An ELCA pastor shares his thoughts about the Bible, spirituality, the world, and LGBT issues.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Sunday Sermon - Look to the Rock

ORDINARY 21A    Isaiah 51:1-6  David Eck

I. Life can sometimes be pretty disorienting.
—This is especially true during times of
—Great transition and change:

Losing a job,
—Moving to another state,
—The death of a loved one,

A worrisome diagnosis from a doctor,
—Becoming empty nest parents,
—Entering retirement

Events such as these mix up our lives
—And take us out of familiar patterns
—That make us feel stable and secure.

They can leave us feeling like ships
—Adrift in the middle of the ocean,
—With no sense of where we are
—And where we need to head next.

These times of disorientation
—Can happen to us as individuals,
—As families, as a church,
—As a community, and as a nation.

When we find ourselves in the midst
—Of one of these times of transition and change,
—We begin to look for a way to help us navigate
—This unfamiliar world we now inhabit.

II. This is the case in our First Lesson.
—The prophet Isaiah speaks to a nation
—That is in a time of complete disorientation.

This portion of Isaiah was written
—During the time of Israel’s exile in Babylon.

Everything that had grounded them
—Had been stripped away from their lives.

Everything that gave them a sense of
—Identity, stability and security was gone.

They saw the destruction of the Temple
—And their beloved city Jerusalem.

They were forced to take what few possessions
—They could carry with them
—And march to a place where people
—Spoke a different language,
—And worshipped a different deity.

It’s hard to imagine how disorienting this must be.

It’s hard to imagine how lost
—The nation of Israel felt
—During this dark and uncertain time.

But I’m sure one of my new neighbors,
—Whose family fled Bagdad, knows how this feels.

He was a shopkeeper in Iraq
—And had to leave everything behind
—In order to save his wife and son.

Gary spoke with him the other day
—And he said his son
—Is having a particularly difficult time
—Adjusting to living in America
—Because it’s so vastly different from his native land.

So, I’m certain his family knows
—How the nation of Israel must have felt.

III. But I’m not sure I can completely understand
—What it was like to go through something like this.

The best that I can do,
—And the best you can do,
—Is to learn from their experience
—And draw wisdom from the way they navigated
—This time of transition and change.

One of the people who has given the difficult task
—Of helping the Israelites reorient themselves
—Was the prophet Isaiah.

Bless his heart, he was given the unimaginable task
—Of speaking a word of hope
—To a people who had no hope.

He was called to speak a word of comfort
—To a community that was living
—In the unthinkable situation of a mass exile.

Chapters 40-55 of the book of Isaiah
—Represent this time period.
—There are many wonderful words of encouragement
—In these chapters that are helpful to us
—When we experience times of great disorientation in our lives.

Among them are Isaiah 40
—Where the prophets says
—“Have you not known? Have you not heard?
—The LORD is the everlasting God,
—The Creator of the ends of the earth.

He does not faint or grow weary;
—His understanding is unsearchable.
—He gives power to the faint,
—And strengthens the powerless.

Even youths will faint and be weary,
—And the young will fall exhausted;
—But those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength,
—They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
—They shall run and not be weary,
—They shall walk and not faint.”  [Is 40:28-31]

Or how about this passage that’s read
—During the Christmas season:
— “How beautiful upon the mountains
—Are the feet of the messenger who announces peace,
—Who brings good news, who announces salvation,
—Who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

Listen! Your sentinels lift up their voices,
—Together they sing for joy;
—For in plain sight they see
—The return of the LORD to Zion.

Break forth together into singing, you ruins of Jerusalem;
—For the LORD has comforted his people,
—He has redeemed Jerusalem.

The LORD has bared his holy arm
—Before the eyes of all the nations;
—And all the ends of the earth shall see
—The salvation of our God. [Is 52:7-10]

IV. Finally, we have the words of our First Lesson
—Where Isaiah gives a particularly helpful word of advice:

“Listen to me, you that pursue righteousness,
—You that seek the LORD.
—Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
—And to the quarry from which you were dug. 

Look to Abraham your father
—And to Sarah who bore you;
—For he was but one when I called him,
—But I blessed him and made him many.”

Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
—And to the quarry from which you were dug.

In a time of great disorientation,
—Isaiah gave the Israelites a powerful gift.
—He called them to harness the power of remembrance.

He told them to recall the stories of the saints of old
—Who also had their share of difficult and challenging days.

He told them to remember how God
—Walked with them during their time of trial
—And helped them to navigate unknown territory
—Where the way ahead was not clear.

He told them to share the old stories
—And draw strength from them
—So they could survive the exile
—With the hope that, one day,
—They would be exiles no more.

And so the Israelites remembered.
—They told the story of Abraham and Sarah
—Who were unable to conceive a child
—Even though God had promised them
—They would be the parents of a great nation.

Then one day, an angel told Sarah
—She was going to have a baby.
—She laughed at the proposition
—Since she was already post-menopausal.

And the laughter continued
—As a baby grew in her womb
—And she gave birth to Isaac,
—Which means “Son of Laughter.”

They told the story of Joseph
—Who was tormented by his brothers,
—Sold into slavery, and ended up in Egypt.

Many years later, this same Joseph
—Would rise in the ranks of the Egyptian nobility,
—And save his brothers and their families
—From starvation in their homeland.

They told the story of the Exodus,
—Where God parted the Red Sea,
—Fed them with manna and quail,
—And guided them through the desert
—With a pillar of cloud by day
—And a pillar of fire by night.

In a time of great disorientation,
—When the Israelites lived as exiles in Babylon,
—With no sense of hope whatsoever,
—Isaiah called them to harness the power of remembrance.

And so the Israelites remembered.
—They told stories to one another.

They leaned on the wisdom of their ancestors,
—And somehow found the strength
—To survive an unimaginable national tragedy.

V.  Friends in Christ, I believe our first Lesson
—Contains one of the most powerful pieces of wisdom
—In the Old Testament.

During times of disorientation.
—During times of great transition and change,
—Isaiah calls us to look to the rock from which we were hewn,
—And to the quarry from which we were dug.

He calls us to remember and share with one another
—The stories of the saints of old
—Who persevered during difficult times.

As we tell these stories, we draw strength and inspiration.
—We are comforted and encouraged.

We remember that God helped them through difficult times.
—And God will do the same for us!

Three years ago, Abiding Savior
—Went though such a time of transition
—As we decided to enter into the Reconciling in Christ process.

For some, this decision was so disorienting
—They decided to leave our church.

For others it was an exciting time,
—A step forward into a brave new world
—That the ELCA had paved the way for
—At Churchwide Assembly in 2009.

Still others were somewhere in the middle.
—They wondered if we would survive this transition.

They mourned the loss of the old Abiding Savior
—And were a bit fearful of the new Abiding Savior.

During this challenging time,
—Your pastor heeded the words of Isaiah
—And remembered the stories
—Of Abiding Savior’s spiritual ancestors, some of whom
—You may not know, especially if you’re new to our church.

Stories of people like Charisma Lindberg who was Council President
—When I accepted the call to become
—Mission Redeveloper of Abiding Savior.

The congregation was a bit of a mess in those days.
—Some people had left and they had an interim pastor at the time.

But she, along with the members of the Call Committee,
—Had a deeply held conviction that God
—Was still calling them to be a church.

And so I accepted the call, and we worked together.
—God brought Abiding Savior out of a time of disorientation
—To a place where we built this facility,
—That was affectionately known as
—“The Church on The Hill” in those days.

As I remembered that challenging time
—In the life of our congregation,
—I found the confidence that God would help us
—Navigate the Reconciling in Christ process,
—And we would emerge a stronger church because of it.

I also remembered the story of Karl Zierke,
—Who was once our Treasurer.

He was a mentor to me and a source of wisdom.
—He was a quiet, non-anxious presence in our church
—Which is something I would love to be
—But am not always successful at doing!

He’s who I want to be when I grow up
—And his influence is felt in my life
—To this very day!

I also remembered Tom and Jeanne Wagner,
—Who I affectionally called Abiding Savior’s “worker ninjas.”
—They seemed to know when something needed to be done,
—Even before it was on my radar screen.

They would appear at church, unannounced,
—At random times of the day and night,
—And do little maintenance jobs here and there.

They told me they loved to do this
—Because they didn’t have a lot of money
—But in their retirement years they had the gift of time,
—And wanted to be good stewards of it.

They taught me a few lessons about selfless service,
—That have inspired me ever since.
—You may not feel it but their hands have touched
—Nearly every surface of this building.
—We are who we are, because they
—Were who they were.

VI.  Friends in Christ, if you are going though
—A time of disorientation in your life.
—If you feel like an exile in a strange and foreign land,
—I hope you’ll take Isaiah’s advice from our gospel lesson
—And remember the rock from which you were hewn,
—And the quarry from which you were dug.

Recall the stories of the saints in your life
—Who persevered through difficult times.

May the telling of those stories
—Give you courage and strength.

May you find the wisdom to help you navigate
—This time of transition and change.


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Standing on the Rock

"Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug." [Isaiah 51:1, NRSV]

These words are a part of the writings known as Second Isaiah. They were composed during the time of Israel's exile in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. The Israelites were living in desperate times. Times that were filled with hardship and struggle. Times that tested their faith and made them wonder whether they would ever see their homeland again.

To these desperate people, Isaiah offered a word of encouragement and hope; a word that would help to sustain them through whatever dark times lie ahead. He told them to remember their ancestors, both literal and spiritual. Remember the stories of the people of faith that got us where we are. Remember how they persevered through difficult times and draw inspiration and strength from their example.

Perhaps one of the reasons why the LGBT community has such a weak spiritual base is because LGBT spirituality is relatively a new thing. Not too long ago there wasn't such a thing as a "queer theologian." Not too long ago there was not blogs such as mine. The only message we received was that we were going to hell. There weren't many gay spiritual rocks to look back on. There were not many out examples for us to follow.

Fortunately, that is beginning to change. Two of my favorite queer spiritual rocks are Mel White and Gene Robinson. Rev. Mel White works with Soulforce, a wonderful organization dedicated to the eradication of spiritual violence against LGBT people. I've met Mel on several occasions and found him to be a humble but strong spirit. He wrote "Stranger at the Gate" which was a very important book for me. His spiritual coming out story is powerful and inspiring. I also received non-violent resistance training from Soulforce which has been an invaluable tool in my advocacy work for a number of oppressed minorities.

Rev. Gene Robinson, of course, is the first openly gay Episcopal Bishop. I had the fortunate opportunity to have lunch with him while he was in Asheville and found him to be smart, funny and humble.  I can see why the people he serves elected him as bishop.  I admire the sacrifices he had made to advance LGBT equality in the church.

Who are our spiritual rocks? If we don't have one, it's time to seek one out. They don't have to be national figures. They can be a local pastor or person of faith who constantly reminds you that God loves God's LGBT children and you are precious and holy in his sight. It's essential that we, as a community, begin to form a bedrock of queer spirituality that we can all build on. Our health and wellness depends upon it.

