Are You an Impersonator or an Imitator

September 27, 2020

Philippians 2:1-13

Impersonation is an active part of the entertainment industry. Travel to Las Vegas and you can watch countless shows starring Elvis, Cher, and the Rat Pack just to name a few. There are tribute bands that do their best to impersonate the Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Who, and countless others. We laugh at comedians that have a knack for impressions, Robin Williams and Jim Carrey coming to mind for myself. The late-night talk shows and Saturday Night Live are known for their sketches with impersonators of political figures.

These can all be fun to watch, especially when we know that they are not the real deal and often it is being done in jest. There is a difference between impersonating and imitating. When they are on stage, an impersonator genuinely wants you to believe that they are who they are not. They put a lot of work into their act and take great pains to attempt to perfect it. An imitator, on the other hand, strives to live up to the challenge of reflecting the person they are looking up to.

Paul’s letter to the Philippians this morning encourages us to be imitators of Christ. The Message translation begins:

If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— 2 then do me a favor: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. 3 Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. 4 Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.
5 Think of yourselves the way Christ Jesus thought of himself. 6 He had equal status with God but didn’t think so much of himself that he had to cling to the advantages of that status no matter what. 7 Not at all. When the time came, he set aside the privileges of deity and took on the status of a slave, became human! 8 Having become human, he stayed human. It was an incredibly humbling process. He didn’t claim special privileges. Instead, he lived a selfless, obedient life and then died a selfless, obedient death—and the worst kind of death at that: a crucifixion.
Philippians 2:1-8

It is this Christ that Paul lifts up for the people in Philippi as the metric for them to live by. It is the goal for them to strive for. It is a call for them to bring their community closer together and mend wounds and heal any separations that has occured. This is a tall order and Christians have not always been the best at imitating Christ. When we fail to follow and imitate Christ, we offer false impressions to those around us.

The celebrated pacifist Mohandas Gandhi is reported to have said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” He made this observation in the midst of his struggle for justice for a people in the face of the occupation of his native India.[1] Comments like these can often be divisive and cause us to take up sides. We can get defensive when something speaks so closely to our heart and names the truth, or at least a part of it. We start to make excuses when we do not want to own up to the truth that we know in our hearts.

Those Christians that Gandhi speaks of are the ones that are impersonating more than they are imitating. Remember, an impersonator tries their hardest to make people believe they are someone that they are not. There is no sign of humbleness in the impersonator. Yet, it is a life of humbleness that Christ calls us, as we encounter our siblings. We are not to tower over anyone and lift ourselves as greater than thou. It is Christ that calls us to love one another and be an imitation of that good news for all to see.

The imitation does not come easily. At times it can require sacrifice and suffering. To be obedient to Christ and our lives as Christians could even lead to death. It is that same good news that reminds us that death is not the end and we be born into new life. For in our baptisms, we die to our old selves and are washed clean as we recognize our part in the Christian community. We are not always going to get the imitation right. We are going to stumble and fall, and Jesus is well aware of the temptations that enter our lives on a daily basis.

There is a word that Archbishop Desmond Tutu is known for when imitating Christ and learning to love each one of our siblings. This word is, Ubuntu. In Ubuntu, we learn to acknowledge that “I am, because we are.” We do not and cannot accomplish anything on our own. We do it in community. We support one another and learn to live with one another. Yes, Jesus wants us to agree on everything as well, and this can be a challenge that we will work on until the Reign of God comes fully to us. It is in ubuntu that we recognize one another’s humanity and that we learn to walk and work alongside one another.

To follow the philosophy of ubuntu draws us much closer to an imitation of Christ. An imitation that lifts up the good news for all to witness. It is this imitation that transforms our hearts and minds and calls us into living as one with not only Christ, who is with us and in us, but also with our siblings that we walk alongside every day. How are you going to be an imitation of Christ this week?

[1] Gilberto Collazo, commentary on Philippians 2:1-13, Feasting on the Word, Year A, Volume 4.

