Sunday, August 24th, 2014 – Sermon on Exodus 1:8-2:10

Exodus 1:8-2:10

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.” 17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families. 22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

2:1 Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

When my wife, Lauren, was a young child, one day she went up to her mom and ask, “Mom, who’s Moses?” And her mom stood in shock at this sudden realization that her daughter didn’t know who Moses was. She either hadn’t learned or she had forgotten. And so right then and there, Lauren’s mother declared, “We need to get you into Sunday School.”

Do you remember Moses and his story? The one who would lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. The one who would bring down the 10 commandments from Mt. Sinai. This morning, in our Old Testament reading from Exodus, we are reminded of the birth story of Moses. And parts of the story are horrible and terrifying. But through out, there are also parts that are incredibly and shockingly beautiful that weave in and out of the story. It is a story about genocide. But also a story about gentleness and compassion. And I hope that all of us will go home remembering Moses and the beginning of his life. Because as we will learn, when we forget part of our story, part of our history, we can forget the way and the will of God for this world.

The story begins by telling us that Egypt has a new king. And the first thing we learn is that he doesn’t know Joseph. This king, the Pharaoh didn’t know the story. He could have gone to his mother and said, “Mother, who is Joseph?” Only there was no Sunday school for him to go to. He has to learn the hard way. And he will. A new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. Well, what does that mean? Who was Joseph? It means that the pharaoh has either not heard or doesn’t remember part of his story, as an Egyptian. You see, Joseph was a Hebrew who helped turn Egypt into this great country that provided food for the world while so many were going through a drought.[1] Therefore, Joseph, a Hebrew, was a friend to Egypt. And the Hebrew people had become a part of Egypt. But this new king didn’t know Joseph. And he didn’t know the Hebrew people. He didn’t know his own story. And when we forget our story, we can forget the way and the will of God for this world.

The first thing this Pharaoh does as a king is he becomes afraid. Afraid of the Hebrew people. He says to his people, the Egyptians, that those people, the Hebrews, Joseph’s people, are getting too big and too powerful. But here is the thing, there was no evidence that the Hebrew people were growing in numbers and in power. None. He’s just paranoid and insecure. Afraid of losing his power, despite that there was no evidence his fears were actually true. We can see that his leadership, his kingdom, is born out of fear – fear of the Hebrews. Fear of the other. Someone who is different than him. And that is very, very dangerous in a leader. Because a leader who is afraid will soon become a loveless leader. Because what happens next? Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor, it says. He starts oppressing the descendants of Joseph. Who was a friend to Egypt. They became slaves. This is the moment the Israelites were enslaved, from which Moses will need to save them.

And as if that wasn’t enough, the Pharaoh begins to enact genocide. He’s so afraid of the Hebrew people, he tells the midwives to kill off any male newborns. But if a girl is born you can let her live. Which is idiotic, because the Pharaoh clearly does not know about the great power a girl can have.

And as I read this horrifying part of the story, I can’t help but think about what is going on in the world today with ISIS in Iraq and Israel and Palestine, and residents of Missouri. And on the one hand, I’m get extremely angry. Because haven’t we learned? Haven’t we learned that things like this never end well? When you start to fear another type of person because of their skin, or their religion, their culture, it is the first step to oppression and people getting killed. Haven’t we learned this? It is like we’ve forgotten this story.

But oddly enough, when I hear this story, it also makes me hopeful. Because it tells me that as the people of God, we’ve gone through such horrible times in history before. And we’ve made it through. And I’ve heard more and more from people saying, “It just seems like the world is coming to an end.” Which is I’m sure how the Israelites felt. With their children being slaughtered by the King. But the world made it through that awful time. So maybe we can make it through this time too.

So let’s see what was needed in order for something to start to change. Interestingly, it is the very people that Pharaoh thought he didn’t need to fear who are the ones that do him in – the women. Those midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, are the first to disobey him. We learn that the midwives fear God. Not Pharaoh. And that is very, very dangerous for Pharaoh. Because when you are a leader who relies on people being afraid of you, those who don’t fear you are your worst enemy.

They fear God, not Pharaoh. And we shouldn’t read this as trembling fear of God, but to fear God means to know God and to trust God over everything else. And to know God is to know that God is a God of life, not a god of death. And as a result, the women are unwilling to take life. The midwives are unwilling to take the lives of those baby boys. And suddenly a thread of incredible beauty is stitched into this horrifying story. They midwives disobey the king and put their lives on the line for those little ones. And it is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Which reminds us that sometimes to follow God, you have to be willing to break the rules. And then when the Pharaoh asks them why they aren’t obeying, they uphold the power of these Hebrew women (whom the Pharaoh didn’t fear, but should) by saying, “They are not like any other woman. They are vigorous, and the babies come out too quickly.” Which means they are so full of life, that they can’t help but be bursting with new life.[2]

But then the story gets even more horrifying. When kings and rulers don’t get what they want, they will just turn the heat and the pressure up even higher. So the Pharaoh gets himself an even bigger killing machine and he declares to all of his people, the Egyptians, that any boy born to the Hebrews is to be thrown in the Nile river. Not just the new baby boys, but any of them. 5 year olds. 10 year olds. Suddenly, none of the boys are safe. Imagine being a Hebrew family of four boys and trying to walk down the streets in Egypt. Imagine trying to hide your accent, or changing the way you dress, or fearing that the complexion of your skin might give you away. Imagine that. Living in a situation in which every single child, especially newborns, is under threat

In 1963, Bob Dylan wrote a song called “Masters of War”, in light of the Cold War in 1960s. In it Dylan sings these lyrics:

You’ve thrown the worst fear
That can ever be hurled
Fear to bring children
Into the world

And that is exactly what this Pharaoh has done. He’s thrown the worst fear – the fear of bringing children into this world.

This is right at the end of chapter 1. Now look at how chapter 2 begins – Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. The woman conceived and bore a son. My friend Ken helped me to see this in a new way. In the midst of this atrocious King and his ridiculous prejudice that demands the killing of Hebrew boys, people are still making love and making babies. How incredible is that? In the midst of genocide, a situation in which every single child is under threat, people are still falling in love. This Levite couple can’t keep their hands off each other and are getting it on. Which is yet another stitch of incredible, incredible beauty, into such a horrifying story. It’s like humanity can’t help but bend towards love and life.

So this baby boy is born. And after three months, the mother can no longer hide him. So she places him in a basket on the Nile river. Pharaoh said to throw the boys in the river, yet she throws him on the river. A subtle difference.

This little boy floats down the river. And lo and behold, who discovers him? Pharaoh’s daughter. And she sees that he is a crying Hebrew boy and she has compassion for him. Pharaoh’s daughter – the daughter of the one who demanded that all Hebrew boys be killed is the one who saved this Hebrew boy, who will be called Moses and who will set free all of the Hebrews from this Pharaoh of Egypt. Another woman is this Pharaoh’s downfall and it is his own daughter.

And we learn two things from this. First, and I hate to say it as a parent myself, but we learn that sometimes to follow God means we have to disobey our parents. Because that is what Pharaoh’s daughter does. We would be wise to teach that to our children. But I fear we wouldn’t have any children left in Sunday school if we did. Second, we learn that sometimes the one who will save us from the enemy comes from within the enemy itself. It’s Pharaoh’s daughter that helps save the Hebrew people from Pharaoh. As my friend Alan has said, “God works behind enemy lines.”

Which gives me hope and leads me to pray that maybe the solution to this problem with ISIS in Iraq will come from within the ISIS group. Maybe there is someone there who knows what they are doing is atrocious and evil, and maybe they will put an end to it from within. Maybe. It happened in this story. Why not again?

And then with the help of Moses’ sister, Miriam (another girl), Pharaoh’s daughter lets Moses’ mother nurse him for a couple more years and then takes him as her own son. And next week, we will get to see how the rest of the story plays out.

But remember, Pharaoh’s reign as king was born out of fear. That was the first thing. But Moses was born out of love. Two people courageous and risky enough to make a baby when babies were under threat. That’s love. And look at what happens when someone is born out of fear – people are enslaved and killed. And look at what happens when someone is born out of love – it will save an entire nation.

So may we all go home remembering Moses birth story. And may God grant us eyes to see the Pharaoh’s of this world who long to make us afraid of people who are different than us. And then may we be like those brave and courageous women – like Shiphrah and Puah, and Moses’ mother, and Pharaoh’s daughter, who dared to put love and compassion in front of their fear. And as a result, they saved a nation. Amen

[1] Alan Storey, http://www.cmm.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/2011-08-21.mp3

[2] http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2169

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Sunday, August 10th, 2014 – Worship at the Diner and Sermon on Matthew 14:22-33

Matthew 14:22-33
22 Immediately he made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.” 28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

As many of you know, a couple of weeks ago, I was on a camping and canoeing trip with our youth. And at one point while we were bringing our canoes to the shore and unloading at our campsite for the evening, one of our youth, Dalton was out in the water helping to unload the canoes. And he was standing there in the water, with rocks underneath his feet. And by the way he was standing and the angle of our view, another youth, Raven, looked at him and said, “You know from here, it kind of looks like you are walking on water.”

And it reminded me of this story that we just heard. Of Jesus walking on water. And many of us are familiar with this story. It is one of the great miracles of Jesus and it is often what leads many of us to believe that Jesus is the Son of God. Because who else could walk on water, except God? I mean, maybe you are like me, and you’ve even sat at the edge of the pool and lightly place your foot on the surface of the water, just to test it out. Just to see if maybe, maybe you too could walk on water. And then when you foot splashes into the water, it is so disappointing to realize that you aren’t God, isn’t it?

And so this is this incredible story of Jesus breaking the boundaries of nature and physics and performing miracle. Which has lead so many of us to see God in things that are mysterious and miraculous. Earlier this week, I asked a handful of people where they have seen God at work and for the majority of them, it was in the mysterious and seemingly miraculous events of life. One of them is a cancer survivor, but she shared that when they shaved her head, the way in which the shaving process went, it unintentionally created a perfect Cherub angel on the top of her head. Or another person, who had recently experienced the death of a loved one, prayed for God to give her a sign that the loved one was okay. And having not seen a butterfly all summer long, on the day of the funeral, a little butterfly floated past her and landed by her foot. And then when she went in, one of the flower arrangements had all these butterflies as part of it. That is where she saw God.

So often it is the mysterious and the miraculous. Which is a totally valid way of experiencing and seeing the presence of God in this life. But here is what is catching my attention in this miraculous story of Jesus walking on water….

The disciples don’t say one thing about it. Not one word about astonishment or amazement. And you would think that if that was the thing we are supposed to focus on – the walking on water – then the story would focus on it too. But it doesn’t.

As the story goes, right after the feeding of the 5,000 (plus women and children), Jesus sends his disciples out on a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee. Meanwhile, Jesus goes up a mountain to get some alone time. But after awhile, the boat filled with disciples isn’t doing so well. Winds and waves have battered them all night long. So Jesus goes out to them. Walking on the water. And when the disciples first catch a glimpse of him, they are immediately frightened because they think that he is a ghost. But Jesus then is quick to say, “Do not be afraid. It’s me.” To which none of them say, “Oh my gosh! It really is you. We recognize your voice. How are you doing that? Walking on water. We haven’t seen you do this before. This is incredible! Is somebody recording this??” (Okay, they probably wouldn’t say the thing about recording because they would have no idea what that was. But you get the point.) They don’t say anything about it. They are not surprise or shocked. At all.

And that is surprising to me, because so often we will say that Jesus is God because he can do miraculous things. He can make 5 loaves of bread and two fish feed thousands of people and he can heal the sick and walk on water, but these disciples don’t seem to be impressed at all. Instead Peter says, “Well if it is you, then, command me to walk out on the water to you.” And even Peter gets a few steps on top of the water before he starts to sink. Which again, gets no reaction or amazement.

