Slow-witted, Naive, and Scared
2009-07-22 by Tuck Taylor Bounds
“Slow-witted, Naïve, and Scared”
Poor Philip, he is not known for a quick mind or the boldest spirit. In fact, he is not known for much of anything. Philip didn’t even seek Christ out as some of the others had, but Jesus had to go to Philip. No doubt Philip was a stable soul, a good man, dependable; but adventuresome, or risk-taking probably are not the adjectives to describe him. And it is Philip who Jesus asks: “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” What is he thinking? We know the ones in our church, in our families, maybe it’s even our very selves, who you do not ask their advice on issues of spending money – unless you want to be shut down immediately. Scripture is clear, Jesus asked it of Philip as a test. Would, could, Philip overcome his basic nature to move slowly, not take risks, see the world as it is, be practical? “Are you kidding me?” Philip says (in so many words), “we couldn’t feed all these people even one bite even if we had 8 months of salaries.” I wonder how long it took Philip to do that calculation! Seems his mind is quick in some areas – numbers, perhaps. But trusting the Lord who stood before him, the one who had been teaching and performing miracles for quite sometime now – well, Philip just couldn’t quite get it. “No way”, Philip says, “no way we can swing this one financially.”
And then there’s Andrew. I have an Andrew. He is the youngest of my 4 boys. The “baby”, we call him, even though he is a full 8 years old! He is, by virtue of his age, more naïve than my other boys who are worldly and knowledgeable beyond their teenage years (at least in their minds). How they like to roll their eyes at the naïveté of their youngest brother – “right, Andrew, that’ll work.” Jesus’ Andrew was much like mine, I think. We know he is young, Peter’s younger brother, “here, he says, we have 5 loaves of bread and 2 fish”, but then abashedly, “but that wouldn’t work would it?”
And then we have the story of Jesus walking on the water. How frightening to the disciples: the slow-witted, the naïve as well as the adventurous, older and wiser ones. We have tamed Jesus in our minds: made him our fishing buddy, Jesus of Sunnybrook Farm. This text reminds us however, that when Jesus approaches it can, and often is, frightening.
What a group of followers Jesus has?! Slow-witted, naïve and scared. Which one are you? Certainly there is not one among us who doesn’t relate to either Philip, Andrew or the scared disciples in that tossed about boat. Perhaps more than we would ever like to admit. And yet there is good news! Jesus knows all about Philip and his conservative, rather pessimistic view. He knows all about Andrew and his sweet desire to help and solve the problem. He knows all about the fear that each one felt in that tossed about boat. And for each one, Jesus provides what is needed. For Philip who cannot make his mind open up to the possibility of God’s abundance in the midst of apparent scarcity, Jesus tests, teaches, and no doubt leads Philip to a stronger place of faith. For Andrew who wants to help, who sees the world in simplistic ways, Jesus takes Andrew’s naïve sounding solution and brings forth a miracle. And finally, for the scared and frightened, Jesus provides assurance and salvation.
We are the hopelessly slow-witted, sometimes naïve, too often scared followers of Jesus. And it is enough – not because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is. Glory be!
The Limits of Scarcity
2009-07-21 by Stephen Schuette
I live near the heart of the world’s commodity markets in Chicago where everything is built on scarcity. The rarer the commodity the greater the value and the more likely that some will have it and others will not. A lot of conquest has been made for “gold” (one little letter “l” may be a point of confusion?), and not just by the Spanish in the 1500's.
I’m told that when John D. Rockefeller was asked the question, “How much is enough?” he replied, “Always a little more.” Which is why scarcity is accompanied by hoarding. (See René Girard’s ideas of mimetic violence.)
At any rate Jesus refuses to play any games based on scarcity. He pushes Phillip to think and act in different ways. And then Jesus himself goes on to act upon his trust in God in an ultimate way. Which is why he is not ready to be king - not now, not in this way. His is a different “reign,” a different bassilia. And although the participants in the meal had already lived in it and been recipients of this abundance from God they are still anxious to establish Jesus’ authority out of an old paradigm. They wish to turn Jesus himself into a commodity.
No wonder he seems so strange to them...and perhaps still to us...moving across the Sea so mysteriously. His way is still a new way.
Resisting the Word - Thoughts for August 2
2009-07-20 by Roger Talbott
What possessed me to sign up to blog this week? I almost never preach during the first week in August. My birthday lands in this week and I prefer spending it camping with my wife in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny National Forest. In the northern tier of states, even preachers find it hard to waste an hour of warm sunshine in church on a Sunday morning, much less focus on anything heavier than a beach book or the Beach Boys.
That’s not the only reason I bug out in mid-summer. The texts, especially during Year B, are just awful.
There’s no avoiding David’s adultery with Bathsheba this week. How do I preach an X-rated story to a G-rated congregation?
Psalm 51 – don’t we say that on Ash Wednesday? It just doesn’t work as well on a warm summer’s day as it does on a dark night in midwinter.
The handful of congregants who will show up at my church on this August morning will park their cars on a picturesque public square and trudge southwest to First United Methodist Church as other people park next to them and head: West to First Congregational, East to the United Presbyterian Church, South to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church and Southeast to St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. And then in each of those churches they will listen politely as their respective pastors read Ephesians 4: “There is one body and one Spirit . . . one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all . . .” Yeah, right.
