A little time later a rescue services helicopter hovered overhead, let down a rope ladder and said. “The waters will soon be above your house. Climb the ladder and we’ll fly you to safety.”

“No thanks” replied the religious man. “I’ve prayed to God and I’m sure he will save me”

All this time the floodwaters continued to rise, until soon they reached above the roof and the religious man drowned. When he arrived at heaven he demanded an audience with God. Ushered in to meet with God, he said, “Lord, why am I here in heaven? I prayed for you to save me, I trusted you to save me from that flood.”

“Yes, you did my child” replied the Lord. “And I sent you a canoe, a boat and a helicopter. But you never got in.”

I am sure that many of you have heard this story or variations of it. It is a reminder to us that Jesus calls us to be observant and look around. What we may find ordinary, is the grace of God working in and among us.

We are not the only ones that are looking. The crowd that has been following Jesus is still hungry!

Imagine how you have felt when you have been part of a group and especially listening or keeping an eye on one person. You only take your eyes away for a minute and realize that they have vanished. Jesus and the disciples are the ones that have disappeared, and the crowd sends out their own search party. They may not quite know what they are looking for, but they know that Jesus has it and they want to be able to experience it.

Once they find Jesus, the conversation turns back around to them and their desire for the physical bread that he had given them to eat earlier. The power of this meal seemed to have fell short as they are still asking for some type of sign or proof that Jesus is the Son of God.  If they could just witness a sign, then they would truly know that God was with them.

 Like the crowd, we too want signs that something is going to happen. If we pray hard enough then God will simply show us a sign of what it is we are supposed to do. Surely, it is through a sign that we will be affirmed of that questionable decision that was made.

Do you let yourself get stuck in the rut of constantly looking for God, and wondering where God is at? This then can extend into our questioning if prayer is even effective and so on and so forth. It is like an avalanche of questions that simply cannot be answered by the material. God is in the mystery, which is hard for us to comprehend.

 When we turn away from God, or simply look past what is being offered to us, we fail to acknowledge the grace of God working in our lives. Jesus is the bread of life. It is a bread that fills us for all our days. It is our daily bread that nurtures us and gives us strength. Jesus as the bread of life reveals to us God’s character and through it we are invited into a relationship with God that moves us to be God’s hands and feet in this world.

Through Jesus, we can live into this relationship with God. Our ancestors, before Jesus was born, could only experience this through covenant or law, and now it is directly accessible through Jesus Christ. God wants us to come together in relationship and realize that we are all united as children of God. Jesus, the bread of life, feeds us and nurtures us so that we can live into the very things that challenge us and be strengthened for those times that we fall to our temptations and sin. It is in the body of Christ that we find redemption and are made new.

Let us pray. Good and gracious God, your power to pull us into relationship can only be resisted for so long. May we stop fighting back and embrace your love and compassion that is unbounded and feeds us abundantly. Amen.

 

 

 

Jesus Provides

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July 29, 2018

John 6:1-21

Growing up there were a lot of things that I wanted!

I had one of the very first pair of Nike Air Jordan’s. Oh, I wish I still had them, because they would probably be worth well more than what my parents paid for them. I also had to have the newest pair of shoes that Andre Agassi wore when I was playing tennis. I liked material things. It is nice to be able to have something that you can hold in your hands, as opposed to an idea or concept.

This morning we begin a five-week journey in the sixth chapter of the gospel of John. We have heard the stories of the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on water, and in the weeks ahead, we will encounter Jesus as the bread of life. I would like to take a different look at this chapter over the next several weeks and examine our own understandings of it as well as where we find ourselves in God’s creation. In Jesus, we are blessed in ways that we have not fully come to comprehend.

From the outset, it appears that the concern is the material well being of the five thousand that have gathered to listen to the teaching of Jesus. Where ever Jesus and his disciples traveled, they were being followed, and as we heard last week from the gospel of Mark, it was hard for them to get even just a minute of leisure time.

The first story we heard this morning, the feeding of the five thousand, is the only story to appear in all four of the gospels. Unlike the synoptic gospels (which is Matthew, Mark, and Luke), Jesus in the Gospel of John is more assertive and proactive. He does not wait for the disciples to come to him and tell him that he should send the crowd away to find something to eat and place to stay for the night. In John, his first comments after seeing the crowd arrive and continue to grow, was where are we to buy bread for all these people to eat.

The crowd gathered does not appear to be concerned about what they are going to eat. They are there for Jesus and to hear what he has to say. They want to be able to catch a glimpse of him and go back to their villages and tell their neighbors about what they have seen and heard.

The disciples expose their doubt about being able to provide enough food to feed everyone that has made the trip to see Jesus. There is simply no way that they have enough money to buy bread to feed everyone. The disciples focus on simply the material needs of the crowd is reflected in our own living today.

As I shared with you at the beginning, I am not immune to the material things of the world. I will admit that every time I am eligible for a new cell phone on our plan I want to go out and see what the latest and greatest one is like and most likely purchase it. Sometimes the material goes much deeper than shiny new electronics!

Like the physical bread that Jesus wants everyone to have, we too have needs to ensure that we take care of our bodies that are created in the image of God. We must eat to be able to survive and have strength to go out and work in creation. We must have water to survive. There are the material things that simply make our lives better and allow us to do more things to help others.

However, we must be careful where we focus those desires, or we can easily get caught off guard and lose track of God. How many of you are on Facebook? Did you know that the church has a Facebook page? I would hope by now that you did. I posted a question out there for you earlier this week. The question was, “If you were to pay attention to your prayers, for which kind of blessings do you most often pray, material or spiritual?” There is no judgement in your answers from me. However, some would argue I was shallow if I said material while others would say I was pious if I said spiritual. I believe there is common ground to be found.

While Jesus may have started the conversation about how they were going to feed the five thousand with physical bread, he is truly going much deeper than that. He knows that the people have a hunger that food cannot fulfill. Their hunger resides in their desire to see and hear from Jesus. Others may just be gathered out of curiosity, but they are soon to get their fill on substance that they never even expected.

The disciples focus may have been on the material, but Jesus’ focus was on the spiritual needs of the people. And of course, it is much better to pay attention when your stomach is not grumbling. This feeding of the five thousand is also one of the signs that Jesus uses to reveal who he is and ultimately who God is.

In the middle of the story, it could be easy to overlook the boy that is willing to share the bread and fish that he has. We don’t know anything about this boy. The food that he offers up could be what is to feed his family over the next week. He unselfishly gives up the material, placing faith in Jesus that all will be well. It is in this faith that he not only leaves with a full stomach, but a spiritual wellness that he can now share with his family. Perhaps he even took part of the twelve baskets of leftovers home to feed his family for several weeks. We are not told what happens to these baskets.

Jesus does not hold back. He provides abundantly for those that are gathered at the table. He nourishes both physically and spiritually in the bread and the wine. Through Jesus we receive the grace and the love of God is revealed for us.

Jesus can provide our material needs, and we can pray for those things that sustain our well-being and our families. Praying for a Ferrari maybe a stretch! What Jesus reveals for the disciples is what is revealed for us today. Jesus reveals that God’s essential character is loving and God’s desire is to be accessible and available to the people of God. It is hard to quantify this and thus hard to comprehend.

In all honesty, it may not be what we want in this moment – so convinced are we that material possessions will make us happy – but it is what we need. In our brokenness and faults, Jesus provides regardless, and his love is revealed in the bread of life that we encounter in the eucharist.[1]

Let us pray. God, you know what we need before we even ask for it. May we place our trust in your saving grace as we repent of our sins and reveal our brokenness. For it is through your grace that we are welcomed at your table. Amen.

[1] David Lose from workingpreaching.org

Welcome to Your Deserted Place!

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In February of 2005 I went off to a deserted place.

It was a locale that many people would have dreamed about going to and wished that someday they may be able to make the trip. However, for me it was a deserted place because those that I loved and cared for were not with me. You see, it was a work trip, or at least paid for by my employer at the time. This deserted place that I speak of was St. Marteen. I will admit that it was gorgeous, and once my stomach went back to where it was supposed to be after I thought we were going to plunge into the ocean when we landed, I took time to enjoy the Island.

