Friday, July 24, 2009

My Tweets on John 6:1-21

John 6:1-21 is the Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday. Here are my Tweets from Twitter on the passage:
Location? Many think just northwest of Sea of Galilee or Gennesarat. Later called, as [John] has it, Tiberias.

R.E. Brown sees parallels between this passage, from v. 5 on with Numbers 11, involving Moses. Very interesting.

v.2: Crowd saw signs, rather than the reality to which the signs point. That is central to this section of John.

"the mountain": As...Brown points out, this is impossible to localize. Mountains important in OT and NT. Moses/Mt. Sinai important here.

v.3: "sat down": Teachers usually sat down. Today, pope sits down [for pronouncements]: ex cathedra.

v.4: Passover, festival God instituted through Moses, is at hand. Also important. God will compare/contrast.

v.5: Why ask Philip? If event happend NW of Sea of G, this would be close to his home territory. Some think, based on Jesus' itinerary that this happened near Bethsaida, Philip's home town.

My late mentor, B. Schein, thought this happened near Tericheae, a town whose name meant 'Dried Fish.' [The town] specialized in this export commodity. The issue [in this account then would not be] inaccessibility of food to crowd. Terichaea only 20-minute round trip by foot from where Schein thought this incident took place. Thus, feeding of 5000 here has less to do with 'daily bread' than the extravagant, unnecessary grace, blessing, and provision of God in Jesus Christ. Just as life and the world were, from God's perspective, unnecessary, so are all these things.

Even apart from Schein's interpretation we see this when, at end, there is so much untouched food. Overabundance.

[v. 7]:
Philip is practical. 200 denarii is the figure he cites. A denarius was the common pay for a day of wage labor then.

v.8: Meanwhile, Simon's been scouting for food among the crowd.

v.9: "a boy": The term in Gk., R.E. Brown points out is paidarion, double diminutive for boy. This is just a little guy.

Paidarion is same term used in Septuagint, Greek NT produced in Alexandria before Jesus, commonly used, for Elisha's assistant, Gehazi. Elisha feeding incident is our 1st lesson this Sunday. Peter Leithart sees Elisha as "protoincarnational" character, a forerunning type of Jesus. Makes sense if John the Baptist is of the same type as Elijah.

v.8: Of course, Andrew doubts that the boy's bit of food is more than drop in the bucket. If Schein is right, the crowd could easily have been sent away [and they could have purchased their own fish in a place where abundant supplies of it existed.]

v.11: Jesus isn't said to "bless" the food the way it's reported in other Gospels. Instead, [in the original Greek of our text], He "gives thanks," a form of eucharisto, [the verb form of] one of the titles we give to Holy Communion, the Eucharist. This definitely foreshadows, [as did Passover].

v.11: "as much as they wanted": Again God's extravagant, unnecessary blessing.

he Apocrypha] imagines a time when God's people will feast on leviathan, the monster of the deep...the deep representing primordial chaos, sin, life without God. Think: fishers of people. Think: Jesus frying fish on John 21.

v.12: Similar to Moses' instructions in Numbers 11.

v.14: The crowd associate this sign with Moses. They fail to see what the sign points to, make a wrong assumption. They see Jesus as "the prophet," a Moses-figure. John 1:17: Law came from Moses; grace--overwhelming amplitude of undeserved blessings, forgiveness, provision--comes from Jesus. In fact, in Jesus, we receive "grace upon grace" (John 1:16), [something Moses never could provide. Only God can do that.] Also: John 1:12-13: All who received Him became children of God, born not of flesh but of God. [Moses can't bring new birth, John 3:3, either.]

v.15: Jesus realized that crowd wanted to pound Him into their compartment for him--a king of the earthly sort, one who raises armies, levies taxes, and does the bidding of his supporters. Instead of accepting their nomination, Jesus went to "the mountain" to pray. Jesus' signs weren't plays for earthly power; they demonstrated the power He already had. Had He become a puny king, all our hope for life, forgiveness, healing would be lost. Through the cross Jesus would claim the Kingship that can save us for all eternity.

