Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Christmas Eve Great Thanksgiving

This communion liturgy was written for Christmas Eve at the Deer Creek Charge.

My mother and I celebrated together at Mt. Tabor, and we served my grandfather (her father) communion for what was probably the first time he had ever received it. It was a beautiful night. 


God calls us to this table. God calls us to be fed. But too often we are already full, not with an abundance of grace and love, but rather full of clamor and commercialism, full of fear, full of pain we cannot shake. So we confess together:

Nourishing One who fills us with good things, empty us from all that holds us back from saying, “Here I am,” as Mary did. Take from us those places that are too full of ugliness and pain to let Christ enter in. Forgive us for our fear of scarcity that prevents us from coming to the manger with the humble shepherds, offering the only gift we have: ourselves.


Open your ears to hear the good news: God loves us so much that God comes to us in the form of a baby wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.

Glory to God in the Highest Heaven and on Earth peace to us all!

PASSING OF THE PEACE: Now let us share signs of that peace which we find in Christ with our neighbors!


The Lord be with you.

And also with you.

Lift up your hearts.

We lift them up to the Lord.

Let us give thanks to the Lord Our God.

It is right to give our thanks and praise.

It is right, and a good and joyful thing,

always and everywhere to give thanks to you, Almighty God,

creator of heaven and Earth.

In the beginning, you spoke, breathing life into all of creation. You fed us in the garden, but we turned from you, eating the one thing you told us not too. Even after sending us out and into the world you did not let us starve. After you freed us from our slavery in Egypt, we cursed you for freeing us, but you did not abandon us. Instead, you fed us, covering the surface of the wilderness with manna like dew.

In famine, you provided for your prophet Elijah through people like us, people living on the edge of hunger with nothing left to eat. But you filled our jar of meal and jug of oil so that they would not fail until you sent rain upon the earth.

So too, when there was a famine in Bethlehem, the House of Bread, people like us sojourned to Moab and lost family. But you came to us through the strength of Ruth who gleaned that we might have bread and life. You gave us enough, filling not only our bellies with food but also our spirits with love and goodness.

And so, with your people on earth and all the company of heaven, we praise your name and join their unending hymn.

Holy, holy, holy Lord, God of power and might,

heaven and earth are full of your glory.

Hosanna in the highest.

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.

Hosanna in the highest.

Still we turned away, forgetting how you have nourished us through the ages. You sent us messengers in the form of angels and prophets, and finally you came to us to live among us, not as a king who sits before an elaborate banquet, but in the form of a child, born in a manger, a trough for feeding animals. Already, here, on that long ago Christmas, you were calling us together to be fed.

When he was in the womb, Jesus' mother sang of the hope he would bring: scattering the proud, lifting the lowly, and filling the hungry with good things. When he grew up, he fed five thousand of us with five loaves and two fish in a deserted place, blessing and breaking the bread before sharing it with us. And all ate and were filled. He was already fulfilling the words his mother sang.

Yet there were those of us who sneered at him for not following the rules about eating. We chastised him for eating with those we named sinners. We turned our backs on Jesus, on the nourishment he offered. And we gave him up to die, even after sitting at table with him.

On his last night with us, Jesus sat at a table and fed us, as he promised to on that Christmas night long ago, lying in a manger. He took bread, blessed it, broke it, and shared it with us, saying “This is my body, which is given for you.”

When supper was over he took the cup, blessed it, and shared it with us, saying, “Take, and drink. As often as you do this, remember me.”

And so, in remembrance of these, your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ's offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of faith.

Christ has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

Pour out your Holy Spirit on us gathered here, and on these gifts of bread and wine. Stay with us Spirit, open our eyes as you did at the meal Jesus shared with his friends after the resurrection on that road to Emmaus. Make us one bread, one body: nourishment to the world until we all feast together at Christ's heavenly table. May you work through us, God, that all might be fed. Be made known to us here, now, in the breaking of this bread, Living, Life-Giving God.

And now, with the confidence of the children of God, let us pray for our daily bread, praying the prayer Jesus taught us: THE LORD'S PRAYER


The bread of life.

The cup that saves us, and sets us free.


The table is set and all are invited. In the United Methodist Church, we practice an open table. This means you don't have to be a member, you don't have to be baptized, you don't have to take classes, you don't even have to be in a good mood. You are invited to come and know that no matter who you are and where you are on your journey, you are a beloved child of God and God's grace is sufficient.

We will be taking communion by intinction, meaning I will give you a piece of bread and you can dip it in the cup. Now, let us come to the table to see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us in the choirs of angels.


Let us pray:

In the Psalms we read, “Taste and See that the Lord is Good.” God, as we go forth from this table to celebrate a baby, a king born in a feeding trough, help us to remember this meal, remember what it is to taste and see your goodness and mercy. Now may we go and feed others. Amen.

Monday, December 10, 2012

The Voice from the Wilderness

This sermon was my second during the Advent season at the Deer Creek Charge.

Scripture: Luke 3:1-6 (NRSV)

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.

He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah, “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

'Prepare the way of the Lord,

make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,

and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,

and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”


I must confess to all of you this morning that I spent most of my sermon preparation this week dancing around to the soundtrack of the musical Godspell. It is one of my favorite musicals (I prefer hippie musicals). The song “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord” is sung by John the Baptist, calling people to repent. If you have seen the musical live, you may associate the rushing forward in the song--- which, if the production you see includes a huge cast, sounds like a herd of elephants--- with the forward motions of the crowd, proclaiming as loudly and joyously as you have to do to sing “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord.” So to me, John the Baptist's words in our scripture this morning take on a musical and physical quality to them, bringing them up off the pages to lead me in a dance toward repentance. Not to worry--- I will not demonstrate this dance. I think our dancers this morning did much better demonstrating this than I could.

So let's tap our feet a little as we pray together:

Patient Teacher, we give you thanks for the voices out of the wilderness

toe-tapping voices, at times, but voices that call us to repentance.

