“The Bread of Life”–Sermon for Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018

bread-life

2 Samuel 11:1-15

John 6:24-35

 Children’s Message:

I have this lunch bag, and it has everything I need in it. Now, if you packed your own lunch, what would you pack in it? What would be the best food in the world to pack in your lunch box?

Do you think that, if you packed THAT food in your lunch box, you wouldn’t have to eat ever again—ever? Of course not. You’ll be hungry again—some of you within minutes.

Let’s think about this on another level. What do you absolutely want—something that, if you had it, you’d never ask for anything ever again?

Do you think it’s true—that you’d never ask for anything ever again? Probably not. Kind of like your dream lunch. You’ll be hungry again later. You’ll want something else—something bigger or better or newer.

So, that’s the conversation Jesus has with the crowd. He had fed over 5,000 of them with just a few loaves of bread and a couple fish. And they’ve come back to him, asking for more. He says that if we believe in him, we’ll never be hungry again. Do you think that means that we’ll never have to eat again? No. But we won’t be as focused on what we absolutely have to have to be happy—and focus on what we need to live. Bread. Water. Friendship.

Let’s pray. Lord, thank you for giving us bread that changes us. Help us focus on what you’ve given instead of what we don’t have. Amen.

 Message:

So, here’s the general gist of how the conversation went with Jesus. The people find him, saying, “Hey, where did you wander off to? We’re hungry again.” Jesus responds, “That’s all you want me for, but I’m worth so much more. Work for the eternal food that won’t leave you hungry.”

“Oh, what kind of work is that?” “Just believe,” Jesus says. “Great! Give us a sign so that we’ll believe—like Moses did. He gave us bread from heaven.” Jesus smacks his forehead and says, “What do you think that feeding on the mountain was? I gave you bread. You’re still hungry. Work for the eternal food that won’t leave you hungry.”

“Oh, what kind of work is that?” Doh! I suspect that Jesus, though childless, knew what it was like to have a conversation with a 7-yr-old. Or maybe Abbot and Costello.

In Jesus’ world, the people’s relationship with food was quite simple. Eat to live. Most of the time, food was simple. Bread was the staple. Cheese. Fish. Rarely was there additional meat to eat. Maybe for the special feast days. Because meat was a commodity. It was how one might pay tax to Rome. And occasionally it was the sacrifice to God. But meals were much simpler.

So, the request for bread is not an unreasonable one. If someone else can provide the bread, then perhaps this is, indeed, heaven. Then we can focus on more than work. If someone provided our daily bread, then we could make it our life’s work to worship God. We could focus on prayer. We could bathe ourselves in hymns. If what we needed was simply given to us, then we could be the faithful followers we always wanted to be—without the distractions of worldly responsibilities. If someone would just provide the bread. As if that would actually happen. No, we’d find some other reason to get distracted.

I wonder what we would ask for today. What is it you would hope for God to provide so that you could center our lives in worship and not on all this other stuff? What ‘stuff’ would that be for you? What is it that gets in your way of worshiping God fully? What would you want God to provide so that you can really focus on your faith life?

Well, I hate to tell you, but Jesus doesn’t take the bait. He tells the people that HE is the bread. Huh? “No, Jesus, you don’t understand. We want to stop doing what we’re doing so that we can focus on you and believe. How do we do THAT?” “I AM the bread you need,” he says. “You’re setting your sights too low. You think that it’s an either/or kind of problem. If you’re working, you can’t worship. And if you worship, you aren’t working. You think that bread is something only for the body and that I am your answer to this physical problem.”

And it’s no wonder we can’t wrap our minds around what he’s trying to say here. Just consider, for a moment, our relationship with food. A 2014 article on the issue hit home for me. The author recounts her own issues with food—the on-again off-again diets, the feelings of shame, the obsession with what she should and should not eat. She says “A cheeseburger doesn’t know I exist. My feelings for a cheeseburger, however, are complicated.”

