2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
The Rev. Canon Kathy Dunagan
There was a young couple who got married in the church one early spring. They had a lovely wedding with happy extended family and friends gathered and lots of gifts. One of the gifts they received was a bit unusual. Some beloved great aunt bestowed on them an Italian fine china creche. It was a complete set with angels, shepherds, wise men and animals. They carefully wrapped it back in the individual boxes and bubble wrap and tucked it away. Their first Christmas together was special because by then they were expecting their first child and they experienced that special feeling of Advent, of expectation of the blessings of a child. By their second Christmas they had acquired a home and found a special place for the creche in the foyer on an antique table top. Their baby made that Christmas special too.
But by their third Christmas, with a second child on the way and growing demands with their jobs, their lives were becoming a bit chaotic. They kept their tradition, however and set up the creche nearly forgetting it in the following days. Christmas morning came and their toddler was trilled to receive a truck and the young family delighted in playing with this and other toys around their tree. But tragedy then struck. The toy truck ran out of control and slammed into the table in the foyer and the entire Italian fine china creche came crashing down on the floor. Every piece was broken. An angel lost a wing, shepherds were beheaded, lambs and oxen shattered. The only piece that survived was the baby but not his manger.
They swept up the mess and reassured the child and put the baby back in it’s box and into the usual place of its storage in the foyer closet and returned to their merry making deciding to purchase another nativity set next year - maybe in the after Christmas sales - maybe a plastic one this time.
Their fourth Christmas was different. A new baby, a preschooler a bit older. They set up the new creche with some sadness and moved on. But one day of the season they found something funny about their new plastic and rather dull nativity set. The bright white porcelain baby from the old set had suddenly appeared. It was too big and seemed awkward in the new set. They pondered how this had happened and eventually questioned their child. He admitted he had gone into the closet and placed the old piece in the new set. When asked why, he simply said, “I wanted to get Jesus out of the box.”
Today’s lessons are about brokenness.
David gets a rude awakening from the prophet Nathan, who finally gets him to see the errors of his selfish ways. St. Paul begs, begs his flock to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which (they) have been called.” And Jesus instructs his followers that the bread that has been sent down from heaven is not just food, but restorative, nutrition for the soul.
We all face brokenness in life. Relationships get broken, dreams get broken, hearts get broken. This is because we are sinners. We are fallible, weak and in no way is it possible for us to not break things. Even after we grow out of the clumsiness of childhood, if we choose to grow up. Even on our best days we cannot fix certain broken things around us. It is just a fact of life.
When those parents encountered their young child wanting to get Jesus out of the box, they encountered the hope that comes from a life lived in a plastic world. The wisdom of clumsy children is just the kind of place we find such encounters, not in the fix it world of perfectionism, but in the messy world of try again, try again.
The other night, I watched Dave Letterman’s new show. Have you seen this? I think it’s only on Netflix. Anyway, the show is called “My Next Guest Needs No Introduction” - a cute borrowing of a common phrase for MC’s of shows like Dave Letterman’s late night show.
This episode he interviewed, and also was interviewed by (a clever turn on the interview part of late night shows) Jerry Seinfeld.
I enjoyed the conversation these pros had. Here are two retired, successful comedians who can essentially do whatever they want. They are sort of kings of the entertainment world. But, they didn’t go on that show to brag. They reminisced, they bantered and they were funny.
In the end, all they really ever wanted to do was make people happy, it turns out. Letterman, in fact, made a short speech in which he said that he believes that “the feeling of doing something for others in show business is aversion to being in show business because being in show business is ultimately about doing something for yourself. And being in show business to where you are able to get an enormous audience or to be able to get a small audience to applaud and laugh is so gratifying, it’s endlessly gratifying. And it’s the same with doing something tangible, the feeling you get from doing that is the same - it’s a selfish pursuit either way.”
Jerry said, “I couldn’t disagree more.” This is the finest thing you can do in life, to make people happy.”
So, I was entertained. And I watched another episode.
The next episode I found was an interview by Dave with Jay-Z. Now, I don’t like rap music and knew nothing about this famous Rap Artist, except that he’s married to Beyonce`. And I really don’t know much about her either. I didn’t think this episode would entertain me so I hesitated to watch it. But I watched anyway.
