Monthly Archives: August 2014

08-31-14 THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

THE COST OF DISCIPLESHIP

Matthew 16: 21-27

 

Before people buy a product or join an organization, they invariable ask one question: “What will it cost?” Why do you think so many people love dollar stores: because we know the cost of everything in the store! Jenny, our daughter, will often text me about how much she saved with coupons and BOGO offers! When they were young, our children rolled their eyes at my checking the cost of everything. My own father used to monitor the length of our showers we took when my brother and sisters ad I were teenagers! What a good idea! But now that my children are grown they are doing some of the same things to save money because it’s not Dad’s money or Mom’s money being spent; it’s their money.  This weekend car dealers hope to sell many cars and so they couch the price in words like “low monthly payments,” or “no money down,” or other words. If you want to buy furniture this weekend you won’t have to pay interest on your financed purchase until January of 2020! What about college and tech schools?  There is real cost in those. And the list goes on. On August 18th, USA Today ran a report on the cost of raising a child born in 2013. Researchers have said that a middle-income family with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend $245,340 for their food, shelter, and other expenses up to age 18! So college costs, if any, are not even included in that figure! As Charlie Brown would say, “Good Grief!”  Even with our three children, as they grew up, I found that buying a steak when it was on sale, plus 5 baked potatoes, plus salad was not as expensive as their ideas of getting fast food or going out to eat every night!  So my expression became: “Do you know how many steak dinners we could eat at that price?”

 

 

There are other costs with every decision we make: there are emotional costs: will we say “yes” to those relatives staying in our house while they vacation in Florida or “no?” Will we have Thanksgiving or Christmas at this person’s house or that person’s house? Who will cook, or will we eat out? Who will pay the bill for the food? Will every one chip in or will one person bear all the costs? Do we say “yes” to serve on a Property Owner Board because such boards need good guidance, or do we say no to avoid the fights and conflicts?

 

There are also relationship costs: If a husband spends a night out with the boys will there emotion costs to pay when he comes home? If a wife spends a weekend with the girls will she have a price to pay when she comes home? If a woman or man gives 100% to his or her work, what do they have left to offer their loved ones? Total devotion to work can cost people their marriage, or make them estranged from their children. I remember a time that I ignored the fact that I was a finite man with limited energy and began to live in exhaustion. I was available to everybody else, but not my family. I lost my ability to smile; I lost joy in life; I just trudged through the days that, in hindsight, I realized were times of both burnout and the dark night of my soul. To not guard one’s soul, or one’s time, from a world that hungrily and unceasingly demands more from a person, is a recipe for breakdown. The alternative is to guard one’s time and one’s days so the ones a person treasures most might get the best of you, instead of the ashes after your weeks or months of work.

 

