Tag: david

Psalm 22: A Surprising Lenten Study

Last Wednesday night I led the meditation for our community Lenten “meal and meditation” service. I chose Psalm 22 from the lectionary for the previous Sunday, but used the entire psalm rather than just the last portion. Here’s the study — 

Psalm 22: A Lenten Study

During the Lenten season, Psalm 22 provides a wonderful narrative of the movement from despair to hope. This psalm is particularly appropriate for the Lenten-to-Easter season because Jesus quotes the first portion of verse one while he hangs on the cross (Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46).

But, there might be more to Jesus’ quotation of this psalm than his lament over God’s abandonment. There might be something there both surprising and encouraging.

David, the psalmist to whom this song is attributed, begins in the depths of loneliness and despair in verses 1-2:

1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me,

   so far from my cries of anguish?

2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,

   by night, but I find no rest.

Here is the cry of one who feels utterly abandoned, and yet knows that his God is still somewhere within hearing. One commentator suggested that verse one is a contradiction, expressing abject abandonment by God, while at the same time addressing God as “my God.” Walter Brueggemann notes that this is classic lament — a cry from the heart in the midst of turmoil and loneliness.

However, in verses 3- 5, the psalmist begins to recount God’s history with Israel. Perhaps the psalmist thinks that by reminding God that in the past, Israel has a history of crying out to God and then being saved by God, that this history will move God to action this time.

3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;

   you are the one Israel praises.

4 In you our ancestors put their trust;

   they trusted and you delivered them.

5 To you they cried out and were saved;

   in you they trusted and were not put to shame.

The psalmist speaks of God “enthroned” and as the “one Israel praises.” The psalmist’s ancestors “trusted and you delivered them,” he argues. Then, using parallelism, he repeats his argument that Israel “cried out and were saved; in you they trusted and were not put to shame.” In other words, the psalmist is saying, “I’m standing in the tradition of those before me, who cried out to you, and whom you then acted to save.” This passage exemplifies the Old Testament tradition of “contending with God” — which sounds much more respectful than arguing with God. Nonetheless, that is what is happening.

In verses 6-8, the psalmist reiterates not only his abandonment, but the ill-treatment and abuse he suffers at the hands of those who mock him and his God:

6 But I am a worm and not a man,

   scorned by everyone, despised by the people.

7 All who see me mock me;

   they hurl insults, shaking their heads.

8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,

   “let the Lord rescue him.

Let him deliver him,

   since he delights in him.”

Of course, these words and phrases are echoed in the New Testament crucifixion of Jesus in Matthew 27:27-44. Jesus is scorned, mocked, despised, and ridiculed, along with his God’s reputation.

We don’t know exactly what difficulty David was experiencing when he wrote this psalm, but somehow these descriptions in Psalm 22 become prophetic indications of how Jesus will be treated. This is the lived personal experience of both David and Jesus.

In the midst of describing the insults he is enduring, David reminds God of their personal relationship. It’s not enough for God to be reminded that God has acted on Israel’s behalf in the past (v3-5). The psalmist now reminds God that:

9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;

   you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.

10 From birth I was cast on you;

   from my mother’s womb you have been my God.

This is not an appeal to the general history of the nation of Israel, but a personal account of God’s action and David’s response. David says that God was instrumental in his birth — “Yet you brought me out of the womb.” But, God also created the circumstances for David to trust in God — “you made me trust in you,” David says, as if to further obligate God to help him in his present distress.

Again, David restates verse 9 in verse 10 by saying, “From birth I was cast on you; from my mother’s womb you have been my God.” This connection involves God’s presence and power before, during, and after David’s physical birth. This is David’s claim to God’s response.

In verses 11-18, David asks for God’s near presence — “Do not be far from me,” he pleads. David equates God’s proximity to him as the assurance of God’s action for him.

Then, as evidence of why David needs God, he details the threats surrounding him, and the weakened condition he is experiencing:

11 Do not be far from me,

   for trouble is near

   and there is no one to help.

12 Many bulls surround me;

   strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13 Roaring lions that tear their prey

   open their mouths wide against me.

14 I am poured out like water,

   and all my bones are out of joint.

My heart has turned to wax;

   it has melted within me.

15 My mouth is dried up like a potsherd,

   and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;

   you lay me in the dust of death.

16 Dogs surround me,

   a pack of villains encircles me;

   they pierce my hands and my feet.

17 All my bones are on display;

   people stare and gloat over me.

18 They divide my clothes among them

   and cast lots for my garment.

 

Bulls, lions, and dogs are incredibly strong and ferocious adversaries. These predatory images are metaphors for the real threats to David’s existence, and also reminiscent of similar threats faced by other Old Testament heroes.

Along with these descriptions of predatory threats, David describes his physical condition in verses 14-15 and 17. Being “poured out like water” could mean that his strength is ebbing and he is almost empty of reserves. Bones out of joint, heart melting, mouth dried up to the point of his tongue sticking to the roof of his mouth, and being laid in the dust of death, are all indicators of the low level to which he has sunk physically and spiritually.

Again, in these verses there are prophetic echoes of the treatment and condition of Jesus as described in the crucifixion scenes. Jesus’ thirst on the cross; his exposure to both the elements and the stares of onlookers; his humiliation as bystanders gloat about his fate; and, the scene where those who witness his suffering not only do nothing to intervene, but cast lots for his clothes are horrifying.

In verses 19-21, David again requests that God “not be far from me.” As David asks for God’s intervention, he again details the threats against him and asks God specifically to meet those threats. He asks, “Deliver me from the sword…the power of the dogs…the mouth of lions…the horns of wild oxen.” The implication is that God can defeat all of these threats, and David uses pleading petitions for God to “come…deliver…rescue…save” him from these impending calamities.

19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.

   You are my strength; come quickly to help me.

20 Deliver me from the sword,

   my precious life from the power of the dogs.

21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;

   save me from the horns of the wild oxen.

Suddenly, the scene and tone shift dramatically beginning in verse 22. David is no longer alone, but in the presence of “my people” and “the assembly.” Perhaps this means a worship setting, possibly the Tabernacle. Not only does a worship setting imply that people are with David, but that God is also present, just as David has requested.

Because God is present, the tone of the psalm also shifts from lament to praise.

22 I will declare your name to my people;

   in the assembly I will praise you.

23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!

   All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!

   Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!

24 For he has not despised or scorned

   the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

   but has listened to his cry for help.

 25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;

   before those who fear you I will fulfill my vows.

26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;

   those who seek the Lord will praise him—

   may your hearts live forever!

27 All the ends of the earth

   will remember and turn to the Lord,

and all the families of the nations

   will bow down before him,

28 for dominion belongs to the Lord

   and he rules over the nations.

29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;

   all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—

   those who cannot keep themselves alive.

30 Posterity will serve him;

   future generations will be told about the Lord.

31 They will proclaim his righteousness,

   declaring to a people yet unborn:

   He has done it!

David, to an ever-widening audience, sings the praises of God. He begins first with his people — perhaps his family and those closest to him — “I will declare your name to my people,” he says. Then, the circle widens to the “assembly” which is typically thought to be those assembled at the Temple for high holy days.

Then, the circle expands to include the descendants of Jacob, reiterated as the descendants of Israel — Jacob’s name having been changed to Israel. Verse 27 expands the circle to “the ends of the earth” and “all the families of nations.” Further, in verse 29, “All the rich” and even the dead — “all who go down to the dust.” All people in every circumstance from the best off (rich) to the worst off (the dead) will kneel before God!

But there is another aspect to these final verses 22-31. Previously, David recalled both God’s action in the nation’s history and his own person story. Here, however, he shifts from past tense to present to future tense. David says,

“For he has not despised or scorned

   the suffering of the afflicted one;

he has not hidden his face from him

   but has listened to his cry for help.”

No longer pleading with God to act, David now proclaims that God has not done as the crowds did to him — God “has not despised or scorned” him. In addition, God “has not hidden his face, but has listened to his cry for help.”

Typically, the Bible links God’s presence and hearing with God’s acting. So, if God is present, then God acts. If God hears, then God acts. If God’s “face” is turned toward the petitioner, then that is a sign of God’s favor and action. God’s attention, in other words, means that God is acting.

But, there is a future component to God’s response as well. The poor will eat and be satisfied

…all the ends of the earth will turn to the Lord

…all the families of nations will bow down to him

…all the rich will feast and worship (feasting being a part of a holy day)

…all the dead will kneel before him

…posterity will serve him

…future generations will be told about him

And what will the future generations be told about God? He has done it!

In other words, God has saved David, his people, and his creation, again!

Now, imagine the crucifixion scene with me one more time: Jesus is hanging on the cross and has been for several hours. His strength is failing, his bodily systems are shutting down. He’s thirsty, wounded, bleeding.

But before he dies, Jesus quotes the first verse of Psalm 22, in Aramaic, his native language — “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Of course, through the history of Christianity, those words have been interpreted as God’s abandonment of Christ as he bears the sins of the world.

But what if Jesus is really trying to communicate a message to those nearby, and to us today? What if all Jesus can manage is to utter the first words of Psalm 22, but he knows how that psalm ends? It’s like when someone utters the first part of a famous saying or song, and without thinking you fill in the rest of it. Suppose I said, “A stitch in time…” Those familiar with the maxims of Ben Franklin would add, “…saves nine.”

Or if I started singing, “O say can you see…” and immediately you and other Americans would know I was singing The Star-spangled Banner, our national anthem.

Jesus knows Psalm 22. His hearers know Psalm 22. So, perhaps by just beginning to utter this psalm, which says so much prophetically about Jesus, he knows that some will understand. Jesus knows that while Psalm 22 begins in lament, it ends in praise and rejoicing.

Suppose Jesus is trying to encourage his disciples, his mother, and those who are standing at the foot of the cross by reminding them of the meaning of the whole psalm.

Suppose Jesus is saying, “I’ve cried out to God for help, and things look bleak now. But God has always saved his people, and he will do so again. God has always responded. Like David, God has known me since before I was born and called me to this work. And, like David, God will come near, listen, and act. And, when this is all over, we will all know that God did it!”

Read Psalm 22 with that idea in mind. If you do, you might just hear the psalm’s lament, repeated by Jesus on the cross, as the beginning line of the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Quite an appropriate and encouraging passage for this lenten season.

 

Sermon: God Present With Us

I have posted the podcast of this sermon I preached last Sunday from Psalm 23, titled “God Present With Us.” If you prefer to read it, here’s the manuscript. The Twenty-third Psalm continues to be a rich source of inspiration and guidance, as fresh as it was when King David penned its words.

God Present With Us

Psalm 23 KJV

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.

2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.

5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.

6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

My Brief Career as a Shepherd

I’ve had three experiences in my lifetime of trying to herd animals from one place to another. The first was when I was about 10 years old and staying with my mother’s relatives in south Georgia. My grandfather owned a lot of land in south Georgia, and he did a variety of different things. He owned stands of pine trees from which he harvested the sap for turpentine. He had hogs and chickens, and a family garden, but the main thing he did was raise cattle. And he raised cattle that won several prizes. I remember seeing photographs of his prize-winning bulls on the wall in his office at the farm.

One afternoon on my visit, my cousin and I were supposed to go open the gate for the cows to move from one part of the pasture to another part. But, to do so they had to cross the sandy road that ran through his farm. That road is paved today, but when I was 10 it was unpaved sand and would develop what looked and felt like “washboard” type ruts. But despite the washboard effect, the folks who traveled on that road drove fast. I mean really fast!

You can see where this is going, can’t you? So, my cousin, Terry, and I open the gate, and the cows are doing what cows do — walking slowly in single file from the pasture, across the road, to the other pasture. All this is going pretty well, until we hear the rumble of a car tearing down the sandy road. So, we did what all 10 year old boys do — we panicked and started flapping our arms and shouting at the cows and running behind them to move them off the road.

Cows, being the skittish creatures they are, responded to two wild-eyed 10 year old boys flapping their arms and shouting by also panicking. Now when cows panic, they break ranks and run every which way. And, that’s exactly what they did. Mostly they ran into the woods. So now we had a big problem. How do you get cows to come out of the woods into which they have just fled?

After calling the cows, which we had no idea how to do, and the cows had no idea what we were doing, we gave up. Slowly we made our way to the house to tell my uncle that the cows were in the woods. I had visions of him rounding up all the farm hands, cranking up all the tractors, and putting a full-scale cow rescue plan into effect.

So, sheepishly we explained what happened. My uncle just looked at us like we were the most worthless two city boys he had ever seen. Which we were. On the farm at least. Then he said, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to wait for the cows to come back home.” Who knew cows would come back of their own accord? And, of course, that’s exactly what happened.

My other two experiences of herding involved goats and chickens, and those went a little better, although I am glad that there is no video of my doing either one of those chores.

A Beautiful Poem from an Amazing Life

All of that brings us to our text for today, the Twenty-third Psalm. Psalm 23 undoubtedly is the most familiar and most beloved psalm among all 150 psalms. That’s why I chose the King James’ Version today. We love this psalm because it is beautiful poetry in its own right. But, it is also a reassuring psalm, which is why it is often read at funerals.

This wonderful work is attributed to King David. Of course you remember that David himself had been a shepherd boy. Now a grown man, and responsible for the united nations of both Israel and Judah, David has faced a lot of difficulty throughout his life.

We don’t know at what point in David’s life this psalm was written. It might have been when David had been anointed king while the increasingly unstable Saul was still king. Saul had a love-hate relationship with David. Saul’s jealousy of David, and Saul’s declining mental state set the stage for Saul to attempt to kill David on more than one occasion.

But, after Saul passes off the scene, David continues to have his own set of problems. His adulterous affair with Bathsheba, and his murder of her husband, Uriah, mark the lowest point in David’s life. But God brings David through this valley and back into faithful relationship with God.

Maybe David writes this poem when his own son Absalom is trying to overthrow him. David’s forces are victorious in defeating Absalom’s forces, but Absalom is killed in the battle, and David mourns for this lost son.

We don’t know when David wrote this psalm, but I think it was later in his life. I believe that David is reflecting on his life, and the extraordinary events that brought him from being a shepherd boy, to being the greatest king the Jewish people had ever, or would ever, know.

God as the Shepherd-King

David begins this poem simply and directly:

“The Lord is my shepherd….”

The “Lord” is the name for God that Jews in the Old Testament period used instead of the unspeakable name of God, YHWH. “Lord” is also an acknowledgement of one who is superior and in charge, one to whom everyone one else bows down. Also, in the ancient world, kings were often also referred to as “shepherd” of their people because the king’s responsibility was to protect and provide for his subjects. All of those ideas are present in David’s simple, yet profound confession, “The Lord is my shepherd.”

I grew up in church, and the only translation available to us then was the King James’ Version. So, when I memorized scripture, I memorized the King James’ Version of whatever passage we were working on. That was true of this psalm as well. But, sometimes when you’re a kid, you get things mixed up. So, when I memorized, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” I thought that meant that David didn’t want God to be his shepherd. Which I thought was puzzling, but there it was. I’m not sure at what point that got cleared up for me, but I eventually understood that David meant, “I don’t want (lack) for anything.”

The idea that with God as his shepherd David had all he needed is one of the central themes of this psalm. But, David doesn’t leave that idea without explanation.

