Thursday, June 13, 2013

The journey - don't skip over the gory parts

My mind is spinning about in many directions - thoughts that wish to be untangled and ideas that beg to be explored. But the task at hand is to finish my sermon. I'm not finding it difficult writing sermons - the challenge lies in writing only one at a time. I am reminded of the old joke and gem of wisdom: How do you carve an elephant? Take away all the parts that don't look like an elephant. But I am distracted and inspired and intrigued by all the un-elephant parts, and want to hold on to them, if not incorporate them back into the elephant. Or the sermon, whatever the case may be.
So back to writing. And deleting. Mostly deleting.

In the meantime, here is the first sermon I did at St. James. Seventh Sunday after Pentecost (readings below)
Well today’s Gospel message about the beheading of John the Baptist isn’t one of the more uplifting & inspiring ones, is it? But for entirely other reasons I’m going to begin with the Old Testament reading. This is perhaps a precarious place to start, because I feel I compelled to tell you that it is somewhat misleading. Actually it is extremely misleading – this has nothing to do with the way it was read aloud. If you look closely at the reading from 2 Samuel you’ll see that we read the first five verses then skip over to the last half of verse 12 and go from there. This omitting of verses is in itself not unusual. The lectionary sometimes passes over lengthy genealogies – those would be the “begats” -, or it leaves out really graphic and gory parts, or personal greetings, in fact the New Testament reading starts at verse 3 – skipping the salutation to the people in Ephesus.  
 But I think the verses we didn’t read in the story of David bringing the ark to Jerusalem are critical in understanding the whole story and the full ramifications of David’s actions. What we heard today was something like this – David wants to bring the ark to Jerusalem so he puts it on a cart and Abinadab’s sons drive it while King David and his buddies dance around, and they bring it triumphantly into the city, and Queen Michal is cranky.

But the whole story really takes place over about three months. ... The Ark of the Covenant, which contained among other things the 10 commandments, has been at Abinadab’s house since well before David became King. The Ark represented the presence & glory of God. David was enjoying a time of success in his kingdom, so he figured this was a good time to bring the Ark into Jerusalem, the capital. Seems logical.

So David went down to Abinidab’s house and set the ark on a new cart and  Uzzah & his brother drove it, and David and his crew were dancing with all their might. Yes. But in the midst of all that celebrating, Uzzah reached out to steady the cart and God struck him dead. I imagine the dancing stopped. Shocked and confused, David left the ark where it was and didn’t go back for it for three months. It sounds pretty harsh – but in his careless excitement King David made a fatal mistake. He didn’t do his homework. And how does one do their homework on how to move the ark of the covenant? Well, God gave some pretty specific instructions in Scripture – Exodus & Numbers both spell out in detail who was to carry it  -  only the Kohathites – w/o touching it!! and how it was to be carried – with poles, not on a cart. The rules were very clear. After the first failed attempt King David did do his research, and in the end he went back for the ark and brought it into Jerusalem according to God’s defined standards. When he did it God’s way he did it with God’s blessing & joy and yes, the dancing was mighty.

It seems David got so excited about honouring God that in his haste he actually disobeyed and dishonoured God, at the cost of a man’s life. He had good intentions, but he didn’t follow instructions. I don’t think he was the first man to not read the manual, nor do i think he will be the last. ... In our family we often begin with what Paul refers to as “brute force and ignorance” then I hand him the owner’s manual.
It is a tragedy when we neglect to go to God for direction – I know that He has provided us with a pretty good guide! The ultimate owner’s manual.

And I may joke about men not reading instructions or manuals, but ladies we are definitely not off the hook. Turn to the gospel reading – Herodias plays a sinister role in the beheading of John the Baptist. And what is her grudge against him? John was letting her & King Herod know that their so-called marriage was sinful in the eyes of God. He was reading the rule book to the King! God called John to prepare the way for Jesus & to proclaim a baptism of repentence – in order to repent you’ve got to know that you’ve sinned! So John was calling out the King. We get the sense that Herod might have been feeling some pangs of guilt – he was afraid of John but liked to listen to him. But in the end he was probably more afraid of his wife – and granted the request for John’s head on a platter.

Talk about gory & graphic!. But we know John the Baptist was called to a specific & sacrificial ministry – he was preparing the way for Jesus. Until Jesus was baptised by John – and the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove - John was the best way to God. But when Jesus began His ministry – when the Word became flesh, John`s disciples needed to stop following John and start following Jesus. John even said of Jesus, ``He must increase while I decrease.” He understood his role.

After John the Baptist was killed the focus shifted to Jesus.
David`s error made him turn back to Scripture and all of Israel was blessed.
These tragic things in themselves are not good – but God can take our mistakes and our losses and our pain and make them the seed of good fruit in His kingdom.

 David & John are both pretty big figures in the Bible – key players -  They were both quite dramatically  called by God...
David was called out of the fields where he was a shepherd boy... John was filled with the Holy Spirit while still in the womb. But even before he was conceived, he was called – the angel of the Lord told his father Zechariah that his son would prepare the people for the coming of the Lord.

They were called by God before they even realized it...We are all called by God before we realize it!

We read in Ephesians “He chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world.” That is way before we can ever imagine – before He called David out of the pasture, before John baptized, before Paul wrote this letter to the Ephesians.   “God chose us to be holy and blameless before him in love.”

Yes, we are chosen already – whether we know it or not! We aren’t all plucked out of the field or leaping in the womb – we might need to get still so we can hear that quiet voice beckoning us, “Come and see” - And as we are figuring out how to listen and respond to that call, we are in preparation – David spent his preparation on the battlefield & hiding in caves, John spent his in the wilderness, Paul spent his persecuting Christians.

