Monday, July 30, 2012

You Need Bread Dr. Atkins!

Before I got married I decided I wanted to lose some weight.
So I went on the Atkins’ diet that was all the rage back then.
For those who don’t know the Atkins’ diet is based on the idea that it is carbohydrates and not fat that makes us, well…fat.
So for about six months before my wedding I ate no carbohydrates.
I ate lots of eggs, meat, cheese, and olives.
But I did not eat any pasta, bread, or fruit.
I will say I did lose weight using the Atkins’ diet.
However, after the wedding I was thinking about the diet and I came to the conclusion that it just didn’t make sense.
How can bread be bad for you?
Isn’t bread the cornerstone of our eating habits since the beginning of time?
Bread is what has fed people for generations it was and is the substance of our life.
How can a diet without bread be what is really good for us?

Jesus knows how important bread is to people’s lives.
It was what people used to secure the right amount of calories in a day.
Jesus also knows the history of God’s people with bread.
When the Israelites are in the dessert hungry and starving it is bread from heaven that keeps them alive.
And so this morning we have the beginning of John 6.
And for the next five weeks we are going to be talking about bread because it is a powerful symbol for us.
Without bread we have no substance to our lives.
We need it.
In the same way without God we have no depth to our lives.
We need this bread to live and to thrive.

There were three years between my college days and when I went to seminary.
And in those three years I was not a very good church goer.
I went on Easter and Christmas, I would usually go a couple of times during the summer at Camp Calumet, but I was not an every Sunday kind of guy.
This was unusual for me.
I grew up going to Church every Sunday.
And even in College I was in chapel every Sunday for worship.
So this was the one time in my life when I was not going to Church.
I didn’t go because of all the reasons that we all give for not going to worship.
I was tired, I worked during those years a lot, sometimes on Sunday, or in one case I worked six days a week and my body simply needed a day of rest.
Not only that but going to Church is a habit, and once it is broken it is easy not to go.
There are so many other things that are great to do on Sunday morning.
Read the paper, watch meet the press, sleep, go out for brunch with friends.
(Just on a side note, this is why I understand when people don’t come to Church.
I get it.
I was there once in my life.
I say this because when people haven’t been in church I can sense their unease.
No need to apologize to me.
I get it.)
Anyway, eventually I came to the realization that I really missed it.
I don’t want to be misunderstood.
It is not that God was not with me those three years.
In some ways I felt God’s presence more in those years than at any time since.
I prayed lots in that time and asked for help and guidance.
I did not lose my faith or stop my relationship with God.
But I missed Sunday mornings.
I missed getting up, getting dressed.
I missed the hymns, the liturgy, the prayers, hearing God’s word, listening to a sermon, and being with God’s people.
And I especially missed the bread and wine.
I missed the Lord’s Supper and that moment right after I had received the bread and wine when I would sit in the pew and ask for forgiveness, guidance, and pray for those I loved.
I especially realized how much I missed worship when I started seminary, because every Wednesday afternoon we had chapel, and I looked forward to it every week.
Every Wednesday I was there no matter what else was happening I was in worship on Wednesday, for the hymns, the Gospel, the readings, the sermon, and of course the bread and wine.
I had more than one spiritual break through on those Wednesday afternoon worship times.
You see not going to church was like being on the Atkinson diet.
It was ok.
I lost some weight.
But something was missing.
The substance of my faith life was missing.

So for the next four weeks (the fifth I will be on vacation) we will be talking about the substance of our faith through an engagement with Jesus teaching on bread.
I will say that this idea came to me in New Orleans while I was at the youth gathering.
I really felt fed (not just from Po’ boys and beignets) while I was in New Orleans.
I was Fed with words of eternal life, of love, peace, faith, grace, and inclusion.
These are things for me are the substance of our faith.
And I want to talk about them with you these next couple of weeks.

We start with today’s Gospel reading a familiar story about Jesus feeding 5,000 people.
It is the only miracle of Jesus to be told in all four Gospels so it must have been important to Jesus followers, and to the early Christian community.
In John’s telling the story is less about the actual miracle and more about what that miracle tells us about Jesus and God.
John calls it a sign.
It is something that points us in a direction and reveals to us something about the nature and essence of Jesus and about God.

Jesus shows us that he wants to feed people, all people.
But it is more than merely a feeding of our hunger.
It is about our deep need for something more.
The fact that people are hungry and he feeds them is not the point of the story.
Jesus is not here to set up a feeding program for the world.
Jesus instead wants to say something about the nature of God.
To feed someone is to love them and care about them.
To feed someone is to be available to them at a very deep level.
Food is a sign of hospitality and of love.
At its root we have a God who wants us to know that God is here for us, God is available to us on every level.
God wants you to know that if you have a problem God is there for you.
God is ready to help.
God is ready to serve.
We should and can unburden ourselves by giving that burden to God.
That is part of our substance of faith.
That there is nothing in this world that can keep us from God’s love and care.
So whatever it is that you are dealing with God is waiting for you to unburden yourself with it.
Jesus knew that the crowd had many needs.
He knew that they were following him because they wanted to be healed, to be blessed, to have their burdens unloaded.
He wanted to give them a sign of God’s care.
And so he fed them.

But Jesus feeds us with so much more than mere food.
He feeds us with the love we need to love and care for ourselves and others.
Most of our problems are caused by our desire to be loved, and to love.
At the Youth Gathering in New Orleans what I heard from the young people was that this is what they desired more than anything.
They wanted to be loved, and I think they got so much out of hearing about God’s love from speaker after speaker.
They got a lot out of hearing that God is bigger and more powerful than our problems, our sin, our fears, and the ugly parts of ourselves that we hide from everybody else.
If we can give those things about us that are ugly and scary to God he will turn them into gifts that will be a blessing to the world.
That good news is real food.

We need the substance of faith.
We need to be nurtured in that faith by knowing and being reminded that the God of love is waiting for us on a hillside.
Waiting to heal our wounds, and feed us the real bread that will bring about an abundance of gifts to bring back out into the world.
I hope this week, and in all times in your life, that you know that you can turn to God for your substance that overflows in you to the rest of the world.
I know that I look forward to sharing that substance with you in the weeks ahead.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Does 36,000 Youth Make A Difference?

Every year at confirmation camp we do a service project for Camp Calumet Lutheran where we are staying.
In years past it has been to move picnic tables.
This year we were given the task of weeding the infield of the baseball diamond in field sports department.
When I was told by the camp director that this would be our service project I asked if we needed any tools.
“No” he said “it is best just to pull the weeds out with your hands.”
When we got there we sat down and started to pull weeds.
There were about 27 of us pulling weeds for about 2 hours.
At the end of that time I got up and looked around at the baseball diamond.
And you know what it looked exactly the way it did 2 hours ago.
It looked like we had been doing nothing.

I think we feel like this a lot in our world.
That the problems we face are so big and the forces of evil are just so enormous that we just feel small and insignificant.
It is as if what we do doesn’t really matter all that much.
As if we are pulling weeds on a baseball diamond were there are millions of weeds.

I wonder if John’s disciples felt this way after his beheading.
Why bother?
Why did John go through all the trouble of trying to stop Herod from getting married if he was just going to be killed anyway?
There was no way that John was going to stop Herod anyway.
Herod was going to do what he wanted to do.
This is the way that rich and powerful people seem to act.
They do what they want when they want.
There are few consequences.
So why did John bother to speak up and say what is true?
(It is true that you should not take your brother’s wife for your own.)
John’s own death is a foreshadowing of Jesus death.
They are both killed by powerful men who like and respect them, but who are cowardly in their moral character.
The powerful men get caught up in trying to appease other people and not look bad.
They both say things that are not popular.
And for their troubles both Jesus and John are killed.

For that matter in Mark’s community of faith many of the Christian’s who he is writing to will be killed for speaking truth to power, and for merely being Christian.
So why does it matter?

Because what initially seems like a defeat God gives greater significance over time, what seems like nothing eventually becomes very significant when added to the story of God.
What the world sees as foolish God uses to show God’s power.

John’s death seems to mean nothing.
Yet to us who are here this morning.
To those of us who struggle everyday to live in the world we need to know that for no person is the road easy.
Not for John the Baptist, not even for Jesus is the road to follow the will of God easy or without cost to us.
I know that sometimes Christianity is sold to us that it will only result in good for our lives.
But the hard biblical truth is that being a disciple, a follower of God, means that we will sometimes loose in the sight of the world.
It also means that this loss will not be the last word.
That God will use our offering of life to help advance the story of God’s interaction with us.

I suspect that we all feel insignificant and that our voices don’t matter only because we have not won in the way that the world says is winning.
The Church is made as a place where we gather to give away our lives so that we might have an impact in this world.
It is built so that we can give significance to our lives and invite the world to have that significance too.
Think of all the good that we do in our lives.
Then think if we took all that good that everybody in our congregation does and bundled it up together.
It all adds up to more than the sum of its parts.
Your good taken with that of the person in the pew next to you is a witness to the world of the power of God.

This week myself and two of our youth will be at the national youth gathering in New Orleans.
There will be 36,000 youth from around the country at this gathering.
We will be talking about discipleship, peacemaking, and actually going out and doing justice.
Think about it.
There will 36,000 youth this week doing God’s work in New Orleans.
They won’t be causing trouble, watching television, playing video games, wasting time.
No they will be giving a powerful witness to the world about what it means to follow Jesus Christ.
They will be building relationships with each other and the people of New Orleans.
They will be learning about peace.
And they will be doing a service projects that makes an impact on someone’s life.
The youth gathering is the largest gathering in the ELCA.
It is the place where our Church makes a missional statement about what we are about.

And the thing about it is that it will hardly be noticed by the world.
You won’t see it reported on FOX news, or MSNBC.
It won’t be on the cover of the New York Times.
President Obama or Mitt Romney will not mention it in any of their campaign stops.
It will seem as if nothing has changed in the world.
If you were not Lutheran and didn’t know that it was happening it would seem as if the world kept rolling along in all of its corruptible ways.
And yet it will matter.
It will be of great significance.
It will matter to the 36,000 youth who have gathered for this week.
It will have mattered to the people who we encounter and who the youth help in their service project.
It will matter to this congregation because two of our youth’s lives will be impacted forever by the experience, and they will come back on fire with the Holy Spirit.
In 2009 Bishop Mark Hanson said in his sermon to the gathering,
“Look out world 40,000 Lutheran you and young adults are on fire with the Holy Spirit.”

The good news this morning is that our lives are not insignificant, because God gives our lives significance.
God attaches our stories to God’s overall story of salvation.
John’s actions are small, but when given a place in the Gospel they add up to much more.
John becomes the one who prepares us for Jesus.
John shows us that Jesus too will have to suffer and die because of his insistence on following the will of God instead of supposed powerful people.
John is the one who gets us ready to encounter God.
And in the telling of the story his story becomes bigger than just someone who tells a powerful person they can’t do something and gets killed for it.

Your life too is more significant than you think.
Your story is tied to God’s story.
And you too can become the one who prepares people to have an encounter with Jesus.
By serving others, by practicing peace, by loving and welcoming you become more powerful than you know.

Let us continue to be a people called to serve and love.
Let us not be discouraged because we don’t see all the results of our work.
Let us continue to get down on the ground and continuing pulling weeds.
Because God has told us that it does matter, and we do matter and we are significant. Amen