Thursday, August 30, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, August 30

John 6:16-27 tells the story of Jesus crossing the sea without the benefit of a boat.  (There is a reason for me to speak of that event this way - which you will soon learn.)

Jesus and his disciples are being pressed by the crowd.  Jesus has just fed the 5,000 with a few loaves and fish and he fears they will come and take him by force and make him "king."  So the disciples go down to the sea, get into a boat and started to cross to Capernaum.  "It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them."

The wind is against them, and they have rowed for three or four miles.  Then, "they saw Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat."

When this story is told, we are inclined to say, "Jesus walked on the water."  Such reads those sometimes helpful (but sometimes misleading) chapter headings in my digital bible.  But Matthew, Mark, and John (there is no such story in Luke) all are clear that Jesus is "walking on the sea."

The sea has water, but it is more.  The sea was a fearful place for travelers.  Its depths were impenetrable.  The "Leviathan" lived there and devoured whole ships.  There was more worry associated with the sea than simply drowning.

Jesus walks on "the sea."

I always want to acknowledge how simple these email messages are.  There are fears and threats which do loom large and should not be ignored.  I write these email messages in order to point out how some have responded to fears and threats.  That response is to speak of how God has "walked on" these things and proven to us that they can be overcome and kept in their place.

What flaming arrows are coming your way?  What anxieties do you face?  Jesus walks over them all.  And will walk with you.

Pastor Chris

PS.  Let me site my sources for this insight to sea and water.  There is a weekly podcast, produced by two campus pastors.  One of them is Zach, an LCM-C Alumni; Matt is the other host.  It is called "Vinyl Preacher."  I encourage you to listen to it.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, August 29

This morning I read John 6:1-15.  This is John's sharing of the events in which 5,000 were fed with five barley loaves and two fish.

There are many things which could be said about this story, but this morning I would speak to you about abundance.  These few loaves and fish did not seem to be enough - but they were.

We are too easily overcome with worry or anxiety with regard to scarcity.  We lack the confidence that we will have enough.  The feeding of the 5,000 is the Church's retelling of it's experience that there is plenty, and even baskets full of fragments to spare.

This story is about food.  Food is very important and may be the thing (next to water) which we need to have.  But the story also lends itself to address other needs in our lives.  It speaks to God's ability to overcome scarcity in other quarters of our life.

I am not naive enough to pretend there aren't real shortages in the world.  And I do not intend to add to the anxiety of those who find themselves lacking.  I offer this story and this reminder that God is prepared and continually looking for ways to provide.  This may be manna that falls from heaven, or it might the aid of a fellow disciple.  Look for this assistance and receive it.  When it is needed in your life, acknowledge and ask that it might be overcome.

God is generous and gracious.  He does provide.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, August 28

For my morning devotions, I am reading stories of the Judges from the Prime Testament, from the Acts of the Apostles from the New Testament, and from the Gospel of John.

Pastor Heiliger pointed out to me that in John, we do not find the word "miracles."  When something happens which we might label with that word, John's gospel speaks of a "sign."  

The "sign" is a sign of God's might, of God's love, of God's presence in the world.  The event is not some magic trick, it is a way of pointing to something we ought to know about God; something that God would want us to see and understand.

As I read Acts, I read of the early growth of the Church.  There were whole households and plazas full of folks who are baptized in a single day.  This is often due to powerful preaching; but it is also often accompanied by a "sign."

What are the "signs" happening among Jesus' Church today?  Where are we being encouraged to see God's might, God's love, and God's presence?

At last night's Congregational Council meeting, we talked about being a welcoming Church.  This is more active than merely saying, "All are welcome."  It means naming the ways in which our current society responds or reacts to some of our neighbors.  To be a welcoming community, we need to admit the ways in which some are allowed to worry whether the "All are welcome" banner applies to them.

On Sunday, there was a display of battle flags along Highway 123.  Those who witnessed this acknowledged that the display accomplished its aim - they were frightened and intimidated.  Surely, one of the signs called for in the Church today is to be a strong voice against any claim to self-expression which also includes suppression of others.

