The Rev'd Canon Lynne Thackwray's Sermons

Pentecost 10 

July 29, 2018

The Rev'd Canon Lynne Thackwray

Gail Tuckett was asked to teach a junior high Sunday School class. All went well until she reached the lessons on sex. This is not a subject that is easy for adults working with this particular age group to broach. Although Tucket worked out a well-balanced, Biblically-based lesson, her kids seemed pretty uninterested. That is, until one kid asked if there were sex stories in the Bible.  She assured them that there were both good and bad examples of sex represented in the Good Book. Now she had their undivided attention. For the rest of the class time, the kids feverishly searched their Bibles, looking for sex stories. For the next few days, parents called to congratulate Tucket on her teaching abilities. The junior high class had seemed to develop a great love for Bible reading. Naturally, none of these parents knew WHAT the children were reading about. They just knew their kids were reading the Bible, and they were happy. Then came the call from the most over-protective mother at church. She was enraged that her son was reading about sex in the Bible. That Saturday night, the Christian education committee had an emergency meeting to discuss the matter of the junior high class lessons. They decided that, because of the controversial material in the Bible, NO FURTHER SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSONS WOULD INCLUDE THE BIBLE.  

     There are some stories in the Scriptures that are designed for mature audiences. In fact there are some full-fledged soap operas within these pages.  The Bible is about real people. It is about people who do NOBLE things. And it is about people who do DUMB things,” really dumb things.  And sometimes it is the SAME PEOPLE who do noble things who do the really dumb things. Perhaps the strangest and certainly the most compelling combination of noble and dumb was David ” Israel's greatest king. .If you were to ask the average person, "What do you remember most about King David?" Children would quickly answer, "Goliath." Adults would quickly answer, "Bathsheba." These were the two greatest personalities in the life and rein of King David. Goliath reminds us of David's greatest victory; Bathsheba reminds us of David's greatest defeat. No single sin outside of the sin that Adam and Eve committed in the Garden of Eden has received more press coverage than the sin of David with Bathsheba. Can you imagine the field day that newspapers and television shows would have had with this soap-opera? A king has a one night stand with another man's wife, gets her pregnant, then has the other man murdered to cover up his deed? This story had it all - sex, murder, intrigue, cover-up. You can see the headlines now! 

The incredible thing is, in one sense, you would have never expected 2 Samuel 11 to be a chapter in David's life. Up until this time in his life, basically everything David had touched had turned to gold. As one man put it, "If you were a betting man, David seemed a sure thing to finish 'in the money'". When you read the first ten chapters of II Samuel, David batted a thousand. He is never defeated in battle. He is never wrong in his judgment. He is a compassionate, conservative in the truest sense and his approval rating is one-hundred percent. In every way imaginable - financially, economically, militarily the country is at an all time high.

     So what happened? David is now about 50 years old, has been on the throne approximately 20 years, and has so many titles that he can't keep them all on one wall. He is the nation’s number one song writer, number one soldier, the undisputed leader of the God's people, a man after God's own heart, and the most admired person in all of Israel. As we look at this part of David's life, understand that you are not looking at a sexual pervert or someone going through a mid-life crisis.Yet, had you examined David's life closely, you would have realized that there were chinks in David's armor. There were cracks in the foundation of his life.

     In Deuteronomy 17 God laid down three specific rules for anyone who would be the king. He said, "…he shall not multiply horses for himself…he shall not multiply wives for himself or else his heart will turn away; nor shall he greatly increase silver and gold for himself." (Deuteronomy 17:16-17, NASB)David was faithful in the first and third commandment, but he failed miserably in the second, because six chapters earlier, we read these words…"Meanwhile David took more concubines and wives from Jerusalem, after he came from Hebron." - eight wives and at least ten concubinesYet he still wanted another man's wife and so as we go through this epic of the life of David we leave the stage of triumph and tenderness and we now enter into the stage of tragedy and trouble.

After taking an afternoon nap, David wakes up and decides to walk outside and from the roof he saw a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful in appearance."  She was simply doing what most of the women in her day would do - that is in the late afternoon, she would use the water in the rooftop rain barrels, because it would be the warmest at that time of day (and men were usually out working anyway) and she would bathe. "So David sent and inquired about the woman. And one said, "Is this not Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?"  

