Sermon for 10th Sunday after Pentecost 2021
2nd Samuel 11:26-12:13a Psalms 51:1-13 Ephesians 4:1-16 John 6:24-35
A devout cowboy lost his favorite Bible while he was mending fences out on the range. Three weeks later, a sheep walked up to him carrying the Bible in its mouth. The cowboy couldn’t believe his eyes. He took the precious book out of the sheep’s mouth, raised his eyes heavenward and exclaimed, “It’s a miracle!” “Not really,” said the sheep. “Your name is written inside the cover.”
It’s not a miracle that the Bible was returned. Anyone could have done it since the cowboy’s name was in the cover. The miracle is the talking sheep, which no one expects and the cowboy doesn’t recognize. It is similar with the miracles of John. The point isn’t the miracle; it’s the nature of the one who performs the miracle.
Miracles in John’s Gospel are not magic: they are not tricks intended to amuse or impress; indeed, they are not even acts of compassion, where people are fed and healed. Miracles in John are signs. They are a disclosure of the very nature of God. So, the heart of this narrative is the conversation with the crowd. The crowd tracks Jesus down. Jesus explains that the crowd is missing the point when they just see their hunger satisfied. The truth is not the miracle of the loaves and fishes, but is a miracle about the revelation of God and the very sustenance that God can provide through Christ.
Jesus embarks on some imaginative interpretation of the Bible. It makes perfect sense when he knows the Hebrews of the Old Testament. The claim here is that Jesus is the Eternal Wisdom and the source of all life. The purpose of the miracles is to provide a sign to who exactly Jesus is.
Let’s begin with the Old Testament lesson for today, David is confronted by the prophet Nathan, using the parable of the lamb. David’s final confession at the end of the Old Testament reading, “I have sinned against the Lord,” becomes a full-fledged prayer of lament in the form of Psalm 51. The reading from Ephesians calls for a way of life that honors common beliefs and commitments pursued through a variety of gifts. In the Gospel text, we hear Jesus say that he is the bread of life.
Nathan’s encounter with David is the direct consequence of the king’s adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband Uriah. Last week we heard how David met Bathsheba and orchestrated the death of Uriah. Today’s lesson begins with David making Bathsheba his wife after her period of mourning was over. Bathsheba bore him a son. We hear that David’s action displeases God. The reading for today shows us just how displeased God was and how David responded to that displeasure.
A large part of the OT reading deals with the interplay between Nathan and David. It is clear that Nathan does not speak for himself, but for Yahweh. The prophets understood themselves to be messengers of the Lord. Nathan tells the king a story of gross injustice, apparently asking for the royal judgment and possible intervention. The contrasts are so sharp between the poor man, with his single lamb that was almost a part of the family, and the greedy rich man that David readily pronounces the death sentence.
The prophet’s reaction reveals that the story was not the report of an actual event but a parable. It is a parable in which the addressee – David – is moved to pronounce judgment upon himself. Isaiah’s parable of the vineyard (Isaiah 5:1-7) is a close parallel. Such parables consist of a story and its interpretation or application. The interpretation of the parable begins with one of the most memorable Old Testament lines, “You are that man!” Nathan’s speech includes the messenger formula “thus says the Lord” at the beginning and as a key transition. The major parts of the indictment, or statement of reasons, for punishment and the announcement of the judgment.
The statement of reasons has two movements. First, Yahweh, through Nathan, reminds David of his gracious care. Yahweh had anointed David as king, delivered him from the wrath of Saul, given him Saul’s house and wives, and made him king over both Israel and Judah. Second, the Lord states the indictment itself. David has “despised the word of the Lord” by taking the wife of Uriah as a wife and killing Uriah.
But from history, we remember that David took the fractured kingdom that Saul had left behind and built a strong united kingdom. Forty years later, he turned this kingdom over to his son Solomon. David had a heart for God. He was a king who governed God’s people by God’s principles, and God blessed him greatly. David accomplished much, but he was human.
There were dark times when he stumbled and fell into sin. The record of lust, adultery, and murder is not easy for us to read. It reveals that even great people who try to follow God are susceptible to temptation and sin. Godliness doesn’t guarantee an easy and carefree life. David had his own set of family problems with his son inciting rebellion and trying to take over. And greatness can cause pride, as we see in David’s story. But through repentance, David’s fellowship and peace with God was restored. He also had consequences to suffer as a reminder of his deeds and his need for God.
Last Sunday, I was asked what is the “take-away” from the story of David and Bathsheba. Valuable lessons can be learned from his sins and from his repentance. Knowing how much more we share in David’s failures than in his greatness, makes us curious what it means that God saw David as “a man after God’s own heart.” David, more than anything else, had an unchangeable belief in the faithful and forgiving nature of God. We, like David, can become people after God’s own heart, when we face those things that have pulled us away from God. When we repent and turn back to God.
In the epistle reading, we hear the author’s appeal for the people to follow a particular mode of life that is appropriate for their calling. Within the New Testament, Christians are commonly spoken of as those who have been called or elected by God. Here, Paul expresses the expectation that the lives of the followers of Jesus will correspond to their calling received from God. The readers should adopt a life characterized by four qualities: humility, gentleness, patience and l bearing with one another in love. In other places, we see Paul’s behavior reflecting these traits. They are, we are, to use our God-given gifts for the community of faith. They are, we are, to strive for unity while working in our own diversity. The appeal for unity is supported by the statement that there is “one body and one Spirit, just as you are called to the one hope of your calling.” There follows what appears to be a primitive confession of faith: “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
One Spirit. To the Corinthians and here to the Ephesians, Paul stressed that the multiplicity of gifts present among them all came from the same Spirit. He insisted that the Spirit was the common administer of our baptism, and consequently Christians “drink of one Spirit.” Through a single spirit we have access to the Father.
One hope. In God’s call, one hope is held out to Christians, and this can be none other than the hope of the resurrection.
One Lord. This can be none other than the Lord Jesus Christ. Primitive confessions voiced Jesus as the one “through whom all things and through whom we exist.” Difficulty came in the early church and this article of faith was tested.
One faith. Here “faith” is used in the sense of being the warehouse or storage of belief shared by all Christians. Its essence was the confession that Christ had come in the flesh.
One baptism. Through baptism, Christians came to drink of the “one spirit.” This beginning rite enabled them to be clothed with Christ. When the Corinthian fellowship later began to dissolve, Paul grounded his appeal for unity in their baptismal experience. The experience of baptism and the vows spoken are the strong foundation of our faith.
One God. Christians inherited from Judaism the cardinal belief in the one God, who was Father of all. Belief in one supreme God became an article of their confession and continues for us today. Here God is said to be “above all, through all, and in all.” This is an affirmation of God’s supremacy over all things as well as an expression of the conviction that God is present in all the affairs of the world, working through them and in them. It can also be said that God is “within all of us” which affirms the full presence of God within the church.
The first part of today’s reading talks about belief and the second half recognizes the variety of gifts that we use to live out our beliefs. Gifts of being apostles, prophets, teachers, evangelists and pastors are an indication of the diverse roles people play in the church. In spite of their, our functional diversity, we are all deployed toward the common task of equipping the saints for ministry. What is hoped for is to attain a level of maturity that gives stability and order to the church. We are all called to be discriminating in what we accept as gospel. What is sought is a community of people who are organically connected, whose common purpose is advanced, not hindered, by our diverse gifts, where growth and vitality are the norm, not the exception.
So how does the Gospel reading tie it all together? Jesus is the bread of life, the heavenly bread that feeds us, renews us, and sustains us. It is this coming together in creed and deed, receiving communion and affirming our beliefs that allows us to go forth and use our gifts. It is this sharing of hopes and dreams, creeds and bread that we are brought together. In this unity, we celebrate our diversity and find promise and purpose. Jesus loves us, feeds us and sends us out into the world to be his hands and heart and feet. Amen.