We’ll see | Advent 2 | Luke 3:1-6

And the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.

The days and weeks leading up to Christmas are full of strange characters. Santa Claus IMG_0910for one. And John the Baptist for another. It’s easy to imagine they have nothing to do with each other. To think Santa only hangs out at the North Pole waiting on Christmas to come. To think John only loiters around in the wilderness waiting on us to open our Bibles and hear him preach again. But the truth is these two inhabit the same ground in our lives, what we call the season of Advent: a season of preparing a way for Christ to be born in our hearts again.

And since this is so, I’m guessing the deeper invitation is to imagine Santa and John are working the same stretch of road, showing us how to live a Christmas life: a life of believing Love came down at Christmas to keep company with us. Read more

creator of the stars | Luke 21:25-36

Creator of the stars of night, your people’s everlasting light. O Christ, Redeemer of us all, we pray you hear us when we call.

That petition, from the hymn we just sang, is translated from an ancient Latin hymn 442px-Pale_Blue_Dotwritten in the ninth century. Originally, it was written to be sung in the evening, at the vesper hinge when day leans into night.

It’s very gloomy outside today, and our readings are a little gloomy too. [Near dark.] So, it must it be the first Sunday of Advent: a day when we approach the dark. And be forewarned: in our gospel, from the angle Jesus gives us, There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.

In those words, you don’t hear the sweet hinge of ordinary sunlight leaning into ordinary starlight. Instead you hear the Son of Man arriving with a roar on clouds of glory to upend your world. Advent begins with this expansive cosmic faraway vision and aims you eventually toward the fragile intimacy of one holy family on the ground where you live. Read more

sinners | 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

We begin every Sunday pretty much the same way: with a prayer called the Collect of thescreen-shot-2017-02-19-at-4-01-02-pm Day. It’s a prayer said to collect us: to gather us in prayer around one needful gift from God to us – and in that prayer today, we call on the mercy of God, asking God to cleanse and defend us. It’d be nice to think mercy comes without fallout – can be a kind of Get Out of Jail Free Card. But tradition tells us it isn’t. Instead mercy comes to cleanse us and defend us by exposing the truth about us. And truth said in love hurts before it heals.

Today, returning to the Second Book of Samuel, the prophet Nathan comes to King David to rebuke him for a terrible wrong he’s done to a man who depended on him. If you’ll recall, David took from Uriah his one true love: his wife Bathsheba, a deed announcing itself any day now with a child on the way. To solve that incoming problem, David sent Uriah into battle to die without sufficient protection. And today, in the wake of his sins, Bathsheba grieves the death of Uriah.

Up till now, this story spares no words for David having second thoughts. When we meet up with him today, he’s too full of his own power to know he’s done anything wrong. From the outside in, we know there must be a reckoning. And to that end, the prophet Nathan approaches David with a parable about a rich man who wants to meet his obligations: a nice person, ready to welcome the traveler on the road with a warm meal, but who does so without cost to himself. Rather than choose any lamb from among his own abundant flock, he sacrifices the one and only lamb held dear by someone else, a poor man without recourse or means of self-defense. Read more

cedar house | 2 Samuel 7:1-14a

Whatever is in your heart, go, do, for the Lord is with you.

Today, in our first lesson, we meet King David in a rare moment of peace. A peace he Screen Shot 2018-07-22 at 2.01.40 PM
relishes and wants to hold onto. We’ve been tracking with his story for three Sundays now. And today in peace, David’s heart tells him he’d like to house the Ark of the Covenant, no longer in tent and tabernacle but in a temple, a temple made of cedar: the same stuff his house is made of, in order to house God’s presence here on earth. And we can understand what he’s up to, can’t we? We all like to hold onto God, to know right where he is, to imagine we’ve domesticated him to our liking.

When peace falls at home, one wants to hold onto it, as if God forbid your house ever shake with fear or grief or anger. It’s in your hearts and minds to want to house the mystery of life in a safe and stable place, as if you could store up the blessings of God in your own personal barn, as if you could just hold on to the peaceful moments when all feels right and well. And protect yourself from all the rest.

