Speaking Truth to Authority

A sermon for Proper 13; 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Psalm 51:1-13, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35 

In a land reasonably far away, in a time farther and farther ago, I was part of the sales support team for a computer company. We had a well-respected local store system. We were introducing a larger system for large multiple store businesses, or warehouse businesses. We closed a deal with a mid-size multiple store operation. There was an implication that our multi-store / warehouse system would be available soon and they could upgrade getting almost full credit for the system they purchased. In the beginning, I was at the store every day. As they put each part of the software package into use and mastered its subtleties, I spent fewer days per week. After about a year or so, I would go see them about every two or three weeks.

Have you ever walked into a room, and sensed that something was wrong? As soon as I got in the door I knew trouble was in the air. The service counter staff, always friendly to anyone who came in the door, quietly made their way into the parts shelves. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a technician pulling some-sort of cable into all the front offices. When I saw the president, he waved me into his office. In a calm voice, he explained that they were exercising their option to return the entire system. I was confused; I believed everything was going well. It was – mostly. It turns out, the president had lost faith in the sales representative’s promises about the availability of the new multi-store / warehouse system. There was a difficult, but respectful conversation about some of those details. I did my best to confirm the installation in process was what they expected, and got assurances yes, those expectations were being well fulfilled. We said our goodbyes, and I left.

That night I decided I had to call not my sales partner, but our boss. I recounted the entire conversation. I included the customer’s saying he no longer believed the sales representative was reliable. After the date to uninstall the system was confirmed the conversation ended uncomfortably.

Later that night I got a call from my boss’s boss. To say he was not happy would be an understatement. He fired off several yes or no questions about the current status of the existing system, and what the customer had said to me. Then he lit into me about challenging the veracity of the sales rep. Not being able to interrupt the diatribe, I just listened. When it was over, I tried to explain all I sought to do, was to convey what the customer told me. There were a few more lines of unpleasantness, and the conversation came to an uncomfortable disrespectful end. I was glad the conversation was over. I was not happy. I did not feel secure. I knew I had done the right thing, but I didn’t feel good about it.

Speaking the truth to authority can be risky business. I did not set out to do so, nevertheless, I had. However, as uncomfortable as I was, I never felt as if I were in any danger.

I am not sure the same thing can be said about Nathan, God’s prophet serving David. Nathan knows how dangerous David can be. David had just raped the wife of one of his most loyal commanders. Then killed him after when the effort to cover up the tryst failed.

As you know, last week’s reading was the rape of Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah, her husband. This morning we hear how David adds to the sin by marrying Bathsheba, for no other reason than to cover up his abhorrent act. You get a sense of what David is thinking because the story never calls Bathsheba by name, she is only “the wife of Uriah.” (Brooks). We also hear that David’s behavior displeases the Lord, the language used to describe Saul’s behavior, that leads to God’s decision to replace him as King over Israel. Nathan tells the parable story of a rich man with many flocks and herds taking a poor man’s sheep to feed a guest. The rich man takes the sheep just as David takes Bathsheba, from the one who loves her (Gaventa and Petersen). The rich man adds to his sin, by abusing the expected norms of hospitality, in offering the stolen lamb to his guest (Keener and Walton). David’s response is swift and harsh, though within the prescribed law. He does not yet understand that he is the rich man, that he is the king Samuel warned Israel about when they first asked God to give them a king (1 Samuel 8:11-19).

It is amazing how few words it takes to speak the truth. Nathen’s simple words You are that man. reveals a divine justice by which royalty and the powerful are judged; reveals a justice that values the powerless as much as royalty and the powerful (Birch). What follows describes the consequences of David’s sinful actions.

We are so used to thinking of prophets as foretelling the future, that, that is all we hear. A basic knowledge of Bible stories and last week’s sermon confirms that Nathan’s prophetic voice gets the future right. What we too often miss is Nathan’s courage in standing up to David’s power. Predicting the future is relatively easy. Speaking the unvarnished truth of evil in the service of power is risky. We must never discount Nathan’s risk.

We, as individuals, the church, and a society, must never discount the possibility that the speaking of truth to power will not be costly (Birch). There are many national martyrs, church saints, and people whose life story reminds us so.

David’s story does not end here. The transition to what is to come begins with a confession I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13). As prophets called to speak dangerously inconvenient truth, our goal is not judgment and condemnation, our hope is that by confession and repentance, life is possible in the face of death unleashed by sin (Birch).

We all have or will have the opportunity to speak the truth to authority, perhaps not the King, but to someone who has some sort of authority over you. We should remember authority is not always formal, it can express itself in the form of a relationship you value, such as belonging to the in-group it is advantageous to be accepted by, or a person you’d like to like you. The call to speak truth to authority is not a fight night card of the wholly righteous versus the un-redeemably wicked. In speaking the truth we must also be prepared to hear and acknowledge judgment of our own thoughts, words and deeds, done and not done, that contribute to taking, lying, murder, daring hypocrisy, insincere hospitality, or any anything else that contributes to breaking relationships between each other, as individuals or communities, between ourselves and creation, or between ourselves and God (Birch). We will have to decide what is more valuable, the truth or the authoritarian relationship.

Psalm 51 is often understood as David’s lament for his sin. The last three verses:

11 Create in me a clean heart, O God, * and renew a right spirit within me.

12 Cast me not away from your presence * and take not your holy Spirit from me.

13 Give me the joy of your saving help again * and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit.

present a sort of plea for grace. This morning’s Gospel is an assurance of this grace. We have heard Jesus refer to himself as the source of living water (John4:1-26). We have heard Jesus call himself “I am” a connection to the unique God of Sinai (John 6:20). We have heard Jesus say “I am the bread of Life.”

When faced with speaking an inconvenient truth, we can be assured that living bread, water and the glory of God through the presence Jesus is with us always.


References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a. 5 8 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 5 8 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hylen, Susan. Commentary on John 6:24-35. 5 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Richter, Amy. “Contentment, Pentecost 11 (B).” 5 8 2018. Sermons that Work.

