Luke 2: 1- 8
Pies of Grace
Martin was an old man. He had buried his wife five years before but he was an old man before that. He knew the exact day he became an old man: July 11, 1965. He opened his front door to find two Marine Majors in full dress uniform standing there. He had leaned over and vomited.
His son was dead: killed in Viet Nam. That was the day he became an old man. Now, on most days, he sat in his house and stared at the TV: he didn’t really watch it, he just stared. Every other day or so he would walk to the cemetery and stand in front of the headstones of his wife and son. He didn’t talk to the dead like some people do at the cemetery; he didn’t pray – he just stood there.
Every Tuesday he had lunch with Robert but it felt like an obligation and not something he wanted to do. Sometimes Robert would walk his dog through the cemetery and ‘just happen’ to run into Martin as he stood at the graves. They never spoke, they just stood together until Robert turned and left, and then Martin would go home.
Sydney, was 13 years old. She knew that girls weren’t usually named Sydney but she was named after her grandfather and she liked her name. She had never actually met her grandfather but she saw the pictures and heard the stories and she thought she would like him and he would like her.
Two years before, Sydney, while at church camp, had fallen in love with Jesus. She loved going to church, she loved going to youth group, she loved everything that was about Jesus.
One day at church she heard some of the ladies talking about Martin Lewis. How sad his life was and how he hadn’t set foot in the door of the church since his wife died.
When her family was home that afternoon, Sydney asked her Mom why Mr. Lewis was so sad; why he would not come to church. Her mother stopped and was deep in thought for a few moments and then she said: Martin Lewis lost his son, Jacob, in Viet Nam and then his wife died about five years ago. He lost his family and he is sad.
Sydney didn’t really know much about Viet Nam, but she knew it was a war somewhere before she was born. She once heard Mr. Majors say he flew airplanes there.
Sydney suddenly realized that her mother might have known Jacob. “Did you know his son, Jacob?” Her mother smiled a funny smile and Sydney could see that she was remembering him. “Yes, I knew him. He was a year ahead of me in school.”
Sydney watched her mother’s face intently, “Mom, were you in love with Jacob?”
Her mother turned and looked at her, surprised at the question. “All the girls were in love with Jacob Lewis. He was handsome, smart, funny, and he was everybody’s friend.
“Would you have married him?”
“He never asked but if he had, I might have said yes. One never knows about things that might have been.”
Sydney thought a lot about Mr. Lewis for several days. Friday after school she went to the store and bought a frozen pecan pie. She went home, baked it and when it cooled she went to Mr. Lewis’ house and rang the doorbell. He came to the door looking as if Sydney had interrupted something very important. “What?’
“Mr. Lewis I brought you a pie. I didn’t really make the pie but I baked it.”
“I don’t want to buy a pie.”
“I’m not selling you a pie. I’m bringing you a pie.”
“Because Jesus loves me and Jesus loves you and because I want you to come back to church with us.”
She thrust the pie at him and he instinctively reached out and took it. She turned and walked away. He stood looking at her and wondered what that was all about.
He shut the door, took the pie set it on the kitchen table and looked at it. He went into the living room, sat down, then got up again. He went into the kitchen and looked at the pie again. He took the pie and threw it in the trash and took the trash out to the bin.
Two weeks later he had almost convinced himself that he had forgotten about that pie when the doorbell rang. He opened the door and ‘crazy pie girl’ was there with another pie. “Hi, Mr. Lewis. I brought you another pie, this time it’s apple. I can’t stay and talk I have to study for a big test. She thrust the pie at him and ran away.
He closed the door, stood for a moment holding the pie and looking at the pie, and then he turned and threw that pie all the way down the hall where it hit the doorframe of the kitchen. Apple pie went everywhere. He was instantly ashamed and he went and got the broom and the 409 and cleaned up the mess.
The rest of the day he muttered to himself, “She had better not bring another pie here. She’d better not!”
Several weeks went by and again the doorbell rings. He refuses to admit to himself that he hoped it was her, pie girl. And it is. She has a pie: peach.
“What’s your name?” He hated how mean he sounded. “Sydney!” “Well, what kind of name is that for a girl?!”
“It’s my grandfather’s name but I never actually met him.”
“I brought you a peach pie this time and want to invite you to come to Christmas Eve service with my family.”
“Why do you care if I come or not?”
Because you could have been my grandfather – and maybe my name would be Martin. I know how it works – if your son and my Mom had married, I wouldn’t exactly be me. But you still might have been my grandfather.”
Mr. Lewis was dumbfounded. What was crazy pie girl talking about? It took three tries but he finally said, “Who is your Mother?”
“Mary Shepherd but she was Mary McNamara.”
She thrust the pie at Mr. Lewis and walked away. He couldn’t think straight. But he took the pie and sat it on the table. He went to the living room but then he came back to the kitchen. He stood looking at that pie for a long time. He made himself a cup of coffee and ate some pie and thought about what could have been: a grand-daughter named Martin. And for some unknown reason, sitting there all by himself, he laughed out loud.
Christmas Eve at church was Sydney’s favorite time: everything was decorated with white decorations and green pine. Everyone was happy. And she loved to sing Silent Night and hold the candle. Sydney sat beside her mother and father on the end of the pew. Just as the music started, she felt a tap on her shoulder. It was Mr. Lewis motioning her to move over.
Her smile covered her entire face. He didn’t really smile but his eyes sort of looked like a smile. No one in church wanted to stare but everyone saw. Mostly everyone looked dumbfounded and confused. Her mother kept glancing sideways at her and Sydney could read that face: what did you do?!
Sydney noticed Mr. Lewis didn’t really sing the carols and he didn’t really say the prayers but he did stand and hold a candle during Silent Night. Mostly he just sat there, next to “Crazy Pie Girl” and thought about what it would be like to have a grand-daughter named Martin.
Martin Lewis lived in the shadow of death. Death had taken away his hope, his joy and everything he cared about. But a young girl delivering frozen pies brought life and light back into his life. Grace came to Martin Lewis through a 13 year old girl and some frozen pies.
Just like Martin Lewis, two thousand years ago, humanity lived in the shadow of darkness. People lived without joy and hope. And then very unexpectedly a young girl, about 13 years old, delivered a child that brought life and light to the people of the world.
God might send grace with a young girl and a pie. 2000 years ago, another young teen-age girl delivered grace – not a pie of grace, but a baby of grace.
Like Sydney and Mr. Lewis, God looked at humanity with love and sent grace that we might not live in the shadow of death. That grace, was Jesus. Jesus came to teach us how to love and live. He did not come as the world expected, a great military leader, but rather in the form of a baby. Yet he did defeat death – the greatest enemy of all.
Many times when we need a moment of grace it arrives in a way we did not expect. Many times we receive grace every day and don’t even realize it until we don’t have it any longer. It is when we lose grace that we realize just how precious it was to us.
Grace may come through a family member who asks if your soup is hot enough or if you want another cup of coffee. Grace, this gift from God, can come in small and seemingly insignificant ways. Yet they are not insignificant.
We should, however, recognize the love, gentleness, and grace of God in those moments.
There can be big moments of grace: a wedding, a birth, an old relationship brought back to life, healing from sickness. These are gifts from God and we should recognize them as such. But do not ignore the small acts of grace that make up our day to day life.
God’s gift of grace is what makes life worth living. Without grace, we become lonely, bitter people living in the darkness of death. With grace we become loving, kind and generous people.
In the person of a young teen-age girl named Sydney, who did not really understand the impact frozen pies had on Martin Lewis, God sent to Martin Lewis grace to leave the land of death and return to the land of the living.
In the person of a young teen-age girl named Mary, who did not exactly understand what this child was to be and do – God sent grace that defeated the pain of sin and death, and that child came to us on this night so long ago, but again tonight the child comes that we might live in joy and hope.
Revelation 21:10; 21: 22-22:5
On Being the Statue of Liberty
Our Revelation passage begins with the Holy Spirit carrying John to the top of a great, high mountain so that he can see the New Jerusalem descending from heaven from God.
Remember: in Scripture whenever we hear about mountaintops we are hearing about God. God resides on mountain tops. Moses went up the mountain top to speak with God. Jesus went up the mountain top at the Transfiguration. In Scripture God is on the mountaintops.
So in John’s vision he is carried to the mountaintop where he sees what God sees: the New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. And then John tells us what he sees.
And what he sees is the church: the church how it is meant to be. What he sees is the earth and all humanity – the way God intended them to be in the beginning. What he sees is God’s new earth and new heaven: God re-doing what humans corrupted. He sees the New Jerusalem. Listen as he describes what he sees.
In the New Jerusalem there is no temple because God and the Lamb are the Temple. In the old Jerusalem the temple was the place of worship. It was also the dwelling place of God.
Now over a span of about 700 years there were two separate temples: Solomon’s temple, the first temple which was magnificent beyond imagination, destroyed by Babylonians about 600 years before Christ.
Then about 100 years later, a second temple is built, as recorded in the Book of Ezra. That temple was the temple that Jesus walked and taught in. It was destroyed about 35 years after Christ by the Romans. There is actually one small part of that temple still standing: the Wailing Wall.
In the New Jerusalem there will be no temple of stone and mortar because the Lord God and the Lamb will be the temple: the place of worship. God no longer needs a dwelling place built by humans but rather God is the dwelling place for humans.
And there will be no human or army that will ever be able to destroy that temple.
The old Jerusalem was dependent on the sun and moon for light and dependent on lamps inside for light. In the New Jerusalem the sun, the moon and the lamps are not needed, for the glory of God and Christ is so great that they provide all the light that is needed. The glory of God is so great and the light of God so overwhelming that there is no night: no darkness at all.
The theme of light and dark are always a primary theme of John’s. Christ is the light of the world and the darkness cannot overcome the light. All throughout John there are references to Christ as the light and evil as darkness. In the New Jerusalem there is no darkness, no evil at all.
In the New Jerusalem all the nations of the earth will walk in that light. All the nations of the earth will see truth, justice, equality, and peace by the light God and Christ sheds on the city.
In the old Jerusalem the gates of the city were shut every night to keep out marauding armies that might slip in and try and overtake the city and any other persons who might be dangerous to the city and its inhabitants.
In the New Jerusalem the city has 12 gates: three gates on each side of the city. Yet the gates are never shut. No marauding armies can enter. No person who has evil intentions or unclean thoughts can enter, for the light of Christ will overwhelm any darkness. The goodness of God will overcome the evil of humans before they can enter the city.
People will bring the glory of the nations into the New Jerusalem. The beauty, the song, the art, the stories, the various ways of worshipping God will all be brought into the New Jerusalem and each nation will be honored and respected and appreciated for its ways and culture. No nation will be thought better than another and all will live in peace with each other.
In the New Jerusalem is the river of life. Today’s Jerusalem has no river at all. Water is brought in from other parts of the region or from the Sea of Galilee. The New Jerusalem will have the river of life flowing directly from the throne of God right down the middle of the street.
Try to understand that image in the same way the people of John’s day understood that image. Water was precious. Water was life.
Water was carried in buckets, jars and gourds for cooking, cleaning, and for drinking by humans and animals.
Generally, water was carried in on the shoulders of women or the backs of animals. Imagine the wonder of having a beautiful river, crystal clear flowing directly from God right down the middle of the main street through town. That would be life.
And on either side of the river grows the tree of life: last we heard about the tree of life was in chapter 2 of Genesis. It was there in the Garden of Eden. When humans were banished from the Garden we heard nothing more about it until this moment. In the New Jerusalem the tree of life produces fruit, a different fruit every month and its leaves can be used for healing.
Can you see God is re-creating the Garden, re-creating life as God intended it to be in the beginning? The New Jerusalem will be the Garden of Eden recreated. The water of life, the tree of life, the God of life, the Lord of light, are all present in the New Jerusalem. The Garden which was the beginning home of all humanity is now the New Jerusalem, again, a shared place with God.
And present are all God’s people, from every race, tribe, language and place. And God’s people will see the face of God – which of course no human has ever been allowed to see. Even when Moses went up Mt Sinai to talk with God, a heavy fog covered the mountaintop so that Moses could not actually see God.
At one point Moses even asked to see God. And God with this wonderful sense of humor had Moses stand in the cleft of two rocks. God walked by but as he walked by God put his hand over Moses eyes until God had passed by so that by the time God’s hand is removed all Moses saw was God’s backside. The Hebrews would have thought that was a very funny story and it is.
But in the New Jerusalem all people will be able to look upon the face of God and God’s name will be on their forehead. It was the custom for some slave owners to actually brand their name into the forehead of a slave to prevent a slave from running away. In the New Jerusalem God’s people will have God’s name on their forehead, not to prevent them from running away but rather to show they have chosen to be a disciple of Christ.
The New Jerusalem is the church. Or what the church should be. A Garden of Eden. A place with gates wide open for all people: not just a friendly place but a welcoming place, and there is a difference.
The church should be a place where people who speak differently, worship differently and think differently should be welcomed into the fellowship. The church should be a place where diversity is celebrated, for indeed it is the Lord God who created us all in our differences.
We all share in the water of life and the fruit from the tree of life every time we come to this table. No one who comes to this table should ever leave hungry; hungry for the presence of God.
This church does not need lamps and sun and moon (metaphorically speaking) because we have the glory of God and light of Christ to illuminate our way in the world.
We see the face of God in the faces of our brothers and sisters here in this congregation, in this church. And this church is not a building – this church is a group of people. As one of my professors said so long ago, “The church is what’s left after the building burns down.”
God now dwells among the people in the New Jerusalem, the church. God is here with us. God’s home is with God’s people. God with us: Emmanuel. But that does not mean we get to sit here with God and do nothing. It is our responsibility to take God – Emmanuel –
out into the world.
Where there is darkness – it is our responsibility to take the Lord of Light
Where there is thirst – it is our responsibility to take the water of life
Where there loneliness – it is our responsibility to be friends
Where there is a need in this world – it is our responsibility to fill that need.
We are called to grow the Garden of Eden. We are called to be the church reaching out to the least of these. We are called to be the Statue of Liberty of the New Jerusalem calling, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…”
Imagine the thousands upon thousands of immigrants that came to this country and their first sighting of Lady Liberty. How they knew they had arrived in a country where all are equal and everyone can choose their path in life. The joy they must have felt when they saw her in the harbor, knowing they had arrived.
We are God’s immigration service to the New Jerusalem. We are the Statue of Liberty calling those looking for a better life, those looking for equality, those looking for peace to come and live in the New Jerusalem.
It is what Christ calls us to do. Will we do it?
Almighty God, we are your ambassadors to the world. We are to call immigrants to the New Jerusalem to live in peace and justice. And to show what the New Jerusalem looks like, we are to live that here in this church. May we be as the Statue of Liberty to all we meet. In the name of the One we serve. Amen
Acts 7: 54 – 8:1
Acts 9: 1 – 20
Today’s Scripture story is the very famous story: the Damascus Road conversion of Saul.
This story is the 3rd in a series of conversion stories:
- Disciples travelling thru Samaria and converting the Samaritans
- Philip converts the Ethiopian
- The conversion of Saul
- And after this will be the conversion of the Roman Centurion
In the first passage that_______ read for us this morning, you heard the story of the stoning of Stephen, the first Christian martyr. You also heard that the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul and Saul approved of their killing him.
Saul was the number one enemy of the church. He was the chief persecutor. He breathes threats and murder against the followers of Christ. He is on a search and destroy mission. And he does believe it is a mission. He is going to keep the Jewish faith pure; free from the influence of Christians.
It’s interesting that wanting to end Christianity, they stoned Stephen hoping to intimidate and frighten the other disciples into giving up the faith. Instead what happened is that the disciples left Jerusalem; they fled out into the world as far and as wide as they could – and they took their faith with them. They spread the Christian faith so that it could never be contained again.
So in this passage Saul is on his way to Damascus – about 135 miles north of Jerusalem. He is going there to find and return to Jerusalem any Christians he finds to stand trial. One can only imagine the fear of the Christians, knowing Saul, enemy number one of Christians, is on the way.
But as he nears Damascus he sees a light from heaven flashing around him and he falls to the ground. Then he hears the voice, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me?”
And from the ground where he lay he asks, “Who are you, Lord?”
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But get up and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do.”
Those who are travelling with Saul were speechless because they heard the voice but they saw no one. Saul got up and even though his eyes were open he saw nothing. Blinded by the light, as the saying goes. So blinded, afraid no doubt, he is led the rest of the way to Damascus by hand, to the house of a man named Judas who lived on Straight Street.
So now we have a man, Ananias, who lives in Damascus, at home going about his business. And the Lord says, “Ananias.” Nothing in the story indicates that he was surprised by the Lord calling him by name.
“Ananias.” And with the standard Biblical answer he replies, “Here I am.”
“Get up and go to the street called Straight, to the house of Judas and look for a man named Saul of Tarsus.”
Poor Ananias. “Lord, he’s the guy whose doing evil to your people and he has the authority here in Damascus to arrest us and take us back to Jerusalem for trial.”
And the Lord told Ananias, “Don’t worry about that. He’s not going to arrest anybody. I have decided to use him to serve my purposes. He is the one I have chosen to teach the Gentiles about me, to teach kings and even the people of Israel about me and I am going to show him just how much he will suffer for me.” We never hear if Ananias tells Saul that he is going to suffer for Christ.
The one persecuting the enemies of God has now become the enemy of God.
The one who had enormous power against the followers of Jesus is now helpless among the followers.
For three days he does not eat or drink. For three days he is blind. Ananias arrives at the house where Saul is, lays his hands on him, returns his sight and prays for the HS to fill Saul. The scales fell from his eyes, Saul got up, he was baptized, and then he ate and his strength was recovered.
From that moment on, Saul now Paul becomes the apostle to the Gentiles. Not that he was accepted by the all the followers and certainly not by the apostles. Paul begins preaching in Damascus and the Jews there plotted to kill him so he went back to Jerusalem.
The followers in Jerusalem wanted nothing to do with him because they did not believe he was converted. It’s a trick.
So Barnabas, a good man, known and trusted by the followers takes Paul before the apostles and Barnabas explains what has happened to convert Paul. He tells the story of the blinding light, the blinded Saul, Ananias, the baptism and all the rest.
Apparently the apostles agree that Paul may join the followers in Jerusalem so Paul goes around Jerusalem preaching. I’ll bet a good deal of followers and the apostles kept a close eye on him the entire time he was in Jerusalem.
Before too long, there in Jerusalem, because of his preaching, he gets on the bad side of some Hellenists: Hellenists were Greek speaking Jews who had been part of the Diaspora but had returned to Jerusalem. These Hellenists attempt to kill Paul so some disciples take Paul to Caesarea and from there they send him home to Tarsus. And it is not till the end of the 11th chapter that we hear anything more about Paul.
We all have stories of our faith journeys, and they are all different. Some people have dramatic conversions like Paul, some have mountain top experiences. However, many people’s story begins with: I’ve never known a time I did not go to church. I was raised in church.
And that is as good and valid a beginning faith journey as any. And children’s faith is as strong as any. They are accepting of the miracle stories and have no issue with Jesus rising from the dead.
But for all of us, even though we believed, there was a moment in time when we made a decision to commit ourselves. To commit to this faith and this Lord. And as a consequence of that commitment we are all given a calling: something that we are called to do for the Lord: it could be to teach Sunday School or to boat up the Nile and teach small tribes about Jesus, it could be to mow the grass or go to Africa and dig wells for villages. Everyone has a calling.
And our conversion and our calling is never our own doing but is always God’s doing. God calls some of the unlikeliest people to some of the unlikeliest callings.
I have gone to Nebraska quite often to a conference called Omaha Pastor’s School. It is a conference where 100 pastors go for a week and listen to theologians and others who lecture on theology and other preacher interested topics.
I noticed over the years, that every year there was a man at the conference: he was dressed like a biker, he had the boots, tattoos, leather jacket, and he always rode a very large Harley-Davidson. He was always doing something with the sound equipment so I thought that was his job.
So after seeing this man 5 or 6 different years, I asked someone – doesn’t the sound guy look like a biker? And several people at the table laughed, “That’s not the sound guy. That’s the pastor of the Sturgis Presbyterian Church.” He’s absolutely perfect for the job.
Everyone is perfect for something. We all have a conversion no matter how gentle. And that conversion is a gift from God. And with that conversion comes a calling. And that calling is a gift from God. Not that callings are always easy.
Paul, in living out his calling, was flogged, stoned, imprisoned, enslaved, run out of town and pretty much anything else you can think of. But the Gentiles were brought into the church largely by his work. It was not easy but he never wavered.
Each of us here has a calling. What is yours? Or have you decided that it takes too much money or too much time or too much energy to fulfill your calling? Or maybe you have decided that something else, something easier, something less expensive will be your calling. Maybe God’s calling is a bit too inconvenient so you find something that is more convenient.
If that’s what you’re doing, it’s not a calling from God it’s nothing more than a self-serving cop-out. We do not give ourselves a calling, they come from God. And every calling serves the Body of Christ, the church. We are given a calling from God not to use for ourselves but to use for the up-building of the Kingdom of God, the strengthening of the church, to work together in unity with other Christians, to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and to make this world a better place here and now.
This week think about this… Have you truly thought about what is your calling from God? And are you fulfilling it? Are you honestly doing your part for the Kingdom?
Lord God, you call each of us regardless of age or ability and you give us a task. And what you call us to do you empower us to do. By your HS help us to know what you are calling us to do and then Lord give us the conviction to do it. It is in the name of the Risen Christ we pray. Amen
Don't Forget to Remember
Luke 22: 14 - 23
Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” And he did the same with the cup
Do this in remembrance of me.
What exactly does Jesus want us to remember?
This event, in the Gospel of Luke, happens at the celebration of Passover. The original Passover was the last of the 10 plagues that God sent upon Egypt to encourage Pharaoh to let the Israelites go. The 10th plague was the death of the firstborn of every household. The Israelites, however, were told to put the blood of a lamb over the doors and windows of their homes and death would pass over their families.
So every year the Israelites celebrated Passover by eating lamb and retelling the story of how God saved them from bondage in Egypt. The youngest member of the family would say, “Why is this night different than all other nights?” And the oldest member of the family would answer by telling the story of Moses and Pharaoh and the 10 plagues.
The lamb was not an offering for sin it was the seal of a covenant that God was making with the Israelites. And every year the Jewish people sat, ate, and told the story to remember the covenant that God had made with them. The celebration of Passover was an act of faith.
Passover was not just remembering something that happened in the distant past, it was remembering something that still impacts the people at this time and in this place. It was to remember that God had said: You are my people and I am your God.
For the Israelites to remember the Passover was to remember who they were – it was about their identity as God’s people. It was about remembering how God had fulfilled the covenant made with them even in impossible situations and it was to believe that God would continue to fulfill that covenant regardless of how impossible the situation appeared.
It is the same today when we sit around a table with our extended family and we hear the story of how our great, great, great grandfather and grandmother came from the country across the ocean with little more than the clothes on their back. How they worked hard, bought a little shop and sold their goods and raised their children.
These stories tell us about who we are, who our people are, these stories give us identity. We may hear them over and over – but we love them just the same. These are not just history lessons – they are, at the deepest level, about who we are.
