A Reading from the Second Book of Samuel (11:1-15)
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”
1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.
2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.
3 Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.
4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the Lord?
5 See how they tremble with fear, *
because God is in the company of the righteous.
6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
but the Lord is their refuge.
7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.
A Reading from the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians (3:14-21)
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
The Holy Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ according to John (6:1-21)
Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias. A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick. Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples. Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near. When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted. When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.” When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself. When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea, got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them. The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing. When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified. But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.
by the Rev. Michael Kreutzer
One of the many things for which I am grateful in life is the fact that I have always been interested in a wide variety of topics. That diversity makes life so much more fascinating. And it is made even more so when we come to see the connections among those seemingly separate subjects.
Recently, I came across a pair of articles that caught my attention. They were both about rare earth metals. Now “rare earth metals” is a term that is used to describe 17 elements that have very special properties, which make them invaluable for so many aspects of our modern life. Their use in highly complex devices, from the tiniest components in our cell phones, computers and TVs, to the catalytic converters in our cars, to the most sophisticated aircraft, extends the significance of their purely scientific uses into the realm of national defense systems and policies and into our daily lives. That, in turn, makes them extremely valuable, giving rise to important economic considerations and consequences. The fact that China is currently the largest supplier of these metals brings geo-political implications. And the fact that China’s current methods of mining and refining cause serious pollution of the earth, water and air, resulting in entire villages having to be relocated, highlights the environmental consequences. All this is yet another reminder of how interconnected we all are and of the vast, and often unrecognized, web of consequences that our decisions and our actions entail.
Past generations, and even many people living today, have interpreted the positive consequences of our positive actions to be rewards from God or from the gods for acting rightly; and they have identified the negative consequences of our wrongful and selfish actions to be punishments from God or from the gods for our violation of moral principles. But many other people living today no longer think and speak in those terms; yet they still recognize that our actions do have consequences, sometimes consequences that we had never foreseen in an ever widening web of unintended effects. William Ralph Inge – a 20th century priest, Professor of Divinity at Cambridge, and Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London – once summarized that approach by declaring “There are no rewards or punishments – only consequences.”
In the great drama that begins in today’s first reading and continues in those for the next two Sundays, we see that principle powerfully illustrated. David’s actions, supposedly done in secret, will have extensive consequences. His deeds, done behind closed doors, will become publicly known. The prophet, who recently had pronounced on him God’s blessings, will now pronounce on him God’s judgment. The child that Bathsheba has conceived will die. One of his sons will kill another son and then lead a rebellion that will compel David to flee for his life. And his family and closest associates will become embroiled in conspiracies and in a struggle for succession that will convulse the nation. All of these will come as the unintended consequences of the actions of David, one who has been abundantly blessed by God but who allows himself to abuse the great power that he has as king.
Our actions do have consequences, sometimes consequences that affect people whom we do not and never will know. Our lack of concern for the environment, for example, and the cavalier way that we disregard our responsibility to care for God’s earth continue to degrade the world in which we live and the world that our children and grandchildren for generations to come will inherit; they will have to suffer the consequences of our actions. Our failure to care for the children of our community and of our world will have a negative impact that will affect them for the rest of their lives, as well as the lives of their children, and the life of our community, nation, and world as a whole. And our focus solely on our own wants and needs, to the neglect of the needs of those who are not nearly as fortunate as we ourselves are, results in a perpetuation of poverty, of a feeling of hopelessness, and of a divided society. In many ways, our failure to live up to the principles that we profess have negative consequences that spread through the web of life that binds us all together.
On the other side, our positive response to the call of God in our lives leads to positive and life-giving consequences for others as well. In our gospel reading, the willingness of the unnamed boy who provided Jesus with five barley loaves and two fish made possible the feeding of 5000 men, plus women and children. It was a seemingly small contribution, but one that, with the power of God, produced huge results.
Sometimes, when we try to live our faith by serving the needs of others, we can feel overwhelmed by the sheer scope of the need and by the seemingly small contribution that we are able to make. We tend to narrow our focus to what we are doing at the time and on the apparently small impact that we seem to have on the lives of others.
But what we do is just a tiny part of a much greater endeavor, of a much broader picture, one that we tend to forget. Through God’s power, our small contributions and limited efforts can make a significant difference, reaching out in an ever-extending web of unforeseen consequences, touching the lives of others in a positive and life-giving way.
The great 20th-century American theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr (The Irony of American History) reminds us: “Nothing worth doing can be achieved in our lifetime; therefore we must be saved by hope. Nothing which is true or beautiful or good makes complete sense in any immediate context of history; therefore we must be saved by faith. Nothing we do, however virtuous, can be accomplished alone; therefore we are saved by love.”
As the author of today’s second reading notes, God is the one whose “power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” It is in that realization that we entrust ourselves and our service to others to God: the one who, through our hope, our faith and our love, can always do great things.