Power to Shape, Power to Save

A sermon for Proper 19; Proverbs 1:20-33, Psalm 19, James 3:1-12, Mark 8:27-38

September 11, 2001. Do you remember where you were when you first heard about the passenger jets crashing into the World Trade Center Towers in New York, into the Pentagon, and into a field in Pennsylvania? I was in the office of Holy Cross, West Memphis. At first, I did not grasp what was going on. The more the reality came to me, the more I felt alone, which had nothing to do with the fact that it was the secretary’s day off, and I was alone. When I couldn’t stand it anymore, I went to my Sr. Warden’s Store. Together for the next couple of hours, we watch a national tragedy unfold. That night a crowd of folks from West Memphis crowded into one of the big churches, for a prayer vigil, in which I had some part.

I don’t remember when I started to think about Sunday and what in the world needs to be said to God’s people. On top of that, it was the Sunday, after Holy Cross Day, the congregation’s name day. The images of the Cross and the collapsing Twin Towers were too large a juxtaposition. I know the empty feeling of nothing to say. This was something different, it was not that I didn’t have anything to say so much as I was empty. And only then did I realize I would not preach that Sunday; the Bishop would be there for his annual visit. I have always enjoyed the Bishop’s annual visit. I have always enjoyed hearing my bishop preach. But never before, and never since, was I glad not to have to preach.

It has been 17 years. The effects of that day continue to be with us. US forces are still in Afghanistan. We all know or perhaps have family who are, or have, or will serve in Afghanistan or a related conflict. If you have flown or taken a bus trip you have stood in security lines. In the next two years, anyone who wants to travel by air or enter a Federal Building will have to have a Driver’s License, that is an approved Federal Id or a Passport. These have their roots in the travel restrictions that follow the effort to make air travel safe after 9/11. Our previously innocent relationship with Islam continues to be combative, even though President Bush made the brave effort to speak the truth. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith. … The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam. That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. These terrorists don’t represent peace. They represent evil and war. (Bush) It has been a long war, spanning more than seven years of George Bush’s, all of Barack Obama’s and the first two years of Donald Trump’s presidencies, with no real end in sight. And though the terror is mostly over there, it continues to shape our lives, in all sorts of sublet, often ~ invisible ways. And I know that some equate the 9/11 attacks and the continuing impact of terrorists’ ways to the ‘cross’ Jesus speaks of in this morning’s Gospel.

The challenge is that this understanding of Jesus’ words If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. leaves off the significant end for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel. (Mark 8:35) (Zee; Perkins) The truth is I cannot tell you an instance when I have risked my life for Jesus or the Gospel. I’m not really sure I have inconvenienced myself for Jesus or the Gospel. I do know of Christians who do. Those who live in China and do not accept the official version of Christianity, an oppression with renewed strength this past week; members of the Coptic Church in Egypt, constantly under threat, and other communities where it is illegal to be a Christian. I do think that as the culture war in the US heats up, the possibility of people persecuting others for their Christian belief is growing. Tragically, I think it may well be Christians persecuting Christians; but this would not be the first time. But, maybe ~~ we can learn from the tragedies of our past.

In the broadest sense, Jesus is speaking about the power the Cross can have and should have in shaping our lives as the foundational value from which we form all our relationships and make all our decisions. The power of the Cross should also define how we respond to those times when life happens, especially in the extremes of personal crisis, family crisis, community crisis, or national crisis, and really, international crisis.

Janet Vincent was serving as a chaplain escorting families to a viewing area the city had built following 9/11. Here, in her words, is the rest of her story of September 24th.

At about 1:45 a firefighter came up to me and asked … Is there going to be a 2 o’clock mass today? I’m sure I looked confused, so he repeated his question: Is there going to be a 2 o’clock mass today? … [I] thought to myself: You want a mass here? I was horrified at the thought of a Great Thanksgiving celebrated in Hell and [asked]

 You want a mass here?

[He replied] Yes, … You do that don’t you?

Well … yes, I do, … but we don’t have the things we would need … bread, wine, Bible, prayer book, or even a place

There’s a mass kit in the tent, he said, motioning to a respite tent, and we can get the bread and wine.

Well, whadda ya say, Reverend?

Yes, I said. I’ll say mass with you.

I went into the tent, …[s]ure enough there was a mass kit, some sandwich bread and wine …. The altar was a makeshift table with a bunch of dead flowers on top. There was an altar frontal of sorts. It was a large piece of construction paper [on] which a little girl had written: Daddy, please come home. There was a crayon image of a fire fighter standing between two tall buildings — smoke coming out of the top of each. Her name was Kate … ~ her father never came home. …

At 2 o’clock 18 fire fighters appeared … and took off their … gear …. Their faces were dirty and drawn, their eyes heavy and sad. I introduced myself and added that I was an Episcopalian. Now that my mask and helmet were off there was no doubt that I was also a woman. I thought that might make a difference to what I assumed was a Roman Catholic group. It didn’t. I was there with them and that was more than good enough.

And so we began our Eucharist in Hell. I started with words I assumed would be familiar: Grace to you and peace from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Grace and peace? How did we ever say those words so easily? I had no Book of Common Prayer but the collect for the Great Vigil of Easter had welled up during the day. It’s the collect where night yields to daylight and death meets new life. It is the intersection of that long service and the beginning of the baptismal liturgy:

O God of unchangeable power and eternal light: Look favorably on your whole Church and especially upon this gathering and this place. Let us and the whole world see and know that things which were cast down are being raised up, and things which had grown old are being made new, and that all things are being brought to their perfection through Christ our Lord.

The words seemed utterly outrageous. We had no Bible, so I asked the group to share whatever scripture came to mind and heart. One man spoke of the deposition of Christ’s body from the cross. He said:

There were people who took Jesus down from the cross and buried him. We are taking our brothers out of the pile so that they can be buried. We will take the civilians out and return them to their families — as many as we can.

Another man said:

Jesus said to love our enemies, but I want them all dead. I want to pull the trigger on the gun that kills bin Laden.

 His voice cracked as he spoke, and another fire fighter put his arm around his shoulder. That man explained to me: His brother is in the pile. The bereaved man said: I guess I should leave. I replied, No, don’t leave. Please don’t leave. It’s okay. I realized later that I was speaking to myself. I also needed permission to stay because I knew that if bin Laden stood before me I could also pull the trigger. Another man had a quote to offer from the gospel according to Bruce Springsteen: Badlands,

 you’ve got to live it every day. Let the broken heart stand as the price you’ve got to pay.

Another guy followed with a piece of another verse from the same song:

I believe in the love that you gave me. I believe in the faith that can save me. I believe in the hope that one day will raise me from these Badlands …

 I talked about the great caring I had witnessed — gentleness, compassion, and selflessness. I quoted Jesus:

There is no greater love than this, than to give one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends.

Then I quoted from the Boss, same song but from the last verse. A verse I knew they would not quote:

[and] it ain’t no sin to be glad you’re alive (from Badlands/ Darkness on the Edge of Town).

They seemed surprised that I had recognized Springsteen and could also quote song and verse. Looking at each other we almost smiled.

We moved on to the Great Thanksgiving as we gathered around our small altar. It wasn’t difficult to begin the familiar call and response of the Sursum Corda:

            The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

But I hesitated before saying … Lift up your hearts… How could they lift their hearts in this place of death? How could I? Most of them had been on duty since midnight. They were falling asleep on their feet. Their lives had been devastated … all had lost friends and/or relatives. They [felt] guilty that they had survived and were driven to claw at the wreckage until forced to go home.

And yet here we were, in what seemed to be the center of hell, weighed down by unimaginable sorrow, and I was supposed to verbalize that ancient request. I struggled to lift my hands into the gesture of what I was about to ask. Belt high was all I could manage. I struggled more to raise my voice beyond a whisper:

            Lift up your hearts.
We lift them to the Lord.

 They replied in sad but steady voices. I continued from memory:

… Holy and Gracious God, in your infinite love you made us for yourself and when we had fallen into sin and become subject to evil and death, you in your mercy sent Jesus Christ, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us …

And so we continued. This is my Body given for you. This is my blood, poured out for you and for all. The bread was broken and shared, … all drank from the cup. We stood in silence for a few moments and I blessed them as my hand shook. They thanked me as I hugged each one and then they returned to their work.

The firefighter who had approached me at 1:45 … saw the Word made flesh, the Incarnation, God’s impossible YES permeating the rubble, ash and twisted steel. He knew that his fallen comrades had said their YES. He could see into the mystery of Incarnation: that God is with us and for us (Vincent).

The Cross should be the foundational value that shapes our lives. The Cross should also be the power that fuels our response to a crisis. In our decades together, Angie and I have come to understand that life happens. The question is

Will we let the forces of chance or evil shape us, or will we reach back and grab the power of the Cross to define how we will respond?

That September day, eighteen firefighters, and a priest found the power of the Cross by which they continued to face the results of the forces of evil. And they are not alone, for no matter how bad the land, there is nothing that can keep you from the power of the Cross; there is nothing that can separate you from the love of God, in Jesus Christ (Romans 8:31-39)

 

 


References

Bush, Geroge H. W. “Islam is Peace” Says President . 17 9 2001. 14 9 2018. <https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2001/09/20010917-11.html&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 16 9 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.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 8:27-38. 16 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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.

Vincent, Janet. Lifting up our Hearts: Communion and Springsteen at Ground Zero,. 11 9 2018. <https://www.episcopalcafe.com/lifting-up-our-hearts-communion-and-springsteen-at-ground-zero-2/&gt;.

