Monday, August 27, 2012

Even More Bread!

I suppose that by this point some of you might be a bit stuffed with bread.
For the fourth Sunday in a row our Gospel is about bread.
And for the fourth Sunday in a row I am going to be preaching about bread.
So some of you might be thinking, “OK enough with the bread already.”
We get it.
But today Jesus amps up the rhetoric about bread.
Today Jesus tells us that this bread is his body.
And then he adds not just his body but also his blood.
And we are supposed to eat his body and blood.
What most people thought when they heard Jesus say this was, “Ew…gross”.
In fact next week we will hear that most people stop following Jesus at this point because the thought of eating and drinking him is just too disgusting.
So there must be more to say about eating this bread that Jesus gives us.
We have already heard how this bread gives us love, faith, and peace.
This morning I want to say that what this bread gives us is acceptance.
This bread is what calls us all to the table of God.

I am aware this morning that this word acceptance comes with lots of baggage.
I am aware this morning that you are going to have two reactions to this word.
One is to think, “Of course God accepts all people.”
The other is to think, “Come on pastor, enough with the liberal politics. Who want us to say everything and everybody is OK.”
I understand, and I am aware, that the politics of this notion is in play and on our minds whenever we talk about inclusion and acceptance.
I am wondering if for today you can take yourselves out of that mindset.
Remove yourself from the current politics and fighting over who is right and who is wrong.
Instead, I want to suggest to you that regardless of how you think about this word or this issue that it is a Biblical notion.
Accepting ourselves and others is what the Bible is all about.

In the beginning human beings are created to be at one with God.
They are created to love and serve God with all their hearts and minds.
God does not separate out the people and say these people will be mine and these will not.
God created the world for all human kind, and every creature of every kind.
But through human sin we began to separate ourselves and to judge ourselves over and against others.
Instead of our relationship with God being how we found value and meaning, we began to find it in our own accomplishments over against others.
The Ten Commandments were given to Moses so the people would return to that relationship.
All the commandments are built on the first one, “Love the lord with all your heart, mind, and soul.”
And the others are all about our relationships with each other and how we will love each other.
By not talking badly about one another, stealing from one another, killing one another, coveting one another, remaining faithful to our families, and honoring each other we show love to each other.
But the problem is that people even used the Ten Commandments as a way to measure themselves against others instead of way to serve others.
And so God sent the prophets to remind the people of their hypocrisy.
Finally, God sent his son to offer himself for the world.
To remind the world that we are not divided.
That good religious folks are not as good as they might appear, and that sinners are not as bad as we think.
Jesus wanted to bring the whole world together into one family.
His death on the cross is for all people.
Good and bad people.
And hopefully because of that death we can stop blaming each other and measuring ourselves against each other and be one.

The Biblical witness is not about just getting through to a couple of people but about including an ever widening circle amongst God’s people.
And I want to say that this is always the point of the Biblical witness.
Because what it invites people to is conversion.
Away from the selfish life they once knew to a way of giving ourselves away.
It invites us away from a life that has to be measured against others and instead lived for them.

Take our Gospel for this morning.
It might seem like this is just a text about bread.
But I want to suggest that it is a text of invitation.
Jesus this morning invites us to the feast of God.
Invites us to know his love and grace.
We often don’t know how Jesus said things.
What is the tone of voice that he used?
So when we hear a passage like this we hear it as a warning.
Eat me or else.
How about if we heard it as an invitation into a greater life?
Hey here I am for you.
I want to know you better and I want you to know me.
I will abide in you and you in me.

Does that not satisfy a deep need from all of us?
Don’t we all want to be known better?
To be accepted?
Don’t we all want to know God better?
Jesus is offering us that invitation.

And here is the key not just you.
Jesus offers is it to everyone.
That is right everyone.
Think in your mind of someone who drives you crazy, someone who makes your skin crawl, and someone who you just can’t stand for whatever reason.
That person is invited too!

