Sunday is coming! “Approaching Jesus with our hunger and longing” John 6:35, 41-51

They began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” (John 6:41)

We are beggars, this is true.’

This statement is attributed to Martin Luther as his last words from his death bed. It should be noted this statement is not meant as a slight to those who are in need, but is rather a reminder that we are to approach Jesus as if we have nothing to bring other our than our longing for him. As people of faith we are not to rely on our own personal strength, understanding or efforts, but instead depend upon the grace, mercy and love of God who gives us life, sustenance, forgiveness and salvation.

In a world that is built and personal achievement and often defines people by what they do (or fail to do); it is good for us to approach God with our utmost humility as we bring our deepest needs and longings.

How can we come as ‘beggars’ to God – trusting we will be fed and nourished?

One way is prayer. Jesus assures us that our prayers will be heard (Matt 6:5-15; Matt 7:7-12; 1 John 5:14-15).

Another way to approach God with our need to be fed is in the heavenly meal of Jesus we know the Sacrament of the Altar, the Eucharist, Holy Communion, and the Lord’s Supper.

How can this be?

A small piece of bread and a tiny sip (or dip) of wine hardly seems like a significant way to fill our deepest longings, yet each time we come to receive the means of grace we receive a true treasure – Jesus, “the bread of life” (John 6:35).

One can debate whether or not John 6 is a direct link to this heavenly meal shared among us but the dynamics between the people in this passage asking, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Jospeh, whose mother and father we know?’” (John 6:42) seems somewhat similar to our own question “How can eating and drinking do such great things?” (Luther’s Small Catechism – see below).

The people in the crowd seem to be asking (just as we do), “Does God really meet us in ordinary things, like a man from a small town in Galilee, or simple thing like bread and wine?

The resounding answer Jesus gives is, “Yes, that is exactly where I meet you. Come, eat and be filled.”

Jesus meets us in ordinary things, with an extraordinary promise of the eternal at work among us. “I am the living bread from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51).

As we will continue to see throughout John 6, this promise is (to use a bad pun) a tough word to swallow, yet all that is required of us is to come hungry, ‘beggars’ that we are, with outstretched hands and longing hearts to be fed by the Eternal One.

Come ‘beggar,’ come.

Eat, drink, and meet the Christ who will lead you to eternal life. And pray. Jesus will meet you there too.

-When has God met you in your deepest needs and hungers?

-What longings do you still have?

-Where could you meet others still longing to meet him?

PGS

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

“How can eating and drinking do such great things?

Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but the words ‘given for you’ and ‘shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.’ These words, when accompanied by eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these words has what they declare and state, namely, ‘forgiveness of sin.’” (Martin Luther, “Small Catechism” [1529], Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1166).

Sunday is Coming! “Focus on the Bread, not on the bread” (John 6:24-35)

 

“‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that leads to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’” (John 6:27-28)

There is an old proverb that says, “Give a child to fish; feed them for a day. Teach a child to fish, feed them for a lifetime.”

The feeding of the 5000 was such a powerful moment, that after people experienced it, they hoped for another sign, and the guy who fed them with such abundance. To put it simply: the people wanted more bread. They were fed for a day, and want to be fed another day.

Jesus’ response to them is so interesting, because he is not just interested in feeding people for a day or even for a lifetime – but to offer a Living Bread that leads to eternal life…himself!

Jesus claims: “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). Yet the people are still focused on the meal they ate – recalling the story of the people eating manna in the wilderness in the time of the Exodus. Jesus reminds them it is not the bread that is the important part of the story but that it was sent from God, just as he is sent from God.

Like them, too often we miss the point.

The purpose of the signs Jesus give us is to point us toward who Jesus is as the One who is sent. Too often we focus on the bread we hunger for; only to miss the Bread of Life present with us that will satisfy all our longings.

We see this oversight at work all the time in our churches. Traditions, programs, furniture, and wallpaper become not the means which point us toward Jesus but instead become the end of our focus and devotion. While that might sound absurd, consider how many conversations you’ve had about the ‘good old days’ or what it might take to ‘save the church.’ Then ask yourself, ‘Are these longings really about seeking Jesus or are they about preserving the means we have used in the past to see Jesus?’ Or to put it another way: ‘Are our expressions of faith really about the bread that perishes or the Bread of Life that is eternal?’

The crowd asks, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ (John 6:28).

Is our discipleship about practice or is it about the focus of our practice?

When we focus our hearts, minds, bodies and souls to seek Jesus in the midst of whatever it is we are doing or experiencing, we are more open to not only receive the bread that will feed us for a day, but developing the skills and relationships that that will keep us fed for a lifetime. Keeping our focus on Christ reveals his grace that points us towards the eternal, here in our eating and drinking.

