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Bible Tuesday for August 30 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 30, 2015

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9

So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—

The book of Deuteronomy is the story of Moses’ last sermon to the Israelites before he dies and they are led back into the Promised Land by Joshua. During this final public address, Moses chides, admonishes, goads, scolds, and pleads with the Israelites to stay faithful to God and the law that God gave to them through Moses on Mt. Sinai/Mt. Horeb. Moses also restates some of the law which is recorded primarily in Exodus and Leviticus.

The Law with its statutes and ordinances, while quite primitive to our ears, was progressive for its day. “An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth,” was meant to put peoples of different classes and social orders on the same footing. A wealthy person could not extract more recompense from a poorer person than what was his original loss. Rape was actually something that could be sued for, although it was fathers or male relatives that would sue on behalf of their women, and it was only winnable if the woman was raped in town where witnesses could testify to her screaming; no audible screaming, no witnesses…no rape.

But the Law given to Moses was more than just penal code. It also lays out a calendar of festivals and weekly Sabbaths, times when all are to rest and celebrate God’s interaction with God’s people. The law also delineates dietary restrictions and hygiene restrictions, aka: keeping kosher. What is the point of all that? In the above passage, Moses tells the Israelites that keeping kosher, as well as following the worship schedule and living within the penal code, sets the Israelites apart from other surrounding communities and makes them an example to be envied. This Law God gave Moses is to be a huge fence within which is choice land in a very busy trade route of that day. The law teaches that the Israelites are to be hospitable peoples who are shining examples of how much God loves all whom God creates.

Psalm 15

O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?

2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.

Those who do these things shall never be moved.

Here the psalmist describes what a kosher, faithful Jew looks like.

According to the Law, money was never to be lent with interest. If someone was in such bad straights that he/she would humble self and borrow from neighbor, then neighbor should not profit from that humble misfortune.

James 1:17-27

7Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.

19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.

James is an interesting book for a few reasons. It was written later than Paul’s letters, later than the gospels, and is not written by nor ascribed to an actual disciple, but rather, to Jesus’ brother, James. After Pentecost, James, and not Peter, became the head of the new movement Jesus began, headquartered in Jerusalem. The New Testament contains several literary forms: biographies of a sort in the gospels, correspondence such as Paul’s letters and the epistles, apocalyptic literature such as Revelation, and theological treatise such as Hebrews. James does not fit into any of these categories but is rather more like the Wisdom literature in the Apocrypha. This book has a different take on how works fit into right relationship with God in Christ. Verse 27 above sums up the authors understanding of works; right religion is demonstrated by works. While doers of the word rather than mere hearers sounds like a moral to Jesus’ parable of the sewer and the seeds, it has been read in contrast to Luther’s teaching of “Salvation by Grace through Faith apart from works of law.”

Father of Lights: Out of the entire Bible, this phrase is only found in this verse. It is in part a reference to the first chapter of Genesis, where God creates lights but they are not given names. “Greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” Of course this is referring to sun and moon, but the Israelites are surrounded by cultures that worship celestial bodies and give them all kinds of spectacular deified names. In the title “Father of lights”, as well as in the first chapter of Genesis, the celestial bodies are not named but referred to by their function as lights. Only God is named as their creator/father. The terms, “variation”, “shadow due to change” are both translations of ancient Greek astronomical terms. The author of James is further deemphasizing the celestial bodies and their wavering qualities in favor of God/Yahwah who is constant.

In verse 18, the author appears to be referencing the first chapter of the gospel of John, or at least the theology that it represents, in the phrase, “gave us birth by the word of truth.”

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,

‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

17When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

My home church used a lavabo. Unless you are a Roman Catholic altar boy or a priest, you probably don’t even know what a lavabo is. Lavabo is Latin for “washing” and is a smallish bowl on either the credence table or the altar in which the pastor washes his/her hands before handling the elements/host. In my home church back in the 60’s and 70’s this truly was merely ceremonial, a dip and wipe of the fingers out of respect of what those fingers were about to hold. In the congregation I currently serve, we have a decent sized bowl in which I can wash my whole hands. The water poured over my hands has rubbing alcohol in it to make sure I am not spreading illness to everyone who will soon be eating quite literally out of my hands.

The Pharisees in the above text do an awful lot of washing. But it is by and large ceremonial and, gleaning from Jesus’ critique, ostentatious. The teaching concerning washing of vessels is not biblical, but rather “oral interpretation, considered by Pharisees to be legally binding.” (C. Clifton Black, Harper Collins Study Bible) This oral tradition had been elevated to the same status as the Torah/the first five books of the Bible/the Law given by God to Moses. For this reason Jesus quotes Isaiah, “teaching human precepts as doctrine.”

In Hebrew tradition, the heart is the center, not of passion or emotion, but of morality and religious devotion, and their opposites. Passion and emotion are said to be centered in the stomach.

Bible Tuesday for August 23, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 23, 2015

Joshua 24:1-2, 14-18

Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God. 2 And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods. “Now therefore revere the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. 15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods; 17 for it is the Lord our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed; 18 and the Lord drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the Lord, for he is our God.”

Long before God gave Moses received the Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments, God gave covenants to the patriarchs. God appeared first to Abraham, then Isaac, then Jacob granting them a land of their own, descendants, and to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. Starting with Jacob, this was further delineated with the command, “Put away the foreign gods that are among you…” This command was given to Jacob near the oaks of Shechem, and it was under those oaks that Jacob’s wives and slaves put their household gods.

It was a severe famine in the land, and a conveniently placed family connection that drove Jacob and his whole household, minus a few who were already there, down to Egypt to settle in the land of Goshen where they eventually became enslaved and from where God eventually saved them. But when God led the Israelites out of Egypt, the Israelites brought everything they could carry with them, including household gods, whether Canaanite or Egyptian. And those Israelites clung to those as they crossed through the waters with Pharaoh’s chariots in hot pursuit. They had them at Mount Sinai/Mount Horeb when Moses brought the Law down from the mountain and those Israelites swore themselves in allegiance to God. The Israelites still had those household gods as the 40 years of wilderness wondering ended and Joshua led them across the Jordan River and into Canaan again. And now, in Joshua’s last speech, Joshua adjures them for the last time to choose once and for all, either serve God/Yahweh or those household gods. You can read in the above text what those Israelites promise, but…

Psalm 34:15-22

The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are open to their cry.
16 The face of the Lord is against evildoers,
to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.
17 When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears,
and rescues them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is near to the broken-hearted,
and saves the crushed in spirit.

19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous,
but the Lord rescues them from them all.
20 He keeps all their bones;
not one of them will be broken.
21 Evil brings death to the wicked,
and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22 The Lord redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Presented in this psalm is one take on how God interacts with humanity; God pays attention to the good (which = those which are in right relationship with God) and forsakes the bad/evil/unrighteous. But there are a few other takes on how God relates to humans.

“God sends rain to the righteous and the unrighteous.” “Let the weeds grow with the wheat until harvest when they will be separated, the wheat into the granary, the chaff into the fire.”

It is Jesus who makes humanity righteous, and humanity in turn need only believe and trust in Jesus’ righteousness.

Note that it is this psalm that is quoted in the gospels at the crucifixion, “Not one bone will be broken.”

Ephesians 6:10-20

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12 For our[a] struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. 15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. 16 With all of these,[b]take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one. 17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. 19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,[c] 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Here is Paul’s famous object lesson, The Armor of God! I have seen in Christian book stores, including the official bookstore of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, The Armor Of God children’s playset, complete with a blend of Roman and Crusader style sword, belt, shield, breastplate, grieves as opposed to foot ware, and helmet. Any child receiving such a set of armor and weaponry would immediately don it and then look for a foe to vanquish, usually a sibling, neighbor kid, or family pet. Watch out! Plastic or not, that sword hurts!

We tend to think of those wearing armor as soldiers ready for warfare, attacking the enemy and holding gained ground. But in this passage, Paul does not mention attack, only defense. The armor of God is: faith, salvation, the Holy Spirit/Word of God, truth, and the proclamation of peace. We wear these in humble service to Christ and love of neighbor.

