A sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, July 29, 2018
Calvary Episcopal Church, Flemington, New Jersey
The fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.”
Usually when people hear this line from Psalm 14, they think that it is about whether someone thinks God exists or not. That somehow it’s a question of philosophy and that the resolution of the argument over the fact of God’s existence will resolve all the other problems. But that’s not what this psalm is about at all. The existence of YHWH, the God of Israel, was for Israel an unquestioned fact. There was no intellectual argument about that—God was the definition of the community of Israel. Without God they had no identity or existence.
If we look at the next line, we can get an idea of what is going on: “All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none that does any good.”
The psalmist is referring to fools who behave as if the living God does not exist; as if the bonds of the love of God binding the community together don’t exist or matter at all. The fool forgets about God.
Our Old Testament Lesson today is the famous story of David and Bathsheba and Uriah the Hittite. David was a great leader, a great warrior who was anointed as king, seized the kingdom from Saul and consolidated the twelve tribes of Israel into one effective kingdom. He is remembered not only as a great warrior, but also for his beauty, his ability as a singer, and he is credited by tradition as the author of the Psalms. The story takes place in the spring, and the text reminds us that that is the traditional time for kings to go out and fight their wars. Why have wars at all? Why not use the spring to plant crops and take the flocks to fresh green pastures? Well that would be one alternative, wouldn’t it? But with ancient military technology and logistics, you couldn’t successfully send armies into the field in the winter. The environment would do in your army without any input from the enemy. We hear the same about combat in Afghanistan to this day. What I actually find a little puzzling is why the warrior king sent someone else to lead his army in this war. Somehow, this time was different, or perhaps he was different now.
So, Joab was leading the army out in the field, and David was lounging in his cedar house in Jerusalem. David gets up and goes up to the roof to look around in the late afternoon. He sees a woman bathing, a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, the wife of one of his officers, Uriah the Hittite, who was away at the war. He sends for her and has sex with her and the next thing you know, she’s pregnant. To cover up his affair, David has Uriah recalled from the battlefield and encourages him to go home to his wife.
But Uriah won’t go home, he stays at the king’s palace, because as far as he’s concerned, he’s still on duty. Uriah’s mission was to support his colleagues who were in harm’s way in the conflict with the Ammonites—he wasn’t going to take time off while that was going on.
That puts David in a bind. If Uriah would not spend time with his beautiful wife, the illicit nature of the pregnancy would be obvious and David’s adultery would be revealed.
Let’s think about this for a moment. David was a man of great power and wealth. He had important responsibilities. Most regarded him as courageous. Yet at this point he abandoned his responsibilities to his people, responsibilities entrusted to him by God, responsibilities that extended far beyond himself. If you look at the whole of the story told in the books of Samuel, David was not the passive recipient of these responsibilities, he sought them out, even fought for them. The responsibility and stewardship of his country’s well-being was something he freely accepted. And now, he acted corruptly, simply to satisfy his own desires he coerced a woman, the wife of another man, to have sex with him and then corruptly sought to cover up the consequences of that choice. This harmed both Bathsheba and Uriah at the outset. The thing is, corruption doesn’t just stop, there’s no easy reset button. When David’s quick cover-up didn’t work, he tried something more desperate. In order to make Bathsheba a widow, he manipulated his country’s military, he arranged for the troops to do something contrary to any battle plan, or indeed their own safety. He ordered them to put forward a hot attack and then to abandon Uriah the Hittite to be slaughtered. David caused his army to lose one of its best officers to cover up his own lustful indiscretion. David had gone down the steps of selfishness, greed, deceit and corruption and betrayed his army and indeed his country. As this happened, it became for David, as if his commitments to God did not exist, as if God was not real for him.
“The fool has said in his heart, there is no God. All are corrupt and commit abominable acts; there is none who does any good.”
This story is too long for just one Sunday lesson, so it continues next week. I won’t say now what consequences are in store for David. But David was a fool as the psalm explains.
It’s not necessary to be a fool, though many in the world would like you to think it is when they blame others for their own corruption. The opposite of being foolish is being wise. We know wisdom in Jesus. Here’s just one sample from today’s lesson from the Gospel of John: There’s a huge crowd and Jesus talks with his disciples about how to get them fed. Philip observes that they have nothing like the finances to take care of the problem. Jesus just waits—and Andrew looks around for the resources they do have. There was a young person who had a decent sized lunch: five loaves and two fish. The young person contributed what he had, and from that Jesus fed the five thousand people with leftovers to spare. Jesus intentionally did not do this alone, he started with the imagination, resources and generosity of the community. God’s wisdom is in the generosity of God’s people, one with another, their welcome and support of one another, not in the selfishness of a wealthy, powerful and corrupt fool.
Jesus withdrew when they wanted him to be their king, but when the disciples were in trouble out on the lake, he came back to them and said, “It is I, do not be afraid.”
Let us pray.
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy: that, with you as your ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.