Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost: Gahtering Holy Leftovers

Readings for this Sunday:  2 Kings 4:42-44; Psalm 145:10-18; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

I guess I have gathering on my mind.  After spending a week in New Orleans with youth from all over the United States it’s probably to be expected.  But when I read today’s gospel lesson, all the gathering jumped out at me.

First the crowd gathered.  Bit by bit, from near and far, group by group, until Jesus looked up from teaching his disciples and saw them coming up the road.

We, too, gathered from all over.

We gathered, in groups large and small.

·        5  teens from New Tripoli, PA;

·        91 from Mankato, MN;

·        2 from Ridgeway, IA;

·        12 from Kenosha, WI;

·        13 from Warren, Sterling Heights, and Bloomfield Hills, MI;

·        14 from Mercer Island, WA;

·        5 from Dorchester, IL;

·        16 from Summit, NJ;

·        2 from West Columbia, SC;

·        5 from Beckley WV;

·        10 from Lima OH;

·        12 from Bexley, OH;

·        10 from Grafton ND;

·        2 From Faulkton, SD;

·        5 from Peace and 2 from Pollock, (SD).

We gathered in New Orleans, bit by bit, group by group, 35000 strong.

Jesus sees the crowd on the road and immediately is concerned with their needs, concerned with providing food for them.  And so a little lunch was gathered – from a young boy who had 5 loaves and 2 fish.

The crowd may have gathered to see Jesus, but Jesus now gathers the crowd, welcoming them to his table.  And he took the food and blessed it and gave it to them.

They ate their fill – all were satisfied and there were even leftovers.  It was a feast.

We too had a feast.  Of course there was great food in New Orleans.  But better yet, Jesus gathered us to his table and served us a feast for our souls.

Bishop Michael Rinehart compared this Gathering to gumbo – with its unique ingredients combining to create a satisfying deliciousness.  We are God’s gumbo, a tasty gift to a world hungering for God.

We were fed discipleship – the staples of following Jesus.  We practiced worship, praying, bible study, giving, encouraging, inviting and serving.

We were fed peacemaking – a buffet of interactive activities where we learned to walk in another’s shoes, learned ways to advocate for peace and justice in the world.

We were fed justice – a lesson in cooking God’s feast where we went into the community and served – painting classrooms, rebuilding libraries, cleaning up parks and wetlands..  I’ll be honest, there was a mix-up for our group and we didn’t get to do much, but even with the mix-ups and the day some projects got rained-out, more that 400 service projects took place and we left New Orleans better than we found it!

Some of the other things we learned to cook out of God’s recipe book:

·        By Friday morning of the Gathering, the Million Book Project had collected $40,000 in donations (with another 120 emails from the day before not yet opened) and 18 pallets of books had been collected, some of which we helped distribute to kids.

·        1,193 pints of blood were donated by teens and adults at the Gathering.

·        509 head were shorn to provide Locks of Love for people suffering from illnesses that rob them of hair.

·        $256,000 was donated during Sunday offering.

·        $400,000 was given to the 100 wells challenge (all reported as of July 26).

·        Walls for 3 houses in Slidell (Habitat for Humanity houses) were built, blessed at Sunday worship and shipped.

I brought some tidbits of the feast back to share with you, a few quotes from some of our speakers:
·        Nadia Bolz-Weber was the keynote speaker the first night we were there.  She told the story of her journey to faith, going from hating Christians to becoming a Lutheran pastor.  In part of her story she said– “Soon I began to realize that there are people that take that scripture from Matthew 25 seriously – that when we clothe the naked and when we feed the hungry, we do so to Jesus’ own self – and it ends up that they’re not magical creatures.  They’re Lutherans.”

·        Shane Clairborn, another keynote speaker - “There’s those moments where you throw your hand up at God and you say God, why don’t you do something.   And if you listen close you hear God say, “I did do something.  I made you. Get on out!” 

·        We heard from a young person, 18 year old Greg, who had attended the last gathering.  He told us that he first heard “be the change you wish to see in the world” at the last gathering.  He went on to say that “Jesus calls each of us not to read the headlines but to go and be the change.  The newspaper and blog post and twitter feed are no longer easy reading but our call to action.”

·        Nadia said something else – “Here’s what you need to know about this thing you have – this Lutheran liturgy, this Lutheran theology: it is a feast.  It is a feast to be shared and I’m here to tell you, people are hungry.  People are hungry and you have a feast entrusted to you.”

And that brings me to the last thing gathered in our gospel reading – the leftovers.

We don’t hear what happened to them.  Did the disciples take the leftovers with them? 

I like to think that as the crowd dispersed, the leftovers were distributed. 

