Advent Preaching Retreat — Year C — Coming Soon!

Preachers and Friends…back by popular demand, Two Bubbas and a Bible will be hosting an Advent Preaching Retreat/Workshop for Year C in the beautiful mountains of Western North Carolina on October 29th, 30th, and 31st, 2012.

This year’s retreat will be held at Lutheridge Conference Center in Asheville, NC. Registration details will be posted after September 3 — so stay tuned!

It appears that we will have room for approximately 18 participants this year. Hope to see you there!

Year B –Proper 18 (The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for September 9, 2012
by The Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
What we do, matters.

There is an apparent “law” of sowing and reaping, explicated in other places in scripture but very explicit here. Acts of injustice and anger have predictable results. So do expressions of generosity — simple acts, like sharing some bread with a hungry person.

Like so many other choices we face in life, the question becomes: “What kind of ‘crop’ do I wish to yield from the ‘garden’ of my life?”

Psalm 125
Mountains seem awfully solid, at least from our perspective with feet planted firmly on the ground. 

Of course, we know (in our heads) that even great mountains can be moved — humbled by the incredible forces at work in the natural world. But, still, the image the psalmist draws reaches our hearts and our senses, and we are led to agree, “That’s right! God’s strength is like that mountain — unshakable, immovable!”

Similes like this one make me smile!

Isaiah 35:4-7a
Opening blind eyes and unstopping deaf ears sounds pretty cool; so does the lame leaping like deer (that’s really a pretty impressive feat, if you stop and visualize it!) and those who previously couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket breaking forth into virtuoso arias!

God swooping down with vengeance and “terrible recompense” — maybe not so much! Some of us tend to shy away from such war-like images in the scripture. 

I’m having to sit for a bit as my mind tries to imagine the setting that has Isaiah crying out. Were I in captivity, or under assault from a deadly enemy or life-threatening plague — I might well welcome a little “terrible recompense.”  

What do you know…?

Psalm 146
God is certainly on the side of the oppressed and the hungry. The Lord is with those who are incarcerated (in prisons of their own, or others’ making.) Those blind, bowed, surrounded by strange circumstances — all on God’s list. Orphans and widows — check.

So, if these are the people who merit God’s attention, shouldn’t we pay attention to where (and if) they register in our awareness?

James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
James has as good a grip on the answer to the question just posed (see above comment on Psalm 146) as any writer in scripture.

“Go in peace; keep warm and eat all you want,” never did much to fill the stomach of a hungry person. Righteousness, or “faith” as James describes it, is empty –DEAD — without some action to back it up.

Mark 7:24-37
To paraphrase Ulysses Everett McGill: “Well, ain’t this parable a theological oddity!” (Fans of O Brother, Where Art Thou? should get the reference.)

We are uncomfortable and uncertain in the face of Jesus’ apparent callousness to the need of the Syrophoenician woman. Perhaps that is part of the function of Mark’s story (our discomfort,) but the point is that a woman who came to Christ exercised faith — and received the blessing of God.

We are perhaps not quite as vexed by the appearance of the deaf man with a speech impediment — though I could imagine a bit of foot-shifting going on in the crowd as some thought, “Oh, no — this is going to be embarrassing!”

Notice that Jesus takes the man aside privately — away from the crowd. I’m trying to imagine Benny Hinn or Ernest Angley taking a similar step out of the limelight. (If you don’t know Benny or Ernest, there’s always Google!)

Sometimes, the work of God appears to be “strange doings.” But it is always, ultimately, on the side of those oppressed and in need.

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

About twenty years ago at a conference at St. Olaf College, I heard a story about the famous theologian Karl Barth.  During World War I he served a village congregation in rural Switzerland.  His grandmother lived with him in the parsonage.  One afternoon he returned home to find that his grandmother had organized a Bible study group that was meeting in his living room.

Young Pastor Barth stepped into the room, greeted everyone and then excused himself and slipped upstairs to his study.  Throughout the afternoon he heard much loud and animated conversation from the Bible study.

At dinner that evening he asked his grandmother what book they were studying.  “Ezekiel,” she replied.  “Ezekiel!” Pastor Barth sputtered, “Why Ezekiel is a very difficult book.  It is full of problematic and hard to understand passages.”  “That’s alright,” Grandmother said, “the things we don’t understand we explain to each other.”

Okay, anybody ready to explain to me how my Lord and Savior, my Sweet Jesus, my king of kings and my lord of lords, the Son of God incarnate on earth; could stoop so low as to call a polite woman in trouble and asking for help – a dog?  Anybody got a ready explanation for that?

There are a lot of theories that float around: he didn’t really say it, he didn’t really mean it, we don’t really understand it because of cultural differences between the first century and now, etc. etc.  The collective Bible study of the New Testament Scholars has had a lively and occasionally loud discussion trying to explain it to each other.

Barth’s story sent my thoughts down a different track; what if the Syrophoenician woman was the one doing the explaining in this passage?  What if Jesus was the one who did not fully understand and needed some help interpreting God’s will and way in this case? Maybe Jesus needed to have his vision cleared and his worldview adjusted do that he could see just exactly how large God’s love is.

All three of our scripture lessons remind us that the coming of the kingdom of God has intense, this world, practical results. When Isaiah talks about healing, he is not speaking metaphorically.  The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame not only walk; they run and leap and cavort; the mute not only speak, they sing for joy.

James takes his readers to task for failing to live out the faith that is within them. In particular, he rebukes them for showing favor to the rich and pushing aside the poor. While Martin Luther did in one place call James “an epistle of straw,” because he thought it favored works over faith, he also said, “I think highly of the epistle of James . . .  he wished to guard against those who depended on faith without going on to works.”  (Luther’s Works, Vol. 35 – The Preface to James and Jude)
In our Gospel lesson we see Jesus living out the coming of the kingdom by healing a young girl with a demon and a deaf man with a speech impediment.

But, but . . . there’s this difficult part about exactly who it is the kingdom has come for.  Is it only for the “children” of Israel, or is it also for the “dogs;” the Gentiles?  Taking the text as it is, it appears that Jesus is saying that his mission is only to the Jewish people.  If that is what he means, then he has failed to remember that the promise is that the kingdom will come from God through the Jewish people in order to bless all people everywhere.

In this story, Jesus stands corrected.  Just like Barth’s Grandma’s Bible study, the woman has helped Jesus to understand a difficult part of the scripture and a difficult part of his call. The further Jesus goes in his ministry the deeper his understanding of his mission becomes.  And this deeper understanding is a result of his encounters with people who aren’t afraid to confront him with hard and difficult truths.

A young adult youth leader I know was chaperoning his youth group at the ELCA’s National Youth Gathering in New Orleans this summer.  While out and about in the city one afternoon they ran across a couple of homeless men on a park bench.  The youth leader lives in a major city neighborhood with a lot of street people, so he assessed the time, the space, and the group’s safety; and while one of the men approached him and started talking, he reached in his back pack and pulled out an apple while signaling the kids to keep moving. The man was insulted, “I asked you if you believe in God and you try to give me an apple!”

The youth leader was struck dumb and somewhat appalled at himself.  “Here I had spent all week talking to these kids about carrying Christ into the world, to the most needy among us, and the first chance I got to live that out in front of them I blew it.”

But the moment was redeemed.  The young man apologized and started talking with the man.  Their time together ended with the man asking the group for prayer and so they prayed for several minutes together.  It was, the group said, a very holy moment.

The Good News of God’s grace and love changes people.  It heals them, changes their relationships, changes the way they see right and wrong, rich and poor, us and them. It even changed Jesus and the way he saw the world and the way he saw himself in it.

May God’s grace come to each of us and change us.  May it loose our tongues so that we may speak explanations of difficult truths to one another.  May it open our ears so that we may hear the truth when it spoken to us in love.  May it free our arms to embrace those in any need.  May it strengthen our legs so that we can go where God is calling us.  Most of all, may it heal our hearts so that we can invite all God’s children to the table of God’s love.

Amen.

Year B — Proper 17 (the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for September 2, 2012
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

Click here for today’s readings

Song of Solomon 2:8-13

Plato is said to have remarked: “At the touch of love everyone becomes a poet.”

The Song of Songs is known as the erotic thriller of the Hebrew Bible, and is a great place to look when it comes to understanding the ways of the heart. 

In today’s gospel lesson, Jesus quotes Isaiah (who is, of course, quoting God) by referring to the phrase: “…their hearts are far from me.” Perhaps a little brush-up with the song can awaken, in all of us, the kind of love for God and others that leaps upon mountains and bounds over hills!


Psalm 45:1-2, 6-9
This is a very “scentual” psalm — fragrances everywhere!

As with the king, so for all of us; our ultimate source of success is God. It is God’s throne that endures forever, God’ scepter that is equitable. A good psalm for election season!


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Slippery minds is a condition that we are all prone to. “I forgot,” becomes something of a mantra for us, especially when there are literally thousands of images, sounds, and bits of data blowing through our heads each day.
  • “Did you pick up the cleaning on the way home, dear?” I forgot.
  • “Did you send my mother the flowers for her birthday?” I forgot.
  • “Did you help Molly with her algebra before she fell asleep last night?” I forgot.

Moses wants to encourage the Hebrews NOT to forget the mighty acts of God that they have witnessed, nor to let slip from their minds the commandments God has set before them. 


Great check-in possibility for us, as we try to encourage one another from week to week: “Hey, did you do your best to love God and your neighbor this week?” I remembered!

Psalm 15
Speaking of God’s commandments, Psalm 15 makes a nifty sort of “pocket version” of the law — God’s Will for Dummies, maybe?

Pull out this list for a quick review before heading out each day; it’s bound to help!

James 1:17-27
We’ve been playing a sort of game in the Young Adult Bible study class that I teach on Sundays; we try not to let each other get away with using “churchy words” when talking about our faith. 

The game is called, “Ah! Ah! Ah!” — and is accompanied by a dramatic finger-wag, as in, “Ah, ah, ah! You can’t just say ‘I was blessed….’ Tell us what you really mean!”

Reading the letter from James is always a bit bracing; James does not allow much “phoney-baloney” language about faith. For James, every good gift that we receive in our lives is seen as a gift from God. He calls us to live responsibly with those gifts.

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
So, so easy to see the crap going on in another person’s life, right? And hard to detect the malodorous stench of our own foibles.

The gospel for today calls us to think a little less about what’s on the outside, and a bit more about what happens on the inside of our lives. What kind of thoughts, purposes, motives do we harbor? Where is it that we are empty on the inside, searching for things that will fill us from the outside? And, most importantly, what WILL fill us up — make us whole?

(If you don’t know the contemporary hymn, “In Christ Alone,” you can check it here on YouTube. I like it for the answer to this question.)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

This is a true story – you can’t make stuff like this up.  It happened in Charlotte, NC.  A man bought a box of very expensive cigars.  He protected his investment by taking out an insurance policy on the cigars.  He insured them against; “decay, spoilage, theft and fire.”

In the next few weeks he proceeded to smoke all of the cigars in the box. then he filed a claim with his insurance company, stating that the cigars were lost in a series of small . . . .fires. Of course, the insurance company rejected the claim, which ended up in civil court.

Even though the man admitted smoking the cigars, he won the case because, . . .”the company declared the cigars insurable property, and did insure them against fire, and the Company failed to specify what sort of fire was excluded, therefore the claim is legitimate.”

The man collected $15,000. As he was leaving the courthouse, the man was arrested and charged with 24 counts of arson.  After all, he had confessed to setting “the series of small fires” which had caused his loss of property.  He was convicted and sentenced to 24 months in jail and was fined $24,000.  (News of the Weird)

Ever since God handed Moses the Ten Commandments on top of the mountain, there has been a  debate concerning the letter and the spirit of the law.   Both our text and my little cigar story point out the danger of following the letter of the law while violating its intent.

In our Gospel lesson it is important for us to remember that Jesus was a Jew, an observant Jew, a Jew who treasured the Law of God.  Jesus took the Pharisees to task for following the letter of the law while ignoring its spirit.

We Christians tend to forget that the Law was given to the children of Israel as a gift, not a burden.  Thomas Cahill, in his wonderful book The Gifts of the Jews, reminds us of that fact.

“. . . in the prescriptions of Jewish Law we cannot but note a presumption that all people, even slaves, are human and that all human lives are sacred. The constant bias is in favor not of the powerful and their possessions, but of the powerless and their poverty.”

This was something new, something unheard of in the ancient world, something that had not been seen in other religions or other codes of law.  Jewish Law was a gift to the Jews and to the world; a gift to remind us that our lives are sacred and so are the lives of everyone else.

The problem that Jesus confronts in this text is that the Pharisees chose to obey the rules without remembering the relationships that lie beneath the rules. If we are honest, we will admit that this is sometimes true of us as well. We make religious rules that are intended to help us live together as Godly people. Then, over time, we forget that the rules are there to help us, not to hurt us, in our relationships with each other in the community of Christ.

It’s been a while since I was over at the Car Collectors Museum in Nashville, TN.  There used to be a 1918 Dodge Touring Car on display there.  Its little placard told an interesting story.

In 1918, the father of Albert Hillyard bought this car for $785.  In 1921, Albert and his brother got into an argument over who got to drive the car into town on Saturday night.  Their father drove the car into the garage and shut the door. There the car remained until found 38 years later, covered with dirt and chicken manure, with only 1800 miles on the Odometer.

I’ve thought about Mr. Hillyard and his Dodge Touring Car many times over the years. He attempted to heal the breach between his children by making a rule when what was needed was reconciliation.  He said, “Okay, neither one of you gets to drive it!”  But I’m willing to bet that the boys just went on to argue about something else, and then about something else, and then about something else.  The car wasn’t the problem. The problem was the jealousy and strife that lived in that family and in those brother’s hearts.

So it is with all of us.  Since our problem lies within our hearts the healing must also start there.
Jesus calls us to understand that it’s not about the rules; it’s about the relationships; the relationship between us and God; and the relationships between us and each other.

That’s why Jesus says that the things that come out are what defile. And later for it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.

Along these lines, St. Augustine said that there is a hole in our hearts that only God can fill,
that our hearts are restless until they rest in God. No amount of rules and regulations and guidelines can change our hearts.  Only God can do that.

Only God’s Spirit can move us that way.  Only the Cross of Christ;  only the broken body and spilt blood of Jesus can break our hearts enough that we will let the love of God flow in to change and reshape us.

Believe it or not, my first real job besides working on the farm with my family was as a daycare worker. Besides supervising the playground and changing diapers and serving lunch I had the great pleasure of watching Sesame Street every afternoon from four to five o’clock.  Seriously, it was a great pleasure; I really liked it.

One night recently I saw a documentary on the making of Sesame Street. Someone asked the producer about the reaction of the child actors to working with the Muppets, who are, after all, puppets with a human being crouched on the floor holding them up with one arm.

The producer said the kids don’t pay any attention to the humans; they just talk to the Muppets.
In fact, he said, there was one child who saw BIG BIRD take off his top half and an actor step out.
The child stared and then yelled to his mother, “Mom, Mom. Do you think Big Bird knows he has a man inside?”

The goal of the law is to remind us that we have a human being inside, in our hearts, in our souls, in our center of being; in that part of us that makes us something other than a thinking animal.

The law also reminds us that other people have that hidden humanity, that heart, soul, mind; that center that belongs to God, as well. Our calling is to remember that broken center in our dealings with each other.  It is our calling to remember that we are called to transcend the rules in the name of love.  It is our calling to remember that not only did Jesus die for us, but Jesus died for everybody so that we could all be reconciled to God and to one another. It is our calling to spread this gracious Good News throughout the world, beginning with our own hearts.

Amen and amen.

Year B — Proper 16 (The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 26, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43
It is a magnificent occasion when Solomon and the team bring the ark of the covenant to its “resting place” in the new temple. Lots of flash, music, fire and smoke — kind of like the opening/closing ceremonies of the Olympics, I guess, only without British pop legends.

Lots of striking impressions here — the temple was one impressive structure for its day, and the ark is one of the most famous religious relics in history. (Just look at all the people who chased Indiana Jones around the world to get it!)

But the verse that “strikes” me most in my consideration for this week is v. 27: “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!”

Solomon prays one of the most important theological concepts in all of scripture — no matter how grand our efforts to construct a “home” for God, God can never and will never be contained by our imaginings. 

Psalm 84
Where are “the courts of the Lord, ” exactly? If one day there is better than a thousand anywhere else, I’d kind of like to try it out!

The dwelling place of God, ultimately, is with God’s people. (Cross reference the great twenty-first chapter of Revelation.) Wherever God decides to take up residence, that is the place of royalty — the rule and reign of God that the New Testament names basileia.

God’s presence is not dependent on any place, though dedicated worship spaces are among the most inspiring locations throughout the world. Ultimately, it is trust in God that builds a sanctuary in our lives.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
“Pants on fire!”

The children of Israel meant well on this day, when Joshua encouraged them to choose which gods they were going to serve. “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD…!”

But they did. And so do we. We turn our backs on God fairly regularly, I imagine. 

Why God is so patient and long-suffering with our paltry efforts to be faithful, I’ll never know. But God is faithful. Lord, give me a heart and a commitment  like Joshua’s! 

Psalm 34:15-22
We make prayer awfully hard sometimes, don’t we?

As if God can’t hear us, or is not watching us. This psalm makes it abundantly clear that God is neither deaf nor blind. In fact, God is quite eagerly awaiting the opportunity to reach out and “rescue” us. 

