30 August 2006
In some sad news, one of my favorite musicians died last week. When I was in the band at the University of Nebraska, the marching band trumpets followed Maynard's philosophy: higher, faster, louder. His album "Chameleon" is a favorite on my list, just because of the excitement and passion of his playing. Now Maynard's leather lips don't blow any more, and that's a sad thing.
If you're looking for one quintessential Maynard piece, try "La Fiesta" from the Chameleon album. You won't be disappointed.
27 August 2006
“Alleluia! Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia!”
For years you have sung this little line just prior to the reading of the Gospel on Sunday mornings. Look closely in your bulletins at John 6.68. Think of our Lutheran Book of Worship liturgy: which words are missing? Alleluia. You got it.
Peter had no Alleluia for Jesus that day near Capernaum. We have a hard time seeing what’s happening in John 6 because our lectionary divides it over several weeks of readings. So let’s summarize what’s happened to give you an idea for Peter’s resigned answer to Jesus’ question:
2. The crowd prepared to make Jesus their King, but Jesus escaped what they intended and hid in the mountains near Tiberias.
3. Unable to wait for Jesus any longer, his disciples tried to cross the Sea of Galilee during a storm, only to be terrified by the sight of Jesus walking on the water towards them.
4. The crowd followed Jesus to Capernaum, where he confronted them with the truth: they followed him only to see more miracles. But Jesus wanted to give them more than just miracles – he wanted to give them salvation.
5. Jesus identified himself as the Bread of Life, something even more powerful than the manna God had given to the Israelites in their wilderness wanderings in the days of Moses.
6. The crowd was offended when Jesus claimed that he was the Son of God – they remembered that he had grown up in Nazareth, the son of Joseph the carpenter and Mary his wife.
As one of Jesus’ other disciples put it, this was a difficult teaching. In Greek the disciples literally said “this is a hard word.” What Jesus said sounded unforgiving, confrontational, harsh – possibly cruel. It was a finger of words jabbing right into the heart and conscience of everyone who heard it. And some couldn’t handle it. Some of Jesus’ followers walked away from him that day in Capernaum. But we should note that those who left Jesus didn’t walk away from Jesus because he was crazy or obscene, even with all this talk about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. Those who left Jesus that day in Capernaum left because his words were too hard to hear. They didn’t leave Jesus because he was a nutcase – they left Jesus because his teachings made them too uncomfortable. As Jerry Goebel puts it, “What happened on this day was that the Gospel became suddenly, and radically, uncomfortable. Those who had been following Jesus to get bread, get fish, or even get a new political leader were confronted with a Gospel that wasn’t about ‘getting.” It was about giving…EVERYTHING!”[1
Can you imagine how quiet it must have been after everyone left Jesus in the synagogue in Capernaum that day? Thousands had been clamoring for Jesus to become their King, but once they all rejected Jesus because of his hard words, only the Twelve remained. This wasn’t one of those comfortable silences, either – this was a silence filled with apprehension, confusion, perhaps even a little fear. You wouldn’t think of offering an “Alleluia!” into a silence like that. Even “Amen!” wouldn’t do. I imagine the disciples who remained focused on their sandals and prayed to God in heaven above that Jesus wouldn’t say another word that day. I imagine that nobody knew what was going to happen next.
In the middle of all this sat Peter, with no “Alleluia” to offer. But what Peter did offer to Jesus was remarkable, because in Peter’s words God created something out of nothing. Jesus asked them, “Do you also wish to leave me?” Peter’s response? “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."
Can you hear the despair in Peter’s response? When Jesus asked if they wanted to leave, was there an unspoken “YES!” demanding to be heard? I’m sure there was. Peter’s response to Jesus was not a declaration of faith – it was a desperate surrender to forces which were beyond Peter’s control. In Peter’s response there was an acknowledgment that if there were any other option, he and the disciples would take it and run. “Yes, Jesus – I want to leave. Yes, Jesus - you are giving us teachings that are more than we can bear. Yes, Jesus – you have spoken truth so painful that it is destroying us. But Lord, where else would we go?"
Many of you have probably seen the movie An Officer and a Gentleman. I'd like you to think of one particular scene to get an idea of what I’m describing. Richard Gere plays Zack Mayo, who is in training to become a Naval officer, but he’s being pushed to the limit by his drill instructor, Foley, played by Louis Gossett, Jr. During a weekend of punishment for violating barracks procedure and other training rules, Foley abuses Mayo with harsh words about himself and the life he's led. "You're no damn good!" JAB "Your father was an alcoholic and skirt-chaser!" JAB "Your mother was a whore!" JAB "You're not officer material!" JAB "No one here trusts you!" JAB "Why don't you just quit?" JAB Finally, when Mayo refuses to quit or break under the constant jabbing of Foley's abuse, Foley throws the last hard word at him: "I'm not going to let you finish this program, Mayo - you're out!"
