The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 13, 5 August 2018

Track One:
II Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51:1-13


Track Two:
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15
Psalm 78:23-29

Ephesians 4:1-16
St. John 6:224-35

Background: Bread in the Ancient Israel

The standard thinking about bread was that farming preceded baking. As hunter-gatherers learned to sustain the grains that they sought for food through farming, it naturally followed that baking and bread would follow. Now it seems that the reverse is true – recent discoveries place the baking of bread some 10,000 years prior to the advent of agriculture. Ancient breadcrumbs have been found at hearth sites in the Levant. What was the importance of bread other than nutrition? Some of it may have been motivated by preservation and storage, and some by the ability to be digested. Each culture had some form of bread either liquid (beer) or baked as some kind of flatbread. In the traditions of Israel, yeasted bread could not be used at the Passover celebration to underscore the urgency of their leaving. Ancient grains were used to satisfy the needs of the people, einkorn, emmer, and two-rowed barley. Such grains have been found at the earliest levels at Jericho. What follows were chickpeas, wheat, and legumes. During the Persian period rice became available. From these basics, all forms of bread evolved and became a part of life, culture, and rite in Israel.

Track One:

First Reading: II Samuel 11:26-12:13a

When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against theLord.”

The first verses of our reading end the reading from last Sunday as Bathsheba learns of Uriah’s death and takes on the rites of the widow. But that is not the end of the story. Soon she is brought to David’s house as a wife and bears David a son. The consequences of these actions are soon brought to the attention of David in the remaining verses of this reading. We should not be under the impression that this is a private affair – far from it. Earlier in the pericope we witness the report of a messenger who has come from the front line at Joab’s request. He ends his report with, “and your servant Uriah the Hittite also died.” What is one man among so many? We might wonder. The messenger knows what it is that David wishes to hear.

The narrator of this story opines on the morality of David, “But the thing that David did displeased the Lord.” And soon the prophet Nathan is sent to deliver the judgment. He is clever in disguising his message in the form of a folk tale that will cause David to accuse himself. In the previous verses, David, as King, is sending messengers. Now it is God who sends a messenger – Nathan. There is in the midst of this tale a clear reference to the Bathsheba/David affair. The lamb was a member of the man’s household and used to “eat, drink, and lie”as a part of that household. Those verbs relate directly to the affair. The ultimate consequence is death, and so death will appear as the fate for the son of David and Bathsheba. This fate will be visited on other of David’s children. We hear the threat that will lead to next Sunday’s First Reading, “I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house.”

Breaking open II Samuel:
  1. How would you have confronted David?
  2. How have you been confronted for a wrong-doing?
  3. How did you respond?

Psalm 51:1-13 Miserere mei, Deus

     Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
     Wash me through and through from my wickedness *
and cleanse me from my sin.
     For I know my transgressions, *
and my sin is ever before me.
     Against you only have I sinned *
and done what is evil in your sight.
     And so you are justified when you speak *
and upright in your judgment.
     Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother's womb.
     For behold, you look for truth deep within me, *
and will make me understand wisdom secretly.
     Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
     Make me hear of joy and gladness, *
that the body you have broken may rejoice.
10    Hide your face from my sins *
and blot out all my iniquities.
11    Create in me a clean heart, O God, *
and renew a right spirit within me.
12    Cast me not away from your presence *
and take not your holy Spirit from me.
13    Give me the joy of your saving help again *
and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

The connection with the First Reading is made clear in the introduction to the Psalm which is elided from our reading this morning, “For the lead player, a David psalm, upon Nathan the propet’s coming to him when he had come to bed with Bathsheba.” To make it even more clear the verb “coming to” has a definite sexual overtone. There is no mistaking the content and import of this psalm. What follows then is a confessional psalm. Verse 6 is not only fodder for the Christian notion of original sin, “Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, a sinner from my mother’s womb,” but also for rabbinic thought on the lust that not only motivated David, but his father Jesse as well. There is a deep psychological yearning at the heart of this psalm that fears being separated from God. The sin that was put in place by a coming together is seed to a fear of being put apart.

Breaking open Psalm 51:
  1. What are your thoughts about sin?
  2. When did you first realize that you were a sinner?
  3. What did you do about it?


