The Adventurous Lectionary – The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost – August 8, 2021
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
John 6:35, 41-51
Faith begins with experience, joy and tragedy, hope and disappointment, amazement and sin. Out of experience comes doctrine which becomes the lenses through which we interpret our life experiences.
Today’s passages join challenge, hope, and grief. They join deep emotion with deep faith. We often live in the depths, feeling God-forsaken. Other times our own behaviors lead to alienation and brokenness in our personal and national lives. We may have to repent of the evils we’ve caused and the impact of our actions on future generations. We are seeing the social impact of alienation and disinformation as related to the 2020 election and response to vaccination, and lives are lost. Yet, even in the depths we are challenged (by the words of Ephesians) to imitate God and, perhaps, in the process discover the everlasting nourishment of divine compassion and creativity.
Even for a good cause, such as preserving the nation, there is tragedy. War is hell and there are always unintended as well as evil consequences. Unlike his attitude toward Uriah Bathsheba’s husband, David wants to spare his third son Absalom from death, despite his treasonous behavior, and find some way to restore his place in the nation, but Absalom is slaughtered by David’s troops. The underlying implication of this saga is that David’s affair leads to Absalom’s revolt and eventually the death of David’s third son, described as the most handsome in the kingdom. While I do not believe in linear and unilateral divine action, there is something karmic about the events that lead to Absalom’s death. David’s murder of Uriah leads to insurrection and death. David’s immorality is national as well as personal just as our leaders’ immorality can lead to disastrous future consequences. Today, the lies of a previous president threaten democracy and peoples’ lives.
David’s grief is inconsolable; he wishes it was him rather than his beloved child. The loss of a child, regardless of the circumstances is devastating. Even a wayward child can be the apple of her or his parents’ eyes, and as scripture notes, the loving parent rushes to welcome every prodigal child home and is willing to face humiliation and ridicule to restore his dissolute child back to the fold. Today’s question is, for what do we need to repent individually or nationally? I ponder the long term consequences of our nation’s traumatization of children separated intentionally and punitively from their parents. Our leaders intended harm and made no provisions for reuniting families. We have been weighed in the ethical balances and have been found lacking not only here but in our responses to America’s original sins of racism, slavery, and genocide of the First American peoples. We have no idea what future tragedies will result from our national inhospitality. We also see the dangers inherent in intentional information about the election, COVID, race, and the environment. We are complicit, to some degree in our nation’s immorality, and need to confront immorality wherever we see it on the national and relational stage.
The Psalm also speaks of loss and grief, perhaps occasioned by the Psalmist’s own misdeeds. “Out of the depths” cries out the Psalmist, feeling himself almost beyond divine care as a result of his plight. As a result of his iniquities, God seems absent. The Psalmist confesses that no one, even the best of us, can stand before God. Our goodness is as filthy rags, our righteousness wavering, and all have sinned and fallen short. We hope for healing and restoration but cannot assume it; all is lost so it seems and all we can do is wait till the storm passes, the silence ends, and God becomes real to us.
Psalm 130 notes that regardless of how far we have fallen, God’s mercy will prevail at the end of the day. There is a grace greater than our sin that enables us to begin again. We will never be the same – healing does not nullify our pain and brokenness – but perhaps our lives will be more attuned with God’s vision as a result of our recognition of our needs and God’s ever-abiding love. We may experience a new orientation in which the “wreckage” (Alfred North Whitehead) of our lives is transformed by divine grace. But, in the meantime, we must “wait” in all our hope and hopelessness for God to lead us back to the pathways of healing. Can nations, despite their waywardness, be recipients of socially transforming grace?
The reading from Ephesians challenges us to be imitators of God. God calls us to become like God in our large-spirited approach to life, forgiveness, wisdom, and fairness. We are challenged to be imitators of God; to be large spirited, forgiving, wise, and fair. Having received grace beyond our wildest imaginings, let us be graceful. Let us live in love, making our lives a sacrifice, a gift to God; the greatest gift we can make to God is a holy and loving life. Recognizing grace leads to personal and political gracefulness.
Our lives matter to God and the quality of our lives contributes or detracts from the beauty of the world and the well-being of others. When we imitate God’s way, we have a new set of values, contrary to our culture’s values, and become God’s agents of Shalom.
John’s Gospel proclaims that Jesus gives us bread of life, an eternal nourishment that outlasts death and destruction. In fact, Jesus is the bread of life, that is, the energy and spiritual nourishment of Jesus feeds us in the same way that good bread satisfies our physical hungers. Jesus is not an external reality, but the deep nurturing power that gives life to all creation, especially to those who know their need. We need this bread of heaven, coming solely by the grace of God.
This bread is available to all people, but we may be oblivious to the nourishment God is constantly providing in terms of possibilities and the energy to experience life’s holy abundance. Could we, like the person in the poem “Footprints,” be receiving this bread even in our darkest moments. Although we may not notice it, we are always receiving sustaining grace, more than we can ask or imagine. From that grace, we become companions, bread sharers with others. Thanks be to God!
Bruce Epperly is a pastor, professor, and author of over 60 books including WALKING WITH FRANCIS OF ASSISI: FROM PRIVILEGE TO ACTIVISM; MYSTICS IN ACTION: 12 SAINTS FOR TODAY; PROPHETIC HEALING: HOWARD THURMAN’S CONTEMPLATIVE ACTIVISM; PROCESS THEOLOGY: EMBRACING ADVENTURE WITH GOD; 101 SOUL SEEDS FOR PEACEMAKERS AND JUSTICE SEEKERS; and ONE WORLD: THE LORD’S PRAYER FROM A PROCESS PERSPECTIVE.