Give me wisdom!

Meditation on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Aug. 19, 2018

To see the video of this sermon, click here.

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10 Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 11 The time that David reigned over Israel was forty years; he reigned seven years in Hebron, and thirty-three years in Jerusalem.  12 So Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established…  Solomon loved the Lord, walking in the statutes of his father David; only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.  The king went to Gibeon to sacrifice there, for that was the principal high place; Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on that altar. At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, “Ask what I should give you.”  And Solomon said, “You have shown great and steadfast love to your servant my father David, because he walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness of heart toward you;  and you have kept for him this great and steadfast love, and have given him a son to sit on his throne today.  And now, O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in.   And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen, a great people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?”

 10 It pleased the Lord that Solomon had asked this. 11 God said to him, “Because you have asked this,   and have not asked for yourself long life or riches, or for the life of your enemies, but have asked for yourself understanding to discern what is right, 12 I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you.  13 I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor all your life; no other king shall compare with you.  14 If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments, as your father David walked, then I will lengthen your life.”

***

Our children and youth performing arts ministries got off to a great start this week, with some new children joining us. We had crafts  and auditions for The Best Christmas Pageant Ever  and Wrapping All the Way.

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My most special time with Kids Klub and One Purpose Productions comes when we gather in a circle for caring and sharing. They share about bee stings and lost or wiggly teeth. Taking dance lessons and starting school. Concerns for sick friends, siblings, parents or grandparents. Older brothers and sisters going off to college. Parents on long business trips or deployed in the military. I listen carefully with an open heart, ready to respond as their pastor. Because even though most of the children and youth are not members of our church, the Lord has brought them to us so that we would minister to them!

When one young boy, his first day at Kids Klub, shared how he couldn’t sleep at night, I asked why. He said he was afraid of the dark– that aliens might come. I told him how I used to be scared of the dark when I was a kid. But then I learned that monsters and aliens aren’t real. His sister, sitting on the other side of me, was listening intently. She looked up at me and echoed,  “Not real?”  “No,” I said, shaking my head. And I felt prompted to add,  “We never have to be afraid of anything because Jesus is always with us.”

It was God’s gift of His wisdom for that moment to really listen to a child, with an open, loving heart, and be prompted to speak a word of peace.

 

Solomon’s story teaches the importance of seeking and using God’s wisdom. The Lord gives Solomon, says 1 Kings 4:29,  “very great wisdom, discernment, and breadth of understanding as vast as the sand on the seashore.”  “He was wiser than anyone else,” says 1 Kings 4:31-34, and “his fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations.” Solomon was like a rockstar in his time, composing more than a thousand songs and 3,000 proverbs. But he also had a scientific mind. He would  “speak of trees, from the cedar that is in Lebanon to the hyssop that grows in the wall; he would speak of animals, and birds, and reptiles, and fish.  People came from all the nations to hear the wisdom of Solomon…”

He wisely judged the case of two women who gave birth in the same house on the same night, but when one woman’s son died, she switched the babies while the other woman slept and tried to pass off the other woman’s son as her own. Solomon infamously said, “Bring me a sword,” and, after they did, he said, “Divide the living boy in two; give half to one and half to the other.” The mother whose son was alive begged the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living boy; certainly, do not kill him!” Her child was restored to her.

But like all the other kings of ancient Israel, including his father, David, Solomon didn’t always live in obedience to God. He isn’t a perfect model of wisdom, not like Jesus, “who has become for us wisdom from God,” says Paul in 1 Cor. 1:30, “that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”

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Solomon is, after all, just a human being with all the temptations of wealth and power. That’s the whole point of this book, says Dr. Walter Brueggemann,  one of the most influential Old Testament scholars of the last several decades.

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Brueggemann says though 1 Kings seems to be just a history of the kings of Israel,  it actually serves a theological purpose; it “delegitimates the kings” and shows how they “have, in fact, forfeited their authority and are not really kings.   Thus, the book should be named with a question mark of incredulity—“Kings???”

Our reading begins when Solomon is young in his reign, and we already see his weakness. He loves many “foreign women.” Solomon makes a political alliance with Egypt by marrying the Pharaoh’s daughter, bringing her to the “city of David,”  which, at this time, is Jerusalem, not “Bethlehem,” as the gospel of Luke tells us in the story of Christ’s birth.

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He goes to Gibeon, a Canaanite city about 6 km north of Jerusalem,  to offer a “thousand burnt offerings” on the altar in the high places.”

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Because this comes right before telling us how he loves the Lord, we might assume that this reveals his devotion to God, but  high places in the Old Testament were  “often associated with apostasy” Brueggemann says. Solomon will love, along with the Pharaoh’s daughter, Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Sidonian, and Hittite women–all nations the Lord had told Israel from which not to enter into marriage, “For they will surely incline your heart to follow their gods.” And that’s what happens. He ends up worshiping idols, along with his God.

But don’t miss that he seeks the Lord in the right way at the very beginning of his reign—and for the right reasons. He comes to the Lord humbly in a vision God gives him. After God invites him to speak, he says, “I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern this your great people?” And don’t miss God’s grace and steadfast love—the same grace and love the Lord has for us! God blesses him with wisdom, prosperity and long life, despite his sin. God blesses Israel for his humble faith and spiritual request so that he may live out God’s calling to him.

Wisdom brings justice, peace, and prosperity to His reign in Jerusalem for 40 years; 480 years after Israel fled captivity in Egypt, Solomon began to build the House of the Lord, the Temple.

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Judah and Israel were “as numerous as the sand by the sea; they ate and drank and were happy.”  Solomon reigned “over all the kingdoms from the Euphrates to the land of the Philistines, even to the border of Egypt.”

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After Kids Klub this week, I began to think how wisdom may be one of the most undervalued spiritual gifts— though it isn’t the greatest, which is love, says 1 Cor. 13. I urge you to seek God for wisdom to live out your calling every day.  As Jer. 29:11 says, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not your harm, to give you a future with hope.”

James 1:5 promises that God will not deny our request: “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.”

 But the problem with wisdom is that we have trouble recognizing it. What the world calls “wisdom” isn’t the wisdom of God.  The wisdom of this world is deceptive and destructive, at odds with the things of God. Paul says in 1 Cor. 3:19,  “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written, ‘He catches the wise in their craftiness.’” Isaiah 5:21 says, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.”

        God’s wisdom doesn’t depend on human situations or worldly possessions. Ecclesiastes 2:26 says, “To the person who pleases him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness, but to the sinner he gives the task of gathering and storing up wealth to hand it over to the one who pleases God.” God’s wisdom is granted to those with humility and  a heart-felt, genuine faith, who love the Lord and desire to use His gifts to serve and bring goodness to the world.

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James 3:17 says, “Wisdom comes to the humble, those who love peace and are merciful. But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”

So let us come humbly, friends, as little children, to approach the throne of grace. Let us ask for God’s wisdom so that we may work for peace and justice and reveal God’s Reign.  As Psalm 37:30-31 says, “The mouths of the righteous utter wisdom, and their tongues speak justice. The law of their God is in their hearts; their steps do not slip.”

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We ask for wisdom so that, together, we may walk the paths the Lord wants us to take. And not fall, as Solomon did, into idolatry. Let us walk with confidence, trusting in Jesus, looking to Him who has become for us wisdom from God, righteousness, holiness and redemption.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your grace, for sending Christ, when we fell into sin, to become for us your wisdom, righteousness, holiness and redemption. Lord, we all cry out to you, “Give us wisdom.” Lead us to do your loving work of peace and justice. Stir us to reach out to our community and share your grace and the hope of our salvation through your Son. Bless our ministries, especially those to children and young families. Bless our teachers—staff and volunteers. Raise up more leads among us and build Your Church. Empower us all to serve with energy intelligence, imagination and love, relying on your mercy and rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit as we witness to your present and coming Reign. In Jesus we pray. Amen.

 

 

Imitators of God

 

Meditation on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Aug. 12, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

To see the video of this sermon, click here.

          25 So then putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and  do not make room for the devil. 28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29  Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need,  so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30 And  do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31  Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32  and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love,  as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

 

Ruth Ganter was expected to join us today to talk about her Sneaker ministry, but she has been sick. She is getting better and feeling stronger every day.

Ruth will be 90 soon, but she isn’t slowing down much, not when there are people in need.  In addition to her sneaker ministry, she serves at the Hospice Thrift Shop in the Village Green Shopping Center.  She found her calling years ago, when she was an admissions clerk at a hospital in New York and met a volunteer, a “pink lady…and she was wonderful,” Ruth says.  “She inspired me to be a volunteer.”

Ruth was at the Sharing Center from its beginnings in the 1980s and worked there 17 years, doing just about everything—cook, truck driver, whatever was needed. She didn’t have a desk because she never sat down, she says. One day, someone donated a bag of shoes—all for the left foot. Instead of throwing them away, she gave them to Church Women United and invited them to each take one and have Sneaker Sunday at their churches,  asking for money so that she may buy shoes for children.

***

No part of the New Testament, says biblical scholar Ralph Martin (1), is more relevant to the modern church than Ephesians, though it was written in the first century, after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Ephesians teaches about the universal role of Christ in creation and redemption, but also  “faces the reality of evil which still presses upon human life both personal and societal.” Christ reigns victorious over the cosmos,  but the world is still “plagued by evil powers,” which must “be resisted and overcome.”

The key point is that Christ’s followers are not what they used to be because of what Jesus has done.  The dividing wall of hostility between us has been broken down in Christ, who is our peace.  We are reconciled with Him AND one another with His blood.

Unity is a gracious gift to the Church, the Body of Christ. Unity doesn’t mean uniformity. We are all unique and supposed to be that way! And it doesn’t mean we never change, which might be the case if the church were a static object, like a building. Ephesians tells us, says Martin, that “the Church is an organism,  pulsating with life and made up of living persons who are responsible for growth of character and personal development,” (Martin, 47) according to the gifts God has given to us.  Change is a sign of health and vitality, a fruit of the Spirit.

Ephesians provides a vision for the new life that begins with our letting go of the past. We have to take off and put away the old, like heavy winter clothing in Florida. Not useful.  We need to seek His will, day by day, and walk as he leads us to do the things he wants us to do, as Ephesians 2:10 says,  “ For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.”

Ephesians 4:22-23 says, Take off the old and put away…. the sin that characterized (in 4:22):  “your former way of life,” your old self” and  “be renewed, in the spirit of your minds.”

 Put on the new… Put on Jesus Christ like a garment,  4:24 “clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”

The new way of life doesn’t just happen. We choose to live, says 4:2-3,  “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Mutual love means accepting all our sisters and brothers in the faith as they are, without judgment, and helping to bear one another’s burdens, as Jesus does for us.  28 “Come to me,” He says in Matthew 11:28-29, “all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Ephesians 4:25… Take off, put away—falsehood. Speak the truth to your brothers and sisters. We are members of one another. When a person lies to one person, everyone in the Body is hurt! Ephesians 4:26 says, Be angry, if you must, but make sure it is about the right things and isn’t just your pride. Be angry about lies, cruelty, injustice, oppression, poverty, hunger, prejudice, racism—but don’t hold onto your anger and become bitter. It will destroy you and hurt all the members of the Body.

Take off, put away…thieves, give up stealing  (4:28) “rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” This characterizes the old life that was all about us, what we want or think we deserve or have earned, without consideration for our neighbor in need.

Take off, put away…evil talk.  4:29. Evil talk happened in 1st century churches and it happens today! We can’t take back what we shouldn’t have said! Being a Christian doesn’t mean you don’t sin anymore; it means you feel convicted when you do!  The Spirit moves us to turn back to the Lord to confess as God’s beloved children. Jesus, in 1 John 1:9, says,  “If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”

Speak words that build up (4:29); there was a need for that in the 1st century and a great need for it today! Sometimes, the only kind word someone hears in a day may come from you! Think how good you feel when someone says something kind to you!

When we show grace to others who have hurt us, we are truly imitators of God, whose love lasts forever. Our kindness is our witness to our present and future hope in Jesus Christ, who is coming again on the day of redemption, to gather us to himself and take us to live forever with Him. Only then will our transformation be complete.

As we sing in Hymn of Promise,  In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; In our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity, In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, Unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.”

In baptism, Christ has claimed us for His own! The Holy Spirit lives in us. We have the power to overcome!

 

***

Our church is full of kind people, whose grace bears witness to the Savior’s love.  The air conditioner broke down in the fellowship hall just before a recent Faith Formation Ministries workday. The volunteers still worked for hours in the heat to get the stage ready for our children and youth performing arts programs that begin this week.

 

Their spirit reminds me of Ruth Ganter, nearly 90 years young. People ask her, “How many pairs of shoes do you buy every year?” And, “How much money do you need?” She doesn’t worry about numbers. She spends a lot of her own money to make sure that every child has sneakers for school-so they can run and play exercise.  “Every penny I get,” she says, “is on a child’s foot…I buy shoes till I run out of money.”

She doesn’t judge others. She doesn’t take note of skin color or the size of people’s bodies or ask questions. She tells the schools to not just give the children the shoes, but to put them on their feet!

The thing that matters with giving and serving is your heart. Being motivated by love for God and love for neighbor.

Live as God’s beloved children! Forgive, for the Lord has forgiven you!

The Church is a living organism, not a static object. Change is a sign of health and vitality, a fruit of the Spirit!

Put on …… kindness…..

Put on……. love….

 Be imitators of God!

 

Let us pray. Heavenly Father, thank you for calling us your beloved children—and for sending your Spirit to live inside of us and transform us into your likeness. Forgive us for our sins.  Help us, Lord, to take off the old self and put away the past and our former lives to make room for the new. Stir us to believe in the Church that is not a building, but a living organism, united as your Body, with Christ as our head. Let us hear your voice and respond with gratitude and joy. Teach us to love and serve you and our neighbors, sharing from the abundance you have given us. Grant us an authentic faith that stirs us to pray without ceasing, to bravely follow you into paths of righteousness and truth, and to be gracious and kind as we seek to imitate you. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

 

Bread from Heaven

Meditation on Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

Aug. 5, 2018

      The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

       4 Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not….

        9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

         13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

 

One of our members brought her two-week-old baby and her 7-year-old daughter to visit me at the church this week. I was blessed to be at the hospital with her, her husband, and family when the baby was born. On Thursday, she shared her surprise that she was able to function on so little sleep. But how happy she is! She is in love with her baby, she says, and always wants to be close to him.

I held the little guy, being careful to support his head and neck and keep him securely cradled in my arms, marveling—as you can’t help but do this—at the vulnerability, helplessness and adaptability of human beings in our first weeks of life. So much for this child is altogether new! What a different life he has now than when he lived within the secure confines of his mother’s womb. What a different life his family has now, focused on meeting the needs of their youngest member—truly a blessing from the Lord, who is filling their home with more love and joy.

One of the hardest things for new parents is that babies cannot express their needs or desires with words. They can only cry if they are hungry or tired, hurting or lonely, too cold, too wet, too warm. Sometimes it is difficult to figure out what they want—or really need.

This little guy wants to eat all the time, his mother says, but doesn’t know when he has had enough. He eats till he overflows through the mouth and nose. The good news is that he is growing in every way, learning to adapt to this new life and world, learning to trust in those who love and care for him.

Annika and Silas

***

In the 16th chapter of Exodus, it’s been a month and a half since Israel fled from their captivity in Egypt. God’s people behave, in some ways, like a newborn, says biblical scholar Dean McDonald, and God is like the young parents, trying to work out a feeding schedule that will meet the child’s desires and needs. But this passage is not just about food for God’s people in a situation of scarcity. It is about God’s desire to live in relationship with us—and for us to live by faith. It is also encouragement for those who struggle in their walk with the Lord. Our God who never turns his back on his children, no matter how unfaithful. Isaiah 49:15 says,  “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne?  But even if that were possible, I would not forget you!”

While the wilderness life is a new beginning, full of possibilities, it is strange, frightening, and disorienting for the Israelites to leave the place in which they have lived all their lives, in spite of the cruelty they have endured.  Israel has been in Egypt for generations, since their ancestor Joseph was second in command to one of the pharaohs and brought his family there to live during a great famine. Now the city dwellers are refugees, taking on a nomadic existence with thousands of other refugees. They are just 6 weeks into their relationship with 83-year-old Moses,  who hears the voice of God but needs his younger brother, 81-year-old Aaron, to speak for him.

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The people are continually anxious, even after their miraculous crossing of the Red Sea on dry land  and the drowning of the Egyptian armies behind them.

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But who wouldn’t feel traumatized after just narrowly escaping genocide, after years of fear and abuse? And it isn’t just their own wellbeing they are worried about. Their families are with them.

We know their relationship with Moses and Aaron is in deep trouble when our reading begins with,  “the whole congregation of the Israelites” complaining against them in the wilderness. Does that word “congregation” jump off the page at you? It does for me. This is a worshiping community, united by their faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their ancestor who wrestled with an angel and was given a new name, “Israel.” Have they have forgotten God’s merciful rescue and kindly provision in the past? Or maybe they just think it can’t happen again.  They create a false, hopeless narrative that spreads to every person– thousands of people– in this congregation. Bad news travels quickly, even when it doesn’t make any sense. Why would Moses be attempting to kill them when he risked his own life to intercede on their behalf with the Pharaoh and remains faithful to God’s call to help His people, despite the dangers? The whole congregation sinks into despair.  “If only we had died,” they say, “by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread.”

The story doesn’t end there because our God is loving and merciful. He never stops reaching out to His children, though they often turn away and choose fear and despair rather than looking for God’s blessings and evidence of His tender care for human beings.  Because when you believe God wants to bless you, you will see His blessings and loving hand in your life.

True to His promise to His people who cry out for meat and bread, God sends quails in the evening to “cover the camp;” and in the morning, when the dew lifts, a fine, flaky substance—like frost on the ground–appears. The people ask one another, “What is it?” They don’t ask Moses, which is more evidence of their distrust. The Hebrew word for “What is it?”  is manna! Moses overhears them and says,  “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” Israel decides to call it manna—“What is it?” rather than “Bread from heaven.”  They have to gather it each morning, 6 days a week and twice as much the day before the Sabbath, to keep and eat on the Lord’s Day and not work.  Baked, boiled or raw, they eat their fill of this food (Exodus 16:31) that is  “like coriander seed,” in shape and size, but it’s white and tastes like  “wafers made with honey.” Does that sound like cookies to you? It does to me!

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Moses doesn’t want Israel to forget God’s amazing provision, so he tells Aaron to put some in a jar and  “place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” Remarkably, the manna never breeds worms or becomes foul like the manna some Israelites attempt to hoard, not trusting that God will provide enough for everyone, every day. The Israelites eat manna for 40 years says Exodus 16:35,  “until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan.”

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I wish I could say that manna was enough for the Israelites to have faith. Spiritually, they remained like newborn infants, continuing to cry out for God to feed them, instead of trusting in His love. And they soon tired of manna and wanted the food they remembered from Egypt, in the good old days, when they lived as slaves.

***

In John’s gospel, Jesus puts himself into the Exodus story. He has just fed a multitude with a few loaves and fish –and everyone is filled! But then the crowd follows him everywhere because they want more material blessings.

Jesus has something better in mind. He invites those who want to follow him to do the work of God! What is that work?  To believe in the one whom God has sent!

Jesus says to all of us, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

Trust in the one who is with you always.  Do you feel you are on a wilderness journey? Are you worried that you may have lost your way? Well, the wilderness isn’t a bad place to be. If you lose yourself,  let go of your own expectations for yourself, past disappointments and broken dreams, then, it is much easier for the Spirit to do its work in you—so you can become all that God wants you to be.

In the wilderness, the glory of God is revealed  and you have no choice but to trust in his loving provision—his spiritual manna for every day. Human beings, we like to think we are independent. We don’t want to need anyone for anything. But that’s not Christian. For we all need Jesus. And we need each other to grow up in every way in Him. To no longer be spiritual infants who are more interested in having our desires met, rather than having loving relationships with the Lord and in the Body of Christ.

In a few moments, we will celebrate communion at the Lord’s Table. Jesus invites us all to come to Him for the food that endures–that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. I hope you will all come in faith to the one who is “the bread of life.”  By faith, our hearts and minds will be transformed.

By faith, we will work for the food that endures for eternal life, the food that cannot be earned but is a GIFT to those who believe in the Son of God.

“Whoever comes to me will never be hungry,” Jesus says. “And whoever believes in me, will never be thirsty.”

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Let us pray.

Holy One, Come to us now in our wilderness. Encourage anyone who feels lost that they are in a good place, that they are right where the Lord wants them, right where His Spirit can do his healing, transforming work. Thank you for the gift of eternal life through believing in Your Son and His suffering work on the cross so that we may be forgiven for all our sins. Feed our souls with spiritual food that we will no longer behave as infants, crying out for our needs and desires to be met. Help us to grow up in every way, and especially to grow in loving relationship with you and one another. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

Hope and Faith of a Child

 

Meditation on John 6:1-21

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

July 29, 2018

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         After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.  Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip,  “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him,  “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,  “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”  10 Jesus said,  “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place;  so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 

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11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated;  so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples,  “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say,  “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

            15 When Jesus  realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

       16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat,  and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.  19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.  20 But he said to them,  “It is I; do not be afraid.”   21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

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***

 

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It was a sweltering 95-degree day last month in Birmingham, Alabama. Austin was handing out chicken sandwiches to homeless men. The red satin cape he wears, the 4-year-old says, makes him go faster.  “It blows in the wind,” he says with a smile, in a June 2018 article at CNN online.

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He is met with high-fives and pats on the shoulder at the homeless shelter. He has become a familiar face to the homeless men and women gathered on the sidewalk outside the Firehouse Ministries’ red brick building. His dad, TJ, helps him drop off meals every week.  It all started when Austin and his dad were watching an animal show on TV. A mother panda left her cubs and Austin was worried what would happen to them. TJ said the cubs would be homeless.  Austin hadn’t heard that word before. He learned more about “homeless” when his dad took him downtown to the city shelter after that.

“He said,  ‘Can we feed them?'” TJ says.  “I didn’t expect to feed homeless people that day. But when a 4-year-old asks you, what can you say?”

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They went to Burger King and bought chicken sandwiches. Austin agreed to use his allowance to buy food for homeless people instead of a weekly toy. Austin, who has an older brother with autism, has learned sensitivity, acceptance and compassion for people, though they may be different in appearance or behavior.

 

He soon became a local celebrity. His passion to help people in need—and possibly all the media attention—stirred Burger King to give him a $1,000 monthly allowance for a year so he could fulfill his mission. The mayor calls him  “the city’s ambassador.”  In a time when we often hear criticism of young people for being too “materialistic” or lacking people skills— here’s evidence that some young folks do “get it”—maybe more than adults! Austin, the mayor says, understands the importance of helping others—not just with material assistance, but by showing love.

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Love has the power to transform–especially when the source and acts of kindness are unexpected—through a small child, wearing a superhero costume, emblazoned, “# Show Love.”

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***

 

Austin reminds me of the child in our gospel reading today—the boy who gave his lunch to Jesus and a multitude ate until they were full.  This is an amazing thing to happen in a time and place when the average person never had enough food to eat, let alone feel full. Though we don’t know much about the boy—not even his name—he has the typical food of a poor person—five barley loaves and a couple of dried fish—neither of which were as large as we might imagine them to be. Wheat bread was more commonly eaten; barley loaves were cheaper and only eaten by the poor.

Today’s reading begins with a problem that isn’t really a problem, but an opportunity to reveal God’s power in Jesus Christ—and care for people in need. Jesus has crossed the sea to get away from the crowd, but is still being followed by them. People have seen the  “signs that he was doing for the sick.” They want to see some more!

Jesus doesn’t evade them long.  Actually, I think he is purposefully leading them up the mountain so that he can do another sign—and test his own disciples’ faith. For this passage isn’t really about what Jesus will do for the crowd. It’s encouragement for his true followers, the ones who have heard and answered his call, to let go of all doubt and fear–and learn to trust in him for everything!

Now this is different from the Matthew 14 account of the feeding of the multitude, when the disciples bring up the subject of eating first. They are exhausted after a day of ministering to the sick. They tell Jesus,  “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late.  Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”

But in John 6, Jesus is the first to mention the people’s need for food, revealing more of his divine character. The one who heals is eager to provide for His children, knowing their needs before they ask!  As the crowd approaches, Jesus turns to Philip.  “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Philip seems surprised by his question. Though he was quick to respond to follow Jesus at his invitation in John 1:43, he is also a down to earth, numbers guy. Where to buy bread, indeed! The real problem is they don’t have enough money!

