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

Hope and grace

Tuesday

Joel 2

File:Nube de langostas en el Sáhara Occidental (1944).jpg2Like blackness spread upon the mountains
a great and powerful army comes.

Some disasters give you no warning: the earth shakes and fear overwhelms you only in the moment you realize this is a big one.  But other disasters you see on the horizon: the thick dark clouds that tell of an impending storm, the sickly green sky that warns you this one has the potential for terror, the strange stillness that fills you with dread as you watch and wonder and wait to hear if the tornado sirens will sound.

I wonder if all the people see what the prophet sees: the dark cloud of the massive swarms of locusts advancing like waves – or if the prophet has been given a vision of what is yet beyond the horizon.

So much of the prophetic literature arises from what the prophets see that others do not yet see.  Isaiah sees the advancing storm of Assyria, Jeremiah the impending doom of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon.  The city is filled with illusion.  The elites do not see that their common life is corroded with injustice and near collapse.  The prophets are attacked as unpatriotic; they wouldn’t join the chorus that “We are the greatest country on earth.”  “God is on our side!”  “God will never let Jerusalem fall.”  The prophets saw instead the sufferings of the poor, the corruption, the greed, the end of compassion, the loss of justice.  They saw that God was ready to withdraw his protective hand.

In Greek mythology, Cassandra, the daughter of the king of Troy, received from the god Apollo the gift of prophetic sight, but because she spurned his sexual advances, he punished her with the curse that no one would believe her.  So she could see that Paris would kidnap Helen and prompt the Trojan War.  She could see the pending slaughter.  And she could see that Greek warriors were hiding in the belly of the great horse left by the (apparently) departing Greeks.  She cried out against the folly of tearing down the city gates to bring the horse into the city, but she was dismissed as crazy.  Perhaps it is the curse of every prophet to see that the nation is on the path of folly and have no one hear.

But Joel seems to be the exception.  The people responded to the sound of the shofar.  They came in repentance.  The poured out their prayers and turned their hope to God.  And “the LORD became jealous for his land, and had pity on his people.”

We read Joel on Ash Wednesday, hear his call to “return to the LORD” and sing that verse all through Lent.  We have the option to read Isaiah – and the text from Isaiah is wonderful – but the first choice is Joel.  And maybe the first choice is Joel because the people listened to Joel.  They came.  They prayed.  They turned to the Lord.  And God heard.  This one time, the call for repentance was met with obedience.

It is good to begin Lent with hope and grace.