Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost - Aug 12 2018

Sermon for the 12th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
August 12, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51

The story of Absalom, as presented in the selected verses we heard today, is incredibly incomplete.  I’d like to fill in some of the missing elements for you.  Briefly. 

David had seven wives and quite a few children.  I want to spend a few minutes with Amnon, Absalom – two sons each by a different mother – and King David’s nephew Jonadab.  Absalom had a full-blood sister named Tamar.  And Amnon desired her, so much that he was seriously pining away, wandering around the palace, moaning for her, and making a general nuisance of himself.   So his cousin Jonadab suggested that he feign illness, and then ask the king to send his half-sister Tamar to nurse him, which David did.[1]

But when Tamar came to help him in his illness, Amnon grabbed hold of her and said “Lie with me.”  She begged him not to; she even said he should “speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you.”[2] But he did not listen, and forced her.

After the fact, we are told he “was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed his loathing was even greater than his lust he had felt for her.”  Amnon kicked her out; even while she begged him not to, “for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me.”  And he had his servants evict her. 

She went weeping, tearing her robes and putting ashes in her hair, to her brother Absalom, who comforted her, and went to the king for justice for her.  But David … rejected his plea.  David … “became very angry, but he would not punish … Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn.”[3]  Therefore Absalom hated Amnon, and would not speak with him, but privately swore revenge, and two years later, Absalom killed Amnon at a family feast.

David mourned Amnon and Absalom fled and went to Geshur, his mother’s homeland, for three years.  After this, “the heart of the king (David) went out, yearning for Absalom; for he was now consoled over the death of Amnon.”[4]  Joab convinced David to let Absalom come home and Absalom was forgiven by the king, but David would not see him.  it was several more years, and the birth three sons and a daughter named for his sister Tamar, that Absalom was allowed to see his father, and prostrated himself before the king.

But then Absalom slowly gathered himself an army and eventually launched a coup attempt, which resulted in David having to flee Jerusalem.  While David slowly built up allies and armies, Absalom fulfilled one of the prophecies of Nathan we heard last – that David’s neighbor would take David’s wives for his own.  Eventually, however, the war turned in David’s favor, and Absalom was defeated. 

That brings us up to date; and today we hear of Absalom’s death, while David mourned him greatly.

This tale of Tamar, Amnon, Absalom fulfills another of the prophecies of Nathan – that “the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me [the Lord], and taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.”

Do you get the idea that not only David, but a lot of people in his time, had little regard for women as human beings?  Not only that, but we never hear another word about Tamar, whose violation instigated so much pain, hatred, and death, not only for David, but for his wives, his sons, and for the kingdom and the people.

It might move us to ask, what is the price of devaluing human beings in our own day?  Is it really worth it to demonize and degrade others in order to solace our own fears and anxieties?  When we do that, do we not also warp our own souls? 

St Paul urged the church in Ephesus to do otherwise: “Be angry, but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. … Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. … Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.  Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”[5]

There’s no denying that this can be difficult advice to accept or follow.  The fact is that we sometimes prefer our anger, as it makes us feel righteous when someone has taken advantage of us, or put us down, or been violent toward us in speech or action.  We can justify bitterness; but we struggle to forgive, especially when the one who has hurt us is unrepentant.  Shouldn't they repent?  Shouldn't they seek to make recompense?  Why should we let them off the hook? They were the ones who made this mess.

Should Tamar or Absalom have forgiven Amnon?  Should David have punished Amnon?  Should Absalom have forgiven his father?

Difficult questions.  Difficult questions.

Jesus forgave those who crucified him, because they were ignorant of what they were doing.  What was their ignorance?  We might assume it was that they thought they were eliminating a rabble-rouser; but had no idea they were killing God’s messenger … except they did, because he told them so.  They killed him because he was God’s messenger, just as the tenants in the parable of the vineyard killed the landlord’s son – because they knew who he was.  And they thought that they would gain title to the land by doing so.  What can I say – “ignorance of the law – of inheritance – is no excuse”? 

Of what did he, then, forgive them?  Because it sure looks like he forgave them for an intentional act of terrorism, designed to put fear into the hearts of the people, and to keep them “in their place.”

This passage in John’s Gospel sets up a confusing dichotomy – Jesus is both God and human, both divine and human, both eternal and mortal.  And no one understood what that meant when he claimed this.  Different groups wanted different things from him – and both wanted to define him in their own way, to their own advantage.  The people without power wanted him to be their king; the people with power wanted him to go away.

But Jesus refused them all.  He – himself alone – claimed the right to define himself. 

The people remembered Moses, who had provided them food in the wilderness, to feed their bodies, and they rebelled against Moses when he insisted they stay in the wilderness.

Jesus, on the other hand, had fed the people’s bodies, but now insisted on filling their spiritual hunger as well – a hunger many of them did not even know they had, especially if they were well-fed physically.

Moses handed down laws that would, if followed, guarantee them God’s protection.  Jesus told them the laws of Moses stood in the way of God’s protection.  He told them God chooses whom to offer eternal life; and that choice – made by God – determined who would follow Jesus. 

We who love God might find that a threatening thought.  We chose to be here; we choose to try and live as God would desire.  Do we think that because we chose, we must be chosen, because only the chosen will choose? 

I told you it was confusing.  This might be over-thinking the question.

It’s also disturbing, because we all know people who have not chosen, people we love, people we strongly believe and try to trust that God loves, deeply, lastingly, eternally.  And we have heard of churches that tell members of other churches, or even no church, that only their own members are saved.  And we sure don’t want to think that…

But remember this:  he fed the 5,000 with physical food, satisfying their human hunger, and then he identified himself as the bread of heaven – ready to satisfy their spiritual hunger as well. 

So we find we cannot separate the divine and the mundane when it comes to Jesus, and we find that they somehow become one, or “both/and” in him.  When we receive the bread at the altar, we take into ourselves not just the earthly wheat but also the heavenly bread of life, simply because that’s what he said would happen.

He desires to be part of us, and for us to part of him, joined eternally and inexplicably, confusing as that may be. 

This seems to be what God wants of us and wants for us.  And I think we don’t know whom God chooses, and cannot tell whom God chooses just by who does or does not follow the same way we do. 

Furthermore we don’t have the authority to make that call, any more than our ancestors in the faith had the authority to define who Jesus was or is.  God defines the terms for God’s self.  Let it be.


“May God’s love be the pattern for ours.  May God’s wide embrace, God’s boundless generosity, God’s reckless mercy, God’s steadfast and unfailing love be our rule and guide.”
~ Br. David Vryhof, Society of Saint John the Evangelist


[1] Paraphrase 2 Samuel:13:1-7.

[2] 2 Samuel 13:8-17

[3] 2 Samuel 13:21

[4] 2 Samuel 13:30

[5] Ephesians 4:26,29,31-5:2.

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