Last revised: August 18, 2018
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PROPER 12 (July 24-30) — YEAR B / Ordinary Time 17
RCL: 2 Samuel 11:1-15; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
RoCa: 2 Kings 4:42-44; Ephesians 4:1-6; John 6:1-15
Opening Comments: Elements of a New Reformation
In 2018 I began a new Interim Ministry the Sunday of Proper 11B on the theme of salvation as the healing of tribalism, based on Ephesians 2: the real-world results of Christ’s saving act on the cross is to launch the creation of one new humanity out of two. It is an ideal beginning point for talk of a New Reformation because it makes clear how the Reformation failed. Instead of getting the church back on track to participate in the healing of tribalism, the Reformation created many new forms of tribalism — Protestant vs. Catholic, Lutheran vs. Anabaptist, etc. All of this was still under the banner of Christendom in which an imperialistic church continued to play the central imperialistic game of defining, violently expanding, and defending borders. This held true in theology, doctrine, and practice, too.
Now that the church is becoming post-Christendom (at varying paces and successes/failures in the still-split church bodies), the opportunity is to participate in the healing of the many tribalisms plaguing our society at-large. But one of the blocks to such a calling is Scarcity thinking — which is the topic of Proper 12B as the lectionary begins a several week foray into John 6, the feeding of a large crowd and the subsequent “Bread of Life” dialogue. Jesus demonstrates Abundance thinking in the face of a crowd trapped in Scarcity thinking.
2 Kings 4:42-44
1. Robert Hamerton-Kelly, sermon from July 20, 2003 (Woodside Village Church), 3rd in a series of eleven sermons on the prophets.
1. James Alison has a section on Ephesians called “Redeeming the Time” in The Joy of Being Wrong, pages 229-232. It is most helpful to read the whole of chapter 8 to get the full context, but this exposition of Ephesians can also stand alone and provide some help to the interpreter.
2. Ched Myers and Elaine Enns, Ambassadors of Reconciliation I, ch. 4, “…And Abolished Emnity: Jesus’ Cross and the Peacemaking Vocation of the Church (Ephesians),” pages 82-118. The chapter begins:
The U.S.-Mexico border fence, erected the same year the Berlin Wall came tumbling down, poignantly symbolizes the social architecture of division that defines our world. . . .
The border wall reminds us that there have always been two Americas: one of inclusion and one of exclusion. The former has found expression in the ideal of liberty and justice for all, and has been realized whenever Indian treaties were honored, civil rights embraced, huddled masses yearning to be free welcomed, or child labor laws passed. The latter was articulated in a Constitution that originally enfranchised only white landed males, and has been consolidated through land grabs, Jim Crow segregation, Guilded Age economic stratification, restrictive housing covenants, and laws precluding gay marriage. These two visions of America continually compete for our hearts and minds, not least in our churches. The America of inclusion is the only hope for democracy; the America of exclusion, as. Lincolns ultimatum about a house divided warned 150 years ago, is unsustainable.
Section D is on Ephesians 3: “Evangelizing the Powers: Paul’s ‘Letter from Birmingham City Jail.'”
Reflections and Questions
1. “the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” Abundance is a key word for the day.
2. Paul Nuechterlein, article entitled “Holy Communion,” sections “Sacrifice, the table sacrament, and John 6” (excerpt) and “Conclusion,” pages 216-220, the Spring 1996 issue of Contagion. It deals with the whole chapter, and not simply the first 21 verses, but this will give you something to chew on in looking ahead to your overall approach to the coming 5-week journey through this chapter of John’s Gospel.
3. Sermons/blogs from a Girardian perspective by members and friends of Theology & Peace: Tom Truby, a sermon in 2012, titled “It Is I – Do Not Be Afraid“; and in 2015, “Jesus Feeds Five Thousand and Avoids the Draft!“; and in 2018, “Pulling Him Aboard in a Raging Storm!”
1. Regina Schwartz, author of The Curse of Cain: The Violent Legacy of Monotheism, opened the last day of the 1999 COV&R conference in Atlanta with an address that distinguished between theologies of abundance vs. scarcity. Her examples of experiences of a God of abundance were the manna episodes in the Hebrew scriptures and the miracle of the fish and loaves in the New Testament.
