Sunday, August 17, 2014

Life in Community: Mouth of the South - Matthew 15:1-2,10-20

Thank you for giving me space to share some of our story about Zia with you last Sunday.
Trasie and I took Zia to her doctor appointment Tuesday.  
A check-up on a procedure she had done when she was 7 weeks old;
it went well.
When we arrived, Daddy needed a bathroom break.
A restroom was conveniently located in the waiting area of the doctor’s office.  
I did my business then went to the sink to wash my hands where I found many in your face reminders of the importance of washing my hands:

I went for the soap dispenser and lo and behold, it was empty….
No soap in the bathroom at the doctor’s office.
I love ironies such as these we encounter in life.

I tell you, it’s a chore to get my kids to remember,
or better yet for me to remember to remind them to wash up before we eat….
The worst is when they’ve been playing out at a community playground swinging, gripping all kinds of bars, crawling up and down various platforms, and then we sit down for a meal,
I see them touching their food and licking their fingers and I ask, “Did yall remember to wash your hands?”  “No”
I can almost see the little germs having a party inside their mouths and bellies!  Gross

Wash your hands before dinner!
That’s all the Pharisees and scribes--
the keepers of religious law in 1st century Palestine-- are saying right?
Wash up! right?
Were the Pharisees simply concerned about germs?
When they see Jesus and his disciples, not washing up before supper, they quickly signal, “They’re defiled!”

They use the word, Defile.  
Implying not so much being dirty, but rather, not being holy and pure before God.
According to Jewish laws and customs, one needed to be clean before coming to worship...and one could become unclean for any number of reasons according to the law of Moses...

Any of you read through Leviticus and Numbers recently?

Jesus knows well the law of Moses, and he, like the religious leaders, wants people to be clean...

So he questions the spirit of the law….

Does washing hands before supper really make one clean?
Or, more precisely, does washing hands before supper put us in right relationship with God and with our neighbor?

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Into the Storm - Mt 14:22-33

“Out into the storm”
Mt 14:22-33

Trust Exercises - part of Children’s sermon

This morning’s sermon is about trusting God even when we find ourselves in the midst of a storm.

As I mentioned last Sunday, many of the stories I will share with you in our lives together come from my experiences in the Southwest.  

One story is about a woman who gets too close to the edge of
the Grand Canyon, loses her balance, and slips over the edge.  
Just before falling 1000 feet, she grabs on to a root sticking out from the
edge.  "Help me!"  She screams.
"Is there anyone up there?  Help me!  Save me! Anyone up there?"

A voice answers, "I am the Lord.  I can save you. Do you trust me?  
Do you really want me to help you? "

"O, yes, Lord, I trust you!  Please help me."

"OK," the Lord says.  "I'll save you.  Now, let go."


"Just let go of that root you're holding on to, and I'll save you.  You
have to trust."

The woman pauses a moment, gulps, and then shouts out,
"Is there anyone else up there who can help?!"
Falling 1000 feet is a much more scary prospect for most of us than falling into a lake.
If we’re able to swim, it’s likely most of us don’t worry too much about falling into a lake.  
And that’s all really the sea of Galilee is is a big lake.

So why was Peter, an experienced fisherman,
so frightened when he began to sink into the water?

Let’s step back a bit and look at what’s going on in this fascinating story told by Matthew in chapter 14.
First Jesus and the disciples have feed over 5000 people..
Wayne Moncrief, Miriam’s husband told me it may have been closer to 20000 fed.

And Now...Jesus is walking on water; Peter is trying to walk on water….
there is night there is day, there is a storm and there is calm.  

This painting by 19th Century Illustrator Gustave Gore that may help us imagine what is taking place as we look at this story...   

As a story-teller, this is one of Matthew’s more choppy narrations,
perhaps intentionally so:
First, it is evening when Jesus sent the disciples away on the boat and dismisses the crowd. Then, Jesus goes to the top of a mountain to pray.
The boat carrying the disciples is pushed far from the shore from the wind…
an important aspect: apparently these skilled fisherman who know how to navigate a boat, didn’t want to drift far, but the wind was overpowering.
Was this wind at night?
Does this mean the disciples tried to sleep out on the boat in the stormy sea?
Did Jesus fall asleep on the mountain before going down to meet them;
or did he go down after praying only to find them out at sea;
maybe he slept on the beach?

Either way, at dawn, he’s waited long enough,
they haven’t come back for him--
a little impatient?
“I’ll show them, not coming back to pick me up,”

Jesus decides to display a new power to his sea weary disciples,
he walks on the waves;
and by doing this, his already sleep deprived disciples are freaked out even more…

The way Mark tells the story, Jesus intends to walk past the boat…
almost like he’s trying to pull a little joke on them….

Imagine the foggy-eyed guys on the boat; who saw him first….

“Hey, Andrew, you’re not going to believe this!?? Look!”

“What is it, John?”
Apparently they don’t think: Aw, it’s just Jesus…
They turn to each other and scream...GHOST!!

The walking on waves figure speaks: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Jesus's All You Can Eat Buffet - Mt 14:13-21

This morning’s sermon is about the transformative power of the miracle of compassion….
entitled, “Jesus’s All you can eat buffet.”  

I don’t frequent all you can eat buffetts often; but, for whatever reason, this week, I ate at two all you can eat places--Stevie B’s all you can eat pizza, and the chinese buffet on 441 at the bottom of the hill!  I like to eat so if any of you want to go out sometime, just give me a call, I’m happy to join you.  

Subconsciously, I think eating at the all you can eat places this week may have been inspired by our story from Matthew….the crowds eat all they can eat... so much food there are 12 baskets of leftovers….All from five loaves and two fish.
I always have questions when I encounter these amazing event of scripture, today’s are rather straightforward:
How did this happen?
What does this miracle say about who God is?
And what does this mass feeding frenzy of 2000 years ago mean for me, for us, today?

This is a quite familiar passage from Matthew, I heard from my daughter Ruby Gene it was reenacted by some people in the congregation during VBS…
I believe Jesus is here, maybe we should get some insight from him….

Matthew says, a crowd gathers in a deserted place seeking Jesus, who has emerged as a powerful preacher, and healer..
They are seeking a better life, seeking hope and peace,
and the scene is framed in the language of compassion as
Jesus, greets the crowd and has compassion.
But when it gets late, the disciples probably hungry and a bit grumpy,
do any of you get this way when you’re hungry?
I do…
The hungry grumpy disciples want to send the crowd away,
“send them away..let them fend for themselves…besides, what can we do?”
there isn’t enough
I can relate to the disciples..
So often, I see the needs of the world, and I get stuck in that same place...what can I do? there isn’t enough...Let them fend for themselves...

But, Jesus responds to their concern:
“There is no need to dismiss them.
You give them something to eat.”

Jesus doesn’t say, I will give them something to eat…
he doesn’t just manifest a miracle, voila, food for everyone, let’s eat!!
He doesn’t suggest they order Jimmy Johns...or whatever ancient palestinian equivalent there would have been for fast delivery.
He says, “You, disciples, you give them something to eat.”


And the miracle happens when they obey,
their hearts are converted,
they act in compassion,
They move from seeing with eyes of scarcity
To seeing with eyes of abundance
and they offer what they have
—only 5 loaves and 2 fish—
a ridiculous offering by any account,
it will never go around to feed 5000!

But, to the great surprise of everyone, all were were fed,
all were full,
and there was an abundance.
Truly a miracle.  

What does this say about God?
Most in this country are quite well fed.  
Few of us have to go hungry at night…
We finish our meals and if offered more food,
we say,  “Uff, no thank you, I’m stuffed.”

Food is left over; often thrown out or composted in the very least…

This is not the way it is for most people in the world,
and to eat and be stuffed with plenty of leftovers would certainly have been an infrequent experience in the time of Jesus for the peasants who gathered to be with him.

So what’s going on? Interestingly, just before this feeding of the masses, Matthew tells of another type of banquet taking place.
It’s in King Herod’s palace, where there is an abundance of food, opulent wealth…
and at this, Herod’s birthday party, the decision is made to take the life of John the Baptist in a gruesome fashion.

Time and again throughout history, we see when those in power, when empire can convince the masses there isn’t enough, they are better able to keep the masses in repressive situations, so that power can be easily exerted.

But, if Galilean peasants hanging out with Jesus and his disciples are being fed so much that there are leftovers….!
Jesus becomes dangerous to those in power….

If the people realize they have the power within the community to care for one another,
and in boldness act with compassion,
they may discover there is an abundance for everyone...
This story of of the feeding of 5000 is a powerful display of the reality that God--Emmanuel--is with the huddled hungry masses, while at the same time challenging oppressive forces...

It was an event that left a lasting impression on the first century christian community.
This miracle of feeding of the masses is the only miracle, other than Jesus’ resurrection, told in all four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

Each gospel tells the story slightly differently.
One variation in John’s version of the story is that when the disciples worry about what they will feed the crowd,
it is a boy who offers the five loaves and two fish.

I love that it is a child, one who doesn’t know any better.
One who isn’t concerned about if there will be enough,
one who acts illogically and was probably laughed at…
A child who gives…
and as a result of the child’s action…all are fed.
The actions of children can inspire us and challenge us in our discipleship.

The church elders suggested we put in the bulletin a story about actions of children…
Children who became scared,
scared because of the pervasive violence in their neighborhoods, thanks in no small part to the use of illegal drugs in our country.
Children who fled their homelands in Central America,
many in search of  one or both of their parents,
parents who had come to this country to try to better provide for these very children…

Children who trusted strange smugglers who might later abuse them;
Children who climbed the top of trains to ride for hundreds of miles
Children who walked treacherous miles trying to cross,
finally making it to or across the border,
but before they could successfully find a parent,
were detained,
and now thousands of children sleep on floors, huddle in detention centers, and are being transported from one location to another

Children who sometimes meet angry yelling masses of adults who protest their presence

Children whose search results in finally quickly being deported.  

Policy makers worked hard to expedite their deportation rather than giving them due process, which might actually have granted them refugee status and asylum for just a few years, due to the situations they are fleeing in their homelands….

Thousands of children…
is there room for them?
Can we feed them?
Will they drain resources?
Will they be a danger to our society?

“Send them away,” the disciples said.
Jesus said, “they need not be sent give them something to eat.”

I am just beginning my journey with this community of faith here at Commerce Presbyterian Church,
or CPC as the kids are calling it these days…

I was listening to a weekly podcast from Day1, which interviews and plays sermons from preachers in the southeast.  
The host began the interview asking the guest preacher:
“How would you describe your congregation and some of the ways they are working together for the kingdom of God?”

I wondered: were I asked such a question, after serving here long enough to know, how might I respond?
If I could simply say, “CPC is a hopeful congregation that inspires its people to understand and act with compassion in their community and in the world,” that would be a wonderful response...
At the risk of gaining a quick reputation as a long winded preacher,
I’d like to close with a story I love that tells of the miracle of compassion if I may…

While grew up in Georgia,
because I served a in ministries in New Mexico and in latin america for 10 years, many of the stories I will share in our life together will be from those experiences, and so we return again to the border...
People have been traveling great distances in the region we know as the southwest and mexico since before the time of the Spanish who arrived to that region in the 16th century.  Borders have been drawn and redrawn, and yet people have crossed back and forth that land.  
It is only in recent history that significant barriers to crossing were erected in some of the major crossing points,
intentionally forcing migrants into more dangerous areas--dry deserts where food and water came, for the most part, only from what they could carry.
As a result many have died in the desert from exposure and dehydration.
As a response to such cruel policy, groups of people, calling themselves names like, Samaritans, and No More Deaths, began to spring up like water in the desert providing makeshift shelter, food, and of course water to aid those on their journeys.  
A friend working with an aid group told me a story of a remarkable encounter that took place one day between aid workers and traveling migrants.
The aid workers were making their way through the harsh exposed land on foot looking for people in need, carrying food and water with them.
They would periodically shout what they usually shout:  “comida, agua:” food, water
In this way they identify themselves as a peaceful presence.  
Comida Agua, Food Water” they would shout.
Before long they came across a migrant group: women, children, men, tattered clothes and battered backpack backs, sun scorched lips and burning feet.
Comida, Agua! Food Water, the aid group shouted, as they made their way toward the traveling group, the group saw them and stopped and huddled together, having some sort of conversation.
The aid group got closer to the migrant group: comida, agua, food water,
and one from the migrant group came out to meet them.
They greeted one another and then the migrant said to the aid workers,
“We’ve been traveling for days, we have very little food left and we’re almost out of water, but what little we have, we will share with you.” (as told by Brandon Wert)
I have to wonder as I consider this miraculous feeding of the 5000.
Which is a greater miracle?
That Jesus can defy the laws of physics and somehow make manifest an abundance of food out of very little?  
Or that people’s hearts are converted from once thinking there is a scarcity, there isn’t enough to go around, I better hold onto what is mine,
into seeing with the eyes of Jesus,
or the eyes of a child,
or the eyes of a migrant,
That out of what little one may have, one can give
through which God can do amazing things.  

All can have a taste and be filled at Jesus’ all you can eat banquet:

everyone who thirsts,
   come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
   come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
   without money and without price.

Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
   and delight yourselves in rich food.
3 Incline your ear, and come to me;
   listen, so that you may live.