9th Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who does the most with next to nothing. Amen
When we join Jesus today in the gospel
he is going through a rough patch in his ministry.
It all started out well,
preaching, teaching and healing the crowds who have loved him,
until he goes home to Nazareth,
where the people look at him and say
‘isn’t that Joseph and Mary’s boy?
The one we used to see running around with all the other kids?
We know he’s not special’
and they won’t listen to him,
and he is unable to do many deeds of power among them
because of their disbelief.
He expected this would happen,
prophets being without honor in their own country and all,
but it still had to hurt
and then on top of this rejection
he hears the news of the death of John the Baptist,
beheaded in prison by Herod
and it’s too much
he needs some time alone to grieve and pray
So “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.”
It seems like Jesus only gets the time in the boat to himself
because we are told that “when he went ashore, he saw a great crowd”
and though we know that Jesus is tired and sad and needing time to pray
when he saw the crowds that greeted him
“he had compassion for them and cured their sick.”
Now ‘compassion’ is a weak translation of the greek.
What Jesus feels is a visceral, gut wrenching reaction to the crowds,
he feels their pain and need in his body
and he responds to their need with the care they seek.
It’s a big crowd so he’s busy all day.
His disciples have caught up with him
and they’re helping as they usually do
but when it gets to be evening they’re getting tired and are ready to be done
they say to Jesus ‘look we’re in the middle of nowhere and it’s getting late,
send the people away, they uh, they need to eat,
yah maybe if we put our request out of care for the crowd we can get a break.’
But Jesus responds “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.
They replied, ‘we have nothing here, but five loaves and two fish;
and he said bring them here to me”
and Jesus blesses and breaks the bread
and gives it to the disciples to distribute
“and all ate and were filled; and they took up what was leftover of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
Jesus takes the scraps,
what the disciples call ‘nothing’
and turns it into an abundant feast.
When Jesus tells the disciples to give the crowds something to eat,
their immediate reaction is to say ‘we have nothing.’
We tend to exaggerate
when it comes to counting our resources,
we often discount or pass over the last little bits,
the five loaves and two fish,
because we see them as not enough,
‘it might as well be nothing for all the good it will do’
we are programmed to think
and so we don’t immediately count it,
but when we pause and take stock,
and it turns out we do have at least a little bit,
Jesus says, ‘bring them here to me’
and Jesus blesses our leftovers,
then gives them back to us to distribute, to work with.
Did you notice that?
The disciples point out the problem
of the crowds of people needing food
and Jesus turns it right back around to the disciples,
they are capable of fixing the problem that they’ve noticed he seems to say.
This seems impossible to the disciples,
but when they bring what they have to Jesus,
he makes it possible for the disciples to feed the whole crowd.
This is how Jesus works,
Jesus takes what we call ‘nothing’,
our leftovers that we forget about or discount,
creates new life and then hands it back to us to distribute in the world,
and he does it with more than just loaves and fish,
we see this throughout Jesus’ ministry.
He comes as a baby to a people that pretty much count for nothing
in the grand scheme of the Roman Empire,
he grows up in a little town
where people ask if anything good can come from there
and when he starts his ministry
he goes out to the desert where people are so desperate for hope
that they have gathered around a man dressed in camel’s hair
who dines on locusts and wild honey.
After he is baptized
he takes the leftover people,
those whom society counts as nothing
and turns them into disciples,
blesses them and sends them back out into the world
to share the good news with even more people.
He teaches them how to live
so that they bear good fruit,
and when people bring Jesus those who are sick
and therefore at that time counted as unclean,
Jesus heals them,
he even heals based on the request of friends
who come to Jesus and say, I trust that if you just say the word my friend will be healed
and based on this belief Jesus heals.
The leftovers, the next to nothings, the small things
are Jesus’ favorite things to work with,
last week we heard Jesus’ teaching
about faith the size of a mustard seed
and how the kingdom of heaven is like yeast,
just a little bit will make a whole lot of bread.
Jesus works with the smallest of things
The things that are overlooked or discounted as not enough
in his hands they change the world.
This applies to us as well,
when we’re on our last nerve,
or our patience is wearing thin,
or the world has told us we’re lacking in some way,
if we don’t think we can go on because we are weary,
if we have come to believe that we have nothing to give.
Jesus still finds something to work with in us.
As a world, as a country,
we are going through a rough patch right now,
a time when it seems like there is not enough all around us,
whether it is medical equipment,
support for families or even normalcy
and it is frustrating and disheartening
and Jesus is with us.
Jesus hears us when we cry to him.
When we pour out our pain and suffering
Jesus hears us and has compassion for us,
and then takes what little we have left
and uses it to change the world,
even if it is just our small piece of the world,
and the kingdom of God comes near.
Jesus will gladly take the scraps we bring to him
and turn them into new life,
that’s what he does
but we shouldn’t be surprised
when Jesus turns it back around on us
saying “you give them something to eat”
because in Christ, we are more than enough.
And Jesus will take us
And turn us into abundant life. Amen
8th Sunday after Pentecost
1 Kings 3:5-12
Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who intercedes for us. Amen
“Have you understood all this?” Jesus asks the disciples
“Yes” They answer
Do you really understand?
You understand how the kingdom of God
is like a mustard seed, and yeast,
like a treasure hidden in a field
and a merchant in search of fine pearls,
like a net cast into the sea that caught all kinds of fish that were then sorted.
“Have you understood all this?”
Some how I doubt it,
at text study this week
the other pastors and I got a kick out of this yes,
it reminded us of the “yes” we get at the end of a particularly confusing confirmation class
where the kids are tired and just want to go home.
So you understand the mystery of the sacraments?
Or maybe it’s like one of those user agreements,
where all this fine print legalese is presented
and at the end it asks you to sign that you have read and understood the document,
and you sign your name “yes”
because otherwise you don’t get to use whatever service is on offer,
yes I get it, just let me use your app.
But then there are other times,
the more serious times,
like the time at the doctor’s office
where you haven’t heard a word the doctor has said after “diagnosis”
because your heart has dropped and your tongue gone numb
“do you understand all of this?” they ask,
and you nod your head “yes”
There are a lot of things we agree to,
to move life forward,
that we simply do not understand.
And of course a good confirmation teacher
knows the mystery of the sacraments
will never be taught in one session,
or even understood in a lifetime,
and a compassionate doctor
knows that their patient didn’t hear anything after diagnosis
and so will provide literature and other sessions for explanation.
The user agreements,
that one I think we’re just stuck with,
but the point being that it seems like our automatic response
to the question ‘do you understand?’ is ‘yes’
and it takes conscious effort and humility to answer ‘no’
to admit that we lack understanding,
or that we’re in over our heads,
but when we do, life opens up.
We saw this with Solomon in our first reading.
God comes to Solomon in a dream and offers him, anything,
and Solomon who has just been made King after his father David,
realizes that this offer is being made
because David and God had such a good relationship,
and that he’s only King because of that relationship and the goodness of God.
So Solomon responds “O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in. And your servant is in the midst of the people whom you have chosen...Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil; for who can govern your people?”
He’s already got the job,
but he is brave enough to admit just how little he knows
and so when he is offered literally anything by God,
he asks for wisdom to better serve God in leading the people of God.
And God is pleased by this selflessness,
God realizes that Solomon could have easily asked for a long life
or riches or victory in battle
but instead he asks for wisdom to better serve God,
so God gives him a wise and discerning mind.
It struck me that this passage,
where Solomon admits how little he knows
and asks for understanding
to be able to discern between good and evil,
has been, I think is
the prayer of anyone in leadership faced with making decisions these days.
I know it’s been my prayer,
and I suspect the prayer of those on school boards,
superintendents and principles, elected officials and coaches.
O God, give us understanding to discern good from evil,
we need some help as we make our way through this unknown territory.
the Israelites were in an unknown territory,
both literally in their wandering and in their freedom
after God led them out of Egypt.
They didn’t know where they were
and they didn’t understand how to live in freedom.
So God provided for them,
manna and quail for food,
and the commandments to give them understanding
for how to discern good from evil as free people.
God gave the commandments as a gift
for times when the unknown is greater than the known,
which is why the psalmist cries out “your decrees are wonderful; therefore I obey them with all my heart… Let your face shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes.”
and praises God for the understanding the laws of God bring
and weeps for the people who do not follow God’s laws.
The difficult part is that the laws of God
do not address every specific problem we may face,
the Bible is not a How To Manuel,
or even a Self- Help Book,
rather it is full of stories of people and God,
stories of God guiding people
and how people respond to that guidance,
some like Abraham follow God,
and others like Jonah run the other direction.
But no matter what the people do,
God is there,
God doesn’t give up.
At our most basic level,
I think we all want to follow God,
we want to understand,
we look for guidance, ways to discern good from evil,
we even pretend we understand,
the old fake it ‘til you make it approach,
and yet in our hearts we know that we don’t understand,
we don’t even know how to pray.
But thanks be to God
who gives us the gift of the Spirit
who intercedes with sighs too deep for words.
The gift of the spirit who searches our heart,
who knows us better than we know ourselves and brings it all to God.
And thanks be to God, for the gift of the Son,
Jesus who summed up all the law
Love your God with all your heart and mind and might, and your neighbor as yourself,
Jesus who God gave up for all of us,
who God made the firstborn within a large family,
so that joined to Christ we are all members of that large family
and now Christ the firstborn sits at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.
God has claimed us.
We are God’s.
