Saturday, May 24, 2014

Sixth Sunday of Easter: Breakfast with Jesus, Part Duex

Readings for this Sunday: Isaiah 6:1-8, JOhn 21:9, 13-35

TO: Jesus, Son of Joseph, Woodcrafters Carpenter Shop, Nazareth
FROM: Jordan Management Consultants, Jerusalem

Dear Sir:
Thank you for submitting the résumés of the twelve men you have picked for managerial positions in your new organization. All of them have now taken our battery of tests; and we have not only run the results through our computer, but also arranged personal interviews for each of them with our psychologist and vocational aptitude consultant. The profiles of all tests are included, and you will want to study each of them carefully.

As part of our service, we make some general comments for your guidance, much as an auditor will include some general statements. This is given as a result of staff consultation, and comes without any additional fee.

It is the staff opinion that most of your nominees are lacking in background, education and vocational aptitude for the type of enterprise you are undertaking. They do not have the team concept. We would recommend that you continue your search for persons of experience in managerial ability and proven capability.

Simon Peter is emotionally unstable and given to fits of temper.

Andrew has absolutely no qualities of leadership.

The two brothers, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, place personal interest above company loyalty.

Thomas demonstrates a questioning attitude that would tend to undermine morale.

We feel that it is our duty to tell you that Matthew has been blacklisted by the Greater Jerusalem Better Business Bureau.

James, the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddeus definitely have radical leanings, and they both registered a high score on the manic-depressive scale.

One of the candidates, however, shows great potential. He is a man of ability and resourcefulness, meets people well, has a keen business mind and has contacts in high places. He is highly motivated, ambitious and responsible. We recommend Judas Iscariot as your controller and right-hand man. All the other profiles are self-explanatory.

We wish you every success in your new venture.

Sincerely yours,
Jordan Management Consultants

Jesus called them anyway. 

Of course there was no consulting firm vetting the disciples.  Just Jesus, consulting with the Father in prayer, selecting the people who became his closest followers.

There’s been three years of intense on the job training. A final weekend of testing.  Weeks of debriefing.  Now it’s time. 

Time for them to go out on their own.

There’s just one last thing to do.  The disciples are sitting around the charcoal fire, picking over the remains of breakfast.

Jesus taps Peter on the shoulder. “Come, walk with me.”

They walk down to the lake shore and stare out over the water.  Peter can still smell the smoke from the fire, and he shudders.  Suddenly it smells like that night – the night he betrayed Jesus.  He can’t speak – the words just won’t come.  Rash, impulsive, blunt Peter is still and silent.

Jesus turns to him.  “Peter, do you love me more than these?”  Did he motion to the boat and the nets, the life of fishing Peter knew so well - do you love me more than your old way of life? Did he motion to the other disciples – do you love me as much as they do, or more?  Maybe Jesus did both. 

Peter jumped at the chance to prove himself. “Yes, Lord.  You know I love you. More than fishing, more than boats, more than anything else!”

“Good, feed my lambs.”

They stand silent again for awhile.  Jesus asks again, “Do you love me?”

Puzzled, Peter replies, “Yes, Lord. I love you.”

“Good.  Tend my sheep”

Silence again.  Finally, Jesus turns to Peter one more time. “Do you love me?”

Pain wells up in Peter’s heart.  The same question a third time.  Surely Jesus is doing this because he betrayed him three times.  Peter cried out, “Yes Lord.  You know my heart, you know everything.  You know I love you!”

“Good, feed my sheep.

Suddenly it begins to dawn on Peter.  Sheep and lambs – old and young.  Feed and tend – nourish, care for, love. Jesus still wanted him to be a part of his mission!  

He wasn’t going to be left out!  Jesus knew everything, and still loved him.  Jesus forgave him.   

A smile grew on Peter’s face.

Then Jesus said, “That’s right.  You are mine.  You are going to do great things for me.  In fact, you are going to be so good at proclaiming my love and forgiveness to the world that it’s going to get you arrested and killed.

The smile grew bigger.

Peter noticed the beloved disciple standing a short way off.  He asked, “What about him?”

Jesus said, “What about him?  Don’t worry about him.  He has a job too – but that’s not your concern.  You just concentrate on what I tell you to do.  And don’t worry.  The Spirit is coming to give you everything you need to get the job done.”

God doesn’t call the qualified.

God qualifies the called.

It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.  It doesn't matter that the world has beaten you down.  It doesn't matter how you think you have failed yourself, your family or friends, or even God.

God has called you.

God loves you unconditionally, warts and all. God forgives you, no matter what you’ve done.

And God sends you to bring the good news of God's love and forgiveness to the world.  To be God’s hands and feet in the world.

Jesus forgave Peter and gave him a job.  And he does the same for each of us.

And God gives us exactly what we need to do the job we are called to do. 

Wherever we are.  Even in those places we never expected to be.  And in ways we never imagined.

Today we bless those who are travelling to Nicaragua.  We will be meeting new brothers & sisters, learning about their work, and ministering to the people of Nicaragua with them. 

We will visit the Women’s Training Center in Managua – where women learn vocational skills.  This is our partnership with the ILFE – we support this training center.  Those five women who will graduate the program while we are there – God equipped us to support them in their goals.

Just like we support the Primary School of Pocho Cuape  where 1st to 6th grade children learn to read and write.  God has used the congregations of South Dakota to provide what is needed for the people God has called in Nicaragua.

When I was taking my Lutheran Identity class in seminary, I had no idea that I would be teaching a workshop to pastors and lay leaders in Somitillo Nicaragua.  Maybe I would have paid more attention!

We don’t know what to expect as we meet Lutheran youth, stay in the villages with our host families, worship with them, visit the farming projects.  What I do know is that God has called each one, and equipped them with the gifts needed to minister.

To do that God first called you.  Gave you the gifts needed to raise up children of faith, to care for the brothers and sisters that gather here.  

God doesn’t call the qualified.

God qualifies the called.

God calls you.

[i]  From Tim Hansel’s book “Eating Problems for Breakfast,” 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Fifth Sunday of Easter: Breakfast with Jesus

Reading for this Sunday: John 21:1-14

They say that a bad day fishing is better than good day working.

I don’t know about that, I’m not much of a fisherman.

But the disciples were fishermen, and they had some pretty good days at work, in the last three years with Jesus.  They had seen some pretty amazing things - walk on water, heal sick, cast out demons.  the blind saw, the lame walked, the deaf could hear.  

What's fishing, when the person you are following can take 2 fish and feed 5000?

They saw him raise Lazarus from the dead.

Yep, they had some pretty good days and work.  Fishing just didn’t compare.
But they’ve had some bad days recently.  We’re just weeks after Jesus’ death and crucifixion - those horrible 3 days when they thought all hope was lost.  And then comes the resurrection, and Jesus appears to them, and says “My peace be with you.  I send you as the Father has sent me.

That was a week after the resurrection, that evening when Thomas was there with the disciples.  Now it is some time later.  What have the disciples been doing?

If you have great news, who are you going to tell first?

That’s right, your family and friends.

They went home.  They were in Jerusalem, and Jesus sends them just as the Father sent him - so they went back to where it all started, to Galilee.

They went home to tell their families and their friends, and their neighbors...and anyone who would listen the good news about Jesus.

I bet they got mixed reactions.  Cause isn’t that happens when we talk about Jesus?  Some people embrace it wholeheartedly and some people say, ‘oh don’t bother me with that stuff!”  

And maybe they were starting to get a little discouraged.  

That day was a bad day at work in the following Jesus business.

And Peter says, “I don’t know about you guys, but I’m going fishing.”

Going back to what they know.

Now I don’t know it that bumper sticker holds true if you are a professional fisherman - that a bad day fishing is better than a good day at work, because work is fishing.   

Whatever, they had a bad night fishing.  They caught nothing.

Then just  after daybreak, when they are doing their last ditch effort to catch fish, because you know you get past the dawning of the day, the fishing only gets harder.  They saw someone on the beach.

And he asked them “Hey lads, have you caught any fish today? Ya haven’t have ya?  Try the other side of the boat”

And they did.

And when they saw the miracle of the full nets, they knew it was Jesus.  The beloved disciple cries out with joy, “it is the lord!”

And Peter, he can’t wait. He’s stripped down out of his robe, because you can’t haul nets with a robe getting in the way.  He throws on his robe - cause he sure can’t met the Lord half naked, can he?- , and jumps into the water and swims to shore.  The rest follow with the boat.

And when they get there, they find that Jesus has anticipated their most pressing need of the moment.  

They are hungry.  They’ve been working hard, out fishing all night.  

And he has breakfast for them, ready on the beach.  Fish on the fire, bread warm on the stones ringing the fire.

So it’s interesting that Jesus says, “Bring some of that fish you just caught.  

This is Jesus - who can take just a few fish and feed 5000 people.  You know there’s enough fish there for seven disciples and himself.
It’s not just ‘oh I don’t have quite enough, bring some more.’  

It’s an invitation.  Here this is the work that I am doing right now:  “I am feeding you.  Join with me in this work.  Bring your gifts- the fish that I have given you.”

It’s not just the work of their hands, but their blessings.  Bring your blessings
so that we can all be blessed with this breakfast.  He invites them in to share the work.

They went and got the fish  - counted and sorted them - so they could bring some fish to Jesus.  They discover that there are 153 fish!

Why 153 fish? No one has figured it out.  But we do know that there were so many fish, that they were amazed that the net didn’t break.  153 fish - a full and abundant catch.  A catch so big that the net should have broken, but it didn’t.

We hear these stories all through John.  We hear of the wedding in Cana, Jesus’ first miracle, 6 jug of water turned to wine - somewhere between 120-180 gallons, more than enough for a wedding feast that was half over.  it’s an abundance of God’s blessings to us, overflowing, running down.

Feeding 5000 people with 5 loaves and 2 fish, every one eating until satisfied, and still 12 baskets left over.

And this last miracle Jesus does has to do with food as well, with these fish and the abundance of this catch.  

This is now the 3rd time Jesus appears to the disciples after he has raised from the dead.  And there is more to this story - Jesus and Peter have a little private chat, which we’re going to hear about next week.  

But today I want to focus on this amazing catch and breakfast with Jesus.  and what it might mean for us?  Because this is an encounter with Jesus for people who were empty.

The disciples were confused, and discouraged.  Jesus had given them a mission - go as the Father has sent me - and they can’t figure out what that meant.  Maybe they tried, maybe they are still trying to figure it out.  So they went fishing. When the going got tough, they went back to what was familiar and comfortable - what they knew.

They can't figure it out without Jesus. They can’t even catch fish without Jesus telling them how to do it.

And how often are we like that, we don't know exactly what it is God is calling us to do, and we do our equivalent of I”m going fishing - we go back to what is normal and comfortable.

And there’s nothing wrong with that - sometimes you need some time to assimilate what’s going on.  And the resurrection is huge news.  The world has changed, and they are not sure what that means.  Jesus, God, resurrection - it has changed them.  They have to have some space to figure it out.

Jesus knows that, and he meets them there - in a garden, in the upper room, on the road, on a beach -  and tells them again and again - My peace be with you.  Now go, as I have been sent, so I send you.  Preach the good news, care for the poor, and sick, love as I love you.  

He sends them after filling their nets, filling their stomachs.  And I think that an important part of the story too.

Just like that morning on the beach, Jesus prepares a meal for us.  In the early church, bread and fish were early communion elements - breakfast on the beach, dinner on the shore of the lake - these were stories of communion as much as the meal in the upper room.

Every time we have communion, we have breakfast with Jesus. We are invited to become the body of  Christ, to bring the gifts God has given us, to allow Jesus to bless them and use them and use us.

Jesus meets us where we are, feeds us, fills us with peace, and sends us as the Father has sent him.  

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Fourth Sunday of Easter: On the Road to Emmaus

Reading for this Sunday:  Psalm 116, Luke 24:13-35

It felt like walking uphill.

The two on the road may have been walking downhill from Jerusalem to Emmaus below.  But in their hearts it felt like an uphill climb.   They were tired.  The events of the last three days had exhausted them. Despair and confusion sapped their strength.  Hopelessness filled their hearts.

They had hoped. 

But their hope was gone, died on the cross, was buried in the grave.  And that grave was empty – whatever that meant.

There’s nothing left for them but this long uphill walk back home.

 Can’t you just imagine being on that road?

Trudging along, quiet at first, each one deep in their thoughts. Then slowly they start to talk, trying to make sense of it all.

“But… I really thought… I was so certain… Wasn’t he the Messiah?”

“I thought so too. But how could God’s Messiah.die before he did what he came to do? We’re still under Roman rule.”\

“Could we have been mistaken?”

They had hoped.

Their how was especially poignant, their despair exceptionally crushing.  You see these two were from Emmaus. And people from Emmaus had more cause than most to hope for Messias. Emmaus had a glorious history as a center for Maccabean revolt, and strategic location for generals defying the Roman Empire. Which meant that by 4 BC, shortly after Herod the Great’s death, the Roman army had enough of Emmaus and burned it to the ground.

Perhaps they were old enough to remember that day. Certainly they would’ve heard stories about that day of destruction, and the work to rebuild. 

