The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11), 22 July 2018

July 22, 2018 | by Nichole Torbitzky

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2 Samuel 7:1-14a [Psalm 89:20-37] Ephesians 3:14-21 John 6:1-21

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
The lectionary text for this week continues to move through some of the critical events in the life of King David and the people of God.  The text describes David ruling in peace now that all of Israel’s enemies have been vanquished. He rules in comfort from a house of cedar built for him by the king of Tyre (cf. 5:11).  In his comfort, David becomes aware of a disparity. He is living in a house, and God is seated in a tent. David consults the prophet Nathan, who gives David the go-ahead to build a house for God. (This is Nathan’s first appearance in the text, but he becomes prominent later in the story of Bathsheba.)  That night, God tells Nathan that David does not have permission to build a house for God. God makes clear that neither David nor the people of Israel have fallen out of favor (7:8-12). Everything is fine, but God will wait and allow David’s son (who remains unnamed in this text, but, SPOILER ALERT we know to be Solomon) to build a temple.

Although it is not part of the lectionary reading for today, 2 Samuel 7:18-29 gives David’s response to God’s plan. David responds with thanks and praise.  Most of the thanks respond to God’s assurance of building up David’s house, which means blessing future generations of David’s line. David makes no mention of God’s refusal to allow David to build a temple. Unlike many of us today, David seems content to wait.  His waiting was not quiescence. David actively waited by laying the groundwork for the time when this dream could be fulfilled even though he would not live to see it.

Even though many people today are often uncomfortable waiting, building, and putting off gratification, this kind of active waiting is natural to how life works.  It takes an accumulation of the past to bring us to the present. It takes intentional choice in each present moment to craft a vision of the future. It takes purposeful decision to attain that vision.  Many of us may feel inclined toward instant gratification, but carefully and intentionally building the life we want for ourselves and our world may be the best course of action.

Here is an amusing illustration of the importance of active waiting from Ministry 127:

“Two frogs fell into a tub of cream. One looked at the high sides of the tub which were too difficult to crawl over and said, “It is hopeless.” So he resigned himself to death, relaxed, and sank to the bottom. The other one determined to keep swimming as long as she could. “Something might happen,” she said.  She kept kicking and churning, and finally she found herself on a solid platform of butter and jumped to safety.”

Ephesians 2:11-22
This deutero-Pauline letter is addressed to people who are not Jews by birth, but Gentiles.  A Gentile is anyone who is not Jewish by birth regardless of country of origin, skin color or language.  These verses argue for the unity of Jews and Gentiles in Jesus Christ. This unity is not accomplished because the Gentiles convert to Judaism, since the law has been abolished.  Unity derives from participation in Jesus Christ. Through the cross, the author exhorts, division and hostility were put to death. The metaphor switches toward the end of the text away from the cross to one of building a home.   The author asserts that everyone becomes a member of the household of God. That is a metaphor for saying that all believers become family. The foundation of this family home is the disciples and prophets; the cornerstone is Jesus.  The metaphor continues as does the vision of unity. This family home grows in and through Jesus’ unitive power until it becomes a holy temple, a dwelling place for God. The text offers a vision of Jesus’ power and the growing family of God that becomes the dwelling place of God.  This is a heart-stirring vision of the good that God desires for humanity. The text describes believers as citizens, saints, and family members. Both Gentiles and Jews are citizens, saints, and family members.

In some very real ways, the vision of humanity as citizens of the same country, saints of the same religion, and heirs of the same family was unprecedented for the time.  The division between Gentile and Jew was as real and substantial as any division you can describe today. The text’s insistence that believers are citizens of the same country is especially poignant in today’s political climate.  Christian citizens of the US often value their US citizenship above all else, failing to act or even see their shared citizenship with immigrants who cross US borders without the proper documentation. The text for today insists that in Jesus we all become citizens of the same country.  Our allegiance, first and foremost, is supposed to be to the household that God is building with Jesus as the cornerstone and not the political nation into which we were born.

According to Whitehead, we are all metaphysically interrelated.  Simultaneously, we are each individuals and integrally relational.  The privacy of our individual determination rests on the almost ineffable mutuality of existence.  In contrast to the modern ideal of rugged individualism, the reality of our metaphysical situation is that rugged individualism does not accurately describe who we are.  We are in this together, like it or not. The decisions we make are the world we live in.  The decisions we make determine what decisions we can make next.  There is no world outside of the choices we make as individuals collectively. The decisions each individual makes literally (not figuratively) build the world in which that individual and all individuals will make their next decisions.  The text tells us that we are building the household of God with Jesus as the cornerstone. Everyone is welcome, Jew or Gentile, Immigrant or One Who Has Forgotten Their Family Was Once An Immigrant Family. What we have to ask ourselves as followers of Christ in America, is if we are building that house with Jesus as the cornerstone.  