On this night, we remember Jesus at table with his disciples, at a Passover meal, remembering the covenant with God: I wonder who asked the question, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” Maybe John. And I wonder who told the story of Passover. Maybe Peter. But that is what they were doing. They had lamb, boiled eggs, unleavened bread, some kind of fruit and honey dish and wine. And they remembered.
And now the story of Passover has been told, the covenant remembered and Jesus takes a piece of the unleavened bread, breaks it, blesses it, gives it to them and said: “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” Then he lifted a cup and said: “This cup that is poured out for you is a new covenant sealed in my blood.”
Jesus has connected the Passover, a covenant between God and the Israelites, which had been sealed in the blood of a lamb with a new covenant, sealed in his own blood, the Lamb of God. Just as Passover centered on food, our Lord’s Supper centers on food.
Again, just as Passover is a time of remembrance this table is a time of remembrance. Remembrance of Christ Jesus and the covenant God has made with us through him. I will be your God and you will be my people.
This table is not necessarily a time to remember our sin and Christ’s sacrifice, although that is not a bad thing. This table is a time to remember the covenant God made with us on this night so long ago. This table is a celebration of that covenant: a covenant of grace.
Just as that Maundy Thursday was something that happened over 2000 years ago, it is not just history. It is about our identity, about who we are, about who our people are.
When we come to this table, we remember, not some historic event, but something that impacts us here today in this place. To come to this table is an act of faith. Just as when we sit at table with our families and remember the stories of our ancestors when we come to this table we remember what God has done and what God has done in the person of Jesus Christ.
When we come to this table, we are to remember: the covenant made with us, the covenant of grace, and the covenant of love. We are to remember the life of Christ, from his birth to his death and everything in between. We are to remember that it is from Christ that we take our identity as the children of God.
This table is about our faith. It is about remembering our faith – our trust – our belief in the Triune God and the covenant made with us. This table is about God sealing again and again the promise, the covenant made with us.
And as we remember God’s covenant with us, we affirm that we are God’s people. We affirm to God, we affirm to ourselves that we are God’s people.
And because we believe we are God’ people,
because we believe we live in a covenant of grace,
a covenant sealed with the life of Jesus,
we are to live a life of love and service just as Christ did.
We come to this table to remember
God’s covenant with us and Christ’s life given for us.
Tonight we remember.
Almighty God, we remember the times and ways you have sought us out. We remember the covenant made for us. We remember the life given for us. Tonight Lord we remember because it is in remembering that our faith is strengthened and identity given. In the name of the One who gave his life for us. Amen
John 6: 1-15
An Abundance of Wealth
We have a very familiar story today. Jesus feeds the 500 with 5 loaves of bread and two fish.
People are following Jesus everywhere he goes. They have heard he can cure the sick and heal the lame. They have heard of his great compassion and his teachings – particularly that God loves and cares for them. They have not heard that from the religious leaders. It was a common belief then that if God loved you, you would be blessed with health and wealth. So the poor and the sick were not considered some of God’s favorite people.
And yet, Jesus tells them otherwise. God does love them. God does care for them. God does not shower health and wealth on his favorites. But rather the poor and sick have a very special place in the heart of God.
This was a new teaching – a new way of thinking for the common people. For the first time they had someone who could heal their infirmities. Of course, they wanted to follow him and listen to him. He cared about them – they cared about him. They did not want to leave him. As long as he would talk – they would listen.
And they listened, and they listened and they listened to all the way to evening. Now they are hungry. 5000 hungry people. Jesus looks around and sees that the people need food.
So Jesus does to Philip what seminary professors do to ministers-in-training. He tests him. “Hmm. Where can we go to buy food for all these people?” Philip must have been confused and astounded by the question. “Even if we had six months wages that would not buy enough bread for everyone to have a little.”
Then Andrew speaks up. “There is a little boy with five little loaves of bread and two little fish. But that won’t feed these people.”
So Jesus tells the disciples to have the people sit down on the grass – 5000 people. Now personally I think having 5000 people sit down at once is a miracle in itself. I can barely get you guys to sit down after the passing of the peace. I can only imagine trying to get 5000 people to sit down.
