August 5, 2018

Pentecost 11 August 5, 2018   (Ps 107, Ex 16:1-4, John 6:15-24) John 6:25-40 Bread of heaven ********************************************************** Bread of heaven, bread of heaven, feed me till I want no more… Feed me till I want no more… Jesus has the crowd singing the hymn with him today… At least for a few measures… As, remember – a week ago, our time – just a day ago, their time – Jesus fed five thousand from two little fishes and five small loaves of bread. Now it’s the day after, and the crowds have gathered again around Jesus, hoping for a repeat performance. “More loaves! More fishes! Feed us till we want no more!” Jesus has not exactly given them any reason to expect a repetition. After producing yesterday’s great banquet, with more than enough for everyone and twelve baskets of take-home left-overs – Jesus sends disciples off across the lake in the boat – and  heads off to an undisclosed location on the mountain to avoid crowds who want to crown him king. In feeding the multitude Jesus gives an amazing sign of his power. In private, later that night, he also walks on water for the benefit of disciples in the boat. These and other signs and wonders now convince the crowd Jesus is The Prophet foretold by Moses. They’re getting the idea he’s also the Messiah King of Israel. Yet they have no clue yet what the Messiah’s job description actually looks like. (Hence Jesus’ quick departure as they try to make him king.) These and all the other signs Jesus has done surely ought to remind people of Moses and Israel’s exodus out from Egypt – where God gives manna, bread from heaven, every day, forty years in the wilderness – and God parts the waters of the Red Sea as Moses stretches out his arm at God’s command – and all Israel passes through the waters on the way out from slavery into freedom. Now here’s Jesus giving bread, mastering the waters, as Moses did… But the crowds seem oblivious to the obvious connection to their own sacred history. Jesus accuses them of not even noticing what the sign’s about – and following him just because he’s fed their bodies. “Don’t be working for food that lasts just a few hours. Don’t  waste your life working for what’s here today, gone tomorrow. Work for the food that lasts forever – the Son of Man’s trying to give you – and teach you to eat.” The people hear a little now, on one level, as they pick up on what he’s saying about work for food that endures for eternal life – asking him “so what do we need to be doing – to do the works of God?” “The work of God is to believe in the one God has sent,” Jesus tells them. And they understand now he’s talking about himself – but they’re still totally missing who he is – missing the meaning of what he’s just done by feeding them. “What sign are you going to give us so we can see and believe you?” they ask. Like – what work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, the bread of heaven…” Not getting the irony – of asking...

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July 29, 2018

Pentecost 10  July 29, 2018   (Psalm 145, 1 Samuel 7:18-29, Ephesians 3:14-21) John 6:1-15          Loaves and fishes ************************************************************* Jesus and his disciples head out of town, out into the countryside, trying to get away from the ever-present crowds for awhile. But the crowds see them going and follow. Because, we’re told, they’ve seen the signs Jesus does for the sick. Signs is the word John the gospel writer uses, always, instead of saying miracle or miraculous. And using sign as the word-of-choice is a sign – as a sign points us to something bigger than itself. So in one sense, almost everything Jesus does or says is a sign – pointing to God’s purpose – pointing to what God is doing – pointing to God’s love at work… Even Jesus asking Philip – a home-boy from the nearby town of Bethsaida – “so where can we go to buy food around here for all these people?” – is a sign of sorts – a sign Jesus has a sense of humor – as he knows full well five thousand people, minimum, are coming for dinner… (In Matthew, Mark and Luke’s versions of this story, we’re told it’s 5000 men, with Matthew adding ‘plus women and children.’) In other words, we are expecting quite a bit more company than any restaurant around here (here on this planet) is going to be able to serve… on short order… But we’re also told – Jesus is testing Philip. Jesus already knows what he’s going to do. But he’s testing to see if Philip (or any of the disciples) has been paying attention – noticing what Jesus has already done – and connecting the dots… (They haven’t connected much yet, as it turns out. But – ) Maybe we need a brief station identification break, here, just to note that following our ecumenical lectionary, we have just moved today out from Mark’s gospel, where we’ve been camping all year up to now, over into the gospel of John, chapter six. Here we are, on a mountain, away from the towns and villages. The time is almost Passover – Israel’s high holy day celebration of liberation from slavery. So with Jesus and disciples on a mountain, we’re remembering Moses on the mountain – remembering Israel’s sacred tradition of celebrating freedom from slavery every year with the eating of unleavened bread – remembering also God feeding our ancestors with manna, the bread of heaven, given free-of-charge, every morning for forty years, by God in the wilderness exodus. Now we’re back in Galilee after several trips to Jerusalem. We’ve already seen Jesus work three major signs – turning water into wine, doing a long-distance healing, and getting a lame man on his feet and walking. Now we’re into sign four of the seven major signs described in John. (John tells us elsewhere Jesus did many other signs besides these – but seven is the biblical number of completion, as in the seven days of creation – so the seven signs narrated are a sketch of the wider, deeper, broader spectrum of signs that Jesus does…) But before we go deeper with the details, let’s ponder today’s sign on the most basic level: We all need to eat. And Jesus feeds us all… *** And all is...

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July 22, 2018

Pentecost 9   July 22, 2018 Ephesians 2:17-22, 2 Samuel 7:1-17 *********************************************************** King David decides to build a house for God. David doesn’t exactly spell out his plans – all he says to his pastor, Nathan the prophet, is “Here I am living in a house of cedar – while the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan knows exactly where David’s going – and says “Go, do all you have in mind – God is with you.” Perhaps King David is feeling discomforting twinges of conscience about living in a palace while God lives in a tent out at the Camp Ground. Or –  maybe it has just taken a while to get to a place where David can rest a little from all the battles he’s been waging… And actually have both the time and the means to undertake the major building project he has in mind… David’s been kept busy a long time… defeating neighbor nations in a long series of wars and battles. Along the way, he’s conquered Jerusalem, a city built on hills, surrounded by high walls, said to be impossible to defeat. But David has conquered – and now begun a radical make-over, turning Jerusalem into his new capital city, the city of David. David’s only recently been installed as king over the nation, which had been divided between it’s Southern and Northern provinces. Now the neighboring king of Tyre has built David a splendid palace of cedar, the finest construction material of the day, in hopes of maintaining good relations. A wise move, in light of David’s remarkable successes in battle. Now David hopes to escalate the make-over of Jerusalem – as last week we heard loud celebration with singing, dancing and feasting, as David brings the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. (The same ark that loaned it’s name to Raiders of the Lost Ark – where archeologist Harrison Ford knows enough about the power of the ark to look away, while Nazis, who don’t know, go up in smoke trying to open it.) And by bringing the ark of the covenant, which holds the tablets of the Law of Moses and other holy artifacts from Israel’s past into Jerusalem – David also relocates Israel’s central place of worship from Shiloh to Jerusalem. *** When we first met David he was just a small town shepherd boy. But God called him to be shepherd king for Israel. He’s slain the legendary Philistine warrior Goliath, and become Israel’s best known military hero. He’s led armies against the Philistines winning battle after battle. People say “Saul has killed his thousands, but David has killed his ten thousands.” Which makes King Saul, David’s father-in-law, homicidally jealous. David flees into the wilderness, where for years he leads a ragtag band of guerilla fighters… Till King Saul and his son Jonathan die in battle and David is named king. With backing now from all the elders of Israel, David decides its time to build God a temple. David knows Israel’s mode of worship looks pretty humble compared with the temples of our neighbors. Israel’s corporate worship has been focused wherever the tent and tabernacle from the time of Exodus reside. Lately that’s been Shiloh to the North, but up to now the ark of God has...

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Pentecost 8 July 15, 2018

Pentecost 8 July 15, 2018 (Ps 24, 1Samuel 6:1-5, Ephesians 3:1-14) Mark 6:1-13 ************************************************************** Jesus sends us out two-by-two taking nothing for the journey… Taking me way back to youthful days when I hitchhiked almost everywhere. I didn’t know Jesus yet – but I came pretty close sometimes to taking Jesus literally. Hitch-hiking up to the motorcycle races in Laconia, New Hampshire… or down to the Outer Cape leaving from metro-Boston – taking no bag, no extra clothes, and very little money (a dollar at two at most, at times…) Thumbing a ride to wherever and back. Singing along with marvelous Marvin Gaye – (Going to St Louis, and my next stop might be LA)… Got no money in my pocket, so I’m gonna have to hitchhike all the way… Those hitchhiking trips (though I had no idea of this at the time) were probably as close as I’ve come to traveling light according to Jesus literally. Meaning not very close – since – even back  in those youthful days – if I knew I was going to be gone more than two days – I’d pack a sleeping bag and extra clothes – and on my longest hitch-hiking trip, a few months out of high school, my friend John and I hitchhiked across country – California back to Massachusetts –  we were packing a duffel bag, suitcases, even a portable record player and a couple dozen record albums…In other words, my traveling light phase did not last very long… or go very deep… Though while it lasted, even with all that extra baggage, I did begin to learn something Jesus teaches today (that is): we really can depend on others for our needs – once we learn how to ask. All the way across country, total strangers not only stopped and gave us rides (even with our huge loads of excess baggage) – they also bought us meals and offered to put us up overnight in their homes. We must have looked so needy and comical, toting all that gear, that people would slow down, look and laugh… end up stopping to help…. It’s been a long time since I’ve hitchhiked anywhere. Now our family drives most of the time and we take a plane when we go across country. So it’s like entering a time warp to hear Jesus say – take nothing for the journey – no bag, no purse, no extra clothes, no change of shoes. I’m sure hygiene must still count – my wife assures me of this – though I can’t help pointing out to her that I don’t actually hear Jesus say to bring soap or even a toothbrush.  (And I don’t need Jesus to remind me – I don’t need a comb any more.) But getting the drift of what Jesus does say – I’m not going to even ask about bringing a fishing rod… Though probably I should be asking Jesus often – who should I be walking with today? Since he does make a point of sending us out in pairs – two by two, together. Which often does make it easier to make the good news of Jesus come alive. As Ecclesiastes (4:9-10) says “Two are better than one… For if they fall, one will lift up the...

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July 8, 2018

Pentecost 7 July 8, 2018  2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 5:21-43 Wounded healers ******************************************************* Last week Jesus and disciples crossed the Sea of Galilee, where soon as they hit land on the Gentile side of the lake, a man possessed by demons came rushing to Jesus and fell down before him, begging. (A story we don’t have time to re-tell, except to remember we heard that story as a parable about personal and community addiction.) Now we’ve crossed the Sea of Galilee again. We’re back on the Jewish side of the lake in Jesus’ home territory – and now a leader of the local synagogue falls at the feet of Jesus, begging for healing for his young daughter who is dying. The gospel tells the stories back-to-back to give us a view of Jesus healing a Gentile on one side of the lake, Jews on the other. And the closer we look the more we realize it’s all one story of the whole world’s universal need for Jesus… As Jesus goes walking with Jairus the synagogue leader to his house to heal his daughter, with a large crowd walking with them… And a woman who’s been suffering from bleeding for twelve years that doctors can’t heal, who, like Jairus, has heard Jesus heals – reaches out in the crowd to touch him. Jewish Torah law prohibits anyone with a bodily discharge not only from touching others, but even from being among others in public. But as she ignores the letter of the Levitical law and touches Jesus’ garment, immediately she is healed. Even though she’s cutting-in-line to be healed – even though she’s interrupting Jesus on his way to heal a dying child of a religious leader – she is healed. Knowing she’s breaking the religious code, this woman probably has been hoping to be healed anonymously by being in the crowd. But Jesus, immediately feeling power go out from him – stops in his tracks – asks “who touched me?” She falls at his feet, describes her ailment, confesses in fear and trembling what she’s done; perhaps expecting rebuke for breaking the law. But instead, Jesus blesses her for her faith – and pronounces her cleansed of ritual impurity – thus able to re-enter village life. Blessed to be healed. Blessed to be welcomed back into community. Doubly blessed. Which must seem like a wondrous dream-come-true for her… But which likely seems more like a nightmare for poor Jairus, the synagogue leader. Who’s been left watching, waiting, wondering… how long this interruption must go on…  before Jesus gets done talking with this woman who has cut in line before him… How long? Before Jesus comes back… to healing my dying daughter… But too late – (sounds like) – as the word comes “Your daughter has died… Why bother the teacher any longer?” Still Jesus keeps walking – insisting the girl is not dead, only sleeping. Sleep, a metaphor for death everyone knows – but Jesus turns the metaphor inside out – as he treats her death as if it’s just a nap. He sends everyone away except the girl’s parents and three disciples – takes her by the hand – says “Little girl, get up!”  And she does.  And we see – Two women, two healings – so tightly...

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July 1, 2018

Pentecost 6   July 1, 2018   Mark 5:1-20     Legion *************************************************************** Jesus drives unclean spirits out of a man so heavily infested that he’s been banished by the community – sent off to live alone in a grave yard. They’ve tried binding him with shackles and chains of iron – implicitly to keep him away from them – and to keep him from injuring himself or others. But he tears shackles apart and breaks his chains. Nothing they attempt works to hold or restrain him, as he howls and bruises himself with stones. The demonic forces that have taken over his life have that much power over him… Which sounds like stories we hear of people and communities struggling with addiction. Much of the stigma of addiction, thankfully, is beginning to lift. But there’s still enough shame and complications that come with addiction – that people suffering from it are often still sent away to jails or out-of-sight rehab centers – where all the conventional shackles and bars intended to restrain addictive behaviors and heal addictions – so often fail to be effective. Stepping out of the boat, here comes Jesus. The demons immediately recognize him, and know their existence is threatened. They tell Jesus “we are legion” – and beg to be allowed to go into the herd of swine grazing on the nearby hillside. Jesus agrees. Two thousand pigs rush down the hillside into the sea and drown… Probably the most dramatic exorcism of demons in the bible. An episode that challenges us to consider – what is demonic. **** Last week we traveled with Jesus and disciples by boat across the Sea of Galilee,  where we were caught up with them in a raging storm at night – till Jesus commands wind and sea – using the same words of rebuke he uses to cast out demons. And wind and sea obey. Now as soon as we hit land on the Gentile (non-Jewish) side of the lake – here comes a wild man afflicted with demons – rushing straight toward Jesus – and in a blur of contrasting imagery, he falls at Jesus feet, in obedience – while shouting, hollering, begging at the same time Jesus not to banish his demons from the land… The man speaks in what’s left of his own voice, one moment – then speaks in the plural voice of demons – who are, as they say, legion – meaning many. Notice – Legion also means a Roman military force of 6000 men – and we are in Roman-occupied-territory. The Roman Empire ruled Palestine and all the Mediterranean world around…. And the double metaphor of personal and political demons is no accident. As Jesus gives his word of command, and demonic forces leave the man with a shriek – and enter into the herd of pigs – who run into the sea and drown and are no more. (Early Late Show dark humor for Jewish disciples of Jesus, forbidden to eat ritually unclean pork. Not so funny for those who raise pigs for a living.) The swineherds run and tell what’s happened. A large crowd gathers to gawk at the infamous demoniac – now properly clothed and restored to his right mind – looking like an all-new-person, reclaimed from the tombs of darkness. Alleluia!...

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