There are lots of us who find ourselves in this complicated relationship regarding what we eat. Ruled by rules of what is supposed to be good for us—no bread, more veggies, no red meat. Beating ourselves up about what we’ve already consumed. Putting others in charge of what we eat when because we don’t trust ourselves. Focusing more on how we look—or don’t look—instead of how we feel and want to feel. Using food to comfort us when we’re anxious.

But people don’t just have a dysfunctional relationship with food. We can be dysfunctional with money—never enough, blow it on something we want as soon as we have it leaving nothing for what we need, hoarding it and being so frugal we never enjoy what we have.

We can be dysfunctional with other things as well—with stuff, people, even work. Can you think of other elements of life that have lost perspective? Our lives can quickly become out of focus as we strive to control those elements. Instead of eating to live, we live to eat. And you can pretty much substitute just about any of the other things in there instead.

What Jesus says to the crowd turns that all upside down. No wonder we have a hard time understanding what he’s saying. It completely flies in the face of everything we have lived by and learned to treasure. And yet, if you listen closely, you can recognize the Truth he’s speaking. You can hear the freedom of it calling, like a bell ringing from a distance, calling us out of the cave we’ve created.

I AM the bread of life. Work for the food that endures, which the Son of Man will give you. Believe in him whom God has sent.” It’s similar to the old adage: “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for the day. Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” Jesus is teaching us to make the kind of bread that sustains. He is freeing us from the hamster wheel of focusing on the next meal, the next paycheck, the next job, the next pound lost, the next relationship. And he is opening up a new way—looking at the whole creation as a gift. Rather than something to be managed, counted, hoarded, or blown, it is simply to be appreciated.

That’s not to say that we don’t need to eat or work or pay bills. But he turns us back around—from living to eat and living to work and living to buy stuff and living to collect. He is refocusing us back on life—where we eat to live and work to live and buy what we need to live. And what about all that stuff that gets in the way of worship? When our priorities are properly aligned, everything we do is worship. Or, perhaps, when we see everything we do as worship, our priorities properly align. And then, life is no longer about just me and how I look and what I have or don’t have. Life opens into something much bigger and deeper—into bread that nourishes, and water that cleanses, and a vine that produces, and the light that shines, and the gate that opens, and the shepherd who cares. In the presence of the way and truth and life, life blossoms into resurrection—being re-created into who we are called to be.

That’s a lot to expect from bread—but Jesus isn’t just any bread. He’s the bread of life.

 Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

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“Broken Bread”–Sermon for Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, July 22, 2018

feed

2 Samuel 7:1-14a

John 6:1-15

Children’s Message:

Stand up and look around you. What do you see here that reminds you of God? Why does it remind you of God? Now, think about your dining room—where you eat. Is there anything there that reminds you of God? What about your favorite fast food restaurant? What about the playground? What about your school?

God is with us wherever we look—if we are wise enough to notice. But there are two places where God promises to be with us in particular. Do you know what they are? We call them sacraments. Baptism and Communion. God is in the waters of baptism as it is sprinkled over your head and a pastor says, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. And God is in the bread and wine of communion. When I tell about the night that Judas betrayed Jesus and the meal that the disciples shared, we get to participate in that meal with God.

Your challenge this week is to notice God in places you wouldn’t normally expect to see God.

Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for being with us in Jesus—in water and bread and wine. Help us notice you and share you with others. Amen.

Message:

My uncle Kent died on Friday. He’s never been a particularly ‘churchy’ person. He was forced to go when he was growing up, which turned him off of it later. That, and being the ornery cuss that he was, following rules wasn’t exactly his style. But he still believed. Though, I suspect he believed in the wrathful, rule-setting god many people were taught about growing up. And as the end of his life approached, he was scared. My guess is that he feared what happened after death more than he feared dying, itself.

