Tag Archives: Matthew 14

Sermon 5 August 2017, Emmanuel Lutheran, Virginia Beach, VA

Text: Matthew 14:13-21

A good friend of mine sent me an article a couple weeks ago, the title: “Make America Great Again is Now a CCLI licensed Christian worship song.”  The song was debuted at First Baptist Church in Dallas as part of their “Let’s Celebrate Freedom Rally,” at which then candidate, now President Trump was the keynote speaker.

Your Pastor Aaron asked me to preach a couple weeks ago, to which I gladly agreed….and then he told me, “Your topic is to preach on the intersection between God and country, and by the way, I’m going to be vacation.”  Let’s just say he owes me, big time.  This is one of those hills no preacher wants to die on, a topic preachers usually avoid altogether.

And perhaps you are all feeling the same way.  You’re tired of the left-leaning, right-leaning rants about how certain stances and policies are consistent with Christian faith or not, and judging you for whether you are Christian or not. You came here this morning to get away from that stuff.  Church is supposed to be a refuge, a safe-haven, an escape from such things, right? 

Perhaps, rather than to define what the intersection between God and country is this morning, it would be more relevant to acknowledge just how exhausting living in our country today is.  The things that I think most of us care about, don’t seem to be getting better.  People are less considerate.  They are less empathetic towards others.  We hear things other people say and at times perhaps even hear ourselves saying things that we never imagined saying to another human being.  What’s worse, it even seems like collectively, we actually enjoy living this way.  Being inconsiderate, less empathetic, hateful, and violent is something people actually seem to be proud of.  Maybe we feel compelled to say something, a Christian response.  But even that is met with so much scrutiny and criticism these days that it would just be better to not put ourselves out there anymore.  Exhausted, we just don’t want to deal with any of it.

If our gospel story this morning is any indication, Jesus probably wouldn’t blame you.

Our text opens with Jesus withdrawing to a deserted place.  But what we don’t hear this morning is why: the opening verses of chapter 14 is the story of John the Baptist getting his head chopped off by King Herod, fulfilling a party request made by his wife and daughter for “John’s head on a platter.”  It’s a sobering reminder of the world that Jesus lives in….an inconsiderate, less empathetic, hateful, and violent one.  So Jesus withdraws…perhaps because he himself doesn’t want to deal with it.

But we hear how the story ends: Jesus feeds over 5,000 people.  He does something and I suppose, so should we.  Just exactly what is the intersection then between God and country for us?  What is the Christian response?  Or, the question so many leaders in our Synod seem to be preoccupied with, “What is the Lutheran response to life in our country today?”

I was about 15 years old, and after chores were done one night, dad asked me to head over to one of our neighbor’s farms a few miles down the road to help them with their chores.  Of course, I resisted….we had just put in a hard day of field work ourselves and all I wanted to do is head into town to hang out with some of my friends.   After a nice little “discussion,” my dad just sighed and said, “Can you just go over there?  They could use the help right now.”  So I jumped in our truck and headed over to help our neighbors finish their chores.  The thing is, I knew the real reason I was going over there: about two weeks before, the family had lost their father and husband.  The wife and her  daughters were doing all that they could to get the chores done and keep things afloat and hold onto the farm until while they sorted things out.  I knew that…but to be honest, it didn’t matter much to me.

What is the intersection between God and country?  The more I read this morning’s gospel story, the less I believe it has anything to do with us, or what we do.  At best, our responses range from complete avoidance and escapism to an obligation and burden we try to pass off as altruistic.  I think the intersection even goes beyond what God simply does for us, because we are famous for wasting a lot of time trying to decide what action is godly and pure, which never really gets us anywhere.  The miracle itself isn’t so much that Jesus was able to feed over 5,000 people with so little resources.  The miracle and good news is WHY Jesus does that.  “Jesus saw a great crowd; and he had compassion on them and cured their sick…..and he said, ‘They need not go away….bring the fish and loaves here to me….and he gave them to the disciples and the crowds.”

