Proper 16B: Living in the Cloud

CloudOLD TESTAMENT: 1 Kings 8: (1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43

Read the Passage

This week’s passage occurs some eleven years after the setting of last week’s reading. Solomon’s kingdom is solidified and is entering its second decade. The previous chapters tell of the seven years that it took to build the temple. Solomon uses the finest building materials and the most talented and experience craftsmen. The building is magnificent. When the temple is ready, Solomon brings up the Ark of the Covenant, which has been in the Tabernacle, and installs it in the Temple, in the innermost sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, under the wings of the cherubim. As soon as the priests put the Ark in its place, a cloud fills the Temple and the glory of the Lord inhabits it.

This cloud has appeared before—when the Israelites were escaping the Egyptian army, when they were given the Commandments as a gift from God and a symbol of the covenant, and then the cloud settled on the Tabernacle. The cloud represents God’s Presence to the writer of this account. It represents continuity. The same God who brought them out of danger now dwells with them in the land.

For us in our Christian understanding, it is difficult to understand the significance of the Temple in Jewish theology. The Temple is the place of which God says, “My name shall be there.” It is the place where heaven meets earth and where God’s glory appears. And yet, Solomon’s prayer does not confine God to the Temple. He acknowledges that the “house”, the Temple, cannot contain God. For this reason, even though the Temple is central to Israel’s worship, it is not essential. When it is destroyed (twice to come), God is still present and attentive to the people.

By including “foreigners”, Solomon is also asking God to heed the prayers of others. We, then, are included in God’s mercy and have access to God even at this early stage in history (and, for that matter, realize our own calling to include others beyond our own traditions and beliefs). The Temple is a sign and a means of Communion with God. It is not the only place God is, but is still a sign of God’s mercy and God’s presence which is available to all.

Solomon’s prayers are, once again, not limited to himself. Before, rather than asking for riches or success, remember that Solomon asked for wisdom. Now he asks for justice and God’s presence with the people. Praying for justice should not be construed as praying for destructing of the unjust, but rather a prayer for us to realize our own role in the realization of that justice, whether it be a change in how we view the world or courage to speak the truth in love.

Solomon’s words bring us an important understanding of prayer. The Lord is not just the property of Israel (or, for that matter, any other one group of people). Solomon alludes to the incomparable and magnanimous grace of the Lord which extends beyond the imaginations and beyond any disagreements with neighbors that we may have, which extends into the world, the just and the unjust, the wise and the unwise. Realization of this and prayers for wisdom and justice drive home the notion that God is God, that God is not our property or our agent, that God is not on our side or on the other side or even on some side that a third party is inventing. It is finally getting us to the point where we figure out that the way we connect with this God is to leave our alliances, our riches, and our own sense of who we think God is on the ground beneath us, repent, and then, finally, turn toward a new perception of reality that we cannot control or contain.

Maybe we systematic, dogmatic, and pragmatic followers of Christ have it wrong. Perhaps there is a cloud after all. Perhaps when we understand faith not as belief or knowledge but as gaining the insight to walk into the cloud, then we will finally be on our journey toward Communion with God.


  1. What is your response to this passage?
  2. What is your understanding of God’s Presence? How does the Temple or other spaces play into that for you?
  3. How does this speak to you about the inclusion of others in our understanding of God’s Presence?
  4. What does this say about our understanding of wisdom? About our understanding of justice?
  5. How does this speak to your own understanding of God?


NEW TESTAMENT: Ephesians 6: 10-20

To read the passage, click on

This passage is familiar to most Christians. So familiar, in fact, that it is often used to justify violence or retribution in God’s name. But, really, does that even mesh with what we know of the message of Christ or what Paul and his own disciples (such as the writer of Ephesians) were trying to espouse?

These verses form the climax of the letter, and the word “finally” connects them with what has preceded (and what we have read the last few weeks). The writer’s imperatives to “be strong” in the Lord and “put on” the armor of God imply a realization of our human inadequacy for spiritual “battle”. The struggle here, though, is not meant to be a “flesh and blood” struggle, but one against the powers of this world. This is not intended to imply some sort of personal fight against “Satan”, the devil, or any other “other-worldly” influence. This is a call to abide in God in the face of the powers of this world—the powers of greed, political power, materialism, selfishness…you name it.

The “armor” is meant to be a metaphor. (Once again, taking this literally is not only a misinterpretation but could produce dangerous consequences.). Here, the “belt” is truth; the “breastplate” is righteousness; the “shoes” are the “gospel of peace”; the “shield” is faith; the “helmet” is salvation, and the “sword” is the Spirit or the Word. These weapons are indeed meant for “war” but it is a different kind of war. “Putting on the whole armor of God”, taking unto oneself the things that are of God, readies one to live the Gospel, to live and speak a “battle” for peace, and justice, and mercy for all. It is a call to employ the “weapons” of the Spirit of God. (Quite different from “going to war” in the name of God!)

The readers of the letter are exhorted to “be strong”. The Greek here is actually a reflexive tense. In other words, we are told to “strengthen ourselves” and “clothe ourselves”. There is an acknowledgment here of God’s power within us. There is work to do.

This passage and, for that matter, all of Ephesians, is a call to abandon any sort of Christian naiveté that fails to recognize the forces that bring destruction and division in our world (and those that bring destruction and division even within our communities, our families, or ourselves). It is not a call to appease them, but to stand up against them.

The final call to serious prayer echoes the emphasis with which this passage began: the need to have a grounded and solid spirituality as a basis for living with Christ’s vision and power in the world rather than an agenda served up by those that see change as a threat. This spirituality is subversive. It warrants change, rather than a type of Christian triumphalism and hate-mongering. When spirituality is subversive, peace has a chance. So, there…”Onward, Christian Soldiers”. (Good grief I hate that hymn when it’s not explained! J) But, really, there’s nothing wrong with the words of the hymn themselves. They are meant to echo the call of Ephesians. But popular culture has seemed to turn it into a processional of Christian triumphalism. And then you add the military language and it gets completely usurped into something that in no way resembles what the Christian message entails. But I don’t think this hymn is meant to call us to either triumphalism or militarism, but rather a call to enter into God’s ongoing redemption of all of Creation. So here are the words to the familiar hymn, Onward Christian Soldiers, written in 1864 by Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould, keeping in mind the way the writer of Ephesians framed this passage:


Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before.

Christ, the royal Master, leads against the foe; forward into battle see his banners go!


At the sign of triumph Satan’s host doth flee; on then, Christian soldiers, on to victory!

Hell’s foundations quiver at the shout of praise;

[people] lift your voices, loud your anthems raise.


Like a mighty army moves the church of God, [people] we are treading where the saints

have trod.

We are not divided, all one body we, one in hope and doctrine, one in charity.


Crowns and thrones may perish, kingdoms rise and wane, but the church of Jesus

constant will remain.

Gates of hell can never ‘gainst that church prevail; we have Christ’s own promise, and

that cannot fail.


Onward then, ye people, join our happy throng, blend with ours your voices in the

         triumph song.

Glory, laud, and honor unto Christ the King, this through countless ages [we] and angels



Onward, Christian soldiers, marching as to war, with the cross of Jesus going on before!


  1. How does this passage speak to you?
  2. In what ways is this passage misused in our society?
  3. What does this “armor” of God mean for you?
  4. What are your thoughts about the words of the familiar hymn, “Onward Christian Soldiers”?
  5. What does this passage, taken in this way, call us to do?


GOSPEL: John 6: 56-69

(To read the passage, click on

For the fifth week in a row, we are in the sixth chapter of John. Throughout the chapter, is the discussion of the bread that gives life. The words have been greeted with misunderstanding, confusion, and rejection. In today’s reading, we hear the disciples’ reaction, those closest to Jesus, those who have been handed all of the explanations. These are not just the “twelve” disciples, but rather “the many” probably refers to some of the periphery of Jesus’ other followers, those who have joined Jesus and the Twelve as they have made this journey through the region. But these disciples are one of “us”. They are not limited to the “them” about which we keep hearing.

So the fact that they don’t get it is uncomfortable. The point is, though, that they probably do understand it and just cannot believe it or accept it. Perhaps they understand it so well that they see the writing on the wall as to what it means for their own lives. Jesus’ reference to the “flesh” as useless is not a rejection or a condemnation of the body or a denial of God’s goodness. “Flesh”, here, refers to the “normal” way of seeing. Faith is presented as the work of God. We need faith, we need the Spirit, to believe (and God, in God’s incredible mercy and grace, offers it to all!) It is because of this that our calling is not just to belief, but to “abiding” in Christ, to entering Christ, even with our unbelief.

The truth is, again, that these hearers wanted something that was easily understood, something that they could put their arms around, so to speak. And they wanted something that was convenient, something that they could put in their pocket and carry away. Do you mean following the old traditions, the old laws, or do you mean writing new laws? Which is it? Tell us the easiest way to understand. Tell us the fastest way to be part of this. And what are you talking about, with words of blood and bread. That makes no sense. Which is it? Either it is the way we know or it is against what we know. Which is it?

Jesus’ answer over and over again was “neither”. It is not the old way of the traditional religion and it is not the way of the more and more prevalent powers of the society and the government in which they live. It is, you see, not a way that necessarily fits in with any of the ways of this world. Jesus calls us to “abide in these ways”, not just by believing or blindly accepting what he said but by entering the way of Christ, even in the midst of our unbelief. Because even in the midst of rejection and unbelief, God still works, continually calling all into life. Abiding in Christ is not a matter of picking which way of being is right and which way of being is wrong; it is about looking at life differently and entering a new life and a new way of being altogether. It is, in essence, proclaiming “neither” and beginning to live in a new way—a life lived within God’s vision of mercy, justice, and peace.

In this world in which we live, we are always presented with choices–good versus bad, healthy versus unhealthy, saving versus spending, conservative versus liberal, violence versus sitting back and letting things overtake us. We live in a sort of black and white, “paper or plastic” society. But God calls us to a different way. Walter Wink coined the phrase “the third way”. It recognizes both that power and systems are not God but also that every power and every system is redeemable. Rather than a distinction between good and evil, perhaps it is one between the already and the not yet. “Nothing”, Wink claims, “is outside the redemptive care and transforming love of God.” You see, redemption is not just a personal gift to us, but, a gift to the world. It is an invitation to every aspect of this world to abide in God, to live in a way that is different, to live in a third way.


  1. What meaning does this passage hold for you?
  2. What does God in the midst of unbelief mean for you?
  3. How does unbelief affect your faith journey?
  4. What are some of our stumbling blocks to our faith?
  5. So, why do you stay?
  6. How would you depict that “third way”?



Some Quotes for Further Reflection:


Christians are people who, because we know something about the end, the final purposes of God, heaven, we don’t “settle in”. We keep up a holy restiveness. We keep moving, keep standing on tiptoes, expectant, because we have been offered a vision of a new heaven and a new earth where God at last gets what God wants. (Bishop William Willimon)


Human beings may separate things into as many piles as we wish—separating spirit from flesh, sacred from secular, church from world. But we should not be surprised when God does not recognize the distinctions we make between the two. Earth is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars. (Barbara Brown Taylor in An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, p. 15.)


Good and evil, then, cannot be a pair of opposites like right and left or above and beneath. “Good” is the movement in the direction of home, “evil” is the aimless whirl of human potentialities without which nothing can be achieved and by which, if they take no direction but remain trapped in themselves, everything goes awry. (Martin Buber)





To see Thee is the end and the beginning, Thou carriest us, and Thou dost go before,

Thou are the journey, and the Journey’s end. Amen.

(Boethius, c. 480-524)

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)