Discipleship also costs. It costs dearly. Anybody who thinks that becoming a Christian is to begin a life of constant joy is either exceptionally unique or unrealistic. During the Third Reich in Germany, Christian Dietrich Bonheoffer could have kept silent about the dictatorship that his country had become. He could have pretended to put the Fuhrer ahead of even Christ himself. But he would have felt like a fraud if he did. So he stood on the name of Jesus, losing his life but turning the tide of people who also decided to cling to Christ instead of their maniacal leader. In our day young men on the Internet in our country and in other lands have fallen prey to zealously misguided Islamic or Christian cult figures who have wanted unequivocal obedience to their destructive agenda. Discipleship is not like that. Disciples make a choice for Christ; some call it a decision. And good Christians always exam their hearts and their heads in their life of faith. We do not “check our brains at the door when we come to church.” Douglas John Hall, in his book Thinking the Faith, writes: ‘A thoughtless-faith … has always been a contradiction in terms…. Only a thinking faith can survive.’ “That’s what we Presbyterians are known for—a thinking faith—and it must characterize our evangelism.” [Evangelism in the Reformed Tradition, CTS Press, 1990, p. 146.] Jesus asks for our wills, our bodies, minds, and souls, but they are not pillaged or demanded. They are requested. In his day, Jesus called not only the Twelve disciples, but also the crowd, and through the reports of those who recorded his words, he calls us too.  Just after Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” and Simon answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God,” Jesus warned them what it would mean to be his disciple. A disciple is one who learns from Jesus, tries to live by his example, and is willing to accept the consequences of that life. One consequence for Jesus was distance from his mother, father, and brothers. They were not close as he began his ministry and his mother Mary only appears again in the last 72 hours of his life. Brother James started to lead the church in Jerusalem after Jesus died, but ancient reports said when Jesus was alive he did not believe his brother’s claims. Certainly the fishermen who followed Jesus gave up their work, their income, and and perhaps even some fresh fish as they started eating bread and whatever a host would put on a table. Remember: would you want Jesus and at least twelve other hungry people jammed around your dinner table? “Dear, I’ve invited thirteen rather dirty men and some others to come and dine with us. Fix something nice!”  It has been shown conclusively that although the Twelve were men, women like Suzanna, Joanna, and others provided for Jesus and the Twelve with their money. Each of them knew there was a cost to discipleship. But it was Jesus who knew the brutal image of a cross, as yet not associated with him, and he said that the cost of discipleship could be such a death. In Jesus’ day there were regular displays of people hanging on crosses around Jerusalem; it was torture designed by the Romans to show people their fate if they misbehaved. Jesus makes such a cross loom in the minds of these followers. “Are you ready for that?” he asked. Would any of them say in their head,  “Lord, we just love listening to you and being with you as you arrange our meals and lodging every day! We love this part of discipleship!” But Jesus would say to them, and to us: “There is more to it than that. You might lose your life.” When someone signs on to be a police officer, or a firefighter, or a Sailor, Soldier, Airman, or Marine, in the background of doing the job is the thought of possible death. That’s the cost of accepting that work. Jesus reminds those who might just want to have the title—disciple—but not share the load with these words: This is a paraphrase: “If you try to come along with me and just play it safe, you will begin to feel terrible about yourself and lose the respect of others. But if you dive in, and learn what I need to teach you, even though you may die for your faith, your name and my Fathers’ work will live on forever.” Diving in, as I said at the beginning, still demands boundaries: boundaries of personal space; boundaries of time in and time out; and having rest so that one can work. Jesus was constantly found in isolated places; it was surely his time away to pray, sleep and renew. He would dismiss the person who found him, complete his contemplation, and then return to the crowds. If he had not done that, he would have gotten depleted. He went into the desert both before and during his ministries so the requests of others would not overwhelm him. A disciple follows the discipline of giving incredibly to others, giving lovingly to family and friends, and giving recuperatively to self in order to follow Jesus. Otherwise you crash and burn.

 

So friends: consider both the blessings of salvation and the costs of discipleship. There is no doubt: it costs to follow Jesus in word and deed. But in return, the blessed peace that comes with salvation, and the blessed assurance that Jesus knows you and loves you are timeless gifts! It seems like a wonderful exchange to me: my life and will given over to Jesus now, and I have new life forever when I die. I’ve decided to follow Jesus. I will accept the possibilities of death, to get eternal life by taking up the cross of Christ today. How about you?

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          August 27, 2014

08-24-14 THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION

 

THE CHURCH’S ONE FOUNDATION

Matthew 16: 13-20

 

Peter Frampton was a rock singer from the 1970s. His album that sold the most copies was “Frampton Comes Alive.” I have it and like it. But he was in the news this week, all these decades later. In the middle of his concert he reached out, took a man’s Smartphone out of his hand,and threw it. His hopes, like the hopes of others musicians, was that fans would experience his concert, not just look at him through a 2 inch screen and record it! He thought he was going to be castigated for doing it but friends and strangers understood his frustration. Cellphone and tablet camera use shifts the attention from a live event to be experienced into an event to be recorded and watched later. Cameras and tablets are everywhere; during our vacation, people in Harry Potter’s Diagon Alley, it seemed to me, never saw the streets with their naked eye; everyone had a phone to their face or a big tablet camera held out in front of them! They were bumping into one another, not aware of their surroundings. In the Holy Land, I saw some travelers at  holy sights seeing everything through a 2 or 4 inch screen. In a movie theatre in June I looked at the screen and saw at least 20 people apparently filming all or part of the movie on their phone. In live shows, movies, and concerts such filming, or the use of cell phones, is said to be “strictly prohibited” but I’ve never seen someone stop them: except Peter Frampton!