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 8:27-38. 16 9 2018.

 

 

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Shaping Faith

A Sermon for Proper 18; Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23, Psalm 125, James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17, Mark 7:24-37

Sometime in the first decade of the 21st century, three Episcopal clergy from Arkansas went to a conference in San Francisco. On their night off, they went to the Warf. Having taken in the sights, enjoyed the wonderful seafood, scrumptious desserts, and delectable coffee it was time to head back to the conference center. For the experience of it, they decided to take the BART, San Francisco’s subway system. All went well, until the next to the last stop. All the ticket booths were closed; however, the kiosks are open all the time. So, they go to the kiosks. They see how to buy a year’s pass or a month’s pass. They see how to buy a ticket to downtown San Francisco. They see how to make every transaction possible, except ~ how to buy a ticket from this stop to the next stop. It is embarrassing for three highly educated men, two with master’s degrees and one with a doctorate. Suddenly, a dirty gray-blond hair head, atop of rumpled tattered gray long coat pops up between them and the Kiosks’ key panel. She asks what they want and holds out her hand. They tell her, and each gives her a $20 bill. Swiftly and easily her hands fly over the keyboard. In no time, she hands each of them a $5 ticket, and each thankfully tell her to keep the change. This member of that triad has always been amazed at how angels are present to us. This morning, a new gleaning emerges, it is not always members of the establishment who cross social boundaries and make a difference in people lives.

Jesus is in Tyre, he is alone; and wants to be unnoticed. He is approached by a woman whose daughter is demon possessed. There is no way around it; Jesus is rude, calling her family dogs. The woman is knowledgeable and clever enough to best Jesus with her reply, “Yes, but even dogs eat the crumbs from under the table.” Jesus acknowledges her point, and pronounces that her daughter is healed, from a distance, with no prayer or reference to God. The woman accepts Jesus’ word. What draws my attention this morning, is that it is the woman who crosses social boundaries, and changes Jesus’ life.

Jesus leaves Tyre and goes to Decapolis, which is still in Gentile territory. He is still alone. We don’t know who they are, but whoever they are they bring a deaf-mute to Jesus and “begged him to lay hands on him.” Jesus takes the man aside to be in private, and through physical means, touching and spitting looks to heaven and says, “Be open.” Did you ever wonder who is Jesus speaking to? According to the flow of the story, the man is still deaf? No matter, the man can now hear and speak clearly.

Many commentators think these are unrelated stories. I’m not so sure. I see a change in Jesus’ behavior. In Decapolis, still gentile territory, he is asked to heal, and this time Jesus simply heals the deaf-mute. There is no objection, no qualification. I see Jesus applying what he learned in Tyre, to his work in Decapolis. I now see how the Syrophoenician Woman changes how Jesus sees the world and understands, at a minimum, the timing of his ministry. Before Tyre, Jesus was making judgments based on a person’s social status, a Gentile or a Jew. In Decapolis Jesus is no longer making that judgment.

Proverbs is a book of ethical lessons, a how to behave primer. The reading for this morning is all cut up. However, this time, the cutting up helps to clarify its meaning. The verses teach us not to makes judgments between people based on wealth, or make judgments between people for any reason. I see how this lesson reinforces the learning from Mark’s Gospel. God is the maker of all people, Jew and Gentile, poor or wealthy. Treating people differently because of this or that trait is an injustice, and doing an injustice brings divine consequences.

The Letter from James, thanks to Luther’s recapturing the notion of salvation by grace, is a controversial book. You know our salvation is grace, a gift from God, which we accept and is a foundation of our faith, no works are required. James says faith by itself if it has no works is dead. I agree with the scholars who say that James is not teaching a works righteousness, that Luther objects to. James qualifies faith by that stating if our faith does not affect our actions it is no faith. Jesus learns a faith in action lesson in Tyre. He does not heal the woman’s daughter because he is bested in a philosophical debate, which he is. He heals the daughter because he learns something about faith. Jesus healing the deaf-mute in Decapolis, without hesitation, is an example of how faith affects behavior that James is teaching.

Together, today’s readings teach us first to know the basics of our faith. For me, that begins in Genesis 1, where we learn that we are all made in the image of God, and in Genesis 2, where we learn that we are made to be in relationship with each other. These basic truths have everyday life implications. The author of Proverbs collected many of them for our use as one resource for guiding us through everyday life. Today’s lesson is: don’t make judgments between people on human values like wealth.

