Aug. 8, 2021

Prayer of the Day

Gracious God, your blessed Son came down from heaven to be the true bread that gives life to the world. Give us this bread always, that he may live in us and we in him, and that, strengthened by this food, we may live as his body in the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.Amen.

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

5[King David] ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
  6So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. 7The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. 8The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
  9Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. 15And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
  31Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.” 32The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”
  33The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Psalm 130

1Out | of the depths
  I cry to | you, O Lord;
2O Lord, | hear my voice!
  Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my | supplication.
3If you were to keep watch | over sins,
  O Lord, | who could stand?
4Yet with you | is forgiveness,
  in order that you | may be feared. 
5I wait for you, O Lord; | my soul waits;
  in your word | is my hope.
6My soul waits for the Lord more than those who keep watch | for the morning,
  more than those who keep watch | for the morning.
7O Israel, wait for the Lord, for with the Lord there is | steadfast love;
  with the Lord there is plen- | teous redemption.
8For the Lord shall | redeem Israel
  from | all their sins.

Ephesians 4:25–5:2

25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27and do not make room for the devil. 28Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 29Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. 30And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. 31Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, 32and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. 5:1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

John 6:35, 41-51

35Jesus said to [the crowd,] “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. 41Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” 43Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves. 44No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. 45It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. 46Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. 47Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. 48I am the bread of life. 49Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. 51I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

A Luther Heights counselor asked me last week, “Why do Lutheran pastors always preach on the gospel text?” I had to tell him that is not everyone’s experience. I suggested some reasons why pastors might do that and then I came to our lesson today from II Samuel. It certainly is not a happy or simple story and part of me is always a bit perplexed, wondering why so many details, many in the verses left out of the reading, are included. Nonetheless, in this particular chapter of our personal, communal, and global lives, David’s grief has much to say to us.

First, let me set up our text a bit. David’s reign has been in place for some time by now. He captured Jerusalem and made it his capital. David broke the Philistine power, united the country, brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. Key to our passage today, David’s son Absalom killed his half-brother for violating his sister, then fled from Jerusalem. His father David later received him back. Despite David’s forgiveness Absalom tried to usurp David’s throne and forced David to flee. 

Our passage begins with words that might startle us, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” How did these words come out of David’s mouth? David has just been catapulted from a comfortable throne into a harsh wilderness. 

Only days before he was dealt the biggest shock of his life when he learned that Absalom for years and behind his back had been undermining David’s rule. Absalom plotting all these years to kill his father and take over as king! And David all the time oblivious to it. Any moment now, in this unforgiving wilderness, Absalom’s plot might succeed. 

II Samuel Chapters 15-20 are best understood as the natural working out of the consequences of David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah. Earlier consequences had included the rape of his daughter by his son, that son’s murder by his half-brother who became totally alienated from his father as a result. The meager reconciliation between father and son did not last. Absalom’s revolt drives much of these chapters and divides the nation as much as it divides David in his conflicted roles as father and king.

The punishment that the prophet Nathan said would always be with his family proved to be accurate, as no order to treat his son Absalom gently could save him from death. This is not quite the end of David’s story, but this encounter does serve as a kind of climax to David’s family drama. I can’t help but think that David’s cries for his son include a recognition of all that his sin and subsequent punishment has put his family and his country through.  

David’s actions have had collateral damage of epic proportions and this pain serves as a grave warning for any that have power and influence. Displaying the kind of self-centeredness that David displayed earlier in his rule is quite the temptation to anyone in power. Of course, one does not need to be a king or have that level of influence to cause great harm with their selfishness and shortsightedness.  

David’s words of mourning rank among the saddest, most heart-rending words ever spoken: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” They are wrenched out for David’s gut when the Cushite’s words sink home: his son murdered in the forest of Ephraim. David is no stranger to death, no stranger to tears, no stranger to murder, no stranger to disappointments, no stranger to sin. But no event in his life combines all these elements with such intensity, such ferocity, as does the matter of Absalom.

This is David’s most distressed moment, and perhaps his greatest. We had watched David grieve over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, and even his unnamed son. We have heard David grieve with eloquence, but his grief now is not an eloquent performance. It is too elemental and too desperate to be eloquent. In this moment when no friend or advisor dare intervene, David can only utter the name of his son. 

David’s cry is an anguished review of all that could have been and was not, of dreams so feebly enacted, of caring so selfishly limited. The specifics of the past are much too dep and too painful to utter. 

Now David in his abandon gathers all that past together in the simple, anguished acknowledgement, “My son.” Earlier, he had only been willing to say, “the young man Absalom.” Now it is not “the young man” but “my son.” 

One scholar [Eugene Peterson] used the metaphor of the bitter cup to drink. Will he drink it? This is David who experienced so many blessings, entered into such exuberant joys, gave us words that we use still to express the generosity of God in our lives. For example, “My cup runneth over” from the beloved Psalm 23. Will David take in the full measure of rejection, alienation, and rebellion and experience it in the depths of his being? At this moment, immersed in the experience and betrayal and ruin, we can almost hear the words spoken a thousand years later by Jesus, “Remove this cup from me; yet, not my will but yours be done.”