Last Monday, his wife and all of his siblings gathered around his bedside, along with a few of us nieces. I got to preside over communion for us. He hadn’t received communion in a very long time. He hadn’t been to a church in a very long time. As we began, the tears slid down his face, baptizing his soul in God’s grace and love. As the communion bread touched his lips, his anxiety began to fade away. And as we prayed the Lord’s Prayer, he said the words as if he had been saying them every day. Maybe he had.

“Give us this day our daily bread.” Kent couldn’t receive anything by mouth, and he could no longer speak. His voice box had been removed because of cancer growing inside him. For him, daily bread wasn’t actual bread. It was the peace offered from a God who had never ever abandoned him. A God who refused to let him go. A God who offered grace instead of wrath, love instead of anger. A God who continued to confirm that nothing he had done or left undone would keep him from eternal life. A God filled with abundant grace for all. And days later, he slipped away peacefully in his sleep with the knowledge that God had been with him from the beginning.

The breaking and blessing of bread does that.

The disciples had done the math, and they knew it didn’t add up. How would they feed so many with so little? It’s a realistic question. Rational. Obvious. But God doesn’t work in the obvious or the realistic or the rational. God’s math works differently—especially when things are broken and blessed.

Michael Coffey says, “Then the bread breaking began. All the fears and worries, all the calculations and rationing, all looked ridiculous. When people break bread in thanksgiving to God, in the way of Jesus, unexpected abundance happens.”[1]

Abundance—in both the tangible and intangible. But we tend not to trust God’s math. Coffey continues: “Most of us Westerners are schooled in the worldview of classical economics. Supply and demand. Scarcity. Not enough to go around. All commodities go to whomever has the most money.”[2]

So, Jesus took the five barley loaves and two fish. He gave thanks, broke it, blessed it, and gave it to the crowd. He celebrated the Eucharist—the Great Thanksgiving—Holy Communion, right there on the mountain with a few pieces of bread and fish. It’s not enough to go around, and yet, it is. The breaking and blessing of bread does that.

So, why are we so hesitant to trust such abundance? Walter Brueggemann suggests that, for Israel, it begins in Genesis 47. In his dream, Pharaoh learns that there will be a famine in his land. So, for the next few years, he gathers up as much as he can and stores it. It’s a wise move. But it becomes a matter of supply and demand.

When the famine hits, Pharaoh has everything and the people around him have nothing. Because he is powerful, fearful, and ruthless, he can demand that people offer collateral for their share of the abundance. They give up their land, their livestock, and eventually their freedom just to receive food. And that’s how the people became slaves in Egypt.

Four hundred years later, God leads them out of slavery and out of Egypt. But, as we talked in Catechism last year, “You can take the people out of slavery, but you can’t the slavery out of the people.” They still feel dependent upon the food stores of the Pharaoh. When God provides manna, they hoard it. When Foster Care parents are trained, they learn to watch kids closely during meals. Many foster kids grow up in the midst of food insecurity. When the pantry has food, they store it up and hide it because they know there will be a time when there is nothing. So, foster families are taught to patiently clean out the kids’ pockets after meal times. Sometimes it takes months for kids to finally trust that there will be food for tomorrow.

You see, we have learned and taught each other that there is never enough. We must have more—more money, more food, more security. We talk as if there are not enough jobs—the illegal immigrants are taking them. There is not enough money—we have to pay for the military, so cut education, healthcare, welfare, and social services. And we should take care of our own before we take care of anyone from another country.

It does not have to be one or the other. There are enough jobs—if we’re willing to work, and if we’re willing to pay competitive salaries. There is enough money—if we’re willing to go without the things that don’t bring life. We can take care of everyone—with just five loaves and two fish. Because to think that we can’t is to dismiss God’s actions of abundance.

The feeding of the multitude isn’t just a nice story found in a book that we read once in a while. It is a living and true story of God’s activity among us. It is happening today—all around us. We pray, “give us this day our daily bread,” but we aren’t prepared to receive it. We don’t believe it.

