Weekends like this convince me that we ought to do Bible studies on the cut out passages. Truly, given attendance at most churches to Bible studies, we should really just do a sermon series from the pulpits on those cut out passages. I don’t know how attentive you are to what is cut out, but I am always amazed at how important the cutout passages are to understanding the passage selected by our lectionary editors. As rector, of course, I have the right to include what’s cut out from the readings in our Order of Worship. Often, I do. But this week was super busy and my schedule was thrown for a loop. Tina was off Thursday and Friday to spend time with Grace. Wednesday was the Fourth of July. That meant worship work had to be completed before I had discerned a sermon. A great deal of work was done around here on Monday and Tuesday—basically, five days’ worth of work. Of course, Tuesday saw the beginning of General Convention and all the accompanying social media blasts and blog posts. That meant my work took a dramatic shift to the pastoral. As a result, you did not get the skipped verses in your reading.
Before I go any further, let me clarify some statements from earlier in the week. I’m glad that some people like to sit around in meetings and talk and argue. If it feeds them, I am glad they get to do something that energizes, that feeds them. My problem with it is that they share their fights. Every leadership group around here could not figure out a way for me to calm people down before the storm hit. Some mistakenly thought there would be no storm. Then came the calls, the e-mails, the texts, the drop-in’s, and not just from Adventers. Add to that the headlines from mainstream media and my subsequent conversations at the Y and other places and I get. . . well, frustrated. For the last month Adventers have been trying to use conversations with friends and co-workers regarding the Royal Wedding to invite people to Advent. That’s awesome work! I’ll do that any time. My conversations at the Y and other places around town have been the same. It has been refreshing to have positive publicity for a change.
Then the headlines about GC changing the gender of God hit, and those conversations switched dramatically. It is church growth suicide. And before anybody gets to upset, I don’t care too much about expanding the language with which we speak of God. I think I do a good job of reminding you that God is not misogynistic. Given the matriarchs around here who, I think, would hardly shy from calling me out if I did not do a good job, I think I am safe in that self-evaluation. God created women in His image, just as He created men. It is incredibly hard, I think, to argue violence against women as a “godly” behavior. It is incredibly hard, I think, to argue that women are not co-equal stewards with men. Now, I recognize you and I live among some who go to churches who do just that. I think we need to be reminded that God was the God of Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca, Hannah, Mary, just as He was the God of the men that often get listed. And I think it important for us to pay attention to how Jesus ministered to women, such as we did last week in the healing and restoration of the bleeding woman. We preachers need to be educating you how to engage with those in the world around you in a thoughtful, graceful, biblical way.
Of course, as much as I don’t mind expansive language, I am also mindful of Scripture and of historic, orthodox Christianity. It is one thing to speak of God as a brooding hen or nursing mother or other image. It is quite another to baptize in the name of the mother, the daughter, and the Holy Spirit or some of the other nonsense coming out of General Convention as reported by a press that wants to sensationalize everything. Jesus gave us the Dominical Sacraments. It was He who ordered baptism and the Eucharist. We mess with those images at our peril. But that’s a discussion to be held away from Advent.
On top of that mess came the headlines that the Prayer Book needed to be Revised. I learned quickly that the 1979 BCP, for all its faults, is as well loved by people today as the 1928 BCP was back in its day. I have to laugh. People are actually thinking about starting 79 Prayer Book Preservation groups! Those of you who lived through those fights: Could you ever envision THAT! All that, of course, reinforced what I thought God wanted us to hear today. Who knows, maybe Tina is right? Maybe others will read and calm down a bit.
Before we get to that message, though, turn to the passage from Second Samuel. To remind you where we are, to put it in context, as the hip theologians like to say, we are at the transition point between the peoples’ choice for a king, Saul, and God’s choice for a king, David. You remember, no doubt, a few weeks ago or twenty years before our passage today, that David was anointed king of Israel by Samuel. Samuel had instructed Jesse the Bethlehemite to bring his youngest, ruddy-faced son to the sacrifice. That was whom God had chosen to be king/shepherd over His people Israel.
That’s not to say the transition was easy. We learn today that David had to wait nearly twenty years before he inherited the throne. That twenty years included a lot of challenges. A couple weeks ago, we read that one challenge was name Goliath. We skipped over that bigger challenge, Saul. Those who study Scripture may understand that Saul tried to kill David on several occasions. Last week, I reminded you of that truth during David’s mourning for Saul, but it bears repeating for those who were absent. It’s also not as if the people of Israel said “Hey, Saul is dead; now David is king.” People are people. We like to think that the divisions between the norther and southern kingdoms did not happen until after the death of Solomon. The truth is a bit more complex. After the death of Saul, those in power, particularly in the northern part of the kingdom, wanted to stay in power. If kingship passed from Saul to David, who knew what David might do? Who knew what their standing would be in the new administration?
So, after a period of some political unrest and not-quite-civil war, all the elders approached David at Hebron. Some of us may be cynical and think that they are simply trying to butter David up, but there is also a discerned truth. Verse 1, We are your bone and flesh. It is true. They are all among the tribes of Israel. Every single one of them could claim to be sons of Abraham and Sarah, that were part of the covenant lineage. Is it a ploy not to be killed by a king mad over some battles? Possibly. But chiefly it is a public proclamation that they are a big family.
Verse 2, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. Again, are the leaders merely flattering David? No doubt some were sycophants. But there is truth in their statements. One of those discussions about David that infuriated Saul to the point that the latter would want to kill the former was that David was far more successful in battle. Saul had killed his thousands, but David had killed 10,000’s. What could be going on is a serious period of discernment on the part of the leaders of the northern tribes. The skirmishes likely have not gone well in this internal battle. No doubt some wiser heads began toput two and two together. You know, while Saul was king David won the battles. Maybe God is with David? Such fruits would clearly cause some in the northern kingdom to accept the claim that the prophet Samuel had anointed David king.
Whether the claims of the norther leaders were cynical or sincere, whether the statements were meant to flatter David and soften his stance against them or were, again, sincere, the fact remains that all of Israel acknowledges that David is God’s chosen king. In the ANE, a king was a shepherd of his people. And so Israel and David swear a covenant with each other. David will pastor them according to God; they will support him according to God’s commands.
Almost as interesting, of course, is David’s next move. The people of Israel are coming off a period of great division. There is some competition between the tribes of the north and the tribes of the south. So, what does David do? He conquers the Jebusites by means of some brilliant strategy involving the water or sewer and takes their city, Jerusalem, as his capital. No one had conquered the Jebusites in recent memory, and some, including the Jebusites, thought the city impregnable. Think of the situation in Israel as not dissimilar to our selection of our nation’s capital. DC does not belong to any state. It’s not part of Maryland; it’s not part of Virginia. It is unique. Similarly, Jerusalem did not belong to any tribe. And, it does not hurt that it was sort of in middle ground. Now, David has a capital city that neither the north nor the south has a particular claim. It belongs to all of Israel.
Our lectionary editors also kept in some interesting facts. We learn thanks to the author that David finally ascended to throne in the eyes of human beings at the age of 30 and that his reign lasted over 40 years, 7 ½ years in Hebron and 33 years in Jerusalem. Given all we learn in Sunday School as children, it is probably hard to believe that David accomplished all that he did before age 30. We lose the bit about how David took the city; and we skip the part about how the lame and the blind are not welcome in his house. But we get the significant point that I think we all need to be taught or reminded this morning.
What causes those of Israel fighting David’s ascension to sue for peace and accept David’s rule? Most of us would quickly assume that David won some important battles or cut off some important supply lines. But what, or more importantly, who is behind David’s brilliant tactics? God. What causes those elders gathered to acknowledge finally David’s anointing? We can be cynical and say they were buttering him up, but their reflection and evaluation is spot on. When Saul was king, it was David who won the victories. Even as a ruddy faced child, it is David, not Saul, who strides forth to battle Goliath. Saul is there. Saul hears the excitement and confidence of the young boy, yet all Saul does is offer David his armor. When God gives Saul over to madness or an unclean spirit, whose singing soothes the king? David’s. Now, in a battle against a previously unconquerable people, David wins.
