Pastoral Ponderings . . .

I was taught in Sunday School (like many of us Lutherans) that the wonderful story of Jesus feeding 5,000 with two fish and five loaves of bread is a storyabout how Jesus was able to do many miraclesto show that he was the Son of God, and so that’s why we go to church to worship him and pray for Jesus to work miraclesin our lives, and in the world too.

I believe miracles do happen.Maybe you’ve got a story you could share?But I’ve met far more people in my ministry who’ve got the stories about how their prayers werenot answered and the disappointment, disillusionment, even anger with the Church because of it.My sense is that this is more often the shared experience of the 21st century where miracles and supernatural thinking are more and more in the rear-view mirror.And it seems to me that the more the Church tries to convince disillusioned folks otherwise, the farther they’re driven from it.

I want to thank you for your prayers for my sister who is experiencing the ravages of Stage 4 lung cancer.Because of the gift of my sabbatical in July I was able to spend a week with her.  I am so very grateful for your generosity.My sister and I have prayed for a miracle even as we watch her condition worsen.Her doctors recommend only comfort care now.

My sister often reminds me today that “doctors don’t know everything.”  Every doctor or medical professional I’ve ever met would agree with her.But in many ways, medicine has learned a lot since the discovery of bacteria, and viral transmission.The recommendations we follow today are based on almost 150 years of research and human experience.

But in terms of not knowing, what science doesn’t know remains front and center in science itself.Doubt fuels modern research and new discoveries.It’s true that doctors don’t know everything. We believe only God knows everything. But it’s also true that for my sister and methis has never happened to either of us before.She and I don’t know what the road-map is for this so we need help.  We look for guidance.  We go to modern medicine for that.

We have a number of people that we pray for regularly every Sunday at Mount Tabor. Some in our congregation even have stories about how people they love, whom we’ve prayed for, have beaten the odds.   For some reason their loved one has responded to experimental treatment where others havenot.

We may hope that it’s partly because we’ve prayed for them.I think that it’s just as likely their response occurred because the unique blueprint for their loved one’s body (their genome)                                  happily conforms perfectly to theirexperimental treatment.There’s so much that science doesn’t know.And some of my wisest research friendslike to say,“We don’t even know, what we don’t know!”

So back to the miracle stories of Jesus. On the one hand we can hear that God in Christ Jesus does miracles.But another takeaway I want to suggest to you is this: a little was enough.

A little was enough for God in Christ to do great things.

How many Bible stories can you think of, that illustrate that?  How about: the parable of the mustard seed; the baby in a manger, born to a teen mother and a carpenter; the widow’s little jar of oil and ground meal given to Elijah the prophet and never runs out again; twelve disciples, down to just 11 for awhile, and zero at his crucifixion.Many stories that seem to say “a little is enough.”

But it seems to me that we humans don’t aspire to just a little especially when life is so super-sized by our cultural icons and their possessions.A little isn’t enough anymore, it seems.

I think churches todayare getting caught up in that fear too.A little definitely isn’t enough.  We need more people, in order to be relevant.The structures, constitutions and by-laws we’ve inherited demand it.Churches like ours, aresaying,“We’re getting smaller every year!  We need more, to be church together.”But the good news I hearin the five loaves and two fish story, is that indeed a little is enough. In God’s hands, a little is enough.

Matthew’s backstory for feeding the 5,000 today is this:Jesus has just heard his cousin John was killed by Herod at Salome’s request. He was in deep sadness and he wanted time alone in the wilderness.John had so many friends and followers, and he loved his cousin Jesus.I think they must have been praying for his release.Maybe Jesus too?

But John was killed.Were Jesus’ hopes crushed as well?  So Jesus and his friends were going to the wilderness.

And who was waiting there for him?A multitude of people heard where he was going and they had taken nothing with them.  No food, nothing.Just their loved ones who were sick.With compassion for them, Matthew says,Jesus met withthem all and cured the sick.All day.And the multitude of 5,000 were unprepared, and hungry.“What should we do?” say the disciples. Send them away?  How can this be our problem??”Without judgment, Jesus again chooses compassion.His disciples argue, “But we don’t have enough! There aren’t even enough of us to make a dent.”

“Bring what little you have to me,”Jesus says.And a little was enough, in his hands.

In my experience, our little congregation has always found a way to be on the margins. Maybe that’s what keeps us little among Lutherans!We are advocates for those whom Jesus loves at the margins:                                                                                              

Advocating for the ordination and leadership of female clergy.

Advocating for the full partnership and ordained leadership of our LGBTQ siblings.

Advocating for Marriage Equality.

Advocating for alternative clean energy solutions.

Advocating for our Great Salt Lake, with our water stewardship.

Advocating for policy change in the State legislature.

Advocating for women’s reproductive rights in the Utah Supreme Court.

Advocating for the human rights of all immigrants, refugees, and asylum-seekers.

Advocating for unsheltered families and individuals.

Advocating for the food insecure, and the hungry.

My sense is that our advocacy is what has always positioned our ELCAfaith community on the margins.It tells me we feel called to make a difference in the lives of thoseforced to the margins of our society by bigotry, prejudice, greed, and selfishness.

Being on the margins isn’t a popular place to be, is it?It’s a disturbing place to be. An unsettling place.But I think it’s a place Jesus constantly put himself.  I think maybe being on the margins is what keeps us so small here on the corner of this incredibly wealthy, increasingly popular city.

I think it’s our shared passion for Jesus mission on the marginsthat keeps us coming back here to this little congregation, finding like-minded followers of Jesus here who bringvision and energy for Jesus’ mission with them. Folks I believe, who have stories too about what amazing things can happen when even just a littlegets put into Jesus’ hands.             – Pastor David