Monday, September 3, 2018

Be Doers of the Word


Mark 7: 1-8
September 2, 2018

So, obviously,
Jesus is telling us not to wash our hands before we eat.
I guess someone could read this and understand that.
But this is not about washing hands necessarily,
is about traditions -- like washing hands and others.

We love traditions and rituals,
The Sermon on the Mount
Karoly Ferenczy
In our families and in our churches.

We have traditions at home 
that remind us that
we’re part of the family 
or a group of friends:
Eating together, praying together,
watching certain TV shows, 
vacation spots, games,
even greetings we use when 
we see each other

And we have traditions that we have in church.
Confession, Communion, Baptism, and worshiping itself are
religious traditions -- human practices that bring God into our lives.
Those remind us that we’re part of a community too.
Almost anything we repeat often can become a tradition.

Church and home traditions can ground us.
They give us stability and something to return to.

Confessions help us remember that we
are all sinful and need forgiveness.
Baptism reminds us that we are children of God.
Communion helps us remember a score of things:
God’s love, presence, sacrifice, abundance, forgiveness …
Too many things that to say, but the tradition says it for us.

 Traditions and shared practices can be beautiful.
Traditions bind people together. They bind generations together.
They are a wonderful way to worship and remember God.
They help us to touch the sacred.

But they are human practices and with everything human,
there can be problems.

Sometimes you can do traditions so often,
that you can do them without thinking,
or ever knowing the point behind them.
Sometimes we even forget the meaning behind the tradition,
and then we only remember the tradition
and not what it was supposed to teach us.

There’s a story we were taught in seminary called the guru’s cat:
Whenever the community would sit down to meditate,
the guru’s cat would come in and bother everyone.
So every night before worship, someone would tie up the guru’s cat.
After the guru died, the cat continued to be tied up before worship.
Then the cat died, and another cat was brought into the monastery
so that it could be tied up before worship.
Centuries later, papers were being written by the guru’s disciples
about the significance of having a cat tied up before worship.

And sometimes, the tradition becomes more important
than what the tradition was trying to help us remember.
So then the question becomes  “are we doing the traditions right?” rather than “are we living the life that God wants us to live”.

The Pharisees did this with the rules of the Torah.
The hand washing, the processes with
food and with cleanliness and all the rest.
  
Now washing before eating is probably a good idea hygienically,
but that wasn’t actually the main idea of it.
It was a ritual. It was an imitation of the priest who would wash his
hands and feet before going into the temple.

It was there signify our uncleanliness
it stressed our humility and our humanity
before the awesome otherness of God.

But not everyone who did the human tradition
of washing hands remembered their own humility and uncleanliness.
Some people thought they were actually better for doing
the ritual the right way.
And they started to look down on others who didn’t do the
tradition the same as them.

Eventually, these rules and traditions
overshadowed God’s will.
And to the people, they became God’s will.
Eventually, the religious leaders only took account of
whether these rules and traditions were being followed correctly.

Christians can understand that.
Do we cover our heads in worship?
Do we immerse or not in baptism? Infants or only adults?
Do we serve bread or wafers, or grape juice or wine,
or do we have communion at all? Do we have the right napkins?
Do we light the candles or not light the candle?
Do we pray for the dead or just their families?
Did you pray before the meal? Did you worship the right way?
A lot of these have been litmus tests of the faith for Christians.
Those who didn’t do the “right things” or do things
the “right way” have been looked down on.
Like Jesus was when he didn’t do the ritual hand washing.

Another problem that can happen with traditions
is that traditions can be confused with discipleship.
Many people throughout history have done the
Hand washing, praying, fasting, chanting, and worshipping
have felt that they were done with their business of being
Christian for the week.
Sometimes rituals can be substitutions for living
our lives as God wants us to live our lives.
Like doing the traditions is God’s objective and end goal.

Do we really think is God primarily interested in
having more hand-washers, prayers, fasters,
chanters, and worshippers? 
Or is God interested in something more from us?

Jesus is saying to the crowds and Pharisees and the disciples
that God wants more.
God wants all those traditions and practices and reminders
to change us and make us different, to help us make choices,
to motivate us to do wonderful things in this world.

In essence, God wants us to do good works. (gasp)
Now sometimes Lutherans get uncomfortable with “good works”.
And whenever you talk about it with a good-old Lutheran,
you get a cacophony of confusing Luther quotes and
mentions of how he didn’t like the book of James.
We’re not going to get into that now.

But I can assure you that, in the end,
Luther was on the same page as Jesus here.
And he was on the same page as James and Amos
and Isaiah and all of the other prophets.
In the end, God doesn’t just want  more traditions from us
God doesn’t want us to make sure that they’re done
perfectly and correctly and that no one slips up on them.
In the end, God doesn’t want full churches of people
just doing all the right traditions in the right way.

God wants churches full of people living their lives differently.
God wants those traditions to change our actions.
God wants disciples who do not defile this world with
avarice, theft, and murder and adultery.
But who overcome those things in the world with
generosity, giving, bringing life, and honest relationships.

God hopes for this, Jesus hopes for it,
and I have to tell you, the world wants it from us too.
Even people who are outside the church
who aren’t Christians or aren’t practicing,
would love to see us do God’s will here.

Whenever you hear from people about
why they’ve become disillusioned with the church
or why they’ve left the church,
the answer is almost always the same: hypocrisy.
People don’t do as they preach and teach.
Now sometimes I respond to that and say,
“what do you expect, we’re all still humans.”

But you have to admit what it looks like:
we have the traditions, we have the rituals, the doctrine,
and the scripture and the songs, but many times the church
as a whole has not lived a life that has agreed with those things.

We see pastors who get millions of dollars from preaching
and their churches not sharing it with anyone in need,
We see words of hate coming from the mouths of people of faith,
We see Christians with no care for the poor,
We see Christian parents withdrawing their love from
their own children because of their sexuality.
We see a lack of forgiveness coming from people to whom
forgiveness is central to their beliefs.

And that is why this scandal of the clergy sex-abuse
cases in the Catholic church is so horrible.
Not only have the clergy destroyed people’s
lives and harmed children, and done it systematically for years,
They have done it while holding the keys of the church
in their hands the whole time.
These are people who have been steeped in these traditions.
These prayers and practices.
These things that are supposed to teach us and change us
and renew our lives, and show us God and God’s love
but if this is the result, what has it done for them?
All that tradition done right for so long, and where are they?

I’m thankful that these things haven’t manifested 
in our denomination in quite the same way.
But their problem is still our problem.
It’s a problem of Christians and a problem of religion itself.
We are called to be different.
To be in the world, but not of the world.
Like James writes, we are asked to be doers of the word
and not just hearers of the word.

Living a life worthy of Christ is difficult.
There are a million draws and temptations
that pull us from God’s way every day.
Society is not formed to help us be generous,
to help us give, to help us to forgive, and love
and be honest in our relationships.
It’s actually easier not to in most cases.
It is hard to live what we believe and teach and desire.

The good news is that God has come into this world
in Jesus, to be with us, to struggle with us,
to suffer with us, to hear us, to teach us,
and to love us.

We need these traditions that speak to us of that love.
We need the water of baptism, the grace of forgiveness,
the bread and the wine. We need the prayers, the candles, the music,
We need these moments of God breaking into our regular world
and reminding us that God is there and we are loved
and that we are all in this venture together.
We need the promises of God to get through this life.

The ones that tell us that God loves us no matter what,
whether we’ve done the tradition right or at all,
whether we’ve done good works or bad –
God will be there.

We need to know that we can wash our hands
or not wash our hands,
And either way, God will make us clean.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Everyone Eats


John 6:56-69
August 26, 2018

Everyone eats.
Not the same thing or the same amount.
Not everyone has the same likes or dislikes.
Some people need to take nutrition
in different ways because of health problems.
Some people have more complicated relationships with eating.
Some people love to eat, some people don’t.
But everyone needs food.
Everyone eats in one way or another.
The Last SupperSeiger Koder

Whether food scarce 
or whether its plentiful,
eating has brought people 
together forever.
People have shared food and traded food.
Societies have been formed by
how people hunted or gathered 
or farmed food.

In pre-grocery store times,
making a meal was a community act.
The cheese maker shared 
the baker’s products
baker shared the farmer’s 
products and the butchers.

The necessity of food brings people
to our food pantry every week and
out of that necessity, we’ve made
new relationships with new people
we might never have met before.

And since we all know that everyone has this
similar need, eating is a good opportunity to
gather together with other people.
So people come around all sorts of tables to do this task.

This human necessity that we all share,
makes the sharing of food with others
a sacred experience. God joins us in that moment.
Whether we’re sharing with strangers, giving it away,
or eating with our families around these tables.

And lots of things happen around these
tables while we’re filling this needed activity.
When we do come together at the table
it’s probably the most extended
amount of time people spend together.

Now, if you’re like me, you remember a lot of
of good times around those tables:
talking, laughing, sharing.

But if you’re like me, you also remember some horrible times,
bad news, cold stares, yelling, crying, storming away.

The dinner table:
The best of times and the worst of times.
That’s a good indicator when something is sacred and holy,
it can go very, very good and terribly wrong.

But the thing about food, is that we all have to eat.
The need brings us back again, and again
where we can forgive and rebuild
sometimes a good plate of spaghetti
can fix a lot of things.

Jesus knew about the power that food has,
it’s necessity, and its inherent sacredness.
So when he has that crowd together,
he showed them the power of God by
feeding them all. They were very impressed.

Then when they come looking for him,
he tells them to stop looking for bread that goes bad.
He is the bread of life, the bread that won’t go bad.
The bread that you don’t have to keep looking for,
or making again, or buying.

Then he goes a step further and says the line we hear today,
About eating the flesh of the Son of man and drinking his blood.
Which apparently is a bit too far for some people.

I think when we hear these words now, we go directly
to the Eucharist and the 2000 years of
doctrine that has gone with communion.
But there was no communion when Jesus said this.
There was no doctrine.
John’s gospel doesn’t even have
a last supper/first institution of communion in it.
What was Jesus talking about?

I would say it’s obvious that
Jesus isn’t talking about
literally eating his flesh, tucking in
and eating and arm or a leg.
Even people who take the bible literally
don’t think that.

But what I think he’s is saying
is don’t just be an observer of Jesus.
Don’t just see Jesus. Don’t just sit on the side and watch.
If you’re going to follow Jesus, go all the way.

Eat it. Eat the whole thing
Eat it. Consume it. Chew on it.
Ingest it. Make it a part of you.

The word Jesus actually uses for eat
literally means “to gnaw”.
To gnaw, gnaw on his flesh.
Not just to nibble or to taste, but to gnaw on it.

Jesus wants each of us to take in all of him.
To let Jesus life, death, teachings, resurrection
become a part of us and our life.

And that is what happens at the communion table.
Jesus body given for us, his flesh and blood
that he gave for us, that lives inside of us
the meal that we share at this table together.

We come to this table and all tables like this
to share the necessity of life with one another.
We share the gift and burden of eating,
and share the food that doesn’t spoil:
Jesus body and blood, the gift and sacrifice of God.
We consume this, it becomes a part of us.
It changes us whether we want to or not.

The necessity of this food brings us together with others too.
We share this meal with people we love and like and enjoy,
And we have shared at this table with people
we don’t like, don’t agree with, can’t stand.
We share it with those that we argue with,
those that we normally wouldn’t want to be seen with.
Jesus table, like other dinner tables,
can be the best of times and the worst of times.
But yet, this basic human necessity
brings us back again and again.

This table of Jesus challenges us, and stretches us,
being at this table with others slowly,
gradually makes us more like what we eat.

There was an Anglican priest named Father Wiggit
who ministered to the political prisoners
in South Africa in the early 1980’s.
And he recounts this story:
Every week Father Wiggit would come and share
communion with the prisoners.
They would sit around a little table in a nasty room,
and there was always a prison warden who was assigned
to come and observe the proceedings.
He would just sit there, stone-faced,
and make sure that there was no ‘suspicious’
activity happening, no secret information shared.

In 1982, Nelson Mandela had already been in various prison
labor camps for over 20 years.
And he was transferred to the prison that Wiggit served.
The first time that Nelson Mandela was there,
he joined them for communion.
Father Wiggit started the communion liturgy and
Mandela asked them to stop in the middle.
He yelled out to the warden and
asked him if he was a Christian.
The warden said “yes” and Mandela said,
"Well then, you should be over here.
Take off your hat and come join us.
Father Wiggit said he had never thought of inviting the warden,
He said he just saw him as an apartheid functionary.
But Mandela saw him as a brother in Christ.

This is difficult teaching.
We sit across the table and share this sacred
food with our enemies, those that don’t share,
that don’t believe our struggles or opinions.
Those who don’t understand us or agree with us.
Even those who keep us captive,
who treat us and others with great injustice.
This is difficult teaching.
Not everyone can live with that.

But that is really taking in the body of Jesus.
Really ingesting it, gnawing it, consuming it.

This is Jesus table, Jesus is our host
and so it’s Jesus guest list that we have to use.

And where else are we gonna go?
The need that we all share
and the food that we share,
keeps us coming back.

This body of Christ, this is the bread of life,
The sacred meal that we join together to share,
The meal that we ingest, gnaw on,
that becomes a part of us.
That has the power of reconciliation,
the power of forgiveness.
The power to help and to heal.
The power to bring us together and erase divisions.
This living bread from heaven
that has the words of eternal life.


Monday, August 20, 2018

There Is Enough


Matthew 14:12-21
August 19, 2018

5000 people is a lot of people.
It’s a crowd. A big crowd.
Actually, the biggest city in the area was
might have been around 7,000 people,
so if this hillside picnic were a city,
it would have been the second largest in the area.
Christ Feeding the 5000Eric Feather
That’s a pretty big event.

