The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Yr B) July 19, 2015


A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel (7:1-14a)


Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.”  But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.  Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.



Psalm 89:20-37


 20 I have found David my servant; *

     with my holy oil have I anointed him.

21 My hand will hold him fast *

     and my arm will make him strong.

22 No enemy shall deceive him, *

     nor any wicked man bring him down.

23 I will crush his foes before him *

     and strike down those who hate him.

24 My faithfulness and love shall be with him, *

     and he shall be victorious through my Name.

25 I shall make his dominion extend *

     from the Great Sea to the River.

26 He will say to me, ‘You are my Father, *

     my God, and the rock of my salvation

27 I will make him my firstborn *

     and higher than the kings of the earth.

28 I will keep my love for him for ever, *

     and my covenant will stand firm for him.

29 I will establish his line for ever *

     and his throne as the days of heaven.”

30 “If his children forsake my law *

     and do not walk according to my judgments;

31 If they break my statutes *

     and do not keep my commandments;

32 I will punish their transgressions with a rod *

     and their iniquities with the lash;

33 But I will not take my love from him, *

     nor let my faithfulness prove false.

34 I will not break my covenant, *

     nor change what has gone out of my lips.

35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness: *

     ‘I will not lie to David.

36 His line shall endure for ever *

     and his throne as the sun before me;

37 It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, *

     the abiding witness in the sky.’”




A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (2:11-22)


Remember that at one time you Gentiles by birth, called “the uncircumcision” by those who are called “the circumcision”—a physical circumcision made in the flesh by human hands—remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.



The Holy Gospel of Our  Lord Jesus Christ according to Mark (6:30-34, 53-56)


The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them,  “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.





by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer


Over the years, we at St. Mark’s have incorporated into our liturgy prayers and acclamations and blessings from a wide variety of sources.  We have done so completely within the provisions of The Book of Common Prayer.  To enable everybody to participate, including visitors who might not be familiar with our liturgy, we developed the current form of our service bulletin: one that includes everything except the hymns.  That has a lot of advantages.  One disadvantage is that we rarely need to open the Prayer Book itself.


But today, I’d like you to take one of the red Prayer Books in the racks in front of you and open to page 716.  You’ll see there the center section of Psalm 89, part of which we prayed together as our response to today’s first reading.  The portion of the psalm that we used reflects the unconditional promise of God made to David as we heard in our first reading.  Look again, if you will, at verses 35-37, with which we ended our response this morning:

35 Once for all I have sworn by my holiness: *

                        ‘I will not lie to David.

36 His line shall endure for ever *

                        and his throne as the sun before me;

37 It shall stand fast for evermore like the moon, *

                        the abiding witness in the sky.’”


It’s a wonderful, uplifting passage; but it’s not the whole story of the psalm.


The next verses mark a dramatic shift.  Having reminded God of God’s supposedly unbreakable promise to David, the psalmist reverses direction.  “This, God, is what you promised, the covenant that you made; but this is what has really happened:

            38  You have broken your covenant with your servant, *

                        Defiled his crown, and hurled it to the ground.”


In the psalmist’s own time, the nation has been attacked and defeated, and the walls of Jerusalem have been torn down.  The king, who supposedly had God’s unfailing support, has been disgraced and, very possibly, killed.  And the psalmist, whoever he or she might have been, reflects the question that must have been burning in the hearts of his/her fellow believers: how could this possibly have happened?  How can we make any sense of this in the context of our longtime belief that God’s promise to David was unconditional and unbreakable?


The psalmist’s dilemma reflects a tension that pervades the Bible.  Passages, like the one we heard today, describe God’s promises as completely unconditional: no matter what happens, no matter what we do, God will forgive, and God will stay with us.  God is giving David and his descendants, in effect, a blank check.  But there are other biblical passages that make those promises clearly conditional; one of these includes God’s opening words to Moses on Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:5, “If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.”  If.  Saul, about whom we heard in several of our readings earlier this summer, failed the “if test”: he violated God’s directives and was rejected.  And that was how David became king in the first place.


These two types of promises, the unconditional and the conditional, are complementary aspects of God and of God’s relationship with us.  They are sometimes referred to as God’s love, on the one hand, and God’s justice on the other.  Neither one of them stands alone.  They always exist in tension with each other.


Some churches and some Christians try to pick one or the other, as though they were separable.  Those whom we might call “evangelists” focus almost exclusively on the good news of God’s gifts freely given.  Those whom we might call “moralists” focus almost exclusively on our responsibility to live within the confines of God’s law or face the consequences.  Yet a truly biblical faith, and so a truly Christian faith, necessarily takes both into account.


We celebrate the conviction that God’s love and God’s faithfulness are free gifts, given without condition; they are pure grace; that is the best of “good news.”  And yet even within the context of God’s conditional gifts, God’s justice, there is good news; it is called “God’s mercy.”  That is what the psalmist is calling for in the last part of the psalm: that God would extend God’s mercy and restore the nation and its people.


These two realities, grace and mercy, stand always together in tension within the biblical image of God.  They sometimes seem to be merely “churchy” terms: hard to pin down in our actual lives.  But both of them affect us directly.  One of the best definitions that I ever found for grace and mercy comes, not from a prominent theologian, but from former Cincinnati Reds’ Manager, Sparky Anderson, who explained: “Grace is getting something that you don’t deserve. Mercy is not getting something that you do deserve.”  That’s about the clearest explanation that I’ve ever found.  And, in our relationship with God, it’s clear that we need both grace and mercy.


But that combination of grace and mercy are an integral part, not only of our relationship with God, but of all healthy human relationships as well.  Our love, for example, for our spouse or for our children, is unconditional: we love them no matter what.  We recognize their faults, probably better than anyone else does, but we love them nevertheless.  And they, in turn, recognize our faults, probably better than anyone else does, but they love us nevertheless


Yet our actions, and their actions, do have consequences: consequences that can sometimes endanger or even permanently damage the relationship between us.  They and we have to deal realistically and honestly with these situations, recognizing the harm that has been done, but striving to love each other nonetheless – in biblical terms, extending mercy toward them — whether we can ever return to our former, positive relationship with them or not.


As Walter Brueggemann puts it in his commentary on this story (First and Second Samuel, page 259): “Interpretation must struggle with the tension of “if” and “nevertheless” that is present in the Bible, in our own lives, and in the very heart of God…  God’s conditional requirement and God’s unconditional promise belong to biblical faith.  Both belong to God’s character as known in Israel.  Both are crucial to the fullness of our human life.  Both matter to our life with God and with each other.”