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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Chosenness: Part II

2 Samuel 11:1-15
Ephesians 3:14-21
     Oh, how the mighty have fallen! Remember just two weeks ago when Sylvia preached, talking about David’s delighted, joyful, exuberant response to chosenness, to being the one God had picked from obscurity to lead the people of Israel? Well, apparently the party’s over, because his behavior in today’s lesson is about as low as a person can go. It’s spring, which, as everyone knows, is the time when kings go out to battle. Good kings, that must be, or other kings…but not this king; David has sent his commanders and armies out to fight while he relaxes with a beer and a good book on the roof of his penthouse. When he rouses himself for a little stroll, he catches sight of lovely Bathsheba and decides she will be his, at least for an afternoon of pleasure.  And, indeed, she is, though the pleasure probably was only his; it's hard to say no to a king regardless of your own preferences. But then Bathsheba ends up pregnant. No problem, thinks David; I’ll just get her husband Uriah back from battle, he’ll be overjoyed to see her, and he’ll never know the baby isn’t his. It never occurs to David that Uriah might be a man of honor, so he’s shocked when instead of going home to enjoy his wife’s company—or “wash his feet” as the scripture puts it—Uriah spends the night sleeping at the house of his commander in chief, knowing that, unlike David, he couldn’t live with himself if he relaxed while others were sacrificing themselves in battle.  David gives it another shot the next night, getting Uriah drunk in the hopes that he’ll forget his ethics and succumb to desire for Bathsheba, but no go; once again Uriah stays away from home. What’s a cheating, heartless king to do? Well, in David’s case, it’s to send Uriah back to battle, have Joab the commander put him in the front ranks, and then have the whole army pull back from him so that he’s slaughtered on the spot. There, that little problem is resolved…  Sylvia warned us that this story took an ugly turn, and it appears that what David decides to do with his chosenness is treat it as carte blanche to do anything he pleases, morality and honor be damned.
     Yup, the Bible is full of stories to inspire us, strengthen our faith, guide us in God’s ways, and restore us to a relationship with the God who loves us! And: the Bible has once-good people doing bad things and once-bad people doing good things. There really should be nothing surprising about that. Rape and conspiracy to murder are in here because they're in our world. Gross abuse of power falls in the category of nothing new under the sun. You know from my preaching that I'm a huge believer in the capacity of humans--who are created in the image of God--to act like it, to live out love and justice, forgiveness and mercy, to live into our chosenness. However, we also sin--we deliberately make wrong choices that have devastating consequences for others and for our own souls--and that's been the case since almost the beginning of time too.
     Here's one of the intriguing parts: if we'd kept reading to the end of the chapter about David and Bathsheba, we would've heard that after all this horribleness and a period of mourning for Uriah, David marries Bathsheba; still, "the thing David had done displeased the Lord." So now David is off the "good with God" list, right? Well, not really. In subsequent chapters, the child of this first encounter with Bathsheba dies, but their next one is none other than Solomon. And besides Solomon being a pretty good guy in his own right, when you keep tracing that line of David and Bathsheba through Solomon and down the generations, you get to none other than Jesus. That's Matthew's version, at least; if you follow Luke's, it looks a bit different but still matches up with David being the ancestor of Joseph, who is as close to a Dad here on earth as you get for Jesus. So the man who delighted God, then displeased God, who had within him both brilliance and evil, humility and a vast excess of pride and power, this same chosen man becomes the patriarch of the house of David and the progenitor of our Lord and Savior. How's that for a twist?
     I think the key is how we understand being chosen. Since God chooses you, then only God gets to un-choose you...and the God whose arms are spread wide on the cross to embrace us all doesn't do that. God doesn't call us because we're spectacularly gorgeous or amazingly clever or Olympic caliber athletes. The field would be very narrow if God only picked people who approach perfection, and David certainly wouldn't have made the cut. Being chosen isn't dependent upon my qualities, but upon God's. God chooses us because God loves us and has a dream for us, a place for each of us within the story of the redemption of God's relationship with all humanity.
     It sounds unbelievable, because this isn't the way the world we're used to works, where scarcity and competition and getting voted off the island are the rule, or at the very least those who mess up--which would be all of us--pay the price. One day you're in; the next day you're out. I think I like God's way better. If we can just wrap our minds around it, if we can learn and believe that we are chosen, forever, for God.
     For this, I pray with the apostle Paul as he wrote in his letter to the people of Ephesus:  "Now to God who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. "



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