Archive for August, 2012

August 31, 2012

Why do you do this work?

Over the course of our travels and many meetings with Feed the Children staff, partners and other NGO leaders there is one question I find myself asking these folks over and over: “Why do you do this work?”

The answers I have gotten from Africans and expats alike have varied but the heart of all of them has come back to calling.

“We are here to serve because we can do nothing else, be nowhere else.”

In fact, a line that was said in our program with the staff last Saturday as part of the litany of blessing for the week ahead was “God has called us to serve.” Drivers were called to serve. Cooks were called to serve. Administrators were called to serve. All staff of Feed the Children, we said together were called to serve.

In my pastoral work, I talk a lot about calling. I preach a lot about calling texts in scriptures. And I even call out the callings in others when I sit with folks in counseling sessions. But somehow hearing about the motivation behind why the many here on the ground here do what they do has made me stop to ponder calling once again.

Calling I believe is more beautiful than I ever imagined. For, as I have observed it and even felt it in my own heart, I have observed calling as a gift. It’s a gift that can ground the right people in the right situations even if these are circumstances that others many call difficult or unimaginable. Calling is God’s way of helping us be in the place where we are blessed by our giving and receiving.

When you have a calling, you can’t say no even when it leads you to feed hungry children in the smelly slums.

When you have a calling, you can’t say no even it leads you to remote villages to love on kids on bumpy roads for long hours.

When you have a calling, you can’t say no even if it wrecks the plans you previously had for your life only one day before.

I am excited to continue to support the work of Feed the Children through Kevin’s calling to be there and thus mine in some way too. I truly consider this time in our lives all the joy. How did I get to be so lucky?





August 28, 2012

How Are We Going to Meet These Needs?

Today, our delegation toured, observed, and participated in the work of Feed the Children Kenya in the Maparasha, a remote village community of the Masai tribe.

We saw a water sanitation project in action as women and children gathered water from a clean well instead of walking 5 km up a hill to a remote water source. We visited with school children in an early learning center who received lunch of corn and beans from Feed the Children’s distribution. (Kevin and I even got to serve the meal to the kids who came through the line with their tin bowls). We visited an AIDS education training session. We met with mothers at an nutritional seminar at the community birthing center– watching lessons on how mothers can best feed their family.

I felt proud today to be connected to the larger Feed the Children family.

However, in all of these accomplishments, there is always so much more that that just isn’t getting done because lack of resources.

Children have shoes but they are tattered and falling off their feet. Children have uniforms on, yes, but they have holes in them. Children eat lunch but the school only has a few number of bowls so everyone must eat in shifts. Yes, there is clean water from the pipes, but in dry season there’s still not enough water to go around so that water is only available two days a week.

Feed the Children like other NGOs needs more funds to support even more sustainable projects. And while many of us in theory care for the poor and want to help out, we look at our monthly budgets and say there is no way that I can give or give more. The big issue of child hunger and poverty seems too overwhelming to even try to involve ourselves in. Or if we are givers, we do so without a lot of hope that our small donations can make a difference. We have no connection to the larger human family that needs all of us to give and take.

I remembered today in all of my thinking about this a sermon illustration I used many months ago by Tony Campelo that seems to apply well here.

In 2003, I attended a meeting of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in Charlotte, NC where seminary professor and social advocate, Tony Campolo spoke. It came time to give the offering for missions after the sermon. And, the gentleman guiding the program asked Tony to pray before the ushers came forward to receive the offering. Seemed like a very normal churchy thing to do.

However, to the shock of many, Tony refused to pray. “What?!?” we were all thinking in our seats. Instead he said something like this: “We don’t need to pray for the offering tonight because this is what I know about God. God has already given each us in this room enough resources to meet our $15,000 offering tonight. All we need to do now is to give. So, I’ll start by emptying my wallet with the cash in it and maybe some of you could do the same.”

And, just like Tony said that night, we got our $15,000 plus mission offering plus some in that very room.

And it is the truth. God has given us every resource we need to do what we are called to accomplish. We have the money. We really already have it. It is just up to each of us to do our part. Or in this case, give so that many more kids around the world have life’s most basic necessities.

I know I am catching more fire in me for advocacy work this week. You simply can’t see needs and not be changed in return.



August 28, 2012

The Spirituality of International Travel

Often times in the church, we think of spiritual disciplines as a practice which we can qualify as holy action. Practices like praying, reading scripture, doing works of charity and the like are often the prescriptions for spiritual growth.

