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Friday, August 28, 2015

Jesus has a demon!??

Spiritual Warfare is a topic that the typical Christian shies away from. The media ("Exorcist" movies) tend to be quite dramatic, exciting, and terrifying to most of us. There is reason for fear, the dark side is dangerous and treacherous. Even so, the majority of spiritual warfare is rather plain, mundane and even "boringly ordinary."  Also, baptized Christians are empowered and authorized to defeat the Evil One. We have a mission to do this. However, few of us are educated. Not even clergy.

In discussing a lifetime of issues with someone recently, they shared that several times they had reached out to priests who had supplied limited support. None of them seemed to have discerned any spiritual dimension to the problem (in spite of some pretty obvious indications). My point is not to publish her story but to illustrate a larger church problem. In seven years of seminary (three years undergraduate and four years theology) I never had one class on demons, Satan or exorcisms. Obviously, studies in the Gospels included some mention, but only as related to the texts (with some question about the exact meaning of the words "demon" and "satan"). Secular thinking and a 'flat' material universe was strongly influential on our imaginations. Psychology, sociology, and other sciences have given us remarkable insight into the breadth and depth of human persons. However, the assumption that there is not a spiritual realm, is rife with its own problems. The human person is a body animated by a soul (physical and non-physical). The "spirit" of each person is the image of God, we share in God's life and being. The "flesh" is the whole person in our fallen state. It includes sins and brokenness of mind, body and soul--flesh is not simply the body and its desires. To see the flesh as the prison of the soul is a popular idea, but as we saw last week, it is more Greek philosophy than Biblical. The human person is flesh and blood, but also spiritual. The resurrection body will be a spiritual body, though still physical. 

Friday, the MP Gospel (Mk 14) is the passion of Jesus in the Garden. He asks the disciples to pray with Him as He experiences the deep spiritual battle which He describes as "sorrowful, even onto death"-- "stay with Me and watch" He tells His friends....He prays in torment to be delivered form His task. He returns to find the men asleep. "Could you not watch one hour?" He asks, "Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit indeed is willing but the flesh is weak." As we all know, they could not stay awake. They fail. And then it is too late; the betrayer arrives and they are unprepared. They have slept not prayed and watched.

For me, this illustrates "spiritual warfare" very well. We see that the work of the demonic is appears rather ordinary. It is the battle for prayer or sleep... It is also expressed in the choices of human authorities, in this case Jewish and Roman. The abuse of justice is demonic. The power at work is human, yet Satanic. Last Sunday at eucharist the second reading was from Ephesians 6. We were exhorted to put on the full armor of God. We were instructed that "our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, authorities and powers of this present darkness [NB, post Jesus, darkness still] against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." Spirit and Material are two dimensions which interpenetrate. Each is 100% active. So our disciplines must also take in each dimension: mental, emotional, physical, etc. Spiritual exercises alone are not sufficient for the whole human person.

Yet, the realm of the spirit is hard to penetrate. You must be of God (Jesus says). Prayer and obedience are the prerequisite to the knowledge of God and discerning Him. In John 8:47-59 we hear the "Jews" accuse Jesus: "Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon?" The first stage in spiritual warfare is the belief that there is a spiritual realm. However, the next step is the challenge: how does one discern the demonic. Clearly, Jesus was a good man, so how could He be accused of being possessed? Pause and ponder that amazing idea. How can the Good One be called evil. In another place, Jesus refers to this as the unforgivable sin, the sin against the Holy Spirit: a heart so distant from God that it considers God to be demonic.

How then to enter spiritual combat?
1. Watch and pray. Cry out to God with a submissive heart.Attend to the orthodox faith, the truth. Immerse yourself in it.
2. Watch and wait. Love openly and freely, especially love those nearby in family, church, work and friends. In loving others we learn to love, and loving God requires that we know how to love (cf 1 John)
3. Watch, wait, pray. Time spent in patient attentiveness to God, even when He "feels far away" is the foundational. It is about being open to God, not "experiences." Those who seek God find God. Listen and learn His voice. Learn His heart and mind. (scripture and sacramental mediation of church)
4. Watch and guard. Be ruthless in seeking sin, hold yourself to the Divine standard.  Repent and trust His (hesed) covenant mercy-faithful love-kindness.  Confront the evil one and rebuke lies, break covenants with 'other gods'; you will know It if you know God. It's lies and deceit will be more obvious. Battle to stay in God: a struggle, a constant choice, a vocation and lifelong journey.
5. Watch and pray. Ask the Holy Spirit to live in you (The recent Temple readings in Kings are metaphors for your heart and body too) Ask Jesus to be Lord over thoughts, feelings and desires. Ask God to make you His child.

The battle ground in spiritual warfare is you. You are the front lines of the war: in your mind and heart, body and soul, in your spirit. We tend to project the inner conflict onto the world (where there is also a Great Battle being waged). The public realm is rife with our denial and accusations--this is what happened to Jesus. The leaders had lost their way (spiritually) and in the battle "for the faith" (and God) they ended up not recognizing His face (in Jesus). If we take the plank from our own eyes, we can help others with their eyes. If we meet Jesus in our heart then we can recognize Him at work in the world (especially at work in those with whom we disagree or find unappealing)...

Spiritual warfare is unavoidable. You fight and win, you fight and lose, or you do not fight and you are consumed...