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

The Living Church. A Parable of Truth. 5 8 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

 

 

 

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Being Where We Are Supposed To Be

A sermon for Proper 12; 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Psalm 14, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21

When Samuel grows old Israel tells him “You are old, and your sons do not follow in your ways” (1 Samuel 8:5), which is a reminder of Eli’s disastrous sons. The elders ask Samuel to appoint a “king to govern us, like other nations.” Samuel seeks God’s guidance. God tells him to solemnly warn them, about ways of the kings. Samuel tells them “The king who will reign over you:

  • will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots;
  • he will appoint for himself commanders and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.
  • he will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
  • he will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards
  • he will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards
  • he will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.
  • he will take one-tenth of your flocks You shall be his slaves. (1 Samuel 8:5-19)

The people didn’t care so the Lord tells Samuel, “…set a king over them.” (1 Samuel 8:22). Saul is anointed; it begins well enough, but it ends badly. David is anointed as Saul’s successor and after a brutal civil war becomes king over all Israel. In the last few weeks, we have heard about David’s success in establishing Israel, Jerusalem, and himself.

You have seen those string of firecrackers where one fuse is twisted around the next, so when it goes bang, it lights the next fuse which goes bang and so on. Well, there is a firecracker string effect in the story of David’s rape of Bathsheba (Bratt).

David is not where he should be (Brooks). It is spring, the typical time for military campaigning in the ancient Near East. While kings did not always go it is customary for them to accompany their armies (Keener and Walton). David does not go to the siege of Rabbah (Birch), so he is at home and sees Bathsheba, he rapes her, then he involves his commander in the murder of her husband, to cover up his sin. Bathsheba is in her rightful place. The ritual bath David sees is required by Levitical law as part of a ritual cleansing rite in order to return to temple worship (Brooks; Keener and Walton). It is unlikely that David does not know her (Keener and Walton). David is solely responsible for his actions. Bathsheba is powerless against the king (Harrelson). There is no justification, no scapegoats, no rationale, no romance, the king simply does what the king wants to do (Birch). In the only words she speaks Bathsheba reveals she is pregnant (Harrelson). We know the rape takes place at the end of her purification bath, following her period, so there is no question, David is the father (Birch). 

David schemes to cover up his rape. He calls for Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, one of his long-time faithful warriors, to bring him a report about the progress about the war. He asks only a few general questions, which may have raised Uriah’s curiosity (Gaventa and Petersen). Then David tells him to go home. Uriah does not, he stays faithful to his fellow soldiers and the Ark, and sleeps in the doorway, with the rest of David servants. The next day David tries again, this time with the addition of a little, no ~ a lot of wine. Uriah stays faithful. Not to be deterred, David sends Uriah back to the front with orders for Joab, to put Uriah in the front of the most dangerous place so he will be killed. Now the second firecracker goes off, David is successful in killing Uriah. The third goes off, at almost the same time, because Joab is now involved in David’s growing sin.

The effects of David’s sin continue. Among David’s adult children are Absalom, and Tamar by Maacah and Amnon by Ahinoam (1 Chronicles 3). Amnon falls in love with his sister and following in his father’s footsteps, takes Tamar (Birch). Bang – the next firecracker. Her brother Absalom kills Amnon in revenge; bang. Later he leads a revolt (2 Samuel 15) and Ahithophel, Bathsheba’s grandfather, betrays David in favor of Absalom’s conspiracy; bang (Keener and Walton). The revolt is put down; but, Absalom is killed; bang, bang.

It gets more complex; because all this contributes to Solomon becoming king. And yes, he is said to be the smartest man in the world; however, he splits God’s Kingdom, in two, the Northern Kingdom, Israel, and the Southern Kingdom, Judah. This results in civil war; many bangs. The weakened kingdoms are more vulnerable to the war campaigns of neighboring kingdoms. This results in the Northern kingdom being defeated, exiled, and is gone forever; bang, well ten bangs for the ten lost tribes. The Southern Kingdom is also defeated, sent into exile; she returns, but is never again an independent kingdom; she is finally destroyed by Rome in 77 AD. Bang, bang, bang, bang, are we running out of firecrackers?

The rape and dehumanization of Bathsheba and Tamar are horrific stories. They are the story of women and men everywhere who disappear as their stories go untold, or unbelieved (Brooks). They, and how they are seen in today’s world, deserve a deeper study of their own. They are part of the story of the arrogant misuse of power for personal whim, and strip bear the illusion that the powerful are in control of their own destiny and can define the terms of the morality that governs their actions (Birch). These stories demonstrate that kings everywhere will do what kings will do; and how lies, deceit, and murder follow in attempts to cover their offenses.

David’s story reveals the tragic consequences of not being where you are supposed to be.

In John’s Gospel story this morning Jesus is where Jesus should be, among God’s people. Jesus sees the large crowd, and asks the disciples “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” (John 6:5) Philip answers with the very practical observation “Six months wages wouldn’t do it.” Given the remote location, it is unlikely that the surrounding villages would have enough bread even if there is been enough money (Keener and Walton). Andrew observes “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” (John 6:9) Another rational observation (Harrelson). Jesus has the crowd sit down on the grassy field. Then, Jesus becomes the host who welcomes and invites the community to share in God’s hospitality. Following Jewish tradition, he takes the food, gives thanks for it, perhaps using a blessing something like, “Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who brings forth bread from the earth” (Keener and Walton; Birch). Then Jesus gives it to the people, as much as anyone wants (Birch). After they are done, Jesus has the leftovers gathered up; there are 12 baskets! The crowd recognizes the similarity to Elisha miraculous feeding in 2 Kings (chapter 4), and the Moses telling the people not to leave any extra manna (Exod. 16:19) and realize Jesus is a powerful prophet (Birch; Hylen; Keener and Walton). They want to make Jesus King. Sound familiar.

However, Jesus knows better, he does not want to be made a king who will just keep producing more wonder bread (Hoezee). So, he withdraws to the mountaintop to show them, and anyone else who hears the story, including us, that he will not be held to the world’s expectations of him. (Harrelson).

That evening, although it is a bit odd, the disciples leave for Capernaum on the other side of the lake, without Jesus. A strong wind comes up; however, John says nothing about them being at risk (Hoezee). When they are a good way across the lake, they see Jesus walking on the sea and coming near their boat, and then they are terrified. (John 6:19) They are not afraid of Jesus, they do not mistake him for a ghost (Hylen). They realize who he is, they know they are witnessing a theophany, a revelation of God and fear is an appropriate response (Hylen; O’Day). Jesus says to them “I am, ~ do not be afraid.” This is the first of Jesus’ “I am” statement in John, which connect Jesus to Moses, and to Yahweh, the Great I Am of Israel (Hoezee; Gaventa and Petersen; O’Day). In perhaps the strangest verse in all scripture immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going (John 6:21). This is a theophany in itself; it shows that Jesus shares in God’s work and identity; it reveals that God provides the safe passage to those in distress (O’Day). It reminds us [that] when you’re in the presence of God, you are always right where you should have been all along and where you will always want to be from then on (Hoezee).

