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Friday, December 1, 2017

What Was the Question?

Game shows for $1,000. “This show has been granted trademark status as ‘America's Favorite Quiz Show’ by the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office.” Answer, please. “What is Jeopardy!?” Correct.
Each week, 25 million viewers watch Jeopardy! Its unique answer-and-question format is a popular motivational tool for educators.[i] It also lends itself well to our text.
Based on Jesus’ answer, we ask three questions. First, what was the question? Second, what are we waiting for? Third, what should we do?
First, what was the question? What question did the disciples ask that prompted Jesus to reply, “In those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light”?
Backtrack 20 verses. Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives opposite the temple, when Peter and the others queried, “When will these things be, and what will be the sign when all these things are about to be accomplished?” These things meant the destruction of the Temple, and sign meant fulfillment.
In essence, the disciples asked two types of questions. The first was historical. The Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. The second was eschatological or an end-time question. In the 19 verses between their questions and his answer, Jesus instructed his disciples what they should do and not do in the meantime.
Jesus taught using cosmological and apocalyptic images – wars, earthquakes, famines, birth pains. Followers would experience family betrayal, beatings and death. He promised an abomination of desolation and false prophets and christs who would perform signs and lead astray the elect.
Next, the good part. Sun and moon go dark. Stars fall and powers in heaven are shaken. Then the Son of Man would come in clouds with great power and glory to send angels to gather his elect from the four winds and the ends of earth.
Now, what was the question again? The question was, “When will the destruction of the Temple occur, and what is the sign of fulfillment?” Jesus’ answer to his disciples’ question (in 30 A.D.), and Mark’s answer to Roman Christians (in 60 A.D.) prepared them for our next two questions. What are we waiting for? What should we do?
The answer prepared them not for an apocalyptic end of the world, complete with the smell napalm in the morning, back-dropped by Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries, but for a new beginning. The destruction of the Temple meant a new beginning.
The Romans destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D.; however, it was not to be restored but replaced by the Son of Man. The very Person of Jesus, the Son of Man, became the place of God’s dwelling.[ii] The dramatic collapse of the world’s power structures meant not the end of world history, but the beginning of a new and better phase in which God would work out his purpose.[iii]
What does all of this mean for us today? I will get to that when I ask my third question. Next, what are we waiting for?
Mark indicated a new beginning, and today, the first Sunday of Advent, marks a new beginning for us as church, the beginning of the church year.
The word ‘advent’ is from the Latin word ad, meaning "to" and venire meaning “come.” Advent focuses on Christ's coming to us in the flesh; however, Christ's coming manifests itself among us in three ways – past, present and future.
In the past, Christ came to us in the flesh, an infant who grew to a man. In the present, he comes to us in Word and Sacrament. In the future, he will come again in glory.
On the first two Sundays of Advent, we focus on Christ’s Second Coming. The third and fourth Sundays have incarnational themes – John’s magnificent prologue and Luke’s annunciation to Mary.[iv] Advent ends when we gather for evening service on December 24th. Only then does the Christmas season begin.
Christ’s coming evokes urgent excitement for the believer. We wait on tiptoe of expectation. We sense His presence is here. We sense His presence is near. Each day brings us closer to the reason for our waiting, the reason for our being.
Perhaps this will help. On January 6, 2014, our daughter-in-law gave birth to our first granddaughter. My wife, Cindy, and I were so excited that on the day we left to see her, we could not sleep, and left two hours ahead of schedule. Good news stimulates excitement.
As Christians, are we excited as we wait for the liturgical celebration of Christ’s coming and the final celebration of His return? Are we excited about His presence here and now as He comforts and challenges us in Word and Sacrament?
God comforts and challenges us in Word and Sacrament. He comforts and challenges us to do what? That moves me from ‘what are we waiting for?’ to ‘what shall we do?’
The Daily Double! Pray and act, otherwise known as the Christian Life. The Christian life is prayer and action, worship of God and love of neighbor, meditation and mercy.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus repeatedly said, “Learn the meaning of this phrase, ‘It is mercy, I desire, not sacrifice.’” … I learn and live mercy through meditation, a life of prayer. A Christian without an active daily prayer life is like a candy cane without stripes.
Prayer gives meaning to my life as a pastor and husband. Cindy, my wife who gives meaning to my life, and I spend time daily meditating on Scripture passages. Currently, we are focusing on Advent passages. The other day Cindy told me, her prayer life used to be one where she only threw up petitions to God.
