Monday, August 13, 2012

Being like David: Repentance

2 Samuel 11:26-27, 12:1-13 Oh how our hero has fallen! He rose so far, he had done so many things right but our hero has also, at this point done so many things wrong, last week with Heather you went over the series of poor choices David made that lead him to the situation he is in this morning. It all began with him failing to do the one thing that the people wanted a king for in the first place. When the people came to God at the beginning of 1 Samuel begging for a king they told God they needed a king so a king can lead them in Battle. Last week’s passage began with David staying home allowing someone else to lead his armies in battle. That is how it began but it ended with murder. (Kind of ironic how not going to war leads David to murder.) Our passage this morning begins after the adultery, after the pregnancy, the dishonesty and attempts at coercion, and after the murder. In fact our passage begins with the “wife of Uriah” (not once in this passage does she get called by her own name) lamenting in the proper manner for her husband and then David attempting to make this whole situation “right” by marrying her, and then seeming to believe that he can just go on with life from there. Add her as his seventh wife; take her and her unborn child into his household. Whew, dodged that bullet. All is well. But all is not well. He has done a serious of very sinful things. He watched a married woman bath, he called her to him, he committed adultery with her. She turns up pregnant. He attempted to trick Uriah, her husband into believing the child was his, when that did not work he had Uriah murdered. When Uriah’s murder is reported to him by Joab, he actually tells Joab to not let this seem like evil in Joab’s sight. It is almost as if, if he declares that it is not evil it will not be evil. Then when the dust has settled and the mourning period is over, David takes Uriah’s wife as his wife! And he goes on with his life. All is good. He might have gone on with his life thinking that the whole thing worked out pretty well, but then God sends the prophet Nathan to him with a story. We all like stories. Learning from stories is an age old tradition. In fact we are participating in this tradition by going over theses Biblical stories about David and seeing what God has for us to learn from them. Nathan comes to David with a story to teach David a lesson. And since David spent his early years with sheep, the story is about a beloved lamb. When I was a teenager, my mother had a friend who had a small family farm. They had horses, which the mother used to teach horse riding lessons to earn money. They also had a cow once a year, a lamb once a year and several goats that reproduced twice year. The children would play with these animals, feed them, clean up after them take care of them watch them grow. All their animals had names and all of their food had names. They always knew who they sold and who they ate. As a young teen it was the first time I was really confronted with the fact that meat did not naturally grow on Styrofoam packaging with cellophane wrappings. It might sound cruel to eat an animal who had a name but these children understood that animals were raised for meat and were fun while they were alive and were yummy when they were dead. In the story that Nathan tells, there is a man and his family who have a ewe lamb. This little lamb, which this family had, was not just another lamb among large herd they were preparing to eat or sell to be eaten. This is the only lamb of a poor family and was treated as one of the family. It was a pet lamb that was apparently, unlike the “pets” the family I knew, was not meant to be eating. It was kept, and cherished. Well this family had a rich neighbor who one day, when a visitor came to town decided that he did not want to kill one of the many sheep in his large herd for dinner for his guest, but would instead steal the beloved lamb of this family, kill it and eat it. What a horrible thing to do! It was unfair, unkind and just wrong! I can understand how this family and this man felt. When I was 5 years old we had a stray kitten who came to live in our yard. It was beautiful. It was orange and it was fluffy. She was friendly and sweet tempered. She let me pick her up and play with her, and you know do all the things a 5 year old wants to do with a kitten that most kittens won’t let children do to them. My mom gave me permission to feed her and take care of her. I named her Cattie. Soon she took up residence in our dog’s house. Our dog refused to ever go in her dog house, but the cat seemed to love it in there. She and the dog would play together in the yard. In fact she rarely left our yard, she was our cat and we were her family. She was the kind of cat who would cuddle with me and play with me. She was loved by everyone in the family. At this time my mother had just recently had my baby sister and was busy with the new baby, but she intended when things settled down to get the cat her shots and bring her in the house, but until then she wanted the cat to stay outside so as to not bring her potential germs into the house with the new baby. Before my mother could do this though our neighbor’s parents came to visit. They kept their RV in the neighbor’s drive for about a week. We would often see them talking to Cattie through the fence, and reaching over to pet her. And then one morning the RV was gone and the cat was gone as well. We inquired of our neighbors and they told us that their parents took her home with them because she needed a home. WHAT? She had a home! She was ours. They had to reach over our fence to take her. We were devastated. They took our cat. They took my cat. I loved that cat. And someone just decided to take her home with them without even asking. I guess from David’s reaction to Nathan’s story that he had loved a lamb or two in his days as a shepherd. He probably knew what it was like to nurture and care for an animal in such a way that it became more than just another animal but became a beloved pet. When told this story David declares that not only should the rich man have to pay fourfold back to the poor man and his family but he should be put to death! You don’t take another man’s beloved animal! And the Nathan goes in for the punch and tells David that he is the rich man in this story. He took Uriah’s wife for his own and David may think he has gotten away with it but God knows what he has done. In fact God is taking this as personal offense. God does not simply see this action as a sin against Uriah, which most certainly it is, but God sees this as an offense against God. God had anointed David king, saved him from the hand of Saul who wanted to kill him, gave him a kingdom, a house and many wives and God would have continued to bless David. But David has returned God’s kindness and provision with evil. Where God has worked to spare David’s life, David has murdered Uriah, where God has blessed David with wives; David goes and takes another man’s wife for himself. The consequences for David’s actions will match the sins committed, David has killed Uriah with the swords of the Ammonites and therefore there will be killing in his own household, David has taken his neighbor’s wife and therefore his wives will be taken by his neighbor; seems just and fair. When confronted with his own sin, David realizes the extent of his own sins and repents before God of all that he has done. He realizes that he has not merely sinned against Uriah or Uriah’s wife, but he has sinned against God. And he seems to truly be repentant of what he has done, so God forgives him. That is it. David repents and God forgives him; nothing more nothing less. Our modern sense of justice is almost offended by how easy it is. David says, he has sinned and God puts David’s sin away. We can only assume that David seeks to remedy the problems in his life, in how he is living and his ways of thinking that have brought him to this place. We know after the death of the child the wife of Uriah bore to him, he once again did as a good king should and lead the armies in battle when they went out against the ammonites. After the conclusion of these events in his life, David works to be a better person, a better king and to do what is right and good in the sight of the God. The death of the child and many of the issues David has within his family are seen as part of the consequences of David’s sinful actions. The natural consequences of David’s sin aside and the ongoing issues in his family life. The amazing thing about this passage is that David repents and God forgives him and then both he and God move on from there. David had done so much. He had failed God, he had failed Uriah, he had disrespected Uriah’s wife, he had allowed his power and privileged to blind his judgment and give him the idea that he had rights that were not his, allowed him to see himself above other men and beyond the taint of evil. But when confronted with the reality of his sin and the extent to which he had fallen into evil, he repented, he turned to God and God forgave him. This is good news! Good news for me and for you. Many of us will probably never commit adultery in our lives, most of us will probably never murder somebody, we may look lustfully at someone else’s spouse, we may misuse those around us, we may allow power and prestige to blind our judgment or any number of other sins, failings, and wrong doings. The fact of the matter is that most of us in our lives, in our Christian walks will be less than God’s best for us, we will not love God with our whole hearts, we will not always love our neighbors, in fact we might even treat any number of the people we encounter from day to day, people we meet in passing as well as those we hold dear, with something less than the respect and loving kindness they deserve. We will fail God and one another in many ways between now and when we find ourselves on the other side of eternity. We will sin; we will do evil in the sight of the Lord. But the good news is that God forgives! And God does not expect much from us. God simply expects forgiveness and then allows us to start fresh, anew to work with God to live right, to love God to love one another as we should. We will have to deal with the consequences of the poor and sinful choices we have made, but with God we can start over. Our relationship with God can be restored. We can repent and we will be forgiven! This is a glorious thing.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

NOT Being like David: The Woman in the Window (Sidetrack:The story of Michal)