The Church, during the period of the Acts of the Apostles, suffered its wounds.  I just finished reading about the martyrdom of Stephen.  But it grew.  Grew because it didn't have social status with which to be concerned and it didn't have members who might fall away when the words of Jesus were applied to daily life.  Grew, as a result of making sure the signs held high were those which pointed to God's might, God's love, and God's presence among us.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Devotion - Monday, August 27

The devotional guide I follow includes a writing for each day.  The selection for yesterday is from one of my favorite authors - Flannery O'Connor.  If you are unfamiliar with her, correct this.

The selection recorded for yesterday was to her fellow writers.  She speaks of how the world of a story-teller is both an external world and an internal one.  What happens in the mind and heart of the writer allows a more vivid description of what is happening in the world around.

She uses words from St Cyril of Jerusalem, who said "The dragon sits by the side of the road, watching those who pass.  Beware lest he devour you.  We go to the Father of Souls, but it is necessary to pass by the dragon."

Dragons are not lurking around campus or in town.  But speaking of dragons may allow one to call attention to the dangers which are present and ever threatening to undo the good to which you aspire.  If this vivid (though clearly exaggerated) depiction of the dangers which surround you helps, then thank God for its use.

One can dismiss the imagery as the musings of an over-active imagination.  And be justified in doing so.  Or one can realize that the author/poet/speaker may see what we too could benefit from seeing.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Sermon - 14th Sunday after Pentecost - Year B

John 6:60-69                                     

                                                                 Love that Crazy Guy

"I Love Jesus."  This was one of the thousands of t-shirts printed and worn at the ELCA Youth Gathering this summer.  I liked the design, and the affirmation, of the persons wearing it. 

I thought about those shirts, as I read the Gospel Lesson for today.  And I wonder whether, at this point in the gospel story, the first twelve disciples would have worn a t-shirt boldly proclaiming, “I love Jesus”!

You just heard these verses.  You can (and should) look at them again.  The text tells us that upon hearing what Jesus had to say, the disciples begin to complain and slowly to fall away.  Finally, Jesus looks at the twelve and asks them, "Do you also wish to go away?"

            "I Love Jesus."   Some may wear these words, emblazoned across their chest.  But the disciples understood that loving Jesus was no easy matter.  Many of them turned back and no longer went about with him. 

            I do love Jesus.  But I need to be honest with you.  So let me admit there are times when I would really like to find someone else whom I could place at the center of my world.

            One of my “go to books” is Harvey Cox’s Many Mansions.  The book is an encouragement for dialogue between Christians and individuals of other faith traditions.  The final chapter was given over to a discussion of Jesus, the historical Jesus, not the one that we have tamed and made accept­able.  The chapter in this book does a beautiful job describing how unpredictable and unreliable the historical Jesus really was.  No one could predict where he would go or what he would say next.  It was this loaded cannon, mounted on ball-bearings that scared the be-gee-bees out of everyone and lead to their calling for his death.

            "This teaching is difficult;  who can accept it?"

            The reference being made in this passage is to Jesus' words about himself as the bread of life.  We discussed this last week.  It was the appointed text.  Jesus has just told the disciples that he is the bread of life, the bread that has come down from heaven.  Thus the reference in our passage as to what would happen were they to see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before.  This whole chapter in John's gospel began with Jesus' feeding of the 5,000, a meal which began with five barley loaves and two fish.  Having witnessed this sign, the people chase Jesus, but he unsure whether they recognize who and what he is or if they are simply seeking more bread for their stom­achs.

            Finally, Jesus lays it out for them.  "I am the living bread that came down from heaven,” he says.  "Whoever eats of this bread will live forev­er;  and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."

            This teaching is difficult, who can accept it?  I can't believe Jesus is so dull as to not see the unacceptably of his position.  He has two things working against him at once.  First, there is this matter of eating this flesh.  The actual Greek word would be better translated as "chew" or "gnaw."  There is a mutilation involved here and Jesus is in the middle of it.  Forget all the cute pictures of Jesus cuddling the little chil­dren on his lap or gently holding a lamb in his arms.  This is a terrible thing.  It is not a pretty picture.

            Second, is the disappointment factor.  In the face of hostility; in the encounter with un-repentant forces; Jesus will not fight.  "The bread THAT I WILL GIVE ... is my flesh." he says.  Sure, it is our ideals and beliefs which we defend to the death.  And we honor those who do it with all of the strength and courage they can muster.  Jesus, on the other hand, simply folds his cards.  He yields his life - so that we might have this bread.

