A Sermon for Proper 8
2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27, Wisdom of Solomon 1:13-15; 2:23-24, Psalm 130,
Lamentations 3:21-33 or Psalm 30, 2 Corinthians 8:7-15, Mark 5:21-43
You know we are following the semi-continuous reading of the Old Testament. So we skipped the last half of 1st Samuel. However, I believe we need that back story, so hold on. Since last week: David and Johnathan, Saul’s oldest son, have become best friends. Saul tries to kill David, many times. David marries Saul’s daughter, Michal, yes after he tried to kill him. Michal and Johnathan help David escape Saul’s wrath. David flees to Gath, a Philistine city. Saul kills the priests who have helped David. David saves the Israelite town of Keilah from the Philistines; presumably not from Gath. Saul chases David through the wilderness. David spares Saul life ~ twice. David and his men serve the king of Gath as mercenaries. Saul consults a Medium to raise up Samuel for a prophecy that reveals that Saul, his sons, and the army of Israel will be given into the hands of the Philistines. Philistines do not want David to go to war with Israel with them, which makes sense because the next things we know David attacks the Amalekites for sacking Ziklag – an Israeli town. And, Saul and Johnathan, and his remaining two sons are killed, as the army of Israel routed by the Philistines at Mnt. Gilboa.
This morning’s reading opens with David learning about Saul’s death. And, immediately we skip a second story of that event. An Amalekite scavenger who comes across Saul, and kills him, at Saul’s request because he knew he was dying. The Amalekite takes Saul’s crown and armlets and brings them to David, hoping for a reward for bringing him the icons of Israel’s King. (Brueggemann) (BIRCH) David does not celebrate the death of his arch-rival. He and all his men mourn and fast. The next morning David confirms the messenger’s story and has him executed for “daring to strike down the Lord’s anointed.” The story picks up with David’s Lament over Saul and Jonathan.
As you have heard, David has a very complex relationship with Saul. He is married to his daughter. He is Saul’s oldest son’s BFF. Even as Saul chases him through the wilderness, in a vain effort to kill him, David never forgets Saul is the Lord’s anointed, even though he is anointed, in Saul’s stead. (Garber Jr.) Knowing a bit about the complexities of their relationship, and the many faults of Saul’s reign, David’s lament sounds a bit one sided. Scott Hoezee notes David’s lament is similar to Ronald Regan’s and Richard Nixon’s eulogiesthat tell about all the good accomplishments but leave out the ugly stuff. (Hoezee) But such is the function of a lament.
A lament is a communal bewailing of some tragedy or calamity. (Sakenfeld) By emphasizing that Saul and Jonathan gave Israel hope in the face of the Philistine threat and pride in their identity (BIRCH) David publically acknowledges the grievous magnitude of the loss. All of Israel, from the troops and their families to the rich, affluent, and well-off are required to join the weeping. (Brueggemann) Walter Brueggemann believes this story is a model for us. (Brueggemann) He continues:
The dominant ideology of our culture wants to silence all serious speech, cover over all serious loss and deny all real grief [that] will leave us numb, unable to hope or to care. … [leading us into] self-deception, pretending that everything is “all right.”
In an essay on grief, lament and hope, Emilie Townes cites the prophets. Through lament, Jeremiah teaches us to take responsibility for our actions. (Townes 86) Ezekiel uses cataclysm and primal events where reason and rationality do not hold to invite us to explore reforming ourselves. (86) And Micah reveals the power of story to establish our true identity. (87) She notes that the language of unequivocal languish is the beginning of healing. (88) She agrees with Brueggemann that the “loss of lament is loss of genuine covenant relation with God.” In the mutual sharing of such deep raw emotions, such primal fear, we can open ourselves to God’s new thing in our midst. (BIRCH)
I chose to stay with the Old Testament track, and David’s lament, because I see this as a time for lament. And not so much because of Ferguson, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, Charleston or any of the myriad of national or international cataclysms, but because of Blytheville. In my short tenure here we have faced:
- Seemingly endless discovery of tax related troubles,
- A continuing dispute with the county over jail fees,
- The recent significant loss of jobs, related to the downturn in oil and gas exploration,
- A related decline in tax revenues,
- A rash of robberies,
- The tragic killing of High School students,
- And in the last week, something like 5
You may not want to scream, but I do! The pace is relentless. And some of the troubles are not of our making. But many are of Blytheville’s own making. Last week some local pastors met with Mayor Sanders at a weekly Pray for Blytheville meeting. They offered prayers for Blytheville, and our leaders. Later they drove the neighborhoods where the shootings occurred, again offering prayers. Yesterday, Greater Dimension World Outreach Ministries hosted a “stop the violence and put the guns down” event that included a gun buy-back. (At least that was the schedule last Thursday.) (Henry) Healing in the Hood is forming a teen summer work program. All these and other efforts, I am not aware of, are excellent. But they are not laments.
And now is a time for communal lament; now is a time for an unabated cry from our souls. Now is the time: to cry from the depths of our souls, without blame, and identify what we have lost; to cry from the depths of our souls, without blame, and celebrate what once was, celebrate what might have been. Knowing our losses, knowing our raw emotions, strips away false layers of “it will be okay” and leaves us open, vulnerable to the transforming presence of God. Therein lies hope, for us, for Blytheville, and for all God’s creation.
BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.
Brueggemann, Walter. Interpretation. Ed. Patrick D Miller Jr and Paul J Achtemeie. Vol. Genesis. Louisville, n.d.
Garber Jr., David G. Commentary on 2 Samuel 1:1, 1727. 28 6 2015.
Henry, Tom. “Local ministry to sponsor gun buyback.” Blytheville Courier News (2015).
Hoezee, Scott. Old Testament Lectionary Text is:2 Samuel 1:1, 1727. 28 6 2015. <http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/thisWeek/index.php>.
Lose, David. Pentecost 5 B: Known and Named. 28 6 2015. <davidlose.net>.
Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.
Townes, Emile M. “Just Awailing and Aweeping: Grief, Lament, and Hope as We Face the End of Life.” Faith, Health, and Healing in African American Life. Ed. Stephanie Y. Mitchem and Emilie M. Townes. Westport, CT; London: Praeger, 2008.
Whitley, Katerina K. Sermons that Work – 5 Pentecost, Proper 8 (B) – July 1, 2012. 28 6 2015. <http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/>.