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?


[1] https://biblehub.com/greek/4697.htm

[2] https://biblehub.com/greek/680.htm

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.

Proper 10(B): The Cost of Discipleship

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By: The Rev. Caleb Tabor

The story of Herod the Tetrarch (not the same King Herod of the birth narrative) having John the Baptizer beheaded is one that has always sort of captured my attention. It is an oddly detailed story for Mark, given that so many other things are rushed through in his gospel. In this account of a political assassination, I see bits and pieces of so many other stories from Scripture. The first and most obvious parallel here is that it is a continuation of the king/prophet relationship established at the start of the monarchy of another tragic king, Saul, and another shabby looking but important prophet, Samuel (there are also parallels between Samuel and John and Jesus’s birth narratives). When verse 18 tells us of John skulking about, reminding Herod of his misdeeds in taking Herodias as his wife, I can’t help but think of Nathan confronting King David over Bathsheba. Images of Ahab and Jezebel as an antagonistic power couple against a beleaguered prophet Elijah also spring to mind.  

The strange thing about Mark’s account here is that Herod isn’t actually portrayed as an actively antagonistic or malicious person towards John. He may not like what John has to say, but Herod actually sees the prophet as a sacred, holy man who should be protected. I find myself having a little bit of a soft spot for Herod here. Herod is doing something that a great many other people would not – he protected someone who was openly denouncing him because he knew that person was holy. In a political and social culture where we often won’t even listen to people who disagree with us, much less stick up for them or protect them, Herod’s example here is something of a startling jolt to one’s ethical system.

This is, of course, overshadowed by what happens next, and what happens next is even more tragic. Herodias asks for John to be assassinated. Not just assassinated but killed in such a way and with such pageantry that he will be made an example of and disgraced. The story tells us that at this point that Herod can no longer protect John. Not because Herod agrees with Herodias, not because Herod is tired of protecting John, and not even because Herod wants to impress Herodias, but because Herod wants to do what would be considered right and keep an oath he made. He promised Herodias, in front of guests, that he’d give her whatever she wanted as a show of gratitude for her beautiful dance. This put him in a bit of a rock and a hard place. Does he break the commandment saying that we should keep our oaths or does he break a commandment and have an innocent person murdered? I know which one I’d pick, but I’m not an ancient king who made a rash promise in front of my whole court. If I look like a fool in front of my friends, it’s just another Tuesday around here. This brings to mind the tale of Jephthah’s daughter (Judges 11), in which another innocent person had to be killed because of a rash promise made by one ruling over Israel. Even though Herod may be named after his father, he seems more like an amalgamation of the tragic rulers Jephthah the Judge and King Saul. Ultimately, Herod goes with keeping his oath and killing a prophet (a bit cowardly, if you ask me, but I wasn’t there).

To further serve the tragic figure motif, thee story says that Herod was “deeply grieved” by this. This is also demonstrated when Herod hears of Jesus working miracles among the people. Herod’s immediate assumption was that it was not a new teacher Jesus but actually that John the Baptizer had been raised and was out working wonders among the people. More specifically, he thinks that “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.” Signs of a guilty conscience. I wonder if he’d have been so concerned over simply breaking an oath and looking foolish.

This is a story about a lot of things. One of the big ones is that it is about the real danger of people with power and privilege (not just “bad” people, but anyone with that much influence and authority over another life). John the Baptizer spoke a lot of words, and he won over a number of hearts, but not once did he give a quick order and have his goal accomplished so swiftly as Herod did when he took John’s head. A word, a request, an action, in the hands of powerful and privileged people can become quite deadly quite quickly if their motives are off or their courage is weak. Herodias is a prime example of a person of privilege (though not the most privileged in her society) harboring a prejudice against someone that turns out to be deadly. Herod is a prime example of what happens when people of decent conscience just go along with it. The words of another murdered prophet, Martin Luther King Jr, come to mind in this instance. He spoke out against the silence of the children of light and of the danger of the white moderate who allows injustice to stand in the name of keeping the peace or maintaining the status quo. These words, warnings, and culpabilities lay on all people in positions of power or privilege who, out of some confused sense of misplaced virtue or perhaps just cowardice, let hate and violence continue to claim the lives of innocent people, a number of whom may well be prophets.

There is a final comparison I want to make, but it is by no means the last one could engage in this rich story, and that is between Herod and Pilate. Herod doesn’t show up again in Mark to judge Jesus. It is a solo job for Pilate, and he ends up playing the role in the killing of Jesus that Herod plays in John’s murder – the powerful person presiding over injustice. They both seem to have a lot of internal problems about their respective executions, but Herod at least seems to understand and assume his responsibility in John’s murder, rather than just trying to shift the blame as Pilate is famous for doing. Both people reach out through the pages of Scripture and force us to consider our culpability in the social evils all around us. 

As I contemplate this story, it brings important and unnerving questions to mind. Am I being John the Baptizer, speaking truth to power, come what may, cost what it will? Am I Herodias hating a person who dares to disagree with or criticize me? Or am I Herod, who lets my mouth get ahead of me, doesn’t learn from past mistakes, and facilitates evil in the world, with my only defense being excuses and my only consolation being my broken conscience?

The Rev. Caleb Tabor is the chaplain for Episcopal Campus and Young Adult Ministries in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was educated at Elon University, Emory University, and Virginia Theological Seminary. Originally from Efland, North Carolina, he has settled down close to home, where he lives with his husband.  

Proper 9(B): Expectations Get in the Way

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By: The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber

When I was commissioned as an Elder in the United Methodist Church, I sent a letter of thanks to the pastor of my church growing up. I wanted him to know how grateful I was for his kindness, compassion, and care for me in an awkward stage of my own development. Bob had been a coach for my soccer team, a confidant for my development, and had even been the one to pick me up from the floor with my dad after overindulging in a celebration after a lacrosse championship. He was a good man. 

I sent the letter and put it out of my mind. A few weeks later, I got an email from him, thanking me for the note. It was exactly as kind, thoughtful, and gracious as I had remembered him to be. So, I went searching to find any recorded sermons from his current church, simply out of nostalgia. 

When I found his current church’s page, I found a list of audio links for sermons, I clicked the first one– the most recent one. And, wouldn’t you know it. It was a sermon about how God had worked miraculously in a former youth parishioner of his. The basic message was that there is no one that God cannot use for the Kingdom work we are all called to. Of course, he remembered who I was. 

As it turns out, no one really forgets who you were. Our identities are a unique combination of who we were, who we are, and who we might be. Each decision we make, each interaction we have continues to shape the people that we will be. The best people can hold each of those aspects of us lightly. They can see the past, the present, and the potential together without judging who you might be based on who you once were. 

That is a gift. It is a rare gift. 

As Mark illustrates for us, it is really difficult for people to let go of old memories and expectations. In the best of circumstances, those expectations help create potentially healthy norms in society: the oldest child should always be the one caring for his mother, the neighborhood handyperson should always be a phone call away. And, of course, those expectations can be really limiting and isolating: the “crazy” bastard son of Mary will always be “crazy” and unworthy of any reverence. 

And, of course, Jesus breaks each of those expectations. This isn’t even the first time. The last interaction Jesus had with his family was only three chapters earlier. They came to bring him home because he had stepped so far out of his expected role that the people were calling him crazy, and the religious folks were equating him with the embodiment of temptation itself. 

Expectations always get in the way. It seems that expectations can even limit the power of God. 

Mark tells us explicitly that he was “unable to do miracles” and that he was “appalled by their disbelief.” (Mk 6:5a, 6) 

Jesus’ own community stands in stark contrast to the stories that bookend this encounter in his own hometown. In Mark 5, we see two miracles. One marginalized woman who had been bleeding for 12 years–making her ritually unclean, reached with faithful hands to touch Jesus’ clothes and was suddenly free of her affliction. And one 12-year-old girl who was declared dead was given new life. Each of these women was given a new life, literally– because of their faith. 

