Thursday, August 31, 2017

Start Walking

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 16th Chapter

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.”

Last week, Jesus and the disciples pulled into Caesarea Philippi.  It’s in the far North of Israel.  It’s closer to Damascus and Beruit than it is to Jerusalem.  It was a crossroads where trade, cultures and religions all came together.  Outside of town there was a spot in a cliff face where everyone carved a niche for their god.  You can almost imagine Jesus and the disciples pulling up to this cliff face and looking at all the gods and Jesus, with a wave of his hand at all the possible god-options, asking, “Who do ya’ll say that I am?”  This is when Peter, the spokesmodel for the group, chimed in and said, “You are the Son of the Living God, the Messiah!”  As they say on Family Feud… Good Answer!  Good Answer!

As right as Peter was last week, that’s exactly the amount of wrong he is week!  Together that averages him out to be a regular human being.  The trouble was Peter’s idea of how the Messiah ought to act didn’t fit with what Jesus had in mind.  Peter had imagined all his life that the Messiah would raise an army, go to Jerusalem, kick out the Romans and start a 1000 year rule of peace and prosperity.  That wasn’t just Peter’s idea either.  That was the go-to Messiah model of the time.  A conquering hero was exactly what everyone was taught to expect.  God was supposed to send a hero to kick butt and take names, not send someone to suffer and die!  

When Jesus told them he planned to take a path to death with a side trip through suffering, Peter lost it.  He’d been looking for that conquering hero Messiah since he was a kid!  Jesus, he figured, just needed to be straightened out.  The problem with that was when Peter went to straighten Jesus out, he was no longer following Jesus.  He was trying to lead.

You see, you and me and Peter… we’re all called to follow.  We often think we’re smart enough to tell the Son of the Living God how to be the Messiah but it turns out we’re not God.  Unlike God we have exactly what it takes to lead boldly… right off the edge of a cliff.  FOLLOWING Jesus, on the other hand, turns out to be the Way, the Truth and the Life and and not a path that leads off the edge of a cliff.  

There’s a catch though… following Jesus on his path… it’s hard!  Lots of steep grades, hot feet and aching legs on that Jesus path.  And what makes it even harder is that following Jesus actually means “following”… real life moving, doing and going… You can’t watch a live feed and virtually follow from a pew… you’ve got to actually get off your sitter, put one foot in front of the other and do your life the Jesus Way… out there!  

Eventually Peter and the disciples did just that.  They remembered God was God and as God, God was allowed to do a new thing.  They stepped out on the Jesus path and followed him on down to Jerusalem.  They walked faithfully some of the way and wandered off here and there too.  Sometimes 100% right… sometimes 100% wrong, mostly averaging out to 100% human just like you and me.  In our Baptisms we too have been set on this path that follows Jesus.  Our path doesn’t literally walk the same geography… down hill to Jerusalem, but it’s a path that all of us Baptized Christians are called to not just think about, study and discern, but to actually walk… one foot in front of the other every day of our lives.    

In the second lesson Paul outlines what walking that path looks like for us.  Talking about it, theologizing about it, debating it, studying it and discerning it is good, but it’s not enough.  It means in every step of our day, letting love be genuine with everyone we encounter.  It means hating what is evil, holding fast to what is good.  Loving one another with mutual affection and outdoing one another in showing honor.  

It means taking the risk and actively working for the things that are good and actively opposing the things that are evil.  It means more than just sending a couple of bucks to for flood relief in Houston.  It means insisting that when what used to be called 500 year storms happen multiple times in a single decade we face the truth of why that is and do something about it.  It means more than simply thinking racism is wrong.  It means standing and speaking and acting in ways that change hearts and minds and privileged systems.  Walking the Jesus path means doing charity… and then taking another step and doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly on the Jesus Way.

You may have caught on, this ain’t no afternoon stroll!  It’s a hike!  Easier paths that focus on yourself, your comfort and your success are out there, sold by preachers in expensive suits and perfect teeth.  Those paths just don’t look very much to me like the path Jesus walked.  We walk the Jesus Way.  As Luther said, every day we wash our face, we remember our Baptisms.  We remember we’ve been sealed with the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever and because we’ve been given that, we have what we need to step out on the Jesus Way, put one foot in front of the other and walk.  No short cuts.  Mostly long-cuts to be honest.  But as we walk that path we’ll begin to realize that we are alive… really alive... abundantly alive and it’s a path we walk together as the Body of Christ.  So, what are you waiting for?  Let’s start walking!  Amen. 

Saturday, August 26, 2017

From Rocks to Gems

Isaiah 51: 1-6

Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness, you that seek the Lord. Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father and to Sarah who bore you; for he was but one when I called him, but I blessed him and made him many. For the Lord will comfort Zion; he will comfort all her waste places, and will make her wilderness like Eden, her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the voice of song.

Listen to me, my people, and give heed to me, my nation; for a teaching will go out from me, and my justice for a light to the peoples. I will bring near my deliverance swiftly, my salvation has gone out and my arms will rule the peoples; the coastlands wait for me, and for my arm they hope. Lift up your eyes to the heavens, and look at the earth beneath; for the heavens will vanish like smoke, the earth will wear out like a garment, and those who live on it will die like gnats; but my salvation will be forever, and my deliverance will never be ended.

Look to the rock from which you were hewn and to the quarry where you were dug.  The prophet Isaiah reminds us this week of our common background.  No matter who we are, no matter how far we have traveled, no matter what we look like, who we love, or what path we take in life, we’ve all been cut from the same quarry.  We’ve all been formed by a God who has loved each one of us into being.  How well we embrace that truth takes a lifetime of work.  

There are those who learn early how everyone has been formed in love and others (perhaps those of us with heads taken from the harder, denser rocks in the quarry) who take longer to understand God’s all including love and some who fight that truth every step of the way.  Even those who learn this early, take a lifetime to wrap their minds around the fullness of God’s love for us and for all of creation.  Some of us come from a church background that helps us learn that from the very beginning.  Some have been hurt deeply by church and need to let go of that before they can discover something different they could call their own.  For more and more people there just isn’t any church background and for others church growing up wasn’t harmful, but it also never seemed to make it’s way in at the time.

There is not a better way or a worse way to grow into the understanding that all of humanity has been equally and lovingly quarried into being.  There’s not a better time or a worse time to begin figuring that bit out and there is never a time that we will ever completely wrap your minds around the infinite love of God.  It’s infinite after all, and none of our arms can reach quite that far.

The Psalm today reminds us that as we walk that journey, the God who has created us promises never to leave us.  The Psalm talks of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness.  “Steadfast love” is the best English translation of a Hebrew word that means way more.  It implies a deep, never ending passion for us; an unbreakable commitment to be with us always… a love that will never be shaken, no matter what we do or don’t do in our lives.  

The God that cut us from this same rock cares more deeply, even for us with granite-hard-noggins, than we could ever imagine.  This is not a God that blasts us out of a quarry and sends us off in the dump truck of life.  This is a God that cuts each of us with a sculptor’s eye… A God who cradles each of us in loving arms lifting us with care out of the quarry.  The Psalm writer ends by praying:  Do not forsake the work of your hands.  That’s the promise we receive from God.

The lesson from Romans also tells us a little more about this never ending journey of faith.  The rock that was cut from the one stone; the rock that was lovingly lifted out of the quarry; it isn’t just any old rock.  Each piece of stone was cut with deep intention, in love and for a purpose.  Figuring out what that purpose is in our lives is the third most difficult thing we do here on this planet.  The second most difficult thing is to actually live into that thing God has called us to do and the first hardest thing is to decide what’s for dinner.

So no human being is just some old rock.  Each human being is a specially selected stone, quarried with love for a purpose.  Each human being is lifted from the quarry in the arms of a loving God and each human being is sculpted by God into something of great beauty.  Each of us are shaped like a priceless work of art.  Each of us are cut like a diamond, with intricate facets, unique, and precious.   To the One who cuts us from the quarry and shapes us like diamonds, each and every one of us are the most beautiful gems in all of creation.  

As we grow in understanding the breadth and depth of God’s love for us we begin to see ourselves, our neighbors and the world around us through the eyes of the Sculptor… we see more and more like the Divine gem cutter.  We slowly begin to see the people around us as more than just a bunch of rocks.  We even begin to see those who seem to have rock hard heads and stone like hearts… they too were really created to be  gems, cut along side us from a common rock and shaped for a purpose in the world. 

Our faith is a journey which begins by being hewn from the same rock, lifted in love from the same quarry, held and shaped by a loving God for a purpose.  It is a journey of forever wrapping our minds around the fullness of that truth.  It’s a journey which strives to see the hardest hearts through God’s eyes, as unpolished gems still being cut, as unfinished sculpture still being carved.  Our challenge is to see God’s hand in those who are polished stones and in those who are still very much in the rough.

This is one of the many reasons we need one another… why we need the Church.  Here we are fed by that loving God who cuts us from the rock, lifts us from the quarry and forms us for a purpose.  Here there are eyes who can help us see God at work in us and others.   Here we are reminded that we and all of creation is a treasure of gems, crafted in stedfast love!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Who Let the Dogs In?

The Holy Gospel According to St. Matthew, the 15th Chapter

Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

What was Jesus thinking?  What was Jesus doing calling this poor woman with a demon tormented daughter, a dog?  This was one of the most vile, nasty, insults you could use in that culture.  What was Jesus thinking?

Was Jesus NOT thinking and then after talking with this woman for a bit, the light bulb suddenly lit up and he realized that God’s love and grace and healing was for everybody?  Or was it that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing from the very beginning?  Was he using the shock value to get the people’s attention so he could hammer home a point?  

None of us can crawl inside Jesus’ head, but reading the scripture around this story, that might just be what he was doing.  In the beginning of this chapter Jesus had an argument with the Pharisees about hand washing.  It was an argument about more than just soap and water, it was an argument about who God draws inside God’s circle and who is drawn out.  

The Pharisees were certain that only people like them… born to Jewish parents and perfect followers of the Law could be drawn in God’s circle.  That Canaanite woman was not one of God’s people simply because she had the wrong parents.  Nothing she did or didn’t do in life could change that.  She was drawn out before she drew her first breath!  Jesus and the disciples might have had the right sort of parents but they failed miserably at the rest, so they too were drawn out of God’s circle.  Jesus had tried to reason with the Pharisees but that didn’t work.  It’s what comes out of you that God really cares about, he told them.  It's how you love God and one another that really matters.  But when that didn’t work, perhaps Jesus tried a different, more shocking method.

By treating that woman like the Pharisees would, Jesus got their attention.  “Oh, look Jesus is coming around to our way of thinking.”  But then Jesus did what Jesus did all the time.  After pulling them along in a way that made them comfortable…when they least expected it…he took a hard left turn.  “Woman, you're a dog"!  Then the turn and, "Woman great is your faith!”  The Pharisees needed a neck brace after that turn!

Growing in faith, from drawing the circle of God’s love only around just a few who look, sound, behave and believe just like us, to the point where we can draw a circle that embraces all of humanity in God’s love… That’s a giant transformation!  When we think about drawing a circle that big… which includes so many… we often fear there won’t be enough.  Will there really be enough of God’s love for so many?  Will I still have what I had before if ALL of THEM are included too?  The fear of scarcity is a powerful fear.    

But as Christians we believe there IS enough of God’s love for ALL, even to overflowing.  Personally, I like ALL because when God draws a circle that embraces ALL, it must be a circle large enough to even include the likes of me.  Some people though, have trouble with a circle that includes ALL.  The Pharisees had trouble with ALL.  With the recent emboldening of white supremacists, nazis and racists, it's clear they too have trouble with ALL.  This trouble with ALL grows out of fear.  Will there be enough power, privilege, influence, jobs, housing… will there be enough left for me if we include ALL of THEM?  These are today’s sinful Pharisees who insist on purity and proper parents.  They wave torches, throw Coke cans filled with concrete, shout slogans, injure and kill, use hate and violence, lies and fear, all to keep everyone they would label as dogs out of a circle that includes ALL.  

