Saturday, September 18, 2021

Pentecost 17B

Prayer

Gracious and eternal God,
to whom we turn in every need;
receive the gifts we offer.
Let our lives bear fruit,
and our compassion never wither;
in Jesus' name.
Amen.

©Jeff Shrowder, 2000, 2012 on The Billabong, a worship resource following the Revised Common Lectionary

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

James 3
13Are any of you wise and understanding? Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom. 14However, if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, then stop bragging and living in ways that deny the truth. 15This is not the wisdom that comes down from above. Instead, it is from the earth, natural and demonic. 16Wherever there is jealousy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and everything that is evil. 17What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle, obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine. 18Those who make peace sow the seeds of justice by their peaceful acts.

James 4
1What is the source of conflict among you? What is the source of your disputes? Don't they come from your cravings that are at war in your own lives? 2You long for something you don't have, so you commit murder. You are jealous for something you can't get, so you struggle and fight. You don't have because you don't ask. 3You ask and don't have because you ask with evil intentions, to waste it on your own cravings.

7Therefore, submit to God. Resist the devil, and the devil will run away from you. 8Come near to God, and God will come near to you. …

Common English Bible (CEB) | Copyright © 2011 by Common English Bible

James: Author and Content

The Revised Common Lectionary has been in a semi-continuous weekly reading of the New Testament epistle or letter of James. With a somewhat similar style as Proverbs in the OT, James broadly falls within the tradition of wisdom literature. This is the first time I've blogged about James during this lectionary year B, and this probably isn't the best passage to start with, but here it is.

To my knowledge, even most recent scholarship hasn't assigned an approximate date to this letter. Jesus' apostle James Zebedee almost definitely didn't write it; it may have been by Jesus' biological brother James, or someone else could have honored either of those James by using the name. In any case, James/Jacob/Jake wrote to scattered, dispersed Jewish Christians in a diaspora either fairly nearby or relatively far away. Take your pick.

James is all about how to live together in community in ways everyone will be their healthiest and best. James' passion for doing the word carries echoes of Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, and Luke; James also sounds like Jesus' Sermon on the Plain in Luke, his Sermon on the Mount in Matthew.


Luther and James / James and Luther

You may have heard that reformer Martin Luther famously did not like Jimmy, notoriously referring to his letter as an "epistle of straw." The most common explanation for Luther's opinion is how James' insistence we need to do the word of God can feel like works-righteousness that violates Luther's theology of grace. It could have been because Pastor Martin wasn't crazy about the idea of serving some of his crudely rustic neighbors. It may have been because James doesn't affirm or confess Jesus of Nazareth as the Christ of God, so this epistle doesn't contain a hint of high Christology. Yet five centuries after Luther, Pastor James Boyce reflects, "Just as the Word is present and assumed in the 'word of truth' and the 'implanted word' of James 1:18 and 21, so the Spirit of God would be assumed…"

Another note: in addition to James, Luther did not want to include Revelation, Hebrews, or Jude in the canon of scripture. He also had lesser opinions of 2 John, 3 John, and 2 Peter. Luther's leftovers sometimes are called antilegomena, literally "spoken against."


James and COVID-19

Wisdom in scripture isn't book learning, higher education, or high-IQ intelligence. Those things aren't bad at all; we need people who've studied hard and learned to think critically. Wisdom in scripture isn't static or one-dimensional. Biblical wisdom discerns loving possibilities with an open heart and open mind, allows (a lot of space for) mercy and grace, and trusts resurrection happens out of death.

I could say this reading addresses the ongoing debate over masks and vaccinations, and it does, but so does most of scripture. You likely remember "WWJD"? James demands, "Show that your actions are good with a humble lifestyle that comes from wisdom … Therefore, submit to God." People who submit to God don't ask about their own rights because God created each of us in the divine image and made us interdependent with equal "rights." According to late great Jewish theologian Martin Buber, "love is responsibility of an I for a thou."

