Sermonby the Reverend King McGlaughon, Guest Preacher
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost – June 16, 2013
Well, it’s Father’s Day and as my son Andrew said to me after having his first child: “It’s just like another Mother’s Day . . . except you don’t need to spend so much.” One night when my 4-year old daughter Katie and her mother and I were sitting at the table eating supper, Katie looked at me and said, “Daddy, you’re the boss, aren’t you?” I smiled a little, — I was a little suspicious already about where this was headed – but I said, “yes?” . . . She turned to Suzie and smiled at her and said “That’s because Mommy put you in charge, right?” Fathering is wonderful, and it’s complicated. But what a blessing . . . Thanks to all the fathers in our lives, and all the fathering we’ve had.
On a basic level, today’s lessons are just about that — the complications of fathering and our relationship with our Father.
Remember David’s story: David came from humble roots. He was the youngest child left behind to tend the sheep and run errands for his father while his older brothers went off to support King Saul’s military exploits in defense of his kingdom. He was the “little man” taking on and killing the “giant Goliath” with just a slingshot. Then overcoming all odds as well as King Saul’s fear, suspicion, distrust and disfavor David became God’s king of Israel.
David was given much. David was given everything of value in his world, among his people. As Nathan says, David was “The Man.” And in David’s case — and it’s often the case in our own world — those given much want to preserve what they have; AND will take from those who have little or nothing to keep what they have. David will murder Uriah to protect what he has been given: kinghood, safety from his enemies, power, wealth, family. And to take even more.
Look at the Gospel from Luke: the Pharisee would deprive the foot-washing woman of her worshipful and God-adoring act of self-giving, her act of love, her act of thanksgiving, in order to preserve his (and Jesus’) gift of sanctity and righteousness. And look at his attitude toward Jesus, who at least appears from the word on the street to have some authority, some power – “If he really were a prophet – a person with God’s favor – he would know who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him – that she is a sinner” (and he would have prevented her and kept himself “clean” and “righteous”).”
Back to 2 Samuel: Consider again King David. And his desire to have Bathsheba, then have his sin/crime hidden to protect himself (keep his public image clean and righteous), then eliminate Uriah so that, again, he could appear to be clean and righteous by marrying Bathsheba before their child was born. There is tension in this story between David as king from and of the people, elected by God, and David as a typical Eastern despot: on the one hand a ruler in the ancient middle East had absolute power and no concern for morality or the perceptions/opinions of his people. On the other, as God’s elected ruler, David has responsibilities and duties another ruler in his world would not have understood — hence, David’s guilt and concern for the respect of his people. And his attempt to take what he wants and still appear to be upholding his responsibilities as God’s chosen leader.
BUT, there is another stream in these lessons – Those forgiven much appreciate that forgiveness even more than those forgiven little.
Lots of tension in both the Hebrew scripture and the Gospel for today – people with many gifts wanting to keep them and to have more and sinning to do both; people with the heaviest weight of sin experiencing the most transformative forgiveness.
Let’s look at this tension in the context of community as they are presented in scripture. Because we live out these tensions in our own lives, not alone, but in our own communities. Let’s look at those with much – their behaviors in the context of their adherence to/practice of cultural norms/requirements:
• Samuel: Nathan’s parable of the rich man and the traveler – David’s culture requires expressions of hospitality — the “feasting/feeding” of the traveler/stranger who comes into your household. The rich man honors that custom not from his own wealth and holdings, but by taking the small lamb that the poor man has “kept alive” and nurtured as a child, preserving it from slaughter (and the feeding of his family), and preparing THAT for the guest who had come to him. Fulfillment of the cultural requirements of hospitality, but from the cherished small things of others; not from his own abundance.
• And in Luke: the Pharisee, with the blessing of sanctity and holy living within the confines of Torah, neglects the cultural norms/requirements of his time and place – he doesn’t offer a foot bath to Jesus as is usual; doesn’t greet Jesus with an embrace/kiss as he would others; didn’t offer perfumed oil as would have been done to any honored household guest. In his abundance, he has become totally insensitive to the community’s expected acts of generosity and hospitality.
• And then there is us: how do we extend hospitality? How do we express the norms and imperatives of OUR culture, OUR community? Do we do those things ourselves and from and within our own household? Do we as a community, a nation, a people?
If so, how do we do that? From what resources do we extend ourselves to others? From our own wealth and riches, whatever they may be? Or from the goods, labors, efforts, sweat, blood, tears of others? Do we extend our communal hospitality ourselves, or do we rely on the efforts and givings of others to see our commitments met and discharged?
David met David’s own cultural/community commitments (honor, lawful and moral righteous behavior) by having Uriah give HIS life for the “community.” Nathan’s rich man gave hospitality to the stranger by taking the most precious lamb of the poor man and slaughtering it as a meal for the traveler. The Pharisee forgot or perhaps intentionally withheld his community obligations when Jesus was a guest in his household and even more when a sinner entered.
Look a little more at the Pharisee – the Host. He gave Jesus the required welcomed, but a very heartless welcome, cold and distant – no foot cleansing, no kiss or embrace, no refreshment from the road. The basic courtesies of life were withheld — no hint of enthusiasm, no whisper of affection; no token of any loving regard. — all was as empty as it was cold. But don’t jump to judgment just yet.
As a Pharisee, this is a man who knows what’s required, what’s expected, what his obligations are in the community. He’s like a lot of people in our own community today — we are quite willing to extend a kind of allegiance to the claims of Jesus as the Christ – good Christians — but do we ever really put ourselves out for Him. We give our heart and energy to our families, to our businesses — for those things no effort, no sacrifice, nothing is held back. We give our enthusiastic voices to political debate, and to patriotism. We give a lot to those like ourselves. We confess the faith, attend Church, give what we think the Church needs. But, we keep the bulk of our time, talent and treasure for ourselves and for those few who are members of our families or our own circles.
And with people like this there is often a degree of “orthodoxy” (correct believing) on which they pride themselves. But what is often much more important than that is a certain standard of behavior, a certain group of people, which is really the only religion for many, most of the time. There’s also a certain standard of morality, less important probably than the right group and the right behaviors but a moral requirement at some level; and for everybody who does not come up to those standards of manners or morals, there is a stoning to death with hard judgments — a withdrawing from them and an exclusion of them from the “true community.”
Look again at that dinner party Jesus is attending. This is a right-living community but without any love of or for God, and without any love for or to the stranger, the traveler, the other. It’s religion without any deep awareness of our indebtedness, and without any glad devotion. We’re a lot like the lesser debtor most of the time: we sin – a little; and we get forgiven – a little; and we’re appreciative – a little. There it is: religion without any deep sense of sin, and so, without any truly glad sense of forgiveness; religion without any need, and so without riches; religion without a Savior, and so without any love.
The host – the Pharisee — knew of the community law which demanded a certain degree of goodness and hospitality: that was exactly the goodness which he and his other community guests lived up to, every day, in every way. And good people like himself, of course, should go to heaven for ever and ever. And bad people like this woman who followed Jesus into the house, should go to . . . , well — just go. So the Pharisee – the host — and his people went along on their way, pretty comfortable and contented with an arrangement altogether beneficial to themselves. Look at this man and his guests carefully; and see in him a danger that awaits all of us who are brought up in or come to the church. The one great heresy.
Look at the uninvited visitor from the eyes of these community members and guests. The Eastern custom of hospitality meant very literally “open house.” The curiosity with which people followed Jesus everywhere surely followed Him here to the house party of the Pharisee. And yet of all heresies in our world, the most persistent and most deadly is one that has been around for a while and is one that can steal from us our salvation. It is this — the heresy of believing that Jesus Christ came into the world to save good people who don’t think they need any saving – people like us; and if real sinners come to Him — dreadful sinners: mortal sinners — it is a presumption and an intrusion which good people cannot tolerate. This is religion without the Holy Spirit, who comes to “un-sin” us — as David says in the 51st Psalm, his plea for God’s mercy after his terrible sinning in the matter of Bathsheba and Uriah. Without the Holy Spirit that comes to shed the love of God abroad in the hearts of un-sinned sinners, God is just a name; religion is just a form, another nice community; sin is just a notion.
Here’s the dilemma: Is life about concern for ourselves and FOR our own blessings? Or, is our living about concern for others and for the other from our own blessings?
Those with little power or status (Uriah, the foot-washing woman, Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna) but with conscious realization of the fullness and abundance of God’s love and grace in their lives, give from their “substance,” from whatever little or much they have, from their very core, to provide for others, to make and extend community, to enliven those around them. Having received great forgiveness and healing, they don’t rely on “the men,” on the king, on the other soldiers, on the Pharisee – they extend God’s grace, God’s love, God’s constant hospitality themselves, from the heart, from all they have. Anywhere, any way, any time.
Those that have; those that appear not to have.
• Uriah the Hittite and his “morality” in not going to the comforts of home while his companions remained at battle and in battle camps in the field, away from the comforts of their own homes.
• The foot-washing woman with her outpouring of awe, adoration and love for Jesus, using her tears, her hair and her precious ointment to love her savior — gives of her very being and treasures to him.
• The greater debtor who knew how much more he had been forgiven.
• The women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities – Mary of Magdala, Joanna, Susanna, and many others – who provided for Jesus and his male followers/disciples out of their resources.
How do we express gratitude — thanksgiving — for being fully graced by God, and understanding the depth and breadth of that graciousness — of being “un-sinned” and birthed again into this world full of grace – a full child of God the Mothering Father. That gratitude is our giving to others in love and from our substance, our being, our treasure, whatever that is and may be. It is giving awe, adoration, and our lives to the one Father of us all in thanks for his all-Mothering love of us. Always, everywhere, no matter what. No matter who.