So, this morning, I’m going to do something that my preaching professor, were she here listening to me, would probably retroactively fail me for! I’m going to preach three sermons in a row, and they aren’t going to be tied together at all. Two mini-sermons, and a mini+ sermon. And I promise that together, they’re the size of one regular sermon.
You see, the thing is, our lectionary this week offers us a storehouse of riches, but they don’t really tie to each other so, it wouldn’t be so easy to weave them together. But they are all so good, that I don’t want to leave anything out.
I guess you could accuse me of lectionary-based FOMO, that acronym used these days to mean Fear of Missing Out. Such the danger of lectionary preaching! [For those of you not familiar with the how’s and whys of the Revised Common Lectionary, the one the Episcopal Church uses, you can go here and read about it from Vanderbilt’s page)
So, Let’s begin with Mini – Sermon #1
– and turn to look at the Ephesians text. (Since we are bouncing all over the place this morning, you may in fact, wish to turn to the readings in your bulletin as I cover them.)
This short reading in Ephesians is the one that ties most directly to our theme this year of Community and Koinonia.
The whole letter of Ephesians does its theology by looking at the Church – the People of God – the Body of Christ, and how we are to live together under the love of Christ. So I simply want to point out to you some of the beautiful, uplifting language here – words that can keep us grounded in community.
It starts with: “I bow before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.” In other words, We are all kinfolk. We are all brothers and sisters in the world because God created each one of us. It’s a truth we too often ignore.
Next, the author prays for those who were hearing this letter read, which means he is praying not only for the church in Ephesus, but the other household churches in the region, and by extension for all those who have read the letter since then, meaning for us as well… and it’s a beautiful prayer. He prays through God’s riches, God give us inner strength through the Holy Spirit, and that through our faith, Christ might dwell in our hearts, and that we would find ourselves rooted and grounded in love. It’s a prayer that makes Love our strongest foundation. It’s love that helps us know we have footing in life. Moreover, the author prays that all believers, all people in God’s family, would be able to understand the extravagant dimensions of Christ’s love. to scale the heights and plunge the depths. (Arms open) God loves you “this much” doesn’t even begin to get at the enormity of God’s expansive love. That love is meant to Fill us up and Make us whole.
Finally, there’s a praise and a promise. We have a big God who not only fills us with Big Love, he can also do Big Things. Bigger than we can imagine or even begin to think about asking for. What’s more, God accomplishes those big things through US, the church. The people of God.
So maybe, as we conclude this first little sermon, the question we can ponder is this: What Big Thing might God’s Big Love want to accomplish in and through God’s church here at St. Michael’s? And through you, the church living in the world?
Glory be to God whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine, Glory to him from generation to generation in the Church, and in Christ Jesus for ever and ever. Amen.
Sermon #2 –
Speaking of Big Things God can do, beyond our imagination, we have to at least mention the feeding of the 5000, don’t we? This is the only miracle story that we find in all four Gospels, and it’s such a great story. That little boy with the 5 loaves and the two fish is famous for eternity, even though we don’t know his name. Now and for the next month in church, we will be hearing the ongoing portions of this chapter of the Gospel of John, Chapter 6, which is all about Jesus as the Bread of Life. The “Bread of Life Discourse” it’s called.
The story today is rich in meaning. There have been two prominent ways of interpreting this story. One is to take it at the plain meaning of the text. Jesus, through his miraculous power, literally multiplied the loaves and fishes so that there was more than enough for the crowd. We know God’s power can do this. God often works miracles of miraculous multiplication. We give God the little we have, and he somehow makes it more than enough.
There’s another interpretation to this story, however, which is not less miraculous, but miraculous in a different way. That is the “Stone Soup” version of the story. In the Old Folk Tale, Stone Soup, a wandering traveler comes into a village and asks for food, but no one gives him anything, claiming poverty themselves. They don’t have anything to share, they say. So the traveler builds a fire, sets up a pot, and throws some rocks in the water, and declares he will make stone soup. In the process, the interested townsfolk pitch in, “I think I can find a carrot to make the soup better,” says one, and “I have a few potatoes” says another. “I have a soup bone.” and so it goes. Soon there’s a rich stew, better than any one of the townsfolk could have made by themselves, and more than enough to feed the traveler, the townsfolk, and still have leftovers. “Imagine,” the townsfolk say as the traveler leaves, “Soup made from a stone!”
The people around Jesus would have likely all packed some bread to travel out to the wilderness. There were no McDonald’s back then. But they wouldn’t have thought they had more than enough to feed themselves or their own little family. When the crowd sees that one little boy give up his lunch bag, and Jesus pray and begin to distribute the food, they are inspired toward generosity, taking what they need, and throwing the rest in the baskets passing by. They miraculously release what they had been hoarding out of a sense of Scarcity, and are then able to experience extravagant abundance. 12 basketful of leftovers were gathered up. 12, of course, is a symbolic number in the Bible. It represents the 12 tribes of Israel, or the 12 apostles… In other words, All of God’s People can be fed, literally, if we just share what we have, and Spiritually, when we see Jesus as the Source, the Bread of Life. Whatever way it happened, it was an extravagant miracle.
So the question we can ponder here is this: What metaphorical loaves of bread do we have hidden up the sleeves of our coat? What are we afraid to let go of, to lose control over, because we can’t imagine having enough without? How can we trust Jesus to bring abundance and provision into our lives? Amen.
Speaking of being afraid he’s not going to get enough, let’s turn our attention to the story of David and Bathsheba.
The priest at my home church use to give a yearly Summer Sex Sermon. We could dub this as the Summer Sinful Sex Sermon. But of course David’s rape of Bathsheba is not the only Sin in this story. David, the king that our scripture extols as a man after God’s own heart, is at this moment, his most prideful and most despicable, although he has some other pretty extravagant failings later on, as we’ll see in some upcoming Sunday readings.
It is the time of year when kings go out to battle, but King David stays home, shirking his duty and sending others in his place.
Idle hands are the devil’s workshop, so they say, and David finds himself lusting after the woman he can see bathing from his rooftop. He finds out she is married, but that doesn’t stop him. He has 6 wives already by now according to the narrative, but he decides he wants something else. He must have Bathsheba, has her brought to him, and has sex with her. He’s the king. She can’t say no. This is not an affair. David doesn’t seek her out again or hear from her again, until she lets him know she was pregnant. She had been used and sent away.
In our own era of the MeToo movement, we are becoming even more aware of how these types of behaviors were not confined to kings of ancient times. Even today, women are often subjected to objectification and exploited sexually by men in power. Even in a relatively small congregation we have gathered together this morning, I imagine there are several women and perhaps some men, who have been abused or exploited, who have been the victims of sexual misconduct at some point in their life. It happens in the corporate world, and in the small corner shops, in schools, and heaven help us, even in churches. Some who’ve experienced abuse are often afraid of speaking out for fear of losing their position, or being blamed, often as Bathsheba has been blamed, for being a temptress or using her sexuality to manipulate. Like it was her fault.
If you find yourself in that story, and you have not already addressed this issue in a way that you’ve found peace, then know you are not alone, and seek the help you need. It’s not your fault. Come see me, if you’d like.
One sin often begets many more sins.
So far David has ignored his duty and slept with Bathsheba, but once he finds out she’s pregnant, he connives to cover up his error by making Uriah leave his post to come home for “a report”… no doubt weakening the forces at the front of battle. But when two nights of schemeing don’t convince the honorable, dutiful, and disciplined Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife, David arranges to have him killed. He does it in such a way that the rest of the battalion are at risk as well. How many other soldiers died because Joab, in obeying the king, engaged in a risky battle scenario? The text goes on tell us others died, but we don’t know their names, or how many. The nameless, faceless, casualties of another’s sin.
David’s sin does not only affect himself. He has brought into his web his servants, Bathsheba, Uriah, Joab, and the troops under Joab’s charge. No doubt David’s sin, like all sin, contaminated the atmosphere and the relationships, caused way more harm than that was ever intended, changing the course of several people’s lives. This Chapter of 2nd Samuel ends with these words: “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.” I’ll say.
Here’s the thing. Sin is never just about you. “I’m not hurting anybody” as an excuse for your own large or small indiscretions is never a valid justification. One person’s sin causes pain and dis-ease beyond what can be even realized at the time. In cases of crime or sin like David’s, it’s obvious.
But it happens in “so-called” minor indiscretions, as well. It might be the almost imperceptible wall you are building between you and your spouse as you hide your internet behavior, or your secret addiction. It might be the undertow of uneasiness at work that comes from engaging in less than upright business practices. It might be your own self-centeredness has blinded you to the needs of others God has put before your eyes, people who need you. Blinded you to the “Things done and left undone.” As we say in our confession, “We have not loved you with our whole heart. We have not loved others as ourselves.”
But there is hope. David’s story continues with the prophet Nathan calling him to account, and David’s own sorrowful repentance. Even as he tries to make things right, he still suffers the consequences of his sin. Bathsheba’s child dies. Some of the kings best soldiers die. But David does recognize his sin and ask for God’s forgiveness. Later David authored Psalm 51, chronicling his confession and hope:
“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me…. Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me…. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”
God indeed forgives David. Just as God will forgive each one of us. Even if our sins are as despicable and multi-layered as David’s. Even if they are worse. Even in his failings, David was a man after God’s own heart. Even in our failings, we are men and women after God’s own heart. There is no sin so awful that you cannot be forgiven, no screw up so bad that you are not welcomed back into God’s arms, embraced by the household of God, the church, no place beyond the loving arms of Jesus outstretched on the cross.
The questions here are, What do you need to confess? Where have you been blind to how your own sin may be affecting others? Where have the sins of others been harming you, and how might you be called to speak out so that justice can be done?
I pray we each know what is the breadth and length and height and depth of Christ’s love.
I pray that we experience the abundance of God’s miraculous provision as we share our lives with others. and
I pray that no matter how we screw up in life, we know that there is always redemption and a future. Amen. Amen.