The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 14, 12 August 2018

Track One:
II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
Psalm 130


Track Two:
I Kings 19:4-8
Psalm 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:25-5:2
St. John 6:35, 41-51

Background: Sons of David

You know about Solomon, and probably about Absalom, but who were the other sons of David. Amnon was his first born, whose mother was Ahinoam of Jezreel. He was killed by Absalom following his rape of Tamar, Absalom’s sister. Next was Kileab whose mother was Abigail. Absalom was the third, whose mother was Maacah, a princess. He was killed by David’s general, Joab, following an ill-fated rebellion against David. Adonijah is the fourth, born to Haggith, his mother. He was executed by Solomon. Adonijah was followed by Shepatiah, son of Abital, and Ithream, son of Eglah. Then come the sons born of Bathsheba, the unnamed infant who died at birth, Shimea, Nathan, and Solomon. There were nine others: Ibhar, Elishua, Elpelet, Nogah, Hepheg, Japhia, Elishama, Eliada, and Eliphelet, all born of other wives of David. 

Track One:

First Reading: II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

The king, David, ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom. So, the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword. Absalom happened to meet the servants of David.

Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

This royal history continues, moving past complicated political and familial history. The entirety of the eighteenth chapter plus the initial verses of the nineteenth comprise this story of David, and the rebellion of Absalom against him. The liturgical reading leaves out a great deal of the detail, perhaps for the sake of time. Thus, you are advised to read the entirety of the chapter to capture the emotion and political maneuvering that may be lost in the shortened reading. We have an aging king who no longer goes out to battle but remains sitting in his capital, Jerusalem. Indeed, he is discouraged by his troops from joining them.  David remains at the gate, the traditional place of judgment, and the place from which Absalom politicked against his father. David’s love is gentle in spite of the rebellion, and so Joab is urged to “deal gently”. The battle is between Israel (Absalom’s forces) and the servants (David’s forces). Israel loses the battle and Absalom loses his life. Absalom is captured in a wealth of symbols – his hair (his strength – compare with Samson) becomes his death sentence. His mule (a royal steed) is lost from beneath him, and he is cast nameless into a wilderness grave. The reading elides Joab’s stunning Absalom with sticks (darts is an incorrect translation), and cleverly spreads the guilt amongst ten of his soldiers so that he is not solely responsible for the king’s son’s death. 

The latter part of the reading reveals the complicated machinations that Joab makes in revealing the news to David. There are several messengers, one quickly following after the other. The first messenger waffles his message, so David beseeches the second, who shares the difficult news. 

Breaking open II Samuel:
  1. Why is this story important?
  2. How does it inform your life?
  3. Have you had grief such as David had?

Psalm 130 De profundis

     Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; *
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
     If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss, *
O Lord, who could stand?
     For there is forgiveness with you; *
therefore you shall be feared.
     I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; *
in his word is my hope.
     My soul waits for the Lord,
more than watchmen for the morning, *
more than watchmen for the morning.
     O Israel, wait for the Lord, *
for with the Lord there is mercy;
     With him there is plenteous redemption, *
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.

The first reading ends with the death of Absalom revealed to his father David. The initial phrase, “Out of the depths”, places us in the realm of death – the depths indicating the sea – Israel’s image of death. This isn’t indicated as a David psalm, but the framers of the lectionary see in its words a good connection to a contrite David, perhaps finally realizing the consequence of his sin. The sin of which the psalm seems centered is not the sin of an individual but rather the common sin of the nation. Thus, is Israel encouraged to “wait for the Lord,” and Israel is redeemed following its waiting.

Breaking open Psalm 130:
  1. What do you really need to tell God?
  2. Do you have the patience to wait upon God?
  3. What answers do you hope to hear?


