Proper 20(B): Building New Life

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By: The Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron

“But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.” (Luke 9:32)

The disciples often make it easy to shake our heads in disdain as they completely miss Jesus’ point or hide their heads in the sand, but I have a lot of empathy for them here. Jesus has just come down off the literal and figurative peak of his ministry where he stood in glory with Moses and Elijah, then followed that up with healing a boy whose affliction had evaded the best efforts of his followers to cure it—but then he reminds those same followers that all too soon, the party will be over and their leader will be betrayed and murdered.

This isn’t the first time the disciples have been let down after a mighty ministerial victory; there was the feeding of the four thousand and the healing of the blind man, followed by the foretelling of Jesus’ suffering and death in chapter 8. It must have felt like whiplash to reach such high highs and then dip to such low lows; and the temptation to stay on the mountaintop and avoid those steep valleys—just as Peter urged Jesus at the Transfiguration (9:5)—must have been strong.

The first time Jesus foretells his death, Peter’s fear-strangled love for his teacher pushes him to address it directly; he tries to talk Jesus out of the road that lies ahead of him (8:32). The second time (our passage), the text explicitly mentions the disciples’ confusion and fear (9:32) before we watch them turn the conversation to something more palatable: their own importance (9:34). By the time we get to the third prediction of Jesus’s passion, their fear is only a quick aside (10:32) before James and John skip straight to the boldest favor asked in all of history: that they might be given the honor of sitting on either side of him in glory.

It’s clear that they do not know what to do with the bewildering, heart-sinking news Jesus keeps waving in front of them. Instead of digging deeper—asking Jesus questions, working through their fear in an attempt to understand—they take the much easier route of turning away, pretending it isn’t real or that his sense of doom is blown out of proportion. I imagine they find a certain comfort in turning to the illusion that their greatness will save them from the turmoil to come.

So often when we are confronted with bad news, we too are confused and afraid like the disciples, and we too turn to arguments about far less important issues, squabbling amongst ourselves in an effort to feel as though we have control when we’ve just been brutally reminded that in reality it’s the opposite.

Whether it’s another bout of climate-change-fueled forest fires, or the uptick in Covid numbers despite the availability of the vaccine, or the rising tidal wave of misinformation and willful ignorance against a backdrop of white supremacy…there is a lot of bad news in our lives and in our world. Our fear and confusion (and our fatigue) cause us to look the other way, to put our energy towards things we feel like we can win: Facebook arguments, spats with a less-than-gracious neighbor, church council disagreements, political posturing in an age when we can simply ignore facts that don’t suit us and our own errors in judgment. Congressional leaders in particular excel at focusing all energy on the question of who can dominate the public conversation while conveniently ignoring the human and natural devastation wrought by solvable problems; but to a lesser extent, many of us do the same.

The disciples had been on the road with Jesus for months, uncertain where they would find their next meal or the next roof over their heads, trying to absorb teachings that turned their perspectives upside down. They must have been exhausted. We too, living in a pandemic hyped up on an instantaneous online news cycle, constantly inundated with every terrible thing that has happened in every location in the world, are exhausted. And when we’re exhausted—and if we have the privilege to do so—we want to look away. It feels like a way to save our sanity.

But where does our energy and attention go when we take that break? Does it go, like Peter, to trying to convince the bearer of the bad news that they’re wrong, or it’s not as bleak as they say it is? Does it go, like James and John and the rest of the disciples, to shore up our fragile sense of agency and importance in an out-of-control world? Or does it go to whatever grounds us in the One whose hard teachings and dire predictions always, always, come with good news, too?

Did you notice that each of the three times Jesus foretells the crucifixion, he also foretells the resurrection? The disciples jump right past that part—and understandably, because the torture and execution of your beloved rabbi and the brutal (presumed) end of his ministry is a lot to take in. But the fact remains that even as he is preparing them for the worst, he is also, consistently, telling them that the worst is not the end. He is doing all he can, through his teachings and healings which the disciples are witnessing firsthand, to prepare them for the new life that comes after.

What does it look like for us to look bad news squarely in the face; to choose, when it becomes too much to bear, not self-aggrandizement or the illusion of control, but restorative sabbath; to envision what might lie beyond the acceptance of the bad news; and to pay attention to how Jesus is preparing us to be a part of building new life on the other side of it?

The Rev. Leah Lyman Waldron serves as the pastor of Park Avenue Congregational Church United Church of Christ in Arlington, Massachusetts. A self-proclaimed thriftvangelist, her ideal day involves some good thrift shopping, a nice long walk, and a dance party with her two young kids and her pastor husband, Chris.

Proper 19(B): An Interesting Time

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By: The Rev. Jonathan Gaylord

It is an interesting time… to write a lectionary reflection. I don’t know how everyone else feels but I got excited last spring. COVID-19 seemed to be coming under control as infection rates dropped and vaccination campaigns really kicked into high gear. For the first time in a year, it felt like we could plan more than a week into the future, as individuals, families, and the church. I am writing this reflection at the beginning of August for the middle of September. None but the LORD know what September 2021 will look like. So yeah, it’s a little strange writing this reflection and I imagine when September 6th rolls around and I actually sit down to write my sermon the ground will have shifted yet again.

In 2021, I have preached exclusively from the Psalms. Little did I know when I put together my Psalter lectionary for 2021 how appropriate the series would be. The past 19 months have been like one long exposed nerve. We joked in March 2020 that we would collectively get a lot of reading, hobby work, and exercise done during lock down. For a few glorious months we all had fresh baked sourdough, before turning downcast eyes to the tasks of surviving, interpreting CDC and Government guidelines, agonizing over whether we were being safe enough or too cautious, and mourning lost opportunities and broken relationships as friends and family came to deeply different conclusions than we did, all under the weight of conspiracy theories and partisan posturing. When the spring rolled around and it looked like we had turned a real corner, collectively we breathed a sigh of relief and started to plan our lives again.

And now, there’s something hovering in the air. Not an unease, not a fear, but a real lingering fatigue, like second-day soreness after a hard workout that you just can’t shake. That’s because for the vast majority of people, the pandemic year+ was not rest. It was not quiet. For families, it did not provide opportunity for solitude or contemplation. It was unsatisfying sameness, so familiar we forgot to try and even name it. But it was isolated, extended, slow-motion trauma.[1]

The Psalms offer a simultaneous balm to the hurts of the past year and an outlet for the anxieties, fears, and anger that COVID culture has revealed. I would encourage you to incorporate them into your preaching more often.

Psalm 116 is especially poignant for the moment that we find ourselves in. The psalmist speaks of being encircled by cords of death and being beset by death and Sheol (v 3). For those who might be inclined to find the context of this danger and anguish, you will be disappointed at how tightlipped our poet is. The psalm doesn’t dive into the context or give many concrete clues as to the setting of the Psalm. The NRSV gives the psalm the heading “Thanksgiving for Recovery from Illness,” which it could be, “but in Psalm 18:5, a similar formulation refers to danger in battle.”[2] Whatever the context of the Psalm, the psalmist seemed unconcerned with relaying the accident of their anguish and instead focused on God’s actions and promise. Which is fortunate for us because it allows us to fully enter into the world of the Psalm. Kathryn Roberts says that “in the Psalm and the Prophets, “death” and “Sheol” are often metaphorical, describing a state of being, such as the trauma of unwarranted persecution, the slings and arrows of an enemy, or the distress of body and mind.”[3]  After the last 19 months, I imagine that for each of us and our congregations death and hell exist in a liminal space between metaphor and reality, ready to appear transformed in some new and terrifying way.

In a New York Times piece, Allison Gilbert writes that researchers think that for each person who has died of COVID, there are at least 9 people left behind to grieve, and that number could be higher because it only includes immediate family so we could be looking at a number 10+ times greater. Another recent study finds that at least 37,000 children lost at least one parent.[4] Any sermon on Psalm 116 (or that acknowledges the reality of the moment) would do well to reflect on the “cords of death” that have surrounded the world over these past 19 months.

Reality also gives way to the Gospel, a God who hears, listens, and rescues. Psalm 116 gives us the space to wrestle with where and how God has watched over the world. Helping our congregations to see God’s presence in our midst especially in times of uncertainty, wrestling with a tense faith, and practicing Hope could all become the central theme of a sermon centered around Psalm 116. The lection ends halfway through the Psalm with, “I walk before the Lord in the Land of the Living,” though going a few verses farther opens up questions of keeping the faith in the midst of distress.

Psalm 116 gives us a powerful opportunity to preach on the reality of the moment and the presence of God. One of my Contextual Education supervisors while I was working in a hospital setting said that our role in the hospital room was to “point to the God who is already there.” The Psalms give us the opportunity to enter into distress and point to a God who is already there… or to cry out trusting, through faith, that God is present, hears our cry, and has the power to rescue and resurrect. 

My friend and Candler classmate, Rev. Mashaun Simon, wrote an excellent reflection on this week’s Gospel text when it last came across the RCL. If you would like to engage with the text from Mark, I would encourage you to read his reflection.

The Rev. Jonathan Gaylord grew up in Florida and is a lifelong United Methodist. He’s a graduate of Candler School of Theology. His focus is on preaching, pastoral care, and exploring the spiritual practices that connect us to God. Since the beginning of the pandemic, Jonathan has been watching a lot of YouTube streamers to get tips and tricks he can bring into his own ministry during Coronatide and beyond. He enjoys running, hiking, and backyard gardening. Jonathan is married to Keri, who is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Jon and Keri have two kids, one welcomed in the middle of the pandemic. They also have a dog and some bees. Jonathan is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church and serves Yadkinville United Methodist Church in Yadkinville, North Carolina.

[1] Anne Helen Petersen. 2021. You’re Still Exhausted. Culture Study., (accessed August 4, 2021).

[2] Alter, Robert. The Hebrew Bible: The Writings. (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2019) 273.

[3] Toberts, Kathryn L. “Psalm 116.” In Psalms for Preach and Worship, edited by Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A Strawn, 299-302. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co, 2009.

[4] Gilbert, Allison.  2021. The Grief Crisis Is Coming The New York Times. April 12.

Proper 18(B): The Weight of Mercy

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By: The Rev. Andrew Chappell

One of the most haunting verses in all of scripture comes in the middle of James’s second chapter. James is in the midst of a major teaching moment regarding favoritism. He begins the chapter with an ardent declaration, “Anyone who acts in a manner of favoritism has no real share in the faith of Jesus Christ.” He then gives a cutting example.

A leader of a church gathering gives a good seat to the rich person, but to the poor, he allows him or her to sit on the floor or stand in the back. The leader has become an evil judge and has in turn dishonored the very heirs of the kingdom, the poor. A few verses later, James cuts to the chase, “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (2:12-13, NRSV).

The mandate is clear. We are not simply to be faithful people. We should be active people. We should not simply intend mercy. We should implement mercy. For God’s economy and politics are not aligned with those of humanity. Money is not king. Class is not of the highest value. Favoritism is out. Mercy is in.

And what happens to those who seem merciful but do not perpetuate mercy? What happens to those who empathize but do not actuate grace? James is pretty clear when he says, “faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead” (2:17, NRSV). Intention without initiative is empty. Anyone who does not show mercy will not be shown mercy.

James’s harshness to those who do not act mercifully reminds the reader of Jesus’ words, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, NRSV). Another echo occurs in Matthew’s passage concerning the Judgment of the Nations. Jesus says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40, NRSV). For James and for Jesus in the above passages, action is a must. Active mercy and grace are necessary in accomplishing the mission of the kingdom of heaven on earth.

Being active in grace is also necessary if you wish to be shown the same. Call it Christian karma. But the above aren’t the only verses in Matthew where sharing mercy has a direct effect upon the mercy shown to me:

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7, NRSV).

“For if you forgive others their trespasses your Heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15, NRSV).

“And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Matthew 18:34-35, NRSV).

All of this talk of showing mercy and its direct correlation with the mercy shown me by God is overwhelming and haunting. This Christian karma is overwhelming because there are so many areas of life that require me to show mercy and mercy is rarely easy. But I am haunted when I briefly glance at my past, only to see the amount of mercy that I have not actively demonstrated.

The haunting quickly dissipates when I think of Kathleen Norris’s understanding of grace. In her Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, Norris says, “Peter denied Jesus, and Saul persecuted the early Christians, but God could see the apostles they would become…We praise God not to celebrate our own faith but to give thanks for the faith God has in us” (151).

Norris reminds me, when I feel the weight of James and Jesus and their commands of mercy and consequences concerning the lack thereof, that the greatest mercy is always found in God. God is the greatest initiator of active grace. Every once in a while, it is good for us to reflect on the weight of mercy. But it doesn’t need to scare us. May we always feel empowered by our God who is actively and continuously granting grace to us because he believes in us, and he encourages us to share that same mercy again and again and again.

The Rev. Andrew Chappell serves as the Associate Pastor of Newnan First United Methodist Church in Newnan, Georgia. Andrew has an M. Div from Candler School of Theology and has been in ministry for over 10 years. He is engaged to Adair, enjoys Star Wars, and hopes to one day take his mandolin-playing skills up to the next level.

Proper 17(B): Savor the Simplicity

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By: The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram

When I read the snipped of Song of Songs from this week, I can’t help but think of a popular TikTok trend where the performer pretends to be an English teacher 100 years in the future reading today’s pop music hits like they are classical poetry with deep and rich meaning to them. In these videos, you see a serious teacher reading the lyrics of “WAP,” explaining to the theoretical high school students some metaphorical meaning to the song, and the joke lies in the fact that we experience the song now as just a joyful ode to women’s sexuality and that perhaps when we over-analyze poetry of old, we may be missing a simpler meaning.

