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Bishop Michael Rinehart

Pentecost 9B – July 29, 2018 (Proper 12B, Ordinary 17B)

2 Samuel 11:1-15 – David and Bathsheba
OR
2 Kings 4:42-44 – Elisha feeds the people with 20 loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain

Psalm 14– There is no one who does good, no not one
OR
Psalm 145:10-18 – You open wide your hand and satisfy the needs of every living creature. (Ps. 145:17)

Ephesians 3:14-21 – I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.

Hymns: My Hope is Built on Nothing Less

Jesus, Maslow and Bread

A look at the next five weeks of bread texts from John

Okay, if you haven’t done so yet, it’s now time to decide what to do with the bread texts. Starting July 29, 2018 we have bread texts through August 23. Yes, five – count them – five weeks in John 6:

July 29, 2018 – John 6:1-21 – Feeding of the 5,000. Jesus walks on water.

August 5, 2018 – John 6:24-35 – I am the bread of life, whoever comes to me will never be hungry.

August 12, 2018 – John 6:35, 41-51 – I am the bread of life, the living bread which comes down from heaven. No one comes unless the Father draws, and I will raise you up on the last day.

August 19, 2018 – John 6:51-58 – Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them. The one who eats this bread will live forever.

August 26, 2018 – John 6:56-69 – Eat my flesh for eternal life. This is a difficult teaching; who can accept it? Does this bother you? Do you also wish to go away? Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life…

For those of us who are people of the lectionary (The Revised Common Lectionary that is, at least most of the time) this is a gauntlet. For the first-call solo pastor without an arsenal filled with years of exegetical notes, this can be a dizzying mountain to climb.

In my weekly lectionary notes today and in the next few weeks, I’m going to take the Bread Text Challenge, but before I go there, if you want some other options, there are plenty:

Option 1: Ignore the texts and preach on other topics I know, you were taught in seminary that this is heresy. Well, it’s not. Luther did it from time to time. He’d do a series on the Ten Commandments. They’d read the appointed readings, then ignore them. While I love the discipline of the lectionary, it’s not canon law. There are times to diverge. There have been many lectionaries and many churches that never use them. Talk to Brad Otto over at Messiah in Cypress, Texas.

In fact, sometimes I worry that preachers who cleave dogmatically to the lectionary don’t reflect enough on what their congregation, in this place, at this time, desperately needs to hear. I have heard some people, who super-spiritualize the lectionary, claiming that the lectionary readings magically always seem to address the current situation. Horse feathers. There is nothing magic about the lectionary. The Spirit blows when and where it wills.

So stop for a moment and think about your people. Think about your church. Think about current events. Write down five sermon titles with themes that your people seem hungry or thirsty to engage. What do they need? Don’t just preach about bread. Give them bread – the Bread of Life. Is your congregation in a season of growth? Is your congregation in a season of conflict? Have people in your congregation experienced tragedy? Has your community experienced tragedy? Are people choking on wealth? Are they buried in poverty? Do you have a lot of young parents? Singles? Seniors? What’s going to feed them spiritually? Pray about it. Make a list. You’re their spiritual leader. Build a five-week series on what you prayerfully discern they need to hear.

Option 2: Another option is to ask them what they need to hear. Make no commitments, but ask them what they’d appreciate hearing addressed. Have them share ideas on their welcome/attendance/communion cards. Filter the results, but be responsive. Ask online. Or do it the old-fashioned way and pass out 3×5 cards in worship. “If you could hear a sermon on any topic, what would it be?” There will be repeated themes. Take the top five answers. Save the others to prime the pump through the year.

Option 3: Or, if like me you’re a lectionary junkie, another option is to preach on the Old Testament readings (David and Bathsheba throughout the first four weeks), or the New Testament readings (Ephesians). The David story is narrative preaching at its finest. It encompasses sin, redemption, forgiveness, and the consequences of sin. Ephesians is about the body of Christ. It preaches justification by grace through faith, and then spends the final chapters teaching people how to live holy lives. Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called… Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another… Don’t get drunk with wine; get drunk with the Spirit… Put on the full armor of God… We could do worse.

For those who are going to take the Bread Texts Challenge, I am with you. Let us go boldly into the yeasty dough of John 6. Are you ready? Okay, let’s get into the series.

Maslow

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was a U.S. psychologist, who was frustrated with Freud. He felt his field tended to treat people like a bag of symptoms. He believed that Freud gave us the sick side of psychology. He wanted to provide the healthy half. Maslow’s parents were first-generation Russian Jewish immigrants. He understood basic needs, and stated these needs in secular psychological terms, not religious terms. Understanding this may help us speak the good news in terms that a secular society can understand.

Instead of studying mentally ill people, he studied exemplary people like Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt and Frederick Douglass. Rather than a model of sickness, he developed a theory of health.

His work led him to believe that one had to meet some basic foundational needs before one could aspire to higher things. For example, at the bottom of the pyramid are our physical needs. If one doesn’t have food, education is rather irrelevant. One will try to find food and water before one will start worrying about getting an education, or finding a spouse, or even concerning oneself with higher morality. Don’t try to speak about famine in Africa to someone in your congregation who is struggling to feed her children. One thing at a time.

Maslow's Hierarchy

The next level up is safety. If you’re living in a room where everyone is trying to kill you, you’re not going to have time to think about getting your MBA or starting a new business.

The top of the pyramid, level 5, Maslow called “self-actualization.” Don’t let the term worry you. He also called it “self-transcendence.” It’s reaching a level where one can be selfless, devoted to others and maybe even give one’s life for someone else. It’s at this level where we find creativity, morality and a desire to overcome bigotry. It’s about reaching ones full potential. By his criteria, very few people found their way into this category. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The next five weeks Jesus talks about bread. When Jesus talks about bread he means a lot of different things. In today’s gospel he multiplies five loaves of bread and two fish, to feed a large multitude of people. In today’s reading, bread is bread. Period.

But next week, Jesus says something interesting:

Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life…

In John’s gospel, Jesus always moves from the physical to the spiritual. In John 3, Nicodemus is talking about physical birth, but Jesus is talking about spiritual rebirth. In John 4, Jesus starts talking to the Samaritan woman about drawing water out of the well, then moves to talking about quenching the woman’s spiritual thirst for eternity. Later he heals a blind man, then starts talking about spiritual blindness.

In the same way, these next few weeks Jesus moves beyond talking about physical bread to feed our physical hunger. He shifts the conversation to talk about spiritual bread to feed our spiritual hunger, because, as he says, “People cannot live by bread alone.” Jesus calls us upward in Maslow’s hierarchy. We need more than bread don’t we? We need love, belonging, community, friendship, respect, hope, joy, and self-transcendence. We are hungry to learn how to become less self-centered, and more God-centered, more other-centered.

July 29, 2018 – John 6:1-21 – Bread is Bread: Physical Needs.

August 5, 2018 – John 6:24-35 – Bread Is All I Need From Day to Day: Safety

August 2, 2018 – John 6:35, 41-51 –Bread is Relationship: Love/Belonging

August 19, 2018 – John 6:51-58 – Bread is Hope: Esteem

August 26, 2018 – John 6:56-69 – Bread is Living Beyond Myself: Self-actualization

Two last words of introduction.

First, why not serve a different kind of bread for communion each of the five weeks of this series? Perhaps you could have people in the congregation bake different kinds of bread. Or, if this is not a good option in your context, have tortillas one week, pita bread another week, Hawaiian bread the third week, and some other kinds of bread the last two weeks. I must admit, I have a personal issue with communion wafers. They seem like a freakish byproduct of a bygone theology. In their minimalism, they don’t represent the fullness of the body of Christ or even bread. As C.S. Lewis once said, “I find it infinitely easier to believe this is the Body of Christ, than to believe it is actually bread.”

Second, why not use this series as an opportunity to practice sharing like the boy in today’s story? Call the local food pantry to find out what they need. Then take an in-kind offering for a couple of weeks. Then do a love offering for ELCA Hunger, Bread for the World, Lutheran World Relief, and/or other causes. Use this time of bread to share your bread.

Bread is Bread: Physical Needs

Here’s the text for this week:

John 6:1-21

After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. 2A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. 3Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. 4Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. 5When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” 6He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. 7Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” 8One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, 9“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” 10Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. 11Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. 12When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” 13So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. 14When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

15When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. 16When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, 17got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. 18The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. 20But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” 21Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

In your sermon you might begin with an introduction to the series, taken from the information above. Introduce Maslow and the hierarchy of needs. Then expound on the story. Finally, bring it home. What does this mean for us today? How are we going to respond?

A few weeks ago we read about a very different kind of feeding. Herod entertained a few of the rich and powerful in a party that ended up with the execution of John the Baptist. Women entertain the men for pleasure. The leftovers from Herod’s feast of death were gruesome: John’s head on a platter. Events like this are held every day in the world.

Jesus’ feast of life is the polar opposite. Jesus’ feeding not for the few rich and powerful, but for the masses. All are welcome, rich and poor, powerful and marginalized. The meal begins with the generosity of a young boy. (For a great video introduction, consider showing this: Two kids; one sandwich: The Sharing Experiment: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8h3FIA-2hhA).

The boy in our story begins with a simple, selfless act of generosity: He gives up his lunch. He has more than he needs, like in the video. He shares his five loaves of barley bread and two fish. Great movements of generosity often begin with a simple act of selfless kindness. If you want to think about how you are going to be generous in the future, have you considered asking a child?

The act of kindness snowballs and over 5,000 people are fed. Whether by the miracle of multiplication or the miracle of sharing, there turned out to be quite enough. When has someone’s act of generosity made a difference in your life?

What if we considered this story a microcosm of the world? We live in a hungry world. There are 870 million undernourished people in our world today, most in developing countries. An undernourished person is someone who doesn’t get enough calories to meet their basic physical needs. Many of these undernourished folks are malnourished. This means they will be so weak they will die of things for which we go to the drug store, like diarrhea.

So What? What is the Good News for us today?

There’s lots of Good News.

God cares about hungry people. The prophets cared about hungry people. Jesus cares about hungry people. There are over 2,000 passages in the Bible about the poor. If you are starving, if your children are starving, it is very hard to care about democracy. It is very hard to think about education.  Jesus casts a vision for the kingdom of God where everyone has enough to eat. Everyone has access to adequate health care.

Second, there is enough food in the world today to feed the whole world. There is more than enough food in the world for every human being to lead a healthy and productive life. People in developing countries are not hungry because they are lazy, or aren’t working hard. People in developing countries are some of the hardest working people in the world. Try subsistence farming some time. They are hungry because of poor wealth distribution, because of famines, because of corrupt governments and because of war.

Jesus has an answer for the problem of hunger, even physical hunger. It starts with sharing, like the little boy in today’s story. And that sharing goes on and on, so that unlike Herod’s corrupt dinner in which there is plenty for the few, and little for the masses, instead, there is enough for everyone. This is not socialism. It is not communism. It is “enoughism.” It is not everyone getting the same. It is everyone having enough.

How will we respond to this?

Jesus invites us to be a part of his vision in which everyone can have enough. Here’s what you can do.

  1. Pray for those who are hungry in the world.
  2. If you have enough to eat, commit to give at least 10% of your income to sharing with those who do not have enough.
  3. Bring some canned goods next week to donate to the local pantry.
  4. Come to the pantry to serve with us on August ___.
  5. Talk with your family about a gift for ELCA Hunger that we’ll take on August __ and __.
  6. Read up on hunger, locally and globally.

These are just starting points. In your prayers, God will lead you respond according to your gifts and resources. The Good News is God is inviting you to be a part of the healing of the world. God wants to use your gifts and resources to make a difference in the world.

The feeding of the 5,000 is more than just a story. It is a parable about the world. It is a parable about what God wants to do in our world, and is already doing. When we eat this bread today, we become a part of what God is doing in the world. Let’s be the little boy in the story, and see what God can do with our five loaves and two fish.

 

Pentecost 9B – July 22, 2018 (Proper 11B, Ordinary 16B)

2 Samuel 7:1-14a– David wants to build God’s house, but God will establish David’s house, his offspring.

OR 

Jeremiah 23:1-6– Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! The days are coming when I will raise up from David a righteous branch.

Psalm 89:20-37– I anointed my servant David, and my hand will always be with him.

OR

Psalm 23– The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. (Ps. 23:1)

Ephesians 2:11-22 – You uncircumcized were once strangers to the covenant, without hope, without God. You who were far off have been brought near. He has abolished the law with its commands and ordinances, that he might create one humanity out of two. No longer strangers.

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56 – Jesus to his disciples: “Come away to a deserted place and rest for a while.”

Hymns: No Longer Strangers (David Haas, from Gather), It is Well With My Soul

Pause

Long ago when I was learning to type, I used to delight in typing letters to my friends without pressing the space bar. Now when you don’t press the space bar you’ve got a real mess and there is much decoding to be done. It is the spaces in between that enable us to understand the message.                 

Life is very much the same. It is the spaces in between that help us understand life. But some of us keep forgetting to press the space bar. And why do we forget? Well, many of us have the disease that some doctors are calling hurry sickness.

–  Macrina Wiederkehr

Learn to pause or nothing worthwhile will catch up with you.

–  Doug Kling

Power of Pause coverA great book to read about the importance of taking time for rest, Sabbath, is The Power of Pause, by Terry Hershey. It might be a good book to read to prime your thinking for preaching on the gospel text this week. https://amzn.to/2uxV9LW

Jesus has a rough go of it in Mark 6. Preaching in his own hometown on the Sabbath, he is not received well. “Is this not the carpenter?” Mark never mentions Joseph, Mary’s husband, in his gospel. They ask if this isn’t the son of Mary, the guy with four brothers and some sisters. It’s a stretch to hear these brothers and sisters, and imagine them to be metaphorical, as some do, in the sense that we’re all brothers and sisters. He is astonished at their unbelief.

Jesus then sends the disciples out to preach repentance (like John), to anoint and heal the sick and to cast out demons.

Then Jesus’ forerunner, the prophet John, is beheaded. In Mark’s gospel, the earliest of the four gospels, no familial connection is mentioned between Jesus and John. John is simply a prophet who is baptizing with water, and announcing that another, greater prophet will be coming who will baptize with the Holy Spirit. Jesus is baptized with John, implying that perhaps Jesus might have, at first, been one of John’s disciples. It is important to note that Jesus does not begin his ministry in Galilee until after John is arrested (Mark 1:9), causing some to conjecture that Jesus’ ministry is, in part, sparked by John’s death. What if Jesus begins with the intention of carrying on John’s ministry in his imprisonment? Right away differences emerge, however. John’s disciples fast. Jesus’ disciples do not fast. In any case, the prophet who baptized Jesus is now dead. This must weigh heavily on Jesus and his disciples.

His poor reception in his hometown, the sending of the disciples and the death of John the Baptist have all likely taken it out of Jesus. He needs time away, and perhaps they do too, after teaching and healing in the villages of Galilee. We read, therefore, in this Sunday’s gospel:

He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.