The reason I was drawn to this interview was because of my encounter with Rap music many years ago. I was at a dinner party about 15 years ago and I said, rather randomly, that I hate rap music because it annoys me. The woman next to me decided to enlighten me. She said that Rap is intended to annoy someone of White Privilege like me. She got my attention. This made sense. Then she went on to explain that Rap is an art form that is a creative expression of inner-city African-American anger in the face of oppression. This was easy to realize too. Young, inner city Black men (and women) are understandably angry with the cultural problems into which they are born. They have more to overcome. It’s not fair. It is oppression.
It dawned on me in that discussion that any creative expression, even something grating and non-musical seeming as Rap, any creative expression is better than a violent expression.
So, I watched Dave Letterman interview Jay-Z for an hour in order to understand this phenomenon a little more and I was surprised again. You know what they ended up talking about? Brokenness.
Oh, they told Jay-Z’s story of coming out of poverty and crime to become a successful artist, entrepreneur and multi-millionaire and they talked about his values of always combatting racial injustice and they talked about their creative processes as performers and they talked about show business and Jay-Z explained the history of and creative development of Hip Hop. He pointed out that the Rapper is there to make the DJ look good. This was all interesting.
But I got more interested when these two men eventually came around to brokenness. They each shared what they learned from their mistakes, particularly the sin of infidelity.
Like King David, both of these successful, rich men had faced many personal losses because of their infidelity. Both nearly lost their families over much publicized extra-marital affairs. Both shared openly about how painful these mistakes were. Both shared openly about what they learned from their choice to repent and do the hard work of rebuilding their marriages and families.
Now that was enlightening, if not entertaining.
When Jesus fed 5000 people, he became a superstar. It is important to note that in St. John’s version of this feeding, Jesus himself breaks the bread and gives it directly to the people rather than have his servants do the work. This is to emphasize that He is the servant.
So when the crowd wakes up the day after this party and begins looking for the host, they want more. But more of what?
Now, it’s important to note that the crowd represents us - the followers of and seekers of God Incarnate. When the crowd goes looking for their superstar they get some good advice from him.
It’s not about filling your belly. It’s about saving your soul
Jesus teaches this crowd, that is, us, that our work in this life is not just about getting money to buy food - or stuff - or power. Jesus begs us to do the work of God. And when we ask him what it means “to perform the works of God,” he tells us that the difference is in our belief in Jesus as the bread of life.
That, my friends is why we get together for Holy Eucharist every Sunday.
Now, this hasn’t always been the case. Getting together to pray as a community is enough. Historically, that is the protestant value Anglicans held until about 60 years ago. Between the Reformation of the 16th Century and just a few decades ago, we usually did Morning Prayer and we only had communion occasionally.
The Anglican tradition, as you know, is the Via Media. We tried ever since to seek a balance in this split.
The Reformation made a lot of changes in the church. For the most part it caused us all to wake up and move away from power abuse and bad practices like buying our way into heaven by purchasing indulgences and the like which the Roman church had gotten caught up in.
But the Protestants moved away from Holy Communion in an Anti-Catholic move and this ended up being a mistake. Now-a-days you’ll find that the Eucharist is hip again, even among the folks from the most low-church, Protestant end of the spectrum.
And this is why. It is when we come to understand Jesus as the bread of life, the bread that was broken for us, the blood that was spilled for us, the body that was resurrected and lives on in us, when we come to understand the theology of the Eucharist, practicing the ritual becomes food for the soul in ways that other rites cannot come close. Everything else seems like mere entertainment by comparison.
King David learned from Nathan’s parable of the poor man’s single lamb what the biggest Ah-Ha moment of your life feels like. King David learned that he was the man, the power-abusing, rich man in the story. King David learned what awareness of sin feels like. But is he repentant? Well, stay tuned for next week’s exciting episode. But don’t look to be entertained. Look and listen instead for the pain and grief that comes from reaping what you sow.
In these sorts of lessons we too can learn, again and again, what contrition is about. We too can learn to acknowledge our sins and we too can learn, daily, to repent.
The best news is this. Each Sunday we can gather to break, bless and share in the body of our beloved Lord and in this ritual we too can learn to follow the living God.
We’re not here for entertainment. We here to get on our knees and practice contrition before we then go back into the world to do the work God has given us to do.
So, my friends, as we sweep up the brokenness in our lives and try to move on we must always be ready for the surprises of the beautiful, porcelain God Incarnate who is ever with us in the journey, even when we are mired in sin, even when we feel on the outside looking in, even when we have lost hope. We are surprised each day with the beautiful one who loves us, feeds us, serves us and lives in us as the bread of life.