Monday, July 30, 2012

Pentecost 9B

Talk about an overly inflated sense of entitlement. It seems that David believed everything belonged to him, even the women.

We don’t think of David as a peeping tom, but that’s what we have here. Why David was spying on Bathsheba when she was having a bath raises more uncomfortable questions about David’s character than perhaps we want to ask.

After all, his story started so well! David is the shepherd boy who slew the giant Goliath with a sling-shot. He’s the unlikely child elevated to king over all of God’s people. He was the golden boy chosen to lead God’s people into a glorious era of prosperity and peace. God had great plans for David.

But here we have a David who behaves like a spoiled frat boy rather than the wise king that we expect from him.

And this was no mere youthful indiscretion or a case of “boys will be boys.”

What David’s did was an act of betrayal bordering on treason.

When David saw Bathsheba bathing on the roof he knew who she was. He knew she was Uriah’s wife. And he knew that Uriah was out fighting in a war that David asked him to fight. Uriah put himself in harm’s way because David asked him to.

And I’m sure that David knew that what he was about to do was wrong. But when he saw Bathsheba washing herself, he let his pants make his decisions for him instead of his head or his heart. And when David made his way into her bed, that choice could have ended his reign, and put the people of Israel in political peril.

So why would he do that?

Some scholars theorize that people - usually men - in high leadership positions have an overly active sex drive. They point to JFK and his dalliances with Marilyn Monroe, or Bill Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinski, as just two examples of the strong libidos of influential men. We’ve also heard of university professors and corporate CEOs who act as if their marriage vows were mere suggestions. This behaviour is not new.

But David took it a step further. He didn’t just have an affair with a soldier’s wife. He had the soldier killed. And not just killed with a quick stab in a dark alley. Or have one of his staff lace his potatoes with arsenic.

No, David told the generals to put Uriah at the front of the fighting, then pull all the other soldiers back, leaving Uriah on his own to fight a losing battle, but also knowing that his comrades put him in the position and not know why he found himself alone on the battlefield.

It’s a terrible story. And in this story David doesn’t look like any leader I’d want to follow. This is a moment that could dog him all of his life. This was an act that could have defined his rule over God’s people. Any other of David’s victories and accomplishments would be stained by his momentary lack of judgment.

No matter where David took God’s people in the future, this event had potential to keep David frozen in it. It could be a past from which it would be almost impossible to escape. It could be the story people remember about him, no matter what else he did. It could be the first line of his obituary. It could be his true legacy.

But he wouldn’t be alone. While the details may differ the problem is the same. Our past failures and hurts follow us through our lives, defining who we are, not allowing us to grow into the fulness of who God wants us to be.

The stories of the past are hard to escape. In my job I see this all the time. I hear lots of stories of peoples’ pasts. Most of them painful.

I hear stories of abuse, be it physical, verbal, sexual, or spiritual abuse. I hear a lot of stories of grief. I hear lots of stories of rejection, of loss, and of failure. And I hear lots of stories of guilt and of shame.

And when I hear these stories, it’s not the painful acts or traumatic events themselves that strike me. But what strikes me is how those injustices follow people throughout their lives. They’re like shadows hovering over peoples’ relationships, peoples’ choices for their lives, even impacting their physical health.

People become frozen in a certain moment of their story, a moment of trauma, and they live their lives out of that moment.

People then become defined by their pain. Their identity is overwhelmed by the trauma of the past. They feel shackled to the guilt and shame over acts that they cannot change. They feel trapped in a cage of suffering, from which they don’t know how to escape.

It’s something we ALL struggle with. We all struggle with past trauma. We all hear voices of earlier loss or rejection or pain or failure.

No matter how much you try to hide it, no matter how much to try to tell yourself it’s behind you, no matter how much you ignore your past, it’s there. And sometimes you can see the past that you’re carrying on your shoulders . And other times you’re blind to how it’s affecting your life.

Where is YOUR past showing itself?

Maybe your past is there in the way you misread a simple comment made by friend, hearing unintended harm.

It could be that your past is there in how you overreact to bad news, making it worse than it is.

Or your past could be in your tears after someone criticizes you.

Perhaps your past is there when you ignore wonderful opportunities lying at your feet because you’ve been told that living your dreams is for other people and not for you.

Your past is there you meet accomplishment and success with guilt and shame rather than with joy and celebration.

Your past could be there when you look in the mirror, and all you can see is someone else’s negative opinion of you.

Your past is there when the power of the previous years overwhelm the possibilities you see for the future.

So where does your past show itself? In what moment in your story are you frozen? What past event keeps haunting you, and keeps you from being the person that God wants you to be?

David could have been stuck in that moment when he abused his power and betrayed a war hero. And I’m sure there were those around him who would have liked to have done just that. His actions should have cost him his crown, and maybe even his life. After all, Uriah was out fighting for his king, and his king did not deserve his loyalty.

But God would not allow this awful event to define David’s rule. God would not allow David to be frozen in this moment. God would not allow David’s human weakness to get in the way of what God had in store for God’s people.

We get stuck in our earlier moments. We get frozen in time. We get trapped in our traumatic pasts.

But God does not.

God’s eyes are always firmly fixed on the eastern horizon.

God is always looking to the sunrise where new possibilities grow with each new morning.

God is always pointing to tomorrow where fresh starts and new opportunities throw themselves at our feet.

David was an adulterer. He abused his power and killed his lover’s husband. But God still had a future for him.

And God has a future for YOU. No matter what lies in your past. No matter the guilt or the shame, no matter the rejection or loss, no matter the grief or the pain, God’s future is bigger than your past, God’s tomorrow is bigger than your yesterday. Your story is not finished yet.

Sometimes I worry that, as Christians, we secretly delight in our failure. We primarily identify ourselves as “sinners” rather than “beloved.” We spend more time confessing what we have done wrong than celebrating how God has made us right.

I often think that we should be spending more time celebrating our successes, and pointing to God’s activity in our lives than always worrying about how we have grieved God.

If there is one take away from the story of David is that God does not define us by sin. God does not define us why what we have done wrong.

God does not allow our weakness to get in the way of what God wants to do in our lives and in the world.

It is God who takes your painful past and directs you toward a future of healing.

It’s God who pieces your broken life together again, and uses the wisdom of the battle fought to help you become more compassionate with others.

It’s God who wipes away your sin and shame and sends you into the world, wiping away other peoples’ sin and shame.

It could be that this was a defining moment in David’s rule. After this he became wiser, more humble, and more focussed. After this he became the king that his people needed him to be.

And the same is true for you. God uses those moments of pain and guilt in order to help you grow more fully into who God wants you to be.

God doesn’t will bad things into your life. God doesn’t send awful events your way just to help you grow.

But God knows that in a broken and fallen world, you will get hurt. You will hurt others. There will be moments when your life will not turn out the way you expected or the way you wanted it to.

And God uses those moments to repair the world. God uses those moments to help you grow into the person God wants you to be.

Scars breed wisdom. Pain brings compassion. Failure is the gateway to gratitude. Guilt teaches forgiveness.

So, show off your scars. Parade your wounds for all to see. Be proud of your battered and bruised heart. They made you into the compassionate and merciful person you are. Or at least they will.

They are signs of the kingdom of God, God’s future for us today, giving us hope until that day comes when all tears dissolve into joy, when all guilt melts into peace, when all pain sinks into love.

Just ask David.

May this be so among us. Amen.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Pentecost 6B

A prophet is not without honour except in that prophet’s hometown, and among the prophet’s own kin and in their own house...” Jesus tell us.

Wow. I’m glad I’m not a prophet. Or else it might be a tad awkward for us if Jesus is right about what hometown friends do to prophets.

I’ve been back where I grew up here in St. Catharines for the better part of a month, and I can’t say I’ve experienced the angry stares and angrier words that Jesus endured when he stepped foot back in his hometown in Galilee.

As most of you know, in the bible, a “prophet” isn’t just someone who can predict the future, although that could be part of the prophet’s job. A prophet is someone who speaks for God.

A prophet is someone with a special authority to speak God’s renewing Word to a specific people in a specific time and specific place.

A prophet is a poet, spinning visions of a new world.

A prophet sings songs of changed lives, of people turning from a life of woundedness to a life of healing.

A prophet tells stories of sin condemned and forgiveness received. A prophet exposes injustice and speaks out on behalf of the oppressed.

A prophet sees a world of possibility - God’s possibility - where others merely see suffering and pain.

I think the frosty reception at home must have stuck like a stone in Jesus’ sandal because he gives his followers some pretty terse and specific instructions in the next section as he sends them out to heal the sick and cast out demons. He says to dust off their feet in protest at the doorstep of anyone who wouldn’t receive their message, just like Jesus’ hometown friends wouldn’t receive his message.

They couldn’t see what Jesus was up to because they probably had other expectations of what a saviour was supposed to look like. They’d heard all their lives that God would send a warrior to kick the Romans out and restore Israel to the glory days of King David.

But instead, they got Jesus. A homeless preacher with nothing in his hands but the message of the kingdom of God. No wonder they were confused.

You may have noticed that I don’t wear a clerical collar. I stopped regularly wearing one about 4 years ago because I found that it ceased doing what it was supposed to do. I found that the clerical collar wasn’t a way INTO peoples’ lives, but was keeping me OUT. I noticed that people were talking to the ring around my neck rather than to me. And they were parsing their words.

And because of that, I saw that people were hiding information from me. They were afraid that I’d judge them for their mistakes and hurts. They were afraid that my uniform meant that I was in the business of condemning them for their failures rather than being an agent of God’s mercy and forgiveness. My clothes were getting in the way of doing my job.


The phone rang and I recognized the number on the call display and wasn’t going to answer it. But the guilt-ridden sucker in me wouldn’t let me ignore someone who I knew needed my help.

Hi pastor, I need you to pick up my daughter’s prescription and take it to her apartment...” said the voice on the other end of the line.

I sighed.

What was I, a delivery service? Why does she assume that I have time to drop everything to pick up some pills, then drive across town to drop them off?

But rather than get into a heated argument with this particular person, like I so often did before with her, I decided I’d help her and her daughter.

Where can I pick them up?” I asked.

I was still grumbling when I drove across the city to the outskirts where the woman’s daughter lived. I put my “Clergy Parking -Emergency” sign on my windshield hoping that it might discourage vandals or thieves, since she was living in a drug-addled neighbourhood.

She buzzed me in and I and made my way through the haze of marijuana smoke that loitered in the hallway. I was worried about the smell sticking to my clothes and having to answer some uncomfortable questions when I got home.

I knocked on her door. When she opened it and saw me in my work clothes, her eyes grew six sizes. She wasn’t expecting - for what she knew - a priest to deliver her medication.

She invited me in and told me her story. She’d been arrested for stealing a car and had a history of drug abuse. So the judge ordered house arrest.

She sat up straight in her chair with her hands folded on her lap as we talked. She chose her words carefully. It was clear that she didn’t trust me.

Thank you for picking up my pills, pastor” she said. “They keep the demons in their cages.”

What demons?” I asked.

Depression,” she said, examining my face for a reaction.

How are you finding the medicine? Is it helping?” I asked.

Sort of,” she answered. “They keep me functioning. But they make me feel like I’m just going through the motions. I have no highs or lows. They steal the flavour from life.”

Yeah,” I noticed the same thing when I was on them.

Her eyes widened.

YOU!?” she shouted. “Why would a pastor need pills for depression!?”

We all need help from time to time,” I said.

Her shoulders relaxed and the muscles on her face softened. Then the REAL conversation began. She talked about her bully of an ex-husband, the impossible expectations of a perfectionist mom, and the life she dreamed of having.

I realized that she was sharing so openly with me, NOT because I had a collar around my neck and the word “reverend” in front of my name. In fact those things kept us at a distance.

She shared so openly because I shared her brokenness. I wasn’t preaching from a mountain top as if I had all the answers. She shared so openly because I could stand in her place and know what she was feeling. I couldn’t judge her when others did.

So we communed as two children of God bound by our frail humanity. And I think that could be the blessing that Paul talked about when he said, “God’s power is made perfect in human weakness...”

That’s why Jesus sent out his followers with nothing in their hands but the power of God. Jesus wanted to make sure that nothing was getting in the way of real ministry to be done.


I’ve often said that the church of the future will look more like an AA meeting than a broadway musical. Despite all outward appearances I think people are still looking for God. And it’s not new music or multi-media presentations of the gospel that people want to connect with. It’s not the “6 Steps to More Victorious Living” type sermons that draw people to church or to God. It’s not a brilliant marketing plan that will get people through the doors.

People are looking for a place where they can be broken and not be ashamed of it.

People are looking for a place where they can display their wounds proudly and not have to worry about the judgment of others.

People are looking for a place where they can finally rest - and be weak – because they have been strong for far too long - and no one will walk over them.

People are looking for place where they will find a God who will NOT reject them because they are not perfect.

And I’m guessing that’s what YOU want. You want a place where you can finally let your scars shine. You want a place where the bruises of life don’t have to be covered up.

YOU want a place where you can bring your painful past, your failed relationships, your deep depression. YOU want a place where you can actually grieve.

YOU want a place where you can finally rest in your woundedness, and no one will bat an eye, because everyone else brings their own bruised and battered hearts.

And this IS that place. The church IS that place. That’s why God drew you here to be part of this family of faith. In a few moments, we will consume what we say is the body and blood of someone who was defeated by life. We commune with a God whose greatest power was to die. We become one with the woundedness of God.

But this is also the place where we find renewal and healing. Where there is a cross there is also an empty tomb. This is place where you bring your tears and bruises, but it’s also the place where God takes those pieces of our broken and fragmented lives and pieces them back together again. This is the place of restoration. This is the place of resurrection.

And when you share in the bread and the cup, Jesus shares in your brokenness so you can share in his resurrection. And you become a resurrection people.

You ARE a resurrection people. YOU are a people who are living God’s resurrection life.

You still have your wounds, and you still have your scars, but because of Jesus they do not define you.

You still have your hurts and your bruises, but because of Jesus they will NOT take over your life.

You still have your painful past, but because of Jesus that past does NOT determine the abundant future God has for you.

You are a child of God named and claimed as God’s own through your baptism into Christ where you died with Jesus and rose to new life in him. And that’s why you can go into the world sharing God’s healing love. Not as one who is better than others. But as one who knows how deep pit goes, and by God’s grace, was pulled out. You are one who has hope in Jesus for a new and better tomorrow.

So maybe I was wrong. Maybe I am a prophet. And maybe you are too. Maybe all of us who bear Christ’s wounds and who share in his resurrection are prophets. We are a prophetic people. We are the ones commissioned to speak for God. Not a word of judgement. But a word of love. A word of hope. A word of healing. A word of peace.

So whether we are honoured or whether we are dishonoured in our hometown, we will still be God’s healing mercy to those who surround us.

May this be so among us. Amen.