-       Oh, you’ve got a 2 day journey – here’s some food for the trip. 

-       You say you have a sick mother at home – take some bread and fish for her. 

-       You’re meeting up with a friend who was visiting a relative – have some extra to share on the road home.

I like to think that those holy leftovers were abundance that spilled over to nourish not only those present, but the people in the world around them.

Imagine telling that friend you met up with about how Jesus fed you on the mountain top and then handing her a chunk of bread and saying, “Here’s some of the food that remained.  Here, eat.  Jesus gave me some to take to you.”

In a way, that’s what happens to us.  Each Sunday we gather and Jesus feeds us.  We feast on the Word of God, on Jesus the bread of life.  And each Sunday, we are filled to overflowing with God’s love and grace and mercy – so much that we become baskets for those holy leftovers.

Here’s God’s love.  Here’s God’s grace.  Jesus gave freely, abundantly to me.  Jesus sent me here to share it with you.

I want to share one more story from the gathering with you.  We got in a head of schedule.  So we decided to kill some time at a local mall until we could register and get in our hotel.  Lynn and I were talking to a woman in Williams and Sonoma and she asked where we were from.  When she found out that we were here for the Youth Gathering, she got so excited.

“I have to tell my daughter.  She’ll be so happy to hear the people in the orange shirts are back.”

Her daughter was 6 three years ago when the Youth Gathering first came to New Orleans.  She remembers us.  Since then, every time a large convention was held downtown, she would ask, “Are the people in the orange shirts back?”

It’s a holy leftover from the last gathering.  This young girl’s life was touched by our presence.  Did someone tell her about how these strangers came to her town to do about 244,000 hours of service because of Jesus’ love in their lives?  I don’t know.  All I know is that there was an impact.

What are the holy leftovers from this gathering?  What was carried away, carried home to be shared with family and friends, neighbors and strangers?

"Here, take and eat.  Jesus gave freely, abundantly to me.  Jesus sent me here to share it with you."

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost: A Tale of Two Banquets

Readings for this Sunday:  Amos7:7-15; Psalm 85:8-13; Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

Let me tell you a story – the tale of two banquets.

The first banquet was quite the extravaganza. 

-       Held in a richly appointed palace,

-       to celebrate a king’s birthday.

-       The guest list was elite and limited – the court was invited (at least the men), and the top military leaders, and the most influential men in the city (again – only the men).

-       The food was abundant, with many different dishes, expensive delicacies and wine flowing freely.

-       They relaxed on padded couches and watched entertainers, delighting in the dancing of a young girl.

-       A rash, probably drunken, promise was made to give the young dancer, the king’s daughter, anything she wanted.

-       And a man died simply to fulfill a drunken oath, and his head was the leftover carried home from the banquet.

The second banquet really wasn’t a banquet at all.

-       Held outdoors, just a bit in from the seashore.

-       There was no celebration, just the need to feed hungry people.

-       There were no guests of power or wealth or great reputation, just ordinary men, farmers, fishermen, craftsmen, men looking for work – 5000 in all, and their wives and mothers and children.

-       Instead of a fancy feast and abundant food, there were just five loaves of bread and 2 fish.

-       Instead of entertainment, they sat on the ground and listened as Jesus taught them.

-       Jesus blessed the meager food, and the disciples passed it around.

-       Not only was a basic necessity for life met – everyone ate their fill, no one went away hungry – but there was such abundance that twelve baskets of leftovers were carried away.

It was a feast of death versus a meal of life.  Mark places them side by side in his gospel – the birthday celebration of Herod with its gruesome final course of head-on-a-platter, and Jesus feeding 5000 by the seashore.

We only hear about the feast of death today.  It’s hard to listen to this story and hear any good news in it.  And yet Mark tells it in such detail – it’s a story that needs to be told in all its unpleasantness as a witness to the evil that is in this world.

This is the story of the world, the story of acts that promote death and decay:

-       Lust and envy – Herod covets his brother’s wife and she wants him too, so they divorce and marry each other.  No matter that Herod’s first wife brought a political alliance with her and by divorcing her; he incites her father to wage war on him.  No matter that Herodias is not only his brother’s wife and off limits, she’s doubly off limits because she’s also Herod’s niece.  Which also means he’s off limits to her as well!

-       Greed and gluttony (and sloth) – Herod throws a big bash for himself, just to show how powerful he is.  A lavish meal, lots of good wine, no expense spared.  He displays total disregard for the poor who could have benefited for receiving just a portion of what he spent on his party – remember, the welfare of his subjects is his responsibility, especially since he was a ruler of the Judeans who believed that God set kings over them care for them as a shepherd.