Preachers who find themselves in the late summer months planning a sermon might choose to do a literary analysis of Song of Songs, sure, but they should also grant themselves permission to preach on embodied joy, as found in a straight reading of this text. Perhaps there are congregations looking for a taste of that which is good, and this week’s Song of Songs text might be a foray into that celebration of goodness this week.

If I were to preach on this Song of Solomon text and expand it into a lesson about the entire book, I might also tap into people’s heightened insecurities right now about their bodies, many of which have changed during the pandemic. I might try to connect Song of Solomon as a book on embodied joy and pleasure with a reminder that their bodies are good and deserving of appreciation and pleasure after a hard year.

A different question to bring to this text would be about the transition back to physical proximity with others in safe ways as more and more churches and other social groups are reopening. Approaching this passage in that way may highlight some tensions between the passage and our own experience—as we do not know yet if “the rain is over and gone.” In fact, changing strands of COVID-19 persists and racial injustice will take longer than a few month to address, but there is an electricity in the air about coming out of the shadows of social distance and blossoming anew. Could this text help us consider joyful transitions, even as we are cautious? If I went in this direction, I might connect this reading with this week’s reading in James, as many congregations have dealt with conflicts as they have sought to make safe decisions about resuming in-person worship services.

Some congregations have also faced a temptation to deny the real ministry that persisted during virtual worship in an effort to return to “normal.” The reminder in James of what true religion looks like, and even the Gospel reading of the week, might be a helpful reframing in the visioning conversations for this transition time of ministry. The passages in James or Mark could illumine what is important for a church to consider as they make more difficult decisions after a whole sixteen months of difficult decisions. What might it look like to prioritize God over human tradition? This question itself is bold when it contrasts with congregational conversations of returning “back to normal.”

There may be a way forward to celebrate joy and challenge us amidst conflicts and hard decision-making. In fact, the joy sustains us and gives us purpose to persist when it is hard to know how to move forward. As I think of preaching this week’s texts, I find myself wondering what the congregation needs and how to offer care in this moment. May God be with you as you seek an answer to the same.

The Rev. Dr. Hannah Adams Ingram is Director of Religious Life and College Chaplain of Franklin College. She is also the author of the 2021 release, The Myth of the Saving Power of Education. She lives with her spouse in Franklin, Indiana. She likes to bake, spend time with friends, and get lost in a good story via TV or books.

Proper 16(B): To Whom Can We Go?

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By: The Rev. Andrew Hege

“Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

After several weeks of reading from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, it may be all the more tempting to look toward one of the other appointed readings for sermon inspiration this week.  After all, hasn’t Jesus already said everything that can possibly be said about the bread of life?  Haven’t you? 

Stay with it. Jesus’ discourse in John’s sixth chapter just might have another nugget or two of wisdom.

The scene is familiar by now. Jesus has been about his work of itinerant teaching and healing, feeding and calming, amidst the hills and waters of the Galilee.

In addition to the narrative that we’ve now committed to memory – Jesus is the bread of life, the true bread which gives life to world, the bread that lasts, the bread that will satiate every hunger, the true food that offers eternal life when eaten – Jesus’ disciples re-enter the story at this point, our final week of sojourn here before returning to Mark’s Gospel.

“This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

How many times, I wonder, must the disciples have pondered this very question in response to the teachings of Jesus? Who can accept such challenging instruction? Who has the audacity to follow this man and his demanding way of life?

While it is the only time this query is recorded (in this form, at least) in all the Gospel accounts, I like to imagine that it was a familiar conjecture of those who traveled in the inner circle of the itinerant teach from Nazareth. Indeed, his teaching, the invitation to a way of discipleship, is difficult.  

“Does this offend you?”

Jesus offers a wondering question back to his friends. Beneath the question is a much deeper inquiry—does the truth of your humanity, your finitude, come as an affront? Does the truth of God’s boundlessness ache in the face of your own boundedness?

It is a difficult thing to come to terms with one’s own humanity. Jesus is, no doubt, fully aware of this reality. From the time of our birth, we humans are terminal, our mortality ever before us. Thank God, that is not the whole of the story.

“The words that I have spoken to you are truth and life.”

Jesus’ words are truth and life. Perhaps this statement doesn’t bid us much pause as twenty-first century readers of the Gospel; perhaps it should. 

In a world that is fading before our eyes, torn by the excesses of greed that render some full and others famished, Jesus’ words are life. In a world too often willing to settle for ‘alternative facts’ and agreeing to disagree, Jesus’ words are truth.

This is far from a throw away statement. It is a powerful declaration – Jesus words are words of truth and life.

“Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went with him.”

The truth, however, is not always good news to all, particularly when it upsets the very structures and norms that govern the community receiving the good news. The hope of freedom for the oppressed is not necessarily good news to the ears and minds of their oppressors. 