 

My point is we are generally willing to see the world through a screen instead of engaging with events. And it numbs our reactions. This past week in Ferguson, Missouri I watched a man getting hurt on the ground, and no one ran to help him, they all pulled out their cameras. Also this summer the power of the internet has let a deadly group from Syria known as ISIS spread threats internationally, where 40 years ago their communication would have been much more localized. Technology has some given us some wonderful advances, photos sent instantly, and texts and phone calls from all over our nation. But for the last three weeks I turned off my cell phone and just took in being in the moment: on a cruise ship; as I toured the Caribbean island of St. John for the first time; and at the birthdays of daughter Jenny and son Matt. No cell phone. It was nice. I experienced the world through my own eyes, including peripheral vision, and my own reflections, not through the opinion or viewpoint of someone else. In the Holy Land I admit that Mary Ann took all of our pictures, which she likes to do. And it is true that technology can help others feel connected when they cannot be somewhere in person. But we rob ourselves of truly “experiencing” a play, a film, or a chance to assist a person being brutalized if we are using a phone for filming instead of dialing 911.

 

The carefully framed events about our world this week; Israel; Gaza; Syria; Iraq; Ferguson; have likely been viewed by nearly everyone on some screen. In those times, writers or reporters have shared an visual point of view and an editorial point of view. Turn the channel or shift computer feeds and you’ll find the same story told in different ways. The framers of our information adjust the way we see the world. Even with election primaries on Tuesday I have heard the ads and seen the literature about candidates in my mailbox. Sometimes one’s anxiety or anger soars because the person on the radio, on the blog, on the newscast, or on the editorial page wants to tell you what he or she thinks, and in so doing, convince you to believe something, or to oppose someone, or to vote for someone. But even though technology has advanced light years in the past 30 years, people throughout the ages had those influences around them. There have always been people around who, through irritation, intimidation, or persuasion have worked to change the thoughts and opinions of others. Both the evil and the just have used those tools. Our Lord Jesus was surrounded by people with opinions of him. He didn’t want to know what others thoughtof him, (perhaps one of the most emotionally healthy stands any person can make); instead he wanted to know what his disciples thought about him. But he needed them to think for themselves.

 

After a visit to Galilee in July, we were learned that Jesus had two or three places in and around his home where people were filled with opinions of him. One was Galilee, the land of Herod Antipas; he was ruler of the area west of the Jordan River and north of Jerusalem, west to the edge of Samaria, and no farther north than the land called the Decapolis. When Jesus was there, he was met with suspicion. In addition, his credibility was called into question and Herod wanted him silenced. You see, public opinion was alive and well even then! Another area Jesus went was the land of Gennesaret; it was on the east side of the Jordan River. People there had not heard of Jesus early in his ministry but after he visited and healed a man, they welcomed him from that point on but they mobbed him for healings. So in one land he was labeled as a pariah; and trouble-maker;  in the other land he was inundated with needs. If you follow the gospel of Matthew you can follow Jesus’ journey; the feeding of the five thousand is recorded in chapter 14 on the Jewish side; Herod’s side: his homeland. Then Jesus walks on the sea of Galilee and crosses over “to the other side,” a sure sign to the reader that he is in a land of a different culture. There in Gennesaret he healed many. They then skirted Galilee and went north to Tyre and Sidon, near the Syria border today.  No one was after Jesus there; that land had people sho believed in superstitions and many gods, yet none of their gods or potions had worked to heal a woman’s daughter. Jesus helped, but he still needed to find a place where he would he could use culture as a teaching tool instead of being barraged by people who challenged him or needed healing. So he took his disciples, in chapter 16, to the land of Herod Phillip, one who believed in “living and letting live,” who allowed a very free, open, and permissive atmosphere in his district. But there was one natural cave there that nearly everyone feared: it was the cave said to be the gate of Hades, where the gods of the underworld would periodically return and torment the earth. This district gave that area a wide berth. So in the setting Jesus set the stage for his question. He took his disciples away from the throngs of people elsewhere to ask them a  pointed question, the answer to which would either create or sabotage the church he was planning to spiritually build. There, outside of what we might call the gates of Hades or Hell, Jesus asked for the full attention of the 12. “Who do people say that I am?” he asked. Here he was asking them what they had heard, knowing that, in part, they might have believed much of it. In our day he might ask disciples who blog what they had read, or what Facebook posts, or what channels they watched or what talk radio personalities they listened to most. Many such people have political, or financial, or adversarial agendas and Jesus needed, and still needs, disciples, who let God alone be Lord of their conscience. Jesus needed his disciples away from such influences before he knew if his church would sink, or tilt, or crumble. So he hears their answers trickle out:  “Some say you are John the Baptist.” “Others say Elijah.” “I’ve heard that some think you are Jeremiah.” “And I’ve heard some call you a prophet.” Jesus drinks in their responses. And then he asks the question upon which the Kingdom of God rests: “But who do YOU say that I am?” That’s what Jesus asks everyone: you, me, everyone, to see if we are Christians or persons of another faith, or just spectators; not someone in the game, but someone just watching the game. “Who do YOU say that I am?” Jesus asks us. And The A+ answer comes out of a most flawed man; one who was blustering and headstrong. His hand shot up first: “You are the Christ; Messiah; the Son of the Living God.” Jesus doesn’t believe he came to that conclusion himself! No one on earth, at that time, was giving Jesus A+ answers. That answer was on the lips of the collaborators who were had a plan to save the world: One Jesus called his Father, and the other was Jesus himself. They knew the right answer! So Jesus bursts with joy that the right answer had been spoken on earth, and from one of his Twelve!  “Blessed are you Simon, Son of Jonah (his full name). You have been in touch with my Father in Heaven! Our plan is now moving forward, but more than that, it cannot fail!” Jews put much faith in a person’s name; and changing a name was believed to change the direction of a person’s life. So Jesus gave Simon a new name; “petra,” like the breathtaking old rock city in Jordan. He was calling Peter “the rock” and it was because of what Peter said, certainly not because of his personality exhibited through his life. And Jesus went further: “On that ROCK (petra) I will build my church. I’ll build it on the foundation of people claiming me to be the Christ.” And the way I imagine Jesus declaring that would be to point to the cave, the place from which underworld gods and demons were said to rise, and then say in a voice unafraid if bystanders heard it: “AND THE GATES OF HELL SHALL NOT PREVAIL AGAINST IT.”

