Proper 13B: Becoming Bread


OLD TESTAMENT: 2 Samuel 11: 26-12: 13a


Our Old Testament passage is the continuing story from last week. Remember that David, home alone while his armies were out fighting battles, had spied the fair Bathsheeba and, in what can only be described as a colossal failure of leadership and an implausible abuse of power and authority, had sent for her, slept with her, impregnated her, and then in an attempt to cover up the deed, lied, schemed, and finally murdered her husband Uriah the Hittite. So, Uriah is now dead and Bathsheeba mourns. With Uriah dead, David then is free to take Bathsheeba as his wife, bringing legitimacy to their son.   Well, as you know, there are a variety of ways that this story is told. Some will shift the blame to Bathsheeba, depicting her as some sort of harlot or something that wooed David into the affair. But that, of course, ignores the fact that it was David that had all the power here. Others will somehow characterize it as God’s work, as if God would call David to cheat, lie, scheme, and murder to further the building of the Kingdom of God. Sorry, I don’t really think that’s quite what God had in mind.

So today we have the story of Nathan. I love Nathan. He confronts the problem head-on. And he does it in quite a remarkable way. He tells a parable. (Where have we heard that style of teaching before?) He tells the story of a rich man who possessed many flocks and herds—so many, in fact, that he didn’t even really know them all–and a poor man who possessed one lowly little lamb who the poor man actually had grown to love.   Yet when a traveler appeared, the rich man, replete with livestock, actually took the one lamb from the poor man to feed his guest. Well, David was incensed. After all, what a horrible man! Someone should do something! That is not justice! That man should be punished! That man doesn’t deserve to live!

You know, John Westerhoff once said that “if a parable doesn’t make you a bit uncomfortable, [doesn’t make you squirm a little in your seat], you probably have not gotten it.” So, obviously, David didn’t get it. Obviously, it was much easier to hand out judgment for someone else’s acts than to recognize his own failures and shortcomings. So Nathan, courageously speaking the truth in love, essentially, holds up the mirror. “David,” he said, “You are the man!”

He then explains in detail what David has done, all the time holding a mirror, forcing David to look at himself, to look at his own actions, to realize that his actions have consequences, that they cannot be hidden from God. And, maybe even more painful, they cannot be hidden from himself. David has to face what he has done, look at the consequences, look at the pain and the suffering that he has caused. And David finally admits his wrong. He confesses. It’s a hard thing. It’s a hard thing to admit when you’ve done something wrong. It’s a hard thing to be forced to take a good hard look in that mirror and see the reflection not of that image of God in which you were created but rather someone that you’d rather not be around.

Yeah, sin is a hard thing to talk about. It’s a hard thing to look at, particularly, when that mirror is showing us someone that we don’t really want to be. Where did we go wrong? And what will everyone else think?   And, after all, we’re good Methodists. We don’t need to talk about sin. We have grace. Really? I think Rev. Barbara Brown Taylor has possibly written the most incredible book on sin that I have ever read. In her book entitled “Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation,” she depicts sin as our only hope. Well that’s a new spin on it! After all, aren’t we trying to avoid it? She says that “sin is our only hope, because the recognition that something is wrong is the first step toward setting it right again.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, Speaking of Sin: The Lost Language of Salvation, (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications), 59.) In other words, no longer can we just sweep something under the rug hoping that it will go away, hoping that our good Methodist upbringing will shower us with grace and keep our sins closeted away where they need to be. It’s a phenomenal way to think about it, to realize that in some way, holding the mirror up for ourselves or, if we can’t do that, hoping that someone in our life will be grace-filled enough to do it for us, can actually bring us closer to God, actually put us on the road to beginning again.

  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What power does the parable have in confronting David as opposed to some other way that Nathan might have utilized?
  3. Why is it so difficult for us to see our own misgivings?
  4. How do we usually talk about sin in our society and our culture?
  5. How do you view sin in your own life?
  6. What part did God play in this story?


NEW TESTAMENT: Ephesians 4: 1-16


This passage is sort of a “hinge” statement for the writer of Ephesians (who, remember, is more than likely not Paul). It wraps up the theological statement in the first three chapters and leads into the material that follows that provides a rationale for the behavior that is required of the church. It is an exhortation to hearers to abandon the old ways and fully enter something new. The primary call is to unity of the church, which the writer views as a reflection of God’s gift of reconciliation in Christ. But this is a process, rather than a completed event. Unity is part of the maturity of the church itself. Unity is the way to wholeness.

