Sunday, August 27, 2017

Year A, Proper 16, Isaiah 51:1-6, The Rock

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  Amen
As I enter into the final years of my ministry my youthful optimism has faded.
I also find myself feeling quite jealous of my father’s generation of pastors.
In the years following World War II the veterans who had returned from the war, as well as the whole nation dedicated themselves to building the United States into what it is today.
With Europe struggling with the enormous task of reconstruction, the United States was able to immerge as a Super Power, with the strongest economy in the world, and coupled with that a military that surpassed all other nations.
It was a time of unparalleled prosperity and community building.
All those veterans returned home to begin raising families and as a result our nation experienced the ‘baby boom’ of the post war years.
The Church thrived in this context.
As families grew by leaps and bounds, so did the Church.
Suburbs were born to house these new families, and the Church followed with new mission congregations being formed all across the nation.
Congregation after congregation found themselves bursting at the seams.  There was not enough space to accommodate all the growth.  And so there was a great building campaign that took place all across the Church.
As an example of this, I remember my Father’s first four congregations that he served.
His first parish was in Ronan, MT where he was the first full time pastor to serve that congregation.  They had built a parsonage to house our family, and because of the growing size of their Sunday School the basement of our home included additional space for Sunday School classes.
After a few years we moved to Worland, WY where Dad served a new mission congregation that had been started a few years before.  The Church was growing so fast that they didn’t even wait to gather a congregation.  The national Church simply identified a community, built a building, called a pastor, and let the pastor go find a congregation to fill the building.
Then our family moved back to South Dakota.  In Irene three congregations merged to form Calvary Lutheran Church and built a large new building.
The next congregation Dad would serve was in Wessington Springs, SD, and they also were the merger of a number of small rural parishes and had just built a large new building in addition to a parsonage.
When Karla and I got together, while we were still students at PLU, we immediately joined the congregation where Arden, and his wife were members, Mountain View Lutheran Church in Puyallup.  It was an older congregation, but one which was now flourishing with new growth from all those baby boomers coming of age and moving to Puyallup.  They too had just recently built a marvelous sanctuary, one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.
And then after Karla and I got married we moved to Gig Harbor so that we could be part of a new congregational start, Agnus Dei Lutheran Church. 
It was through my involvement at Agnus Dei that I decided to enter the ministry.
With all my heart and soul I anticipated being able to serve the Church as my father had, and I imagined that this tremendous growth and development would continue unabated.
I imagined becoming a mission developer pastor and starting new congregations as well.
But something happened.
The world changed.
In the thirty years since that time, people stopped flocking to the Church.
Those educational wings that had built during the fifties and sixties now had far more space than was needed.
One example of how radically things had changed was that, as I mentioned before, the Church used to just build a building and then go find a congregation to fill it, now at the end of this period, congregations were forced to worship in temporary worship space, in school gymnasiums and the like, for ten to twenty years before they might get a building.
But even more striking than that, was that in large part the Church simply stopped developing new congregations.
Peace Lutheran, as well as Agnus Dei, was one of the last congregations formed during this period of great expansion. 
Still there was optimism.
This room in which we are worshipping was intended to be the fellowship hall.  As the congregation grew it was anticipated that we would build a much bigger sanctuary to house the larger congregation.
But as is obvious to us, now thirty years later, the congregation didn’t grow.
It’s like the Church all of a sudden lost the ‘midas touch’.
Something happened.
The world changed.
During the post war years everyone went to Church.
Now, not so much.
Our country is becoming more and more secular.
When I look back and remember the optimism with which I entered ministry, and then reflect on the reality that I experienced throughout the thirty years that I have served, I find myself getting depressed. 
It is easy to get discouraged.
Jesus just doesn’t seem to matter much to people anymore.
And for those who continue to cling to the faith, whose commitment to the church remains steadfast, the empty class rooms and sparse attendance at worship is simply disheartening.
We are not the first ones to experience such emotions.
Our lesson from Isaiah this morning was written at a very difficult time for the Israelites.
Their nation had collapsed.
David’s Kingdom, which they thought would last forever had been defeated.
This people who had once been in slavery in Egypt, but who had been delivered by God at the time of the Exodus, who had seen the birth of Israel as a nation, and witnessed the glory of the Kingdom under David and Solomon, were now, once again in slavery, only this time in Babylon.
Everything had been lost.
And more than the things that they had lost, was the hope that they had lost.
For generations they believed that God would always be with them, and now it seemed that God had abandoned them.
This is the experience of God’s people throughout the ages.
We go through cycles.
We experience times of prosperity and great hope.  Times when it seems like God is right here, doing marvelous things in our midst.
And then we go through times of despair, when we feel God has abandoned us, when all is lost.
This is nothing new.
This ebb and flow of history is simply the way it is.
During the good times, faith seems easy, and yet in some ways it is untested. 
During the hard times, it can be difficult to maintain faith at all.
It is during these hard times that Isaiah’s words are so important.
If we would rekindle the faith within us, we begin by simply remembering.
Isaiah says:
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to Abraham your father
and to Sarah who bore you;
for he was but one when I called him,
but I blessed him and made him many.”
The world is constantly changing, but God remains steadfast and faithful, his love constant throughout all the ages.
God, who promised a child to Abraham, remains faithful to his promises today.
God, who heard the cries of his people when they were in slavery in Egypt, still hears the cries of his people when they call out for help.
God, who led the people of Israel through the wilderness to the Promised Land, still leads us today.
God, who established the Kingdom of David, has not abandoned Israel, nor us.
God, who sent prophet after prophet to the Israelites, still raises up faithful servants for the Church today,
God, who promised a Messiah to save his people, remains faithful to that promise today.
God, who became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth, remains with us today.
God, who raised Jesus from the dead, still breathes new life into his people of every time and place.
God, who sent the Spirit to gather the faithful from every corner of the world, still blows through our midst creating faith wherever and whenever he sees fit.
God, who blessed his people in the good times and comforted his people during the difficult times, speaks words of comfort and hope to us today.
Indeed, it was this God that promised to Peter that he would build his Church upon a foundation so solid that even the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.
“Look to the rock from which you were hewn,
and to the quarry from which you were dug.
Look to the God who breathed life into the lifeless clay, the God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son so that all who believe in him may not perish but have eternal life.
Look to the God who created you.
Look to the God who redeems you.
Look to the God who Spirit empowers you.
Look to the God whose steadfast love endures for ever.
And know this, that nothing in all of creation will be able to separate you from the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus.


Saturday, August 19, 2017

Year A, Proper 15, Isaiah 56.1,6-8, “For all peoples”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
When I began my ministry in Thompson Falls back in 1988 Northern Idaho and Western Montana had become a haven for white supremacists, centered around Richard Butler’s compound in Hayden, ID.
 They were and are neo-Nazis, a paramilitary organization that loves to dress in Nazi uniforms and arm themselves for what they see as a looming battle for control of this nation and to preserve and advance the New Israel which they believe that God intended our nation to be. 
The formal name of Richard Butler’s group was the Church of Jesus Christ Christian.  It was originally  founded in 1946 by Ku Klux Klan organizer Wesley A. Swift.
This religious organization underlying the neo-Nazis was part of the “Christian Identity Movement” that holds as a central tenant of their faith that the true descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are not the modern day Jews, but rather the Aryan race.
This belief asserts that following the Assyrian conquest of the northern ten tribes of Israel in 722 BCE, the people of Israel migrated north and settled eventually in Germany and the surrounding regions and are the Aryan race.
Contemporary Jews are believed to be the offspring of Satan, and hence ought not only be oppressed, but exterminated.
Related to this is the belief that all other races than Aryans, are pre-Adamic.
What do they mean by pre-Adamic?
They mean that blacks and other non-Aryan peoples were created prior to Adam and Eve.  That only the Aryan race is descended from Adam and Eve.  That the other races are “beasts of the field”, that is animals, the highest form of apes, if you will.  As such, maintaining ‘dominion’ over them, subjecting them to slavery and other such fates, is seen as perfectly OK.  This is the height of racism, for it believes that blacks are not only inferior, they are not even human.
This does not mean that all white supremacists are in favor of genocide. 
My neighbors in Thompson Falls who were part of Richard Butler’s Church of Jesus Christ, Christian, asserted that “we love all people, we just believe that God never intended different races to live together.”
They believe in White Separatism.  This is segregation on steroids.  They believe that all non-Aryans should be resettled, repatriated, sent back to their country of origin.  The blacks to Africa, Oriental people (including Native Americans) to Asia, etc.
Their hope is that by so doing, they might recreate the nation of Israel as it was meant to be, as a great white nation, America.
One of the trends of this group in the mean time is to locate in areas of the country that are predominantly white, where they perceive that can pursue their agenda with as little opposition as possible.  The path of least resistance.  It is for this reason that they have tried to establish themselves in places like Montana and Northern Idaho, two of the ‘whitest’ areas of our country.
Terrorism and intimidation are tools that they use to advance their cause.  Rather than simply keeping to themselves in their small enclaves, they choose to parade in public, for example, in 4th of July parades around the country, and hold public rallies such as happened last week in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Make no mistake about it, this activity of theirs goes beyond freedom of speech and assembly.  It is intended to strike fear and terror in the hearts of non-Aryans.
It works.
I had a colleague in ministry that was looking for a new call.  I suggested to her that there were openings in Northern Idaho she should check out.  Carolyn had a Chinese daughter whom she had adopted, and her immediate response was that she would never move to an area where White Supremacists were active and subject her daughter to that risk.
That’s exactly the response the Aryan Nations folks want.
Another tendency of these groups is to adopt a view of American politics and the constitution that will help to advance their cause.  “Constitutionalists” is the term, and in general what it means is a return to an understanding of our Constitution that is pre-Civil War, and certainly, pre-Civil Rights.
They believe that states should be able to secede from the Union, a necessary first step on the way to creating this great white nation they envision.
One of the things about these groups, is that there is not one unified organization, but rather many movements and cell groups that share some, if not all of the sentiments.  And so you have the KKK, the Aryan Nations, militia groups, constitutionalists like the Freemen, to name a few.