– Where in your life are you focused on bread rather than the Bread of Life?

– How might the Bread of Life re-order your focus in the way you live now?

– What do you see?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Scarcity or Abundance?” John 6:1-21

Philip answered him,Six months wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.'” (John 6:7)

Two competing world-views come to light in the “sign” of the feeding of the five thousand:

Are resources limited, finite, to be fought-over and controlled?

OR

Is God’s provision always more than enough?

Human nature gravitates to the first perspective. Throughout our human history, many economies, governments, wars, and everyday interactions have assumed limits. Life and death decisions have been (and still are) determined by those who control the resources and how much access to those resources they allow to others. Power brokers often accumulate and hoard more than they need at the expense of the poor, the different, the sick, the uneducated and unproductive. Those without voice often become exploited, devalued and deemed expendable.

Yet there is another way to live.

The perspective of God’s abundant provision is present throughout the biblical narrative. Jesus called it the ‘kingdom of God.’ He taught that in this ‘kingdom’ there is a place for everybody and everyone has value as he ministered on the margins of society. He embodied God’s abundance of love, mercy and grace and called others to share in that abundance.

In this “sign” of abundance present in the feeding of the five thousand, we see this second perspective of the ‘kingdom’ come to life. Whether Jesus multiplied the fish and loaves literally (as many insist) or the sharing of that boy’s lunch inspired the crowd to open their own baskets and share in the world’s greatest potluck (as others speculate) is besides the point. The “sign” of abundance in that meal is that the revolution of the kingdom has begun where all have a place at the table and there is more than enough for all. Wherever we see generosity, sharing, welcome and inclusion of those who are normally left out or pushed aside that “sign” is revealed once again among us.

Scarcity teaches us to hoard, regard others as enemies, kill and destroy. Our Great Adversary loves to pit us against each other and reinforce the lie that we can never have enough, but if we had more than our neighbor we might be happy. The truth is that pursuit always leaves us hungry.

Jesus shows us how to love, share, be grateful and live for others. He reminds us in the breaking of the bread (whether it is at a picnic, a dinner table or around the altar) that everything we have – life, relationships, air, water, earth, food, shelter and salvation come as a gift of God – not as things we accumulate for ourselves. When we see that kingdom perspective – the world looks different, and we see the “sign” that not only is there enough for everyone, but there are twelve baskets left over for us to share.

-What are you hoarding?

-What will you thank God for today?

-What do you need to work on, in order to share your gratitude with others?

PGS

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

“Give us this day our daily bread.

What does this mean?

In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayer, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and receive it with thanksgiving.

What then does ‘daily bread’ mean?

Everything included in the necessities and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.” (Martin Luther, “Small Catechism [1529], Evangelical Lutheran Worship, [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1163-1164.)

Sunday is Coming! “Go, Return, Re-group, and Keep on Serving” Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

 

 

 

The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all they had done and taught.” (Mark 6:30)

The summer is mission trip season for many congregations. I love mission/service trips because not only do they help meet the real needs of others in on their turf, there is also great potential for faith-formation (for every age) by going out and serving people in context that just talking about it could never teach.

Jesus knew this important leadership lesson. He sent his disciples out into the community to preach, renounce evil and pray for healing in people’s lives (Mark 6:12-13). They did it, and had returned.

Jesus knew something else we commonly forget – they needed to process what they did, learned and experienced. So upon their return, they gathered together to share. Notice that they are now called ‘sent ones’ or ‘apostles’ upon gathering together.

In Mark 6:14-16, we are told that this ministry of Jesus had become known – even by King Herod. It seemed that once the word got out people sought Jesus out. This made it difficult for them to find time for privacy – or even time to eat (Mark 6:31). But Jesus went out to meet the crowd and its demands so these apostles could still reflect upon their experiences and rest.

We too often give up the opportunity to process our experiences because we think we are too busy – but that is where the real learning happens.

– Have you ever had some intentional reflection after a meaningful experience?

– What did you learn?

There are three other little lessons to glean from this story –

1. Jesus doesn’t send the crowd away – he has compassion on them and ministers to them.

– How could our churches meet needs in our community yet keep a focus so we don’t burn out or do many things poorly rather than a few things well?

2. Jesus saw “They were like sheep without a shepherd” (Mark 6:34). People want a leader. In the absence of one they find another.

– What other shepherds do you see at work in our communities/society/world (other than Jesus)?

– Are those other shepherds constructive or destructive? How can you tell?

– What does Jesus teach by his leadership?

3. Jesus preserves the apostles time to reflect and recover so they can get back out there to serve again. (The next story is the feeding of the 5000, followed by other healing stories – its teaching by sharing, reflecting and doing.) Too often we just think of ourselves as religious consumers and think about what we might “get out of it” by participating. But Jesus turns us around to keep asking, “Where can I serve?”

– Where might Jesus be calling you to serve in new ways?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The different kind of power at work in the kingdom of John & Jesus” Mark 6:14-29

So (The disciples) went out and proclaimed that all should repent. They cast out many demons, and anointed many with oil who were sick and cured them. King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, ‘John the Baptizer has been raised from the dead, and for this reason these powers are at work in him.’” (Mark 6:12-14)

It seems the reason why Mark interrupts the story of Jesus with the death of John the Baptist isn’t to tell us about the death of John the Baptist; it is to tell us more about Jesus. In the verses prior to this passage, Jesus went home where his power was limited by the people’s unbelief (Mark 6:1-6). So he healed a few people and then sent his disciples to call people to call people to repentance, cast out demons and anoint them with oil for healing (Mark 6:7-13). This ministry’s different kind of power draws the comparison between Jesus and John. Even Herod believes Jesus is a resurrected John (Mark 6:16).

Herod both feared and respected John, but he was too weak politically to save him having been outmaneuvered by his wife who hated John. Herod has John killed rather than lose face, exposing his own frailty. Later on, Jesus’ enemies corner Pilate into having Jesus executed as well. This passage asks us – what is power, and who has it? Mark flips our expectations upside down.

From the beginning of the story, Jesus invites us into a promise that is yet to be fully realized.“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news!’” (Mark 1:14-15). The kingdom that both Jesus and John proclaimed is hidden under apparent powerlessness in John’s beheading and ultimately in Jesus’ death on the cross. Yet, the surprise (and even terror) of the resurrection calls us into a new way of being as death is left powerless.

As we live in the meantime, the kingdom Jesus and John proclaimed continues to expose the fraudulent powers of death as it invites, welcomes, values, heals, restores and forgives all the wrong people by the world’s standards. And just as power attempts to bring its wrath upon all who oppose it, Jesus gives his life as “a ransom for the many” (Mark 10:45). Sacrificial love is the center of what this kingdom is, does, and promises. The kingdom of God invites people to be and live for others whatever the personal cost; as Jesus calls his disciples of any age to “deny themselves, take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34b).

-How is the power of sacrificial living calling you in a world of exposed weakness?

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Going & Staying-Put” Mark 6:1-13

And (Jesus) could do no deeds of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.” (Mark 6:5-6a)

It might sound counter-intuitive, but I find that it is actually easier to ‘go’ than to ‘stay-put.’

I find many people feel the opposite to be true for them – they want to be someplace that feels familiar. They seek relationships that re-enforce commonly held norms among people they know well (even if they don’t along with them). People tend to respond to expectations that feel comfortable, safe and established. Church often reinforces those feelings for them.

There is a reason both the status quo and nostalgia have such a grip on people and are so often near impossible to overcome – change is not only difficult, it is viewed as the enemy of everything we value. Which is why it is better to ‘go’ than ‘stay-put.’ When we ‘stay-put‘ our human nature resists change, we forget the stakes to which we are called and we get easily distracted from doing the ‘going‘ to which Jesus calls us. A common result is very little gets done.

A reason local service opportunities, mission trips, going to camp, advocating for others, getting together for youth gatherings that bring 31,000 of your closest friends together, and so many other things that happen ‘outside’ our faith communities are so powerful: they disrupt our everyday experience with new possibilities.

The key, of course, is to bring those experiences back with us, so that neither we nor our churches get too settled. It is when we start feeling settled that we resist being engaged, challenged or pushed to do new things because we tend to focus on ourselves, our likes and predictable life patterns.

Not for lack of trying, I can see why Jesus felt like he had ‘no power’ at home while he was effective elsewhere. People already had a vision for who they were and what they hoped to be without him. I can also see why Jesus sent his followers out into the community without any resources rather than having them set-up a well-stocked religious spot in town. Jesus has a much bigger vision for us than we could ever realize without him.

So here’s the challenge:

– What if we saw our congregations not as the havens of stability to keep us safe from the world that we so often think they are, but rather as dynamic mission outposts in which God has called us to meet other people beyond our walls?

– What if instead of operating out of fear and anxiety for ourselves, we tried living in a way that declares ‘Jesus is Lord’…’every life is interesting and beautiful and beloved and full of struggle’…’God’s grace is sufficient for you’…’the Spirit is with us’…’love wins’…’and if we ‘go,’ whatever happens, happens?’

