The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (August 2, 2015)

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

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

I am a total and complete “land-lubber.” I get sea-sick standing on the pier at Myrtle Beach.  Therefore, it will not surprise you to learn that I know absolutely nothing about lobsters, except what I read in Wikipedia and in this illustration I clipped from an unspecified “Christian magazine” and put in a file about twenty years ago.  So, I am dependent upon those two slightly wobbly sources for the accuracy of this idea.

“From time to time lobsters have to leave their shells in order to grow.  They need the shell to protect them from being torn apart; yet when they grow the old shell must be abandoned.  If they did not abandon it, the old shell would soon become their prison – and finally their casket. The tricky part is the brief period of time between when the old shell is abandoned and the new one formed.  During that terrible, vulnerable period, the transition must be scary to the lobster.  Currents cartwheel them from coral to kelp.  Hungry schools of fish are ready to make them a part of the food chain.  For a while at least, that old shell must look pretty good.” Brent Mitchell.

“The brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and the new one is formed” – that’s where we find the congregation of the Israelites today. They too had left behind an old shell – years, generations really, of slavery in Egypt.  It was not a good life, but it was life.  It was bad and hard, but at least it was a place where they understood the rules, they knew what to expect.  It may not have been a land flowing with milk and honey but at least there was water to drink and food to eat and a roof over their heads.  True they were slaves – but then again, it was steady work.

Here in the desert, in the wilderness – nothing was certain.  Everything was wide open: they had no jobs, no crops, no storehouses, no overseers, and no certainty about where the next meal would come from.  No wonder they were grouchy and complaining.  Truth be told, in their shoes, we would be too.

In this state of exposure and uncertainty and anxiety about the future – the past began to look pretty good.  Throughout the biblical stories of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness a constant theme is played out, over and over and over again.  The congregation of Israelites complains about their condition and blame Moses and God for getting them into this mess.  And they also look back upon their time in Egypt as the “good old days,” reciting fuzzy memories of their years of suffering and servitude.

“The tricky part  . . .  is the brief period of time between when the old shell is discarded and when the new one is formed.”  That was true for the Israelites and it is true for us.  American Christianity is in that time between shells; we are walking through the desert without the security and safety of the old ways of doing things.  Sometimes it feels like we are being forced to reinvent ourselves on an almost weekly basis and in the midst of being blown about by the winds of change we are tempted to look back on the way things used to be and to think how much easier it would be if things never changed.  We can find ourselves wishing for more stability, for more security, for “now” to go back to being like “then”.

Until I was thirteen my family lived in a little four room house on a farm we shared with my grandparents.  Four little rooms and an attic for two parents and five children.  A well in the yard for water, and an outhouse in the woods for, well, you know.  Within a year both my grandparents died and my aunt who had lived with them married and moved down the road to her husband’s farm and my family occupied my grandparent’s house.  It was a large rambling two story farmhouse with lots of rooms, big porches on the front and back, and best of all – indoor plumbing.

Our family had some difficulty adjusting to our new home.  I don’t want to be indelicate here, but when the men in the family got up in the morning, they headed outside before they remembered they had a bathroom.  More interestingly, we found ourselves living in the same amount of space we had used in the old, smaller house.  It took us a while to spread out and take advantage of all that unrestricted room.

The congregation of the Israelites complained about food and God gave them food.  In chapter 17 they complained about water and God gave them water.  As time goes on they complained about other things.  Sometimes God got angry, sometimes God didn’t; but God always responded to their need and provided for them  Because God knew that lack of food, water, and other things wasn’t what was really bothering the Israelites.  It was all that freedom, all that uncharted future in front of them.

So it is with us.  We too face an uncertain and uncharted future.  We too are often guilty of succumbing to the fatal allure of the familiar.  We too look at the way the world is changing and we become frightened.  We too look to the past for assurance: We cling to the old hymns and the old liturgies as if we can only pray and God can only hear in those words, in those ways.  We go down the hall of the church and point at pictures of pastors and confirmations of the past and think, “It was so much better when things were like that.” And maybe it was, but the fact is, it will never be that way again and we must be the church in the world as it is – not as we wish it were.

And the story of the manna is our assurance that God is with us in our wilderness, God is leading us through this time of uncertainty and growth, God is providing what we need, not necessarily what we want, but certainly what we need.

The writer of Exodus refers to the manna as a test.  Sometimes we forget that testing is an educational tool, a tool to help us discover those places where we need to learn more and grow more.  God is not trying to trip the Israelites up, not trying to see if they measure up to being the “Chosen people” – God already knows that they don’t and that such measuring up is beside the point.  God is using this test to teach them the lesson that faith is not about what we know and not about what we are capable of doing.  Faith is about trusting God in those times when we are without even the vestige of a shell of outward protection; when we are bereft of anything except our sheer and utter dependence upon the goodness of God.  To go out to pick up manna and to take only enough for one day is to trust that God will provide again the next day, and the next day after that, and yes, the next day after that.

Pray with me please:  “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 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.  Collect after the Litany)

Amen and amen.

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