Friday, August 28, 2015

Friday Five: Go to the head of the class

Today's Friday five is from Deb

It’s Back-to-School time! Are you that A+ Student for life” or the King/Queen of Detention? RevGals want to know! We are all still learning (or re-learning) some kind of lessons!
Tell us about your learning edges in:
1. Reading: what’s in your “to-be-read” stack? Fiction? Church leadership? Commentaries?
I am currently reading the following:
Searching for Sunday by Racheal Held Evans
A faith of our own by Jonathen Merritt
For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

Out of the deep I cry by Julia Spencer-Fleming
Because of Mr. Terupt by Rob Buyea
Like a Fox by Rev. Judy Mitchell Rich

2. Writing: are you blogging? Journaling? Developing a new book proposal? Or just crafting sermons? Any excerpt you’d care to share? (We won’t grade your penmanship!)
I just finished a series of lessons for Advent/Christmas/Epiphany for my Denomination (Cumberland Presbyterian) 
I'm ALWAYS writing sermons, but I'm feeling a pull to write a book. Not sure how to go about it with a full time church, husband, and three littles aged 10,7,&4.

3. ‘Rithmetic: Family budget? Church budget? National debt? What are you discovering about yourself and your church/family when it comes to handling money?
I stink at managing money! I am overly generous and have often had to struggle to meet obligations.
4. Music: favorite new hymn or worship band?
No new favs in these categories. Not a big fan of worship bands and not really in a call where anything younger than fifty years is ever played or sung.
5. Detention: uh huh… If you were supposed to report for detention today, what would be the note on the slip?
Eating WAY off plan while the hubs is out of town caring for his very sick Dad. He is usually our cook and keeps us on track, but the four of us are not starving without him. We may be lacking in some of the food groups, but most defiantly not starving.
BONUS: Recess!
RevGals just want to have fun! What’s your favorite way to unwind?
I love to knit or crochet to unwind. However with the littles I wind up settling for reading.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Clean Hands or Clean Hearts