“Six months’ wages,”  he says in the NRSV translation,would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” What he really says is  “200 denarii would not be enough for each to have a mouthful.”  One denarius is a day’s wage in Matt. 20:2.

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Andrew interrupts then to point out the boy offering his lunch.  “But what good is that for so many?” Andrew says. He is asking the question every church asks, at one time or another. How can we possibly meet such a tremendous need around us with such a small offering? With an aging membership? With so few people? With so many needs of our own?  How can what we have be enough to do the acts of love that Christ urges us to do?

Andrew’s question immediately precedes another “sign.” Jesus tells everybody, then, not “sit down,” but “recline”—the usual position for eating a meal. After giving thanks to God,  Jesus himself and not the disciples in John’s account serves the people, passing first the bread and then the fish to 5,000 men—plus women and children!

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After studying this passage, I’m left puzzling over 2 questions.  First, was the boy really the only one with food in the crowd?  Or was the real miracle not one of Christ’s provision, but His love unleashed in the crowd that stirs them to acts of generosity and kindness?  Did they have more than enough food for a feast all along, but fear that there wouldn’t be enough held them back from sharing what they had with others? Through the boy’s tiny but significant gift, a multitude is fed, with 12 baskets of bread left over!

And the second question is,  who are we in the story? Are we in the multitude, trying to follow Jesus wherever he goes, but only for personal reasons– looking for our own wants and needs to be met? Are we wrestling with fear and doubt, like those closest to him on a mountain, wanting to help people and do compassionate ministry in Christ’s name, but thinking it’s not possible with our resources? Have we embraced a gospel of abundance—or not? Have we forgotten, like his 12 disciples, that  Jesus is the source of everything we will ever need?

Are we like those same disciples, gathered in a boat, tossed about by storms, seeing Jesus, but in our fear, not recognizing the one who has the power to walk on water and calm every storm in our lives?  The one whose love is unconditional and never ends?

May we all be more like the child of hope and faith.

 

***

 About 5,000 men, women and children will pass through the doors of the shelter in Birmingham this year. Many will be touched by Austin and TJ’s acts of kindness and generosity, bringing hope and faith that lives can change!

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People CAN change!  God’s love transforms our hearts!

One homeless man tells Austin on that sweltering June day—95 degrees in Birmingham,   “It’s because of you that I want to be a better person.  You’re showing love, everywhere you go, right?”

“I am,” says Austin,  handing him a paper-wrapped sandwich and a cold drink, superhero cape fluttering in the breeze.

He explains to the adults who might not “get it”– like he does.

He says,  “Show love means you care about someone no matter what they look like.”

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Let us pray.

 

Holy One, we want to be more like you—always thinking about the needs and cares of others, before we worry about our own. Forgive us, Lord, as we struggle with fear and doubt, thinking we never have enough resources to do all that we are called to do—showing your love through acts of compassion, kindness, and generosity. Give us the faith and hope of a child who, though he was poor in material possessions, was willing to give up all that he had to eat—some barley bread and a few dried fish—so that a multitude could be fed! Thank you, Lord, for your unconditional love, for washing away our sins with your work on the cross, and for being the source of everything we will ever need! Amen.

Chosen for Love

 

Meditation on Ephesians 1:3-14

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

July 15, 2018

 

I was preparing to leave my office on Thursday to visit my parents after my Dad had a fall, when a man walked into the reception area. No one else recognized him, but I knew it was Phil, and it wasn’t just the telltale car keys clipped to his front shirt pocket. I had been praying for him and had left him a phone message that hadn’t yet been returned. Now here he was—bringing his offering to support the church. His church.

I had presided over his wife, Anita’s funeral in February 2016.  Phil and Anita, though they hadn’t attended church in recent years, were members since the 1960s, when the Rev. Bill Lee led worship in what is now our fellowship hall. Phil and Anita raised their 3 boys –Russ, Brad and Clay– in our church. Anita was the first church secretary.

Russ called the church seeking pastoral care about a week before his mother died. She had suffered from Alzheimer’s for many years. They welcomed me, though I was a stranger. And I enjoyed spending hours with them, at Anita’s bedside, as they swapped family stories. I became closest to Russ, who helped me plan the funeral and provided photos and art for the bulletin cover.  

After Anita died, I prayed for Phil and continued to reach out to him with occasional calls, cards, and a visit near Christmas last year.

I prayed that Christ would draw him back into the fold.

For when we are called to be his disciples, we can’t just walk away from that call. The Lord keeps seeking us out. God is like a nursing mother, says Isaiah 49:15, who will not withhold compassion for the child of her womb.  “Even these may forget,” says the Lord, “yet I will not forget you.”

No matter how old we are, no matter how we might think we have done enough and it’s time for other people to do the work of the church, your call is still valid. It doesn’t depend on our health or emotions or any circumstance in this world. The Lord wants us to shower us with spiritual blessings as we serve Him through His Church.

The Book of Order describes the responsibilities of our callings (G-2.0504) in the Church of Jesus Christ.  Ministers of word and sacrament, along with choosing scriptures and music, preaching and worship leadership, moderating session and other responsibilities, are called to offer pastoral care to the poor, troubled, sick and dying, to pray for and with the congregation, encourage others to worship and serve the Lord, and enable and equip members for their tasks and roles in the ministry, helping the church to reach out “in concern and service to the life of the human community as a whole.”

The Book of Order says that the ministry of membership (G-1.0304) is “a joy and a privilege” and “a commitment to participate in Christ’s mission. A faithful member bears witness to God’s love and grace and promises to be involved responsibly in the ministry of Christ’s Church. Such involvement includes: proclaiming the good news in word and deed, taking part in the common life and worship of a congregation, lifting one another up in prayer, mutual concern, and active support, studying Scripture and the issues of Christian faith and life, supporting the ministry of the church through the giving of money, time, and talents, demonstrating a new quality of life within and through the church, responding to God’s activity in the world through service to others, living responsibly in the personal, family, vocational, political, cultural, and social relationships of life, working in the world for peace, justice, freedom, and human fulfillment, caring for God’s creation, and participating in the governing responsibilities of the church.” Members  are urged to review and evaluate the integrity of one’s membership and  consider ways in which one’s “participation in the worship and service of the church  may be increased and made more meaningful.”