As we come together this morning, help us to better hear the voices of the prophets. May these voices guide us in this Advent season. Amen.

So our timeline is a bit off this morning. We expect to read stories of angels appearing to Mary and Joseph. At the very least, we expect that the prophecies we read to be the ones about the prince of peace, the little child leading them. We don't expect a hairy, camel-hair wearing, locust-eating guy on the edge of the wilderness. (Sidebar: Luke doesn't talk about John the Baptist's diet or clothing like Matthew and Mark do, but still, that is our image when we think of him, no matter what Gospel we're reading.) And besides, aren't John and Jesus supposed to be about the same age? So how come we are talking about John's ministry before we get to the baby in the manger? Just last week we were reading Zechariah's prophecy about John a prophecy showing a joyful expectancy much like what we hear in that Godspell song, and now John is all grown up preaching in the wilderness.

But this is the thing about Advent. We aren't just preparing for the birth of a baby. We are preparing for all that Jesus' life and ministry meant. We are preparing the way of the Lord.

But Ann Howard, a pastor and director of an organization called the Beatitudes Society, makes an important point. She writes, “I can’t hear the Baptist’s call to prepare until I get out there to the wilderness, out beyond the edge, beyond the usual, the conventional, the expected. So where’s my wilderness in this moment in time? Where am I being called beyond my comfort zone? What might I leave behind? When do I choose safety over risk? What new questions could I be asking? What old answers do I settle for? What fears hold me back? What encounters await?”1

This is what draws me to the song from Godspell, I think. Why I can't get it out of my head. Music has a way of pushing us beyond the edge--- particularly dance. It forces us to relax and open up and risk. The uninhibited nature of all those people rushing to be baptized in Godspell, dropping everything to start a new life, that is what we are moving towards. But first, we have to stop. Listen. Get out there to the wilderness.

Most of us are not currently living in ways that we can stop and listen. I am one of those people, going going going all the time until I think Aaron considers hiding my computer and my car keys from me. And part of that, for me, comes from being in school for so long. In school, there is always something you could be doing: a paper to write, another essay to read--- and you aren't finished when it is five o'clock. Of course, ministry is the same way, housework and yardwork are the same way, taking care of kids is the same way: many of us are very good at finding excuses to be busy all the time.

In seminary, though, I read one of those books that smacks you upside the head. It was called The Circumference of Home by Kurt Hoelting, a seminary graduate who ended up becoming a commercial fisherman in Alaska. It is a beautiful book about his decision to live within a one-hundred mile radius of his home. He did not drive within that year, only took public transportation, biked, kayaked, and went on hiking trips. In the book he talks about what he calls the three-day rule. He says that he noticed it takes three days on a retreat to “dispel the clutter in our minds and settle the scattered energy in our bodies.” He says that “it simply takes this long for the soul to catch up with the body.”2 How can we hear John the Baptist's words to prepare if our souls have so much work to do to catch up to our bodies?

Do you feel like your soul is out of sync with your body? I know I am one of those people who is constantly making lists in my head, constantly thinking about what else I need to do, what can I check off the list next. So three days for our souls to catch up with our bodies? I don't have that kind of time! Our souls really need to learn to move a little faster. So are we just stuck hoping that voices from the wilderness like John the Baptist's will just be loud enough to break us out of the busyness for a moment. Can we find a way to skip the stopping and listening part?

Besides that, we are moving too fast to even know what to listen to, where it is we ought to be listening. We don't know where the edge is. I really love how Ann Howard links the wilderness to the place outside our comfort zone. It really brings the place to life for me. We aren't just talking about a desert out in the Middle East somewhere. The thing about the bible is that though it is describing particular events in particular times, those particularities seep into our own lives. So when we talk about John the Baptist speaking from the wilderness in the first century, we are also talking about prophets today speaking to us from different kinds of wilderness. Where are those wild places we tend to ignore or avoid, those places outside our comfort zones?

So many big questions this week and we haven't even gotten to repentance! First, stopping and listening, then seeking someplace outside our comfort zones in which to listen--- these are the first steps in preparing the way of the Lord.

My first challenge to you this Advent, then, is to try being still. There are other ways we can slow our bodies down, I think, besides dropping everything and going on a retreat longer than three days right before Christmas. During Lent, the season before Easter, we talk a lot about spiritual disciplines--- and we ought to be talking about them in Advent too. Instead of starting with three days, try three minutes, then thirty, then maybe even three hours. Pray, read the bible or a devotion like the Upper Room, journal, just be still. Listen for the prophet's voice. We cannot prepare unless we can first listen and slow down.

But we can't just listen. John the Baptist's ministry shows us that risk is involved, that going beyond our comfort zones are involved. Don't just sit and listen, but go and listen. John the Baptists can't always comes to us anymore, as walled in as we are by our busy schedules. But we can go, opening ourselves to hear those messengers, knowing they come from the wild places outside our comfort zones. Come with us to serve at the Day Shelter in Edgewood on Christmas Eve. Come to me for the address and phone numbers of our homebound folks so you can call or visit them this Christmas. There are many ways you can step outside your comfort zone, change things up a bit, to place yourself in that place of wildness and possibility from which God's prophets like John the Baptist seem so often to speak.

As many of you know, I served as a chaplain last year in a hospital in New Jersey, both on a regular medical/surgery floor as well as on the behavioral health unit (psych ward). My experience there, more than anything else had in the past or has since, taught me these first steps of Advent preparation. See, the hospital was a wilderness place for me. You face your worst fears of illness and death and loneliness every day in a hospital. And besides that, we didn't start our work by shadowing the regular chaplains or anything like that. We were just thrown into the midst of it without a clue how to begin.

Well, maybe we had a little clue. Pray. That is always the best place to begin. Every morning I entered the hospital, I did not do anything until after I had gotten what we call a census, the list of names and room numbers, and prayed over each and every name, asking both that I could be the presence of God for each person I encountered and that I could see the presence of God in each person I encountered. Then, before I left for the day I would pray again over the names, including any prayer requests I had from patients or nurses I had talked to.

This time in prayer opened me to go into the wilderness that to me was the hospital. Every day on my way to the hospital, I had these horrible knots in my stomach, and I was so fearful. But after I prayed, I felt this strength guiding me.

So the practice of prayer guided me to the wilderness, and it opened me up to hear God's voice in those I met. In the voice of the man younger than I was suffering from alcoholism telling me he would keep me in prayer: this was a prophet showing me that God was always with me. In the voice of the woman suffering from psychotic episodes trying to learn to pray: this was a prophet teaching me of God's healing power, renewing power. In the voice of a man with a strange head injury who called me pastora, Spanish for woman pastor: this was a prophet reminding me of God's call on my life. And in the voice of the young woman as she tenderly held the hand of her husband in a coma: this was a prophet saying nothing can separate us from the love of God.

These were Advent moments for me, moments of God breaking in on me to show me new life. They were moments in which I was opened up to hear that song, Prepare ye...

Next week we'll talk more about John the Baptist, about that dance of repentance, but this week, I want you to go into the wilderness. Listen to those voices on the edge, to discover what, in this new year, you are being called out for.

In the scene in the movie Godspell in which John the Baptist sings “Prepare Ye the Way of the Lord,” people hear his words echoing as they go about their daily lives, driving cabs, waiting tables. Their feet tap to his message of repentance. And I don't think their feet get tapping because it is an easy message. Instead, it is a message that gets under their skin, a message they can't get out of their heads. May this message of preparation get stuck in you my friends. May the voice crying out from the wilderness move you to action in this our Christian new year. And, as the scripture says all flesh will eventually see, may you see the salvation of God. 

1Ann Howard, “Advent 2: Into the wilderness,” A Word in Time, The Beatitudes Society, 3 December 2012, http://www.beatitudessociety.org/blog/14-advent_2_into_the_wilderness.

2Kurt Hoelting, The Circumference of Home: One Man's Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: De Capo Press, 2010) 205-206.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Give Us Light, Guide Our Feet

This was my first sermon in the season of Advent for the Deer Creek Charge. We welcomed everyone into worship with party hats and sparkling cider, mimicing our New Year's Eve traditions to emphasize how Advent is the beginning of our Christian new year!

Scripture: Luke 1:68-79 (NRSV)

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them. He has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, and has remembered his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham, to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days. And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High; for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways, to give knowledge of salvation to his people by the forgiveness of their sins. By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

Sermon: Give us light, guide our feet

Will you pray with me:

Tender God, merciful God, you are always ever redeeming us, raising us up.

Raise us up today in this place. Speak to us through these words, through our thoughts, or just in spite of us. Give us light, God. Guide our feet. Amen.

Have you ever been caving? Now, I have never been hard core splunking or anything, but I love visiting caves and caverns. The damp coolness of the stone enveloping you is oddly comforting in hot summer months, at least at first, though it would not be so now. As a child, I was a science fiction and fantasy nut (some would say I still am), and so being in caves would open up my imagination even bigger than it already was. The stalactites and stalagmites would glitter, sometimes faintly, and the texture of the rock walls was fascinating to me. Of course, we could only see that glitter and texture because we brought our own light into the caves. See, I was told once that there are two places on earth where you can experience total darkness--- not darkness like what we have up here in the country at night, even when clouds block the moonlight. There is still something there your eyes can get used to. No, total darkness can make you go blind because your eyes are searching crazily for the light. One of these two dark places is the depths of the ocean, but the other is a cave. So caves have always been places in my imagination of intense beauty at the same time they are fearful places.

Veteran caver Chris Nicola says, “When you first go into a cave, you feel like you are in the smallest area you have ever been in your life. Your heart pounds, and you sweat. You have this horrible feeling of confinement. It is very important that you get acclimated or you will get tunnel vision, which prevents you from focusing on the important things such as hydration, staying warm, and not getting lost.”1 Can you imagine living in this darkness, living in this fear for almost a year, constantly struggling for survival and then one day emerging, jaundiced, weak, muddy, into the sunlight? This is what 38 people from five different families did in the spring on 1944 in Ukraine. They pushed and pulled their way up a hole, a twenty-five foot hole like a chimney, to breathe in the fresh, sweet air after having lived below ground for so long that one of the youngest, a little girl of about five named Pepkale, implored her mother to turn off the candle when they emerged from the cave. She was so used to the sensory deprivation of the cave that she could not see. And, it appears she had forgotten that there was a sun.2

These 38 people had been living in and out of caves in what is now the Ukrainian countryside since first escaping their town in 1942. They were Jews living during World War II, and Esther Stermer, the matriarch, said that she would not go to be killed in the slaughterhouses that were called concentration camps. So they hid. First they hid in a cave until they were found by Nazis. They were able to escape, barely, and hid out in the wilderness for six weeks until they found another cave, a better one with a supply of fresh water, better ventilation, and more room. It turned out to be one of the longest caves in the world. A few of the men would go out at night every few weeks to get food and other supplies until they heard of the end of the war.

The caves, for them, became a sort of salvation, a way for them to hide from all those seeking to kill them. But they were just surviving, not living, and so when they were able to come back to the surface, back into the sunlight, they were overjoyed. Shlomo Stermer commented, “Can you imagine, to pull out from that hole--- there was a woman over seventy in there and some kids. It took us a few hours, finally we all are out and we looked at each other--- we were like a piece of mud everybody. But it was a beautiful day. The sun was shining.”3

Modern cavers require special clothing to ward off hypothermia, advanced technology for lighting and travel, and intensive instruction in ropes and navigation to survive underground for just a few days. How did 38 untrained, ill-equipped people survive for so long in such a hostile environment during history’s darkest era?”4 The record before this story was discovered of a person living inside a cave was 205 days. The women and children in these families lived underground for 344 days--- almost a year.

Light was given to them who sat in darkness and in the shadow of death. But the light in this case was not just the sunlight on their faces after almost a year in the darkness of the cave, but rather was the light of their love for one another. One time, in the first cave, the Nazis discovered the family, and Esther, the matriarch, talked to them, distracting them while much of the family got away. At another point, members of the family were captured and those who were free risked their lives to go into town and barter for the lives of their family members. And every day, each person had a job to do within the caves, so that all could survive the harsh conditions. Shulim Stermer pronounced: “By ourselves, one by one, we would have been killed, but because we stuck together, we had a chance.”5

This incredible story of survival is one that speaks to our season of Advent. It speaks to how, though we continue to wait and prepare in Advent, it can be like that moment when we emerge from the heavy darkness of the year to hope and make a new way for ourselves--- together. It is a time when we can help lift each other up. Though our celebrations of January 1st are slightly different from our celebrations of Advent, like our secular new year, Advent gives us the space to start over when we need it--- and it gives us the space to start over not after the gluttony and commercialism of the holiday season, but during. It helps us to make space to focus on hope and preparation for Jesus' coming that looks more like celebration than too often the mania of our Christmas preparations become.

Our scripture reading this morning comes from Zechariah's proclamation at the birth of his son John the Baptist. Luke's gospel's preparation for the birth of Christ really centers around the prophet John the Baptist. Zechariah and Elizabeth were relatives of Mary's, and Elizabeth conceived in her old age and gave birth to the child who would be John the Baptist. Zechariah's words are beautiful, and speak of preparing the way of the Lord. But it is the end of his proclamation that captures me: “By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

This is what Advent is about, allowing the dawn from on high to break upon us, to give us light. It isn't about frenzied preparation. It is about joy and peace. Advent is a season of light out of darkness. It is the season where the dawn can break upon us, where we pray for and act to bring light to touch those who sit in the darkness of the cave, even if we are feeling that darkness too. This morning we have celebrated this new year, celebrated the possibilities of new life that it brings together. Because Advent is also this: to grow together as a community, to take care of one another, to reach out and bring a little light into someone else's darkness.

Give us light, God. Guide our feet. Amen.

1Chris Niccola interview with Carey Ostergard, “The Darkest Days,” National Geographic's Adventure Magazine, June/July 2004, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0406/q_n_a.html.

2Pepkale Blitzer in “Family escaped Holocaust by living in caves,” NBC Today Show, 2004, http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/5324069.

3Shlomo Stermer in Scott Simon, “Caves of Salvation: Ukrainian Jews Survived Holocaust in Underground Grottos,” National Public Radio, 4 June 2004, http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1924568.

4Peter Lane Taylor, “Off the Face of the Earth,” National Geographic's Adventure MagazineJune/July 2004, http://www.nationalgeographic.com/adventure/0406/excerpt4.html.

5Shulim Stermer in “Family escaped Holocaust by living in caves,” NBC Today Show, 2004, http://video.today.msnbc.msn.com/today/5324069.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Comfort in the Dust

This was a sermon given at our (the Deer Creek Charge) annual combined service with Clarks Chapel United Methodist Church, pastored by Rev. Mark Groover. I give thanks to Maggie and Robert Kribs for giving me permission to use their story.
This was perhaps the hardest and most fulfilling sermon I have preached so far. Part of that was the context: it was such an honor to be lifted up in my preaching by Clarks Chapel. Part of that was also working through my own grief and anger with the text. I give thanks for the opportunity.
Scripture: Job 42: 1-7 and 10-17
The scripture translation I used is a bit different from what you are used to reading. This is a translation of the Book ofJob by poet Stephen Mitchell, translated in such a way to capture the poetry of the original text. Hear now these words.

Then Job said to the Unnamable:
I know you can do all things and nothing you wish is impossible.
Who is this whose ignorant words cover my design with darkness?
I have spoken the unspeakable and tried to grasp the infinite.
Listen and I will speak; I will question you: please, instruct me.
I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you.
Therefore I will be quiet, comforted that I am dust.
Then the Lord returned all Job's possessions, and gave him twice as much as he had before. All his relatives and everyone who had known him came to his house to celebrate. They commiserated with him over the suffering that the Lord had inflicted on him. As they left, each one gave him a coin or a gold ring.

So the Lord blessed the end of Job's life more than the beginning. Job now had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys. He had seven sons and three daughters: the eldest he names Dove, the second Cinnamon, and the third Eye-Shadow. And in all the world there were no women as beautiful as Job's daughters. He gave them a share of his possessions along with their brothers.

After this, Job lived for a hundred and forty years. He lived to see his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren. And he died at a very great age.

Sermon: Comfort in the Dust

Holy One, we know you are not always a patient teacher---
we know more often than not we need your voice out of the whirlwind
to open our eyes. May our eyes be opened this morning.
Bless our worship, bless the words of my mouth
and the meditations of all our hearts that we might grow stronger and more courageous to ask questions of you as well as to admit to our own limitations in knowing you.
We pray this is the name of Jesus, who opens our eyes that we may see. Amen.

November First is All Saints Day. When we think of saints, we often think of that process of canonization and martyrdom that is usually associated with saints in Catholic traditions. But my mom always used the holiday to explain to us that our church believes that we could all be saints, that there is a little saint in all of us. She used to say during the church service, “Let me show you what a saint looks like.” And then she would hold up a mirror, so we could see our own reflections. Within each of us, she was saying, is the ability to make our lives a glimpse into the divine, opportunities in which we can help someone say, as Job did, “I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you.” Our lives can be windows into the mystery of God, ways to lead people from death to life.

Surely though we may have difficulty thinking of ways in which we have been saints, we can name saints in our own lives. Maggie and Robert are two saints in my life I have thought of often this year. Theirs is a love story that opened my eyes and continues to inspire awe in me whenever I think of them.

