Sunday, August 30, 2015

Implants That Show, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on James 1:17-27

Implants That Show


By Rev Steven R Mitchell


Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 9/2/2012


Based on James 1:17-27



        Words are marvelous invention that helps us communicate what we are thinking.  Most words convey specific images and meanings, however a constant usage of a word that varies from its root meaning eventually overrides the original meaning.  For instance, when I was a child there was a commercial on T.V. that I thought rather cleaver, for it challenged a cultural  stereo type of the word “drink.”  In this commercial you see this person walking up to his neighbor’s fence.  The neighbor seeing his visitor gives a friendly gesture with his hands that says, “Come on over” and being a good host invites the neighbor to have a drink with him.  The neighbor declines by responding, “Thank you but no.  I don’t drink.  The host say’s, “I was referring to a glass of iced tea.  The generic understanding that most people have of the word “drink” refers to some type of alcoholic beverage.  Yet the basic meaning of the word “drink” speaks to a necessary act of replenishing fluids to the body.

Another word that gives a similar type of response is the word “implants.”  When I hear this word, I immediately think of another word, “silicone.”  Yet there are all sorts of implants: there are dental implants, cornea implants, tissue implants.  There are implants for contraception and there are implants for fertilization.  When you place a fence post into the ground, that post has been implanted.  So the word “implant” can lead our minds in an emotional response ranging from cool, to warm, or even hot and bothered. 

Yet “implants” are not always visible.  In this morning” Epistle, James tells us of the implant that God has for each of us.  Welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your soul.”James 1:21b   James says that this implant is, “the word of truth,” which “ …give us birth” or life.    We are told in the Hebrew Bible that we were wonderfully knitted together at God’s own hand and the thread God used is God’s word of truth, it has been implanted in each and every person.  All we have to do is recognize it and chose to develop it.  For it is through this recognition, this welcoming the “implanted word” that gives us what we need for growth and maturing into our relationship with God.

This letter by James was written to those who were following Jesus’ teaching only 40 years after his death, yet his advice still holds true with Christians today.  It seems that the early church has some behavioral issues that we still struggle with.  One of those focus around the ability to communicate, for James says be slow to speak, but quick to listen.  One of the largest issues in most church disputes centers around this principle.  Many a church dispute comes when people are not being heard.  Whatever the conversation is about, we all need to make sure that we are truly listening to each other.  In letting someone say what is on their mind and heart is only the first step in communicating, but there is no communication until the one listening actually opens their mind enough to truly hear what is being said.  Too often we are busy thinking of responses instead of stepping back and taking time to hear what is being voiced.

Another issue the early faithful struggled with was how they experienced their faith through their actions.  It was James’ understanding that you cannot call yourself a true person of the light, without it showing through your deeds and in your speech.  Although this relates to what we classify under the umbrella of Social Justice awareness and activism, as well as how we use our speech to either tear someone down or build them up, I believe James is also speaking about how we exhibit God’s light in our worship.  Do we follow a formula and just hear the word of God through music, prayer, and the spoken word, or do we feel the word of God?

Two years ago I had the opportunity to attend the official acceptance of the Kenyan Fellowship (that worships once a month in our sanctuary), when it became an official chapter of the National Kenyan Christian Fellowship of America organization.  What an amazing time of worship I experienced there.  Some of the songs were in English, others were in Swahili.  During those songs in Swahili, various people at my table would lean over and tell me the English hymn it was taken from, which was helpful because many times there were musical variations making it difficult for me to recognize.  During that worship, much time was spent praising God and Jesus.  These were words that could only be spoken from a heart that was “implanted” with God’s spirit.  Through that “implanted word” I was feeling apart of the gathering, not just a white man being tolerated, but as a brother in Christ. 

James directs us to be dutiful to the widow and orphans who are in need.  This is a mandate to care for those who are less fortunate,  those who are in need, and those who do not have a voice.  When we take on Social Justice issues, are we doing it solely out of duty, or possibly out of guilt, or do we take up these opportunities with the understanding and joy that these actions represent the gift of God, hearts motivated through God’s word of truth?  For it is through this word of truth that gives life and this life is experienced through the gift of hope!

James names two types of people of God.  One is the hearer only of God’s word, the other is the one who hears but also is a doer of God’s word.  Those who are hearer of the word only are like those, “who look at themselves in the mirror and then after walking away, forget what they look like.  In other words, we can hear the word of God on Sunday morning, leaving here feeling good, but come Monday have forgotten what we had experienced on Sunday. 

We too often complain about the absence of the millennium generation, yet I think what James is telling us resonates with the millennial.  The millennial generation is a generation of people who are relational.  They want to be in community with others, they also want to be doers.  By this I mean they wish to go out and do projects that will benefit others.  As a generation they seem to understand James when he says, “Every generous act of giving,… is from above, coming down from the Father of lights…  They understand that what they do comes from what is in their heart.

There is wondrousness in the implant that God gives to us.  Our challenge is to “welcome this implanted word from God,” and to take action, not just listen, for it is through action that we will bring life and salvation to a world that is stained in forgetfulness, selfishness, and egocentric.  From this day forth, let us proudly bear God’s implants that make a difference.  Amen

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Extravagance in Gardening, based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23, by Rev Steven R Mitchell

The Extravagance in Gardening
By Rev Steven R Mitchell
Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 8/23/2015
Based on Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23


A large portion of my childhood memories relate to the business of growing plants. Since we were a poor family, it was most important that we gave focus to the vegetable garden and less to the things that I really enjoyed growing, which were ornamental plants. It was my thought that it was equally important to feed the soul by growing plants that bring beauty into the world, while my mother believed that growing plants that produced food for the body was more important.   

When it comes to vegetable gardening, I have memories of huge gardens.   After moving from a small town out to a farm, my dad decided that with forty acres and the free slave labor of three children, he would create a family business of truck farming.  He supplied the vision, the children supplied the labor.  We had no real farm equipment, so most all the working of the soil was done with hand tools. There was one water well which was near the house and minimal outdoor water faucets that could be used for watering. 

It’s a marvelous thing, farming.  You plow up the soil, chop the clods up making the ground smooth ready for planting, then you plant the seeds and the starter plants, water them, and watch them grow. What is interesting is everything else that is in that soil will also grow. The technical term for the “everything else” is called “weeds”.  I remember long days of handling a hoe, chopping at the weeds, which seemed to thrive better than the plants that I was supposed to be tending. Then after hoeing out the weeds the next step was bending over the plants and pulling out those weeds that were choking out the plants.

To give you an idea of the size of operation I am talking about: our green bean patch had 16 rows, each a city block long, the potato patch, was a full five acres of seedlings, and located more than a quarter mile away from the house.  Next to the potatoes we planted 500 tomato plants. You must understand that the closest water was a quarter mile away and dad decided we children could carry water out to them instead of running pipe out to this remote spot.  You can image how well those poor plants survived in the 100* + summer sun.  It was impossible to work in those temperatures, so the tomatoes eventually dried up and died because of the lack of water. 

The scripture reading today resonates with my experiences on the farm and our efforts to truck farm.  Those plants that we were able to properly nurture with water, de-weeding, and fertilizing produced in abundance; where we planted seeds and plants that wewere not able to provide any one of these needed tasks, those plants provided much less fruit, or were choked out by the persistence of the weeds, or withered in the heat of the sun. 

I find this particular story interesting with respect to where it is placed in Matthew.  At the end of chapter 12, we read where Jesus has been healing and preaching to a group of people and of course getting the Pharisees very upset to the point of plotting his murder.  Then his mother and brothers come wanting to take Jesus back home with them, at which point Jesus asks, “who is my mother and who are my brothers?”  In this response, Jesus is doing more than defining his understanding of who family is.  Jesus is setting the foundation for the story he is about to share, new referred to as “The Parable of the Sower”. 

The usual way of reading this parable is to study the types of soil that the seeds are being planted in.  For example, in new church development there would be a study of the community being considered for a new church.  A lengthy study of demographics, city potential of continued growth, what type of nitch can the new church provide that presently isn’t being met.  In church revitalization, there would be conversations that focus on growth by asking: what type of pastor would best help us grow; what type of programs would work best in revitalizing this ministry; what type of people do we want to minister to; do we as a church really want to put in the effort that it takes, or are we truly comfortable with our current situation?  Both are examples of tiling the soil, of planting seed.  