Even in the midst of the uncertainty and chaos of the world,
even when we don’t understand
and struggle to discern good from evil,
even when we don’t know how to pray,
even when we are unsure how God is working or if God is even there.
We are God’s.
we don’t have to understand how this works for it to be true,
nor do we have to do anything.
God doesn’t need us, God has acted.
And God has given us signs to remind us
Water to remember our baptisms by
Bread and wind, body and blood
To be forgiven, nourished and strengthened
Joined again to God.
And so cleansed, fed and forgiven we proclaim with Paul “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
It is with this conviction we are able to move forward through the wilderness times
and when God comes to us and says,
‘you are my children, have you understood?’
We answer with a resounding. ‘Yes.’ Amen
7th Sunday after Pentecost
Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who tells us to wait in hope. Amen
It’s hard to wait when we know what is possible.
That’s the reality of our lives right now
and that is the reality that our lessons address today
along with the promise that the waiting is worthwhile, necessary even.
Jesus starts us off with a parable,
a farmer who has prepared their fields for planting
sows good seed.
From the preparations they have made
they have every expectation
that when the seeds sprout
it will be a field full of the best wheat.
But we are told,
an enemy comes in the night
and scatters weeds in the field.
When the plants come up
the workers realize that there are weeds among the wheat,
they are confused,
they say “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then did these weeds come from?”
and the Master, the farmer, responds,
it must have been an enemy who did this,
and at this the workers are galvanized for action,
they are ready to go out into the field
and get those weeds out of there,
defeat the enemy and return the field to the way it was intended
full of only good wheat.
But the Farmer stops them saying “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
It goes against our instincts
to leave the weeds in with the wheat.
When we see something whether it is a field, a garden, or even a community
that is not growing as we know it could be,
or even as we think it should be,
our first instinct is to go in and root out what is not supposed to be there
but the hazard of that is there is often collateral damage,
in our quest to get rid of the weeds
we also rip up some of the wheat,
we cause harm to members of our community.
Weeding disturbs more than just the weeds.
I know in my own garden
I’ve pulled up many a little carrot or beet
that has just barely begun to form
in the process of my weeding,
and I’ve even accidentally stepped on other plants
in my quest to rip out that hunk of crabgrass.
These accidents are not ideal
but I prepared for them,
I planted more than enough seeds,
knowing that some would not grow and some would be pulled with the weeds,
I’m willing to take that risk with my garden.
Jesus is not willing to take that risk in his garden.
Jesus’ grace means that he’d rather let the weeds grow with the wheat
than to risk hurting any of the wheat in the process.
Jesus is willing to settle for less than perfection
to protect the wheat.
But just because he’s willing to let the weeds grow for the sake of the wheat
doesn’t mean that in the end
the weeds will be treated the same as the wheat.
When it’s time for the harvest,
the whole point of growing the field in the first place,
the weeds will be separated out from the wheat
and while the wheat will become food for the world,
the weeds will be burned
but until that time he tells us to wait.
Waiting is hard,
especially when we know what could be
and especially if we think we know a way that we could act,
but Jesus has cautioned us to wait
and promised that at the right time,
God’s time, it will end as it should.
But it’s still frustrating.
That frustration is what Paul is speaking to
when he writes: “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”
As children of God we know what God has promised,
the vision for the future
which means that we are even more aware
of how this world falls short of that promise
and in a way that adds to our frustration, our suffering,
it’s almost enough to ask why God would even make us aware of the difference.
Why? Because we come to this awareness through the gift of grace,
God’s love for us that is already transforming our lives.
You see each of us are like the field in the parable,
while God created us good,
the evil one has sown weeds in us,
weeds that tell us that it is okay to only care about ourselves,
weeds that turn us away from God and in on ourselves,
weeds that tell us the lie that we are supposed to be the judge of others.
All these weeds are in us along with the wheat, the gifts of the spirit,
and God refuses to reject us because of our weeds.
This is grace,
that even though we are less than perfect,
less than we could be
and even less than we should be,
God loves us.
and that love gives us hope.
As Paul says “For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.”
Grace leads to hope,
hope leads to patience.
Now remember hope is not optimism,
where optimism says I think things will just turn out okay,
hope looks at the reality of the world,
the despair and seemingly insurmountable obstacles,
and says, nevertheless I believe that God will bring new life.
We have hope because we have Jesus,
who faced the most insurmountable obstacle, death,
and three days later appeared to the disciples,
proclaiming that death had been defeated.
And joined to Christ in our baptisms’
we have been joined to his death and resurrection,
assured that in the end where Christ is, there we will be,
that nothing can separate us from the love of God,
not even the weeds within and around us
and when we have this,
this new life that we get glimpses of along the way,
we can wait.
As Paul says “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us.”