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Solomon: So it Begins

1 Kings 1-3
The end of the united Kingdom of Israel is fast approaching. The seeds of division are manifest in the two competing interest groups for successor (Adonijah and Solomon). David has grown cold and impotent--literally and figuratively. (He is 70 years old, 2 Sam 5:4-5 & 1 Kings 2:11, reigned forty years from age of thirty) The tragedy of David is what could have been, even though he was God's man in a special way. A reminder that being "chosen" (person or people) is a grace and also a vocation... There is no promise it will work out.

Adonijah is described in terms similar to Absalom (chariots, good looks, and meal) which probably is intended as a negative. Much of the old guard is with him and he does not invite the Solomon coalition to the dinner. We are left to fill in the details of the political maneuvering. The decision to not invite Solomon (with Nathan, the prophet and Benaiah the leader of the mercenary soldiers) backfires. While he is at dinner, Nathan and Bathsheba make their move and David appoints Solomon as king. Note that Solomon rides into the city on an ass and (1:40) the "earth quaked." [This reminds me of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem in Matthew's Gospel.] The apocalyptic literature is rife with earthquakes as a sign of God's saving activity. Perhaps the literal meaning of this text is intended to be a metaphor or a symbol of that?

Jonathan (the priest Abiathar's son) comes to Adonijah's festival with the bad news that David has placed Solomon on his throne. Recounting the details of the coronation, ending with David's prayer for Solomon, Jonathan leaves the guest in fear and trembling as they slink off in various directions. Adonijah, fearing for his life, goes to cling to the temple altar, demanding Solomon promise to spare his life. He is sent home with the admonition that he will be judged by his own behaviors. 

Much of chapter 2 (v5-v36) is not included in our reading cycle. David's more positive charge to Solomon, which echoes the Deuteronomic covenant with Moses, reflects the 'conditional' aspect of the relationship with God (be faithful) as derived from the unconditional love and choice of God (grace). However, in a scene (Don Corleone instructing Michael) which could be right out of "The Godfather" David then proceeds to list his enemies and instruct his son on how these men must be dispatched. The hard realities of a fallen world are reflected in the text. One 5th Century Church Father (Theodoret of Cyr) explains that "the ways of life of people are different--" philosopher, political/civil, military moral-- and Solomon must be judged for his actions as a king.  His brother--the would be king--makes a request of Bathsheba, to intervene on his behalf so he can marry Abishag, the last woman to be with David; this is an overtly political move and leads  to his execution.

Having taken care of business, Solomon is established as king. However,in  a case of foreshadowing, we are told he married an Egyptian. Egypt has long been the "threat" to the promise [recall Abraham (Hagar) and Pharaoh's treatment of the Hebrew slaves]. This foreign woman will be the mortal wound to Solomon's reign as "foreign wives lead astray to foreign gods." 

Ironically, the next story speaks of God's offer: "Ask what I should give you." This is truly the question at the heart of human existence. We hear a similar question from Jesus in John's Gospel (what do you seek?)  "What do you want?" we are asked by God (and life). Our answer makes all the difference. Solomon requested wisdom--he wants it to rule God's people. It is a good answer and God gives him that and more. (Jesus says, "Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and everything else will be added to you). However, the conditions of the promise remain---"walk in My ways" says the Lord. Always we find the Bible offers: Grace and obedience, gift and faithful response, Gospel and Torah.

The reading from today's lectionary is the famous story of the two prostitutes. We do well to read deeper into the text to uncover the revelation. One woman finds her baby dead so she switches her child with the other woman. The two come to the king to seek his judgment. When he offers to split the baby, the real mother reacts in a selfless way, while the other indicates she is fine with the compromise. Solomon discerns the real mom.

The women, both harlots, were understood in the early church as 'types' (Israel and the church, or two types of Christians). The issue is "real love" and the way to discern it (selfless vs self). The wise person sees through to the truth. Be wise!

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bi Polar Truth

Sunday School Class Notes
this will be our expansion on the underlying assumption of the homily Sunday and the basis of our class discussion