-       Pride and power - Herod makes a most-likely drunken rash promise to give his daughter ‘half his kingdom,’ in appreciation for her dance, effectively saying “Look at me.  I’m so rich and powerful I can give away half of what I have, for something as trifling as a dance, and still be enormously rich and powerful.”  When she asks for something he doesn’t really want to give, he does it anyway because if he welshed on his oath, he would look bad in front of his guests.

-       Wrath- Herodias was one who could really carry a grudge.  Anger fueled her and led her to plot ways to get revenge on her enemies.  Herod also let anger control him – he after all had John arrested because of John’s calling them out on their adultery, but couldn’t quite bring himself to have John killed.  In fact, the one redeeming thing Mark tells us about Herod is that he liked to listen to John and he protected him from Herodias’ demands for his death.

Herod’s feast is a snapshot of the world – of how the forces of evil and death sow corruption and greed and anger and violence.  We see it all around us, all the time.

And if this was the only story Mark told, it would be a sad telling indeed.

But there’s more to the story because this is a story not about death, but about life.  A story of life beyond death.  A story of abundance and wholeness and healing and mercy and amazing grace and infinite love. 

This is a story about Jesus.

Remember how the reading today began: 
“When Herod heard of it…” –

-       Of Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of God was near and that we need to turn from our own inward-focused ways (repent) and turn to God;

-       Of Jesus’ deeds of power, that the blind see, and the deaf hear and the lame walk, that demons are send packing and a little girl who was dead lives;

-       Of Jesus’ authority and power placed in his disciples that even THEY –those fishermen and tax collectors and other riff-raff – could also heal and cast out demons;

When Herod heard this, he recognized the truth of what John has preached:

-       That the power of evil and death had been broken;

-       That the kingdom of God was right here, right now;

-       That although he killed the messenger, he could not, would never be able to, kill the Message.

Herod heard about Jesus, and saw the proof of how God’s kingdom was coming near. 

And that is the story Mark really wants to tell, the story that Mark spends the rest of his gospel telling – that even though death tries it’s hardest to drain life of the abundance and joy that God intended, that even though it looks like death will win as Jesus – like John – suffers from an arrest on trumped-up charges, and stands before a ruler who despite, believing his innocence, still condemns him to death, and dies and is buried, death does not win.

Life does.

Jesus rises.

God says “yes” to life, to creation, to love, to grace, to us.

I’d like to tell you the story of one more banquet:

-       Held the first time in an upper room, but now gatherings all around the world, in large and small congregations, and camps and retreat centers and homes, and sometimes even hospital rooms.

-       It’s a celebration of life, of God’s ‘yes’ triumphing against the feast of death.

-       Everyone is invited, men and women, young and old, rich and poor, from every nation, and time and place.

-       It may look like just a bite of bread and a sip of wine, but hidden in, with and under those morsels are the abundant bread and wine of heaven, Jesus present with us.

-       We come and gather, some sitting on pews a church, or chairs in a borrowed worship space, or the ground at camp, or reclining in a hospital bed.

-       There’s a promise and a blessing: God chose us, adopted us as God’s own children, lavished upon us grace and forgiveness made available through Jesus’ death and resurrection, and shows us God’s desire to bring healing and wholeness to all of creation and inviting us to get up out of our seats and join in the dance.

-       There are no leftovers – no scraps to carry away.  Instead there is more abundance as our souls are nourished by Jesus’ grace and love and mercy to the point of overflowing from us to the world around us.

This is a story of the feast of life.  

-       A feast where beggars become rich,

-       where outcasts are welcomed,

-       where orphans become beloved sons and daughters,

-       where the lost are found,

-       where the blind and the deaf and the lame and the sick healed and made whole.

It’s a feast of life, a feast of victory, a feast where all are welcome, where all are fed, where there is more than enough to share, where life is celebrated and death destroyed.

And that’s a story that begs to be told, over and over again.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost: Travel Light

Readings for the sixth Sunday after Pentecost:  Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123; 2 Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
I’ve been thinking a lot about packing.  The bus leaves for Youth Gathering a week from tomorrow.  And our trip home for our family reunion, my Grandma’s 100th birthday party and our daughter’s wedding is looming on the horizon.  What to pack, what might I need while I’m gone – how much baggage will I carry? 

Every time I pack for a trip, I remember the hasty last minute trip I took to visit my mother.  I was 26 and going through a crisis and needed my mom.  She was at their rental in Florida, and suggested that I come for the weekend.  So I booked a flight, and started throwing things in a suitcase.  I called to give Mom the flight information and mentioned that I needed to squeeze in a quick trip to the store.  I was out of conditioner and a couple of other things.

Mom said, “Don’t worry about it.  It’s not like they don’t sell conditioner in Florida.  Just pack what you have and we’ll get what you need when you get here.”