The most important things to know about our callings are  that we were chosen by God. And we were chosen for love.

 

***

Our reading in the first chapter of Ephesians is Paul’s blessing to the church.  It is one really long sentence in Greek that translators have separated by punctuation to help us grasp the meaning. His blessing is similar to traditional Jewish blessings that remind God’s people what the Lord has done for them and their identity and purpose for being. But unlike traditional Jewish blessings, we are blessed and chosen  in Christ. He is the instrument by which God pours in us  “spiritual blessing from the heavenly places.”

Outside Judaism, the word “to bless” in ancient Greek literature means,  “to speak well of, to praise, to thank, glorify, and to confess.” In the Septuagint, the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, the blessing is what   God promises to give to Abraham and  the praise human beings offer to God. But it also means to consecrate or set aside for God’s purposes. Paul says, in verse 4, that this is what has happened to us.  We have been chosen by God in Christ  “to be (made) holy and blameless before him, in love.”

Then we read from the foundation of the world.….God has always had a plan for all of us. He knew that human beings would fall into sin, but it was  “for his own good pleasure” that we have been redeemed.

He didn’t wait for us to choose Him. God revealed his love for us, when he  “sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him,” says 1 John 4:9-10.  “In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and  sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

With talk of “adoption” Paul employs legal language for those who receive a spiritual inheritance formerly thought to be only for Abraham’s descendants.  He assures Gentiles and Jews that Gentiles are included in this new covenant, sealed with Christ’s blood.

The blessing comes from Paul’s heart of gratitude to God for his inexplicable grace. As he exclaims in 2 Cor. 9:15,  “Thanks be to God for this gift too wonderful for words!

 

***

 

On Thursday, Phil’s visit to the church was an answer to prayer, confirmation that the Lord never forgets His children,  those who are called to serve Him with their lives. Phil hadn’t lost his gentle sense of humor or storytelling gifts. But he was sadder and quieter than I have ever seen him. He told me about Russ, how after working for NASA in Huntsville, Alabama, he moved back to Tennessee, where he had been born, and took a job working for the little town of Athens. He served as county planner and architect for McMinn County Government for 15 years. His most recent project was the highly regarded design and renovation of the McMinn County Courthouse Annex.  Russ, who possessed the quick wit, humor, and storytelling gifts of his dad, made many friends in his community through his work, though he was “a liberal,” the mayor said, “working with a predominantly conservative government entity.”

Russ usually called Phil a couple of nights a week. The calls came more frequently in April, when he suddenly seemed to be struggling to find the words he wanted to say. Alarmed, Phil called his son, Clay, and asked him to see if Russ was OK. Clay drove to Athens, and brought him back to his home near Atlanta where he could see specialists at Emory University. Doctors diagnosed him with a rare neurological disease. Phil traveled to Georgia, staying with his sons for a month.

Russ passed away May 29. The community poured out their grief and at the McMinn County Facebook page. What they said convinced me that Russ was living out his calling, devoted to the wellbeing of the people of this small town. The mayor said he saved the community about $100,000 in design fees. People said they would miss his smile and laughter. He was a “wonderful public servant”– kind and considerate, with a “brilliant mind.” Others said, a “true friend.” They celebrated his life at a service in a Lutheran church. The pastor was one of Russ’s friends.

Phil stood up in my office and made to go. I reached for his hand.

 “One of these days,” he said, “You’ll see me in church.”

On the way to my parents’ house, Russ’ last words spoken to me came to mind. At the funeral reception, he asked if I would reach out and visit his dad after the family had gone home. He said his dad was really good at saying no.  “Don’t ask,” he said. “Just go.”

I promised that I would.

A few weeks after the funeral, Russ sent me a lovely thank you card, saying that his time with the church had brought back happy memories of his youth at MIPC and his childhood on Merritt Island.

The Spirit is at work in our community of faith,  lavishing his grace upon us, pouring out spiritual blessings from the heavenly places. Today is a new day for the children of God.

The Lord wants to use those whom he has called before the foundation of the world.

You are one of them! You have been redeemed. Your sins have been washed away. In Christ, you stand holy and blameless before God.

You  have been chosen for love!

 

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your gift that is too wonderful for words–your grace that has redeemed us when we were perishing in our sins. Thank you for choosing us, calling us before the foundation of the world, to be your adopted children, with spiritual blessings poured on us through your Son, Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you in the heavenly places. Forgive us if we have ever drifted away, when we have been unfaithful to your call and selfish, looking to our own pleasures, rather than seeking to be pleasing to you. Use us now and forever, Lord, for your holy purposes. Build up your church and draw us nearer to you. In Christ we pray. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Journey

 

 Meditation on Mark 6:1-13

July 8, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

 

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      He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.  On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said,  “Where did this man get all this?  What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary   and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?”  And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them,  “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.  And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.  11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave,  shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”  12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.  13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

***

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It was Monday, the first day Leslie, Chad and I were attending classes at the Montreat Music and Worship Conference. With the exception of our adult choir rehearsals twice a day, we attended different classes, tailored to our ministry gifts and callings.

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Dr. Martha Moore-Keish, a Columbia Seminary theology professor, taught my 10 a.m. class called, “Exploring the Sacraments through Word and Image.”

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I felt a thrill of excitement when she described what we would be doing over the next 5 days. We would see and discuss Christian images from ancient times to present, in worship and other sacred spaces, particularly where the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper were celebrated. “You might be wondering why we are doing this,” she said. “For a number of reasons. One, our culture is increasingly oriented to visual…. We are bombarded by images all the time. What are the images that shape us in our world?” And two, “for historical reasons, so we may learn how Christians have lived out and expressed their faith over the centuries.” Three, for theological reasons. We can consider what Christians believed and what we believe about the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. And four, because  “what we taste, smell, touch and see are all part of the way God communicates with us.”  “He accommodates to us,” she said, quoting 16th century church reformer John Calvin. God who created us and knew us before we were in our mother’s womb, knows how to speak to us at our level so that we can understand.

Ever notice how God has always used visual aids with his people? How did God first speak to Moses? A burning bush.

