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Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA)

Filtering by Category: Gospel of Luke

Game of Thrones - David: Flawed and Faithful Keeper of the Crown

2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-17, 26-27

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord…

Luke 7:36-50

One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and took his place at the table. And a woman in the city, who was a sinner, having learned that he was eating in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster jar of ointment. She stood behind him at his feet, weeping, and began to bathe his feet with her tears and to dry them with her hair. Then she continued kissing his feet and anointing them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw it, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what kind of woman this is who is touching him — that she is a sinner.”

Jesus spoke up and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Teacher,” he replied, “Speak.”

“A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he canceled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the greater debt.” And Jesus said to him, “You have judged rightly.”

Then turning toward the woman, he said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave me no water for my feet, but she has bathed my feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. You gave me no kiss, but from the time I came in she has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she has anointed my feet with ointment. Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then he said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” But those who were at the table with him began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”


So, King David is kind of a mess, right? He gets as much praise and prominence in the story of our faith as he does infamous notoriety for the transgressions we just heard about in 2nd Samuel. Not only is he lifted up and revered as the slayer of giants, as the composer of psalms, as the wise and faithful king during the Golden Age of Israel’s monarchy … but all of that is tarnished, not just by his selfish, misogynistic infidelity with Bathsheba (which might actually, fairly be considered rape, under the circumstances), all of his glory is stained, too, by his strategic, sneaky, underhanded, manipulative murder of Uriah, her husband and one of David’s own faithful soldiers. It’s another story that seems straight from the cutting room floor of “Game of Thrones.”

And all of that sin did more than just stain David’s legacy and the way we’re forced to remember and wrestle with what we know of his history. David’s sin impacted him and his reign in real time, too. The days and years following that transgression against Bathsheba and that tragedy for Uriah were filled with more of the same for David, for his family and for the kingdom under his rule, too. In spite of the forgiveness he is promised by the prophet Nathan, in the verses that follow what we just heard, David’s life and that of his family were filled with the consequences of his sinfulness … filled with even more shame and struggle, more rape and revenge, more deception and death, more trickery and tragedy, and so on. We just don’t have time to read or recount it all this morning.

Sin, for David – and for so many of us, it seems to me – can have a cumulative effect on our well-being, until we find a way to mitigate and mend its brokenness in our lives.

When I was a kid – maybe in the 2nd grade – old enough to know some bad words but young enough to get into lots of trouble for saying them. I was playing football with my brother and some friends one day. At some point during the game, I did a bad thing … I said a bad word … a word that’s bad by grown-up standards, never mind that I was in elementary school … and my older brother heard me. And I don’t remember how long exactly, but for a very long time it seemed, my brother would bribe me with his knowledge of my sin.

If he wanted me to do something for him, he’d threaten to tell my parents until I did it. If I was on his nerves, he’d promise to tell my mom or dad about that thing I’d said until I left him alone. If he wanted something from me, he’d hang my sin over my head until I gave in.

It was a miserable position to be in. I felt helpless and at my brothers’ mercy. I was frustrated and angry that he had that kind of power over me. I was scared to think of what kind of grounding I might get if my parents found out about their youngest son’s potty mouth. And, I think most of all, I was embarrassed to think about their reaction to what I had done.

Now, I don’t remember anything specific … I wasn’t the King of Israel, so my power and influence were limited … but it’s easy to see how my sin affected my every day life. It was intrusive and harmful and fear-inducing, like a little Scarlet Letter eating away at my conscience and my sweet, slightly less than innocent, pre-pre-pubescent soul.

Which is what the power of sin – what the consequences of sin – can do in our lives. And most of us don’t need a vindictive older brother’s help with this. Our sin eats at us. Sin nags and gnaws at us. Depending on how severe or shameful, how dramatic or damaging our sin might be, it can impact and influence, it can cloud and color every part of our existence, like it did for King David, in spite of his faithful desire to do and to be otherwise.

Well, I wish I’d have known my Bible better when I was a kid. Because if I’d known about this morning’s Gospel story – about this woman with her alabaster jar of ointment; about Jesus and the grace of God he offered – I might have handled things with my brother differently.

See, Simon the Pharisee invites Jesus over for dinner and this woman ‘from the city’ hears about it, shows up and has the nerve to anoint the feet of Jesus with a jar of ointment and her tears. Simon can hardly believe it and, had he had the chance, he likely would have told the woman to stay away – that she wasn’t worthy of his company, let alone the company of Jesus. He might even have threatened, like my brother, to tell Jesus all he knew about what made her so sinful.

But, there was something Simon didn’t know. Simon hadn’t heard all that the woman with the alabaster jar had heard about Jesus, this prophet from Galilee. And I don’t think we always hear it, or believe it, either.

See, this woman’s tears weren’t only – or even primarily – repentance for her sin. What I mean is, Jesus doesn’t offer her forgiveness because she showed up with that ointment and wiped his feet with her hair. If you look closely and use a little imagination, you’ll see that she must have known something about God’s grace and her own forgiveness before showing up to that dinner party. How else would she have had the nerve to invite herself into the home of a Pharisee, interrupt dinner and get so cozy with a stranger?

And besides that, Jesus says it plainly: “her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love.” “Hence she has shown great love.”  “Hence…!” Jesus seems to imply that the grace of God – the forgiveness she craved – had already come. And her anointing – her tears and her ointment – were a repentant, joy-filled response to the love of God and to the forgiveness she already knew and expected from Jesus.

But that’s a hard thing for us to swallow sometimes. No matter how much we talk about grace; no matter how often we remind ourselves that God’s love and forgiveness come with no strings attached – we still make room for our own guilt, for our own shame and for our own ability to point fingers and place blame and cast judgment on those who sin differently than we do. And we still let the shame of our sins do a number on our own lives, too.

But, as always, Jesus shows us a different way. Just like he knew the truth about the woman, God knows the truth about us, already. Just like Jesus had no illusions about her moral status in the eyes of her community, God has no illusions about our sin, either. And, what’s amazing is that none of it scares Jesus off. What’s amazing is, if anything, her sin – like our own – just gives Jesus a chance to reveal his tremendous capacity and desire to forgive.

One day, some time after that R-rated football game of my childhood, I couldn’t appease my brother any longer. I don’t remember the circumstances – if I was tired of trying or if my brother just got that mad about something – but he finally told my dad about the horrible thing I had said that day.

I remember that he warned me he was going to tell him. I remember him marching up to the kitchen while I listened in fear from the other room. And I remember, much to our surprise – and to my complete relief – that my dad said simply, “When your brother’s ready to talk to me about that, we will.”

And, in my little boy’s heart, I think I felt some measure of what that woman was feeling when she kissed the feet of Jesus. Surprise. Relief. Unburdened. Forgiveness. Grace.

I had a conversation with Rob Saler, our resident theologian, earlier this week, and he said something off-hand that caught me off-guard because it was surprisingly relevant to all of this for me. We were talking about the nature of sin and its impact on our lives and he said, “When you’re sick, you don’t get well again, just to please your doctor.”

“When you’re sick, you don’t get well again, just to please your doctor.”

If Sin is our sickness and God is our Great Physician, we don’t go about the work of repentance and forgiveness, of receiving God’s gift of grace, of changing our sinful ways, just to make God happy. We’re called to go about the work of repentance and forgiveness – of righteous, faithful living – because God knows our lives are blessed and better for doing so, as is the world around us.

God doesn’t demand our repentance, our obedience, our faithfulness or our love.  God isn’t keeping score of our sins and indiscretions any more than God is keeping score of our good works and our acts of faithfulness.

God wants us to be well, because God loves us; because God knows what the power of sin can do in and to and through our lives. God wants us to be well, not because our sins ruin God’s day or because God can’t handle the burden of our brokenness – Jesus’ death and resurrection have proven otherwise.

No. What God wants for us is to live – on this side of heaven – in freedom from fear; liberated from our shame; set loose in the world to love like Jesus did: openly, generously, widely, courageously, without limits. King David couldn’t seem to do what that sinful woman from the city managed – and that to which each of us is called: to live with gratitude for the abundant forgiveness of all of our sins – forgivness which has already come – until the truth of that grace releases us and inspires us and moves us to love ourselves and the world because of it.

Amen

Game of Thrones - Deborah and Jael: Women Rule

Judges 4:4-9, 15-22

At that time Deborah, a prophetess, wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel. She used to sit under the palm of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the Israelites came up to her for judgment. She sent and summoned Barak son of Abinoam from Kedesh in Naphtali, and said to him, “The Lord, the God of Israel, commands you, ‘Go, take position at Mount Tabor, bringing ten thousand from the tribe of Naphtali and the tribe of Zebulun. I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the Wadi Kishon with his chariots and his troops; and I will give him into your hand.’” Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go.” And she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah got up and went with Barak to Kedesh. And the Lord threw Sisera and all his chariots and all his army into a panic before Barak; Sisera got down from his chariot and fled away on foot, while Barak pursued the chariots and the army to Harosheth-ha-goiim. All the army of Sisera fell by the sword; no one was left.

Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite. Jael came out to meet Sisera, and said to him, “Turn aside, my lord, turn aside to me; have no fear.” So he turned aside to her into the tent, and she covered him with a rug. Then he said to her, “Please give me a little water to drink; for I am thirsty.” So she opened a skin of milk and gave him a drink and covered him. He said to her, “Stand at the entrance of the tent, and if anybody comes and asks you, ‘Is anyone here?’ say, ‘No.’” But Jael wife of Heber took a tent peg, and took a hammer in her hand, and went softly to him and drove the peg into his temple, until it went down into the ground – he was lying fast asleep from weariness – and he died. Then, as Barak came in pursuit of Sisera, Jael went out to meet him, and said to him, “Come, and I will show you the man whom you are seeking.” So he went into her tent; and there was Sisera lying dead, with the tent peg in his temple.

Luke 24:1-12

But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.


Deborah and Jael: Women Rule

There are a lot of reasons to question – and even disdain – the many horrible, nasty, terrifying things that happen to women in the “Game of Thrones” series. And the same can be said about much of what we find in our Bibles, sadly enough. (Remember how Lot offered his daughters up to the angry mob in the Sodom and Gomorrah story a couple weeks ago? And he was the good guy in that story!)

As I’ve said, I haven’t made my way through the whole “Game of Thrones” series, yet, but I have seen already that, not only do the women of the Realm hold their own, they really do overcome… and persist… and win… in more ways than not, in spite of all the ugliness and violence and misogyny they face in that medieval world. And, without sharing any spoilers – because I haven’t seen them to share them, remember – I’ve been told by others who’ve seen the show from start to finish that women really do rule, in the end.

And I think the same is true – or at least the hope for the same is true – throughout the Biblical narrative, if we read it with the right kind of eyes. And it’s why I want to share something about the role of women – their place, their purpose, their importance, and their power – in Scripture, in the Church, and in the Kingdom, as we’re called to understand it.

(I had the thought – about a week and a half ago – that this would have been a great Sunday to hand over the preaching to a woman for the occasion; that this would have been a great Sunday to have Pastor Libby back, or to invite Pastor Teri to join us again. BUT, that good idea didn’t surface in enough time to make that possible. So, you’re stuck with this middle-aged white guy’s best effort at saying what should be said more often. And there’s some value in that, just the same, I suppose.)

So, I picked Deborah and Jael because their story is the most “Game of Thrones-y”, as far as I could tell, in terms of guts, gore, strength and power. And it’s not a story that gets a lot of air time, it seems to me, probably because there’s not much too it, in the book of Judges. It all takes place in just a couple of chapters; there’s the story itself and then a song about the story.

But it matters that Deborah was a Judge in the days of Israel before there were kings. She was a prophet and powerful leader for God’s chosen ones. Judges like Deborah were military leaders, raised up by God, to lead the people back to faithfulness when their faithlessness caused them to stray. And judges like Deborah delivered them from their enemies, through their leadership and courage and wisdom and faith, like we heard this morning.

And I love when Deborah says to Barak, the military commander under her authority, “…the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hands of a woman.” It makes me think Deborah might have been the first feminist – deliberately plotting and planning for the help of Jael, the other heroine of the story, to hide and then smite Sisera, the commander of the Canaanite army, with that tent spike to the temple.

But, there are plenty of other women of influence in Hebrew Scripture – Eve (whose bad rap is unnecessary and unfair, if you ask me); Ruth (an outsider who became an insider of devotion, loyalty and faith); Rahab (the prostitute who helped the Israelites conquer Jericho, which could have been a plot for any season of “Game of Thrones,” as well); and, of course, there’s Miriam and Sarah and Rebekah and Hannah and Hagar, and more.

And it doesn’t stop with the Old Testament. It picks right up again with Elizabeth and Mary, in the Gospels – bearing the hope of the world in Jesus and his cousin, John the Baptist. And there are others, too: Martha and Mary; Phoebe and Lydia; and all those who go unnamed, but far from unnoticed or insignificant where Jesus is concerned. The widow who gave so generously. The woman of great faith who begged for help for her daughter. And the other woman who Jesus healed when she boldly, bravely touched his robe, after her own long-suffering faithfulness.

So, in light of all that, when it comes to the place and power and purpose of women in the Kingdom, I’d like to assume I’m “preaching to the choir,” as they say, but one can never be so sure.

Just this week – because Monday happened to be the Feast Day for Mary Magdalene, who I haven’t even mentioned yet – I happened upon a Twitter thread spun from a post by a Jesuit priest named James Martin. (He’s kind of a rock star among Jesuit priests, these days.) His post said simply:

“In the time between her encounter with the Risen Christ and when she shared the news of the Resurrection with the other disciples, Mary Magdalene was the church on earth (Jn 20). Because only to her had been revealed the full Paschal Mystery.”

And he added:

“Any discussion of women's roles in the church must begin with these two facts: It was to a woman, not a man, to whom the Risen Christ first chose to appear. And it was a woman who, for a time, was the sole carrier, and proclaimer, of the Good News of the Resurrection.”

And you wouldn’t believe – or, if you’ve ever spent two minutes on Twitter these days, you would actually believe – the anger and mean-spirited and hateful and ignorant responses that followed, suggesting that women don’t belong in the pulpit, that women don’t belong leading mass, that women have their place in the Church but that it isn’t anywhere near as important or as powerful or as ordained, in the same way, as that of men.

And, before we get too self-righteously indignant about all of that – our progressive theology and polity as ELCA-flavored Christians, I mean – check this out:

Frankly, I’m a little suspicious of all of that “shock” and “surprise” from those guys. I’ve heard as much – or worse – myself over the years. Just like you don’t have to wear a white sheet or use the N-word to be a racist, you don’t have to be a rapist or to be blatantly abusive or disrespectful toward women in order to fall victim to the sin of misogyny.

And all of this matters – the way we regard and empower women, or not – because I heard just this week that 21 percent of middle and high school girls report being bullied online or by text, compared with less than 7 percent of boys. (mprnews.org)

It matters because, on average, a woman working full time earns about 81 cents for every dollar a man earns, working full time. (businessinsider.com) And those numbers are worse for women of color.

It matters because 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls. And something like 15 million girls under the age of 18 are married off, around the world, with no say in the matter. (makers.com)

So it matters if we, in the Church, aren’t right and righteous when it comes to the place and power of women and girls in our midst. Because if we are not, it means we’re either mirroring or instigating or perpetuating what’s so frightening and sad and sinful out there for our sisters and daughters and mothers and friends.

So let’s celebrate that it was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told [the news of the resurrection] to the apostles. And let’s remember that their words seemed to [the men] an idle tale, and they did not believe them.

Let’s remember and celebrate what Genesis promises us, that, in God’s image we were created – both male and female.

Let’s remember and celebrate what we find in Acts, that, “…God says, I will pour out my spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy… Even on my servants, both men and women I will pour out my spirit...”

Let’s remember and celebrate that “The gifts [God] gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.”

Let’s make this our goal – and our challenge – and our joy, in the end. And may this not just be about our life together in the Church, but through the Church, and for the sake of the world, in as many ways as we can manage it.

Amen

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