– What if we stopped playing it safe, stopped longing for a past that was probably not as glorious as we remember, and we stopped resisting change in order to embrace God’s call into the future by embracing this messy world right now; knowing the only thing we need to take with us is Christ’s blessing?

Maybe then, we’d know the full measure of his power.

Maybe then, we’d be healed to be agents of healing.

Maybe then, we’d stop ‘staying-put‘ and ‘go‘ so we never get settled.

We might just find the spot God has called us to be a beautiful place to explore together.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “The healing touch of Jesus” Mark 5:21-43

 

 

 

 

 

Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” (Mark 5:23)

I’ve sat with people who were not going to get well.

I’ve sat with families who have lost a child.

I’ve sat with people who have been connected to church their whole lives who have prayed for healing and are still waiting.

I’ve sat with people who have never been to church and lost a loved one with nowhere else to go.

In the midst of it all, Jesus shows up.

Sometimes he shows up in obvious places – in the signs we so often look to: the Word, the sacraments and prayers; beautiful places; art and song.

Sometimes he shows up through the people we would expect to be there – family, loved friends, neighbors, clergy and other church folks.

Sometimes he comes as healthcare workers, other patients, or in little kind gestures we might ordinarily overlook if we weren’t looking.

Sometimes he comes in complete disguise (like the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned [see Matthew 25:31-46]), and we meet him (or miss him) by not paying attention or falling prey to our fears.

But Jesus shows up.

The people in this story knew it. The woman who reached out to him hoping for healing. The crowd in amazement as they saw her get well. The desperate father Jarius whose daughter was about to die. The crowd who mourned her, the girl as he took her hand, the disciples as they looked in wonder as she skipped off to the table for something to eat.

Jesus showed up.

He shows up still.

Jesus shows up through you and me and all the unexpected places we find ourselves where people are hurting, mourning and weeping.

In everyone who comes to us when we are hurting and mourning and weeping, he shows up there too.

When we see him, it is like we can skip again.

When he touches us, we are made well.

When others see him, the banquet can begin.

When you embrace them with his touch, the party has already started.

Where are the hurting places where you can bring the banquet?

Let’s party. 🙂

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Storms” Mark 4:35-41

What storms do you find yourself in?

When the storm arose and overcame their boat, the disciples (several who were fishermen and knew their way around the Sea of Galilee) saw the water swamping their craft and began to believe all was lost. Fear leads to inaction. Inaction leads to helplessness. Helplessness leads to despair. The storms closes in.

Yet when things looked most dire, they woke Jesus and asked: “Do you not care that we are perishing?” (Mark 4:38).

Have you ever asked God that question?

We expect God to act. We seek vindication. We hope for justice to be done. We anticipate all things to work together for good. Yet it is sometimes difficult to foresee a positive outcome in the midst of trouble; a bad diagnosis; the latest tragedy; an unexpected loss; feeling stuck; outside forces pressing in on us beyond our control. We see cruelty having free reign; injustice supported by the masses; dangers that insert themselves into our lives that make us seem fragile, small or insignificant.

Yet we are not devoid of agency… Jesus is in the boat.

They woke him, “Do you not care that we are perishing?”

He responded, “Peace. Be still. Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” (Mark 4:40).

While our passage ends with the disciples scratching their heads in confusion and awe as the storm subsided, they still needed to get ashore (Mark 5:1).

How do you think they got there?

Perhaps once they knew the peace of Christ was with them – they acted.

What storms do you find yourself in? What storms do you see surrounding others?

What could be possible – if you knew the peace of Christ was with you in the boat to calm that storm?

How might you enter the storms others face – and act?

Yes, God cares. Christ is with you. The Spirit is moving across the waters. Yes, the storm is raging.

Stay calm.

Let’s face this storm together.

PGS

Sunday is coming! “Subversive Kingdom Seeds”

 

 

 

 

The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how.” (Mark 4:26-27)

There is something subversive to this ‘kingdom’ Jesus speaks about in these seed parables in chapter 4 of Mark’s Gospel:

-The ‘kingdom’ is like a sower scattering seed extravagantly in all kinds of places (Mark 4:1-20). Why would one waste seed so extravagantly?

-The ‘kingdom’ is like a seed growing in the night without knowing how. Yet, we enjoy the harvest (Mark 4:26-29). It is the kind of thing that happens ‘by faith and not by sight’ (2 Corinthians 5:7) How many other things are we the beneficiaries of through God’s good creation we don’t understand? Where do we exploit it to benefit unjustly? Where do we use it to exploit others?

