Based on Readings : 2Samuel 11:1-5 & John 6:1-21
Well, here we are once again considering the story of King David. We know a lot about his story. There is much that we celebrate in this David… the boy who slew the swaggering giant, Goliath, with just a small shepherd’s sling shot and a stone well-placed; the youngest son of Jesse, chosen by God and anointed king; the poet accredited as source of many of the Psalms we love; the great-great-great (how many greats?) grandfather of Jesus… But there is much more to this David, and it is not all to be lifted up and emulated!
Today’s text from 2 Samuel is a text we would rather not hear. I’ve managed to avoid preaching this text in all my years in ministry. I’ve generally taken holidays at this time of year, and some other retired minister or student minister has preached to my flock, and I don’t know if they have focused on this text or not. I’ll confess I was tempted to avoid this text again. But as I consider David’s story, in the context of our current world, there is much that is oh-so relevant!
David was a leader among his people, a man with many wives, a man with a charismatic reputation — anointed by God to be king. Can you imagine trying to oppose, or resist him? If God had called him into this position of power, was God involved in his every choice and decision? It seems like he may have believed he could do no wrong! We’re told that it was the spring, the season when kings went to battle… but not David. Instead he was at home, safe and comfortable. Seeing Bathsheba, he wanted her. And he convinced himself, that she was meant for him. He took her. She became pregnant, a natural consequence. David sent for her husband, Uriah, in an attempt to hide his transgression… but Uriah was more honourable than our hero David. Uriah would not take pleasure with his wife while his fellow soldiers were in battle.
David dug his hole deeper in his attempt to dig out from under this sin he had committed… Uriah was murdered — really — by the power of King David and his instructions from his position of safety. David’s story continues to spiral downward.
David was a man who saw what he wanted, had the power to take it, and took it! King David had power, and with power comes responsibility. But David abdicated responsibility, and instead used his power to manipulate his world and all within it to his own advantage. David got mired in the muck for sure! As our friend Janice Guthrie said to me this week, “Power is a good servant and a bad master.” How true! David let power drag him down!
Karl Bart has said every good preacher will prepare to preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other. So where are the parallels in our news today? Sadly, there are many contemporary stories we could choose on which to focus. The missing women whose stories have taken years to grab our attention… that would be an obvious story. But it occurs to me that the story most affecting us currently, in our own homes, and yards, is the story of water… or more specifically our current water shortage. The larger story, of course, is not the current local situation, but it’s cause.
I officiated at a wedding Friday evening — the day it rained. The wedding was planned for outdoors. The bride was Indonesian — the day was cool and wet — we were inside — no one was lamenting! We welcomed the rain, and would welcome more!
We might be tempted to think people have no power to influence the weather, but our choices matter. Our current water shortage is born out of decisions and choices in life-style over the past century — decisions by individuals, companies and governments. Our decisions matter! Our decisions now have the power to influence the future, for good or for ill.
Companies decide to log the forests by one method or another, preserving forests to clean the air and replenish the soil, or clear-cutting. Municipalities decide to save the best fertile land for growing food, or allow it to be covered with buildings and parking lots. Fisheries decide whether to exercise wisdom and leave fish to swim and grow and propagate and ensure the future of our fish stocks, or ignore the signs of nature and allow for over-fishing now at the expense of future stock. We make choices about how we travel, walking to local stores, using public transit, and the air we breath is affected for good, or not, influenced by the power of our choices.
We might not think we have power. We might not want to believe we have power. With power comes responsibility, and that can feel heavy. But the reality is that we do all have power — and responsibility to use our power for the larger good. We are among the dominant culture, the ones with money, education and influence, the ones with property and position, the ones with land and water. And we live in a land with freedom to vote.
Because our world has become so connected, via the internet, we have a more immediately effective voice than ever before in history. We can make our voice heard around the world in a moment, joining with others, with a power that has real potential to make a difference for good — or for ill. Through internet groups like Avaaz.org and sumofus.org and Jewish Voice for Peace we can connect to the power of others in petitions that spread around the world in minutes, accumulating the power of hundreds of thousands of voices and votes, to actually influence the decisions of world leaders.
This leads me back to the issue of our water shortage. The news reports and the petition I’ve seen all point to the money we are losing by not charging Nestle more for the water they are bottling and selling at a huge profit.
My question is more basic, why are we allowing Nestle, or any company, to scoop up and bottle our water at all? at any price? draining a precious natural resource? Nestle saw the water, decided they wanted it, and had the power to take it — and no one has stopped them.
Back to David. We generally think of him as a hero, and we cut him some slack. But really, David was a man who goofed big time! I’m embarrassed for him — he really trapped himself! He became so full of himself that he failed again and again, and the people let him get away with it. The thing is, David is not alone in his imperfections! The story is an illustration of how each action leads us onward to the next, and the next, in a natural progression that is very difficult to escape. One bad choice can start a pattern. Every choice matters!
We’ve spent a lot of time focussing on King David. So let’s think for a minute about our other text, and Jesus. We’re looking at John’s telling of Jesus feeding the 5,000. This is the only story that appears in all four gospels. In all there are six stories of Jesus feeding the multitudes who gathered to be touched by him and healed. John’s version is unique in several ways. Only in John’s telling does Jesus ask where they will buy food to feed the crowd. Only John tells us about a boy with loaves and fish to share, and the bread is made of barley, the grain of the poor. Only John tells us that the people are planning to make Jesus king, and when Jesus realizes this, he withdraws to the mountain by himself. Only John’s gospel concludes the feeding miracle with Jesus walking on the sea, coming to them, delivering them from a place of terror, to their safe destination.
John tells us Jesus is one who used his power to feed the hungry, to restore the balance and well-being of all. Jesus always resisted taking power for himself.
In time, David married Bathsheba. The child conceived that fateful day did not live long. But King Solomon was also their child, & Jesus was their great, great, how-many-greats? grandchild. Redemption! Amazing Grace!
We are living in a time of great transition. David’s time was such a time. Jesus’ time was such a time. It’s not easy to be in this space… to see the way forward when the path we’ve been on for so long has become rutted and clearly is not leading toward life. The people around Jesus wanted to lift him up and establish him on a throne like King David. But David’s way of using power was not the way of wisdom. John’s gospel comes from a Jewish Christian community. They knew the flaws of the past. John’s community were looking for a new way forward. It is so for us today. Their leader was Jesus, the one who fed the hungry, healed the sick, included the ones left out, and used his power to serve and restore the balance and well-being of all. As followers of Jesus, this is the work to which we are called. We must not become discouraged or distracted by dwindling numbers in the church. Jesus was one who used his power to serve, and called his friends to join him in serving the needs of those around them, right where they were. As followers of Jesus, this is our calling!