First Lesson: Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10; 9: 20-22
Responsive Reading: Psalm 124
Second Lesson: James 5: 13-20
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 38-50
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story today of the Queen, who grew up an orphan. I want to tell you the story of a queen who rose to the throne in a land other than her own. I want to tell you the story of a queen whose exploits were such that she became a national hero who her people celebrate over 2000 years after her death. This morning, I want to tell you the story of Queen Esther.
Esther’s story begins about a century before she was born. The Jewish people strayed from worshiping the one true God against the warnings of men like Jeremiah. The Babylonians had conquered and seized the land of the Jewish people. Many Jews had been forced from their homes for generations and forced to migrant to the Kingdom of Babylon. But like all great empires, the Babylonians soon fell to a more powerful army of the Persians. The Persians soon controlled all Babylonian land. Living in the capital of these Persian lands was Esther along with her cousin Mordecai that raised her after the death of both of Esther’s parents.
How did Esther become a queen? Our story begins with a great royal banquet.
King Artaxerxes was the most powerful man in the world as the ruler of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes decided to hold a banquet of triumph for all the dignitaries and inhabitants of the capital city. At this banquet, Artaxerxes wanted to parade his Queen before the people. The Queen refused to appear. At this sign of great disrespect, Artaxerxes decided to begin a search for a new queen. Artaxerxes decided to hold a beauty contest for women from all 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes was going to choose the best looking woman from the Middle East to India to be his queen. Esther was a beauty. Older folks might imagine Sophia Loren, younger folks might imagine Jessica Alba when they picture Esther. Esther was chosen to be the new Queen of Persia.
Esther had a secret though that she wasn’t going to tell. Esther was a Jew. The Persians didn’t know what to make of the Jews and their religious ceremonies. If word got out that Esther was a Jewish queen, there would be trouble for not only Esther, but it would cause a weakened standing for Artaxerxes in the eyes of his people.
If Esther is the hero of our story, then the story needs a great villain. Haman is a great villain. Haman was an official of King Artaxerxes. Haman wasn’t satisfied. Haman had a big ego. Haman thought that he should be king so that all the people would bow before him. Haman’s life was one continual power trip because of this. One day, Haman encounters Esther’s foster father Mordecai, who refuses to bow down before Haman. Haman snapped! Haman decided that he wanted revenge not only against Mordecai but all Jews.
Haman decides to throw dice or “pur” as a way of determining the extermination date for the Jews. A favorable roll for the Jewish people takes place as Haman’s plan was going through in eleven months time. King Artaxerxes gives Haman’s plan his blessing. The threat was so serious that 375 tons of silver were set aside to enlist soldiers to carry out the extermination. It was the custom of the Persians that not even the King himself could withdraw such an order. Esther, Mordecai, and all the Jews in the Persian Empire had eleven months to live. God’s people would soon be no more!
Mordecai heard about Haman and Artaxerxes’ plan and was frightened. Mordecai began to weep in sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai figured that there was only one person in all of Persia that could save his people in Esther. Mordecai goes to Esther imploring her to take action. Esther was closer to Mordecai then anybody else in the world.
Esther initially was afraid of acting upon Mordecai’s request. Esther did not know what might happen to her once her secret became known. Esther’s secret was a source of terror for her.
Mordecai though says to Esther the most important thing in her story “For this time Esther you have been born, God has put you in this place to save his people?”
Mordecai reminded Esther that she did not become queen by accident. Esther was queen because God wanted her to appear before the King. Esther knew that approaching Artaxerxes was going to be risky. The King did not know that Esther was Jewish. Esther asked that Mordecai ask her people to pray for her for three straight days.
Where Esther did not know how to approach the King, Esther had a trump card, though. Esther’s trump card has caused plenty of men to do stupid things for women over the years. Esther knew that Artaxerxes would not be able to resist her beauty. Esther gets invited to a feast with Haman and Artaxerxes. At this banquet, Haman sees Mordecai outside once again. Haman’s obsession was getting Mordecai to bow down before him. Mordecai still refuses. Haman snaps he orders that gallows be built “seventy feet high” to hang Mordecai. King Artaxerxes also saw Mordecai on that day remembering him from before. Mordecai harbored no ill-will towards the King. Mordecai, in fact, a while back had saved Artaxerxes’ life by warning him of a plot that had planned by a couple of his officials.
Artaxerxes, in fact, couldn’t sleep that night as he remembers his failure to honor Mordecai for his previous service. So Artaxerxes decides to do something for Mordecai. Artaxerxes asks Haman “How can you honor a man who served the king with a great reward?” Haman is feeling pretty good about himself at this point. Haman figures the King is talking about him. Haman sticks his chest out, begins to walk around the palace with a strut. Haman is soon shocked though to learn that the King wishes to honor Mordecai. Mordecai! Really! Haman thought Mordecai was the last person to honor. To Haman, this would seem like Barack Obama wishing to give a presidential medal to Donald Trump. The King wanted to put his own robe on Mordecai and parade him all over the capital city. Haman was ordered to lead the King’s horse and Mordecai in this process. Haman was humiliated. Haman figured though his blood-thirst for Mordecai would soon be satisfied.
Esther requests a second banquet take place. Esther wants Haman present at this second banquet. Esther was finally going to reveal her secret to the world.
“For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.”
Esther revealing her faith would have been a huge political scandal. Think of Esther like you would Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky, Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings in 5th Century BC Persia. Jaws would have hit the floor upon this revelation. The Persian King married to a Jewish woman! This would have seemed like a story straight out of the National Enquirer.
The evening drama though was just beginning as Esther pointed out how Haman was behind a plot to exterminate her people. Artaxerxes was furious! Artaxerxes stormed out of the room! Haman for the first time in the last number of months no longer obsesses with Mordecai but rather protecting his own life. Haman begins to grovel to Esther pleading for her to save his life. Right at this moment though comes bad news in Artaxerxes returning to the banquet room and thinking that Esther is being assaulted by Haman. Never touch another man’s wife! Haman is sentenced to death by immediate hanging. Haman suffers the death that he had spent months plotting for Mordecai.
There was still one little problem, though. The King could not rescind his decree to exterminate the Jewish people. Royal decrees always being honored was the law of the Persians. The King does allow the Jewish people though the right to defend themselves. Soon Haman’s sons and their allies had been defeated at the hands of their Jewish enemies.
Esther and Mordecai’s story has a happy ending. Esther sends a letter to the Jewish people advocating to create a holiday which would celebrate the day of the Jewish people’s redemption in Purim. Esther would receive all of Haman’s land, and Mordecai would receive Haman’s position. All the Jews enemies in Persia were defeated. Esther had saved her people!
So what is the meaning of Esther’s story for our lives? Martin Luther did not like the Book of Esther. Esther is a unique book along with Song of Solomon in that it never mentions God within its pages. Esther is rather a story about God’s chosen people. Esther brings up the common Biblical theme of enemies of the faith seeking to destroy it.
What the story reminds us of is that God lurks in the shadows even when we can’t necessarily see him. God’s people had been assigned a death sentence, yet God rises up the orphan Esther to be a queen. Esther is a story of coincidences that end with a remarkable conclusion.
Mordecai was now the prime minister of Persia where as Esther was the queen.
Esther above all else is a story of death and resurrection. When Esther initially appraised the situation of trying to save her people it seemed to be hopeless. Mordecai reminded Esther thought that God will not abandon his people even when times seem to be at their bleakest.
Esther then went forth to her place of judgment in the presence of the king with the utmost of confidence. The key line in the entire book is Esther saying “If I must die, I will die”. Esther reminds us that the grave is not the scariest thing that we might encounter; instead what is scarier is that no one promises to die alongside us.
Esther’s story is a tale of hope for us as Christian people. God does not and will not fail his people. Our evidence of this is the cross. The Cross serves as the definitive proof that there is not one place where God will not go for our salvation. God will save his people through the Queen of Persia, God will save his people through a burning bush, God will his save people in a Lions’ den, and God will save us in spite of our best proofs at a given moment that salvation is currently taking place. In Esther’s story God’s plan took place over the course of eleven months, in our story, God’s plan of salvation might take a lifetime.
Esther’s story reminds us of the famous words of the 46th Psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
No matter how mighty of foes we might be facing on this day, God’s faithfulness towards his people will ultimately win out in the end. Amen
 Markquart, Ed. “Ester”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Sept.17.2015.
 Esther 4:14
 Esther 7:4
 Smith, Vaughn. “The Sovereign in the Shadows”. Lectionary.Org sermons- Esther 7. 2009. Web. Sept.17.2015
 Esther 4:16
 Psalm 46:10
First Lesson: Proverbs 1: 20-33
Responsive Reading: Psalm 19
Second Lesson: James 3: 1-12
Gospel Lesson: Mark 8: 27-38
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I have one lesson during confirmation class that gets kids to listen to like no other lesson. All our confirmation kids can probably explain the summary of this lesson quite well. The lesson is on the second commandment “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.” The lesson deals with the differences between cussing, swearing and cursing? Now many people hear the words cussing, swearing, and cursing to assume that they only have to do with naughty words. The comedian George Carlin in 1972 did a monolog on the seven dirty words that you can’t say on television. So many Christians assume that the seven words that Carlin named are the only words that we shouldn’t say.
What we must always remember is that the scriptural warnings regarding our tongues go beyond these words. So what is the difference between cussing, swearing, and cursing? Cusses are bad words that I dare not say in a sermon and most parents dare not say in front of their impressionable young children. Cusses aren’t the worst mistakes with a person’s tongue. Swears are a failure to maintain a promise; swearing builds all sorts of distrust and brokenness within the body of Christ. Cursing though is worse then even swearing or cussing. Cursing involves calling down the name of the Lord to bring harm to others. Cursing is taking the Lord’s name in vain by assigning death, destruction, and mayhem to God’s wishes. Cursing is a direct violation of the second commandment.
As I think of this famous confirmation lesson, the reason that it is so effective is that kids know first hand that the tongue is the most powerful part of the human body. You ask people about the most painful moments of their childhood they will remember the words that made them feel miserable about themselves, words that made them feel weak and ultimately powerless. I can remember first hand these things growing up with a speech impediment being on the receiving end of taunts. For other children, it might be their weight, their glasses, lack of style, beauty or talent. Words do hurt!
The power of the tongue is one of the first lessons that a child learns in life. When 7th graders sit in the school cafeteria and try to sneak in as many bad words into the conversation as they can without getting caught. They do this because they instinctively know that the tongue has power.
Tales from the school cafeteria leads us to our lesson for today from James 3 regarding the power of the human tongue. What you maybe haven’t considered before this morning is what kind of emphasis that the scriptures place on the tongue.
Two of the Ten Commandments have to do with the human tongue. The second commandment, that I mentioned earlier, along with the eight commandment regarding bearing false witness against one’s neighbor.
John Jewell tells the following story. There once was a man in Scotland. This man didn’t care for his neighbor. One day he hears a rumor about his neighbor. The Man tells his friends this rumor. The man’s friends tell their friends. Pretty soon nearly everyone in this small village had heard the rumor about the Neighbor; the rumor destroyed this man’s relationship and reputation with the community. The Neighbor had to leave town as an emotional and physical wreck because of the rumor’s toll.
