A life worthy

Thursday

Ephesians 4:1-16

File:105mm Light Artillery Guns at Military Pageant MOD 45156133.jpg1I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.

We set such low standards for ourselves. “I’m only human…” “Well if you had heard what she said…” “Why should I give when no one else is contributing…?”

And yet we seem to lack such charity with others.

We surrender easily to prejudices. We yield to the tantalizing delight of gossip (dismissing what we are doing as gossip). We see the sliver in our neighbor’s eye without ever seeing the mote in our own. We are not far different than those who chant “Death to America” – just replacing the object our hostility. We celebrate the death of “terrorists” without wondering who these people are and whether killing is good or the government is telling us the truth or just naming them all the dead as “terrorists”. We have been made uncomfortable this last year with images of the police being frail and sometimes vengeful human beings rather than the noble officers we want to believe them to be. The haves need very much to believe the system is just and fair; it blesses our privilege as our just reward.

“A life worthy of the calling.”

At the heart of Christian faith is a model of heroic sacrifice. At the heart of Christian faith is a good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. We have been content to receive the blessings of his self-offering without following in his footsteps.

Christ gave everything, but we are parsimonious. Christ welcomed the outcasts, but we are comfortable casting them out. Christ received the foreigner and healed the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter, but we build walls – or want to build walls. We who cheered the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, how do we preach the building of walls in Israel or along our border? And what about the unseen walls that preserve our neighborhoods?

“A life worthy of the calling.”

We bear an honorable name. We bear the name of the Father of all and Redeemer of all. How is it that we permit ourselves to be vain, petty and selfish? We are inheritors of the Kingdom, partakers of the Spirit of God. How is it that we live the vainglories of this world?

“A life worthy of the calling.”

A life worthy of the calling to be children of the kingdom. A life worthy of the calling to be the voice of God in the world. A life worthy of the calling to be agents of reconciliation. A life worthy of the calling to be healers and peacemakers. A life worthy of the calling to seek and do justice, to be mindful of the weak, to life up the poor, to be grace to the burdened and hope for the despairing. A life worthy of the calling to be a city set on a hill, a light shining in the darkness. A life worthy of the calling that none should go hungry and he that has two coats should share with him who has none. A life worthy of the calling of him who is perfect love.

“A life worthy of the calling.”

For a calling it is.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A105mm_Light_Artillery_Guns_at_Military_Pageant_MOD_45156133.jpg. Photo credit: 103 Regt (V) RA/MOD [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Life-giving bread

Watching for the Morning of August 2, 2015

Year B

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

File:340 MS 65 F168 V.jpgThe people come looking for Jesus, but Jesus rebuffs them. It is always uncomfortable when Jesus is rude to people. But they are on the wrong path and he needs to jolt them out of it. And he’s only just beginning.

We are talking about the meaning of the sign of the loaves and fishes. It will occupy us for the rest of chapter 6 in John, which we will read over the next four weeks. And the first part of this conversation is about the manna that sustained Israel during the forty years in the wilderness.

So we will read from Exodus of the people’s complaint and the bread they received each morning. We will hear the psalmist sing how God gave them “the food of angels.” And we will listen as Jesus challenges the people that the true bread from heaven, the true life-giving bread, was not the manna in the wilderness but Jesus: “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

The reading from Ephesians speaks to those who have received Jesus as the bread of life:

“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, 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.

In contrast to the unbelieving crowds hunting for Jesus the author of Ephesians takes up the image of the victory parade of the conquering hero entering the city and lavishing gifts upon the people. But our conquering hero is not Caesar returning from war with plunder, but Christ ascending to the father and lavishing gifts for ministry – gifts to bring the Christian community to full maturity in Christ, gifts to bring this life-giving bread to the world.

The Prayer August 2, 2015

Heavenly Father,
you sustained your people through the wilderness with manna from heaven;
sustain us through the days of our lives
by the presence him who is the true bread of life,
your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 2, 2015

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
“Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.” – God provides manna in the wilderness and it is both a gracious providing and a test of the people’s allegiance to God.

Psalmody: Psalm 78:22-29 (appointed 23-29)
“He rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.”
– The poet sings of the faithfulness of God who provided for the people in the wilderness.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”
– The author begins his exhortation for the community to live in keeping with the grace of God they have experienced in Christ.

Gospel: John 6:24-35
“Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” – The crowds seek Jesus after the feeding of the five-thousand but Jesus challenges them to see that the true bread from heaven was not the manna God gave them in the wilderness. The true life-giving bread is present to them in Jesus.

 

Image: Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, ca. 1411-1416.  Limbourg brothers [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It’s not about the bread

About last Sunday – and the ones to come

John 6:1-21

File:Raffaellino del garbo, moltiplicazione dei pani e dei pesci, da s.m. maddalena de' pazzi 09.JPG15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

This is an important piece of information that shapes what will come next in John’s Gospel: the response of the crowd moves quickly from wonder to self-gratification.

The text says that they “saw the sign.” They recognized what this pointed to, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world,” but they became preoccupied with the bread. They looked at the physical and missed the spiritual. They saw bread. They saw full bellies. They saw a release from the labor and anxiety of the fields. They attended to the obvious and missed the profound.

It’s hard to blame them. We are all like them in a way, concerned about what we need from Jesus rather than what Jesus needs from us.

The five thousand gathered on the hillside around Jesus were people who were familiar with hunger. They were what we now call “food insecure.” It is a chronic concern of subsistence farmers, those dependent upon the rains and beneficence of nature for the crops that will sustain them through the year. And it was exacerbated in Galilee by the high portion of their crop that went to landowners and the temple and the state. But now, here is one who, with a boy’s lunch, can feed 5,000. You can almost hear the rumble through the crowd: “We will never be hungry again!”   It takes no special insight to understand that they would make him king.

But the bread is a sign. It points beyond itself. It points to the God who created a bountiful world. It points to the commandment that bread be shared – that the hungry would be fed, the sick tended, the poor aided. It points to the will of God in creating the world. It points to our true humanity. It points to the beneficence of God and the promise of a world restored to its true purpose. And it points to Jesus. It points to him who is the face of God, the witness to our true humanity, and the opening of the path to our re-creation – our being born from above.

Joel Osteen is coming to town and tickets are $15.00 a head. The capacity of AT&T Park is listed at 41,503 – so he starts with a gate well past half a million. He will tell everyone how God wants them to prosper. And it’s not untrue. It’s just that he has everyone looking at the bread and not at the sign.

Christian faith is not a technique for peace and prosperity. Nor is it a denial of death through a promise we will be with loved ones again. It is a witness to the truth of God, the truth of existence, and the truth of our humanity. It is a witness that this ultimate truth has dwelt among us. And it is a call to follow where he leads: to live now the life that is eternal.

God knows we all need bread. But the bread we truly need is the bread of life, the living bread, the living Word who breathes upon us his Spirit. We need our humanity – not our frail, broken, “everyone makes mistakes”, “we all have our dark side” humanity, but the humanity that is born of God.

 

Feeding the multitude by Raffaellino del Garbo.  Photo: By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
For more of this artwork, see https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Feeding_the_multitude_by_Raffaellino_del_Garbo

The world’s true lord

Saturday

Psalm 145:10-18

File:De barmhartige Samaritaan Frank Letterie Dorpsstraat Putten.jpg14The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The Tanakh translation by the Jewish Publication Society translates this verse as:

The LORD supports all who stumble,
and makes all who are bent stand straight.

Without casting aspersions on our economic system, I want to simply point out the contrast: Our system rewards those who do not stumble, who stand tall. In the same way, our society rewards the beautiful not the plain. Donald Trump makes the evening news for saying the same racist things as the shooter at the Lafayette theater, but Trump is on the news because he is rich, powerful and famous while the other is a nutcase.

In contrast to our social context – in contrast to the ‘gods’ of our society (money, sex and power, the things in which we put our hope and trust) – is the God to whom the scriptures bear witness:

The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The stumbling, groping, uncertain, struggling – the mother of three with two jobs, the unemployed man at 55, the children in violent neighborhoods, the uncared for – these are the ones to whom the mighty and majestic power of the universe reaches out his hands.

And it is important that we remember that those hands carry the marks of nails.

The god we worship is not the god of success and power. The god before whom we bow is not the conqueror of nations. The god to whom we stretch out our hands is the one who revealed himself to Moses the murderer when he was in exile. The god who stretches out his hands to us is the one who gathered a people out of bondage and gave them commands to care for one another that none may go hungry. The god to whom we show allegiance is the one who takes widows and orphans into his shelter, who speaks for the poor, who binds up the wounded, who gathers the scattered, who touches the unclean.

The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

The god we worship is the one who paddles upstream against the current of human affairs. He is the god of refugees and grieving mothers. He is the god of compassion and mercy. He is the god of healing and grace. He is the god who revealed himself not with legions of angels but upon a cross speaking words of grace: “Father, forgive them.”

We inhabit a world of terrible injustices and cruelties that we have learned to take for granted. But there is a god who camps with the homeless, who walks the mean streets, who dwells in the troubled homes. This, we proclaim, is the world’s true lord. This, we proclaim, is the one who called all creation into being and breathes into each of us the breath of life. This, we proclaim, is the one who will be history’s final word. By him will all things be measured. For him will all things exist. With him will all creation dine.

The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

 

Sculpture “De barmhartige Samaritaan” (the Good Samaritan) by Frank Letterie in 1976, placed in 1997 at the square at the Dorpsstraat/Kerkweg in Putten.  Image by Brbbl (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

I am. Stop being afraid.

Friday

John 6:1-21

File:Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water, c. 1907.jpg19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

I remember reading this as a young person and hearing it to say that “Jesus can do anything.” I saw in it a demonstration of power. I didn’t have the experience yet to recognize the true power of the imagery.

I didn’t know yet what it was to be cast adrift in the storms of life. I didn’t know yet what it was to be battling rough seas in the dark. I didn’t know true fear or chronic anxiety or what it was like to be in distress and wondering why Jesus is not with us.

All of this is in this story.

I didn’t yet know about the turbulent times in which Mark’s community lived – with brutal war and ideologies raging about them. I didn’t know that storms at sea were understood to be spiritual assaults rather than natural forces.  I didn’t understand what it means that these stories are stories about a community not individual faith. And, most of all, I didn’t yet know that the words we translate “It is I,” are deeply significant words that, translated literally, say “I am” and bespeak the name of God given to ancient Israel.

The message of the story isn’t that with enough faith we can walk on water. Nor is it that Jesus is a man of power (and can do anything for us if we believe firmly enough). The message is “I am. Stop being afraid.”

“I am.” Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called forth the world from the chaos of the primordial sea. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the eternal God who called Abraham and Sarah to go forth on the promise of a new country. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the holy one who met Moses in the burning bush. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the mighty one who divided the waters of the Red Sea and delivered both Egypt and Israel from slavery. Christ Jesus is the living presence of the voice that spoke at Sinai commanding fidelity to God and one another and directing a people to live justice and compassion.

Though we are beset by storms, though we dwell in darkness, though Jesus seems absent, he is yet the living presence of the faithful one who does not abandon his people or the world he has made, but gathers all things to himself.

In the midst of life’s chaos, in the midst of life’s sorrows, in the face of life’s evils, God is yet God. Christ is yet Lord. The hidden one has shown his face. His faithfulness is sure. His promise abides. And with him we will reach the far shore.

He said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

 

Painting: Henry Ossawa Tanner, The Disciples See Christ Walking on the Water  [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

A sweet little verse

Thursday

2 Kings 4:42-44

File:Roti-obaid.jpg42A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God

This is one of those sweet little verses in the scriptures pregnant with meaning easily overlooked. First, it is a time of famine, but this unnamed man still gives away the first fruits of what little harvest he has. There is not enough in the harvest for himself or his family, but that first portion still belongs to God and he will not dishonor himself or God by keeping it for himself. His allegiance to God and God’s commands trumps even his hunger.

Second, he gives an offering of first fruits. However small his drought stricken harvest, he will give thanks to God for what he receives from the ground. Everything that grows, even when it is not enough, he sees as gift from God.

Third, he is from a town with the word ‘baal’ in the title. None of my study Bibles explains the meaning of this name. The word ‘baal’ can mean husband, lord or master, but it is also the name of the god of the thunderstorm, the god of fertility and abundance worshipped by the wealthy city-states of Tyre and Sidon. King Ahab built for Queen Jezebel a temple to Baal. It was the official royal cult for a period, the progressive modern faith of the time, a worship of prosperity and power. Jezebel worked to extinguish the culturally backward faith in the LORD. So while the allegiance of the larger culture has turned towards mammon, this man from Baal-shalishah is bringing his offering to a prophet of the LORD. Fidelity against the cultural tide. Allegiance to God over allegiance to the times. Generosity over acquisitiveness. Taking care of others rather than possessing for oneself. As I said, a sweet little verse.

A nameless faithfulness, a nameless generosity, a nameless courage, remembered forever.

And then there is Elisha, who trusts that what could not feed ten will feed a hundred.

And finally there are leftovers. This does not mean they were stuffing things into plastic containers and stashing them in the refrigerator for a late night snack or tomorrow’s dinner. What the men do not eat is given to the women and children. What the women and children do not eat is given to the poor. That there are leftovers means that everyone along the way remembered the needs of others, just like the man from Baal-shalishah.

As I said, a sweet, sweet verse full of meaning easily overlooked – and a faithfulness that ought not be.