The Council soon be asking you and others to participate in building a new kitchen in our facility. We are working to partner with community agencies and organizations to extend the benefits of the kitchen to more people. Unfortunately, we received word that we didn’t get the grant we had hoped for. So, what will we do with that? Will we feel dismayed and disgruntled, frustrated and hopeless? Or will we embrace the broken and blessed bread that Christ offers to the world through us? I hope that we will bear witness to the miracle God does among us as we watch the ministries of this kitchen unfold before us.

As I prayed over my uncle, I looked around the room. And for a moment, I could see the abundance of God’s grace wash over everyone there. Broken relationships, while not repaired, took a back seat. Anger harbored made way for love. In that holiest of moments, God brought together the saints of all times and places to bear witness to the broken and blessed people of my family, praying for our daily bread. Praying for a miracle. And witnessing that miracle in the peace of a man who hoped God had not abandoned him.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

[1] http://www.ocotillopub.org/2015/07/humanomics.html

[2] IBID

“Kings and Hope”–Sermon for Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 15, 2018

oobleck

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-19

Mark 6:14-29

Children’s Message:

I’m going to tell you the story about Bartholomew and the Oobleck, by Dr. Seuss. Bartholomew, you see, was a page boy of King Derwin, the king of Didd. And the king had gotten tired and quite angry at seeing the same things come down from his sky—the rain, and the fog, and the snow, and the sunshine. He finally demanded that something else be made to come down. But Bartholomew cautioned him, saying that even the king can’t command the elements.

But King Derwin called on his magicians and charged them with the challenge. All night they chanted and made their magic, and in the morning, a green, sticky oobleck began falling from the sky. The king was elated and told Bartholomew to ring the special bell. But the bell wouldn’t ring because it was clogged with oobleck. So, the boy went to warn the people by having the horn blower blow his horn—but all he could make was a gurgle. And all over the kingdom, ooblek was getting the people and the animals and everything else stuck in a mess.

Finally, the boy went to find the king—who was stuck to his chair, trying to remember the magic words of the magician. But the oobleck kept falling. “Bartholomew Cubbins could hold his tongue no longer. ‘And it’s going to keep on falling,’ he shouted, ‘until your whole great marble palace tumbles down!…You ought to be saying some plain simple words!…This is all your fault! Now, the least you can do is say the simple words, ‘I’m sorry’.’

No one had ever talked to the King like this before. ‘What!’ he bellowed. ‘ME…ME say I’m sorry! Kings never say I’m sorry! And I am the mightiest king in all the world!’ Bartholomew looked the King square in the eye. ‘You may be a mighty king,’ he said. ‘But you’re sitting in oobleck up to your chin. And so is everyone else in your land. And if you won’t even say you’re sorry, you’re no sort of a king at all!’”

So, finally the king apologized. And suddenly, the oobleck began to melt away, and the kingdom was saved.

Do you think it was frightening for the page boy to say something so bold to the mighty king? A little like John the Baptist in the story today. He had told the king he was doing something wrong, and when the opportunity came, the king had him killed. Not everyone learns to say ‘I’m sorry.’

Let’s pray. God, help us recognize when we have made mistakes and hurt others. Help us to say I’m sorry and work to make it right. Amen.

 Message:

I’ve been enraptured lately by the Netflix show, “Merlin.” As you might imagine, it’s about the magician of Camelot and the destiny of King Arthur. But, of course, it takes a great deal of license with the original story, developing the characters and bringing to life the fears and machinations of a king and kingdom at the crossroads of good and evil.

According to the show, Merlin is a young magician who serves as Prince Arthur’s personal servant. But, magic is forbidden in the land, and anyone practicing magic is immediately put to death. Much like Herod, Arthur’s father Uther hates magic because it killed his wife. So, his decisions against magic and those who practice it are born of fear, anger, and hatred. Uther’s ward, Morgana, also has magic. And she comes to hate Uther because of his ‘no tolerance’ policy against magic and sorcery.

Morgana’s hatred fuels her desire to kill Uther—and Arthur—just as Uther’s hatred fuels his desire to extinguish magic. And in the middle of it all is Arthur and his servant, Merlin, who has dedicated his life and his magic to protect Arthur and his kingdom.

You see, both are fueled by hatred, fear, and a desire to win—a desire to succeed. But neither are concerned about the people who they might serve in their capacities. It is only about them. Because of their hate, they are both destined to lose, and those around them are collateral damage.

Now, let’s leave Camelot and return to Israel—a sort of Camelot in its own right. Like Uther, King Herod’s decisions are fueled by fear, hatred, and a desire for power. He divorces his wife—against Jewish law—in order to marry his brother’s wife. For his birthday, he has his step-daughter do a sensual dance for him and his cronies. No doubt, they liked it as much as he did. And in a drunken stupor, he promises to give her anything she wants.

Her mother, who hated that John had spoken against their adulterous marriage, advises the daughter to ask for his death. John had spoken Truth to power, and those in power did not want to hear it. So Herod, loving himself and his reputation more than anything or anyone else, acquiesces. He can’t be seen as weak. He can’t be seen going back on his promise. Fear, hatred, and anger make very poor advisors.

I’m reminded of a saying that I recently came across by Octavia Buter:

“Choose your leaders with wisdom and forethought.

To be led by a coward is to be controlled by all that the coward fears.

To be led by a fool is to be led by the opportunists who control the fool.

To be led by a thief is to offer up your most precious treasures to be stolen.

To be led by a liar is to ask to be told lies.

To be led by a tyrant is to sell yourself and those you love into slavery.”

Fear, hatred, and anger make very poor advisors. And fear and hatred are advising our society more than ever, it seems. We, as a people, have many fears—ranging from national to congregational to personal. For instance, when we’re afraid that the Church is dying, we may to over-extend ourselves to try to be everything to everyone in order to appease and attract people to join. Or, we may try to resurrect the old ways of doing things—to act as if we are still in the ‘good old days’, not considering how family lives are so different now.

When we’re afraid of people who are different from us—different colors, different nationalities, different languages, different sexual orientations and genders—we may tend to push people out—push people away. Bullying them in school, in the park, in the grocery store. Telling them to ‘go home’. Pulling the trigger first and asking questions later. Or worse, trying to keep them from coming to this country by all means possible—even if it means terrorizing their children in order to scare future travelers away.

When we’re afraid of our leaders and how they are treating others, we may feel hopeless and do nothing. We may be so angry that we find ourselves fighting just as dirty—causing riots in the name of justice, practicing a civil disobedience that is more destructive than it is inspiring, shaming and harming those we see as the opposition, attacking those who symbolize the institution and forgetting that they are people, too. Here’s an example to ponder. I just learned of someone who was traveling to Omaha in order to remove books (I’m not sure where) that contain prejudice. Think about that—denying freedom of expression out of fear and anger at what is being expressed. Doing the wrong thing for the intended right reason.

And to be honest, I’ve found myself ideologically in all of these camps and so many more. And I am sad to say that, more often than not, I too have let fear, anger, and hatred advise me in my responses. But these are not faithful advisors. They tell a story about us that undermines our God-given vocation of compassion and service. They tell us that we must defend ourselves and God. They tell us that we must fix what we see wrong with the world, no matter what the cost. Fear and hatred and anger lie to us about ourselves, about others, and about God. And when, in the midst of our turmoil, we are confronted with Truth, we don’t want to hear it. We can’t hear it. We rail against it. Because Truth—gospel Truth—hits us with both good news and bad news.

The bad news is that ALL of us fall short of God’s glory. Not one of us is, ultimately, better than another in God’s eyes. Even when we have the best intentions for ourselves and others, the lies fueled by fear, anger, and hate keep us from embracing God’s love. And whether we are the narcissist king who fights to keep his kingdom free from all the things he fears or the woman who fights to kill the king and all he stands for, as long as we are advised by fear, anger, and hate, we cannot bear God’s love to the world.