The Man soon finds out something disturbing about the rumor. The rumor was false! One man’s careless tongue had destroyed another man’s life. The Man’s guilt begins to consume him to the point that he goes to visit the local priest. The Man asks, “If I can be forgiven for my sin?”
The Priest looks at him and tells him that one can not easily fix such sins. The Priest had a potential solution, though. He instructed the man to go round up a bag of feathers and place one in every yard in the village. The Man thought this request to be strange, but he followed the Priest’s request. The Man finally goes back to the Priest asking if he could now be granted forgiveness.
The Priest replied “not until you pick up every feather that you have placed in people’s yards.” Hours had passed as the Scottish winds blew through the countryside. The Man quickly realized the Priest’s point that you can never take back what you say. Feathers will always blow away before you have a chance to retrieve them.
This story helps illustrate the power of the human tongue that our lesson reflects on.
James 3:5 “Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.”
What was the point of this lesson that James was seeking to give the earliest Christians. James was attempting to acknowledge a reality that Christian people will have conflict. What Christians need to know is “The first instinct that we have is often the worst instinct”. Someone will say something that we don’t like, so feeling the need to win the argument; we try to say something harsher and more relentless back in return. Pretty soon the tongue leaves nothing but destruction in its wake.
James realizes this! When James wrote his letter, he wanted Christians to think differently about how to use the tongue. James realizes that how one used their tongue is often the difference between peace and discord.
I was talking to a guy from the community a while back at an event at the school. This guy starts giving me a laundry list of everything that was wrong with his wife. She tended to be overly emotional blah, blah. As I’m hearing this guy talk, my concern wasn’t with whether what he was saying was true. This guy’s criticisms probably were true on some level. My concern was rather two-fold: 1. Why do I need to know all this? The guy couldn’t have possibly expected me to change his wife’s natural personality after years of marriage. 2. If this is how you talk about your wife in my presence, how do you build her up when you are in her presence?
James 3:8 “But no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison”.
If people doubt that the tongue is mighty, think of family members that you might have that have used one sentence to isolate forever themselves from someone they previously claim to hold dear.
Ed Markquart says it best “People will remember three harsh words, more than a thousand words of praise .”
Think of the worst tongue lashing that you ever received in your life and how warm you feel about it. The person could have been a school-teacher, I’ve told the story about my 8th grade English teacher Mr.Chrun and Me before. Your worst tongue lashing could be an old or current boss. Your worst tongue lashing could even be as a result of a brother or sister. Now think how you feel towards the person that harshly used their tongue at you even till this day.
If anyone of you here doubts that the human tongue has unlimited power, consider that the serpent deceived Adam and Eve merely with his tongue.
Rabbi Joseph Telushkin travels around the country speaking to audiences about the power of the human tongue. Telushkin asks audiences the following question “if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody.” The audience will inevitably have a few hands go up, many others laugh, whereas the majority shouts out “no.”
But abusing the tongue is no laughing matter. If someone can’t survive twenty-four without nicotine then they have a smoking problem, if someone can’t make it twenty-four hours without drinking then they have an alcohol problem, whereas if someone can’t tame their tongue think of how much more damage the tongue can cause then just an individual beer or cigarette.
The whole of James’ passage today centers around our understanding of the golden rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” People can easily dismiss the tongue, by claiming it’s not a matter of salvation. What we must remember is that the tongue has everything to do with salvation.
Now some of you are probably out there thinking that this all sounds pretty good so far. But the Old Adam within all of us really wants to cling to exceptions. You might say what about my neighbor Bill who is the biggest jerk. What about the lady whose religion or politics that I can’t stand. These are precisely the types of people around whom we need to be mindful of our tongue. How we live out grace is how we treat those who have nothing to give us back in return. Some of the wisest words that I ever heard in Seminary were “Forgiveness needs to come before you can except anyone to change.” Jesus did not go to go forth to the cross, once he believed that the people of Judea were truly sorry for what they had done. Jesus knew that a sinful people needed grace and mercy anyways!
I want to close this morning with a couple different stories about the power of the human tongue. The first story is about a guy named Swanny. Swanny was a life-long bachelor who lived next to the Tom Thumb in Lindstrom. Swanny every day would go up to the Lindstrom Post Office. One day, Swanny is at the post office talking like Swanny would speak and none of the words were church appropriate. Into the room walks Reverend Blackford, who was the Methodist preacher in town. What My Grandma would always say about Reverend Blackford is that he got really mad when a bowling alley came to the Lindstrom because they served booze. Reverend Blackford met the definition of uptight minister, whereas Swanny met the definition of crass, slovenly bachelor. Reverend Blackford and Swanny would seem to be as opposite as people could be. So Reverend Blackford hears Swanny’s careless tongue and decides to confront him. Reverend Blackford said, “Sir, your language offends me.” Swanny stops dead in his tracks, even Swanny knew the power of the human tongue. Swanny begins to apologize profusely to Reverend Blackford for his language. Interestingly enough, Swanny did not avoid Reverend Blackford after this. Swanny and Reverend Blackford became good friends because Reverend Blackford was able to proclaim grace to Swanny when he needed to hear it the most. Reverend Blackford ended up preaching at Swanny’s funeral.
Final story from Luke 7, Jesus encounters a woman who the text describes as a “sinful woman”. Each and everyone here could probably guess her exact sin. The Pharisees are shocked that this woman would stand in Jesus’ presence. Jesus could have given one of two words to this woman. Jesus could have condemned this woman to hell. Plenty of people had probably used her tongue to do the same thing. Jesus instead chooses to give this sinful woman a different type of word by declaring “Your sins are forgiven”. The crowd that gathered around Jesus was shocked that he would use his tongue in such a bold and counter-cultural fashion. As Jesus words’ reminds us the human tongue has unlimited power for both good and evil.
So the point that James seeks to address about our words is the following: “Do our words forgive or condemn?” “Do our words bring hope or despair?” “Do our words tear down or build up?” Do we in the words of Galatians 6 actually “Bear each other’s burdens?” when we choose to exercise our tongue. Do we use our tongues in the words of Romans 10 “To preach to those who do not believe”? Consider the meaning of the human tongue this morning as it truly is the most powerful part of the human body. Amen
 Jewell, John. “The Power of Words”. Lectionarysermons.com. 17.Sept.2000. Web. Sept.9.2015.
 Jewell, John. “The Power of Words.”
 Markquart, Ed. “James the Tongue: Series B Pentecost 15:James 3:1-12”. Sermons from Seattle.com. Web. Sept.9.2015.
 Telushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well”. Imprimis Hillsdale College. Volume 25. No 1. Jan.1996. Web. Sept.9.2015
 Teleushkin, Rabbi Joseph. “Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well.”
 Matthew 7:12
 Luke 7:36-50
 Galatians 6:2
 Romans 10:14
First Lesson: Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Responsive Reading: Psalm 125
Second Lesson: James 2: 1-10, (11-13), 14-17
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 24-37
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The following is a modern retelling of Jesus’ encounter with a Syro- Phoenician woman from Mark 7. The following story takes place in a town such as this one.
I want to tell you the story of a woman named Sarah, who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks. Growing up Sarah’s Dad was an alcoholic on whom she could never count. Sarah’s Mom abandoned the family when Sarah was but four years old. Sarah was left to fend for herself as a child. Sarah didn’t have much exposure to religion growing up; she was occasionally dropped off at Sunday school when Dad was sober enough to drive. Sarah’s life was beginning to unravel by the time that she started to reach confirmation age. Sarah was smoking cigarettes by 11, drinking by 12, smoking weed by 13, and injecting meth by 16. Sarah got pregnant for the first time at 16. Sarah got pregnant again at 18 by a different guy. Sarah finally thought at 20 that she had met the love of her life, only for him to abandon her once the third baby came. Sarah seemed to be imperfect in all aspects of her life. Sarah had a quick temper and had spent nights in jail because of it. Sarah’s work history was checkered. Sarah worked hard, but her lack of education and responsibilities at home never led her to get anything beyond a minimum wage job that she couldn’t hold down for very long. People who didn’t like Sarah claimed that she slept with every guy on the south side of town and that it was a miracle that she had only had three kids. Truth be told that Sarah would have had more children except she scrounged up enough money for a couple of abortions out of her financial desperation. Sarah’s boyfriends had been a series of losers: abusers, users, cheaters and flat-out deadbeats. Sarah had been called a “dog” more than once in her life. Sarah often felt like a stray mutt just drifting through life hoping to hear someone tell her that she had value for something other than her body.
One day Sarah finally snapped. One more guy had failed to come through for Sarah in the end. Sarah thought her life would never escape screaming children and pinching every penny. Sarah had to get away for a morning. Sarah dropped her kids off with a friend. Sarah drove to a part of town where she had never been. Sarah figured that she should do something rather than just drive around. Sarah saw a church that looked like the most beautiful building that she had ever seen. Trinity Church looked like a scene out of a Norman Rockwell painting. The parking lot at Trinity Church was filled with SUV’s and luxury sedans. The service seemed to be in progress, but this wasn’t going to stop Sarah from going in. Sarah was the definition of a religious outsider once she stepped into Trinity Church. Sarah prayed occasionally, never got the answers that she wanted. Sarah was a stranger in a strange land, gathering amongst strange people in the hope of answers.
Sarah walks in late, and every eye in the sanctuary turns to Sarah. Sarah was pretty, but she wasn’t their kind of pretty. Sarah’s jeans were torn, her shirt failed to cover her entire stomach, her hair was dyed a cheap, jet black. The people inside Trinity Church looked at Sarah like they would a stray dog that was running down their street. Sarah stood out like a sore thumb amongst the lovely dresses and pressed suits. The people that Sarah saw looked like the most religious people that Sarah had ever seen. Trinity Church’s membership was ideal with engineers, school teachers, nurses, and business owners where as the best-paying job that Sarah ever had been cleaning septic systems. Trinity Church wanted to be a very particular kind of church: they wanted their type of music sung, they wanted their minister to project a certain type of image in the community, they wanted their favorite treats served at coffee hour and they wanted the minister to bless and affirm their comfortable upper-middle-class lifestyle. Sarah didn’t fit the image. Sarah was just hoping not to say a cuss by accident during the passing of the peace.
There was one man in the crowd at Trinity Church that day that was a little bit different. Everyone at Trinity Church liked Jesse. Jesse stood out for his long hair and a full beard. Jesse always dressed in Hawaiian shirts plus shorts and sandals. Everyone at Trinity Church liked Jesse though because of the sincerity with which he lived out his convictions. Jesse would give the occasional what people thought was kind of nutty sermon about the kingdom of God, but Jesse practiced what he preached. Jesse was the only one in the building who lived with any sort of conviction.
Jesse notices Sarah standing alone after the service. Jesse goes over to greet Sarah. Sarah snaps at Jesse. Sarah probably wouldn’t have snapped most other days. This Sunday morning though Sarah was in a particularly bad mood as it brought her to church in the first place. Sarah said, “no one here would want anything to do with a person like me.”