But Barbara Brown Taylor in her book, Altar in the World (which we at Washington Plaza along with our friends at Martin Luther King Christian will be studying together this fall), speaks of how we find God in the most ordinary of circumstances. Altars she writes can be anywhere we encounter the holy. It’s a discipline for all of us to simply pay attention.

This week, while on travel in Kenya and Malawi, I have a new altar to add to my list and that is international travel.

As many of you know who have traveled throughout the developing world, nothing ever moves as fast as it does in the United States or even Europe. Not that it is bad (I happen to like the change) but it is simply different.

Bags get lost easily on flights.

Traffic jams on narrow roads make getting from one place to another a chore.

You look for something you need and can’t find it.

Water that was once warm becomes stone cold.

The electricity goes out for no apparent reason.

And it is just life.

In these circumstances as a non native you have a choice. You can get angry. You can grow in misery of why things aren’t the way you wish they were.

Or you can go with the flow. You can embrace the moment. And you can accept the challenge as a spiritual discipline.

What might God be saying to me about who is ultimately in control?

What might be learned about enjoying the company for the journey instead of being so consumed in reaching the destination?

What might I really need instead of just want for my personal comfort?

I am having fun this week in these out of the norm circumstances, hoping that if I embrace them I might just learn more about myself and God’s ways of being with us in the process.


August 26, 2012

In Kenya with Gratitude

We have now been in Kenya for two and a half days– a country where Feed the Children has a strong presence through its work in the slums, with orphans and also in villages too. I shared a devotion with the entire Kenya staff of over 200 folks, toured the Feed the Children center, spent the night at a group home for the disabled, had “church” at a orphanage for abandoned elephants, dined with staff and much more! In response of seeking to take it all in, I am overwhelmed with thanksgiving.

We have met children without parents from babies to teens who have grabbed onto our legs and haven’t wanted to let us go.

We have met caregivers of children who have welcomed Kevin and I with hearts full of love and support for the ministry that lies ahead.

We have met administrative staff who have blown us away with their commitment to love the under served.

We have met drivers who have with care driven us from place to place in an unfamiliar city and told us stories about their heart warming experiences with the children too.

We have met young men with learning and physical challenges that have delighted in our company not because we did anything special other than stop and spent time with them.

We have met folks of all kinds connected to the Feed the Children family who have made the distance between stranger and friend seem so very small.

In all of these things, we found ourselves on holy ground. Tears have flowed. God’s spirit has been present. We have nothing to offer back except “thank you.” There is no better feeling than to be in this kind of joy.

Kevin and I thank God for our calling to be here this week and for all the ways that this opportunity connects us to our larger human family. More blessing reports to come, I am sure. But for now before my unpredictable WiFi connection goes away, I will sign out in gratitude. Be well wherever you are!



August 24, 2012

Hunger: Up Close in Africa

On the day of the announcement that Kevin would soon become the CEO of Feed the Children, a reporter asked him “You are not going to do any more of those commercials with African children starving with flies on their faces are you?” Looking a little taken aback by the directness of the question, Kevin replied: “No I don’t think so” to which I as an onlooker smiled. Emotional manipulation– my perception of such ads– is not something I am a fan of and I am glad my husband wasn’t either.

Fast forward three months: a work trip was planned for Kevin to see the field sites of what Feed the Children is up to for the first time overseas. I tagged along for the journey. Having already been to Africa twice, I wanted to see Kevin in this kind of environment– a environment that had helped to shape my becoming as a young adult. Boarding our plane in DC on Sunday for Malawi by way of Ethiopia, I was game for anything. But had no idea what this adventure would entail.

Once we arrived and had a night to get some rest, we rose early on Wednesday morning to make a visit to a village where Feed the Children leads the way in making transformational change. Most of the inhabitants of the community are substance farmers who if they were lucky grew enough sweet potatoes, maize or tobacco to sell with some or any profits.

As we visited with crowds gathered to welcome us, we soon learned about how the great partnership between Feed the Children and Nu Skin helps to feed children at the most critical stages of development (ages 2-5years) with a supplemented porridge called Vitameal. We watched the distribution of the meal as the trained mothers from within the community gave it to all the children in the early learning program (over 70 of them) as they gathered under a temporary shelter made of straw.

I saw faces of smiling kids eating porridge that I knew was saving their lives.

I saw fathers full of hope for their children’s future because how well they were eating prior to what it had been before the coming of Feed the Children to their village.

I saw mothers, young children themselves, openly nursing their babies with contentment.

I felt welcomed into this village straight out of a National Geographic photo shoot as we were given a tour of the other initiatives Feed the Children has brought to the community including health and sanitation education, clean water, and a village savings and loan for business development.

Later in the afternoon, we visited a preschool for kids with disabilities and the malnourished where Feed the Children provides Vitameal. This was one of Lilongwe’s poorest districts whose centers are thriving based on the kindness of private donations from well wishers.

I saw mothers, sisters, and aunts wiping drooling mouths of older toddlers unable to sit alone.

I saw children deemed unfit to attend school working on their fine motor skills by working puzzles.

I saw teachers making the best of their inadequate resources as they sought to inspire kids with catchy songs with shapes and colors in them.

Over the course of the afternoon, along with the rest of the group (6 of us in all), I spent time with these kids and then got to feed some of them their porridge as part of their pre-home ritual.

In reflection later of the day, I realized how naive my resistance to “starving children in Africa with flies on their faces” truly was. It is in fact real. I met these kids. I held these kids. And though Feed the Children is doing great work, there is still so much more to do. And there are even children involved in their sites that have a long way to go in terms of actually being healthy and their parents being able to take care of them without a complete dependence on the Vitameal.

Yes, we have kids in need in our country. There is hunger everywhere. But for this week, I am glad I got to experience both the joys and the deep challenges of the faces of poverty in Africa.

Though I may still roll my eyes at the sappy commercials as they play on late night TV, after my trip this week I will give testimony that childhood hunger is real. It’s a cause that needs more advocates, more funding and more compassionate laborers to attend to the work.




August 19, 2012

I’m Spiritual but Not Religious

 I’m Spiritual but Not Religious: James 1:17-27

Today’s excuse in our “Excuses” series is among the most commonly cited why people don’t come to church. I’ve heard countless versions of it during my tenure as Pastor at Washington Plaza, even.

“Pastor, I don’t think I need to come to church. I’d rather commute with God by watching the birds on Sunday. This is my spirituality.”

“Pastor, I don’t think I’m coming to come to church anymore. It’s nothing against you or the church people. You all are nice and all. I just don’t need a church and it’s religion for my faith.”

“Pastor, I just don’t know how you can stand working for the institutional church. Have you read history books? Have you read the news lately? The church hurts people. I just don’t get how you could be in the ‘religion’ business.”

And, as I’m preaching to the faithful this morning, a crowd gathered here to worship God in August (yes, the traditional low attendance month in churches across the country), I know I’m preaching to the choir. I’m preaching today to a congregation of folks who apparently aren’t hung up in all of the “spiritual vs. religion” cultural debates because you are here.  You understand the importance of a communal spiritual life. And different from some of your peers, you’ve been able to reconcile the idea of your spiritual life finding a home in an institutional house of worship, in particular Washington Plaza Baptist Church.

But, today, I’m musing about this statement, “I’m spiritual but not religious” in hopes of opening up a larger conversation that I hope we can continue together later around the lunch tables in the Plaza room. It’s a conversation we need to have and keep having together.  Because most of all it’s a topic that we in the modern church must stop fighting snarky word wars over. Instead, we must commit ourselves to understanding why the “spiritual but not religious” folks are among the fastest growing group of seekers in our country.

The thing is—you can find very passionate, insightful and God-loving people on either side. Though we are quick to judge, no matter where we stand on it.

Those of us who choose to practice our faith in the context of a community called a church often do so for more than just reasons of “It’s what I’ve always done” or “It’s what my parents brought me up to believe.” Those who make church membership and attendance a priority in their lives often say that God meets them in worship, in study groups with fellow disciples, and in close-knit fellowship of community life. We aren’t necessarily without a rich inner life that those in the spiritual community boast they only found outside the church.

And in the same way, spiritual but not religious folks, are good people too. Many of them think Jesus is a pretty rad dude and frame their lives around his teaching. Their lives aren’t void of faith practice. In fact, they often are full of them! The seriously spiritual pray, read, meditate, etc. with great furor and discipline. And because of this emphasis on preparation for the divine, they often use their keen intuition to seek out God wherever they find themselves—places those of us with our heads in the church might miss. It’s not a question of laziness—but in many cases actually a choice based on hard work that puts the “religious” to shame.

But, even with this true—we in the church often feel like our spiritual but not religious friends are the distant step child that we’d just wish would get with the program, stop being so independent and critical of our structures and join our membership rolls.

We often feel tempted to criticize their faith, especially as their attitude of “My faith can survive without your unnecessary institution” seems like a big slap in the face, to what we’ve worked so hard to hold together all of these years.  We feel tempted to talk about their egos without even considering our own. And, in light of this, I could easily stop this sermon this morning and invite us to all go home and re-read the Prodigal Son story from the perspective of the older son who got mad when the son left home and the father loved him the wayward younger son the same . . . But I’ll wait for that exhortation for later.

But regardless, our culture seems operate with these assumptions—spirituality is good; religion is bad.

Spirituality equals pure faith and God’s presence. Religion equals corruption, human made flawed structures.

We find religion in churches. We find God in spirituality.

Yet, into this conversation enters our New Testament lesson for this morning, taken from the book of James, most likely written by James, the brother of Jesus.  And while it’s a book that Martin Luther was known to say is the “epistle of straw” for its practical approach to faith instead of theological—it’s ancient text wrestling what might not be truly modern problem after all.

To the community in which James wrote, a group of believers in Jesus struggled with how much this new movement called Christianity was about truth statements and how much it was about actions which spoke without words.

Though there were many who said: “We’d better get our theology in order. We need to write more doctrine.” There were others who said, “Theology is well and good, but what does it mean? What does it look like?”

And to these questions James answers by saying let me tell you more about who God is and what that means to you. It’s not that I want to throw out all the great work that Paul has done, helping us to understand the essence of faith. But, I do want to tell you something else and that is this basic wisdom: you can talk a good game for a long as you want, have all the right answers with what you think Jesus meant about this and that, but if your life doesn’t show what you believe then it’s all rubbish. Pure rubbish

Look with me at verses 26 and 27: “If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.”

James is getting to the heart of the manner which is religion for religion’s sake is worthless.  Yes, truly!  If we keep up tradition, for tradition’s sake, it’s worthless.

If we conduct church business in a particular way because it how they did it back in 1995, it’s worthless.

If we maintain our buildings for the sake of maintaining our buildings, then it’s worthless.

And it’s not that traditions are bad or religious structures like church buildings are evil. But, rather, James exhorts us, that if we do not consider why it is that we do certain things and have certain things then, we really shouldn’t call this faith. We should call it religion for all we are doing is maintaining the framework of what has led us to God in the past but is not necessarily what is going to lead us to God in the future.

And these are the kind of questions we’ve been asking ourselves as a church together over the past year. Questions like:

“Why do we always to have all of these standing committees? Why not staff the committees/ positions of church leadership where we have energy in our congregation to serve and are essential to our life together as a community?”

“Why do we always have to worship just as a single church? Maybe there might be other churches like Martin Luther King Christian who would want to worship with us from time to time?”

“Why do we always have a full meal at coffee hour? Might there be weeks when just bagels will do to provide the same kind of life-giving table fellowship?”

And I truly believe we have more “Why do we always do___?” questions to ask ourselves in the future.

But notice what I didn’t say. I didn’t say that the structures are bad. Rather, mindless choices we make in the name of religious tradition never up for reconsideration are. Because sometimes traditions and religious teaching and practice can be indeed just this—practice from human hands, flawed and in need of a fresh wind of the Spirit upon it over time.

Because the Spirit moves in our world, we believe, right? And if we believe that the spirit moves then, what God wanted from us and what we spent so much time building in 1980 might not be what God wants from us in 2012. When we hold tighter onto tradition than we do Spirit we often have religion. When we hold tight to what the traditions of our religion offer us with room for the Spirit to shake us as needed, we have spirituality.

When it all boils down to it—James begs the church of his day and the church of our day to ask ourselves—are you spinning your wheels on building up what matters or are you just spinning your wheels?

Is your religion that of caring for orphans and widows i.e. those in need of compassionate justice in this world? Is your religion of following the teachings of Jesus or just debating them or pointing out how other Christians aren’t living into them?  Is your religion that of building bigger buildings and structures that leave a mark of “we were once here?”

If so, then, James tells us to re-think our religion.

Anytime I do a funeral service, I find myself repeating a phrase of exhortation to the mourners—a phrase, I hope at least some of them might remember later because it asks them to channel the grief and loss of their loved one into well lived personal lives that bring glory to God.  I guess I should get some new material but I can’t seem to find a better way to say it.