-The ‘kingdom’ is like a tiny mustard seed that grows into a large shrub to protect the birds in the shade (Mark 4:30-32). Mustard scrubs are unruly and difficult to control. Birds would be unwelcome guests in garden by eating other seeds. What are the undesirables that God keeps reaching out to in this ‘kingdom’?

What other things do these stories reveal?

1.The ‘kingdom’ as seed. Seeds get buried in the soil in order to grow and bring about new life. There is symbolism here of death and resurrection. (N.T. Wright. Mark for Everyone. [Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001], 49.) Just like Easter, there is an element of surprise in these stories as new life emerges out of old ones to create a new reality ‘on earth as it is in heaven.’

2.The ‘kingdom’ as growth. Creation brings forth life. While we still don’t fully understand how, life tends to be resilient, grow where it can, and spring-up in unlikely places. Faith does that too. Wherever it takes root the ‘kingdom’ is present.

3.The ‘kingdom’ as agency. The sower sows. How does God act as a sower? How do we as Christ followers, sow seeds? How do we collaborate with what God is doing to bring and/or embody new life around us?

These seed parables suggest that the ‘kingdom’ does not come about through the ways we are used to things getting done: through power, wealth, or influence. Instead, the ‘kingdom’ arrives in ways that are inexplainable or less than obvious. The ‘kingdom’ (when you pay attention) enters our lives under the radar, mostly unnoticed, until it stealthily takes root and grows. Sometimes the surprise nature of the ‘kingdom’ flips our expectations and unroots the way we believe the world works. It may even change the way we operate!

Where is the ‘kingdom’ needed in our world today?

How might the ‘kingdom’ already be underway?

Who is the ‘kingdom’ trying to reach?

How might the ‘kingdom’ already there?

PGS

—-

From Luther’s Small Catechism:

Your kingdom come.

What does this mean?

In fact, God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.

How does this come about?

Whenever our Heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

(“Explanation to the Second Petition of the Lord’s Prayer,” Luther’s Small Catechism, Evangelical Lutheran Worship. [Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006], 1163.)

Sunday is coming! “Discovering your sisters and brothers”

 

 

 

 

 

Whoever does the will of God is my mother and sister and brother.” (Mark 4:35)

It was a soup kitchen, but it ran like a professional restaurant – serving hundreds of meals twice a day in downtown Toronto. Our youth (who were there on a mission trip)arrived at the soup kitchen in the morning to serve as volunteers. After a brief orientation, when we arrived in the morning, we were all given jobs to get that meal ready to go by noon. Because it was such a big operation, each person that worked there barked out orders for things to get done in that noisy and busy space.

With one exception.

At the end of each command – “stir this”; “grab that mop”; “take that tray out to be served”; “we need more garbage bags”; “start cleaning those pots and pans”; came and addressed to each person as “sister” or “brother.”

Brother, could you come here please and serve these vegetables”; “Sister, start taking the trays out of the oven and put them on the serving counter”; and so on.

After lunch was served, cleaned-up and preparations for the evening meal were made, our group went to retrieve our brown bag lunches that we are prepared before we came.

Then something else happened… we were invited to join the workers for lunch at their table with the meal they had prepared for themselves. We were told later that this did not occur often, because there were so many volunteer groups that came through their doors, all with different motivations and effort. But these sisters and brothers invited us as their brothers and sisters to join them. It was an honor and a privilege. We were treated like family. They saw something in us.

As the crowds pressed in around Jesus, seeking to touch him, hoping to be healed and freed of what had possessed them, his family looked on with disdain saying “he has gone out of his mind” (Mark 4:21).

They called for him, and the crowd told Jesus his family was waiting for him.

Jesus asked, “Who are my mother and brothers?” Motioning to those he was sitting with Jesus said, “Here are my mother and brothers. Whoever does the will of God are my mother and brother and sister.” (Mark 4:33-35)

When we go to meet Jesus by serving others; when we welcome the stranger; free the oppressed; comfort the sick; clothe the naked; feed the hungry; giving of ourselves as Jesus gave for us (Matt 25:31-46), Jesus promises not only that will we meet him there (Matt 25:40), we also act as part of his family, as sister and brothers (Mark 4:33-35).

What that soup kitchen in Toronto understood, was that they were not only doing the will of God in their community by caring for others, they were serving and meeting Jesus in each of the hundreds of people they served each day. And for whatever reason, they saw that same devotion and dedication in us, as they welcomed us into their family as if we were sisters and brothers already.

Where is Jesus in your community?

Who might we see as our “sister” or “brother” who is already part of our family — doing God’s will around us we may have overlooked?

Where might we serve Jesus together?

PGS