Jesus’ retreat to the mountaintop shows how difficult it is to receive Jesus’ gifts on his terms and not immediately translate them into our own model for life. To do so risks twisting divine grace into existing false systems of power and authority, that destroyed it. The glory, revealed in both stories, is lost if one does not recognize its presence in the quiet places of Jesus’ grace (O’Day).

We have seen, in David’s story, how being in the wrong place leads to sinful actions that have consequences beyond any expectations. We have seen, in Jesus story, how being where you are supposed to be, leads to grace and glory meeting our needs for food, and rescue from danger (O’Day).

Being where you are supposed to be, is a result of knowing who you are, which leads to how you decide what’s decided. David is in the wrong place in part because he has forgotten whose he is, God’s servant, and he acts from kingly power, as we understand power, and we have heard the tragic consequences. Jesus is where he is supposed to be, proclaiming the Kingdom of God, healing the sick, feeding the crowd. He avoids the earthly powers of a king’s crown, so he is able, again, to be where he is supposed to be, walking across the lake which reveals who he is.

Today we are where we are supposed to be, together ~ in community, sharing God’s word, sharing Eucharist (in a minute), in thanksgiving for the week just done, and getting ready for the week to come by reconnecting with the divine glory, and sharing grace that sends us back into the world to continue Jesus’ mission – sharing the presence of the kingdom of God – healing the sick, and – feeding the people. Tomorrow, we will have to decide how to treat those we meet, which is in part determined by our deciding where to be. And it helps to know that we are God’s people; that God is always with us to feed us, to get us where we ought to be, and to remind us I am is I am where ever we are.

References

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bratt, Doug. 2 Samuel 11 B(12). 29 7 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/&gt;.

Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. “Commentary on 2 Samuel 11:1-15.” 29 7 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3020&gt;.

Cox, Jason. “Take, Bless, Break, Give, Pentecost 10 (B).” 29 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 29 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. The Lectionary Gospel John 6:1-21. 29 7 2018.

Hylen, Susan. Commentary on John 6:1-21. 29 7 2018.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

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

The Living Church. More than Forgiveness. 29 7 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

 

 

 

Leaving our Palaces

A Sermon for Proper 11; 2 Samuel 7:1-14a, Psalm 89:20-37, Ephesians 2:11-22, Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Arkansas and the Missouri Bootheel made the national papers twice this past week. The first is the story of an expectant mom, waking up at 4:30 in the morning, in extreme pain. Her twins are not due for two months. But they are coming ~ now! She hollers for her mom, grabs her 2-year-old son, and off they head to the hospital. Only the one around the corner is closed, and it is 100 miles to her new doctor and hospital. They drive to Hayti, that obstetrics unit is also closed, the staff tells her the nearest hospital is St. Francis Medical Center in Cape Girardeau, Mo., nearly 80 miles away. After a 25 minute wait, she is rushed to the hospital, then rushed into surgery where her twins were born by cesarean.

Her story is not unique. At least 85 rural hospitals, about 5 percent of the country’s total, have closed since 2010. Fewer than half of the country’s rural counties still have a hospital that offers obstetric care. More than 179 rural counties have lost hospital obstetric care since 2004. Kennett’s is now one of them. Mom is now home, back to work at her $8.50 an hour job. She was raised to be independent; she has always worked. There is rent to make, baby clothes to purchase, and now $80 of gas to buy for the coming week so she can go see her twins in neonatal intensive care 100 miles away (Healy).

The second article begins with some better news. Arkansas has the lowest priced housing in the nation. Those making $29,000 a year, $13.84 an hour, can afford a modest two-bedroom apartment. Arkansas’ minimum wage is $8.50 an hour. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition’s annual report estimates a one bedroom apartment is affordable for minimum wage workers in just 22 counties, in five states (Jan).

With news like this and no matter which of the political divide you are on this week, it is easy to feel like the Op-Ed piece Raising My Child in a Doomed World. Roy Scranton begins by sharing how he cried when their daughter came yowling into the world. He cried a second time when

he looked at the rows of cars in the hospital parking lot, the strip mall across the street, the box stores and drive-throughs and drainage ditches and asphalt and waste fields that had once been oak groves. A world of extinction and catastrophe, a world in which harmony with nature had long been foreclosed.

Be it politics, local, nation or international, climate change, or economics, there are lots of sources of fear and doubt. Yet, Scranton still felt a love he’d never known before. He knew he would do anything for his daughter, kill for her; even as he rages at all the challenges in the future she is doomed to live in. Scranton goes on to write that our real choice is if we are willing to live ethically in a broken world. He continues

Living ethically means understanding that our actions have consequences, taking responsibility for how those consequences ripple out across the web of life in which each of us is irrevocably enmeshed and working every day to ease what suffering we can. Living ethically means limiting our desires, respecting the deep interdependence of all things.

Confessing he cannot protect his daughter, he realizes he can teach her: how to be kind, how to live within nature’s limits, how to be tough but resilient, adaptable and prudent, how to fight for what’s right, and to realize none of us is alone in this (Scranton). And knowing that he, she, and we are not alone, brings us to the reading from 2 Solomon this morning.

Some weeks ago, we heard the story of David facing Goliath, the Philistine warrior hero. King Saul tells David

You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth. (1 Samuel 17:33)

David answers

The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Samuel 17:37)

After the distraction of Saul’s armor, that is way too big for him, David goes into the field, with his staff and sling, with which he protected the sheep and defeated both bear and lion. As you know he defeats Goliath.

Last week we heard the story of, as Bishop Benfield put it, the marriage of the God and Jerusalem. When the verses that are edited out are included, it is not the happy story we heard. It really is very much like a wedding gone badly wrong with one partners’ mother furious at her husband, the banquet canceled so all the guest go home with a consolation, goodie bag with a little meat, some bread and a slice of raisin cake. (Benfield).

This morning we hear how David, under God’s guidance, has conquered the land, established himself as King, settled in Jerusalem, and built himself a fine palace. It sounds as if he wants to give God an equally fine palace to live in after all God is God. But, if we recall the political motivation behind bringing the Ark to Jerusalem, it is sensible to ponder if David is now trying to gain a political advantage, by locating the home of God in David’s city, which he controls. The prophet Nathan agrees, but that night the word of God comes to Nathan with a different plan.

