10 Pentecost Proper 12 Year B 29 July 2018
A sermon from the rev Linda Mackie Griggs
2 Samuel 11:1-15; John 6:1-21
“’This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.’ When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.”
Kings and prophets; prophets and kings. Biblical images, yet resonant today. Scripture speaks to us in its own kind of timeless language, calling us to respond to a world that, for all it has changed, hasn’t changed as much as we might have expected. Or hoped.
The question we hold when reading a Bible passage is, what is it saying to us right now about who we are and whose we are?
In the context of today’s readings, how does an understanding of the language of ancient kings and prophets uniquely equip us as followers of Jesus to serve in a time of turmoil more closely aligned with the kingdoms of the world than the kingdom of God?
A few weeks back we heard the people of Israel demand from the prophet Samuel,“Give us a king!” And after warning them to be careful what they wished for, he gave them what they wanted, anointing first Saul (who was a bust)and then David, the shepherd boy. Over the past few Sundays, our Old Testament lessons have documented David’s adventures as he defeated Goliath, mourned Saul and Jonathan, danced before the Ark of the Covenant as it was restored to Jerusalem, and received God’s promise of a temple and a legacy.
Sometimes you can hear the Deuteronomist author speaking ironically through the text; reminding the reader that there is only One who should rule Israel, and that is God, who commanded, “You shall have no other Gods but me.” When God instructed Samuel to capitulate to the people and anoint a king, God warned them, you will regret putting your faith in kings- they may do good sometimes, but ultimately they will fail you. Yes, even David.
The Deuteronomist opens today’s story by throwing a little shade at David, noting, “in the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle… David remained at Jerusalem.” In other words, he seems to have lost his military touch. He who had made his reputation as a mighty warrior wasn’t on the battlefield because he was staying at home to take care of more important business. No: he was lazing around the palace: He “rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house…”
The story of David, Bathsheba and Uriah is no romance. Not once in this account does the writer say that the two were in love. No; David saw something he wanted and he took her. Because he could; because he was King. And when faced with the consequences of what he had done,.he tried to cover it up by twice giving Uriah leave to make a conjugal visit to his wife, and failing that, he had Uriah, who had been nothing but faithful to his commander-in-chief, murdered in the field.
Please come back next week to find out what happens next, but spoiler alert: It involves the words of a prophet and comeuppance for a king.
A prophet is an intermediary for the Divine. The function of the prophet is to hold principalities and powers to account, to critique unjust systems and to demand change. If the people will insist upon putting faith in kings, then prophets will be called to keep them in line and call them— the people and the kings— to repent. Prophets are the keepers of God’s Vision. Their job is to proclaim the true Kingdom— the Dream of God for all of creation.
In today’s Gospel lesson from John, the people see Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes, and perceive that he is a prophet. But not just any prophet: This is the Messiah foretold in the Scriptures.
And to make this clear John packs this episode with allusions: to Moses (Jesus goes up the mountain to teach; he provides ‘manna’ in the form of bread,) and Elisha (an episode in 2 Kings tells of multiplying bread and fish for 100 people) and to the Tribes of Israel (twelve baskets of leftovers). Any Jewish observer of Jesus’ multiplication miracle or early Christian hearer of this text would draw the connection between Jesus and the prophetic tradition.
And yet. What do the crowds do in the next breath? They try to make him a king. Like David. Jeepers. No wonder he headed back up the mountain. “Give us a king!” Brought face-to-face with the Kingdom of God as Jesus feeds the multitudes, people stubbornly remain blind to the vision of God’s yearning for reconciliation/union with God’s children. They fear taking a leap of faith into the arms of a God who says, “It is I; don’t be afraid.” Too steeped in the culture of what they think a king is, they are unwilling to give themselves over to a new vision of kingship; of abundant life and loving relationship in God.
Relationship. That’s the key. There is a fundamental difference in the nature of relationship between kingdoms of the world and the Kingdom of God.
Martin Buber’s 1923 book, I and Thou, described it this way (This may be a refresher for some, but it is profoundly worth revisiting): On the one hand, a person’s attitude toward another may be as if toward an object; something experienced or used as a separate entity. This is what Buber called an I-It relationship.
On the other hand, a person’s attitude toward another may be as if it is toward something that is not distinctly separate; something that is not simply used or experienced as an object as much as it is understood as a kindred entity. It is a connection from the heart of one being to the heart of another. This is an “I-Thou” relationship. A different, more grammatical, way of putting it would be that an “I-It” relationship is from subject to object, while an “I-Thou” relationship is from subject to subject.
Look at the relationships in our two stories. David sees Bathsheba. He wants to have her. He takes her. He sees Uriah as an obstacle. He removes him. I-It, I-It, I-It, I-It. Subject to object, user to used, every time.
Now, look at Jesus on the mountain. Jesus sees the crowd. He wants to feed them. He invites a child—a child— to share his bread and fish, and connects, I-Thou; the divine within Jesus to the sacred within the child and his small meal. He sets a table of abundance where all have a seat, and all eat until they are satisfied, with “nothing lost.” Nothing left behind. No one left out. I-Thou, I-Thou, I-Thou.
God yearns for an I-Thou relationship with us and with all of Creation. Subject to subject, heart to heart, sacred to sacred, not as consumer and commodity, but as lover and beloved. It is the grammar of Eucharist, spoken at God’s Table.
Think about it— no, scratch that— don’t think about it just do it; come to the Table to be fed unconditionally, the divine and broken in Christ reaching out to the divine and broken in you, offering pardon and renewal, solace and strength, and then sending you out to make those same kinds of connections in the world with everyone you meet— I-Thou, I-Thou, I-Thou. The grammar, not of kings of the world, but of the Kingdom of God.
This is how Jesus calls and equips us. This is the language of the One who comes to us in ways and at times we would not believe possible and says to us, moment by moment, “It is I; do not be afraid.”