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2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
August 12, 2018 –read by Mary Whitney
We spent seven weeks on the rise of David, the shepherd boy, to be the king of Israel. We spend three – the last two weeks and this week - on the difficulties he has at the peak of his career and how that leads to an ambiguous end.
In fact, we jump from the beginning of his troubles last week to the culmination of them this week. We leap from Nathan, the prophet and conscience of the King, confronting him last week, to the death of his son this week.
There is a bit of the story we need to fill in. Absalom is David’s son, who is in full rebellion, and the reason goes back many years.
Amnon (the eldest son of David, by a different mother) lures his half-sister Tamar (one of David's daughters and the full sister of Absalom) into his bedroom under the pretext of being sick. He forces himself upon her and then ignores her.
David, the father to all three, hears about it but does nothing. Absalom is incensed. He consoles Tamar and two years later kills Amnon. Then Absalom flees to the city of Geshur, where he remains for three years (2 Samuel 13).
Joab, David’s second in command, sees how distracted David is and hires a wise woman to present a judgment to David about a conflict in her family, which is really a thinly disguised synopsis of David's own troubled family.
“My husband is dead, and I’m a widow. I had two sons, but they got into a fight out in a field where there was no one to pull them apart, and one of them killed the other. Now all of my relatives have come to me and said, “Hand over your son! We’re going to put him to death for killing his brother.” But what they really want is to get rid of him, so they can take over our land.
Please don’t let them put out my only flame of hope! There won’t be anyone left on this earth to carry on my husband’s name.”
As was the case with Nathan, David lacks any insight into the analogy until the woman explicitly makes the point: Why not forgive Absalom and allow him to return to Jerusalem?
He does, and he does nothing Absalom about Absalom killing Amnon, just as he did nothing about Amnon raping Tamar.
Absalom lives in Jerusalem for two years (2 Samuel 14). He undercuts David's judicial authority by literally turning people away at the city gate (which is the equivalent of contemporary law courts).
If I were king I would rule in your favor, he says to them, I would be for you. But this king will not give you a hearing. And he says this to both sides, sowing discontent more than giving honest advice.
After four years, Absalom asks that he be allowed to sacrifice at Hebron, and David gives his permission. Once in Hebron Absalom assembles an army and claims kingship, forcing David to flee Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15).
The revolt continues for three chapters. We read the scenes from the final confrontation today.
David offers to go with the army to confront Absalom, but the soldiers tell him the risk outweighs the value of having him there.
He asks his Army commander, Joab – the same one who dispatched Uriah – to be gentle with Absalom, but when Joab finds him stuck in a tree he dispatches him right away. At the news, David is inconsolable.
Something here is odd to me. The child that he first conceived with Bathsheba died shortly after birth. David prayed and sacrificed with fervor when the child was sick, but when he died, he did not mourn.
His officials thought this odd and asked him why he grieved before the death but not after. He replied, “While he was still alive, I went without food and cried because there was still hope. I said to myself, “Who knows? Maybe the Lord will have pity on me and let the child live.” But now that he’s dead, why should I go without eating? I can’t bring him back! Someday I will join him in death, but he can’t return to me.”
And he got on with life without looking back. But now, Absalom, the son who rebelled against him, the king, has died, and David cries out his mourning.
What has happened? He was one way with the first child, and the opposite with this one.
He is older, and he is at a different point in his life. Perhaps now he can see how precious life is better than he could before. Life has deeper meaning. The world is such a temporary place for us all. Maybe he understands that better.
I have told you before that I was mugged and run over by a pickup truck when I was 24. Everyone was panicked, and when I told them not to worry, we had “all the time in the world,” that really freaked them out.
But I meant it. I didn’t have a care in the world. I was going to live or die, and there was nothing I could do about it. I was able to lay my burdens down and feel peace, even in the street.
But then, when I was 59, I was hit by a car. I didn’t see it coming. Suddenly the lights went out, it sounded like I was in a clothes dryer, and I floated off the hood and onto the pavement like when the guy floated down like a feather in a cartoon.
I thought, “I think I’ve been hit by a car. Have I been hit by a car? Where did he come from?” Then I said to myself, “I don’t have time for this!” Silly fellow. It has time for you whether you have time for it or not.
I had gone from having all the time in the world to “I don’t have time for this!” What had changed? Did I have a different spirit? Was I a different person?
Reading our lesson today, I think I had just come to a different point in my life and I responded differently. And maybe that is part of the answer to our question about David.
But then again, maybe there is more there. David could have done much to prevent this situation from developing. His failure to mete out justice when Amnon raped Tamar was a failure to act when action had to be taken.
Eventually, it would precipitate the death of Amnon, when Absalom steps in and slays his half-brother for what he had done to his sister. Absalom, a brother, is forced to act because David, the father, would not.
It would lead to the exile of Absalom, and when he came back, he would stand at the city gates and undermine the authority of the king. Eventually it got to the point where Absalom became a threat to the stability of the throne and David would have to flee.
His failure to act leads to a fracturing of the family, harming those he loved, then to a fracturing of the throne, harming those he had been anointed to rule over.
And perhaps he caught a glimpse of his younger self in the courage and righteousness of his son, Absalom, who had done what he had done because a wrong needed to be righted, not ignored. How like the idealism of the shepherd boy who stepped forward to challenge the giant of the Philistines, Goliath.
“You’ve come out to fight me with a sword and a spear and a dagger. But I’ve come out to fight you in the name of the Lord All-Powerful. He shall deliver you into my hands.”
Maybe he sees a bit of himself in this dear, lost son. He was fearless and cunning. He sought only right and justice and he did it out of love.
They both had difficult relationships with their king, but in Absalom’s case, the king was his father, David, the greatest king Israel would know.
But he was also the king who had failed. We might think about Bathsheba when we say this, but when Absalom says it, he is thinking about Amnon and Tamar and nothing was done.
So it is understandable that he has a break with the king, but David’s quarrel with Saul was all on Saul’s side. David sought only peace. Why can’t people simply live together in peace? Have they not seen enough of war?
Maybe he sees how he has changed and he is grieving that younger, nobler self. But like the sin he should not have committed but did commit with Bathsheba, his failure to act when he should have acted toward Amnon and Absalom and Tamar has come to no good.
When to thrust and when to parry? That is the question. He knew this on the battlefield. In the quieter, less obvious peace that followed, however, his instincts did not serve him well.
It seems that things become far more complicated in peace than they are in war…but they are better.
David thought God wanted a transaction with him, and he had done more than anyone to make great the nation of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Can you see all the Make Israel Great Again caps you could sell in a market like that?
But God did not want a transaction, and he never stamped David’s ticket ‘Paid In Full.’ God wanted a relationship, and David looked like a heart so good and a mind so pure to be the one he had been watching for. Nathan thought so, too.
Jesus, on the other hand, wanted to make the People of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob great again…not the nation, mind you, but the people. He came at a time when his people were ruled by another nation.
Still, the people could be great. It’s like the old saying that great universