Monday, November 4, 2013

Faith Flunkies Lead the Way!

Rev. Debra McKnight
Text: John 6:1-11

There are four different gospel writers and yet they all pick up on two great threads of truth:
first—Jesus offers a way of grace-filled abundance and second—the disciples struggle to follow
in this way. Evidence of their struggle seems to consume the narrative. At one point, a blind
man is more able to see just who Jesus is than the disciples. If they had a report card it would
be riddled with D’s because they may have come to class, but they didn’t have their homework
done; they answered most of the questions wrong and, when it really counts, they fall asleep.
Their struggle to meet the steep learning curve that lay before them is strange given their high
level of commitment. They drop everything to follow Jesus. Jesus didn’t ask them for a tenth of
their time, a tenth of their talents or a tenth of their resources, he asks for everything. Some of
them have quite literally dropped their fishing nets and left their boats behind to follow Jesus.
You would think that given their level of commitment they would be all-star disciples and yet
they struggle. Hundreds of years later we are still talking about their mistakes and missteps.
Hundreds of years later we are still exploring their wrong answers and misguided debates.
They are a mess and yet we are still here. I mean really it is strange when you think about how
these faith flunkies end up being the ones who keep the story alive. Hundreds of years later we
are here telling their stories.

We have inherited a gospel of imperfection, a gospel of missteps and yet many Christians feel
the need to come to worship shiny and perfect. We have ancient stories of people wandering
through the desert because of huge mistakes and yet we have to put on our best suit and feel
like church isn’t the place to be honest about our wounds and broken spaces. But the truth is
being a disciple means being honest and vulnerable, it means trying so hard that you make a
hard mistake. It means that mistakes are a part of life because being a disciple takes practice.
Isn’t that how we learn best—by making mistakes? Maybe you have stories of learning to do
your job wrong before getting it right or learning how to parent one 'oops' at a time. Maybe
it’s just me but mistakes have often been the key to my learning. It was taking wrong turns that
taught me to pay better attention on the road. It was the wrong answers that clarified the right
answers and it was the tear-filled missteps that led to finding the right path.

Even our greatest teachers share their mistakes as a way of helping us learn. My Mom is a great
cook, an amazing cook; but every Thanksgiving as she pulls out that beautiful platter of juicy
turkey, she smiles at my Dad and we hear the story of how they tried to cook a turkey in their
brand new microwave oven. Every year we hear how they followed the instructions to the letter;
every year we hear about the turkey juices just pouring out from the door, as though it were
Niagara Falls. You see my Mom isn’t a great cook because she always got
it right the first time, she is a great cook because she kept learning, kept practicing, and kept
trying. She is a great cook because she took a class and tried a new recipe. There isn’t a thing
we as humans do that does not require practice. There isn’t a journey we take that doesn’t
require us to learn a lesson and correct our course.

Why would we treat our faith any differently? Discipleship is a challenge and we don’t have to
get it right away. We don’t have to be saints on our first day out. Maybe you, like me, have
fallen asleep during Centering Prayer or tried to help at the Habitat Build but realized
hammering isn’t one of your gifts. Maybe you, like me, have tried to pledge and have fallen
short of making it. Maybe you have signed up for a class but didn’t read the material or forgot
to set your alarm. I imagine between all of us gathered here, we could share some new gospels
of discipleship. We could share some new gospels about important lessons learned. I imagine
we would hear stories of eyes opened to the scripture in a new way by participating in a class. I
imagine we would hear stories of lessons of forgiveness and healing, stories of pivotal moments
that changed our course and stories of hard moments when we didn’t want to admit how steep
the learning curve was before us.

We are in a season of claiming our discipleship. We are in a season of learning from the last
year and taking new steps for the year to come. That is why we have the new discipleship cards.
Each of us is invited to try a new practice or prayer and to serve in a new way. Each of us is
invited to step beyond our comfort zone and practice. Each of us is invited to give in a new
way, to take that next step. To move from random acts of kindness to a point that takes giving
so seriously that it is planned for and budgeted for. We have a chance to practice generosity
together; a chance to take the next step of moving from 1% to 3% of our budget, a chance to
move from 6% to 10% and beyond. Each of us are called to risk together, to drop what we are
doing or wanting and try following Jesus together. And if we microwave a few turkeys along the
way...we have the grace of each other.

Here we are in the Gospel of John and the disciples are once again struggling. As we read
these stories, we might imagine how they came to be written down. You see, the Gospel of
John isn’t written by an Omaha World-Herald reporter on the scene and ready with a notepad
to get every word. They were written later, much later. Imagine the story being shared by the
disciples, tender with age. I imagine them gathered, some have come home from
missions far and wide. They have struggled and lost friends on the journey, but they have new
disciples, eager new disciples excited for the journey. And they are sharing stories of their
travels and one might say, “Remember when Jesus taught us about abundance?” The disciples
respond with knowing smiles and the first keeps talking, “Remember when those crowds
gathered? Remember how they followed us, us a group of fisherman and day laborers
following a carpenter? Who would have imagined they would have followed us? Remember
how they pressed in around us as we stood at the shore and how Jesus showed them
compassion even when we were trying to take a rest? Remember how Jesus asked us to do the
impossible with no notice and no budget—he wanted us to feed the crowd? Then Phillip, with
his spreadsheets in hand, said it would take 6 months wages and no one would even be
satisfied by the amount of bread we could provide. And Andrew, filled with sarcasm said, ‘Hey
Jesus, there's a little boy with two fish and five loaves of bread.’ And then it happened, I
remember it like it was yesterday. Jesus took the gift from that child, that seemingly laughable,
impossibly small gift of fish and bread, lifted up, blessed it and broke it. It became a feast. It
was all that boy had. Remember how that small gift inspired everyone to sit down and share
what they had with each other? And remember how there was enough? Some people brought
more and some people brought less but everyone ate until they were full and there was still
more to share.”

That’s why we gather. We gather to bring our seemingly small gifts to the table so Christ can lift
them up, break them open and do amazing work through us. You see, the next time the
disciples encountered a hillside of people to feed they knew how to do it. We don’t hear about
the seventh and eighth time they encounter people on a hillside because they are off learning
new lessons. We gather to learn these lessons again and again. We gather today so that
maybe decades from now folks around the table can smile and say, “Remember when the
church was a place of hate and remember how it changed? Remember how we stood in that
hard space, committed to an inclusive and loving church?” We gather so that someday we can
say, “Remember when we had to feed people at Siena/Francis House or how we had to build
homes for families with Habitat? Remember when the world thought violence and poverty were
acceptable and the church worked for change? Remember how many mistakes we made?
Remember how hard the journey was?” Oh, but what a difference it makes!
May we have the difference to offer our gifts and make a difference.