Murder. Deceit. Intrigue. – Love. Lust. Loyalty. – Misunderstanding. Provocation. Drama!
It seems like we could be reading a Hollywood film score, made-for-t.v. script, or a contemporary novel, but in fact we are reading stories from scripture. This week’s featured characters? Jezebel the scheming, controlling wife. David and Ahab, philandering, manipulating rulers. Naboth the principled, steadfast disciple. Two hired critics, secondary assassins if you will. Uriah, the inconvenient (now dead) obstruction to another man’s desires. An odd woman with a jar of alabaster ointment and sensual hair. And others, including the portrait of God which is both retributive and redemptive.
This week’s texts are hard stories. They are filled with deceit, murder, and retribution. They bear witness to the hard truths of humanity, capturing stark images of what some refer to as the “dark side” of our human character. Murder certainly is evidence of darkness. But so too is the pursuit of lands to satisfy a personal longing, a conquest rationalized through such ideologies as “I was willing to give a fair price” and “But I am the king.” The shadows are long over the lustful pursuit of both person and possession that leads to direct disobedience to God’s instructions. There even is darkness in the defenders of the faith, the Pharisees who are having difficulty seeing God through all of their religion.
These are ugly stories, uncomfortable in the manner through which they raise inconsistencies in our own lives, and draw attention to the places where the darkness is resisting the penetration of the light.
There is, however, good news in these stories. A primary source of hope is the fact that God does not abandon even those by whom God is betrayed. There is punishment and harsh consequence, but God does not withdraw from those to whom God has entrusted testimonies of faith. The cost of disobedience is high, but the resources to overcome this separation from God are extraordinary.
“David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.” Nathan said to David, “Now the LORD has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the LORD, the child that is born to you shall die.” (2 Samuel 12:13-14)
Even more radical response is found in the New Testament. “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 7:47-48) A sinful woman, through an extravagant and wasteful act, ends up being an object lesson for Pharisees. And in the process, she is given a brand new life. “Your faith has saved you; go in peace!” (Luke 7:50)
It is these gifts of ongoing presence, the forgiveness of sin, and a blessing of peace, which propel us into the world. As recipients of such extravagant love from a generous God, the stories we tell are ones of rescue, patience, forgiveness, grace, and second-chances. These stories are the good news, the gospel as it has been seen, and heard, and told and re-told.
What’s your story? How are you sharing it?
In the 2005 political thriller The Interpreter with Nicole Kidman and Sean Penn, there is one scene during which Kidman’s character Silvia recounts an African tribe’s ritual to Tobin, Penn’s character. After one year of mourning a murder, the victim’s family and village take the murderer bound to the middle of the river and dump the killer in. The family then is left with a decision to either let the murderer drown or to rescue the perpetrator. The belief is that if the family allows the killer to drown, then they will have justice but will live the remainder of their lives in mourning. If they choose to rescue the murderer, they admit that life isn’t always just, and that very act of rescuing the killer in defiance of justice can take away their sorrow. “Vengeance is a lazy form of grief,” Silvia says. (clip can be seen and purchased at www.WingClips.com )
Hymns and songs:
Amazing Grace by John Newton
Amazing Grace (My Chains Are Gone) by Chris Tomlin
There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy by Frederick Faber & Lizzie Tourjee
Beautiful to Me by Don Francisco
Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing by Robert Robinson
God of life, long before the stories were told,
you were crafting creation,
and bridging division.
We have heard the stories of those who have gone before us,
witnessing the struggles,
gasping at the horrors,
applauding the courage,
marveling at the faithfulness.
Today we long to see testimonies of equal power
pointing to your goodness,
humbly receiving grace.
Forgive us for the times when we willfully oppose your claim on our lives.
Forgive us, also, for the times when we do not know we are divided from you.
Open us to the gift of your love.
Strengthen our faith.
Send us out in peace.
Give us the ability to forgive those who offend us, not a cheap grace,
but the power which restores our trust in goodness
and sustains our hope for a future of wholeness.
Ready us to receive the gift of forgiveness from another,
that we might not shrink from lavish gestures of service and sacrifice.
And God, we pray that our stories might find their place in your story,
places of honor for remembering your work in our lives
and for sharing the ways that knowing you has changed us.
We pray for those who hear the stories as told from history and the stories of our remembering.
Open their ears and hearts to the gift of your love
poured out for all.
With thanks for your steadfastness,
in the name of Jesus the Christ, we pray.