This weekend I had my 20th high school reunion.
It made me think a lot about those days.
And the thing is that there were times when I was in high school that I didn’t feel like I belonged.
I started a Facebook page for people that I went to Junior high together.
And some of the stories that came out where how people felt left out or bullied in those days.
It was sad to hear those stories, and to think of how cruel we sometimes can be.
Talking to some of the youth this summer I was reminded that this was a universal problem.
I think we all have this in our lives.
Times when we just feel out of place, or out of step with everything else around us.
And it doesn’t end once we leave high school.
I have talked to old people who began to feel left out because they just don’t get the younger people.
And they feel left out of the conversation.
For example, Hollywood makes every movie for people from the age of 18-35.
What happens when you can no longer relate you feel out of place.

When we were in New Orleans at the Youth gathering after the speeches and concerts in the Superdome were over at night we could pick what activity we wanted to do.
One of the choices was going to a dance.
Two nights in a row we went to a dance.
And at the end of both nights someone’s feelings got hurt.
Either they didn’t get asked to dance, or didn’t like the music, or felt left out and abandoned by others.
I thought it was an interesting contrast to what we experienced for most of our time in New Orleans.
In our worship, in the Superdome were we gathered to dance, sing, and listen to God everyone was welcome, everyone had a good time, and everyone was part of the party.

When we gather at the table of the Lord we are offered his body and blood.
There is no prerequisite to receive.
Jesus simply lays out a banquet table and invites us to come and eat and drink.
Jesus invites us to share the essence of who and what he is, and in doing gets to know who and what we are.
Because the ultimate question of acceptance is not really about whether we accept others.
It is about whether we accept ourselves.
Can we see ourselves the way God does?
Can we love ourselves the way God does?
Do we feel accepted?
Or do we feel like we are at a high school dance, sitting in the corner all alone.
Christianity is not about a warning, but about the invitation come sit down eat and drink and know that you are where you are supposed to be.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Streets of Peace.

For the last two weeks we have been talking about bread.
More to the point we have been talking about the substance of our lives.
The first week we talked about the importance of knowing God’s love for us, last week we talked about seeing through the eyes of faith.
The theme that I wanted to talk about today is peace.
After our week of Vacation Bible School I started to think that perhaps it would have been better to talk about faith this week.
Because what we learned at vacation Bible School was that no matter who we are, what we do, what happens in our lives, we should always (if you were in Vacation Bible School help me out with this) TRUST GOD!
Faith is about trusting God.
But then I thought about it some more and realized that peace is the by-product of faith.
When we trust God, we have faith, than our lives have peace.

This morning we are not merely talking about peace as the absence of violence.
Although, I pray and hope for the day when their will be no more killing or hurting each other.
Today we are talking about something even more substantive then that type of peace, because even if there is no violence we still might not have true peace.
We are talking about the peace that comes deep in our souls when we can know that everything works out for the best despite the evidence in front of us.

What Jesus offers to us is not a life free from the tumult of the world, but rather a peace that is substance for the journey that we take in life.
The people of Jesus’ day misunderstand what Jesus is offering to them.
Not a peace that comes from the known things of this world.
But rather a peace that can only come from knowing God.

A couple of weeks ago I was in New Orleans with some of our youth at a national youth gathering, and 36,000 other Lutherans 33,000 of which were high school youth.
It was an amazing thing to see and be a part of.
We would be walking down the streets of New Orleans and wherever we went we saw other youth wearing t-shirts from other congregations around the country.
We would approach another group and someone would start shouting and yelling.
And as we walked by each other we would give each other a high-five, or in some cases a fist pump.
I was wondering why life was not more like this.
Why don’t we get excited to see strangers coming down the street?
Why don’t we give out a howls of greetings to new people.
Why are we not friendlier in our everyday life?
While walking the Streets of New Orleans and greeting strangers I thought to myself this is what the kingdom of God looks like.
A place where we are all one with each other, where there is friendship offered quickly, where we don’t judge each other, where there is no threat of violence.
It was peaceful.
It felt like all was right with the world.

Then on Friday morning while we were at our Practice discipleship day we were told about the shooting in Aura Colorado.
It was a brutal reminder of the world that we live in.
How peace in this world is hard to come by.

But I want to say this morning that both things are real.
The sense that we get from our faith that all is well and the unsettling truth in the world that someone would walk into a movie theater and kill people for no reason; both things are part of our existence.

This is where I believe Jesus meets us.
It is at the intersection of peace and disturbance.

Jesus tells us this morning two important things.
The first is that he comes from the Father.
“I am the living bread that comes down from heaven.”
Jesus is not of this world.
The things that he teaches us are not about his personal agenda but about God’s agenda.
Jesus wants us to know that his view of the world is larger and more magnificent than we can see from where we are.
This is why his opponents had such a hard time understanding him.
They were too firmly planted in this world.
All they saw in Jesus was a carpenter’s son, a peasant, someone who did not measure up in their worldly standards.
But Jesus is trying to say that he is so much more than that.
He comes not from this realm, but from the realm of heaven.
He sees the plan beyond today’s troubles.
He can offer peace because he knows the plan.
Jesus could see into eternity and knows, and reminds us, that God leads us there.
Jesus knows that God brings us to streets where all people are friends and where peace reigns

On the other hand Jesus tells us that God does not merely stay in the clouds.
God does not hover above us.
Jesus makes it clear that he is the bread.
Jesus is part of our daily lives.
Jesus in saying we will eat this bread, his body, gives us a glimpse into his own violent death.
Jesus is not exempt from the real violence and lust for revenge that pervades our world.

In New Orleans we talked a lot about how Jesus breaks down walls that divide us.
The cross was the world’s attempt to put up a wall that would keep us away from God and one another.
But it was the cross that God used to bring heaven and earth closer together.
It is the cross that draws all the hurting souls to God’s peace.

An instrument of death becomes the sign of life.
An instrument of revenge becomes the place of forgiveness.
And instrument of violence becomes the place of peace.
We can look at the cross and know that even though things seem glum it is in our darkest times that God is at work.

I was thinking about Jesus on the cross this week.
We know that Jesus did not want to die.
We know that Jesus was grieved to have to die.
How did Jesus find peace among the name calling, whipping, thorns, nails, and pain?
How did Jesus find peace to offer the other criminal a glimpse of the kingdom?
How did Jesus find peace to offer his crucifiers forgiveness?
How did Jesus find peace not to retaliate with the sword?
How did Jesus find peace beyond the violence?
That answer is through trust in God.
Trust that this was not the end, but only the beginning.

Today God through Jesus offers us that peace.
Peace to offer forgiveness, to find the kingdom of God through the violence.
Peace to face difficulties not because God is above us, but because Jesus walked among us, and now gives us substance for the journey.

May all of you know the peace that only comes from knowing God and trusting in God.

The Next Day We Are Still Hungry.

The nourishment that comes from God is about more than physical bread.
For in order to act in this world for God we first need something as the base.
Last week we talked about the unconditional love of God as part of that base.
Love is part of the substance of our lives.
The other part I want us to talk about this morning is faith.
Faith is a trust in God.
Faith is taking the long view of life.
Faith is what helps us thrive through all of life.
After Jesus feeds 5,000 people as a sign of God’s substance for our lives people have a problem.
They are hungry again.
They misunderstand that Jesus wanted to feed them with so much more than physical bread.
They missed the sign.
They lack faith that God provides for all our spiritual needs.
It comes from a misunderstanding about what God role is in our lives.
God’s role is not to make everything all right.
It is not to fix every problem we have.
It is not to fill our bellies.
It is not to make us rich, good looking, and successful.
That is not what God sent Jesus to do.

I want to linger on this point for a second because I think it is a big misunderstanding in Christian theology.
We have many supposed preachers of the Gospel telling us that what God wants for us is that we are successful, and that we get everything in life that we desire.
God wants us all to be rich and ahead of other people.
This is not the point, because it points to the materialistic as proof of what God is doing spiritually.
Spiritually God is not grooming us for success, but preparing us for failure, because we all have failed in some way in our lives.
Or we all will fail at some point.
I am not suggesting that we try to fail; I am saying it is an inevitable part of life.
Just as an example, Tom Brady is arguably the best quarterback to ever play the position, but he does not always succeed.
We have seen in his last two Super Bowls that his team did not win.
He does not always make the right pass.
Not only will we fail, but our bodies will also fail.
If you are old you know this truth.
Your mind might want to do things, but your body is failing to move in the same way it once did.
This is life.

You see this morning the people were fed, but now they are hungry again.
Where will they get food today?
That is the thing about material things they always pass away.
No matter how secure we think things are there is always the possibility of it going away, except for our relationship with Jesus.
Faith is something that no one can take away from you.

The reason is that it is not dependent on you.
Notice this morning that Jesus says that faith in him is the work of God.
Faith is a gift given to us, not something we work to do.
In order to receive the gift all we need to do is see it and perceive the gift.

The problem is that we are consumed with material bread.
We are consumed with success as measured in dollars and sense, in praise and adulation.
Jesus feeds us with so much more.

I have heard many of you say it to me, “I would never make it without faith.”
That is how we not only survive but also thrive.
We give our lives into the hands of God.
We surrender our control over to God.
We trust that Jesus provides the spiritual substance that keeps us going in hard times, in dark times, in times when we are starving for so much more.

And I do believe that we are starving.
We don’t even know it sometimes.
We are happy with our success.
We are happy with our money.
We are happy with life.
Or so we think.
In the United States despite more wealth we have not become any happier.
According to the General Social Survey by the National Opinion Center, our national level of happiness has not changed much since 1972 despite the increase in per-capita wealth.
It is an old cliché but it is worth repeating this morning that money does not buy happiness.
What I want to suggest to you this morning is that faith does.
Faith brings perspective into our lives.
It helps us to define what really matters.
And helps us be prepared for the inevitable difficulties we will face.

This morning Jesus suggests that what he gives not only outlasts our money and material well being, but it also outlasts our very lives.
Faith is not only the perspective of today and tomorrow, but it is one of eternality that last beyond even our human life.

When we receive the bread and wine together on Sunday morning we receive faith.
Faith is wrapped into those little morsels of food and drink.
Because when eat and drink at communion we remember God’s story.
We remember that God brought life out of death, light from darkness, freedom from slavery, faith from doubt.

The crowd in this morning has two basic reactions to Jesus that I think are similar to our reactions to God.
One is what have you done for me lately.
Yes, you gave us some bread yesterday, but what are you going to do today.
They second is what do we have to do?
How can we work harder or be more intent on doing the right thing.
Both of these reactions are the antithesis of faith.

The Israelites in the wilderness become disenchanted with God because they no longer have the food they had in Egypt.
They somehow forget that it was only through God’s miraculous interaction that they were freed from slavery.
They forgot that God had parted the Red Sea and drowned Pharaoh’s army for them!
To have faith means to trust in God even when things don’t go according to plan.
We have that faith because we have seen what God has done for us and his people.
For Christians we have faith because we saw what God did through the death and resurrection   of Jesus Christ.
To not recognize this truth on a daily basis is to say, “Sure you raised Jesus from the dead, but what have you done for me lately.”
As if that were not enough for our daily substance.

The second assumes that somehow we are the ones who determine our own spiritual health.
True spiritual substance cannot be earned by us.
It can only be reacted to with prayers, songs, and shouts of thanksgiving and praise.
Faith is the acknowledgement that behind everything is a God who wants us to have the spiritual substance that truly sustains us.
To assume that somehow we can obtain this type of faith is why we so often feel like we failed.
Faith is given from God to us and you can’t work harder to get it.

We are hungry.
The material food and comforts we got yesterday are gone.
We need something more.
And God has given it to us.
Through Jesus God has given us not merely food to fill our bellies, but true substance that fills our souls and helps us to do more than merely survive it helps us to thrive.