And in the remainder of today’s passage, we see how quickly and easily Jesus’ message and power multiply in the parts of the world that are open to the life-changing invitation of God’s Kingdom. 

The only people who seem to be left out of this work are the people who let their assumptions get in the way of God’s work. Whether they are relatives, friends, neighbors, scholars, pastors or leaders, they are left out of the redemptive story of God’s Kingdom when they try to relegate God to the narrow confines of their expectations. 

My former pastor has modeled that kind of openness for me in my life. I’m sure you can think of people in your life who know who you were, but who also remain open to who you might be. As it turns out, their faith creates the space for transformation– at least that is true in my life. 

I wonder how God is calling you to hold your expectations lightly in order to see transformation in your own life. I wonder what expectations you have for your life that might need to be let go of in order to live a new life. I wonder how your congregation might hold expectations, assumptions, traditions, and customs lightly enough to witness Christ walking just beyond our sight. 

May Christ never have to wipe the dirt from his feet in your presence. 

The Rev. Patrick Faulhaber currently serves as the pastor to North Decatur United Methodist Church in Decatur Georgia, and as an associate to the Greater Decatur Cooperative Parish. He and his wife Susannah Bales live with their dogs in Decatur, where they enjoy the wonderful food, fabulous walking trails, and creative spirit of the community.

Proper 8(B): Work on the Way

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By: The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis

“The interruptions are the work.”

This was one of the first things that was said to me when I started my first year of Contextual Education at the Episcopal Church of the Holy Comforter in Atlanta, a parish where more than three-quarters of the congregation lives with a chronic mental illness.

I didn’t understand it then, but it became a mantra. Someone stands up, starts talking to themselves, and leaves a service.

The interruptions are the work.

You have to stop running your evening programing to break up an argument.

The interruptions are the work.

Someone stops your conversation to tell you how much what you said two weeks ago made them feel loved.

The interruptions are the work.

Good or bad, right or wrong, convenient or not—The interruptions are the work.

This has become a mantra for my own ministry. Sometimes it has served me well. Other times it’s gotten me into trouble, made me late, or thrown me off the great and holy ministerial workflow. But its always been there.

In interruption there is wisdom. Let us attend.

When Jesus gets off the boat, he’s given something to do. The leader of the local synagogue pleads with him “My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well, and live.” It’s a task that Jesus takes on, and he sets down the road to Jairus’ house.

Then comes the interruption. A woman who has bankrupted herself in healthcare costs makes one of the most amazing statements of faith, that If I only touch his cloak, I will be made whole, and presses through the crowd, straining to touch the hem of his robe.

It would have been imperceptible to anyone but Jesus. It could have been entirely ignored. A silent miracle, one more thing amongst the works of Jesus that, as St. John says, would fill more volumes than the world could contain. (John 21:25, KJV) But Jesus stops, not because Jesus is offended by a perceived theft of power, but because Jesus wants to encounter this woman. Because, the Lord knows, the interruptions are the work.

But work or not, interruptions take time. Time that Jairus’ daughter didn’t have. And a scant few verses later, Jesus is being told to go home. It’s too late. Don’t bother. We hear the words of Martha echo in our ears “Lord, if you had been here…” (John 11:21 NRSV) And where we see death, we see the end of this young woman’s life. Jesus sees but an interruption. Jesus gets to work.

I’ve had to nuance my understanding of what it means to find the holy in the interruption. Interruption is not always good in and of itself. What makes interruptions good and holy is that we attend to them knowing what our end, what our goal, is.

This kind of attention to interruption only worked at Holy Comforter because we knew in our bones that the mission of that parish was to be beloved community for those who were cast to the margins of our society, and anything we did, any interruption we attended to would be in service of that mission.

If we get clear about where it is we’re going, and what it is we’re doing, then we can abide the interruptions, and not let them become distractions.

What we see in the Markan pericope is Jesus clear that he is moving toward the healing of Jairus’ daughter, setting her as a type of the kind of life that Jesus is to bring. New, abundant, resurrected life. Everything that happens on the road to Jairus’ house works in the service of that end. The hemorrhaging woman, though an interruption to the task at hand, becomes another opportunity to share life and healing in the service of Christ’s purpose— to make known the reign of God come near.

What this means for us then, us as church, is that we have to get clear about what our end, our telos, our purpose, is. Is it to, as the Book of Common Prayer puts it, “restore all people to

unity with God and each other in Christ”? (P. 855, BCP1979) If so, what does that mean for those who we would encounter as interruptions on the way? Can we see them as moments of the spirit breaking in? Will we allow ourselves to be conduits of Christ’s love and power? Will we be tools for healing?

If we know in our bones whose we are, and what it is that we are working for, then we can have the grace to let the interruptions be the work, and not to grow weary.

The interruptions are the work.

Blessed be the work.

The Rev. Canon Lee Curtis is Canon to the Ordinary in the Episcopal Diocese of the Rio Grande. This essay was originally published in 2018.

Proper 7(B): Giving Voice

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By: The Rev. Dr. AnnaKate Rawles

Psalm 107 is a liturgy of thanksgiving, a psalm likely offered at festivals and holy days in Jerusalem. The psalm can be broken into 5 sections: an introduction and thanksgiving, and four groups of people who represent the redeemed of the Lord. These groups of people have been redeemed from the hands of oppression by God and gathered together “from the east and from the west, from the north and from the south.” These four groups of people represent God’s action and redeeming presence in all places throughout the world. The first group are wanderers in the desert, who arrive at their destination because of God, the second are prisoners who are set free, the third are the sick who have been healed, and from the lection today a group of sailors caught in a storm.

Each piece about these groups follows this pattern:

  • A description of the pain or distress
  • A prayer
  • How God has delivered them
  • Thanksgiving to God
  • A repetition of two refrains

The refrain “They cried to the LORD in their trouble; and he brought them out from their distress” is repeated for each situation. A description of how God has redeemed them is given and then the refrain “Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love; for his wonderful works to humankind” is given.

This Psalm is centered on the faithfulness of God in hearing the cries of God’s people and responding. Scripture is filled with examples of God hearing and responding to God’s people. The people cry out to God and God acts, speaks, delivers. God’s presence and faithfulness to hearing God’s people never fails. This Psalm, in many ways, mirrors the prayers of the people. We lift up parts of our world, lives, communities to God and expect that God hears our hopes, joys, and worries.

We are never at a loss of chaos, oppression, sickness to share with our communities and with God. Perhaps this week a sermon takes on the style of the Psalm and the prayers of the people. Give voice to the people, places, experiences that need attention. Pray over these things, and then share ways in which we, as the people of God, are able to do God’s work in the world. We pray for the people of Palestine, and then we educate others on Israeli Settlements that have made Palestinians homeless. We pray for the hungry, and then we work with organizations to find sustainable ways to end hunger in our town. We cry out to God in our troubles, and on behalf of those who are in trouble, and then we listen and act in ways that God would to bring others out of distress. We give thanks to God for God’s love and is apparent in our communities and gatherings.

AnnaKate Rawles has a BA in Literature and Religion from Converse College, Master of Divinity from Candler School of Theology, Certificate for Theology in Ministry from Cambridge University, and a Doctor of Ministry from Candler School of Theology. AnnaKate is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and is currently serving as Associate Pastor at St James Atlanta United Methodist Church. She is passionate about full inclusion of LGBTQ persons in the Church, conservation efforts especially around endangered and at risk animals, and sustainability and creation care at home and in the local church. She enjoys traveling, volunteering at Zoo Atlanta, and pondering ways to escape quarantine.  

Proper 6(B): Ancient & Modern

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By: The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly

“The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

Well that’s a relief! Discipleship is not a beauty contest! That means there’s hope for me after all! Preachers who choose 1 Samuel as their text will find fertile ground for proclaiming the Gospel over and against the pseudo-Gospel proffered by our culture, which insists on the idolatry of the perfect waist or bust size; the perfect skin tone or hair style; the perfect trends in fashion and style. There is an endless supply of material available for preachers whose people need to hear a word spoken against consumerism.

