7-12-15, Pentecost 7 (PR) Finding God in the Struggles of Life, Traditional

THE SEVENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST        Psalm 51:1-9
ST. PETER’S — NEFFSVILLE                                         2 Samuel 12:1-25
12 JULY 2015
135th ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION
When you have been a member of a church for fifty or more years, you see a broad slice of congregational life.

You see pastors come and go … you see years when offerings are abundant and years when they are lean … you see children born and friends die … you see weddings and funerals … you see bread placed in your hands hundreds of times … and you watch lots of babies along with some older children and adults have water splashed on their heads.

You hear a lot of sermons … and pray even more prayers … and you sing more hymns than you can remember.

You see a lot of life outside the walls of the church, too.

You see world leaders come and go … you see wars start and stop … you see global moments of injustice and comparable moments of grace … you see the joys of new life and the tragedy of death.

And you recognize that whether you are a person of faith or not, the world can be harsh.
Our lesson today about King David, is a lesson that brings home that reality.

We have followed a biblical narrative thus far through the early part of our summer, which has led us to this very place.

We have seen the call of Abraham to lead the people of God … our introduction to Joseph the Dreamer, and Moses the Liberator, and Joshua the conqueror … we have been gifted with the promise of a covenant and the stone tables of law that help us protect and thrive within that covenant.

This Old Testament narrative has invited us to see the hand of God actively involved in the formation of the children of Israel into a people and a nation.

And to know that this nation will be led by a king … a king named David … the anointed one of God.
Maybe you were primed to hear a story of military conquest … or a vision of David composing psalms to the music of his lyre … or a description of the first temple being built to God’s glory … at the very least we might have yearned for the epic defeat of the giant Goliath.

Instead we get today’s complicated story about David’s sin … and the consequences of that sin.

It is one of those stories that we like to skip over … or ignore … or dodge when our non-Christian friends hear about it, and ask you what it means …

What does it mean? Anyone want to take a stab?

Yeah, neither do I … so let’s try together.
We have two challenges today … let’s tackle the easy one first … David’s sin.

Immediately before today’s story in 2 Samuel 11, we read that David commits adultery with Bathsheba, while she is married to Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s “Mighty Men”, a small troop of his elite fighters.

Bathsheba becomes pregnant, and when David can find no other way to cover up his indiscretion, he has Uriah sent to the front line of the battle where he is killed.

He then marries Bathsheba, which leads the prophet Nathan, in today’s lesson, to tell David this parable we have heard, which calls David out on his sin, in stealing Uriah’s wife.

Why does the Bible tell us this story about King David, in whose blood line the central hope for a Messiah resides?

Well …the long and short of it is, that no one … not the entry level Christian, nor the seasoned sage of faith … not the wisest, nor the most foolish believer … not the follower, nor the leader … not the least, nor the greatest … no one … is immune from sin.

Not even King David … the one through whom the human lineage of Jesus was traced.

Some days … maybe more often that we would like to admit … we choose to look down our noses at those whose sin is on public display for all the world to see … and we allow ourselves to think that because the magnitude of another’s sin may look to be far greater than the magnitude of our sin … that we are somehow better that that one … that we are less disobedient to God’s intention for our lives than the one we judge.

Don’t be fooled … you may not commit manslaughter in sending a person to their death as David did in this story we hear today.

But the sin which resided in David, is the same sin that resides in you and in me – it leads us to want what we want, and do what is best for ourselves, and follow the rules that best serve our purposes.

You are David … I am David … I simply bring death to the world in more abstract ways, as do you.

It doesn’t matter if you are a “good” Christian … or a Christian leader … or a fifty year member of a church …

When you look in the mirror each morning to brush your teeth … a sinner looks back at you.

This was the easy dilemma to solve today, right? Piece of cake.
Our second struggle with today’s lesson is a bit more of a challenge … consequences.

How do we understand the consequences that arise from living in a world that is broken by sin?

And what is God’s role in the consequences that are visited upon us?

Our preaching question from Page 4 of the bulletin frames it this way … “Where is God when bad things happen?”
The simplistic answer is to throw it in God’s lap … our story today supports that approach.

God didn’t like the way David dusted Uriah the Hittite, so he killed his son, Absalom.

Simple and clean … we may not like it very much, but it is simple and clear.

The problem is, when this story was first written down in print, maybe 500 or 600 years before the birth of Jesus, it was believed by the Jewish community that all good things AND all bad things originated with God.

God was the source of all things in the world … God was in complete control of the world, and everything that occurred, both good and evil, found its source in God.

