Heart to Give and Heart to Receive

August 6, 2017
Reverend David Shinn
Laurie Fetterman

Matthew 14:13-21

Shinn:  Good morning. Today, we have our moderator of our Board of Deacons for this dialog sermon. Laurie joined Westminster about 4-5 years. She, let me tell you, jumped right in and became a deacon. It has been an absolute joy to serve alongside with her in our Board of Deacon as she received the mantle of leadership from Loraine Liddle, our former moderator who supported both of us newbies. Thank you Laurie for being here today.

Grief is a powerful emotion and reality that all of us here today know too well. We all have experienced it; some of us more recent, and some of us in longer seasons. We all know what it means to be without someone or something of great value in our lives, in our identity, and in our relationships. The process of grief is universal and yet personal. It may involve physical symptoms in addition to the emotional aguish, and it is unpredictable. Grief never ends. It is locked in this cycle of shock, suffering, and starting over.

Perhaps Jesus was deeply wrapped up in the cyclone of grief when we hear the beginning of today’s scriptural text. Matthew tells us in v. 13, “Now when Jesus heard this.” What Matthew was referring to, from vv. 1-12, was the gruesome death of John the Baptist. Upon hearing the tragic news from John’s disciples, Jesus withdrew on a boat to a deserted place by himself. The shock of this news must have been overwhelming. Even though the text doesn’t tell us about Jesus’ emotional state directly, it does however reveal to us Jesus’ process of grief. He withdrew to a deserted place. Throughout the scripture in Matthew, Jesus withdrew to pray and seek for the presence, comfort, and strength of God.

We see Jesus’ seeking such solace, yet the crowds pursued Jesus on foot and along the shore. Perhaps, it was more than just wanting to hear Jesus’ teaching and receive Jesus’ healing. Maybe the crowd was concerned about Jesus. I may be committing iso-gesis, where I am injecting my own ideas. Yet, it does make me wonder.

When Jesus finally came back on the shore and confronted by the great crowd, Matthew tells us, “Jesus had compassion for them and cured their sick.” This healing and teaching session continued on through the day until evening. Sensing the physical needs of this large crowd in a deserted place, Jesus commanded his disciples to feed the people. Presented only with 5 loaves and 2 fish, Jesus blessed the loaves and fish, and gave them to the crowd. From a meager sum at the start of this meal, 12 baskets full were collected at the end. I hope they had an eco-justice team readied with compost bins like we do. We hear that five thousand men, besides women and children, were fed abundantly.

In today’s passage, we witness the miracle of loaves and fish. More importantly, we see Jesus’ divinity through his humanity expressed with empathy and sympathy. Through his broken heart, his compassion and love for God’s people manifested in healing, nourishment, and community. Laurie, would you please share with us what you hear from today’s passage?

Fetterman: I picture a vulnerable, heartsick and exhausted Jesus confronted with a group of people hungry to hear his message and perhaps witness one of his rumored miracles.  The mass of people are also vulnerable. They have traveled to a distant desolate place not knowing how long they will be there-how they will take care of themselves-feed themselves (did they bring enough?!)- especially if the sermon “goes long”.

This story is related in all 4 gospels.  Maybe because it has so much to teach us, so many layers. One thing that pops out to me is that this shows us what it means to “be church”.  Learning together, supporting one another…being vulnerable.  Jesus shows us how it looks to trust him, share in his work and support each other.  He creates the miracle, but he directs his disciples to pass the food- to do the “work”. I think it demonstrates how God wants us to share, pass around his gifts.

Shinn: I see and hear your point that it would be very unlikely, especially with children along, that the parents would travel into the deserted place without bringing something, however small with them. Yet, they can’t be sure that other parents or other people would do the same.

As commentaries reveal to us, the miracle of loaves and fish can be, first of all, Jesus multiplying breads and fish out of thin air. Yet the law of conservation of mass would contradict this expansion of mass through a closed system of mass. (Sometime, the science voice in my head shouts out laws of thermal dynamic). Hence, it was a miracle.

The second likely scenario would be the people opened their hearts and share what they brought after witnessing and receiving Jesus’ compassion and healing. Jesus, in other words, multiplied people’s hearts to share. Furthermore, I wonder if the people were moved by Jesus’ grieving heart, and thus they sought to live out that deep connection with each other.

Fetterman: As a church, I believe we are called to care for each other-to wash each other’s’ feet, so to speak.  Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, but is also allows himself to be shown love in having his feet washed.  Our mission statement calls us to be a “Telling Presence in the City” and we often add, “and Beyond”.  But, I wonder how we can improve our strength in being “A Telling Presence to Each Other”.

Shinn:  “A Telling Presence to Each Other” is precisely what we have in mind for the transformational process for our Board of Deacons. As you all have heard or read that the Board of Deacons is changing. We are going from trifecta of ministry with service, hospitality and care into a singularly focus on care ministries of our church. The Deacons would be ordained to be caregivers in our church. This process will take three years as we honor the current class of deacons to live out their call to be in the three ministries structure. This way, while other ministries of church flourish, the Board of Deacons will encourage us to be a “Telling Presence to Each Other.” To be a church together.

Fetterman: I’m excited about the new focus on care that will guide the Westminster Deacons as we go forward.  Our Book of Order calls ordained deacons to be” A ministry of compassion, witness and service, sharing in the redeeming love of Jesus Christ for the poor, the hungry, the sick, the lost, the friendless, the oppressed, those burdened by unjust policies or structures or anyone in distress.  Compassion, witness and service are all about caring. In a congregation very good about caring for those in our Minneapolis community and beyond, I’m excited to be part of a group committed to caring for our own congregation. I’m excited about becoming a Telling Presence closer to home-to our Westminster community.

Jesus teaches us-shows us-how to do and be “church”.  Caring for each other and being willing to be cared for.  A one-way route does not suffice.  People willing to give care and love without anyone to receive that care, does not create community.

Shinn: In a very powerful and palpable way, the large crowd in the wilderness, resembled the traveling Israelites in the desert, became a church to each other. They were no longer strangers, but a large family sharing, supporting, comforting, and feasting today in the most unlikely place and yet most familiar place, around a meal. Just as the Israelites shared a daily common meal of manna from heaven, so did this crowd on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. God met their spiritual hunger and their physical hunger. Jesus commanded the disciples to nourish the people’s spiritual and physical needs with compassion. These needs are basic human rights. Just as need for community and need for food are fundamental, so is right to have affordable health care.

Laurie, may I invite you to tell us a time when you were supported, comforted, and fed by your community and church?

Fetterman: By education, I am a nurse. I have not worked for money for years, but you can probably guess a few things about me just knowing that fact-certain personality qualities often direct a person toward choosing nursing as a profession-also the education and training grow you and change you.  So-I feel I’m pretty good at empathy and caregiving.  Very good deacon qualities, I think. I’m also a sturdy person of primarily Danish/Norwegian descent. I have been blessed with a great faith, great family and great friends. As far as difficult times go-and there have been the normal ones along the way-I would have (before 3 years ago) said, “I’ve got this”. “So happy to do anything for you, but, “I’m good”.

Then November 2014, lying in bed in the morning with my hand on my abdomen, I feel something. Something big-like the size of a coke can. I mentally run through my anatomy-no, there should be nothing there. Maybe it’s just something that needs to move along.  Wait 24 hours.  Still there the next morning.  Into the doctor I go…and so begins my odyssey with cancer and cancer treatment.  Still, I’m a medical person. I’ve got good doctors, at least I eventually did (That’s a whole other story), I understand what’s happening and needs to happen in my treatment.  I’m good. And then God showed up. All over, so many places, so many stories. But for today, I will share 2 places where God showed up and showed me gracious, grace-filled love.

First-prayer.  I am not sure how many people were praying for me-I hope some still are.  My two discipleship groups here at Westminster along with other Westminster friends and clergy, my old CPC group, my Lutheran bible study group, NY church and friends in Iowa, my dear friend from Iowa who had half of North Dakota praying for me, my home church in Ohio and my best friend’s church in Ohio, so many people in California…the list goes on and on. Heck, I even used my Facebook page to ask for prayer! I firmly believe that my crappy prognosis has entirely been changed and improved thanks to all those faithful people praying for me. I surely don’t know how prayer works. For me, that is for God to understand. What I do know is that I felt emotionally and spiritually supported-but also physically. I was changed by God through those people faithfully praying/caring for me.

During my treatment, I had many caring and loving people bring meals, spend time visiting, calling to check on how I was doing. I even had friends who brought their new puppy by to raise my spirits.  I felt blessed by all these people and know God was present always, but the second place God showed up and changed me was through my Friday friend.

We had lunch every Friday. Early on, we went out to lunch.  By the end of my treatment when I was unable to eat or walk, she came to my house bringing something that looked delicious and spent time with me. An hour or so of her time. Listening and being present with me.  She had no cure to offer.  No relief of my physical torments.  No answers.  She was simply there-bringing her grace and God’s. I know now the importance of allowing others to care for me- for me to receive care. To know the joy of God’s love through another’s presence.  Because of my Friday friend, I am a changed person.

Shinn: Amen, Amen, and Amen! Praise God for sending people to walk alongside us when we needed the most. Amen.

As the Board of Deacons makes the three-year transition to fully become a board of caregivers and activators, and “Telling Presence to Each Other,” we are also starting or restarting a ministry based on the principles of the BeFriender Ministry. Laurie had lifted up the four core principles for us:
God is present
Caring, not curing
Nonjudgemental presence
Active listening

Laurie, together with Steph Svee, will be attending the intensive and informative training from 8/22-25. Then we hope to have them bring back those principles and practices to further lift up the caring presence in our church. I am so excited what you all will be bringing back to us.

Fetterman: It is a God thing. It is a God thing that I found this congregation at this time, with my experience when the church is headed in this direction. With the new building, new beginnings. The light is shining into the new future-pointing us toward excitement and hope.

Steph Svee, one of my fellow deacons, and I are looking forward to Befriender training in a few weeks.  We will then train others in the congregation who are called to this ministry. A ministry of care and compassion that reflects Jesus love for us.  I would like to find a new name for our Befriender Ministry.  I think about my Friday friend, she was my friend long before my cancer treatment. She is an exceptionally busy person, very difficult to make a lunch date with her!  And yet, at that time she found space for me.  At that time she was much more than a friend. Profoundly more than a friend.  David and Steph and I are continuing to discern, to pray. Maybe we will come up with something else to call this ministry that will reflect what it is to walk alongside someone who needs God’s presence through a human companion.  I think it is a different and bigger ministry than being a friend.  This ministry will allow people serve and fulfill their call…to live into a greater identity and relationship with Christ and their fellow congregants. To serve as A Telling Presence closer to home. Living into God’s call to be church to each other.

I am a person of God and of science.  I believe in miracles. I also believe that miracles work within the laws of what we call science.  Laws that God created.  To me, it doesn’t matter how the miracle happened.  It happened and is related in all four Gospels so that we will sit up and take notice.  There is much to be learned from this story.  The miracle of feeding the 5000 happened within community.  Church was created. Food, love and care were distributed by Jesus’ disciples. The food, love and care were received. Community is strengthened.  We have an opportunity to follow that example. To learn and practice our faith and grow and strengthen our Westminster community.  I am profoundly grateful, and feel blessed to be a part of such an exciting ministry.

Shinn: Jesus showed us again today that grief is powerful, devastating, and it is life-long. Living with grief is a reality for so, so many of us today. Yet the operative invitation is to live with heart to receive and heart to give. The Board of Deacons will lead us in being “A Telling Presence to each other.” They will need your prayers and support. Together we can do this “God thing!”

It is a God thing when we are a church for each other. It is a God thing when we become “Telling Presence to Each Other.” It is a God thing when we share, give, and receive from each other. Let us do likewise, as Jesus commands us, and do this God thing here in our church. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer ~10:00 am Worship

Brennan Blue

Let us pray: Our God and Creator

it is truly right and our greatest joy to give you thanks and praise

In your wisdom, you made all things

and sustain them by your power

You made an everlasting covenant with us, though we forsook your way

Still, you call the thirsty to come to the waters

you invite the poor and hungry to come and eat

Here, at the table, where compassion meets community

We remember, your great love for the world

Made known to us in Christ

And so, with the earth and sea and all their creatures

and with the great choirs of heaven

and all the faithful of every time and place

we lift our hearts in joyful praise to your Holy Name

God of majesty

blessed is Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord

In Jesus, your Word became flesh

and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth

You anointed Jesus Christ with the gift of your Holy Spirit

And sent your son, our savior, to teach and guide us

Though we have lived wastefully, still you feed and nourish us

And through your example, we find hope to share

That all may be fed and whole

In life, in death, and in life beyond death

We find our calling and our salvation in you

So may your Word, in flesh and in Spirit, continue to bring

life beyond death and love beyond merit

May your peace rise in the life of our community and the life of our world

Comforting all of those who feel lost or lonely;
All those struggling with the burden of mental illness or disability

All those who feel far from the promise of hope or healing

We pray for the community of Minnehaha Academy following this week’s tragic explosion

We raise our prayers for the deceased, for all those who are injured, grieving and experiencing post-traumatic stress and fear

We pray for the community of the Dar Al Farooq Islamic Center in Bloomington

Who were victims of an attack from an improvised explosive device

Early yesterday morning as them members gathered for prayer

We give thanks that none were physically injured, but decry the hurt that

Comes with this act of hatred and violence

We pray for our Muslim brothers and sisters

For their right to be

To gather, to worship, to pray

And we pray that all of our hearts may be cleared of prejudice and fear

Which cloud our ability to love and care for our neighbors as we would ourselves

We seek your relief from anger, vitriol, sorrow and despair

And pray that you would guide our wayward hearts back to your love and mercy

May breaking bread fill our breaking hearts

And may the cup of covenant call us forward

To be your hands and feed in the word

For in remembering your compassion and care

we do take from your creation the gifts of grain and grape

and joyfully celebrate the life, death and resurrection of Christ

May you pour out your Holy Spirit upon us, Lord, and upon these gifts

that the bread we break and the cup we bless may be

the communion of the body and blood of Christ

As you have gathered us, so may you nourish and lead us

Into the world to share these many loaves

That all may be blessed and whole

Fill us with your Spirit

As we share in the prayer Christ taught us, saying…

Latest Sermons