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the sermon for

the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost

06 August 2017

Matthew 14:13-21
The world is changed not through the grand and glorious,
but through the humble and the ordinary!

08062017The gospel according to Matthew is one of – if not THE – longest book in the New Testament. Twenty-eight chapters. One thousand seventy-one verses. Eighteen thousand three hundred forty-five words... give or take! And every third year – like this one – we'll read from the book forty times! Think about that, for a moment... Out of every one hundred fifty-six Sunday – not counting Ash Wednesdays, Maundy Thursdays, and Good Fridays – we'll read a passage from Matthew only forty-or-so times!

Of course, we'll read from three other books, but still... It's like having a jigsaw puzzle of Jesus on the altar. And all we do, each week, is reach in and pull out a piece. And we spend the morning looking at that one piece. Holding it up. Looking at it. Examining it. Thinking about it. And then, when we're all through, we drop it back into the box until we do the same thing, the next Sunday, all over again! We spend our time becoming experts on forty pieces of the puzzle and never look at the picture on the lid, let alone try to put it all together!

For instance, this morning... this morning, it's the feeding of the five thousand. A pretty well-known story. Five thousand men – not counting women and children – follow Jesus to a deserted place. Actually, they go ahead and meet Jesus there! He has compassion on them. He cures their sick. And at the end of the day, he feeds them with just five loaves of bread and two fish. We'll talk about it for a few minutes. But after today, we'll just move on to something else. And we'll never give this handful of verses another thought until we read it, again, three years from now. You do it. I do it. By the time I'm through with lunch, today, I'll already have moved on. Thinking about what I'm going to say, next week. And I won't, even, remember what I'm saying, right now!

Seriously! Answer me this! What did I say, last week? What was last Sunday's sermon about? Even simpler, what was the gospel lesson? Can you remember? Now, don't worry! I had to look up both! The sermon was on the Second Commandment! Oh, yeah! And the gospel reading wasn't from Matthew. It was from the Small Catechism! But if we would have read it, the gospel reading would have been the parable of the mustard seed! The parable of the mustard seed and the parable of the yeast...

The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.

The parable of the yeast is the same: The significance of the insignificant! The importance of the inconsequential!

I realized, this week, the feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves of bread and the two fish isn't, simply, a miracle meant to "wow" the multitudes! It's the mustard seed put into practice! It's what the yeast does in the kingdom of heaven! The smallest becoming a tree! The least leavening the whole! That's the sensation, the spectacle, of today's piece of the puzzle!

We live in a world where big is good! Where big is good and bigger is better! Especially when it comes to god-things! All powerful! All mighty! God can do everything, anything, god wants! It's all on a cosmic, an enormous level! Creating! Coming again! And then, this morning, we have five loaves and two fish. Seven things that are hardly worth mentioning. And that's not even mentioning the meager wait-staff of a dozen-or-so disciples! And yet, they achieve the unthinkable! They accomplish the impossible! "All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full." It's the yeast, the mustard seed, all over, again! Small, smaller, smallest! Little, less, least! That is what – this is what – the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of god, is like!

For Jesus, the world, already, had one temple! And that one temple had no redeeming value! It was one of the wonders of the world! People came from all over! To marvel! To stand in awe! And here is Jesus, in a deserted place, about as far from Mt. Zion as a person could get! Five loaves of bread! Two fish! A few thousand lost souls! And Jesus says, "THIS! THIS is the kingdom of heaven! Here! Now! You can see god reign! And truth be told, no one, probably, noticed. No one gave it a first – let alone, a second – thought! Bigger, better! More, most! That's what's important to the church, today! After all, it's the big churches – the MEGA- churches – everyone's talking about, these days! The bright, flashy ones are what's catching everyone's attention! The churches with power and prestige! We know who they are! The churches where everyone who is anyone belong! Crowds! Programs! Money! They're the ones changing the world!

And yet, here, this morning, Jesus says, "The kingdom is like a mustard seed! The kingdom is like yeast! The kingdom is like five loaves of bread and two fish!" Church, just, isn't about everything it's become! Valet parking! Coffee shops, ATMs, in the lobby! Church is five loaves of bread and two fish! Mission trips to foreign lands! Praise bands! Rock concerts! Clean floors! Manicured grounds! Church is grace and mercy and forgiveness and love! It's nothing more than five loaves of bread and two fish!

Consider your own call, [Paul writes to the church in Corinth. "Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast [- so that no one might brag -] in the presence of God.

God chose the mustard seed! And god chose the yeast! And god chose five loaves and two fish! And, my friends, god chooses you! God chooses you! And you now, that's enough! In fact, that is more than enough! Twelve baskets full, to be exact!

 
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the sermon for

the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost

30 July 2017

Small Catechism, The Second Commandment
The name of god is Grace and Charity and Love!