 I remember that advice every time I pack. It’s become a sort of motto – It’s not like they don’t sell (whatever) in (wherever it is that I’m going).

Despite my mother’s sage words, I still usually pack way too much. I have trouble travelling light.

The disciples were going on a trip, without Jesus.  Instead of their usual group adventure, he paired them up and sent them off on mission trips around Galilee.  And he’s very specific about what they are – and are not – to pack:  Take a staff, wear sandals, oh- and a tunic of course, but just one. 

That’s it. 

Take no food for the journey, no money, no change of clothes.  Leave your baggage at home.  Everything you need for the journey will be provided when you get there.

Actually, the main thing they needed was given to them before they left – Jesus empowered them for the mission, giving them his authority to heal and teach and cast out demons.

So, having been giving what they need to complete their mission and trusting God to take care of the details, the disciples traveled light:

        No excess baggage to slow them down.

        No stuff to distract them from their mission. 

        Nothing to get in the way of proclaiming the kingdom of God.

The folks back home in Jesus’ home town carried a lot of baggage into the synagogue that Sabbath morning Jesus was teaching.  They remembered the child that played with their children, the young man who worked with his hands learning the carpenter’s trade.  They remembered a hasty wedding and the gossip – this was Mary’s son, sure, but who knew if he really was Joseph’s.  They remembered that Passover trip where he got lost and his parents had to go all the way back to Jerusalem to find him.  They remembered the quick trip his mother and brothers had made just a few months ago to bring him back home and how they returned without Jesus despite rumors he was out of his mind.

Imagine!  This hometown boy a prophet?  Unthinkable!  This boy was too big for his britches!  Their image of Jesus was a neat little package, and there just wasn’t room in the suitcase for a Jesus who taught with authority, who proclaimed the kingdom of God had come near, who healed the sick and cast out demons.

They were offended.  Their baggage limited their view of Jesus and they were scandalized by him.   

They were so busy with packing and unpacking their baggage that they missed God in their midst.  Their baggage got in the way of their ability to be open to God’s activity around them.  Mark tells us that Jesus was only able to heal a few sick people, but do no great deeds of power while he was there.

I wonder about those few sick people.  Were they desperate enough that they could let go of their baggage in hope of healing?  Maybe the stories they had heard about Jesus’ ministry elsewhere was convincing enough that they could leave that suitcase in the closet and listen to Jesus with an open mind and heart? Maybe they had no baggage to get in the way.  Perhaps their memories of Jesus, the boy, the teen, the young carpenter, was such that they could see him in his role as prophet, healer, teacher – maybe even as Messiah?

Whatever the reason, they were traveling light. Their hearts were open and they saw God’s activity around them, through them, for them as Jesus laid his hands on them and healed them.

So what gets in the way of us traveling light?  What keeps us from seeing God’s activity around us?  What slows us down and distracts us from the mission Jesus has sent us on – to proclaim the kingdom of God?

What’s packed in your suitcase?

·         An old grudge that you can’t quite leave behind?

·         Regrets over things packed in the past and chances not taken?

·         Anger that gets carefully folded and tucked in the bottom of the suitcase?

·         Hurt and pain overflowing so that you really have to squash it down to close the suitcase?

·         Some addiction (and I don’t only mean drugs or alcohol here!) that is a ‘must pack’ item that would be better off discarded.

·         Fear that faithfully travels with you wherever you go?

Take a minute and think about it. 

This baggage can turn our focus away from God and onto ourselves.  This baggage can blind us to God in our midst.  This baggage can slow us down and distract us from the mission Jesus is calling us to.

The good news is this is all baggage that we can leave with the Father.  Baggage that Jesus carried to the cross for us.  Baggage that the Holy Spirit empowers and strengthens us to bear, enabling us to travel light to the places Jesus sends us.

Instead of heavy baggage, Jesus gives us just what we need for the journey, exactly what we need for the mission trip that he sends us on each day to our family, our neighbors, our co-workers, the world around us. 

So, what is Jesus giving you to take with you? What might you find there waiting for you at the places Jesus is sending you every day?

·         Forgiveness

·         Reconciliation

·         Hope

·         Love

·         Healing

·         Freedom

·         Faith

These are the necessities for the journey that allows you to see the beauty and wonder of the Father’s activity in the world around you.  These are the gifts Jesus gives you from his own power and authority to make you ready for the journey, to go where he sends you.  These are the provisions of the Holy Spirit to make sure you have what you need each step of the way. 

Travel light – be God’s healing hands to a world in pain.

Travel light - proclaim the good news of God’s love.

Travel light.

Leave your baggage here (pointing to the altar).