First Congregational Church
Sunday, August 6, 2017
9th Sunday after Pentecost and Communion Sunday
“Swoosh - You Do It” “in the meantime of life”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
So, ya know, the other day, Ole was out fishing in a no-fishing zone. Sure enough, a game warden came by and asked him, “Didn’t you see the no-fishing sign?” Ole said, “Vell, as a matter of fact, I’m not actually fishing. I’m teaching dese vorms to svim.”
Sven vas reading a new book the other day. It was called “Saltwater Fishing,” by Barry Cuda. He was reading that one because he couldn’t find a copy of the other one he wanted to read: “How to Fish,” by Will Ketchum. The Cuda book was full of helpful information for fisherman, such as one should never tell jokes while ice fishing, because one doesn’t want too much cracking up going on. It also warns people to beware of the species that swims in the sea, that carries a machine gun and makes you an offer you can’t refuse, otherwise known as the Codfather.
While there was no real fishing happening in this morning’s passage, there was talk of fish, and you all know how one thing can lead to the next. Speaking of one thing leading to another, just before this morning’s scripture passage took place, Jesus’ heralder and cousin, John the Baptist, had been beheaded. Herod’s wife, Herodias, didn’t like John the Baptist, because he was opposed to her marriage - to her first husband’s brother. So she had her daughter ask for John’s head as a reward for a dance.
There are places in the Gospels that suggest that although John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins, they weren’t kissing cousins. Other places suggest that they were bosom buddies. Regardless of their relationship, when John’s followers brought the news of his death, Jesus needed some time to grieve, and like so many of us, probably didn’t want to bear his soul before the crowds.
Matthew 14:13-21 NIV
13 When Jesus heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them and healed their sick.
15 As evening approached, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.”
16 Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”
17 “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,” they answered.
18 “Bring them here to me,” he said. 19 And he directed the people to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. 20 They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 21 The number of those who ate was about five thousand men, besides women and children.
Thank you, Lauren. In all of the Gospels, this is the only miracle recorded in all four of them. They all contain slightly different details, such as the gospel of John is the only one that mentions that the owner of the loaves and fishes is a boy. There were certainly other miracles that could have received such an honor, so why this one? What’s so special about this one? And what does it tell us about God, about Jesus, about who we are called to be in the world that each of the evangelists said, “Now wait til you get a load of this one!”
There’s no doubt that feeding so many people with five loaves and two fish is a pretty nifty miracle. So many have tried to explain the miracle - some better than others. However it happened, we need our miracles to give us hope, and Jesus gets that.
But there is something more here that’s not about Jesus, but us. In one simple statement, Jesus was saying to his disciples, “Live already. You can’t sit back and watch me do all this awesome stuff. You feed them, because they’re hungry. Live the message.”
I don’t know if Jesus had any specific foreknowledge of our modern day, but maybe, just maybe, Jesus was the one, while talking with his hands, made a sort of a swoosh and coined the phrase, “Just do it,” the phrase that Nike has claimed. “Live life. I am counting on you. I need you.”
This last week, there was a video clip that made the rounds on Facebook, that spoke to very this point. It was a scene set on a high school football field, and the coach was trying to pump up the team for the Friday night game. But the star of the team, the one with the most potential, wasn’t so sure that was going to be possible. The other team was really good.
So the coach challenged the young man named Brock, asking the young man to do the death crawl - an exercise where you walk on hands and feet, but no knees. Brock thinks it’s no big deal to go thirty yards, but the coach challenges him to fifty yards. Brock says fifty yards is easy - with no one on his back. The coach says that whether Brock makes it or not, all he wants is Brock’s very best, and that he’s got to do it blindfolded so he wouldn’t give up when he could go further.
So Brock gets down on his hands and feet, Jeremy gets on his back, Brock starts down the field, and the coach starts his encouragement. The coach keeps asking Brock for his very best, his very best, not to quit on him, to keep driving forward. When Brock said it hurts, and that Jeremy was heavy, and that it burns, the coach told him to keep giving him his best.
Interestingly, one of the things that the coach keeps telling Brock is that it’s “all hard from here.” Finally, as the rest of the team gets up to walk along behind - for which there is also great symbolism - and Brock finally falls to the ground, the coach tells him that he’s in the end zone - that he’d gone nearly the entire length of the field. The coach finishes his point by telling Brock that he is the most influential person on the team, and that if he walks around defeated, so will the rest of the team.
I think we sometimes forget that Jesus asks such commitment of us. We may not have him yelling in our face, but the point is just as valid: sometimes we walk around defeated, and our defeat pours out onto the rest of “our team,” whether it’s at home, with our family, our friends, neighbors or children. I wonder if we think we have only so much to give, when actually God sees the greater amount we can give.
