Saturday, July 31, 2021

Pentecost 10B

Bread for the Journey
(John 6:24-35)

Jesus, Bread of life,
reveals God's love most clearly,
born as one of us.

One who did good works
and called those who would follow
to believe in him.

One by whom we live
(not satisfied but sustained),
this Bread of heaven.

This strange metaphor
has pre-Christian origins
yet still somehow works:

"You are invited!"
to life in all its fullness,
the way of Jesus.

© Jeff Shrowder, 2021, on The Billabong, A worship resource following the Revised Common Lectionary

John 6:24-35

24So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus. 25When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, "Rabbi, when did you come here?" 26Jesus answered them, "Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal."

28Then they said to him, "What must we do to perform the works of God?"

29Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." 30So they said to him, "What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'" 32Then Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world."

34They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." 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."

Bread of Life

Today's gospel passage continues Jesus' Bread of Life discourse, homily, or talk from last Sunday. My gospel of John and John 6 notes from Pentecost 9B also relate to this week.

John's Gospel is famous for Jesus' double Amens (so be it, be it thus, may it be, for sure); chapter 6 includes four in verses 26, 32, 47, 54. Surprisingly the old Roman Catholic default Douay-Rheims is the only English version I know that retains the original. Others tame and dilute it: Verily Verily – Truly Truly – Most Assuredly.

In 2 Corinthians 1:20 the apostle Paul describes Jesus Christ as the fulfilling Yes! [never ever a no] for all God's promises! Paul continues by saying we respond to Jesus' authority with our own "Amen!"

"For as many as are be the promises of God, in Jesus they all are yes; therefore also by Jesus we say Amen to the glory of God through us."

It feels as if Jesus himself echoes this in John's gospel!

Knowing Jesus as bread of life means being connected to him, as John's gospel says, we "abide in Jesus" so we can't become separated. When we abide in Jesus, the bread of life feeds us as whole people, we're "in Christ" as Paul would express it; we become part of Jesus who becomes part of us, and we instinctively walk in the way of Jesus with love, mercy, and justice.

Today's Reading

Jesus (sort of) chided his disciples for seeking him out because he'd given them enough to eat. More than one commentary said Jesus' followers had eyes in their stomachs, but how is that even negative when food, water, air, and shelter are necessary for survival? (I'm not sure any of them did say it was negative.) For us, also, but especially in that time and place with no social or economic safety net, with exorbitant taxes, with women and children needing to rely on income-producing males, with food being necessary for the bodily health that's necessary for employment? It's people being "realistic," yet Jesus offers and provides nurturing sustenance that's more than physical.

For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world. They said to him, "Sir, give us this bread always." Jesus 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." John 6:33-35

Interpreting Jesus' Bread of Life sayings can be tricky because it's easy to assume Jesus is all about spiritual and spirituality, yet scripture, Jesus, and our own experience demonstrate how earthbound, physical, and material life in the Spirit is. God created humanity from the substance of creation, out of dirt (hummus—not sure if the word human derives from that or not) beneath our feet. Christianity's central proclamation is that in Jesus of Nazareth God came to earth in a real human body like ours—not the appearance of one. In addition, sacraments mediate God's presence with elements of creation – water, bread, fruit of the vine, though any liturgical scholar will say that's much too shorthand. We can't have sacraments unless we have a healthy creation. In the creeds we affirm "I believe in the resurrection of the body" (Apostles Creed) or "the resurrection of the dead" (Nicene Creed). The apostle Paul tells us the risen Christ is the first fruits of the new creation. The resurrected Jesus' body was fully physical and even retained scars of crucifixion—yet a resurrected body has an additional dimension. Scripture reports Jesus entering spaces without going through a door, yet he was fully embodied. Christianity's central proclamation is… physical death and bodily resurrection.

Abiding in Jesus

Terminology in any language can be confusing; translating or interpreting one spoken language into another is more art than it is science. A Hebrew perspective would insist you don't have a soul—you are a soul. How you express in English our divine Ruah/Ruach/Spirit, life-force, godly spark, heart (a wonderfully comprehensive Hebrew concept) depends on the scripture passage, the religious tradition, the author's original language and other factors. In any case, most would insist we don't disconnect Mind (is "mind" philosophical, spiritual, psychological, religious? Anyone ready to write a series of books?) and Spirit from Body because we can't separate all the facets of being human.

