Monday, May 31, 2010

Son of David

Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 13, 2010

2 Samuel 11:26—12:10, 13-15

This story from Second Samuel is remarkable in many ways. The courage and cleverness of the prophet in confronting the king. The king’s repentance and public confession. Both Nathan and David are justly remembered for this extraordinary moment, when a king met the word of the Lord.

But that poor little baby boy. It seems very unfair that the father’s sin results in the child’s suffering and death. I wish he had a name.

This story has caused no small problem for theologians. This infant child stands with Job, their stories bearing witness against facile answers to questions of God’s goodness and righteousness. “The Lord has forgiven you, and you won't die. But your newborn son will” (2 Sam 12:14, CEV). The sinner is forgiven and escapes with his life. Yet the innocent child sickens and dies.

We may wish that scripture eased our distress, by providing a word of comfort, or at least some more attention to the child.

People have tried to find that resolution, to get God off the hook for what just does not seem right. Some have said that the child’s death was necessary because the child was conceived through sin. And that it would have been intolerable for a child conceived in this way to rule the nation. Yet “conceived in sin” is something known by all the offspring of Adam.

Others have pointed to the child’s death and David’s distress (2 Sam 12:16-17), as God inflicting upon David a punishment more severe than David's own death. This may be so. But this avoids the problem of the suffering inflicted upon the young child.

Some take refuge in the mystery of God’s wisdom and goodness, in ways that will be familiar from our own funeral home conversations. We have no way of knowing what suffering the child would have experienced (or evil they might commit) had he lived. So perhaps God was being merciful. And trusting in God’s goodness in the promise of eternal life, we may say “He is in a better place.” The voice of faith is bold to step in where scripture is silent.

This may be no more satisfying than the ending of the book of Job in answering questions of God’s fairness. But perhaps the best we can do with such a troubling story is to look for faithfulness in the midst of brokenness.

And there is at least one more place where faith may speak in this story. This little baby boy, this innocent lamb, reminds us of another. Like this little one, Jesus of Nazareth bore the consequences of others’ sin. Both their lives were part of the unmasking of sin and the holy call to repentance. Both suffered and died unjustly. There is a common bond between these two sons of David.

And if the Jesus we know through faith is real, this innocent little baby is truly redeemed. This early son of David is in fact, a figure or forerunner of the Christ. I think his name must be Yeshua – Jesus.

This text, with additional resources, is available at the American Bible Socity's Bible Resource Center,

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Memorial Day 2010

Memorial Day is a special holiday to me. At our house we would raise the flag and fly it for the day. Then at sundown, I'd play taps on my cornet. The sound would roll over the gentle hills and woods of our neighborhood. Then the flag would be lowered. My dad and I would fold it, and it would be taken inside for the next patriotic holiday.

Some years we would travel a piece down the road. At a serpentine bend, there was an old farm path with a rusty gate. Follow the path over the hill, past the pasture land and back into deeper woods and gullies, and you'd come to Coldwater Creek, where there was a cemetery. This was back in the late 1960s, when America was coming apart at the seams, as some of our best sons and daughters came back from Vietnam, many thankfully alive, too many damaged, and so many dead.

Some folks, I imagine the VFW and American Legion and I think some county politicians, had raised some money and done some work to beat back the woods and cut the grass, and there were American flags in front of many headstones, and red white and blue streamers decorating a platform for speeches. Some of the military graves went back to the veterans of the Revolution, and of course every war since then.

I remember vividly the hot early summer day, the carnations and bouquets of flowers, the bright green grass and the cool dark under the old trees by the creak, which softly trickled along all these many years. The colors of the flags stood out sharp against the colors of earth and growing things and the bright sky. I remember it bright and clear, even though sometimes it rained...

Of course I could not tell you anything that the speakers said. I’m sure they recognized the service given by past veterans.

But I remember like it was today the mystery of those gravestones, and the honor paid by the living who took the time - no doubt for many different reasons - to remember a portion of those lives now gone. I hope we trod lightly upon their resting place - but I am glad to have taken the time to know their bodies rested in this quiet and beautiful place, still remembered in spirit.

It was only later that I came to know something more about sacrifice, and the godawful destruction of war. I know that there are many kinds of hard and dangerous service, and that it takes more than military effort to make a people or a nation free,

But somehow my thoughts about war don't seem nearly as deep as what stirs when I remember those tiny flags in the cool earth... the tribute paid by going to an out of the way memorial ground to remember those who died serving their country... the holy air coming out of that cornet as each note tried to call the world to attention, to face those we owe, and salute their memory.

Wishing you blessings of peace this Memorial Day.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Shaken to the foundations

Seventh Sunday of Easter
May 16, 2010

Acts 16:16-34

Sometimes when we think we know a story, we can be oblivious to the power concentrated below the surface. The stories themselves might even glance over things which can shake our foundations.

Like the story of Paul and Silas. It’s known so clearly and truly as a sign of divine action, bringing God’s people out of captivity. We recognize this story, having heard it with the Hebrew slaves in Egypt, the return from exile, and Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. We long for this story, in the hope that we too may be delivered from persecution, trial, and captivity. In the middle of the night, when Paul and Silas were praying and singing praises to God, “a strong earthquake shook the jail to its foundations. The doors opened, and the chains fell from all the prisoners” (Acts 16:26, CEV). Hallelujah!

But after China, Chile, Haiti, just this year... can we read past the destructive power of an earthquake? A quake strong enough to shake the foundations of the jail is strong enough to flatten many other buildings. The text doesn’t tell us, so God only knows what is going on outside.

Inside the jail, it seems that Paul’s and Silas’ faith is unshakable. But the jailer may be a more compelling character for us. The earth quakes, and so does he.

Earthquakes literally shake foundations. The earth is the one thing we normally know as certain, solid. It holds the weight of our bodies, our belongings, our buildings. And in an instant, what we have relied on as “rock-solid” is shaken, unstable.
Santa Barbara County Jail after earthquake of June 29, 1925

We know for sure that the jailer was distressed. He certainly feared the consequences of these prisoners escaping. But we should not discount the traumatic nature of the solid earth shaking, and the solid symbol of human rule – the stone walls of the prison – now broken open.

Disciples of Jesus knew this story, too. They’d seen the solid rule of Rome and the Temple system crack open. Even the solid stone tomb of death could not hold against the name of Jesus.

Maybe in this light the prisoners’ faith makes more sense. They can proclaim “Have faith in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved!” (Acts 16:31, CEV) because their own world had been shaken, and they have known the Lord’s steadying hand, a love that was stronger than persecution and death. They knew God as the one foundation that cannot be shaken.

In the face of calamity, a confident and sure voice can speak deliverance. The jailer hears. The man who had been afraid that his prisoners would escape now leads them out of jail himself. After washing their wounds, he lets Jesus wash his, in baptism. And his household, which may have been shaken, is now set on a new foundation, seen in the hospitality he extends to those he had imprisoned.

Prayer, praise, and faith in Jesus still shakes the foundations of all that is false, sick, and built on sin. And it will continue to do so until all the captives are released.