The Good News is that it doesn't matter what they think or what they do or what they fear.  Jesus has ALREADY drawn the circle of God's love so it already includes ALL!  Jesus let the dogs in!  All us dogs!  His death and resurrection has torn a hole in the fence and even the mangiest of us dogs are now included at the feast at God's Table.  ALL are drawn in God's circle.  ALL are included in the grace, love, healing and wholeness that God intends for all of creation.  

ALL's still hard though.  Even for those of us who would never march with torches or shout nazi slogans.  It’s hard because we all know someone, if we’re honest with ourselves, we’d like to draw out of our circle.  We all know someone who’s not exactly the sort of dog we’d like inside our fence.  So, knowing we shouldn’t DIRECTLY exclude anyone, we say things like "hate the sin and love the sinner" or “they just won’t be comfortable in our neighborhood or church” and suddenly, even without the shouting or the bloodshed, we too have drawn a circle that includes less than ALL.  

The truth of this lesson is that ALL are welcome in God’s Kingdom and God sent his Son, not just to suggest it, but to make it happen with his life, death and resurrection.  Now, you and I, as followers of the One who has drawn a circle so large it includes all of creation... WE are called to do the same.  So together let us draw ever larger circles.  Let us get to know the people who hateful people call dogs.  Let the world around us see us Standing for Love with them, shielding them, advocating with them, singing, eating, laughing and crying with them until the circles WE draw look more and more like the circle GOD has already drawn.  And as we do that… as we draw wider and wider circles... it is through those widening circles we will see more and more of the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

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.”

Here’s a joke a friend’s six year old grandson told her recently.  Actually, it’s just the punchline.  Here goes… “The seaweed.”  Hilarious, right?  Actually… not that funny.  BUT if you add the SET UP that goes with that punchline… “Why is beach sand wet?”  “The sea weed!”  NOW it’s funny… well, it’s funny to six year old boys… and 50 year old boys, anyway!  

The setup is really important and that’s true in today’s Gospel too.  It’s super tempting to just race down to the punchline… where Peter, God love him, steps out of the boat, but when you do that, you end up missing some really important stuff.  So, let’s take a minute to look at the setup for this story before we get to the punchline.  

The first thing to notice is that it’s JESUS who puts all the disciples into the boat and pushes them off from the shore.  AND, importantly, Jesus puts them into the boat TOGETHER!  This isn't an accident.  Discipleship is meant to be done TOGETHER, with EVERYONE in the boat.  In our Baptisms, you and I were all put into the same boat to be disciples... TOGETHER!  In many churches a ship hangs in the nave, the part of a church where people sit.  There’s one in the cathedral in Stockholm.  The ship is there to remind us that we’re in this boat, called “Church” TOGETHER, and 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, TOGETHER we’re called to discern God’s Spirit and it’s TOGETHER that we are called to reach out in service to the world.  

The second part of the setup is the setting.  It’s a dark and stormy night!  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 the Wild Things are... into a completely unpredictable future.

The last bit of the setup is that we need to see is that even though it was a dark and stormy night and the boat was battered and the wind was against them, the disciples weren’t in trouble.  It wasn’t a sunny, summer sail, but this was largely a group of very seasoned fishermen.  They weren’t sinking.  

Working TOGETHER in the boat they were doing alright.  They might have been sore, tired and maybe even frustrated BUT, they weren’t sinking.  When we’re in the boat TOGETHER supporting one another... each taking a part, with someone bailing and someone rowing and someone wrestling the tiller and someone 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 life God created us to live in the middle of a world filled with wind and waves and chaos, our best bet would be to sit down and work TOGETHER with our fellow disciples!  TOGETHER we give each other strength in the darkness, TOGETHER we sail over the chaos of life, TOGETHER we get through the storms. 