I don't even believe in soulmates, but that was the only way I could describe these two together. They just completed each other. They began dating sometime in summer of 2010. Maggie has a bit of a new age spirituality, always hungry to see God all around her. Robert at first seemed more reserved, a devout Catholic, but he too was hungry for God and the two of them could journey together, leading one another to books that inspired them, taking walks together and sharing their experiences of God. And they laughed together, which was a necessary healing for them both.

But theirs was certainly not an uncomplicated romance. Maggie was finalizing her divorce, getting out of what had been an abusive marriage. She had just started seminary with us, moving to a new place after spending over fifty years of her life in Syracuse, New York. It was a time of massive transition for her, and she wasn’t searching for more change. And then here Robert came, sweeping her off of her feet.

And then they found out he had cancer. She moved in with him, and lost her ordination because of it. I halfheartedly wanted to caution her, to remind her that they had just met, but theirs was one of those rare romances that it didn't matter if they had been together a day or a decade, they knew. They made each other better people, more deeply spiritual people, people who knew God better every day because they opened a window into God's love every moment they were together. His cancer went into remission. They were married last summer in California, on the beach, where her son lives. They honeymooned in wine country, picking up a bottle to share on their first anniversary. They were windburned, sunkissed, and so happy it was infectious. Just being around them would leave me uplifted, knowing that their completeness together was what God hopes for all of us to find in one way or another.

And then his cancer came back. Maggie didn’t talk about it much, but her laugh wasn’t as easy, and Robert got tired so easily, they had planned with two other couples from seminary who also got married over the summer, to celebrate their marriages all together with the community in our chapel. But they kept having to push the date back until finally they pulled something together quickly and quietly between doctor’s visits, only their closest friends present. We used the wine from Maggie and Robert's honeymoon for communion. She didn't want to drink it without him on their anniversary.

She showed me their wedding pictures for the first time as we sat in the hospital just before he was put on hospice. Can you imagine? Sharing your new wedding pictures while your spouse is dying? She was one of the most beautiful brides I have ever seen, a peacock feather fastener and birdcage veil over her crazy curly dark hair, a beautiful ivory lace dress letting the green underdress peak through. And he looked handsome in his light suit, both of them sporting brilliant smiles.

She cared for him as he died. She is a good caretaker, patient, gentle, funny. But the cancer went to his brain, messed with his personality, and that guy she so loved she said sometimes she wanted to punch him. And still, she persevered, if only for those moments when they could touch, just their fingertips because he was in too much pain to have even a feather brush up against his skin. But they would touch and know that there was no separation. They would know that that moment of connection was worth everything.

She said he wrote a lot, and she'll bring up profound spiritual things he said from time to time. He told her to remember that “there is grief, there are tears, but there is no more separation.” He died in March. They were two whose bond of love would surpass the power of the grave. They would keep on living and loving hard, even when their physical bodies weren't together. Maggie signed her congratulations to me and my new husband this October from her and Robert, writing he was loving us from there too. And he is.

I was so angry all winter and spring at God, at the cancer. I, even as an outsider, was channeling Job on Maggie’s behalf. I thought God was a rotten God, tearing apart a love that lifted up all those who came in contact with it. And I think it is the way many of us pray in the face of tragedy, in the face of gross unfairness. And I think Maggie prayed this as well. It is an important step in our grief. We must ask God why. We must argue with God. Wrestle. How could God separate a love like that, a true, good, holy thing that gave light and life to all who came into contact with it? How dare God separate true soulmates before they even celebrated their first year of marriage together?

But that wrestling is not the end of the story. It will continue through the end, I think. But instead, God breaks into our lives, stepping into those moments of profound despair. God doesn't answer our questions. At least God didn't answer Job's question and didn't answer mine. But God opened our eyes and encouraged us to live. In Job’s case, God spoke directly from the whirlwind, but in my case, God used saints to burst into my life, to show me how limited my understanding of love was.

I saw Maggie in the hallways at school, afterwards. I ate with her and went on walks with her, and every single time my eyes were opened to the immense power of love. She would see a cardinal and smile, seeing it as a token of Robert's love for her, a bit of beauty in her sorrow. He is still making her a better person, still completing her, still teaching her; even when all our human understandings of love say “until death do us part.” See, God's Creation does not follow our human rules of life and death, of justice even. Robert and Maggie are saints whose lives reflect more God's beauty than human limitations.

Are there saints in your life who are teaching you more about God every day?
Are there saints who still open your eyes to God long after they have passed on?

Job in our scripture reading today really needed a saint in his life. The first two chapters of Job are in folktale form, and we are told in few words that Job was righteous, and feared God, and God let Satan take all his wealth and his children away from him to, basically, satisfy a bet. The lesser known part of the Book of Job is the thirty-six chapters of poetry in which Job blasphemes God and Job's friends insist that Job must deserve his life. Job’s friends are not saints. They are afraid of Job’s anger, of his grief, of his questions, and rather than responding with compassion, they lecture him. Job does not need a lecture. He needs love. Job calls God a rotten excuse for a God, showing his righteousness, rightly refusing to give up his claim to innocence. Here he has been sitting in ashes, unable to move. And we all need that time to sit in ashes. We all need to be angry. But we can't spend the rest of our lives not living, cursing the day we were born as Job did.

And so God spoke. God speaks to us in still small voices, in the chaos of the storm, and through the voices of others, always trying to lure us back to life. In Job’s case, God does not answer Job’s question why, but paints a beautiful picture of the intricacies of Creation, turning Job’s affirmation of death into one of life.1

When God's voice from within the whirlwind quieted, Job could not think of what to say, not at first. Finally comes: I am comforted that I am dust. These are the words that Job utters, eyes wide, voice small as though it had been frightened away. Here in the forty-second chapter of Job, we take our first breath since God has spoken. In most translations we are familiar with, we read Job's response as that he “abhors himself and repents in dust and ashes.” Scholars today see this as an incorrect translation, pointing out that a better translation of the Hebrew is what we read this morning, that Job names himself dust.

For some of us, calling ourselves dust doesn't seem much different than saying we hate ourselves. But Job calling himself dust was not a way of self-loathing, but rather a way of recognizing that he is not God--- in fact that he is so far from being God that he is merely dust, swirled by God's movements throughout the world but unable to fully understand the Divine. The burden of explaining God is lifted from him, from all of us. The burden of rationalizing is lifted, and instead we can live free to wonder at the ways God moves among us in each moment.

Job said in response to God's voice from the whirlwind: “I had heard of you with my ears, but now my eyes have seen you.” Many of us know of God. But how have we seen God calling us to life? How have we experienced God? And how have we changed when we experience a God who does not follow our expectations of what the divine should be?

Saints channel this voice from the whirlwind, I think. They show us life even when we are surrounded by death. On All Saints Day we remember their work, and we acknowledge the ways they have shown us how to live, even after they have died. Saints themselves do not have answers, but they offer us glimpses, moments, of love and life that don't erase the mystery but help us live into it.
Being a witness to Maggie and Robert's continuing love story has helped me regain my sight, has helped me not only to have heard of God, but to have seen God, seen this mysterious beautiful Creator who offers us new life, though not on our terms. And today, I give thanks for those relationships and moments that have left me comforted that I am dust, comforted that I cannot define God but rather am constantly amazed at the human boundaries the Divine bursts through. May God break through boundaries you have set up for the Divine. May God open your eyes, whether from the midst of the whirlwind, as God did for Job, or through the hands of those saints in your life. And may you, to use Maggie's words from her eulogy for Robert, help the world to know how close heaven is.

Let us pray:
Creating God bring us to life. Help open our eyes to see you, not to erase the mystery, but to see more of that mystery, to be moved by your unexplainable grace. In the name of Jesus, the one who came that we might have life abundantly, Amen.

1“This general turning of Job's first affirmation of death into an affirmation of life is minutely worked out in the language and imagery of the poem that God speaks.” Robert Alter, “Voice from the Whirlwind: God Answers Job in a Panoramic Vision,” from Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Poetry (New York: Basic Books, 1985), 85, 94, 96-97, excerpted here: http://www.jhom.com/topics/topics/voice/job.htm

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Living into the Tensions

So I know I have been terrible at posting. But there are a few sermons I will put up eventually! And hopefully after the wedding I will be doing some more creative writing. But in the meantime, here is a reflection crossposted at OnFire on General Conference 2012, four months later.

Because we got back after the end of chapel services on campus, the General Conference 2012 class from Drew Theological School planned a worship service around the experience of General Conference for the fall. I spoke with my friend and fellow Drewid Joe Samalenge at the service about living into the tension of General Conference. I spoke about the importance of finding life-giving communities when living in ugliness (see the transcript after the jump). Joe spoke powerfully of his experience as a translator, the struggle between where he is now (Drew) and where he came from (Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe). What follows is the video of the worship service and a taste of how we grabbed a hold of hope after GC2012.

We now have the summer between us and General Conference 2012. How have you continued to reflect on the experience, either of being there or watching it or hearing about it? How are you imagining General Conference 2016? What are you doing now to live into your vision for the church?

Opening Worship and my witness

Joe's testimony and communion

Closing in song

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yes, but that's not the last word

This sermon is part of a series I did for the Deer Creek Charge on the story of King David. I won't post the whole series, just parts of it. I hope it gets you interested in the story from 1 and 2 Samuel to check it out for yourselves!

2 Samuel 11:1-15, 27 (Common English Bible)

In the spring, when kings go off to war, David sent Joab, along with his servants and all the Israelites, and they destroyed the Ammonites, attacking the city of Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone and inquired about the woman. The report came back: “Isn’t this Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (Now she had been purifying herself after her monthly period.) Then she returned home. The woman conceived and sent word to David.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

Then David sent a message to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked about the welfare of Joab and the army and how the battle was going. Then David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”

Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. However, Uriah slept at the palace entrance with all his master’s servants. He didn’t go down to his own house. David was told, “Uriah didn’t go down to his own house,” so David asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just returned from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?”

“The [Ark of the Covenant] and Israel and Judah are all living in tents,” Uriah told David. “And my master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and have sex with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!”

Then David told Uriah, “Stay here one more day. Tomorrow I’ll send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. The next day David called for him, and he ate and drank, and David got him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out to sleep in the same place, alongside his master’s servants, but he did not go down to his own home.

The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. He wrote in the letter, “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.”

But what David had done was evil in the LORD ’s eyes.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13 (The Message)

When Uriah's wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.

But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him: “There were two men in the same city--- one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.

“One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man's lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”

David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be [hanged]! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”

“You [are] the man!” said Nathan. “And here's what God, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master's daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn't been enough, I'd have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite's wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is God speaking, remember! I'll make trouble for you out of your own family. I'll take your wives from right out in front of you. I'll give them to some neighbor, and he'll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I'm doing mine with the whole country watching!”

Then David confessed to Nathan, “I've sinned against God.”

Nathan pronounced, “Yes, but that's not the last word. God forgives your sin...”

Psalm 51:1-12 (Inclusive Bible Translation)

O God, have mercy on me!

Because of your love and your great compassion,

wipe away my faults;

wash me clean of my guilt;

purify me of my sin.

For I am aware of my faults,

and I have my sin constantly in mind.

I sinned against you alone,

and did what is evil in your sight.

You are just when you pass sentence on me,

blameless when you give judgment.

I was born in sin,

conceived in sin---

yet you want truth to live in my innermost being.

Teach me your wisdom!

Purify me with hyssop until I am clean;

wash me until I am purer than new-fallen snow.

Instill some joy and gladness into me;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice again.

Turn your face from my sins,

and wipe out all my guilt.

O God, create a clean heart in me,

put into me a new and steadfast spirit;

do not banish me from your presence,

do not deprive me of your holy Spirit!

Be my savior again, renew my joy,

keep my spirit steady and willing[.]


Famed preacher Barbara Brown Taylor points to this story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba to counter the claim that the Bible is a wholesome guide to family values.1 And when I realized that this Sunday was the actual Sunday before school starts, I thought, hmmm, this story doesn't fit well with back to school, child-friendly themes. But I thought it was a part of David's story that was too important to skip over. Early in the summer, you talked about a young David's trust in God through the story of his anointing and of his defeat of Goliath. The last two weeks, we talked about David dancing with all his might before God and we spoke of how he wanted to build God a house, but God decided to build David a house instead. I have been careful to point out that David is flawed, but we haven't focused on any particular story that illustrates his sin. And this is the big story. In fact, the bible tells us in first Kings chapter fifteen verse five that David was faithful in all things except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

And so a sermon series, even a short one like this one, on David, is not complete without looking at the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba. But I think it is a story that does more that just disprove the idea that the bible is a wholesome guide to family values. It also shows us that even when we sin in big ways like David did, God still loves us. God does not leave us. God asks for repentance and then forgives us completely. And so this service, our scripture readings, our songs, our prayers have been about inviting us into that part of the story. It isn't about us wallowing in our sin, wondering how God could ever forgive us, no--- David didn't do that. It is about recognizing the truth of our lives, and trying to make things right, with the promise that God is beside us.

So let us pray:

Patient Teacher,

Guide us through this difficult story this morning,

difficult for so many reasons

including the fact that it reminds us too much of our own battles with sin.

May your presence with us show us the way to your abundant grace. Amen.

Many of you know the tradition that says David wrote most of the Psalms we find in the bible. Psalm 51 in particular is linked to the story we read earlier of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba, thought to have been written after David recognized his sin. And the language of the psalm is certainly what I picture the David who danced before the Ark of the Covenant writing. When he asks for forgiveness and a clean heart, he isn't just asking for peace, or for a removal of guilt. Be my savior again, renew my joy, we read. David is asking for the return of joy, that joy he knew so well that really defined his relationship with God.

Because this joyful relationship with God is nowhere to be found in our story this morning. We see David waking up in the morning, not full of the presence of God, as he may have been that morning he decided he wanted to build God a house, no. Rather he wakes up in the morning plagued by what inspirational author Max Lucado calls “altitude sickness.”2 He says that David has been too high too long, too powerful for too long. He has become the kind of guy who no longer wakes up in the morning full of gratitude and joy for what God has done for him. He has begun to think too much of himself, and he has begun to take for himself. He no longer sees the need to be with his own men in battle, and not because he's had a change of heart, wanted peace, but because he wants to lounge about at home instead, napping and doing as he pleased.

We all start to get this complacent at times. Now, it doesn't always mean that we then sin quite as grandly as David did, but it does open us up to some poor life decisions. We start to forget to trust God, the way young David trusted God when he fought Goliath. We start thinking that we are self sufficient. We may forget God's presence alongside us--- our forgetting doesn't mean that God is no longer, there, however. It just means that we are prone to doing things as though God is not beside us.

And this is what David does. He sees a woman, decides he must have her. He's told that she is married, and her husband is named as though David knows who he is. But David takes what he wants, without caring about the woman, her husband, or God.

The thing about the bible is that we have all read it or heard the stories many times--- but often it is the interpretations that stick and begin to take a life of their own rather than the text. This is why I keep naming this as the story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah, rather than David and Bathsheba. While there is nothing wrong with interpreting--- we must interpret scripture, we must try to make sense of it! That is what we do in worship and bible study. But sometimes we don't ground ourselves enough in the text. We allow our Hollywood sensibilities to take over. That is how we begin to think of the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba as a story of lust and seduction rather than abuse of power.

One commentator I read pointed out:

Interpreters have found a variety of ways to help us forget David's sin in 2 Samuel....Some ...have blunted the bite of sin by making this a tragic story of love. David and Bathsheba, the 1951 film starring Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck, [for instance] seems to say that whatever happened wasn't really sin, because they really, really needed one another. David was the sensitive, reflective king who just wanted to be loved for who he really was. Bathsheba was the lonely wife of an over-dedicated soldier. They fell in love! Love can't be wrong, or at least not very wrong. The event is remembered, but not as anything like a sin.

If this second interpretation has flourished in modern times, a third has shaped readings of 2 Samuel in many ages. It remembers the story in a way that attributes the seduction--- and so the sin--- to Bathsheba. She was bathing on her roof, after all. If the sin must be remembered, and remembered as sin, it can at least be blamed on the woman.3

Such interpretations happen over and over again in movies and in popular books, trying to smooth over David's power-hungry nature, and trying to make the story about sex rather than about abuse of power. There are incredibly dangerous, especially in a country like ours today where politicians try to define rape as occurring only if there is brutal physical force. Let's not play word games with women's lives, even women's lives way back in biblical times. Bathsheba was the victim here, and David sinned against not only Uriah, not only God, but also Bathsheba. And Nathan's confrontation with David names him a sinner and Bathsheba a victim. Nathan offers an interpretation different from our idealized Hollywood love story.

But before we even get to Nathan, we have David snowballing out of control in terms of sin. Like Ruthie and the Teeny Tiny Lie, David's transgression against Uriah and Bathsheba does not end with the one night with Bathsheba. Bathsheba tells him she is pregnant. That is all the note says, but between the lines we read that she will suffer, maybe even be stoned to death according to the laws of Leviticus, if her husband discovers her pregnancy, after all, he has been away at war and the baby cannot be his.

And so David devises a plan, bringing Uriah back home, only to find that Uriah is a better man than he is. While David has been home doing as he pleased the whole time, Uriah refuses to go to the comfort of his own home even for one night, even after he is drunk. Uriah reminds David of the other men living in tents on the battlefield, and also mentions that the Ark of the Covenant, the beautiful chest that symbolized the presence of God for the Israelites, is there too. Uriah remembers God's presence. David does not. And faced with this more moral man, David does not turn to God for guidance as he would have when he was younger. Instead, he arranges to have Uriah murdered.

Though our own sins are not on this scale, I think we can recognize this cycle David is going through. How our own disconnect with God continues to widen and widen. And yet David still does not recognize his sin. He brings Bathsheba to his home to become his new wife. This is not a David who says a create in me a clean heart, but a David who says, well let's just make the best of a bad situation.

But God sends Nathan, the prophet, to wake David up. God is still with David, though David cannot feel God's presence anymore. God is still there, calling David back, patiently, maybe even angrily sometimes. God pursues us, will not let us go.

We talked a bit about Nathan last week because he first appears with David to tell David that God does not want David to build a house but will rather build a house, a lineage, for David. Prophets in the Old Testament were always around trying to keep kings honest, trying to prevent corruption. And David, for all his flaws, seems to listen to Nathan. Of course, Nathan is smart. He doesn't just come in, trumpets blaring, demanding David repent of his sin. Too often when we have hurt another or hurt God, someone telling us straight out causes us to be defensive, to shut ourselves up even further away from God. Nathan doesn't come in pointing a finger at David. Instead, he tries to bring David back to the time when David was a young shepherd boy in love with God by telling him a story of a shepherd.

It is this story that reminds us again this is no love story. David has sinned. Bathsheba, the lamb, is the victim. Uriah, the poor man, is the victim. But David doesn't see the parallels with his own life at first. Something within him stirs, though, causing him to passionately defend the poor man against the rich, even calling for the death of the rich man for his selfishness. And so Nathan looks at David, looks deeply into him and says with a kind of power, whether or not was a quiet declaration or a loud denunciation: You are the man.

A story followed by four simple words. And David wakes up. He confesses right there: I have sinned against God. But the death sentence for himself that he himself has proclaimed is not the last word. Barbara Brown Taylor writes:

God does not turn away from us. God sends prophets to wake us up, to tell stories that show us who we really are. If we are lucky enough to feel our hearts split in two, then we may find that even the death sentences we have pronounced on ourselves are lifted, because the recognition of sin is the beginning of the end of it. The moment we know we are lost and say so out loud, God can hear us to find us to take us home.4

Like David, we also need to wake up from sin--- and like David, we see that sometimes even after we have had powerful experiences of God's love, we can forget and live as though God is not beside us, hurting when we hurt others. But God doesn't give up on any of us, not David, not any of us. God sends Nathans to wake us up, to recognize our sin so God can hear us and take us home.

We read Psalm 51 today because it expands David's realization that he sinned against God. You see the passion within the psalm, the desperation of the writer to reclaim that lost relationship with God.

O God, create a clean heart in me,

put into me a new and steadfast spirit;

do not banish me from your presence,

do not deprive me of your holy Spirit!

Be my savior again, renew my joy,

keep my spirit steady and willing[.]

David's is a story where we see him as murderer, adulterer, and predatory king. But that isn't the first word, and it isn't the last word. David is also a hero, beloved of God, and singer of psalms.5 It is a story that reminds us all that we have need of God's grace, and that reminds us of the enormity of that grace.

We read the modern-language paraphrase called The Message this morning when we read about David and Nathan because I love how after David has proclaimed his sin, Nathan says gently, channeling God's own love, “Yes, but that's not the last word. God forgives your sin.” The story continues with grief, as God tells David that the child will die--- which I cannot explain and certainly does not sound like grace and forgiveness, but you need to know the story. But such a continuation of the story reminds us that the consequences of our sin do not always end when we repent. Creating clean hearts in us does not release us from responsibility for old sins, but gives us the ability to live anew and make new choices. And that's why we remember that our sin is not the last word, even if the consequences from it reach deep into the future.

No, God's forgiveness is the last word, a forgiveness that renews our joy, strengthens our spirit, and washes us clean to face the world anew. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

Patient and Gracious God, we know there is a bit of David in each of us, strong and faithful, and sometimes foolish and deceitful. But we also know that you are a God of amazing grace and love, who forgives our sins, and gives us the resources to avoid them to begin with. Lord, Open our eyes to our mistakes, and to the ways you love us into preventing them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.6

1Barbara Brown Taylor, “You are the Man,” Bread of Angels (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997), 13.

2Max Lucado, Facing Your Giants: A David and Goliath Story for Everyday People (Nashville, Tennesee: W Publishing Group, 2006), 136.

3Ted A. Smith, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Commentary on Alternate First Reading, Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, WorkingPreacher.org, 2 August 2009, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=8/2/2009.

4Barbara Brown Taylor, “You are the Man,” Bread of Angels (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997), 15-16.

5“Preaching that tells this story in all its fullness will push us beyond the polarities that often order our thinking. It will remember David as murderer, adulterer, and predatory king as well as hero, beloved of God, and singer of psalms. It will break up the stories we tend to tell about others and ourselves, stories in which we are either good enough – not perfect, but good enough – that we have no real need of grace, or so bad that we are beyond the scope of grace. Remembering David's sin can also push us beyond the poles of cynicism and naivete in our political and institutional lives. The politics of David's court are brutal. But – often in spite of themselves, and almost always in ways the actors do not fully understand – these power politics are caught up in God's redeeming work. Remembering this can give vision for action that neither flinches from the morally risky work of politics nor tips over into a 'realism' that proceeds as if God had abandoned us to our own devices. Remembering the fullness of this story can help us see all of life as the theater for God's wily, costly, persistent performance of redemption.” Ted A. Smith, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Commentary on Alternate First Reading, Ninth Sunday After Pentecost, WorkingPreacher.org, 2 August 2009, http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?lect_date=8/2/2009.

6Melissa McDade, closing prayer, David and Bathsheba sermon, 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Pent B, 5 August 2012.