A reflection the propers for 11B: 2 Samuel 7:1-14a and the tragedy in Aurora, Co.
Much has happened in the 2nd book of Samuel since I was last here, two weeks ago as David moves toward becoming the next king. There have been a number of battles among the tribes of Israel – divided into a northern territory called Israel and the southern territory called Judah - where the cities of Jerusalem and Bethlehem reside. The battles in chapters 1-5 reflect the effort it takes to reunite the northern and southern realms – Israel and Judah – into one nation, Israel. They also reflect the effort it takes to bring David fully into his reign as king over the newly united Israel. Chapter five described this union of the northern and southern territories and the anointing of David as the king of the entire nation. Chapter five continues with more battles to establish the security of Israel and David as king. David has great success with these battles. In chapter six David establishes Jerusalem as the religious center of the nation. He does this by bringing the Ark from the northern territory and settling it in a tent in Jerusalem. However the process of establishing the Ark in its new home is complicated and one of the caretakers of the Ark, Ussah, dies. This causes David to stop the move temporarily. Eventually he continues the move and the Ark, the place where God resides, is established in Jerusalem. Curiously 2nd Samuel records an argument that David has with his wife, Michal, where in she tells him he is getting too big for his own britches. David refuses to be humbled so long as the people admire him, and so he discounts his wife. The portion of chapter 7 that we read this morning includes David’s conversation with Nathan – a prophet who becomes David’s advisor.
In the reading this morning David and Nathan are arguing – David wants to build a permanent home for the Ark. Nathan argues that the Ark has never been in a permanent place. Subsequently Nathan even receives an oracle from God stating that God will build David a house. The argument against David building a permanent dwelling place for the Ark is intended to remind David, and us, that God cannot and will not be contained. In the end, God blesses David and David builds a temple for the Ark. Still, our Bible stories will show, over and over, how God cannot be contained by human constructs.
The fact that God cannot and will not be contained by human constructs speaks deeply into the tragedy of yet another shooting spree and mass killing. All of us are reeling from the reality, the images, the tragedy of the killings in Aurora, Co. Alarmingly, even as individual murder rates are decreasing mass murder rates are increasing.
(From Jay Emerson Johnson’s web page A Peculiar Faith
Rev. Dr. Jay, a theologian in the Episcopal Church who lives in San Francisco wrote a response to the tragedy on his webpage, A Peculiar Faith: “We are facing yet again another moment when U.S. citizens ponder the role of guns in our common life…. I’m not so sure that tighter gun control laws would have prevented what happened in Aurora today. But I don’t think that’s the point.
I think the point is the stress on individual liberty, that the individual reigns supreme in all matters of social and economic policy. I believe that is a form of idolatry, of replacing God with the human. Christians should say so, regardless of the policy implications.”
Both the stories we are hearing in the Book of Samuel, as well as much of the Bible, and the reality of the world today, point to the problems that occur when the individual takes precedent over the community and when God is pushed to the sidelines.
Let’s be clear – who we are as individual human beings matters. We are created in God’s image and we are valuable and precious. Putting the self second to God and community does not mean we diminish ourselves. It does mean that our sense of self-entitlement is challenged – what we want, think, need, prefer, believe – becomes part of the mix rather than the priority.
People who commit heinous crimes like mass murder are clearly people who have lost touch with reality, who are damaged or wounded or mentally ill. That does not excuse their behavior but it does mean that they are not necessarily evil in and of themselves. Their actions however are evil.
Evil is the power that draws us and pulls at us away from God - distorting how we think and see, fooling us into self-deception, encouraging us to act upon self-deprecation, or grandiosity, arrogance, entitlement, and or violence. Evil is real and so is sin. Just look at how broken our world is. How lost we have become. Over and over the media portrays how basic civility has been pushed aside, self-entitlement prevails, how we have lost the ability to assume the best in others.
As a Christian I believe that we humans have souls. It's even possible that there is a “communal soul,” of sorts, that forms in congregations, in communities, in countries. The soul, individually and corporately, responds to how we nourish it and care for it, or neglect it. If we feed the soul with care and compassion we will show care and compassion to others. If we feed the soul with anger and mean-spirited words, we will become angry and mean spirited people. We are all responsible. We all need to renounce evil and embrace compassion, renounce sin, and embrace love, renounce fear and embrace trust, renounce anger and embrace hope. We need the redemption that can only come from turning away from behaviors that cause brokenness in the world, with God/self/others, and turn toward reconciliation. We cannot fool ourselves into thinking this is something we can do on our own - but we can do it with God's help.
The Bishop of Colorado, in his response to the tragedy posted on the Internet Episcopal site called the Episcopal Café wrote this:
“For now I write particularly to ask your prayers for those who are most directly affected by these shootings – those who are wounded, those who have died, emergency responders, medical and law enforcement personnel, and your colleagues and communities who are providing immediate pastoral care. The greatest gift we have to offer one another is indeed our collective prayer – not merely kind wishes, not simply good intentions, but deep prayer – the ability to hold, tangibly and intentionally, others in that abundant love that flows freely and gracefully within us and among us. This has substance. This has weight and heft. For it is the source of deep healing and lasting transformation. Please make this your intention, and please invite others to join you in doing the same today and in the days ahead.”
Let us pray….May God, the holy one, the Divine Giver of Life, be with us and all who suffer. May God offer us a shoulder of solace and comfort us in our grief. May God’s love be like a mantle about our shoulders, holding us in peace. May God so fill our hearts and minds with the Spirit of God’s compassion that we too will be agents of God’s healing grace in the world. May God be with those who lost loved ones, embrace those who lost their lives, sustain those who are tending to the wounded. May God heal this broken world. May we partner with God to reconcile the broken places of this world. May compassion prevail in all we do and say. Amen.
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