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12-23
So I wanted to preach about rejoicing and worship today. I wanted to preach a joyous message about how important, great, wonderful it is to be able to just rejoice in the presence of God, about the place of worship in our lives and in the Church, which I am sure would have said good Biblical things about worship and rejoicing. But. . . then I got distracted by the woman in the window. Briefly I toyed with seeing the problem here as the difficulty which arises when two different people see worship differently and then talk a little about how it is ok for some people to be more exuberant in their worship and for others to b be more reserved; placing Michal in the position of one who is a bit more reserved and David as one who is a bit more exuberant (to put it mildly), and then discuss how none of us should look down on or “despise” others, who are legitimately worshiping God, for the way they are worshiping God. And, although that is an important lesson to learn as the people of God; that really is not what is going on in this passage. So in our series about David, we are taking a little sidetrack to look at this woman in the window. Look at her story, her relationship with David, and the role she is playing in the events of David’s life. The passage we have here this morning just a much marks the beginning of a new era in the life of Israel and a new era of the center of all religious and political power being placed in Jerusalem, the city which David conquered that was neither a part of Judah or Israel but was neutral ground from which he could rule the whole kingdom without showing favor to either side, as it also marks the end of the story about Michal and David. In our focus on David and his ascent to kingship we have left out many threads in David’s story. One of those threads is his relationship with Michal. The story of David and Michal begins the day he slew Goliath on the fields of Ephes-Damim. Among other things, Saul had promised his firstborn daughter to the one who was able to slay Goliath. So after the defeat of the Philistines following the death of Goliath, Saul begins the process of acquiring Merab for David as his wife. There is only one minor little problem in this plan. Merab is already married to Adriel the Meholathite. Luckily Saul had two daughters the younger of which was named Michal who had seen David and loved him. The scriptures tell us that this pleased Saul. At this point he was not so keen on David or on the idea of David being his son-in-law, perhaps thinking that having the nations’ new favorite warrior and the one Samuel had already anointed as king, as his son-in-law and thus possibly having claim to throne, was perhaps not such a great idea. So Saul saw that he could use Michal’s love as a way to entrap David. So he offered Michal to David as his wife. When David inquired about the bride price pointing out that he and his family were not very well off and did not have what would be appropriate to offer a king as a bride price for his daughter, King Saul shrewdly thinking that by asking something absurd from David, he was either be sending David to his death or giving himself a good reason pull out of his promise to marry David to his daughter, due to failure to pay the bride price, so her told David that he would not ask for much, just the foreskins of 100 Philistines. But to everyone’s surprise and perhaps even a little horror and dismay, David does this and wins Michal as his wife. Marrying Michal moves David into the King’s household, placing him dangerously close to Saul when Saul’s moods turn him against David. On one such occasion after David had helped defeat the Philistines, yet again, while David sat in the court playing his harp for Saul, Saul threw a spear at David in an attempt to kill him, but David moved out of the way and the spear hit the wall instead. Michal fearing for David’s life talked him into escaping the Palace so that Saul would not attempt to kill him again the next day and that next time actually succeed in doing so. So she while he was in her room that night, she helped him escape through her window and on this occasion Michal watches out the window as the husband she loves runs away into the night. She then takes and idol (what was an idol doing in her room anyway?) and dressed it up to look like David and put it in the bed so people would believe that it was David. She lied to the men who came looking for him and lied to her father in an attempt to save David’s life. She is mentioned again in 1 Samuel when David takes Abigail and Ahinoam as wives, the explanation being that when David had fled Saul had given Michal to Paltiel, son of Laish from Gallim as his wife. She is not mentioned again until after the death of Saulwhen David insists upon having Michal brought back to him at the expense of her new husband who apparently cares enough for her to follow after the men who are taking her weeping. So here is a brief summary of her life prior to the events in this passage, as depicted in scripture. She was offered to David as a prize, used as was way to entrap him, forgotten, given to another man in marriage, and then torn unwillingly from that marriage by Abner who a member of King’s Saul’s court using her retrieval as way win David’s favor. Here in this passage she is again standing in a window watching her husband, this he is dancing (how shall we say this?) wearing an insufficient amount of clothing. As she looks back at their relationship and watches him now she can’t help despise David. Despise, a pretty harsh word, considering she entered the story because she loved David.When David returns from his revelries she speaks somewhat harshly and with no small amount of sarcasm to him about exposing himself to God, the virgins and everyone. David responds to her in kind, and thus, apparently, ends their romantic relationship, because Michal remained childless to the end of her life. Most people like to make Michal out to be in the wrong in this story. David is worshipping and praising God and Michal is getting upset about that? What right does she have to dictate to her husband how he should worship? She must be angry that he usurped her father’s throne, she must be insecure because these woman are witnessing a little more of David’s glory than she would like. She sees David worshipping half-dressed publically and she is not embarrassed by him, she is not ashamed of him, no she despises him. What has brought Michal to this point where this incident would cause her to despise him? Why would she go from loving him to despising him, from saving him to being distant from him until her death? This is a woman who became a piece in the rise to power. This was a woman who brought power and prestige just by being married to her. This is a woman who offered herself to another, did all she could to protect him and ended forgotten, as the spoils of war and left alone and then set aside as the one she loved pursues better things. She loved David but as most women of her was treated as an object, as a thing that could win favor with Saul, gain access to Saul’s household, and his court, something that helped him escape then be forgotten until her presence could help him again; until he could use her as part of the booty needed for another man to win his favor. When she is remembered she becomes not a wife, but a part of a harem in a polygamous marriage. By the time David brings her back into his household, he does not simply have the two wives, Abigail and Ahinoam, but he has five other wives, making Michal the sixth. Now the way that polygamy worked was that the first was the most important wife, the only one who would have gotten the title “queen”, the first among six. But still in a marriage that involves six women, although you maybe first you are still one among six. And as such she is the oldest, the forgotten prize wife from David’s past affairs with Saul. On the day that the Ark of the Covenant is brought into Jerusalem, she is alone in her room, forgotten once again, on the outside of the festivities. Of course she is angry, and now to add insult to injury she sees that not only is David celebrating, but he is doing so in a less than clothed fashion. And she realizes that she means nothing to him. It is one thing for him to reject her love by not waiting for her and taking another wife, but five other wives? And now he does not care to whom he exposes himself, even if he is worshiping God it is not befitting a king to go about in this manner and it hurts her. She loved him and she was just a piece of the puzzle that was his life. So she looked down on David and despised him, despised him for not loving her, despised him for forgetting her, for replacing her, for not caring about her or her feelings. It would be easy to say; well of course he treated her that way, that is the way women were treated at that time in history. I know that was a different time and a different place. People thought of women differently. I know it has only be in the very recent history that woman have enjoyed the kinds of freedoms and respect we enjoy now. I know and understand that as one of two daughters of a king she had only one option in marriage, and that is to marry the man her father felt would win him the political alliances he needed. She was his property to give for a bride price to the man he choose. She got lucky; she loved the man her father gave her to. It is not David’s fault that when she helps David flee for his life; her father then uses her to make some political alliance with Paltiel. David might not have known about Paltiel’s apparent love for her when he brought his wife back into his household. He might not have even considered the marriage to Paltiel legitimate and saw himself as retrieving his wife from a man who took her from him. I know that women were not seen as human beings but as pieces, as pawns, as property. But God did give women rights in a marriage as part of God’s instructions in the Torah. A wife had a right to food; a right to clothing, a right to be able to take care of her children. And it was a woman’s right to not have the ability to bear children denied to her. The passage is very delicate about this but the writer is careful to say that Micah had no child until her death, it does not say that she was barren, just that she did not bear any children. It is one thing to declare a woman barren and therefore remained childless, it is another for her simply to not bear children. The implication is that David chose not to do right by her. David denied her one of four rights she had a wife and therefore she remained childless. David did not do right by his wife. David was a good man. He was man of God. He was following God’s guidance in his life. He was a wise leader, a great warrior and a pious follower of God. But in all this he lost sight of individuals in his life. He forgot that Michal was a human being, a person who loved him, and risked her life for him. David forgot that she had feelings and needs and concerns. It is easy when we are doing the work of the Lord, when we are listening to God, doing the things that God told us to do to loose site of the living breathing people in our lives. It is easy sometimes to forget that every person matters, has worth and value. That each person we encounter has thoughts, feelings, and dreams and that they are not means to an ends. Not just another piece in the plans that God has for us.We are living our story, living our relationship with God but we are a part of other people’s stories and even when we are doing our best for God, even when we are rejoicing in the presence of God, glorying in how God has guided us and shown us our way, we cannot forget the people in our life, the individuals who are not merely a part of God’s plan for us, and our life, but that we are a part of their life, a part of the plans that God is working out for them. Are we working with them, encouraging them, helping them as they are accomplishing the things that God is calling for them to be, to do? In our quest for God’s best, for God’s plan, for being the people we are called to be, we cannot in our neglect, in our forgetfulness deny those around us, those with whom our life intersects the right for God’s best in their lives, to be the people God is calling them to be. It is possible to see the things that David did as not havingbeen done to purposefully harm Michal. He probably never meant her harm, but in his neglect, in his forgetfulness, he denied her the very things that God commanded to not be denied her. He in his benign oversight of her as are very real person in his life, in his forgetfulness of her love and loyalty, in his neglect to put her first, he denied her the ability to have God’s best in her life. Without his love, without his care, without being cherished and taken care of by her husband, she could not have the very things that would have won her respect and honor in her society. God did not desire for her to be alone, abandoned, over looked and forgotten 'til the end of her days. David perhaps through no malicious or purposeful intent denied her these very things. As Christians, attempting to be the people God is calling us to be, as people of God striving to love God and our world, we cannot forget to love the people in our lives; to treat all the people in our lives as if they are the precious people they are. No one is just another person; each person is a person God loves. Each one is a person God has a plan for. Each person is one of the people we are called to love when God calls us to love God and to love our world. Our world means the people in our world, the individuals, each one precious, each one to be respected, each one to not be forgotten, overlooked, or left alone, each one loved.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Being Like David: Being with God

2 Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10 And here we come to the end of this movie we have been “watching” for the last six week, and the crown is finally on the head of the king. This event, toward which David has been working since he was a young lad, has been achieved. It was just about twenty years ago that Samuel came traipsing into town claiming to be making sacrifices, but secretly looking for the man God wanted him to anoint as Israel’s next king an instead of anointing a man he had anointed a shepherd boy just come in from the fields. Since that day, David has killed a giant, married the old king’s daughter, declared everlasting friendship with his son, lead the armies of Israel into battle and generally won the acclamation, and respect of everyone. Last week I said, “Women swoon at the sight of him, fathers want him to wed their daughter’s, boys play act at being him and men try to emulate him,” and it’s the truth. David is the man. So much so that after the death of Saul, David has to do nothing to get himself appointed king. The people are clamoring to have him as their next king. David gets appointed king because he is a pretty awesome guy. The people came together and saw that David was the best choice for king. In many ways they come together to confirm God’s choice. They wanted a king who could lead them in battle; David has proved he can do this. They need a king who will be just and fair, and David has proved that he is this as well. They need a king who listens to and follows God, David has shown that this is his way of life. Look, isn’t it amazing, God choose well! This is the high point toward which David has been moving almost all his life. Here he is, he is being crowned king of Israel and suddenly all the many nights, and months of nights he spent hiding in a cave or sleeping in a tent, running for his life, fade into the back ground. Triumphant music plays and flashes of memories from that day when he was summoned in from the fields with the sheep to be anointed as king by Samuel are inter-mingled with the coronation events. He was the shepherd of sheep and now he is the shepherd of God’s people. By the music we, his audience know that he is to be a great king and the way the light play around his face, his crown his shoulders, we can see that the presence of God almighty is upon him, it is God who has brought him from the sheep fields to this place today. The journey has been long, circuitous and has had its’ fair amount of trials along the way, but the fact of the matter is that God has been with David the whole time. The scripture tells us that the Spirit of God came upon David on that day so long ago when Samuel anointed him king and God has been with him ever since. God has been with David and David has walked with God. This journey has not been a journey of chance or happenstance this has been a guided tour; a guided tour of a life that leads to greatness, a king who is honored and respected by all, of one who walks with God. I was thirteen when God called me into the ministry. I was young and immature. I was one of those thirteen year old girls who cried if you looked at me slantways. But I loved God and I was stubborn. If God wanted me to be a pastor, than woe be it to the person who choose to stand in my way. Isn’t great how God uses even our most unattractive traits to accomplish God’s will. It was during an evening service, one of the first ones our new youth pastor preached. I don’t know what Pastor Rick preached about that evening. I just know that I knew that God needed to speak to me, so after church I went forward to pray and God told me in no uncertain terms that I was called to pastoral ministry. From that day forward I told anyone and everyone who would listen that God had called me to pastor. I finished up High School knowing I would attend a Nazarene College and study religion, so that I would be best prepared to attend Nazarene Theological Seminary, so I could then be a pastor. I asked for and received my local ministers’ license when I was still in my freshman year at Eastern Nazarene College. I spent a summer working with the youth group at The Lamb’s Manhattan Church of the Nazarene and another summer with the youth group at Hollywood Church of the Nazarene in Hollywood, Maryland outside of DC. I applied for and received my district ministry license while I was finishing up my senior year at ENC. I went to NTS and received my Masters of Divinity, married Mike the January of my last year there and we got our first pastoring job in Mulvane, Kansas, which we started within weeks of graduation. After two years of ministering in Kansas, General Superintendent, Talmadge Johnson, District Superintendent Ed Nash and the minsters of the Kansas District laid hands upon me as I was ordained elder in the church of the Nazarene. My ordination day is one of the most important events in my life, up there with my wedding and the births of my two girls. I think the sanctuary of Wichita First church of the Nazarene will always be an especially holy place for me. I remember sitting there with Dr. Johnson’s hands on my head thinking, this is it, this is the day toward which I have been moving since I was still really a very young girl. This is the arriving point. This is where I have always wanted to be, this is the moment, God has been leading me here my whole life, I have arrived. And then after the GS prayed and my father prayed and the ordained elders of the Kansas District prayed and I stood up I looked out across the delegation from the KS district who had gathered that day and my life went on. Everything had been building to that one moment and just as all moments that had come before, it was gone. Moment was followed by moment just as always. I had arrived at the point toward which I had oriented my whole life and life just went on. For 15 years, God has been with me, guided me, directed me, had been with me when I had made poor choices, had been my strength and support in the rough times. God had brought me to this point. Everything I had ever worked toward had brought me to this moment in my life and then that moment was gone. Life moved on, I had to go on from there. Here David was, he had come to the point in his life, toward which he had been moving since he was still a boy. Everything in his life had prepared him for this moment. He bows his head the crown of kingship is placed upon it, he rises and he looks out across the crowd of people who are now his subjects and he had to realize the same two things I realized when I stood before the delegates of the 2004 Kansas District Assembly, that first of all God had brought me to this place and secondly I was not going to continue to make it unless I continued to walk with God and God was with me from this moment forward. David knew, God was there with him in the field of anointing. God was with him when he slew the giant. God was with him as he played songs for Saul in his courts. God was with him when he befriended Jonathan. God was with him as he led armies into victory. God was with him as Saul chased him across the countryside attempting to kill him. God was with him when he heard of the death of Saul. It is God who brought him to his coronation. It is because of God that he had arrived and if any of this was going to work out God needed to continue to be with him, in all things, all of his days. And God is with David throughout his reign. “David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.” David’s greatness, David’s success is due to one thing and one thing only, that God was with him in all that he did. He walked with God and God walked with him. It is easy for us to come to believe that there is a point at which we have arrived, at which we have or will have accomplished that which God has before us; that our walks with God are finally complete; that we have arrived, when it comes to us and God. We want there to be an end game, a goal toward which we are moving, something that once it is gained we have what we need. Let me tell you a story, about a man who lived on one side of a mountain and had spent his whole life wondering what was on the other side of the mountain, he talked about how he would one day climb the mountain and see what there was to see, that he would see the glory of the land that the mountain kept hid from his eye. When he as young and told the other villagers about this they chuckled and said it was a young man’s dream. He married a beautiful young woman from the village and he would tell her about how one day when he had the time, the money the inclination he was going to climb the mountain and see the mystery it hid from his eyes. She would smile and say, “Go then, climb your mountain, and then return to tell me what it is you see there.” He would nod and say, “Someday.” Seasons passed and she bore him little boys and little girls and in the evenings, when all the chores were done, he would gather them on his lap and tell them about how one day, he was going to climb that mountain and bring back the treasures he found on the other side to give to them. But the children grew and had households of their own. And as he aged he would go and talk to the other old men about his dream and they chuckled because they knew that he would never go. Then one day, his wife died and he realized that his life was soon to come to an end, so he sold everything he owned packed up all he had left and journeyed to the top of the mountain. He journeyed one night and one day, stopping frequently because his old legs wearied easily. When he reached the top and looked down at the world, he saw that there was another mountain and beyond that another mountain, that beyond his mountain was a whole world that he was too old to explore. So he went back down the mountain disappointed that he had spent his life not in the shadow of just one mountain but in the shadow a world of mountains. He had lived his whole life believing that when he reached the top of the mountain he would have arrived, but the top of the mountain proved to be just a gateway to an entire world. We really cannot live our lives believing there is a point at which we have arrived. When we have arrived, when we stand at the top of that mountain we will then see that there is beyond this point a whole life yet to be lived. And we have to live our whole lives with God, not just up to a point, not just aiming for a stopping point, but a whole life in relationship with God, a whole life lived differently, a whole life given over to loving God and loving one another. David did not abandon God once God had brought him to the place of kingship. But he became greater and greater because God was with him. God was with him from the time he was but still a young lad; through all the years that led up to his kingship and then God continued to be with him all the years of his life. He became greater and greater because on the day of his coronation he realized two things. God had been with him all along the journey that had brought him to this place and if he was going to continue to prosper and flourish he needed to realize that he had not arrived at a stopping point, at his destination with God, but that this was just another whey point on a greater journey that must be continually traveled with God. God must continue to be with him all the days of his life. The kingship did not mark the moment of his arrival, the moment when he had received all he needed to receive, the moment when he no longer needed God because he had it all, but this was the moment that would now lead to all the moments that are to come and if God has brought him to this place here, then the only way he would ever be able to go on is if God continues to be with him in all things from this moment on. There is no point at which we have arrived. There is no point toward which our spiritual journeys are moving that once gained we can count ourselves as having arrived. We are always moving, always walking, always journeying with God. Every moment, every stopping point, every mountaintop to which God brings us, is a moment that leads to all the next, is yet another stopping point along the journey, is the mountaintop that reveals to us the mountains we have yet to climb. Being with God is not something that culminates, it is not something that has an arriving point, there is no place along this journey that is our ultimate goal. The goal is the journey, the goal is the relationship, the goal is to be with God and for God to be with us all the days our lives. A life lived differently, a life lived with God.

Being Like David: Honoring Life

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-26 As our movie about the making of King David continues, we follow David to the next stop in his life, the death of Saul. We have come a long way in the life of David since he left Goliath dead in the fields of Ephes-Damim last week. Last week, he was just a boy with a promise that someday he will be king, some stones, a sling and God on his side. This week his is a man lamenting the death of his enemy. After David killed Goliath, Saul gave Michal, one of his daughters to him as a wife and David became a member of the royal household and the royal court. David was Saul’s champion, the mighty warrior of Israel, the go to man when it came to getting battles won and foes defeated. David is not only Saul’s son-in-law but he is Saul’s son Jonathan’s best friend. David has managed to ingratiate himself everyone. Women swoon at the sight of him him, father’s want him to wed their daughter’s, boys play act at being him and men try to emulate him, But it is only a matter of time before Saul goes from being absolutely thrilled with David to jealous of his fame and popularity, and then his jealously turns to homicidal thoughts and actions and begins a long campaign during which he attempts to kill David. David on the other hand has several opportunities to kill Saul and decidedly chooses not to, making a point to let Saul know that although Saul means David harm at every opportunity, David is not working in like manner to end Saul’s life. In fact David says on more than one occasion that it is not his place to bring an end to Saul’s life. No matter how many times or how many ways Saul attempts to kill David, David refuses to respond in kind. He might work against Saul, he might in Sung Tzuesk fashion declare the enemy of his enemy his friend and go fight alongside the Philistines. But he would not work to directly bring about the death of Saul. In fact he does not fight in any battles in which the Philistines attack Saul’s forces. David spends years in hiding, fearing for his life, living in caves; doing whatever needs to be done to keep himself alive. All the while Saul is working to bring an end to him. No matter what he does, no matter how hard he works, to prove to Saul that he is not only not Saul’s enemy, but he is not a threat to him in in way shape or form, Saul continues in his full attack against the life of David. Just prior to the passage we have before us this morning, Saul and Jonathan are killed during a battle. Jonathan is his best friend, so of course he is pretty broken up to hear of the death of his good friend. David writing, singing and requiring all the men of Israel to learn a lament about the death of Jonathan is not too surprising. But, considering the history David has with Saul, one would think that, upon hearing about Saul’s death, David would be rejoicing. I mean, seriously come on, how many times has Saul tried to kill David? And now he is dead. All David’s cares and woes are gone. He can walk opening in the daylight once again without worry or fear. I would think that David would have a parade, throw a party, write a song of rejoicing and victory, but instead David writes a dirge, a song of mourning. Instead of a victory shout, David lets out a wail, a sigh, a lament. One would think that he would want the death of his enemy proclaimed from the mountain tops, proclaimed in any and every way possible. Let Saul’s enemies know that Saul is no more that he is finally gone, rejoice with me oh enemies of my enemy let us sing for joy together. No David, declares that this information should be kept from Saul’s enemies, not only is David not rejoicing but David does not want Saul’s enemies to have the ability to rejoice either. This is not a day of victory this is a day of sorrow and torment. Everyone should be in mourning. This is a day of regret and great sorrow. Mighty men have fallen and we should lament their falling. Now that is an incredible response to the death of the man who has spent the last several decades trying to kill you. From the time of the death of Goliath, until this day, David has time and time again showed that he is a man of integrity and honor; a man, who when given the choice, will choose the high road. Here is a man of honor if I ever saw one. David knows that God has appointed him to be the king after Saul. The throne is his rightful place. Most of us knowing where it is that God is leading us, might be tempted to do all that is in our power to hurry things along, especially if it would ensure our safety and put us in place in where would could breathe a little freer and get us where we want to be a little faster. But David does nothing to force God’s hand. He does nothing to bring harm to Saul. And now when Saul is dead and not only is the path to kingship now open to him, but he no longer has to live in fear of what will come next, David writes a lament over Saul. Mourning is something with which we often have a hard time in our culture. We have our rituals. We have the viewing or wake, we have the funeral and the dinner to follow. But we pretty much expect people to move on from there. It is ok to be sad for a little while, but pretty soon after the death of someone we expect them to go on with their life, no matter what your relationship is to that person, we don’t really understand why someone would continue to struggle with dealing with another’s death, months, years, decades later. It is almost as if we expect people to just get over the fact that someone they loved dearly is gone and there is no getting that person back. There is no righting in any wrongs, real or perceived, there is no saying that one thing you always wanted to say, that shoulder to cry on is gone, that person’s strength in our lives is no longer with us and we can no longer go to that person for advice. They are gone from us and we miss them. Especially as Christians we want to down play the affect death has on us. Yes, we have hope in a reality beyond death; in a life eternal. But that does not negate the reality and seeming finality that death has here in this life, on this earth. In this broken world, we live and we die. This is the way of things. And no amount of hope for the future, can change the reality of the pain that death causes in our lives. Heaven brings us glorious hope, but we mourn now, we hurt now, we miss our loved ones here today in this place. One of the most real things I think someone has ever said to me about the death of a loved one, was spoken by a 90 some odd year old lady I had the privilege to Pastor when I was in Kansas, she turned to me one day and said, pastor, it has been 40 years, but I still reach for the phone and attempt to call my mother. I miss talking to her so badly. 40 years! She was not “unhealthy” she was not crazy. She missed her mother and that is the honest truth. Death is final. Death is real. Death changes our lives and in very real ways who we are forever. David I not only mourning for someone he loved, but he is mourning for someone who in a very real and literal way, wanted him dead. It takes a lot to lament the death of your enemy. It takes a lot to see harm for another human being, no matter how good it may be for you and your situation in life, as a tragedy. The death of a human being no matter how convenient is a cause for rejoicing. Death is always a cause for mourning. Death is always a tragedy, whether it be that of a still born infant or a person who has lived a long, full life; whether they be the president of the United States, a famous actor or a heroin addict; our mother, our father, our dearest friend or our worst enemy. Everyone’s death is to be lamented and mourned. This is the honest truth. We may be relieved that our loved one is no longer suffering, we may be relieved that the one who hated us so much will no longer plague our lives but it is still a tragedy a reason for sorrow. David as a man of dignity and honor, mourned over the death of his enemy, lamented the ending of one who tried so hard to end his own life. He did not see a victory in death. He did not find pleasure in the passing of another. When confronted with both the death of his dearest friend and his worst enemy, his response was exactly the same anguish, lamenting mourning. We can expect no more and no less from ourselves. We should neither rejoice over the death of one who has continually sought to bring us harm, nor should find it odd that we mourn over the loss of a loved one. Death is real. Death is hard.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Being Like David: Being Used by God