A parenthetical aside; anyone who is asked to give divine guidance should remember this story, and spend to serious time in prayerful, thoughtful discernment. Back to our story.

God asks, “Have I ever asked anyone to build him a house?” Answer “No!” God then recounts their shared journey:

  • God taking David from the field, making him a prince,
  • going with him everywhere defeating every enemy David ever faced

God promises

  • that David’s name will be great
  • that Israel will live in peace, and
  • that God will make David a house, make David a Dynasty, whose offspring will build a house for God’s name.

David may have forgotten who saved him from the paw of the bear and lion, God has not.

It is my habit to read the lesson for the coming week Sunday afternoon or Monday, read commentaries through the week, and keep an ear tuned to my daily readings for related current stories. This week I noticed the last phrase of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians

In [Christ] the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the word; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

He is calling the Ephesians a dwelling place, a palace, for God.

In Mark’s Gospel story, we read that a great crowd follows Jesus and the disciples to Gennesaret bringing with them all manner of sick family, and friends and that everyone is healed. You have heard me say, healing is a sign of Shalom, the wholeness of life which includes the presence of God.

Sometime this past week I began to wonder why when David recognized the inequity between his Palace and God’s tent, among the people, that he didn’t try to be more like God, leave the palace and move into a tent among the people. A day later I began to wonder why it has taken me some 25 years to recognize the question.

The common thread between last week’s and this week’s reading from 2 Samuel is David’s effort to bend God’s presence to his will, instead of humbly submitting to being God’s servant. We will read the consequences of that continuing effort in the weeks to come. It is not a happy story. The unhappiness we heard in this morning’s three opening vignettes are all the results from our continuing efforts to contain God in a house we built for purposes of our own design. But, as always, there is also hope.

The hope in these stories is in God’s promise not to abandon Israel, that God’s presence, in Jesus, brings about amazing healing, and that Paul sees the emerging church as a community of God’s presence. The promise in this morning’s vignettes is in Mr. Scranton’s realization that no matter how deep the approaching doom we can prevail because none of us is in this alone. God stands with all of us, and by God, all of us stand with each other, and with each other, we can all be healed, all of us can know shalom.

Will it be easy? No. Will we have to change? Yes. Does it seem impossible? Yes, but no more so that Jesus’ resurrection, the truth that has brought us together this morning.

So, I encourage all of us to leave the palaces we have constructed, move into a tent, and live, with God, among the people, physically, politically, socially, economically, or metaphorically, does not matter. I encourage us to confess the deepening doom that is gathering around us. I encourage us to look beyond the darkness and see the power in the relationships we have with others, all equally children of God, and offer a friendly hand and a gracious word. I encourage us to go into the world, trusting that God’s love is always here, that divine faithfulness endures, and that we, the temple of God, abiding participants loving and serving the Lord, in what the darkness whispers can never be done, will prevail.


References

Benfield, Larry. “Sermon Proper 11 B.” 15 7 2018.

Bowron, Joshua. “Sheeple, Pentecost 9 (B).” 22 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 11B 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. 22 7 2018. <cep.calvinseminary.edu>.

Brooks, Gennifer Benjamin. Commentary on 2 Samuel 7:1-14a. 22 7 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 22 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Healy, Jack. “It’s 4 A.M. The Baby’s Coming. But the Hospital Is 100.” 17 7 2017. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/07/17/us/hospital-closing-missouri-pregnant.html>.

Jan, Tracy. “A minimum-wage worker can’t afford a 2-bedroom.” 13 6 2017. washingtonpost.com. <washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2018/06/13/a-minimum-wage-worker-can’t-afford-a-2-bedroom-apartment-anywhere-inthe->.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Scranton, Roy. “Raising My Child in a Doomed World.” 16 7 2017. nytimes.com. <nytimes.com/2018/07/16/opinion/climate-change-parenting.html>.

The Living Church. The House of Contemplation. 16 7 2018. <livingchurch.org>.

 

 

 

Cowboy Jesus?

A Sermon for Proper 9; 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, Psalm 48, 2 Corinthians 12:2-10, Mark 6:1-13

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys

(Listen to at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RePtDvh4Yq4)

Cowboys ain’t easy to love and they’re harder to hold
They’d rather give you a song then diamonds or gold
Lonestar belt buckles and old faded Levi’s
and each night begins a new day
If you don’t understand him and he don’t die young
He’ll probably just ride away

Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars or drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love

Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornin’s
Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night
Them that don’t know him won’t like him
And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him
He ain’t wrong he’s just different
But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right

Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such
Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone
Even with someone they love
Mamas’ don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys
Don’t let ’em pick guitars and drive them old trucks
Let ’em be doctors and lawyers and such


I have heard Willie Nelson sing Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys for almost as I can remember caring about music. But because I had a hard time hearing them, I never could understand many words other than the chorus line. So, it wasn’t a surprise when the divine muse whispered that song title when I read this morning’s gospel. But, when I looked up the lyrics it was a surprise how relevant they are. And no, I’m not saying Jesus was a cowboy, but still, there are few lines that are worthy of thought.

Our first line is

 ‘Cause they’ll never stay home and they’re always alone Even with someone they love.

We don’t think much about children growing up, leaving home and making their way into the world. Of the five of us

  • one lives in the same county,
  • a second lives in metro Atlanta,
  • a third lives in the state,
  • I live 3 to 5 states away, depending on how you drive and
  • another lives half a country away.

We are not unusual. In Jesus day it was unusual to leave your village. It happened, there was a large Jewish population who lived across the world; however, the expectation was you stayed in the village where you were born. Jesus’ village is so convinced of his ordinariness that it is hard for them to believe in his amazing teaching (Harrelson). They know him as a carpenter, a local craftsman, not an educated person. For him to attempt to rise above his established social position creates resentment (Perkins). Like the cowboy, Jesus never stays home.

Jesus is also often alone, even with the people he loves, and who love him. He is alone in his hometown; his family and friends can still love him even when they are resentful. And how often is Jesus alone as his disciples, his twelve chosen followers, completely miss the point. How lonely is he when they fall asleep in the garden? How lonely is he when one by one all twelve desert him?

A second line that caught my eye is

Them that don’t know him won’t like him. And them that do sometimes won’t know how to take him.

It is true that many who don’t know Jesus don’t like him. Almost all the Jewish leaders don’t like him. There are those people who approach him, but most of them have some need they believe he can help them with, I wonder how that translates to like? And as we hear this morning, even those that do know him don’t always know how to take him.

A final line to explore is

He ain’t wrong he’s just different. But his pride won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.

Jesus is different. Being sometimes known as The Son of God makes you different. Jesus’ deeds of power make him different in a visible way. However, it is his teachings that make him different in ways that disturb people. His teachings are counter to long-held values and they challenge values that give people some privilege. People don’t like to have their privileges challenged. So yes, Jesus is different.

We need to make a little adjustment with the next bit because it is not Jesus’ pride, but his dedication to God’s ministry that

 won’t let him do things to make you think he’s right.

But I’m caught by the phrase “you think.” The cowboy’s family and friends want him to change. Jesus family and friends want him to change. I’m not at all sure we don’t want Jesus to change. However, we’ve all got it backward, it is us who need to change. I can’t speak to the cowboy’s ways, but I know for certain, that Jesus’ ways, as uncomfortable as they make us, are right.

As I am writing, or perhaps in the midst of a somewhat unusual listening to the muse session, I’m beginning to hear

Mama don’t let your babies grow up to be evangelist, disciples, or ministers

I’m not quite sure what to do with picking guitars, but at least around here old trucks still fit. I’m wondering why we value doctors and lawyers and such over cowboys, and prophets and such. I suspect it has to do with part 2 to this morning’s gospel story. Jesus and his crew leave Nazareth. He sends them out in groups of two. In part for safety, travel was dangerous in those days; but also, because it takes two to be a credible witness (Deut. 17:6; 19:15) (Keener and Walton; Perkins). Jesus sends them out to heal, to testify to the truth of God’s love and to call out evil (Peters).

Now as mamas and papas, we would be proud of our babies who grow up to be doctors or other healing professional. As mommas and papas, we would be proud of our of babies who grow up to be lawyers or other professionals that value truth and justice. As mamas and papas, we might be proud of our babies who grow up to call out evil; but we would certainly be leery because we all know calling out evil is a dangerous business. We don’t understand it, in part because it is never done from a place of power (Peters). Naming evil is an act of faith. We cannot control God’s power, so calling out evil is ultimately an act of trust that God is present will protect (Epperly). It requires us, as Paul says, to accept God’s grace as sufficient, and that divine power is perfected in what everyone else sees as weakness.

Most of us might be willing to trust God, and grace with ourselves. But I’ll confess the hardest thing I have ever done is to trust God with my kids. I know grace is sufficient, but it is invisible, it is mystical, it is ultimately unknowable, and therefore unjudgable, by any human standards. To trust those we love the most to the internal and mystical runs absolutely counter to all we learn from our perceptible and visible world, it is just different, it is hard to accept, it brings us to the very edge of our relationship with God.

And now I find myself with another unexpected realization. I can’t recall any bible stories about smokies pool rooms or puppies, but Jesus does like clear mountain mornings, children, and ladies of the night. I’m wondering if there is more cowboy to Jesus than I at first expected. And that has me thinking that if we seek to raise our children to be like Jesus, perhaps we should let them grow up to be cowboys and cowgirls. They may not be understood, they may wander far from home, they may know lonely times, they may be different, their dedication may make them hard-headed. On the other hand, they may sing a new song; they may sing to the Lord, to all the earth, a song that: is a blessing the Lord’s name; tells of salvation, declares God’s his glory to the nations, and God’s marvelous works among all the peoples. (Psalms 96:1-3) as they heal the sick, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, visit those in prison (Matt 25:35), and proclaim the love of God revealed in the Gospel (Mark 16:15). Who knows they may even cast out demons, as with prophetic voices, speaking hard truth, they call out evil.

I am beginning to wonder how to tell my mama I’m off to find my own inner cowboy. You are welcome to come along for the ride.


References

Bruce, Ed and Patsy Bruce. “Mammas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys lyrics ©.” Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, n.d.

David, W. Peters. “Hometown, Pentecost 7 (B).” 8 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 8 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Perkins, Pheme. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of Mark. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Bel and the Dragon. Vol. VII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

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

Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings. “Mammas, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys.” By Ed and Patty Bruce. n.d. You Tube. 8 7 2018. <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RePtDvh4Yq4 >.

 

 

 

 

Make the Difference 

A sermon for Proper 8 and Independence Day; 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Psalm 130, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43

I have all kinds of 4th of July memories

  • family friends coming over to swim and eat abundant hamburgers and hot dogs
  • community picnics at the park pavilion going to parades on Peachtree St. my brother in a wheelchair, and  seeing the crowds part  giving us a front-row view, then after my brother was well  us kids wanting to keep the wheelchair  so we could keep getting the good places
  • at seminary the Sewanee 4th of July parade that always invited all kids to decorate their bikes and ride along.  One year our youngest wanted to ride so we helped her, then somewhere along the way one nut that held the back wheel tight got loose:  we struggled to tighten it, but I did not have enough hand strength:  suddenly the owner of the house we were in front of showed up with a wrench and in a minute, our daughter was back in the parade.

I think that is my favorite of all because it is a small, but such a powerful example of what freedom means. It is a simple but powerful example of how we are interrelated. I’m convinced it is not the big efforts that make the difference, but the rather the accumulation of the small efforts, beyond counting, that makes the difference in who we are.

You know my focus on faith and healthcare and I expect you expect me to say something about the two healing stories from Mark. They are good stories, with lots to share. But, the divine muse leads me to Paul’s 2nd letter to the Corinthians.

Corinth was a particularly prosperous city and so was the church there (Keener and Walton). Paul notes that they are rich in knowledge, giftedness, faith, earnestness, and love. He continues that it be a shame if the only area where they did not excel was in their charitable giving. He refers to God’s gift of manna where no one had too much, and no one had too little (Ex `6:18) (Hoezee). The phrase giving “according to what one has” is a reference to the making of the Tabernacle in the wilderness (Exodus 35:21-29). In this effort, everyone brought from what they had. Some brought precious metals or gems, some yarn or linen, some wood, some spices or oils, and other skills:  weaving, metalworking, carpentry and so on (Gaventa and Petersen). Both are foundational stories for Jews and us, are similar to our country’s foundational stories, George Washington and the Cherry Tree, or Paul Revere’s ride. These stories subtly define who we seek to be.

Paul is saying that our abundance is not solely personal and should be used with consideration to the needs of others (Epperly).  Grounding the call to generosity in Jesus making others rich …  by [being] a beggar, by being one of the disgusting have-nots, and by giving out of his nothingness (Fredrickson)  makes it clear that giving to help meet the needs of the poor is a theological, spiritual concern, not a mere economic calculation (Hoezee).

I was drawn to the verse

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. (NRSV Luke 12:48).

 It sounds like Luke is saying the same thing Paul is. Close. It comes from the end of the parable of The Faithful and the Unfaithful Steward (Luke 12:41). It shines the Gospel light on our daily practices and our consideration of God and divine plans. The foolish steward did not consider God or divine plans (Harrelson). The parable reveals that God’s reign is opposite to our cultural values of allegiance and economics, that reject concerns for those on social or economic margins  (Gaventa and Petersen). While this parable is not concerned with charity it does enlighten Jesus teachings about making charitable decisions.

All this comes together with my 4th of July memories in how we relate to each other. In the last couple of weeks, there has been a lot in the news about international trade and tariffs. One thing I keep hearing is that the economy is deeply interrelated. Many US companies buy products from overseas to make products they sell here and overseas. In an article, I read this week, and I cannot remember the source, but the phrase won’t go away, the author wrote the world economy is no longer interrelated; it is interdependent. Both Paul and Luke speak to how we are more than related to each other we are dependent on each other. A principle in the Anglican world is the that of mutual respect (responsibility) and interdependence. Each national church within the communion respects all other national churches and each acknowledges that we are all interdependent on each other. It emerged after WWII as part of the effort to eliminate power down relationships between the Church of England, and the Episcopal Church with emerging third world national Churches. In the last few decades we have struggled, especially over issues of gender and sexuality, however, the processes are still in existence, and it has made, it is making a difference.

Both liberal and conservative thinking has wandered far away from the truth that we are interdependent on each other. Both overemphasize their preferred ideologies of individualism, sometimes on personal expression, sometimes on personal possessions. Both of those are important, but neither of them is a defining principle of who we are, as God’s children, or as the continuing presence of Christ’s ministry as the church.  We are made ’âḏâm, humankind, male and female (Genesis 1:26-27) and all other differences we perceive in the image of God.  We are not complete without each other.

And here I do come to a principle of faith and health care. In both the miracle stories we heard this morning Jesus does heal. He heals the woman and heals Jairus’ daughter. But there is much more than physical restoration. He calls the woman daughter.  Because of here bleeding she has been unclean, and therefore, forbidden to be in her community, she could not even go to the Temple to offer a sacrifice to bring about healing. Calling her daughter restores her to her community, her healing is complete. The woman does not seek to follow Jesus.  There are lots of possible implications here, one of which is her community needs her.

After healing Jairus’ daughter, Jesus gives her back to her parents by telling them to give her something to eat. This is often interpreted as proof she is not a ghost. I think he is restoring the parent-child relationship by reestablishing the parent-child responsibility of care by having the parents feed her.  Jairus seeking out Jesus to heal his daughter, and remember in his culture daughters are not highly valued, shows how he is dependent on her to be complete.

In both stories, the continuing relationship will be challenging. The daughter is 12, and I don’t think teen – parent relationships are all that different today than they were in Jesus day. The woman has suffered much and been subject to social exclusion. It will be difficult for both her and the community to reestablish a normal relationship. However, both stories have already introduced the necessary ability. Jesus tells the woman her faith has made her well. Jesus tells Jairus “do not fear, only believe.” ‘Faith’ and ‘believe’ are the same word in Hebrew. Both indicate, relying on, trusting in the presence of God to provide what is necessary to know shalom, wholeness, in the challenges that the woman, that Jairus, that you that we face.

The world needs healing, we need shalom. Each person, every community, small or large, hamlet or nation, has an abundance of traits or possessions that another lack. Therefore, every person, every community has the opportunity to share “according to [their] means” (2 Cor 8:11). And that is not easy to do, because it requires everyone to know everyone one else as a child of God and therefore worthy of our shared abundance. It also requires everyone to acknowledge that we are lacking some vital means or another, often it is one that someone or some community deemed undesirable or worthy, has to share with us. Such mutual respect, such mutual interdependence requires faith, and belief. Mark shares with us stories of such faith and belief. Paul shares with us the truth of abundance and charity in our lives. The psalmist shares with us that “with the Lord there is mercy” (Ps.130:6). The need is here. The abundance is here. I’m convinced it is not the big efforts that make the defining difference, but rather it is the accumulation of the small efforts beyond counting that makes the difference in who we are, as individuals, and as a community.

Our challenge is  to believe that we can act,  within our means,  by faith,  trusting in the grace of God,  known in Jesus,  by the Spirit  often by the accumulation  of the small efforts,  beyond counting,  that makes the difference  so that all the people  of this and every land  may have liberties  in righteousness and peace  right here, right now  (The Episcopal Church 242).


References

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 1 7 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Fredrickson, David E. Commentary on 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. 6 9 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Hoezee, Scott. Lectionary Epistle – 2 Corinthians 8:7-15. 1 7 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Logue, Frank. “A Beloved Child of God, Pentecost 6 (B).” 1 7 2018. Sermons that Work.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

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

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

 

 

 

An acceptable time

A sermon for Proper 7; 1 Samuel 17: (1a, 4-11, 19-23), 32-49, Psalm 9:9-20, 2 Corinthians 6:1-13, Mark 4:35-41

These last three weeks have been ones of remembrances. This morning’s gospel story is Jesus and the disciples sailing across the sea to Galilee. It always reminds me of an early adventure with Angie. We went to a nearby lake with some friends. Someone brought a small 12-foot Sunfish sailboat. It was a good day to sail, with a good steady breeze, so, I asked her if she’d like to go sailing, and she said yes. We got on the Sunfish, Angie sitting amidship and me at the rudder. We enjoy a brisk ride across the mouth of the cove. Then it came time to turn around. I carefully told Angie to watch out for the boom as it would swing around pretty quickly. I pushed the rudder to the right, the Sunfish turned as expected, Angie gracefully duck as the boom swung when the wind changed directions. It was perfect, ~ until the boom clipped me on the shoulder and knocked me off the stern. After my lifejacket popped me back to the surface, and she could see I was safe, Angie broke out in righteous laughter. It really was funny.

