Category Archives: IGRC for Unity

The genealogy of Jesus

Matthew 1:1-17

Searching one’s genealogy has always been a popular hobby, but technology has helped create an explosion in the last decade or so. First, the ability to network on the internet made data collection more powerful as distant relatives could link up with each other without having any previous knowledge of the other’s existence. Finding one distant cousin could suddenly open enormous branches of your family tree that you didn’t even know about.

Then Commercial DNA testing kits offered people an even deeper and more precise view of their history. Marketing for these kinds of products include slogans like “Give yourself the gift of you.” Not only do these kits provide DNA evidence of your ethnic makeup, but they add you to vast databases that can link you to known genealogical studies.

The study of one’s genealogy can be enlightening. There are important medical and biological things one can find out about themselves. There are other deeper and more meaningful stories that genealogy can link you to. The popularity of the PBS show “Finding Your Roots” has revealed how powerful an in-depth story of genealogy can be.

Watching “Finding Your Roots” however, has revealed to me what a privilege it even is to have a genealogy. While everyone has people from whom they came, not everyone has the privilege of being able to study that list of ancestors. Genealogy is able to be studied by those who have the privilege of having ancestors who left a paper trail. Those held in bondage as property did not always leave a trail. Many people have had their genealogy erased by the institution of slavery. What’s more, there have been many people who have had their existence erased in the telling of family stories.

LGBTQIA+ people have often been erased from family histories. Either the person has been wiped from the family memory entirely or their “queerness” has been removed. They have become the “eccentric uncle” or the “confirmed bachelor.” Sometimes, if they weren’t willing to erase that essential part of who they were themselves, they have simply been scrubbed from the history. They were left out of the stories, cropped from the photo albums, and left uninvited to the reunions. Generations of queer people have been erased from families, exiled to be virtual orphans because their family of origin perceived their existence to be too shameful to bear.

The privilege of a family genealogy and history has been stolen from countless people because they are LGBTQIA+. The history of millions of people runs into a dead end when they get back to the auction blocks. Knowing your genealogy is a privilege that many take for granted.

Today we read Matthew’s version of Jesus’ genealogy. Often one’s first impression of this genealogy is that it is dry, boring, and easy to be skipped. It feels like a list of hard-to-pronounce names that no one remembers. While Matthew frames Jesus’ genealogy in an interesting way (14 generations from Abraham to David, etc.) it still feels like a pretty easy part of the story to skip.

Until you notice the mothers. When you consider the mothers of Jesus’ genealogy, a more interesting (one might even say sordid) story is told. The fact that these four women are lifted-up is a remarkable thing. Matthew refused to erase Jesus’ family history. In fact, he highlighted some of the more difficult parts. He took the stories that could have been stories of shame and pointed them out. He could have skipped these mothers of Jesus. It would have been easy to skip over the sordid story of Tamar and Judah. He could have left out the prostitute Rahab. He could have left out Ruth the Moabite who “uncovered the feet” of Boaz. He didn’t have to mention Uriah, who was killed by David so that he could hide his assault of Bathsheba.

These women, all victims of a patriarchal system that devalued them as humans, were all lifted-up as mothers of Christ. They were all victims, but none of them allowed themselves to remain as such. They persisted. They used their agency, their strategic minds, and their grit to achieve survival. All four women have an element of sexual scandal attached to them, and by putting their names in the genealogy of Jesus, Matthew puts those scandals right in Christ’s history too. Matthew shines a light on the stories that some may deem shameful. He makes sure to remind everyone that Jesus’ history is fraught with humanity – messy, sordid, triumphant, and persistent.

As we read the genealogy of Jesus, we can give thanks to the controversial mothers who refuse to be ignored. I hope that we take a moment to lament the stories that have been erased. I pray that we, like Matthew, have the courage to tell the stories of the messy, the triumphant, the sordid, and the persistent. For these are the stories that give us meaning and hope. These are the stories that invite us into Christ’s eternal story of redemption and love for all – even the ones that others want to erase.

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Inspiration and Purpose

IGRC For Unity Devotional for October 16, 2022

2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

Thomas Edison famously said that “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.” The writer of 2 Timothy claims that Scripture is 100% inspiration. Yet what is inspiration? The Greek word translated to “inspiration” is theopnuestos. In this word we can see the roots for “God” and “Breath.” So inspired seems to literally mean “God-Breathed.”