1 Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49 As David’s train through live takes him toward kingship, this stop at the fields of Ephis-dammin is one of the more important stations. This is the one event in David’s life that moves him from being sheep herding, harp playing youngest son of Jesse the Bethlehemite to being the champion of the Hebrew peoples. This event moves him from the fields outside of Bethlehem into household of king Saul himself. It is a caption of a young boy full of vigor, faith, courage and insurmountable gal. Perhaps here we get a glimpse of the seed in David’s heart which God saw inside the boy when Samuel anointed him king. Here truly is one who is willing to be the king God will have for Israel. The scene begins with the armies of Israel encamped between Socoh and Azehah, doing nothing. There is no battle there is no fight. Just a call from the enemy to settle this thing like civilized people. A battle of the best. One from each side comes to the field of battle and dukes it out. Apparently this is the philistine’s idea. The philistine’s have already chosen their champion but the Israelites have not chosen a champion and Goliath, the philistine champion has taken to mocking the armies for not having a champion to send for. So each day he comes out calling for their bravest and best to come fight, to settle this disagreement between two nations with as little waste and blood shed as possible, and then taunting them for their lack of response. What is interesting is that the people of Israel wanted a King who could lead them in battle; a king so that the other countries would respect them. But here not only do we find that having a king does not keep other nations from disrespecting them on the battle field, but King Saul is not even attempting to lead them, he just sitting there waiting for someone else to step up to the challenge of this philistine. In fact, if King Saul had not directly disobeyed a command from God, Israel would not be in this battle at all. So here is the entire Israelite army daily being taunted by this philistine, while they are just sitting around looking at each other wondering who is crazy enough to step up to this giant of man and take his challenge, because crazy is exactly what it would take to do this. Not only could stepping up mean death, but it could also mean shame for your entire family, better to sit in communal shame than to have the entire shame of Israel poured upon your family for generations to come. Who wants to take this risk. It is not just a risk of one’s own life but it is the risk of the lives of all those in your line from now until forever. Untold shame, in this situation, seems much more likely than untold fame. Who wants that? Then in walks this impetuous boy who comes to the field to bring provisions to his brothers and news back to his father about what is going on with the war. After witnessing exactly what is going on with the war, this boy just has to do something. This is an outrage, this Philistine can’t talk to the people of God like that! What nobody is willing to fight him. Well then if no one else will, I will. And after some discussion with his brother and then the king, a failed game of dress up, he heads out to the battle field with some stones, a sling and his shepherds rod. Goliath takes offense to the Israelites sending this boy out to fight him, like he is nothing more than a dog that needs to rounded up and showed his proper place. If the Israelites had wanted to purposefully insult the huge warrior and the entire Philistine army, they could not have done better if they had tried. I mean think about what it would be like. The Philistines have sent out their biggest, best, scariest warrior and after many days deliberation the Israelites send out this boy, as if saying, “We really don’t take your or your threat seriously, even this boy could take you out, with nothing more than a stick and a pouch full of rocks.” But what adds injury to insult is the fact that this boy with his sticks and stones actually succeeds in taking down this giant of a man. David makes short work of him and defeats him without much trouble at all. You may or may not have noticed that I skipped over a very important little speech David made before he headed out to defeat Goliath. When questioned by Saul about how exactly a little wisp of a boy plans on killing the Philistine champion. David explains to him that as a shepherd he has on more than one occasion needed to take down a bear or a lion, and this Philistine is not all that different than a bear or a lion, besides, that same God who helped me when I was defeating the bear and the lion is the same God who will take down this Philistine. As he begins this speech David almost comes off as a swaggering braggart, not all that different from Gaston, the antagonist in Disney’s Beauty and the Beast, he is a mighty hunter who has taken down all these animals and now he is going to take down this beast. But David does not list off the many bears and lions to let Saul know exactly how big and bad he really is, he brings up the bears and lions to let Saul know that if God can help him with some bears and lions, God can surely help him defeat this lousy Philitine. This is not about what David can do, this is not about the strength, intelligence and ability of this young man. This is about what that young man can do when God is his strength, when God is using him and directing him. David knows that God will be with him, that God has helped him on many occasions before and David knows that God will be with him now. And resulting death of the Philistine champion is not a victory for David but a victory for God. This is what we can learn from this young boy. We as Christians know that God is with us, giving us strength and ability beyond our own to help us accomplish the things God is calling us to do. Now let me make myself clear. I am not saying that because we are Christians God will assure us that everything we set our hand will succeed because God is with us, that God’s hand goes where ever we go, that God’s strength is backing us no matter what. It doesn’t work quite that way. This is not a blanket approval and support from God in all things. When we follow God, when we rely on God, when we are going where God is directing us, doing the things God is calling us to do, then we will be able to accomplish that which God has set aside for us to do. God’s strength will be our strength, God’s power is our power, God’s comfort, and guidance will be with us each step along the way. But it begins and ends with God, not with us. Anyone can invoke God’s name, anyone can do just about anything and say they are doing what they are doing in God’s name, but saying you are doing something in God’s name is not a “magic spell” that infuses the task you have before you with the power of God, or procures the will of God for this thing you are about to do. Doing something in God’s name means that you are going where God leads, doing what God is calling you to do. Saul, said that he was going to defeat the Philistine in God’s name but God had directly told him to not attack the Philistines. Those events surrounding this decision are what have led to this battle. Saul is at this battle, God could have just as easily used Saul to defeat Goliath, but Saul had come to the battlefield against the will and the wishes of God. God’s strength was not with Saul, but when David stepped up and relied on God, then David was able to succeed where Saul could not. When we are doing what God has called us to do, then God can and will use us to do the things to which God has called us. God will be with us, God will guide us and direct us, God will carry us all along the way. It might be difficult, David’s call to be king has a little more than a few difficulties along the way but God still leads David each step, along this journey. Good continually puts David in positions and places where if David trusts and relies on God, they will ultimately lead him to the kingship over all Israel. Here God brings David to the fields of Ephes-Dammin, God gives David the courage to speak up and volunteer, and the strength and ability to defeat this man no one else is even willing to dare to face. David trusts and relies on God. When we trust and rely on God not only can we take down the lions and bears that we find in lives, but we can win battles and take down giants as well.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being Like David: Being Chosen

1 Samuel 15:34-16:13 We saw the prequel last week and these next few weeks we will watch the part of the trilogy (aren’t all good – and bad - movies trilogies these days?) that is the Making of a King. The movie opens with a stranger coming to town; after all there are only two stories: a man goes on a journey and a stranger comes to town. This story begins with a disheveled old man walking up a dusty road toward a town. There is a man in his field on the outskirts of town; he can see the dust rising before the stranger comes up over the rise. He stops leans on plow and watches for a minute to see who it is. He strains his eyes and as the man makes his way up the road, he comes into view piece by piece. It takes a second for him to recognize the stranger, the realization shows on his face. He calls one of his boys over to him. You can see him say something to the lad and the young man takes off up the road. Before the stranger can reach the man and his field, a group of men have gathered they are conferring. You can hear them identify this stranger as “the profit,” “the judge.” There is a mumble about how his sons are no good but he is God’s man, but what is he doing here? The king has fallen out of favor with him. He is displeased, says God is displeased. He hasn’t spoken to the king in quite a long time. What is he doing here? What does Samuel have to with us? They talk and come to a decision. As Samuel approaches them one of them calls out, “Do you come in peace?” Seriously a screen play writer could not have written this better. “Yes I come in peace, I have come to make sacrifices to God, sanctify yourselves and come with me.” And as things progress you see him making a point to assure that all the boys from one particular family are sanctified. After the sacrificing is done, he calls Jesse, the father of this family over and one by one inspects his boys. The eldest one is tall and strong and handsome, an obvious leader surely, Samuel examines him closely, looks up into the man’s strong face, the voice of God speaks quietly to Samuel telling him to not look at outward appearance because God looks at the heart, Samuel looks away from the man disappointed, shaking his head, “no, no he is not the one.” He looks at the next son, shakes his head again, “no, not the one.” He goes through the next, and the next, and the next until seven of Jesse’s sons have passed before Samuel, each one is not the one. None of these are the one, do you have any other sons, (are you holding out on me?). Jesse is slightly taken aback and a little shame faced, yeah he has another son, the youngest, “he is out tending the sheep and playing his harp, he really is of no account, but if you want me to call him in from the fields I can.” He sends one of the others and shortly our hero, a handsome young man, with a beautiful smile and captivating eyes comes up over the hill running, wondering what his father wants with him. The boy is still out of breath as Samuel looks him up and down, looks him in the eye and says, “You, you are the one.” Samuel anoints this one to be king. We all remember grade school gym class, I know I do, I remember when the teams were being chosen, whether it be kickball, dodge ball, or esp. basketball, as you can imagine I was not the first to be chosen, or the second one, I was almost always the next to last, you know right before the girl who broke her foot last week. This is what is going on here except all the kids who are used to being to being picked aren’t being picked and you can’t help but wonder why. What’s wrong with them? Are they, like Saul, out of favor with God? What hidden flaw do they have? What malady of the Spirit does God see that Samuel and the onlookers are missing? It is easy to get caught up on why God does not choose Jesse’s other seven sons, and why God chooses David instead. Since God looks at the heart and not outward appearance, the assumption is that there must be something defective with these young men that only God can sees and David must have some phenomenal inner trait that only God can see. But the text does not say that. Nothing bad is said about any of these young men, just that they are not chosen. David is said to be handsome and have beautiful eyes, we do not know what God sees when God sees into David’s heart but God chooses David, and the story of that David’s slow progression to Kinghood begins. And Jesse’s other sons are left standing in the field unchosen and not good enough, or at least from this point on we forget about them. But it is not so much that they were unchosen, just that they were not chosen to be king. I am sure if they followed God and were faithful to God they were chosen to something else in their lifetimes, to live quiet lives as strong men of God, leaders in their town, in their clan, in their tribe, to be good farmers or shepherds, husbands, fathers. They have stories, they have callings, they were chosen but not chosen to be king. That is the thing to remember when we look at this anointing story, this story of the choosing of David. David was not simply chosen, as if being chosen is an end in itself. No one is ever chosen just to be chosen, David is chosen to be king. David is chosen to be king, because somewhere in that harp playing sheep tending heart God sees that this one, this one can make a good king. David is not simply chosen he is chosen to do something specific. You can imagine as David kneels before Samuel, out of breath from running in from the field, the scent of sheep still on him, and the notes from the last song he was playing on his harp still in his mind that he is thinking to himself, ”is this guy for real? God has chosen me? To be king?” It is not so much that when God looks into David’s heart, God sees a phenomenally spiritual man who is so amazing that God just has to choose this one to be king, but more along the lines that when God looks into this young man’s heart, God see in him the potential to be a great man of God, an excellent leader, the king of God’s people. David is not chosen to be king because he is already amazing but because God knows that this harp playing shepherd has the potential, if he trusts and relies on God he can be the king these people need. When God looked into the hearts of his brothers, God saw something else for them, something else a little less flashy, a little less remembered for all time, but important, pertinent and valuable each in their own way, just not chosen to be king. The fact of the matter is not everyone is chosen to be king. There is only one king, that is one of the things about being king, all things are going peaceably there can be only one, when there is more than one there is a problem and things don’t go down so peaceably. God chose David to be king. But God also choose Jesse to be the father of a king and God choose David’s brothers to do other vital things in their community and in the lives of their loved ones. God chooses and God chooses based on criteria we may never understand. We may not understand why God choose those around us to do the things that God is choosing for them to do. I may never really know why God choose an ultimately, shy, awkward, geeky girl, who had few friends to be a pastor, but God saw something at 13 that those around me did not yet see and something that I most definitely did not see in myself. But God chose me, not simply for the sake of choosing, God chose me to do that which God enabled me to do. Not that which I could do on my own, not that which was with in my own power to accomplish but God called me to do that which could only be accomplished if I walked with God and trusted God. God calls us all. This is not like gym classes where some of us are standing last in line but God chooses us all first to do what it is that God calls us to do. When God comes before us he does not pass us by, but chooses us to do that which God knows that once enabled and empowered by God we can accomplish and will accomplish. It is an old worn out saying but it is true. God does not call the enabled, God enables the called. But God does call. God calls us all. In Ephesians Paul says some are called to be teachers, and some to be evangelists and some to be preachers. The fact of the matter is that we are all called by Go to do something, we are all empowered by God to do something. We are all chosen, but we are not simply chosen to be chosen, to be special, we are all chosen; chosen because God knows our hearts; chosen to do that which God will enable us to do; chosen to do the work and the will of God in this world, to glorify God and to further God’s kingdom. But we are all chosen we just need to trust and rely on God in all things to enable us to be the person and do the things God has chosen for us to do.

Being Like David: The Prequel; "How it all Began"

1 Samuel 8:1-20, 11:15-16 Every person’s story has a beginning. We like to think that most people stories begin with their birthday, but the fact of the matter, is that events that will shape the whole of their lives often are things that happen terciaryily to any given person’s life. The story of David begins here in the passage I just read, well, we can only guess that if these events had not happened David would still have had a story, but it would have gone quite differently. You see in order for David to really enter the historical scene, Saul and the Israelite armies have to be camped at Ephes-dammim so that David can, at a fairly young age, journey there and defeat Goliath, thus catapulting him into the public eye and beginning the journey that would eventually lead him to not only be the one truly great king Israel ever has, but lead him to be the spiritual leader we know. Before he is coroneted, before Saul tries to kill him, before Goliath, before Samuel can anoint him king, before God can get fed up with Saul, the people of Israel have depose God as their sole leader and demand to be ruled by a king. Every good story must begin somewhere, and this right here is where it begins. This is the prequel event that leads to all the good stuff that will one day be the story of David. This is the one event without which David’s life would not have been what it will one day become. So as we look at David we begin here, with this prequel story. We begin here so we know why it is that Israel, a nation, a different kind of nation, with a different kind of God. God had come to the Hebrew people when they were but slaves, working for the Pharaohs dieing for the Pharaohs and suffering all along the way. God brought them up out of Egypt, up out of the land of slavery and took them to Sinai where God pledged to be their God, to lead them to a land that would be their own, to help them conquer the people who lived there, defeat them and give the land over to them. God promised to protect them, to guide and to be their God and they promised to be God’s people; they would live as God called them to live, to live by God’s laws and God’s ordinances, to love and obey God in all things. God was to rule over them and they were to be God’s people. God would give them human leaders whom God would show how to lead and to guide them. God had given them Moses and Joshua, and then the judges Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson and now Samuel. God had never left them alone, had never disappointed or failed to be anything less than the ruler God had promised to be, but this was not enough. They are displeased. Samuel’s sons are not proving to be very wise and so the elders, gather together have themselves a little meeting and decide what they want. Perhaps they gather at the goading of the people of Israel, perhaps not, we don’t know. We just know they meet and come up with a plan. They decide what will be best for them, what will be best for the people. Up until this point this has been God’s job, the deciding what is best, but the elders don’t think that things are going to work out the way they want them to, so they decide to take control and they want things to be done their way. They want a king. Now what is a king, but a Pharaoh by a different name? They ran away from Pharaoh, because living in Egypt under a pharaoh was not working out so well for them. They did not like it very much. But learning from the past is not Israel’s strong suit, they want a king, they want a king so instead of being different, instead of being ruled by God they can be ruled by a king. They want to be just like ever one else, being different is hard, they don’t like it. So they come to Samuel with their plan. They want a king; go tell God that they want a king. Notice they don’t care to tell God themselves. They send God’s messenger to go do their dirty work for them. I mean nobody wants to stand before a king and tell him that his people are deposing him as their ruler; you better bet that nobody really wants to be the idiot who goes before God and tells God that God’s own people are deposing him as their ruler. They still want him as God, but God and king should be separate. God, we will let you be God, but we don’t want you to rule us any more, we want to rule ourselves (yeah, because ruling yourselves is what having a king is all about). Samuel is a little more than miffed on God’s behalf. He sees what this is all about. They don’t trust God anymore. They are not willing to live up to their side of the covenant. They don’t like the arrangement they have made with God so they are choosing to alter it, for their convenience and they want God to agree and go along with it. So Samuel take’s their “plea” to God, fully expecting God to laugh in their faces and say, “No.” But that is not what God does. God says, “Yeah, sure, you can have a king, have all the kings you want. But I warn you this; will not; work well for you. Kings don’t work for you, you work for the king. Kings don’t rule for you, kings’ rule for themselves, to uphold and protect their power over you and will do everything they need to do to extend their power to make it greater. You may think that having a powerful king will make you look like a powerful nation, but having a powerful king will mean that you live and die to serve that power, to strengthen and ensure that power. Kings take your sons, they take your daughters, they take the best of your land, the best of your fruit, the best of your crops, the best of your animals and force you to work on their behalf. I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of the land of slavery and because you request it, because you demand it, because you truly believe this is what you want, I will allow you to be slaves once again, because a nation with a king is a nation of slaves.” So Samuel goes back to the people and tells them all that God has told him. He explains to them in no uncertain terms how bad a king will be and how miserable their lives will be. And the people listen and cry out in a united voice, “Oh no don’t allow that to happen to us, we like things just the way they are!” No, they insist that God give them a king. Hang the consequences. They know that if God chooses the king, their king will be good. Their king will not be wooed by power and will not lord it over them, like the kings of all the countries they want to be like. Their king will be different. They just know it; besides a king is good when you got to go battle all those other nations with kings. They want a king, so God gives them Saul, well you know he was a great and awesome king, if you like kings who are narcissistic mad men who like to throw spears at their musicians, and decide that falling on their own sword is the good and proper way to end a loosing battle. And because Saul fails so miserably at being anything close to a good king, David becomes king after him and succeeds where Saul fails, and is the one king who truly lives up to the expectations the people has for a king. He is one of very few exceptions in a long list of kings who live up to the picture a King God paints here for Israel. It is sad to say, but the greatness of David, is rooted here in this horrible story of Israel’s rejection of dependence up on God for all things and in all things. Israel deposes God as their ruler, because they don’t trust God to be who God says God will be. They reject the kind of leadership God has been giving to them. They don’t like not knowing who will lead them. They don’t like not completely understanding how this system works. They don’t want God to lead them. They don’t like being different than the world around them. They want the nations around them to accept them and see them as equals, and they think they know how to do that. If they have a king, just like the other nations have kings, the nations will respect them. If they have a great and mighty king to lead them into battle these other nations will see that king and tremble and leave them alone. They know how the world works. They know how people think. God does not understand. God is all about being God. God lives in the heavens, where gods live and does not really understand how things work down here. Down here it is not good to have an unseen ruler, an intangible force with whom the other nations must recon. God does not understand, but they do. They need things to be the way they think they need to be and God needs to listen to them and do things their way. Their ways are the ways of the world, and God’s ways are well just God’s ways, they don’t work here on earth in the real world. Now don’t get me wrong trust is hard. We live in a world of empirical data. We need to be able to touch, see, taste and prove what we know, in order to trust that it is true. If an experiment can’t be set up to prove that something is so and that experiment be replicated by many people in different places at different times then it is not true, it has not been proven to be true. We have a hard time trusting what we can not see, touch, smell, and prove to be true. My professor in seminary, as part of some illustration, told us about these straw bridges (as in bridges made from straw, you know the part of the wheat shaft you don’t eat, the stuff you make cow beds out of) he had seen on his journeys in some jungle land. He showed us a picture of a man leading a heavily laden donkey across one. Let me tell you something I don’t really believe in them. I have never seen one, I have never touched one and really I have only ever seen that one picture of one. I mean I logically can tell you that this professor is trust worthy and am pretty sure he would not make something up just to make point to us in class. But I do not really believe these things exist. I mean seriously a bridge made out of straw? How do I know this thing really exists somewhere out there in some unnamed jungle in some unknown part of the world? Ok, let’s say it does exist, somewhere in some deep dark jungle there is a straw bridge. For the sake of argument; I mean after all I do trust this professor, he has no reason to lie to us, and he did have a picture of one after all, so they must exist somewhere, right? But would I trust it? Would I step out on the bridge with some indefinably deep chasm below me and trust that it will hold me up. NO. I know for a fact I won’t. I know this because I know I have a hard time trusting things I know will hold my weight when that weight is slung our over say a 150 foot pit. In the time BC, Before Children, Mike and I went caving. That was our hobby. Now there is caving, which involves crawling around in various sized holes in the ground for fun and enjoyment and then there is vertical caving which is doing the former but when there is a rope and a pit involved at some point in the process. In order be able to go vertical caving the first time you have to practice and have to have spent so many hours “on rope” before you stick yourself out over a 150 foot pit and drop. The day I dropped down my first pit, two grown men (who each weighed at least 200 lbs) and Mike went down the same rope I was going down, before I did. But when it was my turn it took me 15 minutes (at least) to convince myself that when I stepped off the lip of that hole that the rope would indeed hold my weight and I would not plummet to bottom of that hole and die. This is why I know if ever faced with a straw bridge I would not be able to easily trust it. I don’t care how many donkeys carrying men and packs that weight three, four times what I weigh, just crossed that bridge. I would be frightened, scared half out of my wits to step foot on that bridge. I would really have a hard time trusting it. Assuming I am in that jungle and watched those donkeys and those men cross that bridge. I would have seen that the bridge was trust worthy. But it would still be hard, just as hard if not harder than trusting my weight to that rope and depending on it to keep me from falling to my death. So I understand the Israelites’ position here. Trusting and depending upon things we do see, do know and do understand is hard enough. Trusting in an unseen, unheard, unfathomable, hard to understand God is even harder. Trusting God is hard. There is no way to lay hands on God. God can not be seen. God can not be touched, tasted, smelled. There is no certifiable way to prove God even exists; there is no experiment you can set up that will prove that God is, much less can be trusted and depended upon to do the things that scriptures tell us God will do. Yet we are expected to do just this, trust God, depend on God. To believe what the scripture tell us about God is true. Trust in the unseen, believe in the unknown, depend up on the untouchable. This faith stuff is not easy. It is not a given. It is foolishness by all standards. We live in a world that believes in what it can seen, touched, tasted, heard and proved. We believe in a God who can not be known in any of these ways. We can want God to be different. We can insist on having a God that is seen, that is touched, that is tasted, heard and proved, but we would be doing just what the Israelites are doing here. We want God to be what we can understand. We want what we know we need, so that we can live in a world that functions and lives by a different set of rules. God needs to understand that, God needs to learn to function in ways that make sense to us and to the people of our world. We can depose God in our own lives in our own ways. We can choose to not trust God to be the God, to be the God says God is, or we can step out on faith, look at that bridge and start walking, look at that hole, lean out over it and trust that rope to do what you know it will do, hold your weight and allow you to do what you need to do to slowly be lowered safely to the bottom. Trusting God is not easy. Trusting is hard. But trusting is exactly what we are called to do; to believe, to trust, to depend on God, to be who God says God will be, to do what God says God will do, that God will be God in all things at all times. Period.