1 Kings 8:27 "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you much less this house that I have built!"

Herein lies the problem of the "great divide" between God and His creation .
God is infinite.....  creation is finite
God is perfect....   creation is limited and ultimately imperfect
God is always...    creation is here and now, there and then
God is actual...      creation is mix of actual and potential (so it changes)
God is and has to be...    creation is contingent (so it could not be or could be different)
God is beautiful...    creation is beauty mixed with ugliness
God is complete…   creation is incomplete (and waits for ‘salvation’)
God transcends creation because God is God......No “thing” is God, nothing else is like God
SO how does pure and holy and perfect and eternal and etc. Spirit encounter the world of creation?
Approaches to God include
1.     Atheism: “no” “god”
2.     Pantheism: “all” “god” everything is god, which is very mystical and affirms the sacredness of the world, but it is a non-personal god (unbiblical)
3.     Sacramentalism; (Hebrew influenced, “human is an animated body,” divine emanations (word, glory, spirit) and mediators (angels, fire, word, etc.) God is ‘incarnational.’ (Philippians: kenosis= God must be graspable by humans in their particularity and limitations. SO God "takes" on particularity and limitations). His presence is mediated in and through something created. We do not encounter the fullness of God because we cannot encounter the fullness of God. He is “veiled” from our sight and must “reveal” (apocalypse or revelation literally means unveiling’) There is a need for discernment and faith to see God.
4.     Gnosticism: (Greek dualism influenced “body is prison of soul”) salvation through enlightenment //knowledge. Body and spirit are unbridgeable. Two approaches: a-moral (feed hungers because the body does not matter, only soul) and ascetical (beat body down because it is the problem)
5.     Non-creedal (heretics) Jesus is not truly human, He is fully divine. He has all God’s attributes (like perfection) with no limitations. Jesus is God plain and simple [practical denial of the Gospel portrait and incarnation]
Why does it matter?
1.     One assumption is created reality shares in God’s nature. However, to share in is not to encompass completely. This view (which denies observable reality) is expressed in the claim since God is perfect and unlimited this means (by logical deduction) that God communicates this perfection to… The most likely candidates for this perfection are church (Body of Christ, Communion of Saints, filled and lead by Holy Spirit, ministers are ambassador of Christ), the sacraments (rituals which regenerate us, forgive us, heal us, make us one with Jesus, fill us with the Holy Spirit, make us holy ministers and make us one flesh) or the bible (written book shares Gods nature and is inerrant, perfect and divine)
2.     The life of faith then becomes less about a trusting relationship with God and obedient response to His call then it is a lifelong battle to defend one’s belief against those who do not adhere to it. Lots of energy is spent trying to explain the contradictions away. We do not think deeply about what our beliefs entail (the “if this…then that” of belief). We end up living in denial trying to not let the logical consequences of our beliefs interfere with the daily living. And in the modern age (and post-modern age) the false teaching has no appeal. People reject it and so think they must reject Jesus and Christianity.
3.     The false belief is about power. It protects us from the uncertainties of life and the struggle of faith. If I have the church, or the Bible, or the sacraments (the visible and controllable)---well I do not need God (the invisible and free). I can interpret and therefore I can decide what things mean. I am Lord (Adam) and I am in charge.
What is the alternative?
1.     If the world cannot contain God then I can embrace a sacramental worldview and live with the bipolarity of life. I can face reality and understand that “already, but not yet” means healing and sickness, exorcism and demonic, life and death, enlightenment and confusion, light and dark, peace and agitation, etc. etc. co-exist side by side.
2.     God is here among us Silent, yet speaking. The presence and work of God is partial and mediated. The goodness of God flows through the mixed goodness and evil/badness of things, people, and words. If Holy Communion does not produce mystical union, so what, it is still Jesus! If the Bible is not an errorless science or history book, so what, it is still God’s word speaking to church universal and particular human that He loves us and is faithful. If churchmen are still sinners, so what, there is still the preaching of the word and the saving works of the kingdom being done.
3.     More importantly, the world opens up as a sacrament. Church is an intensification of God saving us in any human community. Sacraments are an intensification of any thing or event which convey God providential and saving love. The Bible is an intensification of any inspired word, written or spoken, which conveys a communication from God. When we deify something and strip it of its humanity it ceases to be part of this world. It is different in “kind”, something “not of this world.” But if these things are still of this world, then there is a difference in degree, not kind. They are more sacred than others, but they are still like the others. And sometimes God can and will use the others to achieve His ends. So we can live our lives looking for God everywhere, because we have encountered Him somewhere!

Sunday 8/23

1 Kings 8:1, 6, 10-11, 22-30, 41-43; Ephesians 6:10-20; John 6:56-69
(this is my original homily; which was edited and modified. However, it provides a wider background to my point so I am publishing it)

 IF God is everywhere, why do we need a Temple (or churches)?
Because... Because God wants to encounter us. And the world and the people in it are in space and time.

Remember Eden. Humans had daily contact with God, but there were  challenges (subduing and tending) on earth and most of the time "God was not around." Already we are alerted to the paradox of God's Presence! Then Original Sin changes everything. They broke faith with God. It wasn't just breaking a rule (though it was that) it was a choice to reject God. God could no longer trust the Humans because they did not trust Him. They took their hearts from Him and turned to their own desires. The "not presence" of God creates space for "godlessness." It impacts their marriage. It impacts their kids (Cain killed Abel). It impacts the whole world. If we do not love God first then we cannot love one another...

The world, emptied of God's "near" presence devolved into chaos, confer the Noah story. People are evil. Even so, the absent God remains invisibly present. He chooses a particular man--Abraham--and sets him apart as a solution. Abraham, God said, will be a great nation and he will be the source of blessing for the world. This particular man in that particular time is where salvation of everything takes another step forward---where divine absence gives way to divine presence. The story of Abraham is revelation God works in the limitations of time and space....

Yes, God is already providentially present sustaining creation; but God is absent as well. Absent especially from the minds and hearts of the human race who seek and serve other gods. God's Kingdom is "outside" and must "come" "break in" (Jesus' words). There is a "prince of this world" (Jesus' word) or a "god of this world" (Paul's term) who reigns. The world is ruled by Satan, a usurper in league with the rebellious humans who have turned their backs on Him and His love. These NT words are true in the Jewish Scripture as well.

Joseph saves the descendents of Abraham . Then, a new king in Egypt comes to the throne, one who forgets Joseph. He views the Hebrew family as a swarming and dangerous infestation of the land and oppresses them. God, hears their cries in Heaven and comes to save! Pay attention: the idea of God being in Heaven, far away, is another metaphor trying to capture the paradox of "presence/absence." He "comes down" to one man, Moses. Again.

In the book of Exodus we learn that God is in a tent with His people. God makes a covenant at Sinai. The salvation was grace, unmerited love, but the covenant is conditional. Ongoing salvation is governed by the expectations of the Ten Commandments and the Torah. He is now among His people through the written Word. This is an ongoing presence!

