Choose your kingdom; choose your king

File:Tomato vender at the Covington Farmer's Market in Covington, LA.jpg

“You that have no money, come, buy and eat!” (Isaiah 55)

Watching for the Morning of August 6, 2017

Year A

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 13 / Lectionary 18

I live in a place and time where there has always been food in the grocery store. I understand that privilege. And even in the years I lived in a place that is now referred to as an urban “food desert”, I had a car with which to reach the suburban stores where milk and meat were fresh, and bread and fruit plentiful. I understand the privilege.

I have seen parts of the world where privilege is lacking. I have sat in a board meeting discussing whether we should help a companion church body in a region of the world where, after multiple years of drought, they had no seed corn. It disturbs me still, as it disturbed me then, that there was any hesitation. (We did commit to send the funds immediately, prior to the effort to raise them.)

The scripture is full of stories about famine. Famine takes Jacob (Israel) and his family to Egypt. Drought and famine had Elijah hiding in the wilderness and taking refuge with the widow of Zarephath. Famine takes Naomi to Moab where Ruth becomes her daughter-in-law (and David’s great-grandmother). Locusts (and the subsequent famine) are the occasion for the prophet Joel’s message. Subsistence farmers lead a precarious life, especially in the years of Jesus when the burden of taxes took nearly half the crop, and the necessity of keeping seed and feed left landowners with maybe 20% for food – far less for tenant farmers.

Hunger is a constant companion for too much of the world through too much of human history. And it is those who have known the anxiety and uncertainty of daily bread who recognize the full drama and grace of that day when five loaves feed five thousand.

It is food for today. And it is the bread of tomorrow. It is bread for those who hunger and a taste of a world without hunger. It is manna in the wilderness and a foretaste of the feast to come. It is the prophetic promise made present. It is a world reordered, a world set right, a world born from above. As Mary sang, “the hungry are filled with good things.

In contrast to Herod’s banquet, where Salome will dance for strangers, where the king’s daughter is used to inflame the king’s consorts, where plots conspire and the king’s vanity and shamelessness ends with the head of John on a platter – in contrast to Herod’s banquet is the banquet of Jesus where the people are healed and fed, with an abundance left over.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

+       +       +

Sunday we hear of the feeding of the five thousand. And the backdrop assigned for this narrative is the prophet of Isaiah 55 giving voice to God’s offer for all who are hungry to come and eat: bread freely given, wine and milk overflowing, the voice of God that is true life. And the psalm will speak of God’s gracious providing, “The LORD” who “upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down”:

15The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.
16You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

Sunday we will also hear Paul willing to be cursed for the sake of God’s people. And in that sentiment we recognize the spirit of the one who took the curse for our sake. The one who opened the grave. The one who poured out the Spirit. The one who brings the feast without end.

Choose your kingdom. Choose your king.

The Prayer for August 6, 2017

Almighty God,
through your Son Jesus you set a table
for all the world to come and feast.
Grant us hearts that are eager to hear your word,
share in your banquet,
and live your reign of mercy and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 6, 2017

First Reading: Isaiah 55:1-5
“Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat!” – After the return from exile, the prophet calls to the community like a vendor in the marketplace, inviting them to “feast” on God’s promise that the eternal covenant once established with David is now transferred to the whole nation.

Psalmody: Psalm 145:8-9, 14-21
“The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.” – A psalm of praise and thanksgiving for God’s grace and bounty.

Second Reading: Romans 9:1-5
“I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh.”
– Having laid out his message of God’s reconciling grace apart from the law, Paul now takes up the problem that God’s people have largely ignored the message of Christ Jesus. He begins with an expression of his great grief that Israel has not received this fruit of all their promises.

Gospel: Matthew 14:13-21
“All ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full.” – Following the parables of chapter 13, Matthew tells of Herod’s banquet where all act corruptly and John is beheaded, and of Jesus’ banquet on the mountain where he has compassion for all.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATomato_vender_at_the_Covington_Farmer’s_Market_in_Covington%2C_LA.jpg By Saint Tammany [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Let us hold fast

Saturday

Hebrews 10:11-14, 19-25

Ryssby Church 223Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, 25not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

There are too many bodies in the streets of Paris. Too many bodies in the towns and cities of Syria. Too many bodies in the streets of Iraq.

There are too many hungry children, too many infected with curable diseases, too many without clean water.

There are too many who live in fear, too many who face violence, too many imprisoned by hate.

There are too many.

We should be better than this. That’s part of it. We should be better than this. Our most fundamental humanity is the ability to love, to share, to laugh, to sing, to dance, to break bread together. To form bonds of friendship and fidelity. To show compassion. To help, to heal, to teach. To pray. To touch and be touched by what is holy and beautiful and good.

“Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering,” writes the author of Hebrews, “for he who has promised is faithful.”

Let us hold fast. When bodies lie on the ground, let us hold fast. When fear runs rampant, let us hold fast. When anger stirs towards vengeance, let us hold fast. When outrage turns towards hate, let us hold fast.

For he who has promised is faithful. God is faithful. God has promised. God has born witness to the world he creates – a world of life not death, of mercy not revenge, of truth not falsehood, of love not hate. God is faithful to that promise. Let us hold fast.

“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds.” Let us consider how to call one another into this world God creates. Let us consider how to prod one another to do the right thing, to be the right thing. Let us consider how to encourage one another to generosity, to compassion, to kindness, to care and to truth. Let us consider. Let us provoke.

And let us not neglect “to meet together, as is the habit of some.” For it is in meeting together, in seeing faces, in shaking hands, in sharing prayers, in singing praise, in breaking bread, in hearing the Word, that we are held fast in him who is the world’s true life.

I have also written a reflection on Paris, Jesus, violence, and the human heart entitled “With twelve baskets left over” at Jacob LimpingAnd I am part of those who meet together at Los Altos Lutheran Church. You are welcome to join us in body or spirit.

 

Photocredit:dkbonde

Hungering for a just world

Saturday

Matthew 5

File:Paolo Pagani Eucarestia Castello Valsolda.jpg

Paolo Pagani (1655 –1716), God the Father blessing and two children sharing a bread. Photo credit: Laurom

6“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Again and again in scripture God is revealed as a god who feeds the hungry. Psalm 107 declares, “He satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.” Psalm 146 proclaims the God of Jacob who “executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. The LORD sets the prisoners free.” When Isaiah 40 says, “He gives power to the faint,” in that wonderful passage about mounting up “with wings like eagles,” the Greek translates it as “he gives strength to the hungry.” Again and again the Hebrew word rendered ‘faint’ refers to the faintness caused by hunger.

God is a god who feeds the hungry, who delivers those in bondage, who is the defender of widows and orphans. When Matthew records Jesus’ words, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” it cannot be separated from the underlying notion of God’s care for the poor and vulnerable. The hungry are blessed not because they are hungry, but because there is a God who comes to the aid of those who hunger and who will bring all creation to a shared table.

It is this idea that connects Jesus’ promise in Luke, Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.” with the longer declaration here in Matthew. Hunger for righteousness is hunger for a just world – God’s just world – where bread is shared.

In the scripture, righteousness does not consist of a passing grade on a moral exam; it is not the observance of a list of rules and regulations; it is faithfulness to God and to one another. The Greek and Hebrew words that are usually translated as ‘righteousness’ refer to that fidelity to one another that fulfills all social obligations. It is why the word can be translated as both righteousness and justice, for their meanings merge. The ‘righteous’ keep faith with God and with one another. They remember and live the obligations to justice and mercy, to love of neighbor and love of God.

So the hungry will be filled – the hungry who, because they are hungry, hunger for a just world. And this hunger for a just world, this hunger for a world governed by the Spirit of God, this hunger for a world governed by justice and mercy is honored in God’s sight.

And it shall be filled.

Unrighteous Mammon

Wednesday

Luke 16

A young boy living on an East Cipinang garbage...

A young boy living on an East Cipinang garbage dump, Jakarta Indonesia. Picture taken by Jonathan McIntosh, 2004. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

9And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

The translation “dishonest wealth” is a poor choice.  The New International Version translates this somewhat better as “worldly wealth.”  The Revised Standard Version from the 50’s called it “unrighteous mammon” following the King James precedent of simply bringing the Greek word ‘mammon’ into English.  The point isn’t that these possessions are gained immorally, it’s that possessions belong to this age, not the age to come.  We will not need money in heaven, just as our first parents did not require coinage for their life in Eden.  The wealthy will have no bigger apartments in the New Jerusalem.  They will not dine in luxury, not will the poor subsist on gruel. A new fruit will ripen on the tree of life each month of the year.

Such statements are images, of course.  They reflect on the simple notion that when humanity is restored to God, when the human heart is brought under the reign of God’s spirit, bread will be shared.  As with manna in the wilderness, no one will have too much and no one will have too little.

Unlike our own day.

We have all seen the photographs of children with distended bellies because their bodies have begun to digest their own internal organs.  The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in every eight people suffered from chronic undernourishment in 2010-2012.  Yet 40% of the food in the United States and up to 50% worldwide is wasted or lost.

Families don’t work this way.  If anything it is the strong (parents) who go without for the sake of the weak (children).  And we know in our bones that were the world “set right,” no child would perish for want of food or clean water.  If God governs each human heart, if God reigns over a single human family, no one will go hungry.

So what shall we do with “unrighteous mammon”?  What shall we do with the wealth that is part of this world rather than the world to come?

The principle is simple, however difficult the execution might be: “make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes.  Use your possessions in keeping with the reign of God that you may find a home there when money is gone.

PS  Check out the counter showing pounds of wasted food at http://endhunger.org/food_waste.htm