2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost 2 August 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 13B/Ordinary 18B/Pentecost 9 August 2, 2009 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

The first reading, 2 Samuel, gives us much to think about in a variety of different ways. If we’re still emotionally connected with the preceding verses, the story of David and Bathsheba, we can read today’s continuation of that story as David getting his just deserts. If we see David as iconic, and last week I suggested we might see David as iconic of us, then we might look to the readings for some further insights and question the place and the process of God in terms of judgement and justice, particularly in relation to our behaviour. Does 2 Samuel introduce us to or confirm for us a theology of karma – what you give is what you get? Do you believe that if you sin God will punish you? Do you think if you do wrong or if you do bad things then wrong or bad things will come back to you? Now if you believe any of those positions, if you believe in such a personal interaction with God and in a process of sin judgement and punishment, that’s very understandable; 2 Samuel is one of many biblical references that support such a belief. These same references have been taken as foundations of our culture and have been culturally absorbed into the very fabric of our justice system.

This traditional understanding is a primitive understanding. It’s dating back to a time when God was understood to be personally operative and personally controlling each and every aspect of creation. It’s a primitive understanding, it’s a primitive theology that is still maintained by the demands for orthodoxy in the churches. Scripture and theology can and must be read and understood in the now, in the present and not in the past.

I left a blank here. I want to read from the Anglican Messenger –this is a world first here, me referring to the Anglican Messenger. Two quotes illustrate the point perfectly. This is a brilliant paper; it’s by Phyllis Trible who is a fairly well-known feminist theologian; she speaks well: :The Bible is like a pilgrim it wanders through history, encounters new settings and never refuses to be locked in the box of the past.’ The Bible as a pilgrim! Here’s another one, this is a lovely image. ‘Positioned much like rowers of boats, we readers of the Bible face the past as we engage the present and look toward the future.” It’s a stunning way to say it. This is how we should be engaging these readings, not waiting to hear what the church thinks, but really engaging with them as if they were heard for the first time today. And in that hearing looking towards tomorrow. That doesn’t mean we ditch the past, because as we engage the readings we will engage with the whole of history, as well as the whole of creation. If we read the scriptures with an open, critical and questioning mind we might be amazed at what we find – a fuller appreciation of life, fuller appreciation of what does constitute the world, the creation, our part and our place in it; the scriptures have an application to our life, to our growth, as individuals and as community.

So we go back to 2 Samuel and we question the theology of karma. And we discover the flaw of an earlier and primitive understanding. The classic question, ‘why do bad things happen to good people and vice versa’. Karma is not applicable at a personal level, it is applicable to the whole. Uriah can vouch for that; he did nothing wrong and yet he cops it. Every word, every thought and every deed contributes to the unfolding of creation. Our actions in thought, word and deed affect the whole. We might get away with greed, but somewhere, someone will go hungry. An act of violence might not directly result in violence returned to us, but each and every act of violence contributes to the energy of all. And as we realise that we’re not in a one-to-one relationship with our own actions, so too we open ourselves to an understanding of God: a theology that is not personally centred, but that is always in relation to the whole.

2 Samuel invites us to look again at the foundations and the reference points from which we determine life direction, and behind the narrative of this story and what led into it from last week, there’s a process that drives or directs the unfolding of the story. The prophet Nathan guides and informs the king. Without that process there is no narrative; it’s the interaction between the prophet Nathan and the king. The rulers and the rules by which we live need to be tempered and questioned in relation to the Divine and that’s where I think Paul comes from.

Paul does not accept the rule of the day. He does not accept the rule of the day from the rulers of the day, nor from the religious leaders of the day. He calls it into question and breaks out of the mould. Paul is steeped deeply in the Jewish tradition, and yet he is able to let go of the chosen race and see that actually, this is a tradition that speaks of all people not of one people. And as he comes to that, Paul asks us ‘to live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called’. That reading today reads like a sermon that should be preached at a baptism. It provides us with a direction for the arrow of faith, calling us ‘to make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’. That unity of the spirit affirms that we are very much a part of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God. He goes on to affirm that ‘each – that’s all of us and everyone else - each has been given grace according to the measure of Christ's gift’ – the gift of grace is identified as being different for different people, and yet of one purpose: ‘for building up the body of Christ to the measure of the full stature of Christ’.

To get into these readings there’s a lot we need to leave behind. If we can leave behind a primitive theology of the past and with it an understanding of a personal God, then when we hear and appreciate the universal nature of Paul’s life direction to the Ephesians, we then have an opportunity to question for ourselves, what is the nature and the purpose of our worship, of our life?

We come not to worship Christ, for Christ never sought that. We come not even to acknowledge Christ - we don’t come here to look back to some superman of the past. Rather we come together to realise the revelation of Christ – to find in ourselves and our being together that we, we are the Body of Christ. And in our Eucharist, we break the bread to share that one body, to symbolically mark that, yes we are members of one body, and it is the body of Christ. It is. Nothing else that has that claim. The second coming that has a theology all of its own, is not another visit by another superman, it is us realising who we are: WE are the body of Christ.

Peter Humphris <