“When you and I die, only one thing matters: not how much money we have, not how many flowers decorate the alter, not how many people attend, not how many groups or societies we belonged to—only one thing—is it well with our souls? Are our lives in harmony with God? What will profit a man or woman if he or she gains the whole world and loses their own soul?”

So, this brings me to the place where I really want to say to those people who tell them they are too spiritual for churchI understand. I hear your frustrations. And you really want to find more God in your life and it just seems like a purer search to go at it on your own. I realize the church can be a messed up place. Institutions are like this. Sometimes we make good decisions that bring us together and other times we miss the mark painfully.  And I consider myself a spiritual person too.

But, I also claim my religion as much as I claim my spirituality. I am a Christian. And with that comes the place called the church where generations of other believers before me have lived out their faith too. Is the church perfect? Has it made way more mistakes in its formation, declarations, and judgments than it has for the good of the world? Probably.

Yet, I won’t leave the church, though; it might be a lot easier in the short turn with a lot less meetings. Why? My faith is communal. It’s communal with the saints and sinners who have gone before me. It’s communal with the saints and sinners who fill the pages of my life right now. I believe the Christian journey, like that of the Jewish journey or the Muslim journey, is one at requires a lot more “we” than “I.” I need the church’s religion for my spirituality to have a home. It may not always be my only home, but it’s my home nonetheless.

So this morning, I’m asking you to consider again how much the spiritual but not religious among us are right—sometimes church we have our noses so deep in the sand that we forget the vastness of God that can only be found outside these four walls.

But our calling to be the church—to love each other, to love God and follow the teachings of Jesus together continues on, no matter who validates our togetherness or laughs at it while riding their boat  or reading the paper on Sunday morning. Yet, knowing when our faith is lived out – being doers of the word, not just hearers only, it might just might look 100% different from any church we ever expected to be.  So if you are with me on this, hang on to your seats and get ready, change is coming. It always does. It’s just a part of our spiritual journey together.

May God continue to lead our church by the Spirit with courage to go wherever Jesus leads us.


August 17, 2012

Why Do I Write?

You haven’t seen me blog as much as I normally do lately other than posting sermons. Writing like a crazy woman some days, I’ve sought to give more attention to my book long project instead of other stuff.

When I come out of my writing cave and seek to tell people what I’ve been up to, the number one thing people say often in a condescending tone of voice is: “That must be so healing for you” or “Writing is so therapeutic, so good for you.”

And in response, I use self-control to not growl. And I really want to growl.

I realize people mean well. They’re just trying to be supportive. Many can’t imagine writing as honestly as I am trying to do.

But, I want to proclaim writing is not an “all about me” task. It’s not something I do rooted in selfish motives. I’ m not trying to throw up my emotional baggage on the world. I write because I am a writer. I write about painful things sometimes because painful things have happened to me and need to be heard. I write about joy sometimes because happy things happen to me and I want to encourage others. I write because like a painter or a carver or a sculptor, word choice is my art form. I write to practice my art. Sometimes what I produce is good art. Other times it needs to be sent back to the drafting board altogether or thrown in the trash. But it’s still art. And I still must write.

If I wrote for therapy, then I should get a journal or talk to a therapist (I already do both from time to time). These things are less painful. More private. Less drafting and wasted paper.

It’s burdensome task, I believe, putting your honest self out to the world, having no idea how people will respond to a story that isn’t just a story to you. It’s your life, and the only one you’ve got. Writing about your own life, I believe, can be one of the most courageous things people do.

Sure, as they say, writing can mature the soul. In writing, the pain has somewhere to go: to the paper. And, when you have to think about something long enough to find just the right word, you usually walk away with heighten self-awareness (which is never a bad thing). Healing and self-awareness are cousins. It’s true.

But I don’t think most writers, write because of personal sickness (though I’m sure some do, but I’m not friends with these folks). I don’t think writers write so that just anyone can know their less than flattering thoughts or moments. I don’t know think they write just to feel better. Writers write to connect them into what it means to be human.

And this is my point: I write because I don’t know how to not write. So if you stick around, you’ll have more to read in the future. And, this is what I can promise you, the stories to come will be my truth.

