Getting Fed by Jesus

Pastor Intern Scott
Delivered to U.S. Army troops in the field
August 4, 2014
Matthew 14:13-21

 

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Have you ever felt like you were inadequate, that you were not up for the task? Or that people were placing demands on you that you could never meet? I know that wouldnever ever happen in the Army right, especially at AT (annual training, a 14 day time of active duty training for the national guard)? Well, if your time in the Army has been like mine, you know that is not the case.

Our Scripture story for today has something to speak about that kind of feeling, so let’s take a closer look. Ok, so the story goes that Jesus tries to get to a quiet space because he is sad. In the passage right before this, John the Baptist had just been executed, so Jesus was pretty upset about that and wanted to be alone. But people followed him. Maybe these folks were upset about John too? We don’t know. What it does say is that Jesus had compassion on the crowd and healed their sick.

However, the day wore on and the people got hungry, but there was no DFAC (dining facility) or MRE’s (meals, ready to eat) for them. So Jesus tells his disciples to feed them. Jesus would not send them away.

This poor disciple in charge of this task, though, this poor mess Sergeant had only planned for a few people, and now there was a large crowd. How is he going to work? He couldn’t do this task on his own.

You see, we have these two things at work within this passage. The first is Jesus’ compassion. Think for a moment that you are a part of that crowd. When Jesus didn’t have to, he had compassion for us and would not leave us. He could have sent us away. He had every right to get rid of us. Some people even told him to. But what did Jesus do instead? He chose to heal us and feed us.

Second, think that you are that disciple tasked with feeding this crowd. How are you going to do this? Alright (pick a sergeant or officer) We need 10,000 meals now. What would you do? There is absolutely no way any of us could do such a task on our own.

             What does this disciple do? He is honest about it. He comes to the Lord Jesus and just says, “I can’t do this on my own. This is all I have.” When he did this, Jesus took that and fed thousands. Think about that.

When you have a seemingly insurmountable task, freely admit to God that you can’t do it on your own. Just like that disciple, you do have to put some work in- those five loaves and two fish came from somewhere- but just maybe God has a plan to do something more with it.

At any rate however, God will be with you. Jesus didn’t send that crowd away sick and hungry. He healed them and fed them. He told us that he will always be with us and the Holy Spirit is inside of us, even now!

Jesus even gave us a visible sign of that healing and feeding. In a few minutes we are going to have Holy Communion, and it is in this sign, the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, that Jesus heals and feeds us, even now. Even when we have those things that we can never do on our own. Amen.

Living in the Kingdom of Heaven

Pastor Mary Ellen
Sunday July 27, 2014
Psalms 119:130, Romans 8:26-39, Matthew 13: 31-33, 44-52

 

Grace and Peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”

In the Old Testament reading for today, just after Solomon becomes king and David’s successor – the LORD appears to Solomon in a dream and says to him “Ask me for whatever you want me to give you.” Solomon asks for an understanding mind and the LORD gives him a wise and discerning mind.

In the Lay Shepherd lesson read today Psalm 119:130 “ The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.”

Paul says in the Epistle reading for today in Romans 8: “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.” Jesus in the Gospel today says to the disciples, “Have you understood these things?” after Jesus tells them the parables about the kingdom of heaven.

All of these suggest that we as followers of Jesus Christ are not to put our minds on the back burner. We are to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to give us discernment and the wisdom and words that we need when we need them. Total reliance on God is what living in the kingdom of heaven is all about.

“I have held many things in my hands, and I have lost them all; but whatever I have placed in God’s hands, that I still possess.”― Martin Luther

Paul tells us in the reading from Romans that we have within us the very Spirit of God. Our Lutheran tradition confirms this as we receive God’s Holy Spirit in baptism and we reaffirm it at our confirmation.

Paul also says Holy Spirit intercedes for us and Jesus intercedes for us. With these two people speaking for us how can we not draw on their wisdom in living our lives from day-to-day in every situation and place we find ourselves.

Paul also says that nothing can separate us from the love of God as witnessed to us by Jesus Christ. So, we are loved and enlightened by the Creator of the universe everyday. This is living in the kingdom of heaven if we choose to do so. We can choose to have ears that hear, eyes that see and minds that understand all that God has given us by choosing to rely on God.

Whether we realize it or not, we are intimately connected to God. To illustrate how closely we are bound to God I have used this example in children’s sermons. When we are baptized we are linked with God so closely that it is impossible for us to separate ourselves from him. It is like mixing a package of powdered lemonade into a pitcher of water. After it has been mixed there is no way to separate out the water from the powder.

Even though we are so closely linked to God we can ignore it. Every day we can be lulled away from the kingdom of heaven by what we see, hear and take into our minds from the world around us. Yes we do live in two worlds at once here on this earth. We can choose to live in the kingdom of the world or the kingdom of heaven.

Jesus teaches us about the kingdom of heaven in today’s Gospel. He tells us what it is like:

• A grain of mustard seed sown into a farmer’s field that although it is the smallest of seeds grows into the largest of plants – a tree!
• Leaven that a woman took and hid in flour until the leaven spread into all the flour.
• A treasure found and then covered and hidden in a field. He sells all that he has to buy that field.
• A merchant in search of fine pearls when he finds one of great value sells all he has and buys it.
• A net that was thrown into the sea and gathered all kinds of fish. The fish were then sorted – the good ones kept and the bad ones thrown out.

Then Jesus asks – Have you understood these things? Will our answer be yes? I am not sure mine will be.

My mind can only grasp a small portion of what Jesus is saying here about the kingdom of heaven. But maybe that is the point. My understanding is like that of a small mustard seed. Choosing to rely on the wisdom of God is my only recourse here.

So I thought and prayed about these words of Jesus. I asked Him to help me understand what He means by likening the kingdom of heaven to such things as a mustard seed, leaven, treasure, merchant and net. The answer came in a multi-faceted form like a multi-faceted diamond with many faces.

You see the kingdom of heaven is not just the after-life with Jesus it is wherever. Jesus’ rule and reign are respected and honored. So, we can live in the kingdom of heaven right here and now. In a study of the Bible called Eschatology – a study of the end times – this kind of thinking is called “The Already and Not Yet”.

So -We already can start our eternal life right this moment and every moment we choose to follow Jesus. So, our eternal life starts right now. We being who we are kind of waiver in and out of the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of this world – as Pastor Ed has pointed out several times in his sermons lately Martin Luther calls us both sinners and saints here on earth. Simul Iustus et Peccator = “A Christian is simul (at the same time) iustus (just or righteous) and peccator (a sinner).”

So, the mustard seed could be seen as the amount of faith one could have to follow Jesus here on earth. In fact, Jesus says to the disciples after they were unable to cast demon out of a boy in Matthew 17:

Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out?” 20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”

The power to move the mountain is not ours. It is God’s power given to us through our faith. Faith links us to God. Faith exercised on our part is the realization that we are so closely linked with God that when we ask anything He will make it happen according to His will. Through faith we want to do what is pleasing to God.

When we are resurrected we will then be able to experience life as a saint and that life will be hugely different than this one. As different as a mustard seed is from the large tree it produces in Jesus’ parable. So, that is only one aspect or facet of this diamond called the kingdom of heaven.

As I reflected about the leaven it came to me that now we are both sinner and saint. The leaven is the sanctification process that we go through here on earth which transforms us into new creations. As Jesus deals with our sinfulness and as we confess it we are actually becoming holy. That is the saint part. That leaven works in us until it is fully realized within us as we step into our eternal life after our death – where we will be righteous. I can’t wait for that. I won’t hurt anyone and no one will hurt me. Everything will be as God first intended it. There it is another facet of the kingdom.

The treasure is that this experience of the kingdom is worth all that we have. When we die we will take nothing with us. We will have given it all up whether we want to or not. Realizing that we can live in the kingdom right now we can give up living by the dictates of this world as we choose another way – Jesus’ way of loving both God and neighbor. We don’t do this all the time here on earth but we can at least see its value in our lives. It is absolutely priceless to see the reaction to our kindness as we choose to help our neighbors in need. Yet another aspect of living in the kingdom.

Among all the treasures of this world living in the kingdom of God is the most precious. It is not just life it is the only life worth living! Appreciation for the life Jesus died to give us can only grow. I can hardly imagine how precious the new and eternal life will be as we all become saints and who we truly were created to be. Another aspect of the diamond called the kingdom.

Last but not least Jesus describes the kingdom like a net that catches all kinds of fish. God desires all people to come to Him and the net catches them all. We all have a chance to live in the kingdom, but God cannot allow sinfulness into heaven. We who are followers of Jesus have imputed righteousness. That is we rely on Jesus and His death on the cross for the forgiveness of all our sins. As we follow Him in this life we live in the kingdom as much as we are able to and desire to based on our faith.

As Scott said a couple weeks ago we are to sow the word of God to others regardless of how it is received. A farmer ceases to be a farmer if he does not plant seed – Likewise, we cease to be a follower of Jesus when we cease to live by the word and tell others about Jesus. God can work with those seeds and make them grow in the most unlikely of places. God desires all the fish to come to Him. Yet another aspect of God’s character and the kingdom of heaven.

A multi-faceted diamond is so precious and so is the kingdom of heaven. Even though we can only understand it a little we can live in the kingdom based on what faith we now have. Jesus honors every step taken toward follow His reign and rule and considers this love. John 14:15 says “If you love me you will obey my commandments.

We do not know how wonderful the life to come is but the seed of that life has been planted in us. It can grow here while we are still on earth as we walk in love, obedience and faith. We are to share that love with everyone we come into contact with so that we can in turn plant the seeds of eternal life in them.

Maybe the next time you have a choice about how you will go about dealing with the people in your life…. Stop and choose life – eternal life. Do things that Jesus would do not what comes naturally to you. Confess your resentment toward one another and live life without the burden of that heavy load. Give it to Jesus. Now that is living in the kingdom of heaven already.

Pastor Ed is teaching Scott and I in a vessel training class. That is one of the first things he teaches. To recognize that holding a resentment is a sin. It does not matter what hurt caused that resentment but confessing it will change not only you but plant a seed in someone else’s heart.

Living with resentment builds a barrier between you and another person. Let Jesus protect you by confessing it as sin regardless of how the other person receives it. This practice will change your life. It will give you part of the authentic kingdom living that we will all experience fully one day.

Let’s pray

Heavenly Father – we love and want to honor you always.

Jesus – we want to follow you and live the life you came to give us right here and now. Help us to confess our sins and grow in holiness. We look forward to becoming the saints you created us to be.

Holy Spirit – advise us along the way. Show us when we stray and live outside the kingdom. Give us wisdom and discernment as we live and love God and others in this world.

Thank Lord for being God with us here on earth. Amen

Sower or the Seed

Intern Pastor Scott
5th Sunday After Pentecost A, July 13, 2014
Isaiah 55:8-13, Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ!

Where I grew up in North Dakota was pretty similar to here in Stacy. Do we have any farmers here or anyone that grew up on a farm? (wait for responses) Well, I grew up outside of Minot, North Dakota. At the time, before the oil in North Dakota was found, it was a farming community. Everyone there made a living either by farming or by working in a business that supported farmers or their families. Add to that, we lived far out of town in the country, so there were farm fields in every direction from my childhood home. I remember every summer from May to September the farmers would be out in the fields working to get the wheat or canola or whatever they were growing in so that there was enough time for the seed to grow before the harvest. My dad would be out there too, making his deliveries for the agricultural chemical company that he worked for after he retired from the fire department. Everything just revolved around farming.

It was this sort of agrarian mindset that Jesus worked with in our Gospel reading for today. In our reading, Jesus tells us a story about farming, since that was something that the people of Galilee understood. Like most of his stories, though, this story has a meaning to it other than simply farming.

This parable is different from some of the others that Jesus tells us in the Gospels because Jesus comes out and tells his disciples the parable’s meaning. Granted, he tells only his disciples the meaning, rather than the crowd that came to see him. In each instance though, Jesus implores his listeners to listen to him, whether they were his disciples or the Galilean crowds.

I think there are two ways to look at this parable. The first is the way that Jesus outlines, where the seeds represent us, hearers of the Word. In this way of understanding the parable, the sower plants the seeds, but they fall on different types of ground. In the end, only one of the four seeds sown produces fruit. This seed produces not just the seven or eight times that Judean farmers of the era could expect, but the seed produced a hundred times more!

