From if to nevertheless, from Nathan to Francis

A Sermon for Proper 11

2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Jeremiah 23:1-6, Psalm 89:20-37, Psalm 23, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

We are great builders. (Gruberth) From early on till now there are stories of majestic structures. There is the story of the Tower of Babble. There is David’s building his own fine house and his desire to build an equally or grander, house for God. It makes sense. Nathan thinks so; he says so before he checked it out with God. We should be at least a bit surprised, given David’s history of consulting God. And we, as are Nathan and David, are surprised by God’s “No.”

There is a lot of speculation about why God says no to David’s offer. None are in the Bible, which probably means they aren’t all that important. What is important, well revealing, is the wordplay. The Hebrew bayit can mean, house, palace, temple, or dynasty. (Brueggemann) (BIRCH) David says he has built himself a house. It is really a palace; that is a symbol of political power, and perhaps a bit of self-serving effort to legitimize his reign. (Brueggemann) David wants to build God a house. He means Temple, which is a permeant residence for God; which may be a sign of piety, or an effort to lay claim on God. Permanence [restricts] Yahweh’s freedom.  Yahweh will not be bought off, controlled, or domesticated by such luxury. (Brueggemann)

The divine “No,” is a surprise; however, the surprises are no over. God continues:

I took you from the pasture (v. 8b);

I have been with you (v. 9a);

I have cut off all your enemies (v 9a)

Having reviewed what God has done is the past God’s continues by revealing the future:

I will make you a great name (v. 9b);

I will appoint a place for my people (v. 10a);

I will give you rest from all your enemies (v. 11) (Brueggemann)

And there is more, “I will make a house for you,” which here means dynasty, for God also says

“I will raise up offspring, (v. 12a)
will establish his kingdom.” (v. 12b)

God will do more for David than he can ask or imagine. (BCP 102), (Romans15:13) God is doing far more than we can ask or imagine.

Within the list of what God will do, is allowing David’s son, Solomon, not yet born, to build a Temple. This is no mere condescending to David’s complex request. It’s a transformation of God’s covenant with Israel through Moses. In the verses that follow those appointed for this morning, God says:

14. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. … 16. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. (2 Samuel 7:14-16 (NRSV))

This is the turning point in the Old Testament story. (Brueggemann) Last week we heard the story of the Ark coming to Jerusalem, bringing the presence of God back into the presence of Israel. (BIRCH) It is an act attached to the Mosaic covenant, build on the premise of “if you keep these laws, I will be with you.” Saul’s kingship is based on the Mosaic covenant, and he lost God’s presence. What we are witnessing is God changing the Mosaic ‘if’ into the messianic ‘nevertheless.’ In short, when you and your descendants mess up there will be consequences; nevertheless, I will be with you, be with them, forever. (Brueggemann), (BIRCH) We are witnessing the establishment of: the evangelical faith in the Bible, the faith in the Messiah, the first threads of justification by grace. (Brueggemann)

As glorious, hopeful and transformational as it is, this not a move without its risk. Linking divine presence to the Davidic dynasty and the nevertheless of God’s continuing presence involves creating the potential of legitimizing the state that dares to claim divine imprimatur.  There is the appearance of divinely inspired power that benefits some at the expense of others. It is a Gordian knot that cannot be undone, nor cut. (Brueggemann) I have seen it in Bibles, whose cover bears the image of a national flag.

