Monthly Archives: July 2015

Signs of Jesus Power

3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages[b] would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:3-9 NRSV)

We can’t afford it.

We don’t have enough.

In spite of the fact that Jesus is standing there with the disciples, they can only think in terms of scarcity. Philip the numbers cruncher looks out on the crowd and clearly sees that six-month’s wages wouldn’t be enough to feed this crowd. He’s right. They don’t have enough.

Andrew, the one who finds people to bring to Jesus, finds a little boy with some bread and fish. “I don’t suppose this would make a difference, would it?” No, Andrew, it’s not enough.

You’re not enough.

But, Jesus stands there smiling knowing that he has enough; that he is enough. And that day 5,000 people are fed.

The Good Shepherd makes them sit down in green pastures and prepares a table before them: bountiful baskets of food; enough to fill everyone until they’re full. And then he makes a point to have the extra food collected.

Jesus permits nothing to be lost. This food is precious. We don’t waste food that endures forever. Nothing and no one are so insignificant that Jesus will abandon them.

Many a church treasurer worries about having enough money to pay the bills. Many an elder in charge of mission and outreach has said, “We’re budgeted for only this amount of money. If we spend all of it now we’ll have nothing more for the rest of the year.”

The building and grounds folks are always in need of providing for the new roof or a new door while trying to figure out how to keep the carpeting looking decent for another year.

And we’re right. There’s not enough. There’s not enough food or money or carpeting or anything else. There’s not enough for emergency groceries or emergency utility bills. There’s never enough to reach out to others.

Many a church has hunkered down, deciding to hang onto what they have for as long as they can. They spend the money on keeping the building open and being able to worship. The last one left alive turns out the lights on her way out the door. And God has not been glorified.

We don’t have enough if we’re depending on ourselves. We have abundance when we turn to Jesus who is standing there testing us as he tested Philip. Jesus is the one with the plan to feed 5,000 people. Jesus is the one who knows how we’ll reach out into the community. Jesus is the one who will use what we have and multiply it over and over again.

We live in the most abundant nation in the world, and we worry about scarcity and lack. We don’t have enough to fund wars in the Middle East and the war on poverty and the war on drugs. We don’t have enough police or fire fighters. We don’t have enough. Scarcity gets in the way of dreams and visions.

Our Session has decided to launch a neighborhood outreach program. Another congregation is joining us in this endeavor. We will meet this week to finalize the first part of our plans. They will include prayer. Each one of us are urged to pray daily for our neighborhood, using your own prayer or one that we have printed and ready to distribute.

It may entail knocking on doors and introducing ourselves. We don’t know what those next steps will look like at this point in time.

And if you’re thinking we’re not enough, you’re right. There won’t be enough of us to spread the word. There won’t be enough money. There won’t be enough of anything. In fact, we’ll stumble and we’ll make mistakes.

We’ll see change and we won’t like it. We’ll be disappointed at the rate of growth. It’ll be slow. It’ll be difficult.

We aren’t enough to make this outreach work.

That’s what those disciples said when Jesus asked, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” It was a test question. And Philip answered from a human perspective. “We can’t feed them. There’s not enough.”

Yet, Jesus took the simple offering of a child and multiplied it to feed thousands of people. Jesus can take our simple offering and multiply it so that his outreach will take place in the neighborhood.

The disciples worked hard and prayed hard. We will have to, as well. The disciples had doubts and so will we. The disciples saw great things happen when Jesus showed up and so will we.

I’m proud of those disciples who got in the boat and rowed towards the other side. When Jesus joined them, though, they tried to take hold of him and bring him into the boat with them. Jesus doesn’t work that way. And he probably won’t let us take the lead in our Neighborhood Outreach.

We’re called to move forward, with five barley loaves and two fish. It’s ridiculous until we realize that we’re not doing it: Jesus is. And by the power of Jesus, things will happen. Not necessarily where we expect and when. But, keep your eyes and your heart open to the abundance of God’s grace.

For these are the signs of Jesus’ Power.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.

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Home Bound

“Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in?” (2 Samuel 7:5b NRSV)

There are houses and then there are houses and then there are houses.

David has a beautiful, plush palace made from the great cedars of Lebanon. It contains all the latest conveniences. It stands tall so that wherever you go in Jerusalem, you can see David’s house in David’s city.

He looks out his thermal-pane window and sees the circus-like tent that God lives in. It’s not right. God needs something beautiful: something that honors his magnificence. Besides, that tent is blight on the landscape. It needs to be replaced with a temple more magnificent than David’s palace.

There’s not much doubt that David’s ego was at play in wanting to build the temple for God. But, he has a spiritual connection with God. He wants to honor God and remember all that God has done for him.

Nathan the prophet doesn’t even bother conferring with God. Of course God would love a temple. Perhaps Nathan is excited at the prospect of having a permanent office instead of that damp one in the corner of the tabernacle.

There are houses and then there are houses and then there are houses.

David’s plush cedar home provides him with all the creature comforts. His home is safe and secure. It’s a place where he can lay his head down and rest in comfort. His home is like our homes: a place where we can live and move and have our being.

God wants no part of a “home.” God won’t be boxed in. God won’t be caged in a gold-lined temple. God won’t allow David’s ego to get in the way of God’s plan.

I think of the Prophet Isaiah when he met God in the Temple that was eventually built. He “saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:6b NRSV.) No structure can hold God.

And much later, at the end of Isaiah, we read more. “Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is my resting place?” (Isaiah 66:1 NRSV)

There are houses and then there are houses and then there are houses.

God doesn’t want a house. God doesn’t need a house. God has plans that don’t include a house in them. God will decide when and where a house will be built and who will build it.

As close as David is to God, he’s missing the point. You can’t contain God. You can’t control the Lord. You can’t read God’s mine or assume you know God’s needs.

David had a job to do and being in charge of God wasn’t it. David’s job was to live a life of gratitude for the abundance of blessings in his life. He should have been humbled by the fact that as gifted and talented as he was, he didn’t make king on his own.

David should have been worshiping the most high God. David should have been living in expectation of the next step in God’s plan.

And in fact, when Nathan delivers this message to David, it brings him to his knees and he prays long and hard over all that God has done and will do for him. David was at his best when he was on his knees before God.

And in that prayer he comes to understand his need to live in expectation of God’s plan. God’s plan is to build a different kind of house for David: a house that will last forever; a house that will rule on the throne forever; a house that knows peace along with the nation of Israel.

God was at work all along to bring about great things that would glorify God. David had only to be patient and wait prayerfully.

And, though the Kingdom of Israel fell and David’s lineage was all but lost, we know that God was at work to bring about God’s Kingdom through the Son of David, Jesus the Christ.

And that kingdom work is still occurring today.

We live in a scary age: unrest, war, terrorism, poverty and hate crimes are all on the increase. Some are looking to the end times, believing that things just can’t get much worse. Bring it on, Lord.

As we search for solutions we find ourselves caught up in unhealthy arguments and inappropriate debate. These arguments and debates escalate in intensity and everyone loses.

At such a time as this, perhaps it’s time for us to take a step back and learn from David. Have we forgotten, as David did, that the Lord of heaven and earth is still at work? God is still in the world, working out God’s purpose. Jesus is still the Way, even when that way points away from solutions we hold on to with a death grip.

While the serious issues of our world overtake us, it’s good to remember that God is still present, the hem of his robe filling up the sacred spaces. We can live in gratitude for the abundance of blessings we all receive each and every day.

We can live in humility, knowing that we are where we are not only because of our personal, God-given talents and gifts, but that God has walked that journey with us and continues to do so.

We can enter worship here and in the world, praying constantly.

Most of all, at such a time as this, we can live a life filled with expectation that God is at work yesterday, today and forever, always working out God’s purpose on earth as it is in heaven.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


Cause for Dancing

“David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.” (2 Samuel 6:14-15 NRSV)

David rarely comes across a problem in which he can’t find an opportunity. As a leader he is courageous, bold, clever, pious and conniving. There’s nothing he can’t get away with.

Yet.

He led the southern kingdom for several years before Israel (the northern kingdom) anointed him their king, as well.

The first question is where should the capital city be? No matter which tribal province he chooses, there will be trouble and hard feelings. Answer: the Jebusite stronghold of Jerusalem. It’s perfect. Jerusalem stands high above the surrounding land. You can see your enemy coming from a long distance. Best of all, it belongs to neither the southern nor the northern kingdoms so there will be no hard feelings.

His next challenge is how to unite the northern and southern kingdoms. His vision is to make all of Israel a great nation. That will require wealth, a strong army and a bureaucracy, among other things.

Jerusalem becomes the City of David. Those who remember a simpler time aren’t going to want to support David’s plans. What can he do to legitimate this new world order?

Answer: The Ark of the Covenant: that ancient symbol of God that’s been shelved for 20 years at Abinadab’s. The elders of the land will be thrilled to have God’s ark taken out of moth balls and put back into use. David will bring it into the new capital city, forcing everyone to comply with his plan.