The good news is that there is another way. And though it is riskier, and it requires more work, it is more challenging, it takes more time, and there is absolutely no guarantee that it will bear the fruit we have in mind, it has something the other ways don’t possess—hope. Hope that no matter how bad it gets, God wins. Hope that God invites us to participate in God’s creative and courageous approach to justice. Hope that leads to open hearts, open minds, open hands, open borders, open tables, open doors, and open homes.

So, at the risk of ‘losing my head’, I want to tell you what I fear and where I stand. First and foremost, I stand here as your pastor—one called to love all of you, regardless of our differences and in spite of our agreements. I am called to serve all of you. I am also called to lead, challenge, and teach. And that’s what I aim to do.

I believe that the Church as we know it is dying. Yes, that frightens me because I’ve not been trained in how to do things differently. However, I have hope. I have hope that God is leading the Church into resurrection—into a new and creative way of being. God is bringing us into a new day and new way that will have the kind of impact on our world that we have only imagined having in the past. So, though I fear what that means for me, I have a great hope for what that means for us.

I believe that climate change and global warming is happening and is very real, and I fear for the well-being of my son and my descendants for years to come. But I have hope that new and innovative minds will continue to develop amazing and creative processes and items that can help creation, if we let them.

I believe that ALL people, men and women and people who are gender non-conforming, Americans and immigrants, migrants and refugees, children and adults and the elderly, veterans and law enforcement, people of various colors and nationalities, and any other human-designed category of people are created in the image of God. And I fear national genocide happening across the world; I fear how our own government is treating people seeking asylum; I fear the safety of cops; I fear the well-being of the homeless, underpaid, and underemployed; I fear for the safety of our children; I fear for those without health insurance; I fear the growing racism in our country; I fear the abuse of the vulnerable—children, elderly, women, people who are LGBTQ; I fear the Christians who misrepresent my faith in God. I have many fears.

But I am called to hope in the one who is bigger than all of them. WE are called to hope in a God who redeems us in all of our fears. We are given the Spirit of God in order to speak hope to fear, speak truth to power, and to live out our faith fully and abundantly in the love of God. We are called to follow a God who confounded kings and priests, who brought comfort to sinners, who welcomed the outcast, who loved the unlovable, and who died because he broke humanity’s rules in order to usher in God’s grace in a world aching for life. That is where my hope is placed.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE

“Going Home”–Sermon for 7th Sunday after Pentecost, July 8, 2018

ness

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10

Mark 6:1-13

 Children’s message:

Woohoo! Finally, I am going on a trip this week! We are able to go for only three days, but I’ve been packing all week so I will be ready and have everything I will need. I even got a new suitcase; I brought it today. Want to see what’s inside? See what all I’m taking?

I’ve got my book that I’m reading. But I’m near the end so I have another book in case I finish this first one. And then I put in another book, in case I don’t like the second one. Some jeans and my bathing suit and my big poofy jacket…just in case it gets cold. And my Darth Vadar helmet. And this box of Kleenex. And since I like to cook, I’ve got my spatula and of course, my toaster. And this hammer in case something breaks. And a raincoat. And a squeegee. And a game to play. And this remote control.

You think I’ve got too much stuff? But won’t I need all of this stuff? What if I don’t have it and then I do need it?

In our Bible story today, Jesus sends the disciples out to spread God’s love, and He tells the disciples how to pack. He tells them “to take nothing” except a walking stick, the shoes on their feet, and the clothes they are wearing. No bag, no money, no food, no extra clothes, no iPhone, no xBox, no toaster, no remote control.

But wait. Wouldn’t the disciples need a car to share God’s love? Surely, we have to have a car to do that today? Or maybe the disciples needed a phone? Do we? What do you think we need to share God’s love? Nothing—just our own love. We don’t have to worry about getting everyTHING packed or worry if we have everyTHING ready…because who we are and what we do are how we share God’s love.