Sermon Based on Mark 7:1-23

How many times have you asked your children or grandchildren if they washed their hands before they sit down to eat? It seems to be a daily conversation in my house, and my kids get more and more exasperated the more that we mention hand washing. They know hygiene is important. They understand this whole germ-a-phobic thing, but they don’t really care, because they are too hungry!!
Our Scripture today starts out with a similar argument, at least on the surface. The Pharisees are yelling at Jesus because his disciples are eating with dirty hands.
Now, I’m not a fan of dirty hands myself, so this makes perfect sense to me. I’d probably have fussed too if James and Peter had propped their elbows up on my table without scrubbing first.
But this is not an argument about getting rid of germs. This is not a discussion about being dirty. This goes so much deeper than those things. This is an accusation of unworthiness, unholiness, unrighteousness.
Throughout the history of the Chosen people there have been laws about clean and unclean. There are clean and unclean foods. There are clean and unclean people. There are times when uncleanliness is for a day and times when it lasts for months or years. In fact much of Leviticus and Deuteronomy are spent explaining these holiness codes.
The people of God were called to be holy as God is holy. But what is Holy? Holy to us means set aside, other, and usually its used to describe ones personality, feelings, thoughts. But in these days holiness was an external thing. Something you had to prove, show outwardly on a daily basis.
The Pharisees believed that all Jewish people should abide by all of the Holiness codes. While these codes do not say that everyone is to wash before eating, they do specify that priests are to wash before eating meat, so that they may be pure. The Pharisees had taken this to the extreme claiming that everyone should be ritually clean before they eat.
Jesus seems to take a different view of this whole purity thing. As he does of so many things really. What matters more, clean hands? Or clean hearts?
Now chances are if you ask your mom this question before dinner she will send you quickly to the sink to wash up, at least this mom would. But we must remember that this cleanliness is not about germs or germ transmission.
To be “clean” meant that you were ready to worship God. You had set yourself aside. You were ready to be in God’s presence. If they had performed a ritual washing then they were no longer ordinary or eating with ordinary hands.
Or at least that’s what the ritual started out to mean. As most religious rituals the meaning had slipped away over time. It was no longer what the washing symbolized that was important, but the washing itself.
Think of the rituals we do in our worship services. And before you say “we don’t have any rituals, Pastor” think really hard.
The candle lighting (Carrying the light of Christ into our midst and following the light of Christ into the world)
Carrying in the cross (being led by the cross of Jesus to God and to the world)
Reading all 4 scripture lessons (God’s word is revealed in the New and Old Testaments)
Communion (In remembrance of Jesus)
Baptism (Being claimed as God’s Children)
Passing of the Peace. (Being a part of the body of Christ and acknowledging other parts of the body)
Each of these things has a specific meaning. We don’t just do them because we’ve always done them, because if we did than those things become idols rather than aids in worship.
Jesus points out that those who have become so focused on ritual have let their hearts become unclean, or distant from God. They have left the intent of the word and instead follow human tradition.
Ouch! Does that hurt anyone else here? It’s like the story of the pot roast. One day a young girl watches her mom make the Sunday diner pot roast and she asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast?” Her mom says “Because Grandma always did.” So the girl asks her grandma “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast?” and her grandma responds “Because my mom always did.” So the girl goes over to the great grandma sitting in a chair in the living room. She crawls into her lap and asks “Why do you cut the ends off of the roast?” Her great grandma smiled and said “Well honey, because I never has a pan big enough to cook it all.”
What had been a necessity became an unnecessary and wasteful ritual. Without knowing the reasons they were repeating irrational actions.
What Jesus’ accuses these leaders of doing is much worse however. In this passage Jesus says that they follow rules and rituals not because their hearts are close to God, but for personal gain. Jesus says that they have been known to claim that all they have is a gift to God, an offering so therefore they cannot help out their mothers and fathers. They cannot follow a commandment  “To honor and obey their parents” because in their own greed they have declared whatever they have extra should go to God.
On the outside it looks okay, but Jesus says the inside is where sinfulness hides. Would you rather have clean hands or clean hearts? He asks.
Jesus tells them that what goes into the body does not make it clean or unclean, or worthy or unworthy to come into God’s presence. After all, as crass as it sounds, what we eat doesn’t stay inside forever. Now, this is not a Biblical excuse to eat all kinds of Junk and abuse your body. All Jesus is saying here is that sin, the actions and thoughts that separate us from God come from within, not from outside of ourselves.
Since the heart is the center of one’s decision making process to turn your heart away from God or to have it filled with evil intentions is a grievous sin.
If your heart is full of these things, if you cannot show compassion, love, forgiveness, hope then it is in very poor spiritual condition. Each of the attitudes Jesus names in this passage “adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly; reflect a heart that has turned away from God. This sin will affect our relationship with others so it has personal and social consequences.
Jesus tells the Pharisees and us that we should stop worrying about our neighbor’s dirty hands and start looking at our own filthy hearts.
Instead of participating in the list of unholy behavior, perhaps we should focus on things that will help us continue to clean and renew our hearts.
Things like prayer, confession, reconciliation, Sabbath Keeping, Tithe and offering giving, public worship, service work, hospitality and forgiveness.  These things will help us to see God in our midst, to recognize God’s presence in the world.
By focusing on these things we can begin again to show the world God’s loving plans for humanity.
Rituals for rituals sake are meaningless at best, and intentionally harmful at worse. May we worry less about traditions and more about sharing God with those in need. May we worry less about clean hands and focus on having clean hearts.