 

The twenty first century is not like the first century clearly. But some things don’t change: Peers persuade us; persuasive people can talk people into harmful or helpful acts; and some of the voices around us are purely malevolent—evil—and destructive to the Kingdom of God. So today I ask you: as you vote; as you decide where your allegiance rests; as you decide what voices to listen to, and as you, once again or for the first time, hear Jesus himself ask you this question: “Who do you say that I am?” Turn off the voices around you, in person or in electronics. Search your soul and decide how you will respond. One man named Edward Mote, who lived in England in the 19th century, was born to parents who had no belief in God. At age 16 Edward was converted to Christianity as he listen to a sermon by the Rev. John Hyatt; he followed Jesus as Lord after that. And Edward wrote these words: “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand; all other ground is sinking sand.” Choose Christ so your soul, and his church, has a firm foundation.

 

Jeffrey A. Sumner                                                          August 24, 2014

 

 

08-17-14 CRUMBS

 

 

Our passage today begins after an argument Jesus has with the Pharisees over the fact that the disciples did not follow the proper hand washing rituals before eating. Wanting to explain it to the crowds he tells that that it is not what goes into the mouth that matters, but what comes out of it.

 

Peter of course asks for a more detailed explanation.

 

And Jesus replies, “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

 

It isn’t how you eat or what you eat that matters nearly as much as what is in your heart. What comes out of your lips is a demonstration of what is in your heart. What you say to people has much more of an effect on the world than the ritual of handwashing. And he lists the sins that cause the problems.

 

This seems like basic logic one might teach any child. That the words you say have an effect on the world. That what you say affects who you are and how people see you. It’s a good an important lesson and one we all need to be reminded of sometimes. This in itself is something we could focus the entire message on today. All of the different ways we seem to have forgotten that truth in the world today.

 

But our lesson doesn’t end there. Instead, Matthew follows this story with the tale of the Canaanite woman, a complicated and troubling story that doesn’t show our Lord in the best light.

 

As Jesus is walking away from the crowds after this argument, this Canaanite woman shouts after him. “Lord, Son of David! Have mercy on me.”