“He maketh me lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

With these examples, David is telling us what exactly God does for him. The good shepherd finds good food, calm water, and safe paths for his sheep. That’s everything a sheep needs — food, water, and safety. In addition, the shepherd revives the tired sheep, perhaps through the comforting provision of his presence.

God’s Presence and Provision

However, David isn’t finished describing this good shepherd yet. David says, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me.”

David acknowledges that despite the shepherd’s provision of food, water, and safety, there are times of difficulty and danger — “the valley of the shadow of death.” In this image, one can see the herd as it makes its way through a narrow canyon with the valley walls looming on either side. Predators, both animal and human, lurked in the caves and behind rocks in that kind of terrain. Sheep were easy prey and David knew well that the shepherd had to protect his sheep. David had told King Saul that when a lion or bear tried to take one of his sheep, David had fought the lion or bear and killed it. David knew the dangers present in the valley of the shadow of death.

The comforting presence of the shepherd’s rod and staff give reassurance to the sheep. The rod was used to guide the sheep; and, the staff, with its crooked head, was used to rescue sheep in difficulty. David knew that God both guided and rescued his people because David had been on the receiving end of God’s direction and compassion himself.

In verse 5, the scene shifts from the outdoor pasture setting to a banquet scene. David says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.”

Here God has prepared a banquet, and it is an extravagant and luxurious event. A properly set table, and the anointing of the guests’ heads with oil, along with the abundance of food and drink were all hallmarks of an elaborate feast — a feast fit for a king.

The fact that this extravagant, luxurious feast takes place when David is surrounded by his enemies is further assurance of God’s protection and provision. This feast is the opposite of what a king surrounded by enemies would normally do. The fact that God sets this feast for David reminds David that God not only provides more than he needs, but that God protects David as well.

The Surprising Finish

With all this talk of enemies, the valley of the shadow of death, and evil, David obviously thinks someone is out to get him. But, here the psalm finishes with a wonderful surprise.

While David thought that malevolent forces were out to kill him, he discovers God’s goodness and mercy is really pursuing him. Enemies may be following David, but so is God. And God is pursuing David with more goodness and mercy than David can ever imagine. Have you ever bought something in a store, and then walked out leaving your purchase behind, only to hear behind you the clerk running to catch up to you? That’s the idea here, I think. God pursues us with goodness and mercy. All we have to do is stop and turn around to receive it.

But, that’s not all. Not only is God pursuing us with goodness and mercy, there’s a new place for us to live, too. Remember, this is the King David who built himself a fine palace. A really nice palace apparently. For some time, scholars had speculated that David might have been more legend than fact. The thinking was that David was really a minor warlord, and Jerusalem a sleepy village when he was king.

However, in 2006, Eliat Mazar, an Israeli archaeologist, published an article in Biblical Archaeology Review with the title, “Did I Find King David’s Palace?” We don’t have time for a full explanation, but the gist of it is that Mazar expanded on the work of previous archaeologists, and using the Bible as a source, unearthed a massive building site situated exactly where the Bible locates the palace of King David.

So, my point is that David had a huge, and probably luxurious palace in which to live. But, where does David want to live forever? Not in his palace, but in the “house of the Lord.” Remember, David built his palace before the permanent Temple gets built by his son Solomon. So, David is saying “I had rather live in the Tent of the Lord than in my own palace.” Why? Because God was thought to be present in the Tabernacle.

But Wait There’s More

Have you seen those TV ads which offer to sell you a set of Ginsu knives for the low, low price of whatever? Just as you are about to decide you don’t need any Ginsu knives, the narrator excitedly tells you, “But wait, there’s more!”

And that’s what happens with our story of the Twenty-third Psalm. Because there is more. In John’s Gospel, chapter 10, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

Then, he continues in verse 14 —

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me…and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Of course, Jesus knew the story of David and he knew the Twenty-third Psalm. And it is no accident or coincidence that Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd.

For us this means that the same God who was present to protect and provide for King David, is present with us today. And just like David, the Good Shepherd is present in the valley and on the mountain top; in the midst of danger and in times of joy.

The story of the Bible is God present with God’s people. The Twenty-third Psalm reminds us that our Shepherd-King, Jesus, protects, provides, and pursues us with his goodness and mercy, and we will indeed dwell in his presence forever. Amen.

 

Podcast: God Present With Us

king-david-shepherd-boy-380

Here’s the podcast of the sermon I preached last Sunday from Psalm 23, titled “God Present With Us.” The Twenty-third Psalm perhaps is the most well-known and beloved Psalm, and its message remains one of God’s protection and provision. Here’s the audio —

Sermon: When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost

Taken by fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au
Taken by fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au

The Old Testament reading for Sunday, August 9, 2015, is about the tragic relationship between David and his son, Absalom. I’ve titled it, “When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost.” I hope you have a great Sunday!

When Your Chickens Come Home To Roost

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33 NIV

5 The king [David] commanded Joab, Abishai and Ittai, “Be gentle with the young man Absalom for my sake.” And all the troops heard the king giving orders concerning Absalom to each of the commanders.

6 David’s army marched out of the city to fight Israel, and the battle took place in the forest of Ephraim. 7 There Israel’s troops were routed by David’s men, and the casualties that day were great—twenty thousand men. 8 The battle spread out over the whole countryside, and the forest swallowed up more men that day than the sword.

