Organized Religion

(NOTE: This is a homily based on the Revised Common Lectionary for the 10th Sunday after Pente-cost; Proper 13 in the Episcopal Lectionary. The Scriptures are, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a,  Psalm 51:1-13. Ephesians 4:1-16. and  John 6:24-35.)

For some time, I have been doing some research on the David and Bathsheba[1] story in reference to the Messianic succession in both Hebrew and Christian traditions. I have been surprised to learn that Rabbis, both ancient and contemporary, as well as some Christian scholars, believe that David did not sin in his illicit relationship with Bathsheba. If he had, he would not be the founder of the messianic line. Further, the Talmudic rabbis also suggest Bathsheba is innocent in this relationship; in fact, they demonstrate that she was an unwilling participant in the initial encounter and remained a virtuous woman. Further, some Jewish tradition provides support to my contention that the story is not suitable for public reading.[2]

The sin, for which David repents, is his decision to execute Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, for treason without due process. The argument is that Uriah, Bathsheba’s soldier husband, did not follow David’s orders to return to his home. Further, Uriah called his frontline commander “master”. Therefore, Uriah was guilty of treason. According to the Rabbis of the Talmud, the sin against God was David’s disregard for the Sanhedrin.[3]If the ancient Hebrew scholars had not come to this opinion, a flaw in Davidic messianic line would exist. Regardless of the legal justifications and various ramifications coming from the rabbinical decisions, the story is a good one indicating the redemptive love of God despite flaws of character or government.

Redemptive love and the faithfulness of God are the basic concepts of a Christian life.  David and Bathsheba are the recipients of redemption. This redemptive experience comes after David makes a profound confession now found in Psalm 51 and since Bathsheba, believed not to have sinned, finds redemption simply as a child of God. Because the David and Bathsheba story has been the subject of my thoughts now for several weeks, this is all I want to say about that biblical drama.

            The Apostle Paul reminds us that there is one faith, one baptism, and one Lord and Father of all. Jesus declares that miracles do not make us believers. Because we choose to be, we are faithful believers. Jesus is the bread of heaven not the barley loaves he used to feed the multitude.

In the Gospel according to John[4], Jesus refers to the manna in the wilderness, which evokes verses from Psalm Seventy-eight. The words that come to mind are,

Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven; he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven. Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.[5]

The perishable manna appeared in the morning, and then gathered, and the perishable manna could not be stored but eaten before sunset.[6] This is what Jesus is referring to when he speaks of perishable bread. Of course, all bread will eventually spoil and become inedible.

Bread is the metaphor for the substance of life. Jesus taught his followers to pray for “their daily bread.”[7] There is an organization with a worldwide feeding mission for the poor called “Bread for Life.” Scriptures are often thought of as giving us spiritual sustenance, thus thought of as spiritual bread. It was when Jesus broke the bread in the inn the pair on the Emmaus Road[8] saw Jesus as their companion on the way. Bread, therefore, is a workable image, even in today’s environment.

Our bread, our food, builds our bodies and gives us life and the strength and structure on which to grow. Using that analogy, Paul suggests Christians cannot build up the body of Christ if there is no living structure on which to build. In fact, few things can live if there is no structure. Faith becomes an empty experience when practiced in solitude.

Thus, there is an argument for organized religion despite the poor example it sometimes presents. This is Paul’s message to the Church.

Without a world view there can be no work done in the Name of Jesus. Everything becomes individualistic and self-absorbing and religion is for no practical purpose other than making the individual feel spiritually sated.

Paul calls on Christians to build a spirit of community; that is, we belong to something greater than we are. The worldwide Anglican community, though separate groups of Christians, gives us a view of the entirety of the Church. Having a greater sense of the Church prevents ingrown congregationalism and leads to a greater sense of mission.

Paul’s Letter t the Ephesians is a short course in Christian theology[9]. Many today do not want to be bothered with theology; theology is an intellectual word and many want to be just “down-to-earth” people who do little or no thinking about bigger issues; that is, most people want to be “know nothings.” If I individualize my faith, I do not need to worry about deeper meanings of the words, their origins, and original meanings and contexts. In fact, I can make up what they mean and what they do not mean.

The Letter to the Ephesians provides for us the theological context for faith and the practical application of faith in the gift of God in the Lord Jesus Christ.

In the theological portion of the Letter to the Ephesians, we learn what it means to be a follower of Jesus in a broader way. One of the main principles we learn is God intends a unified Church not only in belief but also entirely in doctrine. It is for this reason I think Episcopalians must place more emphasis on the Book of Common Prayer and doctrinal statements in it such as Outline of Faith.[10] I also recommend Episcopalians should occasionally review the Articles of Religion[11] also in the Book of Common Prayer.

Further, Paul instructs there must be people within the Church who are knowledgeable of the teachings given to us by Jesus. While he does teach the ideal concept of the “priesthood of all believers,” he continues to insist there is a specific leadership role for those who have become knowledgeable to prepare the followers of Christ for service. This is not service to the Church but rather service to a world in need of Godly love.

For Paul, love is the unifying element of the Christian faith. In that ideal of love, as described by Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians[12] (love is patient, kind, and not self-seeking). Christians can find unity in doctrine and dogma if we are prepared to overcome superficial differences. This is the impetus behind the Anglican Communion’s emphasis on church unity in the documents called Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (also outlined in the Book of Common Prayer beginning on page 876).[13]  We find unity in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. There is unity in our creedal statements, Apostles’ Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol and the Nicene Creed as our statement of the Christian faith. The Sacraments ordained by Christ–Baptism and the Holy Eucharist—are the unifying acts of all Christians.

Christian unity finds its support in Ephesians in that Paul outlines the need for apostles, prophets, teachers, and evangelist; all the tasks given to a bishop in Gods one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church. Also given this mandate are the priests of the Church who are in council with their bishops.

Finally,Paul admonishes the believers to “make every effort” to maintain unity and peace in the Church. This demands the exercise of humility, gentleness, patience, and love. In other words,Paul makes the argument for the benefit of organized religion. Although Christians may exhibit many superficial differences, spiritually speaking, there is only one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father

William Frank Bellais


 

[1] 2 Samuel, Chapters 11 and 12.

[2] In an Internet search, use “David, Bathsheba, and Talmud”. Researchers will find several discussions by Rabbis and Christian Scholars or clergy on this issue.

[3] A court of judges found in every community in ancient Israel and Judah. It is likely David presided over the Sanhedrin at the time he seduces Bathsheba. David’s sin, therefore, was to order Uriah’s death. Only the Sanhedrin could issue a death warrant for execution.

[4]John 6:22-35

[5] Psalm 78:23-25, Holy Bible, New Revised Version.

[6] Exodus 15:11-31

[7]Matthew 6:9

[8]Luke 24:13-32

[9] Ephesians 4:1-16.

[10] Book of Common Prayer, page 845.

[11] Book of Common Prayer, page 867.

[12] 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

[13] Book of Common Prayer, Historical Documents.

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