Year B — Proper 13 (The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 5, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
Two phrases from this poignant story resonate with me: “You are the man” and “I have sinned.” Boil it all down, and you have all one really needs to know about the gravity of sin and its resolution.

David is outraged and moved by the story of the defenseless lamb. Alas, it is always much easier for us to see sin in the lives of someone else; our own shortfalls are arguably “not so bad.” But, Nathan’s accusation is straight up and to the point. “You know you did it, David.”

When confronted with our sin, we can aver, justify, minimize, shift the blame or use any number of other strategies to avoid owning up. In the end, not a one of them will avail our need for cleansing and righteousness. There is only one way through to forgiveness — confession. “I did it; I was wrong.” 

The cost for sin is great; confession does not take that away. But it does make restoration possible — it opens the door for hope from despair.

Psalm 51:1-12
The textual notes tell us that this is written by David after he has been confronted by Nathan about his sin with Bathsheba. The language speaks for itself; the depth of agony, sorrow, and penitence are as palpable here as any place in the scripture.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

Can you imagine that response to a miracle? The Israelites have been dreaming of bread and “fleshpots” back in Egypt, and Moses tells them God will send them food the next morning. “Just look for it when you open your tentflap and step out.”

So, they do — and they may have been a little underwhelmed at first. “What’s that?” Kind of like children confronted with a plate of spinach or stewed carrots, perhaps. 

We aren’t always immediately thrilled with God’s answers to our prayers, are we? Sometimes, it takes some time to get acclimated and to catch up with the wisdom of what God is doing. Manna may not have been a four-course meal, but it sure did get them through some tough times in the wilderness!

God tends to come through in the clutch, even if it’s not the way we would have done it ourselves.

Psalm 78:23-29
The psalm text calls God’s manna from heaven, “the bread of angels.” Probably a little poetic license here — we don’t literally know if this is what angels eat for breakfast every morning.

But it is the symbol of abundance and provision. Good enough for angels, good enough for you and me!

Ephesians 4:1-16
The Apostle reminds us that we are definitely all very different parts of the same body. No two of us perform exactly the same functions (or see “eye to eye” on all things, necessarily!) But, we all definitely need each other in order to perform most effectively.

Besides, there is a powerful argument presented here for finding unity in the midst of our considerable diversity: we all share one hope, one calling, one one Lord, one faith, one baptism (even if I use more water than you do!) — there is one God who looks parentally upon each of us. 

We are a family, after all, and though we may fuss and fight like one — in the end, we are here to stick up for one another, as well.

John 6:24-35    
People are always hungry.

Things were no different for Jesus; after a couple of “feeding the five thousand” episodes, there are those who find themselves standing in line, coming back for more. He is hard-pressed to keep up with the demand, as he evidently did not come into the world “to save the people from their hunger.”

He tries really hard to point them to the bread of heaven — not exactly the same thing as the manna they had all heard about (see above) — and promises that their spiritual hunger and thirst will definitely be satisfied if they believe in him.

“Fine, but we’re still hungry here, Jesus. What are you going to do about that?”

As we will see in next week’s lesson, Jesus will tell them that eating his flesh is the answer– but he doesn’t get many takers.

Ministry sure is hard.

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Have you ever seen the old Abbot and Costello comedy routine, “Who’s on first?” (You can see the YouTube version here.) It’s a conversation about a baseball team whose players have names like WHO, WHAT and I DON’T KNOW. The dialog goes like this:
Lou: “Who’s on first?’
Bud: “Yes, WHO’s on first.”
Lou: “That’s what I want to know, who’s on first?”
Bud: “Exactly, WHO’s on first.”
Lou (exasperated): “That’s what I want to know. What’s the fella’s name on first?”
Bud: “No, no. WHAT’s on second, WHO’s on first.”
Lou: (pulling hair and glaring): “Let’s try something different. Who’s on third?”
Bud: “No, no, no. WHO’s on first. I DON’T KNOW’s on third.”
Lou (yelling): If you don’t know, who does?”
Bud: “Yes WHO knows, he’s the captain.”
And so it goes for several minutes.
I think of “Who’s on first?” frequently when I read the Gospel of John because it is full of stories about Jesus talking at cross purposes with people.
The woman at the well and water, Nicodemus and being born again, Pontius Pilate and what it means to be a king, etc.
And now, today’s dialogue about signs and bread and Moses and God and what must we do and it’s all a gift.
This recurring theme talking at cross-purposes high-lights John’s basic theme; we are separated from God and Jesus has come into the world to heal that separation.
In his book, The Deeper Life, Yale professor of Philosophy Louis Dupre meditates upon Michelangelo’s painting of the creation on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Adam is stretched out on the ground, dazed and confused, one arm, one finger reaching out toward an old and slightly wild looking God, who stretches out his arm, one finger almost touching Adam’s finger.
Dupre says that our entire life is lived in that tiny space between God’s finger and Adam’s hand.
It reminds us that we are separated from our source and that religion is a quest to reconnect to God.
The problem is, we don’t know how. We try to be good enough, or smart enough, or spiritual enough, and none of it really works. None of it works because it is based on us; on our talent, or our ability, or our intelligence, or our persistence. And none of it works. The only thing that will work is the grace of God.
Jesus says, “Do not work for the food which perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the son of man will GIVE you” And the people respond, “Uh, what must we DO?”
What part of gift don’t we understand? Jesus said, “I’ll give it to you.” And they said, “What do we have to do?” “Who’s on first?” “That’s right, WHO’s on first.”
Jesus tries again. “This is the work OF GOD. (God’s work; not our work) that you believe in him that God sent. Again, it’s a gift. God does the doing, the sending.
People: “Uh, that’s nice. Give us a sign. Something concrete. Something we can sink our teeth into. Like Moses. He gave us Manna. Something like that.”
Jesus almost laughs at them, “Moses didn’t give you bread. God gave you that bread, that manna. And God is doing it again. God has sent the rue, the living bread from heaven.”
The people, “Now you’re talking. Give us that bread.” Still, they’re thinking food for the belly, not food for the soul.
Then Jesus makes it as plain as he can. “I am that manna. I am the living bread from heaven.”
Jesus is the one who fills up that tiny space between God’s finger and Adam’s hand.
And what sign does Jesus give? He has already given signs of a compassionate presence with us in the midst of the difficulty and pain of our lives: the feeding of the 5000 and the healing of the sick and suffering.
In 1967, Doug Nichols went to India as a social justice missionary. He worked to dig wells and improve agriculture. While there, Doug got malaria and entered a sanitarium. Though he was not then a missionary, Doug was a Christian and he had brought along some pamphlets and some copies of the Gospel of John in the local language, which he did not speak. During his recovery, Doug tried to give away his literature. Everyone politely refused to take it.
For several nights, Doug woke up at 2:00 AM with a hacking cough. One morning he noticed an old man across the aisle trying to get out of the bed. He tried and tried and then would give up in defeat and fall back into the bed weeping.
The next morning Doug realized why the man was trying to get out of bed. He had messed himself and the stench was awful. The other patients yelled at and insulted the old man. Angry nurses complained bitterly as they cleaned up the mess. The old man curled up into a ball and wept.
That night Doug again woke up coughing. He saw the old man sit up on the side of the bed and try to stand. And again he failed and fell back into the bed. In what he did next, Doug admits no purity of motives. He just didn’t think he could stand the smell again.
He got up, and went over to the old man, picked him up out of the bed and carried him to the toilet. There he held him under the arms while the man took care of himself. Then he took him back to bed and went to bed himself.
The next day Doug was awakened by another patient giving him a cup of tea and picking up one of his pamphlets. Throughout the day other people came by his bed and asked for a piece of literature.
Doug was mystified by all this until a pastor friend who knew the local language came to visit and had a conversation with some of Doug’s fellow patients in nearby beds. They told the pastor that they took the material because they wanted to learn what vision of God would motivate someone to do something like that for another person. (Many sources: one in particular Harold J. Sala, in the Christianity Today blog MEN OF INTEGRITY – Oct. 26, 2000)
Jesus Christ has come to us in the hospital ward of our souls, come to us midst of our confusion and doubt, some to take care of us in the midst of our inability to tend to ourselves.
Jesus Christ has come to us with one sign, the sign of love and compassion, the sign of tender mercy and gentle healing.
Jesus Christ has come to us in the sign of the cross, where with one hand stretched out to God and the other stretched out to us, he fills up that tiny space that separates us from God and from each other.
“Who’s on first?” We are. First on God’s mind, first in God’s heart, first in line to take up our own cross and follow Christ into the world as a sign of God’s never-ending love and compassion.
Amen and amen.

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