Seven months ago on February 15 on my other main blog I observed:
Early in the COVID-19 mask-wearing mandate people started to protest. Almost a year into masks, people haven't stopped complaining, with some refusing to mask up because they insist masks take away their personal freedom. As the commandments (the law!) and the prophets (grace!) reveal, life's not about a supposedly autonomous "me" individual because no one lives by or for themselves. Polite suggestions or municipal demands to mask don't remove anyone's freedom; freedom always has limits and boundaries because no one can be that autonomous "law unto themselves." Life is about me, a person connected to the other – to my neighbor whose neighbor I become – in love that regards their greater good as my privilege and obligation, that perceives the neighbor's good as my own.

But why didn't Martin Luther love and admire James?!

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Pentecost 16B

Prayer for the Anniversary of 9/11

O God, our hope and refuge,
in our distress we come quickly to you…

We come remembering those who lost their lives
in New York, Washington D.C., and Pennsylvania…

We come remembering
and we come in hope,
not in ourselves, but in you…

In commemorating this tragedy,
we give you thanks for your presence
in our time of need
and we seek to worship you in Spirit and in truth,
our guide and our guardian. Amen.

Excerpt of prayer by the Rev. Jeremy Pridgeon, First United Methodist Church, Panama City, Florida, via Discipleship Ministries, The United Methodist Church.

Mark 8:27-38

27Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, "Who do people say that I am?" 28And they answered him, "John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets." 29He asked them, "But who do you say that I am?" Peter answered him, "You are the Messiah." 30And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

31Then Jesus began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."

34Jesus called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, "If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 35For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. 36For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? 37Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? 38Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels."

Where We Are

The church is more than three quarters of the way through this year of grace that mostly features gospel readings from St. Mark, the earliest, shortest, most concise narrative of Jesus' earthly ministry. In the gospels of Mark and Luke, Jesus' journey to Jerusalem and the cross is particularly incessant and intentional.

Most of the first half of Mark happens around Jesus' hometown area of Galilee; most of the second occurs on the way to, near, and in Jerusalem. After today's conversation in this place of many many deities, Jesus turns his face toward Jerusalem. Surprisingly(!), this is the first place in Mark where Jesus uses the word "cross."

Each of the four canonical gospels brings us the good news of Jesus Christ with its own emphasis. Jesus' first act of public ministry in Mark is an exorcism; Mark's particular concern is freedom from demons and the demonic as well as destabilizing and overthrowing the power and accretions of empire so creation can live in freedom. You may recall Mark's response to "where do we find God?" On the margins, in the stranger and the "other than us." We find God supremely in the vulnerability of a convicted human dying on a cross. Mark's God is far outside conventional political, religious, social, and economic establishments.


Caesarea Philippi

Jesus' entire story in Mark turns around in this passage with:
(1) Peter's recognition and public confession of Jesus as Messiah/Christ in verse 29;
(2) Jesus' own passion prediction in verse 31 (the first of three in Mark);
(3) Jesus' call that this time includes the gathered crowd along with his current disciples in verse 34.

Jesus and his disciples are in a Caesarville—Caesarea Philippi at the far north border. Caesarea Philippi was a center of worship of the nature god Pan, the Ba'al place gods, and the Roman Emperor.

Besides dividing the different geographical locations of the two halves of Mark and demanding an answer to the question of Jesus' identity and call, by extension they also ask about our identity and calling as people baptized into Jesus Christ.

Like many during the last three or four millennia, we live in a Caesarville—a place defined by one empire or several. Many many still perceive the USA in this late 2021 as Trumpville. Does Consumerland, Big Pharma Nation, or Mass Violence Villa hold sway and try to have the final say?


Baptism. Cross.

Hebrew bible scholar Walter Brueggemann reminds us baptism into Jesus' death and resurrection is a subversive act of renunciation and embrace. (My apologies for not having the book title. The phrase was so arresting I immediately memorized it.) In baptism we renounce Martin Luther's "unholy trinity" of sin, death, and the devil. In his baptismal liturgy, Luther addressed the devil: "So hearken now, thou miserable devil, adjured by the name of the eternal God and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and depart trembling and groaning, conquered together with thy hatred, so that thou shalt have nothing to do with the servant of God who now seeks that which is heavenly and renounces thee and thy world."