John 6:56-69

Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.” 59He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

60When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” 61But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you? 62Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? 63It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. 64But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.65And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.” 66Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him. 67So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?” 68Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Earlier in the gospel of John, Jesus states, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” In John, Jesus teaches that abundant life is for right now, and continues into eternal life, not something for which one must wait until after death. John writes that Jesus teaches that this abundant, eternal life is for “all who believe into me.” John’s gospel goes to great lengths to show that Jesus comes not just for Jews/Israelites, but for everyone.

It is the very difficult and squeamish concept of eating and drinking Jesus, as well as the universal offering of God’s messiah to ALL people and not just Israelites, that offends many of the disciples. While in the other three gospels, being a disciple of Jesus, with the exception of Judas Iscariot, is synonymous with believing in Jesus. In John’s gospel a distinction is drawn between disciples and others who believe into Jesus and disciples and others who do not. In the Greek, disciple means student. Certainly you can be a student of someone and not buy into everything they teach. In the case of Jesus, though, being such a student of Jesus is treacherous. Either you see the signs and believe into Jesus, thus gaining abundant and eternal life, or you miss read the signs, even miss then all together, and turn away from Jesus.

Bible Tuesday for August 16, 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 16, 2015

Proverbs 9:1-6

Wisdom has built her house,
she has hewn her seven pillars.
2 She has slaughtered her animals, she has mixed her wine,
she has also set her table.
3 She has sent out her servant-girls, she calls
from the highest places in the town,
4 ‘You that are simple, turn in here!’
To those without sense she says,
5 ‘Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
6 Lay aside immaturity,* and live,
and walk in the way of insight.’

Hebrew is a language that assigns gender to its nouns, as does Greek. In both languages, the noun, Wisdom, is female. The book of Proverbs depicts Wisdom as a female helpmate to God/Yahweh. Over the 2,500 + years that the book of Proverbs has been read by countless Jews, Christians, and others, this lady Wisdom has been interpreted in many ways: the female side of God, the consort of God, the Holy Spirit, a muse for God, among others.

Most commonly, this portrayal of Wisdom is considered an anthropomorphization of the righteous way of God. Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, knowledge, wisdom, insight, are all considered signs of right relationship with God.

As a side note, take note of the domestic duties that go into Wisdom’s meal, comparing them with the duties involved in our meals. Most of us don’t slaughter a few hours before we eat, even if we do hunt. I don’t know anyone who mixes wine; as a matter of face, I do know people who find that gauche.

The largest Christian church ever built resides in present day Istanbul, Turkey. When it was originally built in then Constantinople, it was called Hagia Sophia, Greek for Holy Wisdom, and was the patriarchal basilica of the Orthodox Church, meaning it was to the Orthodox what St. Peter’s basilica and papal city are to the Roman Catholic Church. When Turkey became Muslim, Hagia Sophia was converted to a mosque but was later decommissioned as a house of worship and his now solely a museum.

Psalm 34:9-14

O fear the Lord, you his holy ones,
for those who fear him have no want.
10 The young lions suffer want and hunger,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

11 Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Which of you desires life,
and covets many days to enjoy good?
13 Keep your tongue from evil,
and your lips from speaking deceit.
14 Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.

This psalm adjures its hearers to fear and seek God. How is this done, according to the psalmist, by preventing one’s self from practicing evil. Farther on the psalm admonishes its hearers to know God’s laws and statues and meditate on them. This does not mean that we haul out Leviticus and memorize it. Rather “the Law” is Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures. The hearer is invited to know God through reading and meditating on the stories of creation, the patriarchs, the covenants, and how one lives within the covenant relationship God has made with humanity.

Ephesians 5:15-20

Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise16making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Why Paul singled out these particular days as evil, I do not know. The argument could certainly be made that all days are evil. Nevertheless, in this passage Paul teaches one of his tenets, that we adore God and give thanks to God at all times and for everything. What an incredibly difficult teaching to assimilate! How does one thank God for a car accident, a cancer diagnosis?

It is not that Paul was naïve and is encouraging folks to be Polly Anna. Not at all! Paul saw some incredible evil and lived through an awful lot of it. Rather, Paul believed that “God works all things for the good for those who live him, who are called according to his purpose.” Paul is not suggesting that we blithely skip through life thanking God for the sun and the pretty blue sky with every breath. Paul is daring to believe that even through tragedies God will shine light in our lives and manifest love in new ways.

Corey Tenboom told a story about when she and his sister were held in Ravensbruck Concentration Camp, where her sister eventually died. Every night throughout their abuse by the Nazis, Corey’s sister would pray prayers of thanksgiving. On this night, their first night in Ravensbruck, she thanked God for the lice. Corey became angry with her, thinking her ridiculous. But in Ravensbruck the sisters found they could hold prayer meetings unmolested, and even hide bits of New Testament in their beds, all because the guards would not enter the quarters of the inmates, as they were so heavily infested with lice. Of course living with the constant biting of those lice was insufferable…and, the lice afforded the inmates a bit of privacy, something they otherwise did not have.

John 6:51-58

51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

52 The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 So Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

In the late 100’s AD/CE, a man named Hyppopolitus wrote an apology (that is, an explanation) to a Roman government official explaning what Christians do in their corporate and private lives, and stating that Christians are normal people and upstanding members of Roman society. This apology was necessary because several misconceptions had arisen about Christians which resulted in their persecution.

1. Christians were cannibals. Based on the above John text, one can certainly understand how the uninitiated could get the impression that Christians are cannibals. “This is my body broken for you. This is my blood shed for you.” Hyppopolitus painstakingly described the rite of Holy Communion and that only bread and wine were actually consumed.

2. Christians were subversives, rebelling against the Roman government. Hyppopolitus explained that while Christians worship God, the son Jesus, and the Holy Spirit alone, (the doctrine of the Trinity had not yet been developed so the whole monotheistic argument did not come into play) and not the Emperor, yet Christians believed that they served God in part by living as law abiding citizens, and paid taxes, despite the rumors that were spread on that matter.

3. Christians were anti family. This came about because conversion to Christianity split many Jewish and Gentile families. Even so, Hyppopolitus argued that Christians married, supported continued marriage by converts to their unconverted spouses, and that Jesus supported marriage and taught against divorce.

This passage is the only theological treatise on Holy Communion that is written in the four gospels. Certainly Paul teaches on Holy Communion in a few places, but this is the only place where Jesus does. Jesus is conflating his sacrificial death and the final meal he eats with the disciples where he gives a new commandment, to “Love one another as I have loved you,” and then showed how to keep this command through his crucifixion and resurrection. How should the disciples, all disciples of every time and place, keep this new commandment? By eating and drinking Jesus’ body and blood together, in communion, and serving all in love, as Jesus did.

Bible Tuesday for August 9 2015

Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 9th, 2015

1 Kings 19:4-8

But Elijah himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and come and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O Lord. Take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.” Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly, an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.” He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again. The angel of the Lord came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up, eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Elijah has a big trip to take. The poor man has been hammering at the obstinate stupidity and idolatry of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel for his entire prophetic career and what has he earned? His face on a wanted poster with a HUGE ransom offered to be paid by Ahab’s treasury. Elijah is exhausted, discouraged to the bone, craving either retirement or death, whichever God will allow.

The above text picks up this story at the point where Elijah has fled into the wilderness to hide from Ahab and Jezebel. Elijah cries out bitterly to God that if this is what life is going to be like, then “I am sick enough of this to die!” Then Elijah seeks a little shade under the broom tree and finds himself being fed by a messenger of God. The messenger feeds Elijah three time; three signifying that these meals are from God’s hand. Why must Elijah strengthen himself with food? For his invitation only trek to Horeb, the mountain of God. It is on this mountain that God met with Moses to give the Law, summarized in the 10 Commandments. Horeb means “chaos”; out of the chaos of life as slaves, of life as desert wanderers, God gives life and order. Mt. Horeb is also known as Mt. Sinai. It is on this mountain, in this place of historical significance, this place of clarity in the midst of chaos, that Elijah will have an audience with God.

