07/22/18 – No Rest for the Worried

NO REST FOR THE WORRIED

July 22, 2018
9th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 7:1-14a; Psalm 89:20-37; Ephesians2:11-22: Mark 6:3034, 53-56
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

 

The first-morning bus ride to our Children’s Choir camp has been an interesting experience for me, these past four years. The children who require transportation are, usually, the ones who have the least in terms of worldly resources. Particularly for first-time campers, the drive along Moss Avenue is an awesome sight. The houses on the church’s side of Moss Avenue look like fairytale castles to these children. One comment I will not forget was made by a 10-year old girl who exclaimed: “Look at that house. If I had a house like that I would have a party every day and invite all of my friends!” I was touched that her first thought was about sharing her grand house with friends. It also made me wonder if the people inside of that house were as joyful as the young girl thought they must be.

In our Old Testament reading, David is at a place in his life that one would expect him to be at peace. Last week we read that God had made David victorious over his enemies. David brought the ark of the covenant to Jerusalem, the new capital of Israel. He shared his joy by hosting a great feast for all the people and he danced in the street. But, today we find David wants more. Now he is afraid his good fortune will not last and he tries to secure his future by building a grand temple built of cedar to house the ark of the covenant. David’s real aim is to contain God, to harness God’s power to his own realm.

David has a grand house of cedar. Cedar was a symbol of power. To obtain cedar, one had to travel over a hundred miles to the mountain region of Lebanon. It would have taken a lot of manpower to chop the giant trees into logs and bring it to Jerusalem.  Just looking at a house of cedar, one would know that inside dwelled a man of great power and wealth. David’s plan was to make God’s house like his – they would be equal. And God would be ensconced in a house right beside him, so David would always have easy access to his benefactor.

But, of course, God sees through David. Delivering his message through the prophet Nathan, God reminds David that he and David are not equal. God swiftly disabuses David of the notion that God’s power can be harnessed. God goes where God wants and does what God wants – end of discussion. To emphasize the superiority of God’s power, God reminds David of all the things God, not David, has done to bring David to power over Israel.

Isn’t that always the way it us with us? Once we are fortunate enough to have what we want, we worry about keeping it. This fear of not having enough makes us less generous in sharing with others; and, the fear of someone taking what we have makes enemies out of our neighbors.

In our gospel reading from John, Jesus also addresses this issue. The passage begins with Jesus encouraging his disciples to relax and take a rest. ‘Stop fretting about production, how many people are listening, how many miles you have traveled, or if you fulfilled your quota for the day. Rest from your worries and seek peace.’ Jesus went up to the mountain, the bible’s code word for being close to God, to pray, For Jesus, peace was being close to God. The lectionary leaves out the next part in which the disciples fear not having enough food to feed the crowd that had come to hear Jesus speak. Jesus told his frantic disciples, do not worry that we will not have enough, by sharing, all will be fed. From the scarcity of a simple lunch of fish and bread, Jesus miraculously feeds 5000 people, with abundant leftovers.

Jesus leaves the crowd to go up to the mountaintop. This is the pattern of Jesus’ ministry, and the pattern he would have us learn so that we may be free enough to let God’s power flow through us: first, rest in God; then, serve God’s people; then again, rest in God. For the disciples, as with us, this was a hard lesson to learn. The disciples stay on their boat out in the sea – the sea being biblical imagery for chaos, the fearful state of not understanding and feeling controlled by outside forces. There is no rest for the worried.

When a storm whips up, Jesus does not fear. He is not swallowed by the sea, he takes control of the wind and then walks upon the still water. Like us, the disciples immediately imagine the worst. Not only are they in danger of drowning, the figure coming toward them must be a ghost coming to haunt them. Jesus says to the terrified disciples: “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”  While they must have been relieved that the sea no longer threatened to claim them, they still did not understand Jesus’ power to bring peace to troubled waters. Jesus had given them the answer: “Do not be afraid,” but they didn’t understand his message and they hung on to their fear like a life-jacket.

The author of the letter to the Ephesians is addressing the same issue. One of the earliest conflicts of the early church was the question of whether Gentiles could be accepted in the church without first converting to Judaism. Jews were the insiders – God’s chosen. Jesus was a Jew as were all the first disciples. The word Gentile meant, non-Jew, thus they were outsiders. Jewish law prohibited contact with Gentiles. The laws that once served to protect God’s chosen people from worldly influences that would separate them from God now prevented the followers of God’s promised Messiah from entering fellowship with other believers. God was reforming the law so that the original covenant with Avraham could be fulfilled. God promised Abraham that his descendants hit “House” would extend to all nations. Jewish Christians were afraid of losing their privileged relationship with God by sharing it with non-Jews.

This dilemma was manufactured by the human weakness of fearing the loss of something by sharing with others. In the story of the feeding of the 5,000, Jesus demonstrates God’s economy of abundance. In the letter to the Ephesians, the author sends the message that peace is found in breaking through the walls that divide us and sharing our very selves with others.

The Bible tells us that Jesus was the ultimate wall buster. In his ministry he broke through the walls that society and religious tradition had built up between the rich and the poor, the healthy and the sick, family and strangers, citizens and foreigners and Jew and Gentile. Listen again to these words from Ephesians:

“He came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So, then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God…” (2:18-19)

Again, we hear the word, “house.” God’s vision is a world without walls as it was first created to be. The author of Ephesians tells us we are not alone, we have Christ and we have the church to tear down the walls that separate God’s children one from another.

We build walls intentionally, therefore we must tear them down intentionally. This passage from Ephesians tells us Jesus has already made a hole in the wall big enough for all to enter from either side. It is up to us to march through that hole with Christ as our assurance of peace. We need not fear that tearing down walls will create scarcity for us. Christ assures us of abundance. Christ gave up all, he gave his life.  His resurrection proclaims that we have more than enough of what really matters, the things that last forever. God gives us an abundance of things we do not need to hoard or fight over. This is how Christ is our peace.

David tried to build a wall around God to keep God’s blessings to himself and his subjects. He demanded more assurances from God. God promised him peace, but David wanted more military victories. David attempted to secure what he had already been freely granted, relying on himself more than on God’s power and faithfulness. The consequence was that David only succeeded in destabilizing what God had already secured for him. The anointed one whose heart was to be bound to God’s own heart became afflicted by perpetual fear. By the end of his life, King David, like King Saul before him, was terrorized even by God (2 Samuel 24).

David is the subject of the most detailed story of anyone in the Bible, except for Jesus. Maybe this is because the wise folk who determined the canon of the Old Testament understood that we needed to know David well because we share so many of his dispositions. Like him, we trust ourselves more than we trust God; we prefer our plans over God’s. Sadly, this leads to perpetual fear. But, by the grace of God, David’s story is not the whole story of God’s faithfulness to the house of David. The best was yet to come.  A thousand years later, Jesus, born to the house of David, reopens this story in a way the world had never seen. Like his famous ancestor, Jesus continues to build a house, a kingdom that will endure forever in God’s sight. But, unlike David, Jesus stays close to God, as close as being one with God. Jesus’ power is God’s power and it is more than enough to give us everlasting peace.

Jesus doesn’t give us too much of the things we fight over. Instead, he gives us, in abundance, the things we don’t need to fight over – everlasting life, mercy, forgiveness, peace, joy, and love. These are the things of eternal life.

The author of Ephesians ends this passage with the proclamation that Christ has made us into one temple. That means he makes us the place of encounter with those who long to meet and be reconciled with God. As the church, we serve as the body of Christ in the world. And, we are also served by the church, as a place of rest, a place of peace, a place to be fed.

God did not ask David to be a mighty king, God asked David to be a shepherd for God’s people.  God did not ask David to be a victorious king, he asked David to be a faithful king. The kingdom of Israel did not last, but the house of David did. The Roman Empire that crucified our Lord Jesus did not last, but the Christian church has.

The Apostle Paul sends these words of a commission to the Philippian Church:

9Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me and the God of peace will be with you.” (Phil. 4:9)

The Word of the Lord. Amen.

 

 

 

 

© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org   l   309.673.8501