Message on Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017

Here is the message the people heard today, well at least this is the script of what was out there for today. I may just have gone off script a few times today, but that is how it goes and I am not going to try to replicate the real words here. This is what was intended and this is what you get in print. The scriptures used were: Isaiah 55:1-5, Romans 9:1-5 and Matthew 14:13-21. The title was, “God’s food.”

This weekend was the big city-wide rummage sale in Herreid. As we were getting items ready, which involved dragging boxes of mostly clothing out of nooks and crannies and sorting them then washing, hanging on the line and folding up everything that was deemed sellable, I finally looked at James and asked, “Why do people have children?” You might think this question has nothing to do with a rummage sale, but for me it is a central issue. At that point of the week, I came to realize that I have saved almost every item of clothing that my children ever owned. Seriously, if it didn’t wear out it is probably some place in my house, and let’s not even talk about their toys. I am not quite that far yet. It is no wonder there isn’t any room to live in our house!

Probably one of the most revealing things about me is something I remembered as I was going through the boxes and sorting and trying to figure out how I got to this hoarding life-style. I remembered back to a day when we still lived on the farm and I was some place in that older childhood, pre-teenage existence. It was a day when my mother was “cleaning house.” I remember having to take a box out to the burn barrel and seeing several of my dolls on the ground beside it about to be burned up. Now I did not see that dolls for the broken, hair cut, unclothed used up toys that they were. I only saw the beautiful gift they had once been.

That day, I wanted so badly to pick them up and take them back into the house and hold them and fix them, but there was nothing I could do, there was no undoing the damage that was done, and they were gone. Mostly I try not to think about those sort of days, but sometimes, like on Thursday when I was cranky from being over tired from doing something you I don’t really enjoy and probably would not have to do in the first place if I had just gotten rid of things when I should have, then maybe those memories would not rise to the top of the play list and I would not feel all those old emotions.

Yet for me as I considered those emotions and pondered the message that we were about to consider for this week, I tried to imagine what Jesus must have felt like in the story that we are dealing with today. The opening line of that story seems to me to be the key for today’s message those words of verse 13: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place.” Hold that thought—that emotion for a bit.

The gospel lesson for today has to be one of the top 10 most recognized Bible stories. It is in all four gospels, and I can remember back to teaching Sunday School that even at the youngest levels there were lessons about the little boy who offered his loaves and the fishes to the disciples who then gave them to Jesus who multiplied them in such quantity that all were fed and there was plenty left over.

I don’t know exactly how many times I have done a message on this text in the past, but I know we have talked about it here, and I remember speaking on it in both Jamestown and Mobridge. If we look at it alone, just in terms of the story of the miracle of feeding so many people, 5,000 not counting women and children according to Matthew, with only two loaves and five fish it is an amazing story of the divinity of Christ. And that is a wonderful story. It is a great message, but after hearing that often enough and speaking that often enough, we have to ask if there is more to the meaning of this lesson. We have to ask if there could possibly be something else in this scripture besides this historical account of what Jesus did in that remote area on that day when all those people came hungry for the words of Jesus and then were satisfied with the food that God provided in that remote area? Are you starting to get ahead of me a little? I hope so.

Well, of course there is more to the story. All we have to do to find out the more is look back a few verses to see what was going on before this story. The opening verse of today, Vs. 13 when it says “when Jesus heard this…” the word this refers to the death of John the Baptist. It was after Jesus learned of his death: the prophet who pointed the way of his coming, the man who baptized him, the one that was chosen in the womb to proclaim “repent for the time of God is at hand” when Jesus learned of John’s death, he took some time to go away to a deserted place presumably in hopes of being on his own.

In our lectionary cycle for this year, we don’t read that story of John’s death, yet if we listen to those words from Matthew 13, it is a big part of what was going on with Jesus. It is such a big deal that he leaves the city for a remote area to be alone with his closest disciples. But he can’t get away because the crowds follow him. They just can’t get enough of him. These crowds of ordinary, everyday people, people like you and me were hungering and thirsting for more lessons from the young itinerant religious leader who seemed to have something new, something amazing, something that would fill them to the brim with knowledge about God and God’s kingdom that no one else had ever shared with them, and they just couldn’t get enough.

And I wonder how much different are we than the people of Jesus’ time? Think about this, we, too, look for leadership in the times of our state and national elections. We long for someone to rise up locally and help our communities grow in amazing ways. We want someone to come to where we are and tell us which direction to go, to lead us into something new and fulfilling and yes maybe profiting, but mostly exciting and satisfying. Yes, we too are hungering and thirsting for something good, something new, something wonderful to follow, and for some of us the new is right in front of us, right in our pews in our hands when we open the words that God—that Christ left for us. We just need to listen to it, maybe in new ways.

Jesus didn’t send the people away when they followed him to the deserted place. He understood their need for his word and he took the time to talk to them, and to heal their sick. When it was late and time to eat, he didn’t tell the disciples to send them off to find their own food, he saw the need and he filled it. He had compassion on the crowd, he realized their need, and he fulfilled it. That might be all we need to know about the love of Christ.

If we look at the words from Isaiah and the opening line says: come to the waters…come buy and eat. It feels to me like those words are being spoken by Christ directly to us. Come buy wine and milk without money and without price…Listen carefully to me and eat what is good food. I know that I am only picking certain lines from the passage, but essentially these are the words from Christ to us… He is calling us to come and be fed, come and be satisfied with his teachings and his love.

Everyone who thirsts, we are all thirsty for the love and the teaching, for the healing and the compassion of Christ. Imagine where we would be if Christ just took his sad emotions and went to the deserted place and stayed alone. Christ didn’t come to earth for that. Christ came to have compassion on the crowds, on all of the crowds, those of his day and those of us right here today. Christ didn’t look at the situation in front of him with no idea where to turn like that sad 10 year old who was standing beside the burn barrel wondering how to reconcile the idea of knowing her dolls were being burned.

Fortunately for us all, Christ looked at this world created by God and corrupted by sin and he said, “Yes I will, pick me, and I will do what is needed to make sure that everyone has the opportunity to be reconciled to God.” With that as our example, I don’t know how we can do anything less than have compassion on the crowds of humanity who are hungering and thirsting to hear God’s word and feel Christ’s love. Let’s be sure we take the time to share what we know about that with those around us this week and in all weeks to come. Amen

Treating others right

Following is the message from Sunday, July 26, 2015. The scriptures used were II Samuel 11:1-15 and John 6:1-21. The title was “Unexpected Actions/Unexpected Responses”

This past week, I met a woman at the food disbursement in Herreid, who said her mother always said you should treat people they way you want to be treated. Think about that for a minute. If everyone in the whole world treated people the way they want to be treated themselves, we would have far fewer problems, and likely no wars. I think it sure would be nice to live conflict free.

I have sort of a thing about no conflicts. As a teacher and more so as a coach, I used to just hate those dreaded confrontations, those times when some parent wasn’t happy with the way things were going for their child academically, or more often on the court. And even worse was when I had to be the one to make the call to find out what could be done about a student’s behavior or lack of effort or any number of things. Usually I would get a stomach ache five hours before I even started look for a phone number. I hated those confrontations and I still dislike conflicts. [In fact, it is getting to the point that we often agree not to post things to social media when we gather as a family so that no one can get upset about where we were without them.]

Ironically as an English language arts teacher I fell into that category of teachers that professors expected would want to become novelists. In fact in a couple of the summer classes that I took, the professor questioned us about how many in the room wanted to write, The Great American Novel. I can honestly say that after I realized that all good works of fiction/all novels have to have a conflict, I was not too excited about doing anything like that. My stories would be too boring, too dull. I enjoy reading, and now more watching cheesy mystery stories, but I sure wouldn’t want to have to write them. I am thinking that just existing in life and getting through the everyday stuff is enough for me at the time.

Our Old Testament story today is one with a conflict that I am pretty sure none of us would ever want to live through no matter which angle it was from. In fact the conflict in this story is so out there that it makes the plots of some of the current soaps look mild. This story was picked up by Hollywood in 1951. I looked it up to see who was in it, and the stars were Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward. I am thinking I might have to pull it up on Netflix or some other internet movie streaming application one of these days. I did find it on Utube, but I was thinking that I would see just a little blurb, and soon realize with the way the music and the credits were rolling that I could have watched the entire 2 hours right there. I turned it off because I didn’t have time or popcorn ready, but it looks to be an interesting version. But why not, what a story this is.

Here we have King David, great king, who has everything he wants. He owns a palace, rules a country, sure there is a war going on, but he has soldiers who take care of everything, he doesn’t even have to go to battle, although some commentaries, as I mentioned last week, suggest maybe he should have gone to the battle grounds to keep himself busy. This might be why it is said that idle hands do the devil’s biding. King David has many wives; his life is stable, secure, established. And then he sees a woman, a married woman from his roof top, and he decides that he must have her. She does not refuse him. I wonder why? Is it because he is the king? This might be the sort of thing we, well maybe not expect, but might not be surprised by it if it were one of our modern-day celebrities, but this sort of action is hardly what we would anticipate in terms of actions from a King of God’s chosen people.

And if those actions aren’t enough, you heard the reading of how David called the husband back from the fighting to cover up what he had done and when the husband didn’t spend time with his wife during his leave, the King had him killed and in so doing others died on the battle field with him. Can you imagine what today’s society would do with a story like that? If the criminal justice system didn’t convict King David, the press and social media would have a hey-day with it. Unexpected Actions.

But the story doesn’t end with this conflict. There is much more, but most of it is in the Old Testament lesson for next week. Let us suffice to say it involves repentance and forgiveness that goes far beyond human imagination. What we would consider justice/ what we would consider to be fair and right isn’t exactly what happens, God forgives David, and that kind of forgiveness is hard for us as humans to understand, Unexpected Responses. Sometimes that is what we see when we study God’s word. Not something we think we could do, but God shows us how.

Our gospel lesson today seems to be way on the other end of the spectrum of actions. This is John’s version of the feeding of the 5,000. It is another version of a great miracle that Jesus performed in that he took 5 loaves of barley and 2 fish and feed a multitude of people. Yet we all know that this is so much more than that. It is a story of compassion and caring in ways that we can’t even begin to imagine. Scholars try to explain away the miracle part of this story by saying that each of the people there pooled what they had and shared their food, and they were happy just to get a little something to eat. Some say the loaves and the fishes were just an example of what was available.

Others try to come up with any number of ways that this could be explained, but the Unexpected Action is that Jesus took the bread and the fish and as he blessed them, they multiplied. In fact John writes that when all had been satisfied (not fed) there were 12 baskets of left-overs. It wasn’t like when we go out to eat at any number of restaurants and the plates are too big for the table and when you are stuffed beyond breathing, you ask for a container and take the rest home, and in a day or two throw it out to the dogs or the cats because we were taught not to waste food. Jesus disciples recognized at the beginning of this passage that the crowd was overwhelmingly large (6 months wages—Philip). Nothing is impossible for God, not forgiving David, not feeding 5,000 who would sit on the hill during the season of Passover to listen to Jesus.

Again, the story doesn’t end there. The final verses have the disciples in a boat heading for another shore. This almost sounds like we should hear a guitar in the background, “heading for another shore.” Jesus isn’t with them. He had escaped to the mountain alone so the people weren’t able to force him to become a human king. No the disciples were in a boat alone and the wind started blowing, just about the time they are getting nervous about the weather, Jesus is beside the boat. This time instead of getting in the boat and telling the winds to calm; he touches the boat, and they are at the shore. Unexpected Actions, the disciples never quite know what will happen next when they are with Jesus.

As amazing as it might have been to live in the days when Jesus walked the earth, to see him to know him in the flesh, we have so much more because we have the whole story. We have the story of the words and the deeds. We don’t have to wonder what the conflicts were or what they mean; we have the word to study. We can look at the Unexpected Actions and the Responses from the comfort of the ages. We have had the experiences of the early church and later scholars, and yet, we know that there are still new things we learn about the word each time we pick it up and read it, and think about what it means to us today.

What if we treated everyone we meet the way we would like to be treated? I could have used a little of that yesterday. I realized as I went to bed, that maybe it is time to start following my own words a little closer. We were together on a family outing, and without telling too many tales, let’s just say it was a women gang up on the men sort of treatment day. Perhaps it is time for me to have some Unexpected Actions in a positive way. Perhaps I can start with the little things, like giving others my attention when they should have it. I know that I need to be more aware of those little things. Perhaps the saying shouldn’t be that the devil is in the details, but that God is aware of our details. Let’s be about the little things this week, and let’s be about treating others as we would like to be treated. Amen!!

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