Jesus Provides

loavesfishes

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

Advertisements

Welcome to Your Deserted Place!

IMG_20180710_141328

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

grace

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