There is also plenty good room in this text for the preacher to focus on the character of the heart, and what God requires of those who seek to follow. This text cuts both ways. Yes, God does not focus on our outward appearance, but God does focus on our inner character and condition. It’s much easier to mask and dress up the former than it is the latter. In fact, one could argue that at least part of our culture’s obsessiveness on outer appearance is rooted in feelings of shame or guilt or inadequacy about the content of our character.

What are we to make of God’s choice of the younger and “ruddy” David over his older (and customarily preferred) siblings? There is something of a pattern here. God also chose Isaac over Ishmael, Jacob over Esau, and Gideon over his older siblings. There are echoes here of Hannah’s song, and even a faint whisper of the Blessed Virgin Mary’s Magnificat, where God acts to lift up the lowly. Where we see a meager shepherd, God sees a King in the making!

If the preacher is planning to continue along Track I for a few more weeks, or for the rest of the season, there is also plenty to ponder in terms of preaching a series on 1 & 2 Samuel. One potential starting place might be to focus on the fact that, at the moment David is anointed King, there is another King of Israel who is alive and well: Saul, whom God has rejected.

The symmetry between the anointing of Saul and the anointing of David is striking: God commands Samuel to anoint David, just as God earlier commanded him to anoint Saul. Saul had sinned, leading to God’s rejection of him. David will also sin grievously. The Spirit of God rests upon David, just as the Spirit rested upon Saul. David will rise to supplant Saul, and in so doing, bear witness to the will of God being accomplished, despite the fickleness and capriciousness of God’s servants.  

1 & 2 Samuel portrays the radical growth and expansion of Israel from a lowly tribe of Hebrews into a geopolitical force. As Walter Brueggemann noted in his watershed commentary on the books of Samuel, there are three distinct factors at work in this transformation: political power, social pressure, and technological possibility.[1] This text wrestles with questions of international diplomacy and military action, the development of infrastructure, economic policy and wealth distribution, land use policies, and the emergence of socio-political factions and policies. Those who treat this ancient text as if it has no wisdom to impart do so at their peril. Indeed, as patient, careful, and imaginative preachers will discover, 1 & 2 Samuel is every bit as timely and contemporary as the Sunday newspaper headlines!


[1] Walter Brueggemann, “1 & 2 Samuel” in Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching James L. Mays, Series Editor (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 1.

The Rev. Dr. Marshall A. Jolly is the 26th rector of Grace Episcopal Church in Morganton, North Carolina. He is a graduate of Transylvania University (BA, American Studies) and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology (DMin, MDiv, & Certificate in Anglican Studies). In his elusive moments of spare time, he enjoys running, reading, and cooking–though not at the same time! Husband to Elizabeth, he is also the editor of ModernMetanoia.org.

Proper 5(B): Shut Up!

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By: Chris Clow

“Shut up! Stop talking! You’re hysterical! That’s crazy talk! We know who you are, so stop this madness and come back home! Be quiet!”

Quite a response, huh? Jesus is trying to teach about the love of God and healing those in need, having to fend off the scribes and religious officials who are challenging him and saying he’s possessed by the devil, all while trying to keep this massive crowd under control, when he starts hearing people tell him to stop and try to hold him back. But it’s not the scribes, and they didn’t tattle to the Pharisees. It’s not the Romans either; and it’s not the crowd.

It’s his family. His own family are unwilling to listen to what Jesus has to say. Imagine what this would have felt like to him: to be trying to do what you were put here to do, only to look up and see your relatives going “Yeah, ok, carpenter boy. Big talk here. It’s about time you come on home, huh?”

A prophet is not welcome in his own house, indeed.