Psalm 34:1-8

Of David, when he feigned madness before Achish, so that he drove him out, and he went away.
1 I will bless the Lord at all times;
his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2 My soul makes its boast in the Lord;
let the humble hear and be glad.
3 O magnify the Lord with me,
and let us exalt his name together.

4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me,
and delivered me from all my fears.
5 Look to him, and be radiant;
so your* faces shall never be ashamed.
6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the Lord,
and was saved from every trouble.
7 The angel of the Lord encamps
around those who fear him, and delivers them.
8 O taste and see that the Lord is good;
happy are those who take refuge in him.

During this “month of bread” when we spend five weeks reading the gospel of John’s discourse on the feeding of the 5,000 and Jesus declaration that he is “the bread of life”, the accompanying Old Testament and Psalm are chosen for their dealings with bread. The Epistle is a continuous reading of the book of Ephesians.

David has been anointed the second king of Israel but has not taken the throne yet, as it is still occupied by King Saul. David has proven himself a capable and loyal young man by killing Goliath, and from that time until this, served King Saul as his armor bearer. However, David’s military prowess have earned him accolades from Israel but jealousy from King Saul. When the Israelite army marched through towns, the cheer rang out, “Saul has killed his thousands but David has killed his tens of thousands!” One night King Saul’s mental instability and growing mistrust of David exploded in a fit of rage, causing David to flee for his life.

David ran to the Tent of Meeting, which served as Israel’s Temple from the time of Moses until the time of King David’s son, Solomon. David implored the priest to give him food and weaponry. The only food in the Tent was the show bread, that is, the twelve loaves of bread set fresh on the altar every week to signify the bounty God provides to all Israel. David took the show bread to feed himself. The only weaponry was the sword of Goliath. Why that was kept in the Tent of Meeting is not explained but it sure came in handy for David now. With food and a weapon, David ran from Israel to seek refuge among the surrounding peoples.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,* as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.* 51Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Paul admonishes the congregation in Ephesus not lie to one another but always speak the truth because “we are members of one another.” Paul goes on to describe how members of a faith community to live and treat each other: not arguing, power brokering, gossiping, or clique forming. Instead, the baptized are to act as little children, imitating their father, save that we imitate God, the perfect parent.

John 6:35, 41-51

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.”

Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They were saying, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven?’” Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that comes down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The ancient Israelites as portrayed in the Hebrew Scriptures tend to be a very literal people. If God says he will give bread, then the Israelites expect loaves of bread in the size and shape that Momma made them back home. This manna and quail stuff doesn’t cut it, not because it isn’t filling or because it requires dressing and gathering, but because it is not literally what they understood God to promise. However, in Deuteronomy, Moses himself says, “Humans do not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” So the ancient Israelites are not always literal minded, just most of the time.

Like Moses, Jesus bumps up hard against that literalness. Jesus also struggles with over familiarity. There are those in the crowd who know Mary and Joseph and reject that Yahweh would act like a Roman or Greek god and be half human/half divine. Either Jesus must be a Messiah, a king like David who would overthrow the Romans and inaugurate the new golden age of Israel, or Jesus is God come down to earth. And no matter what Jesus claims to be, these Israelites want literal proof…in addition to that amazing meal that fed this crowd of 5,000 just the day before the above pericope.

The problem with literalism is that it confines thought to the right here and right now, to exclusively what the senses detect. God’s world is oh so much bigger than that. In the gospel of John, Jesus is out to give eternal life an any and all comers, Jews, Greeks, Samaritans, anybody. Eternal life starts the moment faith in Jesus whispers its first inkling of hope in faith in Jesus.

“And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” In the gospel of John, Jesus knows that he will be publicly executed by the Romans at the hands of “the Jews”, which, in John, refers to the Jewish Temple authorities in Jerusalem. This gospel has Jesus fully in control of the whole betrayal and execution process. “I lay down my life willingly,” Jesus says later in this gospel. Belief into Jesus’ teaching, the signs that Jesus performs, and his sacrificial death and resurrection constitute eternal life: freedom from sin, guilt, and the Law now, and freedom from death when th