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 )

Epiphany 5B: Spending Time With God

Spending time with godOLD TESTAMENT: Isaiah 40: 21-31

To read the Old Testament Lectionary passage, click here

Many scholars claim that at Chapter 40 in the Book of Isaiah, we cross a significant boundary. The Babylonian victory over Judah and Jerusalem is now presupposed and Judah has shared in that defeat. This is now the time when the “former things have [truly] passed away.” The passage begins by appealing to what Israel already knows. It is a reminder of what the Creator God has been doing since the beginning of Creation. It is a basic notion in their understanding of God that God’s ongoing creative activity asserts that things are always moving, always headed toward the way they are supposed to be.

But the image of us as grasshoppers is not meant to denigrate us but rather to remind us that Creation is bigger than anything that we can possibly be or imagine. We are only a small part of the whole. So, for the writer, “who are we to question the vastness of God?” Even though Assyrian rule is probably firmly in place here, there is a reminder that no sooner do they put down roots against Israel that God will put them away with what can be conceived as terrifying power. We remember from earlier passages in Isaiah that an entire generation in Isaiah’s lifetime had their ears shut and their eyes closed. This is the beginning of a new generation and the writer appeals to them in the strongest possible terms: to listen and see and know again, for God’s word does not require assent to remain true and abiding. It stands forever. So, our faith allows us to live in two orders of Creation—the already and the not yet, but always strengthened by the master Creator of them both.

Now understand that it was not that the earlier generation did not have God present; it was that they failed to hear, receive, and heed the Word that God put forth. In other words, our ears must be opened to hear aright. Each generation must be taught to hear and see God. God is the only one capable of “flipping the switch”, so to speak on how the world works. We have to be open to what God does and be prepared to hear and see it.

As an aside, it might just be a play on words or images, but did you know that grasshoppers have five eyes? They are able to see everything in what could be described as panoramic view. That’s sort of interesting, given the comparison of humanity to grasshoppers, to insinuate that we have the capability, if not the sensibility, to see all there is within the perspective of where it is. Perhaps what most gets in the way is that we think we have already figured everything out.

And yet God continues to persevere, holding us when we need to be held, leading us when we need to be led, and perhaps waiting, oh so patiently, for us to notice it all. And when we open our eyes and open our hearts to all that God holds for us, our future is ours. But are we, too, patient enough to wait for it to come? In all truth, we live in a world order that is slipping away. Maybe not tomorrow; maybe not for centuries; maybe not even for eons, but slipping away nevertheless. We are fleeting. But the everlasting God has promised that if we just open our lives and our hearts and our eyes, we will see and know that an everlasting order waits for us. But it’s different; it’s not the one in which we live. And, really, hasn’t that been said from the beginning? What we have now is not ours. We’re not meant for it. But, oh, the future one that waits for us…it is ours. It is home. And nothing is impossible.


This story is taken from “The People Who Could Fly”, a sermon by Otis Moss, III, 12/31/2006, available at


There is a story that I am told has been passed from mouth to ear somewhere along the palmetto dunes of South Carolina, a story passed down from West Africa to the North Atlantic. It is the story, a unique story, of the people who could fly. Depending upon whom you’re talking to, it is a little bit different, depending upon who is telling the tale.

The story takes place in St. Johns Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, as Africans who had been mislabeled slaves are toiling in the hot sun. They are working so very hard to pick cotton. There is one young woman and beside her is her small boy, maybe six or seven. She’s working in the fields and she has such incredible dexterity that she is able to pick cotton with her right hand and caress the forehead of her child with the left. But eventually, exhausted by working so hard in the fields, she falls down from the weight and the pressure of being—in the words of Dubois—“problem and property.” Her boy attempts to wake her very quickly, knowing that if the slave drivers were to see her the punishment would be swift and hard.

He tries to shake his mother, and as he’s trying to shake her, an old man comes over to him. An old man that the Africans called Preacher and Prophet, but the slave drivers called Old Devil. He looks up at the old man and says, “Is it time? Is it time?”

The old man smiles and looks at the boy and says, “Yes!” And he bends down ands whispers into the ear of the woman who was now upon the ground and says these words: “Cooleebah! Cooleebah!”

At that moment the woman gets up with such incredible dignity. She stands as a queen and looks down at her son, grasps his hand and begins to look toward heaven. All of a sudden they begin to fly. The slave drivers rush over to this area where she has stopped work and they see this act of human flight and are completely confused. They do not know what to do! And during their confusion, the old man rushes around to all the other Africans and begins to tell them, “Cooleebah! Cooleebah!”

When they hear the word, they all begin to fly. Can you imagine? The dispossessed flying? Can you imagine the disempowered flying? Three fifths of a person flying? The diseased flying? The dislocated flying? They are all taking flight! And at that moment the slave drivers grab the old man and say, “Bring them back!”

They beat him, and with blood coming down his cheek, he just smiles at them. They say to him, “Please bring them back!” And he says, “I can’t.” They say, “Why not?” He said, “Because the word is already in them and since the word is already in them, it cannot be taken from them.” The old man had a word from West Africa, cooleebah, a word that means God. It had been placed into the heart of these displaced Africans and now they had dignity and they were flying.



  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What parallels for our time do you see?
  3. What most stands in our way of “hearing” and “seeing”?
  4. How much more do you think we’re capable of hearing and seeing than we do?


NEW TESTAMENT: 1 Corinthians 9: 16-23

To read the Lectionary Epistle passage, click here

Well, in case it seems like we’re walking into the middle of a discussion, this passage is actually a continuation of the veritable “meat saga” that we read last week. Paul anticipates a possible misunderstanding in what he had said earlier and he counters by denying that he is only saying these things so that he benefits more from his position. Paul understands that he did not just “decide” to preach the gospel but rather that he is entrusted with a commission, or a calling. He does not take that to mean that he is due any wage or benefit. Paul sees himself as a “slave” to God, one who has been renewed and revitalized. He is in it solely for the purpose of spreading the gospel of grace.

Paul is not “giving up” his freedom or his free will but is rather choosing not to exercise them in certain circumstances. That is a very different understanding of freedom and is interesting given our understanding of the Gospel as “setting us free”. St. Augustine said this: In Christ’s slavery, there is freedom indeed. But it’s hard to get our heads around. Paul does all things and becomes all things for the sake of the Gospel, showing his understanding of the dynamics of community in the life of faith.

In Everything Belongs, Richard Rohr says that “we have defined freedom in the West as the freedom to choose between options and preferences. That’s not primal freedom. That’s a secondary or even tertiary freedom. The primal freedom is the freedom to be the self, the freedom to live in the truth despite all circumstances. That’s what great religion offers us. That what real prayer offers us. That’s why the saints could be imprisoned and not lose their souls. They could be put down and persecuted like Jesus and still not lose their joy, their heart, or their perspective. Secular freedom is having to do what you want to do. Religious freedom is wanting to do what you have to do.

Perhaps freedom is having the ability and the wherewithal to be who we are called to be by God. It is not the freedom to become enslaved to the things of this world, thereby giving up our freedom. The thing that we are called to do is the thing we HAVE to do. It is the thing that we must do to be who we are. That is the freedom God gives us—to be who we have to be and to empower others in the world to do the same. Therein is the hope of Christ.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does Paul’s view of “freedom” mean to you?
  3. What does “freedom” mean in our society?
  4. How does that affect our notion of “reward”?


GOSPEL: Mark 1: 29-39

To read the Lectionary Gospel passage, click here

It is evident here that Jesus’ reputation is swiftly increasing. Right after they left the synagogue, the first healing episode occurs inside a house. Jesus cures the woman, who then serves him dinner. The next thing you know, all of a sudden the “whole city” (Really? A WHOLE city—like, ALL of Houston?) shows up begging to receive some of what Jesus is offering. You can imagine a hoard of townspeople crowding around the door of the house. And it says that he cured many—not the whole city, interestingly enough—but many.

But keep in mind that for the writer of the Markan Gospel, Jesus did not come to win the adulation of the crowds by working miracles but rather to claim the authority and identity of the Christ, which, for this writer, includes the cross itself. The crowds apparently begin to represent a problem for Jesus. He did not come to settle into the town as a local healer, but to preach the Gospel throughout the region. So he leaves Peter’s house in the darkness well before dawn, returning to a deserted place to pray. For the writer of this Gospel, it was clear that Jesus comes to do God’s will, not to seek his own advantage or popularity.

But, of course, Jesus is eventually “hunted down” by Simon and his companions. You can imagine it: “Come on, Jesus, everyone is looking for you, everyone needs you…what are you doing out here by yourself when there’s so much work to be done.” (OK, I think this is rather humorous!) Jesus’ answer? (Wait for it!) “OK, then let’s go somewhere else.” (GREAT answer!) Because after all, his mission was to spread the Gospel not get “bogged down” in answering every need of the town.   What a great lesson this could provide for us! Jesus did not feel the need or the compulsion to be “all things to all people”. He rather had what could be called a “big picture” view of what the Gospel meant. I mean, after all, the whole world order was changing, remember?

There’s a lot that this passage holds. It’s a lesson about Sabbath time; it’s a lesson about prayer; it’s a lesson about understanding others’ needs; it’s a lesson about who Jesus was. Or maybe it IS a call to see the “big picture”, to know in the deepest part of our being that even in the midst of chaos and disorderly fray, even in the midst of too many people expecting too much of us, even in the midst of those who misunderstand who we are, we, too, can be lifted up with wings like eagles and be taught how to fly. We just have to see it. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus Christ, is only partially about what Jesus can do for us. Mostly it’s about who we can become with Jesus by our side.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does this say about answering God’s call?
  3. What does this say about the totality of the Gospel?
  4. What could we learn from Jesus’ reactions?
  5. What “big picture” scenes are you missing from your life?


Some Quotes for Further Reflection:

Cautious, careful people, always casting about to preserve their reputation and social standing, never can bring about a reform. Those who are really in earnest must be willing to be anything or nothing in the world’s estimation, and publicly and privately, in season and out, avow their sympathy with despised and persecuted ideas and their advocates, and bear the consequences. (Susan B. Anthony)

We are what we repeatedly do. (Aristotle)


One of the saddest lines in the world is, ‘Oh come now—be realistic.’ The best parts of this world were not fashioned by those who were realistic. They were fashioned by those who dared to look hard at their wishes and gave them horses to ride. (Richard Nelson Bolles)




Holy God—in this precious hour, we pause and gather to hear your word—to do so, we break from our work responsibilities and from our play fantasies; we move from our fears that overwhelm and from our ambitions that are too strong. Free us in these moments from every distraction, that we may focus to listen, that we may hear, that we may change. Amen. (From Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, “That We May Change”, p. 61.)