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2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
July 29, 2018 – Tenth Sunday After Pentecost
Richard Lovelace was one of the cavalier poets of the 17th Century. He died at the age of 40 in 1657. We have talked about him before, quoting his most famous lines from To Althea From Prison:
Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an hermitage.
I want to start with him again today from another poem, To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars which speaks in a special way to the decision King David made to not go out to war “in the spring of the year when kings go out to battle.”
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much, Lov’d I not Honour more.
Lovelace is apologizing to his beloved Lucasta for leaving her to go to war. This morning, David does not go to war, but chooses to take his leisure in his city, Jerusalem, while he has his armies in the field. It is the kind of choice that you and I are called to make many times in a lifetime. It says much about us.
This morning, the people who have revered David are harsh in their judgment of the man, at this point in his life. They do not cover up. They do not make excuses. He has given them all they have, but now he lets his guard down and lets all Israel down.
While his generals go forth in battle …and do much to increase the security of the nation…David remains in Jerusalem, taking an afternoon nap.
He had slain the bear and the lion to protect the sheep his father entrusted to his care. He slayed Goliath while he was a boy, with nothing but his belief in God, a sling and five smooth stones… when King Saul and all the soldiers of Israel were hesitant because they were “greatly afraid.”
Saul was famous for slaying Israel’s enemies by the thousands but David had slain them by the tens of thousand. He was fearless. He was faithful. He was the best of the best.
But he is mortal, and when all the difficult days are done and he reigns in glory, he slumbers in the capital while his soldiers are dying in the field. Success has made him complacent, indolent, self-satisfied.
The choices we make reveal our character and open the fidelity of our souls…to the world…and to God. He has done so much, he now claims, it is only fair that he should be able to take his rest, to leave the hard work to others…to enjoy the fruit of his labors.
He is entitled. He has given much. He has accomplished much. Shouldn’t he be excused for taking a nap in the afternoon in the spring of the year?
We have all given much. We have all done much for our community, our employers, our state and our nation. Who should blame us for taking our ease, enjoying our leisure and reaping what we have sown, and watered, and weeded, and prayed over?
Ah, my friends, it takes so long to be good, but we can be bad with the blink of an eye…
Without David, there is no Nation of Israel. Without God’s promise to David, no State transcending a mortal leader can be established.
Being able to see from where we stand…now…as Americans…an immortal principle – like ‘All people are created equal’ – we as mortals are given the gift of vision beyond our present circumstances…beyond our lifetimes…beyond the present age.
We can begin to ask, “What is it, O Lord, that you want to do in the world through me?”
We don’t just want something better for ourselves. We don’t just want something better for our children. We want something better for the world.We ask to do God’s will.
We can even begin to see all of time and wonder how we can come into sync with it…dance with it… bend it to such good ends that the earth itself will give thanks for the Age Human Beings walked the earth… that we now enjoy.
We become willing to risk our lives: We might even hear our hearts sing to us,“I could not love thee dear so much, Loved I not honor more.”
This is this is the kind of hope-filled vision that can make people…mere mortals…become willing to begin building Notre Dame de Amiens, cutting and setting stone upon stone for 50 years…from 1220 to 1270… when the life expectancy was less than 30 years.
Mere mortals can become willing to undertake the construction of a great National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. that took 83 years to build, from 1907 when life expectancy was 48 and Teddy Roosevelt, our 26th President, laid the cornerstone, until 1990 when the final finial was laid in the presence of our 41st President, George Herbert Walker Bush.
What would inspire people in 1907 to devote their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor to a building that they would never live to see?
Why would anyone ever make an investment in a cause that would consume more time than they could ever hope to spend on earth?
Why would soldiers go into battle to protect a nation filled with people they would never meet? We read today that Israel’s armies went out and pressed their enemies, the Ammonites, besieging their citadel, Rabbah.
But David stayed in Jerusalem. He has life still in him. He is strong enough and his appearance among his troops would give them courage.
Why does he stay? Is it simply because he can? Does he think that Uriah the Hittite and the troops he has under him can achieve the objective without him? Is it just because he can get away with it?
We read today what happens when we become self-satisfied…when we begin to do enough to get by instead of all we can…when we let our “good enough” be the enemy of the our “best.”
The lesson is that we don’t do all we can for someone else. We do it for ourselves. When we help others… when we serve each other…there is a power that comes into the world through us.
We become as big as our ideals and as great as our hopes. We become larger than life. We become a symbol of freedom to all the world.
Freedom is a value that transcends borders and reaches from the time before history to the end of the age. It was what gave a young David the courage to stand up to oppressors twice his size and remain faithful to a king, Saul, who wanted to kill him …because the king was the nation.
As he awakens from his nap this day, he is the king…and he is the nation…and his failing is the nation’s failing.
History has shown all the world… again and again…that the concentration of power in “strong men”creates a dangerous situation for all peace-loving people…even …especially…the people who had given the strong men their power.
It is ordinary people who do the work to make other ordinary people safe and their civilizations secure. When they do this they find that they feel better about their world.
They can feel better about the divine providence that watches over us all whenever and wherever freedom is at stake. They can feel better about the way they are spending…literally spending…their lives…and better about themselves.
The trouble with putting all our faith in mere mortals, whether they appear strong, whether they appear to be good, even if they are on “our side” is that even when the spirit may be strong, the flesh is weak. That is true, even of David.
We read in Psalm 146 “I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
“Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.”
So…it is especially fitting that we read this day of the feeding of the 5,000 by King David’s greater son, Jesus of Nazareth, the Messiah, the Prince of Peace…the Christ.
He, too, has shown his people great power with his great deeds. They follow him as faithfully as Israel followed David…They believe in him as completely as they believed in Elijah.
They revere him as unanimously as the newly United States of America revered Washington…George…
They are rabble as truly as the Continental Army was…as undeniably as the tribes who followed Moses out of Egypt and into the wilderness.
He feeds them all with five loaves and two fishes…after giving thanks to God for one more moment in which he can reveal the God’s power and love to whoever happened to be present at the time.
All eat and are satisfied, and behold…because of faith, not ease …it takes twelve baskets to hold the bounty that has not been consumed.
When we place our trust to God, God returns it a hundred times over. When we place our trust in ourselves…mere mortals…we lose our way.
Jesus knows this so completely and so deeply that – we read – “When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Psalm 146 again: “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God,who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them;who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.”
Jesus runs from mortal…earthly…power…to embrace the power he has seen God pour into the world through him.
Let us not slumber at Jerusalem. Let us seek and discover all the ministries that God has spread before us…the work God asks us to do with love and steadfast faithfulness, this day…every day.
Let us believe in something greater than our own desires, our own hopes, our own wishes.O Lord, what is it that you want to accomplish in the world through me …through us…this day…and all our days?
Or, as the cavalier poet wrote it out, “I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not Honour more.”