This deserted place also provided the opportunity for me to reflect and discern the future. It was in this deserted place that I heard God speaking to me and the call to come and be part of Jesus’ flock. I would say that I was Christian before this, but it was in this time away that I heard God calling me to become engaged in a church community. Little did I know that 13 years later I would be standing here preaching to you as a called and ordained minister in the ELCA.

In our gospel lesson from Mark, Jesus calls the disciples off to a deserted place so that they may take the opportunity to rest. This is not just a sabbath for them. This is an opportunity for them to reflect on everything that Jesus has called them to do. Just a couple of weeks ago, we heard how Jesus sent the disciples out, two by two, so that they may bring healing to those with unclean spirits and anoint with oil.

This was not easy work, and I am sure that the stories that they had to share with Jesus when they returned were amazing. Imagine sitting in that close circle of disciples and hearing of everything that took place over the period of time interacting with the sick and bringing hope and healing in the name of God.

We hear of Jesus going off to pray on his own and that may be what we first think that he has in store for the disciples. However, deserted places are not always good places. Jesus was tempted for forty days in a deserted place. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness and desert for forty years. Deserted places are barren and quite often there are few signs of life. The deserted place that Jesus wants them to encounter is a place of contemplation. It is a place to discern their calling in the greater ministry of Jesus Christ.

The disciples must be overwhelmed. There are people everywhere that are coming to see Jesus and the moment they seem to get away, the people start following them along the shoreline and meeting them as soon as they come ashore. Truly, a sabbath may is needed. Yet within that sabbath is a time to reflect in a deserted place that does not distract.

It is so easy for us to become distracted in the twenty-first century. Probably more so then it was in the first century. We have television and the news to steer attention away from the things that matter most in our lives. We have smart phones that have seem to become our best friends because we can not step out of the house without them. On those phones are games and social media apps to keep us busy for hours on end, at least until the battery dies.

Not only do we have those modern-day distractions, as Americans we tend to overwork ourselves.  We place great emphasis on the material things that can be purchased with those dollars that we earn in those jobs that we pour our time into. Did you know that compared to European countries, Americans work the most hours? Including all employed, Americans work on average 25 hours/week compared to the British at 21 hours/week, the French at 18 hours/week, and Italians at 16 hours/week. In Germany full time workers work on average 35 hours a week and received 24 paid vacation days.

A firm in New Zealand decided to shorten their work week to 32 hours/week from 40 hours/week. You know what they found? Their employees were more productive working just four days because they were more focused and intentional.

Perhaps working long hours and spreading ourselves thin is why America has been a world-leader. What is it costing us to be so? We have become fatigued and are easily distracted by the news and by the material things that are advertised around us daily. We work long hours and take short vacations. Sometimes to get away and enjoy sabbath or simply live into the deserted place and contemplate is counter-cultural.

I am sure that Jesus and the disciples were looked at oddly as well. However, that does not matter to Jesus. It does not affect his decisions or actions. Alone, in Jesus’ words to get away to a deserted place, is a sign of re-creation. It is an opportunity for the disciples to be restored in heart, body, and soul so that they can go and walk with those that need their love and compassion.

It is a chance for them to get away with Jesus and listen for how the Spirit is working in their lives, and by chance get a glimpse of what the future may hold for them. It is a promise that God will be with them in this ministry that they have been called. A calling that is overwhelming. A calling that requires them to stop and seek out a deserted place to be with Jesus and be reassured of the calling that has been placed upon their hearts.

Do you have that place that you can steal away to and be restored? A place where Jesus invites you to that is not only refreshing but also life-giving. It may be a place as simple as your favorite chair in a home office or family room. It may be a local park where you can walk and breath in the beauty of nature and experience God in all of creation. Maybe it was during your last vacation where you were able to experience a sense of peace and love that is unique to that locale.

Wherever that place may be for you, Jesus is calling you away to there. Welcoming you to your deserted place. He wants you to come away with him and be restored and be reminded of his love for you. A love that was bared on the cross in his death. And a hope that is revealed in His resurrection.

