The Adventurous Lectionary – Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 1, 2018
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
This Sunday’s readings focus on the realities of sin and grace. The readings remind us that our relationship to God and the world, and the world and God mirror one another. Our ethics should reflect our theology – including our social ethics – and our theology should reflect our ethics, pointing toward theologies worthy of God’s love for us and our highest values. Many people hold views of God that would lead to prosecution if performed by a human. Authoritarian theologies often lead to authoritarian politics and following demagogues’ prevarications and power ploys. On the other hand, many of us see the world in terms of “two kingdoms,” thus separating individual and corporate realms, seeking personal holiness while being complicit in or unconcerned with social sin. There is in fact only “one world,” or “one kingdom,” as we seek to bring God’s realm on earth as it is in heaven. (See Bruce Epperly, “One World: The Lord’s Prayer From a Process Perspective,” Energion Publications)
Sin is one of the most pressing realities of scripture and our daily lives, both at the personal and communal spheres. We can’t evade recognizing our own brokenness or escape the impact of our actions. Our recognition of our fallibility opens us to grace beyond our efforts; the transformative energy emerging from a grace and power greater than our own. We may not feel we deserve grace, but God’s grace can give us a new life and a new-orientation in the midst of our brokenness. God is not out to get us; God is out to love us. God seeks to save demagogues as well as peacemakers, 1/6 and 9/11 terrorists as well as mystics.
The encounter of Nathan and David describes the consequences of intentional royal impropriety. It could have been ripped from the headlines of the last presidential administration or current events in today’s news. As events unfold in the personal and public spheres, the issue is not always the sin but the cover up and David, like many other politicians, was guilty on both accounts. His sexual impropriety led to Bathsheba’s pregnancy and then he ordered the “murder” of Uriah to cover up his misdeed. Bathsheba may have “consented” to their relationship, but it may also have been the equivalent of sexual misconduct or worse. It is obvious that the option of saying “no” to the king would come with severe negative consequences. Indeed, the power differential between David and Bathsheba may have indeed rendered their sexual relationship “non-consensual” and bounding on rape!
The prophet convicts the king of his misdeed and tells him that there will be hell to pay. Not knowing that the prophet is speaking about him, David convicts himself. David’s hidden and intentional sin has consequences. There will be conflict and war till the end of his reign. What was hidden will be revealed in political strife.
Of course, in the context of conservative ethical police who condemn LGBTQ relationships as immoral and a threat to conjugal marriage, we need to note that David’s “biblical marriage” involved many wives and lovers. Polygamy was the norm, especially among the powerful whose power and wealth apparently required a retinue of spouses, arranged, desired, and compelled. While this may not be a main point of today’s scripture, it is important to note that the conservative desire to institute “biblical marriage” is, in fact, an illusory and misplaced – even dangerous – quest. There is no one norm of biblical marriage and like so many other politically charged issues – abortion, physician assisted suicide, suicide, and homosexuality – there is little or no clear biblical guidance for contemporary behaviors. We must seek to be faithful to the ways of love as we open to God’s guidance in the sacrament of the present moment. (Pierre de Caussade)
Still, this passage convicts us all, even if our “sins” are minor, unintentional, and motivated by love. Thomas Merton speaks of the “guilty bystander” and all of us, whether in terms of our investments, support of national policies, indifference, or omissions, leave indirectly a trail of tears. None of us is innocent, though some of our “sins” remain hidden or leave little damage in their wake. Nevertheless, all of us need healing grace to begin again with new and transformed lives.
Often seen as David’s confession of sin, Psalm 51 realistically describes the anguish we feel when our brokenness is revealed to us. Unable to hide from ourselves, we experience our own guilt and, perhaps, shame at deeds done and not done. We all need to confess our complicity in the evils of the time; even “good people” may be complicit in the pain of others. Our inner life may be filled with temptation and we may be tossed about our own prejudices and negativity. As the Psalmist asserts, we need a new and clean heart. Even the best of us, acting innocently, need to experience inner transformation, a healing of the spirit, reflected in our outer actions.
As progressives, we may rightly object to the notion of being born in sin, as the Psalm suggests. There is no need to hold a literal doctrine of original sin to understand this passage. In fact, sin is not inherent in our natures any more than goodness. Indeed, if God is ever-present, then goodness may have the upper hand. However, we know that we are the imperfect children of imperfect parents born into an imperfect world. While I believe that we are born as God’s beloved children, worthy of love, it is also true none of us can escape the relational nature of sin, the brokenness of the world and our families. This sin is social as well as personal. America’s original sins of racism and genocide shape all USA people. While we weren’t slave holders or played no role in the decimation of the First Americans, we still are part of – and my benefit from – a network of sin, both past and present. The Psalmist seeks wholeness in all the ambiguity of life. Fallible and imperfect, the Psalmist pleads for an abundant blessing that will allow him to be faithful to God from this day forth.
As Luther asserted, we are always simultaneously sinners and righteous. We need mercy, a new heart, and a healed spirit. We need to recognize our imperfection when we are prone to highlight the sins of others. We are all standing in the need of grace. Even the righteous among us need forgiveness and grace. This is the interdependence of grace that both reveals and heals, and enables us to escape the illusions that our goodness and righteousness is somehow self-made.
Grace inspires us to live a life worthy of our calling as Christ’s companions and followers. Following Jesus requires us to be agents of unity and reconciliation, lived out with our unique and particular gifts. Our calling is to embody the full stature of Christ, taking our roles within the body of Christ.
God’s vision is to fill all things in Christ and to fill each of us with divine wisdom and power that we may fully incarnate God’s love in our lives. God’s grace abounds. God’s call inspires us to respond by devoting our lives in their entirety to fulfilling God’s vision, bringing health and wholeness to the world and the body of Christ. As recipients of grace, we become grace-givers, bringing healing and forgiveness to our world.
John’s Gospel describes God’s abundant provision. Christ is the bread of life. Connected to him, our lives are full and we fulfill our destinies as God’s beloved. Inspired by Jesus’ miraculous feeding of a multitude, Jesus’ followers ask “What must we do to perform the works of God?” Our faith opens us to God’s vision of wholeness, awakening new possibilities for divine activity in our lives. Awakened to God’s grace, our spiritual hungers and thirsts will be satisfied in the midst of challenge and uncertainty.
Jesus is the “bread of life” and God’s resources are always available to nourish, transform, and sustain. Even when we fall, God is there is pick us up, help us face the consequences of our actions, and find grace to move forward in love and service.
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over 60 books including WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM: PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S VISION OF CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: TWELVE SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROCESS THEOLOGY AND POLITICS; and GOD ONLINE: A MYSTIC’S GUIDE TO THE INTERNET. He is available for online as well as personal seminars, classes, lectures, and consultations. Contact him at email@example.com