Petitionary prayers are important, but there are other forms of prayer – thanksgiving, repentance, adoration and praise. Bible phrases tell us that praying to God can include “call upon,” “intercede with,” “meditate on,” “consult,” “cry out to,” “draw near to,” “rejoice in” and “seek the face of.”[v]
For me an active prayer life includes these forms as well as meditation and contemplation; however, the mere mention of meditation and contemplation unnerves some Christians. Some pastors rail against meditation and contemplation, while others promote them. I suggest one never engage in any prayer or practice that leads away from Christ.[vi]
For me meditating on Scripture is simply having a conversation with God. Since God is wise and merciful, I sit silently and wait for God to speak. Meditation is that simple. I wait for God to speak a word.
In his Simple Way to Pray, after prescribing an organized method of meditating, Martin Luther wrote, “If in the midst of such thoughts the Holy Spirit begins to preach in your heart with rich, enlightening thoughts, honor him by letting go of this written scheme; be still and listen to him. Remember what he says. Note it well and you will behold wondrous things in the law of God.”[vii]
In Meditation on Christ’s Passion, Luther wrote, “We say without hesitation that he who contemplates God’s sufferings for a day, an hour, yes, only a quarter of an hour, does better than to fast a whole year, pray a psalm daily, [or] hear a hundred masses. This meditation changes man’s being and, almost like baptism, gives him a new birth.”[viii]
Meditation, almost like baptism, gives us new birth. In short, Luther encouraged meditation as a way to deepen our understanding and appreciation of God’s Word.
Meditation relates well to my first point in that the destruction of the Temple meant a new beginning. Worship at the Temple was replaced by worship through the new place of God’s dwelling, the Christ.[ix] Likewise, through baptism, my old sinful life was destroyed so a new grace-filled life could emerge.
As a Christian, I live by faith. I am not promised exemption from suffering, trial or even death for the sake of the gospel.
One of the more compelling stories of martyrdom is that of Jim Elliott, who ministered in Ecuador to the Auca Indians, who eventually killed him. Shortly before his death, Elliott said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep [his very life] to gain what he cannot lose [eternal life].” Though they did not articulate it in these words, many early Christians lived by the wisdom of this motto.[x]
Living by this motto means that one must stay awake. One must imitate the doorkeeper.[xi] As Christians living in between the time of Christ’s coming in the flesh and his glorious coming, we do not know when he will return.
The doorkeeper could surmise that his master would return during the day. It was dangerous to travel through the night. Yet, parables always challenge one to consider the improbable. So, he needed to stay awake. The Christian, like the doorkeeper, is never off duty.[xii] Christians must live mercifully and pray actively.
I close by asking you to check your calendar. Between now and Christmas, how many parties will you attend? Parties with people from work, the neighborhood, your social club, church, school and so on. In addition, friends will invite you to attend school functions and Christmas pageants. Then family matters demand Christmas cards and gifts. Of course, we all have professional and personal duties.
My point is that in the busyness of the season, we are easily distracted. No longer awake, Christ’s coming catches us unaware. We lose the sense of wonder and contemplation, unable to read the signs of the times because of our distractedness.
Staying awake is not about sleep, but about spiritual laziness, which often manifests itself as busyness in the form of distractedness. Distractedness is a way of not paying attention to oneself or the needs of others or the voice of God because we are so busy doing nothing – shopping for bargains and checking our smartphones, catching up on small talk and on social media, attending parties and festivities.
Being awake when Christ arrives depends upon my ability to wait quietly and attentively. My difficulty is not that I reject Christ, but staying awake and attentive to the signs reminding me that He is coming. [xiii]
If you do not know how to stay awake – how to pray – use Portals of Prayer. Each day there is a Scripture passage and a meditation.
As we begin Advent, I ask you to do one thing – pray daily – so that when the Day of the Lord comes, He may find you awake. As you pray, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.[xiv]

[ii] LaVerdiere, 207
[iii] France, 533
[iv] John A. Melloh, Advent , 18
[v] Margaret Dorgan, 1037
[viii] Paragraph 10 -
[ix] LaVerdiere, 207
[x] Witherington, 357
[xi] France, 545
[xii] France,546

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Three E's of Christianity: Eschatology, Excerpt and Expectation

Image result for matthew 25 14-30
Serious Christians remember a sermon if you simplify it. Most often, I simplify sermons by hanging three points on one letter. Today, three Es – eschatology, excerpt and expectation.
Three points are easier to remember if they all begin with the same letter. Case in point: We summarize workspace safety with education, evaluation and enforcement. Customer service consists of ease, effectiveness and emotion. Leadership involves equipping, empowering and exposure. The National Audit Office assesses the value for money of government spending with economy, efficiency and effectiveness. While I do not expect you to remember all those Es, they illustrate that points are easier to remember if all the words begin with the same letter. That said, we move to eschatology, excerpt and expectation.
First, eschatology. Eschatology is the study of the last things, that is, death, judgment, heaven and hell. It is from the Greek word eskhatos, meaning last, furthest or most remote in time, space or degree.
We speak of eschatology today because as the church year closes, we hear Zephaniah, one of the latter prophets, speak of the Day of the Lord. Paul offers encouragement as his readers await the return of Christ. Matthew recounts Jesus’ last parables on judgment in God’s Kingdom. Hence, eschatology is suited for the end of our liturgical year. Yet, we cannot merely mention eschatology. We need to understand it.
Although we speak of the aforementioned last things, eschatology refers to a theology of history, with a specific reference to the ultimate fulfillment of God’s covenant promise.[1] In other words, eschatology is about hope based upon God’s promise, God’s word, and what our Trinitarian God has done for us as Father, Son and Spirit.
Eschatology involves the future based upon past promises, but it is also about the present. Eschatology is both individual and universal. It is about my personal choices and our universal fulfillment. In a sense, eschatology is bi-polar and all encompassing.
Envision Abraham, an individual who trusted God’s promises, and envision his posterity, a great nation.[2] We know God fulfilled that promise under David’s rule, and although the monarchy collapsed, this gave rise to hope for a restored monarchy by a Savior figure from the royal line of David. Based upon God’s promise, the prophets envisioned life in a world under God’s reign marked by peace, justice and reconciliation, as well as the possibility of resurrection of the dead.
This, of course, set the stage for Jesus and the early Christian community. He took up the hopes of his people, and through their experience of his resurrection, his disciples understood his preaching in a new light, rooted in God’s promise and the prophets. In short, the destiny of Jesus with God anticipates the destiny of humanity and creation.[3]
Paul’s letters describe his eschatology in detail, and yet, his is not a fixed thought. Paul expected an imminent end. In Thessalonians, we read, “For you are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:2). His second letter reveals an indeterminate expectation. Ephesians and Colossians present a cosmic vision of all powers, including demonic ones, subject to Christ.
Eschatology – death, judgment, heaven and hell – may unnerve us; but through the prism of the cross, God’s promises calm our nerves. That leads me from eschatology to excerpt.
Most people today read excerpts of the Bible. The way to read the Bible is one book per sitting. Read Exodus or Jeremiah in one afternoon and you appreciate and understand it better than if you read a chapter a day. Pore over Luke, Acts or Revelation, and its message takes on new meaning. While I encourage you to read each book in one sitting, most read excerpts of the Bible.
The word excerpt means to select a passage from a book. We derive excerpt from the Latin word excerpere, which means to pluck out, pick out or extract. The Romans merged it from two smaller words, ex, meaning out and carpere, meaning pluck or gather. Our liturgical tradition is to read excerpts from the Gospels and New Testament along with Old Testament passages related to the Gospel. Reading the Bible this way allows us to observe certain seasons and feasts, such as Advent, Lent, Christmas and Easter. On Ash Wednesday, we hear readings about prayer, fasting and almsgiving. On Pentecost, we proclaim the work of the Holy Spirit. On Thanksgiving, Luke’s story of Jesus healing the ten lepers. Excerpts allow pastors to preach an expository sermon and explain why we observe Lent with solemnity or celebrate Easter with boundless joy.
In our eschatological excerpt today, Jesus is teaching through parables about the Kingdom of Heaven. In this set of parables, Matthew emphasized the importance of watchfulness and gifts. Although God gave each person certain gifts and talents, and Christ gave to the Church His gifts – which, we, as Lutherans, understand as Word and Sacrament – the Church could be tempted to lapse into false security and self-satisfaction. Watchfulness and diligent activity must guard and increase these gifts until the Son of Man makes his certain yet undatable appearance.[4]
Today’s excerpt, the Parable of the Talents, deals with delay and stresses how Christians, especially leaders, must be watchful to the end. They must not only preserve but also work with and increase the eschatological goods with which they have been entrusted. Not every Christian has been entrusted with the same type and amount of gifts and blessings, but each Christian will be judged according to what he has received. Those who have worked wisely with the gift they received will receive as their reward still greater authority and responsibility in the world to come. The Master will invite them to share His joy.
