How Do We Feed These People?

fish_and_loaves

Food seems to have really hit its stride.

I mean, sure, people have always eaten, and people have always loved food, but there is a movement in America that keeps picking up steam.

According to Science Daily, 74% of U.S. adults enjoy talking about new or interesting foods, 76% of us purchase specialty foods – not for special occasions – but for everyday home meals, and 53% of adults regularly watch cooking shows on television!

But if you want proof : it’s not only the foodies. The average person now knows what quinoa is, for heaven’s sake!

All of a sudden, food is everywhere…even in our trashcans.

Because, unfortunately, even though we’re crazed for it, everyday a lot of our food gets thrown away.

A recent study from the University of Arizona in Tucson found that somewhere between forty and fifty percent of all food produced in our country never gets eaten.

Restaurants and groceries have surpluses that never sell but also on average, American households waste 14 percent of their food purchases.

Fifteen percent of products which are produced, sold, and taken home, are thrown away… having never been opened!

Friends, we live in privilege…

I am so privileged, in fact, that sometimes I see the need to eat as an interruption to my day. I don’t want to be bothered with food because I have more ‘important’ things to do.

AND I can only feel this way because, unlike so many less-fortunate people in our country, I DON’T FEAR hunger.

My guess is that MOST of us don’t know what its like to wonder WHEN we’re going to eat next, to wonder HOW we are going to get food, or to worry about our family’s health because of hunger.

But in the United States, in 2013, there were 49 million Americans who lived in food insecure households.

Of these 49 million Americans who live with food insecurity, 16 million are children.

They’re not TOO BUSY to eat.

They don’t have a choice in the matter.

And I imagine, for them, eating, every time, is a blessed event.

Maybe this story of Jesus feeding 5,000 people is so loved because it hits so close to our human experience. Food, hunger, eating – this is very human stuff – as human as it gets, really.

The story of Jesus taking five loaves and two fish and multiplying it to feed the hungry was one of the most loved and widest-told stories in the early Jesus movement.

We know this because it is THE ONLY miracle story, which Matthew, Mark, Luke and John ALL include in their account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.

It’s the time of the Passover, and people are coming out to see Jesus because of the signs he is performing and the people he is healing.

They’ve traveled far away from the city of Jerusalem, wa-a-a-ay out in something like the Goochland County wilderness and there are no restaurants, no grocery stores, and no food trucks in sight.

Jesus and his friends realize they have a problem unfolding before them: How will they feed all these people?

Phillip takes the rational course. He runs the data and finds it would take six months wages – perhaps more than 20 thousand dollars – to feed all these people and even then, they would have just enough to give them a bite of food.

Andrew is taking inventory of what they DO have. Only, they have so little – just five barley loaves and two fish – and that doesn’t seem like it will go very far.

So when they’re out of their own ideas and their own plans don’t seem to be adding up to much, they give what they do have to Jesus.

And Jesus takes what little they have, blesses it, and multiplies it, so that there is an abundance! All the many people are fed!

And, not only are they fed, but they are satisfied, and there are baskets overflowing with leftovers!!!

Brothers and sisters: Jesus will take what we have, whatever we have, even if it is a little, and when we entrust it to him, for his purposes, he will make it an abundance.

He won’t grant our every wish and whim just like he wouldn’t allow himself to be made king under their expectations.

But he will take the gifts God has given to us, and use them to build his Kingdom of justice and mercy.

We see signs of God’s power to do this all the time….

In 1942 a farmer and biblical scholar by the name of Clarence Jordan founded a small, interracial, Christian community outside of Americus, Georgia which he called Koinonia Farm.

In 1965 Millard and Linda Fuller visited THAT farm. They had recently left a successful business and an affluent lifestyle in Montgomery, Alabama to begin a new life of Christian service.

At Koinonia, together, they developed the concept of “partnership housing,” which was centered on the idea that those in need of adequate shelter would work side by side with volunteers to build simple, decent houses.

The organization grew, and of course, today we know them as Habitat for Humanity International, which has worked with churches, community groups and volunteers around the world to build safe housing for the poor.

Habitat has now built or repaired over 1 million homes, and served more than 5 million people worldwide…and my guess is, some of you have been a part of a Habitat build.

Habitat for Humanity began as something small, just farmer in a field really, but in the hands of Jesus, is has been multiplied so that the Kingdom of God is emerging in the world.

