Golden Boy; Local Boy
Fifth after Pentecost - Year B
July 9, 2006
Fifth after Pentecost - Year B
July 9, 2006
Let us pray: Loving and gracious God, may the words that I speak here be ones which lead us to know more about you and your will for us, your people. Amen.
††† This week I began reading one of my summer reading picks - not a recently published novel, but a somewhat dog-eared classic. Given that I began reading Charles Dickens when I was only twelve years old, I donít know why it took so long for me to turn to ďA Tale of Two CitiesĒ, the novel that begins with the answer to trivia questions in any number of contests and games. ďIt was the best of times and the worst of times.Ē It is one of the most famous opening lines to any novel and still it wasnít until this week that I sat down to read it. Since Iím only a few pages in, Iím not going to spend the rest of this reflection talking about it, except to say that itís opening sentence provides a kind of foil for us in thinking about the scripture passages this morning. Contrast can often be a helpful device for looking at things, and it is the contrast between two people as described in our scripture readings that I want to reflect upon today.
††† Our first reading continues the story of David - the one I often call the ďGolden BoyĒ of the Hebrew people. The story of David is much more than the compelling tale of an underdog who makes good. His story is the chronicle for a whole branch of Hebrew history which of course, is inextricably linked with the story of the relationship that the Hebrew people had with Yahweh, their God and ours. It is a story about the establishment of a political system as the people moved from one form of government to another, and the way that the name of God is used to gather strength for an argument for one side or the other. We are often reminded that history is the story of the winners. The story of the losers is often lost, even though the worldview that story represents may be one which can inform and enlighten us.
††† David legitimised the monarchy for the faction that saw monarchy as the God ordained way of political organisation. Saul had been a setback for the monarchists - as had several of the so-called† judges - the precursors to the monarchy. David was an unlikely hero - I was going to say an unsung star - but in fact it was singing that gained him a reputation - as we heard last week - singing to soothe the disease of his predecessor Saul and composing songs called psalms which described in poetic form so many of the ways in which Godís presence is both sought and experienced. But David also epitomised some of the worst characteristics of human nature. Despite his humble and unlikely beginnings, David is a prime example of the way in which power can go to the head, leading to abuse of that power for personal benefit. Since the story of David is a result of the victory of the monarchists in the struggle to establish a form of government for the Hebrew people, we donít really know what other options were being put forward. We donít know whether some of the other ways of political organisation might have implemented checks and balances to prevent the kind of absolute power that a monarch has under his or her control along with the expectation of divine right that often comes with such systems of rule. Itís probably not too large a leap for you to realise that I see the story of David not just as a story about a local boy who made good, but also as a warning for the way that systems can be manipulated and power can be abused and all under the guise of divine sanction. ďWe need a monarch because God wants us to have a monarchĒ is often the way that such desires are framed. We should always take claims of divine sanction and divine purpose with a hefty grain of salt.
††† The contrast to the story of David and to which I alluded in the opening of this reflection lies in the gospel passage that was read for us today. Here we have a quite different scenario. Here the local boy shows some promise but the shine on his golden aura quickly wears away with contempt of familiarity. How could anyone from here be so smart and so knowledgeable. This story gives credence to the old adage that an expert is anyone who comes from some fill-in-the-blank-depending-on-the-circumstances distance away. I must admit that Iíve often been amused when Iíve been called upon by a presbytery to offer some advice and expertise to a congregation which has been dealing with one challenging situation or another, but when I have dealt with a similar kind of situation in the congregation in which I serve, the advice and expertise has largely been questioned. Hopefully this has had a tempering influence on me - so that I donít think I am so smart to offer anything but a modicum of knowledge and insight to others and so that I donít get so depressed to think that my skills and abilities should go unrecognised. I only use myself as an example here. Iím sure any number of you here today could cite similar examples where in one case you are a knowledgeable authority from afar and in another case, you, that very same person, are nothing but a ďone-of-usĒ whose head is too big for your hat.
††† The message here, of course, is that no one is ever as bad or as good as others would have you believe. David may have had some surprising and amazing skills in any number of areas - as a courageous shepherd who could fend off lions and bears, as a singer songwriter, as an unlikely war hero and even as a ruling monarch, but he also showed himself to be a person who was very much human when he was given the chance to use his power and authority for self-serving reasons.
††† In contrast, we can often surprisingly find the wisdom we need from within our own ranks. We donít necessarily need to turn to an expert who comes from somewhere else. We simply need to acknowledge the God given abilities that we have among us. Surprising things can happen when we mine our own depths - personally and within our own community.
††† A final insight can be drawn from the ending of the passage from Markís gospel this morning. Here Jesus describes a process for sharing the message of Godís presence in our lives. This seems to be a far cry from the establishment of a powerful monarch to administer wisdom and justice to the people of the land, and to be fair, this is not a proposal for the establishment of a political system, but it is a compelling and inviting description of gentle and humble sharing with people on a journey of faith sharing.
††† Eugene Peterson, in his compelling and folksy paraphrase puts it this way : Jesus called the Twelve to him, and sent them out in pairs. He gave them authority and power to deal with the evil opposition. He sent them off with these instructions: "Don't think you need a lot of extra equipment for this. You are the equipment. No special appeals for funds. Keep it simple. And no luxury inns. Get a modest place and be content there until you leave. "If you're not welcomed, not listened to, quietly withdraw. Don't make a scene. Shrug your shoulders and be on your way." Then they were on the road. They preached with joyful urgency that life can be radically different; right and left they sent the demons packing; they brought wellness to the sick, anointing their bodies, healing their spirits.
††† Golden boys or girls for that matter are not always all they are cracked up to be. Every expert and authority was a local girl or boy somewhere. A humble, gentle, respectful sharing of Godís presence can be just as, or† more effective than some high-falutiní, complexly established system. Thatís the gospel I hear in todayís readings. Amen.