On the other hand, the self-centered, fearful, lazy, evil servants unwilling to work and take risks for the sake of the Gospel will find the judge of the Last Day to be an exacting taskmaster demanding growth. Matthew aimed this parable not at unbelievers but Christian servants entrusted with the goods of God’s Kingdom. Reading this excerpt in that light, I am struck with fear, for while I hope the Master will invite me to share His joy, I expect that our exacting taskmaster will punish me for not taking a risk for the Gospel.
And that, folks, leads to my third point, expectation. What do we mean by expectation? Expectation means belief that something will happen or is likely to happen. When our daughter and daughter-in-law became pregnant, we expected babies. When our team goes to training camp, we expect a championship. When high school graduates leave for college, we expect they will earn a bachelor’s degree … in four years. When the doctor diagnoses a loved one with a terminal disease, we expect we should get our affairs in order. When the pastor appears at the hospital or funeral home, we expect comfort. When we pray, we expect God to answer.
So, what should we expect as we await the end of days? What should we expect on the Day of the Lord? What are we expected to do as we endure until the Day of the Lord arrives?
We are expected to hope and pray as individuals and community, but what else? To help answer that question, we turn to Paul. He not only prayed for believers, but also exhorted them to imitate him. You “know how you ought to imitate us, because we were not idle when we were with you.”[5]
When it comes to imitation, fathers and mothers set the standard for their children. Each section in Luther’s Small Catechism begins with “The head of the family …” Section Two on Daily Prayer states, “How the head of the family should teach his household to pray morning and evening. … In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”[6] The Catechism then instructs us to kneel or stand and repeat the Creed and Lord’s Prayer before saying his little prayer.
My point is this. We imitate Paul by following Luther’s instruction on prayer because it recalls our baptism as sinners redeemed in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. If you pray two or three times daily as a couple or a family, you increase your odds of holding on to hope in whatever circumstance you find yourself. If you are young and able-bodied, you have hope. If you are elderly and institutionalized, you have hope. You have Christ.
Pray daily and remember that Satan is defeated, but not dead. He can tempt you to become a self-centered, fearful, lazy, evil servant unwilling to work and take risks for the sake of the Gospel. And do not think that Satan exempts you from temptation. He tempted Eve in the Garden, Israel in the wilderness and Jesus in Gethsemane. You are not exempt from Satan’s temptations.
He whispers tempting words into your ears through a variety of people. Whether it’s your spouse or godparents, your Aunt Betty or Uncle Harry, your favorite teacher or your admired coach, the latest pseudo-psychologist or best friends, Satan tells you that there is no judge of the Last Day, and that no matter how you live your life as a Christian, God is not an exacting taskmaster demanding growth. He tempts you to prioritize numerous activities above God’s Word and the Gospel life. He leads you to value others’ teachings more than Matthew’s, Martin Luther’s or our Lord and Master’s.
In summarizing the last four judgment parables in Matthew, Scripture scholar, Raymond Brown wrote this: “Since the Son of Man speaks of God as ‘my Father,’ this is the Son of God in the apocalyptic context of the judgment of the whole world. The admirable principle that the verdict is based on the treatment of deprived outcasts is the Matthean Jesus’ last warning to his followers and to the church, demanding a very different religious standard both from that of those scribes and Pharisees … and from that of a world that pays more attention to the rich and powerful.”[7]
In other words, we are easily tempted to pay more attention heeding the advice of rich and powerful people because we too want to be rich and powerful – tempted as we are by the world. However, our Lord and Master calls us to pay more attention to the deprived outcasts of the world, whether that be someone who is hungry, thirsty, naked, foreign or confined to home, hospital or institution. The opportunities to pay attention to deprived outcasts are as plenty as those we have to heed the advice of the rich and powerful.
Friends, I can think of countless moments when I paid more attention to the rich and famous and passed on opportunities to tend to the needs of the least in our community. But let me summarize the importance of investing in the least by telling you about a man named Bob.