That word was more than he could bear. In a stunning moment of desperation, Mayo screams "DON'T YOU DARE!!! I GOT NOWHERE ELSE TO GO!!!" And he crumbles into tears.
All that’s left is a desperate surrender and an admission that will change the course of his life. “I got nowhere else to go!” Can you hear the despair in his voice as he confronts the fact that this is it? That he’s reached the end of the line, the place where it’s this or nothing at all? If you can, then maybe you’ve known a bit of that desperate surrender yourself. Maybe you’ve been in Peter’s place, where desperate surrender is all that you’ve got left.
This is the uncomfortable truth that Jesus continues to reveal to us today: being a follower of Jesus Christ isn’t easy or rewarding or blessed. Sometimes, being a follower of Jesus Christ means listening to that jabbing finger of hard words that reveals the uncomfortable truth about your life. Sometimes being a follower of Jesus Christ means that it’s Christ or nothing at all. There’s nowhere else to go.
But Christ asks nothing of us which he has not already given himself. If you remember all the way back to the beginning of the sixth chapter of the gospel of John, it was Jesus himself who fed the 5,000. When Jesus says he alone is the bread of life, Jesus is making a promise to those who listen to his word: “If you feed on me, you will live.” Last week you heard Pastor Troy talk to you about living wisely. When Jesus confronts us with the uncomfortable truth that He alone is the bread of life, Jesus is also making a promise to us: nothing else gives life the way that He gives life.
As you practice your wise living, ask yourself: from where do I draw my life? If you draw your life from your possessions, from your vocation, from your family, from your spouse, or even from the bread that you eat, you are not living wisely. But when you are taken to that place of desperate surrender, where it’s Christ or nothing at all, you will see that no one else will give life like Jesus gives life. The desperate surrender of your life into his hands, after all, is the same surrender that Jesus gave to his Father in emptying his life on the cross for you. For Christ, it was the cross or nothing at all – and Christ chose the cross for you.
Peter and his companions were only just beginning to understand what it meant to follow Jesus when they came to this point of desperate surrender. I imagine it wasn’t the only time of desperate surrender for them, either. The world in which we live is filled with false promises of a good life through a million different ways. We, like the followers of Jesus, don’t always like to be reminded of our utter dependence on God’s mercy and grace for our life. It is a hard word to hear, a difficult teaching to understand. For years, we’ve believed that following Jesus meant escaping the world’s sorrow and pain. But now we are beginning to see the truth about following Jesus. We don’t follow Jesus to escape the world in which we live. When we follow Jesus, we follow knowing that the hard word of truth that sometimes comes our way is a word designed to bring us to a place where we desperately surrender to him, where it’s Christ or nothing at all, because only then can we begin to understand what salvation is all about. God isn’t interested in comforting you or helping you grow or rewarding your good behavior: God is determined to be your God, to be your source of life and your salvation, and if a desperate surrender is what it takes, then a desperate surrender is what it will be.
The author Kathleen Norris struggled with her faith for years before becoming one of the foremost American literary theologians of the past 20 years. In an audience once, she was asked how she could find comfort in a religion whose language does so much harm. She said, “I [don’t] think it was comfort I was seeking, or comfort that [I] found…As far as I’m concerned, this religion has saved my life, my husband’s life, and our marriage. So it’s not comfort that I’m talking about but salvation.”
Now, in retrospect, we can add the Alleluia to Peter’s desperate surrender. Alleluia: Lord, to whom shall we go? Only you have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Lord, you have brought us here to where it is you or nothing at all, where we surrender our lives into your hands as you once surrendered your life into your Father’s hands. Fill us with life. Feed us with your bread of life, that we may know eternal life, that we may know you and your Father through your Holy Spirit. And may your peace, which passes all our understanding and fills us even in our moments of desperate surrender, keep our hearts and minds in you, Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord. Amen.
 Goebel, Jerry. ONEFamily Outreach. http://onefamilyoutreach.com/bible/John/jn_06_59-69.html
 Norris, Kathleen. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. pp. 3-4
16 August 2006
We're leaving for Oregon tomorrow night; Kris is driving to the Cities to fly out on Friday and I'm driving to Fargo to hop the Empire Builder train at 0dark30. Are we ever ready for a long trip just for us! With VBS and all the other stuff happening since we returned from the mission trip, it's hard to remember what frigging day it is. Life is very, very good, but we're ready to decompress for a week or two. I am excited to take the train; no pressure headaches, no long lines waiting to remove my shoes and be poked and prodded. 33 hours of sleep, reading and sermon prep - waaa hooo!
And that's the news from Barrett (apologies to my friend Nate, who stole that line from someone else).
14 August 2006
BTW, I'm not going to post my sermon from yesterday. It wasn't particularly good, it was far too personal for my taste, and frankly, I didn't put the time into preparation that it deserved. Best to chalk it up as a bad job and leave it at that.
75: Master and Commander by Patrick O'Brian I loved the movie starring Russell Crowe, and figured I'd enjoy the books about Lucky Jack Aubrey. I'm not sure what to think. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the story these books tell. On the other hand, it's so hard parsing the navalspeak and historical dialect that I'm not sure I got everything I was supposed to get. On the whole, I'm not sure if I'm too stupid to understand the story or if the author hit the historical fiction so well that all readers need to be familiar with Lord Nelson's Britain to read and understand. At any rate, Lucky Jack Aubrey meets a physician/scholar/spy named Stephen Maturin at a chamber recital, where Maturin elbows Jack for nearly dancing in time to the music. Thus begins their long friendship. But Jack is also desperate for a command and a promotion, but finds himself at odds with his superior officers and in debt, a bad combination for a naval officer in 1800s Britain.
74: Post Captain by Patrick O'Brian See above for commentary. Lucky Jack escapes prison in France and is given a promotion and a new command: a former secret weapon/experimental ship that no one else will commandeer. Jack's relationship with Maturin is tested and strengthened, though romance threatens to ruin all.
73: New Spring by Robert Jordan I'm currently reading through the entire Wheel of Time series, but New Spring was a prequel I'd never enjoyed until a few weeks ago. Whereas the Wheel of Time begins with the Aes Sedai Moiraine Damodred finding Rand al'Thor, the Dragon Reborn, New Spring tells the story of how Moiraine and Siuan Sanche, inseparable even during Aes Sedai training, are raised from Accepted to Aes Sedai. Moiraine meets and bonds her Warder, al'Lan Mandragoran, uncrowned King of Malkier, and they are set, unknowingly, on the path to find the Dragon Reborn.
72: The Unnecessary Pastor by Marva Dawn and Eugene Peterson Our conference read this book together last year, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Dawn reflects on the different calls in the pastoral vocation. Peterson uses the Pastoral Epistles to reflect on what it truly means to be a pastor of people. And they both come to some extraordinary conclusions, thoughtful and challenging to us and to our congregations.
71: Saint Julian by Walter Wangerin, Jr. A friend gave me this book as an ordination gift - he's Wangerin's nephew. I really appreciated the gift, but I'll be honest - I didn't care for this novel. Normally I've enjoyed Walt Wangerin's work. For certain his writing is better than much of what passes for literature in the Christian publishing game. (the problem isn't the Christianity - it's the literature, or lack thereof. See LaHaye, Tim and Peretti, Frank) But Saint Julian was SO prosaic that it became far too artistic - the literary equivalent of deeply rococo architecture, so decorative you couldn't tell what you were supposed to be seeing. I'd recommend just about anything Walt has written, but not this one. I'm hoping that I'll like his new book on Jesus much better.
09 August 2006
the answer I gave for
all my early mornings and late nights.
"No time to shave" because
I read another chapter or
sent another letter instead of
lingering over my face.
"No day off this week" because
we are taking kids to a ballgame
and that counts as "work,"
I shall be resplendent
world on hold for myself.
But until then
I shall be as I am:
scratching prickly cheeks
blasting through the days of this life
06 August 2006
We've been in Thunder Bay, Ontario for the past week with 14 incredible youth from our churches doing a YouthWorks mission camp. I spent the week splitting wood for a Baptist church's wood-burning stove and helping around with other projects. Our kids did tons of service work for the community and really got to know each other well, since we were an extra small group. Pictures & more stories will come.
I'm preaching again - does it ever feel good! Today's sermon is posted below. Hope everyone is well - I'll post again soon!
On Sunday the 30th of July the Peace/Shalom Mission Trip group went to the Founders’ Museum in Thunder Bay. We spent two hours walking the grounds of a wonderful collection of 19th century tools and artifacts and listening to lectures about the lives of the settlers, given by guides in period dress. On Wednesday the 3rd of August, we went to Fort William, the modern re-creation of the old center of the fur trade on Lake Superior. Again, guides in period dress showed us tools, artifacts, told legends, and generally showed us what life was like in the late 17th century in the Thunder Bay area. The kids, of course, called it “the olden days,” but they enjoyed the lectures, especially the demonstration of medical tools and practices around 1815.
These experiences, when combined with our readings from Exodus & John this morning, reminded me of our trip to Disneyland last summer. Not because Disney does such a wonderful job of period reconstruction. I was reminded of our short visit to the sourdough bread factory on the Disneyland property. Many of you know that Kristin is a fiend for sourdough bread, so we HAD to stop. But what we learned there was incredible.
This sourdough bread factory has been in continual operation for over 150 years. That’s not such an incredible thing, until you consider that they’ve moved three times in those 150 years. For most types of bread, that’s no big deal, but for sourdough bread, that’s a BIG deal. Sourdough requires a starter: a mixture of flour and other ingredients that ferments for about a day and then provides its own yeasting action. When it’s ready, you combine the starter with some other ingredients to make sourdough bread, but you also pull a bit of the starter out to ferment another day before doing the same thing all over again. Lose the starter, damage the starter, you lose the ability to make bread.
The sourdough bread factory at Disneyland is using the same starter for its entire existence. The chain is unbroken back to its original building in San Francisco in the late 1800s. The sourdough starter survived earthquakes, fires, floods, and the move from San Francisco to Anaheim to continue making sourdough loaves in Disneyland today. As we watched bakers shape, spray, slice and stack those gorgeous golden loaves, we could see a chain of history going back to a company feeding prospectors during the gold rushes. Seeing history unfold before your eyes is pretty special. We saw it in Disneyland. Our mission trip kids saw it in Thunder Bay at Fort William and the Founders’ Museum. I’m fairly certain most of you have seen something similar in your own lives as well.
Living history is a great tourist attraction. It can even be a wonderful educational experience if it is done correctly. But when I hear Jesus talking about the Bread of Life, it isn’t living history that comes to mind. It’s that starter – that small ball of flour and sugar and milk and other stuff that gets the whole process going.
We read this week that many of the 5,000 people Jesus fed in the wilderness continued to follow him. Why? Not because Jesus was a great teacher, or because Jesus was a great healer, or because Jesus was the Son of God. Jesus was, of course, all those things, but the people followed Jesus because he fed them. When Jesus came, their bellies got filled, and so they followed him. It may be that there ain’t any such thing as a free lunch, but Jesus came close, and so the crowds followed him.
What followed was a conversation for all of us. “Why did you come?” Jesus asked. “I’ll tell you: you came because you got fed for nothing. You didn’t come because of who I am – you came because your stomach told you to come. You came for the loaves – when I could be giving you the Bread of Life itself.”
The people were shocked, and so they defended themselves by reminding Jesus that they had experience with miracle bread: “Our ancestors ate manna in the wilderness – what more could we ask for?” Jesus replied, “I’ll give you the true bread from heaven, the bread that gives life to the world. I’ll give you myself – and if you come to me, you’ll never hunger or thirst for anything again.”
Now, as one who particularly enjoys filling his stomach, I can understand why the people would have followed Jesus to keep their bellies full. Reading the Exodus passage and thinking how the people of Israel were starving in the wilderness, I can sympathize with people who might starve because they have trusted God. Watching all the crying kids at Disneyland around dinnertime, I know that sometimes getting your belly filled is the only thing you’re considering. But consider what Jesus is offering: something more than just bread. And consider well what it is that you are asking of God this morning, also.
Jesus would have given the loaves again if that was all the people needed. Life continues because we feed the body, after all, and the bread of life is a bread that does, in fact, give life to those who eat it. But what would you do if someone offered you something more? What would you do if, on your visit to Disneyland, the folks at the sourdough bread factory offered you a bit of the starter loaf for yourself? How would that change your life?
The bread of life that Jesus offers isn’t just another bit of spiritual nourishment to be sliced, toasted, buttered and consumed. What Jesus offers us in himself is the yeast that fills our entire lives with his presence. What Jesus offers is a transformation that makes us all into bakers, feeding the world through the spreading of the gospel. We are not merely consumers here, people who have come to pay our money, grab a hunk of bread and a sip of wine, and go on our merry way – we are called to nourish the world around us with the very same bread of life we receive here this morning. Your life is a testimony to the bread of life that fills you, and so your call is to tend that fermenting, transforming presence of Christ within you so that the world may be fed through your life.
Keeping the sourdough starter for those 150 years is a remarkable thing, but the sheer number of loaves the factory has produced is, in my mind, the greater achievement. We are not practitioners of living history here – we are living, breathing administrators of the good news of Jesus Christ. We don’t tend the fire so that others will understand what God did in the past – we tend the fire so that others will know what God is doing NOW. Feel the transforming presence of the bread of life within you – and tend it well, so that through you God may continue to nourish the world. Amen.