The words of truth and life for all people mean that the power structures of the status quo are going to be transformed, flipped upside down, overturned altogether. It is no surprise, then, that many turned away. 

“Lord, to whom can we go?  You have the words of eternal life?”

John the Gospel writer is a master storyteller; the narrative is always carefully expressed to convey the depth of theological wisdom that lay beneath. This scene is no exception.

The disciples have witnessed the seemingly impossible – thousands fed with but a few loaves of bread and couple of fish, their teacher stepping over the terror of waves and through the fierce winds to walk from the shore to their boat. They have heard the challenging words of discourse – bread that lasts, a manna greater than that which was received by their forebears in the faith, is now before them, readily available. 

Now, the final point, toward which all the tedious discourse has been pointing, is revealed – The Eternal, Incarnate Word offers, to the disciples and to us, the words of eternal life. There is nothing more satisfying to be sought and found.

And, there it is – the greatest miracle of John’s sixth chapter. Greater than the momentous feeding of the hungry masses, greater even than walking across the tumultuous sea, the great miracle proclaimed by the Evangelist is this – Jesus, the Incarnate and Eternal Word, possesses and shares, the words of eternal life. 

To whom else can we go?

The Rev. Andrew J. Hege is the Rector of St. Mary of the Hills Episcopal Church in Blowing Rock, North Carolina. Born and raised in Thomasville, North Carolina, he is a graduate of Montreat College, Wake Forest University School of Divinity, and Virginia Theological Seminary. In his spare time, he is an avid reader, a runner, and a lover of golf. Andrew is married to Amanda and they share their home with their daughter Eleanor, who was born in 2017, and son David, born in 2021.

Proper 15(B): Make a Wish!

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By: The Rev. Sean Ekberg

I often tell folks that God isn’t a Coke Machine. We don’t get to insert our prayers and receive the intended purchase—that’s just not how it works. God doesn’t show up on our doorstep or in our dreams and say, “Hey, you know what? You’ve been really good this year…name anything and its yours.” Our memories are pretty short, however, and we forget that the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is the gift that keeps on giving—really. How dare we ask for anything else? How could we possibly expect God to give more than Godself to us? Is there any sane person on the planet that would ask someone for a favor after they literally gave all they had to give?

Well. Yes. But maybe without the ‘sane’ component.

We do it all the time. We lament the tragedies in our personal, professional and global spheres and wail to God for grace. Which, to be honest, we should, as Philippians 4: 6-7 reminds us. But we also ask for things sometimes that really aren’t necessary to our survival. “Hey…um…I know you gave Jesus and all, but I just saw my buddy’s new house and…erm…why can’t I be that ‘blessed’?” We’re so bad at being thankful, so bad at accepting that free will exists in others just the same as it does in us—and that others’ free will isn’t always going to coincide with the good we’d like to see in the world. In short:

We’re so bad.

That’s what makes this excerpt from 1 Kings 2 so infuriating. We get to witness someone who has everything—everything—receive another boon from God. Not only that, but God speaks to him in a dream!! The audacity of God to pick someone so fortunate is beyond me. I mean, why doesn’t God pick someone lowly to visit—someone who’s been just as faithful?


Well, then why doesn’t God pick someone who’s had everything but lost it and then visit them somehow, making them great?



Why didn’t God pick someone who could literally change the face of the planet if he so chose, but then humble him by a gruesome betrayal and death, and then give him the boon of eternal life through resurrection or something like that?

Oh. Right.


See, the thing we hate about this pericope in 1 Kings isn’t that Solomon gets the goods from God. The reason this story sits poorly with some of us is simple: We know that, given the same opportunity, we’d choose wealth, health, or maybe the ability to fly around, and jump buildings in a single bound. Preaching on this particular moment can serve as a reminder to our people that God chooses people from their faith, and their faith alone. It doesn’t matter where they come from, who they are, or how many Benjamins they have in their tribe or wallet. A shepherd became a king. A manger became a throne. A virgin became a mother. And Solomon, being the faithful man he was, just wanted to be a bit smarter in order to guide his people in better ways.

What if we reminded folks about that? What if we preached a word that exhorted people to recognize their own potential—and the potential of others—regardless of socio-economic-status, creed, station, or pigmentation? And then to make them think about what they’d ask of God. I’m willing to bet that the folks in the pews may have arguments, but in the long run, they’d use some good ol’ fashioned introspection and see ways in which they aren’t living into the faith they so vehemently espouse.

And I imagine we’d hear ourselves, too, and do the same damned thing.

This one preaches to all, in many ways. Whether it’s recognizing the ‘good’ in our lives rather than the bad; the abundance rather than the scarcity; the humility rather that the ‘I deserve more’… What would we do if God gave us one wish?

