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2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 5, 2018 –Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
We dipped a bit into Richard Lovelace last week because he spoke in a telling way to David’s sin…and the way sin enters in…with his poem To Lucasta, On Going to the Wars.
I think he can help us again this morning as David is confronted by Nathan and realizes that he cannot extract himself from his weakness with attempts to conceal it or deny it.
“You the man!” or “You the one!” has become a way to praise our heroes today. Who is going to win the game for us? Who is the one who is going to put down our opponents and destroy our enemies?
When we see someone else give us hope that proves that we have been right all along and someone we disagree with has been wrong, that we have been victims of some evil “other” we often hear ourselves say, “You the man!” or “You the one!”
When Jesus asked the disciples who the people were saying he was, we read in Matthew 16 that they told him, John the Baptist, or Elijah, or Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
But then Jesus asks them, “But who do you say that I am?” It is Peter…dear, impulsive, blurt-it-out Peter…who says, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”
This morning, we have a very different situation. David has done great things. He has vanquished the enemy. He has united the northern and southern kingdoms. He has established Jerusalem as a political, cultural and spiritual center of all Israel…Israel, the people of the one true God…of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob. He’s the man!
A people who have triumphed over far more powerful adversaries and have survived incredible hardships, not because they were strong, but because they believed in the One…True…God, and were willing to sacrifice much to follow their God…even as their leaders sacrificed all, to show them the way.
They come to put their whole faith and trust in the mortal David and a great day dawns because of their faith in him …but their faith should be not in a mortal, but in the ever-loving, ever-faithful and everlasting God. The spirit is strong but the flesh is weak.
I do think Peter was right, though. Jesus was the one and Peter gave him his loyalty…not too long before Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world,” and not very long at all before Peter told those who accused him of being one of Jesus’ followers, “I do not know him!”
For Peter was mortal, too…and we are mortal, too.
Nathan’s power does not come from this world either. When he walks unbidden into King David’s presence this morning, he is risking death.
He knows right from wrong. He has seen David do so much good, but now he has seen him turn away from the spirit and embrace the flesh. He has seen his king commit a mortal sin.
What is he to do? He does what Jesus did so many times. He tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man takes advantage of the poor man…because he can …because it is an easy way to get through the day.
But he gains a lamb and loses his good name. My Grandma Addy talked to me about the days when Montana was young and she was young. People had nothing, she said, except their good name.
If people could not trust you, you could not find a place to sleep except out on the prairie. You could not find a friend.You were surrounded by strangers. You could not find a meal when you were hungry.
That is the way it was in David’s day and Jesus’ day, too. And that is the way it was in Richard Lovelace’s day, when England was at war with itself…the English Civil War, a series of armed conflicts between Parliamentarians ("Roundheads") and Royalists ("Cavaliers") over, principally, the manner of England's governance.
The wars pitted the monarchy – rule by a king – against oligarachy – rule by Parliament, that resulted in Oliver Cromwell becoming The Lord Protector. So one strong man, Charles I was replaced, after much quarreling and bloodshed, by another strong man, Cromwell.
What got lost in all of this, for the great body of the people, was The Common Good… the goal of making all people free and giving all people hope, and declaring all people equal, endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, including Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.
Jesus always shined his light on this, curing the sick, giving sight to the blind, and setting the prisoners free… giving hope to the hopeless and sharing his power with the powerless.Lovelace, did, too. He went off to war when he wrote his lines of apology to his dear Lucasta. “I could not love thee, dear, so much, loved I not honor more.”
And he spent time, twice, in prison, because he would not abandon his king. He was consoled by visits from a dear woman by the name of Althea who visited him in spite of the fact it put her in a bad light with the prevailing powers. So he wrote his most famous poem, To Althea, from Prison.
When Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my Gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the Grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Gods that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.
He is thanking her for daring much and risking all to bring hope to one who has been jailed…for his faithfulness. David would come to thank Nathan for bringing him hope again, too, by confronting him with the truth of his sin and imploring him to break free from it.
So we hear David in the Psalm we read today: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.”
When you have done wrong, do not say, “Well, I am guilty and will never be good again.” Say, “Forgive me, Lord, and help me to live a better life.” God is loving and faithful and forgiving, and runs to us as the father of the prodigal, even as we begin to turn to him…even though we are still far off.
Althea, too, gives hope to one who is hopeless.
When linnet-like, unconfinèd I,
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
Know no such Liberty.
Christ has called us to his table this day and asks us to feast on the bread and wine…the body and the blood…that he carried into the world…to give to the world.
He does not do this to prove that he is right or strong or above us. He does this to beg us to see our sin and to leave it as his table and so we might become the bread and wine of life to all we meet.
This morning he is besieged by the crowd that saw him feed 5,ooo people in our Gospel reading last week with five loaves and two fishes. When they wanted to make him king, we recall that he slipped away to the mountain to be alone …with God.
“Where did you go, rabbi?” they ask this week. He tells them, “You aren’t looking for me because you saw what I did and wanted to know how to do the same thing for others, but because you ate all the food you wanted.”
He doesn’t want to have a transaction with them this day…he wants a relationship, this moment and every moment they have been given:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For he is the one that God has sent to you to give you life, now and forever.
Hear Lovelace write to Althea and hear in it the hope that she gives him for that day and all days:
When flowing Cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with Roses crowned,
Our hearts with Loyal Flames;
When thirsty grief in Wine we steep,
When Healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the Deep
Know no such Liberty.
Nathan tells David a story today and David’s heart is still pure enough to see and hear the evil in it. He is still faithful enough to condemn that evil.
“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
When we do what is wrong, we do not hurt our enemies. In fact, we give them hope and bring them joy that they are not alone in their sin, as good as or better than we are. We hurt the ones we love, and the more they love us, the more we hurt them.
Most of all, we have harmed ourselves, but there is one who stands beside us and waits for us to turn toward him…who begins to run toward us with the ring and the robe and the sandals, and orders the fatted calf to be slaughtered even as he dashes off to greet us.
No matter what we have done, no matter who we have hurt, we are beloved of God, and God wants us to be free of our mortal weakness, to breathe free at last, and to stand as a light on a hill, proclaiming God’s everlasting love to all who can see…to all who can hear.
Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such Liberty.
Know this: God sent the greatest of treasures into the world, not so you would turn away from all others. God sent this treasure into the world so that you could do good and be better. God did not do it for your pastor or your district superintendent.
You are that man…that woman! You the one! Our world might look like a dark place from day to day and moment to moment, but it only looks dark around us…because we are the light on the hill that Jesus pointed to so very long ago …and points to still today.
Let us not hide it under a bushel. Let us be his hands and feet, his light in the darkness.
O Lord, what is it that you would do in the world through us…through me…this day? Amen.