Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
2 Kings 4:42-44
Greetings one and all! As you know, I spent the better part of last week down in New Orleans with Kim Pulido, my daughter Emily Olsen and five of our young people attending the ELCA Youth Gathering. This event takes place every three years and draws over thirty-thousand youth from all over the United States. Worshiping and working with these young people and listening to their thoughts and convictions has convinced me that the church they represent is not our parents’ Lutheran Church. This generation has no qualms about welcoming gay and lesbian persons as pastoral leaders. This question, that was so divisive in our church for over two decades, is not even an issue for them. These young people are passionately committed to justice for the poor; ending violence in the family, in the classroom and on the world stage. They believe discipleship means involvement with these very political issues, but they have little patience with abstract political red state/blue state kinds of arguments. They love worship that involves “heart and hands” as well as “voices” and preaching that reminds them of God’s love for them while challenging them to run with that promise of God’s grace in their daily lives.
This Sunday Emily will be preaching and our young delegates to the Gathering will be sharing their experiences with us. Following the service, there will be a coffee fellowship during which we will see photos and video highlights from the Gathering.
That serves as a good lead in to the gospel lesson for this coming Sunday, the feeding of the five thousand from the Gospel of John. Unique to John’s telling of the story is an unnamed youth. He appears on the scene just as the disciples are facing what they view as a crisis. Five thousand people have been with Jesus for a long time out in the wilderness. They are hungry and we all know that hungry masses can easily turn violent. Buying food for all these people is not an option. Even if the disciples could have scare up two hundred denaii and there had been a deli nearby, the likelihood that it would have food on hand to serve five thousand is slim. At this point, Andrew brings the young boy’s tendered lunch to the attention of Jesus. I don’t actually know whether the boy offered his lunch or whether Andrew commandeered it. The lesson does not tell us one way or the other, but it would be just like a kid to do something like putting up his lunch in circumstances such as this. A kid doesn’t understand that what little he has in his lunch box will not even make a dent in the hunger of five thousand people. When he becomes a man, he will understand that there is only so much to go around; that if people are hungry it’s their problem, not his; that the best chance you have of survival is to hang on to what you have got and defend it with all means necessary. At this point, he is just a kid. He doesn’t understand “the real world.” The only thing he does understand is that Jesus wants to feed this hungry crowd. He believes Jesus can do it and that he has something to offer that Jesus can use. Small wonder, then, that Jesus tells us in Matthew 18:3 that “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” The first step in becoming a disciple of Jesus is for us to unlearn all the lessons of adulthood. My prayer for the thirty thousand young people I met this last week is that they will never grow up into the kind of adulthood that can no longer believe in Jesus’ promise to provide for all our needs-and more. I pray that they never outgrow generosity or the capacity to trust Jesus.
It should be noted that this story is an opener for a lengthy discourse Jesus is about to have with his disciples, the crowds and his opponents. At the end of this discourse, many of Jesus’ disciples will desert him. This chapter is rich with sacramental imagery and challenges to faithful discipleship. I encourage you to read the chapter in its entirety before each Sunday in August.
This is one of the “acrostic” psalms, meaning that each new verse begins with the next letter in order of the Hebrew Alphabet. An English example might look like this:
Awesome is our God and Creator.
Breathtaking are God’s mighty works.
Clearly, the Lord is God and there is no other. And so on down to letter Z. This kind of composition assists in memorization which, in a pre-literate society, is the only means of passing down music and literature.
The psalm as a whole extols the character of God as compassionate as God is almighty. It is both an expression of praise to God and also a confessional statement made to the people of God declaring God’s goodness to all of Creation. Note that although the people of the covenant are in the best position to recognize and witness to this God, they are not the only beneficiaries of God’s compassion. The entire earth is God’s concern.
We can see in vs 15 an echo of the petition from the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day or daily bread.” “The eyes of all look to thee, and thou givest them their food in due season. Thou openest thy hand, thou satisfiest the desire of every living thing.” It is just because sustenance comes from the hand of God that we can be content with this day’s bread without worrying about tomorrow. The assurance and confidence in God’s willingness and promise to meet our needs ties in very nicely with the feeding of the five thousand and the discourse that follows throughout John Chapter 6.
“For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named.” Eph. 3:14. There is a play on words here that gets lost in the translation. The Greek word for “father,” “pater” is the root for “patria” which means “country” or “father land.” The significance of this claim would not have been lost to folks living under the yoke of Rome which claimed to be the father of all peoples. This is a question of “Who’s your daddy?” aimed directly at Caesar.
When the author of Ephesians speaks of “power” it is always the power of the Spirit that is grounded in love. Urging his listeners to “put on the whole armor of God,” the author of Ephesians turns this militaristic image on its head by identifying the church’s weaponry as truth, righteousness, peace, faith and prayer. Eph. 6:10-20. The author prays that “Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” It is through being “in Christ,” that one becomes grounded in love; for Christ Jesus is God’s concrete expression of love.
This short story is one of many about Elisha and his miraculous works found in Chapter 4 of the Second Book of Kings. Elisha, you may recall, was the prophetic successor to Elijah who was taken up into heaven by a chariot of fire. He was a member and perhaps a leader of an obscure group identified in Second Kings only as “the sons of the prophets.” These folks seem to have lived together in communities. They were married, had children and apparently held property and so should not be understood as a monastic order of any kind. It is best to think of the sons of the prophets as a professional guild of persons with the unique ability to speak on God’s behalf. By the time of the prophet Amos, the guild appears to have become little more than the mouthpiece of the monarchy of the Northern Kingdom of Israel. Hence, Amos specifically denies being the son of a prophet. See Amos 7:14-15.
Based on what proceeds it in Chapter 4, we know that this story takes place during a famine. A man comes to Elisha with a first fruits offering. We do not know precisely why this offering was made. There is no statutory requirement in the Pentateuch for offerings to prophetic communities, but this appears to be a religious offering of some kind. Elisha orders his servant to share the offering (twenty loaves of bread and a sack of grain) with the rest of the sons of the prophets numbering about one hundred. The servant, quite understandably, balks at the notion. After all, the offering is not large enough to feed the whole community. It is better that the community’s leader, Elisha, be spared than that he perish from starvation along with the entire community. Elisha is confident, however, that there will be enough for the community and to spare. This confidence is based on a word he has received from the Lord to that effect. Like Jesus, Elisha focuses not on the magnitude of the hunger or the scarcity of his resources, but on the promise of the Lord to provide. Once again, this story challenges us to join the psalmist’s affirmation that God can indeed be trusted to provide for every living thing.