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

As we are | Mark 4:35-41

And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in a boat, just as he was.

Today we come to deep waters. Troubled waters, too. And into Inthose waters, the disciples took Jesus with them in a boat just as he was. Jesus is always just as he is, isn’t he? And those who follow him turn out to be just as they are, too: afraid.

This story has a lot to say about why you and I need Jesus. Troubled waters come as they will, and on them and in them we are often afraid. For us, the reality of being “just as we are” exposes our inadequacy, our need for help and guidance; and reveals our ultimate reliance on the peace of God.

Like the disciples in that long-ago boat, we come to the deep waters of Holy Baptism today. The weather outside seems good and right for a Baptism. No storms in sight. I’m guessing back in the old days, when people entered actual rivers for baptism, they needed the hope of good weather. It’s worth remembering, because Baptism, like our gospel today, takes place in the storm-struck waters of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It is the Lord’s doing: and it is full of fearsome grace. Read more

Grain | 2 Corinthians 4:5-12; Mark 2:23-3:6

We have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us. 

We are the clay jars — mortal vessels from the hands of God filled with Screen Shot 2018-06-03 at 3.23.23 PMearthly gifts, relying on eternal promises. We are clay, and God is God. Our gospel is after the same idea today: telling us once again how an extraordinary power is hidden away in all our days and belongs to God and does not come from us. Nor ever will. Sabbath is how we remember God is God and God is good.

Sabbath is a vanishing practice, the idea that one day a week you need to give everything you’re about, everything you’re up to, a rest. Not only your body need to rest, but your opinions, your worst and your best, need a rest. Sabbath is a Hebrew word that literally means rest. It also means stop. As in, you can’t rest unless you stop what you’re doing. A sabbath day is a day of coming full stop to rest from all your efforts, a day God commands you to keep holy, one day out of seven set aside as God’s day. And on that day, you’re not to feel the force of your own power. You’re called instead to behold the power of God.

The Pharisees in our gospel today may not look all that busy. They may look like they’re honoring the Sabbath by policing it. But if you look deeper, under the surface of this story, you’ll notice they’re working the world around them to their own ends. You’ll also notice how the disciples are hungry when they pluck the grain. And you’ll come to see that the man with the withered hand is in pain.

It’s difficult to rest when you’re hungry. And impossible when you’re in pain.

What Jesus is after in our gospel today is making sure that the hungry and the hurting might also know the joys of keeping the Sabbath, not just the restful gift of Sabbath, but the pleasure that comes with rest. And while Jesus may look a whole lot busier than Pharisees, the miracle he performs is practically effortless. He simply tells a man to stretch out his hand, and the man does.

Sabbath rest stretches out your withered soul, and restores you to the abiding grace of God. According to Jesus, the Sabbath is made for you, not the other way round. Scholar Amy Jill Levine says “the celebration of Shabbat should be one of joy, not of constraint.” It’s about stretching out and relaxing in the life of God.

So when Jesus defends the disciples for plucking grain on the Sabbath, and when Jesus heals a wounded man on the Sabbath, he is still keeping the Sabbath. He’s not suggesting it’s okay to work like madmen on the Sabbath. Instead, he’s telling you what the Sabbath is for: it is meant to heal you, to give you room enough to stretch out your withered life and rest in the work of God. And you need that healing one day in seven. Read more