When was the last time you went away to a deserted place by yourself to rest for a while? Whether you call this a retreat, a vacation or continuing education, Jesus invites you to take time away from the rigors of your life and ministry, “and rest a while.” This is an excellent text for this time of year, when kids are out of school and people are hopefully taking vacation, if they can.

An article in Fortune Magazine (http://fortune.com/2015/05/01/paid-time-off-vacation/) said most workers in the U.S. don’t take all their vacation time. The U.S. Travel Association found that U.S. workers generally leave five vacation days on the table. A Huffington Post article reported that 42% of U.S. workers took ZERO vacation time in 2014. Is it any wonder stress is the number one killer in the U.S?

We hear this news with bravado. “I don’t need vacation.” We then snap at our coworkers, suffer from health maladies and find ourselves angry, bitter and near burnout.

Consider this preachers: if we are going to be about the risky business of preaching a prophetic word, that might not always be received with joy, and if we are going to be carrying out a healing ministry in the community, where will we go to fill up when our tanks are empty? I am not just talking about pastors. I am talking about the risky ministry of all the baptized. In my book Learning to Pray Again: Peace and Joy Through an Ancient Practice, I make the case for daily prayer, weekly Sabbath and annual vacation. We need rest if we are going to do our very best work.

Jesus understood this. The text says that they were coming and going so much they barely had time to even eat. Sound familiar? There’s nothing wrong with being devoted to what you do. There’s nothing wrong with loving it. It becomes problematic when it starts eating away at you, or your relationships. Jesus knew his ministry and that of his disciples would deteriorate if they didn’t find time for renewal. If Jesus needed time away to recharge, isn’t it likely that we will too?

Does your congregation do an annual spiritual retreat? If so, this might be a great time to promote that event, and encourage people to make it a priority. Invite people to think through the year. When are they going to take time for prayer and reflection, fun and play? When are you? Plan it out now. Put it in your calendar. If you don’t, the pressures of daily life and work will come crashing in, and crowd out time for respite. Failing to plan is planning to fail.

The crowd sees them leave in the boat, and follows them around the lake on foot, so that when Jesus and his disciples reach the shore, the crowds are already there. You may feel this happen as well, as people follow you into your vacation, perhaps electronically these days. It would be easy to feel irritation, but Jesus feels compassion for them, sheep without a shepherd.

Our text skips over the feeding of the multitude. We will pick up that story next week, although from John’s gospel (also chapter 6). Today’s story picks up with another boat landing, and Jesus being mobbed by those in need of healing.

In a society without hospitals as we know them, itinerant healers were abundant. The line between medicine and religion was blurred. Prayer, touch, anointing, bathing and healing were all tied up together. What makes Jesus stand out is the fact that he is not charging for his services. This is not mentioned in Mark’s gospel, but Matthew makes it clear in his version of the sending  (10:8), “Freely you have received; freely give.” Jesus is giving away freely that for which the Temple authorities require a sacrifice, and the itinerant folks require drachmas. In other words, free healthcare is the centerpiece of Jesus’ ministry.

We get a picture of Jesus’ ministry. He’s not some hippie living off the land. He is very, very busy. He is mobbed wherever he goes. People are lining up. They’re even climbing the roof, digging holes and letting down the sick on stretchers. They’re desperate. Jesus and his disciples are working hard.

Second, we must see these events as conditions that lead to the miraculous feeding of the multitude. All of these events create the conditions for the miracle: his rejection in Nazareth, the planning, training and sending of the disciples, the death of his baptizer, being mobbed by those in need, being exhausted and needing rest. Perhaps the most amazing things God will do in our lives and ministry will be after the difficult, painful, seemingly impossible things.

So when the storms of life assail us, when the difficult things seem unbearable, when you are at the end of your rope and desperate beyond words, it may be at that very moment that the most powerful stuff will happen. To quote from 2 Corinthians, where we spent much of June…

But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.
–  2 Corinthians 4:7

Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me.
–  2 Corinthians 12:8-9

Mother Teresa says, “God cannot fill what is full.” And so we empty ourselves, sometimes by our own choice, other times, not, praying that God will fill us.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself…
–  Philippians 2:5-7a

Come away to a deserted place…

He gives power to the faint,
and strengthens the powerless.
Even youths will faint and be weary,
and the young will fall exhausted;
but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength,
they shall mount up with wings like eagles,
they shall run and not be weary,
they shall walk and not faint.
–  Isaiah 40:29-31

Be still and know that I am God.
–  Psalm 46

July 15, 2018 is Pentecost 8B

Pentecost 8B – July 15, 2018 (Proper 10B, Ordinary 15B)

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19– David dances before the ark in a linen ephod.

OR

Amos 7:7-15– Amos’ vision: God sets a plumb line amidst the people of Israel.

Psalm 24– The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof.

OR

Psalm 85:8-13 – I will listen to what the LORD God is saying. (Ps. 85:8)

Ephesians 1:3-14– The sentence that never ends: Blessed be God who chose us before the foundation of the world, destined us for adoption, as a plan for the fullness of time to gather all things in him…

Mark 6:14-29– Herod, Herodias and John the Baptist’s head on a platter.