Everyone has been with someone who has a serious illness, possibly a terminal one. We've observed a frail, failing body, yet many times we've noticed the essential person still is there, with their usual emotions, intellect (even if a little slower), and sense of humor. We've also encountered (at times probably been there, done that) someone so discouraged and debilitated that even if their body looks and functions okay, they can't think straight and their emotions may be confused, inappropriate, or non-existent. Despite the necessity of our physical bodies, these experiences show our essence may be more spiritual than it is physical—or they're at least equal.

We refer to spiritual practices that primarily focus on connecting with God's presence and God's ways, but they're always about us as whole people. In the creeds we affirm "We look forward to the resurrection of the dead" [Nicene Creed] and "I believe [trust] in the resurrection of the body" [Apostles Creed]

We abide with Jesus the bread of life that nourishes and feeds us as whole people; with Jesus as our bread of life, we walk with love, mercy, and justice.

Next Sunday

• 08 August, Pentecost 11B – John 6:35-51

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Pentecost 9B

John 6:1-15

6After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, "Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?" 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, "Six months' wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little." 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter's brother, said to him, 9"There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?" 10Jesus said, "Make the people sit down."

Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, "Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost." 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, "This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world."

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

The Gospel According to Saint John

Each of the three synoptic gospels – Matthew, Mark, and Luke – has a distinctive style with a particular audience in mind, yet all three view Jesus' life and ministry with a similar perspective. John, the latest of the biblical gospels, is the rogue outlier that almost didn't make the canonical cut. Jesus' Beloved Disciple John and the community gathered around him compiled this account around 110 C.E. Scholars believe they they mostly drew upon two written sources referred to as the Signs source and the I Am source.

All four gospels proclaim the inbreaking reign of heaven on earth, but more than the others, John brings us the here-and-now of God's presence in Jesus. We sometimes call that "realized eschatology," meaning the fullness of salvation and redemption already is a done deal. You may remember Jesus' first act of public ministry in John is a wedding party, where water not only flowed like wine, and where water had become wine? In both the Hebrew and New Covenant scriptures, flowing wine is an image of the reign of heaven. Bounty, excess, and celebration set the mood for John's entire gospel.

This is Mark's year B in the Revised Common Lectionary that provides our scripture readings, but with Mark being the shortest of the synoptics, during Mark's year we have quite a few readings from John. Today begins five consecutive Sundays from John 6, the Bread of Life discourse.

It would be easy to confirm this (though I didn't yet), 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

Interpreting Scripture

To the extent we can figure it out, the historical setting and original meaning of a passage always is our first question when we read scripture, even before we discern it as God's word to us and for us. Just as every mention of water doesn't refer to baptism, every mention of bread and/or fruit of the vine doesn't correlate to the Lord's Supper, yet they still remind us water is life and food is essential. At this beginning of John's long Bread of Life section, I agree with the commentator who said do not jump in right now and associate this feeding with the Lord's Supper, Holy Communion, the Eucharist right away, even though here in John's account Jesus takes the loaves, gives thanks, and Jesus himself feeds the people. Did you notice there's no mention of water, fruit of the vine, or wine…?

Jesus' disciples would not have heard Jesus' words in this chapter in terms of the Last Supper/Lord's Supper or related to a post-resurrection Eucharistic meal with the risen Christ. Although Jesus' original long discourse would have been more scattered and piecemeal than what John's community gives us, as he wrote down his gospel John was very theologically intentional about the order of Jesus' words, and today's reading doesn't yet have Jesus' proclaim I Am the Bread of Life where Jesus not only gives the food, Jesus is the food, so let's wait on it.

Most of scripture closely aligns all facets of life. In fact, separating out sacred and mundane, religious and profane is somewhat post-enlightenment, which partly helps us appreciate (for example) Martin Luther's close alliance with political electors and royal princes in ways that horrify us today, and probably would even if we didn't live in a country where "religion shall not be established."

Bread and Fish Notes

This chapter happens during Passover. Just as at the first Passover, there's been a sea crossing, followed by bread in the wilderness. John 6:9 "Five barley loaves and two fish." Barley was one of the seven agricultural gifts of the promised land; barley was the coarser, less expensive poorer person's grain, and the barley harvest had the advantage of being ready before the wheat! Barley bread provided sustenance for the poor, and some in that culture considered fish a food of the gods.

To prepare for this blog, I listened to an oldish sermon by James Howell, whose blog is chock full of resources for scripture study, prayer, and daily Christian life. He mentioned "leftovers and baskets full" are the same words in Greek, but whatever happened to those leftovers? He added well… they just now fed the poor, and they didn't have plastic wrap. aluminum foil, to-go containers or really any safe long-term food storage options. Pastor Howell told us St. John Chrysostom suggests those extras went to people who were't present, possibly Judas Iscariot!

Howell also put out the idea the leftovers might have been thrown away. Maybe to feed birds or wild animals? I'd hope so! Jesus and his disciples lived in a mixed economy, with Roman taxes that helped maintain infrastructure and line politicians' pockets, and similar to our own economy of scarcity, too much money chased too few goods, so supply and demand determined prices. Bartering was a third aspect of their economy, to a greater extent than exchanges like babysitting for garden produce some of us do. We only can guess what happened to those leftovers, but we have very good knowledge of God's abundance, generosity, grace, supply—as in you can't out-give God! You've probably heard, "There's enough for everyone's need, but not for everyone's greed?" More next week!

During distribution of the sacrament, the contemporary church often sings Sr. Suzanne Toolan's "I am the Bread of Life" musical setting of John 6.

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

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


I am the resurrection
I am the life
If you believe in me
Even though you die
You shall live forever


Yes Lord I believe
That you are the Christ
The Son of God
Who has come
Into the world


Scripture: John 6
Songwriter: Suzanne Toolan, RSM

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Pentecost 8B

Psalm 23

1The Lord is my shepherd,
I shall not want.
2He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside quiet waters.
3He restores my soul;
He guides me in the paths of righteousness
For his name's sake.

4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for you are with me;
Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You have anointed my head with oil;
My cup overflows.
6Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


The Psalter is the hymnal of the synagogue; some psalms even indicate specific instruments to play for accompaniment! The Psalter was the hymnal of John Calvin's Geneva Reform, and American Puritans sung only psalms during worship. Even now when hymnals of virtually all church and theological traditions include songs as diverse as plainsong, German chorales. ethnic folk tunes, classics from people like Isaac Watts and Charles Wesley, twentieth-twenty-first century compositions, (etc.), some of those are either musical settings of psalms or psalm paraphrases.

Hebrew scripture roughly divides into three categories: Torah, or Pentateuch (five books of Moses); Prophets; Writings. The Psalter is part of the writings.

The Revised Common Lectionary includes a psalm for each Sunday. Technically the psalm is a response to the first lesson or reading, and not a standalone lection. The sung or spoken psalmody often reflects concepts or vocabulary from the first reading.

Psalm 23 and Shepherds

In the ecumenical 3-year long Revised Common Lectionary many churches follow, the fourth Sunday of Easter always is Good Shepherd Sunday, and the RCL appoints Psalm 23 several other times in the three year cycle. Including today! There are many MANY musical settings of Psalm 23 that include hymns, choral anthems, and hymns arranged for choir. I no longer blog YouTube links because so many are here today, gone tomorrow, but my own favorites include Virgil Thomson's "My Shepherd Will Supply my Need" to the Southern Harmony tune Resignation, along with Marty Haugen's more recent, "Shepherd Me, O God."

In the Ancient Near East, shepherd was a common image for a monarch or a god. In the bible we've met Moses and David as shepherds; in last Sunday's reading, the prophet Amos was a shepherd. Jesus declares himself the Good Shepherd. In Luke's gospel, shepherds (abiding in their fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night) first heard the good news of the birth of a Savior. Similar to many employment categories today, shepherds could belong to what we'd call a social underclass (as the Bethlehem sheep herders probably were), or they could have been part of a relatively affluent elite, as many scholars believe Amos, the prophet we studied last Sunday, may have been.

Psalm 23 – Word Pictures

Psalm 23 has a calm and restful reputation, but listen to the verbs, and you'll know it's full of action. Psalm 23 is familiar funeral scripture, but don't get sentimental! This ain't sweet repose, but assurance for rough tough times when valleys are deep, prospects bleak. Do we need hope for the post-COVID journey? With recent infection surges and new variants emerging, we may need more hope now than we would have imagined only three or four months ago.

Verses 1–3 talk about God; verses 4 and 5 are addressed God. Verse 6? Outcomes of God's actions, but "goodness and mercy will follow me" is much too tame; the Hebrew says goodness and mercy will pursue me, chase me down non-stop. "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" is part of what makes Psalm 23 popular at funerals and memorial services, but again the Hebrew conveys a slightly different perspective with "I shall return into the house of the Lord for length of days." This return isn't finally reaching a settled place as much as it is going home again. And again. It's not only Southern novelists who obsess about homecoming—we all yearn for and need places and people that know our name, where we can feast on favorites, where we can rest a while before we continue the journey.

