And I will raise them up

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Watching for the Morning of August 12, 2018

Year B

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Again we are in John 6 this Sunday. Again we hear Jesus declare, “I am the bread of life.” And again we are confronted with the inability of the crowd to understand what Jesus is talking about. Indeed, the conversation grows testy, this week. Jesus asserts that he has come from the Father to bring life to the world, but they reject his claim saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus retorts that their fathers ate the manna and died; it did not bring them true life. He is the living bread that brings true life – and then alludes to his death: “and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Our first reading on Sunday will tell the story of Elijah fed by an angel, a bread from heaven that sustains him on his forty day journey to Sinai. The psalmist will sing of God’s deliverance and invite us all to “taste and see that the LORD is good.” And the author of Ephesians will urge us to “put away…all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” All these texts will lead us back to the words of Jesus, the promise of the resurrection, and he who is the true source of life, the one who brings to the world the imperishable life of God.

The feeding of the five thousand was a sign pointing to the true bread that brings the true and enduring life. But the crowd has not seen in this Jesus the promise of the Exodus and Sinai fulfilled; they have seen only the gratification of their hungers and desires. They look for the bread that perishes rather than the gift of life born from above. They have crossed the sea and met Jesus on a mountain but failed to see in this Israel’s journey out from bondage, through the wilderness, to the mountain where they heard God’s voice and were shown the way of true life. They fail to see in Jesus the fulfillment of God’s work of liberating the world from its primal alienation from the source of life.

They are like their ancestors who died in the wilderness. But those who come to Jesus, who abide in the one sent by the Father, who live in and live out the Father’s faithfulness and love – they shall never perish. The life of the age to come is theirs even now: “This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

The Prayer for August 12, 2018

O God of truth and life,
draw us to your self,
and feed us on the bread of life,
which is your Word, made flesh for us
in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 12, 2018

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-8 (appointed 4-8)
“Then [Elijah] lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water.” –Jezebel has vowed to kill Elijah for his triumph over the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel and he flees into the wilderness. There a heavenly messenger meets him and provides bread for his journey to Horeb (Mt. Sinai).

Psalmody: Psalm 34:1-8
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
– The poet calls upon the community to join him in his praise of God for all God’s goodness.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
– The author speaks to their common life, urging them to live in love, recognizing that they are members of one another in Christ.

Gospel: John 6: 35-51 (appointed 35, 41-51)
“Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.” In the conversation that follows about the meaning of the sign of the feeding of the 5,000, the crowd rejects Jesus claim that he is the bread that comes down from heaven: “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus responds that the manna in the wilderness did not truly bring life, for the people died; Jesus gives life that shall never perish.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Fountain_of_Eternal_Life_(23140323736).jpg By Erik Drost (Fountain of Eternal Life) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

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The bread of life

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Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life. (John 6:27)

The message from last Sunday, August 5, 2018, based on the assigned Gospel reading:

John 6:24-35: When the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were beside the sea, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” 26Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” 28Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” 30So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ “ 32Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” 34They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

35Jesus 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.”

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There are things we need to remember as we stand before this passage from John’s Gospel. Last Sunday, today, and for the next three weeks we are reading from this sixth chapter of John.   This chapter begins with the account of the feeding of the five thousand, then explores the meaning of what happened on that mountain.

When I was a rookie preacher, pastors would groan and roll their eyes at these five Sundays. They would joke about this being a good time to go on vacation or assign the preaching to an associate pastor or student intern. They would say things like, “How many times can you say that Jesus is the bread of life?” But the answer to that question, apparently, is “Not enough,” because as many times as we have heard it, we keep chasing after things that perish trying to fill the hunger of our souls.

John gives a whole chapter to this subject, one of only 21 chapters in his Gospel. And it’s not a short chapter; there are 71 verses here, only 11 fewer verses than John uses to tell the whole passion story. This chapter takes up nearly 10% of John’s Gospel. Clearly this subject is deeply important.

As we read through this chapter we see that the problem is that the people don’t understand what happened on the mountain. They don’t see what they’re supposed to see in the feeding of the five thousand.

