The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost for Year B (August 16, 2015)

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

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

Over twenty years ago I served a church in the suburbs of Atlanta.  That year our bishop held a series of Chrism Masses.  This is a tradition dating back to the early church. The clergy gather with their bishop during Holy Week and renew their ordination vows and receive an anointing with oil from the bishop.

In order to get there at the appointed 6:00 am, I got up at 4:30 in the suburbs. Forty or fifty Lutheran clergy gathered in the early morning darkness to drink coffee and put on our albs and stoles in the small, cold and somewhat dark chapel.  We processed into the cathedral style church in single file, singing Veni, Creator Spiritus.

We sat in the chancel, in longs rows of dark wooden pews, facing each other across the aisle, the huge sanctuary to our right unlit and dark and foreboding, the altar to our left brightly lit by ceiling lights and dozens of candles.

The bishop preached, and we prayed, and we promised to be good pastors, and we took communion and the bishop and the assistants laid hands on us and anointed us with oil and prayed for our ministry, and it was haunting and mysterious and really, really, cool. After the worship, we returned to the chapel and took off our vestments and hung them in our carrying bags and laid them across the backs of pews. Then we all went down the hall for breakfast.

This was no ordinary minister’s breakfast – eating Krispy Kreme donuts on Thrivent napkins and coffee served in styrofoam cups while sitting on cold metal chairs in the Fellowship Hall or ancient donated couches in the Youth Room.

NO, We ate in the well-appointed Dining Room with thick plush carpet and an antique walnut and gold trim buffet table covered with platters overflowing with sausage balls and egg quiche and cheese grits and fresh fruit and bran muffins; and we ate off real china and drank out of real coffee cups while seated around wooden tables covered with linen table cloths.  We were all decked out in our best dark suits and black shirts and bright white collars and gold or silver crosses.  We sat and ate and looked out at the awakening city through the plate glass windows which ran wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling along one side of the room.

After eating my fill and talking myself empty, I decided it was time to leave and I made my good-byes and headed out.  Somewhere in the bowels of the building, I took a wrong turn and instead of going out the back into the parking lot, I went out the side onto a parallel street.  As I stumbled out into the early morning chill, I realized it was raining, and I was lost, and I was being stared at by 100 pairs of eyes.

All along the narrow strip of grass that separated the sidewalk from the outside wall of the nave, homeless people were huddled on newspapers or were leaning against the building, waiting for the food kitchen in the church to open at 9:00 AM.  As I looked at them looking at me, I felt both embarrassed and vulnerable and started walking as fast as I could down the street; unfortunately in the opposite direction from my car.

I arrived at the corner and realized I had gone in the wrong direction, I needed to go back, and I turned around and, for a brief moment, I was confronted by the Cross.  As I turned, I realized I could at one and the same time see into that huge plate glass window and also down the side street.

Through the window I saw the spiritual leaders of Georgia Lutheranism: warm, dry, well clad, well fed, laughing and talking and having a good time. Without turning my head, I also saw the homeless of Atlanta: cold, wet, in shabby clothes, depressed and silent and miserable. And the question came to my mind: If Jesus were standing on this corner, to which breakfast would he go?

At the time I thought the answer to that question was easy, that it was a clear cut “either/or.”  For some reason the idea that it could be “both/and” never occurred to me.  At the time (and long into the future) it was a personal parable, a moment in which I confronted my own failure to live up to the ideals of self-giving love which I so frequently and fervently preached.  And it was, and is, a good parable and a good reminder of our call to take up our cross and to serve the “least of these.”

But, there is more than that going on here because there is more than that to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In the old days my answer would have been that Jesus would be in the street with the homeless people.  Now my answer is that Jesus would be in both places at once – drawing the people to himself and to each other…

In our gospel lesson, Jesus says, “I am the living bread from heaven that came down from heaven.  Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (Verse 51) When Jesus says that he is the living bread from heaven, he is also saying that other things are not.  Not the things rich people have, not the things ordinary people have, not the things poor people don’t have and so desperately want.  While providing food for the hungry and clothing for the naked are important things; they are not the only things or even the most important things.

What Jesus gave to us, to all of us, to the world, was his flesh, his very self. To use an outdated image of God; Jesus did not look down from above and see our need and then lean over the balcony of heaven and hand down to us care packages of divine wisdom and holy  food and drink.  No, Jesus came himself.

Just so, God in Christ did not and does not send divine help to us by some sort of holy UPS truck, or beam it into our midst by use of a Star Trek Transporter.  The gift God gives us is God’s very self, in the person of Jesus, in the sacrament of the table and the community of the church – for we too are the “body of Christ,” called to be “living bread from heaven.”  The gift we are called to give to the world in Jesus’ name is not our stuff, not our extra cash or excess provisions.  NO!  The gospel invites us to give ourselves, our flesh if you will, for the sake of the world and for the life of the other.

Will you?  Will you take Jesus at his word and receive his life into your life?  And will you accept the invitation to follow in Christ’s footsteps, giving of yourself for the life of the world?

Amen and amen.

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