Archive for July, 2009

John 6: 1-21


1.  Way In

Connection with “King”

talk about seeing “Elvis” at Cracker Barrel in Tennessee yesterday


Why I’m talking about kings and queens today

instead of the familiar story of “Jesus feeding the 5,000”

this is a familiar text

in fact, I have preached on it before recently at DLRC

on another aspect of the text then, too

a familiar reading

as we have done before, listen with new ears, as if it’s the 1st time

2.  Tell the Story

when we listen with new ears we may notice the part I couldn’t get away from

when the crowd that followed Jesus saw the miracle he performed

that is, feeding the crowd with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish

the saw the miracle Jesus did and “wanted to make him king”

they wanted to make him king real bad

text says the were going to take him by force

and make him be their king

but Jesus resisted

he withdrew to the mountain again by himself

To be king, like the crowds wanted, was not the ministry Jesus was about

Jesus foretold:


Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace

John’s revelation

King of King and Lord of Lords

The reign of Jesus is not like any other earthly kingNeuschwanstein

as Moses descries, a king that executes justice for the widow and who welcomes strangers

By making Jesus their king, the crowd …

would have put Jesus on a throne

exalting him beyond their reach

to make him and his behavior royal

beyond the reach of the common person

to make Jesus their king in this way is to make themselves subjects

not disciples

3.  So What?

Jesus wants his followers to be empowered by his love to:

go out into the world and make disciples of all people

even among strangers and foreigners

we are called as partners in Christ’s service

not as subjects, with him as king

to sit, in awe before his throne

and wonder at his powers and dominion

Jesus as king, like the crowd wanted to make him be

puts him in a high and exalted place

his work is not their work

that kind of king convenes with other kings – other monarchs

they wanted a king cloaked in jewels

fine fabric and fur

crown in his head and scepter in his hand

separating his life and work from that of the people

This “crowd” wanted to take Jesus by force and make him be their king

Bible says there were 5,000  men

you’ve done this exercise before …

we know these men weren’t travelling alone

if there was one woman for every man = 10,000

have to add in children, too

maybe not 1:1 ratio

but we know there were more than 5,000 people

maybe 7,500 or up to 10,00

whatever the number, this crowd was following Jesus

they came because of what they heard he did for others

like healing the sick

when they saw what he could do for them

… they wanted to make him theirs

Jesus was the one they wanted for their king

king – a role the crowd could relate to

Jesus was a far better option than the other nastier kings around

don’t overlook the zeal with which the crowd came after Jesus

“they were going to take him by force to make him king”

the word used in Greek here is a`rpa,zein

used to describe how a wolf snatches away a sheep from the flock

or the way the Apostle Paul was taken to jail

and when Jesus saw what they meant to do, he left them

the crowed followed Jesus because of what they saw him doing

heard of the healing, saw him feed thousands with a boy’s picnic

by making him their king, they would have their own “Miracle Man”

a genie in the bottle

what else could he do for them?

easier to be a subject than a disciple

would have preferred to sit back

and leave this work to somebody else

The crowd was right about Jesus, and they were wrong about him

Jesus is the one about whom the prophecy was made

but he will not be made into anyone that is not the will of the one who sent him

instead of being made into he crowds’ king (or genie) …

he withdrew from them  – they were not ready

The crowd wanted to attach a label to Jesus that they could understand


in charge, ruler …. they knew about how that worked

a label they understood – a box or a cubbyhole to put this one into

they were willing to limit their understanding of Jesus – by limiting Jesus to what they understood

“King” was the best language they could come up with

the best way they could understand God’s reign on earth

the people must have thought their idea of King Jesus was better

better than walking around with 12 guys …

 healing people and feeding the hungry – for the sake of God

for the sake of building a community of faith

But Jesus remained true to his calling

for now, he withdrew from this crowd

this forceful and shortsighted crowd were not folks he needed to deal with at that moment

the best thing for him to do at that point was to leave them for now – they weren’t ready

At the end of today’s lection the story of Jesus walking on water is given in comparison to the crowds’ shallow response to Jesus

disciples are beset by a storm while out on their boat at night

they are gripped by fear in the rough waters and strong winds of a Galilean storm

Jesus comes to them walking across the top of the water

tells them not to be afraid

the disciples brought Jesus into the boat

as they were doing so, the boat reached the shore

at the point for which they were bound

the fearful disciples were calmed and rescued

instead of wanting to enthrone Jesus,

they brought him into the boat

… into their lives

they are saved from the storm

their fears are relieved

Jesus goes with them on their way

It’s always helpful to find where we see ourselves in the text

Do you recognize the fear and uncertainty the disciples feel in the storm?

Do you know this fear?

Do you know feeling abandoned?

Do you know hurt so bad and wondering where is Jesus now?

