Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Faith That Grows!

The last two weeks I have been at Camp Calumet Lutheran.
Last week I was on vacation, but the week before that I had the honor of being the chaplain.
It is something that always rejuvenates me.
I get to be around young men and women who are idealistic.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif
More than this I get to see them giving of themselves all the time for the greater good.
I overheard two counselors talking about how little money they make, how much they have to work, and yet how they get so much more out of it than they put into it.
This year I loved it for another reason.
I got to see the way that the staff struggled with faith.
I am not talking about believing in God.
All of the staff believes in God.
But what do they believe about God.
That is not such an easy answer.
And for young men and women from 16 to 25 it is even more difficult.
They are all forming those answers.

This morning we see Peter struggling with his own faith.
Not his faith in Jesus as the Messiah, but in what that means that Jesus was the Messiah.
Just last week he was the hero.
When Jesus asked, “who do you say that I am?”
Peter gave the right answer that Jesus was the Messiah.
Today we see that even when we give the right answer we might not fully understand.

One of the things I love about the disciples is that I always find them relatable.
We can all understand Peter.
We all have struggled to understand God.
None of us gets it completely.
Peter thinks Jesus is going to set up a great new kingdom, and there at his right hand will be Peter.
“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.”
But Peter goes from being the rock to being a stumbling block.
He goes from the gates of Hades not prevailing against him to being Satan.
This is quite the turn of events.

But I can understand Peter.
Jesus plan does not sound like a very good one.
Instead of establishing a great kingdom and rescuing the people of God from the Romans Jesus is going to die on a cross and rise again.
That does not sound very grand.
It does not sound very Godly.

Here is the problem for most of us we have no problem with the grand plan.
It is the when it is dirty and messy that we can’t come to terms with it.

I noticed the same is true at camp.
When we are in the outdoor chapel dancing and singing praises to God it all seems great.
When we are trying to deal with a problem camper, or another staff member who does not agree with me then it gets messy.
When the skit we planned does not go well we get disappointed.
When we are trying to help the kids understand how the Bible verse for that day relates to the theme of the day and we don’t understand.
But the message of the cross is that God is in it all.
God is in our disbelief as much as in our certitude.
God is in the calm but also admits the chaos.
God is right there in the mix.
I am sure that all of the people who worked at Calumet this summer grew in ways they never knew possible.
I am sure that their faith was strengthened through all the questions and the uncertainty.

During my vacation week my sister’s father in law who is a Lutheran pastor in Pennsylvania was telling me that he never knew the gifts he had until camp Calumet.
That it was there that God called him into the ministry through other peoples and through the chaos of his own life.
God was at work in his life even though he didn’t understand it fully at the time.

We can understand why Peter is confused because we are often confused.
We want God to do something big.
We want God to cure diseases, part the waters, create peace in the Middle East, and stop hurricanes.
Jesus death changes our notion of how God is at work in our lives and in the world.
God is at work in the questioning and searching of a twenty two year old trying to find work and their place in the world.
God is at work in the relief workers who come to lend a hand to their neighbors.
God is at work in the family member keeping vigil while their loved one dies.
God is at work in the chaos of life.

One of the other reasons I like being at camp is because it makes you see that the world is not so bad.
Often in the church our conversations revolve around how horrible things are now.
How the kids are out of control.
How we don’t teach and respect authority.
How kids only care about their video games.
How things used to be better is some by gone era.
I suppose there is some truth in those complaints.
But we always must remember that God is always at work.
In all things God is moving.
Being around young people that do care about the world about others changes your perspective.
It makes you more hopeful.

You see that even through the death of things that once we cherished there is God building up.
Perhaps we all need to lose those notions of the way things should be.
Peter learned that God was always up to something that went well beyond his comprehension.
If we forget this then we loose perspective.
We end up pulling Jesus over to the side and saying, “You know Jesus this might be what you want but it does not fit my notion of how God works so let’s not do it your way.”
We have expectations of what it means to follow Jesus that are often crushed by the reality of what it actually is to follow Jesus.

I know that many times people will get involved in volunteering or doing ministry.
Then they get disappointed because no one said thank you, or the situation of the person they were trying to help never changed.
We have to learn that it is through us being there that life changes.

Jesus changed our perspective on God because he was here with us.
Jesus went through every conceivable pain of human life, even death on a cross to show us that God was at work in all things.
Even the chaos, the loss, the hard times, the disappointing times God is always up to something.
I saw it at Camp Calumet.
I see it in our life together as a community trying to pick up our crosses as we follow Jesus.

I see it as we help our Bhutan refugee family, as we serve at the friendly kitchen, as we gather items for the poor, as we reach out to new people, as we care for one another.
I see it as we struggle together to grow in faith.
To learn more about how God is at work in the world and our lives.
I see it as we struggle sometimes to love each other, and loose our lives so that we might really find them.

Martin Luther once said, “Behold, from faith thus flows forth love and joy in the Lord, and from love a joyful, willing, and free mind that serves one’s neighbor willingly and takes no account of gratitude or ingratitude, of praise or blame, of gain or loss.”
The perspective of a deep faith is that what comes out is not victory but service.
This is the faith that Peter is struggling to understand, it is the faith that we are struggling to understand.
But when we do we become little Christ daily picking up our crosses and follow Jesus in love and joy.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Stay In The Boat!

There is a little half truth parents sometimes tell their children.
“You can be anything you want to be if you only work hard enough.”
It is a nice thought.
We say it because we want our children to be self confident and we want them to work hard.
But it is not entirely true.
I mean I would love to be the starting power forward for the Boston Celtics.
It is not going to happen.
I could practice every minute of every day for years and still not be a basketball player in the NBA.
I am not tall enough.
OK, then my second dream is to be Rock star in a Rock-n-Roll band.
Not going to happen.
If you know me you know I have no musical talent whatsoever.
And contrary to popular belief you actually do have to have some musical talent to play in a Rock band.
I could spend every minute of every day and practice the guitar for the next 10 years and still not be a good musician.
Instead, I am what I believe God made me to be a pastor.
Perhaps instead of telling our kids that they can be whatever they want we should be telling them that they should be what God made them to be.

This morning’s Gospel is often part of the problem.
We have all heard the sermon about Peter getting out of the boat and falling to walk on water.
And if only he had kept his eyes on Jesus he could have done it.
If only Peter had more faith he would have been able to walk on water.
So if we have faith we should be willing to take risks and walk on water.
If only we have faith we can do whatever we want.

It is certainly one interpretation of the text.
The problem is that it not entirely true.
Faith does not give us superhuman abilities.
I have always preferred the interpretation that Peter’s problem is that he gets out of the boat at all.
Peter’s proper place is in the boat!
In the story you will notice that Jesus comes walking on the water towards the disciples who are on a boat.
They see something on the water and become afraid.
“They were terrified saying, ‘It is a ghost!’ And they cried in fear.”
Jesus tells them not to be afraid.
And then Peter challenges Jesus.
“If it is you, command me to come to you on the water.”
Eventually he falls into the water and Jesus puts him back in the boat and says to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
It is not that Peter doubted he could walk on the water, but he doubted that it was Jesus walking on the water.
He needed proof.
He asked to come out of the boat.
Peter should have known it was Jesus as soon as he said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
There is another way to interpret this text and that is that Peter should have stayed in the boat because he should have believed in Jesus words not to be afraid.
Peter’s proper place was in the boat not walking on the water.
After all he is not Jesus.

Today Nathan Marshall will be baptized.
He will be drowned in these waters and raised to new life with Christ.
And the message I want to give to his parents, family, friends, and the congregation is that we should be helping him for the rest of his life to recognize Jesus.
So that when he is feeling alone, afraid, off course, lost, terrified, he will need to know the one who calms the winds.
It is Jesus who he will need to worship as the one who helps us through this world and our lives.

Nathan Marshall cannot be anything he wants to be.
That is not God’s promise to him today.
What God has promised is that he has given Nathan gifts to become something very specific.
And in Nathan’s Journey to figure out what God made him to be then God will be there the whole time.

I think that we get disappointed with our lives because they sometimes don’t seem so glamorous.
There are lots mundane things we have to do.
And sometimes they seem boring.
Then we see rich and famous people with these exciting lives and we wish that was us.
And we feel let down because we couldn’t become anything we wanted to be.
Instead we are at home on a Friday night doing laundry, and putting kids to bed.
I think one of the spiritual problems we face is that just doing the little things doesn’t seem to matter as much.
Being a good father, husband, machine maker isn’t enough anymore.
Everybody wants to save the world.
And in the end it is not our job to save the world that is God’s job.
We have to figure out what it is God has called us to do.
What we were meant to do.
I wish we would do more soul searching about what God wants us to do.

I wish Peter would have thought a little more about his testing of Jesus.
Peter’s place is in the boat with the other disciples.
It is not to be Jesus.
Yeah it is not as exciting or exotic.
Jesus gets to walk on water, we just get to row.

On Friday I was at Soulfest with the youth group at Gunstock Mountain.
For those who don’t know Soulfest is a large Christian music festival.
The main stage is set up right by one of the ski slopes, so you sit on the mountain in a folding chair and watch the concert.
I was sitting on this mountain watching one of my favorite bands, Jars of Clay, perform and it started to rain.
At first it was just a drizzle.
The lead singer in the band said to the crowd, “Sing this song of praise to God and we will move this rain right out of here.”
The words were still coming out of his mouth and you know what it did.
It started to pour down rain.
It would be nice to think with our prayers, or our faith that we can stop the rain.
The truth is that is not our job.
We are not the creator of the universe.

It is not our job to walk on water.
It is our job to be drowned in water.
To let Jesus Christ be our new life.
That is what is happening to Nathan today.
He is receiving a great gift.
It is not the gift of becoming a super hero.
Baptism gives us no super human strength, the ability to fly, to become invisible, or even to walk on water.
It gives us assurance.
“Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

And Nathan like all of us will have some times in his life when he will be terrified, uncertain.
Like the day he graduates from high school and the speaker will say that they can do anything, but Nathan is not sure what he wants to do.
Or after college when the speaker will again give a speech about remaking the world, and Nathan can’t find a job doing the thing he really wants to do.
Or the time he breaks up with a woman even though he wants her to be the one.
Or when he is older and laying in a hospital bed about to die.
There will be those times when he questions himself and the world.

I hope in those times he knows to get back in the boat.
For Matthew a boat was the symbol of the church.
It is here when we gather that we come to this place for comfort, for acceptance, for love.
It is here we come to hear Jesus tell us, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
Don’t misunderstand me we have to go back out into the world.
The next part of Matthew’s Gospel is about Jesus and the disciples going into strange and scary gentile country.
But today the message is about how we find here together in this boat a message that helps us every day.

Get back in the boat.
You are not meant to walk on water, calm storms, stop the rain, or be whatever you want.
You are meant to be a beloved child of God, who is here to love your family, and work for your neighbor.
So when things are too much, when life seems boring or terrifying remember that Jesus is walking towards you with peace, ready to calm the winds.
Most important remember to stay in the boat!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

A Fortaste Of The Feast To Come!

It is something that we do all the time every day in fact.
We sit and eat.
Some time we take it for granted.
We eat without really thinking about it.
We think that we are eating to satisfy our hunger.
But eating is so much more than merely taking in calories for survival.
Eating is filled with meaning.
Jesus knew this.
It is why we can never separate Jesus out from his eating habits.
Any moral or ethical debate about what it means to live a Christian life has to start and end with something that we do every day.
It has to start at our dining room tables.

Jesus knew that food was more than food.
That eating with people sent a message about who he was, and who God is.
It is why the Gospels are filled with stories about Jesus eating with tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes, and other undesirable people.
For in eating with them Jesus was making a point.

In today’s Gospel story we see that feeding 5,000 men was about more than merely offering hungry people food.
Sometimes with this story we get caught up in things that don’t matter.
We want to know if this is a historical story or not.
Interpreters have argued about it for years.
This morning I don’t want to talk about that I want us to see what the meaning is of this meal that Jesus shares with the crowd that day.