But while the process is going on, the church is called to build up the members of itself, rather than posing some sort of “requirement” of where they have to be before they enter the church. That is the reason, as the author sees it, that God endowed members of the church with certain leadership gifts. But in Ephesians, unity is not the same as uniformity. This is not a closed unity that shields the church and keeps it “safe” with its set and staid doctrines and beliefs; it is rather an expansive and open unity, growing and dynamic. The mystery of God does not wipe out the distinctions between groups within the church. The call is that even in the midst of diversity the church will become one in Christ. It is a call to a “grown-up” faith that recognizes what God has provided and listens for what God is calling us to do. We are to live a life worthy of our calling, a life worthy of what we were created to be.

Part of the message here, again, is that God’s generous love reaches out to include. No one is too far away; no one is too far gone; no one has sunk too low. It is a message of grace. We are all called by God. So these leadership positions are not “rewards” but roles through which the leaders reach out to everyone in the name of Christ. Endowed with gifts, we are now partners with God in ministry and ministry-making. We are now partners in building the Kingdom of God.

You and I might lament our meager gifts. We might even wish for some that were more positive and attractive, but such wishing is a waste of time. There is a wonderful story that comes from Jewish tradition about a man named Simon. And Simon wanted always to be more like Moses ~ That was his constant worry. And he kept going to the Rabbi and saying, “Rabbi I must lead my life so that I live more like Moses did.” The Rabbi told him once “Simon God will not ask you why you were not more like Moses? God will ask you why you were not more like Simon?”

We have to live our own lives. I do not know why you have the gifts you have and I have the ones I have. I only know that we have them for the same reason, to build up the Body of Christ, to benefit others, to serve the communities of which we are a part. That is the central issue in the business of living.

So are you a gifted person? Yes, absolutely. Where you come from is a gift. Who you are is a gift, what you long to be are all gifts given you by God. The opportunities you have that come from where you are now, and what is going on now and the relationships you have now are also gifts from God. Use them to the Glory of God ~ to the building up of the Body of Christ. Use them to make the world God loves a better place. Do that and you will be doing the business of life. Amen. (From “Gifts”, by Rev. Dr. Francis H. Wade, available at, accessed 1 August, 2012)

  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does “unity” mean to you?
  3. What do you think “unity” means to most of our society?
  4. How does this speak to our modern-day church?
  5. What does this say about our own calling?
  6. What does it mean for us to “live a life worthy of our calling”?
  7. What does this passage say about leadership?


GOSPEL: John 6: 24-35


This passage follows up to the passage that we read last week about the Feeding of the 5,000. And here Jesus makes a major declaration by claiming that the crowds were following him because their needs had been met. In other words, he is claiming that the crowd really wasn’t that impressed with the miracle itself but in that it had had a positive effect upon them. The implication is that this was sort of a superficial belief and did not lead to real change, to really knowing who Jesus was.

We believe Jesus to be the full revelation of God, but, particularly in John’s Gospel, that revelation does not come to us directly and straightforwardly. And, once again, the crowds do not get it. They hear “bread” and assume that Jesus is talking about baked wheat flour. Jesus notes their incomprehension. They are looking for Jesus, but the “Jesus” for whom they are looking is different from the one they have. Their faith rests, rather, in their idea of a Savior, a King, or perhaps someone who can “fix” all the ills of life. It sort of, then, flies in the face of the notion of the “Feeding of the Multitude” being about the Jesus who can meet all of our needs. In other words, it’s about bread but it’s not just about bread. The bread that filled their stomachs now turns into holy metaphor. Now don’t get me wrong. The passage is not lessening the importance of physical nourishment. There are millions of starving people in the world that can speak to that. But it’s not all there is.

Jesus is depicting faith as belief in something else, in the spiritual, the incarnation of God. Jesus is not trying to hide the truth but to show a new truth—the Word made Flesh. “Seeing” Jesus, seeing signs is not the same as encountering the Christ that is the Word made Flesh, not the same as knowing Christ as God. What is interesting is that most people are good at going where their own physical needs are met and, yet, many try to “spiritualize” others’ material needs. Jesus is trying, though, to connect their physical hunger back to their spiritual hunger. The two cannot be separated. After all, what good are “signs” if one is physically hungry and what good is eating if one is spiritually wanting? Encountering Christ recognizes that we are called to feed the world both physically and spiritually. We can neither concentrate on just the physical nor can we over-spiritualize the basic need of the human body for physical food. We are called to be the “signs” of Christ’s presence in the world. We are called to be sacrament in this world.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does the term “Bread of Life” mean for you?
  3. What stands in the way of our seeing Christ as the Bread of Life?
  4. What needs compel people to follow Christ?
  5. How do those needs affect our faith, our view of Christ, and our view of the Church?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Perhaps if we are brave enough to accept our monsters, to love them, to kiss them, we will find that we are touching not the terrible dragon that we feared, but the loving Lord of all Creation. And when we meet our Creator, we will be judged for all our turnings away, all our inhumanity to each other, but it will be the judgment of inexorable love, and in the end we will know the mercy of God which is beyond all comprehension. (Madeline L’Engle, “Waiting for Judas”, in Bread and Wine)

