Relating, Creating, Transforming

Posts tagged ‘feeding’

Bread of Love

John 6:24-35

breadLOVEPreviously, in this chapter of John’s story, something like 5000 people were fed when there seemed to be a scarcity of food. A handful of loaves and fishes proved to be enough to feed everyone. After the event, Jesus and his disciples took a boat over to Capernaum, on the other side of the Sea of Galilee. And this is where we pick up in the story. The crowds of people who were fed followed them to Capernaum. And then when they found Jesus, they asked him:

Teacher, when did you come here?

Notice that they say teacher and not prophet or lord. Seems like after they ate their fill, they forgot that earlier they called Jesus prophet.

This is not lost on Jesus. He knows that the right question to ask isn’t when he arrived in Capernaum. The right question to ask is why are these people still looking for him? The answer to that question was pretty simple: the people were looking for Jesus because they ran out of food.

They were hungry.


The “signs” they had seen during the great feeding has faded away into a distant memory. The crowds no longer saw signs, which I will define as “aha moments” or “time to stop and pay attention,” but instead they heard only their growling stomachs.

That is why the seemingly amazing event of the feeding of the 5000 was now a mere afterthought. So Jesus contrasts the food that perishes with the food that lasts. Of course, the food that perishes was and is the actual food they ate. The bread and the fish was great while it lasted, but once it ran out—everyone got hungry again. This is just true. If you’ve ever eaten a great meal–one that you thoroughly enjoyed—in spite of its greatness, that meal will eventually fade away. Your stomach will process the food. Chemicals and acids will break it down. And then, it will be released from your body. It’s temporary.

But not the food that lasts, according to Jesus. So what is this food? Is it some kind of magical energy bar that your body cannot break down, constantly providing nutrients, vitamins, and sustenance? Is it the miracle bar we’ve all been waiting for?

ML_MiracleReds_Berri_BARNo, it’s not. Jesus isn’t talking about food. He’s talking about presence.

At other times in John’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the vine and the people the branches.
Abide in me, just as I abide in the vinegrower.

Once again, this Gospel is reiterating that Jesus’ presence [called logos in chapter one] is a divine presence that doesn’t go away—one not limited to ritual, religion, or social construct. The divine presence is constantly fulfilling.

But the people in the crowds want more nutritional information. Like how many carbs? And what kinds of religious things must they do to perform works of God? Rather than embracing the divine presence as something that just is, they still want to figure it out and to limit it to certain rituals or moral standards.

Jesus, talking on another level, tells them:
This is the work of God, that you trust in the one whom God has sent.

Now I changed the wording for a reason. I’ve mentioned before that “believing” things about Jesus is not really what John’s Gospel focuses on. It’s a language issue. In Greek, this text should be translated: faith into the one sent. But faith is not a verb in English. So many translators unfortunately change faith to believe.

What the original language says is that the people are to orient themselves towards the divine presence, and to trust in it. So this is not a passage appropriate for any bully pulpit, to claim that people need to believe this or that about Jesus.

This is about trust and re-orientation.

But the crowds still aren’t convinced. In order for them to “trust” and “reorient” themselves, they will need some proof. So they ask for signs, which to them are miracles. They cite Moses, of course. Bread from heaven [manna] came down and the Israelites ate. So, Jesus, what ya got, huh? You better than Moses?

But Jesus is ready for their superficial request. He tells them that manna from heaven didn’t come from Moses, but from the Creator. Likewise, the true bread from heaven comes from the Creator. And this true bread gives life to the world.

The crowds finally seem to understand and so they respond much like the Samaritan woman at the well, who when told about living water, said to Jesus: Lord, give me this water always. In this case, the crowds say: Lord, give us this bread always. All of a sudden, Jesus is no longer just a teacher, but now a lord.

I think that the more we honestly examine John’s Gospel, the more we find out how just how much of our thinking about G-d [theology] and Jesus [Christology] is based on “going backwards.” What I mean by that is the fact that most of us are taught some interpretation or theological view as kids or youth in a church or at home, and we start there. Eventually, we may make it to the scripture itself, but by that time, we are already reading the scripture with a set perspective and interpretation. Rarely do we read a scripture story coldly without some agenda or bias leading. That’s why I argue that it is important and worthwhile to reread scripture stories that you think you know so well.

Because a typical interpretation of all this is that Jesus is the bread of life, and so it follow that those who “believe” in Jesus are fed and those who don’t go hungry. Also, this story is often a basis for the institution of the Lord’s Supper/Eucharist/Communion, which uses the symbol of bread to represent Jesus’ body.