This is emblematic of the embedded warning in this story. We do not read the story of God’s presence through national symbols; we are to understand the responsibility of governance, mutual responsibility, and interdependence, through the nevertheless of God eternal presence. And by the way: our Constitution does not forbid the church from speaking to governments, or influencing politicians; it only forbids governments from establishing an official religion. The flip side of this risk is the hope that there will always be those who will right the wrongs, and establish good governance; that there will be those who, in spite of resistance from the recalcitrance of injustice and unrighteousness, will nevertheless give themselves over to make things right. (Brueggemann) In the absence, real and perceived, of God’s presence, there is the promise of nevertheless, the promise of enduring hesed, the promise of God’s everlasting love. (Brueggemann) As an example is Israel’s experience during the Babylonian captivity. (BIRCH)

History reveals how, in the face of political perversion of divine imprimatur the church tends to withdraw into unengaged piety or to ignore God’s interests and allow herself to fall into ideologically co-opted or culturally accommodated religiosity. (BIRCH) God risks the dangers of ideological manipulation of faith for the sake of bringing the grace of divine promise into close engagement with public and political realities.  The church can do no less than risk active engagement. (BIRCH)

We have seen such engagement from time to time:

  • William Wilberforce’s lifelong stance against slavery in England that was abolished after his death.
  • Martin Luther King’s and some churches involvement in the ongoing fight for civil rights.
  • The churches that take a public stance for gender and sexual preference equality.
  • Pope Francis’ encyclical on global warming, and his public comments against the continuing oppression of the poor and marginalized.

The Old Testament writers expected that the coming of the messiah would lead to justice and the total transformation of the society. Jesus got the transformation started. Christians speak of the already and not yet. We believe the full transformation of society will come with the second coming of Christ. In the meantime the nevertheless of 2nd Samuel 7 should encourage us to seek and fight for peace and justice right here, right now. (Klein)


References

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation; FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990. CD.+

Gruberth, G. Cole. “Proper 11.” 19 7 2015. Sermons that Work.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a.” 19 7 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.

Klein, Ralph W. “Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:114a.” 2015. Working Preacher. web. 2014.

The Episcopal Church. Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing, 1979.

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The presence of God

A Sermon for Proper 10

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19, Amos 7:7-15, Psalm 24, Psalm 85:8-13, Ephesians 1:3-14, Mark 6:14-29

No one knows what happened to the Ark. It is not in the inventory of loot taken when Nebuchadnezzar sacked Jerusalem and took everything and everyone back to Babylon. It is not a part of the Second Temple’s furnishings; by the way, that is the Temple of Jesus’ day. There are many occasions when it could have been destroyed, captured or carried away for safe keeping by either human or divine means. (Sakenfeld) No one really knows when or how it got lost, or where it may be, not even Indiana Jones. I am sure you remember Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark. If you do not, it is worth watching. Spielberg and Lucas did a great job of storytelling about finding the Ark. And they actually got reasonably close to the power and the danger of the Ark in the scene on the Island when the bad guys open it just to be sure it is not empty. Everyone and everything there is destroyed, except Jones and Miriam, who kept their eyes closed and did not look on the presence of God. The movie’s last scene, when the Ark is hidden away, forever lost in a bureaucratic jungle, is a nod to the unpredictability the Ark.

Last week David was anointed king over all Israel. Since then Israel has defeated two Philistine attacks after David consulted with God about what to do. We do not know chose idea it is to go get the Ark, but David does. It may be a deliberate attempt to join his reign with Israel’s ancient religious traditions. The Ark is the home of the Ten Commandments, and God’s footstool on earth. In Moses’ day, Israel took it out in battle, against his wishes, because God will not be with you, and they are defeated. (Num. 14:43) Joshua leads Israel into the Promised Land, with the Ark heading the procession. When the Ark is carried into battle, even the Philistines are afraid. Eli’s sons carry the Ark into battle and in a disastrous effort are killed, and the Ark is captured. The Philistines take it into their temple, whereupon the statue of their god falls over, breaking its hands off, and plagues begin to break out. So the Philistines put the Ark on a new cart and set it off, with golden gifts for appeasement. It stops at Kireath-jearim, for twenty years. That is where it is when David goes after it. (Sakenfeld)