What kind of mess are you currently in that could use a little redemption and rescue? God is waiting, watching, AND listening for your prayer!

Ephesians 6:10-20
It’s all there for us: the whole armor of God. God never offers us half of what we need in order to stand in God’s strength. It is up to us to put it on, however. God is not a squire, expected to dress us for battle. Make a little effort, will you?

John 6:56-69    
Well, you knew this day was coming. Rubber will meet road. Pedal will be applied to metal. Few will fish, while many will cut bait.

Jesus puts it all out there for his disciples: “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood truly abide in me.”

It was not a popular thing to say. (In case you missed it, Dr. Chilton had an excellent treatment of the cultural abrasiveness of this statement in last week’s sermon, here.)

After the brilliant success with the feeding of the 5,000…we are now left with the abandonment of the masses. Jesus turns to see that the crowds are gone. Nobody, but nobody is following him now.

To his closest disciples: “Do you want to leave, too?”

Peter’s classic response: “We’ve got nowhere else to go.” 

(Well, I kind of merged his statement with Zack Mayo’s in An Officer and a Gentleman, but you get the idea!)

In the age of “I’m Spiritual But I’m Not Religious” — what does it mean to choose to follow Christ in the extreme? Where do we find our “words of life” today? 

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

As best I remember we received two weekly and two monthly periodicals in my childhood home. Weekly we got Life magazine and the Grit newspaper; monthly The Progressive Farmer and Decision.
Decision was the newsletter of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; the title referred to the need for everyone to “make a decision for Christ.” We attended an evangelical church where
every service, even funerals, included an “altar call;” an invitation to “accept Jesus as your personal savior.”
Many of us are pretty uncomfortable with this sort of “decision theology.” I suspect that’s partly out of theological conviction and partly out of a bit of class consciousness. One of my friends in North Carolina says that “Lutherans would rather be sinful than tacky. God will forgive your sins; your neighbors will never forgive your tackiness.” What is true of Lutherans is, I suspect, equally true of other mainline Christians.
But in both Joshua and John’s gospel we are confronted with issues of decision, of choice, of invitations to accept or reject God’s call on your life.
In Joshua we find the Hebrew people in the promised land, but many are beginning to have second thoughts, they have discovered that although God has given them this land there is still much work to be done, there are obstacles to be overcome, there are already people living here.
What are we to do?
Joshua lays out for the people a history of God’s saving acts beginning with the calling of Abram and Sarai and moving through their liberation from Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness, etc. Joshua reminds the people of their sacred history, of how God has seen them through, God has provided, God has made a way. Then he says,
24:15 – “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, 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.”
Choose this day. Decide. As Bob Dylan said in the song, “You gotta serve somebody.” Who’s it going to be?
In our Gospel lesson Jesus’ ministry has come to a turning point. For the last month we have been reading and preaching about the 6th chapter of John. In this chapter we have seen Jesus preaching to large crowds, feeding the five thousand, being followed about by crowds of people from here to there. His moment has arrived. The people are at his beck and call, he has them in the palm of his hand, and then . . . .
Jesus would have flunked Church Growth, Mega-church Ministries 101. Instead of soft-pedaling and making it easy and telling them that if they follow him their spouses will love them, their children will become docile and obedient and all their business plans will work out; Jesus does a stupid thing – he tells them the truth.
He tells them “I am not just another Rabbi, a faith healing miracle man. I am the Son of God. I am the Bread of Life, I am the Christ.”
And the people say, “Whoa, this is heavy. This is; this is weird. This is hard. This is leading somewhere I’m not sure I want to go.”
It has become clear to the people who have been following Jesus around, listening to him talk, watching him heal people, and eating at his overflowing table; that to follow Jesus from here on out would be to go against their own culture. It would make them religious and social outcasts. They are being asked to “choose this day,” and they do. They choose to go away, in droves. This is too hard, too difficult for them.
Jesus turns to his closest companions, the chosen ones and gives them the choice as well, “Do you also wish to go away?” And Peter, as usual, speaks the words of faith, “Lord to whom can we go, you have the words of eternal life.”
In both Joshua and John, we have situations in which people are asked to choose, but they are not invited to choose blindly, like picking a door on The Price is Right. They are invited to put their personal future into the hands of the one who has been there for them in the past.
“Choose this day whom you will serve. As for me and my house we will serve the LORD.”
“LORD, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”
O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 317)

Year B — Proper 15 (The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 19, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
All good things must come to an end.

So with the life of the great king of Israel, David. Honestly, we have seen David at both his best and his worst over these past few weeks of readings. A great reminder that the people of the Bible’s stories are just like us — imperfect, unholy, obedient, faithful, willing and willful. God loves us and uses us for God’s own good purposes, just the same.

Young Solomon now ascends the throne, and begins his reign well, according to the text: “Solomon loved the LORD, walking in the statutes of his father David….” So far, so good. But, we do get a little hint of trouble to come with the rest of that verse: “…only, he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places.”

Solomon will follow God, and be blessed greatly by God — as the rest of today’s passage clearly indicates. But, he will always have a bit of a weak spot for other ways, other women (lots of them,) and other gods.

As we have learned repeatedly: nobody’s perfect.

Psalm 111
A nice text for worship, we are immediately assured of the virtue of seeking God with our “whole hearts.” Not half-hearted, mind you — God wants and deserves it all!

In an additional nod to the accession of Solomon to the throne, we have v. 10 which echoes the famous words of Proverbs 9:10 — “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” 

Whole heart, healthy respect. These are two of the prerequisites for entering the worship of the God of heaven and earth.

Proverbs 9:1-6
Wisdom is personified in Proverbs, a wise woman who provides counterpoint to the fleeting pleasures of youthful desire embodied in the “adulterous woman.” While it may be a difficult choice to make in the throes of ardent, hormone-induced passion — the mature choice is life and insight, not momentary satisfaction.

Psalm 34:9-14
One of the most poignant questions ever asked of me was by a young college student who had just returned from a short-term mission experience in Africa. Regarding this psalm, she queried me: “Pastor, I don’t understand. I met some of the most passionate believers in Christ I have ever encountered, but they are starving to death! Why does this psalm say, ‘Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing?'”

I’m still puzzling that one out.

She went on to say that the people she had left behind were not the ones who were complaining; it was those who had come from cultures of plenty and more. We decided that maybe a part of her experience was a call to wake up to the wealth with which she was blessed, and to turn that toward sharing with those whose lack was a daily part of their lives. 

Could it be that the “good” that is needed in the life of another faithful brother or sister in the Lord, is currently residing in my own pocket or bank account or other reservoir of the overflowing blessings of God.

Or, as a member of my current congregation said to me recently, “When my cup’s overflowing, I believe I need to let it run into somebody else’s saucer.” 

Ephesians 5:15-20
“Be careful how you live.”

That’s not a statement of fear or restriction, but a call to careful examination. Keep a lookout on your life; walk around it, kick the tires, be sure things are in balance.

Getting drunk? Not your best move for a real purpose in life. Walking around singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs 24/7? Well, maybe that’s not exactly what the apostle is talking about, either!

Give thanks to God at all times…have an attitude of gratitude, as the old saying goes. Not everything that happens to me is going to elicit a “hip, hip, hooray” kind of reaction — but I can be aware and open and observant to what is happening around me. And, I can remember to thank God in my abundance and to ask for God’s help when I encounter need.

John 6:51-58    
See Dr. Chilton’s explication below.

(I can’t really add anything to it…and if you can’t say nothing nice, don’t say nothing at all!)

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Most of us are so accustomed to hearing liturgical language about the bread and wine being the body and blood of Christ, that we no longer really hear the crude, primal, visceral nature of such language. 

At least not the way Jesus’ audience heard it when he said to them: “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.”

When the text says they “disputed among themselves” about this that is putting it mildly. The better translation would be “argued violently/angrily.”

As we shall see in next week’s Gospel, many got so upset that they left off following after and listening to Jesus altogether. 

This business of eating flesh and drinking blood was indeed a most offensive thing to say to Jewish people. Many of the laws about keeping kosher have to do with the avoidance of drinking blood, or of eating flesh with blood still in it, etc. 

How are we to understand this? What are we to make of such language? What is John trying to tell us with all these “bread” stories we find in chapter six? 

There’s the feeding of the 5000, the many references to the exodus from Egypt and God’s provision of manna from heaven, Jesus’ claims to be the true bread from Heaven, and now this cannibalistic reference to eating and drinking Jesus himself. 

It’s all a bit much for our modern, antiseptic sensibilities. We prefer our religion neat and clean and appropriately done and appropriately metaphorical if you please. 

And, so did many of the people to whom John was writing when he composed his Gospel several years after the death and resurrection. They were not only offended at this language about eating and drinking Jesus; they were also offended by the very idea that Jesus was really human. They preferred to think that he was a sort of ghost who only appeared in human form, but was really all spirit.

There was an idea about that the body was bad and the spirit was good and that true religion consisted of being really spiritual and escaping the body. Therefore, many who became Christian with this idea decided that Jesus, the ultimate “Spiritual Person,” wasn’t really human; wasn’t “really real” I suppose.

John’s emphasis on Jesus’ fleshiness is meant to counteract this notion. The Greek word used here is sarx. It denotes meat, flesh. The alternate word John could have used is soma, which means body. By choosing sarx John is making it clear that Jesus was a real live human being who ate and slept and went to the bathroom.

This was important then, and it’s important now. If Jesus just appeared or seemed to be human, then his death was not a real death, his suffering was not real suffering and his resurrection was just a show, a trick, an illusion. 

For the economy of salvation to really work, it is necessary that Jesus be a real human being who lived and taught and was tried and suffered and died and went to hell and was brought back to life by the power of God. 

Otherwise, it’s just a nice story and it really doesn’t change anything. In the end it doesn’t communicate anything to us about God’s love and our life. 

Jesus say, “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh (sarx)”

In his book Written in Blood, Robert Coleman tells the story of a little boy whose sister needed a blood transfusion. For various reasons, the boy was the only donor whose blood could save his sister. The doctor asked, “Would you give your blood to Mary?” The little boy’s lower lip began to tremble, then he took a deep breath and said, “Yes, for my sister.”

After the nurse inserted the needle into his arm, the little boy began to look very worried, then he crossed himself, finally he looked at the doctor and said, “When do I die?”


Suddenly, the doctor realized that the little boy had thought that to give his blood to his sister meant he had to die, and miracle of miracles, he was willing to do that for his sister.

Jesus did that for us. That’s what John wants us to contemplate. It’s not a metaphor, not a parable, not a mythological construct about dying and rising gods. John is clear about that and wants his readers to be clear also.

This is why we have the language about eating Jesus’ flesh and drinking his blood. John uses a word for eating which is probably better translated “gnaw” or “chew”. Again, he wants to drive home the point of the grounded reality of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection.

As we come to the table, we are called to be mindful of Jesus’ presence in our midst. It was a real presence then and it is a real presence now. 

The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly came down from heaven to live among us as the fleshly love of God.

The Gospel is that Jesus really, truly died upon the cross, giving up his flesh and spilling his blood, to save us from our sins.

The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly raised him from the dead, brought him out of the grave to a new and eternal life.

The Gospel is that God almighty really, truly has just such a future in store for each and every one of us.


Amen and amen.

Year B — Proper 14 (The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost)

Commentary for August 12, 2012
Click here for today’s readings

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Our children, no matter how rebellious or “unloving” toward us, are always still our children.

There are very few words in scripture more pathetic (as in, filled with pathos) than David’s declaration of his grief over the death of Absalom. David would gladly have traded his life for his son’s, wayward child that he was.

The fulfillment of Nathan’s prophecy aside, what parent among us cannot identify with the pain in David’s heart? After sitting with the inconsolable grief for a few moments, which of us cannot be moved by imagining the same pain within the heart of God toward each of God’s wayward children across the earth?

Psalm 130
A plaintive and elegant song for the times we, too, must “cry from the depths” of life’s dark places.

1 Kings 19:4-8
Dr. Chilton deals extensively (and, quite well, one might add) with this text in the sermon below. I can’t add a whole lot, except to say that there are those places that we, both as preachers and people of God, are sometimes called to go that just feel far too wearying to endure on our own. Laying down and waiting to die sounds like a pretty preferable alternative on some days.

But, on those days, God is still there. May the “bread of heaven” that sometimes appears in the strangest ways and places fill us and strengthen us for the journey.

Psalm 34:1-8
At all times.

That’s the key phrase in this psalm text — at least, it’s a key phrase. Blessing God is fairly easy when the good times are rolling by like a parade (though, admittedly, we often forget to bless God as our first instinct.)


When the bad times roll in like a fog, our first instinct may be to offer a prayer more along the lines of “help me, God!”

I’m with Anne Lamott, who quoted a wise friend (in Traveling Mercies, still one of my favorites of her work) as saying, “The two best prayers I know are ‘Help me, help me’ and ‘Thank you, thank you, thank you.'”

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
More practical applications of the grace of God for everyday living from Ephesians. This is good stuff. I like that all of it comes out of the phrase, “be imitators of God… live in love, as Christ loved” in 5:1-2. A pretty good set of companion ideas when paired with Psalm 34:1 (see above.)

John 6:35, 41-51
More than one wag has commented on this series of gospel readings, “When will Jesus ever stop talking about bread?”

We all love images of freshly-baked loaves, still warm from the oven, served up delightfully for us on platters with plenty of butter or cream cheese. Now that’s some “bread of heaven” we can get into!

As Jesus’ images turn toward eating his flesh, we find that the number of takers begins to dwindle pretty sharply. More than one Christian, when faced with the complexity and difficulty of living out the Christ lifestyle, has bemoaned, “This is not what I signed up for!”

Well….     

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In her novel At Home in Mitford, Jan Karon tells the story of Father Tim, rector of a tiny Episcopal church in a tiny North Carolina mountain village. One day Father Tim is having lunch with his friend and mentor, Brother Absalom Greer, a retired Baptist minister in his late eighties.
Father Tim is complaining about his spiritual dryness, his feelings of being far from God while at the same time running himself ragged being about the Lord’s business.

Brother Absalom nods and smiles and says, “I know what you mean, brother, I know what you mean. You’re too tired to run and too sacred to rest.”

That’s Elijah in our first lesson, sitting under a broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” too exhausted to think, and too disgusted with himself to want to go on living. How did Elijah get here? What brought Elijah to this moment of despair?

Strangely enough, this moment of great tragedy had its beginnings in a moment of great triumph. In a story with echoes in the story of John Baptist and Herod, King Ahab had married a foreign woman named Jezebel and Jezebel had brought with her into the kingdom the worship of the fertility god Baal. Elijah spoke his mind about Jezebel and her religion and a few other matters and Jezebel was not amused.

The conflict culminated in a dramatic confrontation between Elijah and four hundred and fifty priest of Baal on Mount Carmel. It’s pretty exciting and you can read all about it in chapter 18 of I Kings. There was a huge altar and two young bulls for sacrifice and the contest was to see who could call down fire from heaven. Elijah put on a show, trash-talking the priests of Baal when they failed, soaking the altar with water when it was his turn. And when he prayed for fire he got fire. It burned up everything. Then Elijah had the priests of Baal killed. What a performance, what a triumph!

Then, in the first few verses of chapter 19, King Ahab tells Jezebel what has happened and she sends a message to Elijah that he will be dead by tomorrow night. And Elijah runs. He flees. He gets out of town as fast as his puny little prophet legs can carry him. He didn’t take time to pack or to leave a forwarding address; he just left and went deep into the wilderness.

This is where we find him in today’s reading, sitting under a broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” beating his chest and asking God to let him die. “It is enough,” he says, “take away my life. I am no better than my ancestors.” Elijah has come to the crisis point in his life, the point where his faith will be most severely tested.

His words, “I am no better than my ancestors,” are a confession of sin and failure, of helplessness and despair. Elijah is acutely aware that his running away from Jezebel has undone all that had been accomplished in facing down the priests of Baal. He is ashamed and sits alone and exhausted, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” and mush too aware of his own failures and much too unsure of God’s grace and love.
And so, Elijah falls asleep in his sins. He has made his confession, he is ready to die. As far as he knows, when he falls asleep he is falling into the eternal sleep of death.

But God has a different plan, a different ending in store for Elijah. Elijah is awakened to the gift of new life. Elijah is awakened by the touch of a holy hand and the sound of a divine voice inviting him to “arise and eat.” Get up and get on with your life. Get up God is not finished with you yet. Get up and get on with it. Get up and quit taking yourself so seriously. Arise and eat God has more future in store for you.

God’s response to Elijah’s confession of helplessness and hopelessness was not judgment and death. God’s response was forgiveness and life. The cake of bread and jar of water are more than just necessary provisions to keep Elijah’s body alive for another day. No, they are a gift from God to keep his soul from wasting away. They are a message, a sign to Elijah that the past is over and forgiven and the future is alive and in God’s hands.

When we come to our moments of sitting alone under the broom tree, “too tired to run and too scared to rest,” when we look back on our lives and see only our faults and failures, our disappointments and unfulfilled ambitions looming up and chasing us like Jezebel’s pursuing minions, when we feel like we have done all we can and despite our best intentions, we find we are no better than our ancestors, we must remember how God responded to Elijah and how God will respond to us.

We must listen carefully and hear God say to us, “Arise and eat. I know who you are and what you’ve done and filed to do and I love you anyway. Here, have some bread. I made it myself; I call it the bread of life.”

Amen and amen.