Friday, August 29, 2014

Follow the Leader!

Matthew 16:21–28
From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get
behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”
Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? “For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.”
Glenn was in his mid 80‘s when he took me hiking in the mountains of Montana where I did my seminary internship.  He told me at this point in his life he only had  a “low gear” left for hiking but I’m here to tell you that gear never got tired!  As we wound our way up the switchbacks, it became very clear that there was only room on this path for one leader.  Assuming I had the energy to pass Glenn (which would be a HORRIBLE assumption) there just wasn’t room to pass him without falling off the side of the mountain.  

Last week, Peter did good.  He called Jesus the Messiah.  This week when Jesus as the leader decided to hike down a trail that was VERY different from the one Peter had imagined he didn’t do as well.  Peter, like almost everybody else in that day and time, imagined the Messiah would go to Jerusalem, kick the Romans out, restore the boarders of Israel, clean house at the Temple, and then become King, ruling over a thousand year reign of peace and prosperity.  THAT’S the Messiah Peter and all the people were waiting for!

When Jesus decided to NOT take that expected path and instead told the disciples that he planned to take the totally UNEXPECTED trail to death with a side trip through major suffering, it was WAY too much for Peter to get his mind around.  Peter figured Jesus must have just gotten a little confused.  So to “help” Peter decided to give Jesus some directions.  The problem was that in giving Jesus directions, he was in essence, trying to take over the leadership of the group.  Peter had stopped following and now was trying to lead.

As disciples, you and I and Peter are called to follow, not lead, and really we shouldn’t try to lead because, if we’re honest with ourselves, we really have NO idea where we’re going.  But we love to lead, we WANT to NEED to be in control, don’t we?  The world says we SHOULD lead and all too often we are eager to lead with total confidence... right up to the point we walk over the edge of a cliff.  The fact is there is only ONE leader who knows the path to life... only one who knows the way that will not end in a horrible mess on the rocks below… and that’s Jesus.
You, me and Peter we know we’re all called to follow Jesus.  It’s just when we look down the particular path Jesus is walking it looks... well, hard!  It’s not the “normal” path the world recommends.  It looks like the perfect path for hot feet, aching legs and a sunburned neck... not a path to the good life.  Yet, the point of discipleship is trusting Jesus enough to follow him down that scary looking path anyway, trusting that even though it LOOKS intimidating, THIS path is the one that doesn’t lead us off a cliff around the corner!    

In the end, Peter and the disciples did decide to get back behind Jesus and walk with him down the trail to Jerusalem... right to the corner of Suffering Drive and Death Boulevard.  And they were right!  It wasn’t a pretty path.  They too experienced hardship, suffering and in most cases their own terrible deaths, because they chose to follow Jesus.  These days, you and I are not called to walk to Jerusalem in modern day Israel, but as disciples, we are still called to follow Jesus on a particular path.

Paul outlines the path we are called to follow.  Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good.  Love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor.  This isn’t meant to be just a philosophy or something that only happens for an hour on Sunday morning.  We are called to get off our sitters and walk this particular path every single day and in every part of our lives.  We are called to live our lives, put our necks on the line, take the risk and actively work for the things that are good and actively fight the things that are evil.  That means more than just giving some money to feed someone who’s hungry.  It means also asking WHY that person is hungry.  It means working to change the systems so that we put ourselves out of the feeding-hungry-people business, because we’ve changed the world so that everybody is now able to feed themselves!  It means looking in the mirror and trying to see how we might play a part in systemic injustice.  It means much more than charity... even though that is a powerful and essential thing...  it is about also working for real and lasting justice.

Hiking this path, I know, can burn.  This path can get pretty uncomfortable, but this is our call as Christians.  Going down a different, more comfortable path is an option.  Just look around.  The world hops on that path like it’s a superhighway.  Ignoring injustice, might makes right, wealth at the expense of the poor, demonizing the oppressed... it happens every day... but I’ve got to warn you, the path that takes you to that sort of comfort and brings success at the expense of others and gets it’s way though violence is not the path Jesus is headed down.  According to Jesus, that path doesn’t lead to the abundant life God created us to live.  That path leads to a crumpled mess at the bottom of a great big cliff. 

So, we’re confronted again with last week’s question.  Who will we follow?  Jesus is geared up and headed down a difficult path that demands generosity, grace, forgiveness, justice and compassion.  The world... well, the world is headed I don’t know where these days... but we need to choose.  We need to choose either to follow the leader or go our own way and remember, not choosing is actually a choice too, to NOT follow the leader.

One trail calls us to welcome the stranger, work for a world of justice, live in harmony and feed our enemies.  The other trail calls us to concentrate on making it big in the world, living high on the hog at the expense of others and looking out for number one.   One trail leads to thinking first about ourselves.  The other leads to putting the needs of others before ourselves.  One path leads to a destination called death.  The other path takes, not a short cut, but the LONG-CUT called suffering and then goes THROUGH death and ends at a rather scenic vista called abundant and eternal life.  Jesus has his boots laced up, his pack cinched up and is headed down the path.  Are you ready to follow the leader?  Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Confessions of an ALS #icebucketchallenge Hater-Unbeliever

There is a great deal of very credible evidence that I am grumpy, a fun-sucker and a poop.  Just ask my family. However, I've never felt like a "hater" before and certainly don't "hate" the ALS ice bucket challenge.  When it comes to being an "unbeliever" of this challenge, I'm really not even sure what that means.  It seems though, in our all-or-nothing culture, that my only options are to unquestioningly and enthusiastically participate or be a "hater" or "unbeliever" and since I'm not unquestioning, enthusiastic or participating you know where that leaves me...  

While I don't feel like a "hater" or an "unbeliever" I do feel conflicted.  On the one hand I appreciate the more than 70 million charitable dollars (at the time of this writing) donated and that some people became aware of the horrific disease of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis for the first time.  On the other hand though, I can't help think of what will happen next year, after the viral, social media trendiness of this runs it's course and there are still years of research that need to be funded and thousands of people in need of incredibly intensive care who are still suffering.  I can't help thinking about the other equally horrific diseases that plague the world and kill our family members, friends and neighbors that aren't fortunate enough to be currently trending on Facebook or that plague people outside of our immediate view.

What this latest, trending campaign has done for me is to put an exclamation point on something I've known for a long time.  We mistakenly substitute charity for justice!  Charity is giving money or time or goods to meet an immediate need.  Charity is good and absolutely necessary.  For example, when a child is hungry they need food.  They don't need questions, debate or research.  They need food…NOW!  But if we stop there we have not only failed the child but failed our society because that child will, in all likelihood, be hungry again tomorrow needing more charity for ever and ever, amen.  What they need, after their immediate need is met, is justice.  Justice asks the much harder question, "Why is this child hungry?"  Justice honestly researches the societal systems that, for whatever reason, have created a situation where this child is perpetually worried about where their next meal will come from.  Justice requires us to debate and think about ways to change the systems so that child no longer worries about whether or not they will have lunch today. Justice is different than the one-time patch of charity (which again is critically necessary but completely different).  Justice is in it for the long haul, working at the root of the problem, until oppressive systems/diseases etc. are dismantled and supportive systems are put in place by our society as a whole.  

Again, for the ALS ice bucket challenge, I love the generous charitable giving that has happened.  But, for me, a real challenge to our society is not a one time donation and a bucket of ice water on your head.  The real challenge, the harder challenge, is to do justice.  Imagine if everyone who has dumped water on their head and given a contribution (a.k.a. done charity… which again is awesome and needed) would now call their member of Congress, both their Senators and the White House and demand to pay more taxes next year, and every year thereafter, to fully fund every expert of every horrible disease that kills our family, friends and neighbors no matter where they live in this world until all disease was no more!  THAT would be doing justice.  I'll admit, I'm often grumpy, a fun-sucker and a poop too, but I'm no "hater" nor an "unbeliever"… I'm simply not content with charity and popularity for some, when I've been called to advocate for liberty and justice for all!


Monday, August 18, 2014

Welcome to God-Mart!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 16th Chapter
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea
Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

You probably know what it’s like to go shopping at Sam’s Club or Costco.  Staring up at a cliff-face of pallets filled with row after row of toilet paper in 144 roll packs.  In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has taken the disciples shopping as well, although the disciples weren’t staring up at a selection of single or double ply.  They were shopping for the One they would follow.  

Jesus had taken the disciples to Ceasera-Philipi which is in the very Northern part of Israel near the headwaters of the Jordan River.  It was a very cosmopolitan town, where Jewish culture met the world and under Roman rule, this town was dedicated to the god Pan and also had a temple to Caesar.  But Pan and Caesar were just the big-volume gods.  In Caesaria-Philipi there were way more to choose from... in this town, it was like going shopping at god-Mart because into the face of the cliff just outside of town, the people had carved niches into which they placed their various gods.  So, looking up at the cliff face with a vast variety of gods looking down on them, Jesus asked the disciples, “Who do you say that I am?”  In other words, as you look out at all the choices in front of you today, which one are you going to put in that shopping cart with the sticky, wobbly, squeeking wheel, and take home?  

It was a good question.  But it wasn’t JUST a question for disciples back then.  It’s a question for us too.  But before you answer, hold on a minute.  You might think Jesus was asking each disciple then... and you and me now... for an INDIVIDUAL decision... a personal choice but the truth is, that’s not what Jesus was asking at all!  When Jesus asked “Who do you say that I am” the “YOU” he used was PLURAL.  Jesus was asking them as a group... as a whole.  “Who do Y’ALL say that I am…together… what have y’all decided…who will y’all follow... together?”  And so, while Peter played the part of the spokes-model for the group, it wasn’t his decision alone... it’s what they chose TOGETHER.  

Again we see that being disciples is not really about... not even mostly about you or me as individuals deciding to follow Jesus... It’s actually WAY more about being part of a community of faith.  Being a Christian is much more a group activity than an individual activity.  I know that rubs against what the loud people often say about faith and while there is a small element of the personal, private and individual in our faith, there is an overwhelmingly larger, more profound and infinitely more meaningful part of our faith that can only be experienced in community.  So as we shop for the One we will follow... we’ve got to shop TOGETHER as a community of faith.  So, grab a shopping cart with a sticky wheel and let’s start shopping... TOGETHER.  

So, welcome to god-Mart!  As you can see, here at god-Mart there are literally endless choices of gods to follow.  As we head down the first aisle, you’ll notice this super shiny god on the end-cap.  It’s the god of prosperity.  It’s super sharp, that’s for sure... and a REALLY popular choice.  This god comes with finely tailored Italian suits, perfectly straight white teeth and AMAZING hair.  With this god comes the message that the reason to give to the church is so you can get MORE in return.  For this god, success and wealth and riches are the ways people are blessed and poverty is a sign of sin.  If you are poor, it simply must be what you deserve.  Like I said, it’s a very popular choice but let’s hold off a minute; there are lots more gods to look at, so let’s shop around a bit before we make our choice. 

Just around the corner is another very appealing god.  It’s the god of comfort.  Choosing that god will make sure things stay small, comfortable and easily under our control... just the way we like it.  It smells like grandma’s house and fresh baked chocolate chip cookies every time you walk in the door.  This god allows you to not see the injustice in the world, doesn’t ask you to speak out on behalf of someone else and never asks you to give up what makes you comfortable so that someone else might be included... plus... there’s cookies!  Cookies are tempting, that’s for sure... But, don’t decide yet!  There are a lot more gods at god-Mart.  There’s an endowment god that keeps things up and going in a church even if it requires life support.  There’s the god who looks like a old, white man with a beard in a cloud and there’s the god that’s anything but a white old man with a beard in a cloud.  There’s the god of music, a god of traditional liturgy, a god of contemporary worship, a god of pipe organs and a god of electrified bands... there’s the god of buildings, the god of youth and family and a denominationally exclusive god that lets you think your people alone have all the right answers... there’s a god with a shockingly colorful vocabulary and another one of the new arrivals... an emerging god with ink and piercings.  Some of these might be tempting... might sound like just what we want or need... but remember, we have to decide together, and we only get to pick one.  So let’s keep shopping… Now, over here, in amongst all these millions of choices there is also the choice of Jesus, the Son of the living God.  That’s the one the disciples chose in the Gospel story, but that was way back then!  Just because that’s what THEY chose on their trip to god-Mart, that doesn’t mean that’s what we have to choose!  