Sunday, August 16, 2015

A sermon on Time, time , time

This Sunday's sermon is one that my husband wrote and as I had a crazy week with the wedding of all weddings, I am using with a little editing of course!
Ephesians 5:15-20
Have you ever talked with someone who has had a near death experience?  Nearly everyone who has lived when they should have died will say that through their experience they have learned to put into perspective what really matters in life.  This unexpected brush with death has helped them understand that those little things in life that are such a big deal aren’t really that important.
What is really important is a question that we all wrestle with? There are those little situations that come up all of the time, like those little messes that someone else makes and we have to clean up.   Is that little mess as important as a lifelong friendship?  Or what about that messy bed that our kids can’t seem to make up, is that messy bed as important as showing your children the depth of your love for them?  Then there is my favorite that nearly every one of us has had an issue with, is the toilet paper not coming off the roll properly as important as proper communication with our spouse?  In each of these situations what is really important?
But these are not the only situations that we have to put into perspective. Is that lazy coworker really as lazy as we think or are they just not doing what we think they should do?  Is the new dress code really as important as having a job that provides for our needs?  Are those few extra hours at the office as important as quality time with our family?
Work and home aren’t the only places that get out of focus.  What about our spiritual lives?  Is that must have as important as returning to God what is God’s through our tithe?  Is that TV show we have to watch as important as our quiet time with God every day?  Is the building we worship in really as important as the ministry contained within its walls?  Is the method of worship really as important as the act of worship?
At times our lives can get out of perspective and we have to pause, reflect and refocus.  With all of this in mind let us then consider our text for today.  In our text this morning Paul advises us to "make the most of the time".  Paul was convinced that the Lord would return during his lifetime, so he worked tirelessly to spread the good news of the Kingdom of God. He understood that time is a gift, that our lives are like a canvas on which God can paint beautiful pictures. So he urges us to make the most out of the chances that we get to do something right in this life. 
The Greek word used here for time is the word kairos.  The word kairos is a word that is used in ancient Greek when referring to a significant moment, or an unexpected opportunity or a critical turning point in one’s life.  There’s a different word in Greek chronos that’s normally used when clock or calendar time is intended.  Chronos time is something we use to mark time passing, kairos on the other hand is heart time; the time when the ticking of the clock doesn’t matter; it is quality time.
These two words are important to remember when trying to put those little things in life in perspective.  Paul was speaking to Christians who lived in Ephesus, in the midst of a pagan culture in a time where he believed that Christ was coming back soon. Because of this Paul was urging his listeners to keep things in perspective and make the most of their opportunities to tell others about the power of Jesus. The neighbors of the Christians in Ephesus weren’t very open to hearing the gospel. So Paul advised the Ephesian Christians to make good use of what few opportunities they have to share Christ.
We are called to do the same.  While our culture may be different from that of the Ephesians there is no shortage of opportunities to tell others about the gospel.  But there is a problem; we are not doing a good job of taking advantage of those moments when they arise. We can get so caught up in the chronos of our day that we don’t take advantage of our kairos.  Likewise we don’t do a good job of managing our kairos so that we can take advantage of our chronos.
If Paul were writing today, he might have rethought the matter of kairos and told us instead to use our chronos wisely.  In these few brief verses this morning he is teaching us how to put things in perspective, and make better use of our time so that we may be able to live life full and abundantly and in our text this morning Paul gives us the blueprint for accomplishing this.  
First Paul warns us against being foolish. "Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish. To be “foolish” in the Jewish tradition means throwing away the chance for salvation.  When we let those little things get out of focus we are throwing away our chance for salvation.
Jesus had something to say about those who were wise and those who were foolish. ASny one remember the story in Matthew 7:24-27about the wise man and the foolish man who built houses? (A house built on the sand will fall when the storms of life approach)  This can happen to us if we are foolish, this is why Paul warns us against being foolish. 
Paul continues in Verse 17 when he says, "So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." The opposite of being foolish is understanding the will of God. If Christians are to be different from the rest of the world, we have to know "what the will of the lord is." We have to know what is pleasing to God. The "will of the Lord" is the standard for all Christian behavior. Since we have so little time, let's live every day oriented toward the will of God.
Next Paul says that Christians are not to live like pagans who get drunk to induce a religious experience; rather they are to enjoy the ecstasy provided by the Spirit of God. The Christian, then in a sense, is to be “drunk,” not with wine but “with the Spirit,” as the believer is to “be filled with the Spirit.”
We are to do these things because every day is a gift from God.  When we view every day as a gift, we have a new appreciation for living "in the Spirit." This should result in singing, making melody and giving thanks. These activities are not isolated, personal experiences, but community events. Living in the Spirit will help us put into perspective those little things.  Living in the spirit will result in a life filled with worshipping God daily.
It is no accident that Paul emphasizes the importance of thanksgiving in worship. The natural outpouring of the Spirit-filled Christian is "giving thanks to God the Father." The Christian lives in a constant state of thanksgiving, giving praise to God for what God has done.
We have so few opportunities to create something beautiful. Every moment counts.    We need to watch out, take advantage, stop doing that which can distract us, and make the most of all of our chronos and kairos time.  We need to make sure we don’t squander our time with the seductive evils of the world that destroy both body and soul. Instead,  we are to seize the moment, redeem the time of our living, and center our time in worship singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among ourselves, giving thanks and praise to God at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." 
The Christian faith is a way more than it is a law. It is a lens giving vision, rather than a fortress providing security. It is a mantle of identity, rather than a manual of operations. This Christian faith is rooted in a relationship and not a rule. In addressing the fast paced, multicultural materialistic world of first-century Ephesus, Paul makes it clear that Christian living must be distinctively in the world but not of the world.
This relationship with a living God must be given a time and a place of its own so that the weeds and tangles of secular living don’t strangle and destroy the Spirit. And what is the most distinctive behavior in this lifestyle?
It is worship. It is taking the time and finding the place to acknowledge that which is ultimately worthy. It is taking the time and finding the place to offer praise and thanksgivings, to experience wonder and awe, to sink into the rich soil of God’s grace, to allow the water and warmth of the Spirit to nurture us and grow us in God’s image. When we worship we change, we learn to look at the world from God’s wide perspective, rather than from the narrowness of our own. 
Paul’s point this morning as he summarizes the Christian life is this. Christian faith is distinctive at times separate from the world, so that it can then be used to infiltrate the world with Holy Spirit. The distinctive Christian language is the language of praise and thanksgiving. The distinctive Christian ethic is the ethic of holiness. And distinctive Christian time is time full of God and not full of self. 
I close this morning asking you to imagine with me that there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening it deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do?
Draw out every cent, of course!!
Each of us has such a bank. Its name is TIME. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day's deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the "tomorrow." You must live in the present on today's deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today.
To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade.
To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby.
To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper.
To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet.
To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train.
To realize the value of ONE SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident.
To realize the value of ONE MILLISECOND, ask the person who won a medal in the Olympics.
Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time. And remember that time waits for no one. You’ve heard the saying:
Yesterday is history ...
Tomorrow is mystery ...
Today is a gift ...
That's why it's called the present!!
Paul says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.”  Let us as we end our service this morning and pay closer attention to our chronos and kairos, let us seek to reconcile with those whom we have hurt here in the church, let us be careful, let us make the most of our time, let us not be foolish, let us seek the lord in prayer seeking God’s will not ours, let us not get distracted, let us be filled with the spirit, let us sing songs, and let us give thanks.  Amen