In the beginning, things go well enough. The Ark is put in a new cart that Uzzah and Ahio drive. David leading, the procession dances towards Jerusalem with songs, lyres, harps, tambourines, castanets and cymbals accompanying. Today’s appointed reading skips the verses where Uzzah reaches out to stop the Ark from falling off the cart because the Ox shook it, and dies. We frequently skip over these sorts of uncomfortable verses; they complicate our vision of God. The story goes:

The anger of the LORD was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. (2 Samuel 6:7 (NRSV))

It does not seem fair, Uzzah was trying to protect the Ark. I did a little word work in Strong’s Dictionary. The root word of the Hebrew anger means face, the root word of the Hebrew aroused also means glow or blaze, the root word of the Hebrew struck means struck. (Strong’s) So maybe touching the Ark is the same as seeing God’s face, always considered dangerous, which blazes forth, striking Uzzah and killing him. This may make us a little more comfortable, with the unfortunate results of an unintentional act. Still Uzzah is dead as the results of an encounter with God. It is a stark reminder that God’s presence is as dangerous as it is gracious.

Back to the story. David is angry and afraid and leaves the Ark with Obed-edom a Gittite. Remember a Gittite is from Gath, the same Philistine city as Goliath.  (Holman Bible Dictionary) After three months, during which Obed-edom’s household is blessed, David decides the Ark is as much a blessing as it is a danger and returns to complete the journey. There is another procession, which David leads while scantily dressed, perhaps showing he has nothing to hide before God. This procession is also replete with offerings. After their arrival there is a final round of burnt offerings, which are sacrifices to restore relationship with God or atone for sin, (Holman Bible Dictionary) and wellbeing offerings, which are a celebration of peace, or fellowship, part of a covenant agreement or a greeting. (Sakenfeld) After all this all Israel is feed with cakes of flour, cakes of rain and meat.

A couple of observations: David leads the sacrifices much the same way Saul did. Saul’s behavior provokes God’s wrath; David’s does not. This is likely because David is not violating God’s command, we do know David seeks God’s counsel. Secondly, we should not overlook that God blessing is given to Obed-edom a Gittite, a traditional enemy of Israel, God’s chosen people.

There are three elements to this story I want to touch on. First, the religious, political connection. We do not know whose idea it is to go get the Ark. As I mentioned, it might be David’s effort to gain credibility for his reign by connecting to Israel’s ancient religious traditions. We do not like the political implications in scripture. We use the Constitution’s prohibition of the state establishing an official religion as an excuse to separate politics from religion and faith. We cannot read and apply scripture to our lives faithfully without acknowledging the political dimensions in scripture and in our lives.

Buried within a complicated journey story and the story of legitimizing of David’s reign is a story of God’s blessings. I am not at all sure Obed-edom is delighted to have the Ark dropped off in his custody. He must have seen the tragic death of Uzzah and know the danger of the Ark. Nonetheless, the Ark is left on his land. And he and his household are blessed. That is not far from us hearing an irrefutable story of divine blessing upon Iran. It is a stark reminder that God’s grace is God’s, and God’s bestows it upon whomever God chooses. We have got nothing to do with it, and I rather, no I believe we ought not to get angry about it. David does not; in fact, it is Obed-edom’s blessing that shows David that the Ark can be a blessing.

Finally, we have convinced ourselves that God’s presence is all about grace and salvation. However, David Lose says:

… the presence of God on this earth is always a dicey proposition. … the intersection points of the divine with the human can be fraught. … We dare never be casual when it comes to the presence of God. We are right to be thoughtful about how we speak of it and approach it and ponder it. (Lose)

There two elements here I want to consider this morning. The first that God’s grace is God’s, well I suspect I have said enough.

Secondly, what we tend to speak of as God’s grace, our wellbeing, physical and material accoutrements are not grace; they are the results of the complex interactions of how we are a part of the socio-political-economic structures of the world, our country, state, county, and city. Our wellbeing, physical and material accouterments, is not evidence of God’s presence in our lives. Others’ lack of wellbeing, physical and material accouterments, is not evidence of God’s absence from their lives. God is wholly other, and God’s presence is wholly other, never as simple as we desire and always touching and relating everything to everything else. Uzzah died, and every day people die who should not, and God’s presence, unknowable to us, is there. Obed-edom’s household prospered, and every day people prosper, and God’s presence, unknowable to us, is there. The difference between prosperity or death is not God’s presence and grace or lack thereof; the difference well some of the difference is our perception, but especially our judgment of others from our faulty perceptions. There is a sense in this story, that when we stop judging and live fully exposed before God, then everyone can be feed. That sounds a lot to me like the Kingdom come to earth. AMEN.


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost – July 12, 2015. 12 7 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/&gt;.

Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 6:15, 12b-19. 12 7 2015.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 2 Samuel 6,” 12 7 2015. Working Preacher.

“Holman Bible Dictionary.” WORD – QuickVerse, n.d.

Lose, David. Pentecost 7 B: A Tale of Two Kingdoms. 12 7 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net&gt;.

Petersen, David and Roberts Gavenat Beverly. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. e-book.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Strong’s Talking Greek & Hebrew Dictionary. Wordsearch, n.d.

Independence in our mutual interdependence.

A sermon for Proper 9: 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Ezekiel 2:1-5, Psalm 48,  Psalm 123, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

I hope you enjoyed the Fourth of July Celebration. Did you take advantage of one of the many red, white and blue sales? Perhaps you shared hot dogs with family or neighbors. Maybe you fought off the mosquitoes and watched fireworks. Or perhaps you drove to Conway to visit Trey and Benjamin Luke Hauptmann … direct descendants of Samuel Wilson, the upstate New York butcher known locally as Uncle Sam and considered the inspiration for the national symbol. (Roberts)

Whatever, you chose, I hope your celebrations included a commemoration of our Declaration of Independence and the re-founding of our nation in the Constitution.

After David’s lament over Saul and Jonathan, he is anointed as King of Judah, the tribes of the southern half of the promised lands. Saul’s son Ishbaal is made King over Israel, the northern tribes. Immediately they battle at Gibeon; where David’s forces are victorious. It was the first of many battles, with David gaining strength. Ishbaal and his military commander Abner quarrel leading Abner to make a deal with David. However, David’s commander Joab kills him in revenge for his brothers’ death at Abner’s hand at Gibeon. His death rattles Israel, and two military officers assassinate Ishbaal.

The elders of Israel realize they are in a mess. All Saul’s heirs are dead, and there is no obvious successor in Israel. Abner is dead, and there is no obvious military commander to replace him. The Philistines continue to be a threat. So, they approach David about being King of Israel. They appeal to their previous experiences when David led them while Saul was king; that they share bone and flesh, share strength and weakness, ands kinship. (Brueggemann) (Birch) The elders see God’s hand in David’s ascent and seek a mutually beneficial relationship. David agrees and is anointed king over Israel.

To be King, you need a capital city. David seems to know that if he stays where he is, Israel will always be suspicious he favors Judah. If he moves to Israel’s capital, Judah will always be suspicious he favors Israel. It is hard to build mutual interdependence from mutual suspicion. So, David turns to nearby Salem, or Jebus, a Jebusite city (BIRCH) conquers it, makes it his home, his capital, and named it the city of David. Later it will become Jerusalem.

Many years later, Jesus has been round about casting out demons, healing the sick and raising the dead. He decides to visit his hometown. They do not seem to be aware of all his activities. There was no such thing as social media in those days. Perhaps that contributes to his family and friends being so taken aback by his wisdom and teaching.