None of these men had a detailed road map of what God had planned for them – and the explicit instructions David had for say moving the ark and not committing adultery he didn’t follow anyway!  – And most of us don`t have a crystal clear picture of our call – we might know the general territory but the details are a little blurry. Or a lot. Sometimes we desperately wish to know more...  but I think it is a sign of God’s mercy that He doesn’t sit us down and reveal every twist and turn of our path with Him – How could we possibly imagine doing the things God has planned if we only thought about them in terms of our strength, or our ability? On paper it would seem impossible. But all things are possible with God. But only because of His grace can we play our parts. Like we say in our baptismal vows – “I will, with God’s help.” And He promises to help us! Before David  knew the help and the love and the promises of God, would he have said yes to a life on the run, a life where he loses his best friend, first love & favourite son? Would John the Baptist have said yes to being beheaded? Would Paul have preferred to remain the persecutor rather than the persecuted? Yes, I think God is gracious in sparing some of the details.  Those graphic and gory parts.

We are destined according to His good purpose, even if we don’t know exactly what this looks like. BUT, He has given us the manual. The plans for our individual lives are not as specifically laid out in the Bible as the rules for moving the Ark of the Covenant,  but it spells out the game plan. It tells us who we are, who God is, and what His rules are – not only the rules but the promises –, and how to live a life filled with the Holy Spirit so we desire to follow the rules, claim the promises, and live for His glory.
There are consequences if we don’t follow the rules – King David’s carelessness caused a man’s death. There are consequences if we DO follow the rules – John’s adherence to the rules got him killed. Moments of obedience can be painful. .... Thank God for his mercy & forgiveness!

We need to consult God and his rules at all points along the way – David was generally good at this – most times he inquired of the Lord before he made a decision.
But when it came to moving the Ark he was hasty and got ahead of God – he did what he thought God would  want w/o checking it out – then likely wondered why God was angry. Do we do what WE think is best then expect God to bless it?

Yes, at times I’m sure we all do. We neglect to pray or read the Bible or we don’t make the kinds of choices God is pleased with. But He keeps calling us back!  He makes all things work for his purpose, His will, for good. He chose you and He’s with you every step of the way. That’s His promise to all of us.
Don’t underestimate God’s plans for you! Don’t think these promises are for somebody else –
He has blessed with every spiritual blessing ,
He chose us,  He destined us for adoption as his children
In him we have redemption, forgiveness, inheritance, grace, hope, truth, salvation

Amazing. It’s in the book!!
Paul writes these things from a prison cell – and he knew what the Romans could do to their prisoners – he knew what happened to John the Baptist
John risked his life for the truth, and the fulfillment of prophecy.
David craved that blessing – the presence of God – and went back to the Scripture.
Paul knew his salvation was so worth his suffering.

WE have even more than these heroes of our faith!!
David had the Torah – first 5 books
John had what we now call the OT including David’s psalms
Paul had all of that plus John’s testimony about Jesus. And as in Paul’s lifetime we too live in a post-Easter, post-Pentecost world ... Jesus is resurrected! The Holy Spirit is a constant presence abiding with us and we are marked with his seal – we have redemption
BUT add even to that we have Paul’s letters  - God’s instructions to us as the Church.  The manual we hold in our hand today is the complete version – We are further along in the plan for the “fullness of time”
We have the Father, Spirit & Son. We have the Word and the gifts. All we have to do is accept them.
The lectionary has us fast forwarding through the failed attempt of the journey of the Ark.  Our journeys with God are not in straight line – we go up & down, sometimes around & around, and there are lots of parts we’d like to fast forward through. When we look at other Christians, and they seem to be way ahead on their journey, it is tempting to assume they have had it easy – but we all have those verses, sometimes whole chapters, in our lives that we’d prefer not to be in the book of our lives. But if we cling to God & His Word when it is tough, if we are patient and not try to fast forward through chunks of our lives – the graphic and gory parts, the time in the wilderness, or hiding in caves...  the tough and ugly bits are often where God does His best work in us– He will reveal to us more of Him and that yes we are blessed, redeemed & chosen as His children... to the praise of His glory.
That’s a promise.

Thanks be to God.

 2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19
David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the LORD of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the LORD with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
...So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obed-edom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the LORD had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the LORD with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod.
So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the LORD with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet. As the ark of the LORD came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the LORD; and she despised him in her heart. They brought in the ark of the LORD, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the LORD. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the LORD of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

Ephesians 1:3-14
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love. He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.
In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will, so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory. In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit; this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory.
Mark 6:14-29
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus' name had become known. Some were saying, "John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him." But others said, "It is Elijah." And others said, "It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old." But when Herod heard of it, he said, "John, whom I beheaded, has been raised." For Herod himself had sent men who arrested John, bound him, and put him in prison on account of Herodias, his brother Philip's wife, because Herod had married her. For John had been telling Herod, "It is not lawful for you to have your brother's wife." And Herodias had a grudge against him, and wanted to kill him. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he protected him. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed; and yet he liked to listen to him.
But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his courtiers and officers and for the leaders of Galilee. hen his daughter Herodias came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests; and the king said to the girl, "Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it." And he solemnly swore to her, "Whatever you ask me, I will give you, even half of my kingdom." She went out and said to her mother, "What should I ask for?" She replied, "The head of John the baptizer." Immediately she rushed back to the king and requested, "I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter."
The king was deeply grieved; yet out of regard for his oaths and for the guests, he did not want to refuse her. Immediately the king sent a soldier of the guard with orders to bring John's head. He went and beheaded him in the prison, brought his head on a platter, and gave it to the girl. Then the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard about it, they came and took his body, and laid it in a tomb.

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