Small Deeds, Large Results (Location: Church of the Fish and the Loaves)

The following meditation was written by Dr. Michael Brown, 
our Distinguished Preacher on January 26, 2020.

“Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish,
but how far will they go among so many?”
John 6:9 (New Living Translation)
     A friend of mine who is retired was shopping at a local grocery store on a Monday morning when he spotted a young clerk with several carts full of flowers.  The carts were parked beside the rear exit from the store.  “Are you going to deliver those somewhere?,” my friend asked, adding, “because they really are pretty.”  The clerk replied, “No sir.  These are the arrangements that didn’t sell over the weekend.  So, every Monday we put them in the dumpster out back.  Next weekend we’ll have new ones.”
     My friend had a sudden epiphany.  “Those are beautiful flowers.  They could brighten somebody’s day.  I’m retired and have the time to deliver them.  So, why not put them in my SUV rather than the grocery’s dumpster?”  After a brief chat with the store’s manager, my friend was off with two bags of groceries and twelve arrangements of flowers.  He took six arrangements to a nursing care facility and four to a hospice house. The remaining two he delivered at midnight, taking them to the ER of a local hospital as a gesture of appreciation to the nurses who worked there.
     Soon he was stopping by the grocery store every Monday to pick up flowers, which he then delivered to residential or medical helping agencies all over town.  Word about that began to leak out from employees at the agencies to their neighbors and friends.  The result was that now my friend has a team of volunteers who assist in his flower ministry.  A national food chain with an outlet near his town has also gotten on board, promising its own cache of flowers on Mondays.  The end result is that now community hospitals, the hospice center, nursing care facilities, rehab units, the VA residential care home, schools, and churches where my friend lives have fresh floral arrangements every Monday to provide beauty and comfort throughout the week.  And it all started because one man, possessed by just one idea, did one seemingly small thing.
     A crowd of “five thousand men, plus women and children” were hungry.  A child stepped forward with “five loaves and two fish.”  And when he gave what little he had, Jesus did a lot with it.  Our dreams, desires, and deeds may seem small. But when given to Jesus, their impact can become greater than we ever dared to dream or imagine.  Never underestimate the power of being one person, possessed of one idea, and doing one seemingly small thing for Christ and for people.


Love Me Anyway

“While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.”
Romans 5:6 (Common English Bible)
                Love Me Anyway is a tender piano ballad that contemplates the limits of love. Written by pop music artist, Pink, with Nashville songwriters Allen Shamblin and Tom Douglas, the song captures the longing and hopefulness that the love between two people is not conditional – not vulnerable to behavior or circumstances that may threaten the fidelity of the relationship. As the traditional marriage vow asks, “will you stick around in good times and bad?” Country artist, Chris Stapleton plays a supporting role to Pink’s lead vocals, the song centered on the latter questioning her lover’s commitment in their romance. Poignantly, the lead voice questions if he could still love her even if she “broke his heart?”
                The ability of this song to pierce every heart is located in the refrain, “Could you love me anyway?” It is the question of the ages. A question that is common to every human heart. Each heart longs to love and receive love. The fear that love can be lost disrupts a sense of well-being, perhaps even crippling the ability to be fully human with all of our capacity for folly and blunders. Insecurity in our love with another diminishes a life’s ability to flourish, “Even if you see my scars. Even if I break your heart. If we’re a million miles apart. Do you think you’d walk away?” That is our fear. If we are not careful, if we misstep, our love will walk away.
                This sounds a good deal like our relationship with God. We try our hardest to make ourselves right with God. We fear God’s disappointment with us. However, we are weak, says the apostle Paul. We stumble, obedience fails, and we long to know if God could love us anyway. For an answer, Paul points to the cross of Jesus Christ: “While we were still weak, at the right moment, Christ died for ungodly people.” This is God’s answer to our anxiety. In good times and bad, God sticks around for us. Moreover, when our lives break into a million pieces, God gathers each broken piece upon a cross and restores life for us.
                Pink and Chris Stapleton have provided a gift with their song, Love Me Anyway. Clearly and beautifully this songs articulates the restlessness of every human heart. Anyone in the helping profession acknowledges that healing begins with naming our fear. Our deepest fear is that love may be taken away from us – taken away if we mess-up in life. That is precisely the difficulty. We are human. It is beyond our ability to live without an occasional blemish; a misspoken word, a hurtful act, to become lost in selfishness. The song asks, “Could you pick up the pieces of me? Could you? Could you still love me?” Here, in his letter to the Roman Church, Paul answers. Look! God’s answer hangs upon a cross. With all of our ungodliness, God loves us anyway.



The following meditation was written by Doug Hood\’s son,
Nathanael Hood, MA, New York University.

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!” 
Psalm 46:10 (Common English Bible)

Martin Luther was, to put it mildly, a busy man. Born of respectable middle class means, his parents instilled in him a dogged Teutonic work ethic that saw him beginning his college education at the University of Erfurt at only seventeen years old. Once there, he blitzed through a wearying curriculum of law (which dissatisfied him), philosophy (which frustrated him), and theology (which electrified him). After a near death experience during a lightning storm in 1505 where he promised Saint Anna he’d become a monk in exchange for his life, he abandoned his secular studies to enter an Augustinian monastery. Within two years he was ordained. In three, he was teaching theology in Wittenberg. In four, he’d earned two more bachelor’s degrees with a Doctor of Theology following in seven. In just a decade, this tireless young man became a provincial vicar charged with overseeing eleven monasteries in eastern Germany.

The rest of his story is one many of us are more familiar with. The Ninety-five Theses nailed to the church door. Justification by faith alone. Excommunication by Pope Leo X. Cross-examination at Worms. Flight to Wartburg Castle. Translation of the the New Testament into German vernacular. Peasant revolts and uprisings. The break with Catholicism, the founding of Lutherism, the birth of Protestantism. And through it all Luther maintained a steady, prolific output of catechisms, commentaries, pamphlets, treatises, masses, hymns, books, and sermons. By the end of his life he’d accumulated over 100 folio volumes of original writings. And all this while fleeing various authorities, both papal and secular, as the Turks ravaged Hungary and Austria, waves of plague swept England, and the Holy Roman Emperor’s own troops sacked Rome. The world was turning itself to ashes.

During his whirlwind life, Luther found himself time and again facing the darkest corners of doubt, sorrow, and exhaustion. According to various sources, Luther repeatedly turned towards the forty-sixth Psalm for comfort and respite. Stories go that he would ask his close friend and fellow reformer Philip Melanchthon to sing it with him: “Come, Philip, let us sing the forty-sixth Psalm.” Such was his love for the Psalm that opened with the triumphant declaration “God is our refuge and strength, a help always near in times of great trouble” that he officially set it to music to write one of the greatest hymns in Christendom: “A Might Fortress Is Our God.”

But it’s in the tenth verse that the psalmist’s triumphant bombast gets tempered by a proclamation from God, telling them to be quiet, be still, and know that God is God. This is a psalm for boasting in the strength of the Almighty, but it’s also a command for one of the hardest things man can do: surrender oneself. There comes a moment in the depths of adversity where one must remove oneself from trying to control the forces of fate and simply trust in our creator. To do otherwise would be to lose ourselves to our own neuroses and anxieties. It’s only in this quiet and stillness that we find our center, and it’s there—much like Moses in the desert, Elijah in the cave, or Paul on the road to Damascus—that we can finally find and know God. And it was in this emptiness inspired by reading the forty-sixth Psalm the night before his incendiary refusal to recant his beliefs at the Diet of Worms that Martin Luther found the courage to face his accusers and make one of the bravest stands in the history of Christendom: “I cannot and will not recant anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. May God help me. Amen.”



The Mark of Christian Character

“We love because God first loved us.”
1 John 4:19 (Common English Bible)
              There is a delightful – and poignant – cartoon currently circulating on Facebook. Jesus is teaching his disciples on the side of a mountain. Jesus teaches, “Love one another.” The disciples begin to question Jesus. “What if people don’t agree with our interpretation of scripture? What do we do if someone doesn’t share our political ideology or agree with us on the important issues of the day?” Jesus continues, “Let me try again. Love one another.” Located in this cartoon is a powerful message for us all. Something has happened in our public discourse. Once, people could disagree politically, debate the pressing issues of the day, and then share a meal and laughter together. I miss that day, now largely gone. If you are honest, you miss it as well.
              Recently, I sat in my office with someone who is both an elder of this church and a dear friend. He is a Republican and I am a Democrat. He has my highest admiration. Considerable wisdom and a kind and generous spirit mark his leadership on the church board. Occasionally we discuss with each other our differences in our political vision for our nation. The operative word here is, “discuss.” Civility, respect, and humility saturates our conversations. Both of us acknowledge that we could be wrong on any issue. Most importantly, we listen deeply to each other. We listen with anticipation that we may have our own thoughts made more expansive by a different viewpoint.
              We also share a lament. We are sadden by how little kindness we now see among those who disagree. One political party vilifies another party. Democrats are Socialist and Republicans lack compassion. People fear expressing any opinion lest they become caught-up in verbal warfare. Worse, it is common today to question someone’s fidelity to the Christian faith if there is failure to think as we think. Again, we are a nation divided on itself. Hurtful rhetoric often becomes hate crimes. Imagine what has happened in our nation. Some believe that killing those who are different is a responsible course. Jesus continues, “Let me try again. Love one another.”
              Perhaps, that is where we must begin. We begin by celebrating that, as Christians, what holds us together is our common confession that Jesus Christ is Lord. Bound together by faith in Jesus Christ, we recognize that none of us has grasped the whole truth. The Apostle Paul, speaking of faith in his first letter to the Corinthian Church, says that what we now understand is like looking in a dark mirror. We can see something, but not everything. Somethings remain out of focus. “Love one another,” teaches Jesus. That includes our enemies, those who persecute us, and those who disagree with us. Those are the words of Jesus. Obedience is the mark of Christian character.


Living In the Present Tense

“Therefore, stop worrying about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. 
Each day has enough trouble of its own.”
Matthew 6:34 (Common English Bible)       
            It is the practice of the Eskimos never to carry the day’s evil experiences, its troubles and its quarrels, over into the next day. Two Eskimo hunters might become engaged in a violent dispute over the division of the game which they had taken, and heated words might even bring them to blows, but once the sun had set and they had retired to sleep, all memory of the quarrel would be erased from their spirits, and the next day they would greet each other as brothers. If you were to exclaim in surprise: “But I thought you were enemies. You were fighting yesterday!” they would answer: “Ah, but that was yesterday and we live only today.”[i]That is living in the present tense!
            Mark Twain, with his characteristic humor, once commented that he has suffered many things most of which never happened. Doctors tell us that much of our anxiety, which often results in physical, emotional, and spiritual unease, is located in tomorrow, a preoccupation with fears of the future. Consequently, our fears of tomorrow rob us of the opportunity to live fully and abundantly today. Naturally, wise and reasonable decisions and personal behavior must shepherd us in the present day. Careless spending today will result in debt tomorrow. A word carelessly spoken or a relationship betrayed may negatively impact all of our tomorrows. Not all of us have been nurtured in the Eskimo culture!
            Jesus’ invitation in this teaching is to locate our hearts in God. Worry and anxiety is all about trying to avoid something, about trying to get away from something. The strain of worry is indicative that we don’t trust the future. Jesus asks that we approach life from another perspective. Rather than fleeing what we fear most, Jesus asks that we run toward God. As Augustine once said, “Our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.”[ii]Jesus asks that we live in the present tense, free from the regrets of yesterday and the fears of tomorrow. That is possible after we have accepted God’s forgiveness for the past and trust in God’s care for the future.
            Thomas Long writes that there is a kind of worry about the coming day that is normal, even healthy. “Tomorrow’s chemistry test or job interview is bound to provide concern, and this command ‘stop worrying about tomorrow’ is not an invitation to finesse the exam or to waltz into the interview unprepared. Rather, it speaks to the deeper, more basic fear that something is out there in the future that can destroy our basic worth as a human being, something finally stronger than God’s care, some silent killer shark swimming toward us from the future.”[iii]Jesus asks that we cling to God in such a manner that we can affirm that whatever tomorrow brings, it also brings God.


[i]Clayton E. Williams, “Living Today Forever,” Best Sermons: 1955 Edition, edited by G. Paul Butler (New York, London & Toronto: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1955) 106.
[ii]Thomas G. Long, Matthew (Louisville & London: Westminster John Know Press, 1997) 76.
[iii]Long, 76.