And then there is John 6 . . . and John 6, again . . . and John 6, again . . .
The best sermons come from the texts we most resist. Just as Jacob was lamed when he wrestled with God, the texts we most resist may “lame” our homiletical legs – the ones that run so easily through Psalm 23 or the Parable of the Good Samaritan. Tough, laming texts make us hobble along on the power of the Holy Spirit.
There is some question whether Paul wrote Ephesians, but let’s play with those first words of chapter 4: “I, therefore, a prisoner of the Lord . . .”
Can you identify? If the weather is as nice where and when you are reading this as it is where I am writing it, you should be outdoors playing, smelling the flowers, running in the surf, or making love in the forest. But you aren’t. You are stuck in front of a computer screen because in a very real sense, you are a prisoner of the Lord. Yeah, I know it’s your job, but unless you belong to a denomination that I haven’t heard of, they aren’t paying you enough to spend a day like this parsing Greek verbs.
Does it help to realize that Jesus has gone to a lot of trouble to get away from this crowd that clings to him like Haitian children cling to an American tourist? He, too, is a prisoner of the Lord.
All I can find to work with is Prisoner P___’s exhortation to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called . . .”
That’s why you are reading this instead of working in your garden or playing golf, isn’t it? You are trying to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.
And so are the folks who will come to church this Sunday. There is not one of them who couldn’t think of something more enjoyable to do on this summer Sunday morning – and certainly a lot of their fellow members decided to just go ahead and do it.
But the ones who come are, in one way or another, prisoners of the Lord seeking to lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called. They have learned that whatever it is that we dole out in church on Sunday is not bread that lasts always, but is more like the manna that rotted if people tried to save it for a manna-less day.
They have learned that somehow this life that is worthy of the calling to which we have been called involves gathering/congregating, “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace”.
And so, whether you choose to tackle David and Bathsheba or not, a good many of them will recognize what it means to tear apart that unity of the Spirit with betrayal and the misuse of power. They will also recognize that a well-told sermon illustration can hold up the mirror of Truth that can destroy our deceptions and cause us to repent and restore that unity with the Spirit and with each other.
The old Modernist explanation for the feeding of the 5,000 – that the example of the little boy putting his five loaves and two fish into the hands of Jesus inspired everyone to share secret stashes of food, may not be quite as reductionist as it sounds if you read Ephesians 1-3 with its affirmation that Jesus has torn down walls and made us One; that all things and all people are coming together in Him. The crowd has come again to Jesus to relieve their food insecurity. They want magic breadboxes that are never empty.
But Jesus offers them the bread that satisfies the prisoners of the Lord, which includes “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of Peace” – and sharing lunch.
Dinner on the grounds with Jesus can happen every day, eternally, to those who stick with Him and with each other, but it is not bread that will last forever. It is bread that God gives us this day.
2009-07-18 by David von Schlichten
Part of the difficulty of speaking the truth in love is that people often don't want to hear the truth because it is too complicating.
I am taking a PhD class on Orientalism in film. We are looking at how films in the West often affirm and justify Western dominance over the East. So often we do that, don't we? We adopt an orientation that we might even know on some level is faulty but that serves our agenda. We lie to ourselves.
So then, part of speaking the truth in love is doing so with the self.
Thank you to Stephen for sharing his stimulating thoughts. Scroll down to swim in his words.
Yours in Christ,
David von Schlichten, Lectionary Blog Moderator
Scattering and Gathering
2009-07-14 by Stephen Schuette
In the texts this week there are tensions of scattering and reconciling as well as Jesus’ own boundary crossing which simply draws out more of the same – people, all kinds of people from everywhere who find in him something that draws them.
What is it that divides us and what is it that unites us in the church? Certainly things change and attitudes shift. A segregated military that was once a norm is now abhorrent. Will that be the case one day with openly gay people? I’ve always known a vegetarian or two but recently I’ve come to know vegans. I ride my bike, winter and summer, while the SUV’s abound in the church parking lot. A pastor emeritus I knew, an Iowa farm-boy, would sit on his back porch in town and pick off the squirrels for population control.
Although our churches tend to be culturally cohesive to a degree (as the old saying truthfully goes, Sunday morning is the most segregated time of the week), even within our homogeneity there is still a good deal of diversity. Could there be any clearer line than Jew and Gentile, with its accompanying mark? Yet Ephesians affirms with the strongest language possible that there is no dividing wall or distance but one new humanity, hostility itself put to death, all of it leading to a new coherence in Christ.
Community is the call and the challenge. Perhaps speaking truth in love is a phrase that captures that challenge. To speak our truth, hold our conviction, witness to what we know, and yet do that with openness and even a willingness to be corrected in an attitude devoid of defensiveness is not easy. And I’ve fallen off both ends, losing my voice and conviction in a passive fear that fails to respond to the call of God for me while at other times aggressively shouting for folk to listen to me in ways that run roughshod over the genuineness of their calling, their voice. And both can cause the sheep to scatter.
Maybe what people came to know in the Shepherd Jesus was both truth and love, a rare combination of qualities that in its wholeness was healing for them. Whether from “cities or farms” (vs. 56) they are drawn from near and far. Genuine community is always a miracle. Do you believe in miracles?
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