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Tuesday, June 08, 2010
Lectionary Scriptures: I Kings 21:1-21 and Psalm 5:1-8 OR II Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 and Psalm 32:1-11, Galatians 2:15-21, Luke 7:36-8:3

The lectionary for this week offers us two somewhat similar Old Testament lessons, one from I Kings and one from II Samuel. Prior to this time, the people had gotten along with a fairly egalitarian social system and governance, taking their disputes to a series of judges who decided their cases. By Samuel’s time, the people wanted a king. Samuel didn’t think it was a good idea, nor did God with whom he talked it over. Kings will tax you to death, send your sons into war, be corrupt, etc. (See I Samuel 8:4-17) Then–these telling words in verse 18: “And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves . . .” The people still insist saying, “We are determined to have a king over us, so that we also may be like other nations, and that our king may govern us and go out before us and fight our battles.” (vss. 19-20) Notice those words—“so that we may be like other nations.” Where has that race gotten us over the years? It is my belief that the books of Samuel and Kings were written as sort of an “I told you so. You wanted a king. I told you what would happen. Sure enough it has. Where did it get you all?”

It give you this background because this week’s two Old Testament stories involve royal abuse of power—in the extreme, even to the point of murder. In II Samuel 11, the king is David, who desires Uriah’s wife. In order to get her, he makes sure that her husband is killed on the battlefield, with the help of his trusted commander, Joab. In I Kings 21, the king is Ahab, who wants to obtain one of Naboth’s vineyards. The story has its touching side. He wants to turn the vineyard into a “vegetable garden, because it is near my house.” I like my vegetable garden to be as near my kitchen as possible, so I can run out and get whatever I want to serve at dinner. In fairness to Ahab, he offers what seems to be a fair trade, or a reasonable price. (vs. 2) He isn’t intending to just commandeer the vineyard.

The property, though, has been in Naboth’s family for generations, so he refuses the offer. (vs. 3) Ahab is not happy and Jezebel, his wife, takes notice. (vss. 4-6) Jezebel says she will take care of things, which she does by having Naboth killed. (vss. 7-14) Ahab then gains possession of the vineyard.

In both stories, however, there is a prophet of God who speaks truth to power. God always sees to it that there are people who aren’t intimidated by those who abuse power, who speak up and confront the emperor who has no clothes. In David’s case, it is Nathan, who tells the king a parable about a rich man how takes away the only lamb of a poor man to offer it as a feast to one of his guests. (II Samuel 12:1-5) David is furious with the rich man in the parable, at which point Nathan says, “You are the man!” (vs. 7) In Ahab’s case, Elijah is the prophet who speaks out, telling Ahab that just as the dogs “licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.” (I Kings 21:19) Psalm 5 underlines the message of these prophets when it speaks of the boastful not standing, the destruction of those who speak lies, and how “the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.” (vss. 5-6)

As important as it is to stand up to those who abuse power, these stories, along with the other readings for this Sunday, also have to do with personal sin and confession and forgiveness, subjects we don’t always handle too well. We are sometimes slow to take responsibility for the consequences of what we have done.

Ahab does not acknowledge his sin. David does, saying, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan declares that “ . . . the Lord has put away your sin.” (II Samuel 12:13)

Churches have sometimes emphasized sin almost to the point that forgiveness and grace become afterthoughts. One must grovel before one is worthy of grace. Many of us would prefer to emphasize that grace comes first. In some traditions which include a formal prayer of confession as part of the liturgy, words of forgiveness are spoken following that prayer. Pastor Rick suggests that maybe they should be spoken before confession, that they provide the context for confession.

Whatever the sequence, the remaining scriptures speak of the joy of grace and forgiveness. Psalm 32 begins, “Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity . . .” (vss. 1-2) It ends with the assurance that “steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord.” (vs. 10) In Galatians, Paul acknowledges that he (and all of us) is a sinner, but that the overarching reality is God’s grace, which is not something we can earn through right living. (Galatians 2:17-18, 20-21)

In the Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus is taken to task because he allows himself to be touched by a woman who “is a sinner.” (Luke 7:36-39) We could try to figure out who the woman was and what her sin was. Jesus simply speaks of the love and hospitality she has shown him, according to the customs of the times, something they have not done. (vss. 44-46) He also tells a parable about a creditor. Two men owed him money, one ten times as much as the other. The creditor forgives the debts of both. “Which one is going to be more grateful?” Jesus wants to know. (vss. 41-41) He forgives the woman's sins, and tells her to go in peace, leaving the others wondering how he dares to do such a thing. (vss. 47-50)

All God’s people are sinners surrounded by steadfast love. The sins may be greater or less, according to human standards. Today’s readings show us sins by the most powerful and the most lowly and remind us that God has a place, and grace, for every one of us.

As a footnote, notice how today’s Gospel lesson ends. Jesus and his disciples go “through the cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God.” Who were these disciples? The twelve, it says, “as well as some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their resources.” Without this strange band of “sinners,” male and female, we might never have known. Because of them, and Moses and David before them, the story lives on today. May it live in each one of us.

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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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