It’s daring and bold. And right now, David can do no wrong.

He gathers up his men and they head out to Abinadab’s home. It’s like a military campaign: 30,000 men. They place it on a new cart and head down the hill. David leads the way with dancing and singing and instruments.

The Ark wobbles on the cart and Uzzah, apparently not thinking, reaches up to steady it. God strikes him down and he dies immediately.

David reacts in fear and anger. This is an outrage! His plan is ruined. How can his vision survive now?

He dumps the ark at Obed-Edom’s and goes home with his tail between his legs. For three long months he stews.

David may be a bold conniver, but he’s also faithful to God. He probably spent time in prayer, wrestling with God like Jacob once did, trying to figure out what went wrong.

When he receives word that Obed-Edom is blessed as a result of the presence of God’s Ark, he takes off for another try.

Only this time his fear is real and it should be. This is the ultimate representation of God: it’s a powerful symbol and you treat powerful symbols of God with utmost fear and respect. Something this awesome shouldn’t be touched under any circumstances. You tread carefully when you’re in the dangerous presence of God.

David returns and they carefully bring the ark six paces out. You can imagine those six paces. One foot in front of the other. Stop. Okay. Next step. Stop. Look around. Everyone’s okay. Next step. Stop. So far so good. They reach the end of the sixth pace and stop.

They worship and sacrifice. God has forgiven. David and his people rededicate themselves to the powerful One.

Once again, though, David steps in where he shouldn’t. A priest should be sacrificing and leading worship. Instead David dons the priestly linen ephod (it’s like an apron) and leads worship.

King Saul tried that once and lost his job.

David dances. He leads a dance that embarrasses his wife, Michal. He’s ecstatic. He’s crazy with exuberance. As political as he may be, he’s also a man after God’s own heart and his dancing speaks to his love for his Lord.

This is no time to worry about the nation or the enemy or a myriad of other issues and problems. David is clearly in the moment and loving it!

Ah, yes. David is clearly courageous, bold, clever, pious and conniving. He is a gifted leader who will eventually bring his country together into a great nation. He’s a broken man with a large ego that will eventually cross the line into adultery and murder.

Yet, his love and respect and fear for God jump off the pages of his story. He is a joyful worshiper, a contrite confessor, a bold visionary, a courageous leader. God uses these gifts to further history.

How does God use you and your gifts to further God’s history today?

All glory and honor be to God. Amen.


Hit the Road!

“Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:4-5 NRSV)

Nazareth: It’s a place of throw-away remarks and snarky comments that hurt others and shut down real conversation. They feel threatened by those who don’t look and act like them. They don’t accept change well. They have answers, but no questions. They are so sure of themselves that they don’t need input from anyone else. They lack love. Outsiders wonder if they love to hate. They enter worship with their prejudices intact, feeling pious and sanctified, but a mask of self-righteousness in place.

Capernaum: They have serious concerns and few answers. They engage with others in thought-filled questions and conversation. They are easily hurt by Nazarenes. They hate sin but try to reach out in love to the sinner. They enter worship with a sense of relief and so many questions. Their behavior in church matches their actions in the world.

Why would Jesus bother? How many Nazarenes did he run into during his short ministry on earth? How many from Capernaum supported him? Despite the crowds that followed him, he was outnumbered from the beginning. And we all know how that ended.

I suggest that many of us have been in Nazareth at least for a little while. I’ve been guilty of stupid snarky comments that brought laughs from many but hurt others. I suggest that we have all made statements that hurt.

But, dare we remain in Capernaum?

I’ve had people visit me in my office with serious questions about serious issues of our day. While some are celebrating a recent Supreme Court decision, they sit in my office with a broken heart. They have read the Bible with intentionality and prayer. These are conversations that occur in Capernaum.

I’ve become engaged in serious conversations around the issues of gun control, sexuality, undocumented workers, the economy and health care. I’ve learned from many about their point of view stated in a calm voice from a thoughtful and thought-filled point of view. I like to spend time with people from Capernaum. Especially with those whose opinion differs from mine.

Our world is as broken today as it was in the first century when Jesus walked the earth. And Jesus spent time with Nazarenes and Capurnaums and he does today. He spends time with the broken down and brokenhearted. He joins us on the road to Emmaus while we wrestle with the issues and search for meaning.

Speak the truth in love. Not at the top of your voice, but as if Jesus is standing next to you.

Which he is.

All glory and honor be to God.

Amen.


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