Bob is now deceased, but when he was alive and residing in an assisted living facility in Oklahoma City, I visited him regularly. A WWII Veteran who never saw action because the Navy stationed him on a “bucket of bolts,” Bob became a professional firefighter after the war, and eventually chief of the Fire Department of Davis, California. In his twilight years, he moved to Oklahoma to be closer to his daughter. In his spare time, Bob read and built model airplanes, which he hung throughout his apartment. Next to his recliner, Bob kept his Bible and devotionals.
As the pastor charged with developing senior ministry, I asked all seniors one question: What is important to you? The seniors gave various answers that helped me find speakers to address medication, the Affordable Care Act, and funeral plans – topics teens and young adults rarely consider.
When I asked Bob, “What’s important to you?” he replied, “I like when you come to visit me. No one ever visits me.” Bob’s words pierced my heart. “I like when you come to visit me. No one ever visits me.”
Granted, Bob’s daughter and son-in-law visited him. They took him to church, to the doctor, out to eat and wherever else he needed to go. His loving family brought him books and model airplane kits, and spent time with him. They did everything for him, but outside of family, no one visited Bob.
I tell you that story because it illustrates the importance of God’s gifts of time and talent given to each of us. Men and women confined to home, hospital or institution have plenty of time on their hands. Able-bodied Christians and pastors have the same amount of time. And while we all have different gifts, each of us has the talent to pray. So, I tell confined adults that God has not released them from the ministry of prayer, and know that God has not released us from the ministry of presence. We have the talent and time to visit people like Bob, family members, friends, neighbors and church members confined to home, hospital or institution, deprived individuals considered the least in our community. Moreover, we have the opportunity to exercise a ministry of presence and prayer with them. If you do not know how to pray with others, carry your Bible or Small Catechism with you and read it aloud when you visit.
Friends, I encourage you to pray daily for the end is near. I do not know when it will come for you or me, but soon. Moreover, the end of this sermon is near too. However, one last thing.
I named this sermon Three Es of Christianity, and when I began researching it, I came across an article written by an Orthodox priest entitled “Ease of Life and Christianity Do Not Go Together.” There are three Es of Christianity, but there is no ease of Christianity.
Friends, following Jesus to the Cross and Tomb on Friday or any day of the week is difficult. Standing under the shadow of the Cross can be dark and daunting. Investing in God’s goods while awaiting our Master’s return may seem wasteful. However, having experienced the Risen Christ and the Joy of the Holy Spirit in my heart makes all the difference in my life. I pray it does in yours.
Friends, as we await for the Son of Man to come in a cloud with great power and glory, remain faithful in prayer, and as you do, may the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Zachary Hayes, “Eschatology,” The New Dictionary of Catholic Spirituality. Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press (1993), 354.
[2] Gen 12:1ff.
[3] Hayes, 355.
[4] John P. Meier, The Vision of Matthew: Christ, Church and Morality in the First Gospel. New York: Paulist Press (1979), 173.
[5] 2 Thes 3:7.
[6] Luther’s Small Catechism, page 32.
[7] Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament. New York: Doubleday (1997), 199.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Meals, Mercy and Ministry: A Sermon on Feeding the 5,000

People remember a sermon if you simplify it. Most often, I simplify sermons by hanging three points on one letter. Today, three Ms – Meals, Mercy and Ministry.
Three points are easier to remember if they all begin with the same letter. Case in point: When I worked in the nonprofit sector, my communications involved members, message and method. Marketing consultants boil down a strategy to the market, message and medium. A professor teaches that politics is comprised of money, media and momentum. A therapist teaches that the keys to a happy life are music, movement and meditation. While I do not expect these three Ms to stick to your memory like glue, they illustrate that points are easier to remember if all the words begin with the same letter. That said, we examine meals, mercy and ministry.
First, meals. Ancient Israelites ate two meals a day, a light meal in the morning or midday and a more substantial meal around sunset.[1] In ancient Palestine, the normal diet included bread, grains, wine, cheese, figs, dates, raisins, beans and other foods. People reserved sheep and goats, the main sources of meat, for special occasions, feasts or sacrifices. Poultry, eggs and fish became common later in Israel’s history.
Meals were more than occasions for satisfying hunger. People who ate and drank together bound one another through friendship and mutual obligation. Eating before the Lord, when one brought sacrifices and offerings, reflected the view that through sacred meals humans could commune with God.
