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Pentecost 12 Proper 14B RCL August 12, 2018

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

In our first reading this morning, King David is at a deeply tragic point in his life. As we recall from last Sunday, the prophet Nathan had told David that, because of his adultery with Bathsheba and his murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, David will face conflict from within his own family.

Here is a brief summary of the tragic events. The time is three thousand years ago, and King David has several wives. David’s eldest son, Amnon, rapes Absalom’s sister, Tamar. After appealing to David who does nothing, Absalom murders Amnon. David is devastated and outraged at Absalom’s murder of his half-brother. Absalom asks Joab, King David’s faithful military leader and friend, to help patch things up, but Joab refuses. Absalom then burns Joab’s field. Absalom finally has to flee to another kingdom.

Now Absalom has returned, and he is leading a revolution against his father. Absalom is handsome and vain and proud. He is especially proud of his hair, which he grows long. Absalom is also quite charismatic, and many people are attracted to him. These people have joined his army. Absalom’s revolt has been so successful that David and his court have had to leave Jerusalem.

On the eve of the battle, David is so distressed that he actually asks his military leaders to “deal gently” with Absalom. David’s troops win the battle. The text says that the forest claims more victims than the sword, and of course, one of those is Absalom, who becomes stuck in the thick branches of an oak tree. His mule runs away, leaving him hanging by his hair. The text omits verses 10 through 14, in which some of David’s soldiers see Absalom hanging from the tree. One of them reports this to Joab, who asks him why he did not kill Absalom. The soldier says he wanted to honor David’s request for gentleness. The text tells us that Joab “thrusts three spears into the heart of Absalom.”

The Bible offers us many accounts of human nature. Some of them remind us of how noble we humans can be, and others reveal the complicated and dark depths of human depravity and the conflicts and tragedies that can arise from that darkness. The story of King David and his family has both. Few biblical accounts are as heart-wrenching as this one. When he hears of Absalom’s death, David cries out, “ O my son Absalom, my son, my son. Would I have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Vermont theologian Frederick Buechner writes, “He meant it, of course. If he could have done the boy’s dying for him, he would have done it. If he could have paid the price for the boy’s betrayal of him, he would have paid it. If he could have given his own life to make the boy alive again, he would have given it. But even a king can’t do things like that. As later history was to prove, it takes a God.” (Buechner, Peculiar Treasures, p. 6.)

“As later history was to prove, it takes a God.”

Our gospel for today calls to mind this passage written by Frederick Buechner. The five thousand have been fed, Jesus is telling us that he is the bread of life. These words in today’s gospel are echoed in our offertory chant from the Taizé community: “Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Come to me and never be hungry. Eat this bread, Drink this cup. Trust in me and you will not thirst.”

Jesus is with us, and following him gives us a deeper dimension of life. This is what he calls eternal life, and that life has already begun in us because of his presence. We are not alone. We do not have to trust only in ourselves. He is our Good Shepherd and he is leading us. He gives us his grace and love and healing and guidance. He feeds our deepest hunger. He leads us beside the still waters and fills us with the gifts of faith and trust in him, He gives us new life, life on a new level.

And he gives us the gift of community, of life together in him as members of his Body. Our epistle describes the qualities of that life together. We are called to be honest. We are called to deal with anger in a responsible way, not to nurse it and let it fester. We are called to work so that we will have something to share with those in need. We are called to be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving. Whatever we do or say should build up the body of Christ. We are called to “live in love,” because we are following the One who “Loved us and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to God.”

As we read the tragic story of David and his family and then read our epistle and gospel for today; and as we think about the words of Frederick Buechner,  we realize again and perhaps on an even more profound level that it takes a God to bring life out of death and wholeness out of brokenness.

Blessed Lord, thank you for being with us in every moment of our lives and for feeding us with the food of your presence, your love, your forgiveness, and the gift of new life in you. Thank you for calling us to follow you and to help you build your shalom. Thank you for the gift of community rooted and grounded in your love. Give us your grace, we pray, that we may seek and do your will. Amen.

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