Proper 13, Tenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – August 5, 2012

Reading 1: Reading 2:Reading 3:Reading 4:
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13aPsalm 51Ephesians 4:1-16John 6:24-35

By Mary Ricketts

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

The Prophet Nathan’s confrontation of David’s liaison with Bathsheba is perhaps familiar ground for you.

I find it interesting that Nathan appears on the scene to give the parable of the precious ewe lamb, hears David’s confession, and makes a proclamation about David’s future, but then disappears again from the story line in 2 Samuel. Some writers have suggested that this story about the prophet’s encounter with David was a later edition to the history in 2 Samuel in order to give meaning to the events in David’s reign following this marriage to Bathsheba, i.e. Absalom’s rebellion and the mess that occurs in David’s family.

There are many commentators who discuss Nathan’s role as prophet to speak to the power of King David. Certainly there was a need for a prophetic voice to speak the truth to power then as there is now. Yet, what is intrigues me is the method that Nathan uses to proclaim God’s reprimand to David.

Nathan uses a parable as an avenue to capture Kind David’s attention and imagination in order to change the lens through which David has been viewing his choices. It is the use of story that enables David to see his life from another perspective and in that moment of awareness experience the brokenness he has created to in order to serve his own needs and desires.

So, Nathan did not use a frontal attack to tell King David that his choices had broken God’s law and David’s relationship with God, but creatively engaged David through another lens to reveal a new understanding of the experience and where the lure of God was centered. The lure of God was not only to bring justice to an unjust reality, but to bring David back into right relationship.

A story that I have experience recently created the kind of lens that I speak of Nathan creating for David.  I have included the link here.

Psalm 51

This psalm follows very smoothly from the story of King David’s repentance regarding the seduction of Bathsheba and Uriah’s death. The notation of the psalm states it is “a psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

You may recognize this psalm from the Lenten season and particularly may have used it during an Ash Wednesday worship experience.

On this Sunday, it works extremely well with the reading from 2 Samuel. If David is brought back into right relationship with God through the parable that Nathan told, then this psalm expresses the emotion of that awareness and repentance.

The psalmist trusts completely in God’s presence, mercy and ability to cleanse the heart. God can be trusted to bring creative transformation into being. Yet, the psalmist [and ourselves] need to look clearly at our need for transformation for this process to be possible. For me, verse 6 points to this self-examination, “You desire truth in the inward being, therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.” It is awareness of our brokenness that will embrace God’s healing, our awareness of our need for God’s grace that will empower us to share that grace with others.

It is in verse 13 after God’s restoration that the psalmist can teach others. As I considered this verse again I thought of all the groups in our culture that are based on those who have experience a particular addiction or disease and having survived become living hope and transformation for others. Groups like AA, NA, and Breast Cancer survivors all have individuals who live examples of the transformation that is possible and bring hope to others who are still struggling in the midst of addiction or disease.

Psalm 51 beckons the reader to a transformation experience; self-awareness that leads to acknowledgment of brokenness and a dependence on God for cleansing and healing, which leads to new depth of understanding that can be shared with the community of faith. This witness is particularly meaningful because it comes from a person who knows the power of bad decision, brokenness and sin can have in one’s life and the power of God’s grace to transform that life.

Ephesians 4:1-16

If you have been using the Ephesians passages for the last few weeks you are aware that Paul is writing to a faith community which includes Jews and Gentiles. There has been a discussion of the leaders of this new faith, “The Way”, as to how Gentiles can be a real part of the community. Perhaps you know this discussion which is recorded in Acts 15, but I invite you again to think about what bringing such different communities together would mean.

People who have been perceived as completely alien, outside God’s realm, are now a part of the worshiping community with those who have understood themselves to be God’s chosen. Perhaps you can get a sense of this by thinking about the groups with which you feel the least affiliation and knowing that God has invited them in to share God’s presence and lures them as God does you. It is this racially inclusive audience that Paul is writing to in Ephesians.

So, as we encounter Chapter 4 with its encouragement to live worthy of the calling of Christ with all humility, gentleness and patience, bearing one another in love, think about the diversity of the community that Paul is asking to do this. There are those who have been Jewish and have been raised with a sense of being God’s elect (Blessed to be a blessing; a light to the nation…) and now there are those who really have no idea what it means to be called, or to be worthy of that calling.

But whether this is a concept that has been a part of their lives before or not, Paul is clear with both of these groups that the foundation of their community of faith is love: that strong, steadfast, enduring love that is the essence of God’s relationship with us. And Paul tells us what that love in action looks like: gentle, patience, humble, seeking unity.

For me is important to think that Paul is asking for unity, (one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God) but not conformity. Paul goes on to write that this faith has many different gifts – ways that it is lived out – talents that are used in service of God’s vision. Yet even as Paul describes the gifts of individuals, he goes back to the theme of unity. Here the body image found in other parts of Paul’s writings is used. It is an organic image that gives a concept of relationality, interdependent, and growth at the same time.

Paul tells the community to think deeply about what they believe and what they follow, not to be tossed around by every issue of the day. And, they are to speak the truth in love. I find that this type of speaking is only possible with a lot of silence and talking to God first. Paul is creating community out of a diverse group of people. How is our job as pastoral leaders any different?

John 6:24-35

It is ironic to me that I am writing to you on this chapter in John’s gospel. John is my least favorite gospel and this chapter has usually frustrated me in my 25 years of preaching. So, let’s begin at the beginning. I think the writer of John has a lot of an agenda that he is pushing. It is agreed by people who know these things that this is the latest gospel written and it is written to a specific, somewhat insulated community of faith.

That being said, I think that verses 24-34 are written to get to the punch line in verse 35, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” I think this is the center of this chapter and if the preacher goes too quickly into this image, you will not have anything to preach on for the rest of the month of August, or you will become very repetitive.

So, from this framework, let’s talk about the passage. Immediately previous to these verses, Jesus has fed the multitude with some loaves and fishes and left town by walking across the sea in the middle of a storm. We start today’s section with the people following Jesus, and Jesus telling them they are only there for another meal. This would seem a somewhat harsh way to speak to people who are literally living on daily bread, if we were not looking through the writer’s lens. It seems that the gospel writer is directly his words to a generation who has not accepted Jesus as the Son of God and/or are relying on the new Christian community for charity.

So, the gospel writer articulates the first century audience’s desire for a “sign”/proof that Jesus was God’s Son. The challenge from the people is that Jesus should provide manna as Moses did in the wilderness. Moses gave them this bread from heaven, let Jesus prove himself by doing the same. However, Jesus clarifies that the source of the manna is not from Moses, but from God and God has now provided a new bread from heaven: himself.

For me, this is a helpful preaching point. The gospel writer has set the scene to proclaim that God is the source that gave the Hebrew people manna in the wilderness and that God is also the source that has given Jesus to the people now. The only sign the people need is to open their hearts/mind/eyes to the possibility that God has given a Savior in the unlikely form of an itinerant preacher/miracle worker/healer.