Track Two

First Reading: Exodus 16:2-4,9-15

The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’“ And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. The Lord spoke to Moses and said, “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning,  you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’“

In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.”

With this reading begins a series of “murmurings” in which Israel complains about what they see as misfortune in their being freed from Egypt. In this story their complaint is answered, for God has heard their murmurings and complaint. What is given is a surfeit of meat in the form of quail, and the gift of bread in the manna. The point of the reading for those reading and preaching, is not the murmuring, but rather God’s answer in the gift of bread – a tie to the Gospel for today.

Breaking open Exodus:
  1. What do you murmur about?
  2. Is it about what you need?
  3. How might it be resolved?

Psalm 78:23-29 Attendite, popule

23    So he commanded the clouds above *
and opened the doors of heaven.
24    He rained down manna upon them to eat *
and gave them grain from heaven.
25    So mortals ate the bread of angels; *
he provided for them food enough.
26    He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens *
and led out the south wind by his might.
27    He rained down flesh upon them like dust *
and winged birds like the sand of the sea.
28    He let it fall in the midst of their camp *
and round about their dwellings.
29    So they ate and were well filled, *
for he gave them what they craved.

In this psalm, you might want to read it in its entirety, we have an Israel that has forgotten. The psalmist enumerates all that they have overlooked – the parting of the sea, the freedom, the giving of water, and finally the answer to their question in verse 20, “Can (God) also give bread?” The psalm begins with the phrase, “Hearken, my people, to my teaching.” What is to be learned here? From their history, Israel is to learn what it means to be faithful to God, and to know again the kind acts of God’s goodness, and later God’s wrath. Our reading repeats with hyperbolic expansiveness what God did in the sending of the quail (which is likened unto a rain storm) and the plenteous gift of bread. There is an implicit sin in these verses, one of the seven – gluttony. They are filled with bread and meat, but, “They were not revolted by their craving (verse 30). The point of the psalms inclusion here is the review of God’s gift of bread, but it is set in a context of complaint and greed.

Breaking open Psalm 78:
  1. In what ways are you greedy?
  2. What is it that you crave?
  3. How do you deal with your greed?

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:1-16

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore, it is said,

"When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
he gave gifts to his people."

(When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.

The theme of this reading is that believers should lead a life worthy of their calling. The prayers and doxology are over and now we enter a series of ethical exhortations. Because of God’s goodness, rehearsed and given thanks for in the final verses of chapter 3, something new must be considered. The “therefore”that begins the following verses clues us into the connection between God’s graciousness and what is then expected of us. We don’t enter into this ministry empty-handed but rather complete with the gifts of the Spirit. Paul lists them for us as he is often want to do – “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ. We are called to be adult in our life in Christ, to “grow up in every way.” Paul introduces the idea of the body – an entity connected and joined together to be built up in love.

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. What gifts for ministry has God given you?
  2. How might you use them?
  3. What gifts have others used for you?

The Gospel: St. John 6:24-35

The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.” Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”

What follows in this Johannine series on the Bread of Life is a spiritualization of the bread. The people who “lost” Jesus find him again on the other side of the sea. But Jesus understands why they really seek him. ‘because you ate your fill of the loaves.” Like the Israelites in the psalm, there is an implication of greed and gluttony here. Jesus wants them to understand the spiritual nature of the gift of bread. They like Israel are a demanding lot. Here they demand signs and actions. Jesus wants them to see that the actions, indeed the bread itself is connected to God. The dialogue here reminds us of the conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well. It is a common craving for something that gives us life. Jesus, however, expands that vision so that we might have more than just life, but life!

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. What did the people really want?
  2. What do Christians today really want?
  3. What is the Church prepared to give?

Beginning Notion:    Dealing with the greed (wants) of our time.

Begin with:                 What are the problems for Christians as they live in a materialistic and capitalistic society?
Then:                            What are the true needs of those who seek after Jesus?
Then:                            Where do we find Jesus in what we have and own?
Then:                            How do we see the spiritual in our abundance?
Then:                            How do we live with our hunger and thirst, and with the hunger and thirst of others?
Finally:                        Where is the Eucharist in all of this?

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

Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always by your goodness; 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


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