These were the people whose kids made fun of Sarah’s children for their ratty clothes. Sarah finally confessed “I know about sin, I’ve done every sin in the book, more than once, I’ve enjoyed them too.” Sarah cried out “If there’s a hell then I’m probably on the top of their waiting list”. Most of the other people steered clear of Sarah at this moment. Jesse would not move from the presence of Sarah.
Sarah then looked at Jesse’s eyes then began blurting out all the problems with her life. Her oldest child was nearly ten years old, and couldn’t read. Her second oldest son was emotionally and behaviorally disturbed and Sarah didn’t know how to take care of him. Sarah’s youngest child was bullied nearly every day at school, by the so-called “good Christians” kids.
Jesse did not answer her initial venting. Jesse could have made a polite excuse to leave Sarah. Jesse probably had what others would deem more important people to talk to on that day. Sarah wasn’t going to bring much money to the church if they ever saw her again. A few of Jesse’s friends tried to come up with an excuse for why Jesse had to leave Sarah’s presence, but Jesse blew them off.
The truth about Sarah is that she was nothing more than an annoyance to the many of the people at Trinity Church. Sarah did not even come close to meeting the definition of prim or proper that many would except within the church crowd.
Finally, Sarah shouted out “I some days feel like I’m lower than a dog.” Jesse did not answer. Sarah began to cry.
Jesse knew he needed to say something “Woman, great is your faith.” Sarah was confused, how could her faith be great. Sarah was a lousy Christian sticking out like a sore thumb among so many good Christians. The Christians at Trinity Church knew their Bible verses and could pray long beautiful prayers. You see Sarah’s faith was great because she did not own it. Sarah’s faith was great because it was sustained by the occasional sunlight of God’s word when she encountered it. Sarah’s faith could not be taken from her, even as the world around her might give her every reason to abandon it.
Jesse said to Sarah “I will pray for your healing.” Sarah was as healthy as a 26-year-old woman who had lived hard like Sarah could be. Sarah didn’t need physical healing. Sarah needed spiritual healing. Sarah needed to know that her sins of being an imperfect parent with a temper were forgiven. Sarah had many things that she needed to be forgiven everything from spending many nights passed out on the floor to guilt of her abortions. Forgiveness of her sins was the healing that Sarah required. Jesse on that day assured Sarah that no matter how defeated that she possibly felt that everything could be alright. Jesse had fully proclaimed the Gospel in Sarah’s presence. Sarah was no dog in the eyes of God.
The thing about Sarah is that she embraced the forgiveness that many of the people within Trinity Church didn’t believe could be for them. Sarah though did believe in the promise of Jesse’s words regarding her own forgiveness.
After the service, Sarah finally went back towards the other side of the tracks. Sarah picked up the kids. Sarah entered the single-wide where they were living. Sarah’s approach was going to be different. Sarah’s life certainly wasn’t going to be easy. Sarah was going to go through it not as an angry sinner but rather as a forgiven being who held out hope for the possibility that someday someone outside this world would call Sarah a saint. Sarah’s life was not going to be the same. Sarah’s life was not going to be what it was before. Life was still going to knock Sarah down, more times than a person could probably count. Sarah was going to be persistently though because she had been assured of God’s promises of grace, hope and resurrection.
God on that day at Trinity Church had said “yes” to Sarah. God had opened up the heavens in Sarah’s presence and declared “you are my child”. The thing about our God is that he’s not afraid of the rough edges that other people might be. When others shout out nasty names, God responds with compassion. Sarah was not a stranger in a strange land when it came to entering into God’s presence. The fact was this wasn’t going to matter when it came to receiving God’s abundant generosity. Sarah was not going to receive merely a crumb of God’s grace as she begged for it. Sarah was going to receive a whole meal.
 Karoline Lewis’s commentary at Working Preacher entitled “God Said Yes to Me”. Web. Aug.30.2015 provided the motivation for this re-telling of Mark 7 tale with Sarah playing the part of the outsider Syrophoenican woman.
 Jesse would be the one voice of grace that Sarah would encounter.
 This is a play on Mark 7:28 where the woman talks about how even dogs receive crumbs from the master’s table
 Matthew 15:28 (Matthew 15 is a different telling of the Mark 7 story)
 The story of Sarah versus the membership of Trinity Church is trying to invoke Jesus’ previous encounter with the Pharisees in Mark 7 on the meaning of defilement.
 Lewis. “God Said Yes to Me.”
 Today’s sermon text was Mark 7:24-30.
First Lesson: Song of Songs 2: 8-13
Responsive Reading: Psalm 45: 1-2, 6-9
Second Lesson: James 1: 17-27
Gospel Lesson: Mark 7: 1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to begin this morning by telling a conversion story only it isn’t a typical conversion story. This conversion story centers on roast beef. You see about four years ago, I was small and weak. I weighed less than I did in Middle School which for most people would be a happy thing, only it wasn’t. My energy levels were always dragging, and I was perpetually hungry. I ate everything that I thought I was supposed to eat: lean meats, whole grains, fruits, the occasional vegetable, no soda, and never any dessert. I was scared of having any fat in my diet because of the potential consequences that might come with it. Butter would have been a rare treat reserved for holidays. Then I started reading; I was reading voices that contradicted everything that I had previously thought. So I decided to make a complete 180 in my diet. I adopt a philosophy that I hold to this day that a person can never eat too much fat especially saturated fat in their diet. Some positive things start to happen to me. I start increasing my bench press in the weight room and take this as evidence the diet is working. So maybe a month or so after changing my former ways, I go with a group of Confirmation students to an all-you-could-eat brunch. This brunch would be a dream for me: prime rib, steak, sausage, bacon, butter that I could eat to my heart’s content. The day was glorious! One of the kids that day was named Cookie. Cookie wanted to drink orange juice with his meal. Cookie asked what I thought about drinking orange juice?
Now remember, sometimes the new preachers are the most radical preachers. The Apostle Paul was the most radical preacher of grace because it went against the ways of his former home. So I decided I would be a radical preacher on this day. I told Cookie that orange juice is worse for you than pop because of the fructose sugar content being so high. One of the other chaperons was a Nurse Practitioner who thought I sounded like a nut when I was espousing all this stuff. Why was I so extreme? Recent converts tend to be the most passionate about following their beliefs, but they also tend to occasionally blinded because of the fervor of their perspective. I’ll get back to Cookie and the orange juice in a little bit.
Today, I want to look at one book of the Bible in the Book of James. What should you know about the Book of James is that Martin Luther didn’t like the Book of James. Luther considered James to be the “epistle of straw”. Luther didn’t like the Book of James because he saw it as being in direct contrast to the Book of Romans which he considered the most important book in the New Testament. If Romans was the book of gold then James could be burned away never to be heard from again.
What made James so bad for Luther? Luther kept hearing the famous verse from James over and over again “Faith without works is dead”. Luther had problems with this verse. Luther had struggled for years and years with the meaning of this verse. Luther had spent nights sleeping on concrete floors hoping it would motivate him to do better in his faith. Luther spent years believing that his faith was dead because of all the good that he had failed to do. One night Luther is reading from the Book of Romans when he finally discovers a word of liberation from his previous struggles.
Romans 1:17 “The righteous shall live by faith.”
I want you to think about Luther’s attitude towards the Book of James this way. 1998, I go away to Concordia College in Moorhead. I wasn’t going to have to go to bed at any particular time. I could eat whatever I wanted. No one was going to ask me any questions about “Where I was going?” or “When might I return?” Newfound freedom all sounds great for a little while until you finally come home and are dealing with the same parents that raise you. You quickly get offended if one of your parents dares ask you where you were at 2 AM the previous night. My worst college homecoming behavior was one time getting mad at my sister Anne because one of her friends had the gall to call at 5 in the afternoon when I was taking a nap.
Whenever old ways of life and new ways of life collide there is going to be conflict. In the 1960’s this would have taken place when a child returns home to proclaim to his World War II serving father to say that he is morally opposed to all war. At this point, there is going to be some inevitable conflict.
So back to the Book of James. Paul’s letters make up the majority of the New Testament. Paul’s letters talk about sin, grace, law, Gospel and drive home the heart of the Christian message that “There is nothing you can do to earn salvation because Jesus won salvation for you.” Paul’s writing is all great stuff! I want to preach Paul every Sunday because of it.
The people that heard this in the early church thought it was good stuff! People in the early church had grown up believing as evidenced by today’s gospel lesson that if you don’t wash your hands the proper and holy way, then you’re not a child of God.
So when people began to hear Paul’s message of freedom they began to take it to extremes. The church in Thyatira had all sorts of sexual immorality, the church in Corinth had all kinds of drunkenness and if you read through the Book of Jude you see all kinds of problems of poor behavior that permeated the New Testament church.
To illustrate this concept, let’s reflect on teenage binge drinking. Europe tends to be a lot more lax about laws regarding teenage drinking than the United States. Many European children grow up with the idea where there is little in the way of a fixed drinking age. European children tend to drink quite a bit but in many countries they have half the rate of excess binge drinking that they do in the United States. A study came out a few years ago which described US Teens as among the highest offenders of drug use and binge drinking in the western world even though both are strictly illegal. As the story of Adam and Eve reminds us, there is such a thing as a forbidden fruit effect. So when people in James’ day kept hearing “grace, grace, grace” along with no stern commandments that a Christian need to do. They revealed in their previously forbidden fruits to excess.
Back to when I first went away to college at Concordia. I thought it was great. I could stay up till 2-3 AM and still go to class in the morning. I could eat or drink whatever I wanted with no one to tell me “no”. Moorhead was one of the few places with 24-hour pizza delivery. Total freedom all sounded so good until I realized nearly a decade later how unhealthy all my liberated habits had become. If I have one, major, regret in my life it’s that I wasted so many years of my life trying to get it all together. I wish I had realized the harm in my actions sooner. Many people will probably name similar periods in their life where they failed to understand how their freedom can have unpleasant consequences.
Back to the Book of James. James is a reaction against extremes. The idea that if there is no such thing as law or judgment then the good times can just keep rolling on.
One of the big news stories this week has to do with Ashley Madison.com which is a website that seeks to provide the means and connections for married individuals to carry out affairs. Hackers revealed Ashley Madison had 36 Million registered users. Every zip code in the United States but three had someone that was a member of Ashley Madison. This list gets publicly revealed all sorts of destruction takes place: marriages and families collapse and individuals even take their own lives. The issue with Ashley Madison isn’t that people can’t receive forgiveness. Jesus specifically proclaimed forgiveness to a woman caught in adultery in John 8. The issue rather has to do with social mayhem caused in Ashley Madison’s fall. Now why James was written was that people shouldn’t use God’s grace as an excuse to commit bad behavior. I shouldn’t be a jerk to Bob because God has forgiven even worse jerks than me. The Gospel is not an excuse for selfishness. This is the very attitude that James seeks to address.
What can we say about Luther’s attitude about the Book of James? Luther was an emotional guy and a hothead. Luther also wrote a ton of stuff. Luther was the type of guy who you would probably want to keep off Facebook when he got into a bad mood. Luther’s overall concern was “What is the Gospel?” or “What promotes Christ?” Luther was absolutely correct in his ability to assess the main issues. Luther wasn’t wrong, when he held that James could be abused.
I knew a lady whose named was Catherine. Catherine grew up Presbyterian. Catherine said the minister nearly every Sunday would preach on the Book of James. The Minister was able to use James to point out all the flaws in individual congregation member’s lives. The issue with this minister isn’t whether what he’s saying is true or not (it probably is) Christians will fall short, the issue with obsessing over the Book of James is that it misses the bigger point. Our obsession should be clearly defining the Gospel. We must clearly define God’s rescue from a world racked with sin. Sin always brings brokenness, sin always brings pain, and the Gospel seeks to liberate us from our fall. The idea that James is trying to rebel against is the idea that because of the Gospel that our lives don’t matter. Our actions have the potential to wreck lives beyond our lives of which the Gospel is no justification for defending.
At the same time, we remember the words of Isaiah 64:6 this morning that “All our righteous deeds are like filthy rags.”-Isaiah 64:6. We will not impress God. The point of James is to protect us against our worst instincts, not to inspire us to reach God’s presence. James isn’t seeking to encourage us to bring more to God’s table. James is rather saying that God’s generosity isn’t an excuse to purposely throw plates on the floor.
I want to admit something this morning. I will admit it to Cookie Price and Nurse Practitioner Julie Kircher. I was wrong about orange juice. While I wouldn’t keep orange juice in the house, it does provide vitamins and minerals that are helpful when consumed in moderation. My second confession is that as much as I enjoy saturated fat bonanzas it is probably of benefit to my digestive system to throw in a salad every once in a while.
The point of the Gospel is that while it can reach the worst of sinners, it doesn’t seek to give sinners permission to commit the most heinous of sins. While converts are always passionate about the liberating new way in which they view the world. The old guard always needs to try to keep converts in check against the worst of our own bad behavior.
 Markquart, Ed. “James, True Religion, and the Real Thing”. Sermons from Seattle. Pentecost 13 B. Web. Aug.25.2015.
 Mark 7:1-8, 14-15,21-23.
 Revelation 2:18-29
 1st Corinthians 11:21
 This comes from a 2012 study in The Lancet medical journal found in a Daily Mail Web article published on Apr.25.2012.
 Brewer, Todd. “James, an ‘Epistle of Straw?’ Not So Fast!” Mockingbird (MBIRD). 26.Mar.2015. Web. Aug.24.2015
 McAlone, Nathan. “There were only 3 zip codes without any Ashley Madison accounts. Yahoo Finance. 25.Aug.2015. Web. Aug.26.2015.
First Lesson: 1 Kings 8: (1, 6, 10-11) 22-30, 41-43
Responsive Reading: Psalm 84
Second Lesson: Ephesians 6: 10-20
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 56-69
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you a story this morning that we will not find in the history books. We know the “twelve disciples” in Andrew, Nathanael, James the Young, James the Old, John, Judas, Matthew, Jude, Peter, Phillip, Simon, and Thomas. What we maybe don’t know is that Jesus started out with way more than twelve disciples. What happened to these “other” disciples? These “lost” disciples one day came across a teaching of Jesus’ so radical that they were not willing to stay with him through thick and thin. I want to tell the story of these former disciples this morning.
You see Jesus wished to call all sorts of “disciples”. A little while back, Jesus called a couple of John the Baptist’s disciples in Andrew and Peter then Jesus went and picked up a couple of Galilean fisherman in Phillip and Nathanael. Jesus kept traveling to different places such as weddings and throughout all of Galilee along the way, Jesus kept making disciples. Jesus had just done something big, and I mean really big! Jesus had left a crowd of 5,000 people in awe as he fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish. The Feeding of the 5,000 would seem to be the event that would expand the ranks of the Disciples ten, no scratch that, a hundred fold, only it didn’t. What actually happened after the Feeding of the 5,000 is our Gospel lesson for today.
Jesus started to speak and people didn’t like what he had to say.
“Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”-John 6:56. The crowd immediately began to grumble as they were easily offended.-John 6:60-62.
You see people complaining about God are like people complaining about the weather or Joe Mauer. It’s the easiest thing that someone can do. Only on this day, Jesus was hearing that he was at the center of the people’s grumbles. The thing is that most people when they hear someone grumbling about them are quick to apologize for fear of offending others.
Jesus would not back down from his initial remarks instead he doubled down on his remarks. Not only was Jesus going to give his flesh to eat, but he was going to ascend to the right-hand of the Father. Jesus was going to give the same flesh to eat that he was soon about to give on a cross.
Why was Jesus offering his flesh so controversial?
You see plenty of people in the crowd that day thought they knew how God should work. The crowd that has previously surrounded Jesus as he fed the 5,000 loved his potential as a new Moses or David a unifying force for the whole nation to rise around. The crowd hoped that the feeding of the 5,000 was going to be the first of many miracles that were about to take place within their presence. They were looking for a messiah that would make them healthy, wealthy, and wise. A messiah that would roundhouse kick the Romans right off the holy ground. A messiah could not suffer, nor die. A messiah was supposed to be an invincible hero, a mixture of Superman, Samson, and Dirty Harry all rolled into one. Manly men like these guys don’t cry nor show weakness, men like these are always victorious. When Jesus started to speak though he didn’t offer the prosperity that they sought, Jesus rather offered suffering and death.
Jesus knew that this was going to be a problem. Jesus knew that as soon as he talked about the command to eat his flesh and drink his blood that many would fall away. Shortly after Jesus’ death, one of the greatest critiques of his followers was that they were nothing more than cannibals. They mocked them for making their worship service a celebration of receiving a dead guy’s body and blood. Jesus’ incessant talk about his flesh and blood was going to make people leave and they did. They marched their feet right out of his presence and vowed never to associate with this “flesh-eater” ever again.
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.”- John 6:66
The loss of so many disciples was one of the hardest days of Jesus’ ministry. Many of their closest friends were no longer going to surround Jesus’ remaining disciples. They were going to be twelve lonely men traveling all alone through the wilderness.
One evening Jesus approached the remaining twelve disciples. These men were in need of a pep talk. The remaining disciples were the team that just lost a game 63-0, they were the bride that had been stood up by the groom at the altar, or the father who had just watched his only son go off to war. Jesus knew that he needed to say something to the men that remained.
You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve.-John 6:67
No one wished to be the first one to speak. Finally, Peter spoke up. Peter wasn’t a perfect guy by any means. Peter’s eventual denial wouldn’t stop Jesus though from later promising unto Peter that he would be the “rock” upon whom Christ would build his church. Jesus bestowed unto Peter an awesome promise as imperfect a vessel as Peter might be.
Upon being asked if he was getting ready to leave Jesus, Peter cleared his throat and began to speak. I imagine Peter sounding like the fourteen boy trying to muster up the courage to talk a girl for the first time.
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God.”-John 6:68-69
As soon as the others heard Peter’s words they knew that they were a band of brothers who would stick together no matter what foxholes they might be required to crawl into going forward.
Jesus knew that this feeding of the 5,000 was not going to be the last time that he lost one of his disciples. For he knew one of the men who was still present with them, would soon betray him into the hands of the authorities. Jesus was still going to go forth bringing hope and salvation to the world, no matter how bleak the outcome may be. The Disciples were far from perfect men, but they were the kinds of men for whom Jesus was going to die.
The fact that Jesus was going to remain steadfast till the end reminds me of God’s promise to Abraham as he pleaded to save the Old Testament cities of Sodom and Gommorrah from certain destruction.
The Lord answered “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy them.” For the sake of one man, Christ Jesus would lose his life. Reminding us once again that God’s mercy will always be greater than any individual’s sin.
The story I told is the tale of the twelve lonely men known as Jesus’ remaining “disciples”. Their story does raise an interesting question for us this morning regarding what exactly happened to the former disciples? Were these men saved, only to at one point in time lose their salvation?
This morning is the fifth and final sermon in our Bread of Life discourse from John 6. This morning we consider the radical meaning of Communion. Communion is so radical that many of Jesus’ previous disciples abandoned him.
The men that abandoned Jesus had good reasons for doing so. These men knew the Old Testament well.
Genesis 9:4 “But you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.”
Deuteronomy 15:23 “But you must not eat the blood; pour it out on the ground like water.”
These men who abandoned Jesus were pious, religious men. Their story reminds me of the story of Cain and Abel. Abel was the good brother, the generous brother, and the holy brother. Abel was probably considered by Papa Adam and Mama Eve to be the better brother. Cain had heard his whole life “Why aren’t you more like your brother Abel”. So Cain finally snaps in a field one day. Cain kills Abel. We think we should know God’s response, only we don’t. God decided to put a mark of protection on Cain no matter how wicked his previous sins have been. God promised to walk alongside Cain no matter what other people thought God should do.
So what happened to the men that fell away as disciples? The issue with them isn’t that they betrayed or even abandoned Jesus. Each and every one of us leaves Jesus during our lives. We call this sin. The problem with the former disciples that left Jesus is that in the midst of their sin that they did not believe that God’s grace was big enough to save them.
Many people wonder whether one could lose their salvation. What if they commit an especially bad sin? The thing though about the Jesus claiming to be the “bread of life” is that it speaks to people who have their anxieties and doubts as they entertain the biggest questions of the Christian faith. Jesus in giving his supper seeks to assure people that their faith has made them well, regardless of their own self-examination.
The issue with the Lord’s Supper isn’t whether it is possible to fall away from the Christian faith. The issue with the Lord’s Supper is that it is given to us to let us know that we shall perverse no matter how nasty the conditions surrounding us shall be.
The words of 2 Timothy 4:7 “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” These words begin to ring true when we consider thinking that it is our heavenly supper that sustains our faith in the darkest and most isolated of times.
“But we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles,”-1st Corinthians 1:23
The thing about the Lord’s Supper is that it doesn’t matter whether it makes one lick of sense to us. We hear “flesh” “blood” “body” and we don’t want to begin to even attempt to sort it out. The thing about the truths of the Gospel is they probably won’t make sense to us. God’s promises are not conditional, but rather they are unconditional. The way that God truly does work as in the story of Cain and Abel is difficult for many of us to grasp. The thing about the Disciples who did stick around is they probably knew there was no one else to turn. The music chairs game that they were playing had seen every chair filled up. The remaining disciples had no other answers up to this point in their life. So they stayed with Jesus for the reasons that Peter says:
“Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”- Amen
 John 1:35-42
 John 1:43-51
 John 2:1-12
 John 4:46-54, John 5:1-18 along with the previously mentioned Wedding in Cana (John 2:1-12) are the previous major signs in John’s Gospel.
 John 6:1-15
 John 6:56-69
 John 6:62
 Hylen, Susan.“Commentary on John 6:56-69”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 23 Aug.2015. Web. Aug.17.2009
 Peterson, Brian. “Commentary on John 6:56-69”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul. 23 Aug.2009. Web. Aug.17.2009
 Genesis 18:16-33
 Genesis 18:32b
 Background on the “lost disciples” given by Markquart, Edward. “Series B Gospel Analysis: John 6:56-69”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Aug.17.2015.
 Genesis 4:1-16
 Genesis 4:15
 John 6:68
First Lesson: 1 Kings 2: 10-12; 3: 3-14
Responsive Reading: Psalm 111
Second Lesson: Ephesians 5: 15-20
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 51-58
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
George Constanza was mad. George at work the previous day saw a delicious bowl of shrimp cocktail placed before him and his co-workers. George began to eat this shrimp, not like a man who merely enjoyed shrimp or a man who was hungry but rather George ate like a man who hadn’t eaten in years. Everyone in the room was speechless at George’s lack of decorum as he kept devouring shrimp. Finally, a co-worker of George’s made a joke of George’s love of shrimp. “Hey George, the ocean called; they’re running out of shrimp.”
Everyone in the room laughed at the joke; George though didn’t think joke was very funny. George would have given anything to come back at his co-worker at the moment. The problem was that George wasn’t either clever or quick on his feet. George went home quickly becoming obsessed with the perfect response to the shrimp tease. Finally, George thought of what to say at the next meeting. George was going to respond to his co-worker Reilly’s teases by saying “Well, the Jerk Store called and they’re running out of you.” George thought this insult would be a game-changer, and no one would insult him ever again.
George quickly discovers a problem; George’s co-worker had taken a new job out of state. George was probably never going to see Reilly again, whereas most people would probably delight in such news, not George Constanza. George decides to come up with an excuse to travel to Ohio from New York to encounter his former co-worker at his new job. George was finally going to burn Reilly good in front of all his new co-workers. George delighted at the thought. George wanted to provoke Reilly to say the shrimp line again, so he gets the biggest bowl of shrimp cocktail that he could find. George purposely throws all table manners to the wind. Reilly tells the shrimp joke, so now George can trot out his line. “Well, the Jerk Store called, and they’re running out of you.”
To which Reilly responds without a moment’s hesitation “What’s the difference? You’re their all-time best seller?”
What the story of George Constanza reminds us of is that it’s often not a good idea to fight fire with fire when it comes to naming someone else’s sins. The truth is that we’re all in need of forgiveness.
Today, we come to the fourth in a series of sermons about the bread of life. Today we look at our whole belief system regarding communion and its meaning. In our lesson today, Jesus promises that whoever eats his “flesh” and drinks his “blood” has forgiveness. What exactly is forgiveness for us this morning? Defining Forgiveness helps shape not only understanding of the Lord’s Supper but also the Christian faith.
To reflect some more on forgiveness, I want to tell you the tale of another jerk from the Old Testament named Jacob. Jacob cheated; he lied and swindled his brother Esau and his blind father Isaac out of a double portion of his father’s inheritance. Everyone knew Jacob was a jerk, so Jacob ran away. Jacob ran far, far from home. Jacob finally decides he should return home to begin to make amends. Jacob hears a rumor though that Esau is looking for Jacob with four-hundred men. Jacob is ready to give up at this point. Jacob ends up in the middle of the dessert. Things were looking bleak for Jacob. In the midst of the night, a visitor arrives where Jacob was sleeping. This visitor began wrestling with Jacob. These two men wrestled throughout the night. As soon as the sun started to rise, the visitor dealt a crushing blow to Jacob’s hip. Jacob would be crippled every day for the rest of his life because of this blow. God because of this blow gives Jacob a promise and a new name “Israel” which means that Jacob struggled with God and lived to tell about it. The angel’s blow reminded Jacob of something important that God already had forgiven Jacob for all that he had done, there was no need for Jacob to run in terror anymore. Esau would soon show Jacob similar forgiveness.
Communion is where real life experiences come face to face with God’s ability to forgive. The whole bread of life discourse is shaped by the feeding of the 5,000. People kept coming to Jesus wanting food; he kept providing as improbable as it may seem with two fish and five loaves of bread. Jesus was not in the business of turning people away from receiving his meal.
I can hear many of the objections now. What if people engage in some particular sin. Should they still receive the “bread of life”. Everyone brings baggage to the Lord’s Supper. Whenever we go forth to the Communion rail what we are reminded of is that our sins are just as bad as anybody else’s. Too much of the discussion over in the Christian church nowadays has to do with whether one act may or may not be a sin. The problem with this discussion is that it misses the bigger picture that we are all in rebellion all the days of our lives. When we go forth to the Communion rail, we believe that we go forth in the words of the Apostle Paul as “chief of sinners”.
What Communion reminds us that while Christ would be totally in the right to condemn us, he ultimately does not? The Lord’s Supper reminds us that Christ does not condemn us even as we engage in the worst of human nature. The Lord’s Supper reminds us that everyone is a sinner. No amount of debate can change that fact. No one escapes this judgment. There are no such things as levels of sin or degrees of the sinner. The greatest of Christian temptations is to embrace pride as an acceptable sin.
The Lord’s Supper brings us face to face with the question of “What must we do to be saved”. We hear whenever we take the cup the Prayer of the Tax Collector “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.”
What the Lord’s Supper does bestow upon us is a series of remarkable promises. Listen to the promises given in our lesson for today alone:
-We have life ongoing (v.54)
-We shall be raised on the last day (v.54)
-We shall absorb Christ (v.56)
-We shall live for Jesus’ sake (v.57)
-We shall live forever (v.58)
The thing about eternal life is that it does not come through either correct living or correct understanding. Eternal life comes because in the Lord’s Supper we receive forgiveness.
Let me tell another story, earlier this year the Women’s World Cup is taking place. In the semi-finals, England is playing Japan. England and Japan are tied at 1-1 with only a minute plus left in regulation. England had a defender named Laura Bassett. Bassett has a ball come at her foot. Bassett tries to deflect it out of play like she had done her whole career up to this moment. Disaster strikes, Bassett kicks the ball into England’s goal. Laura Bassett had worked her entire life, only to let down what seemed like entire country at the worst of possible moments. Laura Bassett’s distress was such that there might not have been anyone that could have possibly comforted her at this moment. Bassett as soon as the horn blows is on the ground just sobbing. Reporters want a reaction to what had taken place then shove their microphones in the face of England’s coach Mark Sampson to ask what he thought of the goal that blew England’s championship dreams. Coach Sampson without a moment’s hesitation looks at the reporters and says “Laura Bassett is an absolute hero.”
What made Sampson’s response so incredible is what a contrast it is to how people often think.
Coach Sampson’s response was best summed up by Tal Prince, who says “What a contrast to our culture today. Not just in sports, but life in general. Make a mistake and prepare to be relentlessly ridiculed by your teammates and the masses. Look how Laura Bassett’s coach, teammates, and country responded to her gut-wrenching mistake last night. How would your world be different if people responded this way to your biggest mistakes.”
The truth is things like this do happen to us. God embracing us in the worst of our moments is what happens when we go forth to receive the “bread of life”. Communion reverses the order of the world where the most scarlet of sin gets turned into the whitest of snow (Isa 1:18).
You ask most people “What makes a good church service?” the answer will be they liked the sermon or they liked the music. These responses though raise problems. What if the preacher isn’t very good? What if the preacher tells one pointless story after another? What if you can’t begin to name the preacher’s point? What if the sermon dares to be boring? What if no one knows any of songs? What if some of the singers sound like dying birds? You might have an acolyte fail to show up. You might have a microphone not work correctly. All sorts of things can go wrong with a worship service. When people receive the “bread of life” they receive the constant source of nourishment in one’s spiritual life. It is the receiving of the “bread of life”.
People within our midst are going to struggle. People might struggle with all kinds of nasty sin. They might be a drug addict, alcoholic, engaged in sexual sin, or they might just be a flat out jerk? Should we refuse them communion in the midst of their brokenness? No, instead we send them forth to the communion rail because their individual sins are between them and God. We trust that within the “bread of life”, our Lord will do what he sees fit. One of the greatest Christian hopes is that God does not judge the world according to our standards.
George Constanza was right. The Jerk Store is open. Sinners walk into it nearly every single day. We also have a savior granting “forgiveness” within this Jerk Store by giving unto us the bread of life.
 Kavet, Gregg&Andy Robin. “The Comeback”. Seinfeld. Season 8. National Broadcast Company. Jan.30.1997
 John 6:51-58
 Genesis 27:1-40
 Genesis 32:22-32
 Genesis 33:1-4
 John 6:1-15
 These paragraphs were inspired by a post written by Garner, David entitled “The Church, the culture, Tolerance, Repentance, and Love”. For He is Good and Loves Mankind. 28. Jun.2015. Web. Aug.11.2015
 1 Timothy 1:15
 Barfield, Ginger. “Commentary on John 6:51-58”. Working Preacher. Luther Seminary. Saint Paul, Minnesota. 16.Aug.2015. Web. Aug.11.2015
 Espenshed, Howie. “The Upside-Down Notion of an Absolute Hero”. Mockingbird Ministries. 3.Jul.2015. Web. Aug.12.2015.
 Quote taken from Espenshed, Howie. “The Upside-Down Notion of an Absolute Hero”.
 This example is drawn out from one used by Ed Markquart “Holy Communion Gospel Analysis: John 6:51-58” Sermons from Seattle. Web. Aug.11.2015
First Lesson: 2 Samuel 18: 5-9, 15, 31-33
Responsive Reading: Psalm 130
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4: 25- 5:2
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 35, 41-51
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Today is one of the biggest days of the year for me. My beloved Minnesota Vikings in a little less than nine hours will take the field for their first pre-season game. I will give you a preview of my upcoming evening. Sit on the couch about 7 PM with some Dark Chocolate and Lemon Juice all excited for the first few series of the game. The Vikings regulars will then hit the bench, and then I’ll talk to my dad on the phone for a while as they play. I’ll go to bed after half-time taping the second-half with good intentions to watch it upon waking up. I’ll get bored watching the game tomorrow morning as it’s hard to get excited about a game that doesn’t count in the standings. The Vikings could win tonight 60-0 or lose 60-0, and people will not remember the score of tonight’s game, four months from now. Tonight’s game is merely a potential preview that might only paint a small picture of what the future holds in some small way.
Second and last Vikings related story for today. I have a friend named Cody. Cody lives in the Milwaukee area. Cody goes to work surrounded by the green and gold of the Green Bay Packers. Cody goes to Church Sunday morning, and people are wearing Packer jerseys. So Cody will often get razzed by Packers fans with them saying “How can you cheer for a team without any Super Bowl trophies?” As Cody is telling me this, I tell him that the response to the teasing Packer fans should be simple. “I cheer for them because it’s going to be all the sweeter when the Vikings do finally win one.” It is this great future hope that keeps me going during loss after loss.
Today we come to the third sermon in a series on the bread of life. Two weeks ago, we looked at the bread of life as a miracle. Last week, we looked at the bread of life for this life. Today, we look at the bread of life in connection with eternal life.
How should we understand the lesson for today? Look at it as a history lesson. Our Gospel begins with the same words that we ended last week:
Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”- John 6:35
The whole key to understanding our lesson is to tie it in with Jesus’ great miracle from the Gospel of John in the Feeding of the 5,000.
Many of us know the famous symbol of the Energizer Bunny how it keeps going and going and going. Banging its drum again and again never seemingly stopping no matter how much we think that it should.