A half century later, around the time of Jesus’ birth, the Jewish religious community began to consider the possibility that there was another being who dispensed evil … a being that stood opposed to the goodness of God … a being we have come to know as Satan.

You and I still live in that spiritual world.

We struggle to see our loving God killing a child for the sins of its father.

And so when I sit with a family who has lost a child to death, I pray that they can hear the promise that God has not taken their child, but that a broken world filled with illness has claimed their daughter.

And when I lead the local SHARE burial service for people who have lost children prematurely during their pregnancies, and I hear a young mother say to her friend, that God must have really needed her child, I strive to preach all the more powerfully my belief that it is the randomness of our human existence that has claimed a child, not that child’s loving God.

And when any parent buries their child, and stands in the presence of the ridiculous idea that a mother or father would ever outlive their son or daughter, I want to just hold them and promise them that at the core of my soul, I cannot believe that God just wanted another angel in heaven.

The world is broken and sinful, and does not exist completely within the creative order that God intended for it.

Our communal sin as the disobedient children of Adam and Eve, has corrupted the beauty of this world God has created.

And thus trauma … and evil … and unjust deaths … and bad things happen to people who sometimes do not deserve them.

Did King David deserve punishment for his adultery and murder … sure.

Was the death of an innocent child the just vehicle for that punishment … no.

Our story may have made sense to Jews living the first millennium before Christ.

But it makes no sense to us.

And so we ask the question, “Where is God when bad things happen?”
If I believe anything about God, I believe this – that God is not the one who causes these bad things that happen to us … but instead is the God who stands at our side in the midst of our grief and pain, and loves us until we heal.

God looks at our pain and suffering through eyes that watched Jesus, God’s Son suffer and die on a cross, unjustly, also.

God embraces our pain, and offers us the strength to endure it, until we heal and find our hope again.

When bad things happen, God works through the Spirit of Christ, and is with you in the friends who stand at your side and uphold you when your strength fails.

When bad things happen, the Spirit of Christ is working within you to find new ways to live life with a heart that is weak, or a leg that is crippled, or a pair of eyes that are blind, or a tumor that is slowly eating away the best of who you are.

When bad things happen, the Spirit of Christ is in the hearts of your family as they remember the real stories that defined a loved one’s life, and who in speaking them, bring that loved one back into the world.

When bad things happen, God simply refuses to let sin and death have the last word, and reminds you of the link between this world and the next, and the hope from the other side of life, which has the power to transform this side of life in all its brokenness.
We began this reflection with some thoughts about those who have been members here for half a century.

They are still with us, because they have found ways to cope with the struggles and losses of life, and remain connected to God.

They might not use the same words I use, but in their hearts and souls, they understand deeply that our God is a God of life and hope, not death and despair.

When ministry seemed stagnant … they helped to start a scouting troop, and began Luther League youth groups, and encouraged children to go to camp, and paved the way for events like this weeks’ Vacation Bible School.

When they lost loved ones … they buried them in our church cemetery and gave thanks for life again.

When the mission of the church floundered, they prayed and reflected and discussed, and began new ministries.

They helped lead the expansion of our building in the 70’s and the 80’s and the start of the second millennium.

They have consistently embodied in their lives, the Spirit of this living God we worship.

And so they can engage today’s difficult story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah and Absalom, and see through it God’s gift of forgiveness in the face of horrific sin …. God’s comfort in the face of pain and loss …. and God’s hope in the presence of a world that does not always invite hope.

They model for us, a faith that can carry us through our dark times, too.

It is a faith that has scars, to be sure … but those scars are signs of survival and hope and the will to live which God places within us through the gift of the Holy Spirit, and which God models for us in the life of Jesus Christ.

So whether you have lost a child or a spouse … or struggle to find your calling in the world of employment or the world within your home … or do battle with an illness of body, mind or spirit … or simply labor to get up in the morning and put a smile on your face.

Remember and cherish where God is found in these moments of life.

Not on the side of the equation that sends you trouble and testing and suffering.

But standing with you as you struggle and search and yearn for hope.

You have models for that kind of courageous life all around you.

We have noted some who have been living that life here for a very long time.

And there are others, who are newer to the journey.

Let us all be companions to each other, in Jesus name and Spirit.

Amen.

Rev. Craig Ross

Rev. Craig Ross

Senior Pastor

I have always appreciated the positive perspective on life and faith that is here… the broad range of life/social/political perspectives in our congregation… and the staff with whom I am blessed to work.