O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen..
For several reasons we might call this “Greater Expectations Sunday”:
- The disciples are sure they won’t have enough food to feed the five thousand people; Jesus knows that the amount the little boy gives will be multiplied to become enough.
- Saint Paul tells Christians at Ephesus that they have not yet imagined what they are able to accomplish through God’s power working within them.
- The psalmist sees, as does God, that all have “proved faithless; all alike have turned bad”; yet the psalmist has greater expectations “when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people.”
- In the collect we ask God to multiply upon us his mercy.
2 Samuel 11:1-15
The Samuel reading alone counters the theme of ‘greater expectations.’ In it David goes from bad to worse, from peeping-Tom seducer of Bathsheba to a criminal who arranges for the almost certain death of her husband Uriah. In modern law King David could be charged and convicted of murder.
I reflected on David’s abuse of his power in my comments about the readings for last Sunday (see below). What I find particular refreshing about the biblical narrative is the clarity with which David’s misbehavior is reported. Indeed, the candor and the confession (Psalm 51) seem almost to get David off the hook. Whether we like it or not, he keeps his stature as Israel’s most beloved king. Undoubtedly his reign was a great improvement over Saul’s, and his kingdom enjoyed much prosperity -- always good for a politician’s reputation.
David was also blessed not to have 24-hour coverage on world TV. Compare President Clinton and his affair with Monica Lewinsky. There was significant delay between David’s deeds and the public knowledge of the deeds -- time for David to shore up his reputation and his popularity with the public.
Yet Samuel’s details mercilessly indict him, much as the stains on Monica’s dress indicted President Clinton. Uriah is too good even to cooperate with David’s plan to make Uriah appear to be the father of David's love child. Out of loyalty to the king, Uriah sleeps at the entrance of the king’s house rather than go home to sleep with his wife. David tries getting Uriah drunk, and that won’t work either. No Cialis. No Viagra. No erection lasting more than 3 hours.
David resorts to putting Uriah at the front lines so he cannot testify at any paternity hearing.
(Note that President Clinton did not try to get anyone murdered to cover for himself.)
The psalm is a difficult to follow in places. The second half of the first verse has no clear relation to the first half, yet verse 2 does cohere with the first half of verse 1, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God’…[yet God,] the Lord looks down from heaven upon all of us….” The fool is a fool for not knowing about God’s attention to all the details of our lives.
The psalmist spends most of the psalm revealing the ubiquity of evil that God beholds. Yet in verse 4 the psalmist speaks of ‘my people’ as the victims of the evil-doers, not evil-doers themselves. The evil-doers tremble noticing that “the righteous” enjoy God’s protection. The psalmist concludes the evil-doers will not win out in the end, “when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people.”
James Russell Lowell put it this way:
Though the cause of evil prosper, yet the truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold, and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown,
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own.
Saint Paul did not look to the culture around him to validate the Christian witness. Rather, he spoke of our “inner being” and prayed that Christians at Ephesus would be strengthened therein.
In a post-Christian age, Christians easily become despondent as we see our numbers decrease and the church’s influence diminish. We can learn much from those at Ephesus: they lived in a pre-Christian age. Numbers of Christians were very small until well into the fourth century, and they had very little influence on the culture around them.
Saint Paul asserts that God’s “power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.”
Jesus started with only 12, and one of those was a lemon. Why do we feel we must have mega-crowds to “accomplish abundantly”?
Charles R. Bell, long-time pastor of First Baptist Church in Pasadena, California, attended Howard College in Birmingham, Alabama with my father in the 1920s and came to his hometown Anniston for his first assignment. The parsonage was one block behind our house, and Charles and my father planted a victory garden in the vacant half of the space that separated us. I was a small child and Bell was my major hero.
When I was a student at Baylor (1954-58), I was delighted that Bell came speak on campus, but quite surprised by his interpretation of the miracle of the feeding of the 5,000. He dismissed the conventional view that Jesus himself multiplied the child’s five barley loaves and two fish to enough barley loaves and fish to feed the five thousand people.
Many in that crowd would never have left home without stashing a bit to eat in a shirt or bag, Bell noted, but no one would dare to eat in front of those who might not have brought anything, lest they be asked to share. According to Charles R. Bell, a far bigger miracle than the mere trickery of creating more loaves and more fish was the miracle of the hearts of the stingy changed when Jesus put at center stage the generosity of the child.
Too often we depend on the millionaires and other rich people to have enough to “accomplish abundantly,” but collectively a few poor people can make a huge difference when their hearts are changed. Witness the first eleven disciples.