Herod’s Banquet and Jesus’ Banquet

The gospels have us in chapter 6 for the rest of the summer. This week, July 15, and next week, July 22, we are in Mark chapter 6 for the Gospel reading. Then, we will be in John 6, July 29 through August 26, the bread texts. For the epistle text, having finished 2 Corinthians, we are now in Ephesians the rest of July and August through the 23rd.

The Bible is an intriguing book – a library of books really. There is wisdom and history. There are stories about life and death. There are dysfunctional families, broken people and stories of redemption. Underneath it all lies a message of incredible hope for the world that God created and loves with an everlasting love – a love that even death cannot destroy. Reading this book, and engaging the lives of real people is an incredible joy. Proclaiming hope in a culture that often exalts death is a privilege. Inviting people to live life with spiritual depth and awareness is a great passion for most pastors. Seeing them come alive and gather together around serving the world and following the way of Jesus is an honor.

Let’s look ahead to what’s in store for the rest of the summer. This coming Sunday we have the Herod’s banquet of death, at which John the Baptist’s head is served on a platter. We’ll contrast this with the Feeding of the 5,000 which is coming up in a couple of weeks. Next Sunday we have an introduction to the stories of the Feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus Walking on the Water, followed by the conclusions. We save the Feeding story for the following week.

This week’s text about Herod’s banquet of death must be considered together with the Feeding of the 5,000 which follows it. Mark has placed them side-by-side, intentionally. We will read the Feeding story in a couple of weeks (but from John’s gospel, the sixth chapter). This coming Sunday – Herod’s banquet. These are two very different meal stories, as Barbara Lundblad (http://day1.org/1259-two_very_different_banquets) and Gordon Lathrop (The Four Gospels on Sunday) have both so articulately pointed out.

Herod’s Banquet of Death

This story is not a “happy text” on which to preach, but it’s real. Rule by violent domination is the story of world history. Herod commands terrible power. He maintains that power by fear. Herod’s banquet is very different than Jesus’ banquet about which we’ll read in a couple of weeks.

Herod’s banquet is not in a deserted place like the Feeding of the 5,000, but in a “lavish place” as Lundblad points out. There is plenty. Excess even. It is a place of power. Call it a power lunch. There is plenty for a few, while the masses starve. Women are brought in to perform and pleasure the powerful men. A powerless prisoner is executed for entertainment. The leftovers are not twelve baskets of bread, but death and decay: John’s head delivered on plate, like a pig, like the final course. Important officials are invited. Herod’s wife is there, the one he stole from his brother, an act of power which John the Baptist denounced. Two kinds of leadership are contrasted: Herod’s and Jesus’ leadership.

Lundblad asks,

Is it possible to maintain an empire and feed people who are hungry? The leftovers of empire have almost always been destruction and death–even in the name of peace and security. There is always enough money for weapons, but never enough to feed those who are hungry. Into such a world, Jesus comes with an alternative vision.

We who live in the world’s most powerful empire must ask this question. When do the bloodly sacrifices of being an empire compromise our ability to serve the world, to be a blessing?

Jesus’ Banquet of Life

In contrast to Herod’s banquet, Jesus’ feast is in a deserted place – a place to which he took his disciples for rest, but the crowds followed. It is not in a lavish place, like Herod’s banquet. Those invited to Jesus’ feast are not the few, the rich and powerful; they are the poor, the lame, the blind, as in Isaiah’s prophecies. This is consistent with Jesus’ preaching (Luke 14:13).

Herod takes a lot and brings of it only death. Herod consumes. Jesus multiplies. Jesus takes a little and makes a lot of it. He spreads things out so that everyone has enough.

The Feeding is an apt parable for a hungry world. “That’s communism!” Someone said to me once. “No, it’s enough-ism.” It’s not about everyone getting exactly the same. That might not be fair. It’s about making sure everyone has enough, that’s all. This is not so radical a concept. It will not bring capitalism to its knees. People aspire to more than just “enough.” But clearly, there are many in our world who do not have enough. Half the world lives on $2/day. One quarter live on $1/day. The thing that drives me nuts is that we have the wealth and now the technology to feed everyone. We seem to lack the will. This is my sin too. Me having more is more important than everyone having enough. I reaffirm this self-centered reality with nearly every nonessential purchase.

In a wealthy society we want to sanitize Jesus, spiritualizing him to have nothing to say about the material. Any honest reading of the gospels will dispel this myth, but we’re pretty committed to it. “You give them something to eat,” is Jesus’ strong call to the disciples, right up there with, “When I was hungry you gave me food,” and “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

When we ponder the world’s need, like the disciples we moan, “The problem is just too big.” Lundblad comments:

Jesus knows we are perplexed, but my excuses are no better than those of the disciples! Jesus knew long ago what economists and hunger activists tell us now: we have everything we need to end world hunger. It would take $13 billion a year. That’s not even 3% of our defense budget.

What to do?

How might we live so that our churches look more like Jesus’ banquet than Herod’ banquet? What if our congregational meals were free to the poor? This is how the concept of the potluck emerged. Those who can bring, bring. Those who can pay, pay. Those who cannot, do not.