There are harsh lines at the end of this gospel: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Can we really be surprised, though? Jesus—while trying to do some good, contain the mob that is following him, and answer the religious nuts who hate him—is now having to fend off his own family who are trying to silence him. I’ve typically heard these lines discussed as opening up the concept of family beyond just biology and the unity of the community of believers—that Jesus is saying all of us who do God’s will are his family—and that may still be true. But I suspect this is also Jesus’ frustration rightly boiling over: “You say you’re my family, yet you are trying to get in my way and stop me. Is that really what my family would do?” You can understand Jesus’ relatives being concerned; this is behavior they haven’t seen from him and getting into theological arguments with the religious officials seems a bit beyond a poor carpenter’s son.  They might feel embarrassed, or concerned, or even outraged at his behavior. Yet Jesus, and in hindsight we, know that he is proclaiming the Gospel. We are able to see the change that his relatives couldn’t at the time. “See, I am doing something new,” it echoes in Isaiah 43. Yet they refuse.

Some of us are lucky enough that we haven’t ever had large blow ups like this with our family members, but I’m willing to bet far more of us have had something like this happen. Times when we felt a call to do something that others wouldn’t understand—maybe our family, our friends, or our coworkers. This moment certainly is a troubling time in our country. From the institutionalized racism and police brutality that people of color experience on a daily basis, to the immigration crisis at our border, to simply whether wearing a mask and getting a vaccine to a global pandemic is a good idea or not. And yet, instead of giving us a common goal to move towards, we continue to see more division, some speaking out, while others tell them (in essence) to be quiet. A common refrain is that we all have to “come together,” away from the extremes, back toward common ground, and be united again. It is a nice idea to have, and working for unity is not itself a bad thing.

However, it can be tempting to hear Jesus say, “If a house is divided against itself, that house will not be able to stand” and then conclude that unity is some supreme virtue which we must always strive for. Jesus’ relatives were united in wanting him to shut up and stop calling attention to himself. But unity which is against the good is not virtuous at all. Jesus’ preaching and witness here is a threat to the unity of his time. Both the religious officials and his own family would rather he stay quiet, not bring these crowds of people out, and not threaten the status quo that they prefer. His family may or may not have liked the religious officials; they may have even agreed with what Jesus said, but by wishing that he just stayed quiet, they wound up standing in opposition to his message.

Similarly, I think we must be very careful when we hear (and participate in) calls to “meet in the middle.” It is one thing to learn how to better listen to those we disagree with. It is another thing entirely to decide that simply finding a balanced “middle” position is automatically a good thing.  If a scale is tilted to one side, you do not balance it by putting weight in the center of it. The problems in our country, such as the racism and police brutality experienced by people of color, the continued plague of gun violence, growing inequality, and the ever-widening wealth gap, will not be solved by waiting and half measures that appeal to a simple unity. It will take real, substantial change, and that change will upset some people. But silence is not the same thing as peace, and if in our desire to bring people together we sacrifice working for justice for those in need, then we become complicit in the injustice we claim to fight, and the silence that we have substituted for peace will not last for long.

Harsh words, perhaps, but I think we’ll hear harsher if we consider ourselves a part of Jesus’ family of believers and do not act like it. “Whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.” Even when it gets difficult, may we find the strength to not back down from proclaiming the Gospel in our actions and words, so that we may rightfully be able to call ourselves brothers and sisters in Christ.

Chris Clow is currently a stay-at-home dad, but he was doing it before COVID hit and everyone started doing it. In a past lifetime, he was also a campus minister and liturgical musician at a small Catholic university. He now lives in Omaha, Nebraska with his theologian wife, Emily, their son, Xavier, and their soon-expected second child.

Trinity Sunday(B): Speaking of the Trinity

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By: The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, JD

Perhaps the text from Isaiah is not the preacher’s first choice for Trinity Sunday for the obvious reason that Jesus had yet to make an appearance at the time of writing and would not for quite some time. Having all three “persons” of the Trinity would seem to be a prerequisite if the focus is on this particular designated doctrine. It almost feels like organizers of the lectionary knew they had to include a pericope from the Hebrew Bible, saw Isaiah’s thrice repeated, “Holy, holy, holy” in verse three, and called it close enough to include on this liturgical Sunday!

To be fair, none of the suggested lectionary texts in the Hebrew Bible or New Testament lay out an explicit explanation of the doctrine, in no small measure because the word “Trinity” itself does not appear in Scripture. The reality is that opting to read from one of the gospels or epistles is no guarantee of making Trinity Sunday any easier.

It is at this point that some preachers bail on talking about the Trinity at all (No? Just me?). But I suggest that the Isaiah text is a microcosm of our attempts to speak about experiences of God and the very real feeling of God’s presence in our lives. This was, after all, the purpose of the development of the doctrine of the Trinity in the first place, for like other doctrine, “it is not the development of purely intellectual considerations but is also an attempt to express the faith the church experiences in worship.”[1] In other words, when considering doctrine in the most generous light, its purpose is to deepen our spirituality and life of faith beyond a “just the facts, ma’am” approach.

Isaiah’s experience of God, the vision that we read about beginning in chapter 6, is one of those attempts at expressing faith. Some experiences of God were so clear and intense that the prophets try to share them in ways that the reader is invited to see and feel it, too. The prophet Isaiah manages to capture the unimaginable expansiveness and power of God using all of his senses. Whatever happened to Isaiah was a holistic event, felt spiritually and physically. We read of experiences like this from other prophets, including Jeremiah 15:16, where Jeremiah says he “found” and “ate” God’s words, and they became a “joy and delight of my heart.”

Walking line-by-line through Isaiah 6:1-8, we are repeatedly invited to connect with God using all of our senses and holy imagination. While some of the imagery is more easily modernized than others, it is clear that Isaiah is attempting to make real to others his experience of God.

Isaiah’s descriptions remind us of those moments in our own lives when God’s presence is larger-than-life: God’s presence is so large, just the hem of the Lord’s robe fills the temple. Some experiences of the sacred and the holy are so all-encompassing that it can feel like we are only seeing a few strands of the tapestry. 

Unfamiliar and strange creatures are part of Isaiah’s vision. Unexpected embodiments of God happen all the time, from the someone panhandling on a street corner to an artistic teenager to elements of nature. Instead of responding with mistrust, cynicism, or trying to rationalize, it may be that we just need to receive the experience with awe and wonder.

The prophet tells us that the scene was a bit hazy, for “the house filled with smoke.” Even if we have never been in a house filled with smoke, most of us have looked through the not-quite-invisible waves that drift in the air after blowing out a candle and noticed how it changes what is seen and unseen. There are some experiences of God and the Christian life that are not yet clear in their meaning to us yet. We may see the path forward as a fuzzy outline, as if obscured by smoke, but we can choose to trust that the Spirit is letting us see just enough that it still requires faith to take the next step.

Even if we struggle to identify with what might seem like over-the-top descriptions in Isaiah, we can use these passages to focus in on experiences of God that are more relatable—concrete, grounded, dirt-under-our-fingernails experiences of God. To circle back to the Trinity, the text with its grand descriptions may actually prompt us to think about the embodiment of God in Jesus as a person who experienced hunger, thirst, grief, and joy—all of which we can relate to.

On this Trinity Sunday, preachers can invite the congregation to think about experiencing God as a holistic event, just like the prophets in the Hebrew Bible did. Our ancestors of faith have always made a sacred effort to express our faith, and Isaiah is just one more example of this work. How might we add to this effort?


[1] Justo L. Gonzalez. Essential Theological Terms (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, 2005), pg. 175.

The Rev. Dr. Lori Walke, J.D., is the senior pastor of Mayflower Congregational UCC Church, a graduate of Oklahoma State University, Oklahoma City University School of Law, Phillips Theological Seminary, and Emory University. She was once described as a loose cannon. Lori is married to Collin Walke, an attorney and State Representative for House District 87, and together the “Rev & the Rep” try to make as much trouble in the name of Jesus and justice as they can.

Pentecost(B): The Language of the Heart

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By: The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff

How is it that we hear, each of us, in our own native language?

Nelson Mandela once said, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” The miracle of Pentecost is, indeed, just that. A miracle. Each person present heard the good news that God loves and values them, in exactly the way they needed to hear it, in fluent, flawless, perfect language of the heart.

In Luke’s extension of his good news, the Acts of the Apostles, Pentecost is the day that the Church celebrates the gift of God’s Spirit to the whole world. Viewed from a distance, from God’s perspective, the messy chaotic cacophony of voices shouting out good news all at the same time is sacred. Holy. Beautiful. But for those on the ground… I wonder. What is music to the Divine, more often sounds discordant and confused to us humans. Where God can see how all the tones fit together in the transcendent symphony of a universe designed for good, sometimes we encounter the discordant note right in front of us and wonder how it possibly fits into the whole. Standing on the ground, in the middle of the crowd, here and there we might discern a clear tone – here the mournful wail of a soul yearning to be seen, to belong; there the joyful trumpet of a heart’s desire fulfilled. Here the steady beating of a passionate heart for justice and mercy, there the screech of a misplaced intention interrupting the intended harmony.  

Anyone who has ever worked with a musical group, or a community of human beings, knows that it takes a lot of time, intentionality, and practice to become proficient in the language(s) of the whole. The flute has to understand how to give way to the French horn, the timpani to enter softly so that it doesn’t drown out the violin, the tenor to listen intently for the bass in order to keep concordant rhythm. To achieve transcendence, there must be an understanding that each instrument has purpose and place in the grand melody… or else we end up with a jarring, jangling mess. As followers of Christ, we can be in sync or out of kilter with the activities of God’s conducting Spirit, and sometimes it’s hard to tell exactly where we are, whether the Spirit is playfully disrupting our carefully laid plans or calling us to enter the song with a little more flare than our natural inclination. The language of music operates much as the language of the heart. And to speak to the heart, we must learn to speak to one another in the language that doesn’t come naturally to us, the language of the other.

Jesus was proficient in many languages. He was fluent in the language of religious insiders, and in the language of the outcast and shunned. He spoke the language of the common people, with an earthy, wry humor; he spoke the language of heady intellectuals, teaching at dinner parties in the halls of the influential. Against the language of dehumanization, Jesus spoke sacred worth. Against the language of fear, Jesus spoke peace and comfort. Against the language of violence and death, Jesus spoke self-offering love, the language of hearts turned to the fullness of Divine life powerfully present in their midst.

In a world that still clamors in a Babel of fracture and division, violence and dehumanization, fear and death, Spirit-filled people continue to sing out the good news of God’s justice, God’s grace, God’s care and concern for all of God’s creation. The Divine Work is often messy and creative, brilliant and tumultuous. The Spirit doesn’t always stay within the neatly marked lines we prefer –she throws in a playful trill here, a rest there; here a melodious glissando, there a diminuendo. Often, we find an ostinato (a repeated musical phrase or rhythm) in places that make no sense, and a coda where we anticipate a new verse. But with curiosity and awareness, intention and practice, listening beyond the dissonance of our own fears and disordered desires, we learn to enter spaces gently and to give way for a diversity of instruments and voices to join the holy Work. And when we’ve known, together, Christ’s love and agony in the yearning places of our conjoined lives, perhaps we will better hear and sing that transcendent harmony that reverberates through time and space: the music of Christ’s own heart beating as One with you and with me.

The Rev. Chana Tetzlaff is an Episcopal priest with over two decades of leadership experience that includes public advocacy, social justice, teaching for transformative change, and interfaith collaboration. She currently serves as the Associate Rector at St. Christopher’s in Carmel, Indiana. Her great joy in ministry is helping people of faith ask the hard questions of life and God, to discover that “it is in the shelter of each other that the people live” (old Irish proverb). Or, as Jesus said it, we truly show our love for God when we embody care and concern for each person we encounter. In her spare time, Chana can be found fulfilling her bucket list items before she turns 65 (so far 23/75!), playing D&D, enjoying fine food and whiskey, or exploring local activities and events with her husband, TJ, and their dog-children, Molly and Momo.