vv.16-17: The disciples decide to forge on though Jesus hasn't returned from praying. They must have been accustomed to his absences for this purpose.

v.18: Those of us who have ridden in a boat on Lake Erie during a storm know how storms can whip up on a lake like Galilee.

v.19: John doesn't explicitly say WHY the disciples were afraid. Other gospel says they thought that Jesus was a ghost.

v.20: Literally, Jesus says not, "It is I," but, "I AM," in Hebrew this would be, "Yahweh," the very Name to which God refers to Himself to Moses at the Burning Bush. Jesus is not some prophet, not some puny king. Jesus is I AM, the maker of the universe. His self-identification is a counterpoint to the beliefs of the crowd. Jesus is God.

v.21: This is comical--a bit like Peter throwing on his clothes in John 21, when he recognizes the risen Jesus on the shore. After Jesus makes things explicit, the disciples want to take Him into the boat. But they're already at the shore.

Stoffregen points out that here, Jesus doesn't calm the storm. Not all storms get calmed. But we can still reach the other shore.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pics from the 2009 Saint Matthew Mission Trip (Part #2)

More photographs from our June 14-19 mission trip to the Group Workcamps Foundation's 'Week of Hope' in Nashville, Tennessee.

[Fran, left, and Bailey, center, on the front steps of the church building where we stayed, with another of the mission trip campers.]

[Phil gets ready to trim another tree.]

[Sarah mows the lawn. She worked at a residential center for recovering addicts.]

[Three Saint Matthew participants--Steven, Julie, and Kylen, the 6h., 7th, and 9th. persons from the left, can be seen in this picture taken in the Feed the Children warehouse in Nashville.]

[Each youth group took turns preparing breakfast, preparing dinner, and cleaning the facility where we stayed. On Wednesday night, the Saint Matthew group teamed with people from another congregation in serving the dinner. Our two resident kitchen gurus, Fran and Becky, spearheaded an effort to present the most creative dinner of the week: Spaghetti, complete with a (sort of) Italian ambiance. Here's some of the kitchen crew, including four from Saint Matthew: Steven, Jesse, and Phil are the first three cooks from the left and Fran is the second one from the right. More pics from the Italian dinner below.]

[More of the Italian Night: Notice the bottles with "flames." Those were made of twisted paper and red and orange marker ink. They top root beer bottles left over from our group's trip to Rain Forest Cafe the evening before.]

[This sign greeted camper-diners on Wednesday evening.]

[None of these campers were members of our Saint Matthew group. But the line and the information posted on the door in the background give you an idea of what shower time was like for both males and females. Beyond those doors--which led outside--were three camp-style showers, each hooked up to the church building's outdoor water spigots. Three showers served 74 campers. (The following week, there were 100 campers signed up for the same site!) One night, because of tornado warnings, showers were completely precluded. Our showers the next day, even though ice-cold, felt great! I didn't mind the cold showers at all, given the 95-degree temps and 90%+-humidity we had all week long. (This picture and all the others, for that matter, were taken by female staffers associated with Group Workcamps Foundation, just in case anybody wondered whether I snapped this shot.)]

[Jennifer and Bailey can be seen in the center of this pic, in line for an evening meal. The character behind them is a Lutheran pastor from Logan, Ohio.]

[Jacob strikes pose.]

[Back at her work site, Jennifer cleans up.]

[That's me, showing my best side while unloading things like flour, yogurt, sugar, and other items from Second Harvest.]

[Sarah, on left, sanding down a deck at residence in a facility for recovering addicts.]

[Becky with a member of her crew, cleaning a residence for a mentally handicapped adult.]

[I've heard of workers carrying people, but Critter takes it to a new level, lifting Jacob.]

[Sam and I bagging up unclaimed carry-out steaks from Longhorn Steakhouse's previous evening. The steaks are bagged up and added to Second Harvest food at the help center where we worked.]

[Cory takes a break.]

