Sermon Seeds: Building Up the Body
Eighteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B
Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13)
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a with Psalm 51:1-12 or
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 with Psalm 78:23-29
Worship resources for the 18th Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B, 11th Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 13) are at Worship Ways
Additional reflection on John 6:24-35
Building Up the Body
by Kathryn Matthews
Paul (or one writing in his name) writes the Letter to the Ephesians from jail to the church beyond prison walls, exclaiming, “How blessed is God! Long before [God] laid down earth’s foundations, [God] had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of [God’s] love, to be made whole and holy by [God’s] love” (Ephesians 1:4; see Eugene Peterson’s beautiful and easy-to-understand version of this entire letter in The Message).
These elegant words, from the first chapter of the epistle, set the stage appropriately for Paul’s exhortation from jail to the church that walks free and empowered, not only long ago but today, in our time and in every setting of the church: Be reconciled, be one, be strong, strive to be worthy of your calling!
Called to be one
Our passage today is a moving reminder to us in the United Church of Christ of who we are, and who we are called to be as followers of Jesus, to understand “what we are living for.” Within our own congregations and within our denomination, we are called to be one, to be reconciled, to be strong, to strive to be worthy of our calling.
And yet we are called to seek that same unity across congregational and denominational lines, too, to reach out to our Christian sisters and brothers and to find common ground, common hope, common calling. All of this is to bear witness to the loving God who “laid down the earth’s foundations,” thinking of us, focusing an immeasurable love on us, intending for us to be whole and holy through the power of that love.
God is working through us
That power doesn’t come from within us as our own resolve or determination or intelligence. This wasn’t our great idea; it’s God’s dream for us. This dream won’t happen because we make it happen; God is bringing it to fulfillment. We participate in the great unfolding of God’s plan for the world.
This is, indeed, really good news: God’s own power “at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20, last week’s Epistle reading), so we never need to feel overwhelmed or overpowered, because God’s power is limitless and it’s at work within us, always. We may think we dream big and aspire for great things, but God’s power is already working towards a dream far bigger and greater than anything we’ve thought of or imagined.
What an incredible statement that is, and it sets up today’s reading, which begins with such a significant “therefore”: “I, therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called…”(4:1 NRSV).
Called to remember, or rather, to un-forget
Paul’s exhortation is rooted in all that he has laid out, including the amazing illustration, as he sees it, of the reconciliation between Jews and Gentiles, bridging the gap so that Gentiles “have become fellow heirs, members of the same body and sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (3:6 NRSV).
Reconciliation calls us to remember, to recall, to “un-forget” that we are one, deep down, that there is one body and one Spirit and one hope, and that all our divisions and discord are marks not of God, or of God’s dream for us, but of human failing, human pride, human striving against that dream.
Years ago, I read that the word anamnesis, which means recalling or remembering, can also be translated as “un-forgetting,” and that does sound more fitting when we look closely at the word itself, and connect it with “amnesia,” or loss of memory. Often, it feels as if we once knew something deep in our souls but our heads have forgotten it, or we have forgotten to live our lives by its truth, and we need to “un-forget.”
Learning to walk the talk
Our reading from Ephesians is a good illustration of how important it is to “walk the walk” in addition to “talking the talk.” In fact, Carl R. Holladay says that the phrase “lead a life” in Paul’s exhortation is a translation of the Greek for “walk” (Preaching through the Christian Year B), so walking the walk is a good way to imagine and embody our call as Christians.
How easy it is to think that talking, preaching, and proclaiming are all there is to it! How much more difficult it is to live a life worthy of our calling, in humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance. Very little in our culture today exhorts, supports, or even permits us to lift up such virtues when the goal of life is to acquire everything we can and to get ahead of everyone else.
Perhaps that brings home best the clear difference in Paul’s claim that Jesus is our one Lord, for, as John Dominic Crossan says in much of his work, “If Jesus is Lord, Caesar is not” (see, for example, In Search of Paul). “Caesar” today may be materialism and greed, militarism and violence, pride and self-righteousness, as individuals and as communities, too. All of these things, Paul would say, are unworthy of the calling to which we have been called.
Embodying the prayer of Jesus
Given our growing appreciation of the richness of our diversity, perhaps it is a challenge at the same time to tend to a deep and abiding unity in the midst of that diversity, the unity to which we are called by God. The United Church of Christ, for example, has historically strived to more fully embody Jesus’ prayer that we all may be one, even while respecting the very different theologies and experiences that thrive within our church. How might these diversities actually lead to deeper unity and more profound beauty?
