We trace the Storyour storyfrom its beginnings in the Hebrew scriptures, through its climax in the memories of the early church as reflected in the gospels, and then on to what sense the first Christians made of the connections between the two as reflected in St. Pauls letters.
At each step along the way, as inheritors of that Story, we participate today by reflecting on what it says to us corporately as that continuing community of faith, or as individual members of the continuing community. Scripture cannot fully be grasped either as a historical or literary enterprise. It speaks, as one scripture student said, "from faith to faith."
The Old Order Must Change
Psalm 48;2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10;2 Corinthians 12:2-10;Mark 6:1-13
Samuel and Mark are almost like contrapuntal music. We can only judge what is abnormal by having experienced the normal. David goes from glory to glory. "All the tribes of Israel" come to him, citing his great works and his evident acceptance by the Lord. The old order is rejected. David "became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him."
The psalm carries forward this triumphal note: "Thy right hand is filled with victory." The pilgrim is bidden, "Walk about Zion, go all around it. Count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadel that you may tell the next generation that this is God."
Whether the ruler is Saul or David or the president of the United States, the old order changes but remains distressingly the same.
Then great Davids greater Son strides into history. To read Mark 6:1-13 against 2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10, is to realize something new has entered history. Like David, he came of bone and flesh. "Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary?" A later teller of the Story than Mark was to say, "He came unto his own, and his own received him not."
Sometimes we dont want the old order to change. We have become very comfortable with itor we have come to hallow it. Notice that Mark sets Jesus rejection at Nazareth in the religious place.
The disciples were to go without providing for the morrow, proclaiming that all should repent. All? They looked different from the old order, and their message was different. Gone was the proud boast of the towers, the ramparts, and the citadels.
Small wonder they took offense at Jesus. If the new does not offend, it may be we have not truly heard, or we have quickly absorbed it into what we already understand.
The new order has its temptations, too, as Paul so eloquently and agonizingly illustrates. Jesus taught by word and example that there is power in weakness, but such is the deviousness of the old order that the citizens of the New Order can take pride in their lack of pride.
But Paul hears the marching order of the new order: "Power [Gods power] is made perfect in weakness [human weakness]." The promise: Behold, I make all things new.
Two Kings and Two Dancers
Psalm 24;2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19;Ephesians 1:3-14;Mark 6:14-29
The words "David danced before the Lord" richly evoke the young kings enthusiastic response to the holy charge to bring the ark of the Lord home to Jerusalem. The psalm can be read as an affirmation of Davids act:
Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord
and who shall stand in his holy place?
Those who have clean hands and pure hearts.
Michel, Davids wife, did not see it this way. When she looked out of the window and saw the king leaping and dancing before the Lord, the text says, "she despised him in her heart."
David is the hero of this storyit is Michel who fares badly. But who has clean hands and a pure heart? Even to think we have is a sign we havent. The confidence of Psalm 24 gives way to the reality of Psalm 51:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
And put a new and right spirit within me.
The gospel brings us to an encounter with another dancer, another king, and a fiery prophet who made life very uncomfortable for those who didnt follow the law, even if they were kings. Johns public denunciation of Herod for marrying his brothers wife, Herodias, aroused her wrath. Imprisoning John did not satisfy her. Her daughter danced for the king on his birthday and he promised her whatever she wanted as a reward. Coached by her mother, she asked for Johns head.
Even though John said of Jesus, "He must increase and I must decrease," the effect of this powerful desert figure remained with the people. Many thought the young rabbi Jesus was a reincarnation of John the Baptist. Even Herod, in guilty terror, thought so. He must have felt a dance had cost him too much.
There is no dancer in the epistle, but the majestic rhythms of the prose lift our spirits so we can dance. The passage begins with lofty thanksgiving to God for "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places." We have been chosen before the foundation of the world, destined for adoption as Gods children, our sins forgiven, and to ourselves made known the mystery of Gods plan. The words tumble over each other and defy the sober mind to organize them into coherence. If the heart has reasons of which reason has no knowledge, as Pascal said, here the spirit has order of which order has no knowledge.
The Holy Temple
Psalm 89:20-37;2 Samuel 7:1-14a;Ephesians 2:11-22;Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
"Destroy this temple," Jesus said, "and in three days, I will raise it up." The Jewish worshipers were amazed, as the evangelist John reports it. "This temple has been under construction for 46 years," they said, "and will you raise it up in three days?" (John 2:19-20).
The language of metaphor and poetry always confuses those who are bound by the language of fact and prose. It isnt a matter of one being right and the other wrong. Those very terms belong to an understanding of reality that always has to have the other reality explained, and so the evangelist explains Jesus "was speaking of the temple of his body."
Our scriptures this week lead us to meditate on that temple.
