9th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 17) – Sunday, July 26, 2015

Readings for the day:

2 Kings 4:42-44

Psalm 145:10-18

Ephesians 3:14-21

John 6:1-21

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

Today is the first of 5 Sundays where the lectionary takes us through most of the 71 verses in the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel.  This is also known as the Bread of Life chapter.  Here Jesus not only talks about bread a lot, he also does things with bread – plus he refers to himself as the Bread of Life.

So in today’s Gospel reading, we have the very familiar story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 AND we heard the story of Jesus walking on water; except this is John’s version and so we don’t get to hear about Peter attempting to walk on water as well, but then beginning to sink.  So we’ll just save that for another sermon.

The story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 is the only recorded miracle that is told in all 4 Gospel accounts; which is probably a reason why this story is so familiar to us.  But there is something that I noticed in John’s telling of this miracle that is not as clear with the other 3 Gospels.  John says that Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there WITH his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.  The Passover was near.  Jesus is a Jew.  His disciples are Jews.  People in the crowd that were following him were Jews.  And none of that is a problem except they are all sitting on the north side of the Sea of Galilee some 60 to 70 miles from Jerusalem; which is where the festival of the Passover is to take place.  Clearly Jesus is doing what many Christians today are doing and saying, “Oh I don’t feel like going to the Easter service this year.”  But not only is Jesus skipping Passover this year, but he is also making his disciples skip and the large crowd that is following after him – which the crowd was probably more around 10,000 to 15,000 people because the text says 5,000 men (which doesn’t even include the women and children).

So Jesus is already breaking God’s law by not going to celebrate the Passover.  And instead he spends his time teaching and healing all who come to him.  But then they also need to be fed; their hungry.  Where are they going to get food in the wilderness?  Where can they possibly find any resource to feed this multitude of people?  Luckily Andrew, one of the disciples, was able to find 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish.  But that’s so small, such an insignificant amount.  “We don’t have enough,” Andrew says.  Oh where have we heard that before?  We don’t have enough…money!  We don’t have enough…people!  We’re just a small, insignificant church!  We look at what we HAVE and compared to the big churches, we don’t have enough.  The disciples look at those 5 small loaves and 2 small fish and the sea of people and they say, “We don’t have enough.”

Maybe you have felt this way in your personal life.  Are you living on social security and with prescription costs and medical bills, you say, “I don’t have enough.”  Or you see the grain prices continue to fall and you say, “I’m not gonna have enough.”  Or you have student loan debt and you struggle to get ahead.  Maybe you just lost your job and not having enough is going to be a reality for you real soon.
But there is hope.  Notice what Jesus does for that crowd of 10,000 plus?  He fed them.  He fed them all.  All with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  Jesus turned their scarcity into an abundance.  Jesus turns your scarcity into an abundance.  Where does he do this you ask, as your bank account is still in the red?  He does so at the table, at Holy Communion; which we will celebrate today.  Listen to how John describes this feeding.  “Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.”  As much as they wanted.  They weren’t given a little.  They weren’t given a portion.  They were given as much as they wanted.  And when they all were satisfied, the disciples went and gathered the fragments that were left, so that nothing would be lost.

When Jesus does a feeding he does it right, like a good Lutheran potluck – with more food than you know what to do with.  Jesus takes our scarcity and turns it into an abundance.

A couple of weeks ago you may recall hearing the story of the beheading of John the Baptist by King Herod.  This actually happens around the same time as this feeding.  As King Herod is showing off the wonderful riches of this life through a party for himself and impressing people with the worldly power that he has, Jesus is giving the crowd a glimpse into what God’s kingdom will look like.  Rather than an imbalance of riches and power, God’s kingdom will have equality.  God’s kingdom will be filled with an abundance where your wants are satisfied and there are still leftovers.  When will we see God’s kingdom?  When Christ comes again.  One of the ladies at Wine, Women, and the Word last week said, “This just gets me all excited to see God’s kingdom.”  And it should get you excited.  Do you want a foretaste of the feast to come?  Do you want a preview into what that heavenly banquet is going to look like?  Come and celebrate Holy Communion with us and you will get that foretaste of the feast to come.  For that is what Holy Communion is – a Holy Meal for God’s children to get a glimpse into what his kingdom will look like and feel like.  Through receiving this bread and wine, we leave satisfied that our sins have been forgiven, we have been nourished by Christ’s body and blood and we all have received an equal amount.  At the Lord’s Table we are equals.  You may very well commune next to someone in a different tax bracket than you, or someone who drives the wrong colored tractor, or someone who has a different level of education than you do.  But regardless of who you are communing with, they are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  We all receive that same amount of bread and wine – the same amount of Christ’s body and blood.

Throughout the month of August as we work through the Bread of Life chapter, we will be celebrating Holy Communion and partaking in the foretaste of that great heavenly feast to come, each and every time we gather on Sunday morning.  Instead of looking at this next month as a burden to carry, see it as an opportunity to celebrate and feast in the presence of our Lord and Savior, Jesus who is the Christ, who has fulfilled the law, who has taken away the sins of your life, and who has saved you, redeemed you, and promises to give you eternal life.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

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8th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 16) – Sunday, July 19, 2015

Readings for the day:

Jeremiah 23:1-6

Psalm 23

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

There was a teacher who wanted to explain evolution to a class of six-year-olds.  The teacher asks Tommy, “Do you see the tree outside?”  He replies, “Yes.”  Then the teacher asks, “Do you see the grass outside?”  Again the answer is “Yes.”  Finally the teacher asks, “When you go outside and look up do you see the sky?”  Getting a little frustrated the boy responds, “Yes.”  Then the teacher asks, “Did you see God up there?”  The boy replies, “No.”  “That’s my point.  We can’t see God because God isn’t there.  God just doesn’t exist.”  Then a little girl asks Tommy these same questions.  “Do you see the tree outside?”  “Do you see the grass outside?”  “Do you see the sky?”  He responds yes to all of them.  Then the little girl asks, “Do you see the teacher?”  He responds, “Yes.”  “Do you see her brain?”  “No.”  “Then according to what we were taught today in school, she possibly may not even have one.”

That’s funny, but doesn’t it really sum up the state of our world and even the church.  Everyone has their beliefs, and what THEY believe is the ONLY belief that matters.  This teacher clearly did not believe in God and didn’t think that her students should believe in a god either.  Well the last few weeks have certainly been divisive for us throughout the country and within the church.  From civil rights to abortion, and, gay marriage to gun rights and violence.  None of these issues have been completely solved, nor will they be completely solved…ever!  There will always be someone that doesn’t agree with us on some issue; whether that is in our community, in our churches or both.  When it comes to a social issue, there will NEVER be 100% agreement.

And this is not a new phenomenon that someone just woke up one morning and decided that all of humanity should be divided on social issues.  The Early Church certainly faced their share of divisions.  Paul addresses these issues in many of his letters, including the letter to the Ephesians.  The church in Ephesus had a big division in the church, both religious and ethnic.  Their church had both Jewish members AND Gentile members.  So you can just about imagine the conflicts that had arose over the years.  A portion of the church is Jewish, believing that the Messiah is coming and until then they live by the law and circumcision was a clear physical sign of which family was part of the house of Israel, the ones who have a covenantal promise with God and are waiting for, as written in Jeremiah, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.”[1]  And then there are the Gentiles, who are saying, “Hey, that’s Jesus, the one your people, the lost sheep of the house of Israel, crucified.”  I can just imagine what a potluck looked like at the church in Ephesus.  There are the Jewish people who are very concerned about which dishes are kosher and which ones aren’t.  And the Gentiles are thinking, more for us.

You see, divisions are nothing new.  We’ve had divisions in our communities and in the church for a long time.  Even in Jesus’ time, some people wanted the sick to be healed and so they would risk their own defilement by bringing the sick to Jesus so that they could simply touch the fringes of his cloak.  Then there were others who felt that the sick were doomed anyway so why even bother with them.

So when it comes to social issues, our church, our community, and our country will always be divided.  There will never be 100% acceptance of anything.  This week I have seen on Facebook too many arguments and disagreements regarding social issues between people.  The sooner that we figure out how to live with each other, the better off I think we will be.  Now I’m not advocating for complete agreement, because that will never happen.  Because of the presence of sin in this world (thanks Adam and Eve), there will never be complete agreement by everyone and we will never be able to convert everyone over to our side of the argument, no matter how hard we try.  And yet, that won’t stop us from arguing and complaining about these social issues.

Paul also knew that the arguing was never going to cease.  So in his letter he writes, “For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups [Jew and Gentile] into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.  He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.”[2]

Through the cross, Christ has brought down the walls that we have created through our disagreements and arguments regarding all of these social issues.  I don’t agree with all of them either, but that still doesn’t mean that I can’t respect the opinions of others.  Unlike one of our Supreme Court Justices who called anyone who is against gay-marriage an enemy of the human race.

We all have our opinions and our beliefs, but one thing that I know is certain, in heaven, God’s new creation, there will be no social issues.  There will only be peace and abundance.  No more arguments or disagreements.  No more name calling or throwing others under the bus.  Only peace.  Peace through Christ.  Peace that can only come from the Shepherd who was sent to the lost sheep.  And luckily you all are dumb sheep who have lost your way.  Sometimes you argue about the weirdest and most ridiculous things.  But when Jesus comes to restore his creation, you then will not be lost sheep, for you all will be found and you will be enjoying the abundance of God’s creation with overflowing cups and baskets of leftovers.

We are members of the household of God; built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.  Christ is our cornerstone and with Christ as our cornerstone, we are free to live our lives respecting the opinions of our brothers and sisters in Christ without needing to have complete agreement on all of the world’s social issues.  For surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.

[1] Jeremiah 23:5, NRSV

[2] Ephesians 2:14-16, NRSV

7th Sunday after Pentecost (Lect 15) – Sunday, July 12, 2015

Readings for the day:

Amos 7:7-15

Psalm 85:8-13

Ephesians 1:3-14

Mark 6:14-29

Dear friends in Christ, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ.  Amen.

What a strange Gospel reading!  We responded at the end of the reading by saying, “The Gospel of the Lord.  Praise to you o Christ.”  But where is our Lord?  He isn’t even in the story, and the story’s not about the Good News that he was bringing either.  This story is all about John the Baptist and King Herod.

John was the one called to pave the way for Jesus to come, calling all to repentance, turning away from their sinfulness and wicked ways and returning to the Lord.  So John would call people out when they broke any of God’s Laws, for that is the job of a prophet after all.  In Herod’s case, John called him out for divorcing his wife so that he could marry his brother’s wife.  That’s adultery; breaking the sixth commandment.  Herod is not sure what to think of John, especially since he liked to listen to John.  But his brother’s wife, Herodias, on the other hand couldn’t stand John, and she even desired to have John killed.

Now in typical Herod fashion, he holds a birthday party for himself because he is very arrogant and very full of himself.  At the party Herodias, the daughter of Herodias (yes mother and daughter have the same first name) are both present.  Herodias, the daughter (probably around 12 years old), dances for the king and his guests, which pleased them all.  Herod, without even thinking makes an offer to the girl, an offer that he probably wished he never made.  For what if she did want half of his kingdom?  Or what if she would have asked for Herod’s head on a platter, instead of John’s head?  What would have Herod said then?  In order to save his own reputation, he would have had to follow through with his promise.  That’s why John’s head got cut off, despite Herod’s interest in the prophet who wears camel’s hair and eats locust and wild honey.

But this is Herod’s kingdom after all, one that will do anything to get what one wants; even having someone killed in order to uphold a promise and save one’s reputation.  Herod’s kingdom is run solely on greed, striving to reach the top, and protecting only what is your own.  Huh, doesn’t that sound much like another kingdom?  A recent kingdom perhaps?  How about the world we live in right now?!?!  We are taught and encouraged to reach the top at any cost, as well as to protect whatever is ours on our way to the top.  But you know, none of this is really taught at all.  It actually is all because of your sin.  You can only think of yourself because of your sin.  You want to acquire things of your own and often you put faith in yourself rather than in God.  That’s what Herod did.  He put his faith in himself rather than in God, and you see what that led to – the death of John the Baptist, a prophet who Herod was actually interested in.  When we put our faith in ourselves, we are putting our faith in our sin; which is easy to do, but is not at all helpful.

Now the story that we don’t hear this year, but what immediately follows the account of John the Baptist being beheaded is the feeding of the five thousand.  Mark carefully puts the story of Herod’s party in direct comparison to Jesus feeding the five thousand with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish.  The death of John the Baptist shows that Herod’s kingdom, this world’s kingdom is focused on satisfying selfish desires and not about focusing on what God gives us.  Whereas Jesus feeding the five thousand with simply 5 small loaves of bread and 2 small fish shows what Christ’s kingdom will look like for us.

Christ’s kingdom gives rather than receives.  Christ’s kingdom brings life rather than taking life away.  And Christ’s kingdom forgives rather than getting even.  Where this world is greedy, our God is generous.  Where this world is full of sickness and death, our God is full of healing and life.  Generous in grace, full of forgiveness, and promises new life in Christ.

Just like it was hard for John’s disciples to see beyond the beheading of their teacher, it can be hard for us to see beyond the evils and difficulties of this world.  How can we get beyond all of the wars, the fighting, the killing, the racism, the cancer, the bullying, the hatred? On our way home from vacation on Friday, we had to turn the radio off because every news story that we heard for the first 5 minutes was depressing.  How can we get beyond all of the depressing events of this world?  One word…Jesus!  Our faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to get beyond the depressing events of this kingdom, of Herod’s kingdom.  If we put our faith in this world, then we are a group of people with no hope – no hope for the future in this life or the next.  But if we put our faith in God and in the kingdom that Christ promises and even foreshadowed through the feeding of the five thousand, then we are a group of God’s people with hope for the future in this life and the next.  Through Christ you are promised new life, life that is without sin or depressing events – life in Christ’s kingdom forever!  Amen.

© 2015 Anthony Christoffels.  Used with permission.