Intersection is about a God who comes into our nation and to us out of complete and utter compassion.  The miracle is that God continues to look at us with compassion.  In my current ministry, I spend a lot of time with service men and women who come back from deployments, having seen and done things connected to the reality of combat and war.  I spend time with men and women who have spent so much time away from their spouses and families because of these deployments, the damage done….to the point that recovery and repair is impossible.  These are people who don’t want to have their situation fixed, because there’s no miracle to be worked.  They’re exhausted, and have exhausted every measure…..and what they wonder is, are they worthy of, and will anyone – will God – look on them with compassion.

Perhaps it is the same for you as well.  We wonder if God still has compassion for us, for this nation, or if we’re truly left to fend for ourselves.  The good news this morning is that Christ looks on us with compassion, and a compassion so deep that God continues to intersect our lives.

In a nation starving for empathy, impoverished by hatred, indifference, violence, and disregard towards anyone and anything that doesn’t serve us or the factions that demand our allegiance, God intersects with our world in Christ out of compassion to feed us with the gift of compassion.  Whether it’s an act of feeding more than 5,000 people, or feeding a small group of people around the Communion Table, or in other acts we see in our everyday lives, God’s compassion is the real miracle that sustains us, changes us, and gives us hope.  Amen.

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Monday Morning Preacher (2/9/14): “When compassion gets the best of you.”

The text yesterday was Matthew 14:13-33. I’ll just save you a little time – it’s the story of the feeding of the 5,000 (or more than 5,000, if you note they did count the women and children) and the story of Jesus walking on the water.

You might know these two stories: Jesus feeds the crowd with 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish and all are filled and there’s a ton left over; the disciples are caught in a storm, and Jesus walks out to them across the water.  Peter, one of the disciples, tries to walk on the water to Jesus….and he does for awhile.  But then he notices all the other stuff going on around him, and starts to sink.  Good thing Jesus is there….because he saves Peter, brings him back to the boat, and gets in with the disciples.  The storms then reside.

Two great stories, both meaningful in many ways to those of us who trust in Jesus for faith.

But I say them as this: two stories involving crisis: one, there’s a food shortage and two, there’s threatening storms.  But why do things become a crisis in our lives?  When does it happen?  I think, it’s when our feelings get the best of us: our fears, our anxiety, our uncertainty, our hate.  We give into those, and we tend to act out of those fears.  When those feelings get the best of us, then it affects our actions.

I wonder though, what does it mean for the feeling of compassion to get the best of us?  It seems to get the best of Jesus in both stories….and when Jesus acts, something happens.  A miracle happens.  The crisis subsides…..not so much in the way that Jesus makes them magically disappear, but through his compassion acts in such a way to see that we have more than enough, the storms do pass, that we were walking on water all along in the first place.  Jesus’ compassion gets the best of him….and perhaps it gets the best of us as well.  And I wonder, what would happen in our lives if compassion did get the best of us rather than fear, hate, judgment, pride, a sense of entitlement…….

That’s the challenge this week: let compassion get the best of you when a “crisis” comes.  See what happens.  And maybe take a minute to share that with people……either on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or even in the comment section of this blog.

What happens when compassion gets the best of you?

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Sermon 10 August 2014: “Operational Risk Management”

We get another familiar story this week, this time, Jesus and Peter, walking on water. Well, Peter doesn’t quite make it the whole way. But that’s not what’s on my mind this morning.

I’m wondering about those other 11 guys back in the boat.

The summer of my 7th grade year, my budding baseball career hit its highpoint when I got put on the pitching staff of 3 on our summer rec baseball team. My rise to stardom was that I had really good control….and I threw so slow that it often threw off the timing of the batters I faced. Actually though, I could throw a lot harder, but rather than throw overhand like most people do, I used this sidearm delivery because my control was better….and as a kid in the 7th grade, I thought I looked really cool. But I threw a lot slower because of it. When my dad and I would practice my pitching in our yard, I’d throw overhand, but I just couldn’t control it…which resulted in a lot of broken garage windows and a few balls that ended up in the woods behind the garage. Over time, I just felt like I couldn’t do it – pitch overhand successfully. So I switched to sidearm throwing, and because it was successful for me, I just stuck with it.

