Excerpts from a sermon at St. David’s, Minnetonka, Minnesota…
Good to see you this morning, good to be back. Len and I were in North Carolina with the Episcopal Church Women this week. We drank sweet tea, spent time in wonderful old Episcopal churches built in the 1700s, rocked on a wonderful verandah overlooking the Blue Ridge mountains, ate crab cakes and grits and and learned the plural of the phrase: “Y’all.” In case you’re wondering, it’s: “All Y’all.”
At Kanuga, the camp and conference center for the Diocese of North Carolina, we explored, for three days, the theme of building bridges of peace and reconciliation through the actions of Bible women. And in that context, we looked at the biblical meaning of the world “shalom.” Shalom, in the Old Testament and in Jesus’ time means fullness, wholeness, health… experiencing things the way God meant them to be, being at peace.
And in today’s readings, we see two people doing just that: Nathan, a court prophet for King David, and an unnamed “sinful” woman in the Gospel of Luke. Although separated by a thousand years, they are both tremendous examples of shalom and of building bridges—not in the absence of conflict, but right in the middle of it. And they are powerful reminders to us about authenticity and truth-telling.
In today’s Old Testament reading, King David is in big trouble. He has slept with a woman named Bathsheba, and impregnated her while her husband Uriah, was off fighting the Philistines on his behalf. He then calls Uriah back from battle to be with Bathsheba… but loyal Uriah refuses, because when a soldier is engaged in battle for his king, he does not take time off to visit his wife… and in a terribly immoral decision, David has Uriah sent to the front lines where he will be mowed down by the enemy…and he is.
But he’s the king. All obey. The cover-up and scandal would have gone unheeded were it not for Nathan, God’s spokesman and prophet. Nathan then tells David the story of a simple shepherd, who had only one ewe lamb, who grew up with the man’s children. The shepherd loved the lamb dearly, as did the children…but then a rich man came and took the lamb, killing it for a meal.
David is outraged. And then Nathan says, “You are that man! You took Bathsheba away from the man who loved her! That was all he had!”
David —the most powerful man in Israel, caught in a web of deceit and immorality—repents because Nathan confronts him, and directs him back onto the right path. Nathan sought shalom. Nathan was a truth teller.
And we see that same kind of truth-telling, that same sense of shalom in the New Testament. In the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is having dinner with his disciples at the home of a Pharisee when a women comes in, “a sinner.” We don’t know her name. We don’t know the nature of her sins. Some say she was a prostitute, although the text does not define her as one. Some have said this woman was Mary Magdalene. In the Gospel of John, it is Mary of Bethany who takes this role of anointing.
Here, she is unnamed. The woman takes an expensive jar of ointment, massages Jesus’ feet with her tears and the ointment, and then dries his feet with her hair. An astounding act. No words. Just a hugely expressive, sensual act by a woman of ill repute.
She, like Nathan, is a truth teller. Somehow, she instinctively knows that Jesus is set apart by God. She seems to even know that he is the Messiah, and is determined to do something for him, to give him the purest gift she can: her heart. Unexpectedly. To the disciples and the Pharisees, especially Simon, it seems highly inappropriate, even rupulsive.
Yet Jesus understands. Moreover, he affirms her. When criticized by Simon, he says: “Simon, do you see this woman?
“Do you see her sense of wholeness? She is filled with humility and love, and you are not. You are just acting the part of a host when she is embracing me, truly welcoming me on a soul level.”
Shalom. Building bridges. Being on holy ground. Acting on a soul level, a soul level that is consistent with God’s hopes for the best of our very selves. Both Nathan and the unnamed woman had the courage to be themselves as God created them to be, to act as instruments of truth-telling, bridges from the human to the divine and back.
So…what about us…what about us as we leave here, this week? Like Nathan and the unnamed woman, may we too have the courage to stand alone, to acknowledge what is right and true and holy in our midst, and to act.
Peace. Reconciliation. Truth. Authenticity. Humility. That is what God wants from us—may we have the courage to be, indeed, God’s people, to practice shalom.
Sermon preached at St. David’s, Minnetonka, Minnesota on June 12, 2016