To finish the illustration, the coach was making his point to Brock, telling him of all that he inspired in his team, carrying a 140 pound man on his back, the length of a football field. After interrupting the coach, Jeremy finally gets to tell them that he doesn’t weigh 140, but 160.
I realize that this may not be the perfect illustration for the point, but it does speak to our human condition and the “inbetween” times - from point A to point B. When we get tired and feel like we just can’t go on, the Holy Spirit is right there with us, encouraging us to do our very best, and so sometimes, we do well to listen to that quiet, divine voice of encouragement.
Regardless of the fact that the disciples didn’t think they had anything to give, there were people we need to feed. Regardless of what we have going on in our lives, we have people that need to be fed; sometimes with our money, sometimes with efforts as meager as opening a can of soup. But there is so much more for which people hunger: recognition, appreciation, encouragement, a pat on the back, and if nothing else, then at least a smile or a nod of the head.
We need feeding, too, from time-to-time. We need to allow our hearts to be touched by the gracious gifts that others give us - whether its people or God or nature or music, or any other treasured gift, whether we think we deserve it or not. Which is another reason this table is such an important part of our lives as a church family.
It’s the place where we remember that all are welcome, all are appreciated, all are feed, because all of us hunger and thirst after things greater than what takes place in our day-to-day, everyday lives. All of us have a craving that is satisfied by God’s love and mercy and grace, that is represented in the broken bread and the poured cup. As we prepare to step up to this call to eat and drink, let us prepare our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Let us pray. Gracious, Loving God, we thank you for all with which you bless us: for this planet and life on it and in it, for the greatness of the galaxies and all of creation, for your Son and your Holy Spirit, and all the little pieces that lie between all of them. Thank you for loving and knowing and caring about each one of us as if we were your only special one, and for all the mercies and blessings that fill us - sometimes to overflowing. Thank you, too, for not just creating us and then to leave us alone, but for calling us into the work of your kingdom - to work with you and for you. For all these things and so much more, all your people say, Amen.
First Congregational Church
July 30, 2017
8th Sunday after Pentecost
“Who You Gonna Call?”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
I don’t know about anyone else, but I’ve sometimes thought that it would be cool to have a home that is connected to your phone, so you could make better use of utilities and appliances. But then there’s that voice from the other side of my brain that says that this is probably not as good a plan as it might seem. And this week, I found a guy that tested that very idea.
Jeremy tells the tale of moving into a new “smart” house in Hermosa Beach. Smartest house in the neighborhood. Everything's networked. The cable TV is connected to the phone, which is connected to a personal computer, which is connected to the power lines - all the appliances and the security system. Everything runs off a universal remote with the friendliest interface ever imagined. Programming is a snap and he’s totally wired.
Two days later, he programmed his VCR from the office, turned up the thermostat and switched on the lights with his car phone, and remotely started the oven for his pizza. Everything nice & cozy when he arrived and he was thinking that maybe he should get the universal remote surgically attached.
Three days after that, in a freak event the kitchen crashed when he opened the refrigerator door and the light bulb blew out. Immediately, everything else electrical shut down - lights, microwave, coffee maker - everything. He carefully unplugged and replugged all the appliances. Nothing. Called the cable company who referred him to the utility company. The utility company insisted that the problem was in the software. So the software company ran some remote tele-diagnostics and their expert claimed
it had to be the utility's fault.
Jeremy didn't care, he just wanted his kitchen back. More phone calls; more remote diagnostics. Turns out the problem was "unanticipated failure mode": The network had not been programed to override such an event as lightbulb burnout and the default reaction was to shut down the entire kitchen. But because the sensor memory confirmed that there hadn't actually been a power surge, the kitchen logic sequence was confused and it couldn't do a standard restart. The utility guy swore that it was the first time it had ever happened, and rebooting the kitchen took over an hour.
Four days later, the police were not happy. The “house” kept calling them for help. It was discovered that whenever the TV or stereo sound rose above 25 decibels, it created patterns of micro-vibrations that got amplified when they hit the window. When those vibrations mixed with a gust of wind, the security sensors were actuated, and the police computer concluded that someone is trying to break in. On top of that, whenever the basement was in self-diagnostic mode, the universal remote won't let Jeremy change the channels on the TV. That meant he actually had to get up off the couch and change the channels by hand. The software and the utility people said this flaw would be fixed in the next upgrade - SmartHouse 2.1. But it wasn’t ready yet.