The cup is not removed. David, like Jesus, drinks it to the last drop, empties the cup. He tastes the bitterness, takes in the full reality of sin-sourced suffering. He speaks the name Absalom three times. He says “my son” five times. He experiences and then expresses in his lament the tangle of love and hate, righteousness, and sin, good and evil that come to a head in Absalom.

At the farthest descent from Jerusalem, deep in the wilderness forest, David’s story most clearly anticipates the story of Jesus that extends into our stories, passion stories, stories of suffering, but suffering that neither diminishes nor destroys us, but makes us more human, prayerful and loving.

We have all grieved individually, communally, nationally, globally, this past year. Some of our grief is connected to the normal stuff of life and death, but what connects more to our scripture passage today is the grief over things we helped perpetuate. 

During last weekend’s church campout, people were asked to name situations or stuff that had us feeling sorrowful, discouraged, and frustrated. Responses to the prompt included: the division of the country, a “me” mentality, grief, and “it’s made me sad to see people be anxious about certain situations instead of leaning on God.”

There is something very powerful in naming what we are grieving and lamenting. Many have named the inequity in our national health care system, laid bare by the Covid pandemic. We name veterans who die and now show caskets returning so that we recognize the cost of war on families and our country. After George Floyd’s murder, we were asked to “say the name” because naming Floyd humanizes him. Naming what grieves us is part of the truth-telling we are all called into. They are not ends in themselves, but stages of a process of transformation. 

There is a form of Christian meditation on Jesus that is structured along the route from Pilate’s judgment seat where he is condemned to death, the hill, Golgotha, where he is killed on a cross to the garden tomb where he is buried…The meditation formed on the fourteen “stations of the cross,” fourteen events (some real, some imagined) that occur on the last day of his pre-resurrection life, from his condemnation to his burial, is a way of praying our way into and through suffering. 

Our Christian ancestors have sometimes read this story of David’s flight from Jerusalem as an anticipation of Jesus’ route along the Via Dolorosa (the “road of sorrows”) from Pilate’s judgment seat to the cross on Golgotha, ending at the tomb. The parallels are not exact, and there are more differences than continuities. 

And yet, the theme is approximate: Both David and the “Son of David” (Jesus) are rejected and leave Jerusalem accompanied by both friends who help and foes who mock; at the darkest place both utter cries of dereliction; the rejection of “David” is a revolt against God’s anointed leader, and the rejections in both instances are unsuccessful—David is returned to Jerusalem to resume his rule, and Jesus, raised from the dead, ascends to the “right hand of the Father” to rule forever.

What is challenging in this moment of time is that we are not just remembering a past event, David or Jesus’ journeys. We are living through our own journey both as individuals and as members of many communities. On any given day I am not sure at what stage we are in. Like Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief, I assume that our journey will be a bit cyclical—naming, some clarity, prayer, transformation, more prayer, action and advocacy, new naming. 

Even though we do not know the end of this story, we can trust in restoration and new life. We know that God is faithful. We have abundant stories of God bringing life out of death, hope out of despair, a path where there was only wilderness. And God hears all our cries of lament, frustration, and grief. Through the meal of simple bread and wine, through words of forgiveness and absolution, through all we receive in this time, God nourishes us for this journey we continue. The Holy Spirit is with us through friendship, worship, sabbath rest, and prayer.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Rooted in Christ and sustained by the Spirit, we offer our prayers for the church, the world, and all of creation.

A brief silence.For the church of Christ in all its diverse forms. For mission developers, new mission starts, and all communities of faith exploring new models of ministry for the sake of the gospel. For congregations facing difficult decisions about their future. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For the health and well-being of creation. For shade trees that provide refuge from the hot summer sun. For lakes, rivers, and oceans contaminated by pollution and all who lack clean water. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For those called to positions of authority in our legal system, we pray. For judges, lawyers, law clerks, and court employees who ensure the fair administration of justice. For corrections officers and prison chaplains, that they would deal mercifully with those who are incarcerated. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For all who cry out to you in their affliction. For exiles, refugees, and others who face long and difficult journeys, uncertain about the future. For all who mourn the death of a loved one. For all who are sick (especially). God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

For this assembly gathered around your table, we pray. For those among us who bake bread and prepare the vessels for our communion celebration. For those who bring the food from this table to those who are homebound or hospitalized. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

Here other intercessions may be offered.For those who have been raised to eternal life, we give thanks. With (Dominic, name/s, and) all the saints we praise you for the bread of life that keeps us in your love forever. God, in your mercy,hear our prayer.

We lift these and all our prayers to you, O God, confident in the promise of your saving love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.Amen.

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