Another aspect of these organizations is that they appeal to the prejudices that are part of the general population and feed off of them.
So for example, when we as a nation talk about cracking down on illegal immigration and deporting minorities that have come here illegally, they are thrilled and highly supportive.  Likewise, they favor immigration of white, English speaking people, but not of others.
They also feed off of those who believe that the Federal Government’s power needs to be severely limited.
They also will be  quick to point out that the racial tensions that we are experiencing are clear evidence that we were not meant to live together, and they believe that their agenda is not only the only solution that will work, but it is God’s answer to the problem.
One of the most difficult things is that there are passages in the scripture that fuel the religious sentiments behind the movement.
Today’s Gospel is one of them.
 “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
I wish Jesus hadn’t said that.
I really wish he hadn’t said that.
And it’s not enough that he eventually grants the Canaanite woman’s request.
But it is not just these words.  There are many others.
Especially in the Old Testament there are many passages and an overall tendency to lift up the people of Israel as the Chosen People of God, and when that is coupled with the racist ideology of the Christian Identity movement it lays the foundation for a belief in White Supremacy as God’s will for humanity. 
And then there are the other passages.
“There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”  (Galations 3:28)
And our lesson from Isaiah today, a lesson Jesus quotes as he drives the money changers out of the temple:
“for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.”
Why am I talking about this today?
For some people considering such things is to venture into the realm of politics, and certainly there are political ramifications of these matters.
But more importantly, it goes to the very heart of the Gospel itself.
God’s love is not the sole possession of one Race, one People, but is freely bestowed on all peoples.
Each and every person is created in God’s image.  And God loves us all.
Again I’ll lift up before you our purpose statement for our congregation:
“God’s purpose for Peace is to welcome, love, and serve all in our local and global community.”
Historically, there have been times when we’ve failed to love all people.
Last week in Bible Study I shared with the class that Martin Luther, late in his life, had written some horrible things about the Jews, things that were quoted extensively by the Nazis.
In addition, during the Nazi era in Germany the Lutheran Church, with the notable exception of the Confessing Church, largely went along with the Nazi agenda.  And make no mistake about it, the concentrations camps like Buchenwald and Auschwitz were staffed by many Lutherans.
Also, in spite of setting goals to become an inclusive Church, we remain one of the whitest churches in the nation.
Yes, we have had our failings.
But our calling is to bear witness to the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus, a love that extends to all people, of every race and tongue.
And it’s more than that.
As God’s people we are called to stand up to the evil that is in our midst.  Especially that is important because in this case that evil is being advanced in the name of Christ.
But there is another reason, as well.
It is precisely humanities diversity that makes the human experience such a rich and delightful one.
Think of the creation as a whole, of all the different forms of life God created.  God loves this diversity.  There are majestic animals such as the lion or tiger, and humorous one’s such as the platypus, but each one is special and delightful in God’s eyes.
“God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”  (Genesis 1:31)
Not just good.  Very good.  Tov Meod is the Hebrew phrase. 
Ours is an interesting task, to stand firm in the face of the evil that lurks within our land and bear witness to the good that is in all people without getting caught up in the very evil we oppose.
Ours calling is to stand firm against evils such as racism and oppression, without letting our hearts become hateful or our actions, oppressive.
The hope that is at the heart of the Gospel is that love can transform the world-- that just as light drives out the darkness, love can drive out hate.
This is our holy calling.  And my prayer is that when everything is said and done, we will have been found to be faithful to this holy task. 