And so I can’t help but wonder if maybe this story isn’t all about Jesus walking on water and for us to be amazed at his powers. But maybe it is about something more or something different.

Maybe it is about what happens after that moment. So Peter tells Jesus to command him to come out on to the water. And so Jesus says to Peter, “Come.” Peter walks out on the water, gets a couple of steps in, but then he notices how strong the winds are and he gets scared and begins to sink. And then he cries out, “Lord, Save me!” And Jesus reaches out his hand and catches him. And then Jesus says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”

I don’t know about you, but this can be a hard phrase to hear from Jesus. Because I am a doubting person. My faith comes in waves. Sometimes it is paper thin. Sometimes I am of little faith. And so often we’ve been told never to doubt. That it’s a sign of an absence of faith or a weakness or is somehow against God. You just gotta believe, people say. But sometimes that’s easier said than done.

And so that leads me into this next question, what was the moment of Peter’s doubt? Was it when he wasn’t sure that Jesus was who he said he was, and demanded that Jesus ask him to walk on water? Or was it the moment when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and started looking at the scary winds, and then began to sink?

Or was it the moment Peter cried out, “Lord, save me!”? Maybe that’s the moment Peter doubted.

Because here is the thing, you don’t tell someone to save you, unless you think there is a chance that they might not save you. Peter says, “Lord, save me!”, because he thought that there might be a chance that Jesus wouldn’t save him. If you had full faith in Jesus, you’d just wait to be saved, right?

This past week, my son Elliot did something new. When his babysitter came to watch him while Lauren and I each had to go to work, the moment the babysitter walked in, the corners of his mouth went down, and his eyes got big. And he immediately reached out to be held. And he said, “Daddy’s gonna come back. Daddy’s gonna come back.” But it wasn’t so much of a statement as it was a question. You’re gonna come back, right? He wasn’t entirely sure. He was a little doubtful. Just like Peter. Lord, save me! Because I’m not so sure you will.

And so maybe that is the moment that Peter doubted, because he wasn’t sure Jesus would save him, when the waves and the storms are crashing over him. And those words of Jesus, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Maybe those aren’t convicting words, but comforting words. Because we forget that as Jesus says them, he is holding Peter’s hand. And when you imagine Jesus holding Peter’s hand as he says those hard to hear words, they suddenly have a different tone to them. “Peter, my beloved friend, why would you ever doubt that I would save you in your time of need.”

And it is at that moment, it is after Jesus takes him by the hand and saves him that the disciples call him the Son of God. It’s not when Jesus walks on water, but it is when he takes Peter by the hand. In the simple act of reaching out a hand to someone in need. Pretty ordinary stuff and yet that’s the moment they claim Jesus as Son of God.

And here we are, sitting in the most ordinary place, a fair building. And just what if this place could be someone’s calm in the storm? A place where someone is treated with love and kindness that is from God? What if this place can actually act as the reaching out of a hand to someone who is windblown and battered by the storms of their life? Abusive relationships that they don’t know if they can get out of? Financial struggle? Pain that ripples through out their body with each step? Exhausted new parents who no idea if they are going to make through the next day. Just what IF we can be the hands and feet of Jesus this week, in this ordinary place, extending a hand in love to people who could use that hand.

If that is true, then we have an opportunity this week. We have the chance to be ministers this week to people living through storms. To reach out a hand in love and compassion to people who need some support.

We forget that discipleship, being followers of Jesus, doesn’t have to be amazing and miraculous. It doesn’t have to mean walking on water. But rather discipleship is pretty ordinary.

This past week, discipleship looked like a worker at Target noticing a customer having trouble with her car, and then offering to stay with her until help came. Discipleship looked like a Muslim man offering up his table at Starbucks so that I could talk with new parents about baptism. Discipleship looked like a person providing affordable, drop-in day care as a ministry to busy families.

Pretty ordinary stuff. So here is what I want you to do. Take a couple of minutes and turn to a neighbor and talk about where you have seen ministry happening here at the diner during fair week, or how you could imagine it happening. And if it sounds like pretty ordinary stuff – all the better.

What did you come up with?

This is not just a diner this week. This is not a fundraiser. This is not just a fun event. This is a sanctuary. The word sanctuary means, “Safe place.” We have an opportunity this week to turn this place into a sanctuary, a safe place. And you get to be the ministers. The disciples. Who have learned from Jesus how to reach out a hand in love and compassion to people who are crying out inside, “Lord, save me.”

What’s that look like? I’m not entirely sure. But it will probably look pretty ordinary. A welcome greeting to a new customer, sitting down and introducing yourself to someone sitting alone. Serving them a new cup of coffee. Being patient when a family a five has no idea what they want to order. Catching up with an old friend you haven’t seen since last year.

And wouldn’t it be lovely if this week we might be able to say, “Hey, you know from this angle, the way you helped that person in need, you kind of look like Jesus reaching his hand out to save Peter.” Amen

Sunday, August 3rd, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 14:13-21

Matthew 14:13-21

13 Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

A couple of years ago, on the front page of a local newspaper was an article about a national hot dog eating contest. There on the top half of the front page was a picture of Takeru Kobayashi, stuffing his mouth full of hot dogs. He won the competition that year by eating something like 53 hot dogs in 10 minutes.

But that was just the top half of the front page. When you opened the paper up, letting it unfold, on the bottom of the front page was another picture. Only this picture had on it the bulging eyes and distended belly and gaunt body of child who was starving to death.

Same front page. Two stories. One about an American eating contest; one about starving children. And the photos said it all. The two stories stood in such ridiculously stark contrast of one another you couldn’t help but feel embarrassed for the editor. Or for our culture. It only emphasized how blind and deaf and numb we can be to the reality of our world and the world that other’s live in.

I offer this image because something similar is happening in our gospel reading for today. The newspaper, per se, is the gospel of Matthew. And side by side are two stories that are in such contrast of one another that it is almost embarrassing.

But that’s the point. By placing these two stories together, Matthew is trying to tell us something. What the kingdom of heaven looks like. And what it doesn’t look like. What God is like. And what God is not like.

The two stories are really about two parties. Two banquets. And much like the first stories I shared, food is once again at the center.

The first story comes right before our gospel reading. King Herod is having a party. And you can imagine the kind of party that it is – restricted, celebrity guest list, only the rich and famous. Food, food, and more food. The wine flows like water. No expense is spared. It is all about power and money. Even Herod’s niece was put on display as a dancer for the other men in the room. And as if that is not sleazy enough, Herod is so turned on by her that he grants her any wish. And her wish is John the Baptist’s head on a platter. Her wish was his command and so John the Baptist was killed.

That’s the first story. And then immediately after this, comes the second story, the one we heard read. And in this story, Jesus is having a party. But it is not in a palace. It is in a deserted land. And there is no restricted guest list. But rather the text says that crowds – hoards and hoards of people gathered around him. All kinds of people were invited to this party. The sick and poor and the outcast. And it says that Jesus had compassion on them. King Herod flaunts power and money at his party; Jesus flaunts care and compassion.

But then evening comes. It’s late. It is a deserted land. There is nothing there. Nothing to eat and nowhere to sleep. And the thousands upon thousands of people are all hungry. And the disciples, tired and defeated, tell Jesus, “You know, just send everyone home. There’s nothing here to give them.”

Could there be more of a contrast between these two parties? Herod’s vs. Jesus’? The contrast of these story stories side-by-side one another is just embarrassing. A small party for a select few with anything and everything. And then a huge party for all kinds of people and there is nothing to eat.

But then things start to change. After the disciples want to give up and give in, Jesus says, “Don’t send the people away; you give them something to eat.” And all they have are 5 loaves of bread and two fish. Herod’s party has pounds of caviar and swordfish coming out their ears, but all the disciples have some bread loaves and a couple of trout. But then Jesus has all the people sit down on the grass. Then he blessed the food, broke it, and gave it to the disciples and the disciples gave it to the crowd. And all ate. Until they were full. And not only that but there were baskets and baskets of leftovers that they gathered up.

And here’s the thing, so often we make this story all about Jesus doing a miracle. That he turned 5 loaves and 2 fish into enough for thousands and thousands of people. And that’s why we think Jesus is the Son of God, because he could do miracles. But there were plenty of people back then who were said to be miracle workers. In fact, there were other people that claimed to be the Son of God. But what if it’s not about the miracle? What if we are not supposed to be amazed at what Jesus could do, or wonder how he pulled such a sleight of hand trick like that. Rather, what if we are supposed to be amazed by is what it teaches us about who God is and what kind of kingdom this God wants to bring to earth.

What if it is not about the miracle, but instead is about the contrast between the kingdom of Herod and the Kingdom of Heaven.

You see, the kingdom of Herod is one filled with fear. Fear of others. King Herod feared John the Baptist. He feared having his power threatened. And fearful leaders are loveless leaders. And when you are a loveless leader, chances are high that people will be killed. Just like John was. But the kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God, is one that is filled with compassion. Compassion for the sick and the poor and the outcast.

In the kingdom of Herod, even having everything is not enough. You know that at King Herod’s party, no one was in need of anything. And yet even having everything she needed was not enough for Herod’s niece. She still needed that one wish for John the Baptist’s head. But in the kingdom of heaven, even the tiniest bit, when shared among one another, is enough for all.

In the kingdom of Herod, only some are invited to the party. Only those who are good enough, rich, powerful enough. But in the kingdom of Heaven, there is room for thousands and thousands and thousands of all kinds of people. Not the powerful, but the weak. Not the rich, but the poor. Not the good enough, but the not good enough. And remember at the kingdom of Heaven’s banquet, there were 12 baskets of food left over, which means they were ready for more.  More people.  There is always room for more people in the kingdom of God.

The kingdom of Herod, when only some are included and resources are restricted to the rich and powerful, brings death to life. People die. We see this in John the Baptist. But the kingdom of Heaven brings life out of death. Did you notice that Jesus’ party is held in a deserted place. Literally, a desert place. A dry and sandy place where there is no food and no life. Even the disciples say, “Let’s get out of here! Nothing good could come of this.” But then Jesus tells them to stay, and he tells the crowd to sit down. On the grass. On the grass! Where did the grass come from? At Jesus’ party, where all are welcome…where food is given to those who are hungry, not just those who can afford it, where people are told to care for one another, where compassion is foundational, that is the place where life grows. Like grass beneath your feet. In the kingdom of heaven even the deserted and dead places come to life.

What if it is not about the miracle, but instead is about the contrast between the kingdom of Herod and the Kingdom of Heaven. Because the truth is, the kingdom of Herod is alive and well in many places of our lives, isn’t it? Where only some are welcome. Where resources are hoarded. Where power is more valued than compassion.

And what we so often forget is that Jesus uses his disciples to help him with this miracle. Jesus uses his disciples to bring about the kingdom of Heaven. Jesus took those five loaves, blessed them and broke them, and gave them to the disciples so that the disciples could hand out the bread. This is a story about 1. the kingdom of heaven, and 2. discipleship.

Just how Jesus took the bread in the story, blessed it and broke it and gave it to his disciples, we will hear again in a couple of minutes about another piece of bread that Jesus blessed and broke and gave to his disciples. You and me. At the communion rail. And this communion thing….it is dangerous business.

Some years ago, a Roman Catholic priest serving in the Philippines, was arrested and imprisoned for advocating in favor of the oppressed and poor people. His role, according to the local authorities, was to preach the gospel and not to get involved in politics. Father Edmond Delatorio requested bread and wine to celebrate the Eucharist in his prison cell. Soon thereafter he was asking for more bread and wine since his fellow cell mate was also partaking in the sacrament. The request by Father Delatorio for more bread and wine increased daily. The whole cell block was celebrating the feast of victory of our Lord. As the elements were consecrated, they were passed from cell to cell. Everybody participated in this community of the equal people of God regardless of origin, race, political, or even religious preferences. When the warden was made aware of the situation, he issued an order forbidding Father Delatorio from using bread and wine. In his order, he wrote, “Bread and wine in the hands of this priest becomes a revolutionary weapon.”[1]

This is dangerous business. The meal about to be served at this table is a revolutionary weapon because this is the place where we get to practice living the kingdom of Heaven. So that we can go out there and bring it with us. We go out into the world with kingdom of Heaven eyes. And we start seeing things differently. What does the Kingdom of Heaven call for the situation with immigrant children and our border crisis? What does the Kingdom of Heaven call for with our rampant gun violence in this country? What does the kingdom of Heaven call for when it comes to helping the sick, the widow, the orphan? When we start participating and bring about the kingdom of Heaven that threatens the kingdoms of Herod that are still out there.

So what do you think? Are you up for that call to discipleship? This story about the feeding of the 5000… is this just a nice story that we remember or is it something that tells us about God, that changes us, and challenges us in the path towards the kingdom of Heaven?

Amen

 

[1] Rafael Malpica-Padilla, http://day1.org/712-the_christians_place_in_the_world/comments

Sunday, July 13, 2014 – Sermon on Matthew 13(1-9, 18-23)

Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!” 18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”

Our two-year old son, Elliot, has reached that stage where he is really starting to understand words that are being said around him. And while this is an exciting time, it is also a little nerve-wracking, because you find yourself worrying that he is just going to be a big blabber mouth, repeating certain words and phrases that he hears at home.

So Lauren and I have found ourselves coding our language. Spelling out words or giving nicknames to people that we know Elliot won’t catch on to. Now, this isn’t entirely new for Lauren and I. Much like many close relationships, you start to develop sort of a language of your own. A way to communicate with each other when others are around, but so that no one else will understand. A certain look, or a gesture. A wink. For example, Lauren and I have a coded signal for whenever we are in a conversation or a situation that we just need to get out of. It’s a cue that says, “It’s time to leave.” Now, I know, I know, some of you are wondering what that cue is, but I’m not going to tell you just incase I have to use when I’m talking to you someday. We also have a signal that means, “Hey, remind me to tell you something later, but I can’t tell you right now.”

It’s a coded language. So that only some will understand. And in our gospel text for today, Jesus is speaking in a coded kind of language. Why? Well, so that only some of them will understand. You see, this is right around the time of Jesus ministry when not every one is very fond of him.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew Jesus is talking about bringing the Kingdom of Heaven, Kingdom of God, down to earth. As I’ve said before, so often we’ve been told that the goal of Christianity is to get into heaven. But for Jesus, the goal is to bring heaven to earth. We pray this every week in the Lord’s Prayer – thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven. We pray that God’s kingdom would come here! And the problem is that if God’s kingdom is going to come here, then it is going to threaten the current kingdom. In Jesus’ day that meant Kingdom of the Roman Empire.

So the ways of Jesus were a threat to the status quo. Jesus was rocking the boat so to speak and many people didn’t like it. So when Jesus comes to speak to the large crowd of people, he’s speaks to them in a coded language called parables. So that some understand and others do not. Because who knows who is in the crowd – spies from the Roman Empire, other religious authorities trying to shut him up , people trying to catch him breaking the law so as to arrest him.

In this coded speech, Jesus will be giving the crowd a picture of the kingdom of heaven and what it looks like, so that they too might be partners with God in bringing heaven to earth. Over and over again, Jesus will begin his parables with, “The kingdom of heaven is like….” And today, we hear his first parable – what many of us know as the parable of the sower.

A farmer goes out to sow the seed, scattering it all around. Some of it falls on the hard ground, and is immediately snatched away by the birds. Some of it falls on the gravelly ground, full of so much rock and so little soil. It grows up but quickly dies from lack of nourishment. Some of the seeds fell in the thorny, briar bush. They took root but didn’t last long, as the viney thorns wrapped themselves around them and strangled out any hope of a crop. And finally, some of it fell on good soil. And this time, it grew.

This is Jesus’ coded parable for the large crowd about the kingdom of heaven that has come near. And we wonder what it means.

Sometimes this parable can frighten us. Because if, as the text says, the seed is the word of God, the promises of God that are being planted all around, we can’t help but wonder what kind of soil we are. And are we receiving and producing enough good fruit from the word of God that is planted in us. Are we that hard, rocky, and thorny soil where nothing will grow or are we good soil? How could we become that well-tilled, well-weeded, well-fertilized soil? Or we get overly confident, thinking that we already are that good soil, and that those people over there are the bad soil, where nothing good comes from. In fact, Jesus even makes it easy on us telling us what kind of people fit with what kind of soil. The hard soil people are those who hear the word of God, but couldn’t really care less. You know, they’ve been to church a time or two, but they have better things to do. The rocky soil person, where the seed blossoms but has no roots, that the person who gets really into Jesus and really joyful about it for about a month or two and then…well. Or the soil with thorns that choke the crop, that’s the person who hears the word of God, but gets a little distracted by worldly things – like money and power and prestige.

I mean, we all know people like this, right? And who knows, maybe we are some of those people. And we could make a list of who is who, right? And then the message would be to go and be good soil so that the word of God can take root in you. And then all of us would leave either arrogantly thinking we got it all together and already are good soil or thinking that we aren’t good enough, worthy enough, and so we go home and try and try to be better, only to find that it is harder than you thought and likely never believing that we actually are good enough.

I could preach that sermon. But I don’t want to. Because I don’t think it is true to the text. Because in vs. 18, Jesus calls it the parable of the sower. Not the parable of the different types of soil. It’s not about you. And whether you are good enough for the promises of God. It’s about the sower. This is the parable of the sower.

And the first thing that is worth noting is that this farmer is a really bad farmer. Think about 75% of his crop did not grow that year. And all because he was wasteful and careless about where he was planting those seeds. When all the other farmers are gathered together in the garage, having a cold one, after a long night of planting, this is the farmer that everyone’s laughing about. This bizarre and foolish farmer who has rigged his planters to just throw the corn and bean seed every which way, part of it landing on the paved highway, some it in the ditch, some it in the thick woods, and some of it, believe it or not, where it belongs…in the field.

This is the parable of the sower. And to us, this is pretty foolish and wasteful farmer. But you know, Jesus isn’t teaching about the kingdom of good sense or the kingdom of good business or the kingdom of “don’t-be-an-idiot-throwing-and-wasting-all-of-that-seed.” No, this is the kingdom of God. And to Jesus, this really bad farmer is what God is like. And thank God for that. Because if we are the soil, but God is the sower, and this parable is more about God than it is about us, then what we learn is that God the sower doesn’t distinguish between good soil and bad soil. God just scatters seeds of grace all over the place. Over all of us. It’s a wasteful and foolish scattering, with seeds of grace landing in places and on people that we might declare worthless. But just because we’ve given up on them, doesn’t mean that God has. God just continues to walk alongside us, scattering grace upon grace upon grace, trusting that we are worth the investment, no matter what comes of it.

And what happens in just a couple of minutes is a reflection of this foolish God who just throws grace everywhere. When God baptizes, it is just like throwing grace around wildly. We don’t know what Adrian will become. We don’t know what kind of soil he will be. We don’t know what kind of life he will lead. But that doesn’t matter. God just throws grace on him in the form of water before all of that. And it is that proclamation that, it doesn’t matter what kind of soil you are. God will never stop throwing seeds of grace at you.

In closing, like much coded language, there is one more layer of meaning here. If we look closely, Jesus shifts the metaphor. We may be the soil. But, in the end, we are also the seed. And so just as God scatters seeds of grace over all of us, God also scatters us to be seeds of grace. And the hard truth about life is that sometimes we will lands in places where the grace we offer from God is not well received. But the good news is that the kingdom of God is here folks. Here. It is the ground beneath your feet. God is throwing us out into it like a handful of seed, and who knows where you are going to end up, who knows who you will encounter. But the good news is that you come from the hand of God. And that is something that no one can snatch away. Thanks be to God. Amen.