Monday, May 7, 2012

1 John 1:1-2:2 - Authentic Life Together

During the season of Easter we are going to be spending our time in the book of 1 John. 1 John is not a letter like most of the rest of the New Testament epistles, but is instead a sermon in written form. So in a sense, during the next six weeks, I will be giving six sermons on a single sermon. It was first presented to the Johannine churches, that is the churches who were nurtured and cultivated by John. It appears to have been written by a group of people who have been charged with retaining the truth of the Gospel as passed to them through the apostle John. This sermon found here in scripture, is concerned with the importance of the proper testimony about Jesus Christ embodied in the traditions of the church. It is important to remember the Bible as we know it did not exist at this time, the early church had various letters from Paul and others, the gospels and witness accounts which the different churches believed to be truthful accounts and understandings of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. These were considered the proper teachings of the Church. The sermon of 1 John emphasizes the physical reality of Jesus’ coming in the flesh over and against some false teachings these churches were hearing which instead emphasized the divinity of Jesus and denied the significance of Jesus’ human reality and physical death on the cross as sacrifice for sin. The passage we have before us this morning is the beginning of this sermon. The sermon begins with unity. It begins with unity of experience, unity of belief and unity with one another in the fellowship. It is important in these early days of the church that those who follow Christ are united. Unity on these three things is what it means for Christianity to be authentic, not fake. There were many inauthentic beliefs and understandings about Christ. During this time in Church history is was important to know that what you were being taught about Christ was authentic, and real. And unity was the key to authenticity. You knew that what you were being taught was true because it had unity with what others taught, with what had been seen, heard, touched by those who knew Jesus, by those who walked with Jesus. Unity came from the community, from living together, believing together and growing to understand the Jesus we all follow together. The memory and understanding of a community is actually better and more accurate than the memory of any one individual. For instance; how many of you have ever seen The Wizard of Oz. You know the movie, the one with Judy Garland, Glenda the good witch and all those munchkins. Raise your hands how many of have seen the movie? Now think, when was the last time you saw that movie, put your hand down if you have seen it in the past month, six months, year, two years. Most of us have not seen this movie in years, but I if asked if you remember the most famous line from the movie, you know the line, the one Dorothy says toward the end of her time in Oz, the one she says as she taps her ruby red slippers together and says, “I just want to go home, I just want to go home.” No, I can tell by your faces that you all know I got it wrong. You may not have seen that movie in the last decade but you all know I got that wrong. We have a communal understanding of the movie. What we know about the movie together is actually greater and more accurate than any one individuals understanding of it. The Johanine writers knew this and saw that the unity we have in belief and understanding is what helps us discern false teachings. What we know together should align with any “new” teaching any “new” teacher brings to us, together we can see the fault in any one persons’ understanding where any one of us may not. Unity of belief began with who Christ is. Christ was real, is real. He was here, on this earth, lived and breathed just as each of us do. He could be seen with eyes, he was not a phantasm; heard with ears his words carried on the wind, reverberated through space, they were real; and touched with hands, he was not intangible, or immaterial. We can be united in knowing that Christ is real and was experienced, by those who saw, heard and knew him. Authentic experience of Jesus Christ aligns with the experience of the witness of the apostles. Jesus was real. What he said was real, what he did was real. There are those who saw him. There are those who heard him. There are those who touched him. Their witness is reliable and accurate. We can believe what we have heard, and know it to be true. We can be united in our belief and united in knowing that what we believe is true and accurate, this is authentic belief. The last key is authentic life together. Unity in who we are together. Paul speaks of the body, the Johanine letters speak of the fellowship, believers who come together, to understand the truth of Jesus Christ, to share the truth of Jesus Christ, to give witness to the truth of Jesus Christ. If we are truly the fellowship, truly are authentic in our unity, then we live certain ways together. This is the heart of our passage today. Fellowship and living authentically together is about several things. Living authentically together begins by walking in the light together; coming together to live, in the light that the life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ has brought into this world. The unity we have in our beliefs about Jesus, who he is and what he taught while here on this earth draw us into fellowship together and we walk in the light of these truths. We can not be apart of authentic fellowship if we do not walk in these truths. Together we are the fellowship, together in our belief, together in our experience, together in our witnesses of Jesus Christ. As we live together we experience the truth of Jesus Chris together. Together we understand the truth of Jesus Christ better than we can on our own. Together we can bear witness to what w have seen, heard and experienced, together we are a part of fellowship with Jesus Christ. Since we all live within ourselves, none of us can truly understand what it is to be anybody other than who we are, it is easy sometimes to conclude that what goes on between my ears, what I know, what I understand, what I experience to be true is most important, most true, most valuable. It is easy to come to believe that what is most important is what goes on between Jesus and me, what goes on when I am alone in my quiet place reading the Bible and praying. But the truth is that Jesus is not mine, Jesus is not yours. The truth of Jesus Christ is known most clearly and most authentically when we come together. Fellowship with Christ happens alone in your time of prayer, but that is not the primary place of fellowship. Fellowship happens when we come together, when we are in fellowship with Christ. We understand best, experience more accurately and know more fully the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ within the fellowship, the body of Jesus Christ. Think again about the Wizard of Oz. I could probably give a decent explanation of the story to you this morning, but if we all came together, I bet together we would come up a near scene by scene description of the events of the story and it would be accurate, the truth of The Wizard of Oz would be known not only to us but to anyone with whom we then shared the story. Together we understand more fully, who Jesus is and was and will ever be. But not just here in this room together this morning, we join also with the believers of the ages, when we read commentaries, listen to sermons, attend Bible Studies and Sunday Schools, we come together and in the coming together, and know more fully, more accurately (if you will) the truth of Jesus. By ourselves we know limitedly, we experience limitedly, we are more likely to be lead astray, to come to false understanding, or simply misunderstand, but together we have a so much better understanding of the truth of Jesus Christ. Together our individual relationships with Jesus Christ are stronger, more intimate, more firmly founded. To believe that by myself, I understand fine; to believe that by myself, I have a perfectly fine belief; to believe that alone in my prayer closet I am closest with Christ, is folly. While strengthening our relationship with Christ on our own is vitally important to our growth as Christians, neglecting the fellowship, separating ourselves from the Christians of the ages, not joining with others in the ways mentioned above leaves us with a shallow understanding of who Christ is and opens us up to false teaching, incorrect understandings, and misconceptions of who Jesus is and the call that Christ has upon our lives. The authenticity of the gospel is truly found in community with other Christians. It is found when we come together. It is found when we understand together, grow and learn together. Living authentically as Christians is found in the fellowship of Christ, in fellowship we have when we join with Christ together. Think about how you nurture your understanding of Christ. Do you spend time reading and understanding the Bible? Do you spend time in prayer? Do you spend time in worship? Do you spend time in Discipleship groups, groups where you join together with other believers so that together you may more fully understand the truth of Jesus Christ? Are you being apart of the fellowship of Jesus Christ? Are you guarding your heart, your belief, your relationship with Jesus Christ from false teachings, incorrect understandings and misconceptions by participating in communal understanding of Christ? We understand best, know more fully when we come together. So we must therefore come together, learn from each other, guide, teach and correct one another so that together we can truly know the truth of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Lent 2012 - The Covenant Journey: Snakes in the Desert

Numbers 21:4-9

Legend says that St Patrick after converting to Christianity returned to Ireland, the land in which he had suffered horribly as a slave, to bring the truth of Jesus Christ to those who had harmed him so much. He walked all across Ireland teaching the truth of the Gospel as he went. Legend says that at one point during his work among the people of Ireland he went to the top of hill and to spend 40 days praying and fasting before the Lord. As he was praying a snake began to harass him, annoyed by the snake, Patrick turned on the snake and using the staff which he used as he walked, to drive not only that snake but all of his kin found throughout the island down into the sea. And thus, according to the legend, Patrick healed the land of Ireland from all snakes for all time.

Now there is much speculation about what exactly this legend speaks, because due to the islands location and the fact that it is an island and geographically separate from the neighboring lands, there have actually never been any snakes on the island of Ireland. But most people agree that due to the prolific use of the snake as a symbol among the Druids, which was the predominant religion prior to the island’s conversion to Christianity under the teachings of Patrick, that the story is actually speaking metaphorically of how Patrick was able to drive out the druid religion as he brought Christianity to the people, thus healing the land and her people of the serpent of pagan druidism.

The serpent or the snake is such a loaded symbol in Christianity. The serpent is the one who speaks to our first parents and convinces to partake of that which God had forbidden. Moses’ staff becoming a serpent which in turn gobbled up the serpents which the Egyptian magician’s were able to produce, was one of the first signs with which God sent Moses to Pharaoh when Moses was petitioning Pharaoh to let the people go. The symbol of the serpent is often used throughout the Old Testament to reference that which is evil, or dishonest. The snake represents all that has gone wrong in this sinful world, its venom is feared, its presence is abhorred and it is something to be crushed or driven off wherever it is found. Two of the most prominent imageries of the world being set right, where things are restored to their peaceful, perfect created order are the lion lying with the lamb and the other is the image of a child playing with a serpent or that of world where the snake does not bit at our heels.

As we look at this little episode with the snakes here in Numbers, it is an excurses into the traveling life of the Israelites, and is sort of a little detour as we follow the path of God’s covenant relationship with humanity through the Hebrew Scriptures. So perhaps a little background on where we are in this story would help. The Israelites are traveling through the desert toward the promise land after having agreed to the covenant. About a chapter back Aaron, Moses’ brother and the leader of the priests died. But before he died God provided for Moses’ son Eleazar to follow him as the leaders of the priests. God made preparations for a smooth transition of leadership so that the people were spiritually provided for. Nothing was left to chance. God has shown that God will act to make sure the people are provided for in rough times.

After that, the king of Arad decided to come against the Israelites. He took some of the Israelites captive. When this happened, the Israelites turned to God. They called out for God to help them. And God delivered their enemies into their hands. God once again shows that God is faithful to uphold God’s end of the covenant agreement. God will be their God, will guide, and protect them, and will be their strength and their shield.

And that brings us to our passage here. The people are traveling around the desert. God is protecting them from their enemies. God is providing a peaceful transition in leadership from one spiritual leader to the next, which is no small feat mind you. And every morning and every evening God is providing for the people’s immediate needs by giving them manna and quail to eat. On all points God is proving to be faithful and trustworthy.

But as time passes the Israelites get tired of eating manna and quail. In fact they are so tired of it, they become disgusted with it. They begin scorn that daily miracle, God is doing in their midst. They begin to grumble that there is no food. Well there is food but it is disgusting. Every morning a bread like substance, which they call Manna, a Hebrew word which literally mean “what is this,” and the quail that land in droves in their camp ready for them to scoop up, and roast (I mean the only way this could be any easier is if arrived plucked cleaned and already on a spit), that has become kind of annoying the people don't like it.

They sound like whiney little children who can’t be happy with anything. I am sure anyone who has spent much time trying to feed children has run into days when even the most well behaved child turns up their nose at any food that is provided. The steak is too chewy, the Mac and cheese is too soft, the salad to leafy, the lasagna too cheesy. It is almost expected from a child but it is nearly intolerable in an adult, and this is not just one adult who has become a picky eater this is a whole camp of adults who are complaining about miraculous food which God is giving them daily. They are all acting like whiny children who are over tired and really just need to go to bed.

So they whine to God about this disgusting food which God is giving to them and so God allows their encampment to be infested with snakes, but not just any snakes. These are not nice little garner snakes that are kind of fun to catch and completely harmless, these are venomous snakes, poisonous snakes.

The snakes are a nuisance, but they are more than just a nuisance, they are deadly.
The snakes are biting people and people are dying. This is terrible, what can they do? The people realize their mistake. They realize they were wrong in complaining about the food, they were wrong to whine to Moses to turn their noses up at the very food God was providing them. So they call out to God telling God they know they are wrong and ask God to come to help them. Well, they speak and then send Moses to intercede before God on their behalf.

God hears them and talks to Moses. God does not react as St Patrick in the story driving the snakes from their midst. In fact, God will not remove the snakes from among them at all. The snakes will continue to live, but instead of riding the people of the consequence of their grumbling, God will provide a way for the people to be healed. Moses is to fashion a bronze snake and put it on a poll. When one among them has been bitten by one of the snakes, all they need to do to be healed is to look up from the snakes on the ground and look up at that snake on the poll and believe that God will heal them. And the text tells us all who looked upon the snake and believed in God were healed.

We don’t necessarily have problems with real snakes in our lives but since throughout the Bible snakes are used as signs and symbols of all that is wrong in this world, of the trials and the woes that abound in this world due to sin and evil running rampant in this world. It is not very far fetched to see that we all have the serpents of sin our lives; trials, troubles, woes, things with which we struggle on a regular basis. We have problems in our lives; we have things with which we wrestle. There are hardships we face. Evil is manifest in sickness, in disease, in being hurt by those we love, in working to make ends meet, in struggling in relationships at work and at home. We struggle with addictions, with unwholesome aspects of our own personalities, with the baser side of our natures. We wrestle with impure thoughts and with unholy attitudes. In some way shape or form we all face the consequences of evil and sin in our lives.

Some of the snakes with which we struggle are self made, they are a result of own sins and mistakes; are a result of the choices we have made. Other serpents in our lives are caused by others, surely not every last one of the Israelites in the camp were grumbling about the quail and manna but all suffered because of the consequences of the sin of those who did. There are times when we are affected, damaged, our lives are torn apart by the sins of those around us. Others people sin and we live with the consequences other peoples’ sin against us and our lives are devastated by the evil consequences their sin brings to our lives. People make mistakes, misstep, misspeak, and we are left to deal with the fall out. We did not do anything to deserve this but we often deal with the unintended consequences of the sins of others around us. And many times we are simply faced with the general consequences of sin and evil in our world.

These are snakes in our lives and they are biting our heels. They are real problems that cause real hurt and turmoil in our lives. It is easy to get fixated on these things. To focus on them, to even allow them to define who we are, to define our relationships with those around us, it is easy to allow these serpents in our lives to be the central focus of who we are, to be the central focus of all we do.
When the Israelites were surrounded by serpents, the consequences of sin in their lives, God provides for them a way to be healed but the healing is not intuitive. When there is something striking at your heel it is your tendency to train all your focus on your feet, to focus on where the snakes are and where they are going to strike next. But God asks for the people to look away from the snakes, to take their focus off the snakes and put their focus something else. God calls for them to look up at the snake and believe.

When the serpents of life are snapping at our heels, threatening us with their deadly venom, the hard part is to take our focus off of what is harming us, what is hurting us, off the threat, the danger, and the struggle and instead focus on what God calls us to focus on, which is ultimately our belief in God. Our focus needs to be drawn away from at the problems at hand, the issues, and the hurts in our lives and instead needs to be on God, who is the sources of our healing, and our strength in times of struggle.

Before God can heal, before God can give us strength in our struggle, we have to learn to train our focus on God. We have to take our eyes off the ground and look up to God. We need to learn to look away from that which is plaguing us, take our eyes off of these things and instead look to God; to Trust God.

It important to note, God did not take the snakes away. God did not remove that which was plaguing the people, the snakes were not driven from amongst them, ala St. Patrick, but instead God gave them a way to deal with the snakes. God gave them what they needed to make it through. The healing they needed to live among the snakes. Their belief and reliance on God allowed them to have the strength they needed to withstand the venomous and deadly bite of serpents.

When God is with us, when we trust and rely on God, when we allow our belief in God to become our focus instead of all that is plaguing us, we are given exactly what we need to survive, to be healed, to live. The hurt may remain, we may continue to struggle, that which bites at our heels and causes us harm may not go away, but when we remove our focus from all that is plaguing us and turn our focus to God, our belief in God, our trust in God, we are then given what we need to make it through, to deal with the struggles and hardships that we face due so sin and evil in our lives and in our world.