At no point are we taught that David is the reason for David’s success. Standing beside David, looming over David, protecting David, guiding David is the Lord. It is the Lord who has steered David to this point. It is the Lord who has protected David against Saul’s attempts to kill him. It is the Lord who has given the Jebusites over to David. It is the Lord who has caused Israel to see that it is the Lord behind all this. Look at the last verse: David became greater and greater because the Lord, the God of hosts was with him.
Why is this an important message for us today? How many of us long to know that God is with us? Everybody ought to be nodding or raising their hands. We are all good Episcopalians, right? What is the first thing we say to each other? Ok, too tough for a stormy Sunday morning. What’s the thing I say and you respond when we start a meeting or given directions in a loud space? The Lord be with you. And also with you. Of all the blessings that we can have or ask on behalf of another, what is the most significant? The Lord be with you. Why? Why do we value that knowledge that God is with us so much?
At a core level that some of us might not be able to articulate, we fear separation, we fear apartness from God. Human beings will disappoint us—we learn that lesson early and often. Family members may love us, but they will sin against us. Tempers get lost and hurtful words fly. Sometimes, abuse even follows. The idea that the Creator of that there is, seen and unseen, loves us dearly, is thus more greatly to be desired. Sure, people chase money and power, people chase drugs and alcohol and sex, people chase all kinds of idols in attempt to fill that void we instinctually know is there. But at are deepest, most fundamental level, we want to know that we are loved, that we are valued, that someone thinks us special.
That kind of love in a God could not come from reason; comprehension could only come from revelation. It’s part of what made the euangelion truly Good News in a world that thought the gods capricious and little more than super strong human beings. Think back to your favorite stories of the Old Testament. Can you go long before you begin to think of God with His people? Adam & Eve? Abraham and Sarah? Jacob? Ruth? Elijah? What is God’s promise to the prophets? You will be My people, and I will dwell among you. The Incarnation, of course, fulfilled that promise in ways unimagined by the prophets and teachers and saints of the Old Testament. God really dwelling among us?! And after His work on earth, what is one of the big fears addressed by the Apostles? Have we been abandoned? Does God care? Like Ancient Israel during the Exile, we wonder at times whether God has forgotten us. Abandoned us. Surely, we’ve each earned that response from God.
That question looms larger in the world today than it has in the past. We live in an economically blessed community in an economically blessed country of the world; yet how many in our neighborhoods are one buy out of their employer, one major illness, one major terror away from unemployment and the loss of all they value. Perhaps some of you share that anxiety.
At least we can depend on our country to do things right, right? One of the great blessings of General Convention for me has been the almost virtual ceasing of political commentary on my Facebook feed. I have had to read only a couple posts declaring our current President the new Hitler or the anti-Christ and a couple remarking that the current President was a better choice than the alternative. Few are working to change or influence policies with which they disagree; we seem to have gotten lazy and decided to lob grenades at one another across a virtual fence.
Speaking of virtual fences, at least we have our neighborhoods. At least we know we share connections with people who live near us, right? I’m guessing by the rueful laughing that you don’t hang out on the porch drinking tea or adult beverages with your neighbors any more.