But God is a living God, a god we cannot tame, and once again today God has other ideas.

The prophet Nathan, making his first appearance in this story, tells David to go ahead and do what’s in his heart – go ahead and build a temple — but that very night God challenges that idea, saying something like this, “You know, I’ve never lived in a house. I’ve gone about in a tent and tabernacle all these years. Have I ever once asked you for a cedarwood house? And have I ever asked you to tell me how to live?” Read more

victory | 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might.

 It’s a rough day for the ladies in our lectionary. We’ve got one woman giving her Screen Shot 2018-07-15 at 2.02.23 PM.pnghusband the What For in our first lesson, and another seeking the head of John the Baptist. According to songwriter Leonard Cohen, Love is not a victory march. It’s a cold and it’s a broken alleluia. Cohen drew inspiration from the life of King David for his great anthem Alleluia. [1]  And as our first reading today reminds us, Love is not a victory march. The Way of the Cross comes with the same reminder. We’re here to sing our broken alleluias and put our trust not in our glory or our victory, but in the glorious victory of God.

It’s worth remembering: in the Christian tradition, Alleluia is a word said at the grave. A word said in the wake of loss. And the victory there is not our own.

We live in a time that needs the consolation of alleluias. And yet it’s not a consolation we come to standing up. It’s on our knees we welcome the consolation of broken things. Today, in the Book of Second Samuel, we arrive in a world of broken things to meet David dancing before the Ark. It’s a passionate moment: the triumphant king whirling before the Ark, risking his own dignity before God and everybody.

This story means to carry you in procession with David whirling his way home. The Battle King now yearns to come home to safety and security and peace. It’s what we all want at home. His effort to bring the Ark to Jerusalem carries with it the hope that God will bless forever and ever David’s own household and his reign. For now, he’s overcome his rivals. King Saul is dead. And what remains of Saul is his daughter Michal, who happens also to number among the wives of David. They haven’t seen each other for years. Her existence understandably complicates the hope of peace. Reconciliation is always complicated. Read more

shake off | Mark 6:1-13

If any place will not receive you and they refuse to hear you, when you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet for a testimony against them.

Before I left on vacation, I’d planned to preach a series of sermons onphoto-102-e1381186898769.jpg King David. In case you missed it, we’ve been reading from the First and Second Books of Samuel from the first of June until now, and will continue to right up until mid August, a full eleven Sundays spending time with the prohet Samuel and King Saul and King David.

To refresh your memory, we began June 1st with the calling of the Samuel, and two Sundays later we met up with Samuel anointing David, just a boy, as the Lord’s chosen. The following Sunday, King Saul sent that same shepherd boy into battle against Goliath, as the story goes, a giant defeated by a child. We skipped over the Witch of Endor sending Saul into battle to face his deadly end but landed in his wake last Sunday to hear David mourning his death on his own way to the throne. And today we meet up with David in our first lesson: a thirty-year-old king, leaning into greater and greater, reigning from Jerusalem, now called the City of David.

In the words of Robert Alter, “The story of David is probably the greatest single narrative [from] antiquity of a human life evolving by slow stages through time, shaped and altered by the pressures of political life, public institutions, family, the impulses of body and spirit, the eventual sad decay of the flesh. [It] provides the most unflinching insight into the cruel processes of history and into human behavior warped by the pursuit of power.” [1]

Human life warped by power is an old story.  No matter how strong or weak you are, the stories of Samuel and Saul and David ask you to examine what you’re up to in your own use of power. They are stories about what happens to us when we spend our lives pursuing power, making enemies, exploiting the helpless. While their temptations – the temptations of great men – may not be ours, we have our own way of making enemies and turning our backs on those who need us. All of this to say, while I planned to preach about David today, and will do in the coming weeks, today Jesus got in the way of my plans. And not for the first time. Somehow today’s gospel wove its way into the whole subject of power in an unexpected way. Read more