Is this the same however, as God-authored, or God-dictated? It seems to me that the leap from “inspired” to infallible or inerrant, as some make, stretches credulity. Scripture is inspired by God, but what does that mean?

Inspiration is often described as a moment. It is the moment a tune enters a song-writer’s head. Whistled out of nowhere as they walk through the park. The birthplace of the tune cannot be located or named. It seems to have breathed out of the artist from nothing. The painter sitting at the easel begins to create. Why does the brush move the way it does? How is each color chosen, mixed, and applied?

There are years of work, study, technique, and practice behind every stroke of a brush. The same is true behind every note of a trumpet of the jazz player. Yet in that moment when the air pushes through the instrument or when the brush touches the canvass, that is inspiration. Is that a God-moment? Some artists would certainly attest to being inspired by God. Few however, would say that God moved the brush. The inspiration moved the artist, and the artist created. God and humanity are co-creators of things inspired.

More important than the nature of inspiration however, is the purpose of that inspiration. Scripture has a purpose. It is “so that the person who belongs to God can be equipped to do everything that is good.”

Too many use Scripture for harm. They use it to perpetuate preconceived prejudices. They use it to strengthen their flimsy understanding of biology, history, and culture.

“They will collect teachers who say what they want to hear because they are self-centered. 4 They will turn their back on the truth.” They build echo-chambers of their opinions, ignore evidence and science and instead listen to rumors, click-bait YouTubers, or conspiracy theorists with an agenda. Scripture is meant to lead us to good and not harm.

If your use of Scripture is not doing good, then you’re using it wrong. Scripture is inspired by God and is meant to inspire good. God who is good created humanity who is good, and gave us Scripture to help us find the good and do good in the world.

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Lectionary for Inclusion: Acts 11:1-18

May 15, 2022

Scripture: Acts 11:1-18

The Holy Spirit cannot be contained. This is the fundamental story of Acts. We know this book as the Acts of the Apostles, but I think of it as the Gospel of the Spirit. If Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are the Good News of Jesus Christ, then Acts should be thought of as the Good News of the Holy Spirit. Acts begins with pyrotechnics, rushing winds, ecstatic speech, and a truly wild experience that was a harbinger of what is to come in the rest of the story.

The rest of the story is the Spirit behaving in ways that no one could predict and in ways that not everyone likes. It’s not all lights and flash, but in these middle chapters of Acts the Holy Spirit is doing things no one expected. She sends Philip to Samaria, convicts a sorcerer named Simon. She picks up Philip and compels him to chase down an Ethiopian eunuch. She empowers Peter to speak to a Roman centurion named Cornelius and gives Peter a miraculous vision that changes the way he thinks about the world.

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” a divine voice tells Peter, and in the end of chapter 10, “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message… They were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit was poured out even on Gentiles.”

Now Peter has some explaining to do. Like a scolded child, Peter is brought back to the leaders of the Church who thought they had the Holy Spirit under control. They criticize Peter for eating with uncircumcised men. He had broken the rules. He had gone against the discipline. So he tells them about his holy vision. He tells them what the Holy Spirit had shown him. He tells them about what the Holy Spirit was doing.

Finally, he concludes, “If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I to think that I could stand in God’s way?”

Who indeed? Who should stand in the way of what the Holy Spirit is doing? The Gospel of the Holy Spirit tells us that she doesn’t behave in ways we always like. The Holy Spirit doesn’t follow the discipline. The Holy Spirit goes to Centurions and sorcerers. She blinds murderous Pharisees and brings salvation to sexually unclean foreigners.

To me, this might be the single most compelling argument for LGBTQ inclusion in the Church. It wasn’t my idea. It wasn’t a gay agenda. It wasn’t a liberal plot. It was the Holy Spirit’s idea. She started it.

I have seen the Holy Spirit at work through gay pastors. I have seen the Holy Spirit move through churches led by lesbian clergy. I have seen marriages guided by the Holy Spirit between two men. I have witnessed the Holy Spirit at work in “practicing homosexuals.” And if God gave them the same gift he gave to us who are cis-gendered, who are we to stand in God’s way?”

