May 3, 2020
Acts 2: 42-47
John 10: 1-10
The first lesson is from Acts 2 and it depicts the early Christian church and how they operated. One notes the worship, the breaking of bread, the devotion to the apostles’ teachings and the fellowship and the charity. This is a very clear picture of what they did and it was certainly counter-culture in their time.
This passage presents a summary filled with generalizations, yet several details prove instructive. The community of faith in Jerusalem lived a multifaceted witness, one not restricted to a single place or mode. This witness manifests itself in houses and in the Jerusalem temple. It benefits its members and earns the admiration of outsiders. The community exists not for its own sake, but to care for its most vulnerable members and to be a means by which God extends salvation to others.
This passage from Acts does not celebrate community or the church for its own sake. The community of faith exists as an extension of Jesus' commitment to bring salvation to the world and in light of the gospel, the extension of Jesus as the good shepherd who is in relationship with his sheep.
To some degree this reminds me of my experience during my sabbatical in Tanzania in 2004. A couple of years earlier I had established a relationship with Pastor Frank Mosha and when the opportunity for my sabbatical came, I arranged a 7-week trip to Northern Tanzania, staying and pastoring at Naibili Lutheran Church in the village of Makiwaru. Makiwaru was located about halfway between the cities of Moshi and Arusha. One of the things I discovered was that The Evangelical Lutheran Church in Tanzania (ELCT), in the Northern Diocese was a church that existed to bring salvation to the world through their commitment to Jesus. They did this in several ways but mostly it was in ministry to their community.
Naibili Lutheran Church parish had all kinds of ministries in their neighbourhoods that were of benefit to people in the area. They ran orphanages, schools, Bible studies, worship, women’s group, to name just a few.
Naibili Lutheran engaged in partnerships with Lutherans around the world and with Non-governmental agencies (NGOs for short).
Their ministry drew the admiration of people around the neighbourhood and the country.
The people in the congregation and in the diocese were always asking the question, “What ministry are we doing and what can we do, in our neighbourhood and community?”
And they were doing all of this in an uncertain world
Their world was uncertain because of poverty, disease, lack of food, lack of a social safety net, lack of sanitation, lack of adequate health care, to name just a few factors. As if that wasn’t’ enough!
In the midst of their uncertain world, these people clung to Jesus.
I vividly remember a conversation I had with Jeremiah Mtui who owned the guest house where I was staying, in the village of Makiwaru. One night after dinner I asked Jeremiah why he was Christian and why he and others in Naibili parish and in the village, had such a strong and abiding faith. His response was simple: “Because Jesus cares.”
Jeremiah went on to list all the ways in which the people of that village and in his country, were forgotten people. The government had forgotten them and did not care about them; the international community so far as he could tell, had forgotten them or did not care about them.
But, Jesus cared; Jesus did not forget them. the evidence for this came through the ministry of the church from Europe and North American, as well as NGOs. Anything that happened which was good, like the fresh water well system and taps in their community, all came about through the Christian church in Europe or North American, or NGOs. When they saw all these wonderful gifts, it said to them that Jesus cared and had not forgotten them.
Of course, they felt they had to respond as Christians and as a Christian community. The response was ministry. So, by doing ministry in the community, not just within the 4 walls of their church building, they were proclaiming to others, that Jesus cared and had not forgotten the vulnerable and those in need.
We can see this in today’s gospel reading from John 10. According to Pastor David Lose in his blog, “In the Meantime” (in italics):
“Jesus is the one who offers life and seeks the good of his sheep. That will be expanded in the verses that follow, as Jesus contrasts his willingness to lay his life down for the sheep with that of the hired hand who runs from danger. Again, this feels like a lot of explaining to get across a relatively simple point. So why all the words? I think it has a lot to do with the particular and difficult circumstances of John’s community. In the chapter before, Jesus told the story of the man born blind and the threat that those who confess Jesus as Messiah will be expelled from the synagogue (9:22, 35). A number of scholars have suggested that this chapter is a narrative retelling of what actually happened to John’s congregation (see, in particular, Raymond Brown’s Community of the Beloved Disciple). That sense of being displaced, uprooted, adrift in a threatening world, may help explain why Jesus is at such pains to promise that he is the good shepherd, that he will provide protection and sustenance, that he will lay down his life for his charges. They need to hear, in short, that they have not believed and suffered in vain, and that they will not just get through these difficulties but experience life and joy to the fullest. That’s Jesus’ promise to his disciples then and now. Because in addition to the constant assurance that Jesus is the good shepherd and gate, Jesus also repeats regularly his confidence that the sheep will not follow anyone but their shepherd. The sheep know the shepherd’s voice. The sheep will not listen to thieves and bandits and will run from strangers.
This is Jesus’ version, of “You’ve got this,” rooted in the prior, crucial affirmation, “I’ve got you.” And it feels like an important word, as Jesus makes a promise both about what he is doing for us – protecting, providing, caring, sacrificing, and giving life – and also a promise about how we’ll respond – trusting, listening, embracing, thriving. It came as good news to a community adrift, afraid, and unsure about the future in the first century… (http://www.davidlose.net/2020/04/easter-4-a-the-other-half-of-the-promise/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+davidlose%2FIsqE+%28...In+the+Meantime%29
This is Jesus’ promise to the early Christian church, his promise to Naibili Lutheran parish of Northern Tanzania and this is Jesus’ promise to US. How does this promise get lived out? What does this mean for us?
LOTS. So much has changed around us during these times of Covid-19. The changes are encompassed in things known and unknown, things discovered and undiscovered. We all talk about the changes perceived and we also talk about “the New Normal.” That is now, but what about POST-PANDEMIC?
Post pandemic I think things are either going to continue to change or some of the changes we have experienced, will remain. I have begun to talk about some of these perceptions and you can get a glimpse of that in our May Epistle, our May newsletter where I talk about the possibilities, the potential challenges and opportunities. I will not rehash that article; you can read it on our website: https://www.stpaulslutheranchurchmapleridge.org/.
When you go to our website, you will see the Menu bar. On the Menu bar click on “About Us,” and then scroll down to Newsletters.
The musings in my newsletter article are not prescriptive, but descriptive; it is meant to open up the conversation of what we may look like and what we may do as a church going into the future. Of course, going into the future, there are going to be things known and unknown, things discovered and undiscovered and some kind of “New Normal.”
As we forge ahead, as God’s people representing the reign of Christ in our time and our place, we need to be mindful of the experience of the early Christian church and the experiences of other Christian communities such as Naibili Lutheran parish of Tanzania.
The ministries of those faith communities were inside AND outside, benefiting each other AND the neighbourhood. Their ministries were conducted in times of uncertainty and stress. BUT, their ministries were conducted with the promise of Jesus which was so eloquently described by Pastor David Lose, “You’ve got this BECAUSE I’ve got you.”
Because of what Jesus is doing for us – protecting, providing, caring, sacrificing, and giving life – there is also the promise about how we’ll respond – trusting, listening, embracing and thriving and I would add, benefiting our community.
Thanks be to God. Amen.
April 26, 2020
Luke 24: 13-35
Today in the gospel reading from Luke, we have the story of two of the disciples of Jesus who are struggling because their world is in disarray and turned upside down.
These disciples were two of many that had been following Jesus and they were very excited; it was a wonderful ministry in which they were participating. Further, they were convinced that not only was Jesus a mighty prophet but they were also convinced that he would rise to power and redeem Israel. They figured that Jesus would rule over Israel and would free them from their oppressors of the time, the Romans.
In the midst of all this optimism, something very confounding happened: Jesus was arrested and crucified. He was buried, but on the third day, his tomb was empty and the body was missing. On top of all that, the women from their group who discovered the empty tomb came back with the message that Jesus had risen from the grave and that he was no longer dead, but alive.
Their world has been turned upside down and they didn’t know what to make of all this.
Of course, one of the surprising things about this gospel passage is the fact that the two disciples are walking and talking and voicing their confusion to Jesus himself. Jesus is walking along with them and they do not recognize him.
Jesus can see that the disciples are unable to process this upside-down world of theirs, so he tries to help them make some sense.
Jesus says to them,
"’Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Jesus in effect, runs through all the stories in the Bible that applied to him. He recites the stories of Moses and the prophets, stories that declared how God was active in history and how God WOULD be active in history, bringing about redemption and salvation. God would accomplish all of these things through the Messiah, the deliverer that God would send.
Of course, according to Jesus, the important element in all of this is the fact that the Messiah would suffer and die because that was the way that the glory of God would become evident to all.
But while Jesus tries to speak to their upside-down world, those 2 disciples were unable to deal with it and cope. Until….. they confronted a loaf of bread.
As they shared a meal with Jesus, as Jesus broke the loaf of bread in two and blessed it, they recognized him. They see THIS.
They see Jesus break the bread the way he had in the past and when they see THIS, they understand that this it is Jesus before them.
How many times had they fellowshipped with Jesus? How many times had they seen him break bread? Something tipped them off that this was Jesus at the table. I doubt that what they saw was part of a normal dinner practice which they recognized. After all, how many different ways can you pass a dinner roll?
It must have been something very distinctive, something that was closely connected to the character and ministry of Jesus. And with that witness to the breaking of the bread, their crisis and grief dissipated. They began to reflect on the walk to Emmaus and they noted the burning fire in their hearts. The conversations and the teachings began to hit home, all of that formed additional recognition, but it was the breaking of the bread that was the spark.
Perhaps their world wasn’t quite so topsy-turvy. Maybe they were able to re-orient, sort of get their compasses back. Maybe that upside-down world did not look so fearsome. They recognized Jesus, they saw God in action in their midst.
With that, they ran to tell their fellow disciples they had seen Jesus in the breaking of bread. All this happened to them in the breaking of the bread. A loaf of bread became a very powerful image.
This past week as I was reflecting upon the power of this loaf of bread to open their eyes to Jesus, to expose their hearts and minds to God’s movement in their midst, I encountered a powerful story.
On Monday afternoon I was driving home from my walk on the dikes and I was listening to the radio, AM 1410, The Bloomberg Business Network. Surprise, I was not listening to sports-talk radio and for once, I am glad I didn’t. Fortunately, I got to listen to an interview and the subject was a man by the name of Jose Andres. You may not recognize the name, but he is a fascinating individual with an amazing story.
"When José Andrés first came to New York City, the wide-eyed sailor in the Spanish navy docked on West 30th Street full of ambition. Decades later, the award-winning chef has an empire of 27 upscale restaurants employing 1,600 people which include The Bazaar, Jaleo and the two Michelin-starred Somni. Last year Andres opened up a new venture, a food hall in New York that is absolutely huge and incorporated some novel ways of serving a variety of foods. It was apparently a ground-breaking and imaginative experiment. That food hall, located on the very street where Jose Andres disembarked as an immigrant decades before, is now closed to regular restaurant traffic. BUT that restaurant will serve 40,000 meals this very week across New York City where he built his dreams, and which is now the U.S. epicenter of the coronavirus. When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Andrés was among the first restauranteurs to close his restaurants, hoping to create a blueprint for chefs around the world on how to use their restaurants and employ workers while feeding the hungry. One of the reasons that Jose Andres has mobilized in this way is because he has tremendous experience feeding people in times of crisis. Andres founded World Central Kitchen in 2010; it has served over 15 million meals worldwide after hurricanes, wildfires and other disasters. Since the pandemic, his organization has served more than 750,000 meals from Miami and Los Angeles to Little Rock, Arkansas, and Fairfax, Virginia. It works out of places like libraries, food trucks and shuttered restaurants, feeding medical staff and care-workers in 125 hospitals, students in school lunch programs, the poor, the working-poor, the homeless and even quarantined cruise ship passengers. On top of that, Andrés has amassed an A-list network around the world, relying on celebrity chef pals including Rachael Ray, Guy Fieri and Marcus Samuelsson to feed the hungry and buoy the humble restaurant kitchens across America where many started their careers.
In New York City, he set up a cafe to serve the Mount Sinai field hospital in Central Park. In Harlem, he's using Chopped TV judge Samuelsson's Red Rooster restaurant to feed families.
Samuelsson's Miami restaurant hasn't opened to the public yet, but instead of leaving it empty, he turned it over to World Central Kitchen. They are serving sandwiches and salads there to laid-off hospitality workers, homeless residents and Uber drivers. The World Central Kitchen has, in the past month, helped make and serve more than 2 million free meals in at least 100 American cities. These meals are free thanks to donations received by World Central Kitchen.
(story [in italics] were taken from the following website and links: CBC News.ca, found at
https://www.cbc.ca/news/entertainment/celebrity-chefs-charity-coronavirus-1.5527444 as well as CBS News.com, found at
Towards the end of the interview on the radio, I heard Jose Andres talk about two things that have spoken to him throughout the years, especially since he founded the World Central Kitchen. Those two things are: LOVE and THE POWER OF FOOD. Motivated by his acceptance in a new country, motivated by his love for people, Chef Jose Andres has experienced the power of food. Food, he recognized, has the power to bring people together, it has the power to heal, it has the power to give hope, it has the power to create community and it has the power to inspire others to do more. LOVE and THE POWER OF FOOD. LOVE and THE POWER OF FOOD, bringing people together, healing, giving hope, building community and inspiring others to do more. I think that when Jesus broke the bread in front of the disciples, the combination of his love for them and the power of that food, united them, healed them, gave them hope, renewed their sense of community and inspired them. The 2 disciples ran to tell their comrades and then this story began to take on life in the early Christian church. The early Christians recognized the powerful love of Jesus and the power of food, so they kept a meal, a simple meal of bread and wine, because it helped them see Jesus and it united them, healed them, gave them hope, provided community and inspired them. LOVE and THE POWER OF FOOD. Have we seen the power of love and the power of food in OUR midst? Think of what we do as a congregation: Street Ministry, Glenwood Elementary lunch program, Saturday night community meal and Seniors’ Cafe.
Oh yes, we shouldn’t forget Oktoberfest, Shrove Tuesday and potluck meals. It is in those places that we see the power of love and the power of food. As we serve others, as we serve each other, we can see what God through Jesus is up to in this world, we can stay in touch with God. As we serve others, as we serve each other, we are united, because we see the healing power of food, we see how it gives comfort and hope and community and as we serve, we are inspired. LOVE and THE POWER OF FOOD.
The gospel also makes me think of the meal that we share on Sunday mornings: Holy Communion. Sadly, since our church has been closed during the pandemic, we have not been able to share that meal with each other. I miss that meal because it communicates the powerful love of God through the power of the food, the meal we serve. When we celebrate the meal of Holy Communion, we are reminded that Jesus is alive, that he has risen from the grave, that forgiveness of sins and eternal life are won by him and that he is active in our lives and in this world. Holy Communion unites, heals, provides hope and community; it also inspires. We are reminded that the power of that love and food propels us out into the world, to share the grace, love and mercy of Christ, so that others can experience the love of God seen in Jesus. Someday, we will celebrate that meal again, something to which we look forward. Regardless, no matter what our circumstances may be, no matter the circumstances of others, no matter that this world might seem to be upside down, God through Jesus still speaks.
God through Jesus speaks of the power of love and the power of food. Thanks be to God. Amen.