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>.

 

 

 

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.

A sermon for Epiphany 7

Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, 16-23, Matthew 5:38-48, Psalm 119:33-40

 Please listen to the beginning of 3 minutes and 44 seconds. [count to 30 seconds] Your ears are fine.

The speaker on my tablet is fine. John Cage’s composition is written for any instrument, or group of instruments, not to be played. Cage believed any sound is music. Since we are enveloped by sound all the time, we are surrounded by music all the time. Much of ambient sound/music that surrounds us we unconsciously block out unless forced to hear. I learned about Cage and 3 Minutes and 44 Seconds in an interview by Terry Gross of Trevor Cox, an acoustic engineer. [i] Cox also mentions that when we really are in absolute silence, we can hear our brain working, perhaps trying to hear. Interesting.  Among the other intriguing things I heard, was the sound of a starter’s pistol fired in a huge WWII era oil storage tank. The loud BANG echoed for 30 seconds. Next was the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber designed to absorb reverberations; it sounds like [quite] “putt”. The contrast in sounds demonstrates how context changes how we hear. It gets better. There are such things as whispering galleries; in St. Paul’s Cathedral, London, you can whisper into the wall, the sound travels around the dome and your friend on the other side can hear the wall whisper to them. Cox went on; most cathedrals are built like reverberating caverns, sound echoes a lot; therefore most people tend to speak quietly; which he believes contributes to our sense of reverence when we are in cathedrals. [ii] Once again, interesting.

It is Cox’s observation about cathedrals that got my attention; because cathedrals are like Temples, and Paul writes to the church in Corinth that they are God’s temple that God’s Spirit dwells in them. The connection goes: cathedrals affect how people perceive sound in them; cathedrals are like temples, we are temples, how do we affect how people perceive God’s Spirit in us? When God whispers to us, do those on the other side hear God’s voice? When we speak, or act, or fail to speak out or act, do people see, or hear, or not, God’s voice, God’s presence? Are we a reverberating cavern? a whispering wall? or an anechoic chamber?

Although differing in specifics, in concept this is a very old question. You may know Leviticus is cited in arguments about sexuality. You may not know much more, and it doesn’t help that this is the only time we read from Leviticus in our 3 year Lectionary cycle. So, briefly, Leviticus describes worship, records the founding history of Priests, and defines ordinances and sacrifices about maintaining and restoring purity. [iii] In short Leviticus attempts to teach people to affect the way others perceive God’s presence. Or as Scott Hoezee puts it:

If God lives at the center of your life, what difference does that make? What does God’s presence affect?

His answer: from Leviticus is everything! [iv] We do believe God is present in us, why else are we here? In Genesis, scripture also tells us God is present to everyone. [v] Leviticus reminds us … that simply affects everything, starting with the dignity of every person we meet and our solemn privilege as God’s children to affirm that dignity in all we do. [vi]

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount continues its similar message. This morning we heard the last two of Jesus’ thesis-antithesis arguments. He tells us to love our enemies, after all God’s causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the good and the evil on the righteous and unrighteous; God makes no distinction, neither should we. Jesus also says we are to be perfect like God is perfect. That’s a bit much, especially for me; so I was glad to read ‘perfect’ from teleos refers to something that has grownup, that is mature, is ripe. [vii] [viii] We are to have fully mature relationships with each other, making no distinction between ourselves or others.

You may agree with all this and still wonder what the real world applications are. Friday’s New York Times columnist David Brook’s opinion column was on Arthur Brooks. [ix] A. Brooks is a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute, probably the most important think tank on the American right. [x] D. Brooks hooked me with [He is an] … ardent defender[s] of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

I’m deducing that A. Brooks would agree with using the teachings of Leviticus and Matthew, of all scripture, as morals terms from which public policy is developed. I’ve said it before and it bears saying again, our Constitution bars the state from establishing a church, it does not bar people from using scriptural morality as grounds for decision and policy making.

Let’s apply all this to Arkansas. If you’ve been reading the papers you will know the Arkansas Legislature has been debating whether or not to continue funding the Public Option Insurance plan they adopted last year. According to Leviticus, Matthew, Jesus and A. Brooks, this is not a debate based on polls; it is not an economic question, though it has economic components, it is not an issue of political ideology, big government or little government, it is a temple question, how does this decision as silence, whisper or echo reflect the presence of God we know to dwell in us? And just to fill out the scriptural influence, in Romans [xi] Paul writes governments are established by God, whether they know it or not, for the benefit of God’s people. As to the argument that the public sector can and should address such social problems, A. Brooks notes:

… if you took the entire $40 billion that Americans donate to human service organizations annually, it would be enough money to give each person who receives federal food assistance only $847 per year. [xii]

It doesn’t take much math to figure out, that will not get the job done.