Now, I think that promoters and event coordinators and disciples 
then and now can agree on one thing:
you don’t try to feed a crowd of 5000,
at least not all at once, not without selling tickets ahead of time,
or charging up front, or sponsorship, or a big group of volunteers
and definitely not without some advanced planning.

So when Jesus asks the disciples 
where they’re going to get food for all these people,
Phillip has a reasonable response
he says “we don’t’ have enough.”
We don’t have it, don’t have access to it,
don’t know where to get it,
don’t know who would give us enough
to feed all these people.
There is not enough.

Now lots of things have changed in this world
since Jesus time on that hill,
but humanity really hasn’t changed much.
And humanity tends to think that there’s not enough.
Even if there is enough now, we worry that there won’t
be enough later.
  
There is not enough.
Those words have been repeated and repeated
over and over again in our world throughout time.

People who calculate these things
say that there is enough food produced in this world,
so that every person in the world could eat 3000 calories every day.
But still, around 815 million people go to bed hungry.
We’re fortunate that there is not a production problem,
But there is a distribution problem.
And at the root of it, is this fear:
There is not enough.

This is the story that the world tells:
corporations, politicians, developers, insurance companies, 
commercials, TV shows, there is just not enough for everyone.
Not enough food, money, land, jobs, time, doctors, medicine,
electricity, water, whatever else can be counted and held back.
We hear it so much, it’s repeated and insinuated,
and drilled into us and the fear is in us and drives us.
There is not enough.

This is part of many people’s issue with immigrants,
with people of color, with those who are poor.
If those other people get, there won’t be enough for me.
There is not enough.

And at its root, this principle of scarcity is a lack of trust in God.
It says there are no gifts to be given because God doesn’t give.
The world of scarcity tells us that we’re on our own.
We only have what you can get for yourselves.
We only get whatever we scrap and fight and work for.
Only what we deserve. What we have we’ve earned.
Because there is not enough. There will never be enough.

The story we’re telling today
is the same story that the disciples told.
There is not enough to feed those 5000 people, Jesus.
Send them away.

But in the middle of that story of scarcity
being told on that hillside in front of that crowd,
One boy came up and said, “I have enough!”
Even though all he had was five loaves and two fish.
And even though Andrew only saw the scarcity and said,
“What’s so little food when you’re talking about so many people?”
It was still enough.

And Jesus took what the boy had to share
he blessed it, he broke it and gave it away.
With complete trust in what he and God were going to do.

Now here is where the mystery happens.
Without a food committee, without making
an announcement of a pot luck, without tickets,
without any planning whatsoever,
there was enough for everyone in that crowd.

 Now the story is not clear on how it happened.
Some people read this and see that Jesus made more bread
and more fish right there. Enough for all to eat and more,
ex nihilo, out of nothing.
Jesus and God produced food where there was none
and the people had more than enough to eat.
Now that is a miracle of God no doubt.

But some people look at this and see something else.
they see that Jesus brought the Spirit of God to rest
on a community of 5000 people
who were inspired to trust and share all that they had.

A normal crowd of people who traveled with their own provisions,
taking whatever they had just bought at the market,
whatever they were taking along with them for their journey,
whatever they were going to eat themselves
whatever they were there to sell to this big crowd,
and they didn’t keep it for themselves.

They brought it out of their tunics and pockets
and baskets and shopping bags and let it all go
they brought it all out and they shared it
with the people around them who had nothing to eat.
And there was more than enough for everyone.
And even this, I think, is an incredible miracle.

Whichever way you see it,
Jesus’ miracles are never just miracles.
They always show us something about God.
And with that picnic meal miracle,
Jesus showed that the world is filled with God’s blessings.
We can trust in God’s abundance.
Even when all your senses tell you there isn’t enough.
There is enough.

The way that Jesus came into everyone’s life on
that hillside is the same way Jesus comes into ours.
Whenever we feel nervous, or we’re not sure we’ll make it.
Whenever we worry about the future,
Whenever all we see ahead is disaster,
whenever we’re stingy and selfish and not willing to share,
Jesus tells us, “there is enough.”

With that meal on that hillside,
and this meal that we eat every week,
Jesus is slowly reordering the world’s reality.
Not just in our stomachs, and in our churches,
Jesus is talking about the economy, the government,
the world, and our hearts.
There is enough: enough food, enough money,
enough space, enough time, enough attention, enough love.

Jesus shows us and this crowd the real story
God’s grace, God’s gifts, God’s love for everyone.
Jesus shows us and feeds us the real story
about God’s abundance.

What Jesus is saying is that when people
come together in faith and trust in God,
there is nothing that can’t happen.
There is enough.