Which King?

The text of the sermon, based on 2 Samuel 11.1-15 and John 6.1-21, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 9th Sunday after Pentecost, July 25, 2021.

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My staunch Baptist grandmother, Audia Mae Hoard Roberts, was an ever-flowing fountain of aphorisms. Her usually economically worded, sometimes tersely stated opinions were to be understood by my brother Wayne and me as gospel truth! Among many things, she often said, “Everything that feels good, looks good, smells goods, sounds good, and tastes good is not good for you!”

The late, great French paleontologist and philosopher, Jesuit priest and mystic, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin[1] believed that we essentially are not human beings in search of spirit, but rather spiritual beings immersed in human experience. As we are created in the image of God who, as Jesus teaches, is Spirit,[2] I accept Teilhard de Chardin’s view. Nevertheless, I also acknowledge that we, enfleshed in historical time and space, are sensate creatures. We perceive much of our reality through our physical senses, which, as my grandmother testified, can deceive us.

King David espies the beautiful Bathsheba, wife of Uriah. As king, able to demand anything, anyone he desires, he commands that she be brought to his house. A child is conceived. What began with the lust of the eyes continues with David’s determination to conceal his paternity. He urges Uriah, “Go down to your house.” The pious soldier declines marital intimacies while his comrades remain in battle. David contrives to induce a drunken Uriah to go down to his house. Still, he refuses. David, desperate, conspires to eliminate his predicament. He sends the unwitting Uriah back into battle bearing in hand his own death warrant; a message to Joab the commander of David’s armies, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, then retreat that he may be struck down and die.”

David, deceived by his unbridled desiring, abused his authority, leading to private misbehavior leading to a premeditated, public, bloody murder.

Here is a timeless lesson conspicuous in its demonstrable repeatability. The pleasures promised by the physical senses can yield the cost of misconduct in high places. Whether the realms of royalty, the corridors of politics, the backstages of the performing arts, the arenas of sport, or the sanctuaries of religion.

Now, for those of us and perhaps for that part of each of us that desires the righteous recompense of an exacting justice for wrongdoing, the story continues. Uriah dies. Bathsheba grieves. David takes her as his wife. Their child is born. The prophet Nathan, sent by God, tells David a parable of a rich man who took the prized possession of a poor man. David, as king, thus, judge over his people, angrily cries, “As the Lord lives, that man deserves death!” Nathan announces the verdict, “You, David, are the man!” Then the punishment: The sword of conflict shall never depart from David’s kingdom and the child will die.[3]

Thus, let us always be aware and beware whenever we cry for justice. For none, if not God, surely, we never can wield the gavel of righteousness in a way that guarantees the security of the innocent.

Yet if all this story teaches or re-teaches us is that our human sensibilities are subject to error and that we are complicated and conflicted creatures, cosmic admixtures of angelic and demonic desirings upon which we inevitably act, where does that leave us other that where we already are with what we already know?

I look to Jesus!

At first glance, I saw little connection between David’s duplicity and Jesus feeding the five-thousand; save for a contrast between two kings. One who feeds on others, serving only himself and one who feeds, serves others. Simple. And shallow.

Yet the more I thought and prayed, this remains a comparison of two kings. And two conceptions of power; the capacity to do something, to have an affect on a person or thing to yield an effect.

Facing a large hungry crowd, Jesus fed them. Was it a literal miracle of multiplication? Or were the people, amazed by Jesus’ generosity in giving away what little he had, moved to share what they had until all were fed? I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. The point, I believe, is that each of us (no matter how small in stature or how few our gifts, as the little boy with his meager five barley loaves and two fish) has power; the capacity to do something.

Question. What compels our exercise of the power we possess? Or, given that we are complicated and conflicted creatures, cosmic admixtures of angelic and demonic desirings, more fairly, faithfully stated: What is the greater compulsion of our exercise of power?

Like that of David? Reaching out with an open hand to grasp and close his fingers around what he desires to take for himself; be it a thing or a person?

Or like Jesus? A ruler who refuses worldly kingship. Whose kingship is kinship, for he is the lover of all. Whose justice is merciful forgiveness. Whose power is the sacrifice of service. Therefore, a king who reaches out with open hands scarred by the nails of his crucifixion through which he offers to all life abundant.

Which king do you, do I more follow and obey?

In each and every moment of decision, we are called to choose!

© 2021 PRA

#whichkingdowefollow #choosingtofollowJesus #eachmomentisamomentofdecision


[1] Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, S.J. (1881-1955)

[2] John 4.24

[3] See 2 Samuel 12.1-14.

3 thoughts on “Which King?

  1. I love this sermon, Paul. I had forgotten the particulars of the David/Bathsheba story and am glad to be reminded of it. It rings in today’s world, doesn’t it? And your contrasting Jesus’s simple feeding of the 5000 with David’s grasping for his own gratification is powerful, as we watch billionaires soar into space with the idea of colonizing the solar system, while our planet and its inhabitants continue to deteriorate under the greed of petroleum barons and others whose focus does not include the survival and thriving of human and other life here on earth.

    And I always like to be reminded of Teilhard. His faith that our essence is of divine origin and will show itself in the evolution of human consciousness always encourages me that not only do I believe his vision true but that it is, after all, our destiny. That doesn’t mean that the struggle to claim that future will ever be easy, but that God is, without a doubt, present in the midst of it, urging us forward in spite of ourselves.

    Thanks for the reminders, Paul, and for your words of encouragement and admonition as well.

    Love and gratitude,

    Karen

    Like

  2. Paul,
    Like Karen I LOVED this sermon! Mostly because it involved Choice…Now that I am semi-retired I have reflected on my career. I confess that during my Corporate career I was all about the POWER. I was the only female and African-American in my group so I had to fight for everything I got for my team! I didn’t like that Loretta much but I felt I had to do it to have success. I shake my head about that time in my life.

    Thankfully in my personal life I like to think that I’m more like Jesus. I could do better in the forgiveness category but I definitely try to share all that I have with others.

    Choice is everything!! And I believe that being willing and able to make the best choices is how we grow and become the people we are supposed to be!

    Love

    Like

  3. Always, my dearest sisters, I thank you for reading, reflecting on, and responding to my postings.

    Your comments are more than helpful to me. Indeed, your are encouraging to me. For, as I reflect, last week, during a Bible study, the members of the group, preachers all, shared their thoughts about the coming Sunday and where they, each and all, had been led in their prayerful consideration of what to preach. When I shared what I was thinking, one member, rather sharply, I felt, asked: “Where is the good news in that!” Although I took the point critically, even as a criticism, I chose not to be offended (as if I ever have the first and last word on anything!). This discernment led me to shape, indeed, sharpen the fundamental point as one of choice, which allowed me, on further reflection, to accept the criticism with gratitude. A key learning — re-learning — for me!

    Love

    Like

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