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Monday, July 27, 2009
Lectionary Scriptures: 2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a or Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15, Psalm 51:12 or Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-6, John 6:24-35 The reading from 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a continues the story of David and Bathsheba, which was the subject of this blog last week. This week we meet the prophet Nathan who speaks truth to power. He is not intimidated by David. He does not wring his hands and say, “Well, I guess I’d better ignore David’s poor behavior. If I call him on it he might fire me.” The standards of righteousness and justice must apply to the powerful and rich as well as to the weak and poor. Often that calls for whistleblowers who are willing to take a risk, whether it is a corporate employee privy to company mischief or a top administration official who sees the folly of presidential policies or a wise citizen who speaks out about his or her experience with the health care system. Nathan tells a story about a rich shepherd and a poor one. (2 Samuel 12:1-3) The rich shepherd took the poor shepherd’s only ewe and served it to a guest. (vs. 4) David expresses great anger that the rich shepherd would do such a thing, saying the man deserves to die but instead must make forefold restitution. (vss. 5-6) What an opening for Nathan! He says to David, “You are the man! You are the rich shepherd. This is exactly what you, in all your splendor, have done to poor Uriah. You took his wife and had him killed. Just as you have pronounced sentence upon the rich shepherd, the Lord pronounces sentence upon you. (vss. 7-12) Certainly we don’t see ourselves as David, having someone killed so that we can get what we want. When we look at the ills of the world, however, it is always appropriate to remember that, for the most part, we are the rich of the world. We can’t simply point at others and say everything is their fault. Our way of life taxes the environment, the economy, political and social relations. Sometimes even within our own families we are the man or the woman who is a source of strain. The phrase “You are the one” can be an occasion to examine ourselves, to open ourselves to God, asking for a chance to being again. That’s what David did. In the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible Psalm 51 is labeled a “Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon: A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” It is a model for humbly seeking God’s mercy, reaching its peak in verse ten and following: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me . . . Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.” Whatever the ways in which we have fallen short, we are not to wallow in them. We are to expose them to God’s loving and forgiving heart, get them aired out, and start anew, breathing the fresh air of renewed joy. The passage from Ephesians continues the themes of peace that have been there the past couple of weeks, focusing upon humility, gentleness, and patience (almost like the spirit shown in Psalm 51), “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:2-3) The Gospel reading continues the story of the feeding of the five thousand, this time coupled with the story from Exodus about manna in the wilderness. The second Psalm connects as well. It is a hymn of praise to God, who “rained down on them manna to eat . . .” (Psalm 78:24) We could spend time describing manna or commenting on the fact that it couldn’t be hoarded. There was enough for one day at a time. The people’s complaint in Exodus 16:3, always reminds me of a question Sam Keen used to ask, “Why do people prefer known hells to unknown heavens?” We are easily bought off with full stomachs, not quite realizing how much we have compromised with those who mislead and misuse us. We need to remember Nathan. He lived with David in the lap of luxury, but it did not blind him to injustice. The story is a reminder to look to God for what we need, and that there will be enough. It may not seem like enough. It may not be an abundance. I don’t want to make light of the suffering people experience. Life is full of risks, but we can’t turn back to the captivity of Egypt. God intends more for us and wants us to be open to that more. In the Gospel lesson, Jesus suggests the crowd is a bit like those people wanting to go back to Egypt where they had enough to eat. They are following him because he’s filled their stomachs. (John 6:26) Instead, he tells them the miracle is a sign, just as the manna was a sign, that he wants them to be about the business of eternity in this life. Things eternal is what people need to eat if their souls are to be nurtured. (vs. 27) When they ask Jesus to give him that bread, he says, “I am the bread of life.” Tying all the scriptures together, perhaps we can think of the manna as the forgiving Spirit which is embodied in Jesus, the forgiving Spirit that David called upon. Maybe manna, the food of eternal love, tastes a little like humble pie. Whatever it is, it the kind of nutrition that can put a new and right spirit within each one of us—again and again and again. After Jesus says that he is the bread of life, he adds, “Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35)

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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