After a year and a half and counting of COVID-19, let's take to heart Psalm 23's promises of God's presence and provision.

Write Your Own Psalm

Psalm 23's images and icons easily would have resonated with its original readers and singers. USA and Canada no longer are mostly rural; most readers of this blog probably grew up and currently reside in either a city or a suburb, but even if you haven't spent much time tilling soil, you've seen pictures and you know the planting – growing – harvesting cycle.

What words and visuals would you use in your own poetry to describe God's constant presence and provision? How would you paraphrase Psalm 23?

Saturday, July 03, 2021

Pentecost 6B

Mark 6:1-13

1He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. 2On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, "Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! 3Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?" And they took offense at him. 4Then Jesus said to them, "Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house." 5And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. 6And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Then he went about among the villages teaching. 7He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. 8He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts; 9but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics. 10He said to them, "Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place. 11If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them."

12So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent. 13They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

So far in Mark

So far in Mark, the shortest of the three synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) that view Jesus with a similar perspective, we've heard the opening announcement of Good News – "Gospel" – followed by Jesus' preparation for public ministry by receiving John's baptism of repentance, spending a time of solitary prayer and temptation, and then ministries of healing, exorcism (casting out demons, evil spirits, and what we might consider mental or psychological illnesses), calling followers or disciples, demonstrating the inclusive reign of God by eating with all comers, teaching theology with parables or comparisons, demonstrating his lordship of all creation by taming a storm, *even* restoring life to a young girl "at the point of death."

Today's Gospel Reading

Jesus returns to his hometown and his disciples follow him. He's on his own turf, with his own people—both family and friends. His teaching on the Sabbath in his home synagogue causes friends and family (not religious experts this time) to wonder about the source of his authority; after all, this Jesus is a regular person like everyone else. We also need to remember Jesus and his siblings would have grown up learning scripture, probably memorizing long passages. Any Jew in that time and place would have been scripturally and theologically literate. It wasn't unusual for a regular person like Jesus to read and teach in the Sabbath assembly; as in synagogues today, they had a custom of inviting congregants to read Torah on Sabbath.

Models for Ministry

We could say a lot about Jesus' friends and relatives not "getting" who he was, about how it feels when people don't understand us, the loneliness of not belonging; of being rejected or simply not welcome. Those can be important discussions in light of scripture. But for today, we hear about Jesus sending disciples to do the same ministry he has done. Jesus doesn't wait until their understanding and actions all are perfect; Jesus trusts and sends them as they are. They go out as sent people (apostles) because Jesus has authorized them.

At this particular time, Jesus sends his disciples out in pairs of two. He instructs them to go with only basics: sandals to protect their feet, a walking stick to help trudging over rough terrain—maybe to chase away snakes and vermin. He tells them not to take food or money! By the way, this is far from the only model for ministry and reaching-out evangelism, yet many follow the two by two, minimal supplies example.

Guests and Hosts: Where We Live

verse 10: Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place (locale).

Preaching, teaching, and healing are important aspects of twenty-first century Christian ministry for individuals and for larger entities like congregations, schools, and hospitals. All in all, we love to host other people. Every city has at least a dozen church-related food ministries and several housing/shelter services. Why not count ministries of music, visual arts, and dance in ways we host others, whether they're in the audience or we're instructing them? We're still the hosts-givers; they're our guests-recipients. And most of us strongly tend to do things in ways we'd appreciate, in a manner that resonates with our own background.

But here Jesus tells his disciples to let other people host them! Enjoy their hospitality; let them give to you. He tells them to make themselves at home among strangers.

Especially as cities and towns have become more culturally diverse, we've been aware of the need to contextualize our offerings to relate well to others' cultures and experience, that they'd consider welcoming rather than puzzling or offensive. How can we learn to host in ways they relate to… maybe by letting them host us?! We can learn about their food (eating it and preparing it), their table manners, their music, their traditions, geography and features in their countries of origin. We can learn basic words and phrases in their native languages.

If because of COVID, room capacity, and other concerns activities can't happen in a family's home, when protocols permit we can invite them to offer a meal or other activity in our church building. I'll add in here it feels absolutely okay to offer to help offset the cost of cooking or other supplies. Cash gifts can be tough to take, but we currently have a valid reason of almost everyone being at least somewhat financially challenged.