      Now don't miss the significance of that statement to David. Some servant, in a very subtle and respectful way was trying to give David a wise word of warning.   In other words, what the servant was saying to King David was, "Back off Bubba. She's married!" It was at that moment, David should have stepped back and said No  

David takes a step that would take him over the cliff of triumph into the valley of tragedy. "He sent messengers and took her, and when she came to him, he lay with her; and when she had purified herself from her uncleanness, she returned to her house."  ) How could this happen so quickly?  David didn't just wake up that spring morning and say, "I've got a great idea.  I think today I will destroy my whole life by committing adultery with another man's wife." This event was simply the capstone of a downward spiral that had been going on in David's life for two decades.  David didn't see that this one night would cause four of his children to die. He didn't see that this one night would split his kingdom in half. He didn't see that this one night would make him a first degree murderer. It was about three weeks later David heard the words from Bathshebe that made his heart sink, “I’m pregnant!”

That is why the Bible teaches us that in times of temptation, there is only one thing to do - run!  Remember this - When you are tempted to do wrong, if you fight you lose; if you run you win.  David was human – we are all human subject to the temptations of this world.

     If David at that moment had confessed his sin the problem might have been contained.  David made the age old mistake of thinking that deception can cover disobedience, but deception never covers disobedience, it just makes the disobedience worse. David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it by the hand of Uriah, saying, "Place Uriah in the front line of the fiercest battle and withdraw from him, so that he may be struck down and die."   The problem with the tangled web of deception is that it always gets untangled.  You cannot win the game of sin. If only David had remembered what his son, Solomon, wrote many years later. "He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, But he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion."  

     Whenever you commit sin, you immediately are faced with one of two choices:  Confess the sin or Conceal the sin. We need to ponder David's role in this episode.  There are lessons to be learned even in these seamy OT stories.  Remember that this is the man to whom many of the Psalms are ascribed. This is the man who was called "a man after God's own heart." If it happened to David, it could happen to anyone.  Being as I love preaching on some of those lovely OT lessons that appear in the summer, tune in next Sunday to hear the final installment of the story of David and Bathsheba.

     This morning in the second reading we heard the story of Stephen, the first Christian martyr  - a man who was so full of faith and passionate in his love for the Lord, that he stood for his beliefs and faced a hostile crowd which led to his being stoned to death.  That story alone gives us pause to reflect on our own faith and courage in standing up to criticism or opposition.  However, last week I promise the final installment of the story of King David and Bathsheba. We heard how King David, even though he already had 6 wives and multiple concubines, lusted after Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, one of David’s soldiers. And not only did he lay with her but he got her pregnant. The sordid tale continued with David instructing his main man Joab to “set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” And "So it was as Joab kept watch on the city, that he put Uriah at the place where he knew there were valiant men. The men of the city went out and fought against Joab, and some of the people among David's servants fell; and Uriah the Hittite also died. Then Joab sent and reported to David all the events of the war." 

     You notice it wasn't just Uriah who died, but other soldiers died as well. A lot of innocent people paid the price for David's sin on that battlefield which is why sin is so terrible. It never hurts just one person.     The ending to their story is like the endings to all-too-many stories of this sort whether they occur in the Bible or whether they occur in our own community today. Hearts are broken, reputations are ruined, lives are destroyed.  David and Bathsheba were so eager to hide their sin, but things like that rarely stay hidden. Their adultery becomes the talk of the kingdom. David offends the nation with his irresponsible and even wicked behavior. Even more important, David offends God.    As we all now know today, David's cover-up was uncovered. In fact, we are talking about it today, thousands of years after it happened. It was recorded in God's word for millions of people to read over the last three thousand years. Remember this – Cover-up always costs more than confession.   "Now when the wife of Uriah heard that Uriah her husband was dead, she mourned for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house and she became his wife; then she bore him a son. But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the LORD." (II Samuel 11:26-27, NASB) God had seen the whole thing. In the world we live in we know now the capacity of computers to record and retrieve the most personal details of our lives.  There are    video cameras in many public places, DNA to identify anywhere we have been, satellites that photograph the earth with such precision that they can show the hair on our heads. How much more does God see and know all that we do? Things would be all right if the Lord didn't see them, but the Lord always sees them.

David could have sought forgiveness and David could have found forgiveness for God is always willing to forgive but David went twelve months and refused to seek forgiveness. He had managed to knock off six of the Ten Commandments. He had coveted another man's wife, committed adultery, killed her husband, stolen his wife and lied about it, and he had dishonored his family.

     Enter Nathan the prophet who confronts David with his sin and tells David that he and Bathsheba will lose their newborn son. But this is only the beginning of the downward spiral in David's life. The balance of David's story is filled with family intrigue and wrong-doing. He and Bathsheba will pay many times over for their sin. It is one of the saddest stories in all of literature. They both could have had so much, but they threw so much away when they gave into their physical desire. Can David and Bathsheba experience forgiveness for their sin? Of course, they can. God is gracious and compassionate. God is ever eager to remove His children's sins and to heal their lives. Can David and Bathsheba undo the wrong they have done and put their lives whole once more? That is a more difficult assignment. God's grace does not make us immune from the law of sowing and reaping. As someone has said, many of us want to sow our wild oats and then pray for a crop failure. Life does not work that way.

     When we break the laws of God, we not only hurt ourselves. Often we end up hurting those we love most.  In human relationships there will always be people who are maimed because someone they loved did not keep their promise. The story of David and Bathsheba is ultimately a Morality Play in which we see the overwhelming power of sexual attraction, the downward spiral of two lives who give in to sin's seduction and the ultimate result of sin's consequences. And we are confronted with a choice: whether to use this gift of sexuality and human intimacy as God intended it or to pervert it in a continual preference for forbidden fruit.

      David was no doubt a hero of faith but a hero tempted by the intoxication of power and desire, who paid dearly for his shortcomings. Nevertheless, David’s virtues of devotion to God, valor in war, loyalty even under mistreatment, magnanimity in victory, and faithfulness in friendship were so striking that, in spite of his many faults, he was seen as an ideal king, a man after God’s own heart.  The biblical writers knew that no human being could be perfect and that no king should be deified like an Egyptian Pharaoh; they were dedicated to showing their hero’s warts as well as his beauty.   We don’t know how he died but it sounds like it was simply his time.  He ruled for 40 years and dealt with many personal tragedies and on his last days he gave these instruction to his son Solomon

“Now, carefully obey all the commands of the Lord your God. Carefully obey all his laws, commands, decisions, and agreements. Obey everything that is written in the Law of Moses.”  David had sinned and repented and known the generosity of a forgiving God. At the end he was full of faith 




Pentecost 13

August 19, 2018

The Rev'd Lynne Thackwray

      Years ago, Harry Emerson Fosdick, then at the height of his influence as minister of the Riverside Church, New York City, was making a tour of Palestine and other countries of the Near and Middle East. He was invited to give an address at the American University of Beirut, Lebanon, where the student body comprised citizens of many countries and representatives from sixteen different religions. What could one say that would be relevant or of interest to so mixed and varied a group? This is how Fosdick began: "I do not ask anyone here to change his religion; but I do ask all of you to face up to this question: What is your religion doing to your character?"   This certainly was a call to consider one of the great issues of human belief: religion and life, Christianity and character, word and spirit. The ancient world failed to help men and women meet the problem of life, because, although their wise men could teach, they could not supply the power to put it into practice.                                                                                                  

      The Old Testament prophets could explain the Law of Moses, but were unable to provide the power needed to fulfill it.  Then, into the midst of the ages, came this man Jesus who declared, "I am the way, the truth, and the life." These people saw truth coming alive in his amazing personality; and, when his enemies finally killed him, his spirit was liberated to be wherever needy souls cried out for him. In all the ages since, for all those who have received him as the bread of life by committing their lives to him, he has brought power over weakness, victory over failure, and conduct and character that have made the world a better place in which to live.

     When these early followers of Jesus fanned out into the Mediterranean world, they brought with their Christianity something the pagan world sorely needed.     The spirit of hope and expectation, for example, had become snuffed out and a sense of defeat, meaninglessness, and fascination with the bizarre had settled down upon their thinkers and philosophers. As J. Robert Seeley wrote, "Philosophy could explain what is right, but only Christianity could help people to do it."   Whatever may have been uncouth and unimpressive about these early Christians, it was always forgotten when people saw the radiant light on their faces. And no pagan philosopher had ever seen anything quite like it - a religion so identified with life that it transformed human personalities and filled their lives with direction, meaning, and high expectation. They seemed to be nourished and empowered by something outside and beyond themselves;  with this possession, they made a disturbing impact upon the ancient world. 
     With today’s passage from John we have come full circle now with the “Bread of Life” theme. And you know how important it is because we beganwith the same verse 51 that endedlast week’s passage. “I 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.” Ralph Milton a United Church minister and writer wrote this regarding the passage from John 6:51 – 59:  “If it was ever necessary to explain the nature of a metaphor, it would be with this chapter.  Otherwise the folks in the pew – if they were really listening – would be badly misinformed.  I do remember a lawyer leaving church somewhat angrily saying, “I don’t like being told to be cannibalistic!”

     According to Google: A metaphor is a comparison made between two or more things using figurative or descriptive language. Metaphors serve to make difficult to understand ideas or concepts more tangible. Metaphors also infuse written text with vivid descriptions that make the text more vibrant and enjoyable to read.  And according to Google, there are 15 famous metaphors to be found in the bible. 

 John 15:5   I am the vine; you are the branches. Jesus compares himself to a vine and calls his followers branches of the vine, in that they are extensions of himself. Also, Jesus states his followers will “bear much fruit,” meaning good things will come as a result of their faith.

John 8:12  Then Jesus again spoke to them, saying, ‘I am the Light of the world; In the Bible, light refers to salvation, and darkness refers to sinfulness. And of course:John 6:35  Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life;   In this metaphor, Jesus compares himself to bread. The bread of life is a symbolic idea that Jesus offers eternal fulfillment. Like bread sustains us in life, Jesus’s metaphor suggests that he can sustain his followers in a spiritual sense.

     So, we began 3 weeks ago with the small loaf at the party beside the lake where thousands of people were fed. Then we learned that the “Bread of Life” is more than ordinary bread. It is hope, belief, faith, love, peace, forgiveness from guilt - all the ingredients that put quality into living every day while, at the same time, giving us a taste of the eternity God promised.  Last week we learned that the “Bread of Life” is Jesus Christ himself in the form of Bread and Wine. Now that we have tasted the bread - both the bread that satisfies hunger and the bread that “does not spoil” what next?  Has it been just a tasty picnic that is getting old and boring?   Or has it opened up something exciting that demands our continuing commitment?   If so, are we up to keeping that commitment?

“Bread of Life” were words with a good sound in the people’s ears until they realized that Jesus was not going to wave a magic wand and remove the troublesome conditions of famine and poverty. Once they got the message that Jesus was talking about unseen matters like belief, hope, loyalty, courage,   commitment, yes, decision-making and choices, their interest rapidly dwindled.

     Jesus' discourse in this whole sixth chapter of the Gospel of John had two foci - spirit and life. When his disciples complained that this teaching was too difficult to understand – this talk about being bread from heaven, bread of life, he said this to them:  "The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life." By this he meant that those who appropriated his spirit, i.e., fed upon him as the bread of life, would find, thereby, a fulfillment and satisfaction no other means could give.

     One of the greatest Christian women of these past one hundred years was Lady Aberdeen who came from a Highland home in Inverness, Scotland. She lived before all the fuss and feathers of feminism and women's liberation; but, when she died in 1939, the record of her achievements read like a scroll of honor. In 1882 she founded an orphanage for Scottish children which was dedicated by Prime Minister Gladstone. In 1893 she founded the "Onward and Upward Association" to help domestics get education and recreation beyond the drudgery of their jobs. In 1897 she founded the Victorian Order of Nurses to help sick folk on the lonely Canadian frontiers. Of particular interest to me having worked for the VON in Toronto for 2 years.  In 1919 she led a delegation to the Peace Conference in Geneva on behalf of the women of the world. Someone asked her what was the strength that undergirded her life and character so that she was able, for sixty years, to give herself to the needs of the world? Just before her death in 1939, she wrote: "I find my one resource is to throw myself in unreservedly on the power of the Holy Spirit ... I make it a practice to stand in a certain place where I can look up at the mountains and say, 'I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.' "

      This is the same power that not only makes you and me do great things, but, basically, to be what we are; it gives quality to all we say and do. St. Paul said, "By the grace of God I am what I am." Jesus said, "The words that I have spoken to you, they are spirit and they are life." That same spirit of power is available today to all who will accept it.  Thanks be to God.   Amen.