Vocation is the place where your deepest gladness and the world’s greatest hunger meet. (Frederick Buechner)


Sure, people need Jesus, but most of the time, what they really need is for someone to be Jesus to them. (Reuben Welch)



O Ingenious God, I rejoice in your creation, and pray that your Spirit touch me so deeply that I will find a sense of self which makes me glad to be who I am and yet restless at being anything less than I can become.

Make me simple enough not to be confused by disappointments,

Clear enough not to mistake busyness for freedom,

Honest enough not to expect truth to be painless,

Brave enough not to sing all my songs in private,

Compassionate enough to get in trouble,

Humble enough to admit trouble and seek help,

Joyful enough to celebrate all of it, myself and others and you through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

(“Touch Me Deeply so that I will Find a Sense of Self”, by Ted Loder, in Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle, 82 )

Proper 12B: How Much Abundance is Enough?

multiplication of loavesOLD TESTAMENT: 2 Samuel 11: 1-15

Read the Old Testament Lectionary passage

“In the spring of the year…the time when kings go out to battle.” The stage is set. It is spring and battles rage. Perhaps this story begins with that seemingly poetic phrase as it is trying to set the context for us. You know…”all is fair in love and war”, right? Really? Is that our excuse? Let’s get real…this is the grand poetic prelude to one of the biggest out and out failures by anyone in the Bible. Just to set the record straight: I do not think that this story can simply be dismissed with one of those “God can even use characters like this” comment. This is a clear exploitation and manipulation of power—even God-given power. Being “God blessed”, whatever you think that might be does not exempt one from sin or the consequences of that sin.

This story depicts a shift from the public domain to the personal, from power to vulnerability, from blessing to curse. There are four main episodes of this story: First, David is at home while his armies rage and lay siege to Rabbah. He sees a beautiful women bathing and exercises his power as king to take her. She becomes pregnant. So, David brings Bathsheba’s husband Urriah home from the front to sleep with his wife to cover up the pregnancy. But Urriah is too dedicated to his comrades in battle. And, finally, David arranges with Joab to see that Urriah dies in battle. But other innocent lives are lost in this process.

It’s actually pretty remarkable that this story was preserved and that it became part of the Hebrew writings and, thus, our Christian canon. After all, it doesn’t exactly show the fair King David in the best light. So, often this story has been “explained away” by depicting Bathsheeba as a beguiling seductress, which would then transform David into some sort of victim. Many take it as a warning against sexual temptations. Oh come now! Then, there are also those that will explain this away as the work of God to rectify the marriage of Urriah, a Hittite, to Bathsheeba, an Israelite, which was forbidden. There is even a story of Satan appearing as a bird and when David shot an arrow at it, the screen toppled, revealing Bathsheeba to David. But, sadly and truthfully, this is probably the story of a hero gone bad. David failed; David sinned; and then David did the unthinkable to try to hide what he had done. From whom did it need hidden? Those whom he ruled? God? Perhaps David himself? So what are we supposed to get out of it?

Perhaps we are supposed to look at ourselves and our own reactions. In essence, David becomes sort of a comic character in this story. The great military strategist is now put in a position of petty scheming and secret plotting to cover up his own lack of control. God’s response actually does not come until next week’s reading. A hint: Even David’s monumental breakdown is not enough to negate what God is doing.

It also should be noted that while David was doing all this, his army was fighting for their lives and taking the lives of innocent others. (After all, it was spring. Why wasn’t David with them?) And then when David needed Uriah’s death, he framed it in a military way, using his role as “Commander in Chief”, if you will, to cover up his own wrongdoing. David as king was meant to show and live out the righteousness of that role. But this is a story about the abuse of power and privilege and the victimization of others. The theology of failure is quite explicit. What does failure mean to God? What does the failure of our leaders mean to us? What does our own failure mean for us and for our faith?

