Sermon for August 5, 2018: We are the man (The Rev. Dr. Deborah White)
Updated: Aug 13, 2021
One of my least and most favorite biblical stories is today’s Hebrew scripture about King David. That’s because, similar to our New Testament friend Peter, David is one of the most human of our religious patriarchs. Unlike many of our more famous biblical figures, we are able to follow David from childhood to death – to watch him develop and grow in grace and, especially in our most recent lessons about him, to see him make some of the most terrible mistakes a human being can make. David, reminds us of ourselves – the good and the bad.
This is the hero David, who was innocently tending sheep when his brothers marched off to war against the Philistines. And just like the arrogant teenager that he was, when they came back chattering about a Philistine giant that no one could kill, he said he’d give it a try. This is the same David who, after actually managing to slay Goliath, enjoyed the favor of the king, only to experience a complete turn-around when he subsequently became the object of Saul’s paranoia, jealousy, and persecution. This is the same David who wrote beautiful love poetry and, in our lesson a couple of weeks ago, danced joyfully and unselfconsciously for God. But it also the same David who saw a beautiful, married woman, got her pregnant and, when he couldn’t pass the baby off as her husband’s, sent her husband to the front lines of war so he would be killed. It is the same David who married the beautiful woman and had a beautiful child without giving her dead first husband a second thought. This is someone who had the capacity for tremendous good and reprehensible evil – in other words, a human being.
Then, as we heard today, the prophet Nathan appeared at his door to tell David a tragic story about a poor man who was forced to sacrifice his beloved lamb to the hunger of a spoiled rich man. Hearing this story, we are told, David burned with anger at the crimes of such a horrible, greedy rich man. Until Nathan pointed his finger right in the self-righteous king’s face, informing him that the story was about him, that he is the man. Just as we sometimes find when we take an honest look at ourselves. If David, the great king and favorite of God, can also be a truly repulsive sinner and disappointment to God, then anyone of us can too. We are the man. It’s one thing to believe in loving our neighbors, but it’s often another thing to actually practice it.
Paul’s disciples in Ephesus also struggled with putting their beliefs into action, mostly because they were so busy fighting with each other over whose ideas were right that they forgot to act right. In the letter we just heard, Paul tells them that they have to learn to get along, to be honest with each other, to be kind to each other, and to help one another - because that’s what Jesus did for them. What a waste of Christ’s sacrifice, Paul tells them, for the people he died for not to use his life and death as an example of how human beings should get along, but instead use it as an excuse to fight with one another.
What a waste indeed - a waste we should be familiar with. Because more than one thousand years later, instead of using our Christian beliefs to find common ground with others, we use them to argue about the differences between us. Like the Ephesians, we sometimes act like children, “blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people's trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” We are afraid to confront the truth of our own sin – the behaviors that separate us from God and from one another. We are as far from being one body and one Spirit as the people of Ephesus. We have, like them, become susceptible to clinging to our truths – our gifts, our traditions- rather than seeking deeper faith in ourselves and other people. We’re taking so many selfies that we’ve lost the big picture. We have become too focused on the method and lost the message. The big picture is not about people being of different faiths. The big picture is not about people without faith. The big picture is not “other” Christians. The big picture is Christ.
Jesus said to the people, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” And when he said it, the people around him had no idea what he was talking about. How can a man be bread? That not only doesn’t make sense, but it’s a disgusting idea. It’s cannibalism. And, by the way, the idea of eating flesh would have been just as shocking to the crowd around Jesus as it is to us. Drinking blood was considered even more repulsive, because eating bloody meat violated Jewish dietary laws.
Jesus chose a deliberately vulgar idiom to explain the saving grace that was to come from his sacrifice to demonstrate that he recognized the base nature of human beings. Jesus was telling us that he knows that we are more interested in ourselves than our fellow humans, that we lie to ourselves and to one another - that we praise God with our mouths while typing evil with our hands – and that he still accepts us as we are. Jesus never said, “Be kind to one another,” and then I will forgive you. God did not forgive David because he had previously done good. God forgave David not only because he immediately recognized his sin, but also and more importantly, because he instantly acknowledged his complete reliance on God. David knew that he could not talk, lie, or earn his way out of it. He could not depend on his own righteousness. He had to throw himself on God’s mercy. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses. Wash me through and through from my wickedness and cleanse me from my sin…Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.” David knew that his forgiveness could only come from one source: the Lord God Almighty. Fortunately for David – and for us – God is always merciful. That’s why he sent his son into the human world to love us as ourselves – to love us in spite of ourselves.
Jesus loved us first –knowing that we would be mean, judgmental, and self-absorbed. Jesus loved us first so we would know how to be tenderhearted and forgiving by imitating him. Jesus gave himself to be the bread- the bread that represents his very essence - so that we could learn to absorb its goodness, not because the people believed, but because without it they couldn’t believe. He did not wait for those around him to be kind to him or to one another. He did not preach and teach until they were ready to accept his sacrifice. Jesus gave himself without regard for how his gift would be received. He gave himself as an example of the good humanity was capable of. He gave himself because he believed in the saving power of God. He gave himself because he was the saving power of God.
It is up to us to accept that saving power. Like David, we have to humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord. Like the Ephesians, we have to put aside our bitterness in order to build up and give grace to others. If we want justice in this world, we have to bring it about. If we want truth in this world, we have to tell it. And if we want love in this world, then we have to be that love. But first we have to accept the gift of life that will give us the strength to do those things.
We do it by sharing in the essence of Jesus Christ through symbolically eating and drinking of him. When you take communion, you acknowledge that you are part of the body of Christ – of both the unruly humanity he died for and of the kingdom of God that he lives for. You are being offered the bread of life. If your spirit is hungry, take it. If your heart is heavy, revive yourself through it. If you are weak and tired, gather strength from it. And when you are filled, go out into the world, no longer merely human but purified, powerful, and perfected, and feed God’s people – feed them in the name of the one who gave himself to be the true and saving bread of life. AMEN.