9th Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, August 6, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
I think that maybe we would be a step ahead if we just listened to Jesusí parables instead of trying to explain them. If thatís true with parables, itís almost certainly true with Jesusí miracles. For indeed if we take one of Jesusí miracles weíre either going to be tempted to try to explain it away or turn it into some kind of object lesson and yet, the miracle stands on its own.
Nevertheless, weíve got this time together so, letís think about this wonderful miracle. For indeed the Jesus revealed in this story is that Jesus that we are all so in love with, the one that we are so attracted to. This Jesus is indeed full of love and compassion. This Jesus cares about the life of regular everyday people and this Jesus in this story has the power to do something, the power to do miracles and maybe more importantly than that, the Jesus in this story invites us to be a part of those miracles.
Herod executed John the Baptist. When Jesus hears about it he wants to go to someplace and be by himself. He wants to go and pray and think about what it is that is going on around him, so, he takes his disciples, they get in the boat and off they go across the sea. But the crowds who had gathered saw what they were doing and they so wanted to be with Jesus that they rushed around the lake on the outside so that when they came to rest, here was the crowd waiting for Jesus just as they had been when they had left. Jesus looked at the crowd and he has compassion for them. He was tired, he was upset, and yet, instead of sending the crowds away, his compassion and his love for them sends him out into the midst of them and he heals their sick.
Of course, the end of the day comes and time for them to sit and have some supper. And so, the disciples come to Jesus and they say, send them to the towns and villages to get something to eat. And Jesus says, we donít have to do that, you give them something to eat. Jesus, all weíve got is two filet of fish sandwiches, we have five loaves and two fish and there is 5,000 men and probably 5,000 women and who knows how many children.
Jesus takes their loaves of bread and their fish and blesses them and gives them to the disciples and they go out and start passing out the food and not only does everyone get a little bite but everyone is satisfied. When they go and collect up the empty pieces, they collect twelve baskets full. Jesus, filled with love and compassion, heals the sick and then he does this amazing miracle. He feeds 10, 15, 20,000 people with five loaves and two fish.
Here is where I really probably should shut-up and sit down. Of course, we start trying to explain what does it mean. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we were as people generally uncomfortable with miracles, so, we tried to explain all the miracles away with some kind of rational explanation. And so, at the end of the 19th and early part of the 20th century, we usually said, you know, what really happened was that the people saw the generosity of the disciples and they all pulled out the food that they had brought with them and shared it amongst themselves. Well, that certainly is a miracle to get people to share what they have. But thatís really not what this story is about.
The story says that Jesus took what they had and he made it not only enough, he made it more than enough. But the greater miracle, I think, is that he included the disciples in the miracle. Indeed, he took what they had and made that be enough. And maybe the greater miracle even than that is that he convinced them to even try, to take their paltry little 5 loaves and 2 fish and to go out into this great crowd and to share those gifts and trust that in Jesusí hand they would be enough.
If there is a lesson to learn it is that in Jesus hands what we have, what we can give, what we can do, it isnít just enough, itís more than enough. We donít have to try to figure out if the cans of soup that we bring for the food pantry will make a difference, but we can bring them and trust that in Jesus hands, they will make a difference in someoneís life. The money we share for world hunger or the things that we do to support social justice or to bring peace to the world, that when we follow Christ and share what we have, that in his hands it will be not just enough, it will be more than enough.
Over the last couple of years, a young man has come to visit us at the office every so often, and he is one of those that you really kind of like being able to help. His life has been a mess and heís been in every kind of trouble that you can imagine, but he is, he is trying so hard to get his life in order. And one day he came in and said, Pastor, I hate to ask but I need $20. So, I gave him the $20 and he kind of explained that he was going to take a test of some kind with it. Two days later he called me on the phone, Pastor Ed I went and took my CDL test and I got a job driving a delivery truck!
$20 bucks. Felt kind of bad that I didnít give him more. And yet, in Godís hands it turned out to not just be enough, but more than enough. It was enough to give him hope. It was enough to get him the job that he needed to turn his life around. It was enough to help me remember that in Godís hands what we have to share is not just enough, it is more than enough.
Enough to feed 10,000 people with two filet fish sandwiches. Amen.
The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
July 23, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
About 2:00 in the morning, one fall, I was called to the hospital. A young woman from the congregation had been admitted, and the chaplain asked me to come and see her right away. As I drove to Creighton Medical Center, I was trying to imagine what had happened to her, 2:00 on a Sunday morning, really still Saturday night, none of them could be good.
My apprehension increased when I asked at the desk for her, and was told that they couldnít tell me anything about her. I asked for the on-call chaplain and the receptionist dialed the phone and handed it to me. While I was waiting for the chaplain, a police officer came and asked who I was. I handed the phone back to the receptionist and told him who I was and who I had come to see, and that I had been called by the hospital chaplain.
The police officer spoke into his microphone and I was told to follow him. We went through the Emergency Room, through locked doors, which were being guarded by two more officers to what appeared to be a ďspecial emergency room.Ē And there was Maria.
But to be honest, I couldnít have told you that is who it was. You see Maria had been beaten so badly that she was unrecognizable. I will spare you the details of her injuries, it is probably enough to say that they were so severe that it would take months and many surgeries before she was able to leave the hospital, and the scars would never completely go away.
Maria had been beaten by her husband and two other women from that gang that he belonged to. Of all the evil that I have witnessed, or even heard about, this is one of the first images that comes to my mind. This poor, beautiful girl, beaten so very badly, unable to see, unable to be touched, with stone-faced police officers at the door, and detectives asking her questions while doctors and nurses were working to save her life. I am still unable to understand the brutality, the violence or the horror.
Is there such a thing as evil in the world? What I saw that early morning can be called nothing else. And that is, of course, the first thing that todayís lesson affirms for us. There is indeed evil in the world. This world is not the world God intended for it to be.
There is pain and there is suffering in this world, and it is real, not hypothetical or just the stuff of stories and movies, people do truly evil things, and people experience truly evil things. We donít have to look far to see the evidence of that evil, the evidence that the world is something less than what God intended for it to be.
The news each day is filled with examples of places where violence and war are bringing terror and destruction. The places where injustice and corruption are bringing pain and suffering to the innocent. The places where Godís creation and the bounty of Godís gifts are being misused and inequitably shared bringing poverty and ruin.
But it isnít just in the news of course, in our communities, and in our homes, and in our own lives, things arenít what we want them to be. Evil exists. And like the parable, sometimes it really does seem like an enemy has come in and sowed weeds into Godís beautiful and wonderful world, like an enemy has spread anger and hatred and jealousy and greed, indeed even disaster and disease.
Evil exists. We donít have to pretend it isnít there. We donít have to explain it away. Indeed, we donít even have to be able to explain where it comes from and why it is here, to be able to affirm that there is indeed evil around us, and that evil isnít and wasnít a part of Godís plan for us.
To be sure, God delights in making good out of evil. God transformed Jesus crucifixion and death into the very thing that defeats evil, but this text and most of scripture affirms that God doesnít will evil, or pain, or suffering. God doesnít want wars and pestilence. God doesnít want pain and suffering. God doesnít want disease and injuries.
Oh, if we could just pull up all those weeds! If we could strip all of the evil out of the world. If we could get rid of mean people and bigoted people, and if we could just be done with selfish and angry people.
It is tempting to want to pull up the weeds until we realize that we would indeed pull up the wheat with it, that in some ways and at sometimes even we are the weeds. But that isnít our job. It isnít our job to separate the weeds from the wheat, the good from the bad, or the righteous from the unrighteous.
It isnít our job to banish evil from the world, that is Godís job, and God has promise that He will indeed do just that. So, what are we to do? Just leave evil to run wild? No, indeed, we are called to love, to love our neighbors in their goodness and in their weediness, yes, to put up barriers to evil, to create cures for diseases and ways of warning about natural disasters.
Since we are free from the requirement to pull the weeds, we can indeed work for peace and justice in the world, and we can especially reach out with kindness and love, to all of those, even those who look particularly weedy, but to reach out in compassion to all of those who have been hurt by the evil in our world.
There is evil out there. An enemy has come and sowed evil into Godís good world, but in Christ, God has overcome that evil. It will not destroy us. God will indeed deal with that evil in due time. And because of that we are free to be as wheat-like as we can. We are free to love one another, and love God. Amen.
