The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (July 26, 2015)

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Points for Preaching and Teaching
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Boy, oh, boy! What can we say about King David and his wandering eyes?
There are any number of approaches possible for preaching this text; certainly, “be sure your sins will find you out” is a tried and true message. The futility of trying to “hide from God” (a la the story of the Fall in the garden of Eden) might be another. Seeing if you can find somebody else to take the fall for you (“go on down to your house, Uriah, and ‘wash your feet’ –[wink, wink]”) is another fool’s errand.
 
I am struck by the depth of the desperation that ensued as David sought any remedy other than honest confession for his sin. Those in the recovery community learn — at a price, to be sure — that every offense is only made right by an act of atonement. Responsibility must be accepted and amends must be made.
You can’t send Joab to do your dirty work for you.
Psalm 14
I recently re-watched Peter Jackson’s movie adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, by JRR Tolkien (all three movies — it was a holiday!) When I read this psalm, I get a visual image of the “all-seeing eye” of Sauron flashing in my mind. 
(Of course, you can Google it and find an image — or you can just go here.)
I’m not certain that this is what the psalmist had in mind with his line, “The Lord looks down from heaven…” — but there is something to be said for the pervasiveness and thoroughness of God’s vision when it comes to considering the thoughts and intentions of our hearts.
 
2 Kings 4:42-44
The Hebrew Bible version of loaves and fishes: loaves of barley and fresh ears of corn (well, at least of grain — what else other than corn comes in ears?)
At any rate, Elisha’s miracle — based on a word from the Lord — foreshadows the trust that Christ would call forth from his disciples on the hillside. Little is enough — and more than enough! — when God is in the mix.
Psalm 145:10-18
This is one of the most encouraging psalm texts in scripture — and that’s saying a lot! Both God’s words and actions are intended for good (v.13.) God is near to “all who call” on God. Truly.
Ephesians 3:14-21
Love, strength, grace, glory, riches — Ephesians is filled with these “power” phrases, available as Christ dwells in the hearts of believers. Indeed, in the fullness of God’s good intention — its height, depth, and breadth — there is very little that God cannot accomplish. Certainly, more than we can imagine (if not always exactly what we have imagined!)
John 6:1-21    
No rest for the weary — and, on this occasion, no food, either.
John’s telling has Jesus slyly testing the disciples. They are excellent foils for his plans to illustrate what faith in God looks and acts like. Jesus works with very little (compare the relative bounty in Elisha’s story, above) but leads the disciples to see that God provides not just enough — but much more than they ever could have imagined (see Ephesians, above.)
For the disciples, it’s personal. When the lesson has ended, they each have their own basket to carry away — a reminder of God’s sufficiency in the time of need.
The second episode, with Jesus walking on water in the midst of a storm (and transporting not only the disciples, but their boat, to safety with Mr. Scott-like efficiency) illustrates even further how little we need fear when God is the strength of our lives.
It’s tough in the midst of our own storms — admittedly. But let the words of Christ dwell richly in us: “It is I; do not be afraid.”

Sermon
by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

In the far west of North Carolina where I live, you will often see a sign in front of a church or Masonic Lodge or VFW building announcing a “Poor Man’s Dinner” fundraising event. (Except the Catholics; the Catholics have “Friday Night Fish Fry”, for which I am eternally grateful.)  A “Poor Man’s Dinner” consists of pinto beans and cornbread, with sweet iced tea and appropriate deserts.  This is a nod to the area’s past when most of the people were very poor and pinto beans and cornbread got many families through the winter.

In our gospel lesson for today, Andrew brings forward a young man who “has five barley loaves and two fish.”  Barley loaves and fish was a poor man’s dinner.  The middle classes, the wealthy, the Greek merchants and the Roman occupiers all ate wheat bread – the poor ate bread made from barley.

I have often wondered about how Andrew stumbled upon the young man with the loaves and fishes.  Did the boy shyly tug at his elbow and say, “It isn’t much but the Teacher can have it.”?  Did he sit off in a corner with his lunch under his cloak, occasionally sneaking a bite before he was spotted by Andrew, who then said, “Aha, you need to share that.”?  Or was it something in between?  How was that the boy decided to share?

Surely the boy had to wonder about what difference his little bit of food, his “Poor Man’s Dinner,” would make.  He had to think, “There are so many and I have so little.  All that will happen is I will have to go hungry along with everyone else.  Better to keep what’s mine and let the other people take care of themselves.”   Someone shared a cartoon on Facebook this week.  It showed four people in a rowboat.  The two people at one end were furiously bailing water out of the boat as it began to sink.  The two people at the other end sat back comfortably and smiled as one said to the other, “Sure am glad the hole is not in our end of the boat.”

Sometimes we’re all like that.  When things look dicey, we decide that the hole isn’t in our end of the boat, therefore it’s not our problem.  We look to take care of our own people and our own stuff; we secure what matters most to us and certainly don’t want to waste what little we have on the needs of someone else.  Besides, it’s easy to think, “What difference will it make?  I have only enough for me and mine.” I read an article recently about what are called “Preppers.” It’s a more urban and urbane version of survivalists.  These are people who believe that we are facing a major economic crises and social upheaval in the near future.  They are storing several months’ worth of food in their homes, creating emergency plans to get out of the cities into an isolated hideaway, and arming themselves to fend off the masses of unprepared people who will want to get at their stuff. (“The Week,” July 17, 2015)

In contrast to this attitude of scarcity and self-protection, our scripture lessons call us to have enough faith in God to share what we have, trusting God to provide whatever else is needed.  In Second Kings, the man from Baal-shalishah showed the offering, the first fruits, to Elisha.  He is a bit embarrassed – it is not much, just twenty Barley loaves and some other fresh grain, a poor man’s dinner indeed. But Elisha doesn’t bat an eye. “Give it to the people.” he says.  “What? How can I?” the man sputters. Elisha’s servant chimes in, “It’s not enough to feed all these people.”  And Elisha assures them both, “The Lord has promised, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’ ”

As we saw in the gospel lesson, the boy hands over his five barley loaves and two fish to Jesus.  And somehow, someway, God provides.  There is plenty, more than enough for everyone. Jesus makes a rich feast out of a poor man’s dinner.

We often think we don’t have much to offer either God or the world, either personally or as a congregation. We see ourselves as poor, or small, or weak, or otherwise inadequate.  And nothing could be further from the truth.  The Biblical story is a story of a God who takes our little and turns it into a lot.  We often try to hang on to what we have because we don’t really trust God’s promise that if we turn everything over to him we will be all right, really we will.  Deep down, most of us don’t believe that God will take what we grudgingly, almost reluctantly hand over and turn it into more than we ever imagined possible.

But the gospel is – God in Christ has done and will do just that.  God doesn’t really want our treasure, God wants our trust.  God doesn’t really want our finances, God wants our faith.  God doesn’t really want our things, God wants us.  God wants us to let go of everything else and to truly believe that we can rely on the fact that the divine and holy love that made the universe also made us and that this immense love, a love “that surpasses knowledge,” (Ephesians 3:19) will provide for us and will use us to provide for others.

May we let go of our endless need for self-protection and self-reliance.  May we turn loose of our desperate desire to control our own lives and manage our own future.  May we look upon the love of God in Christ and relax, and open our hands, and release into God’s care all those things we have been so desperately holding on to because we are afraid of not having enough.  May we give to God our “barley loaves and fish,” our “pinto beans and cornbread,” our “poor man’s dinners,” so that God can transform them and us into a rich blessing for the world.

Amen and amen.

2 thoughts on “The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (July 26, 2015)

  1. Thank you both for your teaching on this week’s scriptures. I pray that God will give me the confidence in his riches/resources to give away my barley loaves and two small fish. Rev. Delmer mentioned the Poor Man’s Dinners in North Carolina. You may be interested to know that in this area some of the churches, when having a fundraising supper or breakfast, ask for a freewill offering rather than asking a set amount. (The local Baptist church was the first to do it with their turkey dinners.) Bless you both. ps We were celebrating the patronal festival of St. James today so had different readings.

  2. Eva, as always, thank you for your thoughtful reading and reflecting. The free will offering is pretty standard in the south, particularly so among the old German Lutherans in North Carolina. The former “Lutheran Church in America” (now a part of the ELCA) had official rules against fundraising so people offered dinners and car washes and such “free of charge,” inviting people to give whatever they felt moved to give. I have no empirical data but I always thought we came out ahead on those things, i.e. people who would have paid $5 instead gave $10 or $20, more than balancing out the few who gave little or nothing.

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