Sermon: Thankful and Festive

A Sermon Based on John 6:35, 41-51

Back in the early 90’s, I was participating in a study abroad program for a college course I was taking.  I was a biblical studies major with a focus on missions, and the country was Romania.  Romania is, as it was in the 1990’s, an interesting place.   Although my attention was on missions, the broader topic of my study in Romania was on cultural sensitivity and cultural inclusion.

Before leaving the United States, I studied, as best I could from the available books, the culture of Romania and her people but upon my arrival, the study went into high gear. Romanians, by and large, live off the land. The country was once called the “bread basket if Europe” since they produced much of the food for Europe, but due to poor farming practices over the last generation that had changed. What had not changed was that bread was a large part of every meal.

No matter where you went, bread was baking. Driving through the street of Bucharest or some small village in the Carpathian Mountains, bread was baking in small and large bake shops, and people stood in line each morning for the fresh bread that would last them the day. In the villages of the countryside, the first item on the agenda of the day was to bake bread. To Romanians bread was life and to not have bread with a meal was, well, to not have life.

Bread is central to Christianity as well in the form of the Lord’s Supper that we celebrate as one of the two Sacraments of the Church. We do not believe that anything changes about the bread and the juice that we serve when we pray over it, but I think that it becomes sacred in the sense that it is through those simple elements of the earth, bread, water, salt, yeast, wine, or juice, that we are drawn closer to God and each other.

When we, as a community celebrate the Lord’s Supper, it is a sacred moment of communal worship. The Greek word that forms the English word Eucharist comes is derived from two Greek words, eu, meaning well and kharis, meaning favor or grace. The word Eucharist means “gratitude.” Bread is blessed and shared, to remind us that food is sacred and it gives life to our bodies and is a gift from God grown out of his creation. Wine or juice is blessed as a reminder that drink comes from God, it is a gift that brings joy and warmth to our souls.

Jesus reminds us in the passage of scripture we heard tonight that He is the bread of life. Jesus is the essential part of our lives, and He is a gift from the Father to us. Jesus also reminds us that whoever eats of the bread will never hunger again, not in a physical sense but a spiritual sense. We come to Him, spiritually and communally, and get our fill of Him and His Word as a gift from God and we are to take that gift and give it to others.

One of the spiritual gifts I have received from my coming to the Congregational way of life is that the table of the Lord’s Supper is open to anyone to come. In many, many churches communion, Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper is used as a weapon or a way to divide the Congregation.  You can only partake if you are a member of the club. Sadly, I used to believe this and then I meditated on the scene of the Last Supper.

All of Jesus’ disciples were present with him in the Upper Room that night. All of them. Peter who would deny him, the others who would run off and desert him at his hour of need, and Judas, the one who would betray him and hand him over to death. They were all there, and they all participated.  Jesus gave himself, spiritually through the elements of bread and wine, to everyone, even those who would destroy him. What a powerful message this was to me.

We come to the table of the Lord not because we are prepared but to be prepared. We come because Jesus is the bread of life and if we eat, we will never hunger again. We come to the table not as individuals but as a community, and we receive, and we eat together, as a community, and we are satisfied as a community.

Jesus commands us to do this in remembrance of him but what is this “this” that he is commanding us to do. Jesus is commanding us to break ourselves open for others. To share the gifts we have been given, large and small, with others. Jesus is commanding us to share our lives with others and to allow them to share their lives with us. Our gratefulness comes when we see the Christ in others, and we allow others to see the Christ in us.

Jesus IS the bread of life, and all who come to him will never hunger or thirst again. Ask yourself this question this week, am I leading people to or am I driving people away from the food that will satisfy them? Am I building walls to keep people out or am I clearing paths that will allow people to come and receive all they need?

Jesus IS the bread of life and whoever comes to him (notice there are no qualifications) will never be hungry and whoever (notice no qualifications again) believes in me will never be thirsty.

Reflection: I am the Bread of Life

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

One of my favorite spiritual recording artists is John Michael Talbot. JMT, as I will call him, is the founder of the Little Portion Priory, a Roman Catholic group of men and women based in Texas.  JMT’s music is meditational, and it has allowed me, over the years, time to sit and reflect on the words of the song without a lot of shouting and banging on in the background of so much of today’s spiritual music.

In 1989, JMT released a new song called, “I am the Bread of Life” that is based on the scripture passage I have quoted above.  Here are the lyrics to the song:

I am the Bread of Life
All who eat this Bread will never die
I am God’s love revealed
I am broken that you might be healed

All who eat of this heavenly Bread
All who drink this cup of the covenant
You will live forever for I will raise you up

I am the Bread of Life
All who eat this Bread will never die
I am God’s love revealed
I am broken that you might be healed

No one who comes to Me shall ever hunger again
No one who believes shall ever thirst
All that the Father draws shall come to Me
And I will give them rest

I am the Bread of Life
All who eat this Bread will never die
I am God’s love revealed
I am broken that you might be healed

For the ancients, and for many today, bread is a staple of their diet and to have a meal without bread would be incomplete. With these words of Jesus he is telling us that he is what completes us on a spiritual level and although we hunger for more and thirst for more, with him, we will be satisfied as he is the bread of life.

This song and the associated scripture is a reminder to us that spiritually if we come to Jesus, we shall never hunger or thirst again. Many of us are always searching for that thing, that something, that will complete us on a spiritual level when it is right there in front of us. What do we hunger and thirst for?

Reflection: “I am the bread…”

“I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

In the 19th century, China hungry people were coming to Christian Churches in large numbers. Churches of that time were providing food when food was scarce in the community, and the church was one place where people could be fed. The problem was after they no longer needed the free food they left the church. Church leaders gave these people a name; they called them “Rice Christians.” They were consumers of the church rather than disciples.

When speaking with people about the church I often hear the comment, “I get nothing out of church so why should I go?”  My typical response is that we get out of it what we put into it.

Too often we who are in church leadership fall into the trap that church has to be entertaining. What this is saying is that we are playing into the consumer church mentality and as soon as the church stops being fun people will leave and move on to a place where they can be entertained. The mission of the church is not to entertain, the purpose of the church is to make disciples and making disciples is hard work.

Jesus encounters a group of people who heard about the feeding of the 5,000. They are attracted to Jesus because of the miracle, and they wish to declare him King. Remember, the people who came in search of Jesus were in search of a political and military, and after speaking with Jesus, they discovered this was not to be the case.

They came to Jesus and asked him for another sign, like feeding all of those folks with a few loaves of bread, and a couple of fish was not enough, but they wanted to be entertained, so they asked for a magic show. Rather than entertain them, he told them that He was the bread of life, spiritual life, and all that seek him out would not leave hungry or thirsty. We should seek after Jesus not seek after flashing lights and floor show.

In the end, most of those who came left because they did not get what they wanted, entertainment. The road that Jesus was putting before them required work on their part. Jesus was not going to snap his fingers and save them, he expected them, and us, to put the hard work in. Jesus offers us a way of life but that way of life requires change, and we have to be willing to change.

So, if the church is not offering anything for you, perhaps the problem is not the church but our thinking. The church offers, through Jesus Christ, life but that life requires work, and if we are willing to do the work, we will never be hungry or thirsty.

Sermon: Grateful Together

During the summer months the church I serve hold their weekly worship service on Wednesday nights. This summer we are reading the book Grateful, The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Dianna Butler Bass. This reflection is based on chapter 5 and all references are from the book unless otherwise noted.

Last week we spoke about individual gratitude and the need for us to make a conscious choice to be grateful as well as to seek out those positive moments in our lives. I reminded us that positive moments are all around us and all we need to do is look for them and hold on to them.  Tonight we are going to expand upon the personal side of gratitude with a discussion about collective or community gratitude.

Gratitude is not something we can do alone. Sure, we might be all alone on a hillside, watching the sunrise, but when we have the sensation of gratitude it is for the sunrise, for the place where we are, for the time to be there, and perhaps, for God for, once again, providing a beautiful sunrise for us to witness. So we are “grateful for something, grateful to someone, and, often, grateful with others” (Bass pg. 97).

Gratitude always points toward someone or something else the “‘me’ always leads to ‘we'” (Bass pg. 97). When we are grateful, we acknowledge that we are part of a much larger world and that there exist people around us who are also grateful and perhaps, are there to help us and perhaps, we are there to help them.  However, “gratitude is not about repayment of debts. It is about relationships” (Bass pg. 98).

On June 17, 2015, thirteen people gathered in the basement of the Mother Emmanuel African Methodist Church in Charlottesville, South Carolina. There were there for bible study and prayer. This group gathered each week in this historic black church, the oldest black church south of Baltimore, for prayer and study. It was in this church in 1822 that Denmark Vessey and 34 others were hanged because they were suspected of planning a slave revolt in the town. This church is no stranger to hate.

But about 9:00 pm as the bible study was coming to an end and all of the heads in the room were bowed, a 21-year-old man took a gun out of his backpack and started shooting, he reloaded five times and, before he fled the room, 9 of the 13 people there were dead including the pastor. The survivors reported that, while he was shooting, he screamed, “I have to do it. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.” The young man was later caught, tried, convicted, and now faces the death penalty for his hate.

However, the most extraordinary thing happened later that night and the next day. Church members began to gather to support each other. By all accounts, the church is a very close-knit family, and they needed to be together to help one another. The press was gathering and started asking questions of the church members, and they were shocked when member after member started talking about forgiveness and how they needed to forgive this young man for what he had done and for what he had taken from them. At the sentencing hearing they came and pleaded for his life, but their plea fell on deaf ears. The spoke of the need to show this young man love and that killing him would remove that, and that love would turn to hate, and they would be no better than him if his life were taken.

This is an extraordinary example of gratitude. They were grateful to be alive, but they were also grateful that they had the capacity to forgive someone who hated them with such a passion that he had to resort to violence.

There was one story that reported the shooter saying that he almost changed his mind because they were so friendly and accepting of him but unfortunately his hatred ran too deep, and he carried out his plan.

Gratitude is not about repayment it is about relationships, their strength and their healing came through the community, and it has been an example for me and my ministry since it happened.

Gratitude is a social concept, and it is about being with one another and being in life together. There is a thread that is woven between us which is very fragile, and these strands weave our lives together.

As much as we need to develop that ethic of gratitude on a personal level, as we spoke about last week, our most profound expressions of gratitude move us out of our own self and our own isolation and into a connection with the community. Gratitude is powerful and can transform us and transform a society.

The best part is gratitude is contagious and can spread but it needs to have a start, a foothold, and that begins with us. Gratitude should connect us all, and that means to connect us all across racial and ethnic lines which will allow all of us to unite as a community rather than being isolated and only concerned about ourselves.

However, be warned, gratitude will change us, and we will start to look at people differently. The young man who pulled the trigger in the church almost changed his mind because he was grateful for how he had been treated, perhaps this was the first time anyone had treated him with kindness, but they almost, by their expressions of love, almost convinced a killed not to kill.

Gratitude comes when we least expect it, but, sometimes we have to look for it. Let us pray that we can be as grateful as the saints at Mother Emmanuel and rise to that level of gratefulness and love in our lives and in our community.

Sermon: Intentional Practice

During the summer months the church I serve hold their weekly worship service on Wednesday nights. This summer we are reading the book Grateful, The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Dianna Butler Bass. This reflection is based on chapter 4 and all references are from the book unless otherwise noted.

Back in the mid 90’s, I joined the Roman Catholic religious order known as the Benedictines. The Benedictines have a rhythm of life focused on prayer and work and the day is evenly divided. We would rise in the morning and gather in the chapel for prayer. This early Morning Prayer focused on readings from the psalms and other biblical and non-biblical texts. A period of individual scripture reading follows and then back to the chapel for another round of prayers. The same cycle is repeated in the afternoon and evening with the idea that the day is started and ended with prayer and praise.

The rhythm of prayer was regulated by the bell. Five times a day the bell would ring and call us to prayer, it go so that you could anticipate the ring and start toward the chapel. However, other times, you would be right in the middle of something, and the bell would ring and whatever it was would become secondary to prayer.

My favorite prayer time was in the evening after the evening meal. For most of the year, it was dark in the chapel when we arrived. The service was simple and was the same every night, so it was soon memorized and allowed me to focus more on the words of the psalms. I have not tried in years, but I wonder if I could still recite it from memory.

Anyway, the evening focused on taking stock of the day in what the Jesuits call the “examen” the examination. There are five steps to this, and there is a focus on gratitude:

  1. Awareness of God’s Presence
  2. Review of the day with gratitude
  3. Paying attention to the emotions
  4. Selecting one thing from the day and praying from it
  5. Look toward tomorrow. (Bass pg. 79)

In the morning the focus is on the intention to live the day in gratefulness, but the night time is devoted to reviewing reflection, and the offering of thanksgiving. These hours of prayer do not focus on what we want or need. “The hours start with gratitude. Ancient Christian wisdom is that the first words of the day should be those of thanks” (Bass pg 76). We need to start each day remembering that each day is a gift and that the sacred is present with us.

This “hallowing of the hours of the day is fundamental to a faithful life, and remembering blessings and giving thanks is shared practice across world religions” (Bass pg 73). Christians are not the only ones to sanctify the day in such a way; Jews, Muslims, and Buddhists share this tradition among others.

I tried, somewhat successfully for a few years after I left the monastery to keep up this prayer rhythm but I soon fell out of practice. I would pick it up every now and again but never at the level of the monastery. I am not sure if it was because the bell was not present in my life or just that m priorities shifted. However, one needs to be intentional about prayer and set time aside for it each day. Notice I said my priorities changed and I did not say my life became more complicated to my life became busier than it was in the monastery. We make time in our lives for what is, and if prayer and praise are essential, we will make time for it. This is where I need to practice what I preach.

I think for many people prayer has become a laundry list of what we want God to do for us. Perhaps we have a list of people we are praying for; we do it in each service as well. Intercessory prayer is not a bad thing, but it is only one form of prayer that we need to practice.

However, we have to be intentional about it about the practice of gratitude.

Last week I mentioned that there are gifts all around us and we don’t see them. I asked us to be more mindful of those gifts and perhaps journal or somehow keep track of them. I began but the week got away from me so I need to start again.

Following a life of intentional gratitude is all about choosing to do it. We choose to be aware of the moments that surround us.

In the Gospel of Matthew we read the words of Jesus, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). What do we value in our lives? Do we value the things that we have earned or are we drawn towards the life of the spirit? In his letter to the Romans, Paul writes, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the flesh. However, to those who live according to the spirit set their minds on things of the spirit” (Romans 8:5).

Just as we need to feed our bodies with a healthy lifestyle so we must feed our soul. We must be intentional about prayer, and we must be intentional about gratitude. Our spiritual life is life our physical life in the sense that we need balance. The Benedictine day was a balance of work and prayer so must our lives be a balance.

Making Room in our Hearts

“I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his spirit and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.” Ephesians 3:16-17

Paul writes these words to the church that he helped establish in Ephesus. Paul often writes to his churches to offer them encouragement and correction when things are not always working out as planned and this case is no different. This passage, however, is part of a larger prayer that he is offering for the people and a prayer that could be used in churches today. Paul is praying that through the power of the Holy Spirit Christ takes up his abode, or his residence, in their hearts and by translation, in our hearts.

In my days in the Southern Baptist Church, I would often be asked two questions, am I saved and had I let Jesus into my heart. Fundamentally both items mean the same thing. I have come to say that no, I am not saved I am being saved as salvation is a life-long process. However, what of the second question, have I let Jesus into my heart, well, that is a bit more complicated.

The idea of letting Christ in is to change us. Having Christ take up his abode or dwell in our hearts is like asking someone to come and stay with you. If the person is visiting that’s easy, we make a little room for them and after a short, hopefully, a period, they go back to their own home. However, if we ask someone to move in, on a permanent basis, well then everything changes.

At first, we might try and hang on to our usual routine, but after a period, we have to make room for the other person as well. Our routine changes and we begin to do things differently because we are no longer living alone there is someone else with us. Conversations change. Relationships change. Household tasks and responsibilities increase and shift. This situation is the same as when we invite Jesus to come and live in our hearts. Jesus is not coming for a vacation, Jesus is moving in, and we have to make room.

Paul recognizes that we cannot do this alone and his prayer is that by the “power of his spirit… Christ may dwell in your hearts.” This is a prayer of hope that we will make room for Christ to come and by making room for Jesus, our lives begin to change, our attitude begins to change, our worldview begins to change, and our hearts become open to change.

Paul’s prayer is my prayer for us.

This essay appeared as the From the Pastor column in the weekly email newsletter of the First Congregational Church of Salem, New Hampshire.

Is the Sun Setting on Civil War Reenacting? A Response to the New York Times

On Saturday, July 28, 2018, and article appeared in the New York Times concerning the 155th anniversary reenactment at Gettysburg and the decline in the reenacting hobby. Before reading this essay, take a moment to follow this link and read the New York Times article for context.

I am a relative newcomer to the world of reenacting. I started on this journey during the 150th-anniversary cycle where there was a lot going on in the world of reenacting. That first year was terrific, there were events all over New England, and I attended as many as I could. I portray a Union Army Chaplain and signed on with the 28th Massachusetts, a group that recreates the famed Irish unit from Massachusetts. I’m not Irish, but I chose this unit because they seemed to be the most organized unit around.

However, as the 150th anniversary of the end of the war had come and gone, many reenactors left the hobby. The Civil War trade sites on Facebook started to be filled with all sorts of gear that belonged to former reenactors that had either moved on to other time periods or were getting out of the hobby altogether, it was a rapid decline that continues today.

This past weekend, while at a living history event with the colonial group my wife and I reenact with, an article was published in the New York Times concerning the decline in the hobby. This decline was not news to those of us involved in the hobby as we have witnessed this over the last few years as I have already mentioned and, the article did not give any reasons; well It provided several reasons, but there is not one clear reason.

Before I continue, I do not think Civil War reenactors glorify war or glorify the antebellum south in any way. Most of the reenactors I know both have family connections to the war or a deep love of history and want to share that knowledge with the general public. Sure, some of us like to dress up, and for a few days of the year, we get to throw off the distractions of our 21st-century life and go back to a different time. I do not look upon those that reenact time gray, or butternut, as racists or anything of the kind, just a group of guys that love the hobby and love to tell the story.

In my opinion, one of the most overlooked reasons for the decline is the aging reenacting population. There are not a lot of young people joining the ranks of the hobby. I believe there are many factors to this two being available time and available funds. Reenacting take much time and much money if you are going to do it right and let’s face it, we all want to do it right. Sure one can find good used items out there, what I like to call the seasoned uniforms and other accouterments of battle, but those can still run into the thousands.

The article mentions the Confederate question, and I am sure the protests and other negative press have had some impact on the hobby but, the decline started long before those events. Reenactors, well most reenactors anyway, know that our brothers and sisters that portray the south are not racist, and as the article suggests, you cannot fight a battle, or tell the story of the Civil War, without both sides.

Until most recent times, the focus of reenacting was on the battle and camp life and stayed away from the political climate of the 1860’s and the reasons leading up the war. Today, more of that story is being told, and I do not think that is a bad thing. We are living historians, and we have a duty, to tell the truth, the whole truth, no matter how ugly it might be.

With all of that said, I think the current climate of protests and monument removal has had little effect on the numbers of people involved in the hobby, it might affect the spectators that attend events, but I do not think it has done much to diminish the ranks of reenactors.

To switch centuries for a moment, I also reenact with a Revolutionary War group, as I mentioned before, where I also portray a chaplain in the army. I seem to be typecast in these positions because I am a minister, but in my mind, I am saving money because I do not have to buy muskets….. As I write this my wife and I are preparing for a reenactment at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Massachusetts. Red Coats and Rebels is the most significant Revolutionary War reenactment in New England, and it will draw about a thousand reenactors to the two-day event. Compared to Gettysburg and this year’s 6,000 reenactors it may seem small, but for a regional event, it is quite large. There has also been massive World War I and World War II events in recent memory and many Civil War reenactors, like my wife and I, reenact in multiple timelines.

Is Civil War reenacting dying? Perhaps a better way to describe it is there is a shift happening away from large national events to smaller events and more living history setups. We cannot overlook the time, and cost factor and new people have very little of both. So I think it will continue just not at the scale it once had, but, there is a need to continue to tell the story, the accurate story.

We must be intentional in seeking out the goodness in the world

I have fallen into the pit of despair and felt the anger welling up inside me. In our present political climate, it is easy to go down that road of anger and despair.  I have become weary of fighting the good fight to help bring mercy and justice to the world I live in. I feel at times that I am fighting an uphill battle and sometimes I feel all alone. However, I know I am not alone, but I also cannot keep banging my head against the wall.

I do not like the person I become when evil takes over, and by evil I mean anger. Sure, sometimes anger is righteous and sometimes it is out of anger that change becomes a reality, but then I remember it was anger that got us here and what we need now are love and understanding.

During these summer months, the congregation I serve is reading the book Grateful, The Transformative Power of Giving Thanks by Diana Butler Bass. I like to think of this book as a manual for change in our lives as it is indeed, as the title suggests, transformative.

A recent study focused on the intentionality of gratitude and how we have to seek out those things we need to be grateful for. Bass quotes from Brother David Steindle-Rast, a Benedictine Monk, “Ninety-nine percent of the time we have an opportunity to be grateful for something. We don’t notice it. We go through our days in a daze” (pg 54). We have to be intentional about seeking out those grace-filled God moments and make a note of them.

Since I have started reading the book, I have decided that I was going to make an intentional shift in my thinking and my acting. I am not giving up the fight I am just taking a different perspective on it because the outcome is too important. I am going to be intentional about finding the good, and when there is something to be critical of, I will be critical with facts and not emotions.

However, this being grateful is a habit that needs to be cultivated in our lives. As the quote I used above suggests, we are surrounded by things to be grateful for we need to attentive to what they are.  In a recent church service, I suggested these moments might be as simple as all of the lights turning green on our commute to work. They might be small, but they are visible if we see them.

I have never been great with journaling but if that is your thing then keep a list of the things you see to be grateful for. If journaling is not your thing, make mental notes about them. I have noticed several folks who have taken their gratitude to social media, posting each day the things they are grateful for. Whatever works for you is what you need to do, it is not the system we adopt or the techniques we learn just that we do it!

The challenge I gave my congregation is to start today looking for those moments of gratitude. As Bass suggests in her book, gratitude begets gratitude, and slowly our lives will begin to transform and when our lives transform our worldview begins to transform.

Since begging this intentional search I have noticed that my disposition has changed and I am starting to come out of the pit and funk, and I am starting to see the world a little different, and I like what I see.