Unmerited Grace

September 20, 2020

Matthew 20:1-16

I recently received a blast from my past in something new. In the eighties, the movie, The Karate Kid, was released. Starring Ralph Macchio as Daniel LaRusso and William Sabka as Johnny Lawrence, his rival. Johnny appears to have it all in life and Daniel and his mother just have the carload of possessions they brought to California from New Jersey.

Daniel is holding fast that life is not fair after moving from his friends in New Jersey and now finds himself being bullied by Johnny and his group of friends. It is a hero story and you find yourself rooting for Daniel. Now, over 30 years later there is a new series on Netflix titled Cobra Kai.  We return to familiar settings in California to find Daniel and Johnny in midlife and their position in life reversed as Daniel owns a successful car dealership and Johnny is struggling to make ends meet. Johnny now is the one that is examining life as not fair.  

The idea of fairness is quite often determined by those that find their expectations not being met. They are left grumbling on the sidelines because they did not get their way and it is simply not fair! I know that I can point to a few times in my life where I have felt this way, and I am sure that if you think about it, you can name some times as well.

As we listen to our gospel lesson from Matthew today, we find a similar situation happening in the parable that Jesus shares. Over the course of the day, the landowner comes out to hire workers. The landowner has a heart for the people that are patient enough to wait for a job to come their way and most likely cannot find one another way. The first hires agree to a day’s wage, which is one denarius. At the end of the day, the vineyard workers are paid, starting with the last hired and working their way to the first hired. Surely, when the last hired received one denarius, those hired first are going to receive much more. However, they did not agree to anything more. They received what was promised to them. And yet, they grumble. They are not thankful for the money they did make to help provide a meal for their family that evening. Instead, they sound ungrateful and greedy.

The landowner reaffirms that they were paid what was agreed upon and it is simply none of their business what he pays everyone else. I will admit, I was right there with those first hires when it came time to be paid. It’s not fair! Their argument is based upon three things. First, they assumed that they would be getting more, just because those that did not swelter in the heat for the entire day received what was originally promised to those hired first. Second, they are being made equal to those hired last. Come on, how is that fair? Third, they put in the work. Their work should merit a greater pay. The first hired were burdened with working an entire day and had the sun beating down on them.

There are times in our lives when we make the same assumptions. We feel that we have been shortchanged and it is simply not fair. Perhaps, we were born in a blue-collar household and our classmate was born in the million dollar mansion on the other side of town. This may not seem fair, but it is reality. Much like the characters depicted in The Karate Kid. We receive more of the story as we engage the new Cobra Kai series and learn more from the character’s backgrounds.

So, why is Jesus sharing this parable with us?

If we go back to the first verse in chapter 20, Jesus says, “For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner…” These stories are meant to be so radical that it makes the disciples stop in their tracks and think about what they are doing. Remember, the king that forgave a debt as large as a small countries GDP last week?

It has to be radical because the grace of God is radical. It comes to all people, regardless of the time that they entered the vineyard to work. God’s grace comes to us in our sinfulness and even when we are hunkering down and grumbling. The grace of God is simply a gift to those that are open to receiving it. It is not possible to come too late to receive the grace of God. In the actions of the landowner, Jesus reveals the transcending and transforming grace of God, where all should be rejoicing.

This grace is unmerited. There is nothing that we must do to receive it. We enter the field when we are ready, and sometimes we may even end up leaving the field and returning later. And this is radical. This does not match the expectation in our earthly world where we are paid for performance and even our higher education.

What would it look like if we were to bring the kingdom of heaven to earth today? There would be many people upset. Because their expectations would not be met. God is not a God that pleases everyone. God is a God of grace and Jesus Christ calls us into action to live out the kingdom in our world today. Even by revealing God’s grace in pieces, they start to add up. And by doing so, we share in the love of God’s unmerited grace for all of creation.

God’s Forgiveness is Priceless

September 13, 2020

Matthew 18:21-35

“Why should I say I am sorry?”

According to my mother, this was the response that I gave to her one time when I was younger and had just hit my older brother. I meant to do it because I was mad at him and therefore why should I apologize.