Track Two

First Reading: I Kings 19:4-8

Elijah went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Elijah is running, and for a good reason. The pericope preceding this one is the account of Elijah’s contest with the priests of Ba’al, a contest that has infuriated Ahab the king, and his wife Jezebel (her name indicates her devotion to Ba’al). So, Elijah flees to Beersheba in the land of Judah. Though he has won his contest, he is overcome with fear and wishes to die. The goal of his contest was to convince Ahab and his foreign wife of the primacy of YHWH, but that does not work. We are meant to be convinced of Elijah’s sense of abandonment, his sojourn in the wilderness. One wonders if this scene doesn’t inspire the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness following his baptism. Angels come to address Elijah’s hunger and need. It is indeed “the bread of heaven.” The journey will be long for Elijah – he has more to do here.

Breaking open I Kings:
  1. Why is Elijah so fearful?
  2. Of what are you fearful?
  3. How might you be comforted in your fear?

Psalm 34:1-8 Benedicam Dominum

     I will bless the Lord at all times; *
his praise shall ever be in my mouth.
     I will glory in the Lord; *
let the humble hear and rejoice.
     Proclaim with me the greatness of the Lord; *
let us exalt his Name together.
     I sought the Lord, and he answered me *
and delivered me out of all my terror.
     Look upon him and be radiant, *
and let not your faces be ashamed.
     I called in my affliction and the Lord heard me *
and saved me from all my troubles.
     The angel of the Lord encompasses those who fear him, *
and he will deliver them.
     Taste and see that the Lord is good; *
happy are they who trust in him!

The liturgical reading lays aside the superscription of this psalm, which helps us to understand its despair and its resolve. The superscription is, “For David, when he altered his good sense before Abimelech who banished him, and he went away.” See I Samuel 21:14 for an account of this incident where David pretends to be a madman in order to escape the wrath of Achish (not Abimelech – a scribal or editorial error) the king of Gath. Despite its connection to David (this might work well with the Track One First Reading) we can substitute Elijah here. We see it especially in the eighth verse where an angel (a messenger) comes to assuage the fearful psalmist. The “taste and see” passage is a clear allusion to the bread that is the focus of these readings and serves as a restorative to Elijah.

Breaking open Psalm 34:
  1. From what do you need to escape?
  2. How have you served as a refuge for others?
  3. What does “tasting the Lord” mean to you?

Second Reading: Ephesians 4:25-5:2

Putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

In his continuing to give encouragement to the Ephesians to live and ethical life, Paul seems to be recasting the Decalogue for them: No falsehood, no stealing, no evil talk. Each of these attitudes is related to the neighbor, the second emphasis of the law of God. So, Paul encourages them to be “imitators of God.” God provides the example in giving them the example of Jesus the Christ. Thus honoring God, we are able to honor our neighbor as well, “liv(ing) in love.”

Breaking open Ephesians:
  1. Which of the commandments trouble you?
  2. How would you describe the ethics of your life?
  3. Why is our neighbor so important?

The Gospel: St. John 6:35, 41-51

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

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Gospel reading for this morning begins where last Sunday’s reading left off, “I am the bread of life.”Here, once again, familiarity breeds contempt. The one who offers the bread of heaven is distrusted because he and his family are known quantities. They grumble, and their ancestors did. Here, however, God does not rain bread down upon them but rather gives them knowledge and understanding. As Jesus says, “And they shall all be taught by God.”The bread that is offered by Jesus is not a normal facet of nutrition, but rather a food that leads to eternal life. Eat regular bread and someday you will die in spite of its goodness. Eat Jesus’ bread, and death will be passed over. We see a eucharistic connection in the last of the pericope, “and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Breaking open the Gospel:
  1. How was Jesus ordinary?
  2. How was Jesus extraordinary?
  3. What is the bread of life for you?

Theme for the Sunday:       Fleeing the Wrath

Exposition:                           The challenge of living as a Christian in a world that does not value spiritual bread.
Example 1:                            Fame and Power in the world are fleeting (Track One – First Reading)
Example 2:                            There are consequences to being a prophet (Track Two – First Reading)
Example 3:                            The need for patience and waiting in this world that expects immediate results (Track One – Psalm)
Example 4:                            The need to seek God and to taste God in spite of what others might think (Track Two – Psalm)
Example 5:                            Living a life that others can learn from (Second Reading)
Example 6:                            Seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary (Gospel)

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

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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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