That sounds great if you happen to be the seed that falls on the good soil. But what if you are a seed that falls on the rocky ground, or on the path, or there just happened to be a couple of thorns around you? I mean, it doesn’t seem fair, does it? The seed was thrown! You didn’t get a choice where you landed! Why is it that this seed over here lands on the nice plowed piece of good soil seems to have everything going for him. Why is it that I landed here on this rocky ground? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Yes, some of the circumstances in life are not our choices. Like the seed scattered around the field, you have no choice in what happens. The seed that fell around the rocky ground didn’t choose to be planted among rocks. The seed that fell on the path didn’t ask to be eaten by birds. It seems like there is no good end for these seeds that didn’t just happen to fall on the good soil. Or is there?

Has anyone seen some of the plants that grow through the rocks in our parking lot? These seeds definitely landed on rocky soil, however, they persevered. When we look at the seed that fell on the path and was eaten by birds, I think about the different fruits that spread their seed by being eaten and passing through the various animals that the plants feed. The point is, even though these plants went through some tough times that would choke the life out of others, they persevered and are able to produce fruit too. It is the same way with people. Even though the Word planted in them may fade away for a time due to circumstances in their lives, don’t give up on them quite yet. You never know what God will be able to do.

But what if we look at this whole story that Jesus tells from a different perspective? Instead of the seed, think of yourself as the sower. You are given a bag of seeds and you want to get the greatest yield possible. Of course, you want to spread the seeds on the good soil, that’s where most of the yield will happen, but what about the other plots of your field? We have this area with thorns and weeds, a patch with lots of rocks, and we have the path that we are walking on. Don’t we want these parts of the soil to be productive too?

One solution is to simply scatter the seeds around and let what happens happen. Some folks will do this when they try to evangelize. They will simply hand out Bibles or say “Jesus loves you” or the like. Sometimes you get good soil and the Word sprouts in their hearts, but more often than not it withers and dies there.

A better solution, like any gardener could tell you, would be to put some work into these plots to make them good soil. Weed the ground, plow it, pick out the rocks. Do what you need to do to make this patch of soil productive again. Doesn’t this work with people too? Most of the time people will need some living evidence of Christ in you before they will accept what you have to say about Jesus. This means living life with others as “little Christs,” as Luther would say. Help those who need it. Be there for those in tough times. Laugh with them in the joyful times. St. Francis of Assisi once said: “Preach the Gospel at all times, and if necessary, use words.” This means that your words will be meaningless without the work behind it.

However, the sower won’t get any fruit at all without sowing any seeds. Too often Christians don’t like talking about spiritual matters. They are afraid of being looked down on or of being rejected. Remember though, the sower is expected to sow, just as the seed is expected to produce a fruit. A farmer that doesn’t plant crops probably will not be a farmer for long. It may seem daunting, but really what it takes is people seeing Christ at work within you. Once they see that, you may get an opening to explain why you are the way you are. If you help someone, you could explain that you did it because Jesus wants you too.

It can be frustrating being a sower. You put all of this time and effort into scattering the Word. We want to do our part to make the Word grow into people’s hearts, so that we can produce our hundredfold crop that Jesus wants us to make for him. Even with all of this effort though, sometimes the seeds wither and die in bad ground. Sometimes the parable works out the exact same way that Jesus says. Sometimes people will not believe for whatever reason, and we may be tempted to get discouraged. Remember what the Apostle Paul said to the Christians in Corinthians: “I planted the seed in your hearts, and Apollos watered it, but it was God who made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6, New Living Translation).”

We may be the sowers, even the waterers, but God is the one who makes the Word grow in our hearts. The Holy Spirit is the one who takes care of that. It is not our job to try to force it to grow. If we do that we would be trying to be God. Just like God said in our Old Testament reading for today, “my thoughts are not your thoughts.” Just because things don’t work out the way we think it should, it does not mean that it failed. God also said in our first reading that he sends His Word out from his mouth, and it will not return to Him empty. It will accomplish what God wants it to do.

Remember to do what Jesus told us to do in our Gospel reading though. Jesus told us to listen. Listen to his message behind the parable. Be a seed that produces good fruit in good times and perseveres in the bad. Be a sower that does his or her best to create good soil to sow the seeds in, but leave the growing to God. God will do with His Word what he wills. And just like he said to Isaiah, when we do, we will “go out in joy and be led forth in peace.” Amen.