31 August 2018

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 17, 2 September 2018

Song of Solomon 2:8-13
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10


Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
Psalm 15
James 1:17-27
St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Background: The Holiness Code

Although the Holiness Code refers to a specific section of the Book of Leviticus (see Leviticus 17-26) the general tenor of the Law commends this as a good place to understand the purity laws of Judaism, which Laws both Moses and Jesus make comment on. The breadth of the Holiness Code covers a multitude of things: the sacred nature of blood, sexual behaviors, general behavior, punishment for sins, the purity of priests, holy days and Passover, Pentecost, New Year’s Day, the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Booths,  Aspects of the Tabernacle/Temple, the Sabbatical Year, the Jubilee Year and its customs, and finally what comes with obedience to the Law, and disobedience as well (Blessings and Curses). These provisions have a special interest in the political and religious conversations of our time, but the ones that are especially noted in are time seem limited to the provisions for sexual purity. The code seems to be a product of the compilers of the Priestly strand of the Torah, and owe some influence to the civil codes of the cultures that surrounded Israel. There are other writings in the Bible with which one might compare it, namely the 22nd Chapter of Ezekiel, the Covenant Code (Exodus 20:19 – 23:33), and the Deuteronomic Code (Deuteronomony12-26). From the standpoint of the biblical student, the Lay Reader, or from the Deacon or Priest, it might be a good study habit to reacquaint oneself with these codes, their similarities and their differences. Just being a good citizen would demand it.

Track One:

First Reading: Song of Solomon 2:8-13

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:

“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”

Broad in terms of its composition (sometime between the fourth and second century BCE), and in its cultural sources (there are many examples of similar literature in Egypt and Mesopotamia), the book must be taken at face value, and each contribution examined for what it proposes to give. Our reading is the so-called “Fifth Poem” (2:8-17). With this pericope we begin to see an example of a fully formed song, not just the fragment of one. The phrase “my beloved” is repeated often (five times) and grants a cohesiveness to the song. We meet characters, the gazelle (the male lover), “my darling, my fair one” (the female lover. It is not only love that is celebrated here, but the season attuned to it – springtime. 

Breaking open the Song of Solomon:
  1. Why do you think this is in the Bible?
  2. What might this love be a metaphor of?
  3. Have you ever written a poem about one you loved?
Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10 Eructavit cor meum

My heart is stirring with a noble song;
let me recite what I have fashioned for the king; * 
my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer.

You are the fairest of men; * 
grace flows from your lips, 
because God has blessed you for ever.

Your throne, O God, endures for ever and ever, * 
a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom; 
you love righteousness and hate iniquity.

Therefore God, your God, has anointed you * 
with the oil of gladness above your fellows.

All your garments are fragrant with myrrh, aloes, and cassia, * 
and the music of strings from ivory palaces makes you glad.

Kings' daughters stand among the ladies of the court; * 
on your right hand is the queen, 
adorned with the gold of Ophir.

The tune to this psalm may be "lilies", if we are take the ascription literally. It accompanies the love song from the Song of Solomon well, for it seems to be a love song performed on the occasion of the king's marriage to a foreign princess. You might want to read the entire psalm to get the drift of its meaning and the beauty of its words. Unusual in this psalm is the praise that the author heaps upon himself, "my tongue shall be the pen of a skilled writer." Verse seven presents us with some difficulty. Is it God's throne, as the BCP translation seems to imply, or might it be the throne royal. Robert Alter translates it as; "Your throne of God is forevermore,"[1] which would continue the royal focus of the poem. Some commentators feel that this psalm is actually the work of the royal court, perhaps Solomon’s.

Breaking open Psalm 45:
1.     Why is the king glorified in this psalm?
2.     What is the relationship of the psalm to God?
3.     In whom do you see beauty?


Track Two:

First Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

Moses said: So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the LORD, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the LORD your God with which I am charging you.

You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children.

Last Sunday we reviewed the story of Joshua and his urging the people to remain faithful to the covenant with YHWH. This Sunday, we hear Moses’ urging the same thing. What we have is a homily that moves us from the introductory material of Deuteronomy to the main part of the work. The word in our translation, “give heed” is the word Shema, the first verb in the great confession of Israel, “Hear, O Israel…” The verb asks us to listen, or to understand what is to follow.  There is purpose to Moses’ instructions, “so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that YHWH, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. There are consequences to this listening and taking heed. 

The author/editor of this tradition has Moses warn the people to neither add nor subtract anything from these laws. Since this was most likely written later in the seventh century BCE, the laws that are reported here have been refurbished and edited for the present situation; therefore it is logical to request that no further changes be made. There is another interesting argument that is made and that is the one that appeals to the wisdom of these laws. Israel did not exist in the midst of other cultures that had no such codified law – to the contrary, they existed in the midst of a magnificent tradition of law making. Here the argument is that the people should be proud of their own legal tradition and writing, the gift of YHWH.

Breaking open Deuteronomy
1.     How did you learn what was “right” and what was “wrong”?
2.     What role does the Ten Commandments play in your life?
3.     What is the wisdom of the Law?

Psalm 15 Domine, quis habitabit?

LORD, who may dwell in your tabernacle? *
who may abide upon your holy hill?

Whoever leads a blameless life and does what is right, *
who speaks the truth from his heart.

There is no guile upon his tongue;
he does no evil to his friend; *
he does not heap contempt upon his neighbor.

In his sight the wicked is rejected, *
but he honors those who fear the LORD.

He has sworn to do no wrong *
and does not take back his word.

He does not give his money in hope of gain, *
nor does he take a bribe against the innocent.

Whoever does these things *
shall never be overthrown.

Some have seen in these verses a qualifying set of questions given to those would “abide upon your holy hill.” This seems unlikely, however. It seems to be a concise rehearsal of God’s law – a summary if you will recount that makes for righteousness. The author describes to the hearer “the blameless life.” First there is concern for the neighbor, either speaking badly of him or her, or doing no evil nor insulting them. This seems to be the main focus of the psalm, this righteousness that is bestowed upon a fellow human being.  Bribery is proscribed, and usury is condemned. Such behaviors are described as giving the righteous man or woman a stature honored by God.

Breaking open Psalm 15:
1.     What does righteousness mean to you?
2.     How are you righteous?
3.     How do you honor your neighbor?

Second Reading; James 1:17-27

Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God's righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.

But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act-they will be blessed in their doing.

If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

How wonderful to have a series of readings from the Book of James, which Martin Luther condemned as “that strawy epistle.” Very little is known about the date of the book, but there seems to be some consensus that James is likely the author. Some see the book as predating Paul, while others see Pauline influence in the writing. The final opinion is divided. The theme of the book is “Wisdom” and it is shown in a variety of “essays” devoted to aspects of wisdom. The magnificence of the initial scene of our pericope is stunning, “coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” These thoughts frame the wisdom that is to be granted to the reader. The language that follows almost mirrors Moses’ Shema, “be quick to listen” and before that “you must understand.” The author contrasts hearing with doing, and advocates for the doing – namely “to care for orphans and widows in their distress.” It is not all altruism, however, for the reader is cautioned to “keep oneself unstained by the world.”

Breaking open James:
1.     How do you do Christianity?
2.     How do you understand Christianity?
3.     How do you care for others as a Christian?

The Gospel: St. Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus, they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them. (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, "Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?" He said to them, "Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

'This people honors me with their lips, 
but their hearts are far from me; 
in vain do they worship me, 
teaching human precepts as doctrines.' 

You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition."

Then he called the crowd again and said to them, "Listen to me, all of you, and understand: there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person."

In a way, this pericope (and I advise you to read it in its entirety, rather than just relying on the snippets that the lectionary provides – see here) sits on the cusp of the great healing journeys in Galilee, and what follows in Jesus’ experience with Gentiles. We begin with the critical attitudes of the Pharisees who condemn what they see as a lax observance of the Mosaic Law. Jesus sees it as an opportunity to make commentary on the Law and its place in human life. He quotes Isaiah 29:13 as a comeback to their assertion that all of Israel, priest and people, needed to follow the precepts of the Holiness Code. Jesus wants his audience to understand that it is not external things or forces that make people impure, and Mark then provides a list of those things, which actually do provide for an unclean life. It is a perfect example how early Christianity adopted certain Stoic means of instruction. This use of Hellenistic devices prepares the reader for the next pericope, which is the story of the Syrophoenician Woman.

Breaking open the Gospel: 
1.     What do you think makes you clean?
2.     What defiles you?
3.     How do you guard yourself against what makes you unclean?

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things: Graft in our hearts the love of your Name; increase in us true religion; nourish us with all goodness; and bring forth in us the fruit of good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with Commentary, W.W. Norton &    Company, New York, Kindle Location 3947.

20 August 2018

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 16, 26 August 2018

Track One:
I Kings 8:[1,6,10-11], 22-30, 41-43
Psalm 84 or 84:1-6


Track Two:
Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18
Psalm 34:15-22

Ephesians 6:10-20
St. John 6:56-69

Background: The Temple

As we follow the history of Israel, their movement out of Egypt and their gradual insinuation into the Canaanite Levant, we continue to see the influence of the cultures around them, in their literature, their religious works, and in their architecture. One stunning almost recent discovery (1955) is the temple at ‘Ain Dara in northern Syria 67 kilometers from Aleppo near the Turkish border. Unfortunately, this example of Syro-Hittite temple building that dates from 1300 BCE was largely destroyed by the Turkish air force in January of this year. Nonetheless we can see in it, through the studies done by Ali Abu Assaf, we can see similarities with the Temple of Solomon that is described in the Bible.

The size, plan, and decoration of the Syrian temple seem to be a forerunner of the Israelite Temple. Both temples were built on large platforms of stone and have three functional areas: the porch (‘ulam) with two columns, the Sanctuary (heikhal), and the shrine (debir). The entire structure, in both cases, was flanked by a multistoried structure of rooms for the functioning of the temple. The ‘Ain Dara temple was built largely of basalt and had wooden paneling decorated with cherubim and sphinxes along with floral patterns common in the Ancient Near East. We can read about that imagery in I Kings 6:29The walls of the house on all sides of both the inner and the outer rooms had carved figures of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers.” The builders of Solomon’s Temple, Phoenician architects and craftspeople, would have most likely known the ‘Ain Dara building and would have been influenced by it. It was a building of great antiquity, serving from 1300 – 740 BCE

Track One:

First Reading: I Kings 8: [1, 6, 10-11], 22-30, 41-43

[Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the Lord out of the city of David, which is Zion. Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the Lord to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim. And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the Lord, so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord.]

Then Solomon stood before the altar of the Lord in the presence of all the assembly of Israel and spread out his hands to heaven. He said, “O Lord, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart, the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand. Therefore, O Lord, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’ Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

“But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

“Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name —for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm—when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house, then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

This ceremony to which all Israel is invited would have happened during the festival of Sukkot one of the three pilgrim festivals that would draw people into the capital and its temple. Thus, the dedication happens on a day which describes the Temple’s future utility as a pilgrimage site. Solomon is described as using the traditional prayer gesture, “he spread his palms toward the heavens.” The initial phrases of his prayer are a recollection of what God has done for Israel, and what God had promised David. The prayer wrestles with an existential question, one that David and God wrestled with earlier, “can God really dwell on earth?” At the temple at ‘Ain Dara (see background above) the builders carved into the portico floor a pair of footprints that indicated the presence of a person some 65 feet tall. This however is not Solomon’s intent – the Temple is not God’s literal home. 

