Altars Everywhere!

Defiant Praise – John van de Laar
There are many doorways to cynicism, Jesus,
Many reasons for despair,
May causes for fear;
But there is no excuse for giving them ultimate power;
Not if we really believe what we claim to believe.

Resurrection is real, Jesus;
We have touched it, and seen it;
Our own lives bear witness to it,
And it constantly reveals itself in our world.
And so, in spite of the fear that nags at us,
In the face of the despair and cynicism that taunts us,
In denial of all that would seek to steal life away,
We offer you our love,
Our devotion,
Our lives,
As an offering of resurrection faith
And defiant praise.
Amen.

Over these past few weeks, we have been talking about what it is like to live in Scare City.
Our fear of not having enough or being enough made us want to build tall towers and make a name for ourselves.
Our fear of the unknown and what lurks around every corner kept us from stepping out in faith.
Our fear of those who are different – who live on the other side of the tracks – caused us to miss opportunities to share our gifts with them or to receive blessings from them.

Fear, scarcity, cynicism… these are all things that limit our ability to fully experience the life God has given us.
In our attempts to cling to what we have, we don’t allow ourselves to take hold of what is truly life.

Our scripture this morning comes from a letter written by Paul to a young minister named Timothy.
Timothy was having a tough time in his work. In many ways, he was living in Scare City, perhaps facing fears that he wasn’t good enough, he was too young and unexperienced; maybe he didn’t feel brave enough for what God was calling him to do.
Or maybe, he was a young pastor, sent to a church where everything was hunky dory and he was having a hard time helping the church to grow – both in numbers and in faith.
So Paul sent this letter as a form of encouragement that young man’s ministry and as a reminder of what was really important… and I’m finding it helpful and encouraging as well.
I think its important for all of us to hear this call to move out of our attitudes of scarcity and to move into a sense of God’s abundant grace and love in our lives.

Because, friends, that is our call.

We are called to dismantle all those symbols of fear and scarcity in our lives so that we can embrace God’s abundant, joyful, overflowing life.
In our worship space this morning, we have literally dismantled the scaffolding that symbolized over these past few weeks the towers we build, the corners, and the walls…
Instead, all of these pieces are now altar spaces of their own… filled with signs of God’s hope and love and mercy that pours out into our lives.
They are symbols of OUR resurrection faith and defiant praise of God in the midst of a world that so often seems scary and uncertain.

Paul’s letter to Timothy was filled with reminders of how he could shed those fears.
The instructions were meant to help him fight the good fight of faith and to take hold of the eternal life to which he was called and for which he made his confession.
Confession isn’t a word that we use every day in our faith tradition.
We confess when we have done something wrong or when we are sorry, but the way it is used here also means to confess what we believe to be true.
Jane Anne Ferguson reminds us that this likely referred to the confession that Timothy made in his baptism.
A confession that he was God’s child.
A confession that he would serve God and love his neighbors.

A confession not unlike the one that we make in our baptisms…

I’ve been thinking about those promises that we in fact made during our baptisms and how they connect with the fears and the scarcity that lurk on the edges of our lives.

[slides for baptism]
So often, the feeling that we are not enough and that we have to build towers to make a name for and protect ourselves… that desire to have more and more and more… well, those are the powers of consumerism and nationalism run rampant.
When our desire to earn and spend and save money becomes idolatrous… when our patriotism blinds us to our kinship with brothers and sisters of other nations… then it is time for us to remember our confession.
Will you let the Spirit use you as prophets to the powers that be?
We accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

When our world is filled with jealousy, conflict, abuse, and rumors… when there is a constant state of bickering and violence shows up on our news every single day… when the threats of war and destruction loom over us… then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you turn away from the powers of sin and death?
We renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of our sin!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Where there is division and anxiety over those who look different or speak different or come from different places. When we look out in judgment upon those who don’t have the things that we have or when we hesitate to see and name and celebrate the gifts of people we think are below ourselves. When we forget that we, like Paul, are completely unworthy of the love of God for us… well, then it is time for us to remember our confession…
Will you proclaim the good news and live as disciples of Jesus Christ, his body on earth?
We confess Jesus Christ as our Savior, put our whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as our Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races!
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

And we do so by going back to the basics. By remembering the faith of our ancestors. By using their struggles and blessings to guide and shape the way that we live our lives. We turn to those pages of scripture, like this letter to Timothy, to remind us of the calling that is at our roots. And so, we make our confession…
Will you receive and profess the Christian faith as contained in the Scriptures?
We affirm and teach the faith of the whole church as we put our trust in God, the Father Almighty, in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, and in the Holy Spirit, one God now and forever.
That is resurrection faith. That is defiant praise. That is how we build altars everywhere in this world!

Like Timothy, we, too, have been called to a different kind of life.
We are called to “pursue righteousness, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness” (1 Tim 6:11) –those fruits of the spirit that we talked about all summer long.
Fight the good fight of faith…
Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and for which you made your confession.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.
Remember your baptism and be grateful.

Be grateful.
As 1 Timothy 6:6 reminds us, we are called to a life that combines godliness with contentment,
Gratitude and contentment are key and perhaps the only way we can truly move from a spirit of scarcity to one of abundance.
It is a reminder that we brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it.
Paul urges Timothy to remember that those who desire to be rich and to have more get caught up in a cycle of self-destruction. Their lust brings nothing but trouble.
On the other hand, those who have wealth can become so full of themselves and obsessed with their money that it becomes a stumbling block to their faith.
As the Message translation puts it, “a devout life does bring wealth, but it’s the rich simplicity of being yourself before God…. If we have bread on the table and shoes on our feet, that’s enough.”

Bread on the table and shoes on our feet.
Friends, that is all that we really need.
That is what is important.
These are signs of God’s abundance that will transform this world.

Bread and shoes…

Bread on the table… a sign of the great thanksgiving and a reminder that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
A reminder of the abundant grace that has been given to us.
And a sign of the Body of Christ and how we are all united in this common mission.
And a loaf which is meant to be broken so that not just we… but others may be fed.
Bread symbolizes the ministries of our church where we praise God in our worship and we connect with one another around tables.

Shoes on our feet… because we have places to go!
Just as the first disciples were sent out into the world to baptize and teach and spread the good news, so we have been called to go from this place out into the world. After we have been fed by God’s word, we are supposed to share it.
We are supposed to carry it with us from this sanctuary so that we can transform this world.
Shoes symbolize the ministries of our church in which we teach and share the faith with young and old and in which we go and serve in places near and far.

Today… we have the opportunity to make our commitments for next year.
As a church, we have been deepening our vision and we believe that our love, service, and prayer in this world is meant to make an impact.
Just like bread is meant to be shared and shoes are meant to go out, when we deepen our engagement in this church and when we partner with others out in the world, things are going to happen!
You and me, right now, today, we are laying the foundation for the future ministry of our church.
And it will take all of us, making the commitment to personally engage in just a slightly deeper way for our church to grow and flourish and thrive.

If we are honest with ourselves… the foundation that we are laying today is not for us.
It is for the church of our children and grandchildren.
Some of us won’t be here in 10-20 years as our dreams for this place are being realized.
But for the sake of our children, for the sake of our grandchildren, for the sake of the neighbors all around us who are hungry and yearning for hope… we are called to this work.
We are called to fight the good fight.
We are called to do good.
We are called to carry this worship and word out of this place and bring light and hope and grace and mercy to all we meet.
We are called to be generous and to share.
And when we do so, we will take hold of what is truly life.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

Never Go Hungry

We are gathered here tonight, as one community of faith, to give thanks.

Throughout this month, I’ve been preaching about gratitude and giving thanks and one of the things that we have highlighted is that God wants us to give thanks for the differences among us.  It is only by being grateful for someone you disagree with that you can ever move beyond those differences into community.

And our three churches probably don’t agree on everything.  I think that’s a good thing.  We all play a different role in this great big body of Christ.  And we choose to view one another not as competitors, but as partners in the amazing mission and ministry of God in this world. 

For that, I’m grateful.

 

We choose to gather around this time of year in particular because of our national celebration of Thanksgiving. 

While the fuller history of this gathering is far more checkered and controversial, one thing is certain… there were at least three days of community and peace between the pilgrims at Plymouth and the Wampanoag Nation (Wahmp – uh nahg).  The colonists had barely survived the first winter and it was only through the charity and hospitality of these Wampanoag  people that this feast occurred.   They made sure that they would not go hungry.

Our scriptures call us back to an earlier time of Thanksgiving, however. 

Gary Roth draws the connection between the early pilgrims, dependent upon the mercy of the native peoples and the Israelites, who were utterly dependent upon the grace and mercy of God.

As our text from Deuteronomy reminds us – “My father was a wandering Aramean…”  The Israelites were brutally oppressed in Egypt, and God heard their cries of distress.  They were led out of the land of Egypt, sustained by daily bread from heaven, and eventually came to the land promised to them by the Lord.  God made sure that they would not go hungry.

And these Israelites were called to give thanks and to remember that the land and everything it produced was a gift from God. 

The first fruits of the land were set aside as an offering of thanks and the people were called to celebrate their blessings and to share them with all.

 

We, too, are utterly dependent upon God. 

And we, too, have been blessed. 

As Jesus reminds us in the gospel of John, those Israelites wandering in the desert relied upon manna, bread from heaven to sustain them daily. 

We like to imagine that we are self-sufficient and don’t need anyone’s help, but that simply is not true.

Every breath of air that fills our lungs is a gift from God.

Every ray of sunshine and drop of rain that nurtures our crops is a gift from God.

Every grain of wheat is a gift from God.

And so is the bread of life… the love and mercy of God… the incarnation and death and resurrection of Jesus that provided the gift that none of us could even imagine… true life, eternal life, life with God.

Because of God, we will never go spiritually hungry.  And so we must give thanks.

 

The question is, what does a thankful life look like?

What does it mean to live in gratitude, knowing that is only by God’s grace we are sustained?

In Deuteronomy, we discover that one way to live in gratitude is to pay the gift forward again and again. 

The Israelites remembered that their father was a wandering Aramean… and then they looked out at the immigrants and refugees who were among them and shared the first fruits with those in need. 

The book of Leviticus is full of instructions to leave the gleanings of the harvest and the edges of the field for those who were in need.

We live out our thanksgiving by making sure that others have enough.

Enough food.

Enough water.

Enough grace.

Enough love.

Whether it is spiritual or physical bread… God invites us to share it with others as a mark of our gratitude.

 

Talk about the DMARC / CWS offering for the Karin people… A Christian community from Myanmar/Burma that has found a home and a refuge here in the greater Des Moines area. 

We can give thanks today by sharing God’s love and mercy and physical sustenance with these immigrants and refugees in our community. We can make sure that they will never go hungry.

But we also are challenged to think about sustaining gifts that go beyond immediate needs and create life-sustaining conditions.  So the CWS offering will go to help the communities in Myanmar that are most at risk so that they don’t have to flee their homeland in the first place.

 

Let us give thanks to the Lord for all of our blessings.

And let us never cease to pass them on to others.  

Amen.

Tables and Holy Experiences

I have a sense of my first Maundy Thursday service, but I can’t quite place where it falls in my history.  I was not a child, but not yet fully grown.  Perhaps it was high school, or maybe somewhere in my college years.  I have a sense of a fellowship area, a place not just for worship, but for eating and laughing as well.  Classmates and adult leaders alike are present as we strip off our socks, giggle about stinky feet and toe lint, and form a line to wash one another’s feet.

When I began serving in a congregation and had the opportunity to craft the service for my people, that sense of communal life was an important sense memory to hold on to.  So we gathered around tables in our fellowship hall and worshiped with food on the table, candles lit, everything set as it might be for honored guests.  There were dates and figs and olives, bread and apples, glasses of grape juice and almonds.  It wasn’t meant to be authentic.  Or a seder meal. It was meant to nourish your soul and invite you in to an experience of the table. We worshipped with prayer and singing, celebrated the great thanksgiving, washed one another’s hands, and feasted with laughter and stories and finger food.

There is immense joy and comfort in the Maundy Thursday celebration.  As Jesus ate and drank with the disciples, he knew what was coming, but perhaps that only made the stories longer and the fellowship more sweet.  It was a time to teach them, to be with them, to love them just as they were…. knowing fully that in mere hours they would fall away one by one.  He knew they would fail, and yet he washed their feet.  He knelt before them.  He showed utter devotion and compassion.  He left them with words and memories that may have seemed normal in the space of that moment, but would become so much more in the reality of their betrayal and his death and resurrection.

We cannot be bystanders to that kind of experience.  We must dive into it.  We must sit at table with friends and family and strangers and break bread.  We must feel the cool water rush over our skin and the warmth of another human body as we slowly and deliberately and carefully take the time to wipe and dry away their fingers or toes.  If we are going to sing “let us break bread together,” then we must take the bread and feel the crust and one by one tear off a section and give it to our neighbor. 

Okay, maybe “must” isn’t the right word.  But when we do, when we let ourselves be transported in worship and word and action and song from our day to day hustle and bustle of life to another physical/spiritual/emotion place… then we do encounter the holy.

This year, in a new church, I dug through my files and found the service that had sustained me all those years.  With some flexible space at the front of our sanctuary (due to a few rows of pews being replaced by chairs) we made room for tables and gathered in that holy ground for some fellowship.

I watched as one or two couples reluctantly took their places at the round tables.  They were longing for the comfort of the pew. The experience of sitting back at watching from a far. The distance. We don’t realize it is there at first, but it is when we are ten rows back with all of those wooden seats between us and the front.

But they sat down. And participated. And the moment took over. 

As we pulled ourselves back together as a large group from table conversation and we were about to pray our prayer of thanksgiving following the meal, one of those women raised her hand. 

“We should do it like this every time,” she said.

Not every Maundy Thursday… she meant every time we break bread together and celebrate the Lord’s supper. 

“We might have to get rid of the rest of the pews,” I gently responded with a smile.

I’m not sure what is next or what the path forward might be, but experiencing one another and God and the divine mystery in that holy space opened up a world of possibilities about what it could mean for us to worship that has little to do with pews or hymn books or standard orders of worship.

I have been blessed to be a part of amazing worshipping experiences that grew organically from a community of faithful people.  Some were traditional and some were emergent.  But each was an outside of the box opportunity to personally and communally encounter God with sight and sound and smell and touch and taste.  Each gave me the space to be fully present in mind, body, and spirit.  What better way to worship the one who created us, inside and out?

Daily Bread

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My friends and family play this game called “Would You Rather…” It sets up silly and sometimes serious scenarios and you have to decide which of the two you would rather do. It’s good for parties… it’s good for car rides…

And it’s good for getting to really know someone.

Would you rather live in a place that was always very hot or a place that was always very cold?

Would you rather swim in a pool of marshmellows or a pool of M&Ms?

Would you rather go without the internet or a car for a month?

Would you rather be poor and work at a job you love or be rich and work at a job you hate?

 

With our children in just a minute, we’ll talk about how King Solomon is faced with a “would you rather” question of his own.

God comes to Solomon in a dream and basically asks what is the one thing that he wants to receive… what is the one blessing that he wants to sustain him for the rest of his life.

Would you rather have wealth or power or love…?

Or would you rather have something else?

Solomon quickly answers with the one thing he both wants and needs… “Give me your wisdom so that I can help your people.”

********

If you are anything like me, when faced with a kind of “would you rather” question about the one thing I want or need, my thoughts first went to the things that I need in my life for daily sustenance.

And because we live in a world that is run by money… maybe that is what I would ask for.

But how much? How much money is enough?

Enough to provide daily bread for my family?

Enough for a rainy day?

(For our time of confession this morning), I want to invite you to turn to a neighbor and answer this question:

How much do you need to provide daily bread for your family? Or to put it another way, what does it cost to put food on the table for one week in your home?

*****

The Batsuuri family in their single-room home—a sublet in a bigger apartment—in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with a week’s worth of food. Standing behind Regzen Batsuuri, 44 (left), and Oyuntsetseg (Oyuna) Lhakamsuren, 38, are their children, Khorloo, 17, and Batbileg, 13. Cooking methods: electric stove, coal stove. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer (shared, like the stoves, with two other families). /// The Batsuuri family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 226). Food expenditure for one week: $40.02 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 227 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Batsuuri family in their single-room home—a sublet in a bigger apartment—in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, with a week’s worth of food. Standing behind Regzen Batsuuri, 44 (left), and Oyuntsetseg (Oyuna) Lhakamsuren, 38, are their children, Khorloo, 17, and Batbileg, 13. Cooking methods: electric stove, coal stove. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer (shared, like the stoves, with two other families). /// The Batsuuri family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 226). Food expenditure for one week: $40.02 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 227 for the family’s detailed food list.)

How much do you need to provide daily bread for your family?

Guatemala 75.70

It is a question we all wrestle with…

The Glad-Ostensen family in Gjerdrum, Norway. Anne Glad Fredricksen, 45, her husband Anders Ostensen, 48, and their three children, Magnus, 15, Mille 12, and Amund, 8 with their typical week's worth of food in June. Food expenditure for one week: 4265.89 Norwegian Kroner;  $731.71 USD. Model-Released.
The Glad-Ostensen family in Gjerdrum, Norway. Anne Glad Fredricksen, 45, her husband Anders Ostensen, 48, and their three children, Magnus, 15, Mille 12, and Amund, 8 with their typical week’s worth of food in June. Food expenditure for one week: 4265.89 Norwegian Kroner; $731.71 USD. Model-Released.

whether in Norway

The Aboubakar family of Darfur province, Sudan, in front of their tent in the Breidjing Refugee Camp, in eastern Chad, with a week’s worth of food. D’jimia Ishakh Souleymane, 40, holds her daughter Hawa, 2; the other children are (left to right) Acha, 12, Mariam, 5, Youssouf, 8, and Abdel Kerim, 16. Cooking method: wood fire. Food preservation: natural drying. Favorite food—D’jimia: soup with fresh sheep meat. /// The Aboubakar family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 56). Food expenditure for one week: $1.23 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 57 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Aboubakar family of Darfur province, Sudan, in front of their tent in the Breidjing Refugee Camp, in eastern Chad, with a week’s worth of food. D’jimia Ishakh Souleymane, 40, holds her daughter Hawa, 2; the other children are (left to right) Acha, 12, Mariam, 5, Youssouf, 8, and Abdel Kerim, 16. Cooking method: wood fire. Food preservation: natural drying. Favorite food—D’jimia: soup with fresh sheep meat. /// The Aboubakar family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 56). Food expenditure for one week: $1.23 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 57 for the family’s detailed food list.)

or Chad

The Caven family in the kitchen of their home in American Canyon, California, with a week’s worth of food. Craig Caven, 38, and Regan Ronayne, 42 (holding Ryan, 3), stand behind the kitchen island; in the foreground is Andrea, 5. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave, outdoor BBQ. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, freezer. Favorite foods—Craig: beef stew. Regan: berry yogurt sundae (from Costco). Andrea: clam chowder. Ryan: ice cream. /// The Caven family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 260). Food expenditure for one week: $159.18 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 261 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Caven family in the kitchen of their home in American Canyon, California, with a week’s worth of food. Craig Caven, 38, and Regan Ronayne, 42 (holding Ryan, 3), stand behind the kitchen island; in the foreground is Andrea, 5. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave, outdoor BBQ. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, freezer. Favorite foods—Craig: beef stew. Regan: berry yogurt sundae (from Costco). Andrea: clam chowder. Ryan: ice cream. /// The Caven family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 260). Food expenditure for one week: $159.18 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 261 for the family’s detailed food list.)

or Des Moines.

Today, as we think about our daily bread… as we think about breaking bread with people all across the world today, on World Communion Sunday, the stark differences between what is available and what is needed in these various places across our world is astounding.

The Ahmeds’ extended family in the Cairo apartment of Mamdouh Ahmed, 35 (glasses), and Nadia Mohamed Ahmed, 36 (brown headscarf), with a week’s worth of food. With them are their children, Donya, 14 (far left, holding baby Nancy, 8 months), and Karim, 9 (behind bananas), Nadia’s father (turban), Nadia’s nephew Islaam, 8 (football shirt), Nadia’s brother Rabie, 34 (gray-blue shirt), his wife, Abadeer, 25, and their children, Hussein, 4, and Israa, 18 months (held by family friend). /// The Ahmed family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 118). Food expenditure for one week: $68.53 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 119 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Ahmeds’ extended family in the Cairo apartment of Mamdouh Ahmed, 35 (glasses), and Nadia Mohamed Ahmed, 36 (brown headscarf), with a week’s worth of food. With them are their children, Donya, 14 (far left, holding baby Nancy, 8 months), and Karim, 9 (behind bananas), Nadia’s father (turban), Nadia’s nephew Islaam, 8 (football shirt), Nadia’s brother Rabie, 34 (gray-blue shirt), his wife, Abadeer, 25, and their children, Hussein, 4, and Israa, 18 months (held by family friend). /// The Ahmed family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 118). Food expenditure for one week: $68.53 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 119 for the family’s detailed food list.)