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
Following the death of John the Baptist, the disciples return from their mission, to report to Jesus everything they did while they were away.  Mark does not report whether Jesus was pleased or not with their journeys, but Jesus does offer them a well-deserved rest. This may be in response to their activities of healing and preaching, or to their grief at losing John the Baptist, or both.  For whatever reason, he takes them out in a boat on the Sea of Galilee to find a deserted place where they can rest. Seems like a good plan, except the people figure out where they are headed and arrive at their destination first. Mark explains that Jesus disembarks, but it seems that the disciples stay behind on the boat.  Jesus has compassion for the great crowd that had gathered, and he begins to teach them because they are like sheep without a shepherd. The lectionary reading cuts out the verses that cover the stories of feeding the 5000 and walking on water and skips to summary material about Jesus’ various miracles in Gennesaret.

Several themes from this text stand out as important.  You may want to focus on Jesus’ insistence that the disciples take some time off.  We live in a world where busyness is valued almost like a good in and of itself. Our social media feeds are full to overflowing with the busyness of the people in our lives. Most of the people in my congregation who are retired comment that they are busier now than they ever were when they were working. While there is nothing wrong with staying busy, there is also nothing wrong with resting. As a matter of fact, Jesus instructs his disciples to rest. Notice he did not instruct them to go on vacation or even to spend their downtime in prayer. While vacation and prayer are good things, they are still ways of being busy.  Jesus instructs them to rest. It may be instructional for us too.

I had a conversation with the great process theologian, Marjorie Suchocki, when I was just beginning my studies of process thought about the stages of concrescence (the process each moment undergoes as it comes into a being).  I remarked to Dr. Suchocki that the process made me feel breathless and kind of anxious, “Is there ever a break?” I asked. “No,” she kindly responded, with a knowing smile. It took me years to realize that moments of existence and, by extension, people, had to make a choice to rest. Rest, deep and restorative, does not ‘just happen’ to us; we have to choose it. The process of moments coming into being never stops, it flows on ceaselessly. What we do with those moments matters. Jesus reminds his disciples that rest matters.

You may also wish to address the topic found in 6:34.  Jesus has compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd. The United Church of Christ Statement of Faith declares that Jesus comes to save us from “aimlessness and sin.”  Every time I use the UCC Statement of Faith I am struck by that testimony. Jesus is, of course, interested in sin. But, as this passage confirms, he is also profoundly concerned with our purpose, our aim. From a process theological point of view, each moment of existence is ‘aimed’ by God toward the best possible. It becomes the responsibility of the individual to decide what to do with that aim. God who wants only the best for us, aims us toward the best. Even when we make mistakes, in the next moment, God will aim us again for the best possible. This, dear preacher, sounds a great deal like forgiveness or grace. In each moment regardless of how much we may have messed up in the past, God will always, always, always, provide another aim at the best possible. (Note that sometimes the best possible may not always feel good.)  God refuses to give up on us. Jesus will not leave us alone with just our own devices to flounder and wander. We have purpose. In broad strokes, our purpose is outlined by the teachings of Jesus Christ. In detail, it is our job as individuals to open ourselves to hear God’s call for each of us.  

If you are feeling brave, dear preacher, you may want to tackle the importance of affordable healthcare. Perhaps I have lost all of you, dear readers. If you are still reading and willing to talk about the Christian ethical imperative to care for the sick (cf. Matthew 25:31-46), this is an excellent place to start. My heart aches to read about Jesus’ exploits in Gennesaret. People from far and wide bring their sick on stretchers. They would go so far as to carry them into the crowded and busy marketplaces just to get the chance to touch the fringes of Jesus’ clothes because just a touch of his garments would heal.   

The old adage goes, “If you don’t have your health, you don’t have anything.”  Jesus recognized this. Notice that people were not coming from far and wide to ask Jesus about the best way to interpret a Biblical text. They were not bringing him questions about the best way to deal with their Roman occupiers. They were bringing him sick people. They were begging for health. So many of Jesus’ miracle stories are about healing because to God, health matters. It is very easy to spiritualize this into a discussion of how one’s spiritual health matters most to God. Perhaps that argument can be made. Yet, based on this passage, physical health matters to God and takes priority. A google search on healthcare in America brings up hundreds of thousands of results.  Depending on what website you visit and the health care philosophy of that website, you can find vastly different information. Some websites proclaim that nearly everyone in the US has access to affordable healthcare and accessing healthcare in the US is not a problem at all. Other websites will draw the nearly opposite conclusion. Unless you are a specialist, capable of sifting through mountains of data and reports, I would highly suggest avoiding the very tempting desire to google “healthcare in America.” Frankly, the statistics simply do not matter. What matters is Jesus’ command is to care for the sick.  I do not have a solution to offer about how our great nation can go about accomplishing the task of ensuring needed healthcare to all people. Perhaps we do not have to solve such a huge problem in one sermon. Our job is not to set public policy. Our job is to preach the Good News. The job of Christians is to live out Jesus’ ethical imperative to care for the sick. It may be enough to plant the seed of reminder that in all of the vitriol and invidious language around healthcare, Jesus is clear: care for the sick.

Nichole Torbitzky received a doctorate from Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, CA and her Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. Her current research investigates Whiteheadian notions of subjective form and the internal relations subjective form has on the ordering of eternal objects in the primordial nature of God. Torbitzky is an assistant professor of religion at Lindenwood University and teaches courses on World Religions, Islam, Indian Religions, History of Christianity, and Women and Religion.