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Wednesday, August 01, 2012
Lectionary Scriptures: II Samuel 11:26-12:13a AND Psalm 51:1-12 OR Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15 AND Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
On any given day, things can get pretty messy. The things we do can get us all out of sorts, not to mention what they do to the world and other people’s lives. David certainly had that experience after his encounter with Bathsheba and his elimination of her husband, Uriah. How do we make things right again, get back on an even keel?

There are at least two related perspectives in the stories related to this week’s lectionary readings. The first focuses on confession and forgiveness. The second reminds us to take it one day at a time, to see each new day as a gift from God, clean and crisp and fresh. The two themes dovetail if one thinks of the process of forgiveness giving one a fresh start, a chance to start again as if it were the morning of a new day.

The readings brought to mind a number of familiar verses that are not included.

Lamentations 3:22-23—“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” This, of course, is the biblical inspiration for the hymn, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness,” which declares, “Morning by morning new mercies I see.”

Psalm 30:5—“For his anger is but for a moment; his favor is for a lifetime. Weeping may linger for the night, but joy comes with the morning.”

Ephesians 4:26—“Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger . . .” Note that this is later in the same chapter as this week’s epistle reading.

Matthew 6:34, from the Sermon on the Mount---“So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” The tone of this one differs slightly from the others, but continues the theme of leaving today’s troubles in today.

Now let’s turn to the story of the manna from Exodus. The people of Israel get hungry while they’re out there in the wilderness. They begin to complain. (Exodus 16:2-3) The Lord sends quail and manna. (vss. 4, 13-14)

Let’s not get hung up on scientific explanations of these phenomena. The main point is that God will provide. Stop worrying and trust. As the story continues, we realize that it is another case of not worrying about tomorrow, as well as a warning not to be greedy. These are the instructions: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs . . .,” and we are told, “The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. And Moses said to them, 'Let no one leave any of it over until morning.'” (vss. 16-19) Start each new day fresh, trusting in God’s faithfulness.

The reading from Psalm 78 remembers the time that God “rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them grain from heaven. Mortals ate of the bread of angels . . .” (Psalm 78:24-25) Likewise the reading from John, chapter six, continues from last week with an interpretation of the feeding of the five thousand, connecting it with “the manna in the wilderness.” “‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” (John 6:31) The people here seem to be as confused and doubting as were those Israelites wandering in the wilderness. After witnessing this multiplying of the loaves and fishes, they are still asking for a sign, “so that we may see it and believe you?” (vs. 30) The story, as told in John’s Gospel, becomes, of course, an opportunity to point to Jesus as “the bread of life.” (vs. 35) For today, I’m content to let the connection made with the manna in the wilderness remind us that God’s faithfulness will come again tomorrow. The way to move on with our lives is to trust God’s provision which comes new each morning.

So, what do we make of all that as the story of David and Bethsheba continues back in II Samuel? Let’s first go to the final verse. David confesses to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (II Samuel 12:13a) Psalm 51, also in this week’s readings, bears the heading: “A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Although the headings which introduce many of the Psalms were added along the way, tradition has it that this Psalm is David’s prayer of confession. The words capture a spirit of confession which has been a guide to people through the ages.. The Psalm begins with a cry for that mercy which comes new every morning. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” (Psalm 51:1) It seeks cleansing, an opportunity to begin anew, to know joy and gladness again. (vss. 2, 7-8. 10, 12)

Confession and forgiveness involve a new start with a clean slate. Tomorrow is coming with a chance to begin again, clean and crisp and forgiven. In human relationships, forgiveness opens new possibilities not only for the one being forgiven; it also brings healing to the one doing the forgiving. It’s been refreshing to hear some of the families of those shot down in Aurora, Colorado, as they articulate this truth. There is no way to make things right unless forgiveness is both received and given. Don’t let the sun set on the things that are rupturing the relationships of life.

A major part of the reading from II Samuel is a parable the prophet Nathan tells to David. It opens our eyes to another dimension of David’s “sin.” Nathan’s parable tells of rich man who “had very many flocks and herds.” (II Samuel 11:2) He is contrasted with a poor man who “had nothing but one little ewe lamb . . . He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.” (vs. 3) Nathan wants David, the shepherd, to remember how close one can get to his sheep. But the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and prepared it as a meal “for the guest who had come to him.” (vs. 4) David is infuriated. The rich man, he says, “deserves to die.” (vs. 5) At this point, Nathan points at David and says, “You are the man!” (vs. 7) David’s sin becomes much greater than simply a sexual encounter with Bathsheba. He is guilty of abusing his power. His taking of the wife of another man is an act of injustice. Such thinking could take us down an entirely new line of thinking and preaching about David and Bathsheba. Even within the theme of confession and forgiveness, we might ask how nations, powerful leaders, and concerned citizens seek forgiveness for crimes of power—against various minorities, against other nations, against the poor, etc.

That leaves the reading from Ephesians. Although there’s much of deep theological significance in these verses, especially as the early church seeks to define its unity, today my focus is upon what it says about how we get along with one another. It speaks of humility and gentleness and patience, of “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) People with these attitudes are likely to understand the need for confession and forgiveness. This reading calls it “speaking the truth in love.” (vs. 15) Only when we are constantly committed to healing the ruptures in the relationships of our lives are we going to find peace and unity—in our congregations, in our families, in our friendships, in our world.

Jesus teaches us about a God who is always ready to wipe the slate clean and give us a new start. Tomorrow will bring another morning in which God’s mercy is fresh and new.

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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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