9 Now Absalom happened to meet David’s men. He was riding his mule, and as the mule went under the thick branches of a large oak, Absalom’s hair got caught in the tree. He was left hanging in midair, while the mule he was riding kept on going.

15 And ten of Joab’s armor-bearers surrounded Absalom, struck him and killed him.

31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”

32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?”

The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.”

33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”

The Back Story

Wow. Today’s story needs a lot of context, so let’s get started.

First, let me identify the players: The king is David; his son is Absalom; and, Joab, Abishai, and Ittai are commanders in David’s army.

Throughout the entire summer series of sermons, we have been looking at the stories of Samuel, Saul, David, and soon David’s son, Solomon. But today we come to a pivotal moment in the David story.

You remember the plot that brought us to this part of the story, don’t you? Here it is:

  1. The people of Israel and Judah demand that Samuel find them a king.
  2. Samuel warns them that they don’t really want a king because a king will take their lands, their herds, their sons, and their daughters.
  3. But after the people insist that they do want a king, because they want to be like other nations, Samuel anoints Saul as God’s chosen.
  4. Saul pretty quickly fails in his obedience to God, and God withdraws God’s Spirit from him.
  5. Samuel then anoints David, although Saul is still king. Awkward, to say the least.
  6. Finally, Saul is killed in battle and David ascends to the throne of both Judah, and then Israel, uniting the northern kingdom of Israel with the southern kingdom of Judah.
  7. Everything is running along just fine, until one day David sees Bathsheba. Unfortunately, Bathsheba is another man’s wife. So, David takes Bathsheba, sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant. This is bad, even for a king so David has her husband Uriah killed to cover up his adultery.
  8. Nathan the prophet confronts David, and pronounces judgment on David and his household for his wanton and willful sin against God, Bathsheba and Uriah, and the nation.

And, that’s where we pick up our story today. Oh, one item I forgot to mention. Nathan’s confrontation of David includes this prophetic pronouncement of  the consequences of David’s sin:

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” — 2 Samuel 12:11-12 NIV

Which brings us to Absalom. Absalom is David’s son by his wife, Maakah, daughter of the king of Geshur, and he was born in Hebron. When Absalom grows up, he defends the honor of his sister, Tamar. Tamar was violated by her half-brother, Amnon, who is also half-brother to Absalom. Eventually, Absalom kills Amnon, which alienates him from David.

David, however, appears to have a soft-spot in his heart for Absalom. After three years in exile in Geshur, David allows Absalom to return to Jerusalem. However, Absalom repays his father’s kindness — and weakness for him — by betraying his father, David.

Absalom and his entourage set up camp near David’s palace. When people from Israel come to David for justice, Absalom intercepts them, welcomes them, and hears their cause. He tells everyone that because his father David favors Judah, there is no one in Israel to hear their concerns and do justice for them.

Of course, this endears Absalom — who is a handsome guy — to the Israelites from the north. Eventually, Absalom gathers an army, proclaims himself king of Israel in his birthplace of Hebron. Absalom then marches toward Jerusalem.

David, hearing that Absalom is headed toward Jerusalem with a huge army, flees his palace, leaving ten of his concubines in charge of the palace. Concubines were sort of like second-string wives in David’s day.

Absalom is advised to ravish his father’s concubines, and thereby humiliate David before the people of Jerusalem and Judah. Absalom sets up a tent on a balcony of David’s palace, so all Jerusalem can see that he is taking his father’s harem for himself.

And so the words of Nathan the prophet are fulfilled —

11 “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”

David’s chickens had come home to roost. I am told that that phrase was a shortened version of a longer saying that went something like this — “Curses are like chickens. They soon come home to roost.”

And so it was with David. Not only had David’s sin against God with Bathsheba cost the life of their baby, it had also cost him humiliation by his own son, who was seeking to kill him.

Sadly, the story reveals even more tragedy. David’s forces win a decisive victory over Absalom’s army. As he flees, Absalom’s long, thick hair — for which he is notoriously famous — gets caught in the low-hanging limbs of a tree as he rides under it.

Hanging there helpless, David’s men see Absalom and take their chance to kill him, despite David’s plea to his commanders to “Be gentle with the young man Absalom, for my sake.”

When word reaches the king that his beloved Absalom is dead, David is inconsolable. So grief-stricken is he, that David’s soldiers slink back into Jerusalem under the cover of darkness because they are afraid of what the king might do to them.

Joab, ever the tough general, berates David for his grief for Absalom, while ignoring the valor of his own men who have saved his life. Joab tells David to get out there and greet his troops and give them his royal approval for having saved his life. David then appears to his troops and the Absalom chapter in the story of David comes to a close.

A Lot of Chickens Have Come Home To Roost

And so what is the point of this story? Well, I think one point is that King David, who was so successful in battle and so revered by his people, was perhaps not a very good father. He loved Absalom, but somewhere along the way, Absalom came to despise David, his own father. Perhaps it was because Absalom was one of six sons David had while in Hebron, all from different wives.

David may be a larger-than-life figure, but in some ways he was a colossal failure. Relationships with women or his children didn’t seem to go to well for him.

But I’m thinking today of another point to this story. A point that we might miss if we just focus on David as an individual.

David’s sin affected not only his life, Bathsheba’s life, but it affected the life of the united kingdom that David ruled. When Amnon, Absalom’s half-brother and David’s son, violated Tamar, David knew about it and did nothing. Maybe David thought that it would appear hypocritical of him to discipline his own son for the same sin he had committed.

Whatever the reason, David’s failure to obtain justice for Tamar infuriated Absalom. So Absalom waited, plotted, and finally took his revenge on Amnon two years later.

Disobedience to God not only affects the present, but it also affects the future. And sooner or later, our chickens come home to roost.

We live in a society whose problems are enormous. Many of those problems had their genesis in the past. But, while we are not to blame for the original problem, we are responsible for repairing the sins of the past in the present.

They’re Our Chickens Now

In other words, when those chickens come home to roost, somebody has to deal with them. And that’s not always easy. David had to deal with his own chickens — his sin with Bathsheba had far-ranging consequences that affected him, Bathsheba, his kingdom, and his relationship with God.

But sometimes, we have to deal with someone else’s chickens who have come home to roost.

When our grandson Ezra was born a little over 3 years ago, Debbie and I stayed at the farm and kept his brother, Ollie, while Amy was in the hospital. Part of life on the farm was getting all the chickens in the chicken coop for the night. At that time, Amy had about 30 chickens. That’s a lot of chickens, especially when they’re all free range and roaming about the place.

So as dusk came on that first night when we were alone at the farm, I grabbed the bucket of chicken feed from the feed room. I filled it full and rattled it vigorously and loudly. The chickens recognized the bucket as the one that contained their food, and came running toward me. Which was scary in itself.

By that time I had made it to the chicken coop. In one smooth motion, I opened the door to the chicken coop and threw a handful of chicken feed on the ground inside the coop. True to form, the chickens went into the coop, pecking at the feed on the ground. Quickly, I shut the door.

I felt pretty proud of myself, until I turned around and saw one chicken standing there all by herself. I dropped a few morsels of chicken food in front of her, to lure her closer to the door. Then, in one final, fluid move, I opened the door, threw chicken feed over the heads of those in the coop so they would run to the back, and then threw some in front of Chicken Little, but inside the coop. I fully expected her to step right in. But she didn’t. She just stood there.

By this time, the chickens in the coop had turned back and were coming toward the bucket and me, again, so I quickly shut the chicken wire door.

And there we were. Chicken Little and me. I suppose I could have picked her up, but I really didn’t want to do that. I’ve never picked up a chicken, and that was not the evening for a first experience.

So, I left her there. I was sure a coyote or raccoon would eat her. But such is life on the farm, I decided. However, the next morning when I walked to the coop to open the door for the day, there she was, standing right where I had left her. Defiant until the end.

My experience with chickens is not a perfect illustration, but here’s the idea: Those chickens that have come home to roost may not be your chickens, but you and I have to deal with them.

We may not be responsible for the problems of our family, our friends, or out society, but those are now our chickens. They’ve come home to roost, and all we can do is deal with them in the most helpful ways we know now.

The consequences of David’s sin and Absalom’s revolt was not Joab’s problem. They were David’s chickens that had come home to roost. But, because David was not treating the soldiers who had saved his life with gratitude and reward, Joab realized those were now his chickens to deal with. Joab confronted David, David came to his senses, and made the situation right.

Just remember — We may not be to blame for the chickens coming home to roost, but we are responsible for dealing with them when they do.

Sermon: The Abuse of Power and the Power of Love

IMG_0190
150 people from 20+ different black and white churches gathered for a meal and to get to know one another on Sunday afternoon, July 26, 2015, at Banister Bend Farm near Chatham, VA.

Last Sunday, I preached from 2 Samuel 11:1-15, which is the story of David’s abuse of power when he saw, sent for, and violated Bathsheba. To further compound his sin, David sought to cover it up, and eventually had Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed.

It is a shameful story, but it is also a story that is a current as today’s headlines. In the sermon, I moved from the story of David’s abuse of power to the history of the abuse of power in American life during the era of slavery, the Civil War, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and today. I offered this sermon treatment because that Sunday afternoon, white and black congregations were scheduled to gather for a meal and conversation together about race relations in our own community. This sermon prompted our congregation to examine our historical past, so that we could move forward to a more hopeful and inclusive future. Here’s the podcast:

Sermon: God Doesn’t Look at Things Like We Do

imgres-2

God doesn’t look at things like we do. That’s a simple statement, but a profound theological thought. And, that is the point of the reading from the Old Testament for this Sunday, I Samuel 16:4-13. Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow on that theme, and I must admit, this sermon had a mind of its own and took me in a completely unexpected direction.

God Doesn’t Look at Things Like We Do

I Samuel 16:4-13 NIV

4 Samuel did what the Lord said. When he arrived at Bethlehem, the elders of the town trembled when they met him. They asked, “Do you come in peace?”

5 Samuel replied, “Yes, in peace; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord. Consecrate yourselves and come to the sacrifice with me.” Then he consecrated Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

6 When they arrived, Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

7 But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

8 Then Jesse called Abinadab and had him pass in front of Samuel. But Samuel said, “The Lord has not chosen this one either.” 9 Jesse then had Shammah pass by, but Samuel said, “Nor has the Lord chosen this one.” 10 Jesse had seven of his sons pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to him, “The Lord has not chosen these.” 11 So he asked Jesse, “Are these all the sons you have?”

“There is still the youngest,” Jesse answered. “He is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

12 So he sent for him and had him brought in. He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

13 So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David. Samuel then went to Ramah.

The Story of David’s Anointing As Israel’s King

I must confess: I love this story! And who wouldn’t? The text we read this morning continues the lesson from last week. The backstory is that the people of Israel began to demand that before Samuel died, he would find a king for them.

Samuel talked to God about their request. Despite God’s objection, God gave Samuel permission to get them a king, but with some dire warnings first. Samuel, as God instructed him to, warned the nation that God would take their sons, their daughters, their herds, their fields, and anything else a king could get his hands on for the king’s own purposes.

Despite that, the people said, “Yep, that’s what we want because we want to be like other nations who have kings.” That’s my paraphrase, but that sums it up.

Israel had come from the bondage of Egypt led by Moses; had been led into Canaan by Joshua; had been led both civilly and militarily by a series of judges, both men and women. Samuel becomes the last of these judges.

But Samuel isn’t just any old judge. Samuel himself has heard the voice of God as a small boy in the charge of the priest, Eli. Samuel has responded to God by saying what Eli tells him to say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth.” At least, that’s how I learned the story when I was a small boy.

So, Samuel becomes for the nation both the last judge and the first real prophet they have ever had. But Samuel’s sons, like Eli’s before him, aren’t cut out of the same cloth as their father. The people of Israel know this.

Their concern not to be ruled by Samuel’s corrupt sons, and to be like other nations pushes Samuel to take the whole matter to God.

Now, don’t miss this part. God says to Samuel, “It’s not you they’re rejecting, it’s Me!” But then God goes on to grant reluctantly their request.

We could stop right here because here is the Bible saying that God is making an accommodation to Israel that God does not want to make. What does that say to us about God?  Does God change God’s mind? Does God grant requests that God knows are not going to turn out well? Interesting questions, but that’s not what we want to focus on this morning. But, at a minimum these questions ought to make us a little more humble about what we think we know about God.

But back to the issue at hand and the story. The problem Samuel has is that he has already anointed Saul as king of Israel. Unfortunately, Saul isn’t working out and by this passage we read today, God has rejected Saul as king. Unfortunately, again, Saul refuses to step down.

So, Samuel has to slip around and disguise his trip to Jesse’s village, Bethlehem, as an occasion for sacrificing to God. At this point, remember, Jerusalem is not the center of Israel’s civic or religious life. There is no Temple, and Shiloh, and other worship sites are prominent. David eventually will make Jerusalem the capitol of both government and worship, but that won’t happen for several more years.

But, back to the story. Samuel invites Jesse and his sons to join him for the sacrifice. At this point, Samuel sees Jesse’s son, Eliab, and thinks, “Surely the Lord’s anointed stands here before the Lord.”

God quickly corrects Samuel’s presumption, and Samuel looks at all seven of Jesse’s sons, none of whom God has chosen. Samuel asks Jesse, “Do you have anymore sons?”

“Only the youngest, but he’s out tending sheep,” Jesse replies.

Samuel says, “Send for him; we will not sit down until he arrives.”

Well, apparently they do sit down because when David arrives, God says to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

And, so Samuel does.

Why Do We Love This Story?

So, why do we love this story? I think first we love this story because of the characters in it: Samuel, the beloved prophet, priest, and judge; the wicked King Saul, who is being replaced; and, of course, David the shepherd boy who walks from the pasture into the presence of God and the Kingdom of Israel.

If there is ever a rags-to-riches story, this is it. And, the story of David is built on this idea of the underdog, David, who defeats Goliath, the giant Philistine. We all root for the underdog.

And, in this passage, the Bible tells us that David was a healthy, strong, good-looking kid. That only makes this story better. And the message I got as a kid was “be like David.”

But, if that’s why we like the story, we have missed the whole point of it.

The Key to the David Story

Even though David was a good-looking, healthy kid, that’s not why God chose him. Quite the contrary actually. The key verse to understanding this story is verse 7. When Eliab appears before Samuel, he’s a good-looking kid, too. And Samuel makes the assumption that his maturity and good looks, and being the oldest, mean that God has chosen Eliab. But, listen to what God says about Eliab:

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

Don’t take his appearance or his height into account, Samuel is told. Why? Because God doesn’t look at things like we do!

And that is the key to understanding this whole passage. God doesn’t look at things like we do.

Of course, the temptation for preachers right about now is to tell you how God sees things. But of course, if we knew how God saw things, then we would see things like God does, and this whole story and verse 7 wouldn’t make any sense.

But even though we don’t see things like God sees them, and more importantly, God doesn’t see things like we do, we can still take some hints from this story of David about what that means.

Some Hints About How God Sees Things

So, how can we tease out from this story, how God sees things? Here are some thoughts that stand out to me:

  • We look at outward appearance, God looks at the heart.

Obviously, that is not an original thought of mine, because God clearly tells Samuel exactly that. But, here’s the problem — when David appears the writer of this story describes David’s outward appearance!

“He was glowing with health and had a fine appearance and handsome features.

Then the Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.” — I Samuel 16:12 NIV

Now, of course, this verse makes it sound like that David is chosen because of his “fine appearance and handsome features.” I wish the writer of this story had said something like, “Even though David was short and stubby, and a little scruffy looking, God said, “Rise and anoint him; this is the one.”

That would have made more sense. But we have to let the writer be human, and humans do what? Answer: humans look on the outward appearance. So, the writer illustrates God’s point with his own description of David.

But, what does God see in David’s heart? Well, it can’t be that David will be completely obedient to God, can it? Because if you know the story of David, you will remember that after David has become king, when he was supposed to be out fighting with his men, he’s lounging around his palace in Jerusalem. Looking from his palace down on the modest houses around the palace, David spots a beautiful woman, Bathsheba, bathing on the rooftop of her house.

You know the rest of this story. David sends for Bathsheba, commits adultery with her. But that’s not all. To cover up the evidence of his adultery, David has Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, killed in battle. Of course, eventually Nathan the prophet confronts David, and David repents of his sin. David’s repentance is captured in Psalm 51, in one example.

So, it cannot be that David’s heart is pure, or even obedient. What does God see in David’s heart?

That brings us to the second way God’s view of things is different from ours.

  1. We look for power, God looks for possibility.

David, God knows, will become powerful. It is David’s power that becomes his downfall. No one else in his kingdom could have taken another man’s wife except David himself. But, as powerful as he was, David was also able to see his own sin and repent. Unlike his predecessor King Saul, David’s heart was open to change, to repentance, to conversion, to transformation.

God isn’t looking for self-sufficient power. Rather, God is looking for spiritual possibility. Which is the same kind of thing Jesus was saying when he said about 1,000 years after David:

3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

4 Blessed are those who mourn,

for they will be comforted.

5 Blessed are the meek,

for they will inherit the earth.

6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they will be filled.

7 Blessed are the merciful,

for they will be shown mercy.

8 Blessed are the pure in heart,

for they will see God.

9 Blessed are the peacemakers,

for they will be called children of God.

10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You don’t have to be rich, strong, full or powerful. It’s the upside-down kingdom, this kingdom of God. Where possibility trumps power, where the last shall be first, and the first shall be last. It’s a contradiction to our culture and every culture. It’s what God is looking for.

If God Doesn’t See Things Like We Do, What Hope Do We Have?

Well, first of all, just because God doesn’t see things like we do, doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to see things like God does.

Listen to that again, very carefully: just because God doesn’t see things like we do, doesn’t mean that we can’t begin to see things like God does.

I think that is the point of Paul’s great hymn about Jesus, from Philippians 2:5-11 KJV:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:

8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:

10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;

11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

“Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” I like the King James Version. In other words, “think like Jesus.” Other translations say, “Have the same attitude as Jesus..”

Regardless of translation, Paul’s point is that we can see things the way God sees them. And that mindset, that attitude, always leads to self-sacrificial love.

Secondly, if we can have the mind of Christ — his attitude, his perspective, his love — then it will change us and our conversations and conduct.

If we can look on the hearts of those around us, like God does, and see in each heart the possibility of this person loving God, because they are God’s creation and Jesus died and rose again for them, then that might change us.

It might change the things we say on Facebook, it might change the comments we make to co-workers, it might begin just ever so slightly to nibble away at our cultural prejudices, our knee-jerk reactions, our critical natures, and our divisive rhetoric.

God doesn’t look at things like we do, but we can look at things like God does. At least a little more than we used to. Each day.

And when we look at people’s hearts, just as God looked at David’s, we realize that sick hearts can be healed, broken hearts can be mended, rebellious hearts can be turned, hard hearts can be softened, and black hearts can be made white as snow.

That’s what God sees. Not our perfection, but our potential. May we see with the eyes of God those around us. Amen.

Why Samuel, David, and a Bunch of Others Need Us

SaintsANGELICO1430

The book of Hebrews was written to encourage Christians of the first century to remain faithful despite persecution. Examples of great heroes of the faith like Abraham, Moses, David, Daniel, Elijah and Elisha; and, events like crossing the Red Sea, the battle of Jericho, the survival of the lions’ den and fiery furnace inspired Christians then and now. But, there is a downside to faithfulness. Sometimes faithfulness to God doesn’t end triumphantly, but instead with the faithful being beaten, persecuted, displaced, and killed.

The writer of Hebrews reminds us that Jesus knows what suffering is about. He endured the shame of the Roman cross in anticipation of the glory of the presence of God. The popular song, “Even in the Valley God is Good,” summarizes our response to suffering. For the first century Christians and for us, the most important thing we can remember is that God is present with us regardless of whether we triumph or whether we struggle.

Our lives contribute to the story of God begun by those in the hall of faith listed in Hebrews chapter 11 through 12. Just as we need them, they need our faithfulness to finish the final chapters in the story that God began in their day. Faith in the face of adversity is still needed today, and our faith builds on the witness of those who have gone before.

For the podcast of this message, click here:

[audio https://chuckwarnockblog.files.wordpress.com/2013/08/02-why-samuel-david-and-others-need-us.mp3]