I have wondered

in the dark storm of confusion or disappointment

having made an unpopular or wrong decision

stammered and stuttered trying to explain myself

only to feel like I’m whispering into a hurricane

or speaking a language nobody understands

remembering what we heard and know about Jesus —

healing people and feeding them

we seek him to heal us

wanting him for a personal savior

but do we want to keep him on a throne?

in a special place to come down when we need him

then go back so we can do like we want to do again

is it easier for us to make Jesus King

read about his holy acts in the Bible

celebrate him on Sunday and festivals

but keep him at a royal distance

when he starts to want us to be different

not like we want to do it, but his way

those times, isn’t it easier to be a distant subject than a disciple?

sometimes it’s easier to be in the crowd

trying to make Jesus be king


Looking at the disciples, I can also relate to recognizing Jesus as he walks across the stormy water.  While I have never witnessed such a miracle as Jesus walking on water, I have seen Jesus in the living miracle of human compassion, like a friend or loved one who showed up or called when I needed it the most.  I have seen the miracle of life in the startled, fresh eyes of three newborn baby boys.


I have experienced the love of Jesus flowing through family and friends who gathered when Kazy and I married, just as sure as Jesus was present in those who gathered at my mother’s funeral.


In this abiding love, even in the darkest stormiest times, I experience Jesus with me, in the same boat.  And before I know it he is on the way with me.  And this is when I know that his world is my world and his ministry is my ministry … it’s our world and it’s the ministry we are all called to.


Life in Jesus Christ is about relationship and discipleship.  Life in Christ is about love and compassion, which will never be the most efficient or profitable way – it will never be a way that we can out in a box or make an easy label for.


 The world that Jesus proclaims for us is a world for which he provides food, and enough of it for all to be satisfied.  The world Jesus proclaims for us is a world in which he walks with us.  The love of Christ is love in action where we are active participants in feeding and healing, following him even in the face of those who think they have a better way.


            And so may it be with us, as disciples and not subjects


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Local ministers take turns leading Sunday worship in the Amos Chapel at Dorothy Love Retirement Community in Sidney, Ohio.  Today it was my turn. 


Matthew 14:13-21


1.  Way In

Do you have a summer reading list?

Did you look at the NY Times Book review, or get a list from Oprah?

So imagine settling down to start your book

Make yourself comfortable

Open up your book, start to read …

Chapter 1, page 1, 1st paragraph, 1st sentence, reads like this …

“Now when she heard this, she left in a boat …”

Is that a great opening sentence, or what?

Really gets your attention

Makes you want to read more

I don’t know about you, but I would want to know that the “this” is

where she was, and where she went away to

That’s the way today’s gospel reading begins

1st sentence really draws you in

“Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.”

What Jesus heard is in the verses, at the end of chapter 13,

which comes  right before today’s reading

2.  Tell the Story

(Context)  Recent past

Death/execution of John the Baptist

(start with this phrase) Jesus had just received the news that Herod had executed his cousin John t. B.

 Herod had arrested and imprisoned him

Over some remarks John had made about the legitimacy of his marriage

Just a few days before, at a  great banquet honoring Herod’s birthday party …

Herod made a promise to his wife’s daughter after her dance which pleased Herod’s court immensely

Herod promised her anything she wished

Her birthday wish, prompted by her mother, was to have the head of the prisoner – John the Baptist brought to her on a platter

So she could give it is a gift to her mother

(pause) and King Herod kept his promise – his rather gruesome promise

And the scriptures say, in the verse just before today’s reading, that John’s followers “went and took his body and buried it, then they went to tell Jesus.”

This is what Jesus heard when he withdrew from the crowds to go off to a deserted place by himself

No doubt, Jesus was weary from the long spell of preaching and teaching among the people

He had been on the road constantly since appointing the 12 disciples

Teaching them and preparing them for ministry

And, as Jesus himself described it, “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them.” (11:5 f.)

Besides that, he told the crowds that were following him “no one has arisen greater than John the Baptist

Now he learns that his cousin, the prophet was executed by a brutal and lascivious King, on the careless whim of a spiteful queen, making nothing more of John’s life than a horrifying game

Jesus needed to get away, but this was not to be the day for that

Today’s reading

The crowds found where he went by boat, and they followed him on foot

Seeing them, Jesus went ashore,

Despite his own grief and need for rest, he was full of compassion for the people

he cured the ones among them who were sick

The disciples noticed that it was getting closer to suppertime, said to Jesus

 It’s getting late, Lord, and we’re in the middle of nowhere

How about you send the crowds away

so they can go into town to buy something to eat

Jesus may have thrown his hands up or rolled his eyes when he said,

They don’t need to go anywhere

YOU give them something to eat

“But we don’t have anything to give them”

Only 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish

Remember there are 5,000 men here “not counting women and children”

So if there was 1 woman and 1 child for every man there were 15,000

Safe to say there were at least 7,500

probably more like 10,000 – 15,000

Jesus said, bring me what you have

He had the crowd sit down

He took the loaves and fish

gave thanks to God and blessed them

Jesus gave the loaves to the disciples, and the disc. gave them to the crowds

Everybody ate and were filled

And there were 12 baskets filled with what was left over

3.  So What?

Everybody knows the story of the feeding the 5,000

And that was sure enough a miracle

But did you notice how the disciples responded at first?

