In this Sabbatical season of rest and renewal, it is difficult for me to find any peace in the OT reading today. And the way David is acting during these last few weeks of readings, I surely don’t want him as my companion in transformation!
These past few weeks, our OT readings have exposed us to the Israelite’s constant battle between, on the one hand, having an earthly king; and on the other hand having God as their only king and leader.
We are listening to a long drawn out conversation between God and the Israelites about whether or not having an earthly king is a good idea.
God of course, says, “No, it’s a terrible idea to have an earthly king. I am your only king and always will be your only king. Earthly kings exploit—they take, and take, and take until you have nothing left.
And Scripture gives us examples of how kings take, take, take…
Kings take your labor—look at Solomon; he enslaved the people of the northern kingdom of Israel to build the temple
Kings take your money—look at Solomon, again, to finance the temple project he taxed so heavily the people were enslaved
Kings take lives—look at David in OT story last week and today, he murdered Uriah so that he could marry Uriah’s wife Bathsheba
Kings will even take your wife—again, David in the OT story, he took Bathsheba and made her his wife
In this story, David is the poster child for exploitive kings. He abuses his power to exploit those who are culturally and socially inferior to him.
And, on the other side of the story, we have God’s people, saying, “Yes, we want an earthly king. We want to be like the other nations that surround us—they have kings and their kings protect them from enemies and intruders, and their kings provide for them. We are a tiny and vulnerable nation. We want a king.”
David, in other stories of the OT is also depicted as a good and wise leader, which is the voice of the people saying, “See, having an earthly ruler is a good idea.”
This is one of the ironies and the beauties of the OT texts—we get more than one perspective and it is our job, over time to sort them out and discern how these stories are applicable (or not) to our contemporary lives.
In our contemporary time, we would replace “king” with leader, president, mayor, or any number of names for our political leaders.
If we were to make these books of the Bible into a movie, they would be Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy. These Scripture stories are the cosmic battle of who is the ultimate leader—God or an earthly leader. And they are the cosmic battle between good and evil. And the cosmic battle between which force will prevail—an earthly force or God.
Upon reflecting on these readings, one thing is clear to me for today—and that is God’s desire to have us, God’s people, follow God.
In our collect today we succinctly hear God’s plea for the church to follow God when it says:
Let your continual mercy, O Lord, cleanse and defend your Church; and, because it cannot continue in safety without your help, protect and govern it always in your goodness…
How do we discern how we are to follow God?
Fortunately, God thought of that. God was prepared and gave us prophets who are the voice of God speaking out against injustices. Today we hear the prophet Nathan admonishing David for his sins of assaulting and taking Bathsheba.
In the tumultuous times in which we live; no matter what side of the political aisle we find ourselves, it can be difficult to discern if we are following God’s will or we are following the will of a leader disguised as God’s will.
We need prophets to show us the way of God’s justice, love, and mercy. We need prophets in our lives today—this is who we want to be our companions in transformation.
I am not here to tell you to abandon all earthly leaders—we need them to lead us in the way of justice such that we can all experience God’s love, grace, and dignity. And when we are led well, our leaders are doing the will of God, manifested in love, on our behalf.
Recently I heard one of the most unlikely people talking about love—a politician. Senator Cory Booker of New Jersey who says we need to manifest love in our work. That is our true calling, each and every one of us—to manifest love in our work. I would add, when we manifest love, we are doing the will of God.
And I will ask you to wonder together…are our earthly rulers/leaders manifesting love and acting in the best interests of God’s people such that justice prevails?
And to wonder together…how do we discern if we are manifesting love in our work?
God tells us how to follow God’s will—it is through following Jesus. God tells us that when we follow the words and actions of Jesus we are living God’s will and living into God’s grace, love, and dignity, and living into justice.
In our reading from John, we hear Jesus say, “I am the bread of life.” In first century Palestine, bread was a staple that was needed for survival. John is telling us, we need to follow Jesus to survive, and also to grow and thrive.
Returning to our theme of Sabbatical rest, I challenge us to figure out how to rest in God’s will and not my own will or the will of misguided leaders.
Sr. Joan Chittister gives us one example of how to rest in God’s will. She advises us to rely on the second rule of St. Benedict, which simply states: “love not our own will”
Sr. Joan says, “This second rule tells us that God wills the same good for all the people on the planet, and to accept God’s will above my own is in essence to promise that we ourselves will not obstruct good for others in any way, anywhere.” She goes on to say, “We would surely not be doing anything as a nation that would destroy, pollute, poison or extinguish the ecology of creation. We would not be playing God ourselves, and we would make national choices that allow the whole world to flourish.”
Today I pray, with you, that we are able to pay attention to those prophets in our midst who speak God’s messages of love, dignity, and justice into being…
Cory Booker, perhaps a prophet, who is working to manifest love through work
Sr. Joan Chittister, perhaps a prophet, that teaches us “love not our own will”
Theologian Walter Brueggemann, perhaps a prophet, who teaches us to interrupt the silence that harms God’s people
Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, perhaps a prophet, who preaches a God of love; and asks us to participate in the Jesus Movement to spread justice
Theologian Dolores Williams, perhaps a prophet, that teaches us to look at the lens of justice through the eyes of the marginalized
When we listen to the prophets as our companions in transformation, and we partake of the “bread of life” we are learning to follow in the way of God’s will, we are learning to bring love, grace, compassion, and dignity into this world for all God’s people. This is how we experience rest and renewal in this Sabbath time—through God’s love given to us through Jesus, the bread of life.