When discussing today’s text with some friends, a part of the discussion focused around the “wisdom” that we should have in where and who we share the “good news” of God.  A reference being made that we were not being good stewards of God’s word by spending our time with people who would never respond to it.  The example of casting seed on the hardened soil.  As a business person, I might, agree with that insight. However as a person of faith, I have to look at this parable in a slightly different manor.  As I read this story, I see the story speaking more about the person of faith and their receptiveness to God’s word and less to the external location.

 This directly relates then to speaking about a congregation, a faith community.  As a community of faith, we have received the word of God, the seed planted. The question that needs to be asked is, “What type of soil is this congregation made up of?” Are we hard and rocky, who gives only the birds nourishment because we are not receptive to God’s word?  Are we soil that is full of weeds, choking the work of the Holy Spirit?  Are we soil where the distractions of the world take away focus from the needs of being nourished? Are we too busy to take time for Christian education or to commit to a Discipleship class that runs more than 4 weeks?  Are we the soil that receives God’s word and allow it to be nurtured within our hearts, so we will be able to feed the needs of those we come in contact with? 

The focus is on those who are in the family of God. I think the story is asking, “What type of soil does the faithful possess?”  It is God who originally planted His word within us? How have we, the children of God received it?  God did not contemplate his love to be bestowed on some and not others.  That is an invalid justification that comes out of hardened or shallow soil.  God loves beyond abundantly. God loves extravagantly, giving the gift of reconciliation and healing to every broken heart.   

The question is this: How have your received this seed from God? Is your spirit one of hard packed soil? Is it one who received the love of God but because of life’s circumstances has found this love withering? Or is your heart the type of soil that has received the love of God and has allowed it to flourish growing into the person that God wishes?  

I wish to close these words from Psalm 119. “Your word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path.”    The parable of the sower is a recognition to those who receive the seed from God and a promise to the church, that as long as we have an open heart to receive the extravagant love of God, the word of God will take hold and shall produce in abundance within us and around us.  Amen

Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Gift of Wisdom, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on 1Kings 3:5-14

The Gift of Wisdom

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United Church, Aurora, CO 8/16/2015

Based on I King 3:5-14

        How many of you can remember asking your parents’ permission to go do something with your friends only to be told “no?”  In the course of giving logical rebuttals to the objections that your parents are giving, you in one final ditch effort say, “Well all the other parents are letting their kids go!”   I don’t know how it went in your house, but the minute I used that argument, my parents would give their final closing arguments, “I don’t care what the other parents are letting their kids do, you are not going!”  Followed by, “I suppose if your friends were all jumping off a 100 foot cliff, you would follow them and jump off too.  Packed in that one sentence was the whole topic of ‘reasoning’, of ‘thinking through before you act’, of ‘weighing the consequences of your actions.’   In that one sentence laid the difference between the use of knowledge and common sense.

        In my first parish, one of the members of the congregation shared a hard lesson in her life.  She says that for years she use to pray for patience, then one day she received the answer to her prayer, when her husband was involved in an motorcycle accident.  Her husband had received severe head trauma, and through rehab had to re-learn every aspect of life; how to talk, walk, eat, process information, how to deal with his emotions, so on and so forth.  She said, “Pastor, I have learned to be careful for what I pray for, because I just might get it.”

This morning’s text speaks about the young man who became king and yet felt that he wasn’t prepared for the job. He might very well have not been raised to know how to act and speak like a king, as he had an older brother who by tradition should have been the next king. Yet the young man’s father, King David, on his death bed appointed not the elder son, but the younger son to take his place as ruling Monarch.  Now, putting all sorts of family drama aside, this tells me that David saw something in Solomon that he felt would make him the better ruler.

Yet Solomon states that he doesn’t know how to come or go as a King, so in a dream, Solomon has a visit with God. God asks Solomon what he would most like to have as a gift from God. Solomon replies that what he most needs as king is “Wisdom” so that he might serve the people to the best of his ability.

Why wisdom? Why not riches, or prestige, or revenge toward his enemies?  Possibly because as king, most of these things he now possessed.  What seems to be missing is that self-confidence that one needs when in a leadership position.  The definition of Wisdom is: The ability to discern or judge what is true, right, or lasting; insight; Common sense; good judgment. Most translations use the word “mind” in connection to “wisdom”, but I think the word “heart” better describes the essence of “wisdom.” Our minds can think critically, but wisdom goes deeper than just critical thinking. It also involves “feeling” and “intuitiveness”, and these specific attributes we tend to apply to the heart.

Rev Thomas Blair, pastor of Second Presbyterian Church, Baltimore, Maryland says: the marks of true wisdom have to do with the acknowledgment of our need, our want, and our emptiness.  This is not an exercise in selfishness, seeking a quick fix for a newly found need, but an open, honest, and long-term quest to be other serving and not self serving.  It all goes back to our “”alignment” with God – that is how our souls are aligned with what God wants and intends for us.

Rev Blair continues by saying: People bring their own orienting systems into each new situation they encounter, especially those that demand creative responses.  An orienting system is made of our habits, beliefs, relationships, and previous experiences; some are positive resources, while others can be burdens.  We access them in different ways.  They are like deposits in a bank waiting to be withdrawn.  When key events arise in our lives both the resources and burdens of our orienting systems may be called into action.

Orienting ourselves according to our burdens makes responding to situations more difficult.  Orienting ourselves according to our resources helps us take on situations creatively and positively.  Of course, in order to bring out our best resources, we need to know both what they are and how to appropriate them for use in any given situation. Feasting on the Word, YR A, Vol 3 pg 268 When a healthy person goes into a deep depression because of some overwhelming event in their life, this can be an example of a person’s resources (their own wisdom resource, so to speak) being over shadowed by their burden. 

Have you ever come across a person who seems to be “limp”?  Where there seems to be no life or fire in their eyes?  I find when I take the time to ask a lot of questions about their earlier journeys in life, there is usually some experience that ignites a “spark”.  That is the wisdom resource of that person’s life.  In the movie “Tales of the City”, Mrs Madrigal meets Edgar Housien who was extremely depressed over the news of his incurable cancer.  Mrs Madrigal gets Mr Housien talking about his early army days.  You can see as Mr Housien is telling his story how his whole physical persona changes from flat to vibrant.  Then Housien asks Mrs Madrigal, “Why did you let me go on like that?”  She responses with, “You don’t seem very happy with who you are now, and you needed to remember who you were then.”   It is important for us to constantly stay in touch with our wisdom resource, those bank deposits of earlier years.

We are at the start of another year of negativity as candidates for the Office of President of the United States start their campaigning.  In each speech that these men and women give, they will be presenting all sorts of idea’s and solutions to the nations troubles.  There will be a lot of facts and figures thrown out as testimony to the knowledge that each of these candidates possess.  But knowledge does not equal wisdom.  This is what Solomon understood as he embarked on a 40 year reign as King.  To Solomon, he needed something more than just knowledge; he needed wisdom, the ability to discern the truth, so that he could bring justice to his kingdom. 

What is it that you ask God for in your daily life?  Is it more money, so you can meet the bills that lay on your desk?  Is it for patience, so you will not fly off the handle so quickly, or be so quick to judge?  Do you ask God for a special person in whom you can share your life with?  Maybe you ask God just to be able to get through this day.  Had Solomon asked for any other gift other than wisdom, that gift would have been a self-serving request, but with the gift of wisdom Solomon was asking to be other - serving.  

 Most of us have more knowledge than what we need, but how do we gain that “wisdom” that Solomon was asking for?  I think the key is in the last sentence of this morning’s text.  If you will walk in my ways, keeping my statutes and my commandments …, I will lengthen your life.  The key to wisdom is that intimate relationship with God.  If you sense yourself walking around, limp, glassy-eyed, over burdened, then maybe it’s time to go back and remember a time that awakens your mind, body, and spirit to the life it once knew; of what your wisdom resources are.  Maybe it’s time to go back and remember a time when your relationship with God was exciting.  This particular story of Solomon, teaches us that God is desirous for us to possess wisdom, to be in alignment with God.  All we need to do is ask for it.   Amen

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Let Go of the Old Ways, by Rev Steven R Mitchell, based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Let Go of the Old Ways

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO 8/09/2015

Based on Ephesians 4:25-5:2


        One of the requirements that I needed to take prior to graduating from seminary was a unit of CPE.  Officially known as Clinical Pastoral Education, this course was designed to help the pastor provide counseling care in a way as not to inject their own personal issues into the situation.  Part of this course included morning gatherings of all CPE students to do check-in and then a once a week one-on-one session with the director of the program.

        Between the clients at the institution and the personal work this class required, it was a very demanding twelve week course.  During that time, I and the other three CPE students had become very well acquainted with each other.  Because of the distance I had between home and the city that I was doing my CPE in, I shared a space with one of the students, and once a week we would all gather for a shared meal at the home of another fellow student whose wife would prepare for us.  In other words, we as CPE students had become a community, a community come together through Christ with the specific goal to learn how to best minister in loving support to one another and others.

        As we neared the end of the course, the director suggested that there be communion included in the closing gathering.  It was in this suggestion that I experienced how divisive denominational doctrine can be in a group of gathered followers of Christ.  In this community of four, there was represented, American Baptist, Evangelical Covenant, Roman Catholic, and Missouri Synod Lutheran.  The director was aware that the Roman Catholic seminarian might have difficulty of a joint communion service that was not being administered by a priest. 

The Roman Catholic seminarian was committed to the inclusion of communion to the point that he had some in-depth discussions with his priest to gain permission to join in this invitation to Christ’s table.   There was not a theological dilemma with either the Evangelical Covenant student or with me with my American Baptist heritage.  The one person who was without questioning the “do I or don’t I” participate came from the Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor, the only one of us four who was actually ordained and serving a congregation.  He was not going to participate, no questions asked, no discussion needed.  I was deeply hurt in his decision to not join us and it was through that experience that I realized just how deeply important I saw coming to the table of Christ was in my heart. 

When I asked him what his reason was, the response was, “We don’t allow communion or participate with people who are outside of our immediate church membership.”  I continued to press on this discussion with questions about excluding others who professed to having an active relationship with Christ and their church?  He basically said, “He could not in good conscience give communion to anyone outside of his congregation because he might be giving it to a person who may not be a true member of Christ’s family; meaning that there is only one true church and it wasn’t the Roman Catholic or any other Protestant denomination .”  Ultimately, his stance was, if he saw others in heaven who had not been Missouri Synod Lutherans then he would consider having communion at that time.

This morning’s text, although is directly addressing “new” Christians coming into a community faith, my experience at the close of my CPE course shows that those of us who have been in the fold for years have need to be reminded about how we conduct ourselves both in the faith community and outside the faith community.

According to Paul’s way of thinking, truth is the most essential element in the survival of community.  For without truth at the core, the community will collapse into disunity and eventually perish.  On the surface, it sounds like Paul is telling us that when speaking to others we need to be speaking the truth to that person.  I like that, as it puts things out there, beyond me.  I can speak all day (possibly) sharing with other folks all the wrong things that they are doing and be speaking “in truth.”  But Paul starts his sentence off with, “putting away falsehood…”, this is actually a statement directed toward “self.”  Before we can actually speak “truth” to others, we ourselves have to be truthful with ourselves. 

As Christians, we so often talk about the need to live in God’s truth, but I really question how honest we really are in that statement.  In my CPE story, the Roman Catholic seminarian in his discussions with his priest, revealed a questioning of “truth” in Eucharistic doctrine that the Roman Catholic holds.  The Missouri Synod pastor already saw the answer of how God looks at Christ’s table and had no need to question what he had grown up to believe and understand through scripture.  When I speak to people who say that much of the evil and pain of our world most often comes from religious people, I cannot deny that truth.  In reality, religion is designed to help us examine ourselves and help us to move beyond ourselves, but the reality is, most of us do not really want to take on the challenge of self-examination and discover “our” true self (the past hurts that we hold on to, the biases we clench onto) and through discovery, work on discarding those things within our heart that are false and destructive to ourselves and to community life.

One of the things that I was taught as a child was it was bad to become angry, because when you are angry, you are capable of doing bad things, and truly nice people don’t get angry!  So, for years I felt guilty when I would become angry about something that happened in my life.  Paul acknowledges that “anger” is a natural part of being human.  It is a piece of our “image” of God.  What is unhealthy is not dealing with that anger and most of us are guilty of holding onto anger.