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 16, 2017 * Pastor Ed Foster
One of my earliest memories comes from when I was maybe four years old. My Dad and my uncle and my cousin Mark and I went on a camping trip. Now, cousin Mark was almost 10 years older than I was and he was kind of my hero. Mark was hip and Mark was cool and he knew all kinds of really neat stuff that four- year-old really needs to learn, things like how to properly bait a hook.
And so, we went camping and in the middle of one of the days my Dad and my uncle left Mark and I to fish by ourselves. The middle of the day and so the fishing wasnít very good and it didnít take long for Mark and I to give up and to decide that we were going to go and take a nap. So, we got into the tent and Mark asked me, Eddie would you like a snack? Well, yes, I would like a snack. So, we got into the groceries and there in the groceries we found three Hershey bars. This is a problem, Eddie, thereís only 3 Hershey bars but thereís four of us and when our Dadís get back, somebody is not going to have a Hershey bar. Letís eat them all.
And so, we did! That evening around the camp fire Uncle Jess went looking for the Hershey bars because we were going to have smores and we admitted that we had indeed ate them. Now luckily, Uncle Jess knew Mark and his sweet tooth, so we went to the pickup and out from under the seat he pulled a whole box full of chocolate bars, more than enough for all the smores that we would want. Markís solution at 14, a scarcity, was just to eat it all.
Todayís gospel lesson is another one of those tricky ones. Partly it is tricky because it starts out with a parable and be honest with you I am always tempted when one of the parables to just read it really well and have a few moments of silence for you to think about it and just to sit down and shut up. Jesus probably canít be improved on. But todayís is one of those tricky ones, so weíre probably going to have to say something about it.
It is tricky for a number of reasons. One of those, of course, is that we have heard this parable before and because we are familiar we may just think, oh, we know what it says and let our minds wander off onto other things. But it is also tricky because as you may have noticed they left out some verses in the middle and those verses that are left out in the middle are kind of important to making this make sense.
Big crowds started to follow Jesus, so, he goes down to the lakeshore and gets in a boat and he begins to teach them, but he teaches them in parables and he tells them this parable about a sower Ė a sower goes out and he sows his seed everywhere. He is a crazy sower, he sows it out in the field, but he also sows it in the rocks and on the path and in the weeds, he even sows it in front of the birds. He is a crazy sower, he just sows his seed everywhere.
But it is okay because that seed is going to produce 30-fold and 60-fold and even a 100-fold. Jesus and his disciples go back inside and the disciples come up to Jesus and they say, whatís the deal with all of these parables? You know people can make those parables mean whatever they want and you know if you would just speak plainly, maybe more people would believe in you.
And then he tells this second story, this explanation of the parable and in this explanation, he doesnít talk about the sower, he talks all about those different soils.
Thereís the rocks, the weed, the path and all of those things are obstacles to hearing God word and understanding it, but still, still in the hearts of those who hear Godís word it will produce a bountiful crop, a bountiful harvest, 30, 60, or even 100-fold.
Now here is why it is so tricky. The explanation doesnít say the same thing as the parable did. The parable talks about a sower who casts his seed everywhere. The explanation talks about the soil and why sometimes that seed grows and sometimes it doesnít.
It is, I think, particularly interesting to most of us because when we hear this parable or the parable and the explanation almost immediately, at least for me, my first thought is, which kind of soil am I? Am I the rocky soil? Am I the path? Or am I full of weeds? Almost certainly our initial reaction to this is am I good soil?
And the truth of the matter is that at different times and in various ways we are all those kinds of soils, arenít we? There are times when the worries of life get in the way of our faith. There are times when we are afraid and not able to share Godís love with the world in the way we would like to. There are times when outside forces Ė the Devil Ė comes and snatches our faith, indeed we are all often all of those kinds of soil. And we are also that good soil.
But all through it, there is that crazy sower who sows everywhere, sows it in places where you are sure it is going to grow, and he sows it in places where no one would think it would grow. That crazy sower sows his love and sows his grace, sows his kindness and mercy and forgiveness, sows so much that it will take root in us and it will grow.
So, sometimes we will be rocky soil or weedy soil, sometimes there will be birds, indeed sometimes we will be all of those kinds of soil, but the promise is that Godís word will take root and it will grow and we will produce 30 , 60 and 100-fold. Amen.
The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, July 9, 2017
Pastor Ed Foster
Iíve always felt this lesson rather difficult, how about you? It starts with this rather strange saying about flutes and mourning and ends with these beautiful words about those of us with carrying heavy burdens coming to him and finding rest for our weary souls.
Iíve heard this conversation and ones like it a hundred times over the years, more recently to be sure but variations of it are repeated every day around the country and world. You hear it in coffee shops and certainly on the internet. It is heard at kitchen tables and even around the water cooler.
The latest time I heard it was at the library while I was looking for a book in the stacks. A young man and woman were sitting at one of the tables with a computer opened in front of them. The young woman asked, ďHave you heard about the new religious scandal?Ē ďHasnít everyone?Ē he replied. ďI just donít get those Christians, they are so judgmental.Ē ďAnd hypocritical,Ē she adds. And he said, ďThatís why I donít believe in God. Christians think they are so much better than everyone else and are always trying to tell everyone else what to do.Ē The young woman replied, ďOh, I believe in God, I would be too afraid of going to hell not to, but I donít believe in organized religion.Ē
Iím not sure really what pained me most about the conversation. That the young man had given up his faith based on a stilted understanding of what the church is about, or that the young woman thought that faith was a way to stay out of the burning fires of hell. Or that once again it seems that the failings of Christians have prevented people from hearing the Gospel. Or that nowhere in their discussion, or I am guessing in their thinking about faith, did Jesus seem present at all. The song of the gospel, of Godís love and mercy, doesnít seem to have resonated with them at all.
Most commentators agree that the first lines of our lesson come from a saying that was common in the first century. We played the flute and you didnít dance, we wailed and you did not mourn. The gist of it is Ö we proclaimed this wonderful news to you, we came and sang the song of Godís word for you, and you didnít even notice.
John came proclaiming repentance and you said whoa there pardner, that is just too harsh, too radical, too extreme. And Jesus came proclaiming grace and forgiveness and peace and you said, look at the kind of people he hangs out with Ė tax collectors and sinners Ė you are too lenient, too liberal, too soft.
Jesus and John came proclaiming the word of God, playing their flutes and wailing, proclaiming the law and gospel, the good news of salvation, the good news of Godís love, and many people, maybe most people, wrote them off and ignored them.
Jesusí frustration, even his anger, seems to me to be over this. He has come with the most wonderful good news ever spoken and the very people who should be rejoicing, the ones who should have been terrified by John rather than offended by him, should be overjoyed by him, rather than writing him off as a liberal crackpot who loves the weak and lowly, the tax collectors and sinners.
He and John had played for them the music of Godís word and no one danced, no one mourned.
Do you every feel that way? Like we are singing a song in the church that no one else wants to sing? That they donít know the tune, and they donít like the words? Do you wonder if the message of the Gospel is still relevant to peoplesí lives? Do you fear that no one is listening?
I must admit that one of my great frustrations is how often I hear Christianity and the Christian faith described in terms that are completely foreign to me, how often what I think is the heart and essence of the Gospel is missing all together.
I donít believe in a God that is looking to smash the sinners and the unrighteous. I donít believe in a God that hates. I donít believe in a God that is angry. I donít believe in that God I hear so much about in the world. That isnít a song I am familiar with, and not one I want to sing.
And so, yes, I get Jesusí frustration. I understand how wearying it can be when you are proclaiming a message and it doesnít seem like anyone is listening. In fact, the one they are listening to isnít the real one at all.
And yet, even in his frustration, Jesus didnít give up. He sings another verse. Sing another verse. Donít give up on this world that God so loves. Call those who are weary, those who are carrying heavy burdens for Jesus yoke is easy and his burden is light.
Sing the good news of Godís love and of Godís forgiveness. Donít let the false messages and distorted versions of the gospel keep you living out your faith in your words and deeds. And indeed, when you are tired and weighed down, hear Jesusí call. Amen.