The Reverend Kathleen Killian
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13
Our scriptures, readings, and lessons for the day issue forth a number of calls to the faithful: the call to confession and repentance, the call to growth and maturity, and the call to unity and eternal life. One call leads to the other, and to the one calling to which we have all been called—the ongoing reconciliation of humanity to the Holy One and each other in Christ.
We could also frame this “one calling” as a call to truth: to hear the truth, to speak the truth in love, and to see through to the truth behind the signs and surface of things.
Let’s begin with our Old Testament passage. If you remember from last Sunday, King David had coveted and then lain with another man’s wife, Bathsheba, who became pregnant. King David then arranges for her husband's death, all of which of course greatly displeases God. God sends Nathan to prophesy to David, and Nathan does so by telling him a story about a rich man who steals from a poor man. The story causes David to fly into a rage at the rich man’s sinful and selfish behavior. But he doesn’t get it, that the story is about him. So Nathan spells it out: You are the wretched man in the story! After recounting all of God’s blessings, as well as David’s betrayals of them, Nathan pronounces God’s judgment upon the King: the sword will never depart from your house; and because you did it secretly, your wives will be given to your neighbors in broad daylight (which I must say, gives me an uneasy pause). David admits his sin and is forgiven, so merciful is the loving-kindness of God. But as this disturbing story makes clear, truth is hard to hear, especially about ourselves, and the judgment of our lack of integrity is both consequential and difficult to bear.
Tradition holds that our psalm this morning was written by David following the events that our passage from Samuel recounts, and is therefore always recited following it. Though most scholars agree that this claim was made long after the psalm was actually written, it nonetheless is an appropriate and honest rejoinder. Psalm 51 is always recited on Ash Wednesday as it acknowledges our wayward or sinful behavior as well as our yearning to be made clean of our iniquities and transgressions. During the Eucharist, as our hands are ritually washed in the lavabo bowl, both Fr. John and I pray these words from Psalm 51: Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
Verse 6 of Psalm 51— I have been wicked from my birth, and a sinner from my mother's womb—could be read as alluding to “original sin” and hard to hear, for myself anyway. When each of my children were born, I particularly objected to this idea, as to me they were absolutely fresh from God—innocent—and certainly not wicked. But rather than speaking to original or specific sin, I think the psalmist is praying from the depths of his humanity and in the existential awareness that all creatures fall short of the glory of God. The psalmist immediately goes on to sing to the Lord: For behold, you look for truth deep within the me, and will make me understand wisdom secretly. God searches out the truth buried deep within our humanity, and the wisdom that arises from the truth, and our understanding of it, is in this case a secret or private affair between the person and God.
Turning to our Epistle, the call in our passage from Ephesians is both explicit and communal: to speak the truth in love, to bear with another in love, and to grow up into Christ so that we can lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called: reconciliation. Our effort at maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace is to speak the truth in love, bear with one another in love, and grow up into Christ. Beautiful words that these are, to carry them out is the heavy lift required to build up the body of Christ until all come into the unity of one body, one Spirit, one hope, and one God and Father of all.
But we must ask; to what degree might we desire less unity than the Holy One intends? Can the unity of the Body be increased through numbers and membership? Are we willing to hear the truth and respond to it with integrity?
Perhaps unexpectedly is what we train with to make the heavy lift; for rather than pride, aggression, and intolerance, our tools are humility, gentleness, and patience: Patience because we live in time, and sanctification or our becoming holy or whole is ongoing; patience is a virtue of time; Gentleness because all living things are fragile, and easily if not already broken in some way; gentleness as new life is tender and vulnerable; Humility because we are all “Adam” and of the earth, to which we shall return; humility as we are never finished images if you will, but ever growing up and into our calling to the likeness of Christ and reconciliation with Christ.
This brings us to the gospel, and once again not only to the call to hear, see, and speak the truth, but to consume the truth. As we read earlier: The next day, when the people who remained after the feeding of the five thousand saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
Jesus has already come ashore in Capernaum, and the crowd that has caught up with him asks: when did you get here? Jesus answers but as to “why" they are pursuing him: In all truth I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw the signs, but because you had all of the bread you wanted to eat. Right, the group thinks, and we’d like more. So they ask: what must we do to get more of this bread? Jesus answers plainly: the work of God is that you believe in him whom he has sent.
But the crowd wants Jesus to give them another sign so they can see and believe, or commit: just give us another clue, they ask, what miracle will you perform now? Moses fed our ancestors with bread from heaven in the desert, and who are you anyway? To which Jesus discloses: I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Jesus calls the crowd to recognize the deeper spiritual hunger beneath their literal bodily hunger, but only after he has earlier fed their bellies, and without condition.
For most of us here today, bread is no longer the staple food of our subsistence nor does it carry with it the deep symbolism and meaning that is did in ancient Israel. In fact it’s not uncommon today that bread is abstained from, even in the Eucharist, because of dietary concerns. What then is our staple resource and most basic nourishment? Do we understand food as a utilitarian necessity or divine gift? And how to do we eat? Habitually or hurriedly? Or simply as consumers? What is it that we hunger and thirst for other than food and drink? These are important questions as our answers will predicate, to some extent, how we understand the Eucharist and come to the table to eat the bread of life.
Physical hunger caused by poverty was a pressing concern in Jesus’ day as it remains now. Jesus always seeks to heal but on the many levels of our being. He tells all who “hunger” not to work for the food that perishes; or in paraphrase, not to work for death. Work for the food that endures for eternal life. In John's gospel, more than any other, we come to Jesus and get to the truth by doing: by doing love and doing belief or more simply put, by relational loving and believing. To believe in the one whom God has sent is to love the one whom God has sent, and entrust our hearts to Christ.
We come to the table to receive Christ’s body and blood but only after we have honestly acknowledged our sins and repented. Then with humble hearts and hungry souls, Jesus feeds us with himself, with truth that dissipates the darkness and deadness within. Jesus quenches our parched souls with love; love that is neither abstract nor theoretical but the very fascia that knits together the body of Christ. His breath and blood flow through us, as everything I am, you are, and the cosmos is, is suffused with Oneness. With help from each other and by grace, we are called to grow up into the mature awareness of this indwelling of Christ in all life, and work for this truth on earth; thy kingdom come, in unity and peace.