We are well aware of the imperfections of the world,
all the things that could be and should be,
and Jesus has promised
that in the end there will be new life,
even if, especially if,
it is nothing like we imagine
and so we have hope,
and in hope we wait. Amen
5th Sunday After Pentecost
Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you
from the one who offers to teach us another way Amen.
Life is full of contradictions,
some are as simple as the fact
that chocolate cake tastes better than broccoli,
but it is far healthier for us to eat broccoli
than it is to eat chocolate cake.
Other contradictions are more sinister
like the fact that those who gain positions of power
In order to work on behalf of many people
often use that power to work only for themselves.
whatever the example
it seems that as humans,
even if we are aware of the conflict
and which is the better part,
we almost always seem to choose to do more of the thing
that is less beneficial to ourselves
and even when we try to regulate our actions
with outside rules and laws,
we invariably seem to return to that chocolate cake
even though we know we need to eat the broccoli.
This is what Paul is struggling with in our second reading
remarking that even though he logically knows
what he should do, and he wants to do it
when it comes time to do it,
he invariably does the opposite,
he says “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not what is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin that dwells within me.”
Here he names the greatest contradiction we experience,
that even as we have free will to act,
there is another force working against us,
that embeds itself in the fabric of life
so even as we try to do what is right,
we are led astray.
The buzz word for this right now is “systemic”
we talk about systemic racism,
where racism is so embedded in how we live
that as individuals we are unable to extract ourselves
because the everyday options available to us
within the established way of life have sin woven into the fabric
such that it is impossible to separate out the individual threads.
Jesus, teaching the disciples
points out another contradiction with humans,
the inability to make everyone happy,
he observes that when John the Baptist came
fasting as part of his religious experience
people claimed he had a demon
and when Jesus himself came eating and drinking
and interacting with normal everyday people
the people say ‘look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’
These are the two main options for a messianic figure
and yet people have rejected them both.
Lately, the best example of this has to do with face masks,
on the one hand there are people who refuse to go anywhere
they are not required,
on the other hand there are people who refuse to go anywhere
they are required.
Confronted with the contradictions within ourselves and humanity,
it’s enough to drive us mad,
so what are we to do?
Paul himself throws up his hands and cries
“Wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?”
and there is the key,
to acknowledge that we need help,
and Paul immediately follows with
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”
Jesus is God’s answer to the contradictions of life.
Jesus himself is a living contradiction,
God and human,
who lived among and experienced first hand
the contradictions of humanity
the reality that it’s impossible to please everyone.
Observing the contradictions in the gospel
he concludes ‘yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds’
he knows that time will tell
who was wise and made the better choice
and which was the wrong decision
and then he offers to help in making those choices
“He says all things have been handed over to me by my father”
Jesus has the inside scoop
and he offers to share that with everyone,
but unlike those get rich quick scheme infomercials
Jesus offers this for free:
He says “come to me all, you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon, you and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
What Jesus is offering is not a quick fix scheme,
a magic wand that with a flick of the wrist makes all trouble disappear,
what he offers is an invitation to self-reflection and the pursuit of wisdom,
he offers to teach us another way
to deal with the contradictions of life.
The yoke, was a common image in rabbinic literature
that referred to obeying the Torah (working preacher),
the law that God gave as a gift
to help humans live with one another.
Jesus is a teacher of the law,
and he has said that he’s not come to abolish the law,
but he has seen how the pharisees and sadducees
have taken to following the law for the sake of following the rules
and not for the original intent of the gift of the law,
for abundant life of the people.
Following the letter of the law
has gotten in the way with the spirit of the law
and so Jesus offers another way,
one that is lighter, that can be summed up as
“love the lord your God with all your heart and soul and might, and your neighbor as yourself.”
Jesus offers a gentler way,
and even then
he sees how impossible it is
for humans to do the right thing,
which is why Jesus goes to the cross for us,
to make us right with God,
to offer us forgiveness
for when despite our best efforts we mess up,
when we continually choose the chocolate cake instead of the broccoli.
“Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Paul has named it,
we can’t dig ourselves out of the hole we’ve created,
we need help,
and Jesus is that help.
Now that doesn’t mean that we should keep intentionally digging holes
for Jesus to get us out of,
but when we invariably do
Jesus is gentle with us,
and again and again helps us out of the pit
and shows us another way,
one where burdens are shared and wisdom is revealed.
This doesn’t mean that life will be easy
or without contradictions,
Jesus did after all instruct his disciples
to take up the cross and follow him,
but what it does mean
is that we have a way to navigate the contradictions of life,
One where we share one another’s burdens,
where we strive to live lives turned toward God and neighbor,
where we know that because we live in Christ
we are not condemned by our failures
no matter how deeply entwined they are.
We have been set free,
free to live the lighter path of gentleness and humility,
of wisdom that carries on
through the midst of the contradictions of life. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.