Lectionary Reflections for August 12, 2012
1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Today’s readings constellate around the themes of nurture and community. We need spiritual soul food not superficial fast food. We need the bread of heaven, embodied in earthly relationships; not spiritual quick fixes and easy answers. We feast on the Spirit when we see God in all things and all things in God.
1 Kings describes Elijah fleeing for his life. After hearing of his triumph and massacre of the Baal priests, Jezebel boasts that it is payback time for Elijah: she will not stop under he is killed. (I must add here that the narrative describes a war going on between the Yahweh and the pagan fertility gods. Is Jezebel as evil as the scripture suggests or is she merely honoring her religious tradition, exacting punishment for the perpetrator of what she perceives to be an act of violence and apostasy? Although Elijah is the hero of the story and is a faithful follower of “our” God, I believe that it is important to appreciate the viewpoints of those described as villains and villainesses in scripture.)
Fearful for his life and the anticipated pre-mortem torture he is bound to receive if he’s captured, Elijah asks God to be is executor. Once elated over his triumph, he is now utterly disconsolate when the going gets rough. But, God has other plans for the prophet. God doesn’t chide the fearful prophet, nor does God punish him for his cowardice. God provides bread for the journey ahead. When God has a vision, God also provides the resources. We don’t have to be perfect to receive divine care; in fact, God’s care shows up often in our hour of need, when self-confidence and courage have deserted us. Then we know the importance of holy interdependence: the gift of receiving as well as giving. Our calling is accept the bountiful sustenance God is giving us – good bread, whether in the form of a meal or the support of friends and colleagues.
Psalm 34 explores the many ways we relate to God – blessing, boasting, seeking, looking, magnifying, exalting, and finally tasting and seeing. Our relationship with God – our spiritual lives – is intended to be whole person, not just cerebral. We can encounter God with every sense. We can touch, taste, smell, see, and hear the divine. No one is exempt from revelation. Head, heart, and hands alike mediate God to us and enable us to mediate God’s love to the world. Psalm 34 describes the amazing gifts that emerge in a dialogical, call and response, relationship with God.
John speaks of Jesus as the bread of life. Jesus is – as we used to say at former congregation, Disciples United Community Church (www.ducc.us) – “good bread.” Jesus is whole person nourishment. In the Eucharist, we relish the body of Christ; we sip the wine of salvation. If God is present everywhere, then communion can be described as God’s “real presence,” but this isn’t magic or some sort of transformation by incantation. It is simply the reflection of God’s presence in all things: God in all things, all things in God. We share in Christ’s supper, so that we can find Christ at every meal. This is surely what John Crossan means when he speaks of Jesus’ ministry of welcome as involving “open commensality.” Everyone is welcome, everyone is nourished, and everyone is blessed.
Ephesians describes behaviors that nourish and starve. Christians are to behave in ways that bring joy and health to others. Lying, stealing, bitterness, slander, grudge-taking, and so forth destroy community, cutting it off from divine nurture. They fray the fabric of relatedness in their exaltation of separation over companionship and independence over interdependence. In contrast, when we imitate Christ, we join ourselves to the vine. In connecting with God’s vine, we receive everything we need to flourish and serve one another. God’s energies of love flow in and through us, giving us vitality and enabling us to share our gifts with others.
Perhaps, today, if the sanctuary and kitchen are in close proximity, bread might be baked during the service, its aroma wafting through the sanctuary. The bread could be used for communion or an agape feast. Moreover, the worship team and pastor might bring good bread, cheeses, fruit, and vegetables for the congregation to savor and taste either as congregants come into worship, during the children’s moment, or after church during the coffee hour. Embodiment means eating, and what better way to appreciate God’s nurture than through slowly savoring good and healthy food.
Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age. His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org for lectures, workshops, and retreats.