Wednesday, July 22, 2015

e-vo for week of July 22

Dearest e-votees,

There is one, and only one, miracle that Jesus performs that is captured in all four of the canonical gospels--the feeding of the 5,000. In the Revised Common Lectionary for this Sunday the assigned gospel reading is John's account.



1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

John 6:1-21, NRSV

We spent the last 10 days on a trip to Detroit (for the ELCA Youth Gathering). There were some 30,000 youth and adults who converged on the Motor City to learn and grow in the faith. In addition to spiritual feeding there was need for the more ordinary kind of feeding as well. It is amazing watching and participating in the logistics of feeding large hordes of people. I am always amazed that 30,000 are able to commune during the closing worship of the gathering.

Now back that gathering up 2,000 years or so. Jesus is teaching the crowds and it is time to feed the people. There are 5,000 folks. Philip suggests that it would take 200 denarii (about 200 days' wages) to buy a meager serving for each who was there. Andrew checks the pantry and all that there is a couple fish and five loaves. That wouldn't be enough to sate the disciples let alone the 5,000 more. Jesus in action lives out Bruno Mars' "Uptown Funk" saying without a word "Don't believe me? Just watch."

All are fed. As much as they wanted. And when the remnants are collected there are 12 baskets full. I imagine each of the apostles carrying a bus basket and thinking "How did what would have not even filled the bottom of this basket become enough to fill this basket plus 11 others plus feed this hungry throng?"

If we stop here this is a picture of God's abundant and gracious blessings. This is of the same genetic stuff of the manna in the desert, Elijah and Elisha feeding many with little, the wedding at Cana, the feeding of the 4,000, etc., etc. The take away would be something along the lins of God can take from little and make for much. It is not about what we bring but about the God who blesses and multiplies. Your little is not too little; Gods plenty is more than enough for all.

But the story goes on and has the crowd try to force Jesus to be king. The people want their bread and circuses. Jesus provides both with the miraculous production of food. The people want food. The people want entertainment. Jesus wants something so much more. Jesus wants to feed the people spiritually. Jesus wants the people to turn from the vain entertainments of this world towards a deeper connection with God. He refuses to meet the demands of the crowd and withdraws.

How aware are we of God's abundance for us? How often do we try to contain those blessings in some sort of prosperity gospel that meets our baser needs but neglects the needs that are most crucial? Do we chase after Jesus only to case him up and away into the mountains? Or do we receive what Jesus blesses us with trusting that there is more that is deeper for us as we grow as disciples?

God, stir us to be people who receive what you bless us with gratefully. Help us follow where you would lead and enter into relationship with you on your terms. Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2015

e-vo for week of July 8

Dearest e-votees,

We live in a world where we long for and imagine we have much more control than we really do. Irresistible urges from within and overpowering forces from without steer us about. Our hope is not in our ability to get a handle on things but rather to trust that God who has grabbed onto us will never let us go. It is in yielding our presumed control that we find our security and place in God's loving embrace.



14 King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’ name had become known. Some were saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”

17 For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because Herod had married her. 18 For John had been telling Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” 19 And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, 20 for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him. 21 But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. 22 When his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it.” 23 And he solemnly swore to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom.” 24 She went out and said to her mother, “What should I ask for?” She replied, “The head of John the baptizer.” 25 Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” 26 The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. 27 Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, 28 brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. 29 When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

Mark 6:14-29, NRSV

Absolutely every major character in this gospel account are out of control.

John is locked up in prison. He told the truth and the hearers responded by shutting him away. John had lost his freedom. He has even started to question if his cousin is really the one to come (as related in a parallel account. As the story progresses John's limited freedom is stripped completely away.

Herod's daughter (or maybe daughter-in-law through his illicit marriage) has no control. She is playing into the coercions and expectations of a patriarchal and abusive society. We don't know the exact dance moves she executed but they are much closer to something at a so-called "adult" club as compared to something more innocuous. She is executing a provocative dance for her uncle and father-in-law in the presence of a drunken and covetous crowd. As she goes through the motions she gives herself away and control slips from her adolescent fingers.

King Herod loses control. He lusts after his daughter/daughter-in-law. He makes perhaps the second stupidest promise in scripture (see the story of Jepthah and his daughter for the even still more stupid promise). He offers up to half of his kingdom. Once the words have spilled across his covetous mind and his drunken lips he can't take them back. He is too prideful to do the right thing. Even though he admires John and likes to listen to him he is more concerned about his reputation than the life of a wrongfully accused prophet. Herod is being controlled by his lusts and his pride. There is nothing beyond his reptilian brain at work here.

Herodias is fueled by hatred and petty disdain. She has been called out with Herod for doing what everyone knew they should not and she could not tolerate it. She nursed a grudge and waited for the perfect opportunity to strike. Like a snake lying in wait her reptilian revenge was wrought by requesting the most grotesque of party favors.

Not one of these characters are steering their own fate. There are powers and passions beyond their own that are driving the story. How about us? Do we embrace the mistaken notion that we are in some serious amount of control of our fate? Do we think ourselves more collected and more self-controlled than any of the four? Or can we acknowledge that powers and passions far beyond our own have major control in our life? Our hope isn't in what we think or feel or choose or bring to bear. Even if we were freely making the choices, which we are not, wee would certainly follow self-serving and death-dealing ends.

The truth is that God is the power that is our only hope. Jesus' passion is the one that connects us to God and brings hope. John's death clearly foreshadows Jesus' death. As we are brought into the saving work of the cross there is hope and resurrection. Jesus' death breaks the powers and passions that so long to rule us. As we embrace Jesus' death and our connection to it in baptism there is hope. There is a new power and a new passion at work in us.

God help us not let John's grisly death be in vain. Help us never let Jesus' grisly death be in vain. Draw us to the cross. Save us through the passion of Jesus. Set us free to bear that freedom to others. Please help control come back into our lives.

God, thank you for thorns. Thank you for deep and abiding promises that you can work all thorny situations for good for those who love you and are called according to your purpose. Amen.