However, my success was limited….in games, hitters would adjust their timing and my awesome pitching became like batting practice to them. My dad would yell over and over “Pitch it overhand! Try it!” But I was just to scared to…scared of embarrassing myself with a wild pitch or hitting a batter, scared of losing my position as a starting pitcher…..scared of failing. The risk as just too great.

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” Typically, this story ends up being about Peter’s failure, a LACK of faith. Like Peter, if we could just trust a little more, keep our eyes on Jesus, then we’d be able to walk on water, do amazing things….get closer in our walk towards him. We’d be a whole lot more successful at this following Jesus, discipleship thing.

A good sermon perhaps. But I’m still stuck on those 11 back in the boat.

In the Navy, we have this thing called “Operational Risk Management,” which is a fancy Navy-speak for considering risk vs. reward. In fact, the Navy came up with this matrix, where risk and reward are quantified on a graph with green, yellow, and red zones that essentially tell you whether you should do something or not. My second Executive Officer actually had laminated wallet-sized cards with the Operational Risk Management matrix on it made, and had us pull them out every time we had to make a “risky” decision.

While I don’t think anyone of us are carrying a card like that around, I do think that’s exactly how we think about life – operational risk management. I think we live in a society today that really values managing risk. Every decision we make is based on considering the risk vs. the reward……how we save and spend money, how we choose work and activities, and even how we choose our relationships.

The thing about Operational Risk Management as a way of life is that we don’t really have any need for anyone else but ourselves. We’re in control, and we manage life according to the outcomes we want or hope for….with as little risk as possible to ourselves. Thing is though, no matter how hard you try, you can’t eliminate all of the risk. No decision comes with out it, and the same’s true of relationships. Life gets a little stormy and rough at times…and we might fail.

And I think that reality scares us so much that we’d rather just stay in the boat.

But like the 11, we miss something when we stay in the boat. Because Peter doesn’t just witness the miracle of Jesus’ saving power as the Son of God – he experiences it. Because in the moment when he’s sinking, Jesus reaches out his hand and catches Peter – out of a concern and care for him. In his cry to be saved….Jesus saves him. And because of that experience, saying that Jesus is the Son of God is more than just idle words, paying lip service. Experiencing the hand of grace that catches and saves us when we’re in over our heads…saying Jesus is the Son of God becomes a confession of faith, a faith that led Peter out of the boat in the first place…a faith that calls us out of the boat today.

Some of you may know, but we’re planning on participating in the ELCA National Day of Service – “God’s Work, Our Hands” weekend. It’s on September 7th. And we had this great plan to form teams to go out and sing to nursing homes and assisted living facilities….bringing church to those who are “shut out” because of age and limitations. Well, that plan hit a snag…..only one of the 5 places we called were able to schedule us. Now we could have let that failure stop us….not enough time for a new plan, the risk of failure too great.

But the desire to serve is still there….and so a new plan emerged. Folks can still go sing at the one place we were able to – Churchland House – 3pm, Sunday September 7th. But on Saturday, the 6th, we thought: let’s do a neighborhood cookout, and give away free food as a way of serving and getting to know folks in Portsmouth. Let’s invite folks from all over the City of Portsmouth – friends, family, neighbors, even strangers……to come and enjoy some free food, and we’ll sing some songs together too. And if everyone contributes a little bit…..a bag of chips, a couple packs of hotdogs and buns, and everything else…..between three churches we should have enough. And between three churches, we have enough talent and able bodies to cook food, sing songs….to pull this off. We’ll give it away until it’s all gone. We’ll give it away, a free gift, and act of service……kind of like the free gift of grace God has given us and all people in Jesus Christ.

God does not call us to a life of Operational Risk Management…..we are called to a life of faith. But God calls us to this life of faith assuring us of the promise of Christ’s care and saving grace that carries us through no matter if we sink, swim, or walk on water…and because of that, maybe, just maybe, getting off our butts and out of the boat might end up being the greatest experience of our lives. Amen.

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