Sunday, March 26, 2017

David & Leonard (sermon 20170326)

The Lord is my shepherd. 
David: shepherd king! Why David? 
Why David?

Now, I've heard there was a secret chord 
That David played, and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
It goes like this, the fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The old Sunday School story that begins today, with our mental pictures of David the Shepherd Boy, who slays Goliath, David the psalmist of whom the Israelites chant “Saul has slain his thousands but David his ten thousands,” David faithful friend of Jonathan, David at whom Saul threw a spear and nearly killed him - - stories of David the Shepherd King go on and on, and we rejoice in them. 

But David grows up, doesn’t he, grows up out of cute shepherd boy: and be sure thy sins will find thee out.

+++.  +++.  +++

In church history the 4th Sunday in Lent is Rose Sunday, Mid-Lent Sunday, Laetare Sunday, Rejoice Sunday, Refreshment Sunday (in England “Mothering Sunday,” their Mother’s day). Centuries ago the pope appointed Rejoice Sunday (named after Laetare, the first word in the introit to the Latin Mass, from Isaiah 66:10, 
“Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her,
    all you who love her;
rejoice with her in joy, all you who mourn over her— 
that you may nurse and be satisfied
    from her consoling breast;
that you may drink deeply with delight
    from her glorious bosom,” 
and the pope declared Laetare Sunday to momentarily ease Lent’s onerous penitential burden of no music, no flowers, fish but no meat, substituting rose pink for the deep violet colors of reproof and reproach, no Gloria in Excelsis. And alleluia, hallelujah is neither sung, nor chanted, nor spoken, but forbidden. 

Some of the old “forbids” hold on, we never sing or say the alleluia in Lent, some rectors do not allow church weddings during Lent. But more and more over the years, the church so melds with society that “anything goes” and Lent is just another season of changing liturgical colors. I’ll admit, I was surprised when my Central Pennsylvania bishop scheduled my priest ordination for a night during Lent. But my Lenten ordination turned out beautifully. From the florist we ordered a thousand daffodils and Linda decorated our church altar with a thousand yellow daffodils, it was splendid, fragrant, magnificent; the church was jammed, not even standing room, two Roman Catholic bishops came, one later a cardinal, and I planned the liturgy, which to my rector’s consternation included not only renewal music for the first time in that conservative parish, but, especially for the first time, a woman parishioner as one of the lectors, breaking the ice in an old male patriarchal stronghold. March 1984, 33 years ago this month! I was 48 years old. I am not 48.

I don’t know about you, but looking at myself, I have changed greatly in those more-than-three decades. And not just the scary old fool whose face I shave in the bathroom mirror. Recently I read an article about a sixty-plus-year personality study that tracked individuals from age 14 to 77, maybe you read it? The study concluded that we change completely in that time, not only the cells of our bodies (which apparently completely change over a seven year cycle) - - but this longest of all studies of human beings, found that our personality, who and what we are, changes completely in those decades from our teens into our seventies. So I have changed, I’m now not even the person and personality I was that March 1984 evening my Pennsylvania bishop laid hands on me praying God, “make him a priest in your church.” And reading today’s Bible story, I have an inkling how David the Shepherd Boy felt after Samuel anointed him King, because ordination changes what and who you are. It was profound, as St. Paul and John Bunyan, “Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners”. 

Before we are ordained, Candidates for Holy Orders must be examined by a psychiatrist of the bishop’s trust and choosing, but instead of talking about myself, when the psychiatrist, a Roman Catholic, told me he had always wanted to be a priest, I got him talking about himself instead of me our whole session, and he gave me a good report (can you imagine giving Tom Weller a good report, the Chief of Sinners - - all it showed was that he didn’t know me). I thought I’d put one over on the Shrink, the Bishop and the Church, but the opposite turned out true. Beginning that ordination night, God put one over on me: as the bishop and elders lift their holy hands from your head and step back, you realize that you no longer belong to yourself, but now belong to God “whose power, working in us, can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine.”

And yet human creatures, we sin again and again.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” it certainly was so with David, whom God and Samuel called in from shepherding in the field to anoint David king. Reading wonderful old Sunday school Bible stories over the course of my lifetime, I see God loving David his poet, psalmist, musician and shepherd-come-king even more than Abraham. Moses the Egyptian Prince had a whine of annoying God in the extreme; but between God and Abraham, and between God and David, nothing but pure love, deepest mutual affection. Scholars have called Abraham“God’s old drinking buddy,” but from the time David is chosen and anointed, he comes closer than anyone else in the Hebrew Bible to Son of God, later whose throne only Jesus could fill.

But unlike Jesus who was tempted but did not sin, King David, David beloved Son, sinned wickedly and mortally, and on Rejoice Sunday, we remember: 

Your faith was strong but you needed proof
You saw her bathing on the roof
Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya
She tied you to a kitchen chair
She broke your throne, she cut your hair
And from your lips she drew the hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

So, Leonard Cohen again this morning as I profane Lent with hallelujahs, and a naughty reminder of David and Bathsheba, [after Adam and Eve, the apple and נָחָשׁ “nawcawsh” the serpent], our lusty, romantic old sin story of David breaking all the rules tells who and what we are as children of darkness, not light, and it happened in Lent. Listen:

11 And it came to pass, in the spring of the year, at the time when kings go forth to battle, that David sent Joab, and his servants with him, and all Israel; and they destroyed Ammon, and besieged Rabbah. But David tarried at Jerusalem. ~ ~ ~
2 And it came to pass one evening, that David walked out upon the roof of the king’s house: and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful to look upon. 3 And David sent and enquired after the woman. And was told, she is Bath-sheba, wife of Uriah the Hittite. 4 And David sent messengers, and took her; and she came to him, and he lay with her; and she returned unto her house. 5 And Bathsheba conceived, and sent and told David, I am with child. “You have impregnated me.” (2 Samuel 11, 12).

you know the story:

David wrote a letter to Joab, and shamefully sent it by the hand of Uriah himself. 15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the battle, and draw back from him, that he may be struck down and die."

And it happened just that way. Over against the commandments of God, David compounding mortal sin upon mortal sin. 

Confronted with his crime and sin, David himself said, “The man who did this deserves to die,” and Nathan the chaplain said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9 Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. 10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. 11 Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. 12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13 David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

David’s story is offered to you, Christian, to own your personal sin as you look inwardly this penitential season of Lent: 

You say I took the name in vain
I don't even know the name
But if I did, well really, what's it to you?
There's a blaze of light in every word
It doesn't matter which you heard
The holy, or the broken hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

In the life and sin of David, the Bible tells a shocking, lusty, murderous old story for one reason and one reason alone: to show, in the face of David’s repentance, the amazing grace of God’s love: creation, sin, judgment, repentance, and then forgiveness, absolution, restoration, which is redemption, which is Easter itself, hallelujah.

Outside the Gospels of Jesus Christ, there is in all scripture, no greater story of God’s love than David the Shepherd King. For all David’s sin and God’s displeasure, the Lord loved David. Although, in accordance with the prophecies of Nathan, justice followed David all the days of his life, the Lord loved David, never left him, never abandoned him.

The David story invites you to claim it as your story. On this spring day of Lenten rejoicing as we Rejoice for Jerusalem and recall God’s choosing David as his anointed, we celebrate that even David’s most monstrous crimes, most deadly sins, were not beyond the saving grace of God’s love. For all his sin and its consequences, David repents, and God forgives: Easter comes for David, David has his Easter. And Easter will come for you. We have in the Bible all these pages upon pages upon pages of the life and times, blessings and sins of David the Shepherd King, “the Lord is my shepherd,” so that you even you, can see that God is gracious and merciful, quick to forgive the sins of those who are penitent. So, David.

David:

I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch.
I’ve told the truth, I didn't come to fool you.
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah

Sermon in Holy Nativity Episcopal Church, Panama City, Florida 
by the Reverend Tom Weller on Lent4A, Sunday, March 26, 2017, Rejoice Sunday.

Lectionary texts for Lent4A

Old Testament

1 Samuel 16:1-13

The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.” Samuel said, “How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.” And the Lord said, “Take a heifer with you, and say, ‘I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.’ Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.” Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, “Do you come peaceably?” He said, “Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.” And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.
When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, “Neither has the Lord chosen this one.” Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.” Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.” He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 

The Response

Psalm 23

Dominus regit me
The Lord is my shepherd; *
I shall not be in want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures *
and leads me beside still waters.
3 He revives my soul *
and guides me along right pathways for his Name's sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil; *
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; *
you have anointed my head with oil,
and my cup is running over.
6 Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, *
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

The Epistle

Ephesians 5:8-14

Once you were darkness, but now in the Lord you are light. Live as children of light— for the fruit of the light is found in all that is good and right and true. Try to find out what is pleasing to the Lord. Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what such people do secretly; but everything exposed by the light becomes visible, for everything that becomes visible is light. Therefore it says, 
“Sleeper, awake!
Rise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.” 

The Gospel

John 9:1-41

As Jesus walked along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him. We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.” When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see. The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?” Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.” But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?” He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.” They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind. Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes. Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.” Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided. So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.” 
The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?” His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.” His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue. Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.” 
So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.” He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?” He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?” Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.” The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes. We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will. Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind. If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.
Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.” He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him. Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.” 

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