Lectionary Texts: Second Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 51: 1-17; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
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Today we’ve heard once again the story of what had to be the darkest time in the entire life of King David, who is described in Scripture as “a man after God’s own heart.” We marvel at the fact that a man who from his youth followed God’s leading so steadfastly, whose military exploits from the slaying of Goliath onward were accomplished in the power of God, who was anointed by God to be King over His people, whose lineage would include the Son of God incarnate Who would sit on the throne of David forever and ever, could have sunk so low as to commit unabashed adultery with Bathsheba and then to devise a murderous plot against Uriah. Yet in Matthew 1:6, we are reminded that "the wife of Uriah" was among the ancestors of Jesus.
Only God could act so mercifully and graciously out of His great lovingkindness. Still, we wonder at times how God could have pardoned David’s actions, and even more how this could possibly have been part of God’s eternal plan. The answer lies in our psalm, Psalm 51, where we find David pleading with God in those very terms: “Be gracious to me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness; according to the greatness of Your compassion blot out my transgressions.” He acknowledges his sin without the slightest attempt to soften its reality or its depth. He says, “Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight, so that You are justified when You speak and blameless when You judge.”
But then David moves on beyond repentance to true reformation when he prays, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit.” David recognized that unless repentance is coupled with a commitment to having a clean heart and a steadfast and willing spirit, there is no hope of experiencing the joy of God’s salvation.
It’s that reality that overwhelms every priest who stands at the altar washing his hands in preparation for offering to God’s people the very Body and Blood of His Son, Jesus Christ. The words that the priest speaks privately in that moment are drawn from either Psalm 26, another psalm of David, where he writes, “I will wash my hands in innocence and I will go about Your altar, O Lord, that I may proclaim thanksgiving aloud and declare all Your wondrous deeds” (verse 6); or the words of today’s psalm, 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.”
The point is that our God is a forgiving God, a truth that David never forgot. In another great psalm, 103, my personal favorite, David writes: “The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness. He has not dealt with us according to our sins, nor rewarded us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is His lovingkindness toward those who fear Him.
As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (verses 8, 10-12). For David, that lesson was learned the hard way. But its reality was the source of his ability to start fresh and to bathe himself in God’s lovingkindness.
Every one of us can take comfort in these thoughts, because whether or not we personally have sunk as low as David, we can acknowledge with him both that we are born in sin and that our redemption requires that we individually plead with God: “Purify me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:7). Only then can we lay claim to those words from David’s prayer: “Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and sustain me with a willing spirit” (verse 12).
The concept of the joy of our salvation, so real to David, reminds us of the words of Jesus when He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Later when He was in the Upper Room with His disciples, Jesus said, “These things have I spoken unto you, that My joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full” (John 15:11). Fulness of joy is what Jesus desires for those who follow Him. And He’s quite specific about it: He does not offer us the joy of the world, a joy that we all know to be transitory; rather He offers us His own joy, the only joy that can fill us up.
Our passage today from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is brief, but it’s filled with spiritual sound bites on which we could dwell devotionally to our great benefit. Verse 19 ends with one of those bites: “filled with the fulness of God.” My deeply devout mother, who would have been 106 on this the day of her birth, 7/29, actually wrote a musical setting of those words that we used to sing in the car on our family vacations. I have no idea what your family sang in your cars, though I’m certain it was not my mother’s song. But I can assure you that I never read these words without reflecting on my mother’s song and the spirituality that lay behind it.
When we pair that phrase, “filled with the fulness of God,” with the phrase in verse 17, “that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith,” and then we toss in the phrase from verse 16, “to be strengthened with power through His Spirit,” we have yet another probably unconscious reference by Paul to all three Persons of the Holy Trinity, just as we observed in last week’s reading from the previous chapter. When Christ dwells in our hearts through faith and we walk along our paths in the strength of the Holy Spirit, then we know what it is to be “filled with the fulness of God.”
The concept of being filled with God’s fulness is a bit mind-boggling. How could we presume to contain within ourselves God’s fulness without bursting? It may be that Paul is over-reaching here, but are we not at our best in every aspect of life when we over-reach? And why would that not be true in the spiritual realm, where just about everything we attempt sounds rather like over-reaching. If we presume to think that Jesus Christ Himself can literally dwell in our hearts by faith and that we can live each day in the power of the Holy Spirit, then the result should be at least an authentic taste of being filled with God’s fulness. Why not strive for that, overreaching as it may be?
In her song, my mother turned these words into a prayer by adding one more phrase: “filled with the fulness of God, Lord may I ever be.” That would make a great daily prayer for every one of us, a way to start each day. At the very least it provides food for thought that probably takes us several steps beyond where we live many of our days.
What all is included under the umbrella of God’s “fulness?” Certainly we could start out with His lovingkindness that He showers on us unstintingly. Then with King David, we can add God’s gracious forgiveness whereby He has “removed our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west.” Then we could further add with David that He gives to us “the joy of (His) salvation.” Along with that, we also have the joy of Jesus remaining with us so that we may be filled up with His joy. And finally we have the prospect of basking in the joy of Jesus for all eternity when we, entering into His presence, may hear His words, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You were faithful with a few things, I will put you in charge of many things. Enter into the joy of your Lord” (Matthew 25:21, 23).
Take with you, today and every day that remains to you, that little phrase of Paul, “filled with the fulness of God.” Then turn the prayer of my mother’s song into your own prayer, “Filled with the fulness of God, Lord may I ever be.”
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.