Aug 18

August 1, 2018

with Jesus there’s more than enough

By Robert English

Take a moment to read John 6:1-15

A teacher once asked the students of their class to bring something to school that symbolized their religious faith.  The next day the teacher begins to go around the room asking each of the students to share what they brought.  The first little boy says, “I’m Jewish, and this is a menorah.  We light it to celebrate Hanukkah.”

The teacher says, very good, now who’s next?  A little girl stood up and said “I’m Muslim and I brought a prayer mat we use to kneel down as we pray.”  “Excellent,” said the teacher, “now who wants to share?”  A young girl stood up holding high a dish and declared, “I’m a Methodist and this is a casserole!”

We United Methodists do love our potlucks do we not?  I mean it’s honestly one of the things the United Methodist Church is known for in our popular culture isn’t it?  I remember when I announced at First United Methodist Church of Santa Monica that I would be moving to the Mid-West, a whole group of transplants from across the region came up to me after worship and said, “Robert, you are going to love the United Methodist mid-western potlucks, they are the best.”  And they were definitely right on.  The welcome potluck hosted by the United Methodist Women of this church was an incredible feast of deliciousness, fun and fellowship.

Now there’s a reason I bring all of this up today.  Not just because I love thinking and talking about food, but there’s more to it than just all that.  Food, meals, eating together is a sacred act.

Think about all the traditions and holidays we have throughout the year which revolve around food?  Pretty much every single holiday includes some sort of special meal, some sort of sacred dish, something for all of us to gather around, remembering and acknowledging in some way the connection we share with one another and the connection we have to our God.

Food is crucial to our life as a people, as families and it is absolutely essential to our life of faith.  A meal represents so much more than just the food itself.  It represents, life, connection, hope, memory, both personal and communal.  A meal represents abundance, provision, goodness blessing, it represents mercy, satisfaction, contentment and ultimately it represents that we are part of this tapestry of life, this creation woven together by the power of God’s Holy Spirit.

Which brings us to the gospel reading for this morning.  The reading for today may be a pretty familiar story to some of us.  This one of Jesus’ most well-known miracles where he feeds 5,000 hungry folks.   This story was so well known and well circulated in the early church that it is one of the few miracles stories of the New Testament that is contained in all four of the gospels.

Jesus is in the region of Galilee, next this large lake called the Sea of Galilee.  He’s preaching, teaching and healing folks all around the lake.   He’s moving  from place to place, and people from all over the region are responding to his ministry.  They are following him around from spot to spot and there’s this movement that’s forming around him.

So in response to this momentum that’s kind of picking up, Jesus retreats up to a mountain, as he often does, for some spiritual renewal and reflection as the festival of the Passover is approaching.  As he looks out upon the crowd that has gathered around him he asks his disciples “where are we going buy bread for these people to eat.”

Jesus knows the hearts of his disciples.  He knows that they are living in the scarcity of the moment. And so one of Jesus followers, Philip, replies to Jesus, “six months wages would not buy enough bread to feed all of these people.”

Now I have to admit I can see myself in Philip and in his response.  He’s looking out at the crowd and he just sees a mass of people.  Too many people even for him to count.  He looks out and he sees that the need out there is huge, too big for him alone, too big for his small group of friends, too big in his mind even for Jesus.  And he is the rationalist.  He sees the need and assesses what they have and determines that it’s just too much, they don’t have enough.

This is a pretty human thing to do.  How many of us would react in the same way?  See we human beings have this tendency to be drawn into a mentality of scarcity.  We like to think of things in terms of a zero sum game.  There’s only so much of the pie and we’ve got to make sure that we get the right size piece for me and for mine.

This isn’t always a bad tendency.  Sometimes it allows us to be responsible stewards with what we have, it helps us to make good decisions and to live within our means and on and on.

But like all things, we have to keep ourselves in check.  We have to keep a balanced outlook on our lives and our world or else we get a little bit too stuck in that mindset of scarcity and not enough-ism.  Because the shadow side of that scarcity mindset, or the slippery slope we could find ourselves falling down is this:

we live in fear, we live in fear that there isn’t really enough out there for us to make a life.  And if we live in fear, then we end up hoarding everything we have or could ever attain out of fear of running out.

This kind of fearful living eventually lead us to believe that the only way to have true peace, security and contentment in our lives is by earning, saving or gathering enough wealth or stuff in our lives that we feel protected from life’s uncertainties.

