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Sermon for Pentecost 8, Year B

Based on 2 Sam. 11:26 - 12:13a

By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“ Are you the man/woman? ”

Today’s first lesson is one of the most profound and engaging stories in the whole Hebrew Bible. It is full of insight and wisdom ~ speaking a prophetic word not only to old king David long ago, but also to us today, if we have the ears of faith to hear. The prophetic word in this story reminds us all that, as God’s people, politics and religion do mix. Moreover, God even sends Nathan the prophet to be king David’s adviser.

God’s people are called to care deeply about the social and political injustices of this world, why? because God does! As God’s people, we are given the responsibility to speak God’s word in the context of real life situations of social and political injustice. In this story, the prophet Nathan risks his own life by courageously confronting David with his social, political and spiritual sin against the Lord. The Lord does not tolerate coveting, adultery and murder. The Lord does not tolerate the injustice of greed ~ when the rich and powerful take away what does not rightfully belong to them.

As we ponder this story today, I think it would be helpful to us all if we try to identify ourselves with the people in the story. Thus, it’s necessary to ask ourselves who are we in this story? Are we Nathan the prophet? Are we king David? Are we Uriah the Hittite or Bathsheba? Or in Nathan’s parable, are we the poor man or the rich man or the wayfarer dinning with the rich man? Or are we that ewe lamb?

As we focus on the following contemporary stories of injustice, it would be helpful for us to ask ourselves: What social, political and spiritual sin am I guilty of? What does the prophet Nathan’s words mean if they’re addressed to me, when he said: “You are the man!”? How are we “the man” or “the woman” in terms of our guilt and sin, and the injustices which we are partial to by virtue of living where we live, and doing what we do? At the same time, we also need to ask ourselves who are the David’s in our lives who sin against us? How can we be the modern day Nathan’s to speak God’s prophetic word against sin and injustice today? How can we, along with the rich and powerful repent of our sin and injustices to live more in harmony with God’s ways? How can we change situations of sin and injustice into ones of goodness, mercy, peace and justice?

Our first contemporary story comes from a piece in The New Internationalist magazine: “Then reality set in. Netanyahu wasted no time in keeping an election promise to expand Israeli settlements in the West Bank. By the end of the summer, his government had budgeted $300 million for new settlements, which are illegal under the peace agreement. Thousands of empty settlement houses, which the last Labour government ‘froze’, were put up for sale, with the usual government perks package ~ and settlers, elated with the new policies, began fencing off Arab-owned land around existing settlements, confident the government would not stop them. Meanwhile, construction continued on an elaborate series of bypass roads for settlers in the West Bank and Gaza. The ‘security’ roads are intended to whisk settlers around the autonomous Palestinian areas like Ramallah. In reality, say Palestinian critics, they have served to carve the West Bank into a series of isolated, autonomous cantons, effectively destroying any dream of a sovereign entity ~ and in the process they have swallowed more than 800 hectares of Palestinian land.”

“Arafat pleaded for time and patience but looking at the band of cronies and lifetime soldiers he brought with him from Lebanon and Tunis to be his ‘Government’, the emergent police state seemed inevitable. Palestinians, who struggled so hard in the Intifada to win their rights, expected better than this. ‘I’d rather spend a thousand years in an Israeli jail than one night treated like this by my own people,’ detainee Mahmoud Jummayil told his little brother in a prison cell they shared in August. The next day, Mahmoud was beaten to death by police on the orders of a top Arafat aide.”

The second story is one a little closer to home, it actually happened in Regina, and is told by Ben Smillie, in his book, The Social Gospel: Church Protest On The Prairies: “Polly Red Hot, a 64-year-old native woman, lived in a small bungalow across from Regina’s football stadium. In October 1984 she died of carbon monoxide poisoning. The coroner’s inquest found three main factors which directly contributed to her death: a landlord who did not replace a faulty furnace until the day after her funeral; gas inspectors who had postponed inspection of the defective furnace and then failed to do a follow-up; and the provincial Minister of Finance, Bob Andrew, who had reduced the number of gas inspectors in the interest of austerity. Ray Sentes, a professor at the University of Regina, made the following statement regarding this tragedy: “Polly Red Hot was a poor, elderly, native woman living in a rented house in an older area of the city. She likely never met Bob Andrew, the self-declared wonder boy of “intelligent budgets.” She was one of his victims just the same.”

“Following considerable agitation by the ombudsman, the provincial government paid $5,482 in compensation to Polly’s next of kin. Polly “was sick and she was elderly. She didn’t generate any income, she didn’t have any savings. From a legal point of view her death was of little, if any, consequence.” But if a young and powerful executive with dependents had been killed, would the compensation been the same?”

To quote the paraphrase of the words of Jesus, published by the World Council of Churches several years ago: “I was hungry and starving and you were obese; thirsty and you were watering your garden; with no road to follow, and without hope, and you called the police and were happy that they took me a prisoner; barefoot and with ragged clothing and you were saying: ‘I have nothing to wear, tomorrow I will buy something new’; sick and you asked: ‘Is it infectious?’”

Whether it’s Nathan the prophet, David, Bathsheba, Uriah, the rich or poor man, the wayfarer or the ewe lamb; whether it’s Netanyahu or Barak and the Israelis or Arafat and the Palestinians; whether it’s Polly the sick, elderly native woman or government ministers; whether it’s the poor and homeless, the abused, the unemployed here; whether it’s the Prime Minister or the United Nations; whether it’s we as individuals or us as the Church; our first lesson today underscores an important message, which all people can translate into our everyday living. The message is this: every one of our actions has far reaching effects, not only for us but for every other person as well. The consequences of our actions are very real ~ they are for good or for evil. May God, in God’s grace, help us to be the prophetic Nathans of this world, so that what we say, think, and do shall please God and heal the injustices in our world.

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