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

Spring is here!!

Flowers on campus

I didn’t take any pictures of spring today, but a couple of weeks ago, I had to write the ministerial contribution to the local paper. It was the week after we returned from the trip to Nationals to watch Paulina. In Tennessee the flowers were blooming and I took some pictures of them, so I will share both the pictures and the story here.

Recently my youngest sister, my husband and I took a trip to Tennessee. We went to Eastern Tennessee State University in Johnson City to the National NAIA Indoor Track and Field Competition to watch our daughter participate in the weight throw. I was expecting sunshine and plenty of warm weather and so packed cropped pants and t-shirts and light jackets, we were going south, after all. Much to my surprise and chagrin, we woke the first day to snow and ice on the tarp over the outdoor pool. Of course I had not done a good job of checking out the geography of the area, and I ended up slightly chilly as a result.

We could see the Great Smoky Mountains through most of the trip. We saw them as we drove from the airport in Knoxville to Johnson City and again when we left in the airplane to return home. Sadly we never actually had the time to enter the park associated with them or do any serious touring. At least I was able to snap lots of pictures of the countryside as we drove along. Some highways were lined with trees others were walls of rock and some were ditches similar to ours with the difference being that they were filled with daffodils in bloom. Not many of the trees were sprouting leaves, but the flowers were blooming and the grass was green. It was a sure sign that spring was closer than the cool air was indicating.

This morning when I opened up my devotional booklet it instructed me to read from Isaiah 55: 10-11. “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return there until they have watered the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth, it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” (NRSV) The words in this passage are another reminder of spring and all that God does for us in terms of providing the seasons and the conditions that allow for growth of plants and grains to give us food for the body and growth of God’s word to give us food for the soul.

As spring approaches our area, take some time to experience the wonder of God’ creation as the grass turns green, the trees show their leaves and the flowers break out in bloom, and as you do be sure to give thanks for all the blessings you have been given.

Suffering–Whose fault is it?

This was the message on Sunday, Feb. 28, 2016. The scriptures used were: Isaiah 55:1-9 and Luke 13:1-9.

“Suffering—Whose fault is it?”

Let me start today by telling you that I am as fiscally conservative as I am socially liberal. In other words I am very close with my finances, but pretty relaxed with my thoughts on other issues. I tell you this so you understand what it is like for me to go shopping on my own. Basically if I have to go alone, I come home with the absolute bare bones of what is on the list and sometimes, I don’t even get what I have written down because when I see the price, I decide that I can make do with something that I already have. And let me tell you now that I am on a kick of getting rid of the excess in our house, it is getting even worse.

chainsaw

chainsaw

I am telling you this so you can understand how strange it was the day I went to Bismarck late last spring and stopped at Running’s to pick up a couple of discount plants in their greenhouse and came home with a chainsaw. For some reason, as I passed that row of chain saws, I decided it was time we had one that worked, so I could quit trimming my mother’s apple tree by hand. I have no idea what possessed me that day, but I drove the shopping cart past that isle, looked over those saws a few times then picked them up to see which one I could lift on my own comfortably, and there it was in the cart. And after the clerk in that department began to help me, making sure I had the correct oil, and in fact he filled it and started it out back for me to make sure it worked properly, there I was on the way home with my very own chain saw.

Russian olive trees

Russian olive trees

When I called James I told him it was so we could take that dead branch out of our middle Russian olive tree. I planted those three trees in remembrance of the ones growing by my parent’s house when I was in high school. Besides that I like their color and the smell of them when they bloom, they are my favorite trees, though they are gnarly and don’t last very long. Somehow I thought of those trees and that chainsaw when I read that parable of the fig tree this week. The owner of the tree told the gardener to cut it down. I bought the chain saw to trim the middle tree, and then when my brother was in town to work at my mom’s house, he asked when we were going to cut down the dead Russian olive tree on the end. I argued that only the middle one was partially dead, and we will see what happens next spring before we start any cutting of the little tree on the end.

My expensive chainsaw, which I bought with every intention of using it on those trees, has not been started since the day I brought it home. I couldn’t make myself take down any part of those trees without giving them one more chance to bloom and come back in the spring. I even watered them last fall as I do all of our trees hoping that something inside them would come back to life that perhaps they had just faded early and were dormant before the other trees because it was so dry. We will see. I couldn’t bear to take down those trees that I had planted and nurtured for 15 years. So I guess it is understandable that the gardener in the parable wasn’t ready to take down the fig tree, and God doesn’t want to cut us off without just a little more time for us to turn away from the distractions we have in our lives. God wants us to have one more opportunity to look towards Jesus and salvation. This is the second part of the passage in Luke, but the real focus of what we read for today.

The first part of our gospel lesson was about suffering and how and why things happen to us as humans. I suppose we could say we started this message on Wednesday evening. One of the scripture lessons we read about healing, the one about when Jesus healed the man born blind, could fit into what we are discussing today. As that story opened, the disciples asked Jesus who had sinned to deserve the punishment of the man being born blind. They were asking if it was the man who was blind, or maybe his parents. I suspect it was probably the belief of the people at the time that the parents were being punished for something they had done.

Sadly there are cases even today of people who feel that when a child is born with certain handicaps people feel it is because of some sin they have committed. We all know that there are cases of natural results of things, such as the virus currently going around in the southern hemisphere with the mosquito born zika illness. People are being warned to take precautions not to contract the disease while pregnant, but the illness doesn’t occur because the parent has stolen or lied or committed some sin, you know what I mean.

In isolation we could look at these nine verses in Luke and say the message is just about how suffering just happens. Jesus says that the sin of those that were killed by Pilate was no worse than others of their area. He also says that the sins of those who died by the collapse of the tower were no worse than anyone else of their time and place, and in fact encourages all to repent because all have sinned and need forgiveness.

If we take the time to read some of the stories found right before and after these passages, we get the idea that faithful servants are rewarded and God wants us to be faithful in what we have been given to do. But Jesus also lets us know that his work on earth doesn’t always make things to peaceful. His work ruffles feathers. Jesus’ was about calling out and defeating the forces that work against the will of God.

Jesus came to earth to defeat the powers that caused sin in the world. And in order for us to reap the rewards of what he brings, we need to acknowledge and confess our sin. Repenting is what we all need to do in order to be accepted and welcomed by Christ. What he is trying to let us know in these stories is that it isn’t just those who suffer who have sinned. The amount of sin someone has can’t be seen on the outside of us based on things that happen to us, yes sometimes we get dirty when we fall into a mud puddle, and maybe we make some choices that put us in bad situations, but the bad things that happen to someone are not necessarily an indication that they are being punished by God because of their sins. Jesus is trying to let us know that we have ALL sinned, and we all need to repent and turn ourselves toward him for salvation.

I mentioned Job on Wednesday night, and this week, we will deal with a few more of the chapters in that book. Job was stripped of everything that he had, and through the majority of the book, he has no idea what happened, why he is in such a position. His friends all think he did something specific, but Job did not. It was Satan, who struck Job just to see how Job would react. There is a literature term—dramatic irony, for when the reader knows what is going on, but the character doesn’t. This is what is happening in the book of Job. We need to be aware that in some cases, this is part of what happens in our lives. It isn’t our neighbor or the person down the street who is causing problems for us and making our lives miserable, it is the power in the world that embodies sin and makes us to falter and to stumble and to turn away from a God centered, a Christ centered life. It is our job to resist that and to turn towards Christ.

The good news in this passage, the good news in this lesson today is that because of Christ, God allows us time to do that. As the gardener asked for just one more season to let the fig tree return to production, so Christ through his sacrifice on the cross gives us that ability to repent of our shot comings repent of our sins and turn toward following his teachings. We do that by following Christ’s great commandment to love one another, to love our neighbor as ourselves, and that is more than just on Sunday’s in church or Wednesday’s during Lent or even in our offerings. We show Christ’s love in how we deal with others each and every day in all things we do. This is not easy, but through prayer and with Christ’s guidance it is possible.

Today’s message is about God’s love and compassion for us as sinners. Today we need to hear that suffering and ailments and death and sorrow are not only indications of evil and sin and punishment. God loves us. God does not want us to suffer. God wants us to rest in the shelter of his love. I can’t say this enough and if I try to come up with an ending, I will just keep talking in circles. What we need to take with us as we go today is two verses from our passage in Isaiah 55. Verses 6-7 (Read them)

  1. Seek the Lord which he may be found, call upon him while he is near;
  2. let the wicked forsake their way, and the unrighteous their thoughts, let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. Let’s go this week out into our world sharing the joy of that abundant pardon with those around us. Amen!

Since I posted my message here today, I put the sunrise picture for March 1, on the lucindagardens site. I will likely keep those on that site for the rest of the year. Hope you have a great day.

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