Proper 12C: Pray Like This

Lord's Prayer (Aramaic)FIRST LESSON:  Hosea 1: 2-10

Read the Old Testament passage

Hosea, another “minor prophet”, prophesied in northern Israel about 750-740 BCE (after Amos), which was a tumultuous period with many political power struggles and violence.  During this time, Israel had enjoyed continuing prosperity and successful trade with surrounding nations.  Their prosperity, though, had made them lax in their relationship with God and, in Hosea’s view, society was on a downward spiral of injustice and immorality.  The society was full of religious syncretism, in which competing beliefs and competing deities were fused with belief in YHWH (sort of a “watered down” version of the Torah, in essence).  For Hosea, the society was involved both politically and religiously in “affairs” in which Israel exhibited infidelity.

God tells Hosea to take “a wife of whoredom” and bear children.  The broken marriage reflects what Hosea saw as Israel’s broken relationship with God.  He really saw little difference between the political infidelity and the religious.  He saw them as interwoven and both in need of judgment.

In accordance with the divine command, Hosea chooses Gomer, who some scholars claim may possibly have been a temple prostitute, hanging around the temple waiting to be picked up by anyone who happened by, and they have three children whose names embody the judgment of God. It is possible, too, that the children, especially the second and third, are not Hosea’s, but rather the fruits of attachments that Gomer had with other men. The first child is Jezreel, whose name means, ‘God sows,’ to embody the punishment the people are soon to reap. The city of Jezreel had been the scene of much violence and had become a byword for violence and torture, hardly a happy name to give a first-born son. The second child is named Lo-ruhamah, ‘not pitied,’ to signify an end to the Lord’s pity and forgiveness of God’s people Israel. It is as though God has had enough of the people’s straying; God’s compassion has worn thin.

The third child’s name, Lo-ammi, is especially disturbing, as it means, ‘not my people.’ God’s continual way of saying to Israel ‘You are my people’ and Israel’s response ‘You are our God’ compose the covenant between God and Israel. But this third child’s name indicates God’s covenant with his people is now at an end. Their apostasy means a breaking of the covenant from their side, so that they can no longer be seen as God’s people.

But then the mood of the passage shifts abruptly, promising that at the very place where it was said the people were no longer God’s, they would once again be called ‘children of the living God.’ The change begins with “Yet”—even with all this stuff that has happened, God is still there.  It is as though the end of the covenant is too terrible to contemplate. Perhaps there is also a sense that the overarching love of God cannot be shut out even when the people fall away from their part of the covenant.  Hosea as a prophet is a striking figure. He takes upon himself something of the people’s sin, something of their pain. Through his marriage to Gomer and the birth of the children, he enacts the long-suffering love of God, who bears with his erring people far beyond their deserving. And who in the end opts for compassion and forgiveness as the way to life.

Now, I guess you could ask why in the world God thought it necessary to make Hosea live a life full of infidelity in order to deliver the message.  But, remember, even Moses had to get in there and wander in the wilderness.  The thing is, life with God does not mean that it is somehow sanitized and without difficulty or transgressions.  After all, maybe we’re supposed to squirm a little bit at our own unfaithfulness to God.  Life is life and sometimes it’s how we see God at work in our life.  The passage, uncomfortable as it may be, carries both the pain of unfaithfulness and the compassion of a God who still redeems—over and over and over again. And maybe within that redemption is a reminder that not everyone CHOOSES their life.  It is probably more likely that Gomer was a prostitute not for sex but for money.  Maybe this was her way out.  Maybe it’s a reminder that the world is not sanitized for our enjoyment and God knows that, that God knows how to get in there in the dirt of it all and redeem even the worst injustices that the world holds.  It is a reminder that God is God over all of Creation and promises to redeem the worst that might come along.  And THAT IS good news!


1)      What is your response to this passage?

2)      What, for you, does the possibility of being truly “God-forsaken” mean to you?

3)      What message could this hold for our own society?

4)      What message of hope does this passage hold?



NEW TESTAMENT:  Colossians 2:6-15 (16-19)

Read the Epistle passage

This is sort of a densely-packed lesson but in it, the writer (more than likely not Paul) comes to the heart of the gospel—God’s gracious deliverance of humanity through the death and resurrection of Christ, and our sharing in that deliverance through union with Christ at baptism.  Because Christ shares fully the human condition, we share Christ’s destiny.

The letter begins with words of encouragement and a reminder of what it means to “receive” Christ, to “receive” the gospel.  The word that is translated here as “live” is actually closer to “walk”, which was a common way of talking about a way of life.  So this was directed at converts who are hearing from others that their spiritual “walk” is lacking in some way.

If we take our passage as a whole and include the verses in brackets we can see that these people are concerned about observances in relation to food, drink, festivals, new moons, and the Sabbath. They are also concerned with heavenly powers and authorities, including some kind of veneration of angels and mystical connection with them. There is also the recurrence of the common argument over circumcision as “proof” of one’s righteousness and belief. This may have been a sort of radical form of Jewish Christianity which still upholds the Law and insists that Gentiles observe it.

So the writer again issues a warning against others who threaten their faith.  He specifically warns against those touting “philosophy”, which for the writer implied those things based on human tradition and not on Christ.  “Tradition” here refers to those things that are human constructs that lack divine authority in his understanding.

Colossians grounds its readers in Christ, from being rooted in Christ and then ending it with the image of a body nourished by the head and growing through God.  The letter is a pretty broad canvas.  The crux of it, though, is unity and peace and how those things are at stake.  For the writer, God’s compassion spills into the whole universe and brings it together.  The image of Christ as universal and the church as the universal body of Christ is paramount here.  So these divisions and attempts to break apart what is sealed by Christ should be ignored.  The meaning of life has to do with the love found in Christ, not rules and regulations.  It has to do with this God who redeems our best and our worst.


1)      What meaning does this passage hold for you?

2)      How is this message still pertinent today?

3)      What does it mean for you to “receive” Christ?

4)      What does it mean for you that God redeems our best and our worst?



GOSPEL: Luke 11:1-13

Read the Gospel passage

The opening to our Gospel passage is a request that each of us deeply understands:  “Lord, teach us to pray.”  We want to know how to pray.  We want to have a deep and abiding prayer life that connects us with God and makes our lives richer and fuller.  How do you pray?  Who taught you to pray?  Why do you pray?  We want to find a way to make our prayers more meaningful and more worthy of what God really wants to hear.  Maybe that’s our problem.  We’re trying so hard to bring meaning to our prayer life that we’re not allowing our prayers to bring meaning to our life.  We’re trying so hard to find God that we don’t expect to experience a God who is already there.  God does not need our prayers; we do.  God does not have to be invited into our lives; we just have to open our eyes to God’s Presence.

The truth is, Jesus knew that.  He knew that people struggled to experience the real Presence of God and because of that, they also struggled with how to acknowledge and live with that Presence in their lives.  He knew that we struggled continuously with doubts about God and about what God wanted from us.  He knew that we struggle with what prayer should be.  So he begins where we are—in the midst of that silence that is God.  He began by showing the disciples what was at the very core of his own life—his relationship with God.  Because remember that Jesus had made prayer an integral part of his life.  How many times do we read of him “withdrawing to a deserted place to pray” or “going to the mountain to pray” or “spending the night in prayer with God?”  He prayed before he chose the disciples, when he fed the five thousand, and on the night before he was led to his death.  He even prayed on the cross, a prayer of centering and forgiveness.

What Jesus provided in answer to the disciple’s request is more than just a formula for prayer.  Jesus provided words to address God, words to praise God, and, finally, words to petition God.  The prayer begins by imploring God (and perhaps reminding us that this is God’s place) to take charge of our life and our world, to bring about justice and peace as only God can do.

The remaining petitions have to do with basic human needs, those things that are the very sustenance of our life—food, relationships with others, relationship with God.  They have to do with life.  The prayer does not include petitions for stuff, or comforts, or for things to get easier for us.  It doesn’t even ask God to make things clearer or more sensible to us.  It is a prayer that brings us into life with God.  It is a petition for those things that only God can provide and that we cannot live without.  It is an opening to the awareness that God made us, that we are God’s, and that God’s desire is not for us to be right, or to be good, or to be pleasing, but to be who we were meant to be.  Pierre Teilhard de Chardin once said that “we are not human beings having a spiritual experience.  We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”

The prayer that Jesus taught us to pray has nothing to do with knowing the right words.  It really is more about persistence.  Jesus continues in this passage by reminding us to keep asking, keep seeking, and keep knocking.  Far from characterizing God as some sort of celestial Santa Claus who always brings good little boys and girls the things for which they ask, Jesus seemed to assume that God is already in motion, that God has already answered every prayer, and that God has already opened every door that needs to be opened and is standing at the threshold inviting us to enter.  So praying opens our lives to the presence of the God who is always and already there and gives us the realization that God provides life’s minimum daily requirements so that all we need to do is open ourselves to being with God.

In her book,   The Breath of the Soul, Joan Chittister tells of another disciple who expressed the desire that his master teach him how to pray.  “Then here is how,” the Holy One said as he plunged the head of the disciple into a bucket of water and held it there while the disciple struggled to be free. “Why did you do a thing like that?” the disciple demanded to know as he came up out of the water gasping for breath.  “In order to teach you,” the Holy One said, “that when you get to the point where you know you need God as much as you need air, you will have learned how to pray.” ( Joan Chittister, The Breath of the Soul:  Reflections on Prayer (New London, CT:  Twenty-third Publications, 2009), 36.)

Well, that was a little more dramatic than what Jesus did, but I actually think that they were trying to get the same point across.  We are not merely called to pray; we are called to a life of prayerfulness, a life in which every breath we take and every move we make is attuned to the breath and movement of God that is already a part of us.  And in that way, prayer comes with responsibility.  As we enter that realm of God, we, too, are called to be a part of creating a world of justice and peace, of forgiveness, of providing bread for the hungry, and a shunning of those things that temptingly pull us away from where we’re called to be.  Prayer, then, opens us to love and that, too, becomes a way of sustaining our life.

There is a New York Times bestseller that was written by Elizabeth Gilbert that carries the title, Eat, Pray, Love.  The book was ultimately made into a movie.  This book  is essentially the account of a women’s search for meaning in her life.  Assuming that she could not find it where she was, she took off on a whirlwind adventure through Italy, India, and Indonesia, on a quest for enjoyment, devotion, and transcendence.  She finds it but she has to get out of herself and away from the chaos that she has created in her life to find what was there all along—to find the sustenance that is life—to eat, to pray, and to love.  She finds that she cannot exist without each of them and that they were in her life all along.

She says that “the search for God is a reversal of the normal, mundane worldly order.  In the search for God, you revert from what attracts you and swim toward that which is difficult.  You abandon your comforting and familiar habits with the hope that something greater will be offered you in return for what you’ve given up.  Every religion in the world,” she says, “ operates on the same common understandings of what it means to be a good disciple—get up early and pray to God, hone your virtues, be a good neighbor, respect yourself and others, master your cravings.” [Goodness, that sort of sounds like that prayer we know so well!]  She goes on:  “We all agree that it would be easier to sleep in, and many of us do, but for millennia there have been others who choose instead to get up before the sun and wash their faces and go to their prayers.  And then fiercely try to hold on to their devotional convictions throughout the lunacy of another day…Faith is belief in what you cannot see or prove or touch.  Faith is walking face-first and full-speed into the dark.  If we truly knew all the answers in advance as to the meaning of life and the nature of God and the destiny of our souls, our belief would not be a leap of faith and it would not be a courageous act of humanity; it would just be…a prudent insurance policy…I couldn’t care less,” she says, “ about evidence and proof and assurances.  I just want God.  I want God inside me.  I want God to play in my bloodstream the way sunlight amuses itself on water.”( Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love:  One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia (New York, NY:  Penguin Books, 2006), 175-176.)



1)      What meaning does this passage hold for you?

2)      What does prayer mean for you?  What difficulties with it do you have?

3)      What would it mean for us to see prayer as a “minimum daily requirement”, as life-sustaining?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Prayer is not merely an occasional impulse to which we respond when we are in trouble:  prayer is a life attitude.  (Wayne Mueller)

Deep within us all there is an amazing inner sanctuary of the soul, a holy place…to which we may continuously return.  Eternity is at our hearts, pressing upon our time-torn lives, warming us…calling us home unto Itself.  Yielding to these persuasions…utterly and completely, to the Light within, is the beginning of true life. (Thomas R. Kelly)

If you begin to live life looking for God that is all around you, every moment becomes a prayer.  (Frank Bianco)



God, You who are Father and Mother to each of us, but nearer than our own breath; Make yourself the center of our world and our lives:  Reign over us and among us.  Let your creative and life-giving will and dream for us happen right now and right here in our world; Make every bite of bread a taste of your loving presence; Don’t make us relive our failures day after day, and help us not to make others relive their own failures.  And do not abandon us to our own violence, but show us the way out of the cycle of violence that threatens to destroy us.  Because your Reign and your Power and your Glory are finally all that matter.  Amen. (The Lord’s Prayer (Paraphrased), by Dr. Virgil Howard, (1936-2006)

Proper 15B: Embodying Bread

Bread--Rolling DoughOLD TESTAMENT: 1 Kings 2:10-12, 3: 3-14

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage

Solomon is generally remembered for his wisdom, a gift that God gave him after he asked not for riches or wealth or long life but for help in governing the people wisely and well. (But, as the story goes, God was so pleased with the request that Solomon received all the other gifts as well.) The passage opens with David’s death and Solomon’s ascension to the throne. Solomon was very young when he came to power. Many guess that he might have been about twenty years old. He had to have felt overwhelmed with what was required of him. After all, he followed his father, David, which was no slight act to follow and David had placed him on the throne in place of Adonijah, his brother, who was actually the “rightful” heir. There were also many enemies that had to be eliminated to solidify Solomon’s reign. So, lest we think that Solomon had some sort of golden reign or was some sort of fair-haired boy, realize that this passage is a wonderful one in the midst of a story that is bloody and filled with violence, infidelity, and sin. In Solomon’s personal life, his marriages to foreign wives will come to be looked upon with disdain, seeing them as the onset of the worship of foreign gods. And, in the category of completely over the top, sources claim that Solomon took 700 wives and 300 concubines. And even in his reign, the previous warning from Samuel that a king will mean that the people will end up as slaves for the most part proves to be true. It is known that Solomon’s building projects, including the great temple, were built with Israeli forced labor. And yet, somehow Solomon stood out. He was human, a mixture of good and bad, of right and wrong. And, yet, he prays with all his heart for wisdom, for perspective, for what God calls him to be.

Solomon goes on to build up the kingdom of Israel and construct the temple. However great David was, it was Solomon who built the most important and sacred structure of the kingdom. It is clear that Solomon enjoys an intimate relationship with God. God even talks to him in his dreams. So, this would imply that true wisdom is about relationships. It is about listening, and understanding that one might discern what is right and good. It is about having the ability (and taking the time) to discern what is right and good not just for one personally but for the people that a leader governs.

This week’s passage is the first of several weeks where the lectionary will continue to deal with wisdom and that is woven through passages about Solomon. But Solomon was not without his own problems and his own shortcomings. Wisdom does not imply perfection. After all, here, David seems to be set up as the “ideal”, and we all remember that that was clearly not the case. We are not called to gloss over people’s shortcoming and make them saints. The Bible is not a story of heroes but, rather, the way God interacts in life and ordinary people interact with God.

It is also interesting because this passage provides a blatant mix of politics and religion, those very things that we are often warned never to mix. Maybe the problem is not the mixing but rather the lack of wisdom in either of those things. Maybe the warning is not about mixing politics and religion but in mixing bad politics and bad religion. Maybe the calling is to a holy conversation rather than a fight to the finish. History has shown over and over again that times when a religion is controlled by a government as well as times when a government controlled by a religion both usually result in tyranny, in the oppression of the governed. Maybe what God has in mind in the cultivation of a listening heart that is open to what is best for all rather than what is best for those in charge. Richard Rohr said that “the work of religion is to open our eyes to see a world where everything swirls with meaning.” So, as people of faith, we are called not to bring our beliefs but rather the Truth to which they point.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What is your definition of “wisdom”?
  3. What does “wisdom” mean in your own life?
  4. What do you think of the mixing of politics and religion in the time of Solomon and in our own time? Is it different?



NEW TESTAMENT: Ephesians 5: 15-20

Read the Lectionary Epistle passage

Ultimately, the theme for Ephesians could probably be a coming together in wholeness of we who are one body in Christ to fill the whole of reality with the goodness and righteousness of God. In this passage, the exhortation falls on wisdom. The beginning reminds us that there are real and apparent dangers to faith and that they require some level of discernment. The implication is that “alertness” belongs to faith. Wisdom and understanding count for something in faith. As people of faith, we need to be able to discern.

Permit me to say without reservation that if all people were attentive, if they would undertake to be attentive every moment of their lives, they would discover the world anew. They would suddenly see that the world is entirely different from what they had believed it to be. (Jacques Lusseyran in Against the Pollution of the I) When you read Ephesians the dangers seemed to be coming not from paganism, but from those claiming that they had Christian authority. There is a certain discernment, then, to figure out what is “of God” and what is not. Lots of claims are made in the name of Christ. Some are just silly and others are downright dangerous. The passage definitely speaks to a certain integrity of faith, of life, and even of worship. It is a way of being lifted out of ourselves and beyond ourselves.

This passage probably is as much about reverence as anything else. It is an acknowledgment that God’s gifts matter, that we are called to the wisdom of using them to their fullest. Earlier in this chapter, we were called to be “imitators” of Christ. This continues with that same call. And, yet, this verse is often taken as a calling to avoid those who practice these things too. We are not called to be sequestered people of faith. We are called to live in the world. We are called to imitate Christ in the world, to live a life of wisdom, of meaning, of wholeness. The wise life makes the most of what we have been given—for our own good but, mostly, for the good of the Kingdom of God.

And, above all, this is a life of joy. It is about paying attention to the glories of life. In one of his “Sabbath Moment” reflections, Terry Hershey shares this midrash story:

The splitting of the Red Sea, according to Jewish tradition, is the greatest miracle ever performed.  It is so extraordinary that on that day even a common servant beheld more than all the miracles witnessed by the prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel combined.  And yet we have one midrash that mentions two Israelites, Reuven and Shimon, who had a different experience. Apparently the bottom of the sea, though safe to walk on, was not completely dry but a little muddy, like a beach at low tide. Reuven stepped into it and curled his lip. “What is this muck?” Shimon scowled, “There’s mud all over the place!”

“This is just like the slime pits of Egypt!” replied Reuven. “What’s the difference?”  Complained Shimon.  “Mud here, mud there; it’s all the same.” And so it went for the two of them, grumbling all the way across the bottom of the sea.  And, because they never once looked up, they never understood why on the distant shore, everyone else was singing and dancing. For Reuven and Shimon the miracle never happened. (Shemot Rabba 24.1)


While the sea had parted for Reuven and Shimon, the miracle never made it’s way into their heart, or their life. This is a story about the permission to look up. Because there is something about the blinders we choose to wear that not only affect our vision, but our capacity to risk or embrace or celebrate or sing and dance or praise or venture or love wholeheartedly. (Terry Hershey, “Look Up”, Sabbath Moment, August 13, 2012)


            So maybe this passage is about more than doing the right things or not doing the wrong things. Maybe it’s about reverence, about seeing the beauty in life, about allowing the beauty to find you, about looking up and feeling joy.


