pastorjohnb

Thoughts and musings on faith and our mighty God!


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Thanks and Gifts

Reading: Matthew 14: 13-21

Verse 19: He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people.

This morning is the last day of a middle school youth mission trip.  We have spent the past week in a large city.  We have learned about poverty and homelessness.  We served food to men and women in need.  We sorted and stocked food in a free pantry.  We worked in a gigantic warehouse sorting and packing food that goes to many agencies who feed people.  We spent two afternoons at a large thrift store sorting about anything you can imagine and preparing it for resale.  The profits all go to people with disabilities in the state.

Through all of these acts of service, we learned about the great need that exists in our world.  It exists in many of our communities and maybe even in our own neighborhoods.  Prior to this trip our youth were unaware of the poverty many face each day.  Yes, they new some lived with very little.  But learning that some parents must choose between paying for their child’s field trip at school and putting gas in the car so they can go to work was a new reality for our youth.

Jesus lived a life of compassion.  He spent time in and among the poor and needy of His day.  They needed Him most.  In our passage today, He begins by healing many.  Then He feeds many.  We read, “He gave thanks and He broke the loaves… the disciples gave them to the people”.  There are two important lessons in today’s passage.

First, Jesus gave thanks for the gifts that God has given Him.  Second, the disciples used the gifts Jesus gave them to also be a part of this miracle.  In faith and trust, they were part of the feeding of the thousands.  Our group learned the first lesson well this week.  We are going home to nice houses with an excess of food, clothing…  We do not know true want.  We are truly thankful for the many, many gifts that God has given us.  We began to learn the second lesson this week as we saw how God can use each of us to make the world a better place by sharing His love as we serve others.  It is a great gift that we have to offer.  This day, what will we offer to meet another’s physical or emotional or spiritual need?  May we remember that gifts that God has given us, may we be truly thankful, and may we seek to share them each day for the building of God’s kingdom here on earth.


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Gospel of Love

Reading: Isaiah 58: 9b-12

Isaiah calls upon faithful Israelites to live out their faith by being compassionate and by reaching out to the hungry and others in need.  He calls for God’s people to break the yokes of oppression and to “spend” oneself meeting the needs of the less fortunate.  There are two components that drive this call.  One is outward and one is inward.  The outward component is the love that flows throughout the Bible.  The call to love one another without limitation is modeled by God in the covenant with Israel.  It is the promise to love no matter what.  This model is continued in the love for all of mankind exhibited and lived out by Jesus.  The call to love our neighbors as self that began in Leviticus 19:18 is repeated in the New Testament ad Jesus declared this one of the two great commandments.  This love involves “spending” oneself for others.

The second component is inward.  When we live life as compassionate people spending ourself for others, then God is at work within us.  When we are givers instead of takers, we see and live life in a new way.  We ourselves become so much more aware of and grateful for all the ways that God blesses us.  This inner attitude of gratitude is contagious, leading us to reach out to others, to meet their needs, to work to root out injustices they face, and to end any oppression that they are living under.  When we are faithful in living out the gospel of love, God renews us with His love and watches over us with His care.

On our mission trip last summer, one group was working in a park.  During a morning water break a man in need wandered over.  The group gave him some water and talked with him for a few minutes.  Later, at lunch time, a girl noticed the man on a bench across the park.  She walked over and gave the man her sack lunch.  Another youth brought over a bottle of water.  Compassion for one in need.  Loving others as God loves us.  Thinking of others above self.  It was a great witness to God’s love.  May we too be willing bearers of the light and love of Christ.


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Magi Faith

Reading: Matthew 2: 9-12

The Magi and the religious leaders in Luke 2 are an interesting contrast.  The religious leaders are steeped in the stories of the prophets, in their own long history with God, and in the prophecies of the much-awaited Messiah.  The Jewish people told their stories over and over again so that all knew the faith.  The Magi notice a new star and somehow connect it to a story they heard long ago.  God helps them begin to connect the dots and they head off on a two year journey to find the answer.

The Magi’s and religious leaders’ paths cross.  Herod brings them together in a meeting that could have been most fatal to his reign.  The Magi provide a thread of a prophecy they heard long ago and the religious leaders quickly rattle off the connecting prophecy from Micah.  The leaders knew the stories well.  It amazes me that the appearance of the Magi did not set off bells and whistles for the religious leaders.  It astounds me that the story of the Magi following a star for two years to this time and place did not draw their attention.  The religious leaders rattle off the prophecy and quickly head back to whatever they were doing.

It amazes and astounds me until I realize how much we today are like this story.  In the Bible, we too have the stories that we read and tell over and over.  In the Word, we clearly understand the call of Jesus upon our lives and how He calls us to live out our faith in the world.  We know the stories well.  But too often we rattle off phrased like “love your neighbor” then walk away from the one in need so that we can get back to what we were doing.  Too often we miss what God has placed before us.  Oh that we were more like the Magi – attuned to the holy mystery, pursuing that which God has placed before us, being faithful to the end of the journey.  May this be the faith we both profess and practice.


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Building

Reading: Luke 1: 46-55

Mary’s beautiful song is all about God’s love for humanity.  She is aware of her direct role in this: she is bearing the Son of Man in her womb.  She rejoices in God her Savior and in her unique role: “all generations will call me blessed”.  Mary is aware of and deeply thankful for the role God has called her to fulfill.

Mary quickly moves past these thoughts and rejoices in the ways that God loves all of mankind.  God extends mercy to those in need and performs mighty deeds for those who fear him.  God blesses those in a relationship with him.  In doing so, God lifts up the humble and fills the hungry with good things.  God loves in many ways.