 God is also present in the exodus in Cloud and Fire. These are also outward signs of His invisible spiritual presence. God speaks to Moses in the tent. The ark of the covenant is another human construction in and through which God makes His presence palpable. Over and over we see God is at present but His full divine presence is limited and veiled... One needs a sacramental worldview is to discern His presence and activity. [more on that in Sunday school]

The God present in the mobile ark reminds us that God is on the move, He is not contained or under our control. The ark is 'sacramental' presence, but the ark is not all there is to God. Solomon is chosen to build the Temple for God. Why, well because ancient people need a Temple for their God. God (who is everywhere) must be present in time and space for encounter. Three detailed chapters describe the construction. Chapter 8 (today's first reading) is the dedication ceremony. We read that the ark of the covenant is brought into the Temple along with holy vessels. (v10) [Note, the long poles remain--God is not in a cage] As in the Exodus, a cloud fills the house of the Lord and the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord. In the verse, 12, we get more information about the cloud. It is araphel (thick darkness) (cf Ex 20:21 and Dtn 4:11). God is surrounded by impenetrable darkness. This is a second expression of the bi-polarity of Divine reality: God is absent/present, light/dark. The human mind can know God, but we can not understand this paradoxical God. 

Solomon says (13) "I have surely built you a place to dwell in, a secure place for you to abide forever," but later we learn that God does not live in the Temple, it is God's Name which is there (v. 18, 19,29) The Name and the Glory of God are in the Temple. It is a "partial" presence or better a "lower intensity" presence. [the brightness of light is an apt analogy] Verse 27 expresses the dilemma, Solomon says, "But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You [God], much less this house that I have built."

This is the problem. God is too big but we want to explain Him with our 'little' theories and theologies. Look at this box. [visual effect the size of cigar box]  Can I get into it? Yes, but only a bit of me then it would be crushed or fall apart. It could hold only a small part of me, but we could stuff it with information about me: letters, keep sakes, or photos, for example. I have heard people say, "All I have left of my spouse, or child is in this box." And we know what they mean. We also understand that no box can really contain a person. The physical, mental, emotional, spiritual dimensions of a human person cannot be stored in a box. What is true of us is even more true of God. Solomon knew that and God revelation to us in this Scripture text is the wonderful reminder that God is bigger than our whole world. God is too big for a "box" the size of the galaxy... .

I believe that much of our personal agitation and confusion is generated by our refusal to deeply  believe this. We still want God to "fit into" our boxes and think He will "be and do" what we want Him to be and do. If He is God then we expect a 'perfect' church, or a 'perfect' Bible, a 'perfect' minister and a 'perfect' theology (it goes on and on). We are disappointed (consciously or unconsciously) with God because the real world of our experience does not match up with our fantasy world. We think that if "God is here in this" that means God in the fullness and perfection of His divinity is here---so we ignore the real world and fantasize what it "should" be like....

No Temple can contain God, except the "human Temple" Jesus! But even in Jesus the fullness of God is somehow limited; it is poured into a human container. The completeness of God is lived within the limitations of a frail human being.  Humanity is where God can best be present. It is in the first story of the Bible words spoken at creation: Let us make man in our image and likeness. God abides in the human temple of Jesus because humans are the image of God. We are more open to His presence than written words or holy things because we are alive. 

This is why I say Jesus is The Sacrament of God
and the church is The sacrament of Jesus
and that we, you and I, filled with His Holy Spirit, are the living sacraments, in and through which Jesus works in the world today.
and the Word and seven sacraments are powerful points of sacramental encounter with God
and the very nature of created reality is sacramental so God works in all things...

But not even the heavens can contain God, so every sacrament hides far more than it reveals... And the limitations of created reality--"the not-God-ness" of everything--means we never see the full perfection of God this side of the Kingdom...SO be patient, but be hungry for more!

Be hungry for the Bread of Life. 
Jesus said, "Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me and I in them." Many left because the teaching was too tough. Jesus knew who would stay and who would go. Most of us refuse to believe it. We refuse to fully believe that Jesus is in us and able to continue the same amazing ministry in and through us.

We are not perfect. We are not totally complete. The fullness of God's presence in us will be be limiting factors of what God does, but (good news)
He can continue: setting sinners free, healing and exorcising, reconciling people to God and one another in us and through us.... Anything Jesus did then Jesus can do now. The only thing stopping Him is our own "Temple guard"--you know, the doubts, fears, indifference of our hearts. The false ideas and lies, the negative hopeless feelings which block Jesus' work.

YOU are a temple of God.
Jesus abides in you. today. now. already.

Think about the amazing possibilities...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

(Thursday) 2 Sam 19:1-23
The grieving David, a father in pain, is confronted by Joab. David covers his face  and Joab accuses him of covering the face of his army with shame. The victory has been turned to an experience of defeat (Absalom stole the hearts of Israel, now David's troops 'steal' into the city like those who 'steal' in with shame at running away). The political duties of the king trump his personal feelings. He is at risk of losing his army. He treats those who are faithful to him badly, and mourns the usurper; this is unsustainable in a leadership role. His loyal troops gather around the king at the gate, while Israel (all those who backed Absalom) flees. There is no record of what David said.

Suddenly, the narrative shifts to discussion amongst the rebel tribes of Israel. The memory of David's past victories, and the fall of Absalom lead them to reclaim David as king. David sends to his own tribe, Judah, asking why they should not be first to take him back. David then asks Absalom's general, Amasa, to be in charge of his army. (Recall this is his nephew and Joab's cousin). The Hebrew text says "he inclined the heart of all the men of Judah..." but he is an uncertain reference (David or Amasa).

