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?

A Patience for JEsus

July 26, 2020

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

I know that we have each found our own unique ways to respond to the current pandemic that we find ourselves. Many people have taken up crafts that had long been put outside. Others have been seeking their inner musical abilities. Personally, I have been more consistent in playing and practicing the ukulele. It is fun and even a bit relaxing, other than when learning to make those awkward transitions between certain chords. Don’t look for me to lead music in worship anytime soon!

There is one thing that I have thought about doing during this time of quarantine and social distancing but have yet to follow through. My family loves sourdough bread and it seems that one of the trends of this quarantine has been to begin a sourdough starter. However, reading just the instructions can seem a little daunting. It requires patience as it requires daily attention for at least the first week. What if I want a slice of sourdough now?

In this morning’s gospel lesson, Jesus teaches in several parables, one right after the other. One such way to look at these parables is in a manner that Jesus is trying to instill a sense of patience among his followers. Just like there is patience required in making a sourdough starter, the kingdom of heaven does not come immediately and usually requires patience as we listen for God’s guidance in our life.

In the parable of the mustard seed, the seed grows into a large tree to provide shelter for the birds of the air to take rest and be renewed. This tree does not grow overnight though, and it requires patience. In the parable of the yeast, the woman mixes it in with flour and must wait for the bread to leaven. Thus, a need for patience as one waits for the bread to rise.

In the parable of the hidden treasure, the person sells all his possessions to buy the field that contains the great treasure. This does not happen over night and it requires patience once again. It is not much different from the parable of the pearl where the merchant spends who knows how long looking for this one pearl of great value and when he does, sells all he has to buy it. In both of these parables, they persevere with patience as they know that once they find what is treasured and valued, it will last. It is like the kingdom of heaven.

I wonder, why does Jesus rattle all of these parables off? Shouldn’t one simple teaching be enough? Jesus knows us though. And I mean, he truly knows how to speak to our hearts and what makes them sing. I believe that it is hope that one of the many parables he teaches about the kingdom of heaven will catch within our hearts so that we may continue to share that same good news.

The parables may seem difficult to comprehend, but so is the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven disrupts. It afflicts the comfortable, rattles cages, and turns over tables. The kingdom of heaven is not about business as usual but is still about a new economy of God’s justice that doesn’t make sense to the way of the world.[1]

In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he reminds us that nothing will get in the way of God’s love for us and all of humanity. Do we sense that love all the time? No. Sometimes, it appears empty and we are left waiting. We can learn patience from the parables and a sense of comfort, that as we wait patiently, the kingdom of heaven is drawing near.

That same patience can be utilized today as we long for life to get back to normal. Or at least a new normal, where all seems right in the world. There are some teachings of value that we will bring into the future, in our lives, in our community, and in the church. There are also some new teachings that we will learn along the way that will guide us into a new normal. Our gospel lesson concludes this morning with Jesus saying, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”

God is continuing to work and reveal a new creation in our very being. A creation where all things are made new and the kingdom of heaven reigns on this earth.

[1] Pulpit Fiction,

Be Good Soil

July 12, 2020

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

You could say that Sam did not know any different when he was growing up.

It was not unusual for him to come home from school and see at least one person passed out in the house from drinking or to find illegal drugs spread out on the kitchen table. As he became a teenager, this is what he knew. This was the environment that he was raised, and he witnessed his grandparents doing drugs as well as his parents. It should not really be all that surprising that for his fifteenth birthday, he received a bag of methamphetamine.

I would meet Sam several years later as he came in front of the panel for entrance into the Methamphetamine Court, where he could be given the opportunity to enter recovery. He was being housed in the same correctional center as a parent and a grandparent. I was serving as a clergy representative and had no vote in whether he could enter the program but was present to provide spiritual support.

The question was, did he have the desire and willingness to sow in good soil?

In our gospel lesson this week, Jesus shares the parable of the sower. One that many of you have heard before. Jesus continues to stick with these agricultural parables because that is what is familiar to the people of 1st century Israel. It is an agrarian economy, and Jesus speaks to the people in a language in which they will understand. He is also not afraid to turn everything upside down to show that the current teachings of the authorities may be a little off base.

Now, I am not even going to pretend that I know anything about agriculture, because I could be quickly called out by some of our members. However, I am sure that we could all agree that Jesus’ discussion of the farmer scattering seeds is haphazard. Wouldn’t you want to plant the seeds in the good soil where you know it is going to root and have the best chance of survival? It would be wasteful to just throw seed to the birds or in the rocks.

Jesus goes as far to say that in the good soil you could have a 100-fold return. A farmer in 1st century Israel would be ecstatic if this happened because it would mean that they could probably retire to a nice lake house on the Sea of Galilee.

The farmer is not that precise in his planting though. The farmer scatters seed throughout the fields, no matter the condition of the soil. Yes, the good soil will produce the most, but just maybe one of those seeds will take root somewhere else and have an incredible impact. Perhaps the bird that eats the seed travels across the countryside and the seeds end up being deposited for someone in need after the birds had digested them. Sounds kind of like the gospel being spread!

We have that same opportunity to encounter the Word of God through the gospel anytime we open scripture. It is the Word of God that nurtures the soil in which we choose to take root. Now, lets be realistic. Not all of us have had that opportunity to be nurtured in the good soil that Jesus speaks of. Some of us may have grown up between a rock and a hard place as the saying goes. Some of us have had more more opportunities given to us than others. It can be dependent upon the environment in which we were raised, the financial means of our parents, and the color of our skin.

I believe that there is a great desire for the majority to want to live and be that good soil that Jesus speaks about in the parable. We want his teachings to take root and shape our lives so that others can encounter the same grace we have come to know. It is this hope that we share with our siblings that are stuck between that rock and a hard place.

Sam was one of those people. You could say that his environment was like the rocks where the seeds were scattered, and it was difficult for them to take root. This was the life he knew, and he did not know how to move beyond the drugs he had grown up with on the kitchen table. Yet, it was the hope of the court to provide him with the proper support and tools to move beyond the cycle of drugs his family had become accustom. We were offering to show him the way to the good soil and he had to choose whether his was ready to receive the love and grace that was so ready for him. It is a long road to haul, and it is not easy.

God’s abundance is available to all and once the kindom of God is fully here, it will not matter what soil we find ourselves in because God’s grace and love will wash away all differences. We are far from perfect and our soil is not always the greatest. However, Jesus invites us to let the soil and in turn us be nurtured by his welcome and love. In the meantime, how are you (a follower of Christ), and our community, welcoming people to see how rich and vibrant that good soil is?

Last Stop on the Z Train by Jason Storbakken

This collection began as stories that Storbakken would tell his children while riding on the New York Subway. They are fantastical and some of the stories are true creative genius. Others will also make you go, hmm.

I have never been on the New York Subway, but have ridden the trains in D.C., Chicago, and public buses in Columbus. I can imagine that one sees many different characters. It is these characters that help inspire the stories for this book. It is a great escape from the present and invites the readers to let all things go and enjoy these gifts to the reader.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review.

Apeirogon by Colum McCann

A fitting novel, especially in this time of continued struggles between Israel and Palestine and the talk of further annexation by Israel. My trip their earlier this year helped bring the book to life as I could picture many of the places that McCann writes about.

McCann weaves together a wonderful story based upon the true events in the lives of Rami, a Jewish Israeli, and Bassam, a Muslim from Palestine. Their lives come together as their young daughters are killed in the ongoing violence between factions. It is a story of how one can overcome death and loss.

Apeirogon is a beautifully written novel that leads the reader on a journey into the lives and struggles of families seeking peace and the end to occupation. The details that McCann writes invites the reader nto the timeline of the story as it spans the life of current day Israel. It is a must read!

The Green Good News by T. Wilson Dickinson

How do we connect God’s creation with with the thought of empire that seems to take the front seat more often than not in the world? This is nothing new, as Jesus came preaching about the exact same thing. Dickinson takes an in-depth look at what it means to truly follow Christ today and how we can live out the “Green Good News.”

Utilizing scripture and the radical way of Jesus, Dickinson leads the reader to look at scripture in new and exciting ways that brings it to the heart of the gospel. He is not afraid to call out the “empire” that we find ourselves today and states, “we must lose some of the “peace” and “prosperity” that the empire of wealth has promised.”

He includes an in-depth discussion on food-systems and how they have been shaped by the society live and how they are much different from what Jesus had in mind. This leads to the theology of sharing food at the table and the deep relationships it can create. This book would make a great addition to a church book study and shared among colleagues.

Thanks to Speakeasy for providing the opportunity to review this book.

Whole Identity by Dr. Jerome D. Lubbe

Just when you are wondering how many more books about the Enneagram can be written, Dr. Lubbe presents Whole Identity: A Brain-Based Enneagam Model for (W)holistic Human Thriving. While the Enneagram is centuries old, the recent rediscovery of it in the past century has led one to a deeper knowledge of the self and how one interacts with others.

Whole Identity looks at the Enneagram in a neurological way that can connect more people to the wonders of its ability to find one’s true self. Dr. Lubbe states, “The goal of this work is to foster physical, mental, emotional, and relational health for the purpose of spiritual well-being by increasing self-awareness and practical application via the Whole-Identity Model.” He explains the science and how it works within our brains and like the majority of resources on the Enneagram, he walks through the nine types of the Enneagram and presents a SWOT analysis on each one, along with some exercises to strengthen or get more in touch with that type.

This is presented much like a research paper, yet it is very easy to read and for those that have studied the Enneagram for years, could be a nice addition to one’s library.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review this book.

a riff of love by greg jarrell

Jarrell’s book, A Riff of Love, reads like a melodic tune that touches your heart and empowers you to reach out to others with love.

He speaks to what it means to be in a loving and caring community that has the best interest of all its members in consideration when making decisions. The chapters are arranged like different tracks on an album and to see community at work in the divine within those communities is moving.

His book is also a call to action to be in the community and be with those that live in the community. When writing of preparing for a funeral, he addresses the neighborhood and the churches role. He writes, “The Christians, they worship a dead man come to life on Sunday morning, but cannot bear to be with the dying and broken-hearted during the week. This is a Broken Windows Theology–in America, the churches do things to the poor, but they cannot bear being with the poor.”

What a call for us to come to terms with who we are as a church and even more so, a church in America. May we learn from Jarrell what it means to live in community through being the hands and feet of Christ.

Thanks to Speakeasy for the opportunity to review this book.

The universal christ by richard rohr

“How might the notion of Christ change the whole equation? Is Christ simply Jesus’s last name? Or is it a revealing title that deserves our full attention? How is Christ’s function or role different from Jesus’s? What does Scripture mean when Peter says in his very first address to the crowds after Pentecost that ‘God has made this Jesus . . . both Lord and Christ’ (Acts 2:36)? Weren’t they always one and the same, starting at Jesus’s birth?

And so Fr. Richard Rohr lays out his premise for one of his most transformational books yet. He says that he is slowing down and in the waning years of his life, however, his writing of the last few years has been an eye opening experience into his walk with Christ from the time he started the journey.

Some will say that Rohr encroaches on the edge of universalism in this newest venture, and yet, is that necessarily a bad thing? To encounter a loving God that loves all of creation, which God has created? While discussing other religions, his focus remains true to the Gospel and what Christ means to all of humanity through that lens.

I have been sitting on this book for some time now and not sure why I had waited so long to finally pick it up to read. Rohr brings his experience as a Franciscan Friar to the table in much of his discussion and he brings as greater understanding as to what it means to be Franciscan in the world today.

When we make Christ about us and how Christ interacts for us, we discount the greater world. The world is an entire ecosystem that is called to work together in harmony. Yet, that is where we fall short as humanity. Rohr states, “Unless we find the communal meaning and significance of the suffering of all life and ecosystems on our planet, we will continue to retreat into our individual, small worlds in our quest for personal safety and sanity. Privitized salvation never accumulates into corporate change because it attracts and legitimates individualists to begin with. Think about that.”

The reader is invited into a deeper reflection as to what God means and ultimately who Christ is in their life. It is an invitation that elicits prayer and meditation. It is an invitation that is much needed at this time in our society.