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>.

 

 

 

God, who cannot be contained, is always present and responsive.

A sermon for Proper 16 B

1 Kings 8:(1, 6, 10-11),22-30, 41-43, Joshua 24:1-2a,14-18, Psalm 84, Psalm 34:15-22, Ephesians 6:10-20, John 6:56-69

When I see a series of commas and parentheses in the lectionary, I know I’m in trouble because I really do not believe in reading bits and pieces of anything. So I went back and read the entire story of the building of the Temple. I found the dimensions of the Temple, 60 cubits by 20 cubits by 30 cubits. For some reason, I was inspired to look up the size of the Ark, which is 300 cubits by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. A bit later I read Solomon’s Palace was 100 cubits, by 50 cubits by 30 cubits. What it is about 30 cubits, which is only 45 feet? Perhaps it’s a tower of Babel and some height thing, but there is no obvious connection. Who knows maybe it is a symbolic reminder that God cannot be contained.

The story opens with the Ark being brought to the Temple and put in its most holy place. As soon as the priests leave the room is filled with a cloud. If you recall, a cloud that leads Israel out of Egypt; that a cloud cover the top of Saini when Moses is consulting with God; and a cloud is in the Tabernacle Tent when God speaks to Moses. We know the cloud marks God’s presence. If you read all the verses you will read about glory, God’s name and deep darkness, all of which, along with the Temple itself, are marks of God’s presence. We might like a cleaner, clearer depiction of God’s presence, but we can’t have one. Solomon himself says:

But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built! (1 Kings 8:27)

So while the Temple or any other human construct may represent God’s sovereign presence, it cannot contain nor constrain the divine presence (Epperly, Petersen and Gavenat, Nelson, Seow).

However, because of their presence we are reminded of, we are assured of: God’s freedom to intervene; that we are free to come into God’s presence; that we are free pray to God’s presence in the face of whatever calamity may have befallen us. (Seow)

One unusual feature in Solomon’s dedication prayer is the inclusion of foreigners. The Temple is a place all Israel and all the nations of the world may come to and offer prayers or may offer prayers towards. In short he is telling all the world God will listen to your prayers.

We shouldn’t be surprised, we know God created all humanity in God’s image. (Gen 1:26) What is hard for us to remember is the divine image in the other, in the ‘them’ over there. It is hard to remember that God’s desire to be in a relationship with us includes us being in the same loving relationship with everyone around us. (Galvin)

As we know from the recent violence in Blytheville and Mississippi County, it is oh so easy to get caught up in fears, self-interest, vengeance, greed, and self-protection. When we live in that, fear our souls can shrink.

From our Christian Sacramentality, we may see Eucharistic symbolism in the story. As with the Temple, we believe in the real, abiding, though mystic, presence of God in Eucharistic elements. (Whitley) We also know they cannot contain the totality of God nor constraint God’s presence. Through the Gospels connecting Jesus to the Temple (Matt 26:61, 27:40, Mark 14:58, 15:29, John 2:19) we see how both point towards the true living presence of God that is revealed through manifold salvific acts.

While the story is framed as Solomon’s dedicating the Temple, it is significant his first response to the appearance of the cloud of God’s presence is to pray.  (Jacobson, Lewis, and Skinner) Verses 31 to 40, which we did not hear, are a list of prayers Israel may offer to God covering everything from resolving disputes to seeking help while in exile. Solomon would expect us to take all our emotional responses to the recent and ongoing challenges in Blytheville to God in prayer. He would expect us to acknowledge that we continue to be radically dependent on God. (Galvin) In the Celtic Christianity, there is a prayer tradition of drawing a circle around yourself as you pray. It is not a barrier of protection. It is a reminder that Christ is above, beneath, behind, in front, to your left and your right, all around you, all the time. It’s not a magical act that banishes fear. It is an empowering act of faith in God that does allow us to subdue our fears so that we can live with them and not allow them to control us and how we respond the world and our interactions with people around us. As one bit of wisdom puts it

when we are afraid we do not need to be afraid of being afraid because people who love you and God are with you. (Epperly)

The other option of an Old Testament reading is from Joshua where he asks Israel, who they will follow, and they robustly proclaim they will follow God. He tells them they cannot. He’s right. The rest of the Old Testament is the continuing story of peoples and kings failing to follow God. It is also to the story of God’s continuing presence. If God’s is not constrained by the Temple, if God’s presence is not constrained in sacramental elements, God’s presence is not constrained by the sinful mess of the world. So, we are justified by being frightened, or concerned, or whatever adjective you chose to use, by the violence, injustice, oppression and all the other forms of inhumanity towards each other. However, through prayerful seeking we can know God’s loving presence and therefore we will not allow the fears of the world to determine our response to the world. Through prayer we will glean the loving response to ‘them’ over there God is calling us to. We might even glean God’s guiding response in their lives.


References

Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 16, OT 21, Cycle B. 23 8 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/&gt;.

Epperly, Bruce. Pentecost 13 _ August 23, 2015. 23 8 2015. <http://www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure/2015/05/pentecostsundaymay242015/&gt;.

Galvin, Garrett. Commentary on 1 Kings 8:[1, 6, 10-11] 22-30, 41-43. 23 8 2015.

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

Hoezee, Scott. 1 Kings 8:1-43. 23 8 2015.

Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 23 8 2015.

Lewis, Karoline. Dear Working Preacher Not Just Bread Anymore. 23 8 2015. <workingpreacher.org>.

Nelson, Richard. Interpretations: First and Second Kings. Ed. James Luther Mays, Patrick D. Miller and Paul J Achtemeier. Louisville: John Know Press, 1987.

Petersen, David L and Beverly R Gavenat. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abingdon Press, 2010.

Seow, Choon-Leong. New Interpreters’ Bible: First and Second Books of Kings. Ed. Leander Keck. Vol. 3. Abingdon Press, 1999. 12 vols.

Whitley, Katerina. “The Word Made Flesh – Proper 16(B),” 23 8 2015. Sermons that Work.