            "This teaching is difficult;  who can accept it?"  and they begin to turn back and no longer go about with him.

            Jesus does about the only thing you can do is such a situa­tion.  He sits back and takes stock.  His eye catches the twelve and he asks them, "Do you also wish to go away?"  "Here's your chance," he says.  "If you want to go, go."

            I was nineteen years old when I made a pact with God that I would go to seminary.  It was at a crisis point in my life, at a time when I was naive enough to believe that I could bargain with God.  At first I was comforted and somewhat relieved by the virtue of my little deal with the Almighty.  But as the crisis point passed and my naiveté began to wane, I started keeping one eye open for an escape that would allow me to get out of the bargain.  One was not immediately found, so my studies and work remained on a trajectory that pointed toward seminary and ordained ministry.  It is true, that after a while you grow accustomed to your trajectory and stop asking why it ever got started.

            That's where I was when an escape route fell into my lap.  It came as I was ending my year as national staff with Lutheran Student Movement.  It took the form of a job offer, to do campus ministry as a lay person and work part-time as the handy-man for a church camp.

            Be careful here, not to misunderstand.  The issue is not whether we serve God best through ordained ministry or ministry through daily life.  At issue, was the opportunity set before ME to make a break for it.  To get out while I could.

            "Do you ... wish to go away?"  Jesus asks his disciples.  They think about it.  They wonder what it would be like.  But in the end, they stay.  Simon Peter answers Jesus, "Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life."

            I sometimes think I should have made a break for it, while I had the chance.  I think how different my life would be now, if I had gone.  (I failed to mention earlier that the job was on the coast of southern Califor­nia; that the camp overlooked cliffs leading down to the Pacific Ocean.)  But no, I wouldn't change a thing.  I would do nothing to upset the delicate balance which holds in complete check all the forces that could so easily overpower me.  There is no way that I would ever change the center around which my beautiful universe spins. 

            Sometimes I may think I want to upset, or change, or turn back - but in the end I realize there is no one else to whom I can go.  This Christ, embodied in Jesus of Nazareth, speaks a word which I believe and know to be the words of eternal life. 

            As crazy as it may be, as unsettling as it may become, there is nowhere else.

            "Do you also wish to go away?"  Jesus asks all of his disciples.  "Lord, to whom can we go?" is our response.  "You have the words of eternal life.  We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."


Thursday, August 23, 2018

Devotion - Thursday, August 23

I am still reading from those verses which come after John 3:16.  Too often we read and/or remember that verse and fail to read what comes after.

This morning, my devotional guide had me read the story of the woman at the well, in John 4.

This woman is taken back by Jesus' words and his interactions with her.  The power of her conversion is such that her fellow villagers are also convinced to come looking for Jesus.  And they do.  And Jesus stays in their midst for two days.  

At the end of this time, "Many more believed."  Those who had been intrigued by the witness of the woman now make a confession of their own.  They also tell the woman, "It is not longer because of your words that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world."

What campus ministry seeks to do is become those "two days" in your life.  Not that you haven't already come to your own beliefs and convictions, but these years of your life are those in which the depth of those convictions and the significance of those convictions must be established.  A former CU professor wrote a book about this - the title is "A Faith of Their Own."  This is what we seek - a faith built on the foundations of those who have gone before but is uniquely your own.

Hear the clear witness of those who invite you to come and see Jesus.  Then, consider what the words of Jesus will mean in your life.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Devotion - Wednesday, August 22

This is the day!  Classes start this morning.  My prayers will accompany you as you begin to discover all that will be offered to you over these next 14 weeks.  

Being a student is your job.  It is more than a job, it is your calling.  God's desire for you is that you would learn and discover how to use and add to what is currently known in order to make of this world the place God desires it to be.  Yours is a holy calling; a job of tremendous importance.

My prayers will accompany you this day.  And my hopes and expectations for the future will be lifted as you share what you are learning and discover how to use that knowledge.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Devotion - Tuesday, August 21

John 3:16 is so often lifted up that our reading of John 3 seldom lingers long enough to read the following verses.  This morning, the lectionary I follow had me read John 3:22-36.  There were a couple of gifts which came to me from the paragraphs which follow the more popular and commonly read paragraph.

First, Jesus' group of disciples also engaged in the practice of baptizing.  We don't talk about this very much.  If there were baptisms before Jesus' death and resurrection - what was the aim of that baptism?  Remember, the sacramental baptism of the Christian Church is a baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection.

Second, upon observing how folks are flocking to Jesus and his disciples, in some cases passing over John and his previously well established ministry, John makes a comment we all need to hear.  He says, "He must increase, but I must decrease."  We need to ask ourselves whether our work is to set ourselves forward or if through our work Jesus is allowed to be seen more clearly.

Those of us in the "shy Christian" groups tend not to name Jesus in our daily encounters.  We avoid saying something which might suggest that we did the helpful thing as a means to an end;  that we are helpful in order to manipulate the recipient into some sort of guilt for failing to accept Jesus as personal Lord and savior.  So, we hold our tongue.  Good move.  Really.  Don't help others as a means to an unacknowledged end.  But do struggle with how those who receive the overflowing of grace God has poured into your life will ever know the joy which comes from acting out of that reservoir of love.  Speaking the name of Jesus is not always done with ill intentions.

I can be humble.  I can remove myself from the equation.  To make my decrease an increase for Jesus, I do need to speak the name and speak of my motivations.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Devotion - Monday, August 20

Let me start off by saying "Welcome back".  What a joy it is stand at the start of a wonderful year full of so many opportunities and experiences.

I do benefit from my summer's away from this daily routine.  I can sleep a bit later; getting on my computer isn't always necessary.  But my prayer life and my devotional life suffer.  Without this daily exchange, prayer and study can also cease to be a routine.

The Christian faith was never envisioned as a solitary experience.  We may come to hold convictions by way of private reflection and decisions.  But Jesus invites his followers to "come and see," to "follow", and to become one of a group of disciples.

There are far too many instances in which we are forced to go it on our own.  Faith is not one of them.

As we encounter those places where we experience loneliness or alienation, the faith community offers a relief.

I was reading this morning from John 3.  Jesus states "the light has come into the world."  Allow that light to illumine the dark recesses of your world and your day.  And - thank you - for being that light in my life and for my day.

Sunday, August 19, 2018

Sermon - 13th Sunday of Pentecost

John 6:51-58  

                                                           Eat My Flesh; Drink My Blood 

We had a great time on the LCM Alumni Trip to Germany.  It was different, taking 40 year olds rather than college students.  Still not sure which is less demanding.

One of the rules I live by while in Germany involves food – particularly breakfast, which is always served as part of a hotel or hostel stay.  I tell fellow travelers, if I don’t know what it is – I eat it.  How else can I learn?  And I regularly pass this bit of advice on to my travel companions.  For the sake of full disclosure, I need to tell you that two of my most recent travel companions seemed to suffer adverse consequences from something they ate.  This didn’t completely destroy their journey, but it made for some significant alterations in how they spent their day.

The dieticians among us would encourage us all to realize how what we shove in our mouths has effects – on how we feel as well as how we live life.  We need to be careful, regarding what we shove in.

Theologians and preachers should take note of what dieticians know and practice.  Theologians and preachers would do well to point out to congregants the ways in which our ingesting of biblical verses and confessions of faith will alter how we spend our day; how we will live our lives.

Pull out your bibles, or open up your app, or if you have neither of those, look at the few verses of John 6 printed in your bulletin.  This Gospel Lesson is all about how what we eat affects who we are and what we do.

We are in John 6.  We have been reading from John 6 for five weeks.  And we’ve got one more reading from John 6 next week before returning to Mark’s account of the Jesus story.

Over these five weeks, we have been talking about eating.  Mostly about eating bread.  I would not want to say that everything covered in those previous lessons was merely stepping stones, but the direction in which those stories nudged us is brought to completion in the verses selected for today.  What happens here, and the response of the disciples (next week’s verses) seems to be where all this is leading.

Have you found John 6 in your bible?  Bread, lots of bread, and plenty of eating.  And throughout this chapter, three critical points have been made:
1.     We all need bread.  The 5,000 would have starved had Jesus not fed them in that lonely and deserted place.
2.     God does feed us:
a.     By miracles - like the feeding of the 5,000;
b.     By sending manna like hoarfrost in the wilderness; or
c.     By the miracle of a single grain which falls to the earth and dies and in so doing produces an abundance.

It has in many ways all been a set up for what Jesus is now going to say about where his followers are to get our nourishment.

Find verse 53.  Let’s all read it together:  “So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.’”

Whew!!!!!!!!  That almost needs to be read twice:  Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Let me make a few notes. 

If the Jews were disputing among themselves before he said this, one can only imagine what they are saying now.  Hebraic Law (which we tend to selectively apply to modern-day Christian ethics) is very clear about flesh and blood.  These are NOT to be consumed.  You could eat meat – provided that meat had come from the Temple, where the rituals of bloodletting and life-for-life were followed by the Temple priests (who in this case could also be referred to as “the temple butchers.” That is not meant to be derogatory, this is what they did.  They butchered the meat.)

It is a rather recent development in human discussion where “life” is somehow linked to awareness or consciousness.  Does anyone know when that started to happen?  I think of Freud, but surely he as building on the work of others.  Anyway, long before we associated life with the firing of billions of synapses in the brain, Hebraic Law spoke of life being located in blood.  Even more than “in” the blood, the blood itself was life.  This is why the blood had to be returned to God.  Priests where the butchers who knew how to honor God’s gift of life by returning that life to God.  The meat left behind, once life had been given back to God, could be consumed.  But not the life itself.

Even the priests couldn’t get all the life (blood) out of the meat.  So that is where the fire pushed out any remaining drops.  No rare meat in the world of Jesus and his devout Jewish colleagues.  You could eat the meat that had come from the Temple, when you cooked it appropriately (in special and separate pans) but you would never ingest raw flesh.

Look back at verse 53.  What does Jesus say?  “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

Let take another lesson from those wise dieticians.  Some of us like to eat raw meat, but it is pretty risky.  Eating such provides all sorts of opportunities for my life, my body, even my whole person to be affected and altered.  You got to be careful, regarding what you ingest.

What have you been eating?  Have you shoved in whatever was set before you?  Without thinking of the consequences or possible effects?  How has what you have eaten affected you, changed who you are, and altered the way in which you will spend your day?

(This is the point in this sermon where we take facts and information and draw a metaphorical conclusion.) 

In this long chapter 6 of John’s gospel, Jesus points out that what had been set before to many of the Temple’s most faithful was something which might get them through the day but would not bring to them the life God wants to give.  They had consumed what was set before them, without questioning if this was what ought to be ingested.  Jesus suggests they consider an alternative diet.

Which, of course, brings this metaphoric leap to our conclusion for today: What do you take into yourself?  The familiar?  The safe?  That which someone tells us we are to eat?  For the sake of full disclosure, let’s make sure to note how strongly each of have been instilled with an aversion to taking in that which has the potential to change us or make us something different.  Are we not taught, by our mothers, by society in general, and by countless would-be religious leaders NOT to eat certain things?

Jesus tells his followers what they are to ingest.  He uses the strongest possible language to associate what he is telling them to do with the greatest of prohibitions spoken by the Temple leaders.  He knows that eating this flesh and drinking this blood will make them persona non grata in many circles.  He warns them that taking his life into their own bodies will change who they are.

Why would anyone do that?

Be careful what you eat.  Consider the consequences before reading your bible or studying theology.  Weigh the cost of joining on as one of Jesus’ disciples.

The Church does a disservice to itself and the message of Jesus when some veiled threat is associated with making these choices.  We need not speak of some punishment for deciding wrongly.  The task of the Church is to lift up the possibilities and promise and joy and abundance which comes from receiving the life of Jesus into ourselves and experiencing the changes which come as a result. 

Verse 56:  “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.”  What a joy, to “abide in” Jesus.  But the part of this verse which brings real life is the part where Jesus says he will abide “in (me)”.

I am going to eat that flesh, and drink that blood.  Who will join me?

Just in case anyone is worried about what is in this cruet, it isn’t blood.  It is wine, though we do have grape juice as well.  In this container we have the fruit of a vine.  But it is for us the life of Jesus.  In the mystery of the sacrament, it is for us his blood which we take into ourselves.  And upon ingesting this really odd meal – our lives are given the opportunity to become life.

Be careful what you eat.  It can really affect the way you will spend the rest of your day. 

Pay attention to what you ingest.  You will be changed as a result.