A sermon for proper 14
2 Samuel 18:59, 15-, 31-33, Psalm 130, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35, 41-51
Three weeks ago, the last time I had the honor of preaching, we left David hearing that God would build him a house – make his family a royal dynasty. How did we get from there, to this morning? Well, its complex, so let’s see if we can touch on the major points.
After God assures David that his house shall stand forever, David successfully leads Israel in several wars against neighboring kingdoms. For an unnamed reason he stays home for one campaign. While walking the roof top one evening he see Bathsheba bathing on the neighboring roof top. Their illicit dalliance results in pregnancy. David plots to have Uriah Bathsheba’s husband, spend time with his wife, so everyone would think he is the father. Because of Uriah’s honor, it does not work, and David orders him killed. Sometime later Amnon one of David’s sons by another mother, falls in love with his half-sister Tamar, yes a third mother. His passion drives him to follow in his father footsteps. David refuses to punish Amnon, which infuriates Tamar’s brother Absalom; who kills Amnon to avenge his sister. David banishes him for this. But David is distracted by his absence. Through a conspiracy by Joab, his commander, David allows Absalom to return home. After a while Absalom attracts the attention of several powerful families, and essentially raises an army of sufficient strength that David flees his own capital. What follows is worthy of a John le Carre’ spy novelette resulting in Absalom’s forces aligned and ready to assault David’s forces. As you heard, it did not go well for Absalom. Israel’s forces are routed, and while riding his mule, the customary ride for royalty, he is caught in the branches of an oak tree, perhaps by his much admired hair, where he is killed by Joab and his armor bearers (Petersen and Bevery). He is buried under a pile of stones, which maybe a further dishonor, or an honorable burial (Petersen and Bevery) (BIRCH). Even after death Absalom is a divisive figure. David’s grief is so consuming it eclipses victory.
As one commentator wrote it doesn’t get more tawdry, it doesn’t get sadder than this. The woefulness has its roots in David’s behavior. Amnon’s and Absalom’s behaviors are seen in David’s lusty behavior with Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah (Hoezee). It’s seen in his disregard for women; one wonders if he had shown any affection for Tamar if Amnon and Absalom would have survived (Harrelson). The tragedy is seen in David’s pardon of Absalom. Although he was home, David would not see or speak to him; he showed him no love at all (BIRCH).
David’s grief over Absalom’s death reveals the generational effect of behaviors. The inequities of parents that bear upon the third and forth generation. (Ex 20:5, 34:0) It also reveals the social effects of behaviors across boundaries like generations, gender, race, or however we divide ourselves. We get angry, we grieve the tragedies of our sons and daughters even as we fail to take the necessary steps to deal with issues of
“poverty, education, familial dysfunction, substance abuse, and consumerist values [that] distort the future.” (NIB)
We get angry about children not being prepared to work, even as we reduce the real value of public spending on education; or as Alabama did this week reduce actual spending by $250 million dollars. We disparage those, who, once out of jail, don’t have a job, as we make it more and more difficult for them to qualify. We rage at police killing unarmed people. We fume about petty drug dealers shooting and killing police officers, even as we tap the licensed concealed carried weapons on our person.
I suspect we are expressing a form of David’s grief in the angst over the proposed treaty with Iran. Iran seeks to be recognized as a sovereign nation. We are angry as they take or support violent actions in neighboring countries. All the while forgetting we supply their neighbors, with whom there is historic enmity, with billions in arms, from which US companies make billions. We are fearful as they take preparatory steps for what we see as apocalyptic violence. Yet we have forgotten that in 1953, over a dispute about oil, the US and Great Britain overthrew a democratically elected Iranian government in favor of the Shah; whom they threw out in 1979. Even as David’s grief emerges from his own action, our anger, our fear emerges from our own behaviors; from what we have done, from what we have not done, personally, as a community, and as a nation. We see in David’s lament, our own lament (BIRCH).