The needs and concerns that any given family have are so varied.

The Bainton family in the dining area of their living room in Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire, with a week’s worth of food. Left to right: Mark Bainton, 44, Deb Bainton, 45 (petting Polo the dog), and sons Josh, 14, and Tadd, 12. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave oven. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, a second small freezer. Favorite foods—Mark: avocado. Deb: prawn-mayonnaise sandwich. Josh: prawn cocktail. Tadd: chocolate fudge cake with cream. /// The Bainton family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 140). Food expenditure for one week: $253.15 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 141 for the family’s detailed food list.)
The Bainton family in the dining area of their living room in Collingbourne Ducis, Wiltshire, with a week’s worth of food. Left to right: Mark Bainton, 44, Deb Bainton, 45 (petting Polo the dog), and sons Josh, 14, and Tadd, 12. Cooking methods: electric stove, microwave oven. Food preservation: refrigerator-freezer, a second small freezer. Favorite foods—Mark: avocado. Deb: prawn-mayonnaise sandwich. Josh: prawn cocktail. Tadd: chocolate fudge cake with cream. /// The Bainton family is one of the thirty families featured in the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats (p. 140). Food expenditure for one week: $253.15 USD. (Please refer to Hungry Planet book p. 141 for the family’s detailed food list.)

I recently joined the Board of Directors with DMARC, the Des Moines Area Religious Council. Today, one of their major focuses is on food distribution in Central Iowa.

And what I have learned is that the need that surrounds us, right here in Polk County is great. Many families… many working families… don’t have enough to put daily food on their tables.

 

Solomon was King David’s son and when his father died, he became the ruler of the land. He wasn’t a perfect person and he often was focused on things other than God.

But God came to Solomon in a dream one night with a simple offer: “Ask whatever you wish, and I’ll give it to you.”

Whatever you wish.

He could have asked for palaces of gold, or a thousand wives, or to rule the world…

But he found himself in this new position of power and responsibility and he had one request:

“Give me, your servant, a discerning mind so that I can govern your people, so I can tell good from evil, and so I can take care of your people.”

 

What amazes me is that Solomon didn’t see this one wish, this blessing from God, as a “I” request… what do I want or need.

He saw it as an “US” request… what do we, God’s people, need.

 

He asked for wisdom.

He asked to be fed, not with the daily bread of grains and wheat, but with the daily bread of the Word of God.

He asked for something that would bless all the people.

 

Today, we are kicking off our month long series focusing on John Wesley’s simple advice for our finances… that we should earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can.

And I think that as we start to explore Wesley’s advice, he starts in the same place as Solomon.

Over the next few weeks we will discover that he encourages us to find joy in the money we make, but to do so in ways that benefit the well being of others and ourselves.

He will encourage us to be frugal, to not be extravagant or wasteful and to save as much as possible.

But the goal of both of these is always in service of the third…. To give all we can.

To make a difference in the lives of other people.

To serve God by feeding the people, visiting them in prison, taking care of the sick, giving clothes to the naked.

Wesley encourages us to do just what Solomon did…. to shift our focus away from what me and my family needs and to think bigger…

What do God’s people need?

What kind of wisdom and discernment and truth is required in order to take care of one another?

 

What is needed, here in Polk County, in order to survive?

2014-COL-polk

Above is a basic budget that details the cost of living in this county in Iowa… a comparison of the basic expenses that a family needs in order to provide a simple home and daily bread for their family. (from www.iowapolicyproject.com)

 

As the demand for food pantries and assistance in our community has skyrocketed in the last few months, I was wondering why until I saw this chart.

If you look at the final column, you will see that a family of two working parents with only one child needs to make at least $44,639 a year in order to meet these basic expenses.

That means that together, with both working, they each need to make at least $10.50 an hour.

At least.

The minimum wage here is $7.25.

If you work full time on these wages, you simply cannot make ends me. It is impossible.

 

So I wonder what it means to ask for daily bread and daily wisdom in Polk County, Iowa today.

I wonder what it means to ask for daily bread in Mongolia and Ecuador.

And I pray that God would give us the wisdom to ensure that every family has enough, as we gather around the table this morning to break bread.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

Give Them Something To Eat

On Friday nights, I get a little homesick.

For the past seven or so years, every week we gathered at my sister-in-law’s house for dinner with her husband and children.  At 6:00 every evening we’d walk in the door and be greeted with gigantic hugs and shouts of joy.

We’d place our offering for the meal – of warm garlicky bread  or some other carb-loaded treat on the table – and we’d all sit down to dig in.

We’d fight over who got to sit by whom.

We’d tell stories and giggle.

And the kids were always so proud of what they helped to make for the meal.

 

2177ba821d136dcef6633ace49f050eeThe family dinner table is one of the most powerful analogues we have for what it means to be the people of God.  As we gather around the communion table each week, we gather with familiar faces for a familiar taste of grace. We sing those same old songs and we feel warm and comfortable and welcome.

 

Some of my most powerful experiences of communion were in intimate and small groups of people.

My call to ministry was found around a table in the tiny basement chapel at Simpson College where we began sharing weekly communion.  As we broke bread around a circular table, we looked into one another’s faces.  You could feel the love and grace and peace of God.

The bread at that table was lovingly baked every week by Patty LaGree – whose husband Kevin is a United Methodist pastor and at that time was the President of Simpson College.  It was nutty and sweet and hearty and crumbled a little bit in your fingers.  

Far from home, that community that broke bread together became a family.  An intimate, holy, close-knit family.

 

I’m sure that’s the kind of experience the disciples were hoping for in our scripture this morning.

 

Their friend, their colleague, John the Baptist had been executed. And in his grief, Jesus got in a boat and needed to get away and have some alone time.  He had planned to spend time in prayer and mourning, just him and God.

The disciples took the long way and planned to catch up with him that night and have their own time of retreat.  A time like many of us seek here on Sunday mornings.  A couple of hours to regroup and get spiritually renewed so we can head back out into the hustle and bustle.

And they brought just enough food for their little group.  They wanted to break bread together as their intimate, close-knit family.

But when the disciples get to that meeting place, they found thousands of people all pressed into the valley listening to Jesus’ words and waiting to be healed.

 

You see, as soon as Jesus had stepped off of his boat, the people flocked to him. 

He had needed time to be alone and pray, but the people needed him more.

The scriptures say he “had compassion for them,” but those words don’t quite do justice. In greek, the word is “splanchnizomai” (splank-nid-zo-my) which means he felt for them in his gut.  He ached with and for these people.

Max Lucado wrote, “once he felt their hurts, he couldn’t help but heal their hurts… He was so moved by the people’s [needs] that he put his [needs] on the back burner.”  (The Eye of the Storm)

 

All day this goes on, Jesus healing and teaching and praying, and then the disciples show up.  They brought a little basket of food for their quiet family dinner…. The bread they were hoping to share with one another and they urge Jesus to send the people back to the villages so they can find food.

 

They want their time with Jesus.

 

But Jesus, still aware of the people’s hurt and hunger cannot send them away…

“You feed them,” he tells the disciples, “Give them something to eat.”

 

Just like the disciples were invited to offer up their five loaves and two fishes, we bring this bread and this cup to the table.  These elements aren’t here by a miracle, but people from our church have faithfully offered them up to God.

 

I once worshipped and shared communion with a church in Nashville called Edgehill UMC. They call themselves “the church on the edge” because they straddle the border between extreme wealth and poverty… with Music Row on one side of their block and hungry people on the other.

IMG_1555
Edgehill UMC

Much like Trinity/Las Americas here in Des Moines, Edgehill is a church of great diversity… with persons of all sorts of different ethnicities, educations, ages, and orientations gathered in their church.  As nearly one hundred people gathered for worship that morning, communion time came and everyone stood up and formed a circle around the sanctuary.

Their sanctuary is flexible space and so during the week, tables are set up for their after school tutoring and meal program and their Free Store. 

As we gathered to break bread, we formed that circle, and we were able to look into one anothers faces across the church.  We  talked about all of those who would be fed in that space this week.  We asked God to bless the community garden this church started.  We prayed for those who were hungry and were not gathered in the circle this morning. And then, we each received and gave communion.

There was a second loaf of bread and another pitcher of juice on the table… holy communion that was meant to be shared and that would be taken out into the community to the shut-ins and those who couldn’t make it.

 

This wasn’t an intimate, private family dinner… this was a never-ending feast… a banquet that was meant to be shared.  When we broke the bread in that circle, we were invited to draw the circle ever wider and to take that bread with us when we left, feeding others along the way.

Two loaves of bread, offered faithfully to God, became the source of this church’s ministry in their neighborhood.

 

In our scripture, Jesus invites the disciples to offer up what they had, as well.

A picnic dinner, and a meager one at that. Two fish for thirteen guys?  It was all they had.

 

Jesus took their bread, gave thanks, and broke the bread and gave it to the twelve… not so they could have that intimate, private meal they had been hoping for…. but so they could serve.

 

They looked around at the men and the women and the children. The people who were hungry for grace and healing and forgiveness.  The people who were hot and tired and physically hungry after a long day of waiting and standing around in line to see Jesus.

One by one, the disciples fed the people.

One by one, their small private meal became a kingdom feast, a never-ending banquet, a glimpse of the kingdom of God.

 

An ordinary thing like a loaf of bread becomes the answer to our deepest hungers in God’s presence.

 

If you get a chance, I highly recommend you read Sara Miles book, “Take This Bread.”  It is the story of her conversion and how God found her at the communion table.  In it she writes: The bits of my past- family, work, war, love – came apart as I stumbled into church, then reassembled, through the works communion inspired me to do, into a new life centered on feeding strangers: food and bodies, transformed. I wound up not in what church people like to call “a community of believers” – which tends to be code of “a like-minded club” – but in something huger and wilder than
I had ever expected: the suffering, fractious, and unboundaried body of Christ.

 

pantryveg2
from www.thefoodpantry.org

Her experience around the communion table led her to start a food pantry and feeding program for strangers that were hungry. As she was fed, she heard God’s call to feed others.

“You feed them.  Give them something to eat.” Jesus commands.

When we come forward to partake in this holy meal and break bread together, we bring our gifts and we bring ourselves. 

We might not have a lot to give.  A five dollar bill.  An hour of time.  We might look at what we have to offer as a small and ordinary thing.

 

But as we participate in the breaking of bread, right here, in this very room, extraordinary things happen.

Your gifts are transformed into meals that feed hungry families and help keep the lights on at places like Edgehill and Trinity/Las Americas.  All of these gifts added together help this church do ministry in our neighborhood at Hillis Elementary and sends communion to our homebound.  They provide the support for the love, service, and prayer we are called to live.

 

But this bread also has the powerful potential to do extraordinary things in YOUR life.  Just as my first call to ministry came in the breaking of the bread, God just might stir in your life today.  Today, God might open your eyes, as God did with the disciples, and help them to see that this meal is not about you… it is about the people God loves.

The hungry.

The lonely.

The sick.

The sorrowful.

 

We sometimes get focused on what we have been given and want to share it with our friends and our family, but here at the table, God invites us to give our gifts and our very lives to any who would become our friends and our family.

 

When we come forward to partake of this holy meal and break bread together, this is not a private, intimate experience. 

This is an invitation to a radically public life. 

This bread will send you back out into the world and comes with a powerful challenge.

“YOU give them something to eat.”

Repent…

(these are the notes for this mornings sermon… structure provided by www.creativeprayer.com)

Scripture: Isaiah 6:5-7, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13

Confession is tricky business. Like King David, sometimes we have to have the injustices we have committed shown to us in a new light before we even understand that we have done anything wrong. While it is easy to point out the failings of others, it is difficult to see the brokenness in our own.

I pray that none of us have committed the kinds of grievances that David did. He was in a position of power and in the minds of many probably used that power to sleep with Bathsheeba. Then when she was found to be pregnant, David tried to trick her husband and then ended up having him murdered. That’s quite a few sins wrapped up in to one big mess!

Because some sins seem so large, because we are here in the church and we know that Christ died for us, sin doesn’t seem to be such a big problem. In part, maybe that’s because we don’t really understand it. It is difficult to accept that even when we are trying to be good; there are areas of our life that remain against God’s ideal for us. We may still harbor lusts, or tell lies, or make hurtful comments to others.

In the S.A.C.C. group on Tuesday mornings we have been looking recently at the 10 commandments. James Moore suggests that instead of saying we have “broken a commandment” we should rather say that we have been broken. When we let greed take over our life, there is nothing about God’s word that comes apart… but our lives do. When we let anger take over our life, God’s word remains firm… but our lives crumble. When we worship false gods and idols, God remains steadfast… but our lives teeter on the unshaky ground that we have chosen to rest upon.

We all have places in our lives where we are not fully living the life God has in mind for us. And as hard as it is to accept our failures, it may be even harder to confess them – to name them – even privately in prayer to God. However, that is what God asks us to do:

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Today in worship, we remember that confession is one of those four basic elements of worship. We remember that Isaiah stood before the throne of God and said out loud that he was a man of unclean lips… that he lived among a people of unclean lips.

So we too, need to stand before our God and confess our sins. We will take the next 20 min. in silence to do this in a tangible way. As you may have noticed, there are buckets of sand around the room. When our time of reflection starts, you will go to a bucket, no more than 3 people to each, and you will read the directions for that specific bucket. When you have finished at that bucket move to another bucket and do the same process over again. Keep doing this until I bring us back together here before the cross.

(prayer stations – for specific questions, see the link above)

I want all of us to stop where we are and to hold your bag up with both hands. We each lug around these sacks full of sand and we are weighed down by them. They represent all of the ways that we are broken, and ways that we have broken others. There is nothing we can ever do to repair the damage we have done. Left on our own – we would cry out with Isaiah – Woe is me! for I am lost!

But we are not left alone. The God who has always been with us – always gently reminding us of the paths of righteousness – came down to be among us. God came down to show us how to live and to love… and came down to offer us life and life abundant.

In the gospel of John we hear these words:

JOHN 6:48-58
48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’ 53So Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live for ever.’

Christ came to offer us life and life abundant. Here at the cross, we are invited to set our bags down – to let our sins go – to say out loud like David – “I have sinned against the Lord,” but to also hear the words of grace and mercy and forgiveness. “The Lord has put away your sin… take, eat of this bread, and you shall not die.”

As we sing “Come, Sinners, to the Gospel Feast,” I want you to think about what it means to say yes… what it means to carry these confessions to the Lord. And then as we continue to sing… and as the music continues to play… carry your sack to the cross and leave it there, and take a piece of bread from the loaf – knowing that all who eat the bread of heaven will have life and life abundant.

Let us pray:

O God, make of every thing and judge of all that you have made, from the dust of the earth you have formed us and from the dust of death you would raise us up.
By the redemptive power of the cross, create in us clean hearts and put within us a new spirit, that we may repent of our sins and lead lives worth of your calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (#353 UMH)

Who is Missing

Last week while on vacation,  I got to spend a lot of time with my neice and nephew.  My neice is three and my nephew is almost seven years old.  And whenever you spend so much time around little ones, you are guaranteed to hear the cutests and darndest things.

As we began to make our long journey back home, our car pulled out onto the highway right behind a logging truck with eight foot, freshly cut logs piled high in the back. 

We pointed out the logs to my neice, who immediately wanted to know why the trees broke.  We tried to explain that they had been cut down, but her only response was, “tell me the truth, guys!”

We went on to share how those tress would be made into things like toothpicks and tables and paper, but after every explanation, every description that seemed completely logical to our adult minds, she looked at us, with a face of pure unbelieve and shouted back, “That’s not true!  Tell me the truth, guys!”

Her little mind hasn’t yet formed the connections between a tree growing in the forest and the paper she colors on every day.  The ability for one thing to become another isn’t a concept she can comprehend yet. And so she thought we were all lying to her.  Me, her huncle, her father, all of us.  And it only got worse the more we laughed and smiled – not because we were fibbing, but because of how adorable she was.

My neice didn’t believe us because she couldn’t yet, but there are times in our lives when we have something deeply true and important to share and when no one believes us it can be very painful and frustrating.  As we explore both of our scritpures this morning, we fill find both those who don’t believe and also the longing to include them on this journey of faith.

In Paul’s letter to the Romans this is more obvious.  He writes to his fellow Israelites – those who have grown up reading the same scriptures – who understand the same prophecies – to those whom God has chosen – and Paul is in anguish over the fact that his brothers and sisters of Israel don’t believe him. No matter how many times he shares his store, they don’t believe Jesus is the Messiah they have been waiting for.  But still, Paul never gives up and keeps writing to them, trying to share what he has found.  And he keeps praying and rusting in God’s promises to Israel, to us all.

In our gospel lesson this morning, the unbelieving ones anre a bit harder to find.  When Jesus needs some time away – som rest and a space to grieve the death of his friend, John the Baptist, he tries to leave quietly in the morning.  But the crowds of followers watch his every move and they all gather together at his destination before he even arrives.

Now – having just been on vacation, I can assure you – as much as I love all of you – if you had journeyed up to Northern Wisconsin and were waiting beside my cabin when I pulled up last week – I might have been pretty upset.  I probably would have ordered you all back hom, or I might have hopped back in the car and tried to find a better hiding place.

In any case – I don’t know that I could have mustered up the compassion that Jesus had for all of those men, women and children who had journeyed out to that deserted place to be with him.

So moved was Jesus that he spent all day moving among the crowds and healing those who were sick.  He set aside his own plans for the day, his own need to grieve, and he ministered to their needs.

After hours upon hours of these acts of sacrifice, mercy, and compassion, his tired disciples come up to Jesus and begged him to send everybody home.

“There is no food here,” they cried.

“It’s hours past supper time”

“My blood sugar is running low,” they chimed in.

“My tummy is rumbling.” 

“Send everyone back to the towns so that they – and we – can get some food!”

I can just picture the mischevious, knowing smile that comes across Jesus’ face as he responds, “No need to send them away – you give them something to eat!”

Because, you see, Jesus already knows the disciples are thinking about scaricty – about how little they have -the few loaves of bread and fishes they brought with them that morning for a meager lunch they didn’t have time to eat.  And Jesus knew that what sometimes looks tiny and insignificant can be full of life and life abundant.

So in front of all of those people, all of those faithful crowds who followed Christ into the wilderness, he took the bread of his disciples, blessed the bread and broke it, then gave it to his closest followers so that they could serve the many.

All of those who gathered to see Jesus – to hear him speak and maybe ever tho be healed – got so much more than they were bargaining for that day.  They didn’t just catch a glimpse of Christ and spend some time at his feet… they caught a glimpse of the last supper.  They got a foretaste of the heavenly banquet.  They witnessed a radical outpouring of life and generosity and abundance like hadn’t been seen since the days of the prophets or since Israel journeyed in the wilderness and the people were fed by manna from heaven. 

All who were gathered there ate and were filled.  Filled with life, filled with hope, filled with the love of Christ, who shared himself with them in the breaking of the bread.

Now all of that is well and good, but like Paul Harvey – I want to know “the rest of the story.”  You see, in the “rest of the story” my mind sees unbelieers.  In the rest of the story, I feel my heart breaking like Paul’s because I think about all of those people who didn’t show up, who stayed home to mow the lawn, who didn’t think they were worthy or welcome, who were too sick to come. 

I think about all of those people today who don’t believe God is real, who can’t understand that God loves them and who live their lives empty of that reality.  I think about them and I understand Paul’s frustration.

And you know what, I re-live that feeling each month when we gather around this communion table.  I re-live that pain and longing because I know that there is enough here:

enough bread and enough juice
enough love and enough grace
for all to come and be filled.

There is more than enough here, and yet there are many who won’t taste this meal today.

Maybe they are family members who are too busy for church.  Maybe they are co-workers that you have never thought to invite.  Maybe it’s the person down the street who lives along and longs for a place to belong… but who doesn’t know we exist.

Each time we gather around the communion table, I have asked you to look around and notice who is not with us. It is not a typical part of the litany – but something that one of my pastor’s shared with me that really rocked my world.

Before that, the communion table was about my own personal relationship with God – it was a private act done in a public place.  But then, I realiced that this is a table set not just for me, or even just for those in this room, but this is a table set for all.  Everyone is welcome here.  Everyone will be fed here – if only they are able to gather around the table.

I want us to take a few minutes this morning to think about “who is missing” more seriously.  Who in your life, who in this community, is NOT gathered with us or other people of faith around the table?

Here are some slips of paper and I want to invite you to prayerfully write down the name of someone you know, someone you want to invite to join us on this journey.  I also ask you to include your name, so that together you and I can reach out to that person or family.  When we take the offering after the message, place those names in the offering plate.

My prayer is that when we gather agian around this table next month, that some of those people for whom our hearts break might be able to share in this amazing feast with us.

Over the next few weks we will explore ways to share the love we have experienced with each of these people.  Some may simply come and are eager for the invitation.  But we might find that there are others to which we have to go – to take the church to them – to gather around other tables in other places.  But let us remember that Paul never gave up on his message – and while people may not believe us or won’t come at first, God does and through his power others will too.