David's return is related in similar fashion to his shameful departure. Once again he encounters numerous people, including Shimmei who begs mercy for his previous "perverse" behavior (cursing king). As in the previous encounter, a soldier offers to slay Shimmei for his offense, but David harshly rebukes him. There is to be no more death on this day. This day when David is once more the undisputed king.

(Friday) 2 Sam 19:24-43
The return parade continues, now Mephibosheth return. His appearance reflects mourning during David's absence. (Recall his servant claimed that he had been glad to see David

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Readings 2 Samuel 17&18

(Sunday) 2 Samuel 17:1-23
David's prayer (and intervention) work. Hushai contradicts the advice of Ahithopel and convinces Absalom not to attack his father. The narrative implies that David would have been vulnerable to such an aggressive move, probably because he had only the force of 600 personal body guard. I have been asked why God saved David when he had sinned so much. It is important to remember that God is acting on behalf of His people, for purposes beyond our understanding. There is a personal connection with David, of course, but it is not simply that. Our individualism leads us to ignore that God loves His people. What happens to individuals is most important for what it means to the whole people.

Ahithophel commits suicide in response to Absalom rejecting his advice. Is it loss of face (they are a shame culture)? Is it the realization that Absalom will now fail and David will succeed so he is avoiding David's wrath? The Bible does not give the reasons, perhaps an ancient reader would think it obvious. He hangs himself, while David, aided by his inside informants (who escape their pursuers in a manner similar to the spies in Judges), escapes to safety. The Providence of God is through human instruments.

(Monday) 2 Sam 17:24-18:8
Absalom chooses Amasa over Joab as general of the army. The brief lineage illustrates one aspect of this tragedy; the two generals are nephews of David and first cousins. The civil war pits brother against brother. The Biblical family-always at war with one another (Cain and Abel) the fruit of orignal sin... David wants to lead the army, but his men refuse. They understand that this is not a war, it is focused on David alone. If he dies all is lost. So Joab and two others generals are sent while David remains behind at the gate (recall Absalom had fostered the coupe at a city gate). The victory over the rebel army is complete and we are told the forest consumes more than the sword (Lord of the Rings has a similar story). More mystery...

(Tuesday) 2 Sam 18:9-18
Previously David had requested that Absalom be "covered" ("deal gently with the young man"). The text makes clear everyone knows it. Encountering David's men, Absalom (the beautiful) rides under a tree and is caught by the neck in the branches. As the mule rides off he is left hanging (an image of his relationship with David). A long speech from the soldier who finds him reiterates that David wants Absalom spared. The Hebrew word play is rich. The soldier says he would not take money in his hand to kill Absalom, then Joab takes three sticks in his hand. [Alter argues the Hebrew is sticks, not darts.] The Hebrew tarq'a means to jab/pierce (with sticks and the sound of bugle call). He is jabbed in the heart while in the heart of the tree (tying back to the heart shaped dumplings of his sister Tamar and the multiple heart references in the previous chapters). Absalom is slaughtered and shamefully buried under rocks (with a brief reminder of the commemorative pile of stones  Absalom had piled in his own honor in the past).

Joab proves to be a most complex character. He is the one who brought Absalom back to David, now against David's request, he slays the man. The Bible does not explain the motivation for either act. Perhaps the writing, like a work of art, is meant to be interpreted by the reader? At any rate, we are reminded of the problem with people. In the end, each of us does was we think best, many times in conflict with the wishes of others. Can anyone ever be trusted? [Jn 2:24-25 "Jesus on His part would not entrust Himself to others, because He knew all people and needed no one to testify about everyone; for He Himself knew what was in everyone."]

(Wednesday) 2 Sam 18:19-33
This is an unedited rendition of David finding out about the death of his son. [A couple weeks ago a shortened version was read at our Sunday eucharist and it was the primary focus of the homily that day and the subsequent blog post]. Ahimaaz, the priest Zadok's son, wants to deliver the message to David. Joab, calling him son prefers another deliver the bad news. Joab sends a Cushite (Ethiopian) instead, but Ahimaaz prevails and, taking a flatter route, is able to overtake the first man. The greeting "Shalom" (all is well) introduces the exchange, "Is it shalom for avshalom?" Like the priest Eli, David will learn of the death of his son at the city gate. Ahimaaz deftly avoids clearly answering the question (Alter says the Hebrew is somewhat garbled, reflecting the stumbling attempt to communicate). The Cushite  announces the death without fanfare. We know David's response

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

2 Samuel 15 and 16

[Thursday]  2 Sam 15:1-18
Absalom acts like royalty, with chariots and fifty runners before him. Absalom begins "campaigning", rising early to intercept complaintants before they see the king, filling their ears with promises of "if I were king I would take care of you!" He will give "everyone" what they want, he declares, then he "would take hold of them" (same words as Amnon's rape of Tamar) and "kiss their hands" (connected to David's kiss a few verses earlier). He "stole the hearts of the men of Israel" with nonsensical but appealing promises. Interestingly, the first use of the term leb / heart  is Genesis 6:5,6 where God is grieved to His heart because the heart of humans is evil.

For four years Absalom does his work, unnoticed apparently. His father is a shell of the man he once was. In Hebron Absalom has his picked men proclaim "Absalom is king." The coupe begins and many innocents are in the crowd. The Scriptures do not provide a detailed account of David's reign, but the widespread strength of the conspiracy reflects significant dissatisfaction with him. Certainly enough that Absalom was considered a suitable alternative...

Outnumbered and at risk, David goes on the run. His new situation reflective of the times when Saul pursued him. All leave except ten concubines who are left behind to tend things. Perhaps this is a sign of confidence of a happy return? At any rate, it sets the stage for the prophecy of Nathan to be fulfilled, 'another man will lie with your wives in the sun'    (2 Sam 12:11)

[Friday] As David leaves the city, his wits are about him. Ittai asks to come, but David tells the old man to stay behind; and Ittai pledges his everlasting faithfulness (eyes and ears inside). The priests Abiathar and Zadok appear carrying the ark. David pledges his faith in God and acceptance of the future as it unfolds (as God's will). David's unwillingness to try to "manipulate" God (taking the ark as protection) is a sign of his faith. No magic for him... However, the priests are also told to return so that they can communicate information to the fallen king.

David continues his journey, weeping and uncovered, up the Mount of Olives [Christian think on David's Heir, Jesus, and His own struggles in the same locale a millenium later]. More bad news as he learns that one of his advisors is now with Absalom. David prays for God to intervene and make the advice ineffective. Then he tells yet another faithful servant, Hushai this time, to remain behind. Hushai is tasked as the counter balance to Ahithophel (the betrayer). Note David acts so as to answer his own prayer. This is a sound principle as well. God provides but we must act so as to achieve our ends. There is no competition between us, we are to be in sync. (When praying blessings for others we should act to be a blessing for them as well. Ask God to reveal Himself to you, but pursue Him in spiritual disciplines!) The reading ends dramatically as Absalom and Hushai both enter the city; it is a preview of the fall of David's renegade son.

[Saturday] Chapter 16, Alter, following Polzin, notes the centrality of "head" in this writing. As David approaches the summit (head) of the hill he will suffer an violent verbal assault from a pro-Saul  Benjaminite (Shimei; another reminder of the brewing political realities in the first Kingdom of Israel). Heads are uncovered, mourners pour dust on their heads and there is a threat to cut off Shimei's head. It is all tied together in the humiliation David, the "head" or leader---and culminates in the Absalom's head hanging in the tree!

Ziba comes bearing  gifts (food and drink with some donkeys to ride) claiming that Mephibosheth has also turned on the king. [Recall he is the crippled son of Jonathan who called himself a "dead dog" in the face of David's kindness to him. "Dead dog" is what Shimei is called by David's right hand man who threatens his life; another verbal connector] It is unclear what truly happened, but (19:27) he will plead innocence of charge upon David's return. In real life, we know, we cannot always get the truth.

The fall of David is a reminder of the roller coaster ride of life. David is probably aware that his own bad choices and sin have come down upon him. He humbly accepts his fate. We are challenged to have a similar attitude in the face of our own misfortunes. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

2 Samuel: collapse of David begins

2 Sam 13
David lusted after another man's wife, and killed the husband. The prophet tells the king that the sword will not leave his house....

Today we read of the son Amnon who "loves" (the Hebrew word-- 'ahab --for love includes appetites: lust) for his half-sister Tamar. His cousin is "wise", the Hebrew means clever and is morally neutral, and the  man figures out a way for Amnon, the crown prince, to have his way. The "love sick" man is counseled to feign illness and ask his father David to send for Absalom's sister Tamar to tend him. It is an evil plot.

Alter points out numerous verbal parallels between this story and Joseph (in reverse chronological order and reverse outcomes!) She prepares a meal for him (she kneads the dough, the Hebrew verb for this is the same root as heart leb, lebeb) and then he grabs her. She pleads (again the language alludes to other Biblical stories of rape Genesis 34, Judges 19:23). She offers an alternative: ask our father for me (which would have been an illegal marriage so perhaps it was a futile request made in desperation). He acts in his passion, rapes her, then is disgusted with her and sends her away (connotation of that Hebrew expression is divorce). In her ancient cultural setting this is even worse. He refers to her as "this one" (which Alter translates "this creature" to emphasize the brutal disdain). She goes into mourning, ashes on her head, tearing her garment (note, the term is only used of Joseph's clothing elsewhere in the Bible!). Absalom discerns what has happened and communicates to her that it will take time, but he will take care of this.

David is unable to act. He is very angry, yet does nothing. This will emerge as a new pattern of behavior for the King. Absalom, meanwhile, seethes with hatred for Amnon.

Monday we read the revenge. Absalom, biding his time for two years, invites his father to a grand event: the sheep shearing. David declines the offer. Note the king's sedentary life style (began with Bathsheba story) results in crisis after crisis. Absalom convinces the King to send his son, Amnon. The narrative emphasizes the presence of all  the king's sons. Amnon is slain but the rumor is that all have died. The king is devastated and tears his garments. The contrast of the promise to "be a house" and the threat to his progeny echoes the Abraham story (the offering of Isaac). As Absalom counseled Tamar, now Jonadab says to the king, "Do not take this matter to heart." Amnon lusted in his heart, and his heart was "merry with wine" at the moment he was slain. Per Alter, the cakes Tamar made for her brother were heart shaped dumplings. The heart ties together all of it. [One recalls the words of the fourth Gospel that Jesus knew what was in the heart of man... The heart, the personal core, the inner reality of humans, contains darkness as well as light.] David desires to harm Absalom, but the young man flees and is in hiding three years. Eventually David, the realist, comes to terms with Amnon's death.