The Holy Spirit is alive. The Holy Spirit is burning in hearts and blowing open doors and changing hearts and lives. The Church should not be the ones to stand in God’s way.

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Blessings and Woes

The Sermon on the Mount in Mathew and the Sermon on the Plain in Luke are alike in many ways, and different in more ways then elevation.

Lectionary Text: Luke 6:17-26

The Sermon on the Plain is the less well-known cousin of the Sermon on the Mount. Many of the same themes are there, but they are just different enough to make us squirm. Jesus comes down from the mountain where he named the 12 apostles and “stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples.” This is a level place with a great number of people and a rich diversity. People have come from far and wide to touch him and claim a small part of the power that he held.

Then he shares four blessings and four woes. Blessed are the poor, hungry, those who weep, and those who are hated. Woe to you who are rich, full, laughing, and those of high status.

Some call this as a reversal, but I think it is more of a levelling. For those who have been elevated for their whole lives, a levelling feels like a reversal. Jesus is on a level place. He is the son of Mary, who said that the powerful would be brought down and the hungry would be filled with good things.

The crowds came for healing, but Jesus wants to make sure they know what they are getting into. They are not just being healed. To be a disciple of Jesus is to live into a new community. They are a part of a new Kingdom, a new Kin-dom. This new community, however, is going to be different from what they’re used to. The poor and hungry have experienced pain and isolation. Jesus will show them something else. Disciples of Jesus are fed. They are cared for, provided for, and consoled.

Being a disciple of Jesus should mean that we are creating a community of shared struggle. The Church is a place where the hurting and hungry should come and celebrate the riches that are found in Christian fellowship. Our bread is broken and shared. Our wine is poured out for many for forgiveness and grace. This is a disruption of how the world thinks we should operate. Cultures are built on competition, not community. Society values the victor, not the vulnerable. Being a disciple means that we meet on a level plain.

Being a disciple of Jesus means isolation is over. The old structure of honor and shame is over. The ones who were given shame are now embraced and lifted up. But if you are rich, if you have enough, if you feel comfortable with the system, following might hurt a little. The system has been good to you, but the system is changing.

Your riches are terrible if you’re not helping others. Your abundance is cursed if you are not sharing. Your laughing is mocking those who are forced to dance for your entertainment. Those who have lived in privileged places of white, hetero-normative supremacy have had their time of riches and laughter.

I believe that we are seeing the death throes of those who see that their time has come. When power structures of oppression are called out for what they truly are – white supremacy, homophobia, patriarchy – those that benefit don’t simply step down. The woes are coming. For Jesus, the response was crucifixion. Today, the response is insurrection. But, and how glorious is this but, there is something else coming. We end this passage on the woe, and so maybe its appropriate to dwell in the woe for a little while. The next word in Jesus’ sermon is “but,” and I once heard Bishop Gregory Palmer say that he could write a book called the “Holy Buts” of the Bible. The woes are coming, and perhaps we are witnessing them all around.

But love remains.

In a world of honor and shame, and blessings and woes, love remains. Love enough to speak the truth to those who have been blessed by the system. Love enough to speak good news to those who are beaten down by it. Love enough to welcome all into the Kin-dom where a level place is holy ground.

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You will be. You will be

Inclusivity Devotional for October 17, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:35-45

This passage always reminds me of the movie Empire Strikes Back. In a scene inside Yoda’s hut, he and Luke Skywalker are debating if he should train young Luke as a Jedi. Yoda sees Luke’s impetuousness and immaturity. He sees the anger in young Luke and decides not to train him as a Jedi. Luke is hot-headed and impatient. He wants to be a Jedi. He wants to fight like his father. He wants to be a hero and overthrow the Empire. Yoda wonders, “Will he finish what he starts?” Pleading with Yoda he says, “I won’t fail you. I’m not afraid.” Yoda looks at him ominously and says, “You will be,” and repeats, “You will be.”

John and James come to Jesus and ask, “Allow one of us to sit on your right and the other on your left when you enter your glory.” He asks them “Will you drink the cup I drink?” They respond, “We can.” Ominously, Jesus answers, “You will drink the cup.”

They ask to sit at Jesus’ right and left. These are places of honor. They are looking ahead to the victory. They are looking ahead to the time when Jesus will reign. They see themselves as riding shotgun and basking in Jesus’ glory. What they don’t understand is that at the height of Jesus’ glory, the ones at his right and his left will be hanging on crosses just like Jesus.

The Revised Common Lectionary suggests for us to start this reading at verse 35, but to get the full context we would be well-served to start where we left off last week – at verse 32. By going back to verse 32 we see that Jesus and a crowd were “going up to Jerusalem.” The response is a mix of awe and fear, so Jesus takes the Twelve aside and reminds them (for the third time in two chapters) that in Jerusalem he will die an ignominious death before being raised up.

When the other ten hear what James and John asked, they get angry. The funny thing is, I don’t they are angry that they asked the question. I think they are angry that James and John asked it first. None of them truly understand at this point what ambition looks like in the Kingdom. Christian ambition is a tricky thing. Aren’t we all supposed to be striving for greatness?

Jesus redefines greatness. The twelve are still operating in the system that judges greatness by how many people serve you. For Jesus, greatness is defined by who many people you serve. It is not measured by rank or status. Greatness is not marked on attendance pads, church budgets, charge conference forms, or plum appointments. Greatness is earned with kindness, generosity, and service. It is seldom rewarded in the ways we expect, or even desire.

Like John and James, we may be eager for the glory. Like Luke (Skywalker, not the apostle), we may be eager to be heroes and run off and fight the evil Empire. It is good to consider just what that means. “I’m not afraid,” you may be saying. “You will be,” comes the ominous response.

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Left behind (not that kind of left behind)

Inclusivity Devotional for October 10, 2021

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

Revised Common Lectionary Reading: Mark 10:17-31

Jesus said, “I assure you that anyone who has left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news will receive one hundred times as much now in this life—houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and farms (with harassment)—and in the coming age, eternal life.”

Today I wonder how many LGBTQ kids have walked away from their homes. How many were forced out? How many have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms” because they simply wanted to live their lives as truthfully as possible?

I want to ponder that for a moment before we go any farther with this passage. How many young people were forced out of their homes because of their parents’ misunderstanding of Scripture? How many young people are forced to live a lie and dwell in anxiety and darkness because of how they were created by God. How much good news has been quieted by those who think they are following Jesus?

Before we get caught up in figuring out how to get a camel through the eye of the needle (spoiler alert: there was no such gate in Jerusalem called “the eye of the needle.” That story was a total fabrication to make people more comfortable with Jesus’ harsh message in this passage), before we wrestle over the nature of “obtaining eternal life,” before we wonder if Jesus was talking to just one rich man or to all of us, I want us pause and think of those who have “left house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, or farms because of me and because of the good news.”

There are thousands of brave, courageous, faithful gay, lesbian, and transgendered people who refused to lie about themselves and who have remained with Jesus. Their faith is an inspiration. They have been shamed, beaten, called names, and outcast by people who claim to love them. Yet they remain faithful to Jesus because of the good news.

This morning I stand in awe of my brave siblings in Christ who, as Peter said, “left everything and followed you.” No pastor, no institution, no Book of Discipline, no misunderstanding of a few verses of the Bible, and no reprimanding parent can keep them from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I pray that you receive one hundred times as much as you have left behind. I pray that you receive truth, grace, affirmation, mission, and community. The eternal life of Christ is one of depth, meaning, joy, and peace that surpasses all understanding, and I hope you receive it all. I am thankful for the places and communities who have welcomed you. I pray for your search if you have not yet found a such a place. I believe Jesus’ promise that you will receive it. I am inspired by your faith. I will keep working for you, preaching for you, and praying for you.

Even as I search myself for the same eternal life, I remember that for humans, entering the Kingdom of God is as easy as a camel passing through the eye of the needle, but with God all things are possible. Thanks be to God.

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Jesus makes a poop joke

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 29, 2021

Gospel Reading: Mark 7:1-23

Jesus’ popularity was growing. Crowds were coming. Word of Jesus’ popularity had reached King Herod. Stories of plentiful food and calming storms circulating among the people. Chapter 6 of Mark’s Gospel tells us that “Wherever he went – villages, cities, or farming communities – they would place the sick in the marketplaces and beg him to allow them to touch even the hem of his clothing. Everyone who touched him was healed.”