Friday, August 7, 2015

Friday Five: blessed rest

Today's Friday Five is by 3dogmom

April 13, 2010
St. Mary’s Center, Sewanee, TN (photo by Anne Fraley)
I know that a number of our sisters in RevGal land are in need of rest, and would greatly benefit from some time away on retreat, or simply to escape the demands of the usual landscape. For today’s FF, let’s spend a little time considering the subject. Imagine getting away…………
  1. Tell us about a place (retreat center or other getaway spot) that offers especially good hospitality. What makes it so for you? My favorite places for hospitality have been cruises! I love getting on a ship and sailing away knowing that everything will be taken care of and I don't even have to make my own bed.
  2. Is there a ritual of renewal that you seek, or that you find especially helpful, while on retreat? (naps, reading, knitting, staring out toward a different landscape…) I love to knit or crochet and always bring a project along, but don't always actually work on said project! I love to read and the opportunity rarely presents itself in big enough time chucks in my real life, so I am slightly hermit like when I can get away. 
  3. Retreats/getaways often have a way of washing over us with its own gifts, no matter what we may seek from it. Tell us about a time that such a gift made a lasting impression. I recently helped lead a women's retreat for my denomination in Bowling Green, KY. We led the women through many prayer and mission stations throughout the two day experience. But for me the best moment came at the closing worship service. We were offering a renewal of baptism at the end of service. While this was going on a woman came and tapped me on the shoulder and told me that a young girl (10) who had been with us at the retreat wanted to be baptized and wanted me to do the baptism. I have known this girl for years, she is a friend of the family. She does not regularly attend a church and has tenuous connections at best to Christian community. I agreed to do so. I asked her the questions of baptism and then turned to the women present. These women were from all over the USA and I told them that they were her community. Her spiritual raising was in their hands. They covenanted to pray for her, to reach out to her, to check in on her. They promised to be her community even though many miles separate them from her. Hearing those pledges did my heart good!
  4. Imagine that a gift bag was waiting for you on your bed when you checked in for your time of sabbath. What would you like to find in it? An eye mask to make everything dark for rest. A new book full of laughter and tears. A pair of fuzzy socks. An assortment of tea bags.
  5. Besides a dessert buffet featuring chocolate, what is something you would love to see a retreat/getaway offer that is typically not part of such an experience? Daily massages and easy companionship
Bonus: You’ve been granted a weekend off, and the means of getting away is provided. Where would you like to go? To my parents home, because Adulting is hard!

Stop Acting like a Christian and Start BEING a Christian!

This is the rough draft of a sermon to be preached Sunday August 9, 2015.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
What do you want to be when you grow up?
It’s a simple question, one we start asking very young children and continue to ask until they are sick of it! This week I’m sure many school aged children were asked that exact question. I know mine were.
Sometimes we ask because we want to be reminded of our own childhood dreams and innocence. Sometimes we ask to get a good laugh. Sometimes we ask because we can’t think of what else to ask a young child.
In my previous call as an associate pastor I was in charge of our Wednesday night children’s programing. At the beginning of the new school year we filled out posters that were “All About Me!” These posters had questions for the kids about their favorite food, book, bible story etc. and one space said “What do you want to be when you grow up?” The kids gave all sorts of answers, from astronaut to artist, from zoo keeper to ballerina. When I filled mine out to hang on the wall with the kids I answered that question as honestly as I could.
I put the name of a woman I admired in that congregation very much. I said “When I grow up I want to be just like Ms. Debbie.” Ms. Debbie is an amazingly loving and caring woman. She works diligently, she is faithful at personal and group bible study, she loves kids and Jesus and adults, even when they all are annoying! Ms. Debbie is who I want to be when I grow up.
Because, as the Young Adults and I talked about Wednesday night, adulting is hard y’all! Waking up each morning and realizing that if you don’t get the things done, they won’t get done is rough. Realizing that the buck stops at your wallet is painful. Being a grown up is not all it’s cracked up to be. And while we were discussing we decided that there are real grownups in our congregation that we’d like to be like when we finally really grow up. I’m not naming names, just pointing out that a lot of you seem to be doing things right!
In our passage from Ephesians today the author is telling the people what it will be like when they grow up spiritually. This is not to non-Christians, but to people who have publically proclaimed their faith and claimed their identity as children of God.
This is a letter to a group of new believers who now find themselves in the position of putting the rubber to the road in their new faith. No more lounging around in their sin, not really being aware of it. No more waiting for someone else to bring them nourishment, but getting up and participating themselves, feeding others while they are at it. It’s time for them to stop acting like Christians and start BEING Christians!
The first step in this process is to put away falsehood. This is much more than an admonishment to remember the “do not bare false witness” commandment. It is a statement of a way of living. Be authentic, be who you are. Be open and honest with one another. Speak the truth to your neighbor because we, as Christians, belong to one another and our truth will affect others truths.
But why would we risk that? Speaking the truth is risky at best! It’s often not considered polite and it’s a huge commitment. Speaking the truth is easy when what we have to say is kind or the same as everyone else, but when it’s different, when it’s not as acceptable, that’s when it gets tricky at best.
I’m not talking about telling a friend that the color of her new lipstick is not the best shade for her, or saying you like someone’s new car when you really think it is an ecological nightmare. I’m talking about real truth telling, the kind that can make or break relationships.
I’m talking about things like the day I sat down in my apartment that I shared with my little brother in college, surrounded by beer cans and strange people and told him “I can’t live like this, and neither can you. I’m calling Mom and Dad, because you need help.”
I’m talking about truth telling like when my 17 year old cousin came to me three months before my wedding in which she was to be a bridesmaid and said “I’m pregnant, I’d understand if you don’t want me to be in your wedding.” We together told her parents and my parents, and I said I needed her as a part of the wedding party, because she was loved by me and by God.
I’m talking about the hard truths, the ones we sometimes don’t even want to share with ourselves. These are the truths that we are to share with the body of Christ in hopes of building them up, not tearing them down. Stop acting like Christians and star BEING Christians.
Be angry, but don’t sin, are the next instructions from the author. Anger is something we are all too familiar with in our society. The anger and hatred that are spewed from televisions, Facebook, twitter, and people’s daily conversation is unbelievable. Anger is a normal human emotion, and it is one we cannot expect to never feel.
However, as maturing Christians how we handle that anger is important. Do not sin in your anger, do not hurt others, separate yourself from the community of believers, do not harm in anger. You are going to get mad, but don’t let it consume you, don’t let it take over, don’t let the sun go down on it, scripture says. Don’t give Satan that foothold in your life. Deal with the anger immediately. Don’t let it fester and get rooted in the community of faith. The reconciled community of faith must practice reconciliation with one another, especially when this emotion is raised and that reconciliation often begins with naming anger as anger and going forward from that naming.
Too often we let the anger simmer just under the surface rather than dealing with the actual offence. We’d rather let someone cool off then deal with their frustration, but being a part of the community of faith involves helping one another even in the midst of the emotional harm that can be experienced in anger or from anger.
The writer goes on to say that people should stop stealing. Okay, this one is pretty obvious isn’t it? Again it’s one of the top 10 no no’s of the faith. But the reasoning behind it is different. This isn’t just because stealing is wrong, or taking things that belong to someone else is not kind. The reasoning given is that if you are stealing, then you can’t help take care of other people! There is something inherent about being the people of God that includes caring for one another. If you are not supporting yourself, then you cannot support others in need. The work ethic itself is transformed into participation in Christ’s ministry.
No matter how little you have, don’t resort to taking from others, but instead focus on how you can help others. This is part of the heart of Christianity. T.D. Niles famously said “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” It’s not taking others bread and keeping it. It’s not buying all of the bread so that we never run out. It’s about offering to share even what little we have with one another.
At the women’s conference in Bowling Green I was introduced to a young homeless woman named Britany. Britany had lunch with a group of us at Jimmy Johns. She wasn’t sure what she wanted to eat and finally she came to the table with a long piece of day old bread and several packets of mayonnaise. She looked up at us and said “I’m you are ever homeless, Jimmy Johns sells day old bread for 50 cents and they don’t charge for mayo. It’s not a lot, and it will fill you up for a while.”
 She didn’t judge us for our excess, she didn’t lecture us on how many of her friends could be eating based on what we had spent for sandwiches and cokes. Instead, she offered wisdom and love to us, in case we were ever to find ourselves in her circumstances.
Her words built up the community of Christ. They were not malicious or hateful, but kind and generous. There was a truth in them that needed to be heard, an honesty that I’m sure was not easy to give.
Can you imagine if every Christian lived this way? Honest, open, vulnerable, without malice, speaking words of encouragement, lifting one another up? Making decisions not on what is best for me, but on whether A or B would allow us to do more good for those around us?
When we don’t do these things we grieve the Holy Spirit. Christianity is an ongoing encounter with the living, loving God in Christ Jesus. We Christians sometimes seem to forget that or at least to live into that. We seem to have forgotten the very incarnational nature of Christ!
If we are the body of Christ, if the Word was made flesh and dwells among us, then we are not called to merely worship God, but to put on the nature of Christ, to be imitators of Christ for the sake of the church and for the sake of the world which God loves!
Too often when we admire other people, look at people to imulate we don’t see the real them. We see a persona, a mask put on to show the world. Everyone has someone that they look up to, that person who seems to have it all together. But remember, you may be that someone to someone else.

