Saturday, July 30, 2005

feed the world

In the name of Jesus; amen.

There is a story of a football coach who had two quarterbacks. The first team quarterback was gifted, aggressive, and a born leader. The second string quarterback was, let us say, limited. Oh, he was athletic enough but unfortunately, he lacked a mind for strategy. The championship game was in progress, the score was tied, the home team had the ball, and the clock was ticking down. An opposing player broke through the line of scrimmage and slammed the star quarterback to the ground with such force that the signal-caller had to leave the game. Time was running out. The coach had no choice but to put in the back-up. The substitute trotted onto the field, huddled the team, and strode up to the line of scrimmage.

Surveying the opposing team, and much to everyone's surprise, he changed the play at the line. The ball was snapped, the quarterback handed it off to the half-back who busted up the middle and sped all the way into the end zone with the winning touchdown! An amazing play. Moments later, in the ecstatic dressing room, the coach grabbed his second-team quarterback by the shoulder pads and said, "Son, that was great! How did you know to call that play?"

The boy said, "Uh, well coach, it weren't easy. I got up to the line and looked across at two of the biggest players I've ever seen and I seen their numbers. One of 'em was wearing a six and the other one was wearing a seven, so I just added them numbers together and got fourteen and called number fourteen." The coach hesitated a moment and said, "But son, six and seven make 13."

The boy, quite unmoved by the correction, said, "You know what coach? If I was as smart as you, we would have lost the game." Things do not always add up the way they are supposed to, do they?

It was getting late and it was becoming obvious to the disciples that the crowd that had gathered to be healed by Jesus was getting hungry. They had counted up the numbers and decided what should be done: send them away to fend for themselves. And their reasoning made sense on a lot of levels.

Firstly, Matthew tells us that there were over 5,000 people there. And even if he was exaggerating we can still safely assume that there were still a lot of people there.

Secondly, Matthew tells us that Jesus had gone to a deserted place so we can assume that if he and the disciples took supplies for dinner with them (which they apparently did because they had five loaves of bread and two fish) they weren’t expecting to have to feed company.

Ever had company show up unexpectedly and had to scrounge for something to serve them?

Thirdly, Jesus had gone away in order to mourn the death of his cousin, John. If anyone should be feeding anyone Jesus should have been the one receiving the dinner. After all, isn’t that what people do when someone dies; they take the relatives the food, not the other way around?

The disciples were not out of line in their accounting of the situation. They just couldn’t do it and that was that. It was better to tell them to go home and get their dinner then to let them hang out and get hungry, which makes some people cranky.

Send them home, it makes the most sense.

This is a story about hunger. The people who followed Jesus were hungry. Now maybe the hunger was spiritual at first; they wanted to hear Jesus talk about God. And some of the hunger was based upon their need for healing and they wanted Jesus to lay his hands on them. But it was the disciples who noticed that the people were getting hungry for food.

I think we all understand that there are hungry people in the world. One website I found, called Food First, claims that there are at least 700 million people in this world who do not have enough to eat and that 12 million children die each year because of it. On their homepage it lists 12 myths of hunger. Myth #1 is:

Not Enough Food to Go Around
Reality: Abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply. Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish. Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs-enough to make most people fat! The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food. Even most "hungry countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

The disciples had five loaves of bread and two fish and Jesus told them to feed over 5,000 people with it.

“They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”

And it sounds absurd, doesn’t it? Absurd that so many could be fed with so little, absurd that Jesus would even suggest such a thing… couldn’t he count?

700 million people is a lot of people to invite over for dinner and yet, I don’t think I would be doing my job today if I didn’t suggest it. And I know that this is a generous congregation because I have felt your generosity in my life and in how you have worked to support and care for me as your pastor.
So how can we feed 700 million people?

And you should all understand that I get to this point in my sermon writing and wonder why I ask such questions because now I have to come up with an answer that makes sense. And maybe that’s the problem exactly; that I want 1+1 to equal 2, when I know that isn’t how God does math.

Jesus took 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and fed 5,000 plus people with it and had left-overs!

