Sunday, August 2, 2015

Missed the Boat


 John 6:24-35


Have you ever heard the expression "He missed the boat"?

This phrase is generally used to express one of two things. Either someone has missed out on an opportunity, such as "we thought we had enough time to purchase football tickets, so we waited a few hours. As a result, we missed the boat and couldn't get tickets."

Or, it's used to describe a case where someone just isn't grasping a concept or fact, such as "I was trying to explain why we shouldn't leave the car outside during a hail storm, but he clearly missed the boat, and we ended up with hail damage."

In our Gospel today, this concept of "missing the boat" is something that happens with the crowd. They very much "miss the boat." It begins in a rather literal way - they knew there was only one boat. They saw the disciples get on it without Jesus. They try to find Jesus, and unable to do so, they take boats over to Capernaum where they run into Jesus.

And they start asking questions...

"When did you come here?"
"What must we do to perform the works of God?"
"What sign are you going to give us?"
"What work are you performing?"

The crowd asking these questions is the same crowd from last week's reading - the same crowd of 5000 that Jesus fed with only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.

It is the same crowd whom had already witnessed a miracle. And yet here there were asking for a sign. Asking Jesus when he had arrived as he wasn't on the boat with the disciples. Not grasping the reality of what had happened just the day before.

Jesus, recognizing that they had "missed the boat" in regards to what had happened, doesn't exactly answer their questions. His responses do not fit with the questions they asked. Instead, he seems to be answering the questions they should have been asking - the questions which Jesus knew they needed answers to.

"When did you come here?" they asked.
Jesus responds, not be telling him when he arrived, but instead by explaining why they were looking for him, and what they should be working for. “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

They ask him "what must we do to perform the work of God?"
Jesus' answer is to explain the work of God: “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

They ask him "“What sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” 
Jesus doesn't point out that he already gave a sign. Instead, he points out their error in their thinking regarding the manna given: " “Very truly I tell you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is the bread that comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

And when they don't ask, but rather demand, that they be given this bread always, Jesus doesn't say he will do so, but instead explains what - or rather, who - that bread is: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty."


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How many times have we "missed the boat"? How many times have we asked the wrong questions - not intentionally, but rather just because we haven't grasped the full meaning of what is going on? When we lose someone we love, we ask God why He's taken this person from us. When something bad happens, we ask God why he wasn't there to stop it. Even small things slip by us without us realizing we're asking the wrong questions - we go to church and find out there's communion, which means service will be longer, and we ask why this has to happen on a Sunday when we have so many things to get done before Monday. 

We "miss the boat." We fail to recognize that things happen by God's will, not our own. We fail to recognize that no matter what tragedy is happening, God is there with us through it all. We fail to feel his arms embracing us, giving us comfort and strength. We fail to grab hold of the eternally freeing  experience of receiving the body and blood of Christ - the only true bread that can sustain us. 

And we fail to understand the enormous importance of communion - of unity as the body of Christ. Communion is something very personal to most of us. But, we forget that it is not just a personal experience. It is true communion with one another. When we are given that bread and wine, we are dining together on the body and blood. We are in unity with one another. We are one combined group - one body. In Christ. 

Our text from Ephesians today shows this importance, and yet we often cannot see that importance. We're told we're given people to guide us - that God has given gifts to people to help us. We're given pastors, and teachers, and people to spread the good news of Christ. And we are told that we're each given gifts to use to help others. We're told all of these things are given to us to help us grow up in Christ - to grow in unity with one another. And yet time and again we fail to grasp this concept. Time and again we slip into feeling alone, unneeded, unwelcome, unworthy. Time and again we are unwelcoming, or not seeing a need inside ourselves for another person. Time and again we don't see the gifts in others. We don't see them reaching out to us with these gifts. We don't see these gifts inside ourselves, and therefore don't use them to reach out to others. 

Instead, we miss the boat. We ask the wrong questions. We ask God why things are so wrong in our lives, or in this world. 

This week, I encourage everyone to do two things... 

First, recognize that God has given you gifts to use to help others. And use those gifts. it doesn't matter how insignificant you feel that gift is - it can change someone's life. And it will go a long way into bringing us all into unity with one another. 

Second, recognize the gifts God has given others, and be accepting of those gifts when someone reaches out to you. 

Don't miss the boat. Don't miss out on the opportunities we all have to give and receive a loving hand, a caring word, a needed hug. Don't miss out on the opportunities to give and receive the good news of Christ. Don't miss out on the opportunity to be in unity with one another, helping each other and ourselves grow in Christ. 