So they sit. Jesus blesses the bread and fish and then, Scripture says, he, Jesus, distributed the food to those who were seated – as much as they wanted. Imagine if you were the poorest of poor in 1st century Israel and having someone feed you all that you could eat. Imagine how you would feel about that person.
And after everyone had eaten their fill Jesus had the disciples gather up the leftovers so that nothing would be lost. And there were 12 baskets full of leftovers.
This miracle story is about God, Christ, satisfying human need. But it is also about human limitations – the limitations we put on our mind and our ability to think outside the box.
We hear Philip say, ‘We don’t have enough money to buy food for all these people.’ And we understand that. Our little church doesn’t have the money to feed all the hungry here in Yukon and Mustang. So we understand what Philip is saying.
Imagine if this entire event happened here on our property. You can tell me if I am wrong but I think it would go something like this:
- The session would point out that we don’t have the financial resources for this kind of project
- The outreach/evangelism committee would say the same thing…that far exceeds our budget
- The worship committee, might say, “We don’t have time for that – we are getting ready for Easter.’
- Buildings and grounds would say, ‘We don’t have enough chairs for a group that size. And we really don’t have enough restrooms.
- And the preacher would question the credentials and theology of some wandering preacher to come here and start preaching.
Those would all be reasonable statements. For the resources of this church, those would be reasonable statements. Those would be reasonable statements because we work from the perspective that we have a scarcity of resources. We don’t think we have an abundance of resources – we focus on what we don’t have.
I want to show you something now. So bear with me.
Slightly over 20% of the children in this country are victims of hunger. How is it that the country with the most food in the world, a country with 5% of the world’s population and 25% of the world’s food – can have 20% of its children go hungry? And just as a side note – 17% of people over 60 suffer hunger as well.
We are a country of enormous abundance – more than any other nation on earth – we have more food per person than anywhere and yet children, the elderly and others go hungry in this country. In Oklahoma 1 in every 6 people go hungry.
Go back to our story. 5000 hungry people fed with a small amount of fish and bread. When Christ fed people there was an abundance of food. There was more than enough for everyone and then some left over.
I’m not suggesting that we can multiply food as Jesus did but I am suggesting there is enough food for everyone. Not only enough food in this country but enough food in the world for everyone to have enough and then to have some left over.
The problem is not lack of food but distribution of food. For most of us sitting here, our cupboards are crammed with food. If we were to eat all the food in our cupboards before we went grocery shopping again, we could probably eat for a couple of weeks.
So the amount of available food is not the issue – the issue seems to be sharing with others. If we stopped thinking in terms of a scarcity of resources but looked in our cupboards we could start thinking in terms of abundance and even sharing.
One little boy with a few loaves and two fish shared his lunch and the crowd was fed. What if we all shared our lunch?
Here at 1st we do share with the Family Center. Quite generously. But this week let’s all look at ourselves and see if we can share a bit more.
Here at Chisholm Trail we share with Manna Pantry – very generously. But let’s not make that sharing an afterthought. Let’s plan as we go to the grocery story.
As followers of Christ we are to emulate him. We can’t perform miracles like he does but we can perform miracles. We can’t change the world like Jesus did – but we can change one person’s world.
Going without good nutritious food is devastating for children – they are affected physically and mentally. Many elderly people have diabetes, high blood pressure or any number of other conditions which need healthy food to control.
When we share with them we make the world a better place, we relieve another’s suffering and we please Christ.
We are people, mostly middle class people, we have limited resources both individually and as a congregation. But limited as our resources may be – we have more than most of the world. And those with the most are called to share with those with the least.
That is our thought for the week, what would I share if I see myself not with a scarcity of wealth but rather with an abundance of wealth.
Almighty God, we have more: more food, more possessions, more money than most of the people in this world. Lord you have told us that for those who have received much – much is required. We have received much although at times we don’t remember that. Remind us Lord what you require from us. In his name and for his sake we make this prayer. Amen