Monday, April 29, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 113: II Samuel 10-12; Psalm 93; Acts 8

Realization is 9/10 of repentance...
...but it is that last 1/10 that brings true amendment of life. On a grand scale, today we hear of David, Bathsheba and the collateral damage and loss of life that accompany David's sins. On a relatively lesser scale, we also bear witness to the sins of one Simon "the Great" who petitions the apostles for a franchise license to dispense the gifts of the Holy Spirit (and he is willing to pay for the privilege).

David's sin is a classic. While most of the men of fighting age have gone out to campaign on his and the kingdom's behalf, he sees the wife of one Uriah (the Hittite) bathing on the roof of her home. Falling in lust with her, he winds up fathering a child with her while her husband is out in the camps with the king's soldiers. Tragedy ensues, and ultimately Uriah is killed through David's further connivance and deceit. The price for his sin? At first, everything that God has given him. Like Saul, David has departed from faith with God; but unlike Saul, David seems to repent appropriately, enough to retain his kingdom, his dynasty and his place in God's favor. The price remaining to be paid is the life of the son he has by Bathsheba.

What gave me pause today, and also confused David's senior servants, is that while the king grieved profoundly for his newborn son as he lay sick and dying, he then chose to end that mourning when he learned of the child's death. It would seem a inappropriate gesture. David's own testimony to this choice reveals both his faith and his pragmatism: he mourned actively while the child was alive in the hope that perhaps God would relent, have mercy and let the child live. With the child's death, that point is now moot. He can't bring the child back. In fact, he says, "I am going where he is, but he won't come back to me."

This is that other 1/10 of the journey of repentance that David takes to realizing that when he sins, others do suffer-some even to death. That sort of journey leads to a wisdom that possesses the deepest of roots, because it often comes at the greatest cost. In David's case? It is the life of his son (and soon, another), and any hope of peace for himself and his kingdom.

For Simon "the Great" that last 1/10 of repentance comes after a dramatic faux pas in the face of the community when he attempts to buy the rights to the Pentecostal gifts demonstrated by the apostles. David learned you can hide nothing from God; Simon learns that God cannot be bought or traded as a commodity. I am sure he was eager to do good. His business up to that point was to perform wonders before people...and what could be more wondrous than seeing the Holy Spirit manifest among the faithful? It is the means by which he hopes to secure transmission that creates the fissure between himself and the apostles. You cannot buy God...nor can God be licensed. Simple concept...and yet one that Simon learned carries immense costs when we get it wrong; and remarkable mindfulness on our part when we struggle to get it right.

If we are going to learn anything from today's readings, two lessons stand out: realization is 9/10 of repentance; and for that to mean anything we must embrace the final, steep 1/10 of the remaining climb to repentance by surrendering pride, certainty and false suppositions that only serve to isolate us from the mercy of God and the grace of true communion amongst the people of God.

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