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How did he speak to Abraham? He told him to look at the stars, promising that his descendants would be even more numerous.  And through the visitation by angels who looked like ordinary men.

 

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And God has come down to our level to reveal himself to us, sending his Son to be one of us, to live among us, and share our common lot.

Jesus taught through every day stories and objects. In Matthew 6:26, he says,  “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?”

In Matthew 6:28-29, he says, “So why do you worry about clothing?  Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”

When his disciples come to him in Matthew 18 and ask, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’  Jesus calls a child,  “whom he put among them,” and says, “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

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***

Our gospel reading in Mark today brings to mind an old English proverb,  “Familiarity breeds contempt.” What does that mean? I found this translation,  “If you know someone very well, you stop respecting them.” Ironically, when God speaks to His own children through His Son, some reject him because he is human.  He is one of them, but he is also different, preaching unlike the scribes and Pharisees, and healing and casting out demons with power and authority that others don’t have.

       “Where did this man get all this?” the congregation murmurs to one another when he preaches in his hometown synagogue.  “What is this wisdom that has been given to him?  What deeds of power are being done by his hands!  And “Isn’t he the carpenter?” The Greek word is  tekton, with a more accurate modern-day translation:  “construction worker” or “laborer”– not as high status as we would afford skilled “carpenters” today. Jesus’s father isn’t mentioned–did you catch that? Jesus isn’t called the son of a tektoncarpenter or construction worker, like he is in Matthew 13 when he preaches in his hometown –and is rejected. Scholars say that his neighbors are using hostile language when they identify him as the “son of Mary,” rather than son of his father, the traditional way a son is identified. In Mark, where there is no story of Jesus’ virgin birth, this is a  “slur against his legitimacy.”

Mark doesn’t tell us what Jesus says in his message that offends his hometown. He does declare himself a prophet, saying,  “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown,  and among their own kin and in their own house.” Mark emphasizes their personal rejection of him, saying in verse 3,  “And they took offense at him.”

He has just returned to Jewish Galilee from the Gentile Decapolis in 5:21, performing many miracles. He has cast out demons from a Gentile man living in the tombs and has raised a little girl from the dead. He has healed a woman who has been suffering from hemorrhages for 12 years. She touches his clothes when Jesus is in crowd, believing she will be healed. Jesus tells her,  “Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace, and be healed of your disease.”

But in Nazareth, he can “do no deed of power” except to “lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them.” What is the reason given? They lack faith. Jesus says in vs. 6 that  he is  “amazed at their unbelief.”  It is Christ’s power and not the person’s faith that heals them, but without faith, Christ does not heal. This reminds me of Hebrews 11:6,  “Without faith, it is impossible to please God because anyone who comes to Him  must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

The second half of this passage begins a new section; this is Christ’s response to his rejection. He sends out his 12 to minister in other towns and villages,  giving them his power and authority over evil, sickness and disease. He tells them to take no money or bread, because he wants them to trust in Him and rely on the kindness of strangers. Not everyone will welcome them, he warns. If they don’t, they are to shake the dust from their sandals as they leave. And journey on, bringing hope and healing to those with open hearts and homes– to those who have faith.

 

***

We examined more than 100 images over the 5 days in Martha’s class at Montreat. We began with the Early Church,  when Christianity was illegal and believers had to worship in secret in the catacombs,

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through the era of Constantine, when Christianity became the religion of the Empire, through the Middle Ages.

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To the Renaissance and the Reformations to present day.

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Martha was intrigued when I shared how we use images in worship to help us connect with the Word on a deeper level. Images draw us together as a faith community, gathered around our shared story and ministry. Images help those with open hearts and minds draw nearer to the Lord,  who longs to communicate with us right at our level, through all the senses he has given us.

He has given us His Spirit– equipping us with His power and authority– like he did his original 12 disciples.

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The Church is being sent out on a mission that he has ordained for us. And here’s the thing–the mission isn’t about us; and it won’t bring us material wealth or worldly measures of success. This passage assures us that we don’t need more stuff and we don’t need to be rich before we can serve him with our lives. In fact, money and stuff aren’t needed at all for the 12 disciples’ journey. They would get in the way from them relying completely on God to provide for them through the hospitality of strangers needing His healing touch.

Here’s the bad news. Not everyone will welcome you and accept your calling to be a light for Christ.  We will be rejected, sometimes, as he was, by people who are close to us. Our family and friends may amaze us, at times, for their lack of faith. And it will hurt our feelings, just as I am sure it hurt the Lord when his hometown rejected and ridiculed him. Don’t get stuck in discouragement or disappointment if that happens. Shake the dust from your sandals. Journey on, sisters and brothers. Don’t let anything stop you. Ask God to strengthen your faith, a faith that heals–and He will. Then, go and share it with the world.

 

Let us pray.

Thank you, Lord, for equipping us to serve you with our lives and for your Spirit that empowers, unites and guides us. Help us, Lord, to be obedient to your call, without wondering what’s in it for us and worrying what might happen. Let us not become too focused on stuff and money so that it gets in the way of doing the ministry you desire us to do. Open our hearts and minds, Lord, so we can understand when you come down to our level and speak to us through all our senses. Teach us to welcome the stranger into our homes and hearts and trust the stranger to welcome us into their home and heart. And for the journey you have called us to travel, strengthen our faith, a faith that heals. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Sow and Grow

Meditation on Mark 4:26-34

June 17, 2018

Merritt Island Presbyterian Church

 

         26 He also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, 27   and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow,  he does not know how. 28 The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head.   29 But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle,  because the harvest has come.”

     30 He also said,  “With what can we compare the kingdom of God,  or what parable will we use for it? 31 It is like a mustard seed,  which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; 32 yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs,  and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.”

    33 With many such parables he spoke the word to them, as they were able to hear it; 34 he did not speak to them except in parables, but he explained everything in private to his disciples.

 

***

 

I felt a tug on my skirt and looked down to see my little friend, Piper, looking up at me. She almost always has a smile on her face, but now she looked serious. We were waiting in line for donuts  at the MIPC Preschool’s “Donuts for Dads” event in the fellowship hall Friday morning. I kneeled down and asked the 4 year old with a sunny disposition,  “Did your dad or granddad make it today?”