August 16, 2012

Reading, Re-reading and Dreams

In our consumer driven everything culture, we often treat reading as just another thing to conquer, to finish, to master. In seminary, we marked our progress by how many textbook were on our shelves. Colleagues ask me at conferences, “How many books have you read lately?” Congregants ask me: “What books can you teach us more about?” I’ve often fallen into the trap of reading just to be done with something or just to teach something.  And then, that is it. I cast the book aside.

Not all words written down on a page are meant to be treasured (fluff beach reading, for example). However, sometimes words do hold lasting power. And just need us to pick them up again to find the gems.

I’ve found myself doing a lot of re-reading lately instead of picking up new texts. Books can be like old friends, coming back into our lives to provide comfort or simply reminding us who we are. And I think this is true of fiction and non-fiction alike.

Several years ago, I picked up at a fall DC library book sale a copy of Renita J. Weems’s memoir, Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt. How surprized I was to find this book! Though I was not going through a season of doubt at the time, the title sucked me in. Seemed like an honest text (I’m always looking for these) worth the dollar price tag (what a steal!).

I was familar with the author’s name. Weems, a preacher, scholar and formerly a professor at Vanderbilt University, also wrote, Battered Love which I read in my Women, Theology and the Church class at Duke Divinity.

That September, I remember speed reading through it, feeling so happy as if I’d found a long-lost soul sister. Weems, coming out of a conservative tradition that didn’t necessarily affirm her gifts for ministry, writes about her struggle to stay connected to spiritual wisdom, even as her well ran dry and her faith shifted. After finishing it, I was quick to recommend it to friends (as I usually do when a treasure is found) and put it on my shelf again in the “has read section.” I didn’t touch it for years.

However, in picking it up again this summer, I’ve read slower. I’ve stopped myself to process some of her nuggets of truth in short chunks. I haven’t rushed. And, yesterday, I came across this reflection about the meaning of dreams which was perfectly instructive to my life right now. I keep having the most vivid dreams in color and in details that I can actually recount in the morning. And, I hoped for some wisdom to begin to make sense of them. And so how perfect that Weems wrote:

Wherever dreams come from, and I don’t pretend to know where that is, it’s a place within each of us, down within our souls, a place that won’t take no, shut up, not now, you again? for an answer. It’s a place that demands our attention and resolves to get it, whether with laughter or terror. It’s a place within which insists that we remember the lives we have lived, says Frederic Beuchner. It calls us to remember memories emotions, remember moments, remember things we’ve tried furiously to avoid or to forget. Dreams beckon us into a still room within us where it is safe to remember where our journeys have brought us. It’s safe because it is safe because it’s a place where we can face our fears, anger, and dread and see them for what they were and are: feelings that needn’t last forever. It is safe because no one , God is has access to that room, save you and God. And there in that room filled with our greatest anxieties, God meets us and beckons, “Come, it is time to be healed.”

Each time a dream has enough current in it to awaken us, God is speaking to us through some chamber within us, beckoning us to come in. It’s time. It’s time to remember. It’s time to lighten up. It’s time to sort through. It’s time to heal. It’s time to let go. It’s time to learn how to laugh at ourselves.

Thank you Renita Weems. I’m thinking more about some recent dreams of mine as I ponder your words, hoping that as you say they might lead to more healing in me and others too.

You see, sometimes, reading can be the gift that keeps on giving.

August 13, 2012

This is Not the Life I Expected

This is not the life I Expected: John 6:22-40

I don’t know if you’ve been staying up late like me watching the Olympics every night for the past two weeks or not . . . but it has been so easy to do, even if I already knew who won the races. The drama, the personal narrative stories, the commercials about the athletes mothers that make me want to run for a box of Kleenex.

Throughout the games, no matter whom the athletes are and no matter from what country they’ve come, they’ve all seemed to share one emotion in common. And that is expectation.  Benjamin Franklin once said this about expectations: “Blessed are those who expect nothing, for they will not be disappointed.” And this is true of some athletes. Yet for others, they come to the games, expecting just to enjoy the moment of being at the games—who cares if there is 0% chance that they’ll win a metal?  Their expectation is just to compete and do their personal best.  But, for some, they traveled to London with greater expectations of making it to the finals or the quarterfinals of their competition, getting their feet wet so to say in Olympic completion so to be on top in four more years. And for other well-trained and talented athletes they came expecting gold.

But what has happened when expectations have not been met? What has happened when swimmers have slow starts off the blocks, or gymnasts fall off the beam, or volleyball players miss a dig and nose dive into the sand? Disappointment and tears of “This is not the Olympic games I expected” have sent athletes home deeply unhappy.

Several nights ago, if you were up late watching gymnastics or have seen the countless replays since, vault specialist on the women’s team, McKayla Maroney won the silver metal for team USA. This is of course a wonderful feat, being second best in the world after all. But to McKayla, her actions after the fact spoke louder than any interview she could have given to reporters.

Though hailed as the best vaulter thin the world prior the Olympic games with a world championship title under her belt, she made a mistake on her second vault—a fall on her butt which went on to cost her the top finishing spot.

However, instead of displaying sportsmanship after the fact, hugging back the girl who beat her and at least putting a smile on her face at the metal ceremony, McKayla pouted. She seemed to want to get out of the hug position from her competitor as soon as possible. And, displayed what is now her famous “I’m not impressed look” when her competitor’s national anthem and flag were raised higher than her own.

She expected to win gold and simply did not. Life did not go for McKayla Maroney as she planned. And, we all knew it.

In our gospel lesson for this morning, we also find a group of people gathered who were dead set on getting what they expected—searchers full of determination that in Jesus they’d get exactly what they’d be hoping for too. Though I can imagine different from the Olympic athletes, these members of the crowd, weren’t well trained for their moment , as recorded in John 6. They just stumbled upon it and soon expected a lot.

As John 6 begins, while Jesus has just crossed over the Sea of Galilee to spend some quality down time with his disciples after a crazy couple of days, soon they the peace and quiet they sought would be interrupted this crazy crowd of searchers—a crowd as a fired up and motivated as a collection of athletes from the home country of an Olympic games feel about winning metals.

With these crowds, though, why all the fuzz? What did they expect from Jesus all of a sudden? Hadn’t he been around for a while? The reason revels itself when you hear the back story.

It’s a story you know—Jesus has been teaching on the hillside and the crowds simply won’t go home yet. The gospel writer tells us those gathered expected food and none is to be found except from one, a little boy who offers all that he has. A disciple connects with a little boy and brings him to Jesus. Jesus takes the simple lunch–  bread and fish and  presents the food both to the crowd and to God, blessings it and as a result of this miracle all gathered around (at least 5,000 or more) have enough to be full with baskets of leftovers to spare.

Like you and I might have felt if we had just experience such a miracle, the crowds were amazed and stunned at the sight of what Jesus did for them. They more than just had their stomachs filled– this Jesus whom they had encountered was something else and they were ready for more. Was this Jesus too good to be true?

As we know from community dynamics, when a speech, sermon or action happens in a group, or in this case a miracle, there are as many different perspectives of what is heard as there are people.

Look with me at one response of the crowd found in verse 34: “Give us that bread every day of our lives,” was the corporate cry of one sector.  First, there were the folks gathered who really liked the food—they followed Jesus that next day because they liked the food he served (know anyone who feels that way about church here?)

For them, the bread tasted great.  And not only this, but the means of its coming to them reminded these types of folks of the stories they heard from their grandmothers that their grandmothers had heard from their grandmothers and so on, about the manna that came from heaven. It was religious comfort food at best and practically speaking what they’d seen Jesus do the previous day was like food stamps of modern times without end. Who wouldn’t want that?  If brother Jesus would just stick around and take care of them, they knew the expectations of their lives would be met.

And also among the crowd were those who complained. What’s a good communal gathering without a complainer or two, right? Well this group of complainers identified as “the Jews who began to complain about Jesus.” (What a way to be remembered, huh?).

This second group expected from Jesus the answers to life’s deepest questions that they did not understand. They were rational and so they wanted rational nourishment and rational teaching that they could take back to the synagogue and teach with three points and poem about what they had seen and experienced with this up and coming Rabbi.

And, they expected a Savior that they could rationalize. And in this expectation, they were very concerned that Jesus, “claiming to be the one coming down from heaven, was merely the “son of Joseph whose father and mother they knew.”  It seems from how the narrator describes this scene to us, we recognize the possibility of this sector of the crowd believing in Jesus as God’s Son after the miracle took place, but it wouldn’t come blindly or without clear scholarship about how the divinity of Jesus could be proven and proven in words they understood. Without such “proof” they’d be in search of Jesus no longer.

And, last, there were those that day who expected from Jesus exactly what they’d had in the past. These were the realists among the crowds—they were ready to believe, but only if what Jesus was saying or doing clearly lined up with what they knew.

These were the folks who reminded Jesus that Moses made sure their ancestors had manna in the wilderness, so more than looking for spiritual comfort food, they were looking for history. They wanted Jesus’ ministry going forward to look, taste and to feel like the stories of faith they’d been told happened in the past.

These were the folks who soon would be throwing the childish tantrums—either literally or just in their heads, asking why couldn’t Jesus produce for them the security and dependability in ways they could wrap their minds around? It would be nice.

The bread falling from the sky had worked well once before—when the children of Israel were wondering in the dessert—so why wouldn’t this same miracle work again every day.

But, in each of these types of expectations, problems would soon emerge. Problems would emerge because each expected for what could potentially fill them in the moment, what made sense and could be counted on in the short-term, but what could not always satisfy.

And we too in our modern context know how the folks gathered around Jesus that day felt. For we’d been there too—there have been countless times in each of our lives when we’ve wanted to throw up our hands too and say, “This is what I expected. . . . But why God did you not give me exactly what I wanted.”  And we use our lack of met expectations as excuses—excuses that keep us from intimacy with God.

Remember Jesus said to them here, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believe in me will never be thirsty.”

Which was another way of Jesus reversing the expectation list of the crowd by telling them: “I’m glad you are here. But, in following me, remember that there is no gold and the end of the rainbow, win every gold metal when you compete in the Olympics or meet the man of your dreams the moment after you pray to meet him and live happily ever after scenario that you can demand of me, or work up on your own. Instead, come and taste and see that I am good. Know me.  As you get to know me, you are going to be fulfilled.

For no, I am simply not some hand-out bread kind of God.

Nor, I am not nor never will be rational or explainable nourishment for you.

Nor, am I nourishment like what you’ve ever tasted before, even at your finest spreads or most glorious spiritual moments in your history.

I AM the bread of Life.

But, why would you and I accept such nourishment from Christ? You might be saying, “Pastor, your sermon today seems kind vague to me.” But this is exactly the point!

For the more you and I live the more we realize that the best laid plans of ours are often fleeting moments. Life is in fact never full of “always” guarantees, even if every sports commentator says on paper, you’re going to win the gold. Not that having expectations is bad or that we shouldn’t have them—but if we are going to move forward in our lives in the ways of Jesus, then OUR expectations for our life must come under the banner of what God has already prepare for us, and where our God-given life seeks to take us, instead of what we think we want first.

For as much as we want to be folks who think we can get life together enough for ourselves, for as much as we think that our approach IS the way that will fix what is broken and as much as we want to rely on what seems like quick fixes, Jesus says, I am your living bread. And, I gave you a meal to remember me.

I know that last Sunday was communion day, according to the tradition of our church. And this is the second Sunday which means it is not communion Sunday. But, I couldn’t preach a sermon this morning about the Bread that gives Life and not give all of us an opportunity to receive our nourishment from Christ.  Because maybe just maybe as we receive it today, we can each participate by offering back our expectations to God for our lives. So that more of God’s expectations can be made known to us as we eat and drink together, and, as we take it:

It’s a meal that can give us the “I’m full” feeling like nothing else could . . .

It’s a meal that causes us to sit and hear this mystery of faith, each into our own ears. The mystery of “Christ has died. Christ has risen. Christ will come again.

It’s a meal that says lay aside your struggles and your need for security for answer is here when Christ says to us, “This is MY body broken for YOU.”

So come my friends, the table is set, let the feasting begin. No matter if you are here today because you just are excited about the food after the service, or you are at a place in your journey that you are in need of some assurance and security in your faith, or even if this church is what has been a part of your past and you want to honor this but aren’t really sure to the Jesus talk we are up to here, the invitation to feast is still the same. Come just as you are. Keep asking your questions, but leave your expectations here with our Lord. For today, you are offered the bread, the bread that gives life.


August 10, 2012

A Conversation with Kevin

Hear more about the passion and excitement my husband Kevin has about his new job. It’s more than a job– it’s a ministry and it is great to watch him shine! I am so proud.

We are currently preparing for our first trip with Feed the Children overseas– leaving a week from Monday for Malawi and Kenya.  We’ll be visiting with schools, orphanages, and community leaders that are a part of the larger FTC family. I’m most excited about meeting the children and being able to love on them and find out more about what we can do to encourage them. Best of all, this trip is something that Kevin and I will do together.

If you are interested in learning more about Feed the Children or how you can give to support this great work: click here.

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