God’s love, however, is sometimes tough love.  God scatters those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.  God will bring down rulers when necessary and will send the rich away empty.  God will not tolerate evil behavior by those with power.  God blesses us so that we can bless others, not so we can use our position or wealth to take advantage of others.

Mary’s song really speaks of God’s desired kingdom.  As followers of Jesus Christ we are kingdom builders.  We have a role to play in being the light and love in this time and space.  We too, like Mary, bear the Son of Man.  We bear Jesus in our hearts.  We can all bring God’s love to those who need God’s mercy and to those who hunger for either spiritual or physical bread.  We can all be conduits of God’s love flowing into the world.  We can also be the light shining into the darkness.  God’s kingdom is built on justice and equality.  If we are in positions with power and authority, we must use our place to insure justice and equality.  If, in our community, the leaders do not champion these things, we need to speak truth to bring about justice and equality.  May we each play the role of building God’s kingdom as we bear the light and love of Christ right where we are this day.


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The Rich man, Lazarus, or…

Reading: Luke 16: 19-31

If asked which character we would like to be in today’s reading, there would be a long pause before we answered.  If we look at the end of the story, we all want to be Lazarus.  We would all choose heaven as our eternal destination.  But within the story, do we want to be poor beggars in this life?  When we are really honest, we’d prefer to be both the rich man and Lazarus – the rich man now and Lazarus later.

So we finally settle on being Lazarus?  Or do we settle on being the rich man?  Truth be told, when we look at the model of our faith, at Jesus, we see the middle ground.  Jesus certainly did not pursue wealth yet was definitely content with life.  He did not dress in expensive clothes or eat gourmet food.  But He was not starving and always had a place to live His head at night.  Jesus trusted fully in God alone.  He knew God’s love intimately and fully trusted that God would provide for His every need.

The rich man only truly saw Lazarus when he died.  He finally saw what Jesus sees all the time.  He saw them as they were.  In everyone Jesus saw and encountered, He sought to meet their need.  Sometimes even they did not know their own real need, so Jesus sometimes delved below the surface.  He got to know people that others avoided or shunned.  He entered into their lives and walked alongside them.  He did what the rich man never would have done.

The rich man, Lazarus, or Jesus?  Who do we strive to be more like?  It is an obvious answer but a hard path to walk.  May the power and presence of the Holy Spirit lead us on the path of Jesus, fully trusting in God, loving all of God’s children.


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Prepare

Reading: Luke 12: 16-21

Jesus asks, “Who will get what you have prepared for yourself?”  The answer we give to that question can come on the earthly level or on the spiritual level.  Jesus is posing a serious question that can be difficult to answer or even to wrestle with.

In terms of possessions, the things requiring bigger barns, our culture has shifted a great deal over the past fifty years.  We have gone from a society that cared for our family to the end of life to one that places our loved ones in a facility.  We often grew up and then lived in the same town all of our lives and now many young people cannot identify a ‘home town’s because they moved so often.  Great, great grandma Ethel’s China hutch that was eyed by many as her life ebbed away now has no value for young eyed.  Who would want that old thing?  In terms of our possessions, more and more it is about the bank account.  People want an inheritance they can spend how they want and on what they want.

To that end we have become a society that accumulates money.  Almost all else has become disposable.  Thus, for many their security is in how much they have in the bank.  Our reality is that we all need money.  Each of us requires ‘x’ dollars per day or week based on a number of factors.  This is determined by questions such as: ‘how big a house?’, ‘how new a car?’, ‘how often a vacation?’, ‘how many clothes in the closet?’

Looking at Jesus’ question from the spiritual side is a reality check.  If we are the recipient as well, are we preparing for life eternal?  If we prepare for this well, there is a trickle down affect.  The inheritance our children and grandchildren receive is the gift of faith.  The answers to the above questions are very different.  We see wealth as something we are blessed with so that we can bless others.  This holy day, may we wrestle with this side of the question.


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Salvation and Love

Reading: Galatians 6: 1-6

In Galatians Paul is writing to a church that is beginning to fracture from within.  From the outside the people are seeing the church as contradictory and unattractive.  Over the many years since this has been a frequent occurrence.  As time rolls along we just find different things to fight about while the secular world usually watches with held breath.

The Galatian church was basically arguing over membership requirements.  Those with Jewish roots were arguing that all makes must be circumcised and that the Torah Law must be followed.    To these folks one must become a good Jew before one could become a Christian.  This ‘follow all our rules so you can be just like us’ attitude is nothing new.  There was a time when women had no voice and later no leadership roles in the church.  There was a time when all of the churches were very homogeneous and races and ethnicities did not mix.

On the other end of the spectrum Paul found those who did and allowed almost anything.  Under the beliefs that God alone should judge and that God is all about love, they were living lives without any constraints.  As long as they did not harm others with their actions they thought God would forgive anything.  This approach, if taken just one step further, can have disastrous results.

Paul counseled a middle ground.  He first established that salvation comes only through the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  There is no rule we can follow and no action we can take to save ourselves.  Following all the rules and laws in the world will not save us.  Doing good act after good act all the days of our lives will not save us.  We are saved through faith in Christ alone.  Paul also balanced this with Christ’s guidelines for our life. We are to daily take up our own cross to follow Him.  We are to do the things Jesus did: love God above all else, love neighbor as self, serve all of our brothers and sisters as living sacrifices.  Paul believed that out of the saving relationship we find through Christ that we would be led to live as Christ lived.  This day may we each take up our cross and follow in Jesus’footsteps, being love lived out to our God and to all we meet.