 

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Feeding the Multitudes

Disclaimer: This sermon may seem a bit all over the place. I do plan to edit it at some point, but I had promised myself that I would post once a week based on the readings... and therefore am doing so even if it isn't quite ready. 



John 6:1-21


A couple months ago, some friends and I were planning a big cookout. It’s amazing the things we needed to consider when doing this: What day should we do this cookout? And where? How many people are going to be there? How much food will we need? How much is it going to cost us? What time will we start this at?

Generally, as humans, we need to know these things. We rely on measurements. We need to know times, dates, cost, numbers. It’s how our brains work. If we got a phone call from a potential employer who said “come in for an interview,” but didn’t tell us a date or time, or perhaps not even an address, we’d be lost and confused. What do we do? How can we do this? Or, we’re told to prepare food for a dinner, but aren’t told how many people we’re serving, we’d be having anxiety attacks, wondering if we have enough food. What happens if we don’t? Our minds would be buzzing with questions and concerns.

In our text from John 6, we see a lot of these simple facts appear. We can estimate the time of year, and time of day, by what is said (it was near the time of Passover, and it was during the daytime as evening had not yet come until after they’d all eaten). We know the general area – a large grassy area on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. We know how many people were there, and how much money it would have cost for each person to even receive a small amount of food. We know how much food they had available to them. We know how much was left over.

We tend to do this with people as well. The measurements we work with here are not numbers, but rather are based on our experiences. And we then measure other people to these experiences, placing everyone in a nice little box.

For example, if all your life you have been abused by men, when you meet someone who acts even remotely similar to one of these men (the look in their eyes, the gruff sound of their voice, their stature), you automatically put that new person in a box labeled “abusive”. Or, say you had a little sister who was good natured, always worried about hurting you, enjoyed sitting with you and talking, was a little goofy and incredibly sweet and caring… and several years later you meet someone with these same characteristics, you automatically place this person in a box, thinking of her as a little sister. We need to do this – we need to categorize and measure people according to our knowledge and experiences so that things make sense logically in our own minds.

We find this as well in our text. The people gathered there together had heard of Moses many times. They were taught of this great prophet, and were taught that a new prophet would come. So, when Jesus performs a wondrous miracle, they recognize him as being the foretold prophet. However, all they know of as a prophet is what they’ve heard of Moses, and therefore measure Jesus against that knowledge, placing him in a box of being similar to Moses.

The placing of Jesus in a nice little box is not reserved only for these 5000 people who gathered a couple thousand years ago. We still do it today. We still measure Jesus’ abilities by what we know, and what we’re capable of understanding. We place limitations on God’s ability. We simply cannot comprehend anything beyond our own experiences and knowledge.

In both the text from John, and the text from 2 Kings, we see God taking what the people see as a limited (and not nearly enough) amount of food, and feeding multitudes of people with it with food left over. In our Gospel reading today, this limited amount was 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. Think about that for a moment. In your own family, how far would 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish go? Would it be enough to fill them? Now, split that amount of food up with the combined populations of Medina, Streeter, Gackle, Cleveland, Tappan, Woodworth, Pettibone, Dawson, Steele, Napolean, Pingree, Buchanan, Montpelier, Edgeley, Ellendale, Robinson, and Jud.

This concept is inconceivable to us, and it was inconceivable to the disciples as well. And yet this is what Jesus did that day. He took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it… and was able to feed 5000 people until they were full. And there was still some left – 12 baskets of fragments.

God’s ability surpasses our understanding.

It’s interesting to note that our reading this morning is a story which is told in all 4 of the Gospels. Each Gospel tells what Jesus did with the bread:

In our reading from John this morning: “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated.”

Matthew 14:19: Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.

Mark 6:41: Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to his disciples to set before the people; and he divided the two fish among them all.


Luke 9:16: And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd.

Compare this to the Last Supper:

Matthew 26:26 - While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”

Luke 22:19 - Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”

As you can see, the feeding of the 5000 is almost identical to the Last Supper Jesus had with his disciples. It is almost identical to what happens during Holy Communion. This cannot be overlooked or dismissed as simple coincidence. In our reading today, we had 5000 men who were most likely just like us. They were sinners. They most likely had lied, cheated, stole, hurt others, did not love each other as Jesus said we should. They were just like you, and me. And yet Jesus fed them all with 5 loaves of bread – just as Jesus continues to feed us daily.

Through the sacrifice of Jesus’ flesh, we have been given the blessing of forgiveness. All of us. No matter what sins we have committed, we have been blessed with forgiveness. This concept is often beyond our understanding. How can God forgive me? How can God forgive the person who walked into a theater and opened fire? How can God forgive the mother who killed her own child?

We have nothing to measure this forgiveness against. There is no measurement for it. John attempts to do so by placing a number on the amount of bread, and placing that against 5000 people, and still having plenty left over. But it is still inconceivable. It still goes against everything that is logical in our minds.

But God is not logical. The abilities and power of blessings of God do not follow any human logic or reasoning. God cannot be placed in a box. The miraculous power of God has no bounds. His grace and mercy have no bounds. Just as after feeding 5000, there was still bread left over, no matter how many times God forgives us, he still has the ability and desire to continue forgiving us. He still continues to forgive us. He continues to give us grace and mercy. And he will continue to do so.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Go Rest Awhile


Mark 6:30-34, 53-56


Sometimes, life gets hectic.

There are children to care for. You have a job or maybe two. A spouse who needs your attention. Sports games, piano lessons, and doctor appointments to get your children to. Meals to cook, and homework to help with. Friends and family who need your time or help or advice. Volunteer work to do for the school or church or other organizations. Bills to pay. And probably many other things that occupy your time. 

For some of you, especially those who are caregivers to someone who is unable to care for themselves, life seems to stay at that hectic pace. In addition to the incredible amount of demands most people have, you also have additional demands that come with taking care a person with special needs. There are more tasks, more problems, more worries, and a lot more demands on your time.

There is always one more thing to do. There is always one more person demanding our time. And so we keep trying to meet these demands. Many of us seem to think it is selfish to say “I can’t help you right now” when we’re tired and rundown. We see it wrong to put ourselves ahead of others. But, we’re not alone in being met with these constant demands. We’re not alone in trying to meet all these demands.

This seems to have been the case with Jesus’ disciples as well. Throughout the book of Mark, we are constantly seeing them bombarded with one more immediate need, one more task that has to be done, one more person who needs to be healed, one more crowd that needs to be taught and guided. In our Gospel reading today, we hear Jesus’ response to this hectic pace. When the disciples tell Jesus all they have done and taught, Jesus tells them “Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves, and rest awhile.”

Rest. It’s a nice concept, isn’t it? Wouldn’t each of us at some point love for someone to come up to us and just say “Go be by yourself. Go rest.”? This is exactly what Jesus is telling us. Yes, it is important to provide care to loved ones. It is important to do all those menial household chores, and to go to work, and help our Church. And it is especially important to help those in need. But it is equally important that we take time to rest – that we take the time to rejuvenate ourselves. 

We all need rest. We need physical rest. Our bodies need a break from the constant running. Without that break, we get run down and sick. We need to rest emotionally and intellectually, otherwise we find ourselves spent, unable to adequately care for others. Unable to make wise, rational decisions. And we need to rest in Christ – we need this rest time to grow closer to God, to revive our spiritual selves.

Jesus recognizes this need in each of us. And he calls us to rest. In our Psalm this morning, we’re told God makes us lie down. He leads us to drink. He restores our souls. This restoration is done through our periods of rest.

Some of you may be sitting here thinking “Thanks. Sounds great. I wish I could rest… but…” And you probably have a long list of valid reasons for why you can’t get that rest. Or even if you do find time, you get disturbed. You finally get a chance for a break, but then a child gets sick, or a friend calls in need, or your spouse needs your help. There are still demands. Unfortunately, just because we take time to rest, does not mean the demands disappear.

This, too, was the case with the disciples. Just when they leave to go get their needed rest, we find the crowd hurrying to get to their destination ahead of the disciples, needing attention. Needing to be healed. Needing to be guided and taught. We don’t hear in our Gospel lesson today if the disciples ever got that chance to rest, but most likely they finally did. They would had to. None of us can keep up the hectic pace. And none of us are asked to do so.

Despite the fact that Jesus had just told his disciples to rest, when he sees the crowds interfering with that rest time, he does not turn them away. Instead, Jesus had compassion for all the people. “They were like sheep without a shepherd.”

The image of Jesus being a shepherd is one that is used quite often throughout scripture. But in this verse, when I close my eyes and picture sheep without a shepherd, I see sheep scattered around everywhere, some lost from the group, some just wandering around on their own, tending to their own cares and worries.

Perhaps some of you have felt like this – or are feeling like this right now. When the demands get so great, do you ever feel alone?
Feel like you are without a shepherd?
Without someone to guide you or help you?
Feel like all you’re doing is wandering around from one worry to the next on your own?

This is not how any of us should feel, but I’m almost certain that some of you have felt that way. Especially those of you who are caregivers for someone with health problems. Sometimes you feel alone. As if you are just wandering from one worry or problem to the next one. But, even in those times when it seems this way, God does not leave us without help, without a solution, without hope.

In our text from Jeremiah this morning, we heard a story where shepherds weren’t doing their duty, and the sheep were scattered. God stated “Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock… and I will bring them back to their fold… I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing.”

This is a prophecy of the coming of Jesus – the new king whom will be shepherd over all of us. It speaks of a gathered flock, who, under the care of this shepherd, will not need to fear, or be dismayed, or wander alone. It speaks of us – of each of us gathered here today, gathered in Christ, gathered together to restore our souls through worship.

When life is moving at that hectic pace, it’s easy to let Church become just one more thing on our to-do list. It’s important for us, then, to realize that worship is actually the best rest for us. While sleep helps our bodies heal from the stresses of life, worship allows us to heal spiritually and emotionally.

Through singing hymns; through the prayers, both spoken and silent; through listening to the Word of God; and especially through receiving the body and blood of Christ – our souls are restored. They have that chance for healing rest.

We’re assured of Christ’s presence in our lives, even through the tough times. We’re assured of our forgiveness through the death and resurrection of our Lord. We’re assured that we are beloved children of God – we are His gathered flock.

Worship also reminds each of us that as a gathered flock – as the Church - we also have responsibilities towards one another. We have the opportunity to reach out to one another. We have the responsibility to help ensure we each get the rest that is needed. We have the opportunity to say “Let me take on your burdens for a while so you can rest. So you can rest in all ways needed – sleep, prayer, time with our Shepherd.”

Additionally, the one needing the rest has been called through our Gospel today, through the words of Christ, “Come away to a deserted place, all by yourself, and rest awhile.” God is giving you permission to give yourself a break. He is telling you that you need to also take care of yourself. And you are being given permission to give your burdens to Christ, through the loving hands of another of his flock, so you can rest awhile. So you can rest in our Shepherd’s care, so God can strengthen and restore you – body, mind and spirt.

And now, may the Word of the Lord which surpasses all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in true faith.

Amen

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Be Free

I woke up this morning in a very odd mood. Everything just seemed right. I felt like a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt confident that I am going to be okay. Everything is going to work out as it should. I felt free. I kept repeating one simple phrase - Today is a new day. That one thought has been in my head since even before the fog of sleep fully dissipated.

But it didn't completely dawn on me how different today started and is until an hour ago. It didn't dawn on my fully what that simple thought meant.

Those who know me, know I am deathly afraid of bees/wasps/hornets. For some reason, every so often, I get a wasp in my office. So I keep a wasp/hornet killer spray close by my desk. Whenever one of these creatures invades my office, I immediately stand at the door, shaking in fear - about 10 feet from the window they like to play on, and spray the heck out of them... then run out the door and wait for the thing to die.

A couple hours ago, I realized one of these was in my office again. I let him be and continued what I was working on. I wasn't afraid of him. About an hour ago, he started flying around, getting pretty close to me. I decided it was time for him to go away. So... I opened the window and told him to go be free....

I sat back down... and realized what I'd done. Now, to some of you reading this, this may seem like a silly thing to be shocked about. It may seem like a silly thing to care about. It may not make sense why this would even have any meaning. But well, this is my blog, and my feelings, and it doesn't have to make sense to you :-)

Again, that phrase came to me - Today is a new day.

And I realized I got one of the words wrong. Today is not just a new day. Today is a new chapter. Today is the day I realized I don't need to live in fear of so many things. God is with me. I don't need to fear my feelings, my problems, my demons. God is beside me. I don't need to live in that place of sorrow and guilt. God is embracing me. I don't need to live in that place of pain and anger. God's arms are around me.

I am free. I am forgiven. I am beloved. I am here for a purpose, and need to listen to that purpose and follow the path He has set before me.

I am at peace. And I am free to experience that peace.

Today is a new chapter.

God bless!

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Into Me See (Intimacy)

NOTE: This really isn't a sermon, but I didn't know where else to post it. I originally wrote it on the 18th or 19th of June, but didn't want to post until the rest of the articles in the series were completed. But, this one has been sitting as a draft in my post list for too long and it's annoying me, and I have been too busy to write the rest of the set, so I'm posting it now. So... without further ado... let's read about intimacy...

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Intimacy is something we all, as humans, long for. We need it to feel complete. We often actively seek it out. But what exactly is it? 

What is Intimacy? 

If you're like most people, you would probably answer that question with something like romance and/or sex. And, this isn't exactly wrong. But it isn't complete either. First - let me state that it is not sex. Yes, sex and intimacy can be linked - but it is possible to have sex without intimacy. And, it is also possible to have intimacy without sex.

That said, let's get back to defining intimacy. I found one definition that broke the word down to "Into Me See". What does this mean? I found one source online that described it quite nicely:

“Intimacy isn’t strictly about romantic relationships, or even relations with family — sometimes it happens quickly, and often times in ways we hardly notice.
I’m talking about that moment when someone allows the world to see what’s inside… what they are really about. It’s about seeing someone for who and what they are and that the glimpse was offered either voluntarily or without the person’s knowledge. This is an incredible moment where our existence suddenly makes sense and all comes together in a singular place.
For those of you who have experienced this, it’s something that never gets lost in memory or time. It’s like a little mirror we take out every now and then to remember a time when something so complex became so inconceivably simple. It’s pretty incredible.” Hugh MacLeod http://www.gapingvoidart.com/gallery/soul/
Another definition I found (which I'm paraphrasing since I can't remember the exact wording or the site I found it on):

Intimacy is feeling safe in being vulnerable with someone; it's about being truly seen.


And, intimacy comes in several different forms. In researching this topic, I found that many sources didn't fully agree on how many different types of intimacy there are. One even had it broke down into 16 different types. But, most of the sites agreed on the following five:

Intellectual

Intellectual intimacy is when two people are able to share their thoughts and ideas with each other openly and comfortably. It's about being able to safely express your thoughts on life, where you'd like to travel, what your favorite book is and why. It's about enjoying and accepting the thoughts of each other, whether you agree or disagree on the topic at hand. It's letting another person see the real you in regards to your thoughts.

Emotional

Emotional intimacy is when two people are able to openly and comfortably share their feelings with each other. It's when they can empathize with the other person's feelings. It's trying to understand and be aware of the other person's emotions. It's feeling safe being vulnerable with that person.

Experiential

Experiential intimacy is where two people involve themselves in activities with each other - going for walks, watching movies, painting a house side by side. There doesn't need to be any talking or touching involved - it's just an enjoyment and comfort of being able to share experiences together.

Spiritual

Spiritual intimacy is when two people are able to safely tell each other about their own spirituality. There doesn't have to be an agreement on what their spiritual beliefs are (i.e. one friend can be agnostic or atheist and the other Christian), but there is an understanding and an ability to comfortably discuss the topic with each other. It's also about being able to share spiritual things together where there is an agreement... such as praying together, or attending church together.

Physical

Physical/sexual intimacy is the most common thing we think of when it comes to intimacy. This is the intimacy where we display our affection for another person in physical activities including sex itself, but can also be cuddling, kissing, touching, etc. As with all the other intimacies, there is a comfort and safety in allowing yourself to be vulnerable; there is an understanding of what the other wants and needs.

Intimacy in Marriage

A healthy, strong marriage will often have some degree of intimacy in each of the 5 categories above. And, it's beneficial to try to strengthen each of these categories. A marriage that only has a strong physical intimacy, and lacks the other 4, may not last long... just as a marriage that only has a strong experiential intimacy probably won't last (it's great that you two can both comfortably share in the experience of taking walks together... but if there isn't any trust/closeness emotionally, or ability to discuss your thoughts with each other, those walks are eventually going to grow stagnant).

Intimacy in a Platonic Relationship

Intimacy in platonic relationships doesn't have the physical (or, at least, the sexual) aspect. But they can have any of the others. One site I stumbled on tonight stated it better than I can:

Intimacy is a concept not exclusive to romance. I think it's also a potential descriptor of high-wattage interactions, feelings, and trust between two platonic friends....
...Here's one possible sign of intimacy: When you're with this friend, does your best and most natural self come out? Does being the person you want to be become effortless? 
Intimacy in friendships is one of those things that you can get along fine without but miss once you've experienced it. Most people I know who maintain deep, intimate friendships value these relationships more highly than their ever-growing list of weak ties. Peak human experiences seem to happen in conjunction with intimate, soul-nourishing relationships. 
http://casnocha.com/2009/01/how-friendships-evolve-over-time-and-the-quest-for-platonic-intimacy.html

So Much More to Say


The topic of intimacy really isn't something that can be fully completed or understood in one blog post. This is going to end up being a series of posts (how many, at this point, I am uncertain). This one simply touched on the definition of intimacy. Next, we will discuss the definition and different types of love, and how they interact with intimacy. And, there will be a third, discussing the importance of understanding these differences and how they look in our real life.