[Stephen with some of his kids for the week.]

I may present a few more pictures tomorrow. Remember, if you click on the images, you can enlarge them.

Thanks to all who participated in this year's mission trip. Thanks to the congregation for being so supportive of our youth!

Here is a link to the first installment of pictures.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Pics from the 2009 Saint Matthew Mission Trip (Part #1)

Once again this year, youth and adults from Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, the congregation where I serve as pastor, participated in a Group Workcamps Foundation 'Week of Hope' mission trip. This year, on June 14 to 19, a group of sixteen went to Nashville, Tennessee.

It was far from glamorous: We slept in sleeping bags on a church's basement floor. The basement was--sometimes--air conditioned.

The first two days brought us a few challenges and mishaps. One of our group had to be taken to an urgent care facility with heat exhaustion. Several got poison ivy. A few found and killed ticks before the little critters could cause them trouble. The challenges continued for several days.

But the last two days seemed to go better and most of our first-time mission trippers said that they'd go on another trip in the future.

Our group was part of a larger gathering of 74 people who, on this particular week, were drawn from churches (and one Girl Scouts contingent). The other work campers came from Minnesota, Iowa, Virginia, and South Carolina.

Once again this year, the experience was a concentrated, challenging, and fun reminder that service in the Name of Jesus Christ is our response to the goodness and grace of God.

[Here's our group on arrival at the church in Nashville, located close to The Hermitage, Andrew Jackson's home.]

The entire group of seventy-four people was put into work groups of five to eight people, most bringing people from different churches together. It's always great for our young people to make new friends from other places in this way!

[Jacob and Critter hanging out with a resident of the senior residence facility where they worked. In addition to joining in on activities with the residents, they did manual labor around the place, including painting the stairways.]

[Sam stocks a freezer with meat donated by a restaurant to a help center, which also distributed Second Harvest food.]

[Steven, on far right, works on packaging items for the Nashville distribution center of Feed the Children.]

[Kylen, on left, also working at Feed the Children.]

[Becky working hard on cleaning at a housing facility for mentally handicapped adults.]

[Jesse putting some muscle to some stubborn roots. This was at a residential facility for recovering addicts.]

[Stephen, far left, back row, who worked on a ministry with children.]

[Jennifer, on the right, dressed for the "fashion show" that she and other mission campers put on for residents of a senior facility.]

[Julie working at the Feed the Children warehouse.]

[A thumbs-up from Cory, working at a residential facility for mentally handicapped adults.]

[Some of the canned food offerings for hunger relief brought by mission trip participants. The cross was constructed by members of the Saint Matthew group. The crossbeams were made of boat paddles. Crosses brought by groups are meant to represent the churches and their areas. Hocking County, where we live, is a tourist destination, with its gorgeous hills, caves, waterfalls, the Hocking River, and Lake Logan. Canoeing is a favorite activity here.]

[You can click on all the images to enlarge them. More pictures tomorrow...I'm going to work out now.]

A Look at This Coming Sunday's Bible Lessons

Most weeks, I try to present some background information on the Bible lessons for the succeeding Sundays. This week, at least for starters, I share a few links to some great commentaries on the assigned texts. I may write a few of my own comments as the week progresses. Hopefully, these comments help you prepare for worship:

Elna Solvang's comments on 2 Kings 4:42-44, here.
Nancy deClaisse-Walford on Psalm 145:10-18, here.
Arland Hultgren's presentation on Ephesians 3:14-21, here.
Brian Stoffregen on John 6:1-21, here.
Brian Peterson, also on John 6:1-21, here.

This coming Sunday's Prayer of the Day, for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, is:
Gracious God, You have placed within the hearts of all Your children a longing for Your Word and a hunger for Your truth. Grant that we may know Your Son to the true bread from heaven and share this bread with all the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Getting to Know the Good Shepherd

[This was shared with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, during worship this morning.]

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The author Flannery O’Connor once told a story which, the first time I read it, was retold by the late Lutheran theologian Joseph Sittler. Sittler loved the story and after retelling it, reflected on its meaning.

It’s the story of an elderly couple who lived in the Appalachian Mountains, surrounded by breathtaking views. They were accustomed to sitting in rocking chairs on the front porch of their home for as long as the weather allowed, simply taking in the same sights they’d seen hundreds of days before in their long married life. One spring day, they were doing the same thing, silently rocking and looking.

“Well, Sarah,” the husband said to his wife. “I see there’s still some snow up there on the mountain.” [Sittler then reflects:] “Now they both knew that there would still be some snow on that mountain at this time of the year; there always was. So why did he say so? Because just to know that at times there’s snow, while at other times there isn’t, was to be able to embrace the shifting but eternal rhythms of life that had made them so content with each other’s company. In any marriage or intimate relationship you may say the same things, just like that, time after time; you may share a profound and compassionate interest in the same people. And while, on the one hand, this might seem so...boring; on the other hand it is simply breathtaking in its way of affirming the joy of life, and of living with someone that you love.”

They say that familiarity breeds contempt. It can also breed indifference. But if we let it, as was true of this old couple, familiarity can also breed things that are wonderful--”breathtaking,” as Sittler puts it, things like comfort, confidence, and assurance.

One of the most familiar chapters in the entire Bible is Psalm 23. To prove it, a preacher I read about once did something I’m going to do right now. I’ll recite the first clause of a phrase and out loud, you finish it. Out loud. (I know that's hard for you to do as Lutherans, but give it a rip anyway.)

“The Lord is my shepherd....”

“He makes me lie down in...”

“Even though I walk through the valley of...”

“Surely goodness and mercy shall...”

You see, you are familiar with Psalm 23.

And yet, I wonder if our familiarity with Psalm 23 and with the entire Bible from which it comes has bred in us comfort, confidence, and assurance, as it should do, or indifference?

Almost everybody owns a Bible. But not many of us read it, digest it, study it, absorb it, or give it a central place in our lives.

We don’t allow the Bible the time it needs to help us know the God Who wants to be our good shepherd or to teach us what difference that makes in our everyday lives.

If we did, more churches would be vibrant centers of mission.

More of we Christians would be making sounder decisions about our lives.

More of us would be saying no to sin and yes to God.

More of us would be loving and serving our neighbors.

More of us would be engaged in ministries, serving Christ through our churches.

And more of us would be inviting others to worship and to know Jesus Christ.

Authentic faith, faith that helps us face everyday living and gives us hope forever, is strengthened when we read God’s love letter to the human race: the Bible.

Another familiar passage from the Psalms confesses to God, “Your Word is a lamp to my feet and light to my path.”

And in the New Testament, the apostle Paul reminds a young pastor named Timothy, “There’s nothing like the written Word of God for showing you the way to salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Every part of the Scripture is God-breathed and useful one way or another--showing us truth, exposing our rebellion, correcting our mistakes, training us to live God’s way. Through the Word we are put together and shaped up for the tasks God has for us.”

There is power in God's Word. And that's a good thing because we have a real need of God's power.

Today, world leaders are holding their breath, waiting for a viral strain known as the H1N1 to mutate over these summer months, with possibly deadly consequences. It’s out of a desire to avoid disaster that the World Health Organization is working with governments throughout the world to develop flu shot sera in larger amounts than usual.*

Christians who don’t read and study the Bible regularly are setting themselves up for disaster, foregoing one of the best means of thwarting personal, relational, or eternal disaster.

We live in an imperfect world.

Bad things happen.

Temptations come to us.

Accidents and disease may come to us.

Relational discord may come to us.

If we’re not reading God’s Word as a regular part of our daily routine--or engaged in the other habits of Christians discipleship like service in Christ’s Name, regular worship, prayer, and telling others about Christ--life will knock us down more quickly and with even direr consequences than any infection could. Physical disease can, at its worst, only take this life from us. Separation from the God we know in Jesus Christ separates us from eternity with God and all His saints!