Well, at least we can depend on our church to provide us with good relationships and rocky steady dependence, right? That’s ok, that does deserve a big belly laugh. I have to admit I have been both bemused and annoyed by the rantings of some deputies and others who seem totally surprised by the pushback against BCP Revision. Given the uncertainty in geo-political forces, the uncertainty in our interpersonal relationships, is it any wonder that people do not want upheaval in their religious life? Is it any small wonder that people have pushed back hard against the idea of change? And, make no mistake, I am not against change as such. One of the geniuses of the Prayer Book is that it can evolve with language, which itself is always evolving. I am, as a pastor though, very much aware that some, if not most, of those involved should not be entrusted with that evolution. PB Michael made the wonderful observation this week that if those deputies and those in charge of revising are not doing the Daily Office and encountering Jesus day in and day out through the current Prayer Book, they had no right to expect to be able to discern God’s voice in this process. It feel on deaf ears in the House of Deputies, clearly, but PB Michael was simply expressing in another way that connection with God for which we all long. For many of us, the offices and rites and sacraments in that red book in your pews represents the timeless and changeless love of God. When so many other things are in upheaval, why mess with it? Why add anxiety to what’s already on people minds?
The truth is, of course, that you and I should expect uncertainty from the world and should know that God is with us in the midst of any uncertainty. He’s in the midst of us when we think we have certainty, but we do not often go looking for Him then. But we know that Episcopal blessing is true. The Lord is with us when we are seeking to do His will in the world around us. How do we know this? The central sacrament or teaching of that BCP that so many hated in 1979 that so many of you are loathe to consider changing is baptism. It is in that sacrament that we are reminded that we are dying to self, that we will bear a cross to His glory, and that we will, one Day in the future, share eternally in His glorious Resurrection. We are, in a real sense, given our marching orders. We are to reach out to those in the world around us and draw them into His saving embrace. And when we fail, as He knows we will and do, we are simply to repent and return to Him.
And that Sacrament is not a private affair. We do that in community to remind ourselves again and again of His claim on our life and our promises we made to Him. Will you continue in the Apostles’ teaching, in the Breaking of Bread, and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil? Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you respect the dignity of every human being? You know the questions. You know the answer. We will, with God’s help.
It is in that Sacrament, though, that you and I are reminded that the void is filled. We are sealed by the Holy Spirit in baptism and marked as Christ’s own forever. It may seem insignificant compared to the teaching about water or the instruction regarding our vows, but that sealing is a promise that God will be with us always. When we sin, He is there to mitigate the evil we risk through His grace and power. When we do His will, He is even more visibly present sharing with us the glory we intended for Him. In all times and all places, the baptized should have an understanding that God is, indeed, with them. And if the Lord, the God of hosts is with us, who can stand against us?
Brothers and sisters, I know the event in the world around us seem crazy and disjointed. Perhaps your friends wonder where this God of yours is in the midst of craziness, of brutality, of fake news, of armed domestic and foreign threats, of thin skin and short temper. Who would not wonder? Though Scripture does not tell us much of David’s internal debates, can you imagine what ran through his mind for 20 years? When Saul tried to kill him repeatedly? When the Jebusites taunted him from the wall of their city? When he found himself seeking sanctuary among his sworn enemies, the Philistines? When he found himself later in life sinning against Uriah and then killing him? When he found himself on the run yet again, as his own son rose up against him? Yet, through it all, God kept his promise to be with David, just as He keeps His promise always to be with you and with me.
That promise, brothers and sisters fills the void we all fill and is the longing to which we are all attuned. It is a promise of both encouragement and of mercy. It is, in a real sense, a vocalization of Christ’s work on the Cross. We know, because He is with us, that we can accomplish that to which He calls us. We can attack any evil in His name because we know His heart desires it and that His power is such that our feeble failing can be redeemed. And even if to human eyes it appears our failure is complete because of our death, we know, we absolutely know that one day, like Lazarus or Jairus’ daughter, He will command us to rise. And rise we will! To be vindicated for our trust in Him and to share in His glory.
It is also, of course, a promise of mercy. So often, you and I are worried that if somebody figures us out, if somebody realizes who we really are, they’d lose respect or love for us. In God, of course, we know He knows every secret part of us. Just like David’s great sins, He knows our own great sins. And still He chooses to be with us despite ourselves! To walk us through the consequences of our sins as any good Father would, let alone our heavenly Father! And, ultimately, to redeem us from the consequences from those sins.
Those words and that promise were the gift of life to David, just as they are the gift of life to you and to me!
In Christ’s Peace,