We might think of a bouquet of flowers, which can contain simply one kind of flower, or perhaps better, it may be an arrangement, a spilling-over of many different flowers. It is still one bouquet, and one beauty, even if the flowers are of many different colors, sizes and shapes. In the same way, there are many different, wonderful and often-overlooked gifts thriving in the beauty of each congregation and in the whole United Church of Christ. How does it feel to be one of the saints being equipped for ministry?
Childlike not childish faith
Do you think of childlike faith as a good thing? If so, how can we also, as Paul exhorts us, “grow up in every way”? One example of such “growing up” may be in our approach to Scripture, taking the time to study and learn how to read it as an adult–with, as Marcus Borg suggested, “post-critical naivete” (see Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time, and Reading the Bible Again for the First Time).
Perhaps one of the most challenging phrases in this rich reading is “speaking the truth in love.” How is the truth spoken in your church? How often is “the truth” in Christianity spoken with judgment, resentment, and anger? The virtues mentioned earlier in this letter (humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance) make us more skilled at speaking the truth in love, and such love and truth may lead us to greater unity.
How much do we dare ask or imagine?
Several years ago, the stewardship theme of the United Church of Christ was taken from the Ephesians text preceding today’s reading: “Far More than All We Can Ask or Imagine.” How does a text like this reading from the letter to the Ephesians lead us to greater commitment to our local church, to the wider church, and to the spiritual discipline–or gift–of generosity as an expression of that commitment?
What amazing things–beyond your imagination–is God accomplishing in love through the generosity of the members and congregations of the United Church of Christ? How does the passion found in Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians free us to greater giving and to greater hope?
The Rev. Kathryn M. Matthews retired in 2016 after serving as dean of Amistad Chapel at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland, Ohio.
You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments below the post on our Facebook page.
A Bible study version of this reflection is at Weekly Seeds.
For further reflection:
Gwendolyn Brooks, 20th century
“We are each other’s harvest; we are each other’s business; we are each other’s magnitude and bond.”
Eleanor Roosevelt, 20th century
“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must not let that happen here.”
Margaret Fuller, 19th century
“Harmony exists no less in difference than in likeness, if only the same key-note govern both parts.”
Joan Chittister, 21st century
“In community we work out our connectedness to God, to one another, and to ourselves. It is in community where we find out who we really are….It is easy to talk about the love of God; it is another thing to practice it.”
William Sloane Coffin, 20th century
“Human unity is really less something we are called on to create than simply to recognize and make manifest.”
David J. M. Coleman, 20th century
“Christian community is a ‘thin place.’ Time and space matter less than the solidarity of God with us, and between those who share God’s calling.”
Terry Tempest Williams, When Women Were Birds: Fifty-four Variations on Voice, 21st century
“I believe in the power of a loving community to render miracles….”
Augustine of Hippo, Confessions, 4th century
“The Bible was composed in such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them.”
H.G. Wells, Love and Mr. Lewisham, 20th century
“There’s truths you have to grow into.”
While the lectionary next week continues a five-week series of readings from the Gospel of John on the Bread of Life, this week is the second of only two weeks that we’ll reflect on that theme. Last week, we heard the story of Jesus multiplying bread (and fishes) to feed a huge crowd on a hillside (with plenty left over), followed by his mysterious, walking-on-water appearance to the disciples, in a boat during a storm. Both of those stories, on their own, could teach us something about who Jesus is: the One who feeds and comforts us.
However, it seems that John doesn’t want us to read, or hear, these stories on their own, but as part of a larger story, one that resembles several that we’ve heard before. This is one way that John wrestles with the profound question of Jesus’ identity, and what it means to have faith in him.
Perplexed but interested
Remember Nicodemus in chapter three, who couldn’t get his mind wrapped around the whole notion of being “born again”? He got stuck on the image (or sign) and missed the deeper meaning. And then there was the Samaritan woman at the well in chapter four, who struggled a bit (but not as badly as Nicodemus, the learned leader) with the idea (or sign) of “living water.” In both cases, and in today’s reading as well, the listener-learners are perplexed but earnestly interested in what Jesus has to say.
And in each case, Jesus speaks at length in ways that we might admit confuse and confound not only his conversation partners but those of us who read the Gospel of John today. We still hear the echoes of the poignant questions and pleas they raise: “How can these things be?” (3:9). “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (4:15). “Sir, give us this bread always” (6:34). The questions and pleas echo in our own hearts as well.
Feeding the people
Scholars generally agree that the story of the loaves and fishes is also a “sign” that points to other things: the feeding of the Israelites with manna when they were wandering in the desert, for example, and the meal that we Christians share in memory of Jesus, but most of all, to Jesus as the Bread of Life, the source of our life, in the deepest meaning of that word. The Jewish people following and questioning Jesus have manna on their minds: what kind of gift from heaven could Jesus provide?