Sunday, August 13, 2017

"For there is no distinction" (nor Diversity)

It is easy to be against racism, when one lives in a homogeneous culture.

I'm reminded of my brother's comment as a young boy when we visited my uncle's farm.  Uncle Gerry asked him if he knew how to drive a tractor.  Arden's response was "Theoretically."

Am I against racism?  Well, theoretically.

The truth is I grew up in the rural Midwest where a 'minority' was a Dane living in a Norwegian town.  And though the state in which we lived had a high percentage of its population that was Native American they were segregated on the reservations and we had little contact with them at all.  We lived in an exclusively white culture.

In my adult life I have lived in communities in the Northwest that were equally as homogeneous.  Rural Montana and North Idaho.  Not exactly areas of rich diversity.

By contrast, my wife grew up in the inner city of Seattle where in her high school approximately a third were white, a third black, and a third of Asian descent.

Truth is that it is somewhat disingenuous for me to self righteously proclaim myself to be against racism when in truth I have little to no experience living in a diverse culture.  And to make matters worse, I've devoted myself to serving a Church that is one of the whitest churches in the country.  And this is true in spite of the fact that we have had a major commitment to becoming an inclusive Church since 1988.  We haven't been successful.

The only legitimate claim I have to living with diversity is that my brother married a Jewish woman and we have come to love her and her children as part of our family.  But if I'm being absolutely truthful, that's part of an extended family.  I don't live with that diversity on a day to day basis.  My brother has learned how to thrive with that diversity on a day to day basis.  I have not had to.

The bottom line is that I am committed to the concept that there is no distinction, that all are created equal, and that each person is beloved of God-- but those personal convictions are mostly untested.  I have known four black people over the course of my life for relatively short periods of time.  A college professor, a woman in our congregation, and two men that were part of my Clinical Pastoral Education group.  This hardly makes my experience in life one of rich diversity.

As I grew up in South Dakota I remember seeing pictures of the deep South and the segregated facilities marked for whites or colored.  Drinking fountains, side by side, one for white, one for colored people.  What struck me was that at least in the South they were side by side.  In South Dakota virtually the entirety of the Native American population was set apart on the reservations and there was no contact between the whites and the Native American populations.

None of this was intentional on my part.  We do not exclude minorities from our Churches.  Its just that in this country Lutherans have almost exclusively been of Germanic or Scandinavian descent.  There have never been a lot of blacks knocking at the doors to our Churches.  In Africa the Lutheran Church is thriving.  But again, diversity that is half way around the world is, shall I say, distinctly convenient.

Birds of a feather, flock together.

As we consider the events in Charlottesville this week, I am aware that my disgust at the overt racism on display has to be measured against my own experience of living a largely segregated life.  I can hardly claim with integrity to not be a racist, when in fact, I have never lived in a community that was racially diverse.  My experience would have been much different if I grew up in Pine Ridge, SD, not Irene.

My point is that to affirm with the scriptures that there is no distinction between the races is easy when it is mere theory.  It challenges us when that diversity is a daily reality with which we live.  I don't know if there is an answer.  I live in an area that has been attractive to White Supremacists because of how white it is.  Part of me would like to experience a more diverse culture, but then wonders if I'm just trying to appease my liberal ego.

I think that even among us who find racism to be a terrible evil, we still have a long way to go.  We still tend to segregate ourselves into our separate communities.  We are not actually a 'melting pot', we are more like a bunch of different foods sealed up in separate Tupperware containers.  And I think that we are less because of it.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Year A, Proper 14, Romans 10.5-15, The Power of “It”

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
Well, it’s time.
It’s time we talk about “it”.
“Talk about what?” you say.
                “Well, “It”. 
“It” is that one thing that is more important than anything else.
“It” can be hard to define, but we all know “it” when we see “it”. 
Some have “it”.
Some don’t.
I once attended a leadership seminar put on by the Disney corporation.  They talked about “it”.
“It” was one of the most important things they did.
“It” was the key to their success.
Another word for “it” is the “X Factor”.
“Well, that helps a lot!” you say.
“What is that?”
The “X Factor.”
You know.
The “X Factor” is a variable in a given situation that could have the most significant impact on the outcome.
For the Disney Corporation, and all their theme parks, “it” refers to this special quality that creates a magical kingdom, a happy place, and an experience that keeps people coming back.
One of the things that Disney focuses on is that they are there to provide entertainment. 
One of the feelings that they hope to create for their customers goes back in time to the joyful anticipation of going to the movies.
In order to set the stage for that experience, they pay attention to details.
Whenever you enter a Disney theme park one of the first things you will notice is the unmistakable aroma of freshly popped buttered popcorn. 
First thing in the morning, and it is almost irresistible, that pleasant smell of the popcorn.
But their goal is not to sell popcorn.
Rather it is to bring you back to a point in time when you entered a movie theater.  They want you to be prepared to see ‘the greatest show on earth’.  The smell of popcorn helps.
One of the other things we learned about Disney theme parks is that they are two storied.  They don’t look like it.  They don’t look like it because all we see is the stage.  But in the basement, the underground, is the back stage area.  A lot happens behind the scenes in the backstage area.  But on stage, everything is in character.  You never see Mickey Mouse taking a break.
Whenever anyone is on stage, interacting with the public, they are in character. 
The power of “it” is how Disney describes this X Factor, this intangible quality that is the  key to their success.
But you didn’t come here today to hear about Walt Disney and the Disney Way.
We’re here to talk about the Church.
Our faith.
And how we can share our faith with others.
Paul writes in Romans:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.”
But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”
What is the “X Factor” for the Church?
What is the “It” that makes all the difference?
Some have “it” and some don’t.
It’s hard to describe “it”, but we know “it” when we see “it”
And this is the thing, if we don’t experience “it”, we know that something is missing.
Churches have tried all sorts of things to be successful.
Programs to meet every conceivable need.
The Razzle Dazzle of a high production, professional quality, performance for worship.
Creating an environment in which people feel at one and the same time at home, and in a sacred space.
One of the struggles for a small congregation like us is that we look at the bigger Churches and all they do, and feel bad because we simply do not have the resources to do all those things that seem to make the big Churches attractive places to worship.
But all that ‘stuff’ that the mega Churches do, is not the X Factor, the “it” that makes the difference.
What is “it”?
What really makes the difference?
“It” is simply this:
Do you have love for one another.
The beauty of this is that a small congregation like ours is as capable of loving one another as the largest congregation, and in fact, may be even more capable.
I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."
At times we struggle with how we can bear witness to Christ Jesus, and what is required of us to do so that others might come to a saving faith in our Lord.
We envy those who are eloquent, who seem to have all the right answers, and who say all the right things.
But only one thing is required of us.
That we love one another.
There is no other way to bear witness to the love of God that is ours in Christ Jesus than to love one another.
People know it, when they see it.
And if they don’t experience it, they know that something is missing.
But as simple as it seems, there are often challenges.
Sometimes we simply don’t talk about it much.
There’s a joke about Ole and Lena.
Lena wasn’t happy with their marriage and so she got Ole to go with her to see the pastor.
“I just don’t know if he loves me anymore.”  Lena said.
“Well, Ole” the pastor replied, “do you love her?”
“Of course I love her”, Ole replied, “I told her that 40 years ago when we got married.  And not only that, I told her that if it ever changed, I’d let her know.”
Do we have love for one another?
And equally important, do we take the time to show each other that we love one another.
Or even more important, do we treat one another in a way that others will be able to see that we love one another.
It’s hard to define, but we know it when we see it.
But there are certain things that we can do, that lovers do, that bear witness to that love.
How do we love one another as Christ first loved us?
First, we delight in each other.  Delight.  Isn’t that a wonderful word.  To love someone is to delight in them.  To accept them just the way they are.
Sometimes this is missing.  We find ourselves thinking that it would be easier to love someone if they were different than they are.  But that is not how love works, and that is not what lovers do.
Delight.  You are special.  God made you who you are, and you are beautiful.
The stuff of love.
Second, to love is to be willing to accept our differences and forgive our wrongs.
This is what Jesus does, does he not?  He accepts us.  He forgives us.
If we want to bear witness to the love of God, then we need to practice this fine art of acceptance and forgiveness.
Our human tendency is to let these differences and the wrongs that are done to divide us.  Churches fight over the strangest of things, sometimes.  And we tend to prefer to hang out with people that are like us.
But the fact is that we are all different.  Unique in our own right.
And none of us are perfect.  We will all make mistakes.
To love is to accept our differences, and forgive the wrongs done to us.
And thirdly, lovers treat each other in special ways.  Paul writes in 1st Corinthians, chapter 13:
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
This is a tall order.  To actually treat one another in this way, requires discipline, and practice. 
Love is patient, Love is kind.
Well, that seems simple enough but how often are we too quick to be impatient, and then to act in ways that are not kind. 
How often do we insist on doing it “our way”, you know, like Frank Sinatra:  “I did it my way”?
That’s a hard one for me.  My psychologist once asked me “What is the first thing you say?”  I had no clue what he was talking about.
“The first thing you say,” he responded, “is your conclusion.  You think things over in your head so much, that by the time you speak you’ve already come to a conclusion.”
Insisting on my own way is a huge problem for me.
It’s a huge problem in the Church. 
We tend to be so convince that our convictions are right that we insist on doing it “our way”, and often run right over others in the process.
And if we don’t get it done “our way” we are prone to leave.  But that’s not loving.
Because finally, as Paul says, “love never ends.” 
It doesn’t end because someone is different than us.
It doesn’t end because “somebody done somebody wrong.”
It doesn’t end because we don’t get our way.
Love, simply, never ends.
But it takes practice.
How can we practice this simple act of loving one another?
I’m not going to tell you this.  You have to figure it out for yourself.
The reason I’m not going to give you a list of things to do, is because of my tendency to jump to conclusions and insist on my own way.
Peace Lutheran needs to discover its own unique way to love one another.
But this I know:  That unless we have love for one another, nothing else we do will matter.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another."


