Saturday, July 28, 2012

Blessed and Sinful

   King David was quite a scoundrel! Chosen by God, his descendants forever enthroned as the line from which kings shall come, he still has a rather unsavory lifestyle. Imagine President Obama or Governor Scott pulling the stuff David pulls. Political careers in America are ruined on less. 
Because Jerusalem is built on a mountain, David’s roof is higher than other houses, and he has an excellent vantage point to view all sorts of stuff. David, who has plenty of wives already, spots a local beauty on her roof, bathing. Technically, she is purifying herself after her period. This seems insignificant at first, but later in the story this is a crucial fact. David decides he has to have her. He sends his men to collect her and bring her to him.
Bathsheba has no choice in this matter, of course. She’s just a woman. Whether she goes willingly and enjoys her time with David the king or not is unknown. Whether this is a one-night-stand or a frequent occurrence is also unknown. What is known is that Bathsheba becomes pregnant, and her husband has been away at war. We know, because of her bathing on the roof, that the baby is David’s. Now, the two have a dilemma – which David tries to resolve.
David sends for Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and suggests he take some time off from the battle and go lie with his wife. Then, the baby could simply come a little early, and still be Uriah’s child. But Uriah won’t do what his fellow soldiers can’t do, and refuses. David’s Plan B is to arrange for Uriah’s death. He calls in an accomplice, the officer Joab, who is told to send Uriah into the heat of the battle, then draw back from him, leaving Uriah exposed, so he can be easily killed in battle.
Adultery, murder, forcing others to be accomplices in his cover-up, David uses his power as king to get into lots of trouble, and to try to stay out of it. Others in the story have little choice, since to refuse the king means death. Bathsheba and her household could do nothing; Joab could do nothing; poor Uriah is the only one in the story who denied the king, and he ended up dead for it. Scripture describes in some detail how dysfunctional David’s family is, in story after story. David is quite human, blessed and sinful at the same time.
Why, we wonder, is David given so much credit by the Jewish people? Most likely, it’s because of God’s promise to bless him, and because in most cases, he is better than the kings who succeed him. Above all, he remains faithful to YHWH, never worshiping other gods, as many of his descendants will.
Fast-forward 1,000 years to Jesus’ time. Today’s Gospel lesson relates the story of the feeding of 5,000 people. In John’s version of the story, they are on the Gentile side of the lake, in what is now Jordan.
Jesus notices that the people are hungry and decides to do something about it. He asks the disciples for some ideas. Only Andrew assumes feeding them is possible, but even he is doubtful. There is a boy, he says, with a lunch basket with some bread and fish. But it’s only enough to feed the boy, not nearly enough for such a crowd.
Jesus takes the bread, gives thanks for it, and gives it to the people. We recognize this act as very much like the Words we use to bless the bread of Holy Communion. Somehow, the boy’s lunch basket is enough to feed the crowd, with left-overs. No one went away hungry on this day!
I noticed something in this text. Jesus does not ask the people if they are worthy to be fed at his table. He does not ask if they are Jew or Gentile, men or women, adult or child, smart or mentally challenged. He does not ask if they are members of the congregation or denomination. He does not ask if they have made their confession and received forgiveness. Jesus does not ask if they have been baptized. He simply feeds hungry people.
I assume that in this crowd are all sorts of people. People who believe in Jesus; people who want to be healed by Jesus; people who want to say ten years from now, “I saw Jesus when he was in town”; people who are watching for him to mess up so they can get rid of him. I also assume there were some unsavory people in the crowd: pickpockets, bank robbers, embezzlers, adulterers, murders. People like David, blessed and sinful at the same time.
Many if not most of the people in the crowd are there for the opportunity to be healed. Some are there because they see in Jesus a new way of life for themselves and the Jewish people. Lots of them believe he could be the new king, the military messiah. So, they try to surround him and make him their king.
But Jesus knows that is not God’s plan and he escapes from them, up the mountain to pray by himself. Meanwhile, the disciples get in the boat and head for home in Capernaum, across the northern end of the Sea of Galilee. The wind picks up and suddenly the disciples are in fear for their lives. The boat is being tossed about by wind and waves and the shore is getting farther and farther away.
Amazingly, they see a figure coming across the water towards them. I can imagine them becoming terrified, with the assumption that a spirit was coming to get them as they died. But Jesus calls out to them, “Don’t be afraid. It’s me.” The disciples reach out to pull Jesus into the boat, but just as quickly, they are on the shore at home.
Jesus didn’t judge the disciples for not having enough faith; he doesn’t scold them for being afraid; he doesn’t leave them in the boat in the storm just to punish them for not trusting him. He just shows up to help them.
In their need, Jesus responds to the disciples as readily as he responded to the hungry crowd. It would be nice, wouldn’t it, if Jesus would show up like that in our lives. Send a little extra food our way, or pull us out of storms. But that’s not the way God works. Jesus walked the earth for a time, and then returned to the Godhead.
These days, Jesus feeds us through the generosity of others. Jesus feeds us and walks across water to us in the shoes of those who have the skills to rescue us from whatever mess we are in – medical, emotional, financial, spiritual, etc. And Jesus also calls us to use our God-given skills to help ourselves.
As I reminded you-all last week, God is present with all the time, whether we know it or not, believe it or not, want it or not, whether we think we deserve it or not. There are moments when we know the hand of God has been involved. And there are many more moments when God was present in those we have encountered, who fed us when we were hungry, encouraged us, doctored us, taught us financial planning skills, redirected us onto more righteous paths, and so forth.
This week, see how many times you can be a sign pointing to Jesus and beyond him to God. Feed the hungry, encourage the discouraged, love the unlovable, pray for those who have no hope, be generous with what you have.
Please pray with me. Gracious God, you accept us for who we are, blessed and sinful at the same time. Help us to be as gracious as you are. Generous God, you shower us with abundance, with love and forgiveness, with food, with those things that we most need. Help us to be as generous as you are. Amen