Sermon on Matthew 14: 13-21

Matthew 14:13-21

 

The passage we read is preceded in the Gospel by bad news.  John the Baptist has been killed by Herod.  The voice of the man of God who came from the desert and preached the truth was now silent.  Jesus was hurt by this news.

          What was Jesus response?  He withdrew to the wilderness.  Why, because of his grief.  Jesus and John were related.  John had the mission of preparing the way for Jesus.  John had been the instrument through which Jesus began his public ministry at his baptism in the Jordan River.  John had been an obedient servant of God and those who love God are loved by Jesus.  John 14:21 states: Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

          So Jesus withdraws with his grief.  He seeks a place of reflection, of evaluation, of remembrance. He seeks a secluded place.  He goes to the wilderness, the desert.  But why there?  What is so important about the wilderness?  The wilderness is where the Holy Spirit sustained Jesus during his time of temptation.  In the Scripture the wilderness is a place of struggle, both emotional and physical.  The wilderness was a place where Jacob wrestled with God and became Israel.  The wilderness was the place where Elijah fled and fed and tended to by God.  The wilderness is the place the nation of Israel wandered and learned to depend on God.  Jesus went to the wilderness to wrestle with his emotions, to be comforted by His Father.

          Henry Nouwen, a wise spiritual teacher wrote: we all need deserts, places to which we can go and wrestle with God.  Places where we can deal with our grief, our problems, and our needs.  Each of us have a need for wilderness from time to time and if we are not near one we need to create one.  Sometimes God brings us to the wilderness for our own good.  The wilderness, the desert is a place of miracles.  It is a place where God creates a burning bush, it is a place where God separates a sea, causes bread (manna) to fall from the sky, and where God can make water flow from a rock.  Yes, Jesus comes to the desert, the wilderness, a place of encountering God, of experiencing the miraculous, and more.  

          So Jesus leaves by boat and seeks a place to be alone.  But the people find out where he is going and follow on foot.  Imagine the surprise Jesus experienced.  He though he was getting away.  He though he was going to have time alone. It is part of Murphy’s Law: the amount of interruptions and pressures experienced goes up proportionally with the amount of solitude needed. In other words if you want peace and quiet, the noise will be there.  If you want to take a nap the phone will ring or the doorbell will sound.  How dare the people follow him?  How dare they be so selfish?  But this is not how Jesus responds.  Matthew tells us that Jesus had compassion.  Jesus deeply cared about the people.  Jesus always has compassion because God has compassion.  God deeply cares about us. 2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, (all compassion).  When we look at the life of Jesus we find a continual pattern of compassion.  In the upper room, Jesus last night was spent preparing the disciple for what was to come.  Why because he had compassion on them.  When he was marched through the streets of Jerusalem carrying a cross his concern was not for himself: Luke 23:28 Jesus turned to the women and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, don’t cry for me. Rather, cry for yourselves and your children. Then on the cross, with the Roman soldiers gambling for his clothes he cried out, Father forgive them.  The compassion displayed by Jesus then and now and forever is more than a miracle, it is the ultimate revelation of love.

          In the passage, Jesus reached out to the people.  He would not let his own grief overcome his compassion.  In Jesus actions in this story we learn that we cannot wear God down with our problems.  We cannot exhaust God’s gracious power.  I believe God is grieved every day.  He is grieved at useless death, grieved b the disregard for the world and life he has given us.  Grieved by the suffering, pain, violence, injustice, and callousness.  God is grieved but not overcome.  God still reaches out to us with compassion.  God seeks to help us because God loves us.

          Then in verse 15, Jesus is present with another problem.  The disciples come to him and say: “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”  But then Jesus says to his disciples, you feed them.  The disciples wonder how, how can they do this?  In the Gospel of John it is record that they said: “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” But this was the wrong question. 

          A man went for a walk in the park when he noticed a man sitting on a bench with a beautiful German shepherd sitting beside him.  The man walked over to the bench and said hello to the man.  The man replied, hello.  The man then asked, does your dog bite?  No replied the man.  Then the man reached down to pet the dog.  The dog responded by going after the man’s hand with a mouthful of teeth.  The man barely pulled his hand away in time.  I though you said your dog doesn’t bite!  That’s not my dog.

          The disciples did not ask the right question.  The question was not how they were going to feed the people, but how was Jesus going to use them to feed the people.  When God gives us a command, God provide the means for our success.  I am afraid to many Christians have forgotten this.  We have become a people of limited vision.  We have become a people of limited perspective.  We have allowed doubt and the world to get us to focus on what we think we cannot do instead of living in the power of what God can do. 

          Listen again to what Jesus says: concerning the loaves and the fish he states “Bring them here to me.”  If there was one theological principle, one Bible truth, one spiritual commitment I wish every one of us would make the key focus of our lives is this, bring it to Jesus.  Bring what you have to the Lord and watch the miracle he will do through you!  Bring you sins and he will multiply forgiveness.  Bring your despair and he will multiply hope.  Bring your willingness and he will multiply ministry.  Bring your mind and he will multiply understanding.  Bring your heart and he will multiply love.  It does not depend on our ability, it depends on our willingness to trust the Lord and respond in faith.  God wants to show compassion through us.  God wants to do even greater things than this. In John 14:12 Jesus makes a promise: Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.  This promise is ours to claim if we are but willing.