Five days after that, the house caught a virus. Jeremy’s personal computer caught it while browsing on the public access network. He came home and the living room was a sauna, the bedroom windows were covered with ice, the refrigerator had defrosted, the washing machine had flooded the basement, the garage door was cycling up and down and the TV was stuck on the home shopping channel. Through-out the house, lights flickered like stroboscopes until they exploded from the strain. Broken glass was everywhere. Of course, the security sensors detected nothing. Then Jeremy saw at a message slowly throbbing on his personal computer screen: WELCOME TO HomeWrecker!!! NOW THE FUN BEGINS... (Be it ever so humble, there's no virus like the HomeWrecker…).
Six days later, they think they’ve digitally disinfected the house, but the place was a shambles. Pipes had burst and they weren't completely sure they’d got the part of the virus that attacked toilets. Nevertheless, the Exorcists (as the anti-virus SWAT team members like to call themselves) were confident the worst was over. "HomeWrecker is a pretty bad" one Exorcist told him, "but consider yourself lucky you didn't get Poltergeist. That one is really evil.”
The next day, Jeremy discovered that apparently his house wasn't insured for viruses. "Fires and mudslides, yes," said the claims adjuster. "Viruses, no.” And that, my friends, is why I don’t think the parsonage should go electronic - for the near future at least.
A few dozen centuries or so before the invention of televisions or even electricity, not long after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, there were large numbers of Jewish people in Rome, which meant that there were many Jewish synagogues amid the Roman temples. With all the business and neighborhood interactions, it didn’t take long for Gentiles to become acquainted with the story of Jesus Christ. It was probably while the great apostle Paul was in a Corinthian prison that he wrote his longest letter - to the churches of Rome, giving them - and us - some of the important foundational theology of the Christian faith.
Romans 8:26-39 NIV
26 In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. 27 And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.
More Than Conquerors
31 What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? 32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 36 As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Thank you, Jaxon. Again, I don’t know about any of you, but when I was younger, I probably didn’t appreciate the power of prayer as much as I do now, and I think a part of that was because of fear of doing it wrong. Or the idea that it had to be done a certain way. Or that the idea that we are supposed to pray specifically.
But as we so often come to learn, sometimes we don’t know the specifics of a situation - not that we always need to know, and sometimes it’s better not to know. Sometimes we forget that God is omniscient and omnipresent, and we somehow think God doesn’t know this isolated situation that is on our heart. Or sometimes, the pain or sorrow or loss is so great, or the situation is such that we don’t know how to pray - or that we even want to pray.
But - the Spirit helps us in our weakness - constantly. Even when we don’t know what or how we should pray, the Holy Spirit steps up and steps in for us through deep, wordless communication of heart. And because of the relationship between God and the Holy Spirit - which is that they are separate but equal - as is Christ - the Spirit will pray even more appropriately and avocationally than we might have. No, having the Holy Spirit doesn’t get us off the hook for praying, but besides doing for us what we sometimes can’t, it adds a level of peace of mind that we don’t have to pray perfectly.
Because this passage is probably one that is preached on more than many others, it has more potential for mistaken interpretation. There is the line from verse 28 that has not only been often misinterpreted, but can be a dagger in the heart of those who are hurting. “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
While it may be a true statement - is a true statement, it is not a helpful statement to those who have just lost a friend to cancer, or someone who’s been trying and trying and trying to have a child, or someone who just had to put down a beloved pet. That God is working for good may not feel like that to a bereaved or depressed person. They may get to that understanding one day, but that’s not our business to tend, but the Holy Spirit’s - with those wordless groans.
If we’ve been the one who has gone through that valley - of grief or disappointment or loss - it can be helpful remembering that God understands our losses and griefs and disappointments - because of what happened with Christ. Just like grief groups or Anonymous groups or other sorts of support groups, having someone who understands your plight is a huge comfort. And God - who is only as far away as a breath or a prayer - get our plights and lots in life. We have an eternal, continual, constant, personal support group in God’s Holy Spirit.
And nothing can ever separate us from God’s Spirit. Not our feelings, not our pain, not our knowing, not our struggles or cruel endings, not the most obstinate unbelief, no sin, no evil, no thing - can separate us from God’s love. God’s love for us is a pervasive as the air we breath, the wet in water or the ground in dirt. No matter what. No matter when. No matter where. So now, let us pray.
Loving and Sacred God, we thank you for being our God - for loving us during every moment of our earthly and eternal lives. Thank you for your Spirit, that person that prays for us and intercedes for us and stand up for us when we cant’ do those things ourselves. Prod us, when we can pray for others and ourselves the things that are right and good. And take our prayers and make them masterpieces for your glory and for your kingdom. Forgive us our humanity when we fail to embrace your part of our lives. But help each of us to traverse this world more aware of you and your Son and your Spirit. And all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.