Sunday, June 28, 2009

Sermon, 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Proper 8

After the death of Saul . . .

You may recall a couple of weeks ago when I laid out the groundwork for the RCL and the upcoming year. And if you remember, I said that there were some gaps in the RCL; which is why I've started listing upcoming readings in the bulletin and urged you to read through the gaps during the week. We have just experienced one of those gaps.

Last week we heard the story of David and Goliath. Today we heard the story about the death of King Saul: The king is dead, long live the king. In between those two stories, a lot takes place. Saul becomes jealous of David's success and of his friendship with Jonathan. Saul tries several times to kill David personally, as well as by putting him in charge of the army. Plots and subplots abound. David goes on the run with Saul in hot pursuit. And David spares Saul's life twice. Finally, during a battle with Philistines, both Saul and Jonathan are killed. This is where we pick up the story; with David's lament for the two men.

Once again we are faced with Holy Scriptures that give us warfare, death, betrayal and murder. Once again we are faced with the question, "Where is God in all of this?"

God is reflected in David's behavior. Not necessarily the warfare and coldblooded murder, but in how he treats Saul. We might not pick up on this if we just follow the RCL, but if you are spending some time in those gaps, you can certainly see how this plays out.

Saul had been anointed king over Israel. But because of a variety of failings, God took away his kingship and gave it to David. Unfortunately for everyone involved, that resulted in two anointed kings at the same time.

The response to this unfortunate situation by the two men couldn't have been more different. While Saul did not know that David had been anointed as the replacement king, he did know that David was a successful warrior, he knew that David had garnered God's favor, and he knew that public opinion was turning to David. All of this caused Saul to be overcome by jealousy.

Saul's solution to the problem . . . eliminate David. Through a variety of machinations, namely sex and war, he tries to have David killed. If Saul could only eliminate this problem, this thorn in his side, this person who caused him grief, then everything would be fine; or so he thought.

David, on the other hand . . . well, I can't be sure, but this may have been the creative spark for Psalm 130: My soul waits for the Lord, more than watchmen for the morning. David knew that Saul had been anointed by God as king over Israel. David knew that there was a covenant between the king and the people of Israel. Regardless of the dual kingship, regardless of what David thought of Saul, David was bound to honor Saul.

Time and again David is faced with attacks from Saul. Time and again, David asks why he is being persecuted. Time and again, David turns the other cheek. Time and again, David refuses to lift a hand against Saul. In his less-than-ideal relationship with Saul, David continually honors his king and refuses to follow popular desires to kill him.

In the midst of the wars, the killings, the affairs and all the other failings, David was a man who had a heart for God. Sometimes his human desires and failings got in the way, but deep down he longed to do God's will. And part of doing God's will is respecting the dignity of every human being, it's praying for your enemies, it's turning the other cheek, and it's being willing to make the journey even with those you dislike.

Apparently not much changes in 4000 years. We certainly haven't seen a reduction of conflicts around the world, and the notion of a "first-strike defense" seems to have become normative in our thinking. And before you think I'm going off on some kind of national defense policy bashing, let's move this a little closer to home.

In the Episcopal Church we are faced with people convinced that those of us who stay in the church are misguided at best and heretics at worst. They have done their best to damage our reputation and lay blame at our feet for the demise of the church. They have fought and bit and scratched to eliminate us from the fold so they won't have to deal with us.

Here in the Ruby Valley, I hear about churches who have treated some members in a less-than-charitable manner, driving those people out of their presence so they won't have to deal with them. Sometimes those people find a home at another church; but sometimes the pain is too great and they drop out entirely.

As we follow these Old Testament texts, I am hopeful that we catch glimpses of God in them. As we hear about those people of long ago, I am hopeful we can learn a lesson from them. Living in community isn't all peaches and cream. Sometimes it's hard. Sometimes we run up against people who upset us to no end; and sometimes those people try to eliminate us from their presence.

When faced with those people, may we be more like David than Saul. May we be willing to say, "Far be it from me to break our covenant and cause disunity."

David was a man after God's own heart. May we treat our enemies with just as much respect and dignity as David treated Saul.


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