Isaiah 55:1-5, Romans 9:1-5, Matthew 14:13-21

“Awful Things”

P   Good Morning!

B  Good Morning!

M  But…did that really happen?

B  Did what really happen?

M  Was John the Baptist killed?

B  Where’d you get that from?

M  The story said, “When Jesus heard about the beheading of John the Baptist…”

B  Oh…

P   Yes, that really happened.

M  That’s awful!

P   Yes, it is.

B  Was it a gang, or some drug cartel?

P   No, it was the king of Israel.

M  But why?

P   The story trying to explain why is in the Bible, but the why doesn’t really make it any better, at least in my opinion.

B  What could make it better?

P   Well, some people might think the story would be better if John had actually done something to deserve being killed.

M  It would have to be something pretty bad!

P   Right. But what John had done was point out that Herod was misbehaving.

B  That’s it?

P   That’s it.

M  It’s awful!

B  Yeah, it is…

P   Yes, and awful things happened.  Awful things still happen.

B  That’s why Grampa lives with us now, because that awful virus was keeping us apart.

M  But it’s not just the virus…

P   What do you mean, Munchie?

M  John the Baptist didn’t die of the virus, he died because of people!

P   You’re right, and people still kill other people.  Sometimes it’s on purpose, like it was with John the Baptist.

B  He was Jesus’ cousin, wasn’t he?

P   Yes, they were relatives.

M  How can you kill someone, and it NOT be on purpose?

B  Ever heard of an accident?

M  Oh… I guess that was a stupid question…

P   But it’s not a stupid question, because sometimes, it’s not exactly an accident. Even Herod might have tried to explain John’s beheading as an accident, because he’d made a stupid promise.

(Silence)

P   Sometimes, we’re warned that what we’re doing is dangerous, that we might be going too far, and taking too many chances, but we keep doing it anyway.

M  Like when I tried to hold onto the car with my skateboard...

B  And when I thought I could carry Munchie and still fly…

P   Good thing you started from the bed and not the attic window!

M  I know, right?

P   Awful things happen, and sometimes those awful things are our own fault.

B  Sometimes they’re someone else’s fault!

M  And sometimes we could all share the blame.

P   That’s true. Yet, no matter who’s fault the awful things are, anyone (and sometimes everyone) suffers.

M  It’s hard.

P   Yes, it is.

B  But we’re not alone.

P   No, we’re not.

M  Even when we are far apart in different houses…

B  …we’re together because Jesus is with us all!

P   Yes, God is with us all, through all of this, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

M  Even the awful things?

B  Especially the awful things!

P   Let’s pray: Dear God, thank you for staying with us through the awful things.  Help us to trust that you will help us, that you will give us strength and hope, that your healing power will carry us through, and help us to heal from whatever ails us, in Jesus’ name.  Amen.

“Plowing Through”

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

It’s frustrating.  Our story tells us that Jesus tried to pull himself away from the crowds to deal with the horrors of the death of John, but the people wouldn’t let him alone.  And they weren’t there to try to support him in his grief, they were there demanding more from him.

There are times when we feel like we just can’t go on any more, like we need to quit, change course, and withdraw, and sometimes we can.  Sometimes we are allowed the opportunity to do that.  Then there’s times when we try, and circumstances don’t seem to let us.

I had an uncle who knew everything.  At least that’s the way he talked.  He was ahead of his time in farming when all the others considered him to be behind the times, because he refused to buy the seed that would grow with the application of particular weed-killing herbicides.  The problem was that he didn’t do it because of the possible scientific ramifications, he did it because he didn’t want to incur the financial costs—at least that’s how other relatives described his refusal to do what “everyone else was doing.”

Through the years, I’m sure it became more and more difficult to obtain seed that was not subject to copyright (which seems an odd term when speaking about something other than words), but I bring him up because of a different aspect of his stubborn heritage. 

He had a spot in the middle of a field that remained underwater throughout the spring planting season, though it would become farmable probably mid-summer, too late for the short North Dakota growing season.  But, that was where the rains that fell (when they did fall) would gather, and be better able to nourish the crop.  But you couldn’t seed the area by using a tractor, because it would get stuck.  You couldn’t use a harnessed team because they’d refuse to try to pull through what amounted to a quagmire—or they may also get stuck.  He got a bigger tractor, which also got stuck. 

I’ve seen pictures of tractors nearly buried in muck as they tried to plough through situations that were un-plough-able.  I’m guessing that some very choice words sprang from his mouth when that big tractor that held such promise first became stuck, but he was not to be defeated.  Instead, I can picture him stalking back to the machine shed and stomping around, trying to come up with some way to rescue the failed solution from the mire.  He stumbles over a reinforced chain he’d used in pulling out some stumps when digging a well, and catches himself against the smaller tractor, swearing once more before he starts to smile.  He attaches the chain to the back of the little tractor and piles the rest of it onto the floor around the seat.  Then he starts it up and heads out to the field, where he slogs on foot through the lake to attach the chain to the front of the big tractor.  He instructs the hired man to keep on seeding as he uses the smaller tractor to pull the larger one through the “lake,” disconnecting and reconnecting as many times as it takes to get the seed planted beneath the waters.  My uncle discovered a way to plough through the mire that had proven to be nearly impossible…

In today’s Gospel reading, Jesus found himself faced with crowds demanding his attention when he had withdrawn to take some time to process the injustice of the death of John the Baptist, his cousin, his friend, the one who had ploughed the way to prepare the people for the coming of the Messiah.  Jesus was thirsty for some solitude, but the crowds denied him satisfaction.  The crowds were thirsty, too.

Today, we’re thirsty.  We want to do what we’ve done all our lives.  We want to gather with neighbors and family and friends, from right next door and from far away.  We want to share hugs and raise a glass or two in solidarity, or at least in the hope of some common ground, but we are advised and even commanded to wear masks that cover our mouths and noses.  We are told to maintain at least six feet distance from other people as much as possible, and even further if either is singing or speaking forcefully. We’re thirsty for the kind of fellowship we’ve come to enjoy throughout our lifetimes, but stuck with a quagmire of do’s and don’t’s surrounding us and compelling us to find new ways to connect with one another… ways that are just not the same but which will have to suffice—at least for the foreseeable future.

If you’re thirsty, if you are in need of some support, please know that you are not alone in this.  Jesus was not alone in his grief, though he tried to obtain some solitude.  Jesus, upon seeing the needy crowds waiting for him in the place that was supposed to offer solitude found himself filled—filled with compassion, and God has that same compassion for you, and will fill you as well.

If you are thirsty, God is there for you.  However you are thirsty, God is there for you.  Whatever you need will be satisfied in some way, shape, or form.  It may not be according to our desired timeline, or even in the ways we envision, but God will provide for you the means and the opportunity to plough through, to emerge on the other side stronger and healthier than before.  This is God’s promise, through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.  Amen