The cross Jesus calls us to carry in Mark 8:34 is not the sorrows, losses, struggles, trials, disappointments, and difficulties everyone experiences. Jesus calls us to carry his cross that's a loud "no" to death, "no" to violence, "no" to exploitation, "no" to inequality, "no" to imperial excesses of every kind, "no" to hatred. When we carry the cross of Jesus Christ, we speak a resounding "yes" to life, "yes" to peace, to equality, community, to neighborology, to love, to inclusion, to boundless life for all creation.

Our baptism into Jesus death is at the same time baptism or immersion into his resurrection. It's about the death of the old, but it's even more about the new being, the new creation. We remember and act on Wendell Berry's (and scripture's command) to Practice Resurrection!

Pastor James Howell observes even though he gets the correct answer about Jesus' identity, Peter doesn't get (has zero clue) what that identity implies. Howell adds, "Peter is entirely foolhardy, as are all of us who dare to wield the keys and be the church. We simply stick behind Jesus, a little bit embarrassed over how dumb we can be, and count on his mercy, his mercies plural, and journey with him to the holy city not to assume power but to lose everything."


911 2001 • 20 years • 911 2021

That's all for this week as we remember and grieve 911. On my other main blog I illustrated (and also tweeted) a photograph of the 911 memorial and quoted Psalm 62:5: "Yet my soul, keep thou silence unto God: for mine hope is in him."

Thursday, September 02, 2021

Pentecost 15B

Isaiah 45:6-7
Isaiah 35:4-7a

4Say to those who have fearful hearts, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. God will come with vindication, with restoration. God will come and save you."

5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes.

Isaiah

Today we'll consider a reading from the 66 chapter long book of Isaiah. You may remember we divide Isaiah into three main sections:

• chapters 1-39, 1st Isaiah, before the Babylonian exile;
• chapters 40-55, 2nd Isaiah, during the exile;
• chapters 56-66, 3rd Isaiah, after the exile—

though it's not quite that neat. Each major section also includes prose or poetry that's probably from a different individual. After a series of judgments in previous chapters (that lead up to the bad news of exile to Babylon in Isaiah 36 through 39), today's chapter 35 brings the spirit of hope, renewal, and resurrection we find in Second Isaiah (chapters 40 through 55) that likely was written during the exile, and then got edited or redacted after homecoming to Jerusalem.


Practicing Resurrection

First Isaiah, or Isaiah of Jerusalem celebrates the effects of God's presence. The presence of God's people? Throughout scripture, death isn't only when you stop breathing and your body shuts down. Death is everything that limits a full life. Death is whatever interferes with our common life. Death is there when creation doesn't flourish. Resurrection sometimes restores spiritual life, sometimes physical or emotional or communal health. In baptism we receive God's Spirit of Resurrection from the dead. The poet Isaiah celebrates the outcome of God's presence, of the presence of God's people.

When John the Baptist was in prison, John told his followers to go ask his cousin Jesus if he [Jesus] was the promised one "who is to come," or if they needed to keep looking and searching for someone else. Jesus told John's followers, "Go and tell John what you hear and see. The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, dead are raised, good news proclaimed to the poor…" [and blessed are those who take no offense, do not consider me a stumbling block/scandal."] Matthew 11:4,5,6 Luke 7:22,23

This Isaiah vision is even more dramatic than Jesus' message to John. Springs and streams, maybe actual rivers, glorify the desert wilderness. Water is life! Once-lame people not only walk, but leap like gazelles. Formerly speechless people not only talk, but sing!

Like God's promise in today's scripture, like Jesus' reply to his cousin John the Baptist, God often calls us to be the reversal, the newness, the resurrection God promises and the world needs. God calls us to help the blind see, deaf hear, lame walk (or leap), speechless talk (or sing). Jesus assured John he was the promised one who'd change the course of history. Baptized into Jesus' death and resurrection, we become Jesus' presence as we practice resurrection and help create the future!

Do you know Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front by farmer-poet-theologian Wendell Berry? Among other things he advises us:
Every day do something that won't compute.
Love the Lord.
Love the world.
Love someone who does not deserve it.

Practice resurrection.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Pentecost 14B

Psalm 15

Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?
He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart.
He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour.
In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the Lord. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not.
He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved.

KJV/King James Version

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

4So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.

2You must neither add anything to the word that I am instructing you nor take away anything from it, but observe the instructions of the LORD your God with which I am instructing you.

6You must observe this diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the other nations, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!"

7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as righteous as this entire law that I set before your face today?

9But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children—

Deuteronomy

Deuteronomy is one of the five books of the Pentateuch, Ha Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. They've been called the Books of Moses, not because Moses could have written them, but because Moses is the central human character. Deutero means "second" and nomen means "law," so in a limited sense Deuteronomy refers to a second giving of the law.

We need to stay aware of how our English word "law" can lead to a caricature of Torah. God's covenantal way of Torah is fluid, dynamic, stretchy, and flexible, always on the side of grace, mercy, love, justice, and life. Especially during Luke's lectionary year when we also heard a lot from the prophet Jeremiah, we discussed neighborology—the word about our neighbor. "Give heed to the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live…" Choose life by considering the needs of the other at least as important as our own. That's neighborology!

The compilation of Deuteronomy was a long time coming over about five centuries, from the United Monarchy of Saul, David, and Solomon, to events and written sources prior to the Babylonian exile, to events and sources afterwards during the rebuilding of Jerusalem, of community, of restoration of worship, of "rediscovery" and canonization of Torah into the post-exilic period of Persian hegemony. Wide, expansive, and inclusive, Deuteronomy demonstrates Torah neighborology lived out on turf and in time.


The Land

After they left Egypt, the history of God's people Israel became the story of their journey toward a place where they could settle, obey, live, farm, and thrive—a quest and a hope for free-flowing rivers and boundless goodness from the ground that would help recreate them as free people and provide the landed safety and sense of home Israel wanted and all humans yearn for. The refrain "into the land" rings throughout Deuteronomy; stewardship of the gift of the land is central to our keeping covenant with all creation. After they crossed the Jordan River into Canaan, the people received land that would offer life and sustenance if they cared for it well.


Today's First Reading

After liberating the people from Egyptian slavery, amidst the exodus desert at Mount Sinai God graced the people with the Ten Words or Commandments so they'd live in ways that would lead to life, and allow them to remain free. The already occupied Promised Land of Canaan would be filled with fake deities, yet humans need such guidelines all the time, because if we look closely, we'll notice false gods and death-dealing religions almost everywhere.

Scribes who assembled Deuteronomy placed today's passage that asks, "For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?" [verses 7-8] immediately before the actual Ten Words or Commandments.

We find similar versions of the Ten Commandments or Ten Words/Decalogue [deca means "ten," logo/logos is "word, words"] twice in the Pentateuch: Exodus 20:2-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21. Exodus and Deuteronomy refer to the ten commandments of the Sinai Covenant as "words." At least twice in Exodus, the premiere account of the formation of Israel as God's people / Moses' people (who are one and the same), the people promise, "we will do all the words the Lord has spoken." Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7


God in Our Midst

Our introductory devotional Psalm 15 describes the commandments in action. With "tabernacle," the poet who composed this psalm may have had in mind the commandments the people carried with them in the portable tent or tabernacle; "holy hill" well may have referenced the temple on Mount Zion, where God's essence dwelt. In this passage and later on in Jesus of Nazareth and in the Church, we find God, God's Word, and God's People form an unbreakable triad.

"…a god so near to it as the LORD our God"–the commandments have the same attributes or characteristics as God; this God whose people, "do all the words" have the same qualities as the God who gifted them. When they practice Torah/observe the Ten Words, the people assume God's justice, love, righteousness, and mercy. When God's obedient, observant people are nearby, in a very real sense God is there.

In our recent five weeks of John 6, we heard about manna and quail from heaven, water from the rock, feeding a whole lot of people with very few fish and five loaves of bread. Like people in the Old and New Covenant scriptures, we constantly receive signs or evidence of God's presence. These signs or symbols include waters of baptism, bread and wine of holy communion. Signs or symbols of God's nearness include the commandments that share God's characteristics. Signs of God's presence include us, the contemporary people of God, wherever we go…

Saturday, August 21, 2021

Pentecost 13B

John 6:56-69, 70-71

56"Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever." 59Jesus said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, "This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?" 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, "Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe." For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. 65And he said, "For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father." 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

67So Jesus asked the twelve, "Do you also wish to go away?' 68Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God."

70Jesus answered them, "Did I not choose you, the twelve? Yet one of you is a devil." 71He was speaking of Judas son of Simon Iscariot, for he, though one of the twelve, was going to betray Jesus.

Interpreting Scripture

Locating the original setting in time and place (and purpose, to the extent we can figure it out) of a passage always is our first concern when we read scripture.

Accounts of Jesus' words and actions first made rounds in the oral tradition. After a while they got written down here and there. The community gathered around beloved disciple John assembled their gospel account from those manuscripts; they carefully edited and arranged them to reflect their theology of Jesus. As we observed about the Sermon on the Mount, like any teacher, preacher, or parent, Jesus repeated himself a lot and probably had stock sermons. In conversation with his disciples and with towns people he would have said identical or very similar words enough times people would remember and eventually write them down.

Especially over the past year, we've become aware we need to read the present through the past (presentism) and not interpret the past through events we now know about and attitudes that have changed (historicism). When Jesus announced he was the Bread of Life, his hearers would not have heard those words in terms of the Last Supper/Lord's Supper or related to a post-resurrection Eucharist/Holy Communion with the risen Christ. However, the contemporary church usually does. This points to the fact we often do theology backwards, but theology is a different endeavor from history. Though we can't erase the Sacrament of Bread and Cup from our awareness, it's still important to remember feeding 5,000+ people and Jesus' Bread of Life declarations happened before the week we call Holy that includes Maundy Thursday, before Resurrection Sunday.

Bread of Life, Week 5

It's been called a marathon—five weeks of a single chapter of John's gospel. You probably can research and confirm this, but I believe today's account of feeding at least five thousand people with very little food is the only story found in all four gospels:

• Mark 6:32-44
• Luke 9:10-17
• Matthew 14:13-21
• John 6:5-11


Words in the Greek

Every translation of any text in any language always is also an interpretation.

In 6:60 "When many of his disciples heard it, they said, 'This teaching [logos] is difficult; who can accept it?'" The word translated "teaching" is logos in Greek. You probably remember John's gospel brings us a new creation and opens with, "In the beginning was the Word [logos], and the Word [logos] was with God, and the Word [logos} was God." John 1:1 "And the Word [logos] became flesh and tabernacled among us." John 1:14a

Most contemporary scholars believe teaching/logos in this context refers to the entirety of Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension.

"Difficult" is the root of our word sclerosis for physical hardening of body parts and organs, so it would be a hard to wrap heads around concept, and not necessarily something intellectually or academically tough.

John 6:68 "Simon Peter answered him, 'Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words [declaration, statement] of eternal life.'" I find it surprising this "word of eternal life" isn't logos again—but it isn't. You may have sung this as the gospel acclamation in some settings of the liturgy.


Question for post-COVID

In John's gospel, Jesus feeds 5,000+ with five loaves of bread made from barley—the poor person's grain. Barley was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the promised land, and a crop ready to harvest before the affluent people's wheat! This question is post-COVID because when we've celebrated Holy Communion in person or at home during COVID, everyone has been incredibly careful to use bread and cup elements that won't easily be contaminated and spread the virus.

For us as for Jesus, it's ideally a meal of common, ordinary, everyday already-on-hand grain and drink essentials. We sometimes use pre-baked thin wafers because they keep well and can be easily stored and transported, but they never feel filling or nourishing. What's my preference? Freshly baked sourdough always looks, feels, and tastes most real and most sustaining. One of the pastors in my Previous City LOVED Kings' Hawaiian Bread and often served it for Holy Communion. I enjoyed it with our Thursday evening community dinners, but for me it was too sweet and too soft, not tough enough for a Eucharistic Feast, though many besides Pastor Jon thought it was just right.

During more normal times we hope will soon return, what's your favorite Communion bread?


Saturday, August 14, 2021

Pentecost 12B

John 6:51-58

51"I am the living bread 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."

52The religious leaders then disputed among themselves, saying, "How can this man give us his flesh to eat?"

53So Jesus said to them, "Amen, amen, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. 57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

58"This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever."

John's Gospel

We've talked about John's gospel as the outlier rogue that almost didn't make the canonical cut. A beloved community gathered around Jesus' youngest disciple John – often referred to as the "beloved disciple" – assembled the theologically intense account that's the latest of the four. Although synoptic gospels Matthew, Mark, and Luke that view Jesus' ministry in a similar way are all about the reign of God in Jesus Christ, John's Good News is even more purposeful about the right here and right now of Heaven on Earth. You may remember Jesus' first act of public ministry in John is changing ordinary water into wine at a days-long wedding celebration; that near-endless party establishes the style of Jesus' entire ministry.

Closely related, although the synoptics – and the apostle Paul in 1 Corinthians – bring us Jesus' Founding Meal of the Lord's Supper where he connects the bread and cup with his death (and Pauline theology reminds us Jesus is at the same time both crucified and risen), John instead narrates feedings of immense groups of hungry people with abundant leftovers and John's Jesus brings us his very alive self as the substantial bread of our spiritual lives and of our physical ones. Just as Jesus in John often talks about our abiding or remaining in him, in John's gospel Jesus gives us bread that is his body, bread that becomes part of our bodies, so Jesus abides in us and we abide in Jesus.


Bread of Life, So Far

During Mark's lectionary year we have more readings from John than in the other years. Mark being the shortest gospel leaves spaces to be filled, and John is the perfect solution, because although every year during the great fifty days of Easter we hear a lot of John, John's gospel doesn't get its own separate year. "For some reason" the people who assembled the lectionary scheduled five Sundays in a row from John 6. This Sunday is week 4.

On July 24th, Jesus himself fed a huge crowd with what began as five barley loaves and two fish. On July 31st and August 8th, Jesus talked about God providing manna via Moses in the exodus wilderness; on both those days, Jesus announced, "I Am the Bread of Life," in the first of the seven "I Am" declarations in John's gospel that link Jesus to Yahweh-God's self-revelation to Moses as "I Am" in Exodus 3.


Bread of Life, Take 4

Unlike the bread-like manna of the exodus trek that had to be gathered again each day (except on the day before Shabbat when they gathered enough for two days in order not to work on the Sabbath), the bread Jesus offers is for right here and right now, and it's also the staff and stuff of eternal, never ending life.

To prepare this blog I read several commentaries, and at least three of them mentioned different words for "eat." The word for eat in verse 52 is a polite… "eat," that has a similar feeling to our English eat. Then in verses 54, 56, 57, and 58 the Greek word can be translated as chew, chomp, munch, crunch, nosh, and other more obvious, less polite ways of taking in nourishment. Most weeks I check the Greek for the scripture I blog about, but I'm not sure I'd have noticed those words. If you have a commentary or a study bible, why don't you see if it mentions that distinction?


Bread of Life, More

Every scriptural reference to water, bread, or fruit of the vine doesn't necessarily refer to sacraments, but every reference does remind us we need a healthy creation's bounty to survive and thrive. (And creation needs us to become healthy and bountiful!) Previous weeks on John 6 I've cautioned don't immediately assume this Bread of Life refers to Holy Communion—but sometimes it does.

Jesus provides the spiritual essence we need to be fully alive. However, in all the gospels but probably most in John, probably even most in this chapter 6, what people assume is spiritual also is physical, embodied, and incarnate. The Christ of God always is enfleshed. As a Sunday or weekday assembly gathers around word and sacrament, receives the bread of life and cup of salvation that become part of their physical bodies, as those people of God then take the crucified and risen Jesus Christ out into the world, they live as his presence everywhere they go.


Sr. Suzanne Toolan's "I am the Bread of Life" musical setting of John 6 is a prayer for us in Jesus' words.

I Am the Bread of Life

I am the bread of life
You who come to me shall not hunger
And who believe in me shall not thirst
No one can come to me
Unless the Father beckons

Refrain:

And I will raise you up
And I will raise you up
And I will raise you up on the last day

The bread that I will give
Is my flesh for the life of the world
And if you eat of this bread
You shall live forever
You shall live forever

Refrain:

Scripture: John 6
Songwriter: Suzanne Toolan, RSM

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Pentecost 11B

Psalm 34:1-8

1I will always give thanks unto the Lord:
      his praise shall be in my mouth continually.
2My soul shall glory in the Lord:
      the humble shall hear it and be glad.
3Praise ye the Lord with me,
      and let us magnify his Name together.
4I sought the Lord, and he heard me:
      yea, he delivered me out of all my fear.
5They shall look unto him, and run to him:
      and their faces shall not be ashamed, saying,
6This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him,
      and saved him out of all his troubles.
7The Angel of the Lord pitched round about them,
      that fear him, and delivereth them.
8Taste ye and see, how gracious the Lord is:
      blessed is the man that trusteth in him.

1599 Geneva Bible. This is the translation colonial New Englanders – both Puritans and Pilgrims – would have read.

John 6:35, 41-51

35Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

41Then the religious authorities began to complain about Jesus because he said, "I am the bread that came down from heaven."

42They were saying, "Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" 43Jesus answered them, "Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught by God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

48"I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread 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."

John 6, week 3 of 5

In this lectionary year B that mostly features Mark's short gospel, we get five weeks of readings from John's gospel. Every so often I participate in Five Minute Friday, a weekly free write to a one-word prompt someone once called a writing flash mob! For this week's reflection I'm linking to my FMF post on my other main blog because with this week's from prompt, I couldn't resist writing about Jesus' origins:

Five Minute Friday • From


Additional Comments

All four gospels were written long after Jesus' birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension; by then, quite a few scrolls with details of Jesus' ministry had been making rounds and getting edited along the way. In addition to events in Jesus' life, the individuals and communities that produced the gospels intentionally wrote quite formal theology to convey their own testimony of Jesus and to address concerns people they wrote to might have had.

Although Matthew includes a Sermon on the Mount and Luke's somewhat similar version has Jesus speaking on a plain or level place, those almost definitely were from itinerant rabbi Jesus' stock sermons he used dozens of times with different variations for different audiences. It's similar with Jesus' words in our current chapter 6 of John's gospel. They got written down because (often the same) people heard them often and the content was so incisive it stuck with them.

Two weeks ago when we began considering Jesus' bread of life talk that includes the first of his "I Am" sayings, I cautioned don't assume too quickly that every instance of bread in this scripture passage refers to the bread of Holy Communion. Most scholars today believe verse 51 in today's reading, "…the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh" is not about the Lord's Supper, but about Jesus' body broken open for the life of the world at his crucifixion.

Our opening prayer, Psalm 34:1-8, tells us to taste the graciousness of the Lord. Ever notice how much God loves to come into our lives in ways our senses can taste, hear, see, touch, and smell?

Next Sunday

John 6, part 4: John 6: 51-58