Dear Lord, Thank You for packing my heart with Your love. I am ready to share Your love. Amen

Message:

I haven’t been to a high school class reunion since my 10th (actually 11th) year reunion. There’s something about going back—especially to high school—that intimidates me. I was anything but popular in my class of 32 in western Kansas. I was a goody-two-shoes—never got in trouble, didn’t go drinking with classmates. I didn’t know half of what people talked about when they referred to parties and ‘other things.’ I was okay at volleyball. And while my classmates admired me for my musical talent, it also separated me from them—no one else played violin…in town.

I knew early on that I would go far away for college and stay away. When I’ve gone back, I see a few classmates, we talk a little, and then run out of things to say. It doesn’t seem like anyone has really changed all that much from when we were in high school—or, at least, when we get together, we all fall back into the same categories and behaviors.

So, it’s no surprise that when Jesus returns home, he’s met with a fair bit of skepticism. He heals a few people—probably people who didn’t know him way back when—but those who never left don’t seem to understand that something major has changed. And they can’t see Jesus as anything else but the illegitimate child of that woman, Mary. A carpenter, no less. What makes him think he’s so special?

Going home to a small town isn’t easy. Everyone assumes that they know you—they know your parents, they may have kept up on your progress. But even if they know about you, they don’t know you. And so, as Jesus encounters school-mates and friends of his parents, everyone reverts back to when he was growing up, and they assume he’s ‘putting on airs.’ He’s gotten ‘too big for his britches.’ He thinks he’s something, coming back and thinking he has some God-given authority.

And so, because of their skepticism and doubt, the people there miss out on God’s presence. They miss out on healing and wholeness offered by Jesus. They become much like the self-fulfilling prophecy that says, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you’re right.” Only here, it’s more like “If you believe he can or believe he can’t, you’re right.” They probably never even gave Jesus the chance to do what he came to do. “Bah! Go home and take care of your mother and do some honest work, already.”

I just picked up a book by Rachel Held Evans, called Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again. In it, she talks about origin stories and how we engage in the stories of the Bible. She says, “Spiritual maturation requires untangling these stories, sorting fact from fiction (or, more precisely, truth from untruth), and embracing those stories that move us toward wholeness while rejecting or reinterpreting those that do harm.”

You see, we can’t just take biblical stories—or one another’s stories—at face value. There is more to them—and more to us. If anything, like the people in Jesus’ hometown, we commit the sin of familiarity. We assume we know—we know who our high school classmates are and what they have the potential to become; we know what the Bible says and what it’s about; we know about African-Americans, Indians, Hispanics, Whites; we know about cops and pastors and trans-sexual people; we know about Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals; we know about people who have addictions and criminals; we know about lawyers and blondes and the elderly and millennials.

Oh, the assumptions we make. And in making them, we diminish any opportunity for them to surprise us—to share the gospel with us—to be Christ to us—to offer us healing and hope. In her blog, Journey with Jesus, Debie Thomas says, “The disconcerting truth about this week’s lection is that we — we the Church — are the modern day equivalent of Jesus’s ancient townspeople. We’re the ones who think we know Jesus best.  The ones jaded by religious over-familiarity.  The ones who take offense when he shows up anew in faces we recognize and resent.  What will it take to follow him into new and uncomfortable territory?  To see him where we least desire to look?”

You see, what I forget when I go back to Kansas is that just because I’m the one who left doesn’t mean I’m the only one who has changed. And I don’t give my classmates credit for what they’ve been through and who they’ve become. Perhaps, if I did that, I would be more surprised by their struggles and their successes—their hopes and their fears. Perhaps, if we let them, people will surprise us. Perhaps, if we start expecting it, God will surprise us, too.

Pastor Tobi White

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church

Lincoln, NE