Festive meals marked weddings or the return of an absent family member. Appointed feasts prescribed by the Torah or tradition included Purim and Passover and celebrated God’s goodness to his people.
New Testament banquets given by the well-to-do required guests wear proper clothing. They obligated hosts to greet guests with a kiss and provide for the washing of their feet. Hosts seated guests according to rank.
At formal meals in Jesus’ day, the Greco-Roman custom of reclining on couches around a large table was widespread. One reclined on his left elbow, ate with his right hand, while his feet dangled from the couch. This explains how the woman anointed Jesus feet, how Jesus washed his disciples’ feet while they ate, and how John reclined at Jesus’ breast.
Jesus’ table fellowship with his followers was an important feature of His ministry. It symbolized the blessing of joyous communion, which drew criticism from detractors for eating with tax collectors and sinners. Labeling Him as a glutton and drunkard suggested that, unlike John the Baptist, Jesus took pleasure in eating and drinking. I could say more about meals, but this is a sermon, not a theology lecture; hence, my second point, mercy.
The primary definition of mercy is compassion shown especially to an offender or to one subject to one's power. It also means compassionate treatment of those in distress.
English speakers derived the term in the late 12th century from the French word merci. Its Latin root is mercedem meaning reward or wages. In the 6th century, the Church applied the word to the heavenly reward of those who showed kindness to the helpless.
In our Gospel today, we see that Jesus showed kindness or compassionate treatment to the helpless and distressed. Most English versions of Matthew 14:14 read that Jesus had compassion on the crowds and healed their sick. How He felt towards them gives us a rare glimpse into His inner life. Other than compassion, the only other feelings Matthew described were Jesus’ amazement at the centurion’s faith and anguish and distress in Gethsemane.
The verb “had compassion” revealed not only Jesus’ feeling, but also what he was about to do. At the end of chapter 9, Jesus had compassion for the crowds because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.[2] He responded compassionately by calling twelve disciples and sending them out with authority to cast out unclean spirits and heal people’s diseases and afflictions. Likewise, in the parable that follows His instruction to Peter to forgive seventy-seven times, we hear that the master released and forgave the servant who owed him ten thousand talents. It teaches that God responds with divine compassion to spiritual needs (forgiveness of sin) and physical needs (sickness and hunger). In chapter 15, we read, “Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, ‘I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat. And I am unwilling to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way.’”[3]
Jesus’ compassionate response tells us that the reign of God in the world was concerned with spiritual needs as well as physical ones. In Christ, God reestablishes His rule over creation, and desires to restore everything that is broken, twisted, amiss or dying.
The scene then transitions to the “feeding of the 5,000.” The day is waning and the logical act would have been for Jesus to dismiss the crowds and let them fend for themselves, and that is exactly what the disciples asked Jesus to do either because they thought He could not do anything or did not want to have anything to do with the crowds and their need for food.
Refusing to dismiss the crowds, Jesus emphatically told his disciples to do something about the problem. Yet, they did not understand that He could provide.
Now, fade out the disciples and focus on Jesus. Methodically, He prepared the crowd, took the loaves and fish, pronounced a blessing and gave the food to the disciples. With this story, we are familiar, but often overlook the phrase, “they all ate and were satisfied.” Not only did all 5,000 men eat, but also the women and children. Not only were all were satisfied, there were abundant leftovers.
Strangely, there is no response or mention of astonishment or amazement from the crowd. Nothing. Yet, Jesus continued to feed, nourish, heal and teach. Today, Christ works through His Word and the Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist. They relate to our body and soul. In Baptism, we die and rise with Christ. In Holy Communion, we kneel in repentant faith before we receive His Body and Blood, which preserves our bodies and souls to life everlasting. During that time, do we ponder God’s compassion and mercy for His people and their needs that arise from brokenness and sin that still trouble our world?
Do we ponder God’s compassion and mercy for His people and their needs that arise from brokenness and sin that still trouble our world? Folks, permit me to move to my third point, from mercy to ministry.
On January 6, 2014, our first grandchild, Emma, was born in Anderson, Indiana. At the time, my wife, Cindy, and I lived in Edmond, Oklahoma. The travel time between our house and Emma’s hospital was 12 hours … under normal circumstances. We left Oklahoma at 6:00 a.m. planning to arrive in Indiana by suppertime. Instead, we hit one of the worst blizzards in Illinois. We made Effingham by evening where traffic came to a standstill. We spent our first night at the Effingham Performance Arts Center on cots with 200 other travelers. Truckers, parents, infants and toddlers all crammed into one open space on cots. Cindy and I got no sleep that night.