There will be times when we are overwhelmed and are required to work an unreasonable number of hours. We want to ensure that there is a roof over our families’ heads and food on the table to prevent hunger.  Those are exactly the times that Jesus wants us to come away with him, even if it is just on that car ride home. It is even in these little moments that we can hear God’s love for us and the wonderful things that God has in store.

Let us pray. Restoring God, we give thanks for the calling you have placed on our lives, even if we have yet to fully discern it. May we continue to see you in the little moments and be intentional in stealing away to our own deserted places to be renewed. Amen

God’s Grace is Sufficient

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This past week was my first visit to Houston. It is an incredibly large town and yet while we were at the NRG Park Complex, it seemed very secluded from the rest of the city as our food choices were limited to food trucks and concessions. Which honestly, is not too bad unless you are vegetarian, and your daughter must eat gluten free.

Transportation around town also provided a challenge since we did not have a vehicle. We chose to utilize Uber. It was in these Uber trips that we were able to experience a little of the diversity of the city. Victor’s family came from Mexico before he was born, and he drove to make extra money to support his family. Asomgyee came to the United Stated from the United Kingdom and was a professor at a local college earning extra money during the summer. Desta was our Uber driver on Friday after we decided to eat a nice dinner out before heading to NRG Park for the evening. Desta came to the United States from Ethiopia and is now a United States Citizen. He grew up in the Lutheran church in Ethiopia and now works with the youth of his church in Houston.  All three of them commented on the number of buses that they had seen around town transporting the 31,000 ELCA youth and how incredible it was that we were present in Houston.

I loved hearing their stories and was able to see God’s grace working in each of them. Not only is God’s grace sufficient, it reaches beyond all boundaries and changes everything. In this grace, we experience unending love that resonates in hope for the future.

The disciples were challenged when Jesus sent them out for the first time. He gave them authority over the unclean spirits and urged them to go out and heal. Imagine the apprehension that they had when first given this task. Many of them not too long ago had been out fishing in their boats. They had witnessed the coldness that Jesus received from his own community he grew up and they had to be wondering if he has trouble with those he knows, how can we bring healing to those that do not even know us.

They were placed in unfamiliar surroundings and instructed to do the things that they would not have even dreamed of just a couple of years before. Have you ever been placed in these circumstances? Maybe it is a new job that you have just started. Perhaps it was going off to college and leaving the familiar behind. It may have even been when you found out that you were going to be a parent for the first time. The apprehension can come to us in many different venues and yet we are not alone when we enter these places.

The youth and adult leaders that went to National Gathering were presented with many things to be apprehensive about and questions arose about our place in the world as the church of Jesus Christ. We got to meet new friends, which can be overwhelming when there are over 30,000 people. We heard from speakers with some challenging words on tough subjects, from immigration to hunger, self-harm to addiction, and what it means to be transgender to how race shapes who are you. Remembering, that the theme of the Gathering was, “This Changes Everything!” Let’s take a brief look at the week that was experienced by our group and over 30,000 youth and adult leaders.

Each of the speakers spoke to the love that they found in the church. The people that embraced them and helped them through their rough times. The stories that they shared are stories that we can relate to. Those that shared of their own personal struggles and challenges realized that they were broken and that there is nothing wrong with that. They found out that they are loved, and they were able to find hope in the gospel of Jesus.

Their brokenness is no different than ours. Each of us have our own cracks and bruises. Our own scars and hurts. It is to this brokenness and weakness that Paul writes to in his second letter to the Corinthians. He had his own brokenness and weakness and he confessed to them. It is in this that he hears God saying, “My grace is sufficient for you.”

There is an unbinding hope found in those words. When we find ourselves bound by our own brokenness, Christ is there waiting for us with a message of grace that cleanses everything clean. It is this grace that changes everything. We cannot do any of it on our own, but through Jesus and his love poured out for us on the cross. We are changed by his love forever.

Let us pray, Lord God, you come to us in ways that we are not even aware. We may see you in others, or in those things that surround us. Through it all, we desire to be changed. To live lives that reflect your love and compassion. May we experience your call, love, hope, and grace that changes everything. Amen