So, now we’re finally ready to talk about the punchline!  It was over those waves and through that darkness that Jesus came to the disciples, walking on the water, trampling the chaos of the world under his feet.  Into their darkest, farthest-from-shore, most frustrating time, Jesus came and was with them.  That’s not just part of this story.  That’s a promise!  God is with us, ALWAYS, reminding us to take heart and to not be afraid.  

And now we come to Peter.  Peter’s name in Greek is a play on the word for “Stone” or “Rock”.  Basically Peter’s English name would be Rocky!  I love Peter, because Peter always does everything 100%.  Sometimes 100% right… and sometimes it’s 100% wrong, but ol’ Rocky is the poster boy for Martin Luther’s famous advice to us to “sin boldly.”  Peter calls out to Jesus.  “Jesus, I wanna walk on water like you’re doin’.”  Jesus, knowing exactly what will happen and ready to deliver the punchline for this whole story says, “Come on Rock!”  And out of the boat he steps… looks around and sinks just like… well, a Rock!

NOW, here’s the important question of the day.  Why did Peter sink?  Some say he didn’t have enough faith.  But lack of faith wasn’t the reason!  He had faith.  Jesus said so.  Granted, it was “little” faith, but faith the size of a mustard seed can move mountains!  So, faith wasn’t the problem.  The real reason Peter sank was that HE WAS HUMAN!  HE GOT OUT OF THE BOAT, TRIED TO GO IT ALONE AND TRIED TO WALK ON WATER!  He tried to walk on water like God and he sank because he wasn’t!   

This story is here to remind us… we’re human!  We’re not God!  So when WE head out into the chaos and darkness of the world… we really, really NEED one other.  This crazy idea that rugged individualism is the way to get through life... that's a lie!  You might be able to skip yourself over the chaos for a couple skips but you’ll eventually end up on the bottom of the lake… sunk… like a rock.  We humans… we need community… that's how God made us.  We only make it through the storms and over the chaos when we do it TOGETHER!  Together, with each of us doing our part inside the same boat, working together steering, rowing and sailing toward the place Jesus is leading us to go, we can move over the chaos and through the storms and darkness of this life and live the abundant life… a life filled with meaning and purpose and joy... that God created us to live. 

God has put us in the boat together in our Baptisms.  Jesus has pushed us out into the world to love God and love neighbor... Out into world that all too often looks dark and stormy, but remember Jesus knows that TOGETHER we can do this and when we get frustrated and battered by the storm, Jesus will come to us again, no matter how far out we might be, and he will trample to peace our biggest worries and our greatest fears and when we start to sink, he’ll pull us back up into abundant life.  Amen.

Friday, August 4, 2017

The Sign Says BUMP

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.

Out of Maine, across Massachusetts, South from Great Barrington toward Sheffield.  It was later and darker than we wanted but we were on the way!  Then we saw a big, orange sign.  It said, “BUMP”.  It was a sign... a literal sign... but not one from God.  Still, it was a sign and it was meant to get us to do something more than just admire how orange it was.  The sign’s goal was to get people to slow down before they hit that BUMP, which, in hind sight (my very best sight!) seemed to be a bit of an understatement.  I’d probably have chosen a sign that said “CHASM” or “ABYSS” rather than just “BUMP.” 

In the same way, the miracle in today’s Gospel lesson isn’t there just for the wow factor even though it’s a wow-worthy miracle for sure!  Five Thousand men plus women and children… five loaves, two fish, everyone fed and twelve baskets of leftovers!  That’s amazing!  But amazing folks wasn’t the goal of that miracle.  The amazing sign was meant to help the disciples DO something and that’s the hard part… it was meant to help them give the people something to eat.  

Give them something to eat… that’s the challenge, and when the disciples heard that challenge they replied, and I quote from the Greek, “hummana, hummana, hummana!”  This was a crowd of maybe 15,000 people!  No ATM around.  No Big Y!  No commercial kitchen!  It seemed impossible!  The disciple’s solution?  Panic!  Ask them to go away!  Drive though McDonalds on your way home, people!  Bye!  But into the disciple’s panic Jesus calmly said, “Give them something to eat”.  That’s our challenge from Jesus too.  Give them something to eat... and even though our situation is different than it was for those original disciples… we have more than a dozen disciples; we have an ATM and even a Big Y… when you look at the population of Southern Berkshire county, the numbers STILL seem just as overwhelming!   

The people though... they’re the same now as they were then.  Some are belly hungry.  But more are hungry to know God’s unconditional love for them.  Hungry to be included.  Hungry for justice.  Hungry for deeper relationships.  Hungry for community.  Hungry for a connection with the Divine and for deeper meaning for their lives.  Hungry for a life they feel matters.  All those hungers are the same now as they were then, and those feelings, that this is an overwhelming challenge for us to feed ALL of them… that’s the same too!  How can so few, do so much?  What do we have to feed so many?  It’s so overwhelming it becomes tempting to say, or maybe act in a way that says, “go somewhere else to be fed.”

But Jesus tells us disciples now, the same thing he told those disciples then.  “They don’t need to go away; YOU give them something to eat.”  When those disciples back then heard that, their little disciple minds exploded!  Jesus, you must be insane!  We have nothing…NOTHING... well, all right, we’ve got these five loaves but other than that we’ve got NOTHING… well, we’ve also got a couple of fish, but what’s that?  It’s NOTHING... isn’t it?  

The thing about panic is it really doesn’t help anyone see what they DO have and it makes it impossible to see how the things we have might come together in creative ways to solve problems.  In their panic, those disciples forgot about the bread, they forgot about the fish AND they forgot about JESUS!  But we shouldn't be too hard on the disciples then or on us disciples now.  Humans have been automatically running from scary things without thinking since they started running from saber tooth tigers!  It’s an instinctual, animal response for survival.  In those moments of overwhelming panic, we stop using our slower moving, deeper thinking human brains and just RUN and if you're being chased by a tiger that's the PERFECT response!  Unfortunately it's not a very sophisticated response so even when a scary thing isn't a tiger, we still lose the ability to see the gifts around us or how they might come together to take a step toward a creative solution.  In those moments of panic, we even forget the power of God, present with us in Christ!  THAT's why we need a sign!  

The feeding of the 5000 is a sign.  It’s a sign written in large, bold letters so we can read it even when we’re running away in an overwhelmed panic.  It doesn’t say CHASM, ABYSS or even BUMP.  It says JESUS.  It’s a sign that calls us back from our panic… calls us to stop, look and see the loaves, the fish, the Christ hiding in plain sight, always right in our midst!  It's a sign that reminds us we too have gifts!  And we DO have amazing gifts here!  If the gifts of this church were loaves and fishes we’d have enough to make fish sandwiches for everyone from North Cannon to Stockbridge... with left overs!  AND, lest we forget... we’ve also got Jesus!

It’s true, there are a few more than five thousand people outside those doors and that’s scary.  But here’s another truth… they’re hungry.  Hungry for something to eat, but also hungry for a life with meaning and purpose.  Hungry for inclusion, justice, healing and a wholeness that comes with a deepening connection with the unconditional love of God.  It’s a hunger they try to feed with all sorts of stuff, none of which ever makes a dent.  Jesus has called you and me to feed them together.  Not to ask if they’re worthy, but simply to feed them for no other reason than they’re hungry.   

It's a scary challenge!  But here's the Good News... God’s got this.  God’s got us.  We’ll forget that.  Being human, that’s what we do.  But when that happens we’ll hold up a sign… a little, round piece of bread at that Table there... and in that little, round piece of bread, we'll be reminded again that Christ is with us... our most valuable resource is with us... always with us... calming our fears, helping us to stop and look and see the abundance we’ve been given and giving us the power to go out those doors to feed the world without condition, simply because the folks out there... they need something to eat.  Amen.