They know him as Joseph’s son, a carpenter, a mid-level craftsman. They know who he is; and who he is not, an educated elite scholar. They experience him as being uppity. (Perkins) Unlike the hemorrhaging woman, or Jarius whose beliefs lead to healing, Jesus’ hometown folks’ unbelief hampered his efforts, dampened the flow of divine power, divine desire. (Williams), (Ellingsen), (Epperly)

Now I’d likely get all bothered by that and set about reevaluating things. Jesus doubles down, pairs the twelve off, and sends them into the surrounding villages to proclaim repentance, cast out demons and heal the sick. They did. Some observations. Jesus sending them out with so little reminds me of God paring Gideon’s 22 thousand soldiers down to 300 so they will know it is God at work in their victory, and not their prowess. (Judges 7) The stripping away clutter of stuff, (Williams) is perhaps a nudge to also leave behind our spiritual and emotional baggage (Epperly) as we go about God’s work. Jesus instructions, about how to behave when they are not welcome, are grounded in the ancient emphasis on hospitality. Welcoming the stranger, especially holy visitors, is valued. To not offer hospitality is tantamount to refusing to listen to the message. (Harrelson) It is Jesus’ subtle way of telling them, and us, what we are not responsible or, like other’s decisions. We should also be aware, the disciples are not independent of Jesus; they are an extension of Jesus’ ministry. (Perkins) The same is true for us today.

These two stories reveal the social consequences of belief and unbelief. (Black) Our faith affects God’s work. The faith of those we share Jesus’ story with affects God’s work. We should also have more faith in God’s persistence. Time is powerful, the unbelieving members of Jesus family come to believe; his brother James is a leader in the early church in Jerusalem, and Jude is responsible for at least part of an Epistle.  (Perkins)

There is a dynamic within this story of mutual interdependence. The disciples are dependent on Jesus to do the work he has sent them to do. The same is true for us. Jesus and the disciples are dependent on the belief on those in their presence. Unbelief can impede God’s desire. Belief leads to knowing God’s presence. In times of contentious religious debates, it is important to remember we are mutually responsible for and interdependent to each other. All of us are sent to each other. All of us need each other.

I believe our founding fathers were well aware of mutual responsibility and interdependence. They captured it in the preamble to the Constitution,

We the People … justice … common defense … general welfare … liberty for ourselves and our prosperity

All of these phrases are communal, both in beneficiaries and responsibilities. Thus, as preambles are intended to do, all the constitution, including amendments, must reflect our mutual responsibility and interdependence. Whether the founding fathers intended it or not, God’s ways are mysterious, it is of divine intent.

David established his capital such that Judah and Israel can develop mutual responsibility and interdependence. Jesus’ hometown cannot see their mutual responsibility and interdependence with Jesus, and who knows what they missed. Jesus’ disciples’ first mission trip is defined by an ideal of mutual responsibility and interdependence. Our Constitution reflects the virtues of mutual responsibility and interdependence. As we, as individuals, as the church, as a community, and as a county discern our way forward we will find a clearer path and divine powers in mutual responsibility and interdependence. We will know the full grace independence in our mutual interdependence.


References

BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.

Black, C. Clifton. Commentary on Mark 6:113. 5 7 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2316&gt;.

Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation; FIRST AND SECOND SAMUEL. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990. CD.

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 9 | OT 14, Cycle B. 5 7 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 7 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10. 5 7 2015.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

Hoezee, Scott. “Old Testament Lectionary 2 Samuel 5:1-10.” 5 7 2015. Working Preacher.

—. “The Lectionary Gospel Text is: Mark 6:1-13.” 5 7 2015. Center for Excellence in Preaching.

PERKINS, PHEME. THE GOSPEL OF MARK, INTRODUCTION, COMMENTARY, AND REFLECTIONS. Ed. Jr., Patrick D Miller and Paul J. Achtemeier. Vol. 8. Louisville: John Know Press, 1991. 12 vols. disk.

Petersen, David and Roberts Gaventa Beverly. New Interpreters’ Bible, One-Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010. ebook.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Williams, Lamar Jr. Interpretation: A BIBLE COMMENTARY FOR TEACHING AND PREACHING: Mark. Ed. James Luther Mays, Patrick D. Miler and Paul J Achtemeier. Nashville: John Knox Press, 1983.