I’d wish to have the wisdom of Solomon…not his gold.

The Rev. Sean Ekberg is the Rector of Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He earned a Master of Divinity from Seminary of the Southwest in 2015. His favorite pastimes are talkin’ bout Jesus, enhancing his terrible golf game, and taking vacation time with his favorite person in the world—his wife, Nicole. They have two fur babies, Kevin T. and Sophia P. Ekberg.

Proper 14(B): God Gives us Cake!

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By: The Rev. Jazzy Bostock

In July, I celebrate my birthday – which, coincidentally, I share with my wife. Navigating the day is interesting – she is content to let it pass as a “normal” day, while I want a big celebration. And what is more celebratory than cake? So, though I am NOT a baker, this year I decided on one thing: I was going to make a birthday cake. Cake is rich, over the top, fun food. It’s celebration food. Cake feels special to me.

So, you can imagine that the story in 1 Kings is one of my favorites. Elijah is travelling into the wilderness, after he has gone through a huge trial. He’s proven that God is God, in a sort of competition among prophets. All the prophets of Baal have been killed, and Jezebel sends a message to Elijah that he will be next. He must be exhausted – his energy spent on this major showdown, and his spirit weary from the stress.

Fearing for his own life after hearing Jezebel’s threats, he journeys into the wilderness, sits down beneath a tree, and asks God that he might die. Now, this may seem odd for someone who has just won such a huge competition and proven himself in battle so well. But I think the exhaustion simply overcomes him. Even after winning this huge fight, Elijah still isn’t in the clear. I wonder if he is realizing (perhaps for the first time) just how dangerous his career really is. I wonder if he is questioning God because of how much is required of him.

He lays down under the tree and falls asleep. He sleeps for a while, then an angel comes and touches him and tells him to get up and eat. Such simple, timeless wisdom: take a nap, and eat a snack. Have a glass of water. Elijah gets up and sees that there is a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. Can you imagine?

Now, I don’t mean to speak ill of manna – that powdery white stuff which kept God’s people alive in the wilderness so many centuries ago – and if Elijah had been offered manna, this story would still be miraculous. But, how much more beautiful—how much more sustaining—to be offered cake? Elijah wasn’t just given exactly what he needed to stay alive; he was given more than enough. He was given something rich, and dense, and celebratory.

The difference between cake and manna is like the difference between a home cooked meal and drive through. The drive through does the job. Manna has calories, and it will sustain those in need. But a home cooked meal, with a set table, on real plates, with the kind of food that fills the house with aroma and is eaten slowly so it can be savored—that kind of food feeds so much more than the stomach. That kind of food feeds the soul.

When the angel gave cake to Elijah, his soul was being nourished. And Elijah didn’t just have cake once. The whole scene repeated itself. This time, the angel gives some foreshadowing – “Get up and eat,” the angel says, “otherwise the journey will be too much for you.” This nourishment is a gift given to Elijah freely by God, and it propels him forward. The nourishment Elijah receives from these two pieces of cake sustain him for forty days and forty nights.

I love this story about Elijah, because it reminds me that our God doesn’t just give us manna; our God also gives us cake. It reminds me that when I feel low, or like I can’t go on, God offers sustenance and nourishment richer than I can imagine. It reminds me that when I am exhausted, I should take a nap, and have a snack.

This story also reminds me that when I am given nourishment, it is never supposed to be just for me, but for the life of God’s people. Elijah is sustained by this cake, and journeys onward to Horeb, where he receives confirmation in his calling as a prophet, and is sent back to serve God’s people. The nourishment God gives is not just comforting, it calls us onward, into the future.

Perhaps, in this moment, you are struggling with self-doubt. Perhaps you are exhausted, or wearied from your trials. Perhaps you just had a peak, or a triumph, but you are left depleted. If that sounds like you, take heart, for God offers cake to your weary soul. 

The Rev. Jazzy Bostock is a kanaka maoli woman, serving St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church and Maluhia Lutheran Church in Maili and Makaha, on the West Side of Oahu, Hawaii. She loves to cook, garden, laugh with her wife, and walk barefoot in sunshine. 

Proper 13(B): Renew a Right Spirit Within Me

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By: The Rev. Brandon Duke

The writer of Psalm 51 has been around the block a time or two. They recognized when they messed up and asked for mercy. They knew renewal of spirit was possible no matter what. “Give me just one more last chance,” they seemed to say.

