Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jesus offers more than daily bread John 6:24-35

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 13, Ordinary 18, Pentecost 9, Between July 31-August 6.

Many people searched for Jesus after he fed thousands with just 5 loaves and 2 fish. Looking at the story I ask myself, “Why wouldn't they search for him?” Being with Jesus must have been about as good as it could get in this life. He was the answer to people's immediate needs: hurt people were healed, empty bellies were filled, and the proud were exposed in their errors.

Jesus knew that the people were coming and he knew they were looking for more of what he had just given them. More bread and more fish. Just more to keep alive. And He told them that they shouldn't come looking for more loaves made from barley and wheat. He told them they should look for something that will last. He told them something about bread from heaven.

God made us and gives us each gifts to use and to share. Sometimes we ask God to do things that he has already enabled us to do on our own with the gifts he's offered to each of us. Sometimes we count on God to act after God's already put the resources in our hands. The people came yearning for more bread; they'd just eaten the proof of Jesus' power and now Jesus told them that they should ask him for something more.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Praying for Faith in the Church Ephesians 3:14-21

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 12, Ordinary 17, Pentecost 8, Between July 24-30,

Reading Ephesians 3 this week I see a great intercessory prayer for the church.

Ephesians 1 is filled with praise for the church and what God is up to in the church. Ephesians 2 has exhortations to live together. But Ephesians 3 is different: this is a real live prayer for the church in Ephesus and its happening here for us to read and hear. Lots more instruction is going to come for the young church later in the letter, but for just a moment focus in and pray.

Pray with humility. The prayer in Ephesians 3 grows from hard learned humility in the presence of God, with a knee bent in honor of the All-mighty. We humans undervalue God's mysterious and life-altering presence in our lives. We sinners really want to be gods all by ourselves. We sinners want to construct the church in our own image and likeness rather than in the image and likeness of God. This prayer starts from the opposite place, with a humble request for God to strengthen the church rather than anyone individually.

For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. 16I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, 17and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. (Ephesians 3:14-17 NRSV)

Faith is a mysterious work of the Spirit. It happens in one person at a time but it moves us into community. Faith isn't our property: its a gift that this writer asked God to help nourish in others that they would grow in faith too.

Pray it hope: Other forces (most notably the old Enemy) seek ways to destroy faith; but this prayer asks the Spirit to work, in us, in order that Christ might find a dwelling place inside of our lives. Faith comes first as the Word from outside looking for a place in our lives. God's word searches for places to take root and to grow. It starts with a Word but it doesn't stop there. The spirit comes to nourish it and tend it. Storms and droughts will come, but the Spirit will come too, and wonderfully and mysteriously we will grow in faith ourselves.

I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Tend the unshepherded Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 11, Ordinary 16, Pentecost 7, Between July 17-23
Jesus invited his friends to gather together and go away with him. The crowds who came looking for help from him and his friends were growing and Jesus wanted to be alone with just his friends for a while.

Jesus was, and still is, the very best example of what we are to do and how we are to live. Jesus lived like heaven mattered more than earth; he lived like love mattered more than money, and like people mattered more than things. To the powerful among his own people Jesus was a radical who disturbed the order of society, but to the hurting people of his day it meant everything just to be with Jesus and his friends.

Looking back at him 2000 years later I believe that no one before or after him has ever shown better what it is to live right with God and right with the people around him than Jesus did.

Inside the church we know about Jesus today. We know that Jesus came to earth. We know from the hymns and the stories that we've heard, read, and sung that he came as a boy who grew both in the eyes of God and in the eyes of human beings. We know him; we often choose not to follow him; but we know him even when we'd rather turn away from him.

Outside of the church Jesus is a mystery. People hear about this baby at Christmas time and they wonder who he is or how it could be that God would come to earth. At Easter people outside the church on a week to week basis hear about Jesus as a person who willing to die for others and they wonder if its true; and sometime they might even wonder if he'd die for them.

Jesus response to the lost and the hurting was compassion. When it was his friends who were tired he asked them to go away and rest. They got into the boat and found a deserted place, but even more still came looking to find him. When Jesus saw that crowd and another crowd gather to meet him he was filled with compassion. He saw hurting people as he looked at them. He saw sheep without a shepherd. Today the church is at its best when we respond to the people around us, whether they are in the church or our of the church as Jesus did in compassion and mercy.

The church, the body of Christ, started very small. It started with a few people who gathered around the teacher. He sent them out and they had no leisure, not even time to eat. The earliest Church of God in Christ was there in the boat that went out in that day onto Lake Galilee. The church grew as those who believed that Jesus could change their lives kept on following him and started to live like he did.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Faith in a Dangerous World Mark 6:14-29; Ephesians 1:1-14

Year B, Season of Pentecost Proper 10, Ordinary Time 14 Sunday Between July 10 and July 16 Inclusive 6th Sunday After Pentecost 2009.

The last couple of weeks have been full of celebrations for many in our church. 2 weeks ago the whole building resonated with the stories and excitement of Vacation Bible School. There have been weddings, baptisms, a wonderful 80th birthday and all the joy and excitement that go along with the fireworks and gatherings that happen around the 4th of July.

Right in the middle of the summer celebrations we find ourselves face to face with this one reading in Mark about John the Baptist's death. There's a temptation for us to dance around a reading like this one or maybe, for preachers (at least), to pick another reading. John's beheading is a real gut check for us. We want our faith and our life as easy and simple. We imagine that if we would just follow God and do everything right, as we are expected to do, we will get everything we need. And then comes this reading and Herod’s straight head-on challenge to us and our complacency as people of faith.
We live on a broken planet amidst all kinds of broken people. We live in a world that is full of uncertainty and risk. We look for safe-places to hide from the storms.

Some people like to try and hide behind wealth and prestige thinking that things can protect them from the brokenness of our world; but they can't. Others like to hide out in amusement and entertainment. Its easier to turn on the TV or pull the handle on a slot machine than to watch the painful realities of our world. We want desperately to be numb to the world; God needs us to be alert and aware.

John the Baptist wasn't afraid of speaking the truth. It was completely costly for him and he did anyways. Others would like to hide out from the dangers of the world in religion and devotion; but we learn from watching John the Baptist and Jesus that our relationship with God is not a way out of the storms and the dangers. Instead when we enter in in faith into the world we go into the storms trusting that God is with us.
When we walk in the wilderness we trust in faith that God is with us and that our eternal everything is in God's hands and God's control. Paul wrote,

He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to
the good pleasure of his will, Ephesians 1:5 NRSV
John the Forerunner paid the total cost that could be asked of anyone for following God. John gave up everything and then he headed to the wilderness. People came from Jerusalem and all over Judea to see him. They wanted to hear him and be baptized by him. The king was intimidated by him. John pointed out Herod's sins and Herod hated it; but Herod, at the same moment, wanted to have John around. He enjoyed listening to John and knew that John spoke the truth even if it was painful to hear. He knew the full cost of living committed to his faith in Jesus Christ.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. Ephesians 1:1-12
Herod totally forgot about justice and mercy. He totally forgot about following God. Instead he had a promise that he intended to keep. Forget justice or mercy if you are Herod. Herod's word was his only currency and he couldn't risk being shown to not keep his word. Right and wrong were gone and forgotten and John would die because of it.

Here were are on this beautiful summer weekend listening and reading this tough story. We just might want to run the other way and forget trying to even understand this reading; but John the Baptist is one of the heroes of our faith. He was bold, he was faithful. He was ready to offere everything and in his example we'll learn how God wants us to live in our broken world.