Texts for this week: Psalm 49, 2 Kings 4:38-44, and Mark 8:1-26
At the beginning of our service we have a meditation on the Psalm so worshipers can reflect on that or pray during the prelude. I based this week off of my blog post on Psalm 49 if you want more details.
Psalm meditation for Sunday: My favorite spiritual practice is breath prayer. Mostly because it is simple and easy and calming. Breath prayers generally include a word or phrase that you say while inhaling and another word or phrase you can say while exhaling. It’s good to practice while I’m calm so that even when I’m not feeling so calm, I can come up with one word about how I would rather be feeling and one word that I would like God to remove from me. Like breath in calm. Breath out stress.
When I get worked up, I take a moment to breath. Breath in, God is God. Breath out, I am not God. Breath in, God is in control. Breath out, I am not in control. Thanks be to God for that.
For me, there is something centering and calming about breathing. Allowing my focus to shift away from myself and towards God is comforting. I find that I am somehow more content and even grateful. I am connected to the eternal God, she chooses to dwell with me. There is nothing more permanent than my connection to her; not even death can separate me from the love of God. And when my focus is on God, I find my thoughts are drawn also to my neighbor. I hope my neighbor has enough; more than enough too. And if she doesn’t, I have plenty to share. My faith leads me to gratitude and generosity.
As we listen to the prelude today take a few minutes to control your breath as you pray.
This service falls on Mother’s Day so the Mother’s Day 2020 litany was used in worship.
Sermon: 2 Kings 4
2 Kings 4:38-44 38 When Elisha returned to Gilgal, there was a famine in the land. As the company of prophets was sitting before him, he said to his servant, “Put the large pot on, and make some stew for the company of prophets.” 39 One of them went out into the field to gather herbs; he found a wild vine and gathered from it a lapful of wild gourds, and came and cut them up into the pot of stew, not knowing what they were. 40 They served some for the men to eat. But while they were eating the stew, they cried out, “O man of God, there is death in the pot!” They could not eat it. 41 He said, “Then bring some flour.” He threw it into the pot, and said, “Serve the people and let them eat.” And there was nothing harmful in the pot.
42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.” 43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left.’” 44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the Lord.
Like many of us, I didn’t realize that we would be home for so long and I didn’t bring all of my books home. I wasn’t thrilled with the commentary I had at home on 2 Kings, so I texted a friend who was able to recommend something a little different than I was used to. He sent me a link and said he could zoom with me later on the afternoon to help me navigate sefaria.org. I decided to check it out ahead of time so I wouldn’t waste his time later. What I found was, in a word, overwhelming. I spent a few hours trying to decipher what was in front of me because I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of one of my newest friends. What I didn’t know about how Rabbi Jeremy Markiz prepped for his teaching and preaching was that it was all in Hebrew. Not just the scriptures, but the commentaries on the scriptures too. I knew that scriptures were read, and prayers were prayed in Hebrew, but I had assumed that studying happened in English. Jeremy is a new friend, but he is a really good friend. He walked me through the basics of the website and pointed out some places that would include English and guided me towards commentaries that were used most often and that Rashi (the nickname for RAbbi SHlomo Itzhaki) would be a good place for me to start. My eyes were opened to my naive notion that this would be an easy fix to not bringing a book home, and it was a real punch in the gut to see myself as the privileged white Christian girl that I am. I love and hate moments like this. So, to honor Rashi and Rabbi Markiz, I dug in and did some work, on myself and on the Hebrew. I learned what Rashi thought was in the soup that was served to Elijah and the prophets. The words for vine or herbs are specific to something that has healing properties and is said to enlighten the eyes. The wild gourds that are said to be poisonous are roots that can cause stomach cramps. So, this soup will open your eyes and give you a stomachache. But don’t worry, you will not die from soup poisoning, God has power over life and death which is what Elijah is demonstrating when he makes the soup safe to eat. This story is nestled in with other stories about Elijah performing miracles and healings. All of these things are done to care for others; to show God’s love and compassion; and to show that God is more powerful than death. And at the end of our lives, all but love will cease. Wouldn’t it be nice to live in a world where everyone and everything would be focused on love.
Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about anything because you were with a prophet who was so connected with God that he could demonstrate God’s power over life and death, by healing every illness, by providing life sustaining food, and by raising children from death? If I lived and studied with a prophet like I think I would say thank you all the time. I would be grateful for the abundance of God’s love and power and excited to tell my friends and neighbors so that they could share in this joyful existence too. But I am not a powerful prophet like Elijah, nor do I know anyone like him that I could align myself with. I am prone to worry, and worry makes me do things that my otherwise rational self wouldn’t do. And really, being with Elijah did not make any of his followers less human and less prone to worry. They worry about the food being poisonous and if it will be enough for everyone even after they saw Elijah perform other miracles.