They also want some clarification about just who this Jesus thinks he is. This is not an unreasonable request; John Pilch points out that, in their tradition, true prophets had to back up what they were saying with amazing works, or “signs”–it’s how they proved themselves (The Cultural World of Jesus Year B).
Of course, we might point out (from our supposedly superior vantage point of having read the rest of the story) that the crowd had just witnessed an amazing sign on the hillside the day before, when five loaves and a few fishes fed a multitude.
Making sense of Jesus
Perhaps it’s even more ironic that the very sign they ask for recalls the feeding of their ancestors with manna in the wilderness. However, in reaching back to this moment in their history, the people are trying to make sense of this Jesus, this teacher who clearly upsets all their categories and understandings. Wayne Meeks says that they’re trying to figure out Jesus–we might say, “get a handle on” what he was about–“by using the best tools their religion supplies: the evidence of miracles, tradition, and Scripture.”
But these tools don’t work too well in this situation, Meeks says, especially the miracles, which, instead of faith, more often seem to bring “confusion, division, and hostility.” (We know that throughout the Gospels, anger at Jesus builds in response to his miracles, at least in some quarters.)
Jesus meets their question about manna by up-ending their presuppositions and their traditional understandings. Meeks describes Jesus’ response in verse 32 this way: “The subject of the sentence, he says, is not Moses, but God, and the tense needs to be changed to the present: Do not read, ‘Moses gave…,’ but ‘God is giving'” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).
What kind of hunger?
We can’t know what was in the hearts and minds of the people following Jesus around, asking him questions, asking him for bread (or living water, or understanding). Scholars seem to think that the crowd had their minds on their stomachs, while Jesus had his mind on something much more important, much deeper in significance.
For example, Dianne Bergant says that Jesus knows why the crowds are there, and it wasn’t for spiritual or religious reasons (if we differentiate between the two), but because they were hungry, and they knew Jesus could and would feed them.
However, Bergant observes that Jesus expands their understanding of their physical hunger to encompass a greater, spiritual hunger, and “a different kind of food” (Preaching the New Lectionary Year B). With Christopher Morse, we might wonder, “Are they after him to have their ‘fill of the loaves’ but not the fulfillment of their lives?” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).
Signs and bread and faith
The people ask for signs and bread, and Jesus talks about faith. Not just faith, actually, but bread, too, but not bread in the same sense that the people mean. He exhorts them to have faith, to believe, in the “bread” that God gives right there, right before their eyes, because God has given them Jesus himself. This is not an easy thing to grasp, so they try to figure out what they have to do in order to get this bread “that endures for eternal life” (v. 27).
Fred Craddock writes that “they still want to be in charge, even of faith itself. Show us a sign, we will see, we will weigh the evidence, we will draw the conclusions, and we might even decide to believe (v. 30)” (Preaching through the Christian Year B). Does that sound like us, at least sometimes?
Perhaps Craddock’s words make faith sound more intellectual than it is, because it’s really much more than “intellectual assent,” Pilch writes, “but authentic Mediterranean commitment, loyalty, and solidarity. Stick with Jesus no matter what!” (The Cultural World of Jesus Year B).
What kind of food?
Perhaps there is a tension here, between the two different meanings of the word “bread.” We may be tempted to see the spiritual meaning as somehow deeper and more to the point, more significant, more valuable than the physical meaning. However, in the life of Christian faith (commitment to Jesus, no matter what), there isn’t such a far distance or sharp divide between the two kinds of bread, the two kinds of hunger.
If we read the story of the loaves and fishes as a sign, pointing to the profound reality of the gift of God in Jesus (John Pilch says that “The gift and the giver are one and the same”), we most likely do so on a full stomach. “Yet,” Pilch observes, “it is difficult to think lofty thoughts when one’s stomach growls from hunger” (The Cultural World of Jesus Year B).
Choosing the church for our own “needs”
Benjamin Sparks has written an intriguing commentary on this text in which he compares the crowds to “those who see faith and church membership instrumentally, as something they can choose for themselves to use for their own needs or to pursue their own interests.” Certainly it’s possible (and perhaps too common) for us to shop like consumers for the church that meets our own needs best, and it’s no wonder that this also affects our stewardship, for example.
However, Sparks goes on to suggest the following as “all the wrong reasons” to invite people to church: “for the ‘right’ kind of worship; for political engagement on behalf of the poor and downtrodden; for the sake of a Christian America; for a strong youth and family ministry; for the opportunity to practice mission in a downtown location, or to go on mission trips to Africa or Central America.”