The key to the story for me is this one line, “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them.”
Jesus feeds the crowd out of compassion.
Out of love Jesus takes time to be with them, cure the sick, and ultimately feed them.

To feed someone is to love them.
I learned this lesson for the first time when we got our cats.
It was before we had children.
And it was my job to feed them.
I would come home from a long day at work and I was tired.
I just wanted to sit on the couch watch the baseball game.
But these cats would come and meow at me or nudge at me until I got up and fed them.
I would say to the cats, “You know I love you because I am going to get up and feed you right now.”

Of course, it came into even more focus when I became a parent.
I would see my wife get up at all hours of the night to feed the baby.
Even though she needed sleep or was hungry herself she gave of herself because of the great love she had for our kids.
And now most of what I do is try to provide food for them.
In that simply act of putting food on a table we show our love and concern for someone else.

Eating has meaning when we cross cultures.
I have been blessed in my life to serve at two congregations that were ethnic specific ministry.
One was an African American church; the other was a Latino church.
In both places the food was different then what I grew up with.
But in both places I grew closer to the people when I would share their food.
I ate pig’s feet, collard greens, rice, and a whole bunch of things in order to show that I cared.
And they fed me in order to show that they loved me and cared about me.
In both cases the populations that I served were not overwhelming rich, but they had rich food which they gladly shared with me every chance they got.
When I was in New York I went and met with the Imam from the local Mosque.
When I got there he offered me tea and food.
I turned him down.
He then said that it was part of their custom to offer strangers food.
I then agreed to the food even though I was not hungry, because I realized that he was showing me compassion by offering me this food.
Sharing food with others bonds us together.
I am thankful for those experiences where I got to cross cultures and bond with others over food.

Even more then this think of the times when you shared meals with people.
They are usually around very significant events.
When you are married, when you are celebrating a graduation, when it is your birthday, to celebrate your anniversary, when someone dies are all times when we share a meal around significant life events.
Last week on my vacation we attended a wedding and we saw what all meals should look like.
A wedding banquet is filled with love and joy.
I would hope that all our tables would look like this every night.
Last night I was at my sister’s 40th birthday party.
You know what my wife and I did for the party.
We cooked my sister’s favorite food.
So that she might know how much we love and care for her.
Eating has great meaning to us.
It is why we do it at such important moments in our life.
It can help us celebrate, it can help us mourn, it can help us feel joy and ease sorrow.

My dad really liked to sit and enjoy a good meal.
One of the things that we shared was a love of cherry stone claims.
If it was on the menu we would order it and share it.
My dad always would insist that I have the last one.
I am sure he wanted it for himself.
But he would always say, “Jon, eat the last one!”
I would try and protest, but in the end I would get the last one.
It wasn’t just that either, almost always if there was something to eat and we both liked it he would insist that I eat the last part.
At the time I didn’t pay too much attention to it.
But looking back it was one of the ways that he showed how much he loved me.
It was a little moment but it carried lots and lots of meaning.
The feeding of the 5,000 is the same way.
Jesus here does something that is somewhat mundane.
He gives people food, but whatever happened on that day it was so meaningful that all four Gospels write about it.
It was one of the ways that Jesus showed us God’s compassion.
Here are these people and they need food, and God cares about them so God feeds them.
As if God is saying, “Here you take the last bite, it is for you”.

And Jesus invites his disciples to participate in this great act of compassion.
“You give them something to eat.”
In other words it is God who provides the meal, but the disciples who distribute and who collect the leftovers.
Jesus invites us to participate in this act too.
Jesus invites us to have a table that looks like his ministry.
Jesus invites us to have a table of people that are lost, down, and broken that is filled with compassion and love.
A table that looks like a wedding feast filled with joy!
Tables were people are always willing to give up the last bite in order to show love to someone else.

Jesus fed 5,000 people.
That is the story.
But the meaning is so much more.
It is about God’s compassion and love for us and all people, and an invitation to us to have that same compassion and love that Jesus has so that all the meals that we share might be a foretaste of the feast to come.