When they realized it was getting close to supper time?

“We don’t have enough food, Jesus better send all these people home”

But Jesus, already having compassion for the crowds as he did his healing …

He told the disciples, “You give them something to eat.”

They said, “But look Lord, all we have is 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish”

But Jesus said, “Bring me what you have.”

Have you ever felt like the disciples?

We don’t have enough, we might use it all up here

Could this be like the church?  Are we ‘enough?’

We only have a few members, Lord

We don’t have as many as we used to

It may not be enough

I only have $5 for the offering this week

I just started reading the Bible, I’m a “new” Christian

I love to sing, but I can’t carry a tune in a bucket

Do we feel there are things holding us back?

Are we afraid that there won’t’ be enough if we use it all up today

To all of these, Jesus answers “Bring me what you have”

In the hands of the disciples 2 fish and 5 loaves were a meager meal

Not even enough to feed the 12 of them, let alone the huge crowd before them

In Jesus’ hands this was a gift

“Bring me what you have”

He took it and gave thanks to God for it

Then, in Jesus’ hands the gift expanded

The disciples saw the scarcity and it scared them

“send them home”

Jesus saw the bounty in God’s possibility

And the disciples’ humble gift was all he needed

It’s the same with us

When we feel inadequate, afraid there isn’t enough

When we forget about God providing everything we need

Jesus says, “Bring me what you have”

It’s enough, we’re enough

In his hands, the humble gift we bring of ourselves is enough

As long as we offer all we have

Not holding anything back, ‘just in case’

The difference was, Jesus gave thanks to God for what they had

Then it was more than enough

Jesus said, “Bring me what you have.”  The other thing is that he made the disciples part of the miracle

Now Jesus, being Jesus, could have made the miracle happen any kind of way

He could have had the crowds sit down

And make a KFC 2 piece meal plop down in everybody’s lap

The miracle could have taken any form

And he didn’t need the disciples’ help

Jesus chose to teach the disciples something through the miracle

Took what they had and expanded the gift

And he made the disciples a part of it

Jesus did the miracle

He’s the one with the power to produce bounty from scarcity

But the miracle came through the hands of the disciples

The disciples weren’t just observers of, but participants in the miracle

And so we are called

Not as just observers or readers of the Word, but doers of the word

The miracles of God’s provision in Jesus call us to be participants

As the 16th century nun, Teresa of Avila wrote:

Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, yours are the eyes through which he looks he looks with compassion on the world.  Yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good.  Yours are the hands with which he is to bless the world now.

and Jesus blesses what we bring – what we have to offer

and it is enough

we are equipped

we have all we need to share the love of Jesus Christ

and sharing the Good News of the Gospel

by the way we live our lives

and by those ways to being about the kingdom of heaven

right here around us

for the sake of Jesus Christ.

So may it be with us.  Amen.


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Ezekiel 2:1-5


1.  Way In

My friend in seminary, Marianne, warned me about takingstreet

   the Preaching Good News to the Poor Class

   she said Ed would have me preaching in the subway and the streets

I took the class anyway

Ed is a founding partner of the Open Door Community

intentional Christian community in Atlanta

Kazy and I were very involved there

ministry with homeless people

regulars in Sunday eucharist service and meal

resident volunteers after we got married

The idea of the class was to learn from preaching in a different context

one thing to preach the gospel in a suburban church

searching for a prophetic word to middle and upper class white people

preach the biblical imperative to share

serving Jesus when we serve the poor

but another thing altogether to preach to the poor

the homeless people who slept in the backyard at the Open Door

what’s the good news to them?

do they care if the people who come make breakfast see Jesus?

weren’t they Christians, too?

if they were better Christians would they be rich?

My experience at the Open Door changed me

some days, when I’m feeling comfortable

I think about Ed, Murphy, Dick, Gladys, Tonnie, Ira, Adolphus, Bear, Gidget, George

there are so many stories I could tell

what am I doing with the things they taught me?

how am I serving Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve

what am I doing for the poor?

too many days, the answer seems to be “nothing”

Lord, have mercy on me

but that’s what turns me

to what the Bible calls metanoia – repentance – completely turning around

from busyness (from my sermon in Piqua last week) – to really preaching and seeking the good news of the kingdom of heaven

so what’s the difference I can make?

So that was the reason to take the class

I met some people that made a difference in how I do ministry

Marianne’s warning about taking the class wasn’t exactly right,  and it wasn’t exactly wrong

I didn’t preach in the subway

but I did preach in the front yard of the Open Door

to the homeless people after breakfast

and the sermon wasn’t the same as the one I gave

from the same text a few weeks before

at a suburban, tall steeple church

and I was called on to pray one day

downtown at a protest march in front of Grady Hospital

where the indigent care tradition was coming under attack

despite the foundational mandate of the hospital’s founders

I was standing near a minister who had marched in Atlanta

during Dr. Martin Luther King’s days

he handed me the bullhorn and said,

“Here, Joe.  Open us with a word of prayer.”


in today’s reading, God told the prophet Ezekiel,

“whether they hear or not,

 they will know that there has been a prophet among them.”

the day I prayed over the bullhorn at Grady;

I’m pretty sure some people heard me

but I don’t know if anybody thought they were hearing from a prophet

probably not

probably thought they were hearing from a startled seminary student

who was completely unaccustomed to praying with a bullhorn

I wonder if I was any more effective than this guy

The street preacher, is what I think of when I think if a modern prophet

not that I think they’re always that great

in fact, they’re sometimes more clownish than prophetic

cartoons with a sign saying “The End is Near”

or other signs like this one has

often barely literate slogans

and too often, hateful

just being “out there” doesn’t make one prophetic

But what does God tell Ezekiel about a prophet?

2.  Tell the Story

today’s reading is God’s sending of Ezekiel to the people of Israel

God says:

Stand up, Ezekiel,

I know you’re a mortal

but I will speak with you

God did speak to Ezekiel

and the spirit of the Living God entered him,

set him on his feet

and said

“I am sending you to the people of Israel

they are hard-headed and they have transgressed against me

…both them, and their ancestors

Go and tell them, “This is the word of God to you”

and whether they hear or not,

they will know that there has been a prophet among them

3.  So What?

I don’t have to wonder whether you hear me

if I speak clearly, and project you will

unless something goes wrong with the PA system, I know you can hear

but then there’s hearing, and there’s hearing

I guess I can’t tell whether somebody is …


or really hearing

but, I’m getting to know how you are

and you sometimes let me know

and I can pretty well tell whether I have been heard

But what about you

do people hear what you’re preaching?

are they hearing you?

I mean, really hearing you?

A prophetic word can change your life

Like Ezekiel, Moses, John the Baptist …

or other Bible prophets who hear a direct word from God

Not that I’m in the same league as them,

but the word like I heard it as I read it and preached it in the street in Atlanta

But we don’t always know whether we’re heard

or if we’ve been taken seriously

Yet we can make a difference – even a prophetic difference

two things we can say about preaching

St. Francis of Assisi: Preach the gospel every day, and use words when necessary

another one: people would rather see a sermon that hear one

sometimes the gospel calls us to a different way sermon 2

we can be prophetic in the way we speak and the way we act

when you’re the one who doesn’t laugh at a joke that’s racist or mean

when you’re the one who goes out of your way to make a stranger feel welcome

when you decide to go to worship on Sunday morning

when you make it a point to give a portion of what you have

 to those who don’t

and especially when these actions are accompanied with a statement about the choice we have made

like God told the prophet Ezekiel to speak, “Thus says the Lord God.”

we don’t have to talk like that,

 but we can share how our behavior is rooted in faith

It’s not just people of faith that do good

your choice of many local, national,

 international service organizations doing fine work

for people of faith, It’s in why we do it –

for Christians, it’s the work Jesus calls us to do

in his name – to build up the church

not always just to increase our membership

but to build up the church – the kingdom of heaven as it is on earth

it’s for Christ’s sake

not to promote the club

or increase membership, or dues

but for his sake, in his name

reading the Acts of the Apostles …

we read about the followers of Jesus

preaching, teaching, healing, prophesying

all in the name of Jesus

those who saw wanted to be a part

a consistent them of Acts is

the numbers of the ones who were following grew

they saw the healings, heard the teachings

and the numbers grew

they also saw the persecutions:

 arrests, beatings, stonings of the Apostles

yet, the numbers still grew

through the power of prophetic acts – God built up the church

as people took the word of God within themselves

and proclaimed the transformational power of that word

 through the way they lived their lives

and you never know what effect you’re having

but when you live your life

standing up by the spirit of God

living so as to proclaim the gospel – a prophet/a preacher

preaching the gospel every day – and using words when necessary

living a sermon – not just talking one

you make a difference – in the name of God

and whether the people hear – or not

they will know that there has been a prophet among them

so may it be with us


At a Grady Coalition meeting, Dekalb County Courthouse

At a Grady Coalition meeting, Dekalb County Courthouse

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