(See, now many of you have that one song from the 1990s stuck in your head and there is nothing to be done about it.)
One of my favorite things about sermon-writing is the opportunity to take something really mundane, or odd, and find God lurking around in there. It’s far too easy by half to write sermons all about Hallmark cards, or Profound Email Forwards, or actual theology texts, though occasionally I do throw those in as well. Much better to talk about road rage, or supermarkets, or HMOs. The sort of thing that actually occupies most of us from day-to-day.
Because, really, Christians should be able to locate the transcendent in the ordinary stuff of life. We should be able to make meaning out of that; all the weirdness, the quirk and the boredom. So these texts: David and Bathsheba, and the loaves and fishes, are goldmines.
Here’s what I did.
July 29, 2012
Ordinary Time, Proper 12
This past week, I was reading a cooking blog that I frequent, and discovered a recipe for peach pie. Naturally, this made me calculate the likelihood and practicality of driving to a place where peaches were readily available, since I have had no luck at all procuring decent peaches since moving out here. (Other produce, yes. Fresh peaches and tomatoes, no). I blithely posted this disappointment on Twitter, and promptly forgot about it. Imagine my shock, then, when a woman I’ve never met before responded to my post, and offered to ship me peaches from her neighborhood farmer’s market in Austin Tx. “You cover shipping if you want,” she said, “And I’ll do the rest. It’s only fair; after all, no one should have to endure a summer without good peaches if other people have them.”
She did send the peaches. A whole 3 lbs worth, along with some bonus tomatoes. I was so excited when they arrived on Friday that I took pictures of them, and stared at them sitting on my counter for about 10 minutes before I rolled out my pie crust and made my long awaited pie.
Aside from the fact that I have really missed fresh peaches in the summer while living out here, what delighted me most about my Twitter peach adventure was the spontaneous generosity of this person hundreds of miles away. Who looked at what she had, and said, “Oh! I can help with that. Let me give something, because I have that, and you need it.”
It’s the impulse upon which the Reign of God is founded. The acknowledgement that what we have, everything we are in the present moment is a gift from God, and so we have to use it in God’s service, to benefit all God’s people. The churchy term for this is (brace yourself) stewardship.
Now, generally speaking, stewardship in church is associated with Fall fundraising campaigns wherein someone stands up to talk about the budget, and the importance of tithing your ten percent and so on and so forth. This is fine, but it’s not really a clear picture of stewardship. It’s, actually, about 10% of the picture.
The idea of stewardship has more to do with the young boy in today’s gospel. This kid, who arrives on the scene of this massive crowd, presumably to hear Jesus preach. And when he hears the disciples arguing about where they will find food for so many people, he volunteers what little lunch he brought. They need food, and he has some to give.
It’s not nearly enough, he doesn’t think, just a measly 5 loaves and 2 little fish for a couple thousand of your closest friends and relations, but it’s what he has to give, and when asked, he willingly volunteers it in the service of God’s people.
And lo and behold, in the hands of Jesus, it turns out to be plenty for everyone.
The boy was a good steward of his resources.
King David, on the other hand… King David goes down in history as the best, greatest, most fantastic king that Israel ever had. It’s worth noting that the unified kingdom of Israel had exactly two kings: David and Solomon, so his competition for this honor really isn’t that intense.
However, David gets all the glory for being God’s favorite king In Spite Of this story we read today. In this story we read today, David is being awful.
He comes home from a war, looks out from his bedroom window, and sees a nice-looking lady across the street. And then, he promptly uses every resource at his disposal to get what he wants. He alone.
He forcibly marries Bathsheba, he tries to manipulate her poor husband into sleeping with her, when that doesn’t work, he gets him killed. The whole episode is about David using every tool in his toolkit to get what David wants, to the very real harm–and even the death–of others who have been entrusted to his care.
He’s their king! He’s explicitly their steward– he’s supposed to use his power to take care of his people. And instead, this has become all about him.
Now, this episode with Bathsheba will haunt David for the rest of his life– in the next chapter, his court prophet even crafts this lovely parable for him and yells at him about it.
But for us, we rarely get visits from prophets to call us to task so explicitly. Hopefully we are not sending folks off to die for our own ends, either.
But we do perhaps, like David, fall into the trap of believing that our power, our resources are ours. And if we hurt someone, or if we have the power to help someone and don’t, well, that’s just the way it goes. What we have is ours to do with as we please, as will best benefit us, and us alone.
That belief, tempting though it is, does not befit stewards of God’s reign, and followers of Jesus. Which is what each and every one of us is called to be. We, like the little boy, are called to work with Jesus, to follow in his footsteps and help him miraculously bring forth his kingdom here. We’re called to throw all we have been given into that project–talents, power, privilege, resources, even money.
Because that’s why God gave it to us in the first place– so that we could be coworkers with him. It’s what we say every week at the offertory– at 8am we say “all things come of thee, o Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”. At 10am, we sing it. “Praise God from whom all blessings flow.”
In each case, we affirm again, every week, that what we have, and what we give, is a gift from God, that we try to use to the benefit of God’s people and God’s creation.
We are stewards of God, coworkers with Jesus. In charge of all this. And that is an enormous responsibility, but an enormous gift, too. Think of how that little boy must have felt, when he saw his meager gift, his little lunch! turned into sustenance for so many. He got to participate in a miracle, just because he showed up, and volunteered what he had.
So, the question for us is: what miracle are you going to volunteer for?