An interesting passage (verses 33-34) that is elided from the liturgical reading we get a clue as to when this pericope was written. When your people Israel are defeated by an enemy because they sinned against you, and then they return to you, praise your name, pray to you, and entreat you in this house,listen in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel, and bring them back to the land you gave their ancestors.” This indication of the return from the captivity in Egypt would press a later date on when this work was written. What follows on that is an indication of the universalism that one begins to see during this period, Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land.” At this high feast of nationalism, Solomon is made to indicate that there is a welcome for the stranger as well. Would that our time understood this as well.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. To what have you dedicated your life?
  2. What do you think is missing in your dedication?
  3. Where do you find God in your world?

Psalm 84 or 84:1-6 Quam dilecta!

1      How dear to me is your dwelling, O Lord of hosts! *
My soul has a desire and longing for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh rejoice in the living God.
2      The sparrow has found her a house
and the swallow a nest where she may lay her young; *
by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts,
my King and my God.
3      Happy are they who dwell in your house! *
they will always be praising you.
4      Happy are the people whose strength is in you! *
whose hearts are set on the pilgrims' way.
5      Those who go through the desolate valley will find it a place of 
springs, *
for the early rains have covered it with pools of water.
6      They will climb from height to height, *
and the God of gods will reveal himself in Zion.
7      [Lord God of hosts, hear my prayer; *
hearken, O God of Jacob.
8      Behold our defender, O God; *
and look upon the face of your Anointed.
9      For one day in your courts is better than a thousand in my own 
room, *
and to stand at the threshold of the house of my God
than to dwell in the tents of the wicked.
10    For the Lord God is both sun and shield; *
he will give grace and glory;
11    No good thing will the Lord withhold *
from those who walk with integrity.
12    O Lord of hosts, *
happy are they who put their trust in you!]

This psalm brings a smile to my face. During my college years, the beautiful chapel at Concordia Senior College in Fort Wayne, Indiana, kept being besieged by sparrows who would find their way into a spacious interior. One day I saw a note from the maintenance staff next to a pile of seed. It said, “Please do not remove this poison seed – it’s for the birds in the chapel.” The next day, the seed was gone, and someone had replaced the note with a piece of paper with this verse, “The sparrow has found her a house and the swallow a next where she may lay her young; by the side of your altars, O Lord of hosts.”

The is a love song, for the words describing the emotional reaction on the part of the psalmist to the Temple border on the erotic. It is more than the author who feels this, but represents the longing in the hearts of the pilgrims who made their way to the temple. Emotions represent a key part of this psalms content, “Happy are the people.” To reach the temple mount from the east, from the Jordan River valley one has to ascend a series of rocky and desolate hills, thus the psalmist’s description of the “desolate valley”. The anticipation of the delight of being in the Temple is the phrase, “(they) find it a place of springs,” a surprise in the wilderness. Once there the pilgrim finds it a place better than his or her own room and chamber. 

Breaking open Psalm 84:
  1. For what do you long in life?
  2. What have you longed for that dissatisfied you?
  3. What has made you joyously happy?


Track Two

First Reading: Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18

Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:

“Now therefore revere the LORD andserve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt and serve the Lord. Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore, we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

In Joshua we are offered an account, or really accounts from at least two points of view on how the land of promise was gotten, and then how it was given out amongst the various tribes. These topics are addressed in two books of twelve chapters each. Our reading comes from the latter part of the second of these books. Its concern is the worship of YHWH alone. The people are encouraged to set aside any gods that may have accompanied them or their parents as they made their way to the promised land. The peoples’ response is a recollection of what God has done for them – the release from the slavery of Egypt and the salvation from other peoples who would have deterred their entry into Canaan. Written from the point of view of the Deuteronomist, this last section indelibly connects Israel with YHWH.

Breaking open Joshua:
  1. Who are our enemies?
  2. Who are your enemies?
  3. Is there reconciliation possible?

Psalm 34:15-22 Benedicam Dominum

15    The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, *
and his ears are open to their cry.
16    The face of the Lord is against those who do evil, *
to root out the remembrance of them from the earth.
17    The righteous cry, and the Lord hears them *
and delivers them from all their troubles.
18    The Lord is near to the brokenhearted *
and will save those whose spirits are crushed.
19    Many are the troubles of the righteous, *
but the Lord will deliver him out of them all.
20    He will keep safe all his bones; *
not one of them shall be broken.
21    Evil shall slay the wicked, *
and those who hate the righteous will be punished.
22    The Lord ransoms the life of his servants, *
and none will be punished who trust in him.

We have enjoyed a little lectio continua through the verses of Psalm 34. The comparison of the righteous and those who do evil continues. We should not be lured into thinking that we are beholding two separate individuals as we hear of the “righteous” and the “wicked”. Verse 19 seems to make it clear, although Robert Alter’s translation is unambiguous, “Many the evils of the righteous man, yet from all of them the LORD will save him.”[1]The psalm shoes the whole spectrum of our relationship with God. It is similar to Luther’s observation, “simil justus et peccator”at the same time justified and sinner. Beyond that there is the observation that those who oppose the righteous or righteousness itself will be held accountable for that opposition. But…there is salvation in those who look to God and take shelter in God. God is the one who shelters the downcast.
direction carefully.

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. In what ways are you righteous?
  2. In what ways are you wicked?
  3. How do you reconcile the two?

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore, take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

In the psalm we see the characteristics of the evil, and in this reading from Ephesians Paul calls upon us to do battle with those who espouse evil. These are strong images. First there is the armor – the shelter and power that God provides God’s own. The foe, however, is formidable. A small Paul list stuns us: “rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” As we struggle in our own time with evils that rob people of justice and dignity we realize that Paul’s time is very much similar with our own. The commentator I was reading for this pericope sees Paul’s list as only spiritual forces. I disagree – for even if they are spiritual forces they are still manifest in the earthly powers we see and read about in our newspapers. There might be an interesting discussion about what the protections that Paul proposes might mean in our time. What is the “whole armor of God?” What might describe it in terms that would be useful to us? The closing image is startling as we pan across from the armed believer to the suffering apostle. It is all of a thing.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What is your spiritual armor?
  2. Whom do you recognize in Paul’s list of powers that oppose us?
  3. How do you deal with these forces?

The Gospel: St. John 6:56-69

Jesus said, “Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him. And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. So, Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

This is the last Sunday in the Bread of Life series. As I said last week, this theology is all about incorporation – being a part of Jesus, being a part of God. We call this meal the Eucharist – but its essence is also well expressed in the word “communion.” Paul puts it so well in his first letter to the Corinthians, “The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not a participation (koinonia) in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” This is sum of what Jesus teaches us here. The direction of this thought has two directions – incorporation with the Father and the Son, and incorporation with the people of God who share the meal with us. In a time that looks askance at exclusiveness or elitism, we might find some of this challenging our political correctness. To be certain God calls all – to attend the feast and to be fed to follow in God’s ways. Some find this difficult. Apparently, some of the disciples did as well, although I think their objections were all about the flesh and the blood. Some left at this point. Peter’s quote, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” is used in the Lutheran Liturgy as an introduction to the Gospel Procession. It is a question for our age, “where shall we find you, O God.” The answer is embarrassingly simple – in the bread, and in the wine. 

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. Is the Eucharist the meal of the faithful only?
  2. Why?
  3. How does the Eucharist bring people together?

Point of Departure:             What is holiness? How does it connect or disconnect us?

First Question:                     If we follow God, as Joshua asks us to do – do we need to separate ourselves from others? (Track Two – first reading)
Second Question:                What does it mean to build a house of God? Who is invited to come in? (Track One – first reading)
Third Question:                   Who are those that we fight against? (Second reading)
Fourth Question:                 What does Jesus mean when he says that he is the way to God? (Gospel)

After breaking open the Word, you might want to pray the Collect for Sunday: 

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Questions and comments copyright © 2018, Michael T. Hiller

[1]     Alter, R. (2009), The Book of Psalms: A Translation with commentary, W.W.Norton & Company, New York, Kindle Location 3090.