So, what can we do? How can we feed 700 million people?

And you are going to be surprised that my first answer is not to pray. Oh we should pray, praying is good, we need to pray. But the real answer to hunger is not that God would provide more, because we have enough.

The answer is that we need to share what we have with those that don’t have. Jesus told the disciples to gather what they had and then he prayed.

So let’s do it. Let’s have 700 million people over for dinner. Let’s save 12 million children from dying each year. I expect it won’t be easy, it will take lots of planning, lots of work, and lots of letting go, but don’t think for one moment that we don’t have the resources.

And that’s the good news. God has already given us what we need to do it. We have been given an abundant life in Christ Jesus.

So, are you ready to get cooking?


Friday, July 29, 2005


sometimes it's good to give your brain some time off. you all know what i mean. after a week of hosting a vacation bible school for 47 children, worrying about my mother who was in the hospital for 8 days after having a 30 year old bloodclot ended up in her lung and almost killed her, my father having minor surgery, and a funeral this morning i need to have some brain numbing stuff (see, i can't even come up with a better word than "stuff.")

so, here are some of my favorite things to numb my brain

zuma oh, i love computer games and this is my new fave

blogthings just in case you want to know how weird you are

random name generator want a new identity?

postsecret yes, it's on my favorites list, and it only gets updated once a week, but it's nice to know that other people have skeletons too

bravo television network. i'm watching the countdown to the scariest movie moments right now.

writing my novel, ok, not really brain numbing, but it's fantasy so give me a break

smirnoff twisted... watermelon flavor... tastes just like a watermelon jolly rancher

and of course... spider solitaire, though i haven't won in quite a few games (i play the medium level).

yup, good stuff...

Sunday, July 24, 2005

the future

In the name of Jesus; amen.

In 1985, when I was but 15 years old, a singer by the name of Whitney Houston released a song with these lyrics (perhaps you will recognize them):

I believe that children are our future
Teach them well and let them lead the way
Show them all the beauty they possess inside
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be
Everybody searching for a hero
People need someone to look up to
I never found anyone to fulfill my needs
A lonely place to be
So I learned to depend on me
I decided long ago
Never to walk in anyone's shadow
If I fail, if I succeed
At least I will live as I believe
No matter what they take from me
They can't take away my dignity

Chorus:Because the greatest love of all
Is happening to me
I found the greatest love of all
Inside of me
The greatest love of all
Is easy to achieve
Learning to love yourself
It is the greatest love of all

Nice sentiment, especially today as we celebrate the beginning of a week of Vacation Bible School between Immanuel and Salem Churches. Certainly I remember loving the song when it came out, thinking that someone had finally gotten it right. Teach children dignity, teach them to love themselves, teach them to be their own person.

Now, I don’t know if Whitney was the first one to say it, but the line: “The children are our future” has gotten to be well-known. And we have an expectation of our children to live up to it; to be our future. And that gets lived out in several different ways. Anyone here seen the show: “Sports Moms and Dads” on Bravo. It’s a new reality show that follows the children and parents of talented children who play sports. There’s another one like it on TV too called Show Moms and Dads.

I’ve never watched a full episode, but when I’ve seen parts of it or caught a commercial usually some parent is being portrayed pushing their child beyond their limits to succeed, to fulfill a dream of greatness the parents always claim is the child’s, but it is obviously clear that the dream is the parent’s.

“I believe that children are our future.”

It’s a nice sentiment; but I don’t believe it. It’s a beautiful song and I’ve had it stuck in my head for days now; but I don’t believe it. Yes, I agree that children should be taught well, given a sense of pride in themselves. I agree that children should love themselves and be developed into leaders. Children are a gift that should not be mistreated or abused and I will advocate for a child before anyone else, including myself.

But gathered here today as two churches with a history between them and as two churches about to do this great ministry of Vacation Bible School together if we think that anything but Jesus Christ is our future we are in trouble deep.