All our lives are a jumbled interconnected mess. Whether we acknowledge it or not our lives are connected to fleeing refugees on the Greek coast, displaced Syrians in Turkey, Iranians, Myanmar Rohingya refugees; our lives are connected to our neighbors in in Ferguson, Charleston, Auora, in Memphis, Manila, and Kennett; our lives are connected to our neighbors on Dougan, Walker, 6th, Ash, Holly and Hearn streets. We are connected to all the dysfunction and violence in our world. So, how do we avoid responding to violence with violence of our own? Such reflexive violence comes in all sorts of forms, from undisciplined policing to kneejerk demeaning of those who look like ‘them’. What is our responsibility as individuals, as a community, and as a nation? Can we stop the violence? What can we do?
Laura tells of sharing her failed efforts to protect her family from dysfunctional behavior. She wants to know “What can I do?” She is shocked by the answer “Nothing.” After allowing the truth of the shocking answer to settle in, the speaker continues:
“You could make your own health and wellbeing a priority so you can respond in a healthy, [loving] way to whatever life throws at you.” (Walsh)
We are in the midst of a series of bread of life Gospel readings. Behind them is Deuteronomy 8:3
… that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.
To try and live by bread alone, or anything else we believe is necessary for life, like safety, limits our vision and we see no farther than the things themselves, and miss the presence and the love of God. God gives us all we need for life so that we may see more than we would see otherwise see, and live as we otherwise would not live. So that we may live as imitators of God, in love, with kindness towards all (Liggett), (Jacobson, Lewis and Skinner). From here we can use the divine gifts of forgiveness and reconciliation to break the cyclical chains of dysfunction and violence (Klein).
Are we up to stopping the dysfunction and violence? There is group of churches in Blytheville making the effort. On the surface it seems overwhelming. However, as David Lose notes:
[It is] amazing and miraculous that God works through flawed pastors, jaded teachers, worn-out secretaries, overworked government officials, exhausted parents, and the like – that God would choose these and so many other unlikely candidates through whom to work, even when they don’t suspect it (Lose).
In just a bit we will offer to God ordinary, simple bread, and nondescript wine; then we will receive them as the sacramental divine presence. Similarly, our simple, nondescript selves, as we are heard, seen, smelt or touched, can be a sacramental presence to our neighbors; here in Blytheville, across our nation, and across the world.
We can stop the violence, by working on our own behaviors, living on what God supplies, being kind to all God’s people, extending forgiveness, seeking reconciliation, and living as a sacrament to the world.
As it always has been, our missteps have led to the missteps of our children, and others in our community, and in other nations. Nevertheless ~God is present, herein lies the strength to change the world, one self, one neighbor at a time.
BIRCH, BRUCE C. New Interpreters’ Bible; THE FIRST AND SECOND BOOKS OF SAMUEL. Abingdon Press, 2001. CD.
Ellingsen, Mark. Proper 14 B 2015. 9 8 2015. <http://www.lectionaryscripturenotes.com/>.
Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.
Hoezee, Scott. “Proper 14B | Center for Excellence in Preaching.” 9 8 2015. Working Preacher.
Jacobson, Rolf, Karoline Lewis and Matt Skinner. Sermon Brain Wave. 9 8 2015.
Klein, Ralph W. Commentary on 2 Samuel 18:59,. 9 8 2015. <http://www.workingpreacher.org/>.
Liggett, James. “Proper 14 B.” 9 8 2015. Sermons that Work.
Lose, David. Pentecost 11 B: Ordinary Things. 9 8 2015. <http://www.davidlose.net>.
Petersen, David and Roberts Gaventa Bevery. New Interpreters’ Bible, One Volume Commentary. Nashville TN: Abbingdon Press, 2010. ebook.
Walsh, Lora. Speaking to the Soul: Only Through Prayer. 7 8 2015. <http://www.episcopalcafe.com/speakingtothesoulonlythroughprayer/>.