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. What does this say about wisdom? What about discernment?
  3. What does equating “alertness” to faith mean for you?
  4. What gets in the way of you “looking up”?
  5. What “dangers” to faith do you see in today’s world?


GOSPEL: John 6: 51-58

Read the Lectionary Gospel passage

This week’s passage continues a direct link to the Eucharist and the Gospel writer expands the theme that Jesus is the bread of life. Some commentators have suggested that the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel was composed over time and that the implications to the Eucharist might have been added later. But we cannot help but hear the language of our Eucharist. It is understood as an opening of oneself to a life in Christ. The bread and the cup are lenses through which we can see things differently. Taking them literally, the words are shocking and those who take them literally just don’t get it. The words are meant to correct our vision of what nourishes and sustains us.

Remember that this would have been a real change to the status quo of its first hearers. No longer was adherence to the Torah and its traditions what created community but, rather, the oneness and union with Christ. This relationship is what made the bread “live”, made it come alive for those who receive it. Receiving Christ is not just intellectual assent; it is more; it is making Christ “live”, making Christ real in your life. That is how we receive the presence of Christ. Communion with Christ is a lifestyle and the celebration of the Eucharist is a reflection of that life.

Richard Rohr said that “We do not think ourselves into a new way of living; we live ourselves into a new way of living.” Making Christ come alive is not merely about understanding what the words say; it is about incarnation. It is about becoming Christ in your flesh and your blood. It is about entering communion with Christ in every aspect of your being. In her book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor says this:

The daily practice of incarnation—of being in the body with full confidence that God speaks the language of flesh—is to discover a pedagogy that is as old as the gospels. Why else did Jesus spend his last night on earth teaching his disciples to wash feet and share supper? With all the conceptual truths in the universe at his disposal, he did not give them something to think about together when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do—specific ways of being together in their bodies—that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself.

After he was gone, they would still have God’s Word, but that Word was going to need some new flesh. The disciples were going to need something warm and near that they could bump into on a regular basis, something so real that they would not be able to intellectualize it and so essentially untidy that there was no way they could ever gain control over it. So Jesus gave them things they could get their hands on, things that would require them to get close enough to touch one another. In the case of the meal, he gave them things they could smell and taste and swallow. In the case of the feet, he gave them things to wash that were attached to real human beings, so that they could not bend over them without being drawn into one another’s lives…

“Do this,” he said—not believe this but do this—“in remembrance of me.” Duke ethicist Stanley Hauerwas finds most Christians far too spiritual in the practice of their faith. Christianity “is not a set of beliefs or doctrines one believes in order to be a Christian,” he says, “but rather Christianity is to have one’s body shaped, one’s habits determined, in such a way that the worship of God is unavoidable.” In our embodied life together, the words of our doctrines take on flesh. (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, 43-45)


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does the term “living bread” mean to you? What does it mean to say that Christ is the “bread of life”?
  3. What does receiving Communion mean to you?
  4. What does it mean to “live” Communion?
  5. What does incarnation in this sense mean to you?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


The day of my spiritual awakening was the day I saw—and knew I saw—all things in God and God in all things. (Mechtild of Magdeburg, 13th century mystic)


The higher goal of spiritual living is not to amass a wealth of information but to face sacred moments. (Rabbi Abraham Heschel)


Wisdom is the depth of soul that enables us to understand what must remain in our lives when everything else…goes, It is what we believe spiritually that carries us through life. It is the well of wisdom from which we are meant to draw…Only that which nurtures the truly spiritual in us, the search for the presence of God in every small dimension of life, is real wisdom. If, by the time we die, beauty has moved the silent center of us, love has wracked our hearts, and the word of God has seeped into our heart, we will be as wise as any human being can ever hope to be. (Joan Chittister, Aspects of the Heart: The Many Paths to a Good Life)





Eternal God, we give you thanks for this holy mystery in which you have given yourself to us.  Grant that we may go into the world in the strength of your Spirit, to give ourselves for others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

(From “Service of Word and Table I, The United Methodist Book of Worship)