Sunday, August 24, 2014

Who Is Jesus?

     Everything Jesus has been doing in Matthew, so far, has been preparing the disciples for the hard work that was to come when Jesus left them. They were having a very hard time understanding everything he was telling them.
     When he asked them who people were saying he was he just wanted to get a feel for who they perceived him to be. They knew he was someone with special gifts. They weren’t beyond thinking that he could be one of the Prophets from the OT but not one of them considered that he might be the Savior the OT predicted would come. No one thought that he could be the Messiah…except Peter.
     Even with that Peter didn’t really grasp what that meant for the world. They still thought the Messiah would have such power that all the oppression they’d been suffering at the hands of the Romans would miraculously end. It didn’t.
     So, when Peter declared that he was the Messiah, the Son of God, that was a big thing. It meant that somehow he knew Jesus, his friend, his Teacher, was the One who would save the world. He didn’t know how but he knew through God’s Spirit revealing to him that Jesus was the One sent from God.
     All the disciples heard Peter’s declaration and were prepared to follow him to the end. They just didn’t know what the end was going to be…even though Jesus had told them he would have to suffer and be crucified by the Pharisees in Jerusalem.
     They just believed that he was the One chosen by God to be the Savior of their world. They just didn’t realize, or didn’t think that it could happen to Jesus, what often happened when someone’s at the top of the pile. There’s usually someone who wants to knock them off and take over the top spot.
     Think about this. At the end of a sporting season, basketball, football, baseball, hockey, soccer, it happens in all sports, there’s a huge turnover in the coaching staff, especially if the team has had a less than stellar season.
     So, a new coach is hired and all the publicity says that they’re the ones who can turn the team around. They’re the ones who can get the team to the playoffs. Shoot, some are so good they’re the ones who will get them the pennant or trophy.
     And then the season begins and maybe the team starts out doing pretty good. But midway through the season things go downhill and who’s the one who takes the brunt of the blame? It’s the coach. Sometimes feeling run so high that there’s talk of sacking them without even seeing if the team can turn itself around. We’ve all seen it happen. It has even happened with the leaders voted into office as senators and representatives and even presidents.
     Jesus knew this was what was waiting for him in Jerusalem and he wanted to prepare the disciples for it. But they just didn’t get it or just couldn’t believe that’s what would really happen.
     But us, what about us? We know what happened in Jerusalem. We know what happened to the disciples. We know how the early Christians were persecuted. We know all that.
     So, when we’re questioned about who Jesus is or why we worship Jesus or why we believe that he died for our sins how do we answer?
     It depends on our faith. It depends where we are on our walk with Jesus. It depends on how our faith has been tested and tried. It depends.
     My friends, we hope that what we read in the Bible is right. We hope that one day there will be peace on earth. We hope that one day Christ will return and the dead will rise and we’ll be reunited with all those who’ve gone on before us. We hope.
     But, do we believe? Has our relationship with Jesus become intimate enough that we can say with certainty that we will see him one day?
     We can only believe if we’ve continued to work daily on our relationship with Jesus. We can only believe if we’ve read and studied and prayed and grown in our spiritual lives. We can only believe if we done all this and then risked it all to tell someone else, and someone else, until we’ve told everyone we know and meet how important Jesus is in our lives.
     And it’s not all about what we say it’s also about how people see us living our lives. It’s about how they see us handling the tough things in our lives. Sometimes that is even more powerful than our words.

     Friends, who is Jesus, to you? Who do you say he is? May God fill you with his wisdom, grace, and peace. Amen.

Monday, August 18, 2014


Is everyone included in God’s forgiveness? Is there anyone you believe doesn’t deserve God’s forgiveness and love? Who wouldn’t be welcome to come and worship here with us in this sanctuary? Who would be excluded, shunned, shut out?
At first read of the gospel lesson it sounds as if Jesus is excluding the Canaanite woman because she’s a foreigner. He tells her that he’s come only for the lost sheep of Israel… “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
That sure sounds to me like exclusion. Why did Jesus say that? And if meant it what was he doing in Tyre and Sidon? Maybe he was looking for the lost sheep of Israel there.
A question that came to my mind was this, “Can God’s mind be changed?” Are there examples in the Bible of God’s mind being changed?
The reason I ask is this, if Jesus is the Son of God, and God the Father and God the Spirit are One and God is love and Jesus has already helped the lost children of Israel by feeding them bread and fish and his words…and he healed the centurion’s servant, who were both foreigners, then why not heal this poor woman’s daughter?
This is Matthew’s gospel and maybe he included this story because there was a problem that could only be addressed by showing how Jesus came to accept the fact that God’s Kingdom was truly for all, Israelites and Gentiles.
However you may want to interpret Matthew’s gospel Jesus did in fact grant her request. Because of her faith, and her persistence, her daughter was healed.
As I read this I think back to Moses’ and God’s conversations in the wilderness. How many times did God want to erase the whiners and complainers from the face of the earth and yet as Moses counseled against it? God relented and let them live. Maybe not all of them lived but my point is Moses argued for leniency and God listened and changed his plan.
That’s one example. There are others in the Old Testament stories. God being the great I Am and Jesus being one with God then I believe God can change his plan. God can learn from his creation.
If God can learn then shouldn’t we also be able to learn, from God and his creation? Maybe I should say if God is willing to learn then shouldn’t we also be willing to learn and change our minds?
Maybe we don’t intentionally exclude folks from worshiping with us but look around. Who’s missing? It looks as if we’re missing a whole generation.
Do they feel shunned, excluded, shutout? How can we know for sure unless we sit down and have a one-on-one non-judgmental conversation with them?
Friends, it’s not just Walnut First Presbyterian Church that’s experiencing this. It’s a large number of churches in quite a few denominations.
The Canaanite woman came to Jesus for help. At first he was reluctant. Then he, because of her faith, healed her daughter. Her directness, her faith, changed Jesus’ mind.
David Lose in his blog this week says that maybe each of us should sit down with one of the missing generation and ask the difficult question, “What needs to change in Sunday worship to make it more meaningful to you and your family?”
This isn’t an easy thing to do because we’ve worshipped like this our whole lives and it’s been meaningful for us so why not for the next generation and the next one after that?
What does this have to do with today’s gospel lesson? The Canaanite woman because of Jewish law was unclean because she was a Gentile. She took a chance when she approached Jesus.
We have been given a commission by Jesus to go make disciples. It’s hard to make disciples when we see the same faces in worship every Sunday. And, by the same token, it may be hard for those we’re supposed to be reaching out to sit here and not understand what we’re doing.
Why’s this important? It important because I think you all care. Not just because you don’t want to see this church close its doors but because you genuinely care for the folks who are missing.
Friends, we can’t wait for them to come to us and ask us to heal them. We need to meet them where they are and listen…and learn from them…because they’re smart and they have much to teach us. And the other part of it is this, “Where did Jesus go to find the missing?” He went to the people. He ate with them. He talked with them. He listened to them. He healed them. He learned from them.
So, my friends, join me this week in asking the hard questions and then listening as they answer. You all have friends of that missing generation you can sit and talk with.
May God grant us his grace and peace this week as we go further into this journey.

Monday, August 11, 2014


The question before us this morning isn’t how Jesus was able to walk on the water but why did Matthew think it was important to include it in his gospel. The people of Jesus’ day didn’t have any doubts that God could do things that no one else could do. They accepted that and they didn’t worry or think about how God did what he did. God did what he did and they were to pay attention.
So why did Matthew tell this story to his readers? Could it be that he wanted people to know that Jesus could do things that were beyond anyone’s understanding?  Could it be that he wanted folks to know that Jesus did and could do things no one ever expected could be done? Could it be that he wanted everyone to see that, where Jesus was concerned, what looked like failure or catastrophe to ordinary people, like the disciples and you and me, wasn’t.
The disciples were in a boat that was about to be swamped by the wind and the waves. They’d been tossed about for some time it sounds like. And then early in the morning they looked and saw a figure walking across the water…and they were scared.
Do you think that Jesus knew the disciples were going to be in trouble even when he sent them out alone across the water? Do you think maybe he was preparing them for his eventual departure and his final command to go to all nations, make disciples, and baptize them in the name of the Triune God?
Do you think the disciples thought about this later as they worshipped in their house churches and struggled to follow in the ‘Way’ of Jesus? Do you think they compared their boat to the new and struggling church? Maybe not.
So, good friends, do you get the ‘Message’ for us in the gospel lesson today? Don’t you feel sometimes that we are sometimes sent out alone to make disciples and baptize? Don’t you sometimes think that the wind and the waves are too much? Don’t you sometimes wonder, “Where is Jesus when we need him?”
Maybe that’s part of God’s plan. Maybe God wants to see if we’re going to rely on our own wits to make disciples and baptize or if we’re going to turn to God in faith and patiently wait for him to assure us that it’s all right, to not be afraid, to trust in his Son.
So many times we read this gospel lesson and are in awe of Jesus’ ability to control the wind and the waves and we miss the real point of the lesson. It’s not about Jesus’ power. It’s about the fact that he has compassion, he cares. He cares enough to come to us in the storm.
Why’d he walk on the water? Maybe it was the best way for Jesus to take care of the disciples in the situation they were experiencing at that particular time.  Aren’t we all in the boat with the disciples? Aren’t we all ready for Jesus to come to us and give us a hand?
I’d hope we are. And if we are, then don’t you think we should be prepared to take risks, like getting out of a boat in the midst of the wind and the wave, to try new ways to be the church where we are, to try new ways to build community, to try new ways to share our faith and bring our friends to come and know Jesus as we do?
Friends, just like you need to keep your eye on the ball when you’re playing catch so we need to keep our focus on Jesus as we step out in faith to this work we’re all called to do.
Sometimes, when we get outside of our comfort zone we’re going to fail. And then when we cry out for God’s help we might hear the words, “You of little faith. Why do you doubt?” God’s hand will lift us up out of our failures and walk with us as we try something different. Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t.
The important point to remember that God is always beside us. God always cares no matter what predicament we get ourselves into. All God asks is that we have faith.

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Leftovers

The bits let over, what of those? Pieces left strewn around, no longer required. A plethora of scraps, yet Christ leaves none discarded but calls for all to be gathered in, saved and treasured.
Baskets filled with an extravagance, excess cherished. Symbolism that can only be imagined. A hungry crowd, a boy’s packed lunch, a great big picnic. People fed and still enough to go on sharing the blessing, abundance, and grace of God. Spill the Beans, Issue 12
The leftovers, pieces of pieces, what good are they? They’ve been handled by others. Who knows what kind of germs they harbor? Who knows if they washed their hands or not? Who would want the leftovers?
I’ve read this story before. I remember my grandma telling me this story in Sunday school. I remember thinking how could Jesus bless five loaves of bread and two fish, feed the people and still have twelve baskets full of leftovers. Some think that because the boy gave up his lunch to the disciples the others there felt guilty and gave up some of theirs too.
That’s cool, but what about the leftovers they gathered up? What did Jesus expect them to do with the leftovers? Matthew doesn’t tell us that.
If we read ahead the disciples get in a boat and leave Jesus to go away by himself. What did they do with the leftovers?
What do you do with leftovers? Do you keep leftovers? Personally I love leftovers. Some dishes just get better as they age a little while in the refrigerator.
But what did Jesus have the disciples do with the pieces of the pieces? What would you do if you had 12 baskets of leftover fish and bread? You’d have to do something with it because it wouldn’t be long and the fish would begin to smell bad.
Some would focus on the miracle of feeding 5,000 men plus women and children with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish. But the lesson could be about what happened after, with the leftovers.
Think about what we do when we have leftover meat from the Antique Walk or leftover dressing or pies from the Supper. We give it away. We share our excess with those who can use it. Well, some of us can use it and some of us just have room in our frig’s for extra food.
Anyway, we share and maybe that’s what Jesus’ disciples did with the leftovers. And maybe that’s the real lesson here for us today, sharing the leftovers.
So, that leads me to this. What do we have leftover that we can share? And who would we share it with?
Today we celebrate and remember the Lord’s Last Supper. Today we break bread that someone brought and is sharing with us and we serve each other the cup and the bread. We share.
We share when we invite friends over for lunch or coffee or conversation. Last week we heard Jesus talk about what the kingdom of heaven was like. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is in these everyday things that we share in community with our neighbors and the strangers who come knocking on our doors. Maybe the kingdom of heaven is discovered and shared in even the tiniest crumb as much as in the whole loaf of bread.
So, maybe, the miracle is in the everyday sharing, the everyday feeding, the everyday conversation.
Maybe the miracle is in the leftovers that we often don’t see much value in. What are you going to do with the leftovers you have?

Thanks be to God for his grace. Amen.