Readings: 2 Samuel 7: 1-14; Ephesians 2:11-22; Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56
The Books of Samuel relate the story of the rise and development of Kingship in Israel. If we go back a little, we read in the Book of Joshua, the way Israel took possession of the land of Canaan. It is a triumphalistic account of the conquest of the peoples of Canaan and the allocation of conquered land to the 12 Tribes of Israel. When we move to the next OT book, the Book of Judges, we see 13 leaders emerging to deliver the young Israel from danger. Some names of these leaders (called `Judges) are familiar to us: Deborah, Gideon, Jephthah and Samson. Not only was there continued struggle with the Canaanites, but there were intertribal struggles among themselves.
Moving on to the Books of Samuel and the establishment of the monarchy and the elite, we read of Samuel`s misgivings about royal power and the power of the elite. The crimes and misdeeds of Saul (1020 BCE) and David (1000 BCE) are there for us to see and we read of the failures of most of subsequent Israelite kings, right down to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE including the destruction of the monarchy and of the Jewish royalty and elite with it.
Today`s passage tells of the young King David, fresh to the throne, and the prophet Nathan. David wanted to build a temple to Yahweh in his newly-conquered capital, Jerusalem. But the prophet steps in and says the opposite to David . . . You want to build a house for God. No, David, God is going to build a house for you. Your schemes, your plans are not God`s plans. God will establish a Davidic line and God will not withdraw from this promise.
I want to come to the point now and it`s this. The Jewish people became, at one point in their history, God`s choice. They had the commitment of God. God became a divine guarantor. This guarantee seemed to stretch back as far as Abraham and included Moses - the Exodus and Mt Sinai.
There are two aspects of God`s guarantee: first, God`s full-time support for Abraham and, in today`s passage, to the young David. Second, there are conditions: God says to Moses at Mt Sinai, `I`ll go guarantor for you all the way if you are obedient to me, if you listen to me. So we can say, using today`s language, God`s relationship with `chosen people` is both a polities of welcome and acceptance, and a polities of responsibility, `contractual obedience`. (Ex 19.5) `Now, if you obey me completely and keep my covenant, you will be my treasured possession among all peoples . . . you will be to me a kingdom of priests, a holy nation.`
And so the liberated new community of Moses which was taught the lesson, `to acknowledge God as the central agent of your life and your community will lead to well-being, not wealth, not power, not pride, but well-being. But disregard of God will lead to disorder and disaster. In addition to this, and just as essential: respect for your neighbour, for the vulnerable among you, will make for peace and safety. Disregard of your neighbour will lead to violence and failure.`
So this liberated community of Moses takes on a monarch and turns away from these basic lessons of the Covenant and heads for disaster.
It was the prophets of Israel who deliberately undermined prevailing Israelite ideologies and behaviour - ideologies of exceptionalism - we can`t fail! we`re the people of promise! Jerusalem will stand forever! David`s royal line will never fall! the royal family and the elite of Israel will always enjoy the fruits of privilege! There are troubles all around us, but we are the exception! Our system is really the solution for all our needs, all our wants!
Well, along came Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Amos, Hosea etc and opened up the way to very different new possibilities.
Now can you transfer to today, the things I`ve been speaking about in what we call `the Old Testament`, the old witness about the human predicament?
Just in case you think things like this only happened to the Israelites, today`s passage (Eph 2:11-22) addresses the early gentile believers in Jesus as Lord. They have become, according to the writer of `Ephesians`, part of the people of God and this was God`s purpose even before creation itself. All people were now realising all things belong to the household of God: God`s `OLKOS`, God`s economy and Christ is the cornerstone. It is Christ who has removed the barriers between Jew and gentile, between gentiles and God, between all creation and God. Christ restores, deepens and enriches the lessons of Moses and the Covenant - to acknowledge God as the central agent of your community, and therefore of your life. God wanted the chosen people to listen to God, to obey God. God says of Jesus the carpenter: `This is my beloved Son, listen to him!`
Do you see the unfolding purposes of God? The chosen people, the failure to listen and obey. The realisation that God`s chosen people are all people. And they fail to listen and obey.
Now we come to Mark`s Gospel. His writing is not only about Jesus of Nazareth but, equally, it is about the disciples, and others, and how they respond to Jesus. The Pharisees and followers of King Herod respond negatively and the response of the disciples seems to be misunderstanding. Jesus sends his disciples, two by two, on to the mission: they share the ministry of Jesus. They return full of news of `what they had done and taught`. They were on top of the world. In between their sending out and their return to report to Jesus, John the Baptist was beheaded. (Mk 6: 17-29) What`s happening? The disciples misunderstand. They miss the point of what the discipleship of Jesus necessarily entails. The followers of Jesus, then and now, misunderstand what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called `the cost of discipleship`.
Bonhoeffer declares, `When Christ calls [someone] he bids [them] come and die.` He also says, `Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.` Finally, Bonhoeffer says, `We are not to simply bandage the victims beneath the wheels of injustice, we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.`
From quite early in his Gospel, Mark points to the inability of the disciples to understand discipleship of Jesus Christ. In verses 53-56 Mark summarises the recognition and effect of Jesus among the people. The people scurried about the surrounding country and brought the sick to Jesus. `They begged him that they might touch only the tassel on his cloak, and as many as touched it were healed.` Part of the Markan Gospel is for us to contrast the strength of Jesus` teaching and healing with the fragility of his disciples.
I needed to write a conclusion to all this but I could think of only one question: How`s our discipleship going?
Conclusion: Dietrich Bonhoeffer
`We must be ready to allow ourselves to be interrupted by God.`