Dr Dianne Bergant, professor of Old Testament Studies at Catholic Theological Union in Chicago, says this about Paul’s list of sins:”Bitterness is that disposition that cherishes resentment…Fury is anger expressed in violent outbursts of temper.  Anger is the eruption of impulsive passion…Reviling denotes slanderous words spoken behind another’s back.  Malice is less a vice than a quality of evil.” All these are harmful to the Christian community, and they grieve the Holy Spirit.  The truth is, within and beyond our own walls, our own neighborhoods, so much of the world’s conflict is caused by anger nurtured for years and generations.  There can be value in anger when it motivates us to action on behalf of justice and healing, but how we express that anger is the key to either healing or more hurt. Sermon Seeds, UCC, Aug 9th, 2015 by Kathryn Matthews (Huey)  

Last Fridays announcement of a hung jury on the death penalty portion of James Holmes conviction of murder now allows him life in prison instead of receiving the death penalty.  This new development brings many mixed reactions with regard to the carrying out of justice to the victims, the families directly affected by his actions, and the community of Aurora.  There will be people who will harbor deep anger toward that one juror who was not able to vote for the death penalty and see once again “failure” of the judicial system.  Anger is inevitable because it is a part of being human, but when we hold onto it, then we are not examining the truth within ourselves (the causes of why I see that I’m being violated) and eventually it will come out in very harmful ways: in bitterness, wrath, wrangling and slander, back biting, being two faced, toward others or physical illness within ourselves.

Paul says, living in truth, creating that supportive environment for community has to come by letting the Holy Spirit work within our lives, being imitators of God, living in love as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.  These are not a list of do’s and don’ts but rather behavioral changes that are necessary to live in the spirit of God.  This is what happens through the baptism of our heart, the letting go of the old ways and putting on the new.   For we as the body of Christ are the living expression of Jesus to a world that is broken hearted and in need of true love and a peace that passes all understanding.  Amen

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

What Must We Do...?, by Rev Steven Mitchell based on John 6:22-38

What Must We Do…?

By Rev Steven R Mitchell

Mountain View United, Aurora, CO   08/02/2015

Based on John 6:22-38


        In nineteenth century China there was a name for people who came to church because they were hungry for material food.  They would convert, be baptized, join the church, and remained active members as long as their physical needs were met through the generosity of the congregation.  But once their prospects improved and they and their families no longer needed rice, they drifted away from the church.  Missionaries called these people “rice Christians.” 

Similarly when the churches in East Germany and Romania were manifesting courage, and pastors were speaking out against Communist regimes just before the [fall of the Berlin Wall] – people came to cheer the church on, and to join the congregations in its opposition to the tyrannical state.  But after the liberation from the hells of the Soviet boot and local dictators, the crowds dispersed and the churches began to look as straggling and abandoned as they had before the stirrings of political liberty took hold.   Feasting on the Word, Vol3, yr B pg 308, O Benjamin Sparks.

The same thing happened in America after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center.  For months our sanctuaries were filled with people who were looking for comfort and answers.  Then over the next few months, their need for spiritual comfort waned until the church was once again filled with empty seats.  I have seen this familiar behavior in families when a sudden tragedy strikes.  Surviving members will often attend worship services as a part of their grieving process, looking to have that empty space that comes with the loss of their loved one, filled.  Once that empty space has healed, they forget where they found that healing solstice and stop coming to worship.

We can see in the crowds that followed Jesus to Capernaum to find him after he fed the five thousand in the wilderness are like those who see faith and church membership as something they can choose [at will] for themselves to use for their own needs… Feasting on the Word, Vol3, yr B pg 308, O Benjamin Sparks.  It is a mentality of “What can the church do for me?”  As an example, last week eight churches (including Mountain View) came together in a joint worship.  There was in the neighborhood of around 230 people who gathered for that worship.  It was a great time of gathering and it felt like a lot of people were there.  Yet, not everyone from these eight churches came to that worship.  If they had, the sanctuary would not have been large enough to hold everyone.  Each church had probably 2/3’s of its typical attendees choose to take that day off from worship.  Why?  Well there are many reasons I am sure, but ultimately it comes to a truth that most American Christians use worship and church membership as something they can choose to use for themselves. 

The late President Kennedy once said in a speech to the youth of America, “Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.”  This is what is being discussed in this morning’s text.  When the crowd that Jesus had feed the day before discovered that Jesus was not with them, they assumed that he had gone with his disciples across the lake to Capernaum.  It just so happens that there are a number of boats from Capernaum pulling into dock and they get into the boats and go across the lake looking for Jesus.  Once they find Jesus, He confronts the crowd about the reason why they are seeking him out.  It wasn’t because of spiritual nourishment but rather for more food. 

Their reason for seeking out Jesus might sound shallow on the surface, but we are talking about a people who were living in extreme poverty.  Food was very scares and if you find someone who can make five loaves of barely bread and two fish feed five thousand or more, why wouldn’t you go looking for him?  We have the advantage of “hindsight” as we read these Gospel stories.  And too often with this “hindsight” we forget to think about the humanity that is in each of these stories.  When Jesus is confronting these seekers, He sees the trials and tribulations that is compelling them, but he also sees something that will enrich their lives and tells them not to look for the perishable’s of life, but rather seek out and work for the non-perishable.  We read the same theme in the story of the woman at the well, where Jesus is telling her that there is water, should she chose to drink it, that will satisfy her thirst.  She asks to drink it so she will not have to come daily to that well and get water.  She was looking for a perishable solution and not seeing the imperishable being offered by Jesus.

Do we not have that same hunger, that same thirst in our lives, today?  There is always going to be the need for food, there is always going to be physical hunger, but Jesus tells us that worrying and striving to have enough of the physical is never going to satisfying.  For like the “rice Christians”, or the Eastern Europe people who lived under communism, or those who went flocking to our churches after 9/11, or families who attend church after the death of a loved one, once their immediate needs have been met, leave because they never truly integrated into their hearts how God was involved in their receiving.  They saw only the perishable, what can the church do for me.  This may sound harsh to our liberal ears, but doesn’t the habits in attendance of the average Christian reflect the mentality the “what can I get from Church” instead of the heart asking “What can I do for the church?”

Jesus had to correct the understanding of the crowds when they asked Jesus for a sign saying, “that their ancestors had been feed Manna by Moses.  So Jesus, what can you give to us?”  Jesus pointed out to them that it was not Moses who provided the Manna, but rather God.  In the same way, Jesus was explaining to them that the multiplication of the five loaves and two fish, was not done by Jesus, but was an act of God.

In this story, we see that the crowd doesn’t see God in their midst when they are asking Jesus to “give them a clue about who he is.”  I wonder how many of us would truly recognize Jesus if he were to step foot into this congregation this morning.  I wonder if in our wondering through life, how often do we recognize God in front of us?  Former Sociology Professor at Eastern College and Professor of Theology at Eastern Seminary, Dr Tony Campolo once posed the question of “how would we treat each person we meet, if we saw the face of Jesus, in that person.”  It’s a profound question that we should be asking ourselves. 

I think the question that Dr Campolo asked reflects the response that Jesus was giving to the crowd in his answer, “The real significance of that Scripture is not that Moses gave you bread from heaven but that my Father is right now offering you bread from heaven, the real bread. The Bread of God came down out of heaven and is giving life to the world.”   Jesus is saying that God is presently giving bread and this bread is life giving.  Jesus then states, “I am the Bread of life.”  When we hear the “I Am”, it is saying, “God is present”, present among us. 

We all are starving in one fashion or another.  It can be from physical hunger, or from physical needs, or from emotional issues.  Loneliness, low-self image, mental illness, hunger, lack of shelter, an abusive home life, the list is as long as there are the number of people living.  Trying to meet these needs with external Band-Aids will never treat the real causes, for that is perishable food.  What we need to do is to take the nourishment that God is offering us and feed our hearts – by recognizing, truly recognizing that God is present in our lives and through his bread, is giving us life that will not parish.  As the people finally asked Jesus, “What can we do to get in on God’s work?”  We, coming this morning to Christ’s table, should be not asking, “what can God do for me”, but rather “What can I do for God!”  At this table this morning, let us feast not just on the physical elements but on the spirit of God’s presence in our lives.  Amen.