The Psalmist points out that worry or lack of faith changes us. When we lose focus on what is really important, what is really eternal, we aren’t our best selves. Psalm 49, points out that fear, greed, and lack of faith make us behave like animals.
No amount of toilet paper will stop us from getting COVID-19. We all know that. And yet, our impulse to hoard, to stock up, to make sure we have extra drives us to the store to fight with our panicked neighbors. The wealthy (or those willing to go into credit card debt) can buy in bulk. Somehow that makes them seem safer; secure in the thought that stuff will insulate them from whatever murder hornet is coming. Our animal nature or at least our older part of our brain that controls our fight/flight/freeze response is being stimulated to greed by an economy that tells us the more we own the more we can control. And control is power, maybe even god-like. The truth is that we can not Clorox wipe away everything that frightens us. The elixir of life can not be found in the sour dough bread starter. Wealth, status, and power will not keep us from experiencing pain, heartache, or death.
The Psalmist also points out that this is not how the upright, the righteous, the believers behave. Or at least, we shouldn’t behave like animals. We have faith and hope in God. We are connected to the eternal God; she chooses to dwell with us. There is nothing more permanent than our connection to her; not even death can separate us from the love of God. And when we focus on our connection with the eternal God, our eyes are open to the way we are supposed to live and for some of us that is a real gut check. The mountain of toilet paper in my basements seems really foolish and greedy. I have enough; more than enough. And when my focus is on God, I find my thoughts are drawn also to my neighbor. I hope my neighbor has enough; more than enough too. And if she doesn’t, I have plenty to share. My faith leads me to gratitude and generosity.
Our gospel reading comes from Mark 8 and is nestled in with other stories about Jesus performing miracles and healings. All of these things are done to care for others; to show God’s love and compassion; and to show that God is more powerful than death. Hear these words from verses 1-8: In those days when there was again a great crowd without anything to eat, he called his disciples and said to them, 2 “I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat. 3 If I send them away hungry to their homes, they will faint on the way—and some of them have come from a great distance.” 4 His disciples replied, “How can one feed these people with bread here in the desert?” 5 He asked them, “How many loaves do you have?” They said, “Seven.” 6 Then he ordered the crowd to sit down on the ground; and he took the seven loaves, and after giving thanks he broke them and gave them to his disciples to distribute; and they distributed them to the crowd. 7 They had also a few small fish; and after blessing them, he ordered that these too should be distributed. 8 They ate and were filled; and they took up the broken pieces left over, seven baskets full. 9 Now there were about four thousand people. And he sent them away. 10 And immediately he got into the boat with his disciples and went to the district of Dalmanutha.
I read a similar story from a children’s bible earlier, here is a link to the video.
Jesus heals people and feed people for many of the same reasons Elijah does; to meet basic needs and to show love. And most importantly to show that God cares for us and loves us. God has the power over life and death.
Wouldn’t it be nice to not have to worry about anything because you were with Jesus who could demonstrate God’s power over life and death, by healing every illness, by providing life sustaining food, and by raising children from the dead? Maybe, but nice and easy doesn’t seem to be how it was for the disciples who were with Jesus. And, in a strange way, that gives me hope. It isn’t easy to have faith. It is hard to separate from our animal brain that tells us we aren’t enough, and we don’t have enough, and to make up for that, we should fight with our neighbors, avoid difficult situations, or freeze, insulated in our stuff. Faith calls us to look at the bigger picture; to really open our eyes and be enlightened. This broken creation is experiencing things we can not stomach. But that sick feeling in our gut doesn’t mean we give up. Faith calls us to remember we are connected to Elijah, the Psalmists, and Jesus. We may not be able to perform miracles, but we can still bring healing to the sick, we can still bring food to the hungry, we can still comfort those who mourn, and we can visit the imprisoned. We are connected to our eternal mother; whose love is stronger than anything that may try to sperate us from her. We are called to participated in her redeeming and reconciling love through her son Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with her in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God forever and ever. Amen.
Hymn: O for A World #386 in the Blue Presbyterian Hymnal
- O for a world where everyone respects each other’s ways, Where love is lived and all is done with justice and with praise.
- O for a world where goods are shared and misery relieved, where truth is spoken, children spared, equality achieved.
- We welcome one world family and struggle with each choice that opens us to unity and gives our vision voice.
- The poor are rich, the weak are strong, the foolish ones are wise. Tell all who mourn; outcasts belong, who perishes will rise.
- O for a world preparing for God’s glorious reign of peace, where time and tears will be no more, and all but love will cease.
The last line of the hymn is the sermon title.
Benediction: As you go about your day, do so with open eyes. It’s ok if your stomach hurts a little. Lay all of your fear, worry, and heartache in your eternal mother’s lap. Know that you are beloved. Share that love generously. Amen.