 

First of all, this woman is brazenly shouting after Jesus in the street. Shouting in the street. Women at that time were not supposed to even speak to an unknown man in public, let alone shout after one. If Jesus had talked to her, she would be dragging him into her own shame. While normally this doesn’t seem to slow Jesus down when it comes to healing, this time he simply keeps walking, ignoring her entirely.

 

But we get the impression she doesn’t stop crying out, because the disciples pipe in again.  They say send this shouting woman away. She’s embarrassing us.

 

Now the disciples, Jesus answers. He tells them what the goal of his ministry is “To save the children of Israel.” His entire focus in ministry up until this point has been the Israelites. It is them he has taught and healed and fed. He is the messiah for God’s chosen people.

 

But this woman will not give up. She has a mentally ill daughter at home and she knows this man can save her. So she moves around him and kneels at his feet, saying again “Lord, help me.”

 

Now, Matthew is quick to point out that this woman is not just any woman. She is a Canaanite woman. The enemy of the Israelites from many years ago. Now the Israelites are the ones in power, but  they still remember.  They still do not speak with the Canaanites.

 

And then Jesus tells her, “It is not good to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” There is no way to soften that translation. Jesus looks this woman in the face and calls her a dog. And dogs were not the beloved pets that they are today. No, in that time, dogs were simply scavengers, circling around the outside of human life and grabbing at what scraps they could. They were seen as unclean, dirty animals.

 

This woman who comes to Jesus for help is called a dog. Right after Jesus finishes telling his disciples about how much the words that come out of their mouths matter, he uses a racial slur. Israelites had been calling Canaanites dogs for years. Why on earth does Jesus act like this?

 

There are a lot of theories as to why Jesus acts so seemingly out of character for him. Perhaps he is testing the woman’s faith to see if she really believes or is just trying anything when it comes to saving her daughter. Perhaps he is testing the disciples’ faith, waiting for them to make the connection between what he had just told the Pharisees. Or maybe our Lord is also fully human. Maybe he really is focused only on the Israelites then and he is simply being honest when he replies to the woman. Perhaps he is just exhausted after day after day of miracles and healing and teaching while still mourning from the news about his cousin’s murder. Or maybe Jesus is just having a bad day.

 

We really don’t know why he says what he does, but regardless for the reason for Christ’s words, the woman does not take offense. She responds better than I could have certainly. She instead uses Jesus’ own words against him. “Yes, Lord,” She still calls him Lord despite what he called her. “Yes Lord,  yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” You’re right. I am not one of your children. I am not one of your people. But that doesn’t mean that there isn’t a little left over grace for me and my daughter.

 

And Jesus responds in joy! “Woman, great is your faith!” Great is your faith. This Canaanite woman, this outcast in many senses of the word is the only person Jesus tells that to throughout the gospel. We just finished hearing last week how Jesus calls Peter “You of little faith.” Over and over again he talks about how little faith people need. And yet this woman hears “Great is your faith.”

 

She is also the only person who actually engages Jesus in theological debate in the scriptures and seems to come out ahead. Jesus concedes to her point where he does for no one else. Her daughter is healed instantly and the passage ends there.

 

But the gospel story itself changes at that point. Jesus’ focus in ministry begins to change. First, he stays in that region which is full of gentiles. The very next story in Matthew involves Jesus feeding another group of thousands, but this time they are not Israelites. He stays and heals these people who are not the chosen people. After his encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus’ focus broadens to include the whole world, not just the children of Israel. There are no more groups who are outcast in his ministry.

 

Now, all of the gospel writers were writing their gospels for specific groups at specific times. Matthew was writing to a community of Jews who all believed that Jesus was the messiah. They were a beginning Christian community, but they were struggling with the idea of what to do with the gentiles in their midsts. After all, these gentiles were not the chosen people. Could Jesus be their messiah too? In many ways, the passage today is Matthew’s answer to those questions.

 

It begins by beginning to let go of some of the food rituals which are what the Jews used to keep themselves set apart from the gentiles. And it ends with Jesus telling a Canaanite woman how great her faith is. The gospel goes on to show how all are included in the scope of Jesus’ salvation.

 

Even today we sometimes struggle with the notions of who is included and who is not. Who is deserving and who is not. And we have here today a response to that struggle.

 

The grace of God is for all. The proud and the lowly. The outcasts and the ones sitting in the pews. It isn’t a question of what anyone deserves. No, there is grace enough for all, deserved or not. When we put up barriers to that grace, when we don’t allow our hearts to be changed or softened by a plea of real need, we are turning away from the path that Christ calls us to follow.

