OK y'all, it's time to put on our Sherlock Holmes hat, (we'll forgo the jacket because of how hot it is right now), pull out your magnifying glass and let's dig into scripture. We need to investigate.
Delving into the text, we will discover the story of the feeding of the multitude can be found in not just two, or even three, but all four gospels. Depending on how you sift through the evidence, the five loaves and two fish story is retold up to six times in the New Testament! It's no wonder the story is recounted by every gospel writer- there were a lot of witnesses to the event. Depending on which telling you focus on there were between 4,000-10,000 people present. If we were a collective Professor Holmes, this knowledge should make our head hurt. The more witnesses there are to an event, the more stories the budding detective is going to hear. This is both great and problematic. Gratefully there is no reason to sift through even 1,000 accounts of the five lives and two fish story. Time has don that job for us with the help of the Gospel writers. Today, we have no more than four to six accounts to look at. We will focus on the four Gospel accounts, and more specifically, what Matthew had to add to the story.
Now if we were to sit Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in separate interrogation rooms and grill them on the facts Matthew, Mark, and Luke would have very similar stories to tell. Maybe they were sharing facts before reaching police headquarters. After all, Mark was the closest to the event, maybe Luke and Matthew wanted to make sure they were telling the right things. But then, John just seems to be in left field and actually more protective than the other three. While the other three kinda just lay out the events and let the text speak for itself, John needs to add some reasoning behind the events. Like John believes part of asking the Disciples to feed the people was because Jesus wanted to test his followers. No such explanation is given by the other three. Now I am focusing too much on John, we want to focus on Matthew.
The thing about Matthew, if we were to enter into his interrogation room and set up a basic profile on him, we would notice his disregard for time. He probably wouldn’t wear a watch and he most definitely wouldn’t keep a calendar. He wouldn’t necessarily put events in chronological order for the sake of getting the story right. He would be more likely to pair events together out of order in order to compare or contrast a situation.
The clue that tips us off that Matthew wants us to compare the feeding of the 5,000 story to another lies in the first line of scripture from the text: “Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself.” Heard what? Jesus didn’t hear anything in the other three Gospels. Investigating, you back track and see Matthew had placed a story in an interesting place. The story in question, that wasn’t placed there by any of the other Gospel writers, was the beheading of John the Baptist.
If you are a little dusty on the story, let me help you out a little. Herod Jr., or as Matthew chooses to call him just plain Herod, was as dirty and low as his father was back when Jesus was a baby. See, little Herod wanted to marry his brother’s wife: Herodias (don’t get too caught up on the names, Herod Senior was extremely egotistical and enjoyed praising himself to a narcissistic level. Herodias was married to her Uncle whose name was also Herod, although Matthew calls him Philip.) Well, John the Baptist, who didn’t mince words told Junior he couldn’t marry his brother’s wife who was also his blood. That was wrong. And how did this tetrarch respond to John’s bluntness? He bound him and threw him in jail, of course. He would have killed him right away but was fearful of how the crowds would react. John was only kept alive for Herod’s self-preservation; that’s it. Well, some time goes by and little Herod turns a year older. In true family fashion Junior has a huge party to celebrate. At the party little Herod is drawn in by, of all people Salome. (Salome was Herodias’ daughter- or Herod Junior’s niece.) She is dancing real pretty for him and he is taken in by display. I don’t think I need to go into more detail than that. You must realize by now that Herod’s family is saucier than a FX show. Needless to say little Herod promises the girl anything and from the urging of her mother she asks for John the Baptist’s head on a platter.
What a terrible celebration; what a horrible meal! Who knows if Herodias was trying to set her brother in law/ uncle up to be overtaken by the crowds or just had a terrible thirst for bloodshed. Maybe both. Either way Matthew sits this selfish and self-centered story in contrast with our scripture for today. Why?
When you understand what a bad celebration looks like it can bring out the best of a good celebration. Now maybe Jesus was withdrawing to mourn the death of his cousin or maybe not. Either way, it wouldn’t be difficult to believe Jesus is dealing with a variety of issues, with one of them being the death of his cousin. A leader has to make sacrifices and become a servant for the people they are leading. In all four gospels Jesus is headed for a deserted place. Jesus always goes to a deserted place to reflect and renew. He obviously felt he needed the time. However, when he sees the crowds instead he changes his plan. He feels compassion. He takes the selfless route and begins saving the people. (Back at the 2011 General Assembly the group I was with went to church on Sunday to hear Fred Craddock. He shared that the Greek word for saved in the bible is the same as cure. So whether you believe he was curing or saving people- Jesus sacrificed what he wanted to give others what they needed.)
The more leadership you have the more accountable you are to others. Now in Herod’s celebration lust and selfishness led to the end of something. The Golden Goose was slaughtered. John the Baptist was executed. Herod was a leader for the sake of himself and no one else. His leadership style led to death. Jesus’s celebration was about loving and giving. Through his sacrifice, people were cured, saved, and fed. God’s love was expanded that day undoing Herod’s damage in killing a prophet.
The word Pastor means shepherd. As part of this fellowship I am not the only shepherd. We are all capable of standing up and becoming leaders in Christ's fellowship. Many of us had or have leadership roles. We just need to remember what it means to be a leader. Leadership is not about adulation and praise. It is not about always getting what you want. Leadership is about compassion and being with your flock. Leadership is about becoming a servant for the sake of those you serve. The miracle in today’s scripture happened because of the leadership style of Jesus. Hate won the battle at Herod’s birthday party but love won the war with Jesus’ bread and fish. We all have opportunities to lead. Lead with love and change the world for good.
WHAT DOES THE INTERNET WANT?
FAME & FORTUNE!
WHEN DOES THE INTERNET WANT IT?
Two weeks ago I discussed the parable of the the seed in the good soil. Matthew puts both the parable of the good soil and the mustard seed parable nearly next to one another, with only the parable of wheat separating them. I believe the two belong with one another, and the mustard seed can be understood in light of the good soil.
As it stands, there is little that can be done about the kingdom in Heaven. Our focus should be on the earthly kingdom. It is God's Kingdom on Earth we can work on. There are those who have tried to root that kingdom on the internet. The goal is for our small act will be like a mustard seed, and our actions will grow into a great shrub; a tree. The problem is the soil most of us dig ourselves into:
Some of us fall on the path: In other words, we start a blog or fix our church website because we see everyone else doing it. "Oh, he/she is doing it. I'm going to do it too." They fail almost immediately, because their purpose isn't God, but self. They don't want to put the time into it. They don't want to really work. People who try to plant the kingdom on the internet just to follow the crowd will fall the quickest.
Some of us fall on the rocky ground: These are the ones who come with an open spirit, but none of the follow through. Many of us who have been around awhile can name them. These are the ones who see the need and plant, but, for whatever reason, end up quitting after a few months. (Maybe even a year.) They can't dig in deep. I have seen churches who put all their eggs online. Six months later, their website looks the same. I have seen bloggers who jump into their new blogs and do a really good job keeping up with weekly or bi-weekly posts. Six months later the effort is gone and a subscriber would be lucky to see a post once a month.
Some of us fall among the thorns: These are the ones who lose their focus and are chocked by following plans that are not God's. Right when Fig Tree started up I kept seeing "last blogs." These were people who were hanging their metaphorical hat, and giving up. In every one I read the same thing: "What I wanted when I started, and what this has become are two different things." There are just those who get off purpose.
Some of us land in good soil: If you see a Christian on the internet who appears to be following God's call and producing good fruit, let them know. It takes a long time for that small mustard seed of a call to grow into a tree. They need the encouragement. They need to feel wanted. (Birds nest in its branches.) The Kingdom is unfulfilled until relationship happens.
Those of you who will read this, know me in varying degrees. You may know, I struggle with what to share here. It all goes back to a friend and colleague announcing the title: "Wounded Healer" at my ordination. Another colleague bluntly said afterwards, "I see you as a wounded healer, just don't bleed all over everyone." I have learned, over the last half decade, the second colleague was correct. No one wants to look on the woundedness of the person lost in the muck of life. Humanity has the natural inclination to compartmentalize pain and suffering. Especially spiritual and mental pain. We know how to set broken bones, fight cancer, take on disease. Mental and spiritual illness? Not so much. Well, it's time for me to get honest. Don't worry. I'm not here to gush out my wounds. I had to work through them on my own time, and they are properly healing at this point.
My family and my life is full of spiritual and mental illness. My family suffers from depression, bi-polar disorder, and alcoholism just to name some of the issues. I used to carry the mental and physical abuse I suffered like some badge of honor. I would take it out every Summer Camp, and today, feel sorry for the fellow campers and counselors who had to suffer through my suffering. No one wants to deal with a wounded person.
Conversely, everyone wants to celebrate a person who made it through their woundedness. They don't realize, like A Beautiful Mind, the wounded carry their scars for the rest of their life, keeping their demons in check. A wounded person spends the rest of their life healing. As a wounded person, we understand that we need to conform to fit in. We get it. You just don't realize we might be holding back.
What many of y'all might not realize about me, are the fears that rolled across my psyche three years ago after I was let go by a church with a newborn in my arms. Someone callously remarked, "You'll bounce back from this." I knew he wasn't saying anything to make me feel better. He was trying to make himself feel better. If he believed I would bounce back, than the church really didn't damage me. I knew otherwise. I also knew, there was no way he could have personally known whether I would 'bounce back.' Only God knew the answer to that question. At the beginnings of this new piece of my life, I feared my family history would sneak in. Certain familial relations never bounced back from their personal events, not really. I also realized, no one could really help me. They wanted to offer prayer, and a pat on the back, but aside from some very specific circumstances, they kept their distance. I felt like I had the pox and my misfortune was contagious. The thought kept running through my head: Remember this time. Remember how you feel. Others feel this way too. Take this as a learning experience.
Since that time, I have bounced back, no thanks to the above mentioned man. I have also learned I am not alone. It almost hurts more to know others have been spiritually hurt by the institution of church, than being hurt by it myself. As hurt as I was, I felt an enlightenment of sorts through the whole experience. I can be divorced from contracts, people and groups (as a side note, still happily married to my husband), but I am forever an adopted child of God. This adoption was first made clear to me as I rose up out of the baptismal waters at 8 years old. It was clarified through the recent fires of adversity. I can say now, God was always there and always will be there.
I say this, because real adversity leaves very specific roads one can travel.
Either one can buy into the physical world and the limitations it brings: I could have seen God's call to ministry in my life destroyed. I could have fallen into depression. I could have become complacent and gave up. I was socially awkward as a teen, as I was dealing with my brokenness in unhealthy ways. I could accept that people would forever see me as a broken teenager instead of a healing adult.
Instead, I immersed myself in the spiritual world and it's possibilities. I was a beloved child of God, accepted into the family through divine adoption. My potential is the potential God gives me, filled with possibility. I discovered, because of this path, I showed compassion over anger. Showing compassion over anger actually brought me closer to the physical world. I can, with the help of God, accept my call as a wounded healer.
Matthew 13:1-9,18-23 NRSV
1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. 2 Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3 And he told them many things in parables, saying: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6 But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9 Let anyone with ears listen!”
18 “Hear then the parable of the sower. 19 When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in the heart; this is what was sown on the path. 20 As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21 yet such a person has no root, but endures only for a while, and when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, that person immediately falls away. 22 As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the lure of wealth choke the word, and it yields nothing. 23 But as for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.”
When I was about six or seven years old, my dad bought a watermelon from the grocery store. This was a very seedy watermelon, and every bite had at least two or three little black seeds to spit out on my plate. Looking at the seeds, I asked him, “Can we plant the seeds and grow our own watermelon?” Now, my dad loved to allow us to experiment and just try things out. His eyes lit up as he responded, “I think that's a great idea! We can plant them where the trees used to be.”
When Dad purchased the house we were living in, we had two trees in the front yard. They both had become diseased and were cut down. The stumps were ground up and two mounds were left in their place. After we finished eating the watermelon, Dad took my sister and myself out front and we dug a whole on one of the mounds and buried the seeds. It only took a couple of days and a vine began to push through the ground. We were so excited. A few weeks prior I tried to hatch a grocery store egg. I had kept it in my room for about a week before my mom discovered it under my pillow. That's when Dad informed me grocery store eggs were sterile and would never hatch a baby chick. They carefully placed the egg in the trash. (No one wanted to know what an unrefrigerated, week old egg would smell like if it broke.) Part of me feared the watermelon seeds would be sterile too. I was overjoyed to discover they were not.
Every day I went out to look at the vine. Little yellow flowers began to bloom. I learned each bloom was where a future watermelon would be. There were about 7-8 blooms. When the blooms fell off, little bulbs took their place. Baby watermelons. Then one day, I went outside to discover the watermelon vine was gone and the lawn was newly mowed. Come to find out, the neighbor earned $10 and mowed everything, including our plant. Dad forgot to tell the kid not to mow the mounds. I was devastated.
Dad bought another watermelon and we tried again. Only, we were getting too close to the end of the watermelon season. Living in Kansas City, the summers are hot and the winters are cold. We only got cucumber sized watermelons before we had to give up. Dad, wanting to give us something, cut them up. Baby watermelons taste very similar to cucumber. In case you were wondering. Years later, we would be eating salsa and I would ask him if we could make our own salsa. We spent the summer growing tomatoes, peppers and onions. Then, after all that hard work of keeping the garden and pulling weeds, we made salsa and canned it. Best salsa ever. I just appreciate things better when it is made from scratch. I also have a new concept of what “scratch” means.
I share these stories because they gave me perspective on seeds. The parable of the sower and the seeds tells the story of one kind of seed in many different kinds of soils. It is the seed that falls in the good soil that yields a fruitful crop. The seed was simplified to make a point, “for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it, who indeed bears fruit and yields, in one case a hundredfold, in another sixty, and in another thirty.” The one who hears the word and understands it...
Jesus simplified the parable so we were all the same kind of seed, but in actuality we are different, and how we get to the good soil differs as well. Let me explain it using seeds. Besides being physically buried by an animal or human, there are other ways seeds find their fertile ground.
Some seeds are made to be carried. I remember when I lived on my grandmother's farm in Kansas, there were tons of burrs. They were nasty little seeds with little hooks all over it. If I spent an afternoon running around outside, I would come back in with tons of those little burrs attached to my socks and tennis shoes. These seeds find their fertile ground by being picked up by humans and animals. In the same way, some people find God by being physically taken there by someone else. I recall Elisha who found his call by being spiritually carried by Elijah.
Some seeds are designed to be eaten and digested in order to find it's fertile ground. Fruit seeds, like the watermelon I mentioned earlier, create sweet fruit so animals will eat it up and create natural fertilizer for where ever they deposit the seed later. You know, through the natural processes eaten food goes through. In the same way, some people need to go through trials and tribulations to find God. When they get through the other side they take the dung left over and fertilize it to make something fruitful grow. Fruit seeds reminds me of Jonah, who needed to ride out some time in the belly of a big fish to find where God wanted him to be.
Some seeds are meant to follow the wind. Have you ever seen maple tree seeds? They are sometimes called helicopter seeds because they have these wings that come off of it. They spin around while they drop to the ground, sometimes being caught by the wind and carried off. I also think of dandelions. When the flower dies it is replaced by those beautiful white puffs. I couldn't even tell you how many of those I blew all over my grandma's yard as a kid. More than I can count. Oh, those who can be carried by the spiritual winds. To completely trust in God's call as they let go and trust. They find fertile ground simply by letting go. I recall Jeremiah, a prophet in exile. He was blown from his land to a new place. His call was found in foreign soil.
The truth of the matter is, how we get to that fertile ground takes many different forms. Sometimes it happens more than once. There are many of us who are uprooted and find ourselves taking more than one route to fertile ground. This is part of the reason there are so many different kinds of worship services, ways to do missions, and types of ministers. Because we are not made the same, like some cookie-cutter replica, our leaders are not made the same either. This is part of the reason I think Jesus used parables to begin with. It was more than doing what the religious leaders had been doing for hundreds of years. It was about reaching the diversity that hadn't been reached before. Expanding the fertile ground, so to speak. To till the ground and prepare the land.
So what does that leave us with today? First, we need to fully rely on God. The first one is super difficult and requires a sermon of it's own, possibly it's own book. The point is, accepting the word and hearing it to produce a bountiful crop happens because of what the sower does, not the seed. Yes, the seed chooses to grow, but it's not the seed that finds the fertile ground. Which leads me to two. Because of the ever expanding digital culture, we are changing how we do things at an epic pace. There is an evolution, of sorts, and we need to be embrace the creatively called souls to figure out what fertile soil is in this new climate. Finally, and most importantly, we must not grow discouraged. I remember when we first planted the watermelon, and again when we planted the peppers, there is A LOT of waiting. First there is waiting for the seed to poke out through the ground. Then, there's waiting for it to grow, and grow, and grow and grow. Finally, there's waiting for the fruit to be big enough to pick. Lots and lots of waiting. We must not be discouraged when our efforts don't produce immediate results. We need to help others find the joy in waiting in a culture that receives everything immediately. There's plenty of meantime work to do: pulling weeds, keeping pests at bay, making sure the soil is watered properly. In short, keep the faith, and keep up the good work. If you get a little dirty, have patience, and trust God, you just might help harvest a fruitful crop.