The next morning, I learned that we would not be able to continue our trip and make Anderson by nightfall. We did not want to spend another night at the Performing Arts Center. So, being a Lutheran pastor, I looked up the Lutheran Church in Effingham. We called St. John’s Church. I explained to the secretary our plight. A few minutes later, the church president called and offered us a place to sleep. He met us and we followed him to his home. He then invited us to lunch. After lunch, we returned to his home, showered and napped. A few hours later, he asked if we would like to go to dinner with some friends. We agreed. The next morning, we headed out. We avoided the interstate and kept to state roads. We arrived in Anderson that afternoon. There and then, we saw and held our first granddaughter.
I preface my third point with this story because we experienced Christian hospitality firsthand from the president of a Lutheran congregation in Effingham, Illinois. Hospitality is who we are as Christians. Hospitality is our ministry.
Several years ago, when my younger brother died, I contacted my friend, Mark Spaziani, owner of a restaurant in Monaca, Pennsylvania.  I asked Mark to accommodate 20 people between the funeral home viewings at his restaurant. He arranged for us a room and dedicated servers. Around 4:30 p.m., we arrived, sat, ate and returned to the funeral home for the 7:00 p.m. viewing. Although we paid for the meal, time and convenience, Mark provided a ministry or service for us.
Simply defined, ministry is the service, function or profession of a minister of religion. Ministry is from the Greek word diakoneo, meaning to serve. In the New Testament, ministry is service to God and to other people in His name. Jesus provided the pattern for Christian ministry: He came, not to receive service, but to give it. We read in Matthew, “As the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The epitome of Jesus’ service is John 13, where He washed his disciples’ feet.
Christians should minister by meeting people's needs with love and humility on Christ's behalf. In Matthew, we read, “It shall not be so among you. Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”[4]
Paul opened Romans with these words: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.”[5]
In short, Christians minister to others out of their devotion to Christ and their love for others, whether the other people are believers or unbelievers. Ministry to others should be impartial and unconditional, always seeking to help others as Jesus would.
Ministry in our day has taken on more of a vocational meaning as we call pastors "ministers" to full-time service. Pastors spend their lives in the ministry. They minister to others and rightly are designated as ministers, but pastors are not the only ones involved in ministry. From the early New Testament churches to the churches of our day, each Christian should be in the ministry of helping others.
To the Romans, Paul wrote, “By the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.”[6]
Ministry prioritizes spiritual things, not just practical things. It emphasizes sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others so they can come to know Him and receive Him as personal Savior, experience Him as Lord, and know Christ as the essence of their Life. Ministry can, and should, include ministering to the physical, emotional, mental, vocational, and financial needs of others. Jesus did, and so should we!
That said, I close with a few words of my current boss, Mark Walter of My Chef Catering in Naperville[7]. I asked Mark to tell me how his work is ministry. He wrote, “I have been thinking about your sermon. I feel that My Chef helps people celebrate life through our food and services, starting with baby showers through birthdays, graduations, weddings and mournings. Through our services, we help people relax and enjoy their day. A lot of these events we set up, serve and clean up so that our clients are able to be a part of their celebration. Through our food, we help conversation by giving people a common talking point. I also feel that though great food comes comfort, joy and peace. Food helps calm the soul.
On the corporate side, we help nourish the body and mind.  Also, it gives the employees mind a break and allows them to talk about something other than work.”
Friends, whether you offer Christian hospitality to others professionally or personally, as a professional chef or president of your congregation, in Effingham, Bolingbrook or Naperville, do it in the spirit of Christ. Follow the lead of my friend, Mark Spaziani, or my boss, Mark Walter, and help people mourn or celebrate life through food and service. In order to do so, Jesus must not only be my chef, he must also be my Lord and Savior. When you recognize Jesus as such and serve others as He did, the peace of God that surpasses all understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus. Amen.

[1] Sam K. Williams, Meals. Harper’s Bible Dictionary (HarperCollins Publishing: New York, 1985), 616f.
[2] Matthew 9:36.
[3] Matthew 15:32.
[4] Matthew 20:26ff.
[5] Romans 1:1
[6] Romans 12:3-8