Flat Jesus with the loaf and fishes at last year's RevGals REVive
Flat Jesus with the loaf and fishes at last year’s RevGals REVive

“There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9, NRSV – find this week’s texts at the Vanderbilt RCL site)

It’s the week Year B leaves Mark and begins a sojourn in John’s gospel, and although there be only five loaves here, the coming weeks will bring bread until preachers are very tired of it. As in the other stories of miraculous feedings, I am struck by the sheer number needing to be fed. 5000 people is a lot of people. Imagine you are at a campsite with a lot of other families, and no one packed any food, and they are coming by to check out what’s in your larder.

Jesus asks his disciples, “How will we feed all these people?”

It is admittedly a set-up, the question Jesus asks about getting provisions for all those people. He knew something like this would happen. In John’s gospel, he is never surprised. John doesn’t spend time making the case that Jesus is human and divine. His Jesus is always and in every way God, from the prologue (In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…) to the epilogue with its parallel meal of bread and fish.

Jesus knows what is going on:

When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. (John 6:15)

Jesus is not interested in the earthly kingdom machinations that drive King David in this week’s continuation of his narrative arc. David elevates his own desires above the good of those he leads. Jesus is a different kind of king. The gospel reading ends with the disciples rowing through a storm, and Jesus walking on the water and a sudden arrival at the destination, a glancing reference to stories from the other gospels in which the disciples see the power of Jesus on display. He is beyond our standards for power and strength, but not interested in using that power and strength for his own benefit.

#trumpyourcat (just because).
#trumpyourcat (just because).

A few possibilities for preaching:

  • What do we want and expect from our leaders? We might ask this about our nations, our militaries, our churches. I’m thinking of the story this past week about Donald Trump and John McCain. What makes a person a hero? What makes a person fit to lead?
  • In the feeding portion of the gospel lesson, consider other times God made something out of what we might consider to be not much. The alternate Hebrew Bible reading about Elisha (2 Kings 4:42-44) underscores this theme.
  • The demands on the church feel overwhelming these days. There are so many needs in the world, needs for all kinds of feeding, both material and spiritual. We may feel like we have nothing to give, or that if we give what we have, there will be nothing left. Will God multiply what we have if we give it away? Look to Ephesians 3:14-21 to support this hope. God “is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
  • The miracle takes place in the giving of thanks – what might expand for us if we thanked God for what we have? The second Psalm option, Psalm 145:10-18, is a great match for this direction.

What direction are you headed, preachers? Share your thoughts in the comments.

*****

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42 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Not that kind of King

  1. I’m just getting started this week but my initial questions when looking at this text were: How do we want God to function and how do we try to (or wish we could) control God to get the outcomes that we want? How do we limit God with the limits of our own imagination? First they want to make Jesus king. Then when he’s walking on the water they try to hustle him into the boat but they reach land before they can do so. Why is this their reaction to Jesus’ miracles (feeding 5,000 and walking on water)? How do awe and fear generate a desire to define and control?

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    1. I like this line of questioning. When I was selecting hymns for Sunday, I tried to find pieces that fit in the category of miracles or God’s power. There are surprisingly few hymns that emphasis these themes, without being overtly kingly and masculine. How do we react to God’s power? What does it mean for our daily life that we believe in a God who has miraculous powers, can multiply food to feed thousands, can walk on water, and can certainly do other things beyond our imagination?

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      1. Like you, I was trying to think of hymns. I was thinking of the limitations we put on God and thought of “There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy.” But that’s really about us limiting God’s mercy not limiting God’s self. What does it say that we have few hymns about the miraculous, surprising power of God?

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  2. I’ve been following the Hebrew texts, so this week I’m looking at David & Bathsheba – What a time to challenge the limitations of a single perspective version of truth …. “He said/ She said” The Bathsheba Version ….. Love this site!

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  3. I think we’re headed toward defining who Jesus feeds, how he/we feed, and maybe how we should feed at “the meal.” We’ll be thinking about belonging before believing and behaving throughout the next four weeks of the Bread of Life texts. Hopefully, by the end of the Bread of Life texts, we’ll have redefined what constitutes “reverent” actions at the Lord’s Table.

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  4. I have been glossing over David’s story up to now, but that line is why we are in Track One. This is the week I will make the transition to David so I’m reading and studying. I’ve been curious for a while but had not taken the time to actually do the work. I hope to be able to talk about Privilege also – how David’s privilege gave him access to Bathsheba and wondering if she could have said No. It should be an interesting week of Bible study for me that I hope will get me through the next three Sundays, then a Sunday off, then the last week of John when I can cover ALL the bread on that day.

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    1. Or perhaps she did say no, but her word didn’t matter at all, because David’s word was more powerful than hers. Sounds like an interesting study topic, just in time for this difficult reading.

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  5. “There is a boy here…” This is exactly where I’m starting. By sheer accident, we are using this text this Sunday for Messy Church, our kid-friendly, once-a-month in the summer alternative worship experience. (Otherwise, I’m in the middle of the Narrative Lectionary Psalms series!). I’m going with the idea that we give what we can, even if we feel it cannot possibly “take care” of the Problem… and hope and trust that God will multiply our gifts in ways we can’t even imagine!

    (Also: how fun to see Flat Jesus in your picture! Made my scrolling-through-emails this morning.)

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  6. I preached this part of John 6 last Sunday, as part of the beginning of a new season/series based loosely on the RCL texts (out of order) and on our congregation’s sense of identity and purpose (which is founded in the feeding of the 5000 story). I ended up focusing mostly on the kid, ultimately. Though I did introduce a new phrase we’re using around the church: “you have Philip face!” (lol.)

    The sermon from last Sunday is here, in case it would be helpful to anyone: http://clevertitlehere.blogspot.com/2015/07/surprise-sermon-on-loaves-and-fishes.html

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  7. I’m filling in this week for my vacationing pastor. I’m working on the ideas of extravagance and sufficiency by looking at both the Gospel and the alternate OT passage in Kings that describe the leftovers that remain after the provision of enough food for the gathered people. I wonder what they did with the leftover food? Do we provide for the needs of others in such an extravagant way, or do we offer just enough?

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    1. Your ideas are bringing up an example from my church’s recent experience. Last week we hosted a meal for a mission/service group at our church (group was from out of town, staying at a different congregation, we just hosted dinner for them). Last night I learned that one of the volunteers didn’t think that the group should have been allowed to take the leftovers with them. What was she going to do with them? Where else should that food have gone? Not sure if I can use this example in a sermon this week, but I appreciate the food for thought… how do we help others with the excess of blessings that we have already received?

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  8. We have also been spending the summer with the OT texts, so it is David and Bathsheba for me. Our bible study group also worked through this story recently as we read through Katharine Sakenfeld’s book on women in the OT- “Just Wives?” Martha, I appreciate the contrast you note in David and Jesus and the kids of leaders they are here.

    I have only started getting my thoughts together, but some questions I am asking- who has power, who has privilege, who has a voice, who tells what story to whom, who is watching, who is silent?

    And as I type this I am realizing that these are the same questions I now ask when reading/watching/listening to news reports….hum….

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    1. I’m getting more excited about the idea of retelling the story in modern times. The odds would be against keeping the secret, but that doesn’t mean a person wouldn’t have the hubris to try and get what he/she wants anyway. We see it all the time. Everything looks okay until TMZ posts the mug shots.

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  9. David and Bathsheba for me. I’m going to look at the subtle power of temptation – how it can start small and grow into something we never imagined. Then next week the consequences
    and the forgiving, unconditional love of God.

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  10. We’re continuing with David. I feel led, at this point in the week, to speak about power. About abuse of power, misuse of power and power to do good – to bring someone to Jesus, to offer what you have, to feed the hungry, to look outside the box. I have chosen hymns with this theme but sermon is only in draft from so we’ll see where the Spirit leads me as the week wears on.

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  11. I’ve been following the OT series this summer on the origins and rise of the Davidic monarchy–which this Sunday makes me cringe. But perhaps asking “what kind of king do we want? What kind of king do we worship?” is the way to approach it. God certainly warned the Israelites that having a king was a really bad idea, and so far Saul and David, despite times of greatness, are bearing that out. Jesus, however, is an unexpected king — can we handle that? Or is it too much for us, as well.

    I do think that the David story speaks to the Bill Cosby drama being played out, and I’ve toyed with going there, but it’s summer, and whatever kids come are there for the whole service and as much as the conversation about power and coercion needs to be had, I’m not sure I can go there this week, in this place.

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    1. Kris – Bruggemann points out that David is one of the most Beloved Kings with a long legacy, yet the Biblical writers kept this story in and showed it to us quite blatantly. I love the juxtaposition of that.

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      1. I so love talking to people, especially teenagers, about David and reading the line that says “David was a man after the Lord’s own heart, and walked in God’s way…except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.” It makes me happy that a hero is remembered as flawed. Too often I think we whitewash our heroes (term used intentionally!), pretending flaws don’t exist until they become impossible to ignore, at which point they negate everything else the person has done. If we truly believe that *we* are not defined by our worst action, surely we can believe that about others, right?

        (Of course, I use that same teaching moment to point out that David is the culpable one here–he kidnapped and raped Bathsheba, essentially, and she is never mentioned as the one who “made a mistake.” I think that’s really important because it’s never too young to begin teaching kids that they have control of their body, and only their body.)

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  12. I’m going with feeding and miracles in 2 Kings and John, but don’t have much more than that yet. I came here for some inspiration and was not disappointed. Thanks, all, for your great ideas!

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  13. I will be launching into the John readings, since I did David in 2012. I cheated last week since we were having our annual “mass in the grass.” Used the Markan version of the feeding along with our Unted Churches’ food pantry fundraiser just days before: making something from little, abundance vs. scarcity. This week, more into the sign?

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  14. I love the King story. I am headed to Burger King today to pick up some King Crowns. Will have the children come up during sermon & put them on. Then ask them what they think it means to be a King. And then go from there.

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  15. I’m playing with the fact that only in John does Jesus feed the people. In the other gospels it is the disciples. There are other unique features in that he mentions large areas of grass where he invites the people to sit. (The Greek actually implies to be seated as in ready to eat so that would reclined.) So they are lying down in green pastures. Shepherd caring for his flock comes to mind as well as the 23rd psalm. That each person is important to Jesus which is leading me into the ministry of presence is another thought.

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