Sunday, August 2, 2020

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 55:1-5
Psalm 136:1-9 (23-26)
Romans 9:1-5 (6-13)
Matthew 14:13-21

Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his loving kindness endures forever.

There’s a meme on Facebook of two young boys drinking water from the garden hose. The caption says “If you grew up drinking from the garden hose, you are immune to the coronavirus.” There are lots of reasons why it isn’t true, but there are some days when we just need to find reasons to laugh. Many experts say that it isn’t safe to drink water from the hose, but most of us grew up grabbing a sip when we were outside playing. Some memes talk about surviving this common childhood practice. Other experts will even tell you that tap water isn’t safe. They recommend filtering or even using bottled water.

Americans spend $16 billion on bottled water each year. Conservationists have realized the impact all this bottled water is having on our world. Although some of the bottles are recycled, many are simply thrown into landfills and they take centuries to decompose. It also takes a lot of oil to produce bottled water. Energy is used to produce the bottles, collect the water and fill the bottles. It takes energy to deliver the bottled water from the distributor to the store. There are some brands of water that are produced in foreign countries. It takes double the energy to get those foreign sourced water bottles to our store shelves. It may seem unbelievable, but it takes three liters of water to produce a one liter bottle of drinking water!

We buy these bottles because we think the water inside is better than what we can get out of the tap, if you read the fine print, you will discover that many of them say that the water is from “municipal water source.” Municipal water source is... tap water. You could get the same water from your tap and it would help the environment to put it into a reusable container. It is amazing that we are willing to spend so much to buy the bottles, but we like the convenience. We prefer the taste. We think there is something better about the bottled water. We think we are getting something for our money, but we are spending a fortune for something that is actually inexpensive.

We can’t live without water. Some experts claim that most people are dangerously dehydrated. Dehydration causes fatigue and other health problems. Drinking water also has other nutritional and health benefits. Most of our favorite drinks are extremely unhealthy and do not really quench our thirst. We will pay to have the best possible water for our health, even outrageous costs because we believe that more expensive must be better. If the bottled water were too cheap, we might suspect that it is just tap water.

In today’s Old Testament God says, “Hey! Come, everyone who thirsts, to the waters! Come, he who has no money, buy, and eat! Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” How could the water, wine, or milk be any good if it is free? It is better than anything we buy because it comes from God.

Psalm 136 is a hymn of praise with a repeating refrain after every line. The psalmist focuses on the loving kindness of God which endures forever. Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good; for his loving kindness endures forever. (WEB) Give thanks to God because God’s faithful love lasts forever! (Common English Bible) Give thanks to God because His love endures forever. (NIV) Give thanks to God because His faithful love endures forever. (New Living Translation) Give thanks to God because his mercy endureth for ever. (KJV) Give thanks to God because His steadfast love endures forever. (English Standard Version) Give thanks to God because His love never quits. (The Message) Give thanks to God because His lovingkindness (graciousness, mercy, compassion) endures forever. (Amplified Bible) So many different ways to say that God’s love is eternal.

This term, “loving kindness” is the Hebrew word chesed or hesed, and it refers to the covenant loyalty and faithfulness of God for His people. If we read the psalm without the refrain, we see the see how God manifests this covenant loyalty in our lives. We praise God because of His loving kindness and because He is the God of Gods and the Lord of lords.

He is good. He does great wonders. He made the heavens. He created the earth. He made the sun and moon which do what He has created them to do. He saved His people from Egypt and then guided, protected, and provided for them through the wilderness to the Promised Land. He has the power to control nature and to overcome the kings of the earth. He did all this for the people He loved. But His love did not end when they entered the Promised Land; it continued for God’s people even as they failed to be faithful. It continued for His people when He saved them from the greatest adversaries: sin, death and the devil. His loving kindness endures for us today.

God has done great things and has shown His faithfulness to His people throughout the generations. The psalm may seem clearer with the repetition of the refrain, but they are words that we should utter every moment of every day to remind us of the great and good things that He has done. His love endures, His mercy endures, His covenant loyalty endures forever. By His grace His people were saved from Egypt, but that was just a foretaste of the salvation that He would offer to the world through Jesus Christ. By His willing sacrifice which overcame sin, death and the devil, we experience His love forever, dwelling eternally in His presence.

Yesterday was the feast day for Sts. Nazarius and Celsus. Little is known about these two saints. The stories of Nazarius place him in the days of Nero, when there was extreme persecution of Christians. Nazarius was the son of a Roman officer whose mother was a Christian. Despite the danger, Nazarius preached the Gospel with such zealousness that his friends told him to leave Rome to save his life. Nazarius spent time in Milan, but was beaten and thrown out when he tried to comfort other imprisoned Christians. He wandered through Gaul and then to Germany. Along the way he met Celsus, who became his traveling companion and helper. In Trier, Germany, the two were tried for being Christians and sentenced to death in the sea. Such great storm came up after they were thrown overboard that the frightened sailors thought that they were being punished for killing the two Christians. They saved the two and set them free. Nazarius had such a heart for the people of Milan that he returned to the city to share the Gospel; he was determined to share the Gospel with them despite the persecution. The two saints were beheaded in Rome.

Nazarius gave his life for the sake of the people of Milan. He knew the dangers, but he knew his salvation was complete in Christ Jesus and that nothing could destroy what he had been given by grace through faith. He was concerned for all those who did not have the same assurance because they did not know the forgiveness and mercy of God. He went to preach the Gospel to people he loved so that they too might experience God’s grace.

I wonder if Nazarius ever felt the way Paul seems to feel in his letter to the Romans. Paul was addressing a difficult question: what about the Jews? Paul was a Jew and he loved his people. He knew the blessings of being one of God’s people: the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the worship, and the promise. Yet, he also knew that they were missing something: Jesus. It was a hard quandary for Paul. How could he help God’s beloved people, the people that he loved, know the assurance of faith in Jesus Christ? How do we deal with the dichotomy?

Paul wished that he could give up his salvation for the sake of his people, but we know that this is not a possibility. Only Jesus Christ could provide salvation. Paul could only live in hope, but hope is a solid foundation for our life of faith. In hope we will have the courage to go into a place, like Nazarius, and share the Good News of God’s mercy and forgiveness with people who are determined to destroy us. We can walk through persecution, and even walk to our deaths, knowing that God’s promises are true. It is our calling to share the Gospel with the world, but we are afraid we are not capable. We need not fear failure. We rest in the hope of God’s promises. He knows what He is doing. He knows whom He has chosen. We can rest in the hope that God will be faithful to His promises even when we can’t see it now in the people we love. We are called to continue to love them, to hope for them, and to share God’s loving kindness with them. We can’t give up our salvation for them, but we know that Christ died for all and that God is faithful. There is always hope.

Raymond is a character from the sitcom called “Everybody Loves Raymond” who often got himself into situations by doing exactly the wrong thing. He stuck his ‘foot in his mouth’ repeatedly by saying the wrong things. His wife Debra was always mad at him because he managed to do exactly the opposite of what she expected. The whole concept of the television show revolved around everyone’s anger over the things Raymond did wrong. It always seemed like everyone did not love Raymond.

In one episode, Raymond wanted his wife to be extremely happy about her Christmas present so that she would give him permission to go on an upcoming golfing trip. Wrong motivation was usually why he ended up doing the wrong things. He was determined to give her something worth more than whatever he was getting him for Christmas and asked his brother to spy for him. One day Robert caught Debra wrapping a tie that she intended for him. She quickly said, “It is for Raymond” so that Robert’s present would be a surprise. Robert reported this to Raymond, and Raymond was thrilled it would be so easy. On Christmas day, Raymond gave Debra her gift, thinking he’d surely gotten something really great. Then Debra gave the tie to Robert and said, “I didn’t want you to know it was for you.” Raymond knew he was in trouble when Debra brought his real gift, a radically generous gift. Debra loved her gift and did not notice the difference. The conflict began when Debra discovered that he was trying to manipulate her.

In another episode, Raymond found the perfect gift for his mother’s birthday. It was an antique set of porcelain figurines like she had once had. His father and brothers kicked in on the gift not knowing the real cost. Raymond, unconsciously or consciously, left the receipt in the box and his mother was shocked at how expensive the figurines had been. So were Robert and Frank because the cost of a third of the gift was significantly more than they had paid. Raymond said it didn’t matter. He knew he could afford to be radically generous and that they did not have the same resources. The extremely thoughtful gift was the catalyst for a humorous fight between everyone about thoughtfulness and extravagant generosity. Raymond’s mother refused the gift because it made everyone angry. Debra hated that Raymond put so much more thought into his mother’s gift than he ever put into hers.

I remember one year when the kids were small when our Christmas tree was packed with way too many gifts. Since we lived so far from our family, they all sent money for us to purchase gifts for under the tree. In the end, the kids had too many gifts, too many new toys, too many presents to open. It was outlandish how much money we put into ‘stuff’ for under the tree. We decided from that year on that we would let the children keep the money for their bank account or for something special they might want later. It was wonderful that our loved ones were so generous, but in the end the extra toys were a waste.

In today’s story, it seems as though Jesus’ radical generosity is wasteful. He miraculously fed thousands of people with a hearty meal of fish and bread. When it was over there were baskets full of leftovers. What did they do with that extra bread? Was it used to feed the poor so that it did not go to waste? We do not know, the story doesn’t tell us. What we do see, however, is that God is radically generous. He doesn’t give out of some misplaced motivation, He meets people’s most basic needs, but He also does so with incredible extravagance. When it comes to all His gifts, we see in this story how there are always leftovers to share. He blesses us with amazing gifts, some spiritual and some very mundane, but all are meant to be shared with the world. Our joy, our resources, our spiritual gifts are given in far greater quantity than we will ever need. In Christ we can be radically generous, too, sharing the love of God with the world, even if it means suffering persecution and possibly even death.

Parents should be preparing for Back to School, but it has been such an unusual year no one really knows that that will look like. The local charities have continued their collection of backpacks and supplies, because even if the children have to work from home, they’ll still need pencils and paper. I filled a couple backpacks for some children and I was shocked at how much money it cost. I could definitely understand why some families need help with gathering the supplies their children will need.

Some colleges are reopening for onsite living, so parents are going on those expensive shopping sprees so that they will have everything they need. Someone once said, “Sometimes I think the ‘getting ready’ shopping is worse than paying tuition.” I have found that to be true. The shopping lists always contain items that the students may not need immediately, but would be necessary at some point, like cleaning and hygiene products. It is sometimes difficult for students to get to a store to purchase those items when they need them. It is tempting to purchase huge quantities of those supplies so they’ll never run out but that doesn’t make much sense. There is never enough storage space for too much extra. They don’t need too much, they need just enough.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we say, “Give us this day our daily bread.” I don’t know about you, but I tend to prefer having just a little more. I like to have fresh bread available with our meals, especially the store baked kind that is often still hot when it is purchased. You can’t get much fresher. Instead of enough, I tend to buy two loaves, but then the second goes stale and ends up in the yard for the birds.

We often get confused about the things we need verses the things we want. We need food to eat, but we don’t need so much that it will go to waste. We need the things necessary to keep our living space clean and healthy, but we don’t need a dozen bottles of cleaning solution under our sink. We need only enough for today, that is why we ask God for our daily bread. We work so hard to have ‘just a little more’ and in the end it does nothing to make our life fuller or our soul more peaceful. As a matter of fact, chasing after ‘a little more’ is why so many of us are suffering from stress and depression. We don’t have the resources available for “a little more” so we live in fear and discontent.

Remembering that God provides our daily bread will help us to live content with what we have instead of laboring for so many things that never satisfy us. As we come to rely on Him as our Provider, we will see that we indeed have enough to get us through the day and that there is even enough to share with others. We need not chase after ‘a little more’ because God provides all that we need and then some. When there is some extra, like those twelve baskets of leftovers at the meal on the hill, we need not hoard it “just in case.” God gives freely and abundantly with a radical generosity, so that there is always enough not only for our needs, but also for the daily needs of the world.

Many in our world reject the free gift of forgiveness from God and they refuse to acknowledge the good things He has to offer. God will provide you with enough, and as you grow in faith and trust, He will fill your heart with the desire for the good things in life. Jesus Christ is the bread of life. He is the Word made flesh. He was sent from heaven to live, die and rise again to new life so we can freely live in the loving kindness and glory of the Most High God. It costs us nothing. Eat and drink the gift of eternal life. Partake in the bread and living water that is Christ Jesus, and be satisfied.

Like Paul, we can hope for those who do not yet know Him. For us, the promise began at the font, but it continues regularly as we join in the feast that God lays before us at the Lord’s Table. There we will be renewed and restored to go out into the world to invite those family members, neighbors and strangers to dine with us. The meal may seem sparse, but it is more than satisfying. It is there we meet God in a very real and tangible way and proclaim the life, death and resurrection of the One who gives us true life, eternal life, life in the presence and the Kingdom of God. His loving kindness endures forever, so let us give thanks for God’s radical generosity!

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