Imagine being a resident of Emmaus. They had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel - would be the one to free them from Roman rule. It was a bright white hot hope their hearts.

Imagine now the deep despair of crushed hopes as Jesus hangs on the cross and is laid in the tomb.

They had hoped.

Now hope was gone.

All that is left is the long walk home.

Enter the stranger on the road. He asked to join them, to walk with them for a while.  And they have absolutely no idea who he is.  In this uphill journey they are blinded by the mountain of despair in front of them

“What were you talking about when I came up to you?” he asks.

They can’t believe it. How could he not know? The enormity of their grief, their despair is so overwhelmed them that it consumes them.  Surely the whole world is talking about the events of the last three days! How could he not know these things?

“What things?”  With two simple words Jesus invites them to share their grief and despair.  And it all pours out – their dashed hopes, their pain, their confusion.

Jesus gently leads them through the Scripture, reminding them of things they know, showing them that they don’t need to despair just because the future they imagined was not the same as the future God has for them.  

Plans to give them a future and a hope. That’s what Jeremiah said to the children of Israel in exile:  Jeremiah 29:11 For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

As they listen to Jesus, their hearts begin to burn within them. That’s hope being born again, rising from the grave.

It’s late when they reach Emmaus - starting to get dark. It’s much too dangerous for a lone man to be walking the roads. They invite him in.

Jesus comes in and they sit at the table. When he breaks the bread, their eyes are opened.  They know him and hope springs alive.

Just as they recognize him, Jesus disappears. But the hope remains.

Despite the lateness of the hour, the darkness and danger outside, they can’t wait.  They run back to the disciples –  seven miles – uphill -  in the dark.  It’s news too good to wait.  Too good to keep to themselves

They have hope.

The hope of the resurrection.  The promise of the empty tomb. God's yes to life.

I’ll admit – it’s exactly this part of the story that I’ve wrestled with the most this week. I understand the road to Emmaus. I’ve been there. I’ve walked that road where despair and confusion sap my strength. Where hope lays cold in the grave, three days dead. 

Have you been there?

Sure you have.

I don’t know about you, but it’s in those moments, that I want something more than the promise of resurrection.

Because those are the moments when promises ring hollow, and despair swallows all hope.

So I’ve pondered this week – what does resurrection look like today?  How do we see Jesus revealed in the breaking of the bread?  What would he say to us on the road?

And I think the something more I’ve been missing is that Jesus meets us on the road in the first place.

Jesus meets us on our road to nowhere – our own Emmaus of no hope. God cares too much about us to let us walk that road alone.

Jesus walks with us on the road to Emmaus, that road through the valley of the shadow of death - as long as it takes.

Sometimes it seems like it’s a long, uphill climb.  Jesus walks with us and comforts us with the word.  Sometimes he has to talk a long time before we begin to hear what he says. Sometimes it takes a long time before the despair and confusion begin to lift, and our hearts begin to feel alive again and hope burns gently within us.

Sometimes it takes us a long time to let go of the future we thought we had, that future that will never be, so we can see that future and hope God has planned for us.

However long it takes, Jesus is there, slowing revealing himself in the Word, and the bread and the wine, in the invitation to share our grief and despair. 

You see those two on the road to Emmaus didn’t experience the resurrection – they didn’t recognize Jesus – until the end of their journey, until they were gathered around the bread and wine, until they had shared their burdens with another, until they had experienced companionship on the road.  Until they went back to Jerusalem to the gathered community, and Jesus appeared among them.

Just like the two on the road to Emmaus didn’t experience resurrection until the other side of despair and that deep valley, often we don’t experience resurrection until we too can look back on the valley behind us.

In the meantime, we know Jesus walks with us.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Rogation Sunday: Just wait! I'm Not Finished Yet!

Scripture for this Sunday:  Genesis 2:4-23

Today we’re celebrating the oldest profession.

No, not that oldest profession!

We are celebrating very first profession – the one God established at the very, very beginning.

I want to tell you the story about how God made farmers, but I need the children to come up and help me.

Way back when God created the heavens of the earth, God took some dirt and just like modeling something out of clay God made a human being.  And that God breathed into the human being – and he was alive!

Now God took the human being and went out and planted a garden. A big beautiful perfect garden. And God made rivers that ran all around the edges of this garden, and springs of water came up from the ground to water the garden. And then God turned to the human, and said, “Here you go.  This is for you. You get to take care of the garden and plant flowers and trees and grass and all kinds of things!  And then you can harvest and eat whatever you find in the garden. Well except, for the fruit of one tree. You see that tree over there the big one right beside the big tree of life? That’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – you don’t get to eat from the fruit from that one.”