David assumes God wants what David wants. He feels uncomfortable living in a house of cedar while God still lives in a tent. Nathan the prophet agrees with Davids wish to change the situation, but that night the Lord sends Nathan a different message. "Ive lived in a tent all these years," God said. "Have I ever given anybody the idea I was dissatisfied with the arrangement?"
Davids job is to solidify Gods work, to give Gods people a safe and secure place. When that is accomplished, then God will see about Gods house, which will be the work of Davids son.
Mark shows us the work of Davids greater Son. He heals the sick; he feeds the 5,000; he walks on the water. He is the new thing in the world that makes a difference in the world. This is the test of worship.
Ephesians differs from the other letters ascribed to Paul in that it does not deal with the trials and tribulations of one little community of faith, but lifts up a vision of what all the communities, the church, should be. Some believe it was a cover letter for a collection of the individual letters.
This weeks passage stresses the unity of Jews and Gentiles. In Christ, "those who were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. He is our peace, having broken down the dividing wall, the hostility between us. Jew and Gentile are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ himself as the cornerstone."
In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord, a dwelling place for God.
The Heart of a Fool
Psalm 14;2 Samuel 11:1-15;Ephesians 3:14-21;John 6:1-21
Sometimes in the theater, when an awful thing is about to happen, the stage lights go dim and the music wails. Such would be appropriate for the 11th chapter of 2 Samuel, Davids use of Bathsheba and his unscrupulous efforts to cover up the violation.
The music might well wail the opening line of Psalm 14: Fools say in their hearts, "There is no God."
Though it was time for the spring military campaigns, "David remained at Jerusalem"an ominous beginning. Why wasnt he with his soldiers? An idle hand is the devils workshop, the old proverb goes.
David is walking on the roof of his house and sees the beautiful Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, bathing. He has her brought to him and lies with her. When she sends word that she is pregnant, David immediately becomes frantic and tries scheme after scheme to cover up the sin.
He arranges for Uriah to have a vacation from the war, but Uriah, the blunt and honest soldier, will not enjoy the pleasures of peacetime while his comrades are in the fields. (A telling contrast to David!) The next stratagem is to wine and dine Uriah royally, so that in a drunken stupor the soldier will stumble into his wifes bed. But Uriah, the innocent, maintains enough of a clear head not to return to his own house.
Theologian Walter Brueggemanns comment on Psalm 14 is enlightening: The fool does not announce atheism. It is only in his heart, i.e. he thinks and decides that way. The outcome is that such a persons action is corrupt, without discernment, and exploitative of other people. "They eat up my people," says the psalmist, "as they eat bread." Uriah is consumed.
Continuing the contrast between David and Davids greater Son, our scriptures for this week give us the miracles we had last week: Jesus healing the sick, feeding the multitude, and walking on the water. Of course the stories differ in details because we are dealing with powerful memories, not computer reports.
Ephesians closes our meditations with a timely prayer that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith.
Thou Art the Man
Psalm 51:1-12;2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a;Colossians 3:1-11;Luke 12:13-21
Davids sin is so heinous we may be indulging ourselves with the thought, "At least we are not so bad as that!" It is the Judas syndrome that the Christian church develops every Holy Week. We flail away at Judas because here at least is someone worse than we (ignoring the many times we have betrayed our Lord!).
The Lukan passage and the one from Colossians may balance the scales and bring us to our knees uttering the great prayer of Psalm 51, purportedly written by David after his encounter with Nathan.
The raging prophet of God from the desert and the sin-stained king in his palace create one of the great scenes in all literature. Controlling his righteous rage, Nathan comes to the king with a seemingly simple plea for justice for one of Davids people who has suffered a great wrong.
Nathan tells a story of two mensubjects of David, one rich, the other poor. The poor man had one little lamb that was very dear to him. Nathan builds detail on detail of how dear the little ewe was to the poor man. The rich man had a guest who had come from afar and he acted in accord with the hospitality that their law demanded. Except instead of taking one of his own "many flocks and herds," he takes the treasured lone sheep of the poor man.
David falls into the trap. The wilderness sense of justice boils up in him, and he declares that the man who did this deserves to die. "You are the man!" Nathan thunders. He spells out all the Lord has done for David, the viciousness of his act, and the judgment God will work against him. "The sword will never depart from your house."
David puts up no defense. He acknowledges simply, "I have sinned against the Lord."
The psalm, one of the most moving ones in the psalter, pours out the grief of a "broken and contrite heart." The liturgical confession, "There is no health in me," understands, "I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me" (Psalm 51:5), much more deeply than learned theological analysis about sex and original sin.
These lines are the utter agony of one who faces the reality of the distance between God and Gods creature. It is metaphor. It is hyperbole. It is the beginning of a return.
VERNA J. DOZIER is an educator and lay theologian in Washington, D.C. She is the author of The Dream of God: A Call to Return (Cowley Publications) and The Authority of the Laity (The Alban Institute).