In Hopedale, IL in1894, there was a teacher named D. T. Miles who also taught Sunday school at her church. She felt she was limited by time constraints in teaching her children during the school year.

So, she started a daily Bible school in the SUMMER. The first Bible school enrolled forty students.

Hearing about this, in 1898, Eliza Hawes, director of the children’s department at Epiphany Baptist Church in New York City, started a “Bible School” for slum children at a rented beer parlor in New York’s East Side.

She continued her efforts for seven years until Dr. Robert Boville became aware of the Hawes’ summer program and not only established his own schools but recommended it to other churches.

By 1922, he had founded the World Association of Vacation Bible School and one year later, the very first VBS curriculum was published.

VBS began very small, but in the hands of Jesus, is has been multiplied so that the gospel is heard and experienced by hundreds of thousands of children each summer.

This past week Christy Huffman and over 80 parents, adults, young adults, college students home for the summer, and members of our youth group gave 117 children an experience , in which they learned that Jesus works, Jesus works, Jesus works through you and me. And they will not be able to forget these words!

Jesus calls US to give what we have to him, trusting that he can work miracles with it; trusting that God can use our short lives, our small amount of resources, our sometimes-seemingly-insignificant gifts for mighty, transformational acts.

We learn God’s power to multiply what is small each Sunday, when we come to worship we receive a small bit of bread and a tiny sip of wine.

Yet in this bit of bread and in this splash of wine is the very presence of Jesus Christ – the one crucified for us and for the whole world so that we might receive abundant life from God our Father, and a place in his Kingdom forever.

This small gift is of great consequence and this gift is what empowers our congregation in its service to our neighbor:

our work in HHOPE pantry and LAMB’s Basket feeding families,

our work at Southhampton school feeding children,

our quilting ministry,

our work on behalf of those with malaria,

and the Walk for Water initiative to help those people around the world without clean drinking water.

By God’s grace, God takes our lives uses them so that the kingdom comes, and his will is done on earth, as it is in heaven.

And so we pray God would continue to use US and the abundant GIFTS, which God has so graciously entrusted to us.

Growing up with my mother and dad and sister, we tried to eat dinner together most nights. We had a breakfast bar in the kitchen which we’d sit around at night and most often we would pray a common table prayer which may be familiar to many families:

Come Lord Jesus be our guest

Let these gifts to us be blessed

It is a simple but profound prayer to thank God for our food.

In this prayer we ask Jesus to sit with us at the table.

We acknowledge that he is the authority in our life and we are abundantly blessed by his kindness.

We ask our Lord – in these simple words – to make our kitchen nook, our family table, or our TV tray a Eucharistic table, where we receive the gift of food from the hand of the one who creates us, redeems us, and nourishes us…and the whole world.

Only when Sarah and I were married, did I learn a second verse to this prayer around our new family table. She taught me more:

Blessed be God who is our bread

May all the world be clothed and fed.

These simple words have been profoundly moving for me. They are a prayer for the poor and an acknowledgement of the part God has called us to pay relieving the suffering of our sisters and brothers who are hungry.

In these words we also acknowledge that we look to Jesus, the bread of life for hope, health, and the healing of the world.

Yes, we are called to serve those in need and we do, but we look to Jesus as the One who can truly feed the world.

So, may we remain hungry for him…and may we remain hungry to see justice, kindness, and mercy done in his name.

Einstein Never Failed Math Class (or God Can Work With Failures)

What is it about the failure of others that makes us feel a little bit better about ourselves?

It is probably as simple as it sounds.

We know our own failures so well, we have relived them, and we haven’t been able to shake them, so that when someone else has a hard time, we know we’re not alone. Especially people who seem to have it all.

For example, I remember once I brought a report card home from school with a math grade that wasn’t so hot, and tried to reason with my parents, “Well, you know, even Albert Einstein failed math in high school!”

I thought this little reminder made my “C” look pretty good, but, of course, they weren’t buying it.

einstein

We‘ve probably all used the one about Einstein in high school math class at some point. The only problem is it’s not true – Einstein never failed a math class, but people keep telling the story, because it sounds good, and it gives us strength and courage to know (or even to think) we’re not alone in our failure.

The witness of the entire New Testament is that Jesus failed at reaching his own people.

In his hometown of Nazareth he could only lay his hands on a few sick people and cure them – he couldn’t do any real deeds of power because of their unbelief.

His closest followers often didn’t get him and seldom really got what he was trying to say.

And when he was executed on a cross, in what was essentially the garbage dump outside of town, he was all alone except for a couple common criminals who were crucified with him.

THE THING that turned the whole world upside down, and the reason we’re here today in celebration is that God can work with failures! God can make a new creation!  And God chooses to give new beginnings!

When a child is baptized in our church, the parent (or guardian) holds that child in their arms, surrounded and supported by the community of faith, and makes promises. They promise to raise the child in a particular way:

to live with the child among God’s faithful people,

to bring her to the Word of God and to the holy supper,

to teach her the Lord’s Prayer, the Ten Comm., the Creed,

to place in her hands the Holy Scriptures,

and to nurture her in faith and prayer.

The parent makes these promises because God has particular hopes for how this child’s life will unfold.

First, God’s grace is freely given to the child in baptism. But God also hopes that she will receive grace upon grace.  God hopes she will also learn to live fully and vibrantly in his grace.

And so the parent promises to give the child instruction in faith, to expose her to the Story of God’s love for us, and to raise her in the community…and God’s hope and our hope is:The child will learn to trust God,

learn to proclaim Christ in word and deed,

learn to care for others and the world God made,

and learn to work for justice and peace.

This is the life of a Christian: trusting God, proclaiming Christ, caring for creation, and working for justice and peace.

As I look at the children and youth of our congregation I have particular hopes for them. Those of you who have been parents – or grandparents – longer than I have been a parent may have particular hopes as well to add to my list, but as a start, I would say:

I hope our children would grow to have a strong sense of self-worth and a strong sense of the worth of every person,

a keen sense of judgment and a knowledge of how to make good decisions,

an appreciation for the beauty God has created and a passion to take care of this world,

a drive to be an active force for good in the community,

an ability to articulate their faith and why they believe what they do,

that they might find a vocation which makes use of their skills, which helps others, which gives them a sense of fulfillment….

AND I hope our children would learn to take their failures in stride. Because there will be failure for all of them as there have been failures for all of us.

failure

As Christians, it gives us strength and courage to know Jesus was not immune to failure!

We remember the time he went to his hometown synagogue to teach and astounded everyone. They said “Wow! What teaching!  What wisdom!  What deeds of power!”

But just as fast others say, “Wait! Hold on! Are you talking about Jesus from high school? The one in our homeroom?  Oh no, no way.  I know him.  I know his mom and his brothers and sisters.”  HE is not somebody special.”

They are offended by him, because they know him – OR they THINK they know him…and it must have been hard for Jesus to be rejected by people he grew up with, people he knew well, and people with whom he had been very close.

If this did hurt Jesus’ feelings, to be rejected by his own hometown, maybe this is why he gives instructions to his disciples that prepares them for the possibility of failure.

He sends them out saying, “If any place will not welcome you, shake the dust off your feet as you leave.”

Our little league coach, Lou Persuiti, was an Italian man, used to always say after we had struck out, “shake it off, kid” which was a way of saying, don’t worry about it, you’ll get ‘em next time. Keep your head in the game…

Both Jesus and Lou were saying, Sometimes you fail…but don’t stop…keep going.

Just like those disciples, we are sent out by the Lord to live our baptismal life: to trust God, proclaim Christ, care for creation, work for peace and justice.

But most of us will not be uprooted in the same way as those first followers. Some of us may be called to seminary or to mission work in other county, but most of us are called (and will be called) to trust God, proclaim Christ, care for creation, and work for justice and peace where we already are.

We’re called to be an influence in the friendships and relationships we have already been given, and to share the gospel here in the Richmond area.

But Jesus advice to his first followers is good advice for us too.

Shake it off!

keep-calm-and-shake-it-off-5

It’s an incredibly freeing word. The Lord says we can (and should) pray that our work will have effect, but we’re called not to worry too much.

Keep working. Keeping praying. Keep going.

Most of the time we probably won’t know what our work for the sake of the gospel accomplishes anyway. The Holy Spirit is mysterious like that.

Charles Swindoll, who is a writer and lecturer tells the story of lecturing to a pretty good sized crowd over the course of a week at a conference. Everyone was respectful and attentive but this one man in the audience kept falling asleep all week. Swindoll says he was so angry he could hardly stand it.  At night he would think about the man and wonder how he could have the audacity to fall asleep in his lecture.

On the last day of the conference as everyone was leaving, the man who had kept falling asleep came up with his wife to talk with Swindoll and Swindoll couldn’t believe it! That this man would dare to approach him!

To his surprise the man thanked him heartily, and when he walked away the wife said, “My husband is terminally ill. He is on medication that makes him so drowsy and it’s hard for him to stay awake, but he loves your work so much, and one of the things he had to do was come and see you in person.”

Sometimes we know when we have succeeded in proclaiming the gospel and our words and actions have nurtured faith in another. Often we do not know.  So we try our best, we pray, and and leave it up to the Holy Spirit.

God can work in our successes, and God can also work through our failures.

Certainly God brought about the joy of the resurrection through the failure of the cross.

cross-shine

Certainly we have confessed our failures before God and have heard the good news that God forgives us and still chooses to work through us:

If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; everything has become new! In Christ you are a new creation: your sins are taken away and you are made new.

God can work with failure and make something new.

By God’s grace, we are a community in which one can make mistakes and still be treated with respect and acceptance, where we can admit when we’re wrong, forgive one another, and take care of one another…

By God’s grace, we are a community that knows we depend on God for everything, and so we proclaim in our living that the Lord is good beyond measure!

So brother and sisters, be sent out today by the Holy Spirit to live the baptismal life to which you have been called – trusting God, proclaiming Christ, caring for creation, and working for justice and peace.

This is the one mission to which we have all been called and the LORD walks with us!

Amen

In the Right Place at the Right Time

kairos 15 2

Ever since I arrived at Epiphany, the youth have been telling me about Kairos, which is the Virginia Synod’s weeklong summer gathering for young men and women in high school.  “Kairos” is greek for “God’s special time,” and this past week lived up to its name (apparently, during God’s special time one doesn’t get a lot of sleep!)

It was incredible to gather with Lutherans from all over the Commonwealth of Virginia to wrestle with the scriptures, grow in friendship with God and one another, and to encourage one another in our walk of discipleship.

For me, the most profound experience of the week was praying the hours. Named in Latin: matins, lauds, terce, sext, vespers, and compline, we observed this ancient tradition of praying throughout the day as a community. Prayer was the first and last event of each day and prayer permeated all we did together, as we stopped whatever activity was going on at the appointed hours to pray and worship together.

I was reminded this week that while many of us, at times, doubt ourselves… While sometimes we don’t know if we’re doing the right thing, if we’re making the right choice, if we’re in the right place, or if we’re serving in the way God would have us serve — when we are in worship or in prayer, then we know we’re in the right place and then we know we’re doing the right thing.

As a community, worship is the center of OUR life and prayer gives direction and inspiration for all the tasks God sends us to the other six days of the week.

For faithful Hebrews in the time in which Jesus appeared, the same was true – worship was the center of life and they believed worship could only place in the Temple in Jerusalem…only, not everyone could attend.

According to the law found in Leviticus, there were three things that could make someone ritually unclean and therefore unable to worship: leprosy, contact with a dead body, or bodily discharges, like unnatural bleeding.

Additionally, one could also become unclean by touching a person suffering from any of these maladies.  And one needed to be careful because leprosy, death, and unnatural discharges were common in a world with primitive medicine.  If one became unclean by contact, becoming clean meant performing complicated cleansing rituals, waiting seven days, and showing oneself to a priest for verification.

So…the caring response of a rabbi and a holy man, an upholder of the law and keeper of the traditions of Israel, would’ve been to send this woman with hemorrhages away from the crowds so she didn’t make anyone else unclean and also prevent them from going to the Temple to worship God.

But in the case of this woman, Jesus does not pay attention to the law, because he has come to bring a new law of love that supersedes all that has come before it. He sees beyond ritual constrains to the need at the heart of people, and opens his arms in love to her.

The unnamed woman in the crowd, occupies the most despised positon in society: cut off from the community, she lives alone, in poverty, all but forgotten, even to her family, who, like everyone else would see her coming down the street and literally cross to the other side for fear of touching her.

Accosted by this woman in the crowd, Jesus stops to see her in her misery.

He knows one morning long ago she woke up startled to find a strange kind of bleeding coming from her body.  It didn’t stop and it didn’t stop and it didn’t stop.  Maybe for a couple years, every night while going to bed she thought, “Please! Oh please! Maybe when I wake up tomorrow it will have stopped.”  She sees doctor after doctor, always thinking, “He will fix me and then everything can go back to normal.” But the doctors don’t have an answer, so she is referred to another doctor, and eventually she loses all hope that she will ever be made well and rejoin her family and friends.

She comes to Jesus, risking her life, not caring if people stone to death for breaking the law. She comes believing that she doesn’t even have to touch him, but trusting that if she can just get near enough to touch his clothes she will be healed.

Jesus touches this sick woman, calls her “Daughter,” and sends her on her way in peace, healed and made well…and her life is forever changed!

At first glance, these two people who encounter Jesus today, Jairus and this woman in the crowd suffering from hemorrhages, could not be more different.

Jairus is a leader of the synagogue, the most respected position in society: well-connected, well-respected, highly-esteemed, his social calendar is completely full and people compete to welcome him to their home and have him attend their gatherings because his very presence gives honor to those who are gathered.

But Jesus looks at Jairus and simply sees a man falling on his knees and prostrating himself in an unprecedented act of faith. No other synagogue leader begs Jesus for his help, but Jairus doesn’t care what people think of him or what other people will say.  He doesn’t even care if he is excommunicated from the synagogue by the others who hate Jesus, because his little daughter is dying – she is almost dead – and he believes Jesus can lay his hands on her and make her well.

By the time they arrive, Jairus’ little girl has died, but Jesus comes to her and tenderly, in Aramaic, the language of the people, he takes her by the hand and says to her, “Talitha cum,” “little girl get up…” And her life is forever changed!

So, both Jairus and this woman worship Jesus. They fall down before him.  And Jesus allows it.  It doesn’t matter if they are clean or unclean.  It doesn’t matter if they are respected or despised.  It doesn’t matter that they are not in Jerusalem and not in the Temple.  They have seen in Jesus the power of God to heal and make new and it is right to fall down and worship Jesus.  These people worshipping him are in the right place, making the right choice, doing the right thing, honoring Jesus as the Son of God.

This same Jesus who had the power to heal both Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the hemorrhage has the power to heal us and he promises that he will heal us.

Each of us comes to Jesus for healing of some kind: some of us come for physical healing, some of us for psychological healing, some of us come for healing of loved ones, healing of our families, hoping for healing in our nation.

We have come today confessing that we have sinned against God and one another in thought, word, and deed, and asking God, in his mercy to forgive us, cleanse us, and heal us.

And the Lord promises to heal us.

Sometimes we receive the kind of healing that we ask for and sometimes we do not. Sometimes God asks us to accept a different kind of healing than we ask for.

The writer and pastor Michael Lindvall tells the story of a friend, a man of deep faith, who was diagnosed with Parkinson ’s disease in his fifties. He and his wife and family prayed to God that he might be healed. Twenty years later, after an awful time, he was in the last stages of the disease and near his death.  He told Michael that his prayers had been answered, and said, sincerely, “I have been healed, not of Parkinson’s disease but of my fear of Parkinson’s disease.”

Sometimes our healing comes not as a miraculous healing that rids our body of disease. Sometimes our healing doesn’t come in any form that we would like it to.  But prayer is a gift from God that always brings us closer to his heart and deeper in intimacy with him.  In our prayers, we might not change God’s mind about how things will be, but we might find that in prayer – our heart and our mind might be changed, and transformed to trust God all over again, as if for the first time, no matter what the circumstances.

God may heal us by giving us peace. God may heal us by helping us to accept our disappointment.  God may heal us by giving us an awareness of God’s presence with us in the face of our suffering.

And we are promised that our suffering will not have the last word and will not be the end of our story.  We are promised the same Jesus Christ who took our suffering and sin on himself in the cross, promises to come again with healing in his wings…forever, to bind up the brokenhearted…for good, to wipe away every tear…so that they do not return.

The Scriptures promise us that by his wounds we will all be healed.  This is the promise of the Kingdom of God that we only get a taste of now, but we do get a taste.

We get a taste of the healing that is to come when we hear the absolution of our sins and are reminded that in Christ we are a new creation.

We get a taste of the healing that is to come when we receive the body and blood of Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins in Holy Communion.

We get a taste of the healing that is to come when the Holy Spirit empowers us to live as a community, making sure that all are welcome and included in our life together.

In baptism we have been joined to God in Christ and God welcomes all to worship because we are all clean, washed in the water and the Word.

God welcomes us to worship because we are all esteemed, named in the baptismal waters sons and daughters of God.

Trusting in God’s initiative to claim as his own in the Font of Life, let us also take comfort and strength knowing that here in this place we are always on God’s special time – we are in “Kairos.”

We are in the right place, at the right time, and doing the right thing.

Here Jesus calls us to worship him and receive all the blessings of his love and mercy.

Amen.