When I grow up I want to be like Ms. Debbie. But really not like Ms. Debbie, but rather like the Christ that lives in Ms. Debbie. I want to love as Christ loves, to speak truth as Christ does, to build up as Jesus does, to offer forgiveness as Jesus does. In short, I want to stop acting like a Christian, and start Being a Christian.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Hunger John 6:24-35

John 6:24-35
The summer break is coming to a close and for some of us there is joy for others disappointment. I have found myself reviewing the events of the summer, what few I can remember in the quick way in which it has past. We will all be doing some reviewing of the summer, in fact of the year during our pot-luck later today.
This summer the girls have taken art lessons. They have painted, drawn, colored and sculpted. Most of these lessons have been at the Huntsville Muesem of Art. And what I have learned is that the museum of art is synonymous with ducks. Yes, you heard me correctly, ducks, and fish if we are going to get down to it.
Every time I took a child to the lesson or picked them up from the lesson they wanted to feed the ducks and koi. And usually we did just that. One particular day Zanna Wyatt and I stayed at the park throughout Sara’s lesson and walked around feeding every duck and koi we came across.
When we crossed over the koi bridge a mass of fish arrived at out feet before we even threw one piece into the water. Their little mouths came out of the surface desperately seeking food, Seeking their manna from heaven as it were; their daily bread.
They reminded me of the crowds in today’s Gospel lesson. 
Jesus has just fed the 5,000 men, not to mention women and children, and gotten on a boat with the disciples to head across. When the crowd realizes he has left they go in search of him. When they find him in Capernaum they ask “when did you get here?” 
A simple question, not too out of the ordinary, one I’ve asked others many times before. But Jesus’ response is very different. 
“You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
What ? 
Is Jesus really getting on to a group of hungry people because they are hungry again? Is Jesus putting them down for seeking after another meal in a food insecure society? 
I don’t think so. I think he is trying to open their eyes to look past their stomachs and see that the bread is more than just bread.
It reminds me of the preachers whose churches were across from each other on a road heading out of town. They placed signs in their church yards that said “Turn yourself around, the end is near.” Just as they finished putting the signs in the ground a man came driving by. He leaned out his car window and yelled “Get a life you religious nuts!” As his car went around the bend the preachers heard a big splash. One looked at the other and said “Well, do you think we should have just written Bridge Out?”
Its not about the sign, but its about what the sign points to: something else, something greater. 
The feeding of the 5,000 was supposed to point people toward something more, toward a greater understanding of God and God’s love for us. The bread was not the end game! It was the appetizer!
The crowds are short sighted, can’t see past their stomachs. But before we judge, how often are we the same?
How often have we seen God’s goodness and mercy poured out and asked for more, rather than thanking for what’s been provided? How often have we grabbed our nourishment like a fast-food Christian; expecting the grace of God to be handed out on our terms on our time table at a price we deem worth paying?
The crowds ask “What work of God can we do to earn the bread that fills forever?” and Jesus says “Believe in him who has been sent.”
This word is not what they were expecting. Its not what we expect when we seek God’s nourishment in times of spiritual and physical hunger. Believe.  Trust, rely upon, put faith in, acknowledge as a reality that Jesus was sent by God and then, live it! This is what Jesus asks the crowd and us to do. To really live into our faith, not just when our bellies are full, not just when we can see where we are headed, but all of the time, believe.
Here are these crowds who have already seen a sign from God asking again for another one, to Prove Jesus is the real deal. “Our ansesters ate manna in the wilderness. Moses gave them bread from heaven. “
You can hear them saying “Moses fed them every day, but here we are hungry. Every day Moses offered them food. You’ve only fed us once.”
Jesus reminds them, it wasn’t Moses who fed but God! God sustained the Israelites in the wilderness. God who offered daily bread, daily provision. And certainly the manna kept the people fed, but it too was a sign! It was a sign that God would be faithful in God’s love and commitment, even when the people groaned and complained against God. God showed love no matter what!
And times haven’t changed all that much have they? From the years in the desert, to the time of Christ, from the koi in the pond, to you and me. God still reaches out to meet us in the midst of our complaining and groaning, in the middle of our arguing and rebellious sinning, to offer us a physical sign.
Do you know what that sign in my friends? Holy Communion, the Lord’s supper, the Eucharist.
In communion Christ offers himself to us once more reminding us of his words “I AM the bread of life , the true bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.”
So does that mean that once we eat this communion today we will never be hungry again? No, of course not! What it means is that when we receive this bread we receive again the promise of God, that God will sustain us through life and even death!
Through this sign Christ becomes a part of us spiritually, physiclally, strengthening us to serve others in his name while we live this life, stergnthening us spiritually by reminding us that we are forgiven for our sins and made righteous in God’s eyes so that we might share in the resurrection to eternal life.l
Jesus shakes his head at the crowds and us, not because we are hungry, but because we haven’t learned to trust. It’s about trusting God to love us even when we are unlovable sinners. It’s about trusting that God will provide all that we need, truly need, in this life. It’s about trusting God to keep the promises made about forgiveness and eternal life. It’s about trusting God to really be in control. 
God’s provision is everywhere, if we only have eyes to see! May our eyes be opened, our spirits be filled, our faith secure. Amen and Amen.