Reflection: Church as a Place of Healing

Based on Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

One of the tasks of my ministry as an interim minister is to assist the congregation in taking a look at themselves and all of their ministries.  It is not an easy task to ask folks, who have been doing things are a certain way for a long time, to take a step back and evaluate the effectiveness of that ministry. There are many “sacred cows” in church work and some need to be put out to pasture, and sometimes, it is not easy for folks to let go.

Many questions need to be asked during the interim period, but one of those critical questions is “who is my neighbor?” Knowing who our neighbor is and what their needs are is an important question to ask when one is developing a vision for the future.

I dislike church mission and vision statements. There is a tremendous amount of time spent on these and by the time they are written they are already out of date.  Most of the time these vision and mission statements are so ambiguous that there is no way to gauge their effectiveness or ineffectiveness and once written, they are never looked at or consulted again.

So I prefer to turn to Scripture for the vision and mission of the church. Love God, Love neighbor. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, take care of widows and orphans, and visit the sick and those in prison. Seek justice, walk humbly with our God. Go into the whole world and make disciples.

One of the most significant issues facing the church as we move forward is terrible public relations. I have said it before, but it needs to be repeated, many, many people know what the church is against but very few know what the church is for and this is something we need to change. A church that is living up to its Scriptural mission never makes the newspaper or television news. However, churches that protest at funerals, condemn those they perceive as sinners, those who try and legislate their beliefs, they are the ones that make the news and thus the world only seem the fringe of the church. The world never sees the majority of regular church folk, out in the world, trying to make a difference by just doing what God commands them to do, love, feed, visit, etc.

The Lectionary Gospel passage for the 9th Sunday after Pentecost comes from Mark’s Gospel (6:30-34, 53-56)and is split into two sections. The first section deals with the rest that church folks need after ministry and the second section deals with what happens when all your plans for that rest go out the window when it is time for ministry.

Jesus has sent his apostles out to, and they have come back to tell him all that they were able to do. They are tired from their ministry, and Jesus recognizes that they need some rest, so he bids them come and take a little vacation with him. They were getting in a boat, they were going on a bit of cruise I guess, to head off to a place of isolation but some folks saw them and recognized them and followed them. When they arrived at the place of rest a crowd had gathered that needed help. Scripture tells us that “he (Jesus) saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd, and he began to teach them many things.” Vacation time is over.

The second section, starting with chapter 6 and verse 53, jump ahead in the story. The apostles are trying, once again, to find a place to rest but the people recognized them and began to bring the sick to him for healing. Once again, no rest for ministry needs to happen.

There was a time in history when the church was recognized as a place of healing. Basil the Great started a hospital in his church for anyone who needed any healing. He employed doctors and other caregivers to aid the poor and the needy of his village. The church was a place of spiritual healing as well, but today most folks turn to self-help books and other things rather than come to the church. There are many reasons for this; the fact that most people feel that they will be judged by church folks being a big one, but also the church has retreated behind its walls or wood and stone and shut the world out. The church, and by that I mean the people, has made the building more essential and thus has slammed its doors on the neediest and vulnerable in the community.

There is a saying; I am not sure where it comes from, that goes something like, a church that is more concerned about the comfort of its members and not the needs of those outside of the walls of the church, is a dead church.

People are supposed to come to the communal gathering for rest and refreshment. They hear the word of God, feast at God’s banquet table, rejoice with others and are then sent out to minister to those around them. They spend a little time on the boat with Jesus, but that boat will come ashore, and the people will gather that are in need. The problem is, they do not recognize us when we arrive.

Scripture says that the people recognized Jesus. Most of them had never seen or heard him speak they only knew him from reputation. Word spread that this man, who had healed others and taught them amazing things, was in their town and they wanted to meet him and maybe be healed. They wanted to spend time on the boat with him, and so they left everything and came to him, and he went to them, but they recognized him first. Based on what I have seen in the world and the behavior of so-called “church people” it is no wonder no one is coming because he or she do not recognize Jesus in them!