But, just out of curiosity, what would it look like if WE chose to follow Jesus, the son of the living God.  Well, I’ve got to warn you... that one is hard to follow.  After all, this is the Son of the LIVING God… and living means moving, CHANGING, risk-taking so that one is always challenging.  Following this one… following Jesus means going out there into the world, speaking up against injustice, putting his ideas into actions.  It means working actively against things like institutional and systemic racism and seeing that the things happening in Ferguson happen here too and seeing that we too play a part in it all.  It means fighting for those who need healing, not just with a one time donation and not just when it’s trending, but for the long haul and for the forgotten.  It means going where JESUS wants us to go (not where we want to go) and between you and me, Jesus ALWAYS goes to the places and people on the margins.  He goes where things aren’t exactly familiar, under control or comfortable.  He often asks his disciples to leave things they like behind and open themselves to something VERY new.  It means opening our hearts to people different from us, challenging our deepest fears, seeing the world through their eyes and seeing every person as the equal and marvelous and essential child of God they really are.  It means trying it someone else’s way, making their hopes our own, sharing the control and moving ourselves out from the safety of the way it used to be and into a new way nobody has EVER done it that way before!  It means dying to what we want as individuals... to what has been comfortable in the past and to playing it safe and being resurrected to a new life lived only in Christ; in a loving, self-sacrificial way for all people.

Well, there are a lot more gods on the shelves but have you seen enough?  Have y’all decided?  In my experience, lots of people SAY Jesus is the one they want, but when they think nobody’s looking they put Jesus back on the shelf behind a case of Ramen noodles and grab an easier one to follow.  So Prince of Peace, as we look at a future filled with a bunch of unknowns and challenges... as we look at a world that seems this summer to be more unhinged with injustice than usual... which One will we as a congregation put into that shopping cart with the rattling, annoying, sticky wheel?  Which One will we choose to follow?  Among all the possible answers that the world has to offer us, who will we together, say that Jesus is?  Amen.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Sit Down You're Rockin' the Boat!

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 14th Chapter
Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in
fear. But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

I dreamed last night I got on the boat to heaven 
And by some chance I had brought my dice along 
And there I stood 
And I hollered "Someone fade me" 
But the passengers, they knew right from wrong. 
For the people all said sit down, sit down, you're rockin' the boat 

People all said sit down 
Sit down you're rockin' the boat. 

And the devil will drag you under 
By the sharp lapel of your checkered coat, 
Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, 

Sit down you're rockin' the boat. 
I first heard that song a week before my wedding.  I left Kelly in Atlanta and flew up to New Jersey to tour a flavor supplier’s factory.  I was a product development scientist at the time, making new products for Coca-Cola.  After we had done the tour, our sales rep took us into New York City and we ate at a fancy restaurant at a table near Brooke Shields and Julian Lennon, and then we went to a Broadway show.  We saw Guys and Dolls!  Now, the theology in the verses of that song aren’t very good, but I love the tune and it’s fun to sing AND the chorus and today’s Gospel lesson have something we really need to hear.   The temptation with this story is to race past the set up and go straight to the punch line where Peter, God love him, steps out of the boat and tries to walk on water.  But in truth, a punch line isn’t any good without the set up, so let’s take a couple minutes and set it up right!  

First, Jesus puts all the disciples into the boat... TOGETHER!  Discipleship, he’s showing us, is something that is done TOGETHER!  Right over there, smack dab in the middle of our sanctuary, sits the Baptismal font... and NO, it’s not there because I forgot to put it back after I used it last!  It’s right there, smack dab in the middle of everything... ON PURPOSE, because THAT is where you and I are put into the boat to be disciples... TOGETHER!  It’s TOGETHER that we’re called to be disciples.  It’s TOGETHER that we’re called to hear and wrestle with God’s Word, to discern God’s Spirit and it is TOGETHER that we are called to reach out in service to the world.  

The other critical piece we need to pay attention to is the setting for this story.  It’s dark and it’s on the sea.  In Jesus’ day the sea and the dark were symbols that represented chaos, evil, uncertainty, monsters and everything nasty that goes bump in the night… you know, life.  It was into that chaos, uncertainty and just plain danger that Jesus shoved the disciples off from the safety and security of solid ground and out into the place where monsters lurk... into a completely unpredictable future.  Now, many people, when they remember this story, remember that the disciples were in trouble, that their boat was sinking, that they were all about to drown.  But that’s not this story!  The boat was battered, yes... the wind was against them, yes... and they were far from land BUT they weren’t sinking.  

