St. Paul’s – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a; Psalm 51.1-13; Ephesians 4.1-16; John 6.24-35
This Sunday’s readings further develop various aspects of last Sunday’s readings so let’s quickly review. Last Sunday we read of David’s sin with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah. The psalmist stressed that “all are corrupt and commit abominable acts; . . . there is no one who does any good; no, not one” (Psalm 14.1-3). Although this is our fallen state, we do not have to remain as such. We can accept God’s love through faith. Paul prayed that the Church in Ephesus “may be strengthened in their inner being with power through God’s Spirit . . . that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith, as they are being rooted and grounded in love . . . that they may comprehend with all the saints the breadth, length, height, and depth of God’s love . . . that they would know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge . . . so that they may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3.16-19; NRSV). We further considered the extent of God’s love and power as revealed in God incarnate – in Jesus’ feeding of the 5,000 and his walking upon the sea.
This week, we consider the consequences of David’s sin, David’s prayer for forgiveness, and living a life worthy of our calling through partaking of the bread of life.
Sin always has consequences. St. Paul wrote, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3.23: NRSV) and further tells us “the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6.23; NRSV). In II Samuel, we read: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David” (11.27b – 12.1a; NRSV).
Sometimes God sends us a messenger who awakens us from our moral slumber such that we can see the gravity of our actions. Nathan’s parable of the rich man’s having taken the poor man’s lamb served to awaken David’s indignation: “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Then Nathan replies, “You are the man!” (II Samuel 12.5-7; NRSV).
David stands condemned by his own words. Nathan, speaking for God, reminded David of all God had done for him, asked David why he had chosen to despise God’s word, and pronounced God’s judgment: “the sword will never depart from your house . . . I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord” (II Samuel 12.10-13). Before leaving, Nathan assured David that he would not die, for the Lord has put away his sin, but Bathsheba and David’s child shall die.
Psalm 51 is believed to be David’s prayer of confession and petition for forgiveness. It begins with David’s plea for mercy: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness” (Vs. 1; BCP) and moves on to a cry for cleansing: “Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin” (Vs. 2; BCP). David then acknowledges the depth of his sinfulness: “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Vs. 3 BCP). He further acknowledges that he has sinned against God, that God’s judgments are justified, that he has been wicked from his birth, that God looks for truth within him and makes him to understand wisdom, and he ultimately prays: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Give me the joy of your saving help again and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit” (Vs. 11-13
The familiar words of the Collect for Purity echoes the sentiments of Psalm 51: “Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen (BCP, p. 355).
I suspect most who come to worship are honest enough to recognize the aridity of the week’s wilderness experiences – we hunger and thirst after God’s righteousness. We would experience the joy of God’s saving help, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we might more perfectly love God and magnify God’s holy Name.
Now we turn to Paul’s exhortation to the Church in Ephesus. In the first three chapters, Paul has touched on theological topics; now he turns his attention to living out the Christian faith. Knowing our penchant for sin, Paul begs these new Christians to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which they have been called” – a life characterized by humility, gentleness, patience, and forbearance in love, a life in which they strive “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4.1-3; NRSV). The unity of the Spirit is important, for it reflect oneness – it reflects the fact there is “one body and one Spirit . . . one hope of their calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of us all, who is above all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4.4-6; NRSV). We live, and move, and have our very being in God Almighty, and it is this God who has “given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift” (Ephesians 4.7; NRSV).
And through Christ’s gift, some of us have been called and equipped to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers that we might “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” that is, until all of us come “to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Ephesians 4.11-13; NRSV). When we have reached that place, others will see Christ living and acting in and through us. We must learn to speak the truth in love – and that, my friends, is no easy task. It is so much easier to speak the truth from the standpoint of self-righteous indignation and pride. It is so much easier to speak the truth in a haughty, judgmental fashion. I think we are better able to begin to speak the truth in love when God has brought us to the place where David found himself in Psalm 51. David was broken in spirit to the point where he realized that only God could restore his soul and give him a renewed sense of joy. When we have experienced the depth of sin and of our humanity, we are more open to recognizing and sharing in the suffering and brokenness of others. We stand properly humbled before God, and it is God who raises us up and restores us.
So, David tells us where we are, or have been, but Paul tells us where we need to be, and hopefully, where we want to go. How do we get there?
This is where the gospel of John comes in. Jesus tells the multitude not to “work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you” (John 6.27; NRSV). The people respond by asking, “What must we do to perform the works of God?” I suspect Jesus’ answer somewhat surprised them: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent” (John 6. 28-29; NRSV). How do we get there? By believing in him whom God has sent, for it is this belief that permits our lives to be transformed through the work of the Holy Spirit.
The multitude then asks Jesus what sign he will give them so that they may see it and believe in him? Say what? Where were these people when he multiplied the loaves and the fishes? They remind Jesus their ancestors ate bread in the wilderness, that it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat” (John 6. 31; NRSV). Jesus tells them the bread came from God, not from Moses – only the Father gives the true bread from heaven. Jesus says, “For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” And the multitude replies, “Sir, give us this bread always” (John 6. 32-34; NRSV). Then Jesus replies, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6. 35; NRSV).
How do we get there? By believing in him whom God has sent, by daily partaking of the bread of life. By this bread, with this bread, and in this bread our souls are nourished, and we find joy. Alleluia!