This of course is a fools errand.  No amount of stuff, no amount of money, no amount of power we have in this world will relieve us of the anxiety we carry that something may go wrong, that feeling that the other shoe is drop.

So as people of faith we know only way to true peace and serenity is the humble recognition that we rely on the grace of God always, the humble recognition that we cannot in fact save ourselves, the humble recognition that there is something at work in this world that is bigger and more powerful than us alone, the humble recognition that we need the love, the mercy and the hope of Jesus in our lives, to make us whole and set us free.

Back to the story for today.  So Philip, the practical one, says to Jesus, we don’t have enough money or enough food to feed all of these people.  But Jesus is up to something here in this moment.  Jesus is moved by compassion for these hungry people.  He invites the disciples to tell the people to sit among the grass, the green grass a sign of God’s providence and power and Jesus asks a young boy to share his lunch.

I love that part.  Jesus asks a boy to share his lunch.  The boy has enough food for him and his family.  It’s not much, but it’s something.  But the boy offers what he has to Jesus.  He gives what little he has to Jesus.

And Jesus takes his bread and fish and he blesses them and Jesus distributes them among the people.  He gives and gives and gives of the bread and the fish and it just keeps going.  On and on and on and on until everyone has had enough to eat.   The text says everyone ate until they were satisfied, and yet there was still some left over.

What a picture of God’s kingdom right?  What an image of what it looks like to live in beloved community.  This is the image of God’s kingdom we strive for in and through the church.  As a church we are struggling to be a community that believes in this kind of abundance, to be a people who believe that if we share and give of what we have that there is truly enough for all.

To live more simply so that others can simply live.  This is a counter cultural way of being in this American society which is so driven by rampant consumerism which has this underlying narrative and it goes like this:  your life isn’t complete until you buy this and this and this and this.

What is at the center of this picture of God’s kingdom in the gospel for today?  A meal.  Food.  This basic human provision.  This basic human need.

As I mentioned earlier in this sermon, we are known as a feeding people in the United Methodist Church.  I’ve seen this too here at Mt. Healthy United Methodist Church.  This last week I had the privilege of meeting with Kathy Lorenz, the volunteer director of the Mt. Healthy Alliance Food Panty over at the Disciples of Christ Church a few blocks away.

What a humbling and power experience it was to learn about the work of the pantry and the work of this congregation over the years.  It was shocking for me to learn of the needs of our neighborhood around hunger and food insecurity.  The pantry of the Mt. Healthy Alliance serves around 500 families each and every month.  500 families who are able to go to a safe place, to share themselves in vulnerability and receive such a simple and profound gift.  Kathy, the pantry director, told me that each year the pantry gives away the equivalent of $500,000 worth of food each year.

I am honored to be the pastor of a church which supports this kind of ministry and outreach to our community.  I am proud to be the pastor of a church which not only supports this food pantry but also discerned a missional opportunity for our community which centers around food: the Pancake breakfast.

I am excited for a chance to participate in the pancake breakfast coming up in September.  But one of the things that I’ve learned about it which is so inspiring, uplifting and what gets at the heart of Jesus’ ministry is that at the pancake breakfast everyone eats together.  We all eat as one community.  There is no us and them, no server and ‘servie’.  We build relationships as we share in the sacred gift of breaking bread, or eating pancakes and sausage with one another.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “to a hungry person the gospel is a loaf of bread.”  He was right on.  For those who struggle to eat every single day a loaf of bread is the good news of God’s love.

But, when we take time to not only offer the bread, but to intentionally build relationships and community with those who are weak, poor, vulnerable, all of those who have fallen on hard times, we reach beyond the bread, beyond the food and we share the good news of the gospel.  Because when we do this work we are reminded and we share with others that we all have inherent worth.

We are reminded and we share with others that we are created in the image of a loving God, that we are all worthy of love and grace, we remind others and ourselves that, although we are different in ways too numerous to count we are made one by the source and creator of all things who weaves us together in love, in this tapestry of life, hope and redemption.

If you are new to the church, or if you just don’t know about the food pantry ministry or the pancake breakfast find me and let’s talk.  There are ways to give back, to volunteer for these worthy outreach ministries.  And as for the pancake breakfast, come be part of it in September, meet a new friend, enjoy some breakfast together, be refreshed and enlivened in the spirit of God which takes something as simple as a meal, time shared together in the breaking of bread, a time where we know, we see and we taste the goodness of God’s grace for you, for me, for us all.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.


Jul 18

July 25, 2018

on the need for rest and the compassion of Jesus

By Robert English

Read Mark 6:30-34;53-56

One of the coolest things about scripture is that there is so much contained in just a few words.  It is why I consider scripture to be inspired by the Holy Spirit and a living text.  Because beneath these words is a whole spiritual world for us to uncover and to allow to work upon our hearts so that we come to know the rhythm of God’s grace in our lives.  Mark is one of the books in the bible where it is pretty easy to see this.  Every word, every phrase, every image in Mark opens us up more and more to the God of this universe. A big, expansive, radically inclusive God of love and grace.

The Gospel reading for today from Mark’s Gospel is a short passage which could almost be seen as a set of transitional verses, or what some call throwaway verses, used to move the narrative along from one story to the next.  And yet, if you dig just a little bit deeper you can find so much is there for us and how we follow in the way of Jesus.

Our text for this morning begins with the disciples returning to Jesus after they’ve been empowered and sent out by him to do the work of ministry.  You might remember two weeks ago we heard the story of Jesus sending the disciples out two by two to preach, to teach, to heal and to guide people to see the kingdom of God which is at hand.   Today’s reading picks up where we left off two weeks ago.  The disciples come back to Jesus explaining and relaying all that they experienced.

They’ve been out there doing all of this work and now they want to tell Jesus all about it.  They want to check in and report back all the things that they have seen, witnessed, all the challenges they faced and all the moments of connection and grace they can celebrate.

Jesus responds to them by saying, “Come away to a deserted place by yourselves and rest a while.”  Because, as the text says, the disciples were coming and going and they had no leisure time even to eat.

See the disciples are jazzed about this life, this life following in the way of humble sacrificial love.  They are on fire.  They are just throwing themselves into it head first.  Maybe you’ve had a time in your life where you felt this way?  You know where you are just loving what you are doing, helping someone, serving the community, making a difference in this world, giving of yourself to ease the burden of someone’s else’s life and you feel this burst of energy and joy that you think is going to last forever.

One of the places I experienced this the most was when I used to lead short term mission trips for high school aged students.  I’d lead 15-20 high schoolers all across the country to repair or rebuild homes destroyed by natural disasters or home in disrepair due to the lack of financial resources.  We went all over the country, from Appalachia to New Orleans to the Native American reservations of southern Oregon.  It was such an awesome and enriching experience.

Let me tell you one of the things I saw happen each and every trip over the years.  We’d get to a worksite and assess the work we would be doing.  We’d gather as a team and talk through the day’s work and then we’d be off.  The youth would be filled with this life-energy that comes only from giving yourself in loving service for another person in this world.

Inspired by the Holy Spirit they’d work and work and work and work.  It was our job, as the adults, to make sure they were taking enough breaks, stopping for water and lunch.  That energy would carry them through the first day.   That energy and life-giving love would carry them through the second day too.  But then Wednesday would come and it would hit the youth like a ton of bricks.  They’d be dragging, really, really dragging.    They’d also be really, really cranky.  So Wednesday would always be a lighter day of work.  We’d focus on connecting with each other, connecting with our homeowner.  We’d learn to slow down and to listen for the rhythm of God’s spirit at work in the world.  And sure enough, we’d always emerge on Thursday refreshed, renewed and re-energized.

There are a lot of parallels between what the disciples are up to and what I witnessed in youth ministry.  The disciples come to Jesus filled with stories and encounters they are longing to share.  I imagine they are just rambling them off one after another after another, a million miles a minute because they are so psyched.

They are moving so fast and doing so much that they are even forgetting to eat.  Can you imagine that they weren’t even making time to eat?   Now me, I’ve never had that problem before, I always, always make time to eat.  But I’ve witnessed it before in others, get so caught up in what they are doing that they forget to eat, or they feel like they just can’t take the time to eat.

What does Jesus say in response to this?  He doesn’t slap the disciples on the back and say, “keep it up guys, this level of productivity is amazing, let’s keep going and going and going.”  He doesn’t celebrate this kind non-stop work ethic we sometimes idolize in our modern American culture.  No, Jesus cares for the disciples and their well-being.  He loves them and knows them better even than they know themselves and he invites them to rest for a bit.  To slow it down for a bit.  To listen for a bit.  To pray for a bit.