I do not know what the political, economic and actuarial answer to providing health care for all Arkansans is. I do know God does not make any distinctions between us, and neither should we. I do know that as the temple of God it is our calling as a whispering wall or echoing chasm, to demand our leaders make public policy from the mature moral ground revealed to us in Leviticus, Mathew and Paul. If we don’t, our presence is silent, ‘putt’ if we do, it will echo through all the nations.

 


[i] Terry Gross,  npr.org http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/one-mans-quest-to-find-the-sonic-wonders-of-the-world, Fresh Air, One Man’s Quest To Find The ‘Sonic Wonders Of The World’
[ii] ibid
[iii] Matthew George Easton, Easton’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary, Database © 2008 WORDsearch Corp. Illustrated Bible Dictionary: And Treasury of Biblical History, Biography, Geography, Doctrine, and Literature.
[iv] Scott Hoezee,  Leviticus 19:1-2, 9-18, cep.calvinseminary.edu http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php This Week at the Center for Excellence in Preaching
[v] Genesis 1:27
[vi] Hoezee, ibid
[vii] Hoezee, Matthew 5:38-48, ibid
[viii] David Lose, Workingpreacher.org – Craft of Preaching, The Revolution Starts Here, Tuesday, February 18, 2014
[ix] David Brooks, Capitalism for the Masses, New York Times, 2/21/2014 (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0
[x] ibid
[xi] Romans 13: ff
[xii] D. Brooks, ibid

Brooks on Brooks

In his column this morning David Brooks wrote about Arthur Brooks. (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/02/21/opinion/brooks-capitalism-for-the-masses.html?ref=opinion&_r=0) A. Brooks is now a social scientist and president of the American Enterprise Institute.  D. Brooks hooked me with … ardent defenders of the free enterprise system … primarily … on moral terms.

Sunday’s Gospel is the end of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount; the reading from Leviticus might easily be the moral base for economics. Both are examples of leaders trying to get the people back to the basis of their relationships with each other as God defines it. It is hard for us to hear, because English isn’t always clear about singular and plural forms of pronouns, and living in post reformation times, we are heavily tilted to individual salvation. Leviticus, Jesus and Mathew are speaking directly to our community responsibility to the community without regard to any individual’s standing what so ever.

I find it perplexing that many legislators seem to be so ardent about following Leviticus 18:22 and Leviticus 20:13 and so completely ignoring Leviticus 19 (and other inconvenient bit like Leviticus 11:ff which prohibits eating shrimp, oysters etc.). At the same time I understand because I also ignore some verses, and focus on others. And I do not think getting into verse throwing opposing monologues is helpful either. What I believe  Sunday’s lessons call us to do is let go of details long enough to rediscover the fundamentals of human relationship and divine relationship which for me begins in Genesis 1:27   And God created אָדָם‎ (adam) in God’s image; in the image of God God prepared אָדָם‎ male and female God prepared them. All of us are made in the image of God, all of us reflect the image of God, Paul goes far to say all of us are temples, homes, for the Spirit of God. All relationships begin here. All the rules are, or should, help us live into the fullness of our being. I long for the day when we need less because we are all more.

 

The sound of

Yesterday on one of various journeys I listened to Terry Gross interview Trevor cox author of  The Sound Book. (Here’s the link: http://www.npr.org/2014/02/19/279628642/o ne-mans-quest-to -find-the-sonic-wonders-o f-the-world).  It begins with the sound of a starter pistol fired in an old oil tank; it was loud, reverberating for 30 seconds. That was followed by the same pistol fired in an anechoic chamber (which absorbs sounds prevents echoes) and it is literally a quite lip “put.”

Later Cox’s speaks about the acoustics of cathedrals. St. Paul’s Cathedral in London is a whispering gallery; you can whisper into the wall and it travels around the dome to a person on the other side who hears it coming out of the wall. In other’s the structure echoes so well we are inclined to whisper, which he think contribute to our felling of reverence in them. What came to me is how the environment changes the way we perceive what is going on around us.

Paul refers to us as God’s temple a dwelling place of God. So I wonder what kind of temple are we, whispering like St Paul’s, echoing like many, reverberating like the oil tank, or absorbing like the anechoic chamber. I wonder how we, as individuals and a faith community, effect the way those around us perceive the presence of God?