The truth is, while all the violence was going on around him, David was enacting his own war, his own set of violent actions—violent sexuality, violent cover-up, violent murder. Maybe the most profound of all is the violent act of David’s own self-deception which, in all honesty, is also an attempt to deceive God. And, for us, rather than just slapping the hand of the perpetrator (“BAD DAVID!”), maybe in some odd sort of way, we are supposed to take a look at our own deceptions, at our own violent actions that are not in harmony with the Creation that God has envisioned. After all, we try, but, still, “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle…, where are we?


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What does this say about how we react to all of the issues in this passage?
  3. What does this say about sin?
  4. What does this say about God?
  5. What does failure mean to God and to us?
  6. What message does this passage hold for us today?


NEW TESTAMENT: Ephesians 3: 14-21

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

This passage contains a beautiful prayer that builds to the eternal proclamation of God. At the beginning, it proclaims God as “father”. This does not imply a “parental” or fathering relationship but, rather, one of power. Essentially, it is saying that God is God and there are no others. The writer then speaks of God’s Spirit, not as an “other-worldly” thing, but as part of our inner self that governs all that we are. This is continued with the mention of the Risen Christ, implying God’s ever-abiding Presence with us.

And, so, who we are, the very foundations of our lives are rooted in who God is. Knowing God, though, has nothing to do with knowledge of God, but, rather, in being so attuned with the God here and the God-piece in us that we begin to comprehend the breadth and length and depth and height of God. God does not desire our worship or our glory; God desires to be known by us. God desires that we know and enter the immeasurable power that is God.

In a sermon on this passage, Edward Markquart relates the story of Ollie the Oyster with these words:

It’s time for a story, the story about Ollie the Oyster. It is an old story that is like a weathervane for me on the top of a house in rural North Dakota. This old weathervane points in the right direction, and this story about Ollie the Oyster has always pointed me in the right direction. Ollie the Oyster was swimming along one day in the ocean and he was having a wonderful time, with the sun out and weather warm. He was cruising along at the bottom of the ocean happily and joyfully when suddenly, a piece of sand, a piece of ocean grit, got into his skin. Ohhh, what pain. That piece of sand hurt so much. Ollie didn’t necessarily do anything wrong to get that sand in his life; it just happened. But ohhh, how it hurt! And so Ollie the Oyster cried. How he cried! He cried and cried and cried, tears and tears and tears, so much so that the ocean slowly rose over the days, weeks and months and years. After he had cried for two or three years, Ollie stopped and…and…the sand was still there, causing him pain. What to do? So Ollie the Oyster started to cuss. He used every cuss word that he learned in grade school and junior high school. He cussed and cussed and cussed, so much so that a plume of blue smoke came up from the ocean where he lived. When Ollie the Oyster was finished cussing, he stopped….and…and…the sand was still there in his side, causing him immense pain. So Ollie the Oyster started to pretend. He would pretend that the piece of sand was not in his side. He pretended and pretended and pretended. He repressed and repressed and repressed. When after all those months and years of repression had passed, he woke up to reality enough to realize the sand was still there, causing him pain. What to do? And slowly, ever so slowly, it began to dawn on Ollie the Oyster. Slowly, o so slowly, he remembered that he had a special power within, and so he grunted and groaned and groveled and slowly an excretion of gooey oil came out and surrounded the piece of sand, insulating the sand and the pain went away. What a miracle! The pain was gone. And ever so slowly, over time, that gooey substance began to harden around the grain of sand, and in time, it became a pearl. Yes, a pearl, for that is the way that pearls are made. (Edward Markquart, “The Power of God Living Within Us”, available at, accessed 23 July, 2012)

The prayer itself has been handed down to us, handed through thousands of generations, because we need to hear it. Knowing God is not private work. It is part of the community in which we live and work and have our being. In a commentary on this passage, Sally A. Brown says that “we are blessed with each other and stuck with each other.” (available at In other words, this community is God’s dwelling place. God is already here. Love and grace and God’s power comes before. The One to whom we bow has been here for all these countless generations. All we have to do is know the God who is already known and enter the mystery that abounds. It is the love and grace that fills us. We were never promised easy; we were promised life. We just have to open ourselves to what is already there and be transformed in the process.


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does “knowing God” mean to you?
  3. What is that inner power, that “God-piece” that is in you? What does that mean?


GOSPEL: John 6: 1-21

Read the Lectionary Gospel passage

This is one of the most well-known passages. Its popularity was also evident in the first century, because it is the only miracle story that appears in all four Gospels. There are subtle differences. Here, the writer depicts the group of people as a “crowd”. According to the Gospel known as Mark, it is a “throng”. (I don’t like crowds myself, but, oh, to be part of a throng!) But Luke and Matthew state that it was 5,000 strong (not counting women and children, of course!) So we end up looking at this as some sort of extraordinary miracle where Jesus was able to multiply the food that the little boy had.

But notice, first of all, that it never says that that was the ONLY food. Perhaps there were some people holding back their food, tucking it away so that it would not be discovered and so they would be expected to share. Perhaps the miracle lies in the little boy. He was first, freely and openly offering everything that he had to Jesus. The lunch of barley loaves and fish would have been a basic lunch of the poor. Barley is a very inexpensive grain and fish were plentiful here on the Lake (remember, it’s really a lake, rather than a sea!) of Galilee. And yet, this unnoticed and uncounted person of poverty offered everything that he had. Maybe the miracle was that he sparked others to come forward and offer what they had. Maybe the miracle was that there was enough after all.

I, personally, would like to be like that little boy. I would like to learn how to offer what I have and not feel compelled to hold back for fear of running out. And also notice, that Jesus did not just somehow provide exactly what was needed. This is not the story of a magic trick. There were leftovers. And nothing was wasted. The sandwiches and leftover fish were not left on the grassy mountainside to rot and be picked apart by animals. They were carefully gathered and saved to be used—maybe for the next picnic, maybe for those in the village that did not have enough, or maybe it was given out as holy doggie bags to remind us what can happen when we open what we have and who we are to others!

This is a story about abundance. But we Westerners struggle with scarcity, with worrying that there won’t be enough, with knowing that we have to take care of ourselves first before we take care of others, worrying that there is some storm right around the bend for which we need to be prepared. Why do we struggle like that? Well, the story takes care of that too. The passage tells us that the disciples started across the lake in the darkness. And, just as they had feared, a storm did surface—blowing winds, waves crashing into the tiny boat, drenching them through their slickers. But there, there is Jesus. Do not be afraid…Do not be afraid. Interestingly enough, this account never says that the waves were calmed. It says, rather, that Jesus calmed the disciples. Isn’t that what faith is about? Perhaps abundance has nothing to do with what we have or with the world around us. Perhaps it’s the perspective that comes when you know that God is present your life. Maybe that little boy got that. Maybe faith is about realizing that there are always fragments around us, there is always importance in what has been tossed aside.

In one of his sermons, Thomas Long tells the story of a student of his that went jogging with his father in their urban neighborhood.  As they ran, the son shared what he was learning in seminary about urban ministry, and the father, an inner city pastor, related experiences of his own.  At the halfway point in their jog, they decided to phone ahead for a pizza to be delivered to their home when they got there.  As they headed for the phone, though, a homeless man approached them, asking for spare change.  So the father reached into the pockets of his sweat pants and pulled out two handfuls of coins, “Here,” he said to the homeless man.  “Take what you need.”  The homeless man, hardly believing his good fortune, said, “I’ll take it all,” scooped the coins into his own hands, and went on his way.

Well, it only took a second for the father to realize that he now had no change for the phone.  “Pardon me,” he beckoned to the homeless man. “I need to make a call.  Can you spare some change?”  The homeless man turned and held out the two handfuls of coins.  “Here,” he said.  “Take what you need.” (Thomas Long, “Surprise Party”, available at, accessed 21 July, 2009.)

  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What makes us hold back from the abundance that God offers?
  3. What stands in the way of us being like that little boy?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

There’s a crack. There’s a crack in everything. Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. (Leonard Cohen)

The soul must long for God in order to be set aflame by God’s love; but if the soul cannot yet feel this longing, then it must long for the longing. To long for the longing is from God. (Meister Eckhart, c. 1260-c. 1327)


If you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. (Annie Dillard)




My response is to get down on my knees before the Father, this magnificent Father who parcels out all heaven and earth. I ask [God] to strengthen you by [the] Spirit—not a brute strength but a glorious inner strength—that Christ will live in you as you open the door and invite him in. And I ask [God] that with both feet planted firmly on love, you’ll be able to take in with all Christians the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God.

God can do anything, you know—far more than you could ever imagine or guess or request in your wildest dreams! [God] does it not by pushing us around but by working within us, [with a ] Spirit deeply and gently within us.

Glory to God in the church! Glory to God in the Messiah, in Jesus! Glory down all the generations! Glory through all millennia! Oh yes! Amen.

Ephesians 3: 14-21, in The Message, by Eugene H. Peterson