When we apologize, we quite often have the intent of hopefully receiving forgiveness from the person or peoples we have wronged. Of course, most of us know that this is not always the outcome. To give and to receive forgiveness requires a transformation within oneself. A transformation that I could not comprehend when I was 4.

Corrie ten Boom does share such a story that is both transformative and embraces the fullness of our loving God. Corrie was a Dutch Christian woman that stood up to Nazi Germany and did her part to protect Jewish citizens by hiding them in her house. When she was caught, she was imprisoned at the Ravensbruck concentration camp. At the end of the war, she would travel through Europe sharing her story and at one such engagement, recognized one of the former guards of Ravensbruck in the audience. To her dismay, he approached her at the end and explained to her how he was now a Christian and God had forgiven him, and he was hoping that maybe she could too. She became flush with anger and was reluctant to shake his outstretched hand. She shared the following:

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

To forgive does not come easily. It is not like a medication the doctor gives you and after taking all of it you are better. Forgiveness is a long and difficult process that requires much prayer and meditation to fully meet the person at a place of love. The same place where God meets us.

We have two lessons today that speak to the very heart of forgiveness. We are familiar with the story of Joseph and how he came to serve Pharaoh after his brothers sold him into slavery.  Yet, at the death of their father, Jacob, there must be a reconciliation. The type of reconciliation that we spoke of last week and that Jesus taught his disciples should there ever be an issue that needed to be addressed. When his brothers seek forgiveness, they are quite leery of what Joseph’s response may be. He is overcome with tears and they share in a great forgiveness. Joseph’s grace and mercy comes to them as he tells them he will provide for them and their little ones.

In the parable Jesus shares this morning we have a gracious and merciful king that forgives a servant that owes 10,000 talents. This amount would have caught all by surprise as Jesus shared the parable, because how could an individual accrue so much debt. It is so great that it would be bigger than the amount a small country may have in GDP. Yet, to emphasize the grace and mercy of a forgiving God, the king forgives the entire debt owed by the servant.

Next is when our gospel lesson takes a turn! That same servant has learned nothing about grace and forgiveness even though he just had his exorbitant amount of debt wiped clean. As soon as he leaves the palace, he encounters a servant that owes him 10 denari. Now, this is such a minimal amount that forgiveness should come easy. However, he does not even want to give him time to repay. He wants it now and when he does not receive it, has him jailed. Of course, word gets back to the king and he revokes the forgiveness of the debt he had previously wiped clean.

Perhaps, you have not done this yourself, but I am sure that most of us can point to similar stories of where we have seen an equivalent of this happening.  Even when we receive forgiveness, it can be easy to hold grudges because that grudge is embedded in our heart. Maybe we find it hard to forgive someone because we have not received forgiveness ourselves. Perhaps, we are just so busy naval gazing that we cannot get beyond what is in it for us!

Yet, in both stories, we have grace and mercy. And we have it in abundance. There is a cost to not learning to forgive and that cost is held in our very being. It weighs us down and studies have even shown that it can shorten our lives.

To come to forgiveness is not easy and it may take several years. God’s desire is for us to be transformed and our hearts made anew. To be forgiven and learn to forgive ourselves is a transformation that opens our hearts up to the even greater possibilities that God has for us in life. To open our hearts means that we are flushing away all the anger, resentment, and desire for revenge.

As we pray the Lord’s prayer, we ask that God forgive us as we forgive others. Do you truly live this out? Sometimes this forgiveness looks radical and when we do so, we may get questioned by others. Yet, this is where our Christian faith leads us. It leads us to those places in our society where love lacks and calls us to share the Good News of Jesus Christ. Good News that reveals God’s forgiveness is priceless.

Caste by Isabel Wilkerson

Shopping at an independent book store about a month ago, this book was placed in a pile of recommendations they had for me based on previous purchases. Now, I know about the Caste system in India, but to relate it to how our society in America is structured? I was skeptical and did not purchase it. Yet, something kept pulling me back to it.

It did not take long for Wilkerson to quickly change my mind. I will admit that it was probably more difficult for me to see through my own whiteness. This is an extremely relevant book for today as Wilkerson addresses current race relations and a pandemic that has clearly defined the haves and have nots, usually along the lines of race.

The comparisons of the Caste system in India to slavery and the created Caste system in America and to Nazi-era Germany is eye-opening. The presentation of the facts that Nazi-era Germany learned from the structure of the Caste system in America, especially in regards to people of color, to establish their own arguments for the dominance of the Aryan race should make us open not only our eyes but encourage us to open our mouths to be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement and ensure that all people are treated equal and not singled out for the color of their skin. The Caste system goes way beyond race and only the abolishment of it will bring everyone to a level field.

I am sure this book will be downplayed by many. It will be downplayed because it takes away their privilege, and this is the reason why we find ourselves in such upheaval today. There is the fear of losing control. If we truly want to be a democracy, as Wilkerson notes, we have to come to terms with who we are and addressing the Caste system that we so easily ignore. If the current administration were to remain in power, we will have a long way to haul and even more protests ahead of us.

Reconciled in Love

September 6, 2020

Matthew 18:15-20

As we peruse the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament, there are many sections that sound like me may be reading a script from Game of Thrones or a similar story that may come out of the Medieval Era. This highlights the fact that as humanity, we have always had that desire to conquer and claim. For instance, the Babylonians and Egyptians did everything in their power to conquer the Jewish people and bar them from their land and/or hold them in slavery.

It is no wonder that as we look back through history and the stories of conquering in the Bible, that humanity has always tried to fulfill that desire. Much of it stems back through history as one tribe has tried to conquer other tribes. Jesus brings a message of hope and grace that has the intention to end this mentality. Yet, we are still a broken people awaiting the Kindom of heaven here on earth.  

We have been far from upholding the ideals of Christ as we reach out to or fail to reach out to our sisters and brothers that we deem different from ourselves, yet are seen the same in the eyes of God. It is poignant as we look at our relationship with the Indigenous peoples of America. The first settlers from Europe used their concept of Doctrine of Discovery to take the land that they had newly discovered and conquer the people already living on it. Unfortunately, the Bible was quite often used for justification of their actions.

That is not the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our gospel lesson for today from Matthew speaks strongly to our need as humanity to be reconciled with one another. Jesus encourages us to confront each other in a healthy manner and not through the premise of conquering or proving that we are right.

Jesus shares with the disciples the parable of the lost sheep immediately preceding our lesson for this morning. The point that Jesus is attempting to make is that everyone matters. That one lost sheep is just as important as the 99 that are safe on the mountain. It is that one lost sheep that Jesus is concerned with at this moment.

He then turns to how we live into that relationship with one another. Living into that relationship and creating community involves confronting one another. Jesus encourages it. Jesus encourages us to bring our conflicts to conversation and dialogue and not sweep them under the rug. He discusses the steps and who is involved in each step along the way. To be reconciled with one another is part of Jesus’ mission. We look to the relationship of the Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as an example of the relationship we are called into with our sisters and brothers. The relationship of the Trinity has been referred to as a divine dance. To dance requires give and take and some grace does not hurt. Jesus provides plenty of grace for us.

What does it mean to be reconciled? First, as Jesus tells the disciples this morning, it is to listen to one another. This is where we seem to be falling short as humanity. Yes, there are many different ideas out in the world as to why things are happening regarding race relations, the Coronavirus, and politics. Yet, we have left little room for conversation as we pick the ground we want to stand on, and come hell or high water, we are not going to budge from it. To be reconciled as people of God and a nation, listening needs to happen and we need to stop polarizing every topic imaginable. This divisiveness has split friends and families. Jesus holds us accountable to learn to listen and be reconciled with one another.

It is difficult to admit the error of one’s way. And yet, this is what Jesus is calling us to do when we enter conflict with one another and sit down to listen. We are not all correct, all the time. We are human. We are broken. We are going to stumble and fall. It is Jesus’ invitation for us to be reconciled with not only God, but also with our sisters and brothers. Jesus does not tell us we must agree with one another, but to be restored to right relationship. It does no one good to hold grudges.

Reconciliation at work is a beautiful thing. I recently heard of Reconciliation Canada, which is an Indigenous-led organization, began in September 2012 with a bold vision to promote reconciliation by engaging Canadians in dialogue that revitalizes the relationships between Indigenous peoples and all Canadians in order to build vibrant, resilient and sustainable communities. Through various initiatives, they have shown a commitment to humanity by seeking diverse perspectives and experiences to build resilience.

This is the community that Jesus encourages the church in the world to be. It is a community that nurtures honest dialogue in the face of behavior that harms others. It fulfills Jesus’ mission of restoration, re-creation, and transformation of all people. It is in reconciliation that we learn to love our neighbors and in the words of Paul, “…any other commandment is summed up in this word, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor, therefore, love is its fulfilling of the law.”

For what or whom, is Jesus calling you to be reconciled today? Where will you carry the gospel in your words and actions?

Are You Following?

August 30, 2020

Matthew 16:21-28

My first career in management could be very exciting at times as I never knew what I would come into on a daily basis. Was the delivery scattered about on the sales floor? Were there some customer complaints that I had to address? Were there employee concerns that needed to be dealt with properly? Would there be a visit from one of the district or regional managers?

Being a young manager of employees nearly twice my age was difficult at times, especially when it came to discipline or even laying them off, as I unfortunately have had to do.  Being young and not too far removed from a college classroom, I thought I knew everything. Let me tell you, this does not go over well when you present this image in front of one of your bosses, or even one of the presidents of the company. I would be lying to you if I told you I was never rebuked by one, if not a couple of my bosses.

I feel for Peter in this week’s gospel. He was riding on top of the world after his proclamation that Jesus was the Messiah in last week’s lesson. Jesus called him the rock and promised that the church would be built upon that rock. Peter was even promised the keys to the kingdom of heaven. How quickly the mood changes! I cannot imagine what the other disciples had to be thinking during the exchange that happens in today’s gospel lesson. Where Peter was the rock last week, he is not better described as the stumbling block today.

Where does he go wrong? When Jesus speaks of undergoing suffering in Jerusalem, Peter’s understanding of what it meant to be the Messiah was shaken. Nobody said anything about suffering and sacrifice. Jesus was the Messiah, and he had to start making everything alright at this very moment. Wasn’t that what all the healing and preaching was about? I don’t blame Peter. This is the first time that any of them are hearing Jesus’ passion prediction and just like any of the other teachings, it has to take a little while to sink into their understanding. Even up to the point of Jesus’ actual death on the cross.

We too struggle with sacrifice. Yes, we know we must make some sacrifices to make progress in certain areas of our lives. That does not mean that we like it. Some will refuse to make needed sacrifices and will continue to troll along with the status quo. If you are happy, then this is not necessarily a bad thing. Yet, a majority of people will tell you that they wish they could do something else or struggle to reach certain goals.  Sacrifice requires us to step out of our comfort zone. When it comes to race relations, I believe that is where we struggle as a community. To work with and alongside our black and indigenous sisters and brothers means that we have to make sacrifices and have empathy for what they have encountered for the last 400 years. They are no stranger to sacrifice, and yet we have become comfortable and complacent.

When Peter rebukes Jesus, he is instructed that he is setting his sights on human things and not divine things. To be in relationship with everyone is a divine thing and for Jesus to lead the way requires him going to the cross. Jesus tells him, “Get behind me Satan.” This is reminiscent of the time Jesus spent in the desert after his baptism and the devil tempts him and he tells him to “Go away!”

Now, I don’t believe Jesus is calling Peter, himself, Satan but calling his thinking misled. And he does not tell him to go away. He says get behind me. Follow me and you will learn and come to know what I am talking about. You too, will learn how to pick up your cross to follow me and carry out the Good News I share with you today.

In this proclamation, we too hear Jesus’ call to take up our cross and follow him. It is going to require sacrifice and we will, more times than not, feel like we are fighting an uphill battle. In Jesus we not only hear the call to follow him, but a promise that is made to all of humanity. Jesus does not simply tell us to get lost, but to follow him and learn what it means to walk in his footsteps. Learning what it means to follow Jesus and boldly taking up our own cross.  

With the shooting of Jacob Blake earlier this week, we witnessed entire teams willing to bear the cross. The Detroit Lions cancelled practice to address racism. The Milwaukee Bucks boycotted their Wednesday night playoff game in response to the shooting and in turn the NBA cancelled all games. It is movements like this and voices that need to be raised for us to begin to truly witness change and the end of systemic racism. More than anything else, we need to listen to our sisters and brothers.

Like Peter, we are not always going to get it right and will rebuke some of the wrong people. We will become a stumbling block for others, or probably more often for ourselves. Yet, Jesus is there to pick us up, dust the dirt off our knees, and once again invite us to follow him. What are you doing to follow Jesus today?

Jesus Helps us Find the Way

August 23, 2020

Matthew 16:13-20

How many of you have set out on a journey or destination only to have plans upended and everything not go according to the itinerary that you had compiled? Perhaps the journey you have set out on is a destination unknown, not know why you are going, other than there is something within you that is guiding you.

If we went back 2000 years ago and asked the disciples about their experience with Jesus, they would tell us that they had no idea where they were going, but knew that Jesus was leading the way and they were eager to follow.  

I recently watched a movie, titled The Way. It stars Martin Sheen as Tom and his real life son, Emilio Estevez playing his on-screen son, Daniel. The movie begins with heartbreak as Tom learns of his son’s death in France, just as he is setting off to begin the Camino de Santiago. The Camino de Santiago is a roughly 500-mile walk that begins in France and ends in Spain at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and the Shrine of St. James the Great. This is believed to be the route that James traveled to spread the good news through Europe after Jesus’ death and resurrection. People have been making this trek for centuries and it can be a very personal journey.

Before Tom departs for France to retrieve Daniel’s body, he goes to his local parish where the priest asks if he would like him to pray with him. Tom’s response is, “What for?” And this pretty much sums up where his faith currently resides. When he finds out what Daniel was planning to do, he makes the decision to begin and finish the walk for him. People walk the Camino de Santiago for various reasons and when Tom began, it was not for spiritual reasons. Tom is Catholic, but as he tells an American priest he meets on the route, he is one of those Christmas and Easter people.

The walk on the Camino de Santiago, also known as The Way, is a life transforming event and as Tom nears the end of the walk you can see him being transformed and in his own way, coming to know Jesus on a much deeper level that opens up his heart.

Our gospel lesson this morning explores who Jesus is. Actually, more like, Jesus wants to know who people are saying he is. The significance of this taking place in Caesarea Philippi cannot be overlooked. In Caesarea Philippi, one could find a Temple to the Greek god, Pan and other pagan gods, and not to mention Herod’s son had built a temple in honor of Caesar Augustus. For the proclamation of Jesus being named the Messiah in this spot, carried much weight and highlights the divinity found within his human being.

For many, it could be easy to reject Jesus among the other possible gods to be worshipped in Caesarea Philippi. It can be easy to get misled by those that are false idols and self-made gods. It can be easy to focus on oneself and completely disregard the message that Jesus is trying to spread throughout the Galilean countryside. In our own brokenness, we too can fall into these traps and lose sight of Jesus the Christ.

In Jesus asking the disciples who do they say he is, he is inviting them to truly look deep into their hearts and comprehend who Jesus is at this time and place. They have listened and observed him enough now, and Peter is the one bold enough to proclaim him the Messiah. As much as he can stick his foot in his mouth, for this day, Peter gets the gold star! It is in Jesus, that the disciples begin to encounter their true selves. It is in Jesus that we can begin to know our true selves.

It is a journey. It was not a mistake that those first followers referring to Christianity as The Way. They knew it was the way to the truth, the light, and freedom. Somewhere along the way, we have lost the importance of this and there is no time better than now to regain that truth that Jesus asks us to look for within our own beings. Who do you say Jesus is?