We need to recapture the simple mission of the church to love God and love neighbor without condition. The church needs to be the church, and by that, I do not mean the building but the people. The people of God need to be about doing God’s work in the world, and that is not condemning the world and those in it but loving the world so much that we will give everything we have to make it a better place. Moreover, the only way to do that is through love! God loved the world so much that he gave the world his only son, not to condemn the world but to love the world.

Okay church, it’s time to get out of the boat and get to work!

Sermon: Healing Powers

A Sermon Based on Mark 5:21-43

I am a firm believer in prayer, in fact, I wrote a book about prayer and about adopting a personal prayer life, so prayer is a big thing in my book. For most of us, prayer gets reduced to a few moments once a week, or maybe each day, where we tick off a laundry list of things that we would like God to do, heal this one, get a job for this one, let the Red Sox win the World Series, etc. we have this long list of things but do we ever listen for a response?  Prayer, like a conversation, is a two-way street and there is a list of things that God wants us to do as well.

Today, we hear the story of two people healed of their disease; one is cured because her father asked Jesus to heal her and the other was cured because she showed persistence in getting to Jesus and just touching the hem of his garment. Although there was some work involved, the father had to ask, and the woman had to fight her way through the crowd, they were healed because of their faith. But, before we go any further, it could have also gone the other way. Like all miracle stories, Jesus uses these incidents not only to help someone but to bring glory to God. So let’s unpack this a little.

In my “From the Pastor Column” in the weekly email, I shared a little about my previous work as a hospice chaplain. If any of you have any experience with the hospice process, you know what a blessing it is not only for the person dying but also for the family. I always felt it was an honor to be with someone when they took their final breath. It did not always work out that I was there for that special moment, but the times I was there it was indeed a blessing and an honor.

The whole premise of the hospice experience is to make the patient, and the family, comfortable with the natural process of dying. Understandably so, we try everything to prevent a loved one from dying, but at some point, the decision has to be made to let them go and so hospice makes that process as peaceful as possible. I have prayed with many hospice patients, and the ones who could talk, always wanted me to pray, not for them, but for those they were leaving behind. They felt whatever was going to happen to them was going to happen and they wanted their families to find peace.

We often think of answered prayer for healing in the physical sense but what about spiritual and emotional healing?

Often we expect some form of physical healing but what of the spiritual healing. Perhaps God had answered their prayers and healed them or their loved one of the fear of dying. Maybe they were relieved of their fear of the unknown. Perhaps God paved the way for their loved one to reconcile with someone who had done them wrong or they were provided an opportunity for forgiveness that they had long been withholding.  You see, healing is not always physical and spiritual healing is just as important as the physical.

I have witnessed many miracles in ministry; brothers reconciled after 20 or more years estranged.  A father and a son who spoke to each other after many years of silence between them. Found money when all hope seemed to be lost. Having just enough food to feed all of those who needed something to eat. Miracles happen all around us every day all we have to do is look for them.

But what about our part in all of this?

I mentioned at the start that God has a list of things for us to do as well and all we need to do is listen. God wants to have a conversation with us. I know that sometimes we might be a little afraid that God is going to ask us to do something we either do not want to do or are not able to do. Well, God will not call those he does not equip, and if we say yes to that call, God will take care of the rest. Spend time with God each day. If it has been a while since you two have spoken, start slow and work up. Read Scripture and sit with it for a few moments. It is not the amount of time we spend together it is the quality of time we spend. Just one word of caution, if you are one who likes to close their eyes when they pray, don’t do it while driving.

As a church community, we are entering a process that is probably the most serious process that a congregation has to face, calling a new pastor. This search will require much prayer, so start now and develop a habit of prayer. Prayer for those that will be chosen to form a search committee, pray and see if you might be one of the ones called for that task. Pray for me as I push and prod those called and chosen. And pray for the person whom God has already chosen to come here.

As with all things we need to remember that we need to let God be in control, we need to do the work, but we need to take our guidance from God. Remember the words of Jesus in the garden towards the end of his life; “not my will but your will.”