07302017It's the thirtieth of July! And other than being, at least for this year, the eighth Sunday after Pentecost, there's not much more to it. No lesser festival. No commemoration. But it is the fifth Sunday of the month. And as I said earlier, for the past decade or so, that means today's sermon is rooted in the Small Catechism. Nothing organized. Nothing intentional. It's not like we started with page one and we're slowly making our way through the booklet. More often than not, I simply reach into the hat and pull something out. And this time, as you see, it's the second of the ten commandments. "You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God." Or, if you prefer King James, "Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord your God in vain!"

But to be honest, the choice wasn't all that surprising. You see, about a month ago, Elizabeth Eaton, presiding bishop of the E.L.C.A., appeared in a sixty-second clip on the E.L.C.A.'s Facebook page talking about this particular commandment, about this morsel from the Catechism. In fact, some of you might have seen it since I shared it on the congregation's page. And frankly, it sounded pretty much like the advice from any first-year confirmation class. Don't say, "God," but "Gosh!" Don't type O-M-G in your texts. So, I wanted to spend some more time thinking in through. This week is my chance.

"You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God."

First of all, an important thing for us to realize is that the name of God isn't really God! Not even when we capitalize it! The word 'god' is not a proper nous, a naming word! It's just a plain, old, ordinary, everyday, run of the mill, common one. It's like the word 'god'. It applies to all canines in spite of breed or pedigree! It's the name – Rover or Fido – that, actually, identifies a specific individual! "God" point to deity-in-general! The name of god identifies the specific, particular god we mean. For instance, in the Old Testament, when Moses meets "God" at the burning bush and Moses asks for "God's" name, God doesn't say, "My name is God!" God says the name is "Yahweh!" "I am who I am and I will be who I will be!" In the New Testament, of course, the name of God is Jesus!

Just an aside... The whole reason we call god "God" and not Yahweh is because of this commandment. The name Yahweh, they believed, was so holy, was so sacred, that it was a sin for any human being to speak it! Blasphemy! Sacrilege! And so, they addressed Yahweh with adjectives! The Highest! The most holy! The Almighty! They, even, used formal terms of address like Sire and Lord and Sir! By anything and by everything other than the name Yahweh.

Now, as far as wrongful use... Like I said, Bishop Eaton's explanation seemed a tad... simplistic. It was saying, "God!" when we're frustrated! Texting, "OMG!" when we're shocked! But Luther takes it deeper than that. In fact, most of the four, five, and six letter words we, normally, think are cursing are not. In fact, I'd guess that ninety percent of them have nothing to do with the second commandment. Are they socially unacceptable? Yes! Sinful? Not by a long shot! Cursing – biblically speaking – isn't being a "potty mouth". It's wishing, it's wanting, others ill! Cursing is the opposite of blessing, just as damning is the flip side of saving. It's casting into the outer darkness where there's unquenchable fire and gnashing of teeth! And by swearing, Luther envisions a courtroom! So help me god! God as my witness! It's when we use god to back our lies and our deceit! Using god's name to aid and abet! Wrongful use, you see, isn't the occasional verbal faux pas. It's using god to accomplish the ungodly! It's using god's name – Jesus, Savior – to do everything but!

It's using Jesus' name wrongly to frighten and intimidate and exclude and condemn! Not rightly to rescue and to save and deliver! Luther wasn't concernment, first and foremost, with the vocabulary of our everyday conversation. He was concerned – obsessed – with how we speak, with what we say, here, in worship, on Sunday mornings! Setting limits on god's grace! Putting conditions of god's love! Rationing mercy, regulating forgiveness, based on miles or hours or, even, dollars! That's what making wrongful use of god's name is all about! Whether that name is Yeshua or Iesous or Jesus! The vanity is using god's name for selfish reasons! Using god's name for something other than love! And along the road, on billboard after billboard and bumper sticker upon bumper sticker, on our way to Taos and back, we saw the second commandment not just broken, but shattered, by the most well-meaning, best intentioned people.

"In the mercy of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die... and for his sake, god forgives..." That's how rightful use of god's name is made!

"The body of Christ given... the blood of Christ shed..." That's how god's name is taken meaningfully, significantly, importantly... not in vain!

What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God's name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

But then, if we do that – when we do that – the commandments cease to be the yellow brick road leading to heaven! And instead, heaven comes to us! Heaven always comes to us! Instead of morals and ethics and principles showing us the way, the commandments drive us to the only place that matters... the foot of the cross! And we learn to speak – rightly – the only name that's important... Jesus! Savior! It isn't about saying, "God!" And it's not about typing, "OMG!' There's more to it than that!

God is a god who sees us! God is a god who hears us! And god is a god who comes to us! Rescuing and redeeming! Suffering and breaking! Bleeding and dying! All that we might, as last, live! Live fully! Abundantly! There's no other way to speak of god... not for god to be who, what, god has always been! There's no other way to speak of god... and not for god to continue to be god! The name of god, my friends, is Yahweh! The name of god is Jesus! The name of god is Father, Son, and Spirit! The name of god has been, is now, and will always be... Grace! Charity! Love!

 
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