Finally, we heard in Mark, people will know your faith by your actions. People will know when you learn the lessons of those who unexpectedly cross social boundaries and challenge your previously proper social judgments. People will know when you learn the lessons that shape your faith. It is Jesus’ faith that brings him to heal the daughter and the blind mute. It is the results of that work which astounds people beyond measure. People will know you by your faith, not by what you say, not by how often or where you got to church, but how by your faith you treat others equally as the image of God, we all are. And it doesn’t matter if your faith is shaped from on high, by a foreigner, a woman, or by a dirty gray-blond hair head, atop of rumpled tattered gray long coat.

 


References

Aymer, Margaret. Commentary on James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17. 9 9 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Bratt, Doug. Proper 18 B James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17. 9 9 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 9 9 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. Proper 18 C Philemon 1:1-1:21. 30 8 2016. <cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/proper-18c/>.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 7:24-37. 9 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2975 1/3>.

Johnson, Luke Timothy. New interpreters Bible The Letter of James. Vol. X. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) Galatians 6:18. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015.

Leeuwen, Raymond C. Van. New Interpreters Bible The Book of Proverbs. Vol. III. Ed. Leander E. Keck (NIBC) 2 Chronicles 36:22. Nashville: Abingdon, 2015.

Limburg, James. Commentary on Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 9 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary —Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. 9 9 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

Metz, Susanna. “Learning from Proverbs – Proper 18(B).” 6 9 2015. Sermons that Work.

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.

The Living Church. “He Makes the Wounded Whole.” 9 9 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Zee, Leonard Vander. Proper 18 B Mark 7:24-37. 9 9 2018.

 

 

 

I Want to Sing You A Love Song

A Sermon for Proper 17; Song of Solomon 2:8-13, Psalm 45:1-2, 7-10, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

I wanted to sing you a love song. Well, I wanted Ann Murry or ‎Kenny Loggins‎ and ‎Jim Messina to sing you a love song; they sing so much better than I do. So, I went listening. And I found multiple versions of each artist. But I could not find the one I hear in my head. So, I’m not to sing you a love song. Instead, I’ll share love poem with you. You know it.

The voice of my beloved!
Look, he comes,
leaping upon the mountains,
bounding over the hills.
My beloved is like a gazelle
or a young stag.
Look, there he stands
behind our wall,
gazing in at the windows,
looking through the lattice.
My beloved speaks and says to me:
“Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away;
for now the winter is past,
the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
and the vines are in blossom;
they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one,
and come away.”

These are the only verses from Song of Songs in our lectionary. Song of Songs, (the Book’s proper title,) really is a book of poetry. It is a book of love poems. As we heard they are romantic and unashamedly sensual. Some think these love poems are just this, love poems, and are included in scripture, because love is a divine gift to humankind, and we need to know that. Some think these love poems are an analogy of the love God/Jesus/Spirit has for us, for all humankind, for all creation, and we need to know that too (Mast).

Elaine James writes the poem includes a love of creation, noting all the reference to nature: plentiful vineyards, gardens, the many varieties of plants, She hears an invitation to look at the land around us, to see the larger world in springtime, and to understand (James). She also hears an ethical dimension. Many people are losing the connection to the land, from which we are made (Genesis 2:7). The risk of losing our connection to “the dust of the ground” is not only that we lose our connection to creation, we also lose our connection to ourselves, to each other, and our connection to God. I rather suspect the poem is all this and each of us hears the meaning each of us needs to hear, especially when we read them out loud.

It occurs to me, that Song of Songs was as little read in Jesus’ day as it is in ours. When we lose our connection to the land, to each other and to God, we begin to create rules of life in our own image, and then we begin to judge others by those rules. This is what is going on in Mark’s Gospel story.

When we hear the word ‘hypocrite’ we think of someone who is intentionally claiming a belief while behaving another way. They are faking it. The word has its origins in Greek that comes from theater. There is not a similar word in Hebrew, or Aramaic, which Jesus spoke, so, we have some digging to do to hear what Jesus is talking about.

The concern of the Pharisees and scribes is not hygiene, it is about spiritual ritual purity. The idea of Ritual Purity comes from the Law Moses gives to Israel. However, over time, some Jews, like the Pharisees and scribes, believe more is necessary and they created an elaborate system of Law. Some of these laws help people understand the Purity code. Others help them exempt themselves from other parts of the Purity code (Zee).

The Pharisees’ and scribes’ criticism of Jesus not teaching his disciples to follow the purity code implies that Jesus cannot be a true religious teacher. They intend to embarrass Jesus, and thereby undermine his authority (Perkins).

Jesus replies by quoting Isaiah;

The Lord said… these people draw near with their mouths and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their worship of me is a human commandment learned by rote; (Isaiah 29:13) (Olive Tree).

We did not read the verses in which Jesus gives a specific example; the Pharisees have a rule that allows them not to keep the commandment to honor their fathers and mothers, which includes taking care of them, by declaring those resources to be a future gift to God. This is an example of claiming to follow the Law while creating a human law that allows you to not follow the Law (Perkins).

Jesus follows that quote by teaching that defilement is not the results of eating unclean food or eating with unclean hands. Defilement comes from the thoughts and action of our hearts, which is not only the center of our physical life but also the center of our spiritual life (Butler). He then lists several examples of actions that can defile a person. However, we should be cautious to not hold on to the list to tightly, because in Jesus’ behavior we see another list that comes from his heart. Throughout the Gospel story, we see Jesus respond personally, and intimately to every life-situation (Epperly). He dares to touch those considered unclean, dares to love social outcasts, dares to love and serve, and gives his life for all people: tax collectors and sinners, lepers and demon-possessed, scribes and Pharisees, you and me (Johnson).

To be clear, the Law, as given by God through Moses, is a good guide to life. It helps us remember that we are called to live differently than the world around us, in faith to God the creator, ruler, and judge of all creation. To be honest, all religious groups tend to turn divine faith into human tradition, that supports the desires of our own hearts. And we do that because, as you know,

it is much easier to follow any number of ritual practices than to transform our hearts. (Perkins).

The good news is that although God/Jesus/Spirit who knows all our desires, and all our secrets, did not, has not and will not abandon us. God seeks to nurture in us all goodness.

God longs to
hear our voice,
to see us leaping upon the mountains,
standing behind the wall,
gazing through the windows,
looking through the lattice,
God longs to
to see our face
to hear our voice (Song of Songs 2:14)
God longs to speak to us
Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
God longs to
to sing you a love song
to rock you in divine arms
to show you, the peaceful feelin’ of home (Loggins and George).


References

Butler, Trent C., ed. Holman Bible Dictionary. Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Holman Bible Publishers, 1991.

Ellingsen, Mark. Lectionary Scripture Notes. 12 2 2017. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. The Adventurous Lectionary. 2 9 2018. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/author/bruceepperly&gt;.

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

James, Elaine. Commentary on Song of Solomon 2:8-13. 2 9 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Johnson, Elisabeth. Commentary on Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. 2 9 2018. <workingpreacher.org>.

Liggett, James. “Hypocrites, Pentecost 15 (B).” 2 9 2018. Sermons that Work.

Loggins, Kenny, and Dona Lyn George. A Love Song. 1973. Wikipedia. <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Love_Song_(Loggins_and_Messina_song)&gt;.

Mast, Stan. Old Testament Lectionary Song of Solomon 2:8-13. 2 9 2018. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermonstarters/&gt;.

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

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.

The Living Church. “Inner Quiet, Abounding Joy.” 2 9 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

Weems, Renita J. Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections Song of Songs. Vol. III. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols.

Zee, Leonard Vander. The Lectionary Gospel Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23. 2 9 2018.

 

 

The Temple, Jesus and Economics

A Sermon for Proper 16; 1 Kings 8:[1, 6,10-11], 22-30,41-43, Psalm 84 or 84:1-6, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

I have never been able to take advantage of opportunities to go to Israel, to see the land promised to God’s people, to walk the way of Jesus, and visit sites of the early disciples. If I do, I think I’d like Curtis to go with me. Curtis shares part of what such a visitor might experience. You might visit the Garden at Gethsemane, see the Upper Room, one or more of Lazarus’ tombs (it seems there are multiple sites make the same claim.) You can even go to Cana and visit the site of that infamous wedding where Jesus changes an enormous amount of water into stunningly good wine. You can even try some “Cana Wedding Wine.” A visitor once asked the tour guide Is the wine from the time of Jesus? The guide answered,

Yes, in fact, this wine is from the time of Jesus Christ because now is the time of Jesus Christ. He is not dead, he is risen.

We hear those words every time we gather and share Eucharist. It is unusual to hear them in ordinary conversation. It is disruptive but transforming

to think about our lives through our practice of sharing bread and wine during Holy Communion (Farr).

 

Now I expect, you expect me to share a gleaning from John 6; and I will; however, I am going to set that up, by exploring the dedication of the Temple we heard from 1 Kings.

The background to the Temple dedication is the end of the 11-year struggle, of painstakingly precise work, to build the Temple as instructed by God (Mast). The biblical background is Genesis 1 and 2. Genesis 1 (26-27) tells us God created “humankind in God’s image” there are no limits to who is included (Galvin). Genesis 2 (18-22) tells us we are made to be in relationship with each other. Being a helpmate is not a hierarchal order. In Psalms (121:2, 124:8), God is referred to as our helper. The dedication

 is about the Temple and its place in the life of God’s people (Mast).

Solomon’s prayer has nine petitions that cover

  • difficult legal cases in which a person must make an oath (1 Kings 8:22)
  • various disasters that might befall the people of Israel
    • defeat in battle and subsequent exile (vv. 33–34);
    • drought (vv. 35–36);
    • famine, plague, or siege (vv. 37–40).
    • all of which is happening because Israel failed to walk in the ways of God, in short – sin, (1 Kings 8:22).
  • when a foreigner prays towards the Temple God will answer their prayers and that all the peoples of the earth would know God’s name and fear him (1 Kings 8:41-43)
  • victory in God’s cause (1 Kings 8:44-45)
  • if Israel pray towards the land, city, and temple seeking repentance while in exile God is asked to regard them once more as his people and maintain their cause. (1 Kings 8: 46-51)
  • and that God will hear the prayers of the people whenever they pray (1 Kings 8:52) (Gaventa and Petersen; Harrelson).

Solomon’s multipoint prayer is extraordinarily deep. It provides a way for everyone to seek the presence of God. It honors the divine promise that all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:3) (Mast). It is honest about the reality that the heavens cannot contain God, therefore, the Temple cannot; making the Temple

 a place [in] which the needs of the petitioner coincide with the willingness of [God] to respond (1 Kings 8:22).

It is inclusive; although the first five books of the bible have a negative view of foreigners, aliens, and, strangers, the Temple dedication prayer welcomes the prayers of all who seek God, including foreigners (1 Kings 8:41-42). It is perhaps the first of the 36 verses that command us to “love the stranger” not including the one that commands us to “love our neighbor “(Almquist). This verse emphasizes human relationships established in Genesis (2:26-27). The Temple prayer is even more honest in acknowledging that people will be in desperate need of divine attention because of their sins (1 Kings 8:62). It is the source of hope that the LORD our God will freely forgive, and freely save. (1 Kings 8:62). Solomon’s is a prayer that seeks shalom for all God’s people, and all of creation.

And yes, there is a however. The entire prayer is conditional; if only your [people] are careful in all they do to walk before me.

You know the general flow of the Bible story. You know the people are not careful in all they do. What they and their Kings do was evil in the sight of the Lord. Therefore, they are defeated; they are exiled. Benjamin and Judah return to the land. The remaining then tribes are lost to eternity. The Temple is rebuilt; but the political and religious leaders continue to do what is evil in the sight of the LORD. It is into this void, a way to the presence of the Lord, that Jesus comes.

It is helpful to remember that the background of today’s reading from John 6 is the feeding of the five thousand beginning with verse 1, we read a few weeks ago. The biblical background is from Exodus when God provides Israel manna from heaven, and they grumble. If you recall when Jesus proclaims himself to manna, the crowd grumbles (Hylen). John builds on wisdom traditions

that the nourisher is both the … the giver of food and the food itself and the tradition of the pascal lamb,

but even after they eat their fill the

crowd cannot believe he is the bread from heaven and source of eternal life (Gaventa and Petersen).

You remember the emphasis in John’s version of the Last Supper is the washing if the disciples’ feet. John 6 is the equivalent to Matthew’s, Mark’s, and Luke’s Lord’s Supper, in that here we have the foundation of our Eucharistic traditions. John presents all of Jesus’ life as the institution of the Eucharist providing the miraculous gifts of actual food and God’s Word (O’Day). Like Solomon’s Temple prayer, John says that

participation in the Eucharist creates a relationship between Jesus and the believer (John 6:56) (Harrelson; O’Day).

Also like the Temple, that cannot contain God, access to the Eucharist belongs to Jesus and to Jesus alone. In the tradition of the Temple, priests make sacrifices, however the sacrifice is offered by the person, and God’s presence is the work of God. Priests and faith institutions may have responsibility

to ensure that believers are provided with opportunities to participate in the Eucharist, but it is Jesus’ presence, … that governs the Eucharist. (O’Day).

Both the dedication prayer for the Temple, and Jesus’ difficult teaching that the Spirit gives life, through our abiding with Jesus point to our need, to everyone’s need for the human divine relationship because, as our forebearers did, we still fail to walk before God. Our needs are far beyond the 9 petitions Solomon’s prayer makes. Individually and collectively we need the assurance of God’s life-giving presence; we need to trust in God’s presence; we need to build God’s presence into every aspect of our lives. We need a relationship with God, and each other, as we order our houses, as we order our lives.

And yes, there is more to the story. Somewhere along my way I learned that ‘economy’ comes from a Greek word that means ordering one’s house. I went digging around to check it out and learned that two words ‘oikos’ or ‘house and ‘nomos’ or rule together mean “management of house affairs;”  at a national level the managing of the nation’s household affairs or economics. (Bible Hub; Thomas Nelson Inc). Managing our nation’s household affairs or economics has recently been the subject of lots of discussion. Three articles I stumbled across this week (I just love the wisdom of the divine muse) may help us to envision the scope of this reordering work.

Louis Hyman writes that nature of work always remains a matter of social choice. Up until the 18th century, people worked where they lived. In the 19th century people were brought together to work under one roof, which sets up industrial revolution. After WWII higher profits were possible, but not as important, in the lingering wake of the Great Depression, as the moral compact between employer and employee. Beginning in the 1970s a new, strictly financial view of corporation emerges and begins severing the moral compact between businesses and employees. The shift to temp employees, which began at the end of WWII when Elmer Winter established the first temp agency, sets up technological revolution. Hyman continues

we need to create new norms, institutions and policies that make digitization benefit today’s workers (Hyman).

And I would add these new norms should be like the Temple, dedicated to providing a link to God for ALL people, and like Jesus who is the Way to God for ALL people.

In his review of R.R. Reno’s Resurrecting the Idea of a Christian Society Neil Dhingra notes Reagan declaration,

 We believe in the workingman’s toil, the businessman’s enterprise, and the clergyman’s counsel.

 He notes how this trilogy has come apart, that

our unbounded liberty has created a distorted reality that cruelly neglects those whose “destinies [are] largely fixed at birth. Our liberation from social norms — our nonjudgmentalism — has come at a very high cost to the working class and poor.

He continues

authentic freedom comes from service to one’s neighborhood and family, from being a good coworker or teammate, from doing those things that matter.

Then he asks,

What if there was a place where you could go where you could break bread and whoever you were sitting with was family? (Reno; Dhingra).

I wonder what if there was a place like the Temple was intended to be? What if there was a place like Jesus’ presence is intended to be? What if the Episcopal Church was always at the best we can be?

Bernard-Henri Lévy sets out the principle that being human involves some sort of negation, meaning we have to take a step, a leap out of the natural or established in order to grow  (Lévy). Such a natural or established order might well include our economic structure. He continues

When we … commit ourselves to moving forward, to diving into the unknown and embracing our humanity in all its uncertainty, then we embark on a truly beautiful and noble adventure — the very road to freedom (Lévy).

If our moving forward is in the presence of God in the Temple or of Jesus in the Eucharist, all sorts of possibilities emerge. We can be assured that we can rebuild an economic order envisioned in Genesis 1 and 2, just we can we be assured that we can buy a bottle of wine from the Wedding at Cana. Not because there are lots of old bottles, not because we are so clever at walking in the ways of God, but because He is not dead, he is risen, the time of Jesus Christ is right here, right now.

References

Almquist, Br. Curtis. Stranger – Brother, Give Us A Word. 22 8 2018.

FARR, CURTIS. “Gifts of God, Pentecost 14 (B).” 26 8 2018. Sermons that Work.

Galvin, Garrett. Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30,. 26 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&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 6:56-59. 26 8 2018.

Hylen, Susan. Commentary on John 6:56-69. 26 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

Hyman, Louis. “It’s Not Technology That’s Disrupting Our Jobs.” The New York Times (2018).

Lévy, Bernard-Henri. “We Are Not Born Human.” New York Times 22 8 2018. web. <nytimes.com/2018/08/22/opinion/we-are-not-born-human.html>.

Mast, Stan. “Old Testament Lectionary Text is: 1 Kings 8: (1-6, 10-11), 22-30, 41-43.” 26 8 2018. Working Preacher.

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

Reno, R.R. “Freedom and Popular Culture.” 22 8 2018. livingchurch.org. <livingchurch.org/2018/08/22/freedom-and-popular-culture>.

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

Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreter’s Bible The First and Second Books of Kings Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections (NIBC) 2 Samuel 24:18. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon Press (NIBC) Deuteronomy 34, 2015. Olive Tree App.

 

Misspeaks

A Sermon for Proper 15; 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14, Psalm 111, Ephesians 5:15-20, John 6:51-58

23 years ago, I attended my first diocesan convention. As one of 8 newly ordained priest, among some 400 or so clergy, and uncountable lay delegates; I was a bit overwhelmed. Friday night our banquet speaker, a distinguished scholar I’d never heard of (which means nothing), got up to share an idea with some long and lofty title (I don’t remember). She began as expected, setting out her subject matter. Then she noted the usual conflicts and the unsatisfactory customary ways of dealing with them. Next was the introduction of some new possibilities. Then came the emphasis of her presentation walking through it all in greater detail. Only ~ as her presentation continues a significant word is all jumbled. The misspeaks increase. In a few minutes, you can hear a few rumbles of what sounds like laughter. Not long afterward, the misspeaks are more frequent and more obvious. In a few minutes, we are all guffawing at most sentences. It turns out our featured speaker, was a gifted misspeaking comedian.

Not all misspeaks are so obvious, or so humorous. Some are the results of the hears’ or readers’ lack of background knowledge. Some are harmless. Others can lead us astray.

This morning we heard, from 1 Kings, the story of Solomon succeeding his father David, as King of Israel. It was a controversial succession, with lots of lots of political intrigues. The Game of Thrones has nothing on 1 Kings. We hear how Solomon loves the Lord, and that he sacrificed and offered incense at the high places, though the ark was in Jerusalem (Seow).

