June 13, 2010
Sermon for the 3rd Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2010
The Rev. Bradford A. Rundlett
2nd Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 Psalm 32 Galatians 2:15-21
Sin is always a popular topic, except (of course) when the finger is pointing in our direction. Just take a look at the tabloids in the check-out line of your grocery store. Scandal is delicious business, and there’s plenty of it in the Bible.
On the topic of sin, one of the most powerful stories in all of Scripture is the reading we have this morning from the 2nd Book of Samuel. David, the illustrious king of Israel, just happened to see Bathsheba bathing, and decided she’d be a nice addition to his harem. Her marriage to Uriah (one of Israel’s loyal soldiers) was for a king only a minor and temporary inconvenience. David arranged for Uriah to be on the front line of a battle with one of Israel’s neighbors. At a strategic moment (per David’s instruction) the commander withdrew all of the other troops, leaving Uriah totally alone in a sea of enemy soldiers. Uriah didn’t stand a chance. After the customary mourning period, David brought Bathsheba to his palace – never mind that he already had a hundred wives and as many more concubines. When you’re the king, David reasoned, you get whatever you want. His trusted counselor Nathan thought otherwise. Illuminating David’s sin vis-à-vis a cleverly composed parable, Nathan pronounced judgment, “Because you have shown contempt for God, the child you have conceived with Bathsheba shall die.” And so it happened. This scene is as full of pathos as Good Friday; someone breaks the rules, and an innocent person pays the price. Such is the way of sin.
Human failure is also evident in Paul’s Letter to the Galatians. 1st century Christians were caught in a war of opposing beliefs. Some traditional teachers insisted that the gentiles had to fulfill the Jewish laws regarding circumcision, diet, and daily rituals. After all, these had been commanded by God through Moses. Paul declared that none of this was necessary, that God’s people had been set free from the law by the sacrifice of Christ. “We are saved by faith in Jesus” the Apostle countered, “not by obedience to the law.” It was a bitter battle, neither side conceding. It drove a wedge between Jewish and gentile Christians. And in a more modern manifestation, this issue divides the Church today. People on both sides claim to be right, thus the Body of Christ is broken, the people of God divided. How can we proclaim the love of God, and expect anyone to believe us, when we fight so vehemently among ourselves?
And we can’t miss the failure in this morning’s Gospel. Luke tells the story of Jesus exposing the hypocrisy of a certain Pharisee. No matter what Simon thought of Jesus to begin with, he didn’t provide the customary hospitality for his guest: he didn’t greet Jesus with a kiss, he didn’t wash his feet, and he certainly didn’t provide any oil for anointing. On the other hand, a woman with a reputation for working the streets, did all of this – far in excess of what was expected (and how she even got into Simon’s house Luke doesn’t say; don’t you wonder). The contrast is glaring - a “notorious sinner” is accorded the countenance of a saint; while Simon, a model citizen (whose name was probably engraved on half the plaques in the local synagogue), clearly didn’t know the first thing about forgiveness and grace. This “man of God” was riddled with double standards; drowning in self-deception. His harsh judgment of others are a reflection of his own spiritual poverty.
These stories of the Bible are a sacred treasure, not because they show us at our best and most faithful, but precisely because they show us at our worst. These stories are about all human beings, and therefore about you and me. They illustrate the temptations and worst inclinations in all of us. Like David, we invent justifications for whatever we want, heedless of the consequences for us, for the people we love, and for this beautiful now ravaged planet that we call home. Like our first century Christian cousins we quibble over the rules and regulations, and miss the miracle of God’s love, the gift of unity in the Spirit of God. Like Simon, we put other people down in order to build ourselves up.
The story of David is a parable about us just as Nathan’s story was a parable about David. The letter of Paul to the Galatians is a page right out of the Episcopal News Monthly. And the Gospel vignette is a mirror for us as the original incident was a reflection of things Simon needed to see in himself. “How is it” Jesus warned elsewhere in the Gospel of Luke, “that you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but fail to notice the log in your own?” We are quick to see the sin in others, to point a finger at someone else, and loathe to see the failure in us.
This morning our forebears in faith invite us to see ourselves in the characters of the 2nd Book of Samuel, in the community to whom the Letter to the Galatians was written, and in the people featured in the Gospel of Luke. Having learned some very important lessons from their own tragic experiences, our predecessors urge us to take an honest look at ourselves, own up to who we really are - and who we are not - and therefore begin to understand and appreciate the great gifts offered to us in Jesus Christ. As Martin Luther said, “We are sinners, and yet we are also justified.”
We are not the people God wants us to be, and yet we have been saved, washed clean, made new, by the blood of Christ.
To comprehend the love of God - the forgiveness, grace, and eternal promises - we must first come to terms with how far we are from deserving what Christ has freely given on the Cross.
“I acknowledged my sin to you” we read in unison this morning from Psalm 32, “and did not conceal my guilt. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ Then you forgave me the guilt of my sin.” So, “Happy are we whose transgressions are forgiven, and whose sin is put away.”
The Psalm, the Book of Samuel, the Letter of Paul, and the Gospel of Luke, invite us to see ourselves as God sees us – broken – yes – and forgiven, thoroughly beloved, redeemed through Jesus Christ.