Girardian anthropology helps to explain the difference. The mimetic nature of desire leads us to desire the same objects — which therefore seem scarce, even when they are not. When two children fight over the same teddy bear in the nursery, that bear seems scarce even if there are a dozen others just like it. Thus, the gods of the Sacred are gods who rule over scarcity, doling out who gets the blessings and who gets cursed. Jesus invites us to know another God, the God who gives life abundantly.
2. Which is the god of capitalism, a god of scarcity or abundance? In our later forms of capitalism, after generations of mass production have flooded the markets with an incredible abundance of goods, it sounds silly to say that capitalism is based on scarcity. But original capitalist theory has as one of its basic tenets that there is a scarcity of goods and resources which must thus be fairly distributed by the mechanisms of the market. I went to a three day seminar on economics several years, taught by a Ph.D. economist, and he began with the tenet regarding scarcity as his first principal. I resisted him, and he became extremely frustrated because scarcity seems patently obvious to him. He couldn’t imagine another starting point. Everything was messed up if one actually assumed that God created enough for everyone. The perception of scarcity makes sense because capitalism is also rooted firmly in mimetic desire. Link to a sermon entitled “The God of Abundance.”
3. John’s account of the miracle of fish and loaves is unique in that it is a little child who brings forward the fish and loaves, not the disciples. The child often signals “the little ones,” i.e., the victims, for whom the kingdom of God shows preference. The child shows the kind of faith that ushers in God’s kingdom of abundance.
4. Children often teach adults how to have such faith. Here’s a portion of my 1994 sermon on this text:
One of my favorite stories is about a mother, father, and six year-old girl who went out to eat one night. They were about to bite into their steak sandwiches when the little girl protested, “Wait! We haven’t prayed yet.” Somewhat flustered, her mother led them in the common table prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest….” Several minutes later, a rather disheveled looking stranger approached their table. He had seen them pray and came over to ask for something to eat. To her parents he obviously appeared to be a homeless person; to the little girl, he was a frightening stranger. The little girl’s dad got up and took the man over to the counter to buy him something to eat. Her fright showed on her face, so her mother began to explain how some people don’t have enough to eat. She also went on to explain that, as Christians, we believe Jesus to be with us in a special way when we reach out to the least of our brothers and sisters, that Jesus comes to us through hungry people. The little girl’s father returned to their table, his good deed done, to a surprising look of wonder on his daughters face. “Wow,” she said, “Jesus answered your dinner prayer tonight, Mommy. He came to be our guest.”This little girl’s mother understood Jesus’ promise to be with us from Matthew 25 in a way that the little girl wasn’t yet aware of. But who most truly knew and experienced Jesus’ presence in the restaurant that night? Do we rob ourselves of such uplifting faith of a child by holding them back from communion? Could it be that an adult can’t have the fullest experience of Christ’s presence in communion without first having a childhood experience of that presence, to have that simple and complete trust? Might we still be refreshed by such faith? Where would the crowd of 5,000 have been that day if a little boy hadn’t come forward in faith? Where will we be in the church, if we don’t fully value the faith of our children for what it is? An adult’s faith, no, it’s not. But Jesus taught that a child’s faith is a precious thing.
In our gospel lesson this morning, we can see a basic difference in a child’s faith: this boy coming forward, when none of the adults would, shows how he acted by a principal of abundance: that is, a trust, a hope that there will always be enough. What children eventually learn from us adults is to live by a principal of scarcity: that is, the fear that there is never enough. On that hillside long ago, with thousands of hungry people, we know which principal, along with the young boy, that Jesus lived by. Us adults? Well, we’re like the disciples, aren’t we? Always operating out of a principal of scarcity and resisting the hope for anything more?
The good news for us adults is that Jesus stuck with the disciples right up to the cross, an event which seemed to confirm their worst fears. And, lo and behold, the Risen Jesus came to them again, and the power of his resurrection became the first fruits of a hope for something more, the hope of God’s abundant power of life, even in the face of death. The Risen Lord also gave them, and gives us, a second chance to live by faith with a fresh start, to live with the kind of faith that that child showed on the hillside that day.