I remember the first time I made a formal confession to a priest. I was nervous, and slightly humiliated because the priest hearing my confession was no stranger. She was my parish priest. We prayed and ate together. We sang and walked together. We had a spiritual friendship and mutual respect for one another. I remember writing down my confession because I didn’t want to forget anything. I remember confessing in a side chapel with votive candles and stained glass. I remember where the priest sat, and I knelt. As I recalled my sins, the priest listened. She could tell I was nervous. Maybe she was nervous too? After the formal confession, she stood up, absolved me, then put both hands on my shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and said, “Brandon, you’re going to make a great priest. Now go to the altar and pray Psalm 51, then be on your way.”

I remember feeling lightheaded and free. I remembered joy and tranquility. I felt loved. My spiritual friend, who happened to be my priest, acknowledged that I had been around the block a time or two. She admitted that I had messed up but that God’s mercy is always sufficient. She reminded me (and my own body reminded me with its lightness) that renewal of spirit is always possible. Finally, the Divine gave me one more last chance as God is always eager to forgive and not condemn.

I’ll never forget that first confession and the grace given to me by God through my parish priest. This week, remember mercy, compassion, and forgiveness as expressed in Psalm 51 or your own spiritual friend. Preach God’s grace this week, renewing a right spirit within your hearers as well as your soul.

The Rev. Brandon Duke serves as a chaplain to two hospital systems in the Atlanta Metropolitan area. He blogs at

Proper 12(B): More than Abundance

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By: The Rev. Jacob Pierce

The Feeding of the Five Thousand in John’s Gospel is replete with theological themes and motifs. Preachers might choose to go in a multitude of directions with this story. But what has always struck me is the abundance of food and the attention Jesus pays to the leftover fragments. 

Years ago, I attended a conference where Walter Brueggemann was the keynote speaker. Throughout the week, Brueggemann delved deeper into many of the themes in his writing, paying particular attention to this notion of “totalizing narratives.” Brueggemann argues that there exist narratives in our world that are in direct opposition to the narrative of God. These totalizing narratives are so consuming that the narrative of God is often lost. Brueggemann points to examples in scripture, of how God’s narrative has broken through the narratives of the world.[1]

For example, the totalizing narrative of Pharaoh in the Exodus story kept Israel in bondage. Pharaoh’s narrative was that there was no life outside of Egypt, that if the Hebrew people left and went into the wilderness, they would die. And the Hebrew people believed it! After their liberation the people complained as they remembered the melons in Egypt. But it was in the wilderness, it was in leaving Egypt, that the people of Israel saw God. God’s narrative broke through.  

Totalizing narratives, according to Brueggemann, always begin the same way: the people who have the most develop anxiety about scarcity, and from that anxiety comes accumulation, monopoly, and eventually violence. Pharaoh was the man who had the most, Egypt was all-encompassing, and the irony was that Pharaoh was afraid he might not have enough. Remember, the Israelites were building storehouses in Egypt, not pyramids.

In the first century, the Roman Empire was all-encompassing. The narrative of Caesar was that nothing exists outside of the heavy boot of Rome. Rome would supply just enough to meet their needs if they’d submit to its rule. But when Jesus multiplied the five loaves and two fish, it must have terrified the Romans. By feeding the people, Jesus was not only meeting their needs and revealing God’s glory, Jesus was offering a new narrative; an alternative narrative to the totalizing narrative of Rome. Jesus was revealing in a very tangible way that in God’s kingdom there is enough. But there is not only enough; there is more than enough—there are leftovers! 

I’ve often considered this in the context of the Eucharist. The Holy Eucharist defies the narrative that food is scarce, that it must be earned, and that God only communes with certain people. Eucharist is an alternative to that narrative. At the Eucharist all people commune directly with God, uninhibited by scarcity and monopoly, and God provides more than enough.

One of my favorite reflections from Barbara Brown Taylor is when she notes that God seems to prefer things that are broken.[2] One example she gives is that whenever Jesus is given bread in the gospels, he breaks it. This story in John’s Gospel is not only about abundance, but the special attention Jesus pays to the leftover fragments.

Preacher, you might consider the totalizing narratives of your own context. What are the totalizing narratives that keep your congregation from living out its ministry? What narratives keep your worshipping community from believing that the impossible is possible? We all have these narratives in our faith communities, the “we’ve always done it that way” excuse. You might also consider the narratives of our larger society: the division in our country, the partisan gridlock, the hopelessness that still permeates corners of our society after 15 months of a pandemic. Whatever you choose to focus on, remind them of God’s abundance. Remind them that God’s narrative is breaking through right now. And if they’re feeling broken Jesus is there to gather them up.

The Reverend Jacob Pierce is Rector of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia. He served as Curate at Holy Comforter Episcopal Church and as Associate Rector at St. Peter’s before his call to become Rector there in the spring of 2021. He lives in South End with his husband, Adam Santalla Pierce, and their dog Hamlet.

[1] For a full excursus on this subject, see: Walter Brueggemann, God, Neighbor, Empire: The Excess of Divine Fidelity and the Command of Common Good (Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2016).

[2] See: Barbara Brown Taylor, “Blessed Brokenness,” in Gospel Medicine (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1995).

Proper 11(B): Where Are Our Deserted Places?

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By: The Rev. Anna Shine

To give some context to our Gospel passage from today, it is helpful to note what has happened leading up to our part of the narrative. Jesus has been rejected in his hometown of Nazareth, and so he leaves and continues his ministry of teaching elsewhere. He then sends out his twelve disciples in pairs to cast out unclean spirits and to heal the sick. From there Mark inserts a vignette about the death of John the Baptist, which has happened at some point in the past, but is being recounted now. Immediately following this vignette is where our passage begins, with the twelve apostles returning from their being sent out and reporting back to Jesus what they have done and taught. Although the vignette about John’s death is not included in our passage for today’s reflection, it bears mentioning that its placement between Jesus’ disciples being sent out and then returning is a common rhetorical device used in Mark’s writing of the Gospel, suggesting that there is an important connection to consider with those stories.

But for today, our story begins with the apostles returning from their mission and updating Jesus on what they have done. And Jesus’ response is such an important one. He said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while’ (Mk 6:31). We often forget that fourth commandment to remember and keep holy the Sabbath day (Ex 20:8). It bridges the three commandments before it that pertain to our relationship with God, and the six that follow it that concern relationship between human creation. The meeting of the vertical (relationship with God) with the horizontal (relationship with others) – the crux of the cross. A whole sermon could be preached just on this verse and the implications of a command to rest. What might it mean to take that commandment seriously? Especially within the consumeristic and workaholic culture we find ourselves in these days. And how has rest shown up or disappeared in your life during this pandemic? Where are our deserted places, etc.?

Continuing with the narrative, the disciples get in a boat and go to a deserted place, whereupon they find it not deserted, but filled with a crowd that hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them (Mk 6:33). So perhaps the boat served as the deserted place for the disciples since they were greeted by a crowd on shore. Jesus, upon seeing this great crowd had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things (Mk 6:34). I love the Greek word for “to have compassion for.” Splagnizomai. It literally means “to be moved in the inward parts,” [1] which depicts a visceral and physical component to the emotion Jesus feels. There is discomfort, a discomfort that moves a person to action. And that makes sense. Because the translation, “compassion,” means “to suffer with.” Jesus is moved in his innermost being, he feels the suffering with the people he is among, and he acts by beginning to teach them.

What normally would follow is the narrative of the feeding of the five thousand – where Jesus, having fed the crowd with his teachings, then provides a meal of bread and fish to sustain that learning. Next comes the story of Jesus walking on the water. But all of this is missing from today’s Gospel selection, leading from Jesus’ compassion for the crowd of people in the deserted place, to the healing of the crowds that followed him wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms (Mk 6:56). While I do not know why the lectionary chooses to leave out these portions of Mark’s Gospel, perhaps one reason is to emphasize the elements of the story that are less spectacular in their miracles, giving them the opportunity to be studied more closely. What we are left with is a command to rest a while, a display of compassion moving Jesus to action, and the gift of Jesus’ healing touch.

Of note is the word used for “touch.” And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed. The Greek word, haptomai, means to touch, but in a way that involves modification. It is a kind of touch that influences and/or alters.[2] Through touching Jesus, people are healed.

Perhaps, by leaving out the stories of the feeding and the walking on water, we are able to see a different connection that would be hard to discover with all the action in Mark’s Gospel. Because, in a way, the compassion Jesus feels for the crowd is an inward kind of touch – a way of being touched – that leads to his being altered, changed, moved. Moved to action. And the crowd, having witnessed Jesus’ compassion through his teaching and healing, are moved in return to reach out towards him, to the act of touching him. To be altered, changed, moved by him. And through that they are healed. How marvelous and miraculous is that!

Questions for further thought might be:

What causes you to have compassion? What gifts might you have that can be used as the action compassion moves you toward? Are you a good listener? Storyteller? Craftsperson? Musician? Gardener? Cook? We all have gifts and skills that can help to alleviate suffering in the world – reflect upon yours, recalling that, as the Body of Christ, we need a diversity of gifts, and none are greater than the others. In what ways do you reach out to touch Jesus, allow yourself to be touched by him, and find healing in those acts?



The Rev. Anna Shine currently serves as the Episcopal campus minister for the Presbyterian Episcopal Campus Ministry (PECM) at Appalachian State University. She also serves as the Missioner for Creation Care and Social Justice at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Boone, North Carolina. She loves listening to stories, doing puzzles, playing violin, and spending time with her dog, Hugo.