Why should you come to our church?
Now, several of those seem to me to be very good reasons to invite someone to become part of the life of the church. However, Sparks claims that we offer something much greater than all of these, “‘soul food,’ which lasts forever and does not change with the changing circumstances of the church or the world.”
Sparks says that this is the kind of food that will nourish us even after our physical hunger is satisfied and the world is as it should be. He even calls the gospel preached by North American Christians “a broken, truncated gospel” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3). As I said, it’s an intriguing commentary, and one that might inspire some lively conversation in a group of pastors and church leaders.
A spiritual question
If there is a tension here, it may reflect a theology broken in two, or perhaps a false dichotomy, that separates “lofty thoughts,” “soul food,” and “deeper significance” from the reality of sisters and brothers who are hungry. Nikolai Bordyaev’s words are haunting: “The question of bread for myself is a material question, but the question of bread for my neighbor is a spiritual question.”
Even more wrenching is the testimony of an American woman in Haiti: “[In Haiti] I have seen a little girl try to ease her hunger by eating dirt. When I approached her, she covered her lips to conceal the mouthful of grit and pebbles, but tiny telltale stones glistened on her lips and chin….I feel so stirred and inspired by Crossan’s description of Jesus as a radical egalitarian who broke down barriers to celebrate table fellowship with all manner of people. I just wish we could set a table for the little Haitian boy who cried in my arms last night….I asked him why he looks so sad. He burst into tears, eyes full of pain, and whispered, ‘I’m hungry'” (in John Dominic Crossan and Richard G. Watts, Who is Jesus?).
I can hardly type those words and move on.
There is always good news
If there is good news, and we believe that there is always good news, it’s that there is no such split, no broken theology, no false dichotomy, in Jesus. The One who, in Luke’s Gospel, announced his “agenda” with words from Isaiah about bringing good news to the poor and setting the oppressed free, is the same One who, at the end of this passage in John (but the beginning of a long lesson), says, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (6:35).
Fred Craddock also reminds us that Jesus didn’t neglect the physical hunger or suffering of the people even as he preached the good news of the reign of God and the Bread of Life, and we in the church should follow his example (Preaching through the Christian Year B).
How do we proclaim the gospel?
If Sparks believes that we have slipped into the trap of the consumerist culture by meeting the needs (demands?) of those who come through our doors rather than “proclaiming a gospel that offers us faith in the only begotten Son,” we might examine more closely how we go about proclaiming the gospel: are we, as he claims, “good marketers rather than true witnesses” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3)?
Or is a true witness someone who, like Jesus, tends to the urgency of empty stomachs even in the midst of responding to spiritual hunger? I’m nagged by a sense of un-ease at theological conversations held without sensitivity to the hunger of children in this very city, and in nations around the world, while we live in a land of excess where our surplus could feed those hungry mouths.
In Louise Murphy’s novel, The True Story of Hansel and Gretel, these words about hunger are echoed by what the children, indeed the whole Polish village in the story, experience during World War II, waiting in terror under the Nazi boot for “freedom” once the impending Russian advance drives their occupiers out. (Of course, history tells us how that turned out.)
How terrible it is to consider the suffering of children! Pilch’s words are so true, about the difficulty of theoretical conversations on an empty stomach, and we should feel uncomfortable as well about having them on a full one.
Inspiration and caution
The Gospel of John is a challenge to preach, and William Willimon provides inspiration and wise caution. When he reminds us that “the spiritual is incarnational, tied to the stuff of this life, present, here, now” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3), it sounds right that we come to the table hungry in more ways than one, and leave it to feed a world that is hungry in more ways than one, engaging in those things that Sparks mentioned: right worship, youth ministry, urban ministry, mission trips, and so on.
Aren’t we walking in Jesus’ footsteps, if not on water, at least in our own world and our own time, seeking to bring good news to the poor, and to set the oppressed free? Isn’t that what Pilch’s “commitment, loyalty, and solidarity” with Jesus look like, incarnated?
A difficult truth
Willimon’s reflection may give the preacher pause as we approach this text and the whole Gospel of John. He cautions us strongly against the urge to over-simplify a deeply complex text and Gospel, or even suggesting that we in our great wisdom and understanding can clarify what may not have been expressed clearly enough in the passage.
No, Willimon says, the Johannine Jesus “is not trying to obfuscate the truth but rather to reveal a difficult, counterintuitive, countercultural truth” (Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol. 3).
Music may convey it better
It does seem that too many words, too many ideas and statements, too much explanation, makes this passage heavier than it really is. In that case, music may speak to our hearts better than long sermons and commentaries, just as the table itself, and our sharing of this bread of life, lead us deeper into the mystery, and the gift, of Jesus.