In today’s second reading Paul brings up all sorts of horrors: hardship, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, peril, and the sword. And he quotes Psalm 44 and the Prophet, Zechariah: “For your sake we are being killed all day long; we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

And it would sound pretty bleak if all we had to go on was our own dignity or our own self-love if this was the life we were up against. But Paul, Paul looks at all these things with the knowledge of an even greater love and makes the claim: “If God is for us, who is against us?” And then later, “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.”

Our future as the Church, as members of churches, and as individuals in them, is Christ Jesus and the kingdom of Heaven and nothing can keep us from that future because it has already been laid in front of us, the door wide open with no impediments to keep us from it.

And Jesus, in today’s Gospel, tells us the joy of that Kingdom. It is a small thing that grows beyond our dreams; an ingredient that finishes the recipe; a precious gem worth more than any other; a surprise; and an overabundant fullness.

But even more so, the Kingdom of Heaven, our future, is a thing that God does. It is God who plants, God who leavens the bread, God who finds the treasure and the pearl, God who throws in his net to discover it filled; which means that we are the prize the thing that God desired more than any other, so that he was willing to give away everything he had for us.

Our future has been made by the one “who did not withhold his own Son, but gave him up for all of us.”

We can celebrate Vacation Bible School today. We can celebrate our two churches coming together to worship and work as a cooperative. We can celebrate the ministry of Camp Calumet and we can celebrate the children for whom all this was done.
But none of those things has determined our future the way that God has determined it.

I believe that Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven is our future, that nothing in this life can separate us from either and for that I can shout Hallelujah!


Sunday, July 10, 2005

good soil

In the name of Jesus; amen.

I am not what you might call a successful gardener. If you’ve seen the backyard of the parsonage lately you might be aware of that. When spring finally arrived this year I made the decision to wait and see what would pop up before making any decisions about what I might try to grow in a garden.

To my surprise I have all sorts of plants back there including bleeding hearts and rhubarb; I know this because my parents told me that’s what they were on one of their visits.

I like the idea of having a garden, of seeing beautiful things grow in my yard, but whenever I begin the process of trying to plant one I get frustrated by the conditions of the soil and all the work it takes to get it ready for planting.

Now I have tried in the past. Scott and I lived in a parsonage in Jersey City the summer after we were married and valiantly cleared out the back yard with the help of a friend. No one had lived in the house for some time and it took all day just to clear the trash and debris before we could start to plant anything.

I was excited because I had sunflower seeds to plant; so I dug a shallow trench and lovingly placed seeds in the dirt at even intervals. I watered those plants every day. I cleared the weeds that occasionally popped up and I measured their growth with anticipation at the bright yellow flowers that would adorn the yard.

They bloomed about a week after we moved back to seminary and ever since I’ve found the dream of a beautiful garden to be more practical than the actual planting of one.

It seems to be such trouble wherever I have lived. In New Jersey it was dealing with sandy soil and too much sunlight and here… well, let’s just say there are a lot of rocks in CT.

So, when I read this parable that Jesus tells I get somewhat excited. A sower went out to sow… and it seems his idea of planting totally disregards all the work that I once thought necessary to planting anything. He doesn’t clear the ground of debris and rocks, he doesn’t dig holes or trenches; he just goes out and indiscriminately tosses seed. Now this is my kind of planting!

(The Sower
Vincent van Gogh
oil on canvas 73x93cm
E. G. Buhrle Collection)

Except that some of the seeds fall on the path and the birds eat it. (Well, let’s just say that I bought a bag of birdseed 2 months ago and I still haven’t had to refill the birdfeeder.)

And then some seeds fell onto rocky ground and their roots couldn’t go down deep enough for much of a plant to grow. Well, that may explain why the bleeding hearts in my backyard aren’t all that tall.

And other seeds the sower sowed fell among the thorns and the thorns chocked them. (I should now mention that I can’t tell what are the weeds in my yard and what are the actual plants anyway.)

Oh, the sower did get lucky. Some of his seeds hit good soil and they sprang up, but if this was a story about gardening it would seem that the moral would be don’t use shortcuts when planting.

Jesus went out of his house and sat beside the sea. He had had a hard day. He had gotten into a fight with the Pharisees over working on the Sabbath and whether or not he was in league with the devil.

He probably just wanted to sit by the water and listen to the waves lap up against the shore when a crowd began to gather and grow so big that he had to climb aboard a boat to have them all see him.

“Listen! A sower went out to sow.” And the people quieted down to hear his story because Jesus had a way with stories. And what’s really great about this one is that Jesus himself explained it so that everyone who heard it would understand what it meant and he didn’t always do this; sometimes people walked away from one of his stories scratching their heads and wondering what the heck he was talking about.

His stories, his parables were how he explained things about God or the kingdom of God. And he told them in such a way that you knew that you were in the story too.

Well, we are not the sower in this parable Jesus tells the crowds that gathered at the sea to hear him preach. This was a story about God and so God is the sower; the one that tosses the seed indiscriminately onto the ground is our creator.

We are also not the seeds. In this parable the seeds are the Word of God and the Word of God is his story of grace for us. It’s the message of his love for us, forgiveness for us, and his desire for us. This is the stuff he tosses randomly onto the soil in hopes that it will grow.

Not the sower, not the seeds, we aren’t the soil either. Oh, traditionally this might be how one would interpret this parable. It would make sense and could certainly be argued. But soil is the situation, the environment we find ourselves in, not who we are… but where we are and what is happening at the time.

So where are we in the story? Can you guess?

I would say that we are the thing that grows from the seeds that are planted.

Listen now. Some people get eaten up by believing in the wrong thing or by not believing at all. Some people don’t root themselves in their faith and they never grow and ultimately don’t survive. Some people forget their faith and turn to things that only destroy them. And some people just keep replanting themselves in hopes of finding a better spot to no avail.

And some people find themselves growing out of good soil and they produce fruit.

Still listening? We are supposed to be fruit producing people and this community is supposed to be good soil otherwise we wouldn’t have been planted here. It might seem like God sowed with no plan at all, that his gardening skills were erratic at best, that it was all luck…

…but God knows about gardens and proclaims through the prophet Isaiah: “so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.”

We have been cultivated for God’s purpose: to share the Word of the Kingdom with others; to act as scarecrows when the devil comes to eat up the faith of others; to clear the land of rocks and to pull up the weeds which choke faith.

Do you hear? Are you listening?

We have been planted by God who loves us, watered by our baptisms, fertilized by the body and blood of Christ, and rooted in faith so that we might fulfill the purpose of God. The sower is not random, but generous in how he plants so that we too might be generous in how we bear fruit.

We are fruit producing people and God glories in the garden he has planted.


Friday, July 08, 2005

right now

my son is being potty trained. at 3 years old it seems to be time. but the question is how do you potty train a child that doesn't talk? well, you start by taking him to the potty all the time to get him in the habit and then... hope you can figure out what to do next.

that someone else's bodily functions would mean so much to me is a strange thing. to rejoice over pee-pee and pray for a poop... well, it puts life into perspective.

meanwhile my 6 yr old is having a sleepover with a friend who she only sees occasionally (she lives in another state). she's been calling her cousin "p" and asked me today if they were really cousins as she was preparing for the visit.

no, i told her.

then why do i call her cousin?

well, sometimes you love someone like they are family so you call them things like cousin...

which reminds me that one of my dearest friends, someone like a sister, is coming to visit me next week. we haven't seen each other in too long and the thought of having her here reminds me of all the tears i haven't shed yet, all the jokes i haven't told yet, all the stories i haven't shared yet... and i feel such desire to let it all out that i can't wait for her to be here and put my arms around her.

everyone should have someone like her in their life. a person who knows you better than anyone else and have that be ok. sometimes people know us too well and it's scary. but this is not that kind of knowing... it's the kind that makes you feel whole because they are there.

ahh, and now it is time to peek in the kids rooms and make sure they are asleep.. to "smell them" (something only parents can understand) then climb into bed with hubby and snuggle until i fall asleep so that i can get up in the morning and make waffles in the toast, drink my cup of tea and start a whole new day of potty training.

Saturday, July 02, 2005


Romans 7:15-25a and Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

In the name of Jesus; amen.

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!
– The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus.

It seems apropos to talk about freedom this morning. The words I just quoted are those found on the Statue of Liberty; a poem written by Emma Lazarus in 1883 to help raise money to build the pedestal the Statue stands upon. Lazarus’ poem became a credo for immigrants traveling to America and searching for freedom.

Freedom is a hot topic these days. Ever since 9/11 and the War on Terror and the War in Iraq the word “freedom” seems to be everywhere. Who can forget when the House of Representatives officially changed the name of French fries to freedom fries in the cafeterias on Capitol Hill?

But even if none of these events had taken place, the word freedom is used often enough. Watch a few hours of television and you’ll hear product after product promising you freedom: freedom to choose what you want on your hamburger, freedom from waiting for your computer to connect to the internet, freedom from boredom while driving your car … freedom, freedom, freedom.
So talking about freedom today doesn’t seem too out of place; except that the freedom that we should talk about is not the kind of freedom we might associate with the holiday we will celebrate tomorrow, or fireworks, or ease of life offered by consumerism or even democracy.

Jesus is speaking to the crowds that have gathered to hear him and he’s sorta letting them have it. He calls them children and whinny children at that; children who want it their way rather than God’s way. Then he says something interesting:

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are 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.”

Now, how many of you know what a yoke is because I realize that a yoke is not necessarily a common thing nowadays. When animals were used to plow fields two oxen would be connected by a yoke which was connected to the plow and they would pull the plow behind them. I’ve seen yokes and they are not small things, they are heavy and cumbersome; a burden laid on the shoulders of those who did the work. The people that Jesus spoke to would have had first-hand knowledge of such things, but most of us today have only seen yokes in movies, if at all.

It’s hard for me to even come up with a modern day equivalent. But we understand burdens, don’t we? I laugh at technology that promises to make life easy, give me more time. I laugh at gadgets and gismos that promise to make cleaning a breeze. Ever watched an infomercial? Nothing is ever that easy or uncomplicated. And don’t get me started on politics that promise freedom; I don’t care which political party you are affiliated with. I have filled up on things that promise freedom and been left empty.

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are 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 was talking about was a new kind of freedom; new because it never pretended to make life easy or to take away our burdens.

Paul wrote to the church in Rome about his inability to do what was right. Even when he knew that something was wrong or evil, the sin that was in him made him want to do it. He might try to do the right thing, but left to his own devices he would only do the wrong thing.

This was his burden, the thing that dragged behind him and weighed heavily on his shoulders and made him cry out: “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?”

We are held captive by so many things in this life. Do you know what I’m talking about? Is there something dragging you down, a burden that is weighing on you that you want to be freed of? I could go through a whole list of things that I have on my shoulders and I could easily make guesses about what’s weighing you down as well.

When immigrants came to this country and passed by the Statue of Liberty they found a new hope, but it wasn’t easy for them. Many came with only the clothes on their backs, with little money and no real place to go. Many were held back and put through tortuous medical tests to see if they could be admitted into this country. They had to learn a new language and many had their names changed. They were tired and poor, wretched and homeless as they passed by Lady Liberty and made their way onto Ellis Island and all she could promise was freedom from the way they had once lived.

You with your burdens, you tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free… when you pass by the cross, Christ promises you a freedom to another way to live, not by allowing you to set down your burdens but by carrying them with you.

This is not just freedom from, but freedom to a new life and a new way to live it. When we, like Paul, call out in our distress,
“Wretched being that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” It is Jesus who is able to rescue us from the captivity and burden of the weight on our shoulders because he bears it with us.

Lady Liberty may have promised freedom, but she is just a statue, a symbol of possibility. But Christ is the reality of freedom for those who are weary and carrying heavy burdens.

Lady Liberty may have lifted her lamp for those huddled masses to see a new land, but even her light grew dim and needed repairs. But Christ is the reality of light and new life for those whose souls have grown dark.

Lady Liberty may have offered hope to those in search of freedom, but Christ… Christ is freedom.

Thanks be to God through Christ Jesus our Lord.


"and vivian followed."

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