In a way, the message of the whole Bible is summed up well in Psalm 23. Psalm 23 tells us five important things about God, our good shepherd. It tells us...
  • that God provides for us;
  • that God allows us to be at our ease, confident that if we God into our lives, God will be with us no matter what;
  • that God gives us life;
  • that God stands with us in dark times, even when we die;
  • and that God wants us to be with Him forever.
I sometimes hear people say, “Well, I believe in God. Why do I need to mess with reading the Bible or worshiping or any of the other so-called disciplines of the Christian life? If I’m freed from sin and death simply for believing in Jesus, I don’t need all that stuff.”

Let me tell you a true story. Shortly after I learned how to ride a bicycle, I begged my Mom to send me on an errand to Gus’ IGA near the corner of Central and Sullivant Avenues in the section of Columbus called the Bottoms, where we lived at the time. I had a little twenty-four inch, beat-up blue Schwinn bike, a hand-me-down from my cousins. I’d grown tired of using it just to tool around the neighborhood or the blacktop in front of the warehouse behind our house.

Besides, Gus had a daughter named Mary Ann and she absolutely made my eight year old heart go pitter-pat. My mother was resistant to the whole idea of my trekking to Gus' store. Sullivant and Central were busy thoroughfares.

But one day she’d started to fix something and realized that she didn’t have a key ingredient on hand, tomatoes--for one of my favorite dishes to this day, Johnny Marzetti. My two year old sister, Kathy, needed attending and we were down to one car at the time. So, Mom felt she had no choice but to send me to Gus’ for the tomatoes.

She called me in from playing baseball out in the alley next to our house in order to give me my mission. I was psyched out of my mind! Here was an important errand I could run on my own...and I might get to see Mary Ann in the bargain. “Remember, sliced tomatoes in the can,” my mother called out to me as I climbed onto my bike and pedaled off.

By the time I got to Gus’ five minutes later, I had completely forgotten what I was supposed to buy. I had to ask Gus to dial my home number--BR9-0502--so that I could ask my mother to repeat her order.

After I got off the phone and had paid for the tomatoes, I asked where Mary Ann was and learned she wasn’t even around. A little disappointed, but still proud to be on such an important mission, I started riding back home.

I decided to approach my street, Thomas Avenue, by way of an alley that had a major incline to it. I suppose you'd say a major decline because it sloped down to Thomas. I started riding down that hill without looking to my right or left, just rolling downhill to the street. A car came along just as I approached the end of the hill. Boom! I hit the side of that passing car.

Fortunately, I came through unscathed, as did the car I hit. But I didn’t tell my mother what had happened until years later.

Now, here’s the point: In the blink of an eye, I had forgotten that I was supposed to get tomatoes. I’d forgotten that I should look both ways when turning onto a street. I’d even forgotten, apparently, how to use my brakes. I was so consumed with thoughts of being a big shot and of seeing Mary Ann, that the important things I knew and needed to remember got crowded out of my brain.

The same thing can happen to you and me when it comes to the most important thing in the world, our relationship with Jesus Christ. We can become so consumed with everyday life that we forget our Good Shepherd and our daily need of Him.

Reading and studying God’s Word is one important tool God uses to daily remind us to keep building our lives on Him and His promises.

The people I know who read God’s Word regularly do it because they know we all need to be regularly reminded of things like God’s love, forgiveness, commands, and offers of guidance and life.

In a bad news world, it’s too easy to forget the Good News of God’s love, given to us through Jesus Christ.

Make daily Bible reading a regular part of your life. Let familiarity with the Word of God lead, not to contempt or indifference, but to the most rewarding experience of all: familiarity with God, friendship with God. Amen

*It's also why the Parish Health Ministry at Saint Matthew is reminding people to wash their hands frequently and to use their elbows and/or sleeves to sneeze or cough into. It's also why we are offering people hand sanitizer as they go to the altar for Holy Communion. And it's why I've told people that it's healthier to embrace than to shake hands during the Sharing of the Peace.