That’s how God made the farmer.

Now the human was pretty happy working of the garden, tilling the earth, and planting seeds and marveling at the variety of green things that God had created. And every evening God human would sit down and the human would tell God all about his day and what he’d done in the garden.

One day he said, “God, there sure is a lot of stuff in the garden that could be that sure is an awful lot of work to keep this garden up. Seems like an awful lot for just me.”

And God said, “Just wait. I’m not done yet.”

The next morning, God took the human out into the field, and said, “Sit down.  You get to help me today. I’m going to make some animals and some birds. And as I make each one you are going to give it a name.

So God took some dirt, and started making the wild animals and birds. And as God finished making an animal, God held it up for the human to see, and the human gave it a name. 

God:  “So, what you think I should call this one?” (Hold up a stuffed animal).

Human”  “Uh…” (Turn to the children) “What do you think?”  (After children name the animal)  “It’s a lion!”

(Continue until the stuffed animals are all named.)

After God finished making all the wild animals the birds, the human looked at God and said, “This is really great so many animals to eat all the food that the garden grows. But, um, God, I was hoping for may be something that could help me when I’m working in the garden and something that can be a companion.”

And God said, “Just wait. I’m not done yet.”

So God took some more dirt, and started making the farm animals. And as God finished making an animal, God held it up for the human to see, and the human gave it a name. 

God:  “So, what you think I should call this one?” (Hold up a stuffed animal).

Human”  “Uh…” (Turn to the children) “What do you think?”  (After children name the animal)  “It’s a horse!”

When God finished making all the farm animals, the human said, “That’s more what I had in mind!  Thanks God!”

And God said, “Just wait. I’m not done yet.”

So God took some more dirt, and started made a dog and a cat. God held it up for the human to see. 

God:  “So, what you do you want to call these?” (Hold up a stuffed animal).

Human:  “Uh…” (Turn to the children) “What do you think?”  (After children name the animal)  “A dog!  And a cat!”

And so the farmer became a rancher too!

And things were pretty good for a while. But one evening, when God and the human were sitting talking about the day and all things human did that day, the human said, “God, I really, really like all the animals you made!  The horses and the oxen help me plow and pull heavy things and bring in my harvest. And the cows and the sheep and the goats can give milk to drink!  And the cat in the dog are pretty good companions – the dog even listens to my stories!  But God… It still feels like something’s missing!”

And God said, “That’s because there is! I’m not done yet.”

This time, God didn’t take some dirt. God made the human fall asleep, and took a rib right out of his side!  And then God created a woman, and then he woke Adam up.

Adam looked at the woman and said, “She is what I needed! Someone just like me, to share the work, and to share my life. Thank you God!”

And that’s how God created the farmer’s wife.

Then God looked at Adam and Eve and said, “I’m still not done yet.  You’re going to have children, and they are going to have children, and so on and so on. And they’ll help you take care of the plants and all the animals, and make sure there’s enough food for everyone. Of course as it gets to be more and more people, I will give some of the people other things to do – like making music, or beautiful works of art, or things that you’ll find useful in your life. I’ll give people ideas to create things, and other people help them make it – all sorts of things for the children of the earth to do!”

And Adam and Eve said, “That sounds great! Let’s get started right away!”

God said, “I this is going to take a really, really, really long time.  I’ll just keep creating, and you just keep taking care the garden like I told you. Oh – and don’t forget to stay away from that tree!”

Thank you children, for helping me tell the story of how God made farmers and ranchers and actually people of the do all kinds of jobs. You can go back to your seats now.

Today we celebrate the oldest profession – caring for the earth, for the animals, for the plants, for each other, and making sure there’s enough for the whole world to eat. That’s holy work.

God gives us all a part to play in the work of caring for creation, caring for each other. It’s holy work.

Paul writes in Colossians 3:17  And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  We talked about this verse in confirmation this week. That whatever we do – playing basketball, going to school, talking with friends - we try to do our best, we follow God’s commandments, we enjoy it to the fullest, and give God thanks.

That’s what we’re doing today. We are thanking God for the good gift of creation, for provision of food and beauty, for the people that take care of the land and the animals.

So as you go today, to whatever part you play - farmer, or rancher, or agronomist, vet, gardener, whatever part of creation God had given you to care for, in word or deed, care for it in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the father through him.