Another remembrance of the last weeks, was our trip to the beach, with most of my entire extended family, let’s see 36 of the 44 of us were there. We have been going to the beach ever since I can remember. Until my siblings and I were in college we went every year. Now as our families include other families we go every even-numbered year. In 2010 we were ready to leave the Alabama Gulf coast when we learned Angie’s sister in law died, so we went to Williamsburg to her funeral, then to Litchfield Beach. On Thursday we learned her uncle had died, so we drove to Roanoke to his funeral, then back home. This year Angie’s aunt died. Only we had driven down with our daughter and her family, and we didn’t have proper clothes, so we drove home a day early, repacked and drove to Roanoke for her funeral. I am quite sure we will continue to go to the beach; however, I suspect we may feel leeriness in 2026.

The third remembrance is Jeff Session quoting Romans 13:1

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God (NSRV)

as a justification for the zero-tolerance enforcement of immigration law, resulting in the separation of children from their parents. There have been all sorts of articles, columns, Facebook postings, with all manner of opinion. One that caught my eye was Melissa Florer-Bixler’s reflection on her Sunday School class discussion.

[They are] Anabaptists, Mennonites who are descendants of an illegal breakaway from the Catholic Church. Early Anabaptists were hunted down, drowned, tortured, and burned for the anti-government action of baptizing one another upon confession of faith in Jesus Christ. This was a political act, one that defied the authorities of the day (Florer-Bixler).

They ponder how to respond to Session’s use of scripture. They note how Paul has experienced all sorts of hostility from government and religious officials. They explore how he may be saying God is control of everything, and all human institutions, including Caesars, King, and governments are divine puppets on a string. They consider how the verse may be a warning against religious zealotry, leading people to refuse to pay their taxes. They even venture into the idea that chapter 13 is a smuggling operation, saying … the correct words that would allow his letter to successfully make its way through the empire’s checkpoints (Florer-Bixler). Most powerful is her noting that in their circle are:

  • A woman who escaped religious persecution in Russia as an infant
  • A man who watched his daughter struggle through mental illness and addiction
  • A widow who nursed her husband through a slow death from cancer, and
  • Two doctors who have spent their careers working at clinics for indigent patients.

She writes it is from these lives where biblical interpretation is to take place, how the words of the bible are meaningful in the questions and challenges of the day (Florer-Bixler).

When I heard Mr. Session’s comment I was first drawn to Leviticus 19, which is a reading from a recent Morning Prayer. It is part of the Holiness Code, a guide for life for Israel. A sort of extended Ten Commandments. Its instructions include

 9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: (Leviticus 19:9-10).

which we rarely hear. My favorite ignored verse is:

you shall not sow your field with two kinds of seed; nor shall you put on a garment made of two different materials. (Leviticus 19:19).

 it goes against modern farming practices and makes it difficult to get dressed; most everything we wear is some sort of blended fabric. However, the relevant verse is

When an alien resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34).

 

And here, we come back to my falling off the boat, and Jesus sailing with his disciples across to “the other side.” This is the first jolt to the disciples.

It is Jesus first venture into Galilee, a land of the gentiles, a hostile land of an undeserving people with no rights to the Messianic promises (Francois III).

We are comfortable thinking about divine justice. We’d just as soon avoid Jesus’ intrusive call to the other side, where stigmatized, marginalized, and demonized people live. [To] shores … populated by others (Francois III). The truth is that we learn to see and know God/Jesus/Spirit in the presence of the other, the people not like us, the alien.

The challenge in today’s reading is our response to the Trump Administration, whether we support its policies and actions, or detest them. All of us are called to sail to the other side with open hearts (2 Cor 6:13). Psalm 9 verse 16 reads The Lord is known by his acts of justice; the question is, are we?

The last remembrance for today is Paul’s letter to Philemon. It is only 25 verses. In it Paul tells Philemon he is returning his runaway slave Onesimus. Paul describes his relationship with Philemon; how he considered commanding Philemon to let Onesimus stay, but instead bases his appeal on Paul’s and Philemon’s mutual love. Paul asks that Philemon receive Onesimus back,

no longer as a slave but more than a slave, a beloved brother—especially to me but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord (Philemon 1:16).

Paul’s argument goes to the farthest shore. In this morning’s reading from 2 Corinthians, he argues that the true basis for all our relationships includes everyone’s relationship with God/Jesus/Spirit in whose image all of us, Christian or Gentile, resident or alien are made. Drawing on Psalm 69 (vs 13) Paul quotes God

At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation, I have helped you (2 Corinthians 6:2).

 and goes on to say now is acceptable time, now is a time of salvation.

Now is an acceptable time to be the servants of God we are called to be. It is not simply about not tearing families apart; it is about how everyone treats everyone else. It is about who we elect as our representatives in God’s designated governance, which is to promote the presence of the kingdom not US values or America first, but divine values, and God’s is always first.

The vessels of our lives seem to be in a great storm and all sorts of waves are beating into that in which we place our lives. It is easy to perceive that Jesus is asleep, that God/Jesus/Spirit is indifferent to the threat that we are perishing. The calling ~ is to have faith to trust. The same Jesus who rebukes the wind and calms the sea, will still the storms of your lives and bring peace. The calling is to extend that divine calm and peace to those who live on or journeyed from other shores, in our prayers, in our words, in our actions, and in our governance.


References

Florer-Bixler, Melissa. “How Jeff Sessions reads Romans 13 and how my.” 15 6 2018. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org/blog-post/guest-post/how-jeff-sessions-reads-romans-13-and-how-my-mennonite-sunday-school-classdoes>.

Francois III, Willie Dwayne. “June 24, Ordinary 12B (Mark 4:35-41).” 6 6 2018. christiancentury.org. <christiancentury.org/article/living-word/june-24-ordinary-12b-mark-435-41>.

Olive Tree. Olive Tree Cross References: Expanded Set. Harper Collins Christian Publishing, 2015.

 

 

 

Plentiful Words, Rare Truth

A Sermon for Proper 4; 1 Samuel 3:1-10(11-20), Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17, 2 Corinthians 4:5-12, Mark 2:23-3:6

Just a week or so ago the NFL owners meeting ended. They adopted several rule changes. One involves kickoffs, during which 40% of concussions occur. Another is that it is now a penalty for a player to lead with their helmet when tackling. These are designed to improve the safety for players. Another change involves rule about players not standing during National Anthem. You may remember the controversy this has caused the last year or so. It is interesting how the actions of a few define all the players. We rarely hear about other kinds of actions by NFL players in regular news. On Facebook, I recently read of two. In one a player helped a lady who was having difficulty paying the $50 fee for her oversized bag. He stepped forward and paid it for her. She offered to repay him with the cash she had, he simply replied, “Use it to pay it forward for someone else.” Another player noticed an elderly woman having trouble getting her bag from the overhead compartment. He got it down for her and carried to the front of the plane. The flight attendant told her the wheelchair and escort would be waiting for her, to take her to lobby. They got to the terminal, there was the wheelchair, but no attendant. So, he pushed her in the wheelchair, to the lobby where her daughter met her. Both these stories were posted by others who saw the behavior. It is a combination of stories, some controversial, some in service to others, and other things as well, that paints the truer image of NFL players.