The never ending feast was the feeding of the 5,000. Two fish, five loaves, over 5000 people they kept coming and coming and coming receiving the bread of life without qualification or exception. The feeding of the 5,000 though was not the beginning of the bread of life story.
The bread of life story starts a long time before even the days of Jesus, back in the days of Moses.
The Israelite's escape from Egypt, cross the Red Sea, and then wind up in the desert seemingly left to die without food or water in the bright desert sun. God had different plans. God rained down manna in the morning from heaven and quail in the evening. This story of manna and quail would have shaped the whole way that the people in Capernaum heard Jesus talking about the bread of life.
When Jesus said “I am the bread of life,” this would bring back memories of an even earlier encounter in Moses’ life with a burning bush. Jesus claiming “I am the bread of life” would have sounded like God saying to Moses “I am the Lord your God.”
When people on this day heard Jesus claim to the “bread of life”. We cannot imagine the meaning of his words after the fact. The audience would have thought what Jesus was saying to be a joke. You can just hear the snickers. They looked at Jesus with all the seriousness of a six-year-old who claims to be a car as he zooms around the room. Look at this silly fellow. He’s just an ordinary man, son of Joseph and Mary. We know his parents. They’re not anything special. He’s not anything special. He’s certainly not God standing before us. People are hearing Jesus claiming to have come down from Heaven would make as much sense as someone standing up today claiming to come down from Mars.
What Jesus was saying is that he is God’s presence here on earth. Jesus was nothing more than an ordinary- looking first century Jew. Jesus blended in with the crowd. Jesus would have looked no different than anybody else at the synagogue. Here Jesus was claiming to be life-giving nourishment descended from heaven.
Jesus claims to the “bread of life” because he is speaking an essential spiritual truth about a physical truth. We need “bread” to survive. We need nourishment to sustain our daily lives. We need to be fed. Our need for food is why so many of our celebrations revolve around food. You ask everyone hear what the best part of the following holidays: New Years’ Day, Valentine’s Day, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and Christmas the answer will nearly always be the food. Jesus knew the value of food well. Jesus merely wanted his hearers to think about food in a whole different way.
When I finished college, I lived in the Fargo-Moorhead area for a while without much going on. I would stay up most of the night and sleep most of the day. One of the highlights of my days was around 2 or 3 AM every morning, Hornbacher’s in North Fargo would put out their fresh donuts for the day. There was nothing better than donuts when they’re first warm. I can turn down store-bought donut pretty quickly, but right out of the oven is like a sensation that a person can’t describe. These donuts probably tasted to me like manna tasted to the people of Israel at first bite. The thing about donuts though is their value for my life would be short-lived rather than nourishing.
Jesus compares himself to the manna that the Israelite's received in the dessert to make the point that manna is pretty good, but it will only feed you for a time whereas the bread that he gives will feed for all eternity. All other bread will spoil. All other bread will only lead to more hunger. The bread that he gives you will not only last forever, but as within the feeding of the 5,000 we can receive this bread that he gives lasts forever.
As we consider the meaning of the “bread of life” for today, we come face to face with the same question that was so difficult for people in Jesus’ day to fathom. People in Jesus’ day wondered “How this ordinary man may be the great I am who burned in a bush” whereas we wonder “How can Jesus be present at both God’s right hand and the bread/wine at the same time?” How can Jesus be at all sorts of different churches on a Sunday morning? How this ultimately works is probably above what any of our heads can fathom.
What we say is that Christ is uniquely present in the Lord’s Supper. This presence is not the same thing as saying that God is with us at all times or in all places. Christ’s presence is a much different situation than even saying that God is in “all things”. Christ’s presence in Communion according to the scriptures is very different than his presence in the parking lot, on the golf course, or even fishing on Lake Superior. We cannot casually throw God’s presence around being here, there, and everywhere while denying that he is uniquely present at the very place that we need him to be. We believe in Christ’s unique presence in the Lord’s Supper because Jesus himself instituted his presence. Jesus says, “This is my body given for you.” The Apostle Paul twenty years or so after this day writing his letter to the Church in Corinth refers to the “Bread that we break, as participation in the body of Christ?”
These promises do not rest on rational or scientific proofs they rather rest on God’s ability to do what he says he will do.
Luther gave a couple of examples of how Christ can be present without us seeing that I would like for us to consider on this morning.
Think of the soul. You ask a doctor where in the body is the soul? They cannot do it. You ask the pastor where is my soul? They will give you the same answer of uncertainty. We cannot escape that nearly every religious tradition and even some Atheists believe that the soul exists. People can’t prove a soul through any scientific or philosophical evidence yet they will believe that it is there. People just believe that the soul is there.
A second example to consider how Christ is present in the Lord’s Supper is that of the seed. Seeds sprout, yet the thing about this event is that it is not visible able to be captured by any camera. The lack of cameras doesn’t make the sprouting of the seed though any less essential to its life span. The thing is even though we can’t see heaven at this very moment does not mean that we shall never see heaven come before our eyes.
Our story for today does not end today. The story does not stop at even your death. The fundamental promise of this text is “You shall live forever.”
“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life.”- John 6:47-48
As we consider the meaning of Jesus’ promise think of the words of Psalm 23 this morning:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” You shall live in the house of the Lord forever.”
Think of the words that Jesus spoke to a grieving Martha she mourned the loss of her brother Lazarus “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”
The story of the “bread of life” only ends at the time of Christ’s return. The whole focus of the bread of life discourse is on Christ calling forth all his saints from their graves and into his presence. Christ’s return will be the moment when we see the Resurrection of Christ’s body and blood within our body and blood. The meal that we receive is merely a foretaste of the feast that it is to come. The Lord’s Supper relates to eternal life because it is the giving of a promise that death shall not ultimately have the last word over us. We go forth today assured that we shall ultimately participate in the final resurrection.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”-John 6:51
 John 6:1-15
 Exodus 16
 Markquart, Ed. “Pentecost 10 B Gospel Analysis: Eternal Life”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Aug.4.2015
 Exodus 3:6
 John 6:42
 Luke 22:19
 LW 36:338-339
 LW 36:339
 Psalm 23:4,
 Psalm 23:6b
 John 11:25-26a
First Lesson: 2 Samuel 11: 26 - 12:13a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 51: 1-12
Second Lesson: Ephesians 4: 1-16
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 24-35
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin with a story. Last Thanksgiving weekend, I was home in Lindstrom. A small group of runners gathers at the coffee shop every Saturday morning at 8 AM to run maybe 3-5 miles. I decided to go out running with this group. One of the guys I was running with on this Saturday was named Tom. Tom’s in his mid-60’s and quite physically active. Tom swims, bikes, and runs. Tom’s a good runner for his age competing for medals in his age group at local running competitions. As I was talking to Tom this morning, I could sense that he was a smart guy when it came to physical fitness. So as I’m talking to Tom, I ask him what I could do to be a better runner. Tom’s answer was simple and direct “lose weight”.
Now as I heard Tom’s words the initial human reaction was to get angry. A few days prior, I had run a 5k down in Duluth where I came in 8th place out of 55 in my age group. I probably had more in the tank as I was passing people the last quarter mile. The last few weeks that I had been at church, the little old ladies were being unusually aggressive trying to get me to eat bars during coffee hour. As I gathered with the running group on Saturday morning, I thought myself to be in the best shape of my life. I’m the rare person fitter at 35 than when playing Basketball in high school. I probably weighed 100 pounds more at my heaviest than I did that Saturday, yet I hear that I needed to lose more weight. Tom’s words seemed to be the harshest form of judgment. There will people out here this morning that might get irritated as I tell this story especially those of you who have struggled with your weight at times over the years.
I don’t tell this story to insult Tom. Tom was correct if I got a few pounds lighter than I would probably run faster. I’ll get back to Tom and myself in a little bit.
The story of me versus the scale leads us into our sermon for this morning. The sermon is part two of a five-part series on the meaning of Holy Communion. Last week, we looked at Communion as a form of miracle whereas this week we look at Communion and its relationship to this life.
What I want to talk about today is how Christians should respond to receiving the sacrament. Many of us think we know how to respond to Holy Communion? We go home energized to take on the world by doing all sorts of marvelous deeds in God’s name. The thing about our response to Holy Communion is that it often seems to work like the scale, we never appear to see the number that we like.
Let me tell another story that I’ve told before only this time, I’ll continue it. In 2011, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson tore his knee against the Washington Redskins in the second to last game of the season. The pundits wondered if AP would ever be the same player again. AP comes back at the start of the 2012 season, and he’s better than ever. Adrian Peterson is named the NFL MVP. A reporter asks Peterson how he could pull off such a marvelous comeback. Adrian Peterson cites that his return was proof that “Jesus Juice” as he terms it works.
The problem with Peterson’s answer is that the wonderful effects of Jesus Juice were short-lived. The weekend of the second game of the 2014 season news breaks, Adrian Peterson had been indicted for felony reckless injury to a child.
People’s response to Peterson was predictable. People called AP all sorts of nasty names. People cited this as an example of Jesus Juice not working.
The thing about all these critics is they don’t get how Jesus Juice is precisely supposed to work. Yes, there is plenty of stuff that I can say about Adrian Peterson:
1. He’s no super-hero
2. He’s not a responsible parent.
3. He’s not a role model.
All of these things would be true.
The point of the Lord’s Supper is that it doesn’t exist to transform us magically into the best versions of ourselves as possible. The Lord’s Supper exists because it points us to the actual nature of God’s work.
Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs I performed but because you ate the loaves and had your fill,”-John 6:26
Today’s lesson takes place immediately after Jesus feeds the 5000 people with five loaves and two fish on the lake shore. Jesus then vanishes as the Disciples paddle to the other side of the lake. The Disciples are immediately shocked to see Jesus walking on water towards them in the midst of a storm. The crowd that Jesus magically fed now travels to the other side of the lake in Capernaum waiting for his arrival.
Once Jesus sees them, Jesus knew that they had come to see him for the wrong reasons. Jesus knew that what they wanted was merely more bread. The bread seekers in the crowd thought like how we always think God should work, give us more of what we believe we need a reward for all the good that we have done. The key word in the sentence is always we.
Martin Luther made an observation about the Christian Faith is his lifetime that was central to his whole belief system. Luther’s observation is that Christians see God working in either one of two ways. Christians either see God working through human success. The ability to have your life go according to your plans. If God has given you a fancy house or an MVP trophy, then God must think that you’re pretty great stuff. Plenty of Christians think this way.
There is a different way though that God works. The Book of Job tells the story of a man who had it all: children, possessions, and health only to see God allow it to be taken away in an instant. Job endures some epic struggles as he tries to sort out where God was in all this. Job finally has a great confrontation with God in chapter 37 only Job never receives the answer that he desires to make sense of it. God instead seeks to assure Job that he walks alongside Job in the midst of Job’s pain. God is for Job at his worst, just as much as when Job is at his best.
I knew a guy from seminary who got a job as an associate pastor at a big-time church in the Twin Cities. This guy could preach! My friend and mentor, Roy Harrisville would always comment on what a talented preacher this guy was. He like Job seemingly had it all: a wife, kids, and he was probably going to end up as the Senior Pastor at a large Twin Cities church. One day it gets revealed that this guy was maintaining an inappropriate relationship with the church’s married choir director. Life gets quickly thrown into turmoil. He is removed from the ministry. He ends up taking a job as a garbage man. We hear this story and think “what a dramatic fall”. What this story reminds us is how even the best of Christian people experience failure and suffering. What we must also remember is that this doesn’t mean though that God doesn’t work through these broken situations?
I think of the story of David and Bathsheba. David’s pants are down for the whole world to see. God hands down harsh punishment upon David that he was going to lose a son because of it. In the midst of this awful situation, God was still working. David was going to be given another son named Solomon. Solomon while as a complicated a figure as David was going to serve others as one of the wisest men the world would ever know.
The thing is we often don’t get grace because we often don’t get sin. The big story in the news this week was of Twin Cities dentist Walter Palmer and his shooting of the Zimbabwe Lion Cecil. The story to me doesn’t seem to be to about trophy hunting or even whether Palmer is innocent or guilty. The real story is about the exact nature of sin and how many people understand it. The real story is found in people’s hysterical reactions in wishing Palmer death behind the hidden identity of their computer. People like to place sin in their narrow constructs according to what they deem to be right or wrong according to their standards. You step outside the bounds of politically correct and polite society then you are considered to be a sinner who we must ostracize from the world around you. The people who fail to understand sin are those who delight in destroying others, those who like the Pharisee give thanks that they are not like the Tax Collector. Whenever people condemn others, they fail to remember the words of the Apostle Paul that chief of sinners thou I am. If we say that we have no sins, then we deceive ourselves and the truth it is not in us.
The thing that makes Jesus so great is that he offer forgiveness to this Palmer fellow on the same terms during his Bathsheba moment as when he was at the top.
What the Lord’s Supper reminds us is that God does not condemn us in the midst of our failure to hit a goal weight of Christian perfection. God wants to bring his grace unto you. Grace is why God extends to you his heavenly supper.
Communion isn’t Jesus Juice; it’s not Gatorade to help prepare you to finish any sort of race strong.
Communion is rather the act of Jesus giving unto us a great gift in his body and blood to seek to comfort us with the promises of his Gospel in the midst of our pain and suffering.
Martin Luther said the following about the true nature of the Church. “If you want to find the Christian church, you will never find it where you do not see Christians resting upon Christ’s shoulders…For no one is a Christian unless he lies on Christ’s shoulder…and is carried by him, just as a strayed, lost sheep is carried by it’s shepherd. A real Christian believes that he is carried on Christ’s shoulders, that…all his sins lay on Christ’s shoulders…Christ must carry us, must make payment and satisfaction for our sins, or who are lost.”
We cannot carry him. Instead, he must carry us.
What we hear when we receive the Lord’s Supper is that Christ alone deals with sin and Christ alone saves sinners. Our goal isn’t to say that we’re less of a sinner than Bob this week, but we still sin more than Bill. Scorekeeping is not how any of this stuff works. We don’t keep score; the game is over.
“Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.”- John 6:27
As I was talking to Tom that day, all I could merely do was laugh off his suggestion to lose weight. To be sure, I’ve dropped weight multiple times before and know what could be done to do it. I also know that it can be silly to consume yourself with all the ways that you don’t measure up, especially when such things do not define who exactly you are in the eyes of God.
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.”-John 6:35
 Patrick, Matt. “Adrian Peterson’s Theology of Glory (and Why It’s Unhelpful) “ Mockingbird. Christ Episcopal Church- Charlottesville, VA. 28.Aug.2013. Web. Sept.3.2013
 John 6:1-15
 John 6:16-24
 This comparsion by Luther is known as theology of the cross versus theology of flory.
 Riley, Pastor Donovan. “Sermon on Job 14:13-19~God is for Losers”. Thefirstpremise.wordpress.com.27.July.2015. Web. July.28.2015
 2 Samuel 11
 2 Samuel 12:18
 2 Samul 12:24
 Luke 8:9-14
 1 Timothy 1:15
 Paraphrase of 1 John 1:9 based on LBW Confession.
 Luther’s House Postils, ed. Klug III.224-8- taken from crossalone.us.
First Lesson: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15
Responsive Reading: Psalm 14
Second Lesson: Ephesians 3: 14-21
Gospel Lesson: John 6: 1-21
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
The next five weeks of summer, we are going to be looking at John 6 known as the “Bread of Life” chapter. This study will provide us an opportunity to understand communion from five different angles: Communion as Miracle; Communion and This Life; Communion and Eternal Life; Communion as Belief; and Communion as Radical.
What exactly is a miracle? Last week at Bible study, we were talking about one of my favorite Biblical stories in Jonah and the really big fish. This is a really interesting story as we consider the meaning of a miracle. Ask the average Christian what they remember about this story?
They will remember Jonah being in the belly of a great fish for three days and then being spit out. But there are perhaps even more miraculous things that take place within the story: Jonah ends up in the belly of the whale because he didn’t want to go Nineveh. Taking a trip to Nineveh would have been as safe a proposition for Jonah as a Christian today traveling to a meeting of ISIS.
It would have made sense for Jonah to want to run in the other direction, never thinking that he would end up in a fish’s belly. Yet once Jonah gets to Nineveh something even more miraculous takes place than even surviving three days within the belly of a fish. Everyone in Nineveh converted, even the King once Jonah began to preach. Jonah who thought his preaching in Nineveh would be pointless became the world’s most effective preacher to a hostile audience.
So when I was asked whether I believe that Jonah’s story was true in that he spent three literal days inside the belly of a whale? My response would be that there are plenty of more unbelievable events that take place within the scriptures such as the conversion of violently anti-Christian Saul on the Road to Damascus. It’s not a question of whether God could act in such a crazy, way.
Jesus deals with the Jonah story in Matthew 12. Jesus when addressing the story doesn’t seek to provide an explanation for such a crazy story. Instead, Jesus uses this story as a reminder of the great lengths that God went to reach the people of Nineveh even if it involved Jonah getting a bit slimy. Jesus told this story to proclaim that just as Jonah spent three days inside a fish, he would soon spend three days inside the tomb to show how far that God will go to for his people involving either a big fish or a cross.
What exactly is a Miracle? Today’s gospel lesson contains one of the most famous miracles in the Christian Gospel in Jesus’ feeding of the 5000. This miracle is so important that the authors of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John all place it within their Gospels?
So why is this miracle so significant?
To answer this question, we need to consider exactly “what is a miracle?”
A few years ago, the author Malcolm Gladwell wrote a book on another one of our favorite Bible stories in David and Goliath. Gladwell wanted to write about how this story perhaps didn’t have as unlikely an outcome as we might think.
Was David beating Goliath a miracle? Perhaps not. At first glance, the story would seem to be a miracle, the puny runt David taking down the scariest man in the world in Goliath.
Goliath probably was unbeatable in a sword to sword or strength to strength battle. David wrestling against Goliath would have been foolish. What David lacked in size though he made up for in brains. David used a slingshot because he could counter Goliath’s size advantage. David’s weapon was a stone because being a giant Goliath probably didn’t have the best vision. Was David’s win unlikely? Most certainly so, but this doesn’t mean it was necessarily a miracle.
Even within the pages of scripture, Miracles were not God’s common way of interacting with humanity. Miracles are confined to the Exodus, the ministries of Elijah and Elisha, Jesus’ ministry, and occasionally the apostles. Miracles from this point on seemed to cease, but does this mean that miracles are no more? Or are there no miracles any more because miracles aren’t what we think they should be. Perhaps God is working only in not the dramatic, visible earth-shattering ways that we think God should work.
To answer this question about the existence of miracles, we turn to our Gospel lesson for John 6. Today’s Gospel lesson is a common, human story. Everyone had heard about Jesus. Jesus was the talk of Bethsaida. People had heard all about Jesus healing the sick. Everyone wanted a piece of Jesus.
When I go home to Lindstrom and spend time with my dad, someone always wants a piece of his time. Someone might be calling about an insurance problem or someone having an issue with the City of Lindstrom, but my dad seems like he always has his cell phone next to his ear. We can complain about people being glued to their cell phones all we want, but in Jesus’ day he wouldn’t be called or texted by people. People would follow him everywhere that he went.
The crowd that followed Jesus on this day was so big that it was over 5000 people. 5000 people in the middle of nowhere, it was getting late, there were no fast-food or twenty-four-hour restaurants nearby. The Disciples and Jesus needed to figure out what to do with all these people.
Jesus asked the Disciples how much money they had to buy these 5000 people food? Two hundred denarii was Phillip’s answer or six months wages. The Disciples’ money was not going to come close to feeding all these people.
So while Phillip’s plan of buying all these people food was poor, Jesus’ other Disciple Andrew hatched a seemingly even worse plan to talk to this one young boy with “five loaves” and “two fish” to feed the crowd.
Feeding the crowd with such a small amount of food was to be an even more improbable plan of success. We all know how people get when they’re hungry. Those at the back of the line were going to be up in arms once the bread ran out.
Jonah surviving three days inside a fish is nothing compared to feeding 5000 people with such a small amount of food.
The Disciples figure that this was the only plan they could try. So the Disciples started serving bread and fish, people started coming then they kept coming, yet the strange thing is it that they never ran out of bread or fish.
The interesting thing about this story is the crowd wasn’t given only a small amount of “bread” or “fish”, the crowd was instead given as much as they needed. What this story ultimately reminds us of is the nature of God’s grace. People will be given just as much as they need.
What’s worth noting is how Jesus served the people the five loaves and the two fish.
A. Jesus looked up to heaven.
B. Jesus broke bread.
C. Jesus fulfilled his promise to feed these people.
D. Jesus had the Disciples gather all the leftover bread for later.
The feeding of the 5000 is an extraordinary story because Jesus is interacting with his people in an extraordinary way. Why doesn’t Jesus act like this today? Who are we to say that he doesn’t?
You see Jesus during the Last Supper took bread no different then today and promised a miracle. Jesus took bread proclaimed it to be “his body” and gave it to the Disciples promising the forgiveness of sins. Jesus then encouraged the Disciples to keep having this meal again and again.
The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because God promises to reach us in an extraordinary way.
I think the reason that so many Christians struggle with the Lord’s Supper is they just look at it as “bread” and “wine”, nothing special about either of those things. Wonder Bread and Mogen David, I can hear the snickers now as people proclaim the Lord’s Supper to be a miracle. The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because Jesus promises to be uniquely present within it.
Luther realized that miracles maybe didn’t happen in his life just like they did in Jesus’ day, but this didn’t mean that God was no longer present. Luther looked at faith as being the greatest miracle of all. Luther looked at the fact that people believed after the world crushed them, after they committed sins that they dare not say, and after they struggled with unbelief nearly every day of their life as the greatest of miracles. Luther saw Baptism and the Lord’s Supper to be the greatest of miracles because Baptism dared to create “faith” where as the Lord’s Supper dared to sustain “faith” against all odds.
Luther knew that the Lord’s Supper was just “bread” and “wine” but this was no ordinary “bread” or “wine”. For bread is just bread and wine is just wine but when connected with words of Gospel promise great things take place “Given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins”. The Lord’s Supper is a miracle because God promises to reach us within it in an extraordinary way.
The thing about miracles is that they are at the center of our faith life, regardless of what type of church you attend. The thing about miracles is that they go against every bit of sense and sensibility that we might have regarding their outcome.
People wouldn’t go to church if they didn’t believe miracles reached them in some, small way. The question to ponder would be “Is something a miracle because we think it to be so, or because God promises to deliver us from all evil?”
One might have many reasons not to believe but at the moment they approach the communion rail all those reasons seem to vanish away. One or two moments during the month, God’s presence seems to encounter us in a unique way that we could not previously fathom.
The great miracle that takes place at the communion rail is all our brokenness and sin encounters all of God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness keeps coming and coming, just like five loaves and two fish fed 5000 people. God’s forgiveness seemingly never runs out. This miracle doesn’t come because of the church, this doesn’t come because the people sitting in the pew next to you are particularly good Christians.
We have no idea what the stories were approaching the feeding trough of the 5000 people that Jesus fed, yet he was going to feed them without exception and expectation.
The reason that the Lord’s Supper is so miraculous has to do with the various places that we gather from in life when we approach the communion rail. We are then fed until we are full of God’s mercy.
Bread is just “bread”, Wine is just “wine” but if God wants to do something with it beyond meeting just human needs, but also spiritual needs then this would seem to be God deciding to do the outrageous no different then sending Jonah to Nineveh through any means necessary.
What is a miracle? The difference between a “miracle” and “coincidence” is faith. A miracle can point us to see a grand spiritual purpose in a world that often leaves us longing for answers. What makes something a miracle is the fact that our human brains can not even begin to fathom the reasons why God might be so generous: five loaves, two fish, 5000 people and one gracious and ever loving God.
 Matthew 12:38-45.
 Gladwell’s book is entitled David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants published by Little, Brown, and Company in 2013.
 John 6:1-21
 John 6:7
 John 6:9
 The connections between this story and the Lord’s Supper is made by Ed Markquart in his commentary in his Series B Gospel Analysis of this passage found at sermonsfromseattle.com.
 John 6:11
 John 6:11
 John 6:12
 John 6:12
 Great reflection on Communion that I came across written by Sarah Condon entitled “Low Anthropology is My Love Language”. MBird (Mockingbird Ministries). 28.Apr.2015. Web. Jul.24.2015.
First Lesson: 2 Samuel 7: 1-14a
Responsive Reading: Psalm 89: 20-37
Second Lesson: Ephesians 2: 11-22
Gospel Lesson: Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
“When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. And he began to teach them many things.”-Mark 6:34
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this sermon like I begin a lot of sermons. Last Thursday, I went down to the cities to see the Twins play. So Friday, I went to visit my grandma. Grandma was in a foul mood. Grandma was mad at nearly every member of her family. Grandma vowed that she was going to break out of that “pig sty” of a nursing home where she lives. Grandma was going to move to California, and she had no intention of coming back to Minnesota until she was buried when she wouldn’t know any better since she’ll already be dead. Grandma in her typical defiant matter said even though she’s 91 years old and confined to a wheelchair that she planned on living for a long, long time. The reason that I bring Grandma up is because she is like plenty of people that we know. You know the type, mad at everyone in the world for their problems and constantly wanting to run away from it all.
Today’s Gospel lesson has Jesus being swamped! Many of us celebrated Bay Days last weekend. There were races, fundraisers, church services, class reunions, parades, and people to talk to that we haven’t seen in a long time. I know that by the end of the Bay Days parade last weekend, I just wanted to go home and watch baseball. As swamped as we may have been last weekend this was nothing compared to Jesus in today’s Gospel lesson. Our lesson describes Jesus as “For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat”.
The last few weeks of Jesus’ ministry had been quite hectic. Jesus had been chased out of the synagogue within his hometown of Nazareth, John the Baptist had just been executed, so people had mourn his loss, and the Disciples had just left for their first missionary journey. Jesus suggests a get away for a few days.
Earlier this winter, I was in Mexico for my friend Ben’s wedding. The groom and most of his friends and their spouses were my age around 35. When we were down in Cancun, there were two different approaches to life and the outside world. My bachelor self-turned off my phone upon leaving Minneapolis, turned the IPAD off upon exiting the plane and spent the next few days disconnected from everyone else. No one was going to be able to reach me, and there wasn’t much that I could do if they did. Whereas the married people at the wedding had to have WIFI and international service plans for their phones. They did this to not only send pictures to their kids or spouses but keep in contact with them via phone because they knew their contact was going to be the most important thing in their kids day.
Jesus was not going to get a moment of disconnect though for the rest of his ministry as the stakes were too high. Too many people were out there hurting. So what did Jesus do to those who were the most hurting? Jesus began to teach them many things.
They were like sheep without a shepherd. My friend Warren Baker had been to all kinds of churches. Warren’s heart though lies with small churches not unlike this one. Warren will think nothing of driving from his house in Jackson, Minnesota to some small mountain town in Idaho with maybe 200 people within 50 miles. Warren goes to churches with so much hostility in the air that he’s literally worried that people are going to bring baseball bats to church. Warren visits churches where pastors have been forced out with petitions and Warren’s been to churches divided into two. Warren steps into messes of churches where the pastor has had to resign for inappropriate sexual behavior or drug and alcohol abuse. Warren goes to these places because he knows that not many pastors are going to dare to go there. Warren’s reasoning in putting himself out there rather than living a comfy retirement is that sheep no matter how many or how few always need a shepherd. Warren always quotes this verse from Mark 6 as to why he does what it does even if people might not understand why Warren cares so much about a twelve member church in Capitol, Montana. Warren knows the leadership that a people receive makes all the difference in one’s soul.
Jesus uses the analogy of sheep being without a shepherd to compare himself to false leaders of the day. When I was in Seminary, I knew a guy named Iver. Iver was a farmer from West Central Minnesota. Iver was probably the oldest student at Luther Seminary. Iver begins to attend classes when he hears all these high flatulent terms tossed around such as exegesis, hermeneutics, and eschatology. Iver after a while got frustrated by the general academic attitude of the seminary. Iver one day in the cafeteria just says and I’ll clean up Iver’s language to make it church appropriate when he says “You can do all the Biblical exegesis you want, but if people think you don’t give I’ll say “hooey” about them then it won’t matter one bit. There are two kinds of shepherds out there those that want the sheep to listen to them for their intellect and those who don’t mind spending time in the pig sty of people’s lives unafraid of getting dirty.
What did Jesus teach people that day on the Lakeshore? Our lesson doesn’t really say. What we can say is what we know about how Jesus taught people. Jesus probably talked to them about their life. Jesus probably looked people into the eyes to ask them about their pain. Jesus probably spoke to them about their life. Just think of how Jesus speaks to crowds during the Gospels. He tells stories of men being mugged (Parable of the Good Samaritan), he tells tales of a rebellious son who basically curses out his Father (Parable of the Prodigal Son), Jesus talked about frustrations such as losing things such as coin or sheep; today he might he talk about losing TV remotes. Jesus talked about money and all its frustrations a lot. Jesus talked about planting trees and scattering seed. Jesus probably told the crowd a story about how their life ultimately relates to the Kingdom of God. Jesus wanted the people on the Lake Shore to know that he was not just some distant shepherd living in a far away land, Jesus had lived every second of their experience.
We know the people that Jesus was talking to on this day. We live in a world with a great many hurting people. People don’t always understand how Christianity fits into all this. I spend many a night thinking about what type of Pastor do I want to be, what kind of church do I want to lead. Do I want to dare be able to speak the Gospel to the ones society deems as undefendable?
This week there was a major story on the news about a teacher at our local school. Many of us in this room know this teacher. Many of us have been grieved upon hearing this news. I’ve led services at the Veterans Home with this teacher. This teacher and I would always exchange greetings when I ran by the school in the morning. I do not wish to judge whether this man is innocent or guilty of the crimes that he is accused? I have no doubts that this man has made some bad choices in life, and the legal system will ultimately play its course. I ask this morning that we pray for everyone involved in this situation.
What I want to speak about is the spiritual nature of these charges. What I do know is that because of the nature of the charges that he faces that people will consign him to the fires of hell. People will define this teacher every day for the rest of his life because of the nature of these charges. Many people will assume this man can never meet redemption because of the alleged nature of his crimes.
I think of the story of Jesus encountering the Woman caught in adultery in John 8. People had picked up their stones to throw at this woman. This woman was as guilty as could be! Jesus knew that she was as guilty as could be! Everyone in the crowd knew that she was guilty as could be! Everyone thought their instincts had taught them the proper way to react to a situation such as this one. They thought she was “sick”, they thought she was “twisted”. Jesus figured that he needed to say something standing in the presence of a homewrecker such as this woman.
Jesus upon seeing this scene bends down to the ground to write “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Jesus then turns to the woman and says,“Has no one condemned you?...Then neither do I condemn you.”
A shepherd is only worth following if he will stand beside people when they’re at their absolute worst. A shepherd is only worth trusting in if they will defend you from the scariest of attackers including judgment of the whole world itself.
What is the motivation behind "We are an imperfect church for imperfect people.”
We have a great many people out there longing for a shepherd. We see these kids at the school, we see these neighbors at the supermarket. These people might feel cut off from their families; these people might feel isolated from the world around them. We have people out there who go through everyday fighting against a crippling insecurity over not being young enough, pretty enough, or gifted enough to measure up in this world. What I say to these people this morning is that you are not alone, we do not condemn you, and you are never alone!
Many people wrongly think that what they need in life is to hear sweet words of affirmation every morning that they are wonderful, and everything will soon be alright. Every single person knows that picture does not paint an accurate picture of us. Why I long for Church is because I long for confession. I long to stand before God and Man and admit that I don’t have it all together. Life is full of gray areas. Ten years from now is a pile of uncertainty. We face the world every day with uncertain answers. Our tension in life is ultimately O.K. because we have a shepherd who guides us along the path. A shepherd who promises to lead us through and out of the grave itself.
The thing about this passage is that Jesus never got a vacation within his ministry. The reason for this is Jesus’ promises do not disconnect from the realities of our lives. The reason that the Shepherd is so good is because he ultimately lays down his life for the Sheep.
Today as we consider what it means to go through life as a Sheep without a Shepherd. We reflect upon the words of our 23rd Psalm. The Lord is My Shepherd I shall not be in want. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus promises not only to care for us, but to protect us, lead us, and guide us no matter what life throws our way.
Grandma might not like living in a “pig sty”. Plenty of people don’t like their current living situation and wish the world around them would change. We go forth with the assurance that our Shepherd does not stand idly by watching his sheep even for a minute. Amen
 Mark 6:31
 Mark 6:1-6
 Mark 6:14-29
 Mark 6:7-13
 Mark 6:34
 Luke 10:25-37
 Luke 15:11-32
 Luke 15:8-10, Luke 15:1-7
 John 8:1-11
 John 8:7
 John 8:10b
 John 8:11b
 Psalm 23:4
 Psalm 23:1
 John 10:1-21
Pastor Stew Carlson
These are all Sunday sermon's written by Pastor Stew.