The Good News of Christ had come. People had bread. People were fed. Even the storms seemed to obey this wandering preacher. The movement was gaining steam and lives were being transformed. Herod wasn’t the only one in Jerusalem who had heard about Jesus. Enter the Pharisees and Legal Experts from Jerusalem. They came to see just what was going on, and what did they see?

They didn’t see the people with enough to eat. They didn’t see people’s lives being restored. They didn’t see the good news preached to the poor and oppressed. They saw the disciples not washing their hands. Germ-theory and best COVID practices aside, this is not what they should have seen. They were students of Torah – they should have seen God’s greatest commandment being lived out. Instead of rejoicing at the love of God and love of neighbor that was overflowing, they saw only the breaking of tradition.

“That’s not how we do it!” They complained to Jesus. “We have rules to follow. We have a discipline to uphold” (Mark 7:5 paraphrased).

They were worried that breaking their tradition could contaminate them. They were worried that if the proper way was not upheld, they would lose their relationship with God. They were convinced that the rules they had created were as important as the Law of God. Jesus, frustrated with their lack of being able to see what was actually happening, reminds them of what truly matters. The rules, well-intentioned as they were – had missed the point.

Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, “Your worship of me is empty since they teach instruction that are human words. You ignore God’s commandment while holding on to rules created by humans and handed down to you” (Mark 7:7-8).

To get this point across to his disciples, he makes a wonderful poop joke (yes, Jesus makes a poop joke!). What enters the mouth exits the other end and goes into the sewer. The Pharisees were concerned about a rule that mattered about as much as what drains into the sewer. What harms our relationship with God is not breaking human rules. It is denying God’s love. They missed the gospel happening right in front of their face by focusing on what comes to a pile of waste. If they had really been paying attention, they would have seen God’s people being fed instead of hands not being washed.

In the end, we are left to reflect on what are human rules and what is God’s Law. God’s Law is love. Love of God. Love of neighbor. Love each other. Love yourself. To deny these aspects of love is to ignore God’s commandment. Jesus differentiates between human rules and God’s Law is love. Human rules should help us follow God’s Law. God’s focus is on the heart. So should ours. Focus on the heart. Focus on the love. When the rules and traditions stop helping us do that, they should be ignored. They are worth about as much as what flows into the sewer.

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The Armor of God

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Revised Common Lectionary reading for August 22, 2021

Second Reading: Ephesians 6:10-20

The Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the devastating loss of human life, the threats to human dignity, and the fear of a looming humanitarian crisis cast a dark shadow over the reading of Ephesians this week. War metaphors to describe faith in Christ should always give us pause. This is especially so this week.

As we read the author of Ephesian’s language about putting on the armor of God, it is impossible not to think about the wars waged in the name of Christ over the centuries. My mind also goes to old Sunday school posters showing a man in armor – often anachronistic medieval armor – with each piece labeled.

While the labels were things like “peace” and “righteousness” and “truth,” I can’t help but feel like images of the warrior with shield, sword, and a full knight’s steal armor were painting a more lasting image than the words that went along with them. The lesson was simple: we are to be warriors for God, and if this means fighting an actual violent war, then so be it.

It is easy to read this passage and quickly presume that we are the warriors of God, and that all who oppose us are “the rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens.” It is a short step then, to name those forces of evil. Once they are named, they can then be vanquished, and the armor of God can help us achieve this. For far too long and far too often, this passage has been used to justify militaristic, protectionist discrimination against those considered to be the “forces of evil” and the “darkness of this age.”

To get the full picture of this armor, we must take this letter in its context. This is not meant to be turned into a recruiting poster for God’s army. This is not a rallying cry for Christians to attack and belittle those with whom we disagree. This is certainly not a letter for those living comfortably within the dominant culture.

The letter to the Ephesians was a letter of encouragement to a people facing troubling persecution. Ephesus was a cosmopolitan city with important temples and pagan institutions. It was growing much more difficult to participate in the commercial and social life of the city while still following Christ. This letter was meant to remind the Christians how to live in a pagan, oppressive community.