This morning’s reading from 1 Samuel is the same. The appointed verses are the story of Samuel hearing God’s call and with Eli’s help, answering “Speak Lord, for your servant is here.” It sounds like a prophetic call story, but it does not have the typical structure of a prophetic call. (Birch). However, the optional verses and the story in Chapter 2 (2:11-17 and 22 – 34) tell the rest of the story. Eli’s sons are moral and spiritual hooligans. (Bratt). They grossly abuse their priestly office for their self-interest. It is no surprise then that all Israel does as they see fit (Bratt). The prophecy, by a stranger, in chapter 2 is against Eli and his priestly lineage. The word God tells Samuel to tell Eli repeats that prophecy. These verses reveal the complete story of what is happening here (Birch).

This story is more than Samuel coming of age and taking his first step in service to God. This is a story of a time when the Word of God was rare, and visions were uncommon (Birch). It is significant that Samuel has no basis on which to recognize the Lord’s summons (Birch). His failure to recognize God’s call mirrors the Israelites’ continually ignoring God’s voice (Bratt).

I do not believe God’s word or divine visions are rare these days. Quite the opposite. Doug Bratt puts it this way It’s increasingly hard to actually hear God speaking. It’s hard to untangle so much of the noise that our culture makes from God’s Word of Life. So many people claim to speak for God that we need some kind of good theological filter. The cacophony, the noise of so many competing voices is a sign that there is more at stake in our public, political, religious, and civic institutional decision making, that what the arguments are about. What is at stake is

  • who we are,
  • how we talk to one another,
  • what we model to the world, and
  • how we respect our foundational institutions and values (Friedman).

In describing the fall of one more respected public figure, connected to handling an exploitive sexual relationship, Ross Douthat writes

the big story … is a high-stakes showdown between two generations. Both generations are theologically conservative, but the figures raising their voices … have been —associated with a vision of their church that’s more countercultural, less wedded to the institutional [alliances], more likely to see racial reconciliation as essential …

[T]he temptation to dismiss discomfiting revelations as fake news, to retreat back into ignorance and self-justification, is at least as powerful as the impulse to really reckon with the truth.

[T]he question posed by this age of revelation is simple: Now that you know something new and troubling and even terrible about your leaders or your institutions, what will you do with this knowledge? (Douthart).

It may well be, that as in Samuel’s day, like Israel, many in our world simply do as they seem fit (Bratt).

I do not think it matters if you use an Ignatian concept of the Spiritual Examen (Ashley). or Lectio Divina, or African Bible Study, or some other form of discipline to discern God’s calling or vision. I do believe an indicator of whose voice you are hearing is how it leads you to lead others to do justice, love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8).

The story of Samuel coming to know the Lord is a stark reminder that there are no guarantees that our call will be easy. Every time has its own peculiarities and God-filled silences and cacophonies. Each of us is called to be a prophet, in our own way. That call includes continually listening for the Voice, and then to speak what we hear (Bridgeman). To faithfully hear and speak takes a willingness to get out of the way, to hear without editing, to act, and then take responsibility for our response to what we have heard (Epperly). To be a prophet involves an openness to the advice and wisdom of others who might help us in discerning God’s call. (Birch). But whether we are prophetic or not our words, our actions, or lack of words or action, plays a part in others coming to recognize the voice of the Lord and divine visions.

None of this is easy. And as strange as it may seem, it is Eli who models this kind of self-awareness, and openness to God’s word. The judgment against him and his sons is harsh. It can never be expiated, can never be atoned for, never be corrected by sacrifice, or offering (1 Samuel 3:14. And though Eli is neither corrupt nor unfaithful, he accepts divine judgement, rather than seeking self-interest, when he says, “It is the Lord.”

It is hard to accept and harder to speak truths that challenge what we like and what benefits us. I think this is the source of all the turmoil in response to black ballplayers kneeling rather than standing as the National Anthem is sung. I expect we try to define the prophetic role as predicting the future and not speaking hard truths, because speaking the hard truth is lots harder, and personally costly. Today’s Psalm is clear

It is a fearful thing and a loving thing to know that God has searched me and known me, sits with me, rises with me, sees my path, and knows all my ways, is behind me and before me, lays a hand upon me (The Living Church).

The psalmist provides us a powerful, source of strength and hope wherever we go, we are in God’s care: no emotional, spiritual, or geographical state can take us beyond God’s presence (Epperly).

 A final observation. In all the prophets’ words about harsh truth and oncoming disaster, there is always a word of hope and a path to God’s presence. The same is true here. The reading ends

As Samuel grew up, the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the Lord (1 Samuel 3:19-20).

You know I am fond of saying “The Kingdom of God is right here right now.” I know this is especially true as we accept our prophetic voice and name the evils where we are, such that all God’s people may know and show justice, mercy, and humility, to each other and before God.


References

Ashley, Danáe. “Bread, Law, and Spirit, Pentecost 2 (B).” 3 6 2018. Sermons that Work.

Birch, Bruce C. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary Frist and Second Books of Samuel. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015. X vols. OliveTree App.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 4B 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20). 3 6 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/&gt;.

Bridgeman, Valerie. “Commentary on 1 Samuel 3:1-10 [11-20].” 3 6 2018. workingpreacher.org. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?&gt;.

Douthart, Ross. “The Baptist Apocalypse.” 30 5 2018. nytimes.com. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/30/opinion/paige-patterson-southern-baptist-convention.html&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 3 6 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

Friedman, Thomas L. “Sounding Code Red: Electing.” 29 5 2018. New York Times. <https://www.nytimes.com/2018/05/29/opinion/midterms-trump-democrats.html&gt;.

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

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

Keener, Craig and John Walton. NKJV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible Notes. Nashville: Zondervan, 2017.

Nelson, Thomas. The Chronological Study Bible NIV. Nashville: HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc. (NIV Chronological Study Bible) Genesis 1:1, 2014. OliveTreeapp.

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

The Living Church. Righteousness and Mercy. 3 6 2018. <livingchurch.org>.