          Note what is stated in v.20.  They all were full.  All were taken care of.  This is what God desires.  This is what a relationship with Jesus brings.  This is what the Good News offers.  The question is will we accept?  Will we understand and make the commitment to do what Jesus asks?  Will you bring it to Jesus?  Why would you not?

Love and Accountability

The passage of Scripture I am struggling with for next Sunday is one that brings up the issue of judgment.  It is a passage the speaks of a final separation of those who are children of the kingdom and the children of the evil one.

Thinking about judgment is disturbing.  To reflect upon the possibility of a human being living in an existence from which there is no comfort, no possibility of hope is a hard thing to do.  If we love people (to love God one cannot help but love people) eternal judgment seems so against ideas of mercy and compassion. 

I cannot come up with an explanation for why this must be.  I can only accept the fact that Scripture does teach the certainty of this event and the awareness deep within my own heart that what the Scripture teaches is true.  The necessity of this reality is not something we can rationalize or fit neatly into some theological construct we might create to easy our distress.  It is, however, something that should motivate us out of love and concern to reach out in urgency to those who may be at risk.  It is also something that we should be concerned with ourselves as we work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  Assurance comes with intimacy not complacency.  Confidence comes with commitment and involvement not with assumption or ignorance. 

In my reflection, I also believe that if the promised coming of judgment is hard for us, we cannot image how hard it must be for God.  It is my limited understanding that God is omnipresent.  In this statement I am expressing the belief that there is no place that God does not exist.  If this is true, then the eternal state of separation is a place that God endures as well as those who have rejected God’s grace.  How painful will it be for God to see these people created out of God’s love in this state of separation.  The omnipresence of God would seem to indicate that God too carries a great burden for those who chose the path of perdition. 

My theological task this week is a challenge.  It will require a lot of prayer and reflection.  I will have to seek diligently the guidance of the Holy Spirit for understanding and direction as I seek to mold a message that has meaning and inspires motivation to respond in faith to what is a hard truth to face.

I do this because I do love the Lord.

 

Contemplation, thoughtful observation

The word contemplation can be defined as thoughtful observation. 

When we set down with the Scripture and read it with the understanding that it is a gift given to us out of God’s love toward us then thoughtful observation can become a means of intimate discovery.  To spend time reading the accounts of human shortcomings that are met over and over again by God’s efforts of restoration and transformation thoughtful observation brings a realization of how love is magnified.  Giving thoughtful observation to forgiveness, calling, indwelling and communion can produce powerful perspectives.  Contemplation opens us up to inspiration by the Spirit that indwells our hearts.

We live in the midst of limitation and finiteness.  In the Scripture we are told that God wishes for us to become aware of God’s desire for us to want to transcend our limitations and our finiteness.  Through contemplation, thoughtful observation, we can grow in our understanding of this desire.   This understanding gives us resources that cannot be bought or acquired by any merits on our part.  Through thoughtful observation we can come to embrace grace in a more expanded manner.  Through thoughtful observation we can find the means to trust providence beyond our understanding.  Through time spent in thoughtful observation we can gain confidence that God is present even when our circumstances, situations, feelings, and perspectives pressure us to doubt.

In any relationship there are times for spontaneity and emotional response.  However, a relationship that also has its time of thoughtful observation, times of reflection, that allow the encounters of the relationship to be viewed in different and more profound ways, the relationship is given the chance to develop depth.   Contemplation requires the giving of time and intent.  It is an offering of worthiness.  Thoughtful observation is a demonstration of the value and importance of the relationship experience.  It is another positive way and means of loving the Lord our God and discovering more deeply just how much the Lord loves us.

 

 

A Double Blessing

Today was my first Sunday serving the two church of the charge I have been given.  In both churches, communion was served.  This means I had the privilege of being blessed twice through taking of the sacrament with God’s people at both churches.  I can understand the joy and commitment found in John Wesley’s exhortation to take communion as often as we can.  I was almost brought to tears in the joy that I felt.

Communion is a means of grace.  To come to the Lord’s table in remembrance and in worship, receiving the body and blood of Christ, joining with other believers in anticipation and expectation can be a glimpse into the joy that is ours to come and yet already is.  In Eucharist the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives is strengthened.

Communion for me is an act of intimacy.  It is time of remembering what has been and looking forward to what is to come.  It is a reminder that the Lord is with us always even to the end of the age.  What great love is found is this most blest of sacraments.  Today, with believers I have been called to pastor, it was truly a time of loving the Lord.