You must explore that question for yourself, with the help of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. As Martin Luther says in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed in the Small Catechism:

I believe that I cannot by my own understanding or effort
believe in Jesus Christ my Lord, or come to him.
But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel,
enlightened me with his gifts,
and sanctified and kept me in true faith.

You may not be able to walk the Camino de Santiago to search within to find Jesus, but as you continue on in your own faith journey, because none of us can say we have reached the ultimate end, may the Holy Spirit work up within you all that is good and loving in the eyes of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Nomad by Brandan Robertson

Brandan Robertson is a quick rising voice within the church today. One of his opening sentences can reflect what many of us feel in our hearts:

“My life has been filled with wandering through the vast expanse of reality, searching for a place I can call home.”

Nomad is a journey through his life thus far and the eclectic experiences that have helped shape who he is today as a child of God serving the church. From an Evangelical background where he began to see himself as an outsider to his journey in beginning to understand his true self better, God opens up to him in new ways and through new people. Understanding who he is as part of the LGBTQ+ community allows him to bring the gospel to people that have been shamed and considered themselves done with the church.

The chapter titles in the book, speak very much to our spirituality as human beings and have a sense of liturgical spirit. From Nomad to Grace to Wonder, the journey revealed among its pages open up the vulnerability of Brandan and gives us permission and courage to share our own stories.

Thanks to Augsburg Fortress for a copy for review.

In Good Hands

August 9, 2020

Matthew 14:22-33

Who among you has not tried bargaining with God? Or getting God to prove God’s true divinity? My guess is that at one point or another we have all done one or the other.

We do not have to look too far in our own Lutheran tradition to have a solid example of this. And, if actions did not play out the way they did, we may not be here today in a Lutheran church. If you recall, Martin Luther’s intention was to become a lawyer. This was the desire of his father, Hans. However, one night when on his way home, he was caught in a strong violent storm and was nearly struck by lightning. He prayed to St. Anne (Mary’s mother) to save him from the storm and if she did, he would turn his life over to the church. Luther did see the light of day following this and left his law studies and entered the monastery.

Did God truly look over Martin Luther that dark and stormy night to bring him to safety? I believe that in that moment he was scared, and he cried for help. Much like Peter in our gospel lesson this morning as he takes his eyes off Jesus and starts to plunge into the water. There was also something much greater in his heart though, that God within us, that knew a calling to the church was the right thing. It was not just a whim that he tossed it out there, he had to have been thinking about it for some time.

As I mentioned last week, much of Jesus’ teaching takes place near or on the Sea of Galilee. Compared to Lake St. Clair, the Sea of Galilee is not very big. In reality, you could fit four Sea of Galilees in Lake St. Clair. It has roughly 33 miles of shoreline, which Jesus and the disciples could easily walk around in a couple of days or easily take a boat from one point to another. When I was there earlier this year, we went from Tiberius to near Tabgha in less than an hour after stopping for a fishing demonstration on the sea.

Though it may be small, it can still have decent waves as heavy winds roll through like the disciples were experiencing. Yet, Jesus brought a stillness to the sea and to the hearts of the disciples once they realized it was him. It is in the stillness that the disciples came to realize it truly was Jesus that was coming to them. As he joins them in the boat, the winds cease.

The wind plays a role in our lesson from the Old Testament this morning as well. Elijah encounters God on the top of Mount Horeb. It was after the wind, earthquake, and fire that Elijah was able to encounter God. It was in the sound of sheer silence that Elijah came to know God and it was in Jesus silencing the seas that all became still and the disciples knew fully that Jesus was with them in the boat to carry them safely the rest of the way.

It is when we fall into the thinking that we must barter with God or challenge God that we become separated. Peter was separated from God as he took his eyes off Jesus and was easily distracted by the wind. It does not take much to throw us off, but when we are, it can be hard to steer the course. Peter knew all he had to do was call Jesus, “Take my hand!”

Peter needed to seem for himself that Jesus was truly there, and his faith grew as he stepped out of the boat onto the sea. He doubted just like we do, yet he knew who to call out to. Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “Peter had to leave the ship and risk his life on the sea, in order to learn both his own weakness and the almighty power of his Lord.  If Peter had not taken the risk, he would never have learned the meaning of faith… The road to faith passes through obedience to the call of Jesus.  Unless a definitive step is demanded, the call vanishes in thin air, and if [people] imagine that they can follow Jesus without taking this step, they are deluding themselves like fanatics.”

From Peter to Martin Luther, we encounter faithful people that had to find out for themselves what it meant to risk and fully put your faith in Jesus. Jesus wants to hear our cries for help. He is there to hold out his hand and help keep our head above the water. What are you going to bring to Jesus today?

Jesus Feeds

5th Century Byzantine mosaic in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes. Tabgha

August 2, 2020

Matthew 14:13-21

Once the wheels of the plane hit the runway at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv, everything seemed to come at me pretty fast. Thankfully, I was able to get some sleep on the plane and was not feeling too tired as we hit the ground running in the Holy Land earlier this year.

The sun had mostly set as we pulled up to our hotel in Tiberius that first night. Tiberius is on the Sea of Galilee, where many of Jesus’ teachings takes place, like our lesson this morning. Waking up the next morning to look out to the Sea of Galilee was an incredible site and only held a glimpse of the sights, sounds, and smells of the trip to come.

There is a relationship with food among the people in Israel and Palestine and there was never not enough food to eat. I can imagine a similar spread for Jesus as he walked into someone’s home as they greeted him and were honored to have him in their home. This morning though, it is Jesus that feeds. Jesus invites the 5000 that have gathered to hear him preach to sit and stay awhile and be nourished, not only in the Word that he shares, but also in the meal of broken bread and fish that is to be shared with all.

It is reminiscent of the words that we heard this morning from Isaiah, “Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price” (Isaiah 55:1). The God that the Israelites encounter after exile reminds them of the great abundance provided. This same abundance is revealed by Jesus breaking the bread and providing fish for all to eat.

The location on the Sea of Galilee where this miracle occurs is remembered at the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha. You can stand at the entrance of the church and look out to the right at the Sea of Galilee. The current church was built in the early 1980’s but within it are some beautiful mosaics that date back to the 5th century. There was a stillness to the sea while I was there and while in Capernaum, a little further northeast of Tabgha, we had the opportunity to celebrate communion along the shore of the sea.

Breaking bread with one another and having a meal does a lot to create friendships and bond relationships. There is a mystery at work at the communion table when we come together and when that is missing, we long for it. Let us not forget, God is still present at out dinner tables as we sit down with family and enjoy a homecooked meal. There is an abundance of love that can come out of these settings and something to be cherished.

Unfortunately, it is easy to focus on the scarcity. Do we have enough? When will we have enough? How long will what we have last? The disciples in our gospel lesson were also concerned that there was not enough. They want Jesus to send the 5000 off to the surrounding villages because they do not have enough food to feed everyone. And Jesus’ reply to them was, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” Jesus knew what he was going to do, and he wanted to instill the same faith in the disciples, because they were quick to want to send everyone away. There is an abundance around them that they did not see. Out of the five loaves and two fish that they presented to Jesus, which seemed like a scarce amount to feed 5000, there is an abundance of leftovers. Twelve baskets in all, we are told.

The abundance is not only met in the food, but in the community. When we cannot meet in community at this time, we are left looking around and it seems that things are scarce. Yet, God is present and makes God’s presence known to us in new ways. We have learned to be community is different ways, maybe not necessarily better, but ways that still connect us and can feed us. It is the Word of God at this time that feeds us as we wait and anticipate a joyous reunion. Just maybe, we are right where we need to be at this time. God has invited us to stay and sit for a spell so that we can live in the presence of Christ and open our hearts to him. Hearts that are hurting right now because of uncertainty. Hearts that long to hug our neighbors. Hearts that are imprinted with the very love of God.

Jesus has come to feed us. He knows what we need in this time and place. Are you ready to receive it and be nourished in his refreshing grace?