Saturday, August 5, 2017

Year A, Proper 13, Matthew 14.13-21, "Hunger Games"

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen
There is a hunger in the world that only Jesus can satisfy.  It has little to do with how much is in our bellies, and much to do with the yearning deep within our souls. 
“Give them something to eat.”  Jesus says.  “Give them something to eat.”
“But there are so many, and we have so little”, the disciples respond.
One can hardly blame the disciples for stating the obvious.  There were only twelve of them, and the crowds numbered over 5,000 men, plus the women and children.  The task would have been enormous.  They simply did not have the resources to do it.
We are a small congregation.
And there is so much to do. 
When we consider all that we SHOULD be doing as a congregation it is easy to become overwhelmed with the task and then think only about the scarcity of our resources. 
I mean really, let’s be honest here, it’s a challenge to just keep the church clean and the doors open.
There is so much more that we could be doing.
Yes, we collect a little food each month for the food bank.  We give offerings as we are able.  But the truth is that it seems very much like it must have seemed for the disciples that day.
There were thousands of people with nothing to eat and only a dozen disciples to do anything about it. 
And Jesus has the audacity to say “Feed them.”
Given the circumstances, how can we help but say anything other than “How?”
“How can we who are so few, feed the crowds who are so many, when we ourselves have so little?”

Let’s step back here for a moment and ask the question:  “Why should we feed the hungry in the first place?”
I read an interesting article this last week from the Washington Post on poverty.
A recent poll revealed that Christians in this country are more likely than any other group to blame poverty on a lack of effort by the poor. 
Not every Christian believes this, but over half of the Christians polled did.  The poor are poor because of their own lack of effort.  It has nothing to do with the circumstances that surround their life.  If they would simply work harder and make better choices they wouldn’t be poor.  They wouldn’t be hungry.
In contrast to Christians, by a margin of 2 to 1, atheists, agnostics, and those with no affiliation believe that poverty is caused by circumstances and cannot be blamed on the poor.  The poor are victims of circumstances beyond their control.
Is hunger a religious issue, or a political issue?
Do we have a moral obligation to feed the hungry?
Are programs of our government beneficial and necessary or do they contribute to the problem?  Should there be food stamps, or the Women, Infants, and Children program.  What about Aid to Families with Dependent Children?  What about food banks and the distribution of commodities to the poor?
Are such efforts of our government a moral response to the needs of the poor in our country?
Or do they simply reward the lack of effort on the part of the poor with a free meal?
One of the hardest questions I’ve ever been asked was asked when I visited a Lutheran congregation in Russia that we were partnering with.
“Is it true that there are poor people in America?”
“How can there be poor people in a country that is so rich?”
The answer is complicated.
I had to admit that there were indeed poor people in our country.  But, I also shared with them that the poor in our country in fact often had far more than they did. 
When it comes to issues of poverty and hungry, what do we do?
Is this a political issue?
Is this a religious issue?
And in the end, does it matter?
“They need not go away, you give them something to eat.”
On that day, Jesus answer was straight forward.
It didn’t matter if the crowds were to blame for not bringing food with them to eat.
It didn’t matter if it was merely a lack of planning, or deep poverty that caused the hunger.
In fact there is no indication whatsoever that the crowds were even poor.
All we know is that evening had come, and there was nothing in that place for the crowds to eat, and that the disciples suggested that Jesus dismiss the crowds and send them into the nearby towns where they might buy something to eat.
“No, you give them something to eat.”
From the prophets in the Old Testament, to Jesus in the New Testament, there is one reason and only one reason to feed the hungry.
We feed the hungry because they are hungry.  Period.
We can debate forever how to best deal with the question of poverty in our land.  Jesus makes it much simpler.
They are hungry.
You feed them.

But we can’t, was the disciples response.  All we have is five loaves of bread and two fish.
Scarcity.  We’d love to do what Jesus says, but we have so little.
Imagine if Jesus told us, Peace Lutheran, to feed the hungry in Spokane.  Thousands of hungry and we are so few.  Impossible would be our response.  Impossible.
How can we who have so little offer enough to care for so many? 
It’s simply not possible.
But with God, all things are possible.
“Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.”
Perhaps the only thing that is scarce is the faith to believe that God can do what we cannot.
They are hungry.
Feed them.

But there is more to it than that.
In the Gospel of John, when Jesus feeds the five thousand, the crowds continue to follow him even after he went away.
When they find him, Jesus says:
"Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."
There is a hunger in the world that only Jesus can satisfy.  It has little to do with how much is in our bellies, and much to do with the yearning deep within our souls. 
Our human tendency is to concern ourselves primarily with the hunger in our bellies, and we devote a tremendous amount of effort to insuring that we are always well satisfied.
But there is a deeper hunger that no amount of food will satisfy. 
And when Jesus feeds the hungry, it serves as a sign of something far more important.
There is a hunger in our souls that only Jesus can satisfy.
Are you loved?
Are you forgiven?
Is there a meaning and purpose to this life?
Is death the end?
Does anything really matter?
Or should we just eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die?
What is truth?  (That was Pilate’s question for Jesus.)  Is there any way to really speak about ‘truth’, or is everything simply a matter of personal opinion?
These questions and many more like them, are the hunger of our souls. 
“I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Jesus said.

The people are hungry.  Feed them.
Feed them with the food that endures for eternal life.
One of the problems with feeding the hungry is that tomorrow, they will hunger again.
There is nothing that can satisfy us completely.
Except for Jesus and the grace of God we find in him. 

Can we look beyond the physical hunger that we all experience, to the spiritual hunger that lies deep within?

One of the things I shared with the council last week is that as Lutherans we have tended to be more willing to share the tangible things that we have with the poor, things like food and clothing and shelter – than we are to share our faith.
But this is the thing.
There is more to life than three square meals a day.
And the greatest treasure of all that we have to share is our faith in Christ Jesus.
You are loved by God.
You are forgiven for Jesus sake.
God has a purpose for your life.
And even death has been conquered.
Yes, how we live our lives matters.
And Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life.
This is the food that truly satisfies.
This is the way of eternal life.