Here’s another idea. Why not collect food for a rainy day? Here in the Gulf Coast we face hurricanes annually. Most families need to save enough food and water to last 72 hours in case of a hurricane. Power will be out. Credit cards won’t work. Grocery stores and gas stations will be closed. What if our congregations saved food too? So when the storms come, we can share with those who have evacuated, or didn’t save enough food (or shell-shocked Northerners who have just moved down and haven’t figured out this is an annual event). We could bring canned goods and bottled water each week as part of our offering, and save it up for an emergency. Then, in the Fall, when hurricane season is over, we could share that food with the local food bank. Just a thought. This might be a great way to live into all the bread stories we’re going to be reading in August. What if, while reading about bread, we collect “bread?”

Stories like this may not be pleasant to hear, but they remind us of what the lust for power can do. Jesus invites us to imagine a different way of being in the world. Let’s invite our people to imagine and live into a Loaves and Fishes world, over a Herod’s platter world.

My Mom

Patricia Rinehart (May 26, 1936-July 1, 2018), was born to Mabel and Oscar Laycox on May 26, 1936 in Columbus, Ohio.

1942

In her teenage years she lived with her Aunt Ruth Paulselle, who supported her in high school and at Capital Univeristy. She later met her husband Warren Rinehart at Capital, while studying nursing. They married in July 1957. She supported Warren’s study at Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus.

She married my father Warren Rinehart in 1957, and was walked down the aisle by her brother, Donald Laycox, who lives in Florida and will turn 90 next year, April 2019.

1961 was a highlight with the birth of yours truly.

After serving in Edon, Ohio for Warren’s first parish call, they moved to Grand Blanc, Michigan in 1964 to plant a congregation called Holy Spirit Lutheran. They stayed 33 years.

My baptism:

My brother Paul’s baptism:

My sister Katie’s baptism:

The family circa 1972:

In 1974, Pat studied and attained her real estate sales license. Working at Piper Realty for most of her career, she was deeply passionate about helping people find their dream home.

Mom and dad at my graduation from Trinity Seminary in 1988:

1993, when grandson John Rinehart was born.

In 1997 mom and dad retired, moving to Leander, Texas, close to my sister Katie, and about three hours from where we live. They adjusted to retirement well.

Not long after that, we moved to Texas.

In 1998 mom and dad bought John a swing set.

This 2003 photo shows mom and dad with their three children, seven grandchildren, and in-law Thurman Warne, my wife Susan’s dad.

2004

2005

2006

2007

July 8, 2018 is Pentecost 7B

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10– The elders make a covenant with David and anoint him.

OR

Ezekiel 2:1-5 – Call of Ezekiel: Whether they hear or not, they shall know a prophet has been among them.

Psalm 48– The city of Zion is established forever.

OR

Psalm 123– Our eyes look to you, O God, until you show us your mercy. (Ps. 123:3)

2 Corinthians 12:2-10– Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

Mark 6:1-13– A prophet is not without honor except in his own country. Jesus sends the twelve two-by-two.

 

Week 5: Powerful Weakness

2 Corinthians 12:2-10

I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows. And I know that such a person—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat. On behalf of such a one I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses. But if I wish to boast, I will not be a fool, for I will be speaking the truth. But I refrain from it, so that no one may think better of me than what is seen in me or heard from me, even considering the exceptional character of the revelations. Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given to me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities for the sake of Christ; for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.

This is the last week in our series on 2 Corinthians, A Heart for Reconciliation. If you would like to read a post on the gospel text from Mark 6, check out this one by Pastor Don Carlson: July 8, 2012

earthen vessel

Second Corinthians has several natural breaks. The lessons in our first three Sundays came from chapters 1-7, which constitute a sustained argument for reconciliation. Last week our lesson came from chapters 8-9, which contained an appeal to raise money for the poor in Jerusalem.

Chapters 10-13, from which comes our final lesson, form Paul’s strongest argument. In rhetoric, one moves from the smallest to the weightiest arguments. There is a significant shift in the tone now. Paul mounts an all out attack on his opponents. The difference is so marked some scholars believe these last three chapters are part of a different letter that has been grafted on to chapters 1-9.

Ben Witherington III, in Conflict and Community in Corinth, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, believes chapters 10-13 belong to the original letter. He shows that Paul has been bringing up these opponents all along. In chapter 1, Paul responds to an accusation of waffling on whether he’s coming or not. Who is making the accusation? In chapter 2 (verse 17), he says he and his companions are not peddlers of the gospel “like so many.” This is clearly a jab at someone. In chapter 3, he mentions those who need letters of recommendation, and so on. He’s been bringing it up subtly. Now he will go on a full frontal attack.

In chapter 10, Paul says, “For they say, ‘His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible.’ Let such people understand that what we say by letter when absent, we will also do when present.” Paul is being critiqued in his absence.

In chapter 11:4-5, Paul says, “For if someone comes and proclaims another Jesus than the one we proclaimed, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you submit to it readily enough. I think that I am not in the least inferior to these super-apostles.” He names his competition now. They are “super-apostles.” In verse 13 he calls them false apostles. He then boasts of his weakness: beatings and shipwrecks, hunger and thirst. He concludes with a most humiliating experience: escaping punishment by being let down the city wall in a basket. In Acts, Luke uses this story to illustrate Paul’s cleverness. Here Paul himself uses it to describe his weakness. Witherington points out that the Romans gave an award for being first up the wall in a siege. Here Paul boasts of being the first down the wall.

This leads into our passage for today. Paul shares a vision story, an out-of-body (or possibly in-body experience, he’s not sure himself) experience, perhaps his version of his conversion. He tells it in the third person, but it is clearly autobiographical. In this vision he is taken up into the third heaven, which he calls “paradise.” There was plenty of speculation in Paul’s day about how many levels heaven had.

Paul seems to be saying that even though his opponents have had amazing visions, he too has also had visions and revelations, he just doesn’t boast about them much. In order to keep him from getting too puffed-up about his revelations, God gave him a thorn in the flesh. We don’t know what this thorn in the flesh is, though there has been no small amount of speculation over the last 2000 years. In Galatians, Paul mentions a problem with his eyes, which may also tied back to his conversion experience, where he was struck blind for a time. This fits well. Paul, however, also uses the flesh to talk about our sinful nature, so he could be talking about a moral failing he has.

Paul prayed for the thorn to be taken away, but God said “No. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” This is central to Paul’s theology. The more pride one has, the more one is puffed-up, the less one is in Christ. For in Christ, the power of God is made perfect in our weakness. This counters ancient ideas about power and Roman theologies about how deity works. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.” (1 Corinthian 8:1)

Paul is not powerful. He is not a big person. The only description of him we have is as a small, bald person. In fact the word Paul means “small.” He may have had some eye problems as referenced in Galatians 4:15. He had walked all over the Empire and been beaten numerous times almost to death. The power of the gospel came through his weakness, not through his strength.

Likewise, the strength of the church comes not through our pride or insisting of our own way, but rather through our humility, gentleness, kindness, and willingness to bear the sufferings of those in need. When the church rises up and demands its own way, insisting on its rights in society, it misses the power of the love of Christ to which it is called.

Jesus is a suffering messiah with a crown of thorns. His power comes through weakness. Paul is a suffering apostle with a thorn in the flesh. His power comes through weakness. How will it be for you, for me, and for the church? In the wake of Independence Day, we should give thanks that we are free to love, free to serve, free to give our earth and lives away for the sake of the gospel.

If there has been any recurring theme throughout 2 Corinthians it has been the heart. Do not lose heart. Open your heart. As we conclude this study of 2 Corinthians, let us follow Christ who taught us to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves, as the two greatest commandments. Let us remember that we hold this treasure in earthen vessels, so that we can remember that the power comes not from us, but through us.

Texts and Themes

Don’t Lose Heart
Pentecost 2B: June 3, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart.
Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

New Creation
Pentecost 3B: June 10, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Open Heart
Pentecost 4B: June 17, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Eager Generosity
Pentecost 5B: June 24, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Powerful Weakness
Pentecost 6B: July 1, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paulǯs out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

More Information on the Study of 2 Corinthians

 

Pentecost 6B – July 1, 2018

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27– David mourns for Saul, the glory of Israel, and for Jonathan: Your love to me surpassed the love of women.

OR 

Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24 – God did not make death. God does not delight in death. Death came into the world through the devil.

Psalm 130– I will exalt you, O LORD, because you have lifted me up. (Ps. 30:1)

OR

Psalm 30– God’s anger is for a moment; his favor for a lifetime. Weeping may tarry for the night but joy comes in the morning.

OR

Lamentations 3:23-33– The steadfast love of the lord never ceases. His mercies never come to an end. They are new every morning.

2 Corinthians 8:7-15– During a severe ordeal of affliction, the Macedonian’s joy and poverty overflow in a wealth of generosity.

Mark 5:21-43 – Inclusio: Jairus’ daughter and the woman with the 12-year hemorrhage.

Week 4: Eager Generosity

2 Corinthians 8:7-15

Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich. And in this matter I am giving my advice: it is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something— now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. For if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have. I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’

We are in a series on 2 Corinthians. (If you would like sermon ideas on the gospel text check out Pastor Don Carlson’s notes here: July 1, 2012.

Texts and Themes

Don’t Lose Heart

Pentecost 2B: June 3, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 4:13-5:1 – So we do not lose heart. Though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed daily.

New Creation

Pentecost 3B: June 10, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 5:6-10, (11-13), 14-17 – If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation. We walk by faith and not by sight, at home in the body and away from the Lord.

Open Heart

Pentecost 4B: June 17, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 6:1-13 – Now is the acceptable time; now is the day of salvation. We have endured beatings, riots, hunger, imprisonment…

Eager Generosity

Pentecost 5B: June 24, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15 – The offering for the poor in Jerusalem. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.

Powerful Weakness

Pentecost 6B: July 1, 2018 – 2 Corinthians 12:2-10 – Paul’s out of body experience, and his thorn in the flesh. My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.

More Information on the Study of 2 Corinthians

for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.
—2 Corinthians 8:2

Having concluded his appeal for reconciliation and affirmed his confidence in the Corinthian church, he now risks asking them to show their love, their heart, by taking up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. Paul reminds them that they made this commitment a year ago. He now exhorts them to make good on this offering that they already began.

