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Lutheran Church of Honolulu, 1730 Punahou St., Honolulu, HI 96822; ELCA; 808-941-2566

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August 6, 2006 (Sunday 18 • Time after Pentecost)

Intern Pastor Joshua Graber

Ephesians 4:1–16; John 6:24–35

Since it’s getting closer to the end of my time with you here, I’m able to look back on this experience and get some perspective on what it’s meant to me and what I will remember about my year here. One part of being in Hawaii is that I had a lot of visitors.

This week after my sister, brother-in-law, and cousin left, I received a somewhat surprising email from a friend with his attached itinerary, and so I began preparing for one last visitor here before I go. I started thinking about how much of my time in Hawaii has been spent as a host. I did the math and found that one out of every four days here on Oahu I was hosting someone. While this was a great part of the internship, it was a little strange too. I don’t know how many visitors my friend Barry got on the Canadian border in Eastern Montana, but I’m guessing it was a few less than found there way across the Pacific.

I worked hard this year, and there was a lot going on in the life of this church. Having friends and family here was often a real comfort...BUT when you’re hosting people that much—on top of work and the other personal business you need to take care of—it often causes stress too. Hosting can be pretty hard.

Now I don’t know if you’ve had this experience, but it seemed like no matter how many times I told my visitors that they needed to prepare for their trip and plan ahead what to do on their own while I was at work, it was like this request would go in one ear and out the other. The day before they came I would often hear the same thing they told me when they first decided to come. “Oh, we don’t care. Just being in Hawaii will be great!”

Do you need my help translating this phrase? When these people show up—people we love, people that have been important parts of our lives—and all they have to say is “Oh we don’t care, just being in Hawaii will be great,” this translates into, to quote the late great Kurt Cobain, “Here we are; now entertain us.” I know they don’t mean for that to be the case. They are well meaning, but that is often the reality of hosting in Hawaii.

I know most of you have had this experience of playing host to relatives or friends that come to visit out here as well. And while it is our excuse to get to the beach, or go to a Luau, or go to museums or any of the other Hawaiian things we only do when people visit, we’ve probably all dealt with some of the frustrations of being a tour guide and felt like it was more of a full-time job than we wanted. Often being so close to vacationers, while not quite being on vacation, is a test of an islander’s strength.

This experience of hosting visitors seems to be as much part of the Hawaiian experience as anything else here. It’s kind of a right of passage that first year on the island. Hosting people with expectations but few plans is an experience that people living here can relate to. And it’s a way that we can relate to Jesus as well.

I needed this renewed connection with Jesus this week while I was thinking about my role as host. I found it in our gospel lesson for today. Jesus is on the run from a demanding crowd with many expectations. He seems to be trying to get out of his job as host—a job that these people were sure he wanted. They won’t let him get away, and then when they catch up to him, they even seem to be critiquing his abilities as a host. They ask him “what sign are you going to give us so we may see it and believe.” This is right after he fed thousands with five loaves of bread and two fish! Right after he walked on water! And they ask him to perform a miracle so that they’ll believe. “Good Grief!”

These are demanding guests. I think they may be lost in the crowd. If we were in this crowd, maybe we’d start saying, “Jesus, what have you done for me lately” as well. Maybe we’d forget the kind of host Jesus is and start making demands. But I like that Jesus points out that his job is not to host these people the way they expect, or even the way Moses did, but he wants to provide for them spiritually and in a new way.

I don’t think I’ve referenced Søren Kierkegaard yet in any of my sermons, but that is a must for any legitimate Lutheran pastor, so I’d like bring Kierkegaard, the great Dane of Lutheran theology, in on this topic. He talks about crowds in his journals. He believed crowds were an excuse for evil because the individual was lost in the crowd. In crowds people don’t only get lost, they also lose the responsibility for their actions. We see this time and time again. For instance, I don’t think any of you would want to see me in the stands at a hockey game! When you’re in a crowd, you’ll do things you wouldn’t do on your own. Kierkegaard brings up an interesting example of the crowd mentality (which he also calls the “herd mentality”). He says that no individual would be bold enough to spit in the face of Jesus Christ, but as part of a crowd many would do just that and worse. And of course a crowd does eventually do worse to Jesus.