Perhaps a good place to start is the documentary "For the Bible Tells Me So." It profiles a number of GLBT spiritual rocks and tells their story well. Check it out and, whatever we do, let us see out those LGBT spiritual elders who can be our rock when we are facing difficult times.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Sunday Sermon - The Canaanite Woman

ORDINARY 20A  Matt 15:21-28  David Eck

I. I must confess, I’ve never
—Been called a “dog” before.

But I have been called an unrepentant sinner,
—A reprobate, Possessed by the devil,
—A sissy, and a whole lot worse.

Therefore, when I hear the words
—That “allegedly” came out of the mouth
—Of my Lord and Savior,
—I cringe just a little bit.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs.”

Did Jesus REALLY say this?
—And if he did, why would he say such a thing?

It makes him look like a bully,
—An uncaring thug.

It makes him look like a mean, heartless person.
—And we know this is definitely NOT true.

Jesus was known for his compassion,
—His mercy, and his deep wisdom.

He had a reputation for ignoring
—Social, political and racial boundaries
—In order to communicate God’s love for all people.

How could THIS Jesus utter those hateful words:
—“It is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs”?

How could THIS Jesus, who drew a wide circle
—Around those he considered to be his friends,
—Say, “I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of Israel.”

It makes him look inconsistent at best
—Or a liar at worse!

How could THIS Jesus, who loves
—A reprobate, possessed by the devil, sissy like me,
—Reject a woman simply because
—She was born in the district of Tyre and Sidon?
—It just doesn’t make any sense!

Will the REAL Jesus please stand up!

II. So, Friends in Christ,
—We have our work cut out for us this morning.
—So let’s journey through our gospel lesson
—And see if we can make any sense out of it!

The context of our story actually begins in chapter 14
—Where Jesus fed 5,000 people on the shores of Galilee.

He didn’t ask the Gentiles to go away.
—He didn’t check any driver’s licenses
—To make sure everyone was a resident of Israel.

He fed EVERYONE who came to hear him speak:
—The young and the old,
—The rich ad the poor,
—The native and the immigrant,
—The powerful and the marginalized.

Now THAT’s that Jesus we know and love.
—He fed EVERYONE and sent them home
—With doggy bags as well!

That night he sent the disciples
—Across Lake Galilee
—Where they encountered a storm
—As well as Jesus walking on water.

The next morning, when they arrived
—Safely on the opposite shore,
—He began healing the sick in Gennesaret,
—Which is a Jewish town
—On the North Western shore of Galilee
—Close to Capernaum.

As chapter 15 begins, Matthew tells us
—That while Jesus was in Gennesaret,
—He had an argument with the Pharisees
—And scribes who came from Jerusalem.

They were criticizing him
—Because his disciples broke with the tradition of Jewish elders
—And refused to do the ceremonial washing of hands,
—Before they shared a meal.

Jesus called the Pharisees “hypocrites,”
—And said they honored God with their lips
—But their hearts were far from God.

He also told them
—“It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person,
—But it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.”

In other words, outside appearances are not as important
—As what’s in a person’s heart and mind.

This ALSO sounds like the Jesus
—We know and love.
—It’s a “You can’t judge a book
—By it’s cover” moment!
—So far, so good.

III. But then things start to get a bit weird
—When we arrive at our gospel lesson.
—Matthew tells us Jesus and his disciples
—Left Gennesaret and went to the district of Tyre and Sidon.

Now most people reading this
—Wouldn’t give it a second thought.
—But if you know your Biblical geography,
—This is not the kind of place your typical rabbi
—Would visit on a road trip.

Tyre and Sidon are coastal towns on the Mediterranean.
—They are northwest of Gennesaret
—Are are smack dab in the middle
—Of Phoenicia, which is modern day Lebanon.

This is Gentile territory
—It’s the land of the infamous Queen Jezebel
—Who put a bounty on Elijah’s head.

It’s the land of Baal worship,
—And other foreign deities.
—It’s NOT the kind of place a rabbi
—Would typically go.

But Jesus intentionally went there.
—For me, this is a good thing
—And is consistent with the kind of person
—I understand Jesus to be.

He is breaking down barriers of race and geography,
—So that all people could experience
—The good news of God’s reign among us.
—So far, so good.

IV.  While he is in this region a Canaanite woman
—Approached him and started shouting,
—“Have mercy on me, Son of David;
—My daughter is tormented by a demon.”

Th first thing that is unusual about this
—Is that this is the only place in the New testament
—Where someone is described as a Canaanite.

In New Testament times, there was no land known as Canaan
—So this is probably a derogatory term
—Used against the Phoenicians who lived in the region.

This is where Mark’s version
—Of the same story gets it it right.

Mark says she was of “Syrophoenician origin.”   [Mk 7:26]
—Which is a more accurate description
—Of where she was from.

So let’s assume that Matthew is using
—The word “Canaanite” as a literary devise.
—He’s bating the story with negative overtones
—From the get go.

The second thing that is unusual is that
—She calls Jesus “Son of David”
—Which is a distinctly Jewish term
—With Messianic overtones.

At this point in Matthew’s gospel
—The disciples haven’t even figured this out.
—So it’s very unusual that she would know this.

What is Jesus response to her desperate plea?
—Matthew tells us that “he didn’t answer her at all.”

You can’t be serious!
—It’s not like Jesus to ignore another person’s suffering,
—Especially one who had a deep understanding
—Of who he was.

Mark’s version of the story says nothing of the sort,
—So I’m inclined to side with him.
—This detail makes no sense at all to me!

Mark says Jesus responded to her plea immediately
—Which sounds more like the Jesus we know and love.

V.  As the story continues, the disciples urge Jesus
—To send her away, implying that she is an annoyance
—Who is not worthy of Jesus time.

Jesus response to their request is
—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
—I don’t mean to be unkind but this is utterly ridiculous
—And could not have come from the mouth of Jesus.

Mark’s version says nothing of the sort.
—Plus there is the added observation
—That Jesus regularly ministered to foreigners
---Such as the Samaritan woman at the well   [John 4:7-42]
---As well as one of the ten lepers.   [Luke 17:11-19]

And what about the Parable of the Good Samaritan   [Luke 10:29-37]
---Where Jesus uses a pagan as a model
---For how to live the godly life?

What about John 8:48 where Jesus
---Is even accused of being a Samaritan
---By a group of Jews in the Temple?

Therefore, we have to discount this phrase
—As being the authentic words of Jesus
—Because it is completely inconsistent
—With the rest of his ministry,
—Including the events in Matthew 14
—Which preceded our gospel lesson.

VI. Finally, we arrive at those infamous words
—That Jesus utters to this poor woman,
—“It is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs.”

Now, the word DOG used here
—Is KUNARION in the original Greek.
—It is the neuter form of KUON,
—And is neither male or female.

It’s the same word used by
—Both Jesus and the woman in this story.
—It is best translated as “puppies,” or “little dogs.”

This might soften a blow a little bit,
—But it’s still hard to imagine Jesus
—Saying something like this!

Mark’s version of what Jesus says
—Is a little bit softer:
—“Let the children be fed FIRST,
—For it is not fair to take the children’s food
—And throw it to the dogs.”   [Mk 7:27]

At least Mark leaves room for a shred of hope
—That Jesus will grant this woman’s request.

Since Mark is the earliest of the gospels to be written
—His may be closer to the original story.

What might be going on in Matthew
—Has to do with his audience who was primarily Jewish.

They would not have flinched at Jesus saying
—“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
—They would have cheered when Jesus referred
—To the Canaanite woman as a dog.

My take on this is that Matthew
—Is setting up his audience for a big surprise.

They would want Jesus to minister only to Jews
—But as the text continues, it’s clear
—That his circle of mercy is wider
—Than they would want it to be.

VII.  In response to Jesus demeaning words,
—The Canaanite woman replies:
—“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs
—That fall from their masters’ table.”

In other words, you might call me a dog,
—But even dogs get treated with love and mercy,
—By their owners.

Mark’s version of the story says
—Essentially the same thing, so this detail
—In consistent in both gospels.

What this woman did was
—Claim her place at the table
—Or at least UNDER the table!

She refuses to settle for anything less
—And Jesus grants her request!
—“Woman, great is your faith!” Jesus says.
—“Let it be done for you as you wish.”
—And her daughter was healed instantly.

If I’m right about Matthew
—Setting up his audience for a big surprise,
—Then they would gasp audibly as Jesus
—Grants this woman’s request.

Once again, he shows us that no one
—Is undeserving of Gods love and mercy.
—If we set aside the way Matthew tells the story
—And look at it’s overarching message,
—This is what emerges.

VIII.  So, friends in Christ,
—What can we learn from this
—Strange and difficult gospel lesson?

We’ll, I suspect we’re not much better
—Than Matthew’s original audience
—When it comes to judging others.

Everyone in this room has prejudices,
—Both hidden and revealed.
—Everyone in this room would label certain people
—As “dogs” who are unworthy of our love and compassion.

For some it might be the homeless
—Who we think of as lazy.
—For others it’s the Muslims
—All of whom we secretly suspect are terrorists.

For some it’s illegal immigrants
—Who are living in our country.
—For others it is the residents of Gaza,
—Who are caught in a longstanding war
—Between Hamas and Israel.

For some it’s transgendered people
—Or those of a different race.

I could name more names
—But I think you get the point.
—We are pretty good at judging,
—But not so good at loving.

We are pretty good at constructing walls
—Instead of building bridges.

Each of us has “dogs” in our lives
—Whether we care to admit it or not.

The power of our gospel lesson,
—In spite of its troublesome details,
—Is that Jesus granted this woman’s request
—For him to heal her daughter.

He transcended the prejudices of his people,
—And maybe even his own personal prejudice.

This woman reminded him of who he was:
—The Son of David; the savior not only of Israel,
—But the Savior of the world.

THIS, this is the Jesus we know and love.
—This is the Jesus who loves a reprobate,
—Possessed by the devil, sissy like me.

I have the sneaking suspicion that he calls us
—To do the same, expanding our circle of mercy,
—Until it embraces the whole world.

We shouldn’t settle for anything less!  AMEN

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Temple Dogs

From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre.  He entered house and did not want anyone to know he was thereYet he could not escape noticebut a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about himand she came and bowed down at his feetNow the woman was a Gentileof Syrophoenician originShe begged him to cast the demon out of her daughterHe said to her,Let the children be fed firstfor it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sireven the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to herFor saying thatyou may gothe demon has left your daughter." So she went homefound the child lying on the bedand the demon gone. [Mark 7:24-30, NRSV]