But John’s Gospel isn’t establishing any institution of this sort. Instead of the so-called “last supper” that the other three Gospels include, John includes the foot washing story.

What if we read this story without thinking about Communion or some church sacrament? What if the story is about presence and trust and moving past the superficial? What if the story is about bringing people together—those who are hungry for something more than they see in the world and in society, people who crave much more than conventions or the status quo?

What if this story is about the Creator raining down this lasting bread of presence on all people out of love, with the desired result of it being an awakening and re-orienting of life?

It can be easy to react like the crowds and to view Jesus as some kind of delicious, glutinous bread that we crave, only to fill our stomachs for a short while. It’s easier to make a list of things we need to do in order to perform the works of G-d or to profess certain beliefs that we think punch our ticket to salvation.

It’s a challenge to seek more than just sandwich bread and black-and-white theology. Instead, it’s a wonder and sign, I think, when people at odds come together out of passion for a cause; when warring factions make peace because they love their future generations more than their anger; when someone chooses to make unpopular decisions because she feels it’s right; when people don’t just buy into the easy, conventional way of life, because they seek something deeper and more inclusive; when the symbol of bread becomes more than just a ritualistic item in worship or a temporary fix for hunger; when bread truly becomes life, and love, and humanity, and cooperation, and connection, and the divine presence.

Like the Samaritan woman at the well and the people in Capernaum, we are meant to wake up and re-orient ourselves. We are meant to go after more than just the quick fix or easy out. So may we listen more to our beautiful minds and hearts. May we feed them with love, compassion, and community.

May we not try to fill ourselves with the superficial and the easy, cookie-cutter answers.

May we be awakened by life, filled with it, and therefore full of life in this way.


Signs in All of Life

John 6:1-21

signsThere is a good quote from the movie Signs, written and directed by M. Night Shyamalan. This is said during a scene in which a Pennsylvania family has just learned that creatures from another planet have started descending on earth. Their spaceships light up the sky all over the world. The father in the family, speaking to his brother, says:

People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance.

I’m sure the people in group number two are looking at those fourteen lights in a very suspicious way. For them, the situation is a fifty-fifty. Could be bad, could be good. But deep down, they feel that whatever happens, they’re on their own. And that fills them with fear. Yeah, there are those people. But there’s a whole lot of people in group number one. When they see those fourteen lights, they’re looking at a miracle. And deep down, they feel that whatever’s going to happen, there will be someone there to help them. And that fills them with hope. See what you have to ask yourself is what kind of person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, that sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible that there are no coincidences?

signs2Do you believe in signs?

Or is life just a day-to-day routine of cause and effect?

I’m not arguing for or against either view; I think both are needed in the world, for sure. But I will say that in my experience, there have been signs that I felt I was supposed to notice. Sometimes it was as simple as an unexpected phone call; or a text; or an email. Other times it was a subtle change in a friend’s or family member’s behavior. A couple of times, it was a sign that seemed to scream out:


I’m always curious as I walk through this life to see how much people pay attention to stoplights and traffic signs and other signs that they obediently follow. Think about how much we pay attention to those types of signs.

And then think about how little we may pay attention to the other types of signs, like the signs that whisper to us:

Slow down.


You know that this relationship is unhealthy. Time to change.


Is this life of routine really living?


You’re not ugly, you’re beautiful. You’re not stupid, you’re wise.


I think that person needs my help.

This story in the Gospel of John is a sign story.

In this Gospel, scholars identify seven signs before Jesus dies. Seven, of course, is a number with significance. It is about wholeness, and so, it would follow that the seven signs of Jesus are meant by John to give the reader a “whole” picture of Jesus. The feeding of the 5000 happens to be the fourth sign.

Now any “sign” or “miracle” story always depends on the reader to make up his/her mind about how to interpret the story. Is the feeding of 5000 a literal miracle that actually happened, or is it merely a symbolic story to illustrate something else? Like always, you get to choose which type of reader you will be.

I will say, however, that there may be another way to read these stories. Rather than taking the hard right [literal] or the hard left [symbolic], what if we consider the writer’s perspective? Why did this person write this story, and what were signs in the author’s perspective?

So let’s give it a try.

John’s Gospel is trying to prove a point. More than any of the other Gospels, John is trying to say to its audience that Jesus was with God from the very beginning of time and therefore was God from the very beginning, as opposed to becoming divine at his resurrection. This is key for John’s Gospel.

But in order to prove that, John has work to do.

You see, the audience reading this Gospel would have been a mix of Greeks and Jews and Hellenistic Jews, etc. So many of them were well aware of the great religious prophets of old.

Moses? Yeah, pretty miraculous. Um, he talked to a burning bush that was G-D!!!!
And…the parting of the red sea? Come on….and there’s much more with Moses.
Man, maybe we should make a movie about that. Or two, or three, or a hundred….

mosescoolSo John’s Gospel wants to prove that Jesus was a great prophet like Moses, and even better. So the signs keep coming in the Gospel. And Jesus goes up on mountaintops just like Moses, but Jesus doesn’t need to wear a veil to hide his face from God like Moses did. Jesus doesn’t have to remove his sandals to talk with God.

And then there’s the prophet Elisha.

elishaIn 2 Kings 4 of the Hebrew Scriptures, Elisha performs a miracle! He feeds 100 people with only twenty barley loaves of bread. Wow! Elisha rocks!

So John has Jesus feed 5000 with some little kid’s loaves and fishes.


And it all adds up when you see the crowds say after the meal:
This is indeed the prophet who has come into the world!

I think listening to John’s perspective about signs and miracles can help us find some meaning in this story, because to be frank, a literal reading doesn’t work for me and here’s why.

5000 people are fed, and Jesus is portrayed in John’s Gospel as the bread of life, and that people will never go hungry. But hello? If Jesus were some magical Harry Potter prophet who could multiply food in the blink of an eye, why not do it for all the poor people? Jesus talked about the poor and cared for them deeply. If he really was so magical, why not feed everybody? Same goes for today. Not everyone in the world is fed. People are hungry–starving even. Some don’t have access to drinking water. Where’s God and Jesus in all of that?

But I also think that trying to explain away the miracle of the 5000 doesn’t so the story either. Often people react to literal readings of the Bible and go in the other direction. They try to explain every sign and miracle. So in this case, when the boy offered to share his food, then everyone else in the crowds realized that they also had a little bit, and if they pooled their food together, everyone could eat. I am not sure about that. Sounds like the children’s story Stone Soup to me.

So let’s return to the author of John. What was he thinking?

Well, I’m guessing, but the number 5000 is a bit arbitrary and not tied to any important numerology. 5000 is a significant number, though, and as the story states, a number like 5000 would mean that many people are now following Jesus. A crowd that size just might equal the size of a Roman legion. And that’s John for sure, because this Gospel is keen on that contrast between Jesus’ band of followers and Caesar’s band of soldiers. The Jesus way vs. the Roman occupation and the religious elites.

Secondly, in John, whenever people are fed, it’s not just about people getting food they can chew on. If Jesus is the bread of life and the shepherd who feeds his sheep, and the giver of living water—then we’re definitely talking about spiritual food.

I think that changes the story for me a bit.

I feel like Jesus is teaching his disciples [and the others gathered]. He is illustrating provision and sharing. Provision, because actually, there IS enough food and water for everyone in the world to eat. Yes, today we are overpopulated, but we still [via the land and water] have enough to eat. So Jesus tests Philip by asking him where they are going to find enough bread for all to eat. Jesus knows there’s already enough! Provision. It’s there. But without sharing, we don’t see that sign of provision. I don’t need to reiterate, do I, that the Western world is eating WAY more than we ever should? It’s insane. We don’t share well. We’re like a two-year-old who won’t share her toy with her brother. So the signs I see in this story are that we have been provided with all we need, and not just food. All we need to be whole and healthy people. And second, that we have a responsibility to share. If not, not everyone will be fed.

Now, to the end of the story. Did Jesus really walk on water?

Take that, Moses and Elisha!!!


The disciples were rowing in their boat, trying to cross over to the other side, and a strong wind comes. They are not afraid yet, even though they are alone.

But then, they see [don’t miss this word!] a sign: Jesus is walking on the sea and coming near the boat. Well, at this point they are a hot mess and freaking out. What Jesus says is so important:

Ego eimi.

This is the Greek form of the Hebrew name for G-d [YHWH].
This is the assurance of the divine presence–that they are not alone in their little boat.

He tells them not to fear.

John’s author, writing to a mix of people who weren’t sure about Jesus, and actually, weren’t sure about tomorrow, were encouraged to not be afraid.

Walking on water? A sign, but not of magic. A sign of encouragement, presence, and confidence.

I think that too often we look for the Hollywood Jesus stuff—supernatural miracles that are fit for 3D or IMAX. We want God to be an in-your-face action hero that blows us away with thunder and lightning, high mountaintops, raging seas, feeding of 5000, walking on water, and massive miracles. But the reality is that most of our lives we are walking on the ground, living day to day. Most of the time we’re not on high mountaintops or surrounded by raging seas or experiencing massive miracles.

Many days we’re trying to figure out how to pay our bills, send a kid to college, keep our job or find a new job; get through school, and sometimes, we’re just hoping to wake up in the morning and get out of bed.

So where are the signs in real life?

This is where the John story does speak to me. I argue that we overthink the signs. We want something miraculous and overwhelming; supernatural, maybe. But why?

Signs are everywhere, and we don’t have to look far.

It is about how much we decide to pay attention, and usually that means that we’ll have to slow down. Signs don’t come easy to those whose lives are one multi-task moment after another. The entire natural world around us is full of signs. But you won’t notice them if you speed past them or just consider them background noise.

Your feelings are signs. They are trying to tell you something. Are you listening?

Your physical body gives you signs every day. Are you paying attention?

Your dearest friends say and do things that are signs for you to notice. Are you noticing?

I encourage you to spend less time waiting for some miraculous event or a supernatural sign. Instead, expect to see signs in your day-to-day life.

Pay attention to them.

And this will feed you in an unexpected way.

What Do We Need?

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

A question for you, once again.

Right now, in this moment, what do you want?

Okay, a follow-up question.

What do you need?

It’s true, isn’t it, that what we want is often not what we actually need.

WANT-orSometimes what we want is based on social conditioning. We want material things like cars, clothes, jewelry, electronic devices, etc., because we’re taught to want them.

Other times what we want is a result of habits we have formed over many years. Our brains are trained to want certain things.

What we need, however, is another story. Sometimes we need rest and more sleep. Other times we need to eat healthier or exercise more. At times we need alone time; other times we need time with family and friends. Perhaps we need encouragement, or honesty, or motivation.

So allow me to expand the previous questions.

In this moment, wherever you are in life:

What do you need to feel whole, to be content, to live fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong?

What do you need?

I’m interested in how you answer that. Feel free to comment on the blog, as you feel comfortable. Well, here’s how I answer that question in this moment:

To feel whole and content, I need to have creative freedom, and challenge, and partnerships with others. To live a fulfilling life, I need to sing and make funny faces, and laugh, and make a positive difference in even just a few people’s lives. To make a difference in this world, I need to be curious and proactive in making new friendships and finding new colleagues—all people who are different than me in many ways. I need to let go of things and people that hold me back from this. And, to feel like I belong, I need to shake hands and hug and high five and talk with people. I need to be in nature enough to hear birds and smell flowers and appreciate plants and animals and water and mountains. But I also need to be in bustling urban areas full of people and movement and action and all kinds of smells and sounds. And finally, I need people with which to share my life—people who love and accept me as I am and don’t expect me to be anyone I am not.

How did you answer?

This story in Mark’s Gospel about Jesus and his followers could take us in a variety of directions. For example, is this story about rest, taking time off, even when it’s counter-culture? Or, is this story about paying attention to people and helping them, even when you don’t want to or when you’re exhausted?

Let’s explore some together.

We encounter the disciples and Jesus of Nazareth in a sharing moment. The disciples were telling Jesus what they had been doing and what they had been teaching. Then Jesus, possibly noticing their fatigue and burnout, says:

Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.

And to emphasize this point that Jesus’ followers were exhausted, Mark’s writer says that because of all the people coming to them for help or healing, the disciples didn’t even have time to eat! Makes me think about how things have shifted in culture—at least in the West. Now some people say it’s a “luxury” to be able to eat lunch off on your own. Most people “eat” their lunch at a desk, in front of a computer, in a car, or not at all. And we say this is “normal.” For 1st and 2nd century folks in that part of the Mediterranean world, eating meals was an important part of culture. And they weren’t called working lunches.

Eating is a major theme in Mark’s Gospel. Mark chapter 6, the part of the Gospel we are looking at, also includes the story of the feeding of the 5000. In that account, many people did not have enough to eat. The story is foreshadowing and not necessarily a literal, historical event. It points to a time when Jesus will no longer physically be on earth, but that his presence will be seen and felt in the open table fellowship of his followers—that everyone is welcomed and fed and accepted. But our part of Mark 6 is the story of when the disciples of Jesus did not have time to eat, and in their journey to find a place to rest, Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd.

Sheep without a shepherd is a phrase rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures [OT]. Numbers 27:16-17 says:

Let the Lord…appoint someone over the congregation who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the Lord may not be like sheep without a shepherd.  

Of course, in Numbers, this is nothing about Jesus of Nazareth. It’s about Joshua, or Yeshua, the name that translates in Greek to Jesus. So obviously, Mark is throwing a softball here. We’re supposed to notice this implied reference and connection. Secondly, Ezekiel 34 talks about shepherds who do not feed their sheep as a metaphor for elites or religious leaders who were ignoring the poor and those without food. So Mark’s Gospel is implying that Jesus of Nazareth is teaching his disciples to feed people [and not just with food, mind you]. And that there should be no sheep scattered and left without their needs fulfilled.

And so it was in Mark’s story. Jesus and the disciples made it to the other side of the water to Gennesaret. People saw them and rushed in from all over to be taught and healed, as they needed. And all who touched Jesus’ cloak were healed.

So let’s return to the question of the day: What do you need to feel whole, to be content, to live fulfilling lives, to make a difference in the world, to feel like you belong?

What do you need?

It is a beautiful and important question to ask.

If you ask it honestly, you’ll find yourself drifting away from the things you want.

The things you want won’t bring fulfillment or wholeness or peace into your life. You’ll end up feeling empty. Look, a lot of us on this planet, religious or not, pursue things just because we think we want them. And I don’t just mean material things like cars, houses, clothes, etc. I mean that we pursue lifestyles and social status because we think we want them.

But do we need them?

As an ordained minister, I do a lot of weddings. But I don’t say yes to everyone. Why? Because some want to get married, and according to them, “start a family,” but they really don’t need to. In fact, they probably shouldn’t. They are in no position to do so, and if they do have children, those kids will suffer the consequences. Not everyone needs to follow every convention of society. Some who get married and have children have fulfilling and whole lives and that’s wonderful! I’m so glad for that. But not everyone needs that life. Others need a different life full of different challenges and adventures.

Likewise, youth and young adults are pushed so hard to get into the best schools and then to make the most money in the highest-paying careers, and I wonder:

Do they need to do that? Does it fulfill them? Are they whole people?

More often than not—no.

More often than not, they give up passions, joys, creativity, and uniqueness for a desk job and corporate benefits. Maybe this is what they have been conditioned to want. But I would argue that it’s not what they need.

I could go on, but you get the point. Think of all the ways that you have been conditioned to want certain things out of life and whether or not those things brought you fulfillment, joy, and wholeness.

And then, ask yourself: what do I really need?

Jesus’ compassion for people continues to inspire me to do the same for myself, and for others. Let’s stop telling people and ourselves what they should want out of life. Let’s focus on what we all need to be fed, supported, loved, accepted, inspired, filled, and whole.

See yourself and others in this way.

Loved, Loved, Loved; Sent, Sent, Sent!

John 21:1-19


Sometimes there are things that bear repeating. Other times, repeating again and again can be quite annoying!

But repetition is what we do. It is how we learn. Everyone here has had to memorize something. Perhaps in school you memorized multiplication tables. Maybe you had to memorize certain dates in history for a test. Or maybe you have memorized lines for a play, or dance steps and routines, or song lyrics, or directions to a certain place, or someone’s name. We commit things to memory every single day. That does not mean that it is easy, though. Memorization—this type of learning—takes time and effort. Sometimes we cannot do it on our own. We need someone to help us remember and learn and then apply.

Maybe that’s why things often come in threes. Phone numbers are broken down, at least in the U.S., into three sets of numbers. For many, this is easier to memorize.

You have heard the phrase: third time’s the charm.

Good things come in threes.

Three strikes and you’re out.


The past, present, and the future.

Now on the count of three, everybody pull!

1…2…3! Say cheese!

Three cheers: hip, hip, hooray!

Three is company, four is a crowd.

Lights, camera, action!

1 for the money, 2 for the show; 3 to get ready…

Yadda, yadda, yadda…

What other sayings do you know that contain the number three?

 Gautama Siddharta, the Buddha, once said:

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.

And many of us know this phrase from Paul’s letter to Corinth:

And these three remain: faith, hope, and love.

So what is this all about? This is the rule of 3.

3The rule of three is a writing principle that suggests that things in threes are inherently funnier, more satisfying, or more effective than other numbers of things. The reader or audience of this form, according to many, are more likely to consume information if it is written in groups of threes. From slogans like go, fight, win! to film and literary titles, to philosophy and religion. You might remember The Three Stooges, the Three Little Pigs, the Three Billy Goats Gruff, Goldilocks and the Three Bears, or the Three Musketeers. The list goes on.

And I need to mention, as an actor and lover of theatre–plays on stage are usually in 3 acts.

Not to overdo it, but there is something to this. A series of three often creates a progression in which tension is created, built up, and finally released. Similarly, in writing, adjectives are often grouped in threes to emphasize an idea.[1]

Martin Luther, King famously utilized the rule of 3 in his speeches for emphasis; for example, in his speech  Non-violence and Racial Justice, he used the words  “insult, injustice and exploitation,” followed a few lines later by “justice, good will and brotherhood.”[2]

Those of you from a Catholic background probably know [or memorized!] the Latin phrase omne trium perfectum (everything that comes in threes is perfect, or, every set of three is complete).

But I’m more apt to go with the rule of 3 in comedy and jokes.

A rabbi, a priest, and an imam walk into a bar…

 It’s an actual unwritten rule of comedy—something we use all the time in the theater company I perform with. It is often called a comic triple. A joke usually is set up by two phrases that coax the audience into expecting a hilarious punch line in the third phrase. A simple example for a voicemail message:

Hello, you’ve reached Josh. I’m either solving world hunger, climbing Mt. Everest, or picking my nose. Please leave a message and I’ll get back to you when I touch my brain.

So, using this formula to introduce our story…


[1] he was a beloved disciple of Jesus;

[2] he was the rock on which the church was built;

[3] he was a bumbling idiot.

Poor Peter. But his character is portrayed this way in the Gospels for a reason.

Peter is us.

Just like the so-called “doubting” Thomas is us. But unlike Thomas, for Peter the problem wasn’t skepticism, it was his past. We know what he was feeling, don’t we? We are more likely to remember something bad that happened than something good. If someone criticizes us or hurts us with his/her words, then we usually remember. But how many compliments, good wishes, and encouraging words do we remember? We are sure to remember when we failed at something. How much do we remember and celebrate our successes?

Do you love me? Do you love me? Do you love me?

Are we there yet?

ACT I: The charcoal fire was just like the charcoal fire during Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. As if Peter’s wounds from his denial weren’t fresh enough!

ACT II: Regardless, all the disbelieving, cowardly disciples are invited to eat. Fish. Come and eat. They are fed. Can you say…foreshadowing!? And guess what? This just happened to be the THIRD time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his death.

ACT III: the climax: the rule of 3 scene:

Jesus: Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?

Peter: Yes, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my lambs. Simon son of John do you love me?

Peter: Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.

Jesus: Tend my sheep. Simon son of John, do you love me?

Peter: Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.

Jesus: Feed my sheep. Follow me.

Here is my take on Peter’s story in threes:

  1. It is about learning from the past. Redeeming the past. Moving forward.
  2. Peter needs to remember something important.
  3. Peter needs to accept the forgiveness and commit to sharing it with others.

In the three questions do you love me, Jesus is reminding and forgiving, at the same time. My take is that Peter had not forgiven himself for being a coward and for denying that he knew Jesus, when Jesus needed him most. He was not facing his past; thus, he was letting his past control his present thoughts and actions, leaving his future vulnerable to be infected by depression, fear, and apathy. So he needed to remember what happened and he needed to face it. Basically, he needed to forgive himself. He is reminded three times about it. But by the third time, there is a movement from Peter’s superficial answer to a real answer of honesty. Lord, you know everything. You know that I denied you and ran away and tried to cover it up. You know it. I know it. And yet…

Jesus still loves Peter, has never blamed him for anything, and forgave him from the get-go. Instead of rebuke, Jesus calls Peter—gives him something useful and good to do. Jesus entrusts Peter with relationships. 1] Feed my lambs. As I fed them with stories of God’s mercy and forgiveness and love, as I filled their minds and hearts with light—feed them.

2] Tend my sheep. Care for them, like I cared for you. Help them out, support and encourage them.

And lastly, the third statement: 3] feed my sheep. Don’t forget this. This is your calling. Don’t neglect it. You’re capable of doing such good in the world. Feed them. The world is hungry for love, for mercy, for community.

Feed them.

And by doing this, you truly follow me.

We are forgiven when we make mistakes or fall short of our goals in life. Perfection is an illusion. Holiness is a façade. We must accept forgiveness because we are never perfect or holy. Jesus forgives and calls us at the same time. We are given useful and good things to do. We are meant to share what we have [our whole selves] with others, feeding them with healthy relationships, acceptance, and love. But we need to be told this, reminded of this at LEAST three times. Because like Peter…we get stuck in the past. We think we are not worthy. We don’t forgive ourselves. But we’re still loved and already forgiven. And we’re still called.

Big disclaimer: having faith in and following this Jesus does not make us perfect or less apt to fail or make mistakes. We’re still completely like Peter and anyone else—we’re completely human. But recognizing that we will fail and are already forgiven and are still loved and called can be a huge encouragement and a movement—to an attitude will help us to stop judging others when they fail.

Instead, we will love and forgive them, feed and care for them. And they will feel loved and called, too.

We are loved. We are cared for. We are called to do good in the world.

We love; we care for others; we invite others to do good, too.

Amen; amen; amen!

[1] Booker, Christopher (2005). “The Rule of Three”. The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories. Continuum International Publishing Group.

[2] “Non-Violence and Racial Justice,” Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.



Mark 6:30-34; 53-56

 Healing and Feeding Today


Our NYE experiences began on Monday night at Mensch Mill Camp and Retreat Center, continued on buses for many, many hours through Pennsylvania and Ohio, eventually landing us in West Lafayette, Indiana and Purdue University. Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were filled with countless opportunities for us to imagine what God was doing in us. Friendships were forged and strengthened as we played, sang, ate, learned, worshiped, walked, sweated, laughed, cried, and questioned. There is no doubt that all the youth and adults who participated in NYE each had his/her own unique experience. It is hard to sum up such an experience, actually, but if I were to tell you one thing that fed and healed me that week, it would be this: the teenagers both from our group and all the various groups at NYE. The youth fed me and healed me. They fed me with their unfiltered ideas for the church and for their community. They fed me with their dreams, creative thinking, and energy to make new friends. They healed me with their acceptance of all kinds of people—ALL KINDS—without a tokenism about it or any sort of hypocrisy. They healed me when they cheered for their peers who led worship or spoke; they healed me with their laughter, honest tears, and difficult, probing questions. The youth fed and healed me.

These days we hear so much talk about how younger generations don’t go to church anymore and thus most religious institutions fear tomorrow. In fact, most of the rushed, poor decisions about religious programs are decisions made out of fear and not innovation. I hear church leaders talk about technology or overscheduling and sports activities on Sundays–how these societal changes have kept young people from the church. Studies show the declining interest in Christian churches among younger generations and the doomsday prophecies begin among denominational leadership and yes, leaders in local churches, too. Budgets are cut and programs forgotten. Time and energy is put into survival and the guarding of traditions. Younger generations terrify the church, because their ideas do not fit into existing structures and they see the world differently. And whenever we fear people, we tend to ignore them or avoid them, and so overall, the church has chosen to avoid youth. But none of this was our experience on Slater Hill.

It was Friday night, our last evening in Indiana. It was hot. The sun was relentless. Slater Hill, on the north side of campus, slopes down to a stage where the closing worship service of NYE was about to happen. Our house worship band, Tribe of Judah out of Chicago, got things started as they always did. We sang. We sweated. Slater Hill was sprinkled with white t-shirts with the phrase “I have faith in…” The Collegium of Officers, your national United Church of Christ staff, offered their blessings and encouragement, and then, the Communion service began. Boxes of juice [mine was frozen, thank God!] and packages of Goldfish cookies got passed throughout the 2500+ t-shirt clad assembly on the hill. The worship leaders reminded us to Take. Thank. Share.

Slater Hill was an appropriate setting on that Friday, hot as it was. And I admit that as I sat on that hill with the youth and adults from our group, I was drawn into the story of the loaves and fishes in the Gospels. Somehow in the midst of being uncomfortably hot, in the middle of the creative chaos happening on the hill and on the stage, between bites of Goldfish cookies and chipping away at frozen juice—the story came alive. It’s a little weird that our story in Mark skips over the feeding. We get it next week, though. Today we get the before and after of it, which, come to think of it, also seems appropriate. The before of the story is that the disciples, those who were following and learning from Jesus, had been busy. Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while. Jesus always had good timing. He sensed the disciples need to hit the reset button; the crowds were large. It was time to get away. So they did—on a boat.