Jesus knew about crowds; this one he deals with in our lesson today had just tried to make him king and he refused. Jesus had no interest in having that kind of power, a power with human expectations attached. While Jesus attracted crowds, I don’t think Jesus liked crowds. And in the gospels it seems that often once a crowd has gathered around Jesus, it leads to Jesus and his disciples hitting the road again. Or in the case of today’s gospel crossing the lake again.

But Jesus always seemed to have time to care for the individuals in the crowd. That’s a different story. He would spend hours healing the sick and needy.

What we often forget in the hustle and bustle of our busy lives is that Jesus has that same time for us as well. But we often don’t take that time with our Savior. We don’t seek that reconciliation and that healing. That individual time to dwell on and in our relationship with Jesus is often lost because we are too busy with our responsibilities—like hosting others—while Christ waits to host us at his table of healing. We all forget to remember that when all the crowds go away, when the relatives and friends go away, it is the relationship with Jesus that is the one that lasts beyond all others.

In my life thus far I have been quite gregarious, and I’ve found that people in communities I am a part of have often congregated around me, even when I’m not intentionally trying to be that type of person. For the most part I have enjoyed this and have opened myself up to people that wanted me to be a part of their lives.

Here in Hawaii, I have gotten to know many of you and appreciate all the quality times I’ve had with you. But I also really appreciate that this year I got to know myself as a child of God, in a new and lasting way, through being alone with God in a new place, exploring a new city by myself, and spending nights by myself in my apartment, with no friends awake on the mainland to call. I was forced into realizing that even when I was by myself, I was never alone. I realized that this relationship we talk about having with Jesus is very real, and very good, and is not defined by geography or whether the people around you believe it or not.

Kierkegaard says that what God wants is not for any of us to become lost in a crowd, but for us to live in a deeper relationship with God and through this relationship find our own “authentic self.” This term “authentic self” is an important one to me. And while the Proverbs say that “Man sharpens man as iron sharpens iron,” I am very thankful that my experience here in Hawaii gave me opportunity for solitude.

It’s an experience I didn’t realize I was missing, while I was busy being lost in a crowd, or leading a crowd, or being a tour director for a crowd! I feel this time away from the life I know, and the crowds I am a part of back home, has given me a chance to realize that my spiritual life, my relationship with Jesus, is here the whole time, even when there are no crowds.

And yet we are not meant to be alone in this world. That is not the end Jesus wants for us either. Jesus desires us to live in community and enjoy fellowship together and that is what we do here as a part of a church. But God wants a church that is made up of authentic selves, not blind followers in a crowd. Our solitude is valuable in remembering who we are and whose we are, but we live out that identity in community, and the community we are given to live that out in is a congregation, not a crowd.

Some people might see church as a place where people follow the crowd, where people come to lose themselves in a crowd or check their own identities and intellects at the door, but that’s not what a church should be.

Think about what a church really is. It’s people that know their identity as God’s children, that are connected together in a relationship with God as forgiven sinners, through the love of Christ, given in grace. The fellowship that lives in the relationships in that community is the love of God lived out—a love that calls us to a higher self, a self that knows its identity as sinner and rejoices in its claim as saint. Church is not a place where we are meant to get lost, but a place we get found. It is a place we find ourselves in the love of Christ and a place where we see our neighbor in a new way in the light of that love.

By knowing who we are in our identity in Christ, who we are when we realize the grace that surrounds our entire existence, we understand the gifts we are given as individuals in a new way and how those gifts can be used to benefit other people. Now I need to bring up another great Lutheran that I’m pretty sure all interns need to quote in a sermon before their internship is considered legit. Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains this cooperative understanding of Christian community as well. Bonhoeffer coined the phrase “the Christ in you is stronger than the Christ in me.” Meaning: what we have to offer in Jesus’ name, what we have to preach to another person is greater than what we could ever preach to ourselves or keep to ourselves. And in this way, in Christian community, the sum is always more than the parts and always growing, nourished in that shared love.

As I prepare to leave the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, I am so glad in these last weeks with you I was able to see this congregation working together in love, to build something of quality dedicated to the continued sharing of love in this community. This love, of course, takes the form of food, jellos, salads, and casseroles, that we share together in Christian table fellowship. Whether you call them potlatches or smorgasbords, churches have always been a place where gathering food and people together in one place made the sum greater than the parts. And now look at what a wonderful space you have to enjoy preparing those feasts together! And you did it through your work together; your collective care for this community was seen in how you tore down and rebuilt that space, and that is what is really special.

Yesterday, just like one of the workers in the vineyard who come when the work is almost completed, I finally put in some time on this construction project that many of you have been working on for a couple weeks now. I got to scrub the floors, clean some hinges, and hold things in place for people more skilled than I was in the use of power tools. While witnessing the cleaning power of a product called Simple Green, we were able to challenge each other to imagine what a product called Complicated Green might be capable of. And in this time working together we got to see how more than one person working on a project made the work of each of us better.

A lot of work went into that kitchen. A lot of planning. And lot of mana from the people of this congregation toward creating a space of quality and love for the future of this church. I had some good conversations with Jim during this time, and he challenged me to think of what the space represents. “Fellowship” I said, but he reminded me that the kitchen space is also a place of “nourishment” for the congregation, where we come together to be fed in table fellowship as Christians.

And there is another table we share where we come together to be nourished in Christ—where he is the most gracious host, even if we believe ourselves to be the worst of guests. Jesus says he is the bread of life. The bread that does not perish. And we should take him at his word.

Jesus nourishes this community every Sunday, and in our fellowship together during the week, and in our times alone, times where we also shape our authentic selves and recognize the offerings we bring to our neighbors. The grace of God through Christ shines a light on what we have to offer and who we truly are as children of God, who we are as authentic selves. And we all have these gifts.

As I continue to consider my gifts for ministry and how I will live out my call, I rejoice that you will be doing the same thing here at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu because we have all been given gifts and we have all been called to be ministers to one another of the grace that is real and at work in our lives. I can see you doing that in this sanctuary with Steve and soon with a new pastor here, but I can see you ministering to one another in the courtyard, ministering to one another in the kitchen—nourishing each other with that rich fellowship and hospitality I’ve grown (quite literally) to love. I can imagine you ministering to one another in the board room, ministering to each other in your homes, ministering to your friends, and maybe even giving the gift of grace to a stranger. We have all been given gifts, and we have all been called to be good stewards of those gifts and ministers to one another.

As LCH continues to plan for its future, and as each of you gathers together for a cottage meeting in the coming month, you will be considering your gifts—what you bring to this congregation and what your hopes and dreams for this congregation are. I ask that you take this calling—this calling to being a part of this church—seriously. I ask that you bring your authentic selves to these cottage meetings and remember as a part of this church you are much more than just another face in the crowd.

I’ve been learning this year. I’ve been listening. You’ve each taught me a different lesson I needed to learn, with your unique gifts shared with me. I see those gifts, and I want to make sure you see them too. So, in closing, I’d like to use something I learned from Bruce Craft, when he was a guest pastor here last month. Please close your eyes and let us meet Christ together in the rich words of Scripture from today’s Epistle lesson as it is addressed to us.

People of the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth, in building itself up in love.

I can’t wait to hear how Christ is working here at the Lutheran Church of Honolulu, building it up in love through each of you!

May the peace that passes all understanding keep your heart and your mind in Christ Jesus our Lord! Amen.

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