August 26, 2018

Pentecost 14   August 26, 2018   (1 Kings 8:22-30,41-43; Ephesians 2:13-22) Psalm 84   The sparrow finds a home **************************************************************** Last Sunday morning as I came into church [here/in Cataumet] Vicki Carr told me “we have a hummingbird inside Handy Hall – who doesn’t want to leave.” Our doors were propped wide open that morning to air out the hall after lots of rain – and this little hummingbird perceived – accurately – a place of welcome. This bird seemed familiar with our psalm this morning, with it’s marvelous verse: “Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a place where she may lay her young, at your altars, O Lord of hosts, my King and my God.” All our readings today are thematically linked to temple worship. In our reading from the book of Kings, King Solomon declares the temple that took so many years to build even with thirty thousand conscripted laborers – can’t begin to contain the presence of God… who made the heavens and the earth… The letter to the Ephesians says we ourselves are the temple built on the foundation of the prophets and apostles with Christ the cornerstone. A pair of great texts, each of which deserves more than one sermon. (But…) This week I’ve been hearing the Spirit accentuating the loveliness of God’s temple – the joy of singing God’s praises – the happiness of those who live in God’s presence – and the all-embracing love of God that includes the little birds – all of which we hear of in Psalm 84. A psalm that’s been heard many ways by interpreters over the years. Some of the Rabbis of old said the little bird that nests in the temple is Israel. Jesus said “consider the birds of the air” – so birds are a role model for Christians. Martin Luther wrote a sermon called “The birds our Teachers.” And I’m hearing the multiplicity of good interpretations as an invitation to hear inclusively this multi-dimensional text. Indeed, God’s temple is the Jerusalem temple, with it’s giant bronze altars built for animal sacrifice. And our humble church here in this place with it’s modest wooden altar, is also God’s temple, God’s dwelling place. And God’s temple is also God’s people – as Ephesians again tells us – here in this place, and in all places of his dominion alike. Indeed, the whole universe God has made is his temple, scripture tells us. Which is such an enormous thought that I’m  thinking now all the more about the little birds… Remembering… Earlier this summer, our parishioner, Stu Parsons was asked to preach at a summer gathering of his extended family in Maine, on the assigned topic, “God and the birds.” (I only learned about this because Kathy Parsons told me… I’ve been trying to coax both Stu and Kathy to preach on this very topic for several years… But evidently Stu has a particular aunt he can’t say no to… Anyway….) Stu, as many of you know, is an ornithologist, meaning a scholarly bird watcher (or bird-watching scholar). He can name a bird quickly by hearing it’s song or glimpsing it from a distance – then tell you what they eat, where they live, its habits and habitats… When I asked Stu how his sermon...

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August 19, 2018

Pentecost 13   August 19, 2018 (Ps 51, Ps 89) 2 Samuel 11:1-15, 26-12:14 ********************************************************** [BEFORE LAST READING:] Springtime, the season when kings of old went out to battle. But King David stays home this year. David, most beloved esteemed king of Israel. David, shepherd boy who played on his harp and composed Psalm 23 (the Lord is my shepherd I shall not want) whose words we’ve sung this morning. David, who killed Goliath the giant with just a slingshot and a prayer. David, who led Israel to victory after victory on the battlefield. David, who faithfully served King Saul as military commander and son-in-law, till Saul, in raging paranoid jealousy, began trying to kill him. Even then, David, refused every chance to strike back – and wept for Saul when he died. King David, war hero and charismatic leader who unites the once divided nation. Now, mid-life or a little after – forty-something, likely, maybe as old as fifty – now David has it all. We’re told the names of seven of his wives and told he had other wives and concubines. He’s a wealthy man living in a grand palace set on the highest point of the city except for the temple. From his private personal rooftop vantage place he can look down on all the city below. Looking farther to the horizon, he can reflect on how nearly all the nearby nations have been conquered by his forces – and he has every reason to trust general Joab and those  fighting with him. From the roof top looking down David finally has time to rest and reflect on all the ways he has paid his dues – fought and won many a battle – earned his vacation from war. Who can blame David for staying home while his troops are fighting the Ammonites yet again. What harm can come from a little mid-life-time-out? But – Walking on the roof late one afternoon, David spies a beautiful woman bathing. He asks ‘who is she?’ His staff reports: “Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” David knows Uriah is serving with the army, fighting Ammonites. Probably he knows her father too. But David sends for her, and she comes. He lies her with. David acts quickly and decisively, as he is very used to doing. The king calls, and people respond. The king demands, people obey. If there’s any conversation we don’t get to hear it. But some time later Bathsheba sends word:  “I am pregnant.” Again David acts quickly and decisively. He sends for Uriah, asks how’s the war going. Tells him ‘go sleep with your wife.’ (David uses an expression. Uriah knows he’s been told – go sleep with your wife.) Does he suspect more than this? We’re not told. Neither are we told David’s inner thoughts. His actions speak for themself, reminding us – those who have practically everything – often think they have to have – something more… And… Kings and rulers seem to know instinctively – when you’re guilty and don’t want to admit it – first thing to do is establish plausible deniability. Establish plausible paternity for Uriah, even if the birth will look like a very early delivery. In the politics of power as in war – “truth is...

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August 12, 2018

Pentecost 12   August 12, 2018   (Psalm 34, 1 Kings 19:4-8, Ephesians 4:1-16) John 6:35, 41-51    Eat this bread ************************************************************** Jesus heals the sick and the crowds seek him out. Jesus feeds five thousand from two little fishes and five small loaves of bread and crowds try to make him king. But when Jesus refuses to give a repeat performance, and accuses the crowds of caring more about food than about life eternal, people get crabby and testy, and test the patience of Jesus… “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it,” the philosopher Santayana said. Israel of old tested God and Moses in the wilderness – complaining, murmuring, saying ‘let’s go back to slavery in Egypt, the food was better there.’ Now many who’ve been following Jesus start acting as if Jesus needs to audition with them for the role of Messiah. Like ‘Nice miracle, Jesus. But Moses got us manna every day for forty years. You’ve only fed us once. Come on, show us something new. What else you can do?’ Like we’re the hiring committee, and you’re the job seeker.’ Jesus points out the similarity between their behavior and Israel’s of old – reminding them “Your ancestors ate manna in the wilderness – and they died.”  “I am the bread of life. Eat this bread and you won’t hunger. Eat this bread and live forever.” Now the grumbling gets even worse… It’s probably not the metaphor of spiritual bread that’s the problem. The crowds themselves have called manna of old “bread from heaven.” Many know the prophet Isaiah’s words (in our Thought for the Week): “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourself in rich food.” Many remember the cake of bread the angel gave the prophet Elijah – physical and spiritual bread that sustained Elijah through forty days and nights of travel. They surely know Psalm 34’s exhortation – “O taste and see that the Lord is good…”  Israel’s scriptures are a verbal feast of food symbolism. Long before money came into being bread was the bible’s main symbol for prosperity and human flourishing. Jesus taught us to pray “give us this day our daily bread…” He didn’t say “give us this day our daily wages…” People understood bread as a metaphor for life… The problem the crowd’s having isn’t about Jesus’s use of bread as a symbol for life. It’s about Jesus naming himself as the life-giving bread. As now crowds grumble and murmur all the more, as what Jesus says starts to sink in. Now they say: “Isn’t this the Jesus we know? We know his parents. We know where he comes from. Where’s he get this talk about ‘I have come down from heaven?’ Who does he think he is?” Jesus has been telling them who he is. He says four times – I am the bread of life –  I am the bread that came down from heaven – (again –) I am the bread of life – (again–) I am the living bread that came down from heaven.’ The four-fold repetition – I Am, I Am, I Am, I Am – ought to jog...

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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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