Loving People

Yesterday was a national Holiday.  It was also a day to begin to get to know people in the community into which I have just moved. My wife and I attended a community gathering in the center of town.  It was an event put on by the chamber of commerce.  It was a wonderful gathering of local people.  It was a delight to get to meet some of the folks who live in this town.

A disciple of Jesus Christ has the responsibility to seek to meet people, to get to know people.  Why? Because God desires to love people and a follower of Jesus seeks to desire what God desires.  As beings created in the image of God we have at the center of our being a nature of love.  This nature is deformed and corrupted and thus separated from God.  In this state we do not love as we were intended from creation but through the gift of grace we can grow toward wholeness, toward loving as God loves.  It is this growth in love that awakens within us just how important people really are and how important it is for us to get to know them.

As I meet people, I pray that God will allow me to see them as God sees them.  I pray that as I am given grace I will be able to understand how important it is for me to help others receive the gift of grace as well.  In this bond of grace we can develop true community.  In this involvement in true community we can join with one another in building on the foundation that has been laid in our lives, the Kingdom of God where the love of God reigns.

We only have a certain amount of time in this world to “get it”.  So much of our time is consumed in doing things that matter only to this world and in a very limited way.  But the spiritually grounded relationships we seek to develop now, the people in whom we invest our time and togetherness with now, these things will bless us forever.  In these relationships we have the opportunity learn more about love and to love the Lord as the Lord lives in the life of others.

Developing a Central Theological Statement

In a recent seminar, I was asked to write a (my) central theological statement in 50 words or less. A central theological statement is an expression of the foundational concepts (beliefs) upon which a person bases their service to Jesus. I believe taking the time to write one’s own central theological statement can be very productive spiritually. Writing out this statement and then using it as a tool to reflect on how we are living our lives in accord with what we have written can give us insights into our consistency in faith and practice.

The central theological statement I wrote for myself is: Practicing Christian Theology is done in guiding the church to be faithful in growing in intimacy with God, the proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and living in anticipation and preparation of Jesus return.  In this statement I hoped to capture the things I consider to be of most importance as I seek to serve my Lord.  I feel this statement gives me workable parameters upon which to reflect but is also broad enough to allow for growth.

As can be seen in the statement, the focus is about guiding the church in a certain direction.  What is not stated is that in order to do this I must make sure it is a reality in my own life.  In order to do, I must be.  I believe this is the way a central theological statement must work.  This is how it is practical. 

Disciples in the early church developed tools for spiritual reflection to aid them in maintaining their focus and purpose.  Today, I believe we face greater distractions than the church faced then.  In light of this, I believe disciples of Jesus today must be attentive to those spiritual practices developed in the past but also to look for new tools to help us in our spiritual growth today.  I believe developing a central theological statement and reflecting upon it regularly can be such a tool. 

In all we do let us seek to love the Lord.

 

Love the Lord Your God (3)

In John 14: 15 Jesus states, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

We have been taught that the love of God is unconditional.  That word “if” seems to place a condition.

Yes it does, but the condition is not on God’s love for us but on our ability to love God.   Jesus states that true love of Him is tied to our keeping the commandments God has given to us.

We human beings are very good at rationalization.  In fact, we are so good at it we that we believe our rationalization are what make up reality.  We reason what we want and then believe this is the way it must be.  We can get angry at other people and then blame them for our anger.  We reason they made us angry.  No, we respond to a stimulus in ourselves and decide to be angry.  The creation of anger is all our own.  A person does something and we respond with sadness.  We say they made us sad by their actions or inactions.  No, we chose to respond out of our reason with a reaction of sadness.  When we say we love God are we responding with an emotion made of our reason, our rationalizing that we “love” God?  Have we set the criteria for what constitutes love?  What role does God have in this?

God’s commandments set up the foundation for true reality.  God’s commandments come out of God’s very nature.  God is love.  God sets the standard.  God’s commandments set the standard for behavior within reality.  God states that love is defined within the actions God has determined.  If we are to love then we must conform to this reality.  There is no room for our rationalizations within this reality, thus the condition, “if you love me.”

In our mortal state, corrupted by our nature, our rationalizations are not a reliable standard by which to judge what is true or real.  This is why God must give us the gift of grace to be able to respond to God and to come to understand what truth is.  The command to love the Lord our God is a command to action.  This action is not determined by our reason but by God’s revelation.  Without our accepting this we are caught in a cycle of reasoning that is centered in deception.  Grace opens us up to the chance to break out of the cycle of human rationalization into the reality that God desires for us to know.  In responding to grace we can keep the commandments God gives to us.  Grace reveals to us this reality and gives us the ability to take action in accord with it.  It also gives us a basis for self reflection on how we are doing.  We can look at our lives and the commandments God gives and see if they are in sync.  In this way we can know what real love is.

Loving God takes a commitment on our part.  It is a duty that becomes a delight.  This is a hard task in our world that places so much emphasis on our deciding what we want rather than discovering what we really need.  So if we are to love the Lord our God with all our hearts, soul, and might we need to understand we can only do this IF we keep God’s commandments.