     While vacationing in Egypt I came across something that is rarely seen in America: packs of wild dogs. I affectionately named them Temple Dogs since packs of them hung around pyramids, temples and mosques. I took quite a few photos of them during my trip. Temple Dogs are seen by the locals as varmints; nothing more than big rats. They warn tourists not to touch them since they carry many diseases. They also discourage people from feeding them since this only encourages them to hang around. All the locals do is chase Temple Dogs with sticks when they come too close, which rarely happens, since Temple Dogs have learned from experience that human beings treat them poorly.
     It is this Middle Eastern image of dogs that I'd like us to keep in mind as we hear Jesus say the following words to a woman who asked him to heal her daughter: "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." OUCH! Did Jesus really say that? What in the world is going on in this text? It would appear that Jesus is calling the woman a dog. If we take into account the Middle Eastern view of dogs I just described these words on the lips of Jesus are virtually unthinkable!
     This is a very controversial text, indeed, and there are many theories as to how we should understand this text. One theory is that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing in this situation. What is essence is happening here is that he is setting the stage for a teaching moment with the disciples. First he states the idea that his ministry is limited to the lost sheep of Israel, a thought which none of his disciples would disagree with. Then he follows this up with his shocking statement about taking the children's food and throwing it to the dogs.
     Some scholars say that this statement was a common Jewish sentiment in his day, but with a slight difference: The Greek word for dog is KUON. But in this case he uses the diminutive form of the word for dog KUNARIA which we would translate as "little doggies" or "puppies." This slight difference in form could indicate that Jesus was making fun of the common wisdom of the day. A wisdom he did not particularly subscribe to as would be self evident when he healed the woman's daughter.
     If we take this approach, we can see that the woman catches on to Jesus' humor and plays along with her response that "Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." Then, when Jesus heals the daughter, he is saying through his actions that his ministry is not limited to the house of Israel, but will extend to all people, even those whom the disciples see as dogs.
     This unusual encounter in the gospels forces us all to ask the question: "Who do we treat as dogs in this world? What are our long-standing prejudices? What types of people do we see as undeserving of blessing from God? Some people answer that by treating the LGBT community as dogs. Others have prejudices against immigrant workers, those of another class, the homeless, those imprisoned, etc. etc. I hope this text will challenge us to examine our prejudices and encounter a Savior whose grace, mercy and healing know no bounds.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Walking on Water

ORDINARY 19A  Matthew 14:22-33  David Eck

I. It had been quite an exciting day
—For Peter and the rest of the disciples.

There, on the shores of Lake Galilee,
—Jesus had fed over 5000 people
—With five loaves and two fishes.

5000 people!  Five loaves.  Two fishes.
—You do the math!
—It’s pretty impressive to say the least!

Then, after everyone’s belly was full,
—The disciples gathered all the leftover pieces
—And filled twelve huge baskets with them.

12 baskets!  Something is seriously wrong with this equation.
—But the disciples didn't complain.
—Jesus’ math was always a little bit different
—Than the kind they learned in school.
—They wouldn’t have it any other way!

II. After witnessing a holy moment such as this,
—One would think the disciples
—Would stick around for a while
—And bask in the glory of the moment.

One would think Jesus would
—Sign a few autographs, kiss a few babies,
—And simply enjoy the adulation of the crowd.

But Jesus had other plans.
—Matthew says he “immediately”
—“Made the disciples get into a boat
—And go on ahead to the other side” of the lake.

Meanwhile, he gave the crowd a parting benediction
—And probably told them to take the leftover baskets of food
—And give them to the poor.

Then he did something
—We rarely give ourselves permission to do:
—He climbed up the hill and spent time with God
—In prayer and solitude.

He got away from the push and pull of the crowd.
—He escaped the endless questions of the disciples.

For a moment it was just he and his Abba.
—He created a quiet place, a sanctuary,
—Where he could recharge his spiritual batteries.
—He gave himself permission to stop being productive
—And simply be.

“Be still, and know that I am God.”      [Ps 46:10]
—The Psalmist reminds us.

Jesus knew how to be still.
—He invites us to do the same
—If we are willing to follow his example.

III. But the disciples were not so lucky that night!
—Lake Galilee might have been a quiet place
—As they began their journey.
—But when the sun had set, and the moon
—Was a small sliver in the sky,
—A great windstorm arose on the lake.

This was a common occurrence.
—But it didn’t make it any less terrifying.

Ancient superstitions called to mind
—The gods of the deep:
—AMUN, Egyptian god of wind and creation,
—HADAD, Semitic god of storm and rain,
—JUPITER, Roman god of sky and weather,
—And ZEUS, Greek god of thunder.

It called to mind the great Leviathan,
—The sea monsters who dwelt in the deep.

And so, when the wind and waves
—Began to toss the boat to and fro,
—The disciples were terrified.

They were far from land
—And were sailing against the wind.
—I’m sure they thought they didn’t stand a chance.

They probably wondered why Jesus
—Sent them out onto the lake in the first place.

Surely, the man who fed 5000 people
—Could foresee the disciples’ impending doom.

Surely the man who produced 12 baskets of leftovers
—Could also predict an incoming storm.
—Where WAS Jesus when you needed him?

But, friends in Christ, do we do any better
—When the storms of life batter our boats?

The world around us is a scary place.
—The storm gods of war, greed and hate
—Attack us from every side.

The great Leviathans of power and ambition
—Threaten to capsize our little boats.
—We hardly stand a chance against them.

During these times of storm and wind,
—Don’t we wonder where the heck Jesus is?
—Don’t we fear we are going to drown?

Let’s not judge the disciples too quickly
—For we have been in the same boat as them
—More times than we can recall!

IV. Thankfully, this is not the end of the story!
—As the wind rocked the boat relentlessly;
—As the salt spray from the waves stung their eyes
—And made it difficult for them to see,
—They noticed a figure coming toward them.

This figure made them even more terrified
—Than they were before.
—“It’s a ghost” they cried out in fear.
—It’s one of the ancient gods
—Who has come to finish us off!

But as soon as they vocalized their fear.
—The ghost spoke: “Take heart, it is I;
—Do not be afraid.”

Now the phrasing of this
—Sounds more like a Shakespearean play,
—Than the comforting words of a savior.

“Take heart, it is I.  Fearest thou not
—For I have come to save thee!”

What Jesus actually said was,
—“THARSEO,, have courage.
— EIMI EGO, the Great I Am is with you!”
—There is no reason to be afraid.

The I AM who stirred up the waters of chaos
—And gave birth to light is with you!
—The I AM who called to Moses
—In the burning bush is with you!

The I AM who led the Israelites
—From slavery to freedom is with you!
—The I AM who became flesh and
—And moved into the neighborhood is with you!”

V.  Isn’t this the reassurance we need
—When the storms of life threaten to capsize our boats?

We might think specters of darkness
—Surround us on every side.
—We may think the paranormal forces of evil
—Are going to devour us.

But Jesus cuts through their thunderous voices of doom
—And says “I AM.  I AM Emmanuel.  God is with you.
—God will see you through the storm.
—Have courage.  There is no reason to be afraid.”

We hear this reassuring voice
—In many different ways.
—Sometimes it comes to us
—While we’re gathered for worship.

Through bread and wine, water and word,
—Prayer and praise, Jesus, the great I AM,
—Cuts through the howling winds
—And crashing thunder of the world.

He becomes a voice of calm
—In the midst of our restless seas.

Listen carefully and you will hear his voice.
—You will find a smidgen of courage
—And a pinch of peace.

The storm may still be there,
—But we will know that we are not alone!
—Jesus is with us, friends in Christ!

Let us claim this portion of the story for ourselves
—And believe that there is no storm big enough
—To keep Jesus from coming to our rescue
—And speaking a word of calm reassurance:

“Have courage.  The Great I AM is with you.
—There is no reason to be afraid.”

VI.  What comes next is the stuff of legend,
—And part of the story remains untold, until now.

First, Peter gets a smidgen of courage.
—And, as he sometimes does,
—He lumbers full steam ahead,
—Or should I say full storm ahead?

“Jesus, it it’s really you, command me
—To come to you on the water.”

Say what?  I’m sure the other disciples
—Thought Peter was out of his mind
—Which sometimes happened!

They weren't going anywhere!
—They were going to stay in the boat
—And wait until the storm passed.

But Peter, for a brief and shining moment, was fearless.
—When Jesus said to him, “Come,”…he went!
—First one foot and then the other.
—Much to his surprise, Peter was walking on water.

But the water in question was not
—A tranquil frozen lake in Minnesota.

It was not a shallow ridge of sand
—In an otherwise deep ocean.

The water in question was a raging storm,
—And Peter was walking on it.
—Peter refused to let the storm get the best of him.
—He trusted Jesus and went for it.

VII. This is not a person of “little faith”
—As the end of the story suggests.
—This is a spiritual giant, a role model for us to follow.

The other disciples were total cowards.
—They stayed in the boat, paralyzed by fear.
—They were passive, waiting for Jesus
—To make something happen.

But not Peter, he took Jesus at his word
—And faced the storm head-on.

Granted, his little miracle was short-lived
—But dang it, he pulled it off nonetheless!

Friends in Christ, it’s easy for us
—To remain paralyzed by fear,
—When the storms of life threaten to capsize our boats.

It’s a natural inclination for us to want to
—Hide in the prow of the boat
—And hope someone will rescue us.

But Peter does a brave thing.
—He faces the storm head-on.
—He trusts Jesus
—And takes a literal step of faith
—Out onto a stormy sea.

This is such a difficult thing to do!
—His bravery is way underestimated in this story.

It’s the kind of bravery that faces cancer head-on
—With a positive attitude and steeled determination.

It’s the kind of bravery that works two jobs
—And takes on-line classes, dreaming of a better future
—For our family.

It’s the kind of bravery that doesn’t let
—This morning’s headlines overwhelm us,
—But makes us even more committed
—To the work of love, justice and peacemaking.

VIII.  When most people hear this story
—They think Peter is a failure because
—He became frightened, and began to sink.

I don’t think this is true at all!
—This boy was walking on water.
—Let’s see if we can top that!

While it’s true that Peter began to sink,
—He had sense enough to cry out “Lord, save me!”
—The next sentence in our gospel lesson
—Is the most beautiful of them all.

“Jesus IMMEDIATELY reached out his hand and caught him.”
—There’s that word again, IMMEDIATELY.

Initially in our story it was a word of hurry
—As Jesus shoved the disciples into a boat
—And told them to set sail.

Here, it is a word of hope and calm.
—Jesus did not hesitate to save Peter.
—He reached out his hand and caught Peter’s.
—Together they walked hand in hand
—To the safety of the boat.

When they got there, the winds subsided
—And there was a great calm.

If there is a more beautiful image
—Of who Jesus is to us,
—I’m not sure what it is!

Yes, I’m glad he’s the shepherd
—Who searches diligently for his lost sheep.

Yes I’m glad he’s the sower
—Who can produce a great harvest
—From a small patch of good soil.

But I am most thankful that he is great I AM
—Who promises to be with us
—In the midst of life’s storms.

When we feel helpless and overwhelmed
—Jesus speaks to us words of comfort:
— “Have courage.  The Great I AM is with you.
—There is no reason to be afraid.”

When we step out in faith
—And find ourselves walking on water,
—Jesus cheers us on every stop of the way.

Finally, when the waves begin to overwhelm us
—And we begin to sink,
—Jesus IMMEDIATELY take our hands
—Pulls us up, and walks us to the safety of the boat.

IX. Friends in Christ,
—There are so many things in our world
—That cause us to be fearful.
—I can guarantee that sudden storms will arise
—In everyone’s life.

But the good news we take with us this morning
—Is that Jesus is with us.
—The Great I AM is with us.
—He promises to take our hands
—And see us through the storm.

Let’s believe it and let’s claim it
—For ourselves, our loved ones,
—Our church, our community, and our world.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Walking on Water

So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, "Lord, save me!" Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying, "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" [Matt 14:29b-31, NRSV]

     The story of Peter walking on the water is an interesting one. I've heard lots of sermons on it where Peter is chastised for his lack of faith. However, if we look at this story closely Peter actually had a moment of brilliance. He was walking on water while the other chicken disciples stayed in the boat! You go, Peter!
     I've always loved Peter because he is a "real" disciple. At one moment he's full of insight and enthusiasm. In the next moment he's sticking his foot in his mouth. Isn't that the true nature of faith?
     Frederick Buechener once described faith as follows: "Faith is better understood as a verb than a noun, as a process than a possession. It is on-again-off-again rather than once-and-for-all. Faith is not being sure where you're going but going anyway. A journey without maps." [from Wishful Thinking]
     As someone who has endured many storms in my life, I can relate to Peter's kind of faith. Like Peter, I have moments where I trust God completely and God is able to do miraculous things with me and through me. Then, my gaze wanders toward the waves and I begin to sink. The good news of this story from Matthew is that it doesn't matter what kind of faith we have. Jesus has got our backs and will pull us out of the storm when we are sinking. [Notice the word "immediately" in the story. Jesus only talks to Peter about his "little faith" once he is back in the safety of the boat.]
     And so, my queer brothers and sisters, remember that Jesus is with us whether we're walking on water or sinking down into the waves. True faith is not all about us. It's about a Savior whose love and faithfulness toward is is strong and true and lasting.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Sunday Sermon: Feeding 5000

ORDINARY 18A  Matt 14:13-21  David Eck

I. The Feeding of the 5,000 is one of the most
—Well known stories in the New Testament.
—It appears in every gospel at least once.

In Matthew and Mark it appears a second time
—In an identical form where 4,000 are fed.

Needless to say, this story
—Was very important in the life of the early church.

During a time of intense persecution,
—It encouraged them that God’s kingdom
—Cannot be defeated.

Whether it’s the tiny mustard seed
—Or a little patch of good soil,
—God can make big things grow out of small things.

It’s a reversal from the way
—Our world usually operates
—Where big fish eat small fish,
—And the weak are often abused by the strong.

The Feeding of the 5,000 also became
—A metaphor for Holy Communion.

It reminded the early church that everyone is welcome
—To come and dine at God’s table.
—Love and forgiveness are offered there
—In overflowing abundance.

II. As we enter into this familiar story,
—There are two possible ways
—We can look at what happened on the shores of Galilee..

The first is that a true miracle occurred.
—Somehow, Jesus multiplied five loaves and two fish
—So that it fed over 5,000 people.

This is the approach I’ve always taken with this story.
—I’m the kind of guy who has room in my life
—For miracle and mystery.

Even though I was a chemistry major in college,
—I don’t think everything has to have
—A rational, scientific explanation.

There are some things in our word that simply
—Cannot be explained by reason or science.
—What happened in our gospel lesson
—Is one of these occurrences.

The second way of looking at this story
—Is that it was a miracle of sharing.
—I’ve always resisted this scholarly explanation
—Because I believed it cheapened the story.

If a true bonafide miracle did not happen that day,
—Then what does this say about Jesus?
—What does this say about the power he possessed?

So, every time I preached on this text
—I went with the assumption
—That a true miracle occurred that day
—And it was NOT a miracle of sharing.

III. But now that I’m older,
—I’ve begun to wonder if it is any less miraculous
—For Jesus to get a group of people
—To share what they have with others.

Perhaps this is the greater miracle
—Than if he magically multiplied
—The loaves and fishes.

III. Sharing is something we don’t do well on our planet.
—There are enough resources
—For us to be able to feed the world.
—Yet some of us live lavishly
—While others die of starvation.

There should be enough space
—For all of us to live in peace,
—In spite of our differences.

Yet, religion, class and race are the driving forces
—Behind most of the wars we wage,
—Including the ones between Russia and the Ukraine,
—And Israel and Hamas.

We are also conditioned to hate and distrust those
—Who think, look or act differently from us.
—These days we are quick to demonize those
—Who have different viewpoints from us.

We circle the wagons and stick to our kind.
—Sharing isn't even remotely a possibility!

Progressives distrust conservatives.
—Conservatives distrust progressives.

Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill and in Raleigh
—Can barely stand to be in the same room
—With each other, let alone work together
—And share resources and ideas.

When we take an honest look at ourselves as a species,
—I believe multiplying loaves and fishes
—Is a cake walk compared to
—Learning how to live peacefully with each other
—And share our resources.

IV.  Let me give you an example
—To prove my point.

There's a game we used to play at Confirmation Camp
—On Friday morning of Campfirmation week
—We stated the theme for the day
—Which is the fifth confirmation vow
—"To strive for justice and peace in all the earth"

—Is specifically designed to illustrate
—Just how hard this vow is to put into action.
—It made me very nervous every time we played it
—Because it has the potential of spiraling out of control.
—Those of you who have been to Campfirmation with me
—Know what an intense experience the game can be.

The group is divided into teams
—Each team is given a cup of Skittles
—Plus two scraps of paper
—One has an X on it...the other is a Y

In front of the group is a distribution chart
—That looks something like this:

XXXXX    X wins 1
XXXXY    X loses 1    Y wins 5
XXXYY    X loses 2    Y wins 3
XXYYY    X loses 3    Y wins 4
XYYYY    X loses 4    Y wins 1
YYYYY    Y loses 5

As the game begins, teams start trying to hedge their bets
—As to how many teams will choose X or Y
—So they can maximize their profits.

Inevitably things get out of control.
—Alliances begin to be formed.
—Representatives are sent from each group
—To discuss strategies.

Betrayals of promises follow
—And tempers begin to flair.

At some point in the game
—The teams begin to realize
—They have only been arguing and trading among themselves .
—Not a single Skittle has been taken out of the bag.

As point values are doubled and tripled
—The game dissolves further into chaos.

Someone eventually realizes that the YOU
—Is not an individual team
—But the entire Campfirmation Cluster.

If everyone chooses X,
—Everyone wins more Skittles.
—But this is easier said than done.

Greed rears its ugly head
—And, inevitably, one team chooses a Y.
—The game ends when the group as a whole
—Figures out a way for everyone
—To choose X instead Y.

This is solved in some creative ways
—Including tearing up all the Y's
—Or nailing them to a wooden cross
—That was intentionally placed on the floor
—At the start of the game.

After the game is finished,
—We have a rather lively discussion
—About how hard it is to live out the confirmation vow
—"To strive for justice and peace in all the earth."

We talk about how quickly
—A group of loving, supportive Christians
—Can turn into an angry mob
—When greed rears its ugly head.

V.  When we take this game
—Back into our gospel lesson,
—It’s easier to entertain the possibility
—That what happened was a miracle of sharing.

I’m fairly certain that most people
—Who came to hear Jesus
—Did not come empty handed.

After all, there were no restaurants nearby.
—The disciples were not running a concession stand.

Surely, people had some food with them,
—Especially those who had traveled
—Quite a distance to hear Jesus speak.

My suspicions are confirmed by the conversation
—The disciples have with Jesus in our gospel lesson:
—“This is a deserted place,” they inform Jesus.
—In other words, we’re pretty far from town.
—“And the hour is now late; send the crowds away
—So that they may go into the villages
—And buy food for themselves.”

The disciples are smart enough to realize
—That some people might have brought food with them
—But not everyone was so well prepared.

Jesus says to them, “They need not go away;
—You give them something to eat.”

I can see the disciples' panicked expressions
—As they take a mental inventory of their supplies:

“Hmmm, we have some fresh drinking water.
—And I know James and John
—Have a flash of wine hidden somewhere.
—They never go anywhere without it!

Peter has a few dried fish
—And Matthew bought some bread this morning.
—That’s about it!

There’s barely enough for us.
—Jesus is obviously crazy!
—‘You give them something to eat,’ he says.
—Yeah, right!”

And so the disciples tell Jesus,
—“We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.”
—And he says to them, “Bring them here to me.”

VI.  The situation we have here
—Is that they’re in a “deserted place,”
—Meaning they are out in the middle of nowhere,
—And it’s a bit of a hike back to town.

They have some food, and perhaps Jesus knows
—That others have brought food with them as well.
—It’s a likely scenario.

And so maybe, just maybe,
—Jesus takes the meager offering of the disciples;
—He looks up toward heaven,
—And blesses and breaks the loaves.

He then hands the loaves and fish to the disciples
—Who then hand them to the crowd.

Maybe, just maybe, God softened the hearts
—Of those who gathered on those shores.
—Maybe, just maybe, they were moved
—By Jesus’ act of generosity and hospitality.

Maybe, just maybe, they reached into their bags
—And shared what they had as well.

Some would have brought more than enough
—To feed their families.
—Others would have nothing to share.

But when all was said and done,
—The entire crowd was well fed;
—And there were twelve baskets of leftovers.

VII.  Friends in Christ,
—I’m willing to look at this story both ways.

But today, I hold in my heart the possibility
—That a miracle of sharing occurred
—As the loaves and fishes were multiplied.

God’s Kingdom was revealed on that day
—Because those who gathered on the shore
—Began acting like kingdom people.

They dropped their suspicions and distrust of their neighbors.
—They shared what they had
—With those who had nothing,
—And EVERYONE was fed.

Is this any less a miracle
—Than if Jesus had mysteriously multiplied
—The loaves and fishes?  I don’t think so.

Maybe the lesson we take with us this morning,
—As we go in peace to serve the Lord,
—Is that we’re supposed to do the same!

We are supposed to be living signs of the Kingdom.
—We are called to generously share with others
—All that God has given us.

We are called to live in community
—Rather than in isolation.

We are called to break down barriers
—Of mistrust and prejudice
—And view everyone as a beloved child of God.

If we are committed to this holy work,
—Maybe, just maybe, others will be moved
—By our acts of generosity and love.

Maybe, just maybe, our world can begin
—To move from war and division
—Into a place of harmony, unity and peace.

That’s my Kingdom dream!
—The seeds of that dream are sown
—In our gospel lesson
—On the shores of Galilee
—Where Jesus reminds us, once again,
—That God can make big things
—Grow out of small things.

Can you believe it with me?
—Can we trust the miracle
—Ad claim it for ourselves,
—Our families, our community,
—And our planet?

I hope so!  AMEN.