Photo: By Obaid Raza (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One bountiful table

Watching for the Morning of July 26, 2015

Year B

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

File:Pan asturiano.JPGSunday we begin a five-week excursion through the sixth chapter of the Gospel of John that relates the feeding of the five thousand and the subsequent conversations about the meaning of that sign. As we have been reading through Mark’s Gospel, the next portion would have been the feeding of the crowds (who were like sheep without a shepherd). But the lectionary pauses in order to hear the rich development of this event in the Gospel of John.

So Sunday is about God’s wondrous providing. During a time of famine, a poor man brings to Elisha his offering of first fruits (barley is the food of the poor, since it grows on poorer soil). Though these twenty small loaves would not normally feed even twenty, it is more than enough to satisfy a hundred. The psalm sings of God’s faithfulness in his care for those in need and his gracious providing for all. And Jesus takes up the five loaves and two fish to feed five thousand with twelve baskets left over.

Providing a kind of soaring descant to these wonderful texts is the majestic prayer by the writer of Ephesians that we may “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge,” and “be filled with all the fullness of God.”

Each of the gospel writers pick and choose which stories to tell in order to reveal the meaning of God’s work in and through Jesus. In a rare unity, all four of them include this story of the five loaves and two fish. It is not a story about Jesus’ wonder-working power; it is a witness to the dawning reign of God when our wounded earth is healed, all war and divisions overcome, and all people gathered to one bountiful table.

This is why this story is paired with the account of Jesus walking on water. For the God who spoke over the primal sea and brought forth his good and bountiful creation has spoken again in Christ to restore the life of the world. As we will hear in John these next Sundays, God has provided not just our daily bread, but the bread of life for the world.

The Prayer July 26, 2015

Merciful Father,
you stretch forth your hand to feed those who hunger,
grant us a share in the banquet that is to come,
and the faith to live according to your promise;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 26, 2015

First Reading: 2 Kings 4:42-44
“A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to Elisha, the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack.” – Elisha feeds a hundred people with twenty small loaves with food left over.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:10-18
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.”
– The poet praises God for his goodness and faithfulness in providing for all.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:14-21
“I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.”
– The author prays for the community to be rooted in the love of Christ and the power of the Spirit.

Gospel: John 6:1-21
“’There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?’” – The feeding of the five-thousand with twelve baskets left over.

 

Photo: By Tamorlan (Photo taken by Tamorlan) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The royal table

Saturday

Psalm 23

File:Cava (5303223614).jpg5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies:
thou anointest my head with oil;
my cup runneth over.

The wine flows freely at God’s banquet.

And it is good wine.

The poet switches metaphors in the middle of his psalm, but both are royal images: God as shepherd and God as banquet host. They are themes that weave throughout the scriptures going back to the exodus when God led the people out from slavery and provided them food in the wilderness.

The leaders of the nation are condemned through the prophets because they feed off the people rather than protect and provide for them.

2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. (Ezekiel 34:2-3)

And in the face of such worthless shepherds God promises both that God will raise up a righteous shepherd and that God himself will be our shepherd. Promises that get woven together in Christ who declares: “I am the good shepherd.”

The message of Jesus was that the reign of God was at hand, and in him we see and hear that reign. The sick are healed. The outcasts are gathered in. Sins are forgiven. Grace abounds. All are fed at God’s bounteous table. Five thousand from five small “loaves” (it’s hard to call a flat bread the size of your hand a “loaf”) and two small dried fish – with twelve baskets left over. Water is turned to overflowing wine, wine strained clear.

It is what the prophet declared:

6On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make
for all peoples
a feast of rich food,
a feast of well-aged wines,
of rich food filled with marrow,
of well-aged wines strained clear.
7And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples,
the sheet that is spread over all nations;
he will swallow up death forever.
8Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 25:6-8)

And we hear it in the Gospel this Sunday: “He had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things…”

He began to teach them, because it is not just about bread; it is about joy and deliverance and the way of being human. It is about living the compassion of God. It is about forgiving one another and loving our neighbor and having the burden of humanity’s shame lifted away. We who are all created in the image of God have lived war and greed and cruelty. We have ben Cain rising against Abel. We have been Abraham protecting himself rather than his hosts. We have been Sodom and Gomorrah, abusing others in our power. We have been Job’s self-righteous friends. We have been Jonah fleeing from our mission. We have been the man building bigger barns rather than sharing God’s bounty. We have been Peter denying. And this incomprehensible burden of shame, our dishonoring of God, has been carried away by a royal pardon, a king who bears it all.

“He began to teach them,” teach them about God’s mercy, God’s abundance, and our true path. He is indeed our shepherd. And he invites us to his table where grace abounds like wine, and all are fed, and goodness and steadfast love don’t just follow us – the Hebrew word means to pursue – God’s goodness keeps chasing us. Forever.

 

Photo: By cyclonebill from Copenhagen, Denmark (Cava  Uploaded by FAEP) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

They hurried on foot

Wednesday

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

File:Фрагмент абраза “Спас Уседзяржыцель”.jpg33Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them.

They ran to be at the place where Jesus would come. Jesus and his disciples were crossing the sea in boats; the people ran around the sea to be there when they arrived.

Galilee is not a small lake. It is 13 miles long and 8 miles wide, not quite as big as Lake Tahoe, but considerably larger than most recreational lakes. I don’t know if people were running to the complete other side of the lake or just round the corner to wherever Jesus was stopping next, but it is no small run just for the chance to hear Jesus’ words and, perhaps, be touched with his healing.

His words are read every Sunday, and the bread broken and shared as he shared it. But the only time I remember running for church was when my step-father was honking the horn and I wasn’t completely dressed yet – running to the car with shoes and tie in hand.

His words are read every Sunday. Why has the chance to hear it lost its power to make us chase after him?

I fear it is because we have so domesticated his words, boxed and bound them into systems of obedience – whether moral rules or ecclesiastical rules. Those who heard him, and continued to meet together after his death, shared their resources with one another so that none would go hungry – but we have made Jesus (or at least God) the defender of private property. Those who heard him know that he welcomed sinners and outcasts – indeed many were sinners and outcasts – but we have made Jesus the advocate of prim and proper. Those who heard him know that he taught love of all, even love of enemies – seeing and treating them as members of one’s own household – but we have made that into a noble ideal rather than an expectation for our daily lives.

Those who heard Jesus know he was proclaiming a message that would overturn the world they knew. Maybe we like the world we know and that’s why we don’t run to hear his words.

Or maybe those who are reading his words have turned it into a defense of the world we know.

But those words of Jesus are still rattling around. They are hard to domesticate. And every now and then they break out with new power to grab someone’s life and we end up with a St. Francis, or a Pope Francis, or that retired couple I met by accident in a suburban church who, every Wednesday, made a hundred sandwiches and took them down to hand out on Cass Avenue – the center of the homeless poor in Detroit.

There are people who still understand that these words are worth running to hear.

 

image: By Babičy School [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Promise fulfilled

Watching for the Morning of July 19, 2015

Year B

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

File:Jableh.jpgLast week we saw the bad shepherd, Herod, whose reign brought shame and death. This Sunday we see the good shepherd who brings healing and life.

Jeremiah proclaims God’s judgment on the leadership of Judah that has led the nation to its destruction at the hands of the Babylonians, but God promises that he will gather his scattered remnant and bring them home, providing new and better kings and priests: “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.” But this promise is followed by another: the promise of the one king, the “righteous branch,” who will bring justice and righteousness.

The psalm is the familiar declaration that God is our shepherd, our true king, who protects and provides even in the darkest valley. Then the author of Ephesians speaks of Christ our peace who breaks down the dividing wall and gathers all people to himself, reconciling us to God and to one another, a single human community, a holy temple where God shall dwell.

And finally we see Jesus, gathering his followers after their mission but chased by the crowds: Jesus who has compassion for these scattered sheep and meets them with his teaching and healing – God’s promise fulfilled.

The Prayer July 19, 2015

Gracious God, our Good Shepherd, source of all healing and life,
as Jesus looked with compassion on the crowds,
look with compassion upon us,
and touch us with your healing Spirit;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 19, 2015

First Reading: Jeremiah 23:1-6
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” – Jeremiah proclaims God’s judgment on the leaders of the nations who have plundered the flock and led it to destruction, and speaks God’s promise to gather the remnant of his scattered people and provide them a true and faithful shepherd.

Psalmody: Psalm 23
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”
– The poet affirms that God is the true shepherd/king of the people.

Second Reading: Ephesians 1:3-14
“He is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.”
– God’s reconciling work in Christ to gather all people across all barriers, growing into a holy temple where God dwells on earth.

Gospel: Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
“As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” – The twelve return from their mission and go off to a deserted place, but the crowds follow and Jesus has compassion for them. The appointed text skips the feeding of the five thousand (to be taken up the following Sunday) to witness to Jesus as the Good Shepherd who teaches and heals.

 

Photo: By Victor.ibrahiem.photographe (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons