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Monday, July 23, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 11:1-15 AND Psalm 14:1-7 OR II Kings 4:42-45 AND Psalm 145:10-18, Ephesians 3:14-21, John 6:1-21
Sometimes a title is a poetic expression pointing toward a deeper truth—or perhaps just a question. I know that most of us are monotheists, believing in one God rather than “gods.” I know that many of us believe that our “humanity” partakes of the divine image.

So what is the contrast toward which the “poetic” title, “The Ways of Gods and Human Beings,” points? Actually it would probably be a smoother “poetic” title if it referred to “The Ways of Gods and Men,” but we’re all in this (whatever the “this” is) together—men and women. We struggle with the gap between our highest ideals and beliefs and the realities we experience and live. We look at what we think of as perfection and realize we fall short, often far short. We instinctively know that whatever divinity means, it points not only to the inner realities of what it means to be human. It stretches us beyond the limits of our imagination into a realm which is so “other” that to try to gaze upon it is to be almost blinded. Many of us believe that the universe—and all of creation and created beings—is powered by love, that we all live and move and have our being in a loving and safe place that emanates from the heart of “God.”

The lectionary readings for this Sunday take us right into the middle of that contrast. We struggle to understand how such contrasting texts could be collected under the same cover.

The readings from II Samuel and Psalm 14 take us into the dark places of our humanity, while the readings from II Kings, Psalm 145, and John 6 speak of, among other things, the abundant ways in which God blesses and nourishes us.

II Samuel 11 tells the story of King David’s lust from Bathsheba as he looks from his roof across to another roof where she is bathing. He sees her and is aroused by her beauty. (II Samuel 11:2) It’s a story with which heterosexual men have intimate acquaintance—the hormones which flow giving rise to sexual passion. We know that such sexual passion can be aroused in women as well, and in same-sex attractions. We are passionate sexual beings.

The problems start when we act on that passion in inappropriate ways. David sends his messengers to bring Bathsheba to him so that he may “lay with her.” (vs. 4) The result is a pregnancy. (vs. 5)

This story could lead us to consider the tendency of human beings to cover up their “sins.” How often have we seen it in the actions of public figures in our lifetime? We have this ability to make a bad situation worse by trying to cover it up. Cover-up has been one way in which humans have tried to deal with sin as far back as Adam in the Garden. What if David had simply confessed his sin—which he eventually did? Instead, he arranges it so that Bathsheba’s husband will die on the battlefield. (vs. 15) There’s other stuff in the story rooted in practices of the day, e.g., the effort to get Uriah to go sleep with his wife when a good warrior would never do such a thing while in battle (vss. 8-13) and the reference to Bathsheba’s “purifying herself after her period.” (vs. 4) The focus, however, is upon David’s—good King David—ability to take a human life to cover up his own lack of self-restraint.

Psalm 14 moves beyond King David (in a Psalm attributed to the same David) to implicate all humanity. “They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no not one.” (Psalm 14:3) The same theme is picked up in Romans 3:23 which says, “ . . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” “They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds . . .” (Psalm 14:1) It’s worth noting that one of the evils of which they are accused is confounding “the plans of the poor.” (vs. 6)

Moving to the other readings, we wonder how such deeds could arise from humans upon whom God’s abundance has been poured. Both II Kings and the reading from John’s Gospel tell of many people being fed from a small supply of food—with plenty left over. God’s abundance is such that there is always more than enough. How could we not be satisfied?

In considering the two stories, we might note the contrasting stories of Elijah and Elisha in the Old Testament, with Elisha being something of a miracle worker. In John, chapter six, we might speculate on whether the reality underlying the story is that the initial act of sharing prompted others to share. We might note that in other versions of this story the disciples’ lack of confidence in their ability to somehow feed all these people. (See, e.g., Matthew 14:15-17) We could focus on the boy who was willing to share. (John 6:9) The faith theme is evident in John’s version in the story which follows. They have just witnessed a “miracle” that would be reported with amazement on every channel in our day, yet are afraid when they see Jesus walking on the water in the midst of a storm. (vss. 16-21)

In both II Kings and John’s Gospel, though, the emphasis is upon the leftovers. (II Kings 4:43-44 & John 6:13) As John tells the story—as is the case in all his miracle stories—it is about who Jesus is—“the prophet who is come into the world.” In fact, the people want to make him king. (John 6:14-15) John turns quickly from the miracle itself to the revelation that Jesus is “bread from heaven,” “the bread of life.” (John 6:32-35)

What is revealed here is a God who is the source of life, who nurtures and sustains life. Psalm 145 is a hymn to such a God. “The Lord upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down. The eyes of all look to you, and you give them food in due season. You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing . . . The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.” (Psalm 145:14-16 & 18)

How is it that we can have such a God and do the evil things described in the earlier readings? In fact, in the reading from Psalm 14, there is a direct contrast in its reference to “all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?” (Psalm 14:4)

It’s a puzzle that has confounded humanity through the ages. No one has come up with a fully satisfying answer to the apparent gap between the ways of God and humanity. We are aghast when a seemingly good “kid” carefully plots the destruction that devastates those gathered in a theater in Aurora, Colorado. I certainly don’t have a ready answer. All I can do, on this day anyway, is to turn to prayer, looking to the reading from Ephesians as an example of a prayer we might utter as frequently as we repeat the words of The Lord’s Prayer, making it even a daily prayer. It recognizes that we are all children of the same God, “the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” (Ephesians 3:14-15) It is a prayer that we may all be strengthened in our inner being, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (vss. 16-17) It is a prayer filled with rich phrases. At its heart is the goal of “being rooted and grounded in love,” of knowing “the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (vss. 17 & 19)

As we struggle in that gap—the contrast and contest—between the divine impulse in us and the perverseness that keeps us short of God’s intent for us, these words of prayer remind us to plant ourselves in God’s abundant love which is ready to give us more life than we have yet realized.

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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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