In his beautiful song, “I am the Bread of Life,” John Michael Talbot doesn’t “simplify the complex” but he does speak to the heart–our own hearts, and the heart of this passage, describing the way the bread we share reveals God’s love to us, and heals our brokenness as well. This is true of communion, of course, but it’s also true of the food that we share with one another, especially with those in need. I can not erase from my mind, or my heart, that image, that voice, of a child crying in hunger.
God’s love revealed in bread
God’s love revealed to us, to all. Perhaps the best way to approach this “difficult, counterintuitive, countercultural truth” is to end with a question. According to Adele Stiles Resmer, scholars suggest that the text really should end with the crowd’s request, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
If we departed from the lectionary there, instead of ending with Jesus’ comforting words, Resmer writes, we would be left with a very different feeling, “a sense of openness” to Jesus, who surprises us just as he often surprised the crowds, and his own disciples, long ago (New Proclamation Year B 2006). We might find ourselves with the crowd once again, hungry for more, hungry in more ways than we know how to express.
For further reflection:
Mahatma Gandhi, 20th century
“There are people in the world so hungry, that God cannot appear to them except in the form of bread.”
Mother Teresa, 20th century
“There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.”
D.T. Niles, 20th century
“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”
Bishop Desmond Tutu, 20th century
“I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”
Victor Hugo, 19th century
“The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal.”
Barbara Kingsolver, The Poisonwood Bible, 20th century
“Hunger of the body is altogether different from the shallow, daily hunger of the belly. Those who have known this kind of hunger cannot entirely love, ever again, those who have not.”
Elie Wiesel, Night, 20th century
“Bread, soup–these were my whole life. I was a body. Perhaps less than that even: a starved stomach. The stomach alone was aware of the passage of time.”
2 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 the Lord.”
Have mercy on me,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly
from my iniquity,
and cleanse me
from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone,
have I sinned,
and done what is evil
in your sight,
so that you are justified
in your sentence
when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth
in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom
in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop,
and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be purer
Let me hear joy
let the bones that you have crushed
Hide your face
from my sins,
and blot out
all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart,
and put a new and right spirit
Do not cast me away
from your presence,
and do not take your holy spirit
Restore to me the joy
of your salvation,
and sustain in me
a willing spirit.
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.”
Yet God commanded
the skies above,
and opened the doors
God rained down on them
manna to eat,
and gave them the grain
Mortals ate of the bread
God sent them food
God caused the east wind to blow
in the heavens,
and by God’s power
led out the south wind;
God rained flesh upon them
winged birds like the sand
of the seas;
God let them fall
within their camp,
and all around their dwellings.
And they ate
and were well filled,
for God gave them
what they craved.
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.
So when the crowd 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.
Notes on the Lectionary and Liturgical Colors
by the Rev. Susan Blain, Curator for Worship and Liturgical Arts (mailto:email@example.com)
Faith Formation Ministry, Local Church Ministries, United Church of Christ
(Essay based on an article by Laurence Hull Stookey: “Putting Liturgical Colors in their Place” in Calendar: Christ’s Time for the Church ©1996 Abingdon Press.)
The use of colors to differentiate liturgical seasons is a custom in use among some Western churches for hundreds of years. Although the custom of using colors is an ancient one, there has not always been agreement on what the colors should be. The Council of Trent in 1570, a Roman Catholic response to the Reformation, codified the colors for the Roman Catholic Church. When we talk about “traditional” colors today, we usually are referring to that codification. There were four basic colors in that codification: purple (penitence), red (Spirit or Martyrs memorials), green (long season after Pentecost) and white (festivals). Other colors, or no color at all, were acceptable variants in some regions.
The Reformation of course was a watershed for Christian ritual practice. Anglican and Lutheran churches often used some form of liturgical colors; however, the Reformed tradition of churches, where the UCC falls, for the most part did away with the custom of using colors, opting for much more simplicity. During the ecumenical liturgical movement of the mid-20th Century, Protestant churches began to look back at some of the ritual and colorful practices of the past with an eye toward reclaiming them to help give expression to feeling, tone, and imagery underlying the lectionary stories.
Before the Reformation’s iconoclasm, and Trent’s code, practices varied from place to place, often depending on what was available. Indeed, in some places the custom was to organize vestments into practical categories of “best,” “second best,” and “everyday”–not depending on the color at all. For Christmas and Easter the “best” vestments were used, no matter the color! Other, less prominent feasts or Sundays got “second best” or “everyday.”
So, here is a challenge to worship planners: Take it upon yourselves to develop and expand the “received” tradition!