[Tuesday] Joab, the general who figures so heavily in David's life, acts to bring Absalom back. David is ambivalent about the young man (the verbs could be translated 'for' or 'against') and once again David is confronted indirectly through a story. This time a 'wise woman' takes the role of Nathan, and her pleading about two sons (paralleling David's life like Nathan's story of the stolen lamb). The archetype, Cain and Abel, is in the background of her dilemma (one sons killed another in a field). Now she says they want to kill that son and leave her without an heir (or property!). David makes repeated promises to protect her son and then she turns the tables. The Hebrew (says Alter) is garbled and difficult to translate. Alter thinks it is reflecting the awkwardness of  accusing the king to his face. She tells the king that he is doing to his son what she said the men were going to do to her son! David, who is trapped, then asks if Joab is behind it all.

[Wednesday's reading] So David relents and sends for his son. Absalom returns home, but  he cannot see the face of the king. This fails to address the issue. We learn of Absalom's beauty and long hair (like Samson... like Samson he also burns Joab's fields.) The focus on physical attractiveness is perhaps a challenge to reflect on the shallow nature of such preoccupation. Beauty is an attribute of God, but godliness includes so much more than beauty!

Absalom's attention grabbing behavior (burning the field) achieves his goal, he is allowed to see the king. The king kisses him. Ahh! the terminology. It is not "David" or "his father", it is the king... With nothing else to go on, we can assume the word choice conveys a political formality. There is an outward sign which does not fully convey the inner reality of reconciliation. (think of politicians calling bitter opponents "my esteemed colleague" or "my good friend" when they are nothing of the sort...) The tragedy will continue to unfold in the readings in the days ahead.

Sunday 8/9 David, Absalom, Bread of Life

11th Sunday of Pentecost 2 Samuel 18 and John 6:35, 41-51

The raw emotion of David's lament over Absalom is human to its core. The story of this powerful tragedy is also God's revelation to us. What is God saying?

1. The story is an archetype of human politics: repeated again and again in history and literature. It is both timelessly mythic and concretely enfleshed in a particular time and space:

Once upon a time there was a man. He was valiant and mighty and gathered strong men around him. He fought battles and suffered many trials. He was a good man, brave and courageous. He defeated his enemies. He created a great kingdom. He became the great king. Finally there was rest.

It is the story of the legendary King Arthur in the Once and Future King...
It is the cycles of nations found in the historical analysis of the book The Fourth Turning, (Strauss and Howe)
It is the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, Third Reich, (and for those who do not like history)and currently unfolding in America....

The repetitive pattern: struggle and virtue create greatness, greatness produces success, success breeds complacency, which begets moral corruption, moral corruption creates social crisis. Great Kingdoms are destroyed from within, moral decay leads to rebellion and civil war. What "they" cannot do to us, "we" do to ourselves...

In this particular historical rendition of that mythic story, David abused his power and took Bathsheba, the wife of a faithful soldier Uriah. He arranged for her husband to be killed (with 'collateral damage' of other dead soldiers). The prophet Nathan declares God's word to him: "I have given you everything! I would have given you more! How could you do this? --- You have thrown it all away! You will suffer greatly."

Death is the fruit of David's sin...
Three of his children will die. The Kingdom torn by civil war. God's Dream for Israel gives way to the sad reality of a broken covenant...

David had many wives who produced many children. There is struggle and rivalry. One brother Amnon rapes a half-sister, Tamar. Her brother Absalom kills Amnon him for it. Israel's Kings are no different from other kings. God warned them (through Samuel) this would happen. The people had rejected God because they want to be like every other nation with a human king. Now they get what they want. The want a human king. They get a human king. They are just like everyone else...

David, like many great men, fails as a father. He neither punishes nor reconciles with Absalom. He leaves the young man hanging, figuratively. It is symbolic that Absalom will die, literally hanging in a tree. Because Absalom had not made peace with his father (the terrible irony is his name means 'the father is peace') he chose to rebel. The unresolved family conflict is also a national tragedy. Hundred, perhaps thousand of men were killed and maimed. The great suffering is "The way of the World"; the mighty seek power and wealth on the backs of the poor and helpless. It is what human kings do. Again and again and again...

2. It is also a personal, a family tragedy. The pathos of the heartbroken father crying "My son, my son, I wish I had died in place of you"-- words made more tragic because they are spoken too late. 

Each of us knows about relationships ruined and conflicts unending because of choices we have made. Some are worse than others, but who is immune from such suffering? In 1944 the Mills Brothers sang: "You always hurt the one you love, the one you shouldn't hurt at all"--- it resonates because it is true. We can see ourselves in Absalom. We see ourselves in David. Victim and perpetrator, heart broken and yet the cause of suffering for others, even innocent bystanders. Perhaps even worse than hostility and bitter conflict is the helpless experience we face when we simply do not know what to do, do not know what to say, do not know how to bridge the gap with someone we love, but cannot reach. The gap which breaks our hearts....

Who can heal the rift?
Who can patch it together so that love produces Shalom: Peace with harmony and abundance?

That is the hunger within us! A hunger for reconciliation and love, for trust and fellowship. The hunger is there because GOD put it there. [The Hebrew root for the word soul--nephesh-- is open mouth/hunger--God made man a living soul, a living hunger!] You were created for relationship: to love and to be loved. Perfect love  and complete love. There is a something within us that longs... 

God made you to trust and to be trustworthy, to be good parents and good children; to fully give and fully receive. God made us for community, to live together as one; safe and free, joyful and kind, singing, dancing, laughing...
So often we are afraid to sing, to dance, to trust, to care, to speak, to listen. To take a chance on love.

So we hunger for it. And like the third world poor we eat "dirt" to fill the void. We stuff ourselves with that 'which cannot satisfy' our deepest longings because we fear there is nothing to fill our hungry spirits and souls.
Why would God create us hungry? Because He created us for relationship, deep relationship, with Himself. He knows what we need.
Jesus can feed us. He is that Bread of Life!
Here, now already. 
In the Word--the Scripture
In the Eucharist: Bread and Wine
In community, with these people, the Church!

Already we are being fed; but I daresay, incompletely. The paradox is the Bread of Life produces more hunger now. Over the top claims for inerrancy, perfection and the like are simply not true.

The Bible IS the Word of God, but it can also confuse. It can raise more questions than it answers. It can reveal much, but it hides more.
The sacraments ARE the saving presence of God at work, but they are also not magic. Baptism and ordination do not perfect us! The liturgical practices can feel empty even in their fullness.
The church IS God's holy people, the Body of Christ, the presence of Christ in the world. But it is full of mistakes and problems.

Jesus is present as the Bread of Life in Word, Sacrament and People---but it is a mediated presence, contained in earthen vessels which are limited and imperfect. 

The God who made us hungry has made us for Himself. He is the food!  But our eating now produces more hunger, not less. Those who know Jesus discover that the deeper they go, the greater the longing...

This is why the most important thing to remember is that He is also among us as Promise:
Promise of a better day
-when wars cease and conflicts end
-when every tear is wiped away
-when love and relationship will be pure joy
-when our hearts and souls will be satisfied....

It has not fully been accomplished yet. But it will someday. If we remember the life everlasting then the present living can be permeated in joyful anticipation.
Trust Jesus. Trust the Promise. Live abundantly in Hope.


Friday, August 7, 2015

More on 2 Samuel

Our Sunday lections are also from the David story, a rare treat that the Daily readings serve to fill in the missing details in the reading cycle of Sunday Eucharists

2 Samuel 11 is the famous story of David and Bathsheba. The familiar story is the tragic turning point of David's monarchy. Before: he was a Man of God (and a Man-for-himself) who had scaled to the heights to become ruler over a kingdom. He formed Israel the nation. God had given him a promise of being a dynasty.  After: God's "dream" for His Man and His people are under a curse. The light of a dawning new age is overshadowed by the darkness of dissolution.

The King, we read, stays home and sends another in his place (Joab) to fight the battles (at "the time when kings go out to battle"). The problem starts with that. The rest of the story is David sending others to do his bidding. David is identified as on his couch "late in the day" (never a good sign) when he spies a beauty at her bath. He sends for her (palace staff who no doubt gossip) and beds her. Her role is never spelled out. Helpless victim, willing participant, confused girl ??? Immediately we learn she is pregnant (so time must have passed). So next Uriah is sent back home. (the word 'sent' occurs ten times in the chapter) The King hopes he will visit his wife and provide cover for the pregnancy, instead he sleeps on the floor with the servants of the King. He is honorable and faithful. Did that night include palace gossip where he learned of what happened? Did he discern something amiss? Typical of the Bible, the narrative is too sparse of such details and there is much left to our imagination. In the end, the king's attempt fails so he sends Uriah back to the battle field, carrying his own death sentence in a sealed scroll to Joab. Uriah is put in harms way and dies (with others). A messenger is sent to the king with the the explicit instruction to tell him Uriah is dead. The king takes the wife of Uriah into his house as his wife as quickly as possible. Surely many were able to piece together what had happened.

In Chapter 12, the prophet Nathan appears and tells a parable of a poor man and his lamb and the greedy rich man who stole his sheep. The language echoes the narrative in 11. These are verbal clues which tie them together (and make sense of a rather odd story) and David is outraged and demands justice. He is trapped when Nathan says "you are the man." The message of God can be paraphrased: How could you do this? Look at all I have given you...everything! and I would have given you more! But now your betrayal will bring down hell on you and yours"
[The child of the affair will die. Another son, Amnon, will rape his half-sister, Tamar, and be murdered by her full-brother. That latter son, Absalom will lead a rebellion and also die (we will read that Sunday at Eucharist). The Kingdom will be torn by Civil War. The nation's tenuous unity is only to last through the reign of David's son Solomon (Batheheba's next child). What could have been? Who knows? Like the story of Eden we are told only what is, what comes in the aftermath of the sin.]

David acknowledges his sin. When the baby is sick David does what Uriah had done, lays on the ground all night. He refuses food (as Uriah refused the comfort of his marriage bed). David begs God for the child's life---like countless parents his prayers do not avail. The child dies. The cruel reality of life in a fallen world. David, upon learning of the child's death, refuses to comply with the expected mourning rituals. There is something to learn here, of this man and his dealings with God.  His pragmatic response, "will mourning bring the child back?" is worth pondering. 

Then we hear of Joab's successes and he sends for the King to come quickly to get credit for the fall of the city. David and Joab will continue to have an ambiguous relationship throughout the narrative. Joab plays a central role in many of the problems for David, yet in other ways he is helpful. Ambiguity, another honest and human dimension of the story.

Sunday we will preach on David, and the texts this week provide some background to the tragic civil war led by Absalom. The Bible does not idealize its heroes. David is portrayed as flawed and imperfect. Whatever else the life of faith means, it is about truth. God saves real men and women-warts and all. Revelation is about life as we live it. The story of David serves as a model to look at nation states, family relationships, and our own personal journey with God.