The audio for this video is from The Bible Experience. It is a wonderful audio version of the NIV done by some Oscar winning actors. I fully endorse it. This is not an advertisement. I'm not getting paid a cent, and suggest you check it out.
This is one of those weeks where I am going to post twice. Once today, and once again on Sunday. Today, I just want to give a nugget of thought. I will go deep into scripture on Sunday.
I think there is this natural tendency in American Christianity to build metaphorical fences around what we consider "fertile ground". I get it. It's a defense mechanism. Good Christians get the warnings: Don't go past the road blocks. Don't go beyond the fence. Stay in the pen. We are scared out of doing anything else.
Problem: Jesus asked us to enter the dangerous areas. Jesus asked us to eat with the sinners, joke around with the prostitutes and tax collectors. We might think we have the "fertile ground," but once we accept the call, it's part of our Christian duty to gather up the grain in the shallows, the rock, and the thorns. It's not good enough to get cozy in our little patch of green grass. It's not about protecting us; it's about saving them.
Numbers 20:8-12 CEB
8 “You and Aaron your brother, take the staff and assemble the community. In their presence, tell the rock to provide water. You will produce water from the rock for them and allow the community and their animals to drink.”
9 Moses took the staff from the Lord’s presence, as the Lord had commanded him. 10 Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly before the rock. He said to them, “Listen, you rebels! Should we produce water from the rock for you?” 11 Then Moses raised his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice. Out flooded water so that the community and their animals could drink.
12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you didn’t trust me to show my holiness before the Israelites, you will not bring this assembly into the land that I am giving them.”
Have you ever felt the gentle tap of God, wanting you to do something specific? I did. I had this 'ah ha' moment in the car, about two weeks ago. Then I let it go. Well, wouldn't you know, last Sunday that tap turned into a push, and I find myself writing about what I should have written about last week. What is this thought that has turned me to the keyboard? "Moses could not bring the people into the promise land." Beyond the punishment piece, I find the thought to be a statement of the purpose and breadth of legacy.
Moses has a legacy. Moses brought the Israelites out of slavery. God, working through Moses, crafted the 10 commandments for the people. This was a great man. A great leader. Why was his punishment not being allowed beyond the wilderness? I believe the answer lies in the truth of what legacy is.
Legacies are created in a world of specifics. The right person has to come in the right time and place. For example, if you took Schindler out of Nazi occupied land, you have a man who possibly wanted to make a difference, but was too far away to do anything about. You take Schindler out of the WWII period, you just have a drunk with bad finances. Schindler's legacy, the one where he saved the lives of many Jews, required him to be in the right time and place. Without all three (the person, place and time) all coming together, the legacy, or more specifically, the lives that remain following Schindler's sacrifices, do not exist.
Moses was called to the Wilderness following the exodus of the Israelites. That was his time and place. He would have probably been a terrible leader for the Promised Land. Think about it. This was a prince of Egypt! An Egyptian prince would have been terrible once the Israelites were learning how to move from nomads to a civilization. (However, the wilderness was more about unlearning all the bad habits of Egypt. Moses being a nomad for a few years, made him perfect for the wilderness.) See what I mean?
The interesting piece to all this is, our legacy happens when it is our turn to get off the road. The Promised Land is Moses' legacy. He's not there, but everyone knows he played a major role in making it to their destination. It is very possible Moses could have destroyed all the the hard work of the Wilderness if he had the opportunity to stick around. One of the most difficult jobs of leadership is knowing when it is time to let go and move on. One of the most difficult jobs a group has, is knowing when it is time for a new leader.
When the leader or the group doesn't know when to let go, tradition becomes the villain. It can come in to quash legacy and the potential it has. Perhaps this sounds familiar:
"[Insert minister's name here] did such a wonderful job when they served here. He/She could fix our problem now."
"I remember how [former minister] did it. We should do it that way."
"[Former minister] will always be my minister. He/She was there for [a specific event from the past]. I wish we could go back to that time."
Trying to take a Moses into the Promised Land is not only unfair to the potential God has for a people moving forward, it's unfair to the metaphorical Moses. Instead of being the minister who led some very fruitful years at a church, that particular person could very potentially be the minister who led the church into death. Even if the place is right, the wrong time makes the whole thing wrong.
I also wish to add, yes, there are ego driven reasons why Moses was denied access. It appears he would have had issues giving up power, which is probably one of the big reasons why the punishment was directed the way it was. Once again, I felt a call to write this out. You can decide for yourself if this message was meant for you. If it is for you, I hope I'm not a week too late.