Solomon speaks of how his father David, had walked before you in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness. We hear how God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah is fulfilled as Israel is so great a people, so numerous they cannot be numbered or counted. Solomon asks for an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil, on hearing that God agrees, and promises more: honors, riches, and long life.

At this point we all are thinking of King Solomon, the wisest king ever. But we may have forgotten that the Books of Kings are written in the tradition of the Book of Deuteronomy, which emphasizes steadfast love and covenant faithfulness between God and Israel. Israel is to worship in places the LORD chooses (Howard). The high places were mountain or hilltop sanctuaries where the Canaanites sacrificed to their gods (Harrelson). Though Gibeon has become a place of legitimate worship; but by worshiping in such high places Solomon and Israel walk a fine line between adapting local customs and observing their own unique religious and ethnic identity rooted in Yahweh (Keener and Walton).

By now the whole of the passage begins to sound a bit like the convention’s guest speaker. Did David, who started a rebellion, raped Bathsheba, killed her husband, lured his commander into the plot to cover his sin, walk in the ways of the Lord? You remember the Ten Commandments. You shall not murder, nor commit adultery, nor steal, nor lie, nor covet, (Exo 20:1-17); David has covered them all.

Is Solomon walking before God in faithfulness, in righteousness, and in uprightness? The first thing the new king does, after he has murdered or banished all who had sought to be king and their supporters in the royal court, is to make a marriage alliance with the pharaoh of Egypt which is against the teaching of Deuteronomy that warns against “a return to Egypt” (Deut. 17:16)  (Gaventa and Petersen). Israel is offering sacrifices in places not of God’s choosing because Solomon has ignored dealing with important religious matters and has failed to build the Temple that would have solved the problem of people worshiping at local cultic sites (Gaventa and Petersen). He has also ignored the defense of the city, compromising the security of the nation, (1 Kings 3:1) (Seow).

In a divine dream, God asks Solomon What I should give you? (1 Kings 3:5) Solomon calls himself a little child which points to his modesty and lack of experience (Harrelson). His request for wisdom to rule, acknowledges that his rule so far has not been very good, and he needs a do-over (Gaventa and Petersen). It is a model of faith that first seeks the good of God’s kingdom, the just and proper rule of God’s people (Seow). This pleases God because Solomon is showing an interest in God’s people, not himself. (Gaventa and Petersen).

We can now see how Solomon is both undoubtedly great, and yet dangerously flawed. And though we should never assume anything he says or does should be an unquestioned model for life, we are also called to act in ways even as we pray to have those ways gifted to us through God’s generosity as Solomon did (Howard).

We did not hear verse 15,

Then Solomon awoke; it had been a dream. He came to Jerusalem where he stood before the ark of the covenant of the Lord. He offered up burnt offerings and offerings of well-being and provided a feast for all his servants. (1 Kings 3:15)

 which shows us the new king can be a devout servant of the Lord (Harrelson).

In a less combative political atmosphere, I might be tempted to explore how Solomon’s great and flawed ways are reflected in our political, social and economic life. However, that is not where the divine muse is leading me. Choon-Leong Seow writes

Neither Solomon’s legendary wisdom, … nor his … longevity, wealth, honor, and victory over his enemies, [are] due to his own righteousness. It is true that he loved the Lord, and it is true that he came before God with the proper attitude of humility. … [However] … it was God who came to Solomon first, despite the fact that the king had endangered the integrity of the kingdom by bringing it into alliance with Egypt. Solomon, [and], was slow to build the Temple and the defenses of the city (Seow).

In this way, Solomon’s story is my story, Solomon’s story is your story. Though we may never be so wise, or long-lived, or wealthy, or honored or victorious we are beloved of God. So beloved, that even as we only love God with some of our hearts, some of our souls, some of our mind and some of our strength, God still comes to me; God still comes to you, with open invitations. God responds to our imperfect love, our sincere if inadequate response, with undeserved blessings, summoning us, yet again, to love and to obey (Seow).

So, to borrow a phrase, in these evil days, in a time of misspeaks, both intended and the results of ignorance, let us love as wise people, trusting the LORD’s will, trusting in the eternal life of I AM the Living Bread, thankfully receiving Christ’s redeeming work, by which we seek first the good of all God’s kingdom and well-being of all God’s people.


References

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.

Howard, Cameron B.R. Commentary on 1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14. 19 8 2018. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/&gt;.

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

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

Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreter’s Bible The First and Second Books of Kings Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections (NIBC) 2 Samuel 24:18. Vol. II. Nashville: Abingdon Press (NIBC) Deuteronomy 34, 2015. Olive Tree App.

 

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>.

 

 

 

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>.