If you read the gospels you will see that Jesus too lives this rhythm of life for himself.  Jesus’ rhythm of life is one that intentionally includes prayer and solitude, it intentionally includes fellowship and community building, it intentionally includes seeking justice and working to bring about the kingdom of God here and now,  and it intentionally includes feeding the hungry and healing the sick and comforting those who were mourning.  He did all of these things in a cyclical pattern, always coming back to a time of prayer, solitude, rest and renewal.

Now if we are to follow Jesus I think it means that we need to do two things: we need to strive to do all that Jesus says to us and also strive to DO all that he does.  It means that we need to follow his teachings and live by his commandments always but it also means we really need to pattern our life in such a way that our life reflects Jesus’.

Are we intentionally carving out spaces for ourselves to be in prayer?  Are we finding quite time for contemplation and holy listening?  Are we intentionally opening ourselves to respond to God’s call to be in loving service to those who are in need?  Are we caring for ourselves in the midst of it all?  Are we making sure that we haven’t bitten off more than we can chew.  Are we in need of some rest, some sleep, maybe a break from the day to day of our relationships which might be taking all we’ve got to give.

See the disciples are running a million miles a minute but Jesus knows that this pace is not sustainable.  He knows that eventually something is going to give, he knows that at some point they will run out of gas and become completely burnt out.  They might even get so burnt out by all of this work that they don’t just quit and leave it all behind, but they might go a step further and start to resent the call in the first place.  Jesus knows that this can happen to us, all of us, if we don’t guard our hearts, if we don’t take care of ourselves; if we don’t tend to our relationship with God, the deep well spring of new life.

So he stops them in their tracks and calls them to rest and find rest with him and in him.

It’s hard for a lot of people I’ve known over the years in the church to apply this teaching to their own life.  A lot of us grew up with this understanding or idea that being a Christian meant that we needed to give of ourselves all the time no matter what.  It meant that we needed to love God with our entire heart, body, mind soul, and strength and to love our neighbor with the same gusto.  This interpretation of the great commandment is filled with good intentions to lead us as Christians into the lives of utmost loving service.  But we can’t live in the way of Jesus while neglecting the last part of this the Greatest Commandment, Jesus says to love your neighbor as you love yourself.

Jesus commands us to love others, to love your neighbor, to love those who are dearest to you and the person you kind of can’t, the person who is like human sand paper to you, to love them all as you love yourself.

See we’ve got cultivate some of that love for ourselves while at the same time we grow in our love for God and others.  Because without that we just ain’t got nothing to share.  Someone once said to me, Robert you can only share the gift of love if you own it in your own heart first.

I know this sounds easy and maybe you’ve got this down in your life for sure.  Which is awesome.  Keep doing it!  Keep growing in love for God, neighbor and self!  But I’ve been doing ministry long enough to know that this is something some people really struggle with in their spiritual lives.  This is something that we feel guilty about, something we feel ashamed about, something we just don’t talk about.

In my life I’ve come to learn that a lot of folks I know are way more willing to be compassionate to another person about something they did wrong than they would be toward themselves.  Sometimes we punish ourselves with our own negative internal monologue about how we just aren’t doing enough, or we just don’t make enough, or we aren’t there enough….enough, enough, enough.

Our gospel today reminds us that Jesus is very clear on this for us, he says you are enough for me, and I am more than enough for you.

See as the text goes on it says that Jesus looked at the people, not just the disciples but all the people, and he was filled with compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  See we need Jesus in our life.  We need a savior in our life.  We need a shepherd, the good shepherd, the one who knows us and calls us by name, the one who leads us and guides us down the paths of righteousness for his names sake, and even when the darkest dark or night falls upon us we need a good shepherd who will never abandon us but will always comfort us with his staff and love us back to life.

We need the compassion of Jesus when our compassion has grown too small or depleted, when we’re running on fumes and we’ve got nothing left to give.  We need to come to Jesus, to find rest, renewal and new hope for our souls, for our relationships and for our world.

And this to me is at the heart of our spiritual freedom in Christ.  That it’s not up to us alone.  We don’t have the weight of the whole thing, all of the cares and concerns of our hearts, the our friends and family, this community and the entire world on our shoulders alone.  Jesus calls us to give it to him, our good shepherd, to share it with him so that we may know his peace and his love which makes us whole and sets us free to live boldly, to love fully and to walk humbly with God all the days of our lives.

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