Ironically, though, in their effort to escape the crowds, people followed and people were waiting in neighboring towns. Jesus’ compassion did not wane. He saw the people like sheep without a shepherd. He fed them with teaching. But the disciples didn’t quite understand. The people were physically hungry, too. This is the part of story we did not read today. The conversation about food between Jesus and his followers led to the loaves and fishes event; then to Jesus appearing to walk on water and the disciples freaking out in a boat, once again; then to their boat crossing over to Gennesaret. And more crowds. People waiting. Sick, confused, left out, needy people gathered in the marketplaces. They pleaded for healing. And like the courageous, bleeding woman of another story, they believed that a simple touch of Jesus’ cloak would be enough. And they were right.

Two things jump out at me. First, that Jesus invited people to come away to a deserted place in order to rest. And second, in that deserted place of rest, people were fed and healed. I wonder: what is our deserted place? Where do we need to go in order to rest, and then to be fed and healed? Let’s be frank about it—we’re not a culture of rest. Most of us work ourselves into the ground and don’t think twice about it. We struggle to even give two hours a week to ourselves for rest and the deserted place. And I don’t mean two hours in front of the TV or the computer. I mean going somewhere that’s outside of your normal routine—a place where your phone can’t distract you and Facebook won’t be able to lure you in again. A deserted place. For rest. Where is yours? Where is Jesus Christ calling you to? Come away to your deserted place; rest.

For many of us, the deserted place was West Lafayette, Indiana for a week. For you, perhaps your place is a break from the routine, a moment to stop and reflect or learn or absorb. As always, when Jesus invites us to something, it’s beyond what we may think. Jesus doesn’t invite you and me to take a cruise, though that can be replenishing in a different way. Come away and rest is a Christ-invitation to loosen the chains that keep us caged up—cages we’ve built ourselves, believing as society does, that more is better and the way to happiness; work is the way to more. But Christ invites us to the deserted place; to rest. Why? Because in the deserted place, we discover that we’re not alone! Apparently, there many, many people just like us—people who are burned out, overworked and over tired, confused, hurting, sick, depressed, angry, sad, doubtful, and lost. Sheep without a shepherd. And they all find each other in the deserted place.

And there we are fed and healed. Jesus Christ draws people of all sorts to himself. Some are hungry for food; others for teaching. Some are sick physically, mentally, or spiritually. Others crave forgiveness and cannot find it. Some have lost hope and just need a reason to get up in the morning. And just like on Slater Hill or in Gennesaret, the fellowship gathered is completely open to all. Christ doesn’t differentiate or create categories. We all go to the deserted place. We all get fed and healed. The dividing walls we have built between ourselves are torn down like the ones in Jericho, because our God builds community out of people, and not stone, wood, glass, or steel, ethnicities, sexual orientations, ages, cultures, or social levels. God builds community out of people who are drawn to the Christ invitation. Because in our world we are divided by a thousand things. Because in our daily routines we encounter prejudice, greed, hate, and even violence. Because most of life is not a blessed, accepting fellowship of people who believe and live out Christ promises, who love each other and love the world.

And so we should be moved to accept Jesus’ invitation. It’s a gift, and not an obligation, you know. Because when we accept Christ’s invite to follow him to the deserted place, the feeding and healing await us. We’re healed by the making of new friends who are people drastically different from us; we’re fed by the worship, singing, praying, learning, absorbing, exploring, experiencing, and serving that happens in blessed community. But all this is not limited to be just some sort of religious therapy. After the feeding and healing, we’re then sent out to feed and heal others. The disciples took a while to get this. We struggle with this, too. We’re supposed to feed and heal—you and me. And the beauty of it is that we never do it alone. In the deserted place, it’s actually quite populated. People of all sorts are there. We all get fed. We all get healed. Then we go out to our towns, cities, and places to offer the same gift to others.

The closing benediction for the final NYE worship service on Slater Hill was offered by youth from various UCC Conferences. They shared the blessings they experienced at NYE and their commitment to make a difference in their communities. Students from France and Germany expressed their gratitude in their native languages for the extravagant welcome they had received. And then Rev. Geoffrey Black, the UCC General Minister and President sent us all out—to our towns, cities, rural areas, and churches. The sun had finally set and our deserted place actually became just that. Slater Hill emptied. Buses returned home. Bags were packed. Tearful farewells were exchanged. Hugs and cell phone numbers. People autographing each other’s t-shirts. We all left the deserted place to go back home. But being fed and healed we knew that the next chapter of the story was the most important—bringing it home with us to share.

VIDEO: Closing Ceremony

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