She shook her head sadly, and I gave her a hug.

 “Will you sit by me, then?” I asked. She nodded, slipping her hand in mine. I built our plates with mini cake donuts–she wanted chocolate  and I took powdered sugar.  We sat down together at one of the long tables set up for the special program to honor fathers and grandfathers.  We talked and ate as the room buzzed with happy noises and movement around us.  

Slide28

The gathering started at 10, with my opening prayer. Then about 36 children filed in, including the elementary school age kids in our summer camp.  They lined up on stage and sang “Daddy’s Hands” and “Daddy, Daddy, I Love You.” They recited a poem that starts, “Daddy You Are As Smart as Ironman…”

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More than 30 men attended Friday’s program.  They came alone or with their wives. Some were grandparents raising grandchildren. One grandfather, who attends a Nazarene church, shared his testimony, telling me about his new-found faith that has changed his life. I knew his 3 grandchildren at our preschool when he mentioned them by name.

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I said hi to one young dad, sitting by himself,  waiting for the program to begin, looking like he wanted to be somewhere else. His face changed, though, when I exclaimed,  “You’re Marley’s dad?  Marley’s awesome!”  

    Hannah and Jeffrey’s mother had tears running down her face as the children sang. She was so emotional, she said, that she had trouble holding up her phone to record the program. The families stayed awhile after the program ended,  talking and laughing with their kids and each other. That made me feel good to see them so comfortable. Many said thank you. We had plenty of donuts– and some left over. Piper went up for seconds and then a third time for a big, custard-filled chocolate covered donut. I didn’t need another donut, but I suggested we share it because it was so big. I worried she might get sick.  That was fine with her!

      Just as she took a bite, a wonderful thing happened.

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Her father showed up, sat down and gave her a hug. He had driven from Sebastian that morning.   “I’m sorry I am late!” he said, looking into her eyes.  “Did I miss your singing?”

He gave her a sad look, but she just smiled and hugged him back.

With “Donuts for Dads,” “Muffins for Moms” and other events the preschool and church host for children and young families each year, we try to show our gifts of hospitality, generosity and love–as Christ calls us to do.  

Without preaching or quoting the Bible, we can still plant seeds of faith  and pray the Lord of the Harvest will make the seeds sprout and grow.  When we scatter seeds and show warmth and hospitality to strangers, we are changed.

We grow in faith, hope and love. And we want to sow some more!

 

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Christ invites his followers to sow and grow  in our gospel reading today. This passage is two parables in a chapter of parables, each one building on or explaining what comes before.  The Kingdom of God is all around us. We have an important role; it grows by God’s grace that leads us to embrace God’s Word,  live by faith and share it with others.

The parables, stories with layers of meaning, simple and symbolic, secular and sacred, are a window into the agrarian world in which Jesus lives. They begin with the familiar “sower and the seed.”  Seed is eaten by birds, falls on rocky ground, is scorched in the sun and choked by thorns. But some falls on good soil and yields an abundance of grain. Jesus explains the parables to his 12 when they are alone, for they have been given the  “secret of the kingdom of God” he says, and will understand what others cannot. The seed is the word; Satan tries to steal it away; those without root hear and have joy, but fall away when trouble comes. The word sown among thorns is choked out by the  “cares of the world,”  “the lure of wealth  and the desire for other things.”  Seeds sown on good soil are those who  hear, accept God’s word and bear fruit–do God’s will.

Right before today’s passage is Christ’s parable of the lamp that you wouldn’t put under a bushel basket or bed;  you place it on a lampstand, to bring the light of understanding to all who have ears to listen. He concludes with a warning against holding on too tightly to things.  “The measure you give,” he says, “will be the measure you get,  and still more will be given to you.”

Then we come to today’s two parables–the growing seed and the mustard seed. The growth of God’s Kingdom is a mystery to human beings–those who sleep at night and wake up to find the scattered seeds have sprouted and grown.  Only the Lord knows the hearts of human beings. Only God knows our days before we have lived them and the plans he has for each of us. But God always desires our spiritual growth and the growth of His Kingdom.

The Kingdom of God is so powerful that it can grow to a tree from a tiny seed;  a mustard seed was probably the smallest where Jesus lived, and it grew fast to become a great shrub, even a mustard tree.  

      The Kingdom is all around us; we see it by faith. It is a blessing to everyone, not just Christians, but for all the earth, through the followers of Christ, just as God told Abraham  that his children would bless all the families of the earth. The birds of the air make a home and find comfort, nourishment, shade and rest in the Kingdom tree.  Jewish believers in Mark’s time would be stirred to recall Daniel’s vision of God’s Kingdom in 4:10-12 as a tall tree at the “center of the earth” :

     “The tree grew great and strong, its top reached to heaven, and it was visible to the ends of the whole earth. Its foliage was beautiful, its fruit abundant,  and it provided food for all. The animals of the field found shade under it,  the birds of the air nested in its branches,  and from it all living beings were fed.”

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On Thursday night, about 36 people from our congregation gathered to be a blessing to local children in need through the Children’s Hunger Project.

We are Christ’s hands and feet, each of us with different skills and abilities that enable us to do different jobs. Everyone is important and needed in God’s work. Our group assembled 818 bags in less than 2 hours! And it was fun being with people we love.

We are a powerful force for good when we work together in shared mission, helping people in need, reaching out to show hospitality to strangers and friends. We experience such joy and peace scattering seeds of faith through kindness and generosity.

Like the disciples long ago, we have been given the secret to the Kingdom of God: sow and grow.

When we sow, we are changed. We grow in faith, hope and love.

And we want to sow even more!

 

Let us pray.

 

Heavenly Father, we thank you for your Kingdom that your Son, Jesus Christ, ushered in. Give us eyes to see your Kingdom, on earth as it is in heaven, and ears to hear your Word and obey. Thank you for our role in growing your Kingdom–your charge to us to sow seeds of kindness, generosity and hospitality. Grow our faith, Lord. Build our hope. Pour more of your love into our hearts and stir us to share it with others, particularly people in need. Use us as instruments of healing and reconciliation. May we be a blessing, with all that you have given to us, to the families of the earth, as you promised Abraham long ago. Strengthen and guide us in the footsteps of your Son, through whom we pray. Amen.