Eating Jesus

August 16, 2015 Leave a comment

Pentecost 12 / Lectionary 20, Year B.
Text: Prov 9.1-6; Eph 5.15-20; Jn 6.51-56

From July 26-August 23, the Lectionary follows one long story in John’s gospel. These 6 Sundays are often called the “Bread Sundays” because the story they follow begins with Jesus feeding the 5000 by the Sea of Gallilee and records his following discourse in which he says “I AM the Bread of Life.” This year, during the Bread Sundays, I have the opportunity to preach twice, so I decided to use the text as a jumping-off point to talk about some of our practices and beliefs surrounding the sacrament of Holy Communion.


If we kept reading, we would hear Jesus ask, “Does this offend you?” Does this make you sick, gross you out? If it doesn’t, maybe it should: it’s graphic, it’s vivid, it’s disgusting. What do we know that eats flesh? Predators like lions or wolves, scavengers like vultures or coyotes. What do you think of when you think of drinking blood? Probably vampires, mosquitos, or ghouls. These are not pretty images. Jesus is being intentionally shocking, disgusting for a purpose. But why? Maybe it’s to make sure we are paying attention. Read more…

Why We Do What We Do

August 2, 2015 1 comment

Pentecost 10 / Lectionary 18, Year B.
Text: Ex 16.2-4, 9-25; Eph 4.1-16; Jn 6.24-35

From July 26-August 23, the Lectionary follows one long story in John’s gospel. These 6 Sundays are often called the “Bread Sundays” because the story they follow begins with Jesus feeding the 5000 by the Sea of Gallilee and records his following discourse in which he says “I AM the Bread of Life.” This year, during the Bread Sundays, I have the opportunity to preach twice, so I decided to use the text as a jumping-off point to talk about some of our practices and beliefs surrounding the sacrament of Holy Communion.


 

After Jesus fed the 5,000 by the sea, the crowds went looking for him. Today they catch up with him on the other side of the sea, across the water from where they ate the bread, looking for more food; but when they find him, Jesus offers them a different kind of meal. What they don’t get is that the food which Jesus offers is so much more than just bread. Sometimes we don’t get that, either. Every week, we gather here in this place to partake of this meal, a meal that seems so pitiful: just a tiny bite of bread and a small sip of wine. As we spend these few weeks listening to Jesus try to help this hungry crowd understand what it means to be fed with the Bread of Life, I thought it might be helpful for us to reflect on this as well.

Obviously, we know that this is not the same kind of meal as when we gather around the dining room table eat out at a restaurant. Even the youngest among us know that this meal is something different than what we do three times a day at home. What sets this meal apart and signals that it is separate and different is the liturgy, which literally means “the work of the people.” The liturgy—the things we do in this space and at this time—are a sign to us that this is no ordinary meal, but that something special is happening here. Our whole worship service is built around this meal, to help us recognize what the crowds could not.

Because the liturgy is so old, it can sometimes be a bit esoteric. We go through the motions, saying the words and singing the songs, without really knowing what we are doing or why. Read more…

Don’t Feed the Trolls

July 5, 2015 Leave a comment

Pentecost 6 / Lectionary 14, Year B.
Text: Ezek 2.1-3.3; 2 Cor 12.2-10; Mk 6.1-13

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t feed the trolls”? It’s internet lingo; it doesn’t refer to the ugly, hairy monsters that live under bridges, but rather to the ugly, hairy monsters that live in the comments section of blog posts and social media. There are certain people who, either intentionally or unintentionally, seem to take everything you say out of context and put the wrong spin on it, and argue against you for bad reasons and with bad logic. Engaging them only leads to frustration. Hence, the popular proverb of the internet age is: “Don’t feed the trolls.” Don’t engage the people who aren’t out to have an honest, open conversation; save your energy for one of the many people who are actually looking for valid discussion or debate based on reason and respect.

I like this modern-day proverb because it applies to more than just the context for which it was created. Trolls do not just live on the internet. Sometimes they pop up in our workplaces, our communities, even our churches. We’ve all had those conversations at a party or at the office with someone who simply will not listen to reason, but who takes the opposite view simply, it would seem, to be antagonistic. What do you do? “Don’t feed the trolls.” Smile and nod, walk away.

To my modern ear, that is one of the lessons learned from our gospel reading. Mark’s gospel was originally written to a small Christian community. In order to grow, they had to invite others in, but those others often declined the invitation. What should the Church make of these people who did not accept Jesus’ message of repentance? Read more…

We’re All in the Same Boat

June 22, 2015 1 comment

Pentecost 4 / Lectionary 12, Year B.
Text: Job 38.1-11; 2 Cor 6.1-13; Mk 4.35-41

This sermon was never given. As such, it is a bit rougher than most of my sermons that I post, as I usually edit them as I deliver them. This was the original sermon I intended to preach on Sunday, June 21, but in light of the shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, I gave this sermon instead. Nevertheless, I felt that these words were important to share as they speak to the situation of the Church in our time, and offer its people some wisdom and hope in the midst of uncertainty. 

This story of Jesus calming the storm is near and dear to many of us. It is a reminder that, whatever storms might arise in life, they are no match for the power of God manifest in Jesus Christ. Though the storms of life may rage, with Jesus in our boat, we will make it safely through.

This story comforts us by reminding us that the great power of God, who laid the foundations of the earth and commands the wind and the waves, is on our side. God loves and cares for us, and this is good news. Nevertheless, I’m not comfortable leaving the story at that. To only interpret the story in this way suggests that the immense power of God over creation is the same power God wields on our behalf when our jobs are stressful, when we are up late at night worrying about bills, and when we lose our car keys. I would love to say that I am convinced that even in these things, God is constantly at work to make our lives better; but I’m not convinced. In our world, people still get laid off, they still go bankrupt, they still can’t find their keys. Does that mean that God doesn’t love them, or that God has chosen for some unknown reason not to act? Read more…

Something Must Change

June 21, 2015 1 comment

Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Pentecost 4 / Lectionary 12, Year B.
Text: Job 38.1-11; 2 Cor 6.1-13; Mk 4.35-41

I had a nice sermon prepared for Jesus calming the storm. I’ll still post it if you’re interested, because I think it was good. However, I can’t give that sermon today, not with what happened in South Carolina this week. We need to talk about Charleston not because it’s trending, not because it happened in a church, but because it’s clear that this is a problem we are not handling.

If you are familiar with the book of Job, you know it is a story about a righteous, God-fearing man who is very prosperous. He loses everything, and his three friends come to comfort him in his grief. They do this admirably—until they open their mouths. Most of the book is Job and his friends going back and forth, postulating why God has caused this terrible misfortune to come upon Job. The passage we hear today comes toward the end of the book when God shows up in person (so to speak) and scolds all four for presuming to have knowledge equal to God’s. Where were they when God laid the foundations of the earth? The point of the book is that no one can know why misfortune happens, or why God acts; only God knows.

But that isn’t true this week. We know exactly why the shooting in Charleston happened. This was not an act of God, but the act of a person poisoned by hatred. In the coming days and weeks, we will hear pundits and politicians and spokespeople and all manner of well-meaning citizens of this country reflect on this tragedy and give their interpretation of what the problem is and how to fix it. I will not be talking about any of the things they will be talking about, because as well-meaning as all those people will be, they will not be talking about the root of the problem. The real problem here is sin, and specifically our misunderstanding of it. Read more…

A House Divided, A Family United

June 7, 2015 1 comment

Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Pentecost 2/Lectionary 10, Year B.
Text: Gen 3.8-15; 2 Cor 4.13-5.1; Mk 3.20-35

I love the book of Genesis for its humanity. You don’t have to believe that Adam and Eve were literally the first people created to see that they represent us all. In today’s story, we can see ourselves in them so clearly. When confronted with what they’ve done wrong, the first thing they do is point the finger. “Yes, I ate, but the woman, whom you gave me, she gave me the fruit.” Adam manages not only to blame his wife, but also God for his own disobedience. Eve, without anyone else to throw under the bus, blames the snake. Change the names of the characters and this could be a story running on CNN or Fox News right now rather than from a thousands-year-old religious text. This is what we do: when we are threatened, we look for someone to blame.

That’s why I love Genesis. It is a written record that for as much as we have grown and advanced over the course of human history, we are still fundamentally the same, and that sameness is why we still need God. What Adam and Eve both do in this story is called “scapegoating.” The idea comes from Leviticus; every year, the people of Israel would take a goat and ritually place upon it all their sins and disobediences, and drive it into the wilderness. As it wandered away, it would take all their guilt with it. The trouble with scapegoating is that it is exactly as effective as you think it would be. Adam blames Eve, Eve blames the snake, but in the end, the consequences are the same. The fruit has still been eaten, God’s commandment has still been broken, and paradise is still lost. Read more…

Leaving the House

May 24, 2015 1 comment

Delivered at Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. Pentecost, Year B.
Text: Ac 2.1-21; Rom 8.22-27; Jn 15.26-27, 16.4b-15

Holidays are not celebrations of historical events. Thanksgiving is not just about Pilgrims landing in Massachusetts, but a time to remember what we are thankful for. Independence Day is not just a commemoration of our nation’s founding; it’s a celebration of our continued independence. It’s the same with the holidays of the Church: Christmas is not the birthday party for one baby born in a stable, but a celebration of God’s intimate presence with us. Easter is not about one man walking out of a tomb, but rather God’s continual promise of resurrection for us that is fulfilled in our own lives daily. Pentecost is not an observance of that one time the Holy Spirit made a bunch of guys speak in different languages; it is a celebration of her continued work in our own lives.

I say “her,” because even though the Holy Spirit is neither male nor female, that’s how she’s called in the Bible. The word used in scripture means “spirit,” but also “wind” or “breath;” in Greek, the word is is pneuma, (from where we get our word “pneumatic”) and it is gender neutral; it’s an “it.” But in Hebrew, the word is ruach, and it is feminine, a “her.” Stories of God show us that God relates with us intimately, and in English, calling God “it” doesn’t give us that sense of intimacy, so when I talk about the Holy Spirit, I say “she.”

I think this story of Pentecost testifies to two truths about our existence as the Church. The first is that, like those first disciples, we naturally tend to want to stay together in the house. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s where we’re comfortable; it’s what we know. The early Church gathered in houses to worship God, share Holy Communion and recount stories of Jesus. When Luke tells us that these people were together in a house, that’s what he wants us to imagine they were doing. It makes sense: this is the last place we saw Jesus, so to speak, so we keep coming back here—this is where his presence is strongest for us.

This candle—called the Paschal (or Easter) candle—represents the presence of Christ. On Easter Vigil, we lit it in anticipation of his resurrection from the grave, telling stories of God’s deliverance throughout history. It has remained lit during the season of Easter to signify Jesus’ resurrected presence among us. However, today we will extinguish it, acknowledging that he has ascended to heaven and is not physically with us anymore. It’s a sobering reminder of what we are missing. Read more…

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 55 other followers