Paul begins by boasting about the Macedonian Church, who gave generously in spite of their poverty. In the kingdom of God even the poor give to the poor. They gave beyond their means. Keeping up with the Joneses was clearly a tactic even two thousand years ago.

As our text begins, Paul butters up the Corinthians by telling them how much they excel in faith, speech, knowledge, and eagerness. He says he is not commanding them, but he makes it clear his is a test of their genuineness. One might interpret this as a test of their integrity. In the second part of his argument, chapter 9, Paul even incorporates a veiled threat that he is going to come down and visit in person to check on them.

This appeal also cements Paul’s argument for reconciliation. If the collection happens, it will solidify the relationship between Paul and the Corinthian church.

Then in verse nine he appeals to Christ’s poverty. Ben Witherington III, in Conflict and Community in Corinth, A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary on 1 and 2 Corinthians, says this may even be a hymn or a creedal formula:

For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ,
that though he was rich,
yet for your sakes he became poor
so that by his poverty you might become rich.

This does indeed sound like the Christ Hymn in Philippians 2.

This offering will create a sense of indebtedness for the Jerusalem church. It will bond the Jewish Christians and Greek Christians together. Witherington points out that patronage is taken very seriously in antiquity.

When Paul says, “… if the eagerness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have.” He means a gift of any size is acceptable. This should not create a hardship for you. Today we would say, “It’s the thought that counts.” He is calling for fairness. Verse 15 says:

As it is written,

‘The one who had much did not have too much,
and the one who had little did not have too little.’

Compare this to Exodus 16:18 to which Paul is referring: “But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.”

Generosity to the poor is an ongoing theme through the Gospels and the letters of the New Testament. For Paul, generosity is one of the fruits of faith. It is a confirmation that God is at work.

The church always practices generosity. When people say, “The church is always asking for money,” I want to respond, “Yes. Every Sunday. This is who we are.”

What offering is your congregation undertaking on behalf of those in need? How might our generosity test the genuineness of our faith? This might be a good Sunday to launch an appeal for the poor, for world hunger, store for some other cause to benefit others. It is a good week to remember that Christ was rich, but became poor for our sakes.

Tell a story about a time you were surprised or moved by an act of unexpected generosity. Here’s mine.

A few years ago, I booked a flight to Lima, where we work with some partner congregations. I had booked the flight late and ended up having to change planes in Mexico City. I also had a middle seat. I hate the middle seat. I have long legs, but I refuse to foot for a first class seat. I hoped that perhaps one of the folks to my right and left would be absent so I could spread out.

When I got on the plane, there were two huge guys in the window and aisle seats, and they were together. As I made my way down the aisle, I saw that they had soul patches, tats, and piercings. When I arrived at the seat and looked down, they had their arms on the arm rests, and gave me a look that said, “Don’t even think about it.”

I put my stuff in the overhead compartment and squeezed into the middle seat with my hands in my lap. Stuffed between these two big guys I thought, “What would Jesus do?”

So I asked the guy to my left, “Where are you going?” He said, “Me and my buddy work in the Medical Center.” He patted a wad of bills in his pocket. “We’ve been saving up all year to go to Aruba. We’re going to lay on the beach, drink beer, and hunt for women.” Then he asked, “What are you going to do?”

I thought to myself, boy am I going to ruin his day. I said, “Well, I’m going to Lima, Peru with a group of Lutheran Churches from the Houston area. Lima is one of the poorest countries in South America. Half of the people live under the poverty level. We’re going down to visit with these churches and do a Vacation Bible School for 500 children in the heart of Lima. We’ve been saving up too, and this is one of the best weeks of my year.”

I went on, because I’m passionate about it. You don’t want to sit next to me on an airplane. I’m an extrovert. He didn’t say much. He probably got tired of listening and regretted not purchasing the middle seat.

We finally landed in Mexico City. As I got up to leave, he grabbed my elbow and said, “Wait a minute.” He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wad of bills. One by one, he started putting large bills into my palm. Then he closed my hand and said, with a sober look on his face, “Please use that for those children in Lima.” I did.

Over the years I have reflected on that brief experience. I don’t recall the guy’s name. I’ll most likely never meet him again. I’ll never know what happened in Aruba. I have landed on two conclusions that have stuck with me.

First, never judge people based on how they look. We tend to group people into two groups: good or bad, nice or not nice. Life is more complex than that of course. We’re all full of mixed motives and conflicting choices. Here is this guy going down to Aruba to do God-knows-what, and yet, something inside him has a heart for the things God cares about: the poor, the children, and the vulnerable. He sensed that this was something that was important, something that mattered. Something touched his heart, the stirrings of the Spirit? Where might this lead?

Second, whenever God touches your heart, God also touches your wallet. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. The two often track one another. Once this guy’s heart was touched, he instinctively responded with his wallet. No one had to teach him the ten principles of stewardship. He knew what to do. When something matters, you want to be a part of it. Giving is one way we can participate. When the Spirit begins to stir, there is always generosity. Alternately, when there is extravagant generosity, you can be pretty sure the Spirit is as work.

 

 

 

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