Bible Study

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Bible Study: Proper 12 (B) – 2012

July 29, 2012

2 Kings 4:42-44

In this passage, we see demonstrated for us two ways of seeing the world and its resources: the logics of scarcity and abundance. The first is illustrated by the servant of the man who has provided food for the group, understandably incredulous at Elisha’s suggestion that 20 loaves and some grain could satiate 100 hungry stomachs. Elisha, however, simply recognizes the gifts that have been given and calls for their just distribution: “Give it to the people and let them eat” (42). And in accordance with God’s faithfulness and Elisha’s prophetic wisdom, there is more than enough.

We today are a paralyzed people, understandably overwhelmed by the weight of terrifyingly complex economic problems. While I don’t mean to suggest that we can simply lift our hands to the sky as bread magically multiplies, I would challenge us to shift from a logic of scarcity – according to which, because there is never enough for everyone, we must protect our treasure to ensure that we and our closest loved ones are safe – to one of abundance and faithfulness. If there never seems to be enough for everyone, we must ask why.

  • Where have you seen the logics of scarcity and abundance exemplified by the servant and by Elisha evident in our world? How would you propose moving our culture from one attitude to another?

Psalm 145: 10-19

Our psalm speaks of the deep connection between worship and the kingdom, of a fundamental posture of praise that orients all that is toward the God from which all comes: “All your works praise you, O Lord, and your faithful servants bless you” (10). And though the psalmist talks of the “power” and “dominion” of this God, it is evident that this God’s kingdom is characterized by a fundamentally different kind of power than that to which we are usually accustomed. God’s is a dominion without domination that exercises a power the psalmist praises as that which “upholds all those who fall [and] lifts up those who are bowed down” (15).

The sense of creation’s perpetual praise embedded in these prayerful lines should help us see that worship is not just something we do on Sunday morning but, rather, is more fundamentally about that which is most fundamental to us. Praying this psalm should occasion a deep contemplation of our own worship, a re-evaluation of the kingdom(s) to which we actively declare allegiance – for it’s not a matter of if you worship but of what. If we have ears to hear, perhaps we can perceive creation a-hum with praise, the quiet doxology on the heart of every creature.

  • How would you define or characterize worship? How would you evaluate your life’s worship in light of the rich definition the psalmist presents here? How might we more actively reflect in our liturgies the expanded, political sense of worship depicted by this psalm?

Ephesians 3:14-21

How many times have you heard it said, “Oh, if they would only be more realistic”? It seems to me that our culture increasingly adjudicates everything from truth claims to policy proposals based on how “realistic” they seem to be. But what ought really be the witness of Christians in the public sphere: realism, or a wild and daring hope? What are we to make of the closing doxology of our passage from Ephesians: “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever”?

Our theological tradition offers a deep and abiding affirmation of suffering, finitude, and sin – all of which offer a valuable check to a vapid humanism that assumes human history is perpetually on the up. But it also speaks to a God who is always raising us out of those conditions, giving us the good of God’s own life through grace, empowering us to participate in the movement of Christ through history. This is the eschatological tension we must embody as living members of the Body of Christ, maintaining a startling honesty about the human condition while entrusting our wildest and most incredible hopes to the God who refuses to abide by our pitiful definitions of the possible.

  • Have you ever experienced someone else’s evaluation of what is and is not “realistic” as stifling or disappointing? How do you think we determine what is and is not “realistic,” and do you think we ever set up these definitions in decidedly unrealistic ways? Why do you think our culture values realism more than imagination, and what role do you feel the church plays in this scheme?

John 6:1-21

While growing up, the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 was one of those storybook shock-and-awe confirmations of Christ’s divinity and miracle-making power. Indeed, much ink has been spilt over exactly this question, whether or not the literal multiplication of loaves and fishes is actually what this story depicts. Reading the account given us by the Gospel of John today, however, I am less struck by this debate’s quest to square Jesus up with scientific “reality” and more by what, at first glance, seems like a throw-away clause: “Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted” (11). Whatever’s happening in this passage hinges on this, on giving thanks.

What the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translates here as “given thanks” is a form of the Greek verb eucharisteó, from which we get a word with which Episcopalians are intimately familiar: “Eucharist.” And it strikes me that this, Jesus giving thanks for gifts given by a young boy, brings to an intersection all our previous topics of discussion. It is a bold declaration of a logic of abundance rooted in a sacred thankfulness for gifts that short-circuit our ordinary conceptions of the possible – and all in a way that invokes for us a sacrament we celebrate week by week in churches around the world. Let us make the Eucharist our new imagination.

  • For what gifts do you, your family, and/or your congregation give thanks? How might the eschatological feast of the Eucharist offer us a vision of abundance and faithfulness comparable to Jesus feeding the 5,000? How could giving thanks open up impasses – political and otherwise – which stifle and hinder human flourishing?

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Christopher Sikkema


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