A very old story
SERMON: 10 Pentecost B 7 22 18
2 Sam11:1-15;Ps14;Eph3:14-21;Jn 6:1-21
There is a scene from a popular sitcom that I thought of this week in which a character is asked point blank if he had committed a particular act. The act, which I will not describe, is utterly and obviously outrageously wrong, inappropriate, indecent and out of bounds. The character, when asked if he did it, pauses, for a moment, as I recall. Then comes up with the best defense he can muster: "If I'd known it was wrong or against policy, I never would have done it." It was ridiculous, absurd.
Most of us grew up knowing some version of the rule that ignorance of the law is no excuse. Our laws are rational manifestations of how we want society to operate, so not being able to anticipate a law, even if we are ignorant of it, suggests we are indifferent to broad social concerns. Even if we don't know the speed limit is 15 miles per hour in a school zone when kids are present, we know we should slow down.
I would suggest we are living in a time when social norms are being cast aside at an alarming rate. I certainly find it alarming. But I am comparatively old. And the rate of change that modern communications technology and social media have made possible explains much, if not all, of our ever lower shifting social standards.
It explains much, but not all. Because there are always going to be those who are quick to grasp the opportunity to take advantage of any laxness in society's expectations of them. Maybe they think they've earned it. Maybe they just think they can get away with it.
Sometimes we come to realize that people do things that are improper at some level because they can. They think they can get away with it, so they give it a shot. They think they're entitled, so they ignore the rules. We always experience some degree of shock and dismay, but it seems to happen pretty much all the time.
In the past few months we have been experiencing the era of the # Me Too moment, revelations of abuse of power involving sexual misbehavior and victimization. It turns our stomachs and brings on our rage. And yet we realize this has been going on just below the level of public consciousness for a long, long time. Until now, that is.
The cascade of claims made against President Trump seemed to have no effect until the disgrace of Harvey Weinstein. The public outrage that was expressed seemed to mount like a tsunami. Now we see clearly that it wasn't just these two or people of similar high positions; more and more public figures and others have been brought into the light.
I know I surprise no one when I say this is not a new phenomenon. Our Hebrew Bible reading this morning takes David from last week's contemplation of building a house for God to the nearly public violation of the sixth and seventh commandments. How great a fall for King David!
We consider the revelations with a dismay rooted in the awfulness of the acts and our sad comprehension of the hubris that infects us all, to varying degrees. Not normally as drastically as David, but hubris does run rampant in our society.
One thing that we may realize in the 21st Century that wasn't recognized in the day of King David is that David could have cut his losses by stopping at adultery and avoiding murder. But he didn't, of course. He was in a position to dispatch Uriah literally, figuratively and finally and he did so, rather than face the shame of his sin and confess and take his lumps. Instead he stabbed the loyal Uriah in the back.
We will see this set of poor choices play out in the Bible in the weeks to come. And we will see how the corresponding contemporary crisis of sexual misbehavior ultimately informs and enlightens us. Will it cause a more mindful atmosphere in our society regarding abuse of power? After all, that is precisely what generates the type of sexual misbehavior we've been reading about. People with power, usually men, forcing themselves on others, usually women, because they have the power.
Or will we as a society lower our standards still further, rationalizing as locker room talk calm discussion of groping and sexual abuse, and sex with unwilling partners as an entitlement for those in power?
I suppose it is possible that we are in the middle of such a fierce current of social change that the notion of raising our standards to literally and figuratively respect the dignity of every human being is beyond reach. That may be. But we will know only if we try. If we submit without trying to hold back to the seeming fast current of social change, we surrender that aspect of our Baptismal Covenant and break our vow to uphold it.
It may seem an impossible choice. To challenge the dilution of our standards or recognize and accept the wave of change. But impossible choices were designed to be confronted by our faith. And in today's Gospel we have a marvelous example of Jesus and his disciples choosing to operate on faith versus fear.
The concern is the giant horde of people who want to see and hear Jesus. It's hot and the day will be a long one and there's no supply of food. Yet Jesus says to his followers, effectively, let's rely on our faith, our higher beliefs. God will provide, the people will not go hungry. And so it was.
A wonderful reflection I read recently asserted that Jesus promised again and again the freedom from fear. In today's Gospel, after feeding the 5,000, he came upon his disciples in a boat in rough waters. Jesus was walking on the water and his followers were afraid. But Jesus, once again, said, "Do not fear," and calmed the waters and calmed his disciples.
Miracles are great but few and far between. Opportunities to live into the miracle of faith abound. They sometimes challenge us. They sometimes simply move us as we thought we were incapable of being moved.
But one thing is clear: our faith can eclipse our fear for the simple reason Paul laid out in his letter to the Ephesians today: God working in us "is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine." Thanks be to God.
A sermon preached July 29, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector