Our readings for this morning all work together to give us a picture of human life at its worst and at its best.
Start with our Old Testament reading about King David.
(As a brief aside, King David is not the same as Saint David. Saint David lived in Medieval Wales. King David lived more than 1500 years earlier in ancient Israel, so no relation beyond the shared name.)
King David is one of the great heroes of the Old Testament. David was like the George Washington of Israel, the first successful king who established the institutions governing life in his kingdom.
But David was more than a great political leader. David was a man after God’s own heart. God blessed David with the promise that David’s descendants would rule for centuries, and that the messiah would eventually come from David’s line. That’s why Jesus is called the Son of David. The only people of comparable importance to David in the Old Testament are Abraham and Moses.
So, what do we learn about the great King David in our reading for this morning? It’s shocking. David sees a beautiful woman bathing, sends for her knowing that she is married to one of his chief lieutenants, and impregnates her.
Then it gets worse. When Bathsheba gives David the bad news, David summons her husband back from a military campaign hoping to cover his adulterous tracks. It doesn’t work. Uriah refuses to go to his home out of loyalty to comrades still on campaign. So David has loyal Uriah killed.
If you are counting, that’s David breaking three of the Ten Commandments in a single story. David covets his neighbor’s wife, commits adultery, and murders. In this story David is a picture of humanity at our worst.
The lesson of this story is sobering. Even as good, as pious, as faithful a man as David truly was can fall hard. If it could happen to David, it can happen to me, it can happen to any of us, given the opportunity.
Hold that thought while we turn to a considerably happier lesson from today’s epistle.
Paul is praying for his readers, the ancient Ephesians, but also for us and for every reader in between. Paul prays that we all might become saints.
Listen again to Paul’s words. These are incredibly powerful. Paul prays that we may be strengthened in our inner being with power through the Holy Spirit. Paul prays that Christ may dwell in our hearts through faith. Paul prays that we may be rooted and grounded in love. Most incredible of all, Paul prays that we may be filled with all the fullness of God.
David shows us our capacity for sin. Paul proclaims our capacity for holiness. Both are true for all of us.
We live between those two extremes. David did. He wasn’t always bad and, as we see in our reading, he certainly wasn’t always good. Paul was a mix, too, as he admitted many times. We are all a mix of good and bad.
We are capable of falling into real depravity. And we have the capacity to live as people of divine love. Virtually every moment, we lean a little bit in one direction or the other, a little towards the evil side of our nature or a little towards the good side of our nature. That’s the human condition. We live with a constant struggle between our temptation to evil and our longing for good.
Our Gospel reading speaks to just that struggle.
After a full day of feeding the multitudes, Jesus went off by himself to pray. The disciples waited for Jesus at the shore of the Sea of Galilee so they could all cross together to the other side. When it was dark and Jesus had not yet come to them, the disciples decided to get started. I sometimes wonder, who was the genius who first proposed leaving Jesus behind?
Things get nasty. The wind rises, and so do the waves. The disciples are caught in the middle of it.
They were stuck in a literal storm. But we can also think of their situation as a metaphor for struggle between good and evil that we live every day. We go about our business, and suddenly things get complicated. Problems arise. We find ourselves pulled in different directions.
In that struggle, how do we respond? Will our worst instincts take over? Will we act out? Will we be like David in our Old Testament reading?
Or, will our better nature prevail? Will we respond with patience and love? Will we be the people that Paul prays we might be?
The good news of our Gospel reading is that there, in the midst of the struggle, when it seems like we are all on our own, here comes Jesus, appearing out of the darkness, in the middle of the mess, right when we need him most.
If we welcome Christ in that moment, if we take Christ into our boats, so to speak, Christ helps us get to where we need to go. Christ helps us live more like we want to live, to live more as God’s beloved children, created to love God and each other.
That is the struggle we all experience. It happens virtually every day, if usually on a modest scale. Here’s an example from my last week.
After supper one day, Carrie and I played a card game. I made a poor play. Carrie commented on my poor play. I snapped back that I didn’t want to play any more, and walked away. It was not my finest moment.
Now I was irritated and embarassed. There was tension between me and Carrie. And pretty soon we were going to bed, which I knew would be awkward.
As is often the case when I am in the wrong, my first impulse was to blame Carrie. That was me moving in David’s bad direction.
At the same time, I wanted to do better. I wanted to be more like the person Paul prays I can be.
Stuck in the struggle, I began my evening prayers. Irritated though I was, I entered into Christ’s presence in a conscious and intentional way.
I didn’t have a great epiphany. But I could almost feel Christ redirecting me, turning me away from the evil towards which I was moving, turning me towards the love of which I am capable, with God’s help. Some of my self-righteous, mean-spirited irritation melted away.
This whole episode was not a particularly big deal. And that’s the point. Day in and day out we experience the temptation to evil and the possibility of good. And always Christ is there, ready to redirect us, if only we will let him. That’s the good news.
Our calling as Christian people is simple. We just have to let Christ do what Christ does best, love us and bring out the love in us.
And yet, when we are irritated, when we are faced with temptations, when our defenses are down for whatever reason, it is so easy to slide back towards the bad King David side.
In those moments of backsliding, we need to turn to Christ for help. We turn to Christ in whatever way works for us, but prayer is usually a good option.
For now, I give thanks to Christ, who keeps coming to us in the midst of our struggles, who constantly invites us to live in the light of God’s love. And I pray that Christ will work on us until we are truly filled with all the fullness of God. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan