Together for Good

I don’t know if you’ve ever been locked out of your house, but two Fridays ago, I was headed back to Richmond with our 19 teenagers, adult leaders, and parents after having been on retreat at Roanoke College for a week of Kairos. I was grateful for a great group of youth. I was thankful for a week of spiritual growth and fun. And I felt renewed in my faith in the future of our church with leaders like those young men and women who have been raised up in this congregation. But I was also tired. No, make that exhausted.

Sarah and our kids were still at Lutheridge, where they had been for the week, and as we drove home I was looking forward to a quiet Friday night eating a microwavable pizza and lying on the couch, but when I got to our house and put my hand on the back door knob, a sinking feeling came over me as I remembered I had left my key with my neighbor so they could take care of our cat while we were away. I looked over and their house was dark. I knocked. Nothing. I texted them and called. No answer. I went through a mental list of all of you. Who would be okay with me sleeping on their couch?

Well, I decided to come here to the church and drop some stuff off, maybe do some work, and when I came through the doors by Price Hall I realized the 24-hour Quilt-a-thon was in high gear. I went in to say hello and the quilters invited me to have supper with them. They had no idea how good that invitation was. I didn’t realize how hungry I was until they asked. There were all kinds of good food and veggies and dessert and I loaded up the plate high and we all sat together and I was glad for the company and for the food, and as we ate together I decided everything would be okay.

An hour later I got a text from my neighbors that they were home and had my key for me.

I don’t know what happens to you when you’re hungry. I start to think less clearly. I am more anxious. In our house, hunger is a leading cause of kicking and hitting and biting.

A crowd of five thousand-plus people were hungry. They were anxious and worried and not thinking clearly and their children may have been melting down, kicking and biting, and Jesus sees their real hunger and gives them real food. They relax and begin to feel like everything is going to be okay.

But they get separated from Jesus when goes back up on the mountain, and so the next day they go looking for him, because the next day they get hungry again. And they’re confused when they arrive at the opposite side the Sea of Galilee and see Jesus because they don’t know what we know – they don’t know about how he walked on the water to catch up with the boat that had gone on ahead of him. But the crowd finds Jesus and they ask, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

Now its clear that they haven’t made up their mind about Jesus because they call him “Rabbi.” They’re not quite ready to call him Son of God, or Lord, or even Master.

And Jesus sees their hesitation and he says, “You are looking for me because I fed you bread but not because you’ve figured out the significance of what I did.” And Jesus so challenges them. He says, “Don’t work for the food that perishes but work for the food that endures. Work for the food that lasts for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.”

We experience hunger in our gut that sends us to the fridge, to the grocery store, looking for a place to eat. But we experience hunger for love. For belonging. For coming to know the Source of our life.

Jesus is the face of God who invites us to be filled with unconditional love and acceptance and belonging.

In mid-life or perhaps in the second half of life we come to see more clearly that some things of life are lasting and some are temporary.

In our culture, we spend time on and we value a great deal of things that do not last: our entertainment from movies to tv and sports, much of the ridiculous content that pops up on our phone, or how great a meal or a drink may taste, the clothes or the car or the house and what it means that we have what we do. But here’s what lasts: love, friendship, connection, relationship.

Look around as we worship today. These relationships will last for eternity. God is already building something eternal now, among us.

Jesus says that some things in this life perish and some last and he invites us to discern each day which is which, and to remain intentionally focused on the things that last.

We are enormously, graciously, abundantly showered with gifts that last.

God the Father loves so much that he gave us the Son. The Son loves us so much that he gave bread to the hungry, health to the sick, friendship to all, and even his life on the cross for us. The Father and the Son love us so much that they give us the gift of the Spirit to enlighten us, gather us, and equip us for ministry. At this table, God gives us his own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. At the table, Christ invites us to sit down and eat our fill and enjoy the company and believe all will be okay….all will be well.

Like a river of love, God gives and gives from the wellspring of his goodness and mercy, and we just receive, we just accept.
Everything we have is a gift and the hunger that follows us each day – the physical, bodily sensation of longing – is a reminder of our need to receive. And God gives us this gift of hunger every day to remind us of our need for him.

This is why Christians stop and give thanks around a meal, hold hands, and remember that our deepest hunger is filled by the one who is the Bread of Life.

Jesus says, “The work of God – each day, every day – is to believe in me.”

We have so much work to do. I do. I know you do.
The work of God isn’t to reply to every email in your inbox. The work of God isn’t to finish that project hanging over our head. The work of God isn’t to invest well and secure the funds we will need for our retirement.

There’s nothing wrong with these things but we shouldn’t confuse them with the work of God.

The work of God is to believe in Jesus.

Listen to this: the work of God isn’t even to feed the hungry, or to take care of the poor, or to treat our neighbor with kindness and respect.

All of these tasks are good and right, but they all flow from the wellspring of the source of the mighty river of God’s love in Jesus Christ. All good tasks of kindness, ministry, helping, doing lie downstream from the relationship of trust and love that God initiates with us in Jesus and which we say yes to.
But we don’t do this work alone.

Jesus gives us this work to do together.

The quilters of our congregation fed me, as they took care of countless others by making quilts that will bring warmth, assure health, and communicate compassion in the name of Jesus.

We believe together.

And we are all given different gifts that get channeled through us – to teach, to sing, to organize, to promote, to pray with another, to mother, to father, to befriend, to equip others – but all these various and unique gifts are given by our One Lord, who gives us one faith, and unites us with him in one baptism.

God gives us everything, including our trust in him and we believe together.

I was reminded of this one night at two weeks ago at Roanoke College.

Speaking of insights that come in mid-life, the week of Kairos I was playing basketball with teenagers and I was shooting a jump shot when my back went out. Like never before. I realized I can’t play like I used to. I was in a lot of pain and I had to lie down and take medicine and put a heating pad on it. I missed dinner, large group, small group, in the end I was flat on my back for about 24 hours. But lots of youth came to my room to say hello and Scott and Kim took care of me bringing my meals.

And that night, when I had been away from the group for about 7 hours, Cole, a rising 9th grade student came to my room and Scott was there and he pulled up his chair next to my bed and said, Pastor I know you missed our Bible study time tonight, I have come to lead Bible study for you. And Cole lead us in our conversation and brought the Bread of Life to me.

We believe together. Christ is feeding us at his table together.

May we eat with joy and gladness.

May Christ give us continued discernment of what is temporary and what is eternal.

May God inspire us to use his many gifts to point to the one who is Bread for a hungry world.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Amen.

 

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