 

Anyone who has been anywhere near media recently knows that there is real need in the world. Children left starving at borders. Police turning on protesters in the streets of Ferguson. The pain and suffering in Gaza. Beyond politics, we are called to care when people cry out from mercy. May Christ grant us the courage to follow in his footsteps.

Let us pray. God of abundance, we give you thanks for people like the Canaanite woman, for people who who have the courage to cry out for help. Help us to be ever mindful of the voices of others, to those who cry out for mercy. Feed all of us with your grace and bring us to the day when all may gather at your banquet table. We pray in the name of Jesus, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever. Amen.

08-10-14 WALKING ON WATER

We pick up today where we left off from last week’s lesson. Jesus has just fed the crowds and now sends them away to finally get some time to pray by his lonesome. He even sends the disciples off so that he can pray and grieve on his own. He tells the disciples he will meet them across the lake later. Now, none of the disciples question how he will get there to meet him later, they only head off across the sea of Galilee on their own.

But between the healings and the feedings and the collecting of all the leftovers, it is now very late indeed and the disciples set sail in the dark. As they are half way across the waters, there is a storm that rises up. Now, the sea of Galilee is not very big, only thirteen miles by eight miles. But it is below sea level and surrounded by mountains, so when a storm rises up, it rises up swiftly. And the storms there can make waves that are over twelve feet tall. Impressive waters when you are just in a tiny fishing boat.

So there the disciples are. In the middle of the sea in a tiny boat being rocked by wind and waves and unable to see much of anything. Many of the disciples were fishermen in their lives before Jesus called them. Which means they know how to swim, but they also know exactly how much trouble they are in. They are expecting to die at any moment.

And then who do they see? Jesus walking across the waves. Jesus calling out to them over the sound of the storm, telling them not to be afraid. Even in the midst of his own prayer and sorrow, Jesus puts his needs aside to come to the aid of his disciples. He makes sure they know that he will be there for him, no matter what else is going on.

Just like last week, we learn something about both the nature of Christ and the nature of his followers from this gospel lesson. We learn that no matter how much danger and trouble surround us, we do not have to go through it alone. Rarely will we find ourselves in storm tossed boats upon the sea of Galilee, but that does not mean we don’t have our own storms. The times when the test results left us devastated. Or that relationship that we had counted on broke apart. Trust betrayed, or jobs lost, we all know storms in our lives.

Now Jesus’ walking across the seas did not calm the storms. The bad things still happen. But while we all will still go through storms in our lives, we never need to face them alone, for Jesus always comes to us. We will always have him in our troubles.

In this instance, Jesus comes out through the storms and the disciples are overwhelmed. Even though they just saw him perform a miracle of feeding all those people, they still have trouble believing their eyes through the storm. Can you blame them? Storms at sea make enormous waves and the salt spray fills the air. Things you see one moment are gone the next as the water rises and dips. How can they be sure Jesus is really there and not just a trick of their overly nervous imagination?

But it truly is Jesus coming for them. He calls out, telling them not to be afraid because “I am.” I am your rabbi, your friend and Lord. I am the one coming for you. You have nothing to fear.

And then there is Peter. I love Peter. He is always so earnest and well meaning. He is the first to say yes and the first to follow along. He is the first to join in. Peter may not always get it right, but he always responds to Christ with the most enthusiasm.

“Lord, if it is you, tell me to walk to you and I will.” What on earth possessed him to think he could walk on water? Is he just being overly enthusiastic again? Is he delusional or prideful?

No, he is simply taking Jesus at his word. You see, when rabbis of that time called students to be their disciples, what they were really saying to those students was “I think you can do what I do. I think you have what it takes to be like me.”

So when Jesus called Peter as a disciple, he was calling him to follow in his footsteps. And Peter, seeing Jesus upon the water, has faith that he can follow his rabbi anywhere. That he can do what Jesus does because thats what being his disciple means. When Jesus says “Come” Peter doesn’t hesitate a second before stepping over the side of the boat and walking towards him. Peter actually does walk on water, heading for his Lord. How amazing is that?

But of course the wind keeps blowing and the waves crash harder and Peter begins to doubt. “What am I doing walking upon waters I would fear to sail on?” And when he doubts, he starts to sink.

Now, I’ve often heard it said that Peter is doubting in Jesus here. That he doubts his Lord and teacher. That he doubts Christ’s strength or divinity. But I don’t think that’s it. After all, it isn’t Jesus who begins to sink. And when Peter does sink, he calls out to Jesus to save him. Would he call on that salvation if he was doubting Jesus? I don’t think so.

No, who Peter begins to doubt is himself. He doubts his ability to truly follow in Christ’s footsteps and when he does, he realizes what a terrible risk he is taking and begins to sink.

But look how far he came! Peter made it close enough to Jesus that all Jesus had to do was reach out a hand and pull up Peter. I even hear the words he uses to speak to Peter as loving affectionate ones. “You of little faith. Why did you doubt?” It’s similar to what you tell a child when she is first learning to ride a bike. “You nearly had it,” you cry as you pick her back up and set her on the bike again. “Keep going. You can do it.”

Why did you doubt yourself Peter? You are my disciple. I called you. You can do this. And Christ says the same to us today. Why do you doubt yourselves? You can do whatever I call you to.

We call ourselves disciples. We call ourselves followers of our Lord. But what kinds of disciples are we? Are we like Peter, quick to throw ourselves after the Lord’s call and to worry about consequences later? Or are we like the other disciples who sat in the boat and watched the drama unfold before us.

It is so much easier to sit in the boat. To avoid the risks. To wait for Jesus to come to us. But Jesus calls us all out into the risk. “Come.” Walk through the storm. Cross the water. Greet the stranger. Go and feed the hungry. Go and sit with the outcast. Go out of the comfort of your lives and take risks for me.

We may doubt ourselves, but never once does our Lord doubt us. Instead Christ calls us. Calls us into risk. Calls us into danger. Our God is full of faith that we can meet that call and succeed despite the storms in our lives.

Jesus calls to us “Come.” How will you respond?

Lord Jesus, our lives are often stormy, but you calm the storm. Our lives are often messy, but you point the way to the pearl of great price, before which the value of everything else fades away. Our lives are often filled with doubt, but you extend a hand to us,saying, “Come.” The next time you extend that invitation, may we say, “Yes,” with our whole heart. Amen.

08-03-14 COME AND EAT

This story has been told time and time again in the the church. It’s the only miracle story that appears in all four gospels. Its one of the few stories that appears in every gospel. This story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 was apparently crucial to the early church, enough so that all the writers agreed to keep it in their stories.

 

But why?

 

Well, first of all, look at how this story begins. After Jesus heard this, he withdrew. Now what he heard was what happened in the previous twelve verses. John the Baptist, his cousin, the man who was the first to proclaim him as a messiah, was murdered by Herod at the bidding of a dancing girl and her scheming mother. His head was served on a platter and Jesus was understandably upset, withdrawing to go and deal with the news.

 

But the crowds followed him. He got in a boat and sailed to the other shore. He traveled the equivalent of getting into a boat here and sailing down to New Smyrna. Yet the crowds followed him determinedly on foot, needing his guidance and his healing. Jesus, instead of getting back on the boat to deal with his grief, instead had compassion for them, and came to shore to heal and listen to their problems.

 

In the midst of his sorrow, our Lord had so much compassion for others that he put away his own time to go to the aid of someone else. Our God is nothing if not full of compassion.

 

Jesus spent so much time dealing with the concerns of others, listening and healing, that the hour grew very late indeed. His disciples began to grow worried. I can just hear them talking. What on earth are we going to do with all of these people? We need to have a plan. Well we can’t keep them here. I need a break. Jesus needs a break. I know, why don’t we send them to find food. Its late and they have to be getting hungry.

 

Its a good plan. A reasonable sounding plan. “Send them to the villages to grab a bite,” they say to Jesus, but he’ll hear nothing of it.  “You give them something to eat,” Jesus responds.  That verb “to give” is in imperative aorist, which somebody much better at Greek than me tells me means “it is the urgent aorist of instant action.”  “Do it, and do it now,” Jesus says to his worried disciples.

 

Us? But we barely have enough for ourselves Jesus. Look, five loaves and two fish to split among the twelve of us and you. That’s hardly more than a mouthful or two for just us.

 

But Jesus doesn’t listen. Because their original suggestion, of course, was impossible. For one thing, most of the crowd following them were poor and sick or else they wouldn’t have been following Jesus in the first place. Homelessness and extreme poverty were at crisis levels in Jesus’ day. For another, even if they all immediately left and rushed to the surrounding towns to buy something (assuming they had money to buy with) the towns would be overwhelmed and flooded, and incapable of servicing them.  These weren’t towns full of fast food places after all. Many of them were nearly as poor as the crowds.

 

So Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat instead. And the disciples offer up the small amounts they do have. And Christ blesses the meal and tells the disciples to serve.

 

Now, none of the gospels are clear about how the miracle happens. Does the food suddenly increase exponentially after he blesses it? Do the loaves remain the same size no matter how much bread is broken off? Or is it a more mundane explanation? Does everyone the food is passed to suddenly realize that if the disciples can share, they can too, and contribute the food they had kept away for the occasion? Now, that might seem less miraculous to some, but getting an entire small village to share what they had freely with strangers seems pretty miraculous to me.

 

The point is not how the miracle happened. Its not how everyone was fed. It is that Jesus told them, “You feed them.” and had complete faith that his disciples would be able to do it.

 

And Jesus says the same to us today. “You do it.”

 

By some estimates there are nearly 850 million people in the world who do not have enough food to eat. Somewhere in the vicinity of 100 million people worldwide are homeless. There are multiple wars taking place right now throughout the world. Human rights abuses are even more prevalent than wars. Crime is on the rise in many major cities. Jesus calls us to care for the needs that surround us, but no reasonable person could disagree with the assessment that the need is so great, and the systems are so complicated, that it is hard to imagine how one person could make a difference.

We only have this small amount Lord. I only have these two hands. I only have me. How on earth could I make an impact on all of that?

 

The disciples  dismissed even what they had, a common reaction when we are anxious and afraid. In many ways we do the same. Can one of us fix all the problems in the world on our own? Of course not. But we can bring what we have to God. And our Lord will bless it. And we will be surprised at what the result can be.

 

It is like the very old story of the boy on the beach after a storm. Hundreds of starfish had been thrown ashore and were all slowly dying. The boy walked down the beach tossing starfish back into the water one by one. An old man came up to him and said “You can’t possibly save them all. Why are you out here? You can’t make a big difference.” The boy said back, “Yes, that’s true, but it makes a pretty big difference to this one,” and he threw another back out into the water.

 

That is faith. That is trying to make an impact with what little we have. We may not be able to do everything, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to help. That doesn’t mean we should do nothing.

 

Too often we spend our money and our time in wasteful ways. As Isaiah says in the first lesson. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?” When we spend so much of ourselves on stuff, we fill ourselves up on spiritual junk food.

 

Instead the Lord calls us to the table, inviting us to fill ourselves at his feast. The disciples also got their fill of bread that evening. In fact they recieve more than what they would have had with those original five loaves. They offered what they had to give and in return were told to Come and Eat with the rest. Our Lord is a generous Lord and offers us that which truly satisfies.

 

In return, we are called to be generous with what we have with others. Even when what we have does not seem like much, we can still give what is possible to give.

 

Years ago, there was a terrible earthquake in Alaska which devastated the city of Anchorage. Many people wrote to the governor of Alaska, demanding that he do certain things. Generally they outlined the suffering they had endured and wanted the state to take responsibility. After the initial surge of activity, the governor appeared on television to report to the state. Among the other letters, the governor reported he had received a 3 x 5 card from a small boy. It had two nickels taped to it and a message: “Use this wherever it is needed. If you need more, let me know.”

 

That was all he had to give, and the boy gave it away as though it would make a huge difference in the crisis. Now, part of that was a not understanding of funds, but mostly it was a generosity of spirit. Think about it. There are 313.9 million people in america. If each of them donated ten cents to a problem, that is over 31 million dollars.

 

God takes what is given and uses it in ways that grow boundlessly. If everyone would only give what little they could, what a difference that would make in the world. But first we are called. We are called to give. And in return we receive limitless amounts at God’s table.

 

Glorious God, your generosity waters the world with goodness, and you cover creation with abundance. Awaken in us a hunger for the food that satisfies both body and spirit, and with this food fill all the starving world; through your Son, Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.