This is not a narrative about some thickheaded people long ago and far away; this is a narrative about us. Jesus wants us to see, to perceive, to comprehend what happened on that mountain. John wants us to understand that Jesus is the bread that feeds us with true life. Unfortunately, like the crowd, we get preoccupied by our bellies.

Last Sunday we heard the account of the feeding of the five thousand. We can’t go over everything in that narrative, but there are a couple of pieces that are necessary to remember as we go forward. First it was near the time of Passover, the feast of unleavened bread. This is the time when Israel remembered and celebrated how God set them free from Egypt. It’s also the time when Jesus was lifted up on the tree of the cross.

This feast of unleavened bread was tied to the Passover story with the idea that the people had to leave Egypt in a hurry and didn’t have time to wait for their bread rise. But yeast is also associated with impurity, with falsehood, and this was a period when Israel was to purify itself of all falsehood. So Jesus is not just the bread from heaven; he is the true bread, the pure bread, the holy bread.

Second, in our story of the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus – and the people – have crossed the sea and gone to a mountain. You can’t use that language without remembering Israel’s fundamental story of being delivered from bondage and death by crossing the Red Sea and journeying into the wilderness to encounter God at Mt. Sinai.

The feeding of the five thousand is a fulfillment of the Exodus story. It is a reliving and transforming of Israel’s experience with God who fed them manna in the wilderness and made a covenant with them at Sinai. As God freed them, provided for them, taught them, and formed them to be God’s people in the wilderness so, again, Jesus is feeding, providing, teaching and forming us to live God’s true, imperishable life of mercy and love.

If the people Jesus fed had eyes to see, they would see all of this. They would see that Jesus is fulfilling that Passover, fulfilling God’s deliverance, giving God’s true bread in the wilderness, and embodying God’s word, the fullness of the living voice of God. They would see before them the fullness of life, the true life that God intended for us, the life of the garden and the age to come, the life that is enduring and eternal.

And this I need to say again and again: when we hear the words translated ‘eternal life’ in John’s Gospel we are not just talking about life after death – and we are certainly not talking about life in a heaven somewhere – we are talking about the life that is eternal, the life of God, the life for which we were created, the life of the age to come when the world is forever free from its bondage to sin and death, the life of the world healed and made whole – a life lived now that shares in this true, imperishable life of God.

It is a life of compassion and joy and truth and healing and wholeness. It is a life of the Spirit. It is a new wine at the wedding feast, it is a birth from above, it is living water. It is reconciliation and peace and hope and courage and truth and justice. It is the life that vibrates in harmony with God who creates the world in love.

If the people Jesus fed had eyes to see, they would see that Jesus is the fulfillment of Passover, the embodiment of God’s deliverance, the true manna from heaven, the incarnation of God’s word, the fullness of the living voice of God. They would see that what was before them was the fullness of life.

But the people didn’t see this. They saw someone who could fill their bellies.

These are a people who live with hunger. Ninety percent of the population are subsistence farmers. They are dependent upon the vagaries of nature for their existence. They need the rains at the right time and in the right amounts. They need their crops to survive pests in the fields and in the barns. If locusts sweep through the land they will eat the whole crop; you will have no food for the next year.

These are a people whose bellies never get enough. They don’t have a Safeway open 24 hours a day or fresh vegetables shipped in from all over the world. They drink wine because wine is a way to preserve grapes and has calories; they’re not worrying about vintage and labels.

There is no sugar or chocolate, ice cream or cookies, only dates in season. The loaves Jesus uses are made of barley – because barley grows on poor land. But barley has half the food value of wheat – that’s why it’s the food of the poor. We think of Peter as a fisherman, but he was catching fish under an imperial license as a contract laborer for fish that are turned into a luxury product for the Romans.

And these are people who give up to half their crop in taxes and rents – and from the rest they need to save seed for the next year. They live with hunger. What they saw on the mountain was that they could eat as much as they wanted and there were twelve baskets left over. What they see in Jesus is someone who can end their hunger. They say to themselves, “If this man were in charge we would never be hungry again,” and they want to make him king. Let’s have this guy instead of Herod and Rome.

They don’t see in this Jesus their true exodus, their true Sinai, their true bread of life. They see someone who could fill their bellies.

This is the human religious impulse. We understand that there are things beyond our control. Whether it’s fire or storm or the economy or the affairs of nations or the changes and chances of life – the unexpected disease, the sudden accident, the drunk driver, the thief, the stray bullet from a policeman’s gun, the tree that falls on someone out riding his bike. We understand the uncertainty of life and we turn to the realm of the divine for protection. When bad stuff happens the gods must be angry. When good stuff happens the gods must be pleased. So we do what we can to keep the gods happy with rituals and prayers and sacred stones and sacrifice. The most precious thing we have to give is life itself, so humans throughout history have offered up the lives of goats and bulls, captured enemies and even their children. There was a time people would come to church out of a vague sense that it pleased God and kept God on their side.

The human religious impulse is to get the gods to take care of us. And so we when we pray the Lord’s Prayer our attention is on our daily bread rather than God’s name being holy and God’s will being done. We pray for forgiveness and slide over the words about forgiving others. We are focused on ourselves. Our fears. Our hopes. Our desires. We don’t understand the truth to which this bread points us.

Let me be clear. It’s not that God doesn’t care about our fears, our hopes and our desires; it’s that there is so much more. This event on the mountain provides real bread for the hungry. There is real wine to rescue the family at the wedding in Cana. There is real healing for the man born blind. There is real life restored to Lazarus when he is called forth from the grave. But the thing to see is not the wonder of one life restored. The thing to see is the source of life who stands before us. There is true life in his teaching. There is true life in his example. There is true life in faithfulness to him.

If we see only our wants, needs and desires we will miss everything, so Jesus says:

27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.

When the people hear Jesus speak about working for the bread that endures for eternal life – and the word there is ‘into’ the bread that endures into eternity – they respond

“What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

They get stuck on the literal meaning of the word ‘work’ and want to know what are the tasks that God requires of them. What are the ritual obligations? What are the prayers that must be said? What are the deeds that must be done? They want to know what will please God and keep God on our side. But the answer is not about ritual obligations. The answer is a life of fidelity to Jesus. God’s favor does not have to be won, it needs only to be seen and entered and lived: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

Here, again, it is important that we remember that this word ‘believe’ doesn’t refer to giving assent to a set of ideas. It is about a life of trust and faithfulness: Daring to live the compassion of God. Daring to live the generosity of God. Daring to live the love of God. Daring to bend to wash feet. Daring to forgive those who sin against us. Daring to live God’s will on earth as it is in heaven. Daring to trust that goodness and mercy are the enduring truths of existence. Daring to believe that truth and care of neighbor is our true and imperishable life. Daring to trust and follow this Jesus as the true bread of life.

Amen

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Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Flickr_-_Gaspa_-_Cairo,_venditore_di_pane.jpg By Francesco Gasparetti from Senigallia, Italy (Cairo: venditore di pane) [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

From grace into grace

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Saturday

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

3“If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

I have laughed at the petulance of the people in the wilderness. It’s a comfortable position of moral superiority – as if I would not have been among the grumblers.

It’s an easy thing for a pastor to do, faced as we are with grumblings in our congregations and people whose eyes sometimes seem to be less concerned with the Promised Land than the fleshpots of Egypt. It’s oh so seductive, as you read the story, to imagine that you occupy the sandals of Moses. But such a hearing of the text, however delicious, is not only presumptuous, but altogether too shallow. It makes caricatures of the people of Israel as well as the members of our congregations.

The people of Israel have seen wondrous deeds, though I suspect the wondrousness has been exaggerated in the retelling. There are hints in the text that the events at the Red Sea (technically, the Sea of Reeds) weren’t like the Cecil B. DeMille drama. In fact, most of the Biblical “miracles” are really pretty ordinary events – but events that were wondrous in their timing. That the wind blew all night to dry up the marshland enabling the Israelites to escape is wondrous in its timing if not spectacular to behold.

So these people have been rescued by what moderns would likely call “good fortune” (a phrase that explains nothing and refers to an ancient deity in the Greco-Roman pantheon) and now they are hungry and thirsty in the wilderness. They are refugees in flight, not a triumphant victory parade. And there, in the barren lands of the Negev, the thought of perishing slowly in the desert makes the suffering of Egypt seem preferable. It is a choice we all often make. The long road to freedom requires a great deal more courage and sacrifice than most of us muster easily. We can put up with a great deal of tyranny for a roof over our heads and food in our stomachs.

I know that the larger sweep of the Biblical narrative is a story about a broken covenant and rebellious people. So from the perspective of the generation assembling the narrative in exile in Babylon with Jerusalem in ruins, the story is about the persistent faithfulness of God in spite of our faithlessness – even as it yet summons us anew to faithfulness.

But as I ponder the story, as I consider all the different layers in the narrative, I begin to see something other than petulance; I see grief. They didn’t ask to die in their beds; they wished that God had slain them in Egypt. This verse is the corporate equivalent of Jeremiah declaring that God should have killed him in the womb or Job lamenting the day of his birth. It is the cry of despair born of grief. It is the parent or lover who wish they could have died in place of their beloved.

Job has lost all his family. Jeremiah is forced to witness the folly of his nation as it plunges towards destruction and the terrible suffering of siege. Israel in the wilderness was not a happy march into freedom. This was a people who had lost a life, however harsh. Yes, they have fled the suffering of their bondage. But they had also fled in fear for Moses had made this people a stench in the nostrils of Pharaoh. They were blamed for Egypt’s troubles. They had become the object of the nation’s hate. There is language in the story that they were driven out of Egypt. However cruel and harsh life in Egypt had been, they had lives and homes there. Now it is gone and they are in a cruel desert: weary, hungry, thirsty, and far from a home of any kind. We can see why they would say it would have been better to have died in Egypt.

What they find in the wilderness is mercy. However easy it may be to mock their faithlessness after the wonders they have seen, this is a story about mercy. God saw. God heard. God provided. There is language in the story about faithlessness and testing, but first we find mercy.

God does not provide them with riches. What God gives is bread enough for the day. But it is enough. And slowly it leads them forward. Step by step it leads them towards their encounter with God at Sinai. Day by day it sustains them until they find rest in a new land.

Those little pieces of bread we receive each Sunday morning are a far cry from the feast envisioned by Isaiah or celebrated in the vision of the New Jerusalem. But they are enough for the day. They are sufficient for the journey. They witness to God’s persistent faithfulness. They call us to journey on. And in that bread and wine we find the promise of life and a world borne forward from grace into grace.

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This post is adapted from the post From Grace into Grace in 2015.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AWeltchronik_Fulda_Aa88_103r_detail2.jpg By Anonymous (Meister 1) (Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Bread from heaven

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Watching for the Morning of August 5, 2018

Year B

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost

It takes three hours each day to grind by hand enough flour for a household of five or six. It is a burdensome task passed off to the lowest ranking (newest) daughter-in-law of a family compound. And this is only the last labor in the long chain of plowing, sowing, reaping, winnowing. Daily bread was the central occupation of ninety percent of the population.

And hunger was familiar. We need to remember the food insecurity of the ancient world when we hear about the feeding of the five thousand and all that follows in John’s Gospel. The Biblical narrative is full of references to famine. It is not just the backdrop for great stories like the widow of Zarephath or the journey of Jacob’s sons to Egypt for grain – a journey that has them bowing at the feet of the brother they sold into slavery in fulfillment of young Joseph’s prophetic dreams. Famine and hunger are persistent realities in the Biblical world. Drought, locusts, marching armies – a year’s hope can be lost quickly. And the tax burden at the time of Jesus and tenancy requirements of the landless took half of your crop. So when this Jesus is able to turn five small loaves into food for five-thousand (plus women and children) it is understandable they want to make him king. These were barley loaves – the food of the poor – and there were twelve baskets left over!

Now Jesus has to fight off the crowd. This bread was a sign pointing to something other than our bellies. There is a bread here that is eternal. There is a life here that is imperishable. The new and abundant wine, the living water, the birth from above, the word made flesh – it is here before us in the word and person of this Jesus, bearing to us the life that abides.

Sunday we listen to the first part of Jesus’ encounter with those who ate their fill. He will press us to see beyond our bellies, past our wants, needs and fears, past the perishable to the imperishable, to that life of loyalty to and trust in the embodied Word of God, the living incarnation of God’s voice, the way of compassion and truth and all that is eternal.

In preparation for this word of Jesus we will hear first the story of Israel murmuring in the wilderness, ready to abandon the way of God for the fleshpots of Egypt. We will sing the psalm about God’s faithfulness in providing manna even when the people showed no trust in God. And then, just before we hear the words of Jesus about the bread of life, we will hear the author of Ephesians urging us to live this transcendent 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…

Daily bread is life, but ordinary bread and the life it sustains perishes. Before us stands a bread from heaven, a love immeasurable, a truth enduring, calling us into his imperishable life.

The Prayer for August 5, 2018

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

The Texts for August 5, 2018

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. 3The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.” – Delivered from bondage in Egypt, but now running out of food in the wilderness, the people cry out that it would have been better to perish with full bellies than follow God into freedom.

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.

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Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Krzy%C5%BC_w_lesie_-_Grabarka.jpg By Kornelia Głowacka [CC BY-SA 3.0 pl (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/pl/deed.en)%5D, from Wikimedia Commons

In the breaking of the bread

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Watching for the morning of April 30, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday of Easter

A resurrection appearance still dominates the readings for Sunday. This is the week we hear Luke tell us of the disciples who encounter Jesus on the road to Emmaus.

The narrative is pregnant with meaning for a community known as “the way” – literally, “the road”. The unseen Christ walks with us. Through him the scriptures are opened to us. In the broken bread we recognize him. It is the story not only of the first believers but of every generation.

Where else can we turn to make sense of this unexpected ending to the one who opened the gates for us to see and taste the kingdom? In his words the scriptures were alive. In his teaching was the Spirit of God. In his work was mercy for the margins and a daring challenge to the ruling center. In his hands crowds were fed, sinners welcomed, a new path set before us. And in that moment when the old empire should fall, he is stolen away. Where else can we turn to understand? And as we reread the ancient words they shine with a new light. The suffering servant of Isaiah. The humble king of Zechariah. The faithful one of the psalms. Suddenly the scriptures seem to explode with new insight.

And then there is the bread – the promised feast in Isaiah, the five loaves and two fish, the last supper, and now the bread and wine. All the threads of scripture, all the hope of a world made whole, weave into this moment when bread is broken like his body was broken – and shared freely as he shared himself freely for the sake of the world.

In the teaching, in the bread, they see him. They recognize his presence. They see the perfect love. They see the dawning of the promise – a world governed by this wondrous and holy Spirit.

Now the vision is complete. Christ is gone but not gone. And they race back to share the vision, to proclaim the news, to rejoice in the wonder of God.

So Sunday we will hear Peter declare the promise is for all and invite them to turn and show allegiance to this crucified one whom God has made both Lord and Messiah. And the psalmist will sing of deliverance from death and Peter writes that we “have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.”

The new creation is dawning. We hold the bread of the great feast in our hands.

The Prayer for April 30, 2017

Gracious God,
as Jesus revealed himself to his disciples in the breaking of the bread,
and opened their minds to understand the scriptures,
continue to reveal yourself to us
that we may live in the joy and freedom of your grace,
and bear witness to your redeeming love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever.

The Texts for April 30, 2017

First Reading: Acts 2:14a, 36-41
“Therefore let the entire house of Israel know with certainty that God has made him both Lord and Messiah, this Jesus whom you crucified.” – Peter bears witness to the crowds at Pentecost, urging them to turn and show allegiance to Christ Jesus whom God has vindicated and revealed as Lord by his resurrection.

Psalmody: Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19
“What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me?” – a prayer of thanksgiving for deliverance from a threat to his life.

Second Reading: 1 Peter 1:17-23
“You have been born anew, not of perishable but of imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God.” –
a homily on baptism, here urging the believers to remain faithful to their new life.

Gospel: Luke 24:13-35
“Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus.” – Jesus appears to two disciples on the road to Emmaus, opening to them the scriptures and revealing himself in the breaking of bread.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ATand%C4%B1r_bread.jpg By jeffreyw (Mmm…pita bread Uploaded by Fæ) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Where else will we find anything like this?

Friday

John 6:56-69

File:Cristo nel labirinto.jpg66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

“Now the Feast and Celebration,” the liturgy composed by Marty Haugen for the Campus Ministry at Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington, uses this verse for the Alleluia sung by the congregation as they rise to hear the reading of the Gospel:

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

Each Sunday in which we use this liturgy contains this small yet profound acknowledgment that the words of Jesus are beyond us but precious to us, challenging yet comforting, confusing yet compelling.

Where else shall we go? Here we hear the challenge to build our house on rock, to enter through the narrow way, to judge not lest we be judged, to forgive seventy-seven times. Here we hear of evil driven from hearts and minds and bodies, yet his body surrendered to torture and death. Here we hear the unthinkable – that God sends rain on the just and the unjust, that sinners are forgiven, that the unclean are welcomed. Here we hear the requirement that love of God is more important than love of family, that our attachment to God supersedes the duties to parents. Here we hear that we cannot serve God and possessions. Here we hear Jesus tell the rich man to sell all and tell us that it is better to lose a hand or an eye than to lose the kingdom.

It is too much. But it is compelling.

We want to hear this Jesus. We don’t want him buried in the slop of a lovey-dovey gooey marshmallow God. Nor do we want him hidden in that bitter grist of an angry God demanding blood in payment for our debts. We cannot have him lost beneath a sterile white bread, white potatoes, repristination of middle class morality. We want this strange, compelling Jesus whose words push those in power to murder. We want these strange words – and deeds – possessed of eternal truth and life. We want the good shepherd who lays down his life, the royal king who is butchered by usurpers but rises from the dead, the precocious child who has more wisdom than all us religious teachers. We want this perfect vessel of the Spirit through whom God heals and redeems and raises the dead. We want the man who welcomes the little children and speaks blunt and brutal truths about the elites. He names them blind guides yet welcomes Nicodemus and tries to help him see the life that is from above.

This Jesus is wonder and mystery, puzzling and outrageous, making a whip of cords and kicking tables but telling us to love our enemies – enemies he forgives though they have his blood on their hands as they throw dice for his clothing.

We want to know more. We want to hear more. We want to be encountered by this strange wondrous man. So even though his words puzzle and offend, we stay. Even when it’s not what we want to hear, we listen. Where else will we find anything like this?

Alleluia. Lord, to whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life. Alleluia. Alleluia.

For information on the picture go to: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACristo_nel_labirinto.jpg

Provoking a choice

Watching for the Morning of August 23, 2015

Year B

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 16 / Lectionary 21

File:Track Choice - geograph.org.uk - 129367.jpgSo what do you choose? It is a question Joshua asks the Israelites and Jesus asks his followers. “What do you choose?”

Israel has come through the desert and, as presented in Joshua, God has led them on a victorious march to claim the land from its Canaanite inhabitants. There are hints in the text that the process was more complicated than this – but the author wants to emphasize God’s fidelity in fulfilling his promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all their descendants. The God who opened the Red Sea and freed them from every enemy has fulfilled his promises. Now what will this people do? Its time to choose: the LORD or the gods of the land?

It’s a tougher choice than we imagine, because we are by nature syncretists. We think we can worship God and the gods of our land: we can worship God and mammon, God and country, God and success, God and power, God and sexuality, God and family, God and self – or God and some of all of these.

Joshua demands they choose. Jesus makes us choose. With audacious, provocative, even offensive words he forces us to either see with new eyes or walk away. And many depart, many who were disciples. But the twelve respond: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” There is no true life in those other things, no enduring life, no imperishable life.

As we face this challenge, the psalmist reminds us of God’s faithfulness and Ephesians bids us put on “the whole armor of God.”

The Prayer August 23, 2015

Keep us, O God, in your eternal Spirit
that, when challenged by your word, we may never turn back from following you,
but always confess and believe that you have the words of eternal life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 23, 2015

First Reading: Joshua 24:1-3, 13-18 (Appointed 24:1-2a, 14-18)
“‘Choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.’” – Joshua gathers the people following the forty year wandering in the wilderness and the occupation of the promised land and challenges them to put away their foreign gods and serve the LORD with fidelity.

Psalmody: Psalm 34:15-22
“The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.”
– The concluding section of an acrostic poem declaring God’s fidelity to those who are faithful to him.

