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Mayor and Houston City Council recognize the ELCA Youth Gathering and EEDC

Cody Miller got to know the City of Houston inside out. Working with community and religious organizations Cody helped put 30,000 Lutheran Youth to work in three days of community service.

I’m grateful to the City Council, all of whom remarked individually on the work the youth did. I’m grateful for Cody’s hard work. I’m grateful for all the community partners who made this possible.

Augustana Houston’s 90th anniversary

August 12, 2018 we celebrated Augustana’s 90th anniversary.

Augustana has been extending a welcome to anyone regardless of race or ethnicity since the 50’s.

Segregation was defiantly the norm in May of 1948, when Pastor Paul Seastrand arrived. He wrote that the church was on the “edge of negro area” He asked his congregation, “Are we going to ignore them or respect them? Let us conduct ourselves in a way that is positively Christian… as the Lord Jesus Christ himself would do. To follow the principles of Christ is to ensure the most beneficial results… To deny anyone the privilege of coming to church to worship the Lord is a gross violation of our faith… Let us submit ourselves to the persuasion of the Holy Spirit. We are called upon to demonstrate the universality of the gospel.

1955 two African American women attended worship. Then in June 1956 Augustana held the first interracial VBS with 37 African American children.

The pattern of segregation was not quickly erased. Some families left the church over the prospect of integration. Gradually Augustana was identified as a church whose doors were open to all people. The following 75 African American children attended Vacation Bible school.

What strikes me about this is the necessity of faithful, courageous leadership. The pastor and council acted on conscience and stood their ground, even when people left the church. I give thanks for such strong, prophetic leadership.

Pentecost 13B – August 19, 2018 (Proper 15B, Ordinary 20B)

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14 – David dies. God offers Solomon anything. Solomon asks for wisdom.
OR
Proverbs 9:1-6– Wisdom has built her house.

Psalm 111– The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.
OR
Psalm 34:9-14– Taste and see that the Lord is good.

Ephesians 5:15-20 – Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit

John 6:51-58 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.

John 6:51-58
I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

bread is hope

Bread is Hope

A quick look at the texts for this Sunday reveals a focus on wisdom. After David dies, God offers Solomon the desires of his heart. Solomon asks for wisdom. The alternate reading from the Hebrew Bible is Proverbs 9: Wisdom has built her house. Psalm 111 says that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Ephesians 5 exhorts us to not live as unwise people, but as wise. Lady Wisdom is personified in Proverbs (1:20-33) and thus has become equated with the Spirit. In other parts of Scripture it is considered a gift of the Holy Spirit. In either case, this presents tempting homiletical opportunities.

For those following our five-week walk through John 6, we have been talking about bread as bread, bread as all I need from day to day, and bread as relationships. This week we take a look at bread as hope.

People cannot live by bread alone. We know we need more than just food and water. We need more than clothing and shelter. As someone once said, “You can live 30 days without food, 3 days without water, but you can’t live a minute without hope.”

We look beyond food and clothing and realize we also need safety. We look beyond safety and realize we also need to love and be loved. Today we look beyond all these and recognize that we need also meaning and purpose in life. We need a calling. We need a mission. We need to be needed. A fruit tree wants to bear fruit.

July 29, 2018 – John 6:1-21 – Bread is Bread: Physical Needs.
Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.

August 5, 2018 – John 6:24-35 – Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day: Safety
I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

August 12, 2018 – John 6:35, 41-51 – Bread is Relationship: Love/Belonging
I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.

August 19, 2018 – John 6:51-58 – Bread is Hope: Esteem
Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.

August 26, 2018 – John 6:56-69 – Bread is Living Beyond Myself: Self-actualization
Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…

Maslow looks up the pyramid to a level he calls esteem. He says we need confidence, achievement, respect of others, respect by others.

I would take it a step further and call it a spirituality of work. Our work, whether paid or volunteer, whether in the world or in the home, is an expression of our spirituality. We all have God-given gifts that we need to put to use to find fulfillment.

Jesus expressed this many times:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free… (Luke 4:18)

My food is to do the work of him who sent me. (John 4:34)

I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do. (John 17:4)

Jesus had a very clear sense of calling. Perhaps that sense of calling becomes clearer as we get older, and we look back on our lives in retrospect.

What is your calling? Aristotle is reputed to have said your vocation lies where your talents cross with the world’s need. This is a great way to think about calling. What are your greatest gifts? About what are you most passionate? What do people tell you about yourself? Take the answers to these questions and then take a look at the world. Where are the greatest needs? Where do your gifts meet the world’s needs? Find that place and you will find some of the deepest satisfaction in life, regardless of the pay. In fact, if you get paid at all, it’s like icing on the cake. People who have found their calling (or purpose) often say things like this: “I can’t believe they pay me to do this.”

We are not wired to just lay around (as appealing as that sometimes seems). Life is meant to be lived with meaning and purpose. Finding that purpose is a critical part of discipleship and finding joy in life. Parker Palmer wrote about the spirituality of work in his book The Active Life: A Spirituality of Work. Another good book is Friend of the Soul: A Benedictine Spirituality of Work.

This Sunday could be a time to talk about vocation. All the baptized have a ministry. We are called to serve God in the world, whether we are teachers, salespersons or airline pilots. How is God using us to be a blessing to others and to the world? The prayers of the church could have focus questions for prayer: Where is God in my life these days? How is God leading? What is God saying? What have I been dreaming about lately? What thoughts have been chasing me? What have people been saying to me recently?

These kinds of questions are powerful ways to listen to your life. They can help us discern where God is acting in our lives, and how God is calling. Why not give people an opportunity to pray in worship? Why not write down questions like these that people can take home and pray about in their daily prayers.

I believe congregations have callings as well. Congregations are uniquely positioned in a context that calls for a certain response. Sometimes congregations have a lot of educators, or corporate executives, or international workers. Each of these present opportunities, and calling. What is our congregation’s unique calling?

The questions one might use to get at this are, for example: What are the top 5-10 needs of this community/neighborhood/town? What would the public school teachers say? What would the mayor say? What would the local police precinct captain or county sheriff say? What are our greatest strengths as a congregation? What do we have to offer? What are we most passionate about?

I once heard Methodist pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell speak to a group of about 500 pastors. He said ministry is not as complicated as we think it is. Just make a list of the community’s greatest needs on one side of your paper. On the other, brainstorm a ministry to address that need. That’s what Jesus did. He addressed the most pressing needs of his day: leprosy, blindness, hunger, and so on. He also addressed spiritual needs by warning against materialism and drawing people to love of God and neighbor.

So what? What is the Good News for us today? How will we respond to this? 

Hope and purpose are tied together. Both look to the future. When a teenager starts talking about what they want to do with their life, where they might want to go to school, or work, there is hope. When people make purposeful plans for their future, what they will do, it means they envision a future, with hope.

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.
Jeremiah 29:11

It can be overwhelming to consider how to respond to an infusion of hope. What should we do? Love our neighbor, serve those in need, pray?

Jesus makes it simple. Just, “Follow me.” I am the bread of life. Those who follow me will never be hungry. Your spiritual hunger for meaning, purpose, and joy will be filled. I believe this with all my heart. When you are sent on a mission by God, you’re not likely to get bored. When you do something that makes a difference in the world, it fills your soul.

The good news is that Jesus offers us the bread of life. He invites us to follow and trust. He invites us into a life of purpose – a calling. Eat this bread today. It will satisfy your spiritual hunger. Drink this wine, it will quench your spiritual thirst. Receive the free grace of God who loves you unconditionally with an everlasting love and invites you to be a part of the exciting mission of healing in the world.

Maslow's Hierarchy

Hiroshima, August 6, 1945

Hiroshima was the first victim of a nuclear attack. At 8:15 am on August 6, 1945 the “Little Boy” uranium gun-type bomb was dropped on Hiroshima by the B29 Superfortress Enola Gay. 70,000 people perished immediately, mostly civilians. In time that number increased to 90,000-166,000 due to radiation poisoning. 90% of the city was destroyed. 4 square miles.

Germany had surrendered May 8, 1945. Only July 26, 1945, the U.S. And Allies called for the complete and unconditional surrender of Japan, or face”prompt and utter destruction.” In fact, the order for for atomic bombs to be dropped on four Japanese cities had been issued the day before.

For those interested in global ethics, this bombing presents a conundrum. The taking of civilian lives was clearly against just war theory. However, proponents of the bombing argue that many more lives would’ve been lost in the ground invasion. Normandy cost 425,000 German and Allied lives.

Still, even the right-leaning American Conservative considers this an immoral act: https://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/dont-whitewash-the-hiroshima-bombing/. President Harry Truman’s clear point in his announcement of the bombing was revenge for Pearl Harbor: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=12169

Nevertheless, Japanese culture discouraged surrender. Even after Hiroshima the Emperor did not submit. Sixteen hours later, American President Harry S. Truman called again for Japan’s surrender, warning them to “expect a rain of ruin from the air, the like of which has never been seen on this earth.”

So three days later, a plutonium bomb was dropped on Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. After the effects of radiation poisoning, an estimated 40,000-80,000 lives were lost, half on the first day. Immediately following this, Japan surrendered.

These two bombings represent the only use of nuclear weapons in the history of warfare.

Those with a pessimistic (some will say realistic) view of humanity believe that there will never be an end to this human violence. I prefer a more optimistic perspective. Well there will always be murderers and violence, people of goodwill can learn to respond to that violence. There will always be Hitlers. The bigger question is how to keep a society from following them. They only have power if people revere them.

Isaiah the prophet also has a hopeful outlook:

He shall judge between the nations,

    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

    and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

    neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

People of faith can hope, pray and work for a day when humanity matures and blooms from its barbaric ways and into true caretakers of the earth. Even if it’s a pipe dream, it’s one worth working for. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Emmanuel Jackson’s 10th Ordination Anniversary Celebration at Living Word, Katy, August 5, 2018

Photo of Emmanuel dancing with children in the CAR:

emmanuel dancing

Video of Emmanuel singing with children in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of the Central African Republic that I showed Sunday:

Emmanuel playing with a child in the Lutheran Church of Peru in 2015.

Contagious: Emmanuel playing with more children in the Lutheran Church of Peru in 2015:

Emmanuel’s ordination in 2008:

Pentecost 12B – August 12, 2018 (Proper 14B, Ordinary 19B)

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 – The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
OR
1 Kings 19:4-8 – Angels feed Elijah in the wilderness.

Psalm 130 – Out of the depths I cry to you.
OR
Psalm 34:1-8 – Taste and see that the LORD is good. (Ps. 34:8)

Ephesians 4:25 – 5:2– Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up… And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God… be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

John 6:35, 41-51 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.

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

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
John 6:35, 41-51

For what are your possessions but things you keep and guard for fear you may need them tomorrow? And tomorrow, what shall tomorrow bring to the overprudent dog burying bones in the trackless sand… Is not dread of thirst when your well is full, the thirst that is unquenchable?
Khalil Gibran

BREAD IS RELATIONSHIP

Bread is Relationship

When we pray for our daily bread, we are praying for more than just flour and water. We are praying for all the things we need in life. We cannot live by bread alone. We need hope, and we need love.

This month we are on a series called Jesus, Maslow and Bread.

Take a moment and browse some of the statistics in this article: http://www.becomingminimalist.com/clutter-stats. Our homes are, on average, three times the size they were after World War II, and yet one out of ten of us rents off-site storage. One out of four of us can’t fit our cars into our two-car garages. 40% of all children’s toys are owned by U.S. citizens. Half of U.S. homes don’t save.

What stories might the preacher tell to awaken the listening soul to the wealth upon which we are choking? We are drowning in consumerism and materialism so much we can’t really see it. It may be hard to make people aware of the water in which we are all swimming. This is one of the reasons mission trips have such impact. Visiting another culture helps you see your own culture more clearly.

The problem with materialism is it can get in the way of our relationships, with God and with each other. We need love. We need friendship. We need belonging. These aren’t optional. Videos of monkeys raised in isolation are truly frightening. Without community we become monsters.

In fact, none of us can even survive without human community. Think about it. Who built your house? Your car? How long could you live in the wild without others? Even the most well-trained survivalist is likely to need a knife, fire, clothing. Can you make these? We like to think of ourselves as independent, but the reality is we are quite interdependent.

Our modern society is built upon small nuclear families, but humans evolved in tribes. To have the safety we talked about last week, humans needed to gather in groups large enough to fend off would-be assailants. We needed groups larger than just the nuclear family. These groups provided more than just protection. They offered a sense of belonging, a team, a group of people one could care for, and by whom one could be supported in health and in sickness.

What groups today approximate the size of a tribe? What groups provide love, support and meaning? What is the equivalent of a tribe in today’s society? Consider churches and clubs: some of the few tribal-sized groups left in society today.

Jesus teaches us that love of God and neighbor are the most important things. “On these two rest all the Law and the Prophets,” Jesus says. Loving God and neighbor is not important just to appease God. It is something we need like food and water. It makes life meaningful.

For Jesus, love was the defining mark of the church. “By this shall all people know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” In the midst of all the commandments, Jesus said, “A new commandment I give you: love one another as I have loved you…”

In Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount, Jesus tells us not to worry about what we’re going to eat, drink or wear, physical things, but rather to seek first the kingdom of God and God’s justice/righteousness. He tells us not to get stuck in the bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Don’t worry too much about food and clothing. Seek the higher things:

 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

In 1 Corinthians 13, the apostle Paul taught that love was greater than faith or even self-sacrifice. In the end three things endure, faith, hope and love, but the greatest is love.

John said anyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love, does not know God. God is love. (1 John 4:7-8)

True joy in life consists of growing beyond our possession obsession. What are you doing to grow beyond your possession obsession? As Khalil Gibran says, is not thirst when the well is full a thirst that is unquenchable?

In today’s gospel reading Jesus makes an audacious claim. He says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry…”

Is he talking about physical hunger, or is he talking about more? In last week’s gospel Jesus said, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…” These are enigmatic words. Jesus encourages his followers to seek, to strive for, a different kind of bread. Bread that feeds the soul. Might this soul food be love of God and neighbor, which fills life with meaning, joy and purpose?

So what? What is the Good News for us today?
Jesus points us to and offers us the bread of life. Follow me. Come to me and you will not hunger. Jesus offers to satisfy our spiritual hunger.

How will we respond to this?
Take a personal inventory. Think about your life. Is it mostly about things or about relationships? In what ways are things getting in the way of your most important relationships? Are you spending too much time thinking about getting things? Are your relationships about what you can get physically from others? If you were to follow Jesus with your whole life, what changes might that imply?  What might it look like to put relationships ahead of success, achievement and accumulation in your life? What sacrifices might need to be made? What rewards might be seen?

Make a list of your key relationships. Family, friends, coworkers and so on. Pray daily for this list of people. How are each of these important relationships going? Consider what investments you’re making in these relationships. Are you making enough time to enjoy these relationships? If not, what might that look like?

Finally, consider your relationship with God. How would you say that is going? What investments are you making in that relationship? Daily prayer? Weekly worship? When has that relationship been strongest? What did that feel like?

As you take communion, be mindful of Jesus’ words, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is life. As you sit in silence or song, remember that Jesus’ words bring life – not survival, but Life with a capital “L.” We can’t explain it, but millions have found that following Jesus brings Life, hope, joy, purpose and meaning, and that is something we need as much as physical bread itself. 

July 29, 2018 – John 6:1-21 – Physical needs: Bread is Bread.

August 5, 2018 – John 6:24-35 – Safety: Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day.

August 12, 2018 – John 6:35, 41-51 – Love/belonging: Bread is Relationship.

August 19, 2018 – John 6:51-58 – Esteem: Bread is Hope.

August 30, 2018 – John 6:56-69 – Self-actualization: Bread is Living Beyond Myself.

Maslow's Hierarchy

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