This still feels like a call to arms for Christians who feel they are under attack. The enemies they may name today are secularism, atheism, and liberalism. Many fear the “gay agenda” or buy into conspiracy theories about powerful cabals of child-trafficking predators who are trying to run our government, steal elections, and inject the mark of the beast into our arms. Many Christians feel as if they are fighting a valiant spiritual war by denying the full humanity of LGBTQ people, long-term effects of institutional racism, the existence of a deadly virus, and the efficacy of a vaccine that has proven safe and effective.

It is important to not fall into the same trap and demonize and dehumanize others. People cannot be easily categorized or labeled. Terms such conservative, traditional, orthodox, liberal, and progressive do little to describe humans who care, love, hurt, and learn. The only path we have is to stand firm, but to stand firm with loving kindness. The armor of God is truth, justice, and peace. So, how do we live in a world of increased polarization, misinformation, and vitriol?

The writer of Ephesians does not offer a solution but does give us some guiding principles. Stand firm, but not obstinate. Do not react in anger against your neighbors. Do not respond to violent and militaristic oppression with violent militaristic opposition. Who is my enemy? Not people deceived by misinformation, but forces of oppression, consumerism, addiction, racism, sexism, and homophobia which can be found inside ourselves as much as they are found in others.

“If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” ~ Nelson Mandela

“Somehow, we must transform the dynamics of the world power struggle from the negative nuclear arms race, which no one can win, to a positive contest to harness humanity’s creative genius for the purpose of making peace and prosperity a reality for all the nations of the world. In short, we must shift the arms race into a peace race. If we have a will – and determination – to mount such a peace offensive, we will unlock hitherto tightly sealed doors of hope and transform our imminent cosmic elegy into a psalm of creative fulfillment.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

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The Bread of Life

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.

The Revised Common Lectionary readings for August 15, 2021

Gospel Reading: John 6:51-58

The Gospel reading this week is the fourth of a five-week journey through the sixth chapter of John. Known as the Bread of Life discourse, chapter six begins with the feeding of a “large crowd” of people. Interestingly, John’s Gospel does not give a head count. Starting with a youth’s lunch of 5 loaves and two fish. Jesus took the bread, gave thanks, and distributed it to all those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish. After the meal, the disciples gathered 12 baskets of leftovers.

In the ensuing discussion over what just happened, Jesus says, “I am the bread of life.” He faces opposition from those who do not understand. They compare his bread to the bread of heaven which fell for Moses in the wilderness. This is why this passage begins, “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” (John 6:51)

The talk of eating flesh and drinking blood is not a helpful metaphor for a lot of people. It feels overly graphic and a little gross. This teaching however, is a great chance for us to remove the Sacrament of Communion from the blood and violence of substitutionary atonement. Jesus is the bread of life. This is very different from “this is my body, broken for you.” 

For many, the idea that Jesus had to be sacrificed for the sin of the world to appease an angry God is an illogical interpretation of the Trinity. If God is love, the violent sacrifice of God’s Son is not a helpful metaphor. Let me add here that substitutionary atonement is a metaphor. It is a Biblical metaphor, but it is but one of many ways that Paul and early Christians came to understand the atoning work of Jesus. Through the incarnation, life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ, humanity and all creation is reconciled to God. 

Unlike what some would have us believe, there are many ways of understanding how this happens. Here, Jesus does not call himself the sacrificial lamb. He does not point to a broken piece of bread. He reminds his disciples that he is the bread of life. He is bread that is plentiful. He is bread that fulfills, satisfies, and leaves no one hungry.

Jesus uses eating as a metaphor to describe the intense and intimate relationship he has with those who believe. We cannot be separated from Jesus any more than we can be separated from bread that we eat. When we read that we are to eat his “flesh” we should remember that it is the “flesh” that is the eternal Word of God. In the prelude of John, we are told that the incarnation happens when “the Word became flesh and made his home among us.”

Now Jesus tells us that by eating the flesh, we have life. Jesus revealed God’s way of abundant life for all people. We are invited to not simply believe, but to abide with him. When we do, we are joined in the eternal life of the eternal Word. We eat the bread – not just at the ritual of Communion – but in the life that is abiding with Christ. 

We abide with Christ and eat the bread when we live in non-violent love and grace. We eat the bread when we live as Jesus lives, eat as Jesus eats, heal as Jesus heals, invite as Jesus invites, and love as Jesus loves. When we do this, we abide with Christ. We eat the living bread and live into eternal life.

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David and Bathsheba

This devotion was published first in the IGRC for Unity weekly email. IGRC for Unity is a group of Illinois United Methodists who have rejected the Traditional Plan for the United Methodist Church and are working to create a United Methodist Church that is truly open to all. These devotionals will be taken from a text from the Revised Common Lectionary, and will often have a theme of inclusion and welcome.


Lectionary First Reading: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 (The Rape of Bathsheba)

Bethsabée *oil on canvas *60.5 x 100 cm *signed b.l.: J.L.GEROME *1889

Our first reading this week is the second part of the sad saga of David and Bathsheba. It is fraught with problems and triggers that can do harm to victims of sexual abuse, domestic violence, and parents who have suffered from infant death or miscarriage. There is little good news in this story, but perhaps it is a chance to undo some damage that preachers and interpreters have done over the centuries. Bathsheba is perhaps the greatest victim of “victim-blaming” in history, and the one shining light from this text makes this clear.  

The Common English Bible puts it bluntly: “But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes” (2 Samuel 11:27b, CEB). At no point in the text is Bathsheba blamed. Generations of interpreters have read consent into Bathsheba’s actions. A blog post from the site womeninscripture.com says, “David did not rape Bathsheba, as evidenced by his subsequent actions. He vehemently loved her.” The idea that David’s love for Bathsheba exempts him from raping her is appalling.  

Womanist scholar Wilda Gafney has a different reading of the situation: “To come when beckoned by the king does not imply consent. I argue that Bathsheba’s going with David’s soldiers on her own two feet should in no way be read as consent, but rather as holding on to a shred of dignity by not being dragged or carried out… Rape is an abuse of power that can include relational and positional power, in addition to physical power. The power dynamic is clear: David uses the power and authority of his office to wield lethal violence to keep her. He sees her, sends for her, and has sex with her without her consent. He rapes her. In the subsequent narrative [this week’s text], Nathan and God treat David as a rapist by condemning him but not imputing sin to Bathsheba as a complicit, consenting person. Their treatment of her is consistent with the treatment of women who are raped in the Torah statues” (Gafney, Womanist Midrash, Westminster John Knox Press, 2017; p. 215)  

God’s judgment is upon David. Unfortunately, the punishment of David is laid down at the feet of his children and his family. The fact that David’s children – especially the child in Bathsheba’s womb – would be punished for David’s sin is disturbing. Especially to those who have suffered from infertility, infant death, or miscarriage, this does not feel like justice.  

If, however, you read more into the story of David’s life, you may see something else is revealed. David spent his life treating women as pawns. He used, manipulated, and discarded women as was politically expedient. David set up a household built on violence against women, and violence against women lived on in his line. The narrative reveals that David’s children were torn apart by rape, vengeance, murder, and rivalry. His kingdom, while going to Solomon, crumbles soon thereafter. A student of family systems, generational trauma, and domestic violence might recognize that the patterns David set up in his own family continued. And while I do not believe that this was God punishing David for his sin, the trouble in David’s children’s lives does feel as if it is the fruit of David’s actions.  

So, where is the good news in this story? I do not think there is good news in this text. The good news is left for today’s interpreters, preachers, and commentators to see the story for what it is: a cautionary tale that has tragic consequences for all involved. Instead of ignoring Bathsheba (or worse, blaming her), perhaps we can give her a voice. We can give voice to the millions of women who have been victim to violence. We can speak against the power dynamics, misguided understandings of love (I’m looking at you, author at womeninscripture.com), and toxic masculinity that allows for men in power to thrive in their abuse.  

In the end, David found grace and forgiveness, but he was also held accountable. His actions, while forgiven by God, also had dire consequences. We who follow Christ know that Jesus came from David’s line. David’s earthly kingdom split quickly and disintegrated in time. Jesus’ Kingdom, unlike David’s, is not built on violence. It is built on the dignity of all people. It is built on love and compassion. It is built upon the things that first helped David rise to power – faith, hope, and a good shepherd’s care for others.

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