Worship Sunday at 10:30

Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 7/26

          “They eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.  You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.” Psalm 145, verses 15 and 16.  That was my confirmation memory verse many years ago as my church followed that tradition; perhaps many of you were given a verse on your confirmation day, but do you remember it?  I don’t know if old Pastor Block had any idea that I would become a pastor some day and that I would have a particular interest in the Old Testament and that the Psalms would wind up being an important spiritual resource for me.  He couldn’t have known all that, but as the Spirit works and moves, Pastor Block perhaps did more than he thought when he made that my verse.

          That part of Psalm 145 was my confirmation verse so for that reason I was kind of drawn to it this week as I looked at the lessons, but I also think that those two verses are the reason this Psalm is appointed for today, the image of giving food in due season connected to the feeding miracles of the first lesson and the gospel.  It is an important connection and eventually I will come back to it, but this psalm is also worthy of consideration apart from any connection with the other lessons.

          Last week the psalm was the 23rd which everyone knows, it’s one of the best known passages in the entire Bible but while Psalm 145 isn’t as well known to most of us (unless part of it is your confirmation verse) in Jewish tradition it has a central place.  In fact, it’s right up there with what Jews call the shema, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.”  That’s as close as Judaism comes to a confession of faith or a creed; it is a statement to be recited by faithful Jews three times a day.  But Psalm 145 is also to be recited three times a day and the Jewish Talmud (their commentary on scripture) says that everyone who recites this psalm may be sure that he or she is a child of the world to come.

          It is an important psalm as it articulates what is believed to be true about God and the world.  It’s a psalm of praise to God for a world that is well ordered and well oriented, a world which is dependable, a world in which God does open his hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.  It is a psalm that describes and imagines the world as being oriented and defined by the faithfulness of the Lord.

          To which you might respond, “We know that; that’s why we’re here,” but keep in mind that describing and defining the world this way places us out of step with much of a world that view things differently.  While we see the world defined by the faithfulness of the Lord there are more people who imagine the world primarily as a place of chaos and threat and risk or who see it as a place where might makes right or as a place where God doesn’t provide so we’re on our own; there is a scarcity so that we have to compete for limited goods, me against you. 

There are other ways to imagine the world and there are psalms that come closer to these other perspectives too, psalms that don’t have quite so much confidence in God; you read all of the psalms and there’s not much that isn’t in there.  But this one today isn’t one of those.  It is unanxious gratitude for God’s abundance and care and it represents the perspective that ancient Israel (and those of us who follow in the tradition) seek to return to even at those times when other perspectives have taken hold and seem more real.  Unanxious gratitude to God is the place we want to be and this psalm takes us there.

Another thing that is worth noting about this psalm is the words that are used to describe God.  They don’t just show up in this psalm, they show up in lots of them but they might not be the ones you would first think of if asked to describe God.  Since I’ve already raised those old confirmation memories for you (as painful as they may be, or maybe they weren’t) but I remember when we learned “attributes” of God in confirmation, what we learned were the Big O words, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent; all knowing, all powerful, always there and I think on the always there it was meant to emphasize always watching and waiting for you to sin, or in guilt did I just read that into it? 

Anyway, imagine if the attributes you learned were not the big O words, but instead were gracious, merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, good and compassionate.  Those words would create a different image of God wouldn’t they?  And those are the words used in the two verses that precede today’s verses of Psalm 145.  They aren’t power words, they’re relational words so that the God who opens his hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing does so out of love and compassion and faithfulness.

Last week’s gospel mentioned Jesus having compassion for the crowds that followed him because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  Today we move to a different gospel but get an example of that compassion as Jesus opens his hand and satisfies the desire of five thousand people gathered on a grassy hillside.

One of the interpretive questions that gets asked about Jesus’ feeding miracles is were they kind of divine magic tricks on Jesus’ part as he multiplied the loaves and fishes or was the food already there among the members of the crowd but apart from the boy with five barley loaves and two fish, they were reluctant to share because they were afraid there wasn’t enough to go around?  And then you can ask, which is more miraculous, Jesus doing this on his own as an act of divine power, or would getting that many people to change their attitude and share be even more impressive and miraculous?  You can answer it either way and your answer might depend on which set of words best describe God for you, the power words or the relational words.

Actually, it is probably not an either/or thing; both sets of words and both approaches to this miracle have merit, but I think it is important that we see this as more than just Jesus flexing his divine power muscles.  Whether this feeding of the five thousand is primarily an act of power or primarily an act of compassion, we need to see the abundance and generosity of Jesus spread to the gathered crowd.  In his generosity and caring, Jesus creates a wind and his disciples and the crowd catch that wind, and carry it.  Does this sound familiar?  They carry the wind of Jesus’ grace and compassion showing that “not enough” is never the final answer for the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.  The inclination of the crowd and our inclination too is to hold on to what we think is our own out of fear, but in this miracle Jesus transformed a moment of fear into one of compassion and generosity.

Wherever Jesus goes, whatever he does, he creates a wind.  It’s a wind that has power in and of itself, but it becomes even more powerful as others feel it and become wind carriers.  That’s a possible link between the two parts of this gospel lesson today, the feeding of the five thousand and Jesus walking on the water.  At first they seem unrelated but they are both about overcoming fear, in one case the fear of not enough, in the other fear of the wind that is upsetting the tranquility and calm of life. 

Everywhere Jesus goes he creates a wind, and when it’s a wind of change that upsets the comfort and order of things it can create fear;  the presence of Jesus in your life does that sometimes; but he also comes to you and says, “It is I, do not be afraid.”  It seems like a contradiction, but the one who creates the wind also provides the needed calm.  It seems like a contradiction until you realize it’s true; you’ve been there; you’ve experienced it; you’ve felt the winds of change that have disturbed life, but you also know the comfort of “It is I, do not be afraid.” 

Jesus may create wind in your life; if you pay attention and take him seriously he often does; but he doesn’t leave you alone on the wind swept water.  He is faithful.  For all who look to him, he will open his hand and transform the moment in grace and compassion and steadfast love.
 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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