Working TOGETHER in the boat, the disciples were probably sore, tired and maybe even scared out of their minds BUT, they weren’t sinking.  When we’re in the boat TOGETHER supporting one another... and someone’s bailing and someone’s rowing and someone’s wrestling the tiller and someone’s trimming the sails, it’s ALWAYS better than being out in the chaos and in the darkness of life alone.  Jesus put the disciples in a boat together on purpose.  Jesus knew that for you and me to live the abundant lives God created us to live, in the middle of a world filled with wind and waves and chaos, we would need to sit down and work TOGETHER with our fellow disciples!  TOGETHER we give each other strength when we row into the darkness, when we see the rocks ahead and when our stomachs start churning.  Jesus knows that TOGETHER is the way we will get through the storm.  It was over those waves and through that wind and darkness that Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, trampling the chaos of the world under his feet.  Into their darkest, rockiest, scariest time, Jesus was watching and was with them.  That’s not just how it was for the disciples back then either.  It’s also a promise for us disciples now and into the future.  God is with us, ALWAYS, reminding us to take heart and to not be afraid.  

And now we come to the punchline.  Peter.  I love Peter, because Peter always does everything 100%.  Sometimes it’s 100% right and sometimes it’s 100% wrong, but Peter is the poster boy for Martin Luther’s famous advice to us to “sin boldly.”  Peter calls out to Jesus.  “Jesus, I want to try that walkin’ on water stuff.”  Jesus, knowing exactly what will happen and ready to deliver the punchline for this story says, “Come on Rock!”  And out of the boat he steps… looks around and sinks just like his name!  Just like a rock!  

NOW, here’s the important question of the day.  Why did Peter sink?  Was it because he didn’t have enough faith?  Was it because he didn’t keep his eyes on Jesus?  NO!  He had faith.  Jesus says so.  Granted, it was “little” faith, but remember, in just a few chapters, Jesus will tell the disciples that faith the size of a mustard seed is enough to move mountains!  Faith was not the problem.  The real reason Peter sank was... HE GOT OUT OF THE BOAT!  HE TRIED TO WALK ON WATER!  He got out of his seat, stood up, rocked the boat and stepped out into the chaos by himself.  He tried to be like God and sank because he wasn’t!   

Our job as a disciple is to remember that we are human and not God.  Our job is to stay in the boat and row into the future JESUS sets us off to find together.  In spite of the winds, waves, chaos and darkness that we all clearly see ahead, our job as disciples is to do our part.  Each one of us, and each of our parts, is essential to the journey... steer, navigate, work the sails, bail water, be an usher, read lessons, sing songs from VBS, set up for communion or bake cookies ALL OF IT all of it is essential!  It simply isn't helpful to stand up and rock the boat to try to go it alone and try to walk on water.  The world outside rocks our boat plenty without us rocking it more from the inside!  

We need each other in this journey.  We need each other to weather the storms of this life.  We need each other to help bring the Kingdom of God to this world and we need each other to help us remember that in the darkest, loneliest, most painful, frightening and uncertain of times that we have not been forgotten that we have each other and that Jesus is watching and will come to us no matter how far out we are in our little boat, and he will trample to peace our biggest worries and our greatest fears and bring us life.  Amen.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Eat Mor Chikin

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 14th Chapter  

Now when Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.  But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns.  When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd;
and he had compassion on them and cured their sick.  When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”  Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”  They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”  And he said, “Bring them here to me.”  Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass.  Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds.  And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.  And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Even on the most boring commute, a full sized plastic Holstein cow standing in front of a completely white billboard is going to catch your attention!  I commuted into Atlanta every day back then and normally the route was completely predictable.  Then, one day, there was a cow up on a billboard.  The next day the cow was standing on just it’s back legs and appeared to be writing giant sized words with black paint.  Over the next week the cow moved down the sign and the words began to appear and in the end, the sign read, “Eat Mor Chikin” and it was the beginning of the Chick-fil-A fast food chain’s most effective ad campaign ever.  

It was a sign... a literal sign... but having folks just stop and marvel at their clever sign was NOT Chick-fil-A’s goal.  Their goal was for the sign to point to something else... their goal was to get people to stop and break their routine... to choose one of their special chicken sandwiches instead of the burger they always automatically ordered before.   

In the same way, the miraculous elements in today’s Gospel lesson are not meant to be where we stop either.  It’s easy to get mesmerized by the sign:  Five Thousand men and then the women and children too; five loaves, two fish, everyone fed and then twelve baskets of leftovers!  It’s easy to get caught up in what is clearly amazing!  But no matter how amazing it is, THAT is not where we are meant to stop.  The amazing details are meant to points us to something more.  The “more” it’s pointing to is the heart of this story... the part where Jesus tells the disciples, “The people don’t need to go away to be fed, you, disciples, give them something to eat.”  Jesus is trying to convince the disciples that they have indeed been given the ability to feed the people.  

This was a tremendously challenging lesson for the disciples then and it’s equally challenging for us disciples now!  The disciples saw a crowd of well over 5000 people, they didn’t know what to do with them or how to handle that many people.  Their solution was, in their panic, to just ask them to go away.  But Jesus, even before he knew there were only five loaves and two fish, challenged the disciples to fed the people… ALL the people.

You and I are faced with a similar overwhelming challenge.  We’ve got a few more than the dozen disciples sitting here in church this morning than Jesus had and we’ve got several thousand less people out there on the island that are hungry than Jesus had, but the odds are still pretty overwhelming.  The people though... they’re hungry just the same.  They are hungry for God’s unconditional love, they are hungry to be included, they are hungry for justice.  They are hungry for deeper relationships and deeper meaning in their lives.  They are hungry for a connection to the infinite that they might not be able to name, but long for at the depths of their beings.  The hunger is the same.  The overwhelming challenge for the few of us to feed ALL of them is the same and the overwhelming panic at that enormity of that challenge is the same.  How can so few, care for that many?  Where would we put them if they came?  Our methods for connecting to God don’t seem to translate to what those outside the church are able to hear these days?  What would we feed them if they all stayed for lunch?  It’s so overwhelming to think about that it’s tempting to say, or maybe just act in a way that says, “go somewhere else to get fed.”

But Jesus tells us the same thing he told the disciples.  “They don’t need to go away; you give them something to eat.”  When the disciples heard that, their little disciple minds panicked!  Jesus, you must be insane, we have nothing…NOTHING to give them... well, we’ve got these five loaves and two fish, but what’s that?  It’s NOTHING... isn’t it?  In the panic of being told they were supposed to feed the whole crowd, the disciples stopped being able to see all the things they DID have to accomplish that task, including their most valuable resource...Jesus!  Those disciples weren’t the only disciples to have that kind of trouble.  Disciples all over the world continually do the same thing when we are suddenly challenged with something that seems overwhelming.  Like a mackerel suddenly coming face to face with a shark, all we can think about when something overwhelming confronts us is how fast can we swim away and where can we hide!  In that moment of overwhelming panic, our brains stop using the parts that God gave us as humans and we forget that God has blessed us with an incredible abundance of gifts which can be creatively used to conquer even the hardest problems we might face.  We forget or dismiss or can’t even see the gifts God continually showers on us and we forget the biggest resource we could ever want or need... the power of God that comes to us through Christ!  

The miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is a sign that jumps up and down and shouts at us to NOT PANIC when we are faced with what seems to be an impossible calling from God!  It begs us not to miss the loaves and fishes right in front of our faces!  Union Church has WAY more in the way of gifts and resources than any of us could ever ask for or even imagine!  Look at the compassion we show for each other, look at the generosity, look at the people around you.  Do you know what gifts they have tucked away?  Do you know where they’ve been or what they’ve done in their lives? Look at the time and passion folks give in this church... the service done here that overflows out into our whole community and into the world.  Look at the natural beauty of the island and the super glue-like bonds among the people who live here.  Look too at the gifts people bring with them when they come from “away”.  Summer residents, visitors, day trippers and our new denomination all bring all sorts of loaves and fish with them when they come.  And all of them are hungry for the loaves and fish we can share with them while they are here and send with them when the ferry takes them back to the mainland.   Look around and really see the incredible abundance of loaves and the fish around you right now and then remember, on top of ALL that abundance... we also have Jesus!

There are a couple thousand people outside those doors and they have a hunger for a deeper connection to other people and a deeper connection to the Divine.  It is a hunger that is growing in them every single minute of every single day.  Jesus has called you and me to feed them.  Jesus didn’t ask the disciples then to do something they couldn’t do and didn’t have the resources to accomplish and Jesus doesn’t ask us to do something we are not able or equipped to do either.  Every Sunday when share bread here, we are reminded that Jesus is with us... our most valuable resource... calming our fears so we can see the incredible abundance we have been given and challenging us again to take that abundance and do nothing less than give the hungry something to eat.  Amen.