Proper 13B

July 26, 2021

The Proper 13B Sermon Starters include commentary and illustration ideas for John 6:24-35 from the Lectionary Gospel; 2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a from the Old Testament Lectionary; Psalm 78:23-29 from the Lectionary Psalms; and Ephesians 4:1-16 from the Lectionary Epistle.

Related Reformed confession: Lectionary Epistle: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 46 (Lord’s Day 18)

  • The Lectionary Gospel +

    John 6:24-35

    Author: Chelsey Harmon

  • Old Testament Lectionary +

    2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

    Author: Scott Hoezee

  • The Lectionary Psalms

    Psalm 78:23-29

    Author: Scott Hoezee

    Suppose you heard a story that went something like this:

    And so that evening the father of these four children decided that he would respond to their hunger and their requests for something yummy to eat by going to Burger King.  When the father returned home, he had all their favorites: milkshakes, loads of crispy fries, hamburgers, chicken nuggets.  A fast food feast!  The children were delighted and tucked into the food with happy abandon.  Their father had fed them exactly what they wanted and although there were not a lot of leftovers, neither could the children quite polish off the abundance their father had brought home for them.

    That’s a nice homey story.  Heartwarming.  A vignette of parental largesse.  And if you had only that paragraph to go by, you’d assume this was part of some larger story that was also full of goodness.  But suppose you discover that this paragraph really was just part of a bigger story and suppose you discover eventually that the larger story reads like this:

    The children’s complaints about hunger had gone on and on.  At first it was only a little annoying to the father but soon he grew irritated.  “Get your own food” he snapped!  “Leave me alone!”  But it was clear this was not going to work.

    And so that  evening the father of these four children decided that he would respond to their hunger and their requests for something yummy to eat by going to Burger King.  When the father returned home, he had all their favorites: milkshakes, loads of crispy fries, hamburgers, chicken nuggets.  A fast food feast!  The children were delighted and tucked into the food with happy abandon.  Their father had fed them exactly what they wanted and although there were not a lot of leftovers, neither could the children quite polish off the abundance their father had brought home for them.

    But when they finished, their father bellowed at them.  Red-faced with indignation the father yelled, “Now clean up every last bit of this mess!  Clean it perfectly or you will get spanked.  And once you get it cleaned up”—and at this point the father took off his leather belt for emphasis—“then I want you all to get into bed so I don’t have to see or hear you one more time tonight.  And if you lollygag or don’t get into bed soon, you will get a whooping for sure!

    Well let’s admit that the middle paragraph is the same but it does not read the same way in context.  Now that middle section does not seem sweet or heartwarming in the least.

    It’s pretty obvious that this is so and I know I have strained the limits of credulity to frame it this way.  But honestly, that is what the RCL does with Psalm 78.  It carves out 7 verses from this psalm’s much longer poem of 72 verses and just ignores the preceding and the following context of this psalm.  It carves out a nice little narrative of how God rained down manna from heaven for his people when they were hungry and how the people gratefully ate it all until they were plain stuffed.  That is nice.  The problem is that just before this snippet we are told of how angry God was with this grumbling and perennially discontented people and then immediately beginning in verse 30 we are told how even after having fed and sated the people, God still punished them for their sin by inflicting a pretty significant loss of life among the manna-stuffed Israelites.

    So that middle part . . .  well, not so heartwarming after all.

    The irony is that Psalm 78 directly states as its purpose an honest retelling of Israel’s history.  The psalmist says he will hold nothing back about God’s goodness but also that he would be brutally honest about Israel’s failures.  The grace of God will shine the brighter when we can see with clarity all that this grace had to overcome and deal with.  If you tidy up one part of the story too much, you diminish also the good parts.

    Probably the RCL carved out this snippet to go along with Jesus’s talking about manna in the John 6 Lectionary Gospel reading for this week.  But we dare not isolate this snippet in Psalm 78 from its more forthright telling of the whole story, warts and all.  Jesus is the ultimate Bread of Life, the true Manna come down from heaven.  But the sacrifice Jesus will make to turn his flesh into life-giving bread is necessary precisely because of our enslavement to sin.  Jesus became true manna not on some pretty setting on a mountainside but only when he was hoisted up on a bloody cross and left to die horribly.

    We would all just as soon not have to see ourselves in the ugly part of that larger context.  Of course, this Psalm snippet also occurs on the same Sunday when from the Old Testament the Lectionary has us read David’s being convicted of his adultery and murder surrounding his actions with Bathsheba and Uriah.  The end of Psalm 78 celebrates God’s having given David to Israel and how well he shepherded the whole nation but David’s own story is not all rosy and you just have to give the Old Testament credit for not covering that up, either.

    “Human beings ate the bread of angels” verse 25 says in a particularly florid poetic moment.  There is a sense in which that was true, however.  But we now eat a better bread: the body of our Lord Jesus Christ, sacrificed to give us a complete remission of all our sins.  Some parts of the larger story that surround that lyric truth are not heartwarming to contemplate.  But the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and what all it meant that “while we were yet sinners God loved us” is the more remarkable when you can see that bigger picture.

    Illustration Idea

    My wife and I threw a birthday party for a young woman once, allowing her to invite what turned out to be a fair number of friends from college.  We put on a pretty good feast, including homemade eggrolls, Japanese beef rolls, and four or five other treats in addition to a big birthday cake at the end.  But afterwards we were struck by how few people said Thank You as they headed back out the door.  Many of us have had this experience.  You give a couple a nice wedding present or a hefty check to help them get started but no Thank-You note ever comes in the mail.  As Lewis Smedes used to say, life is out of joint when proper gratitude is not expressed for good gifts.  It is like some loop did not get closed.  It feels incomplete.  And if you are the giver of the good things, you feel at best slighted and at worst a bit ticked off.

    Who knows all the reasons why God was still so angry with Israel after they feasted on the bread of angels and a feast of meat that fell to them out of a clear blue sky.  But could it have been that so few lingered to say Thank You to God?  Did that Old Testament story contain words of a praise festival that the people held once they had gorged themselves?  It reminds me of when Jesus healed ten lepers yet only one doubled back to say thanks.  “Where are the other nine?” Jesus wondered aloud.

    And I am pretty sure you should read those words of Jesus with more than a hint of woundedness and disappointment in his voice.

  • Lectionary Epistle +

    Ephesians 4:1-16

    Author: Doug Bratt