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20
“Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
– The author uses the metaphor of a Roman soldier’s armor to call the community to faithfulness to God.

Gospel: John 6:56-69
“When many of his disciples heard it, they said, ‘This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’” – The words of Jesus about eating his flesh has revealed that many even among his followers do not understand the meaning of the sign of the bread (the feeding of the five-thousand) and they turn away. Jesus then asks the twelve: “Do you also wish to go away?”

 

Picture: Kate Jewell [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh

File:Hans Holbein- The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb.JPG

Once more on Last Sunday

(I have written also about last Sunday at my blog Jacob Limping. But there are things we need to say before moving on to next Sunday and the next portion of the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel)

John 6:35-51

51 The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh.

This word ‘flesh’ matters. We have a hard time holding on to it. We tend to spiritualize Jesus. We talk about his death in abstract terms. We think of him as a transcendent reality. We attribute to him our notions of divinity above suffering. It was a long, hard, battle in the ancient church to keep Jesus grounded in the flesh. His own flesh. His own bleeding and dying.

We can imagine Jesus in the flesh, but the price is usually that we relinquish the claim that he is the incarnate one, the embodiment of God. Jesus becomes a prophet and a martyr, a mere man, not the incarnate Lord of All. But if we hold on to his divinity, his uniqueness, his status as Son of God, we tend to lose his humanity. Somehow we have to hold on to both.

This word ‘flesh’ matters. It is not just Jesus’ teaching that was given to the world. It was not just a vision and a hope and a promise. It was his flesh. He hungered. He ached. He wept. He drank and danced and soiled whatever ancient equivalent there was for diapers. He chased butterflies and learned to break rocks and build. The Holy One was enfleshed. He was one of us. Fully human. Fully flesh.

The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh

What he gave for the world was his flesh. And he gave it all. He surrendered up his laughter and joy and feet and hands. He surrendered up his head to thorns and his back to stripes. He surrendered up his flesh to death.

And he surrendered up his flesh to resurrection.

This life giving manna is not just the flesh that dies; it is the flesh that lives, flesh that is raised, flesh Thomas can touch. The risen Jesus is not a spirit being; he is an enfleshed being. It is a flesh beyond death, a flesh not bound by the realities of our world this side of Eden, a flesh that participates in resurrected life, a flesh that is a real part – the true nature – of God’s glorious creation.

This crucified and risen flesh is the bread that brings true life. Jesus is more than teacher or sacrificial lamb; he is the bringer of the age to come. Resurrection has broken into our world. The tomb stands forever empty. The re-creation of the world is dawning. The Spirit is breathed out. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, the new reality in which all debts are wiped away and we live in God and God in us.

Most of us are more comfortable with the notion that God is in heaven and we are on earth until, hopefully, we too go to heaven. But God reigns in heaven; God wants to reign on earth. God’s purpose is to set right his world, to raise his world from its bondage to death into its true life.

In the flesh of Jesus the resurrection has come. The new creation is dawning now, here. Here is heaven on earth. Here is risen life now. Here is the age to come that will never perish. Here is forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. Here is true love of God and neighbor. Here is the holy.

The bread that I shall give for the life of the world is my flesh

The meaning of Jesus cannot be shaken loose from the body, the flesh, the physical reality of skin and bones and breath, of laughter and loving, of eating and drinking, of anger and tears and spoken words. It cannot be shaken loose from that body made dead and that body made alive and all creation carried on his shoulders from death into life.

 

Image: Hans Holbein: The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521, Oil on wood) [Public domain].  File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Hans_Holbein-_The_Body_of_the_Dead_Christ_in_the_Tomb.JPG#file

Heaven’s true bread

File:Lippi, pietà del museo horne.jpg

Watching for the Morning of August 9, 2015

Year B

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 14 / Lectionary 19

So we have seen the sign of the bread (two Sundays ago) and heard the conversation that Jesus is the true manna from heaven (last Sunday), now we hear that this true manna from heaven gives life – not to sustain us for a day, but eternally.

Our readings this Sunday begin with Elijah fleeing for his life only to be met in the wilderness by a messenger of God who provides bead and water for his journey. As God gave Israel bread and water in the wilderness, God provides for Elijah to bring him to Horeb (Mt. Sinai) where he will be encountered by God.

With the psalmist we sing of God’s faithfulness and hear the exhortation to “taste and see that the LORD is good.”

In the reading from Ephesians we hear the call “live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God,” with specific exhortations for our life together.

And then we come to the wonderful words of the Gospel that show the crowd murmuring like Israel in the wilderness, but speak of the life that Jesus, the true bread from heaven, gives through his death and resurrection.

I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Unfortunately the references to death and resurrection are skipped in the appointed verses, but they need to be read, for they draw out the meaning of Jesus’ promise that “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”  The manna kept the people of Israel alive for a day; the death and resurrection of Jesus will keep us alive forever.

 

The Prayer August 9, 2015

O God of truth and life,
draw us to your self, and feed us on the bread of life,
which is your Word, made flesh for us in Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for August 9, 2015

First Reading: 1 Kings 19:1-8
“Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water.” – Elijah is fleeing the queen, Jezebel, who has vowed to kill him for his triumph over the prophets of Baal. In the wilderness he is met by a heavenly messenger who provides him bread for his journey to Horeb (Mt. Sinai).

Psalmody: Psalm 34:1-8
“O taste and see that the Lord is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.”
– The poet calls upon the community to join him in his praise of God for all God’s goodness.

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
– The author speaks to their common life, urging them to live in love, recognizing that they are members of one another in Christ.

Gospel: John 6: 35-51 (appointed 35, 41-51)
“‘Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.’” Continuing the reflection on the meaning of the sign of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus develops the idea that he is the true bread from heaven. The manna in the wilderness sustained the people for a day; through his death and resurrection, Jesus gives life that shall never perish.

 

Image: Filippo Lippi [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Page: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ALippi%2C_piet%C3%A0_del_museo_horne.jpg

Trust and allegiance

One thing more from last Sunday

John 6:24-35

File:Jesus at Sumela.jpg28“What must we do to perform the works of God?” 29Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The texts from last Sunday continue to rattle around in my head but, amidst all the talk about bread and manna, this verse shouldn’t pass by unnoticed. “What must we do to perform the works of God?” What is it that God requires of us? What do we need to do to serve him? What is God’s will for us?

I remember the struggle with the question of God’s will beginning my senior year in high school as I was in a formative period for my faith and wondered if and where God wanted me to go to college and what I should “do” with my life. I spent one summer hitchhiking around the country convinced this was God’s will for me. It didn’t turn out the way I expected, though I won’t say that it wasn’t Spirit led – or, perhaps more accurately, Spirit protected and used.

There were those around me who thought God had a very specific plan for their lives: what they should do, where they should go, whom they should marry, but finding that plan was not simple for me. And then I came upon this verse: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” which, for a long time, I remembered as saying “This is the will of God…”

Americans derive so much of our identity by what we do. It’s the first question we tend to ask a new acquaintance. But the ancient world would ask to whom we belong. What is our family? What is our clan? Americans don’t memorize their genealogies back to Abraham, but in the Biblical world, who you are is revealed by those with whom you are connected.

So while we think about the will of God as what we should do, Jesus answers in terms of those with whom we are connected. The will of God is that we be connected to Jesus (and his community). And the ‘work’ of God – of the work for God – is not answered in terms of ritual obligations but trust and allegiance.

This is not a small conversation. What does it mean to show allegiance to Jesus (and his community)? There are, in fact, lots of things that that we are to do – feed the hungry, shelter the poor, do justice, love one another, love our enemy. But it is the way we embody Christ to one another that is at stake, not whether we become a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker. We are to live our gifts, to follow those passions God has given us – whether it for law or dance of family. But whatever we do, our trust and allegiance is in Jesus and God’s reign of grace and life in and through him.

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

The crowd is not quite ready for this. They are attached to their temple (as we are attached to ours, whether temples of stone or ideas.) But in this verse lies a very important and profound element to the question of God’s will for our lives: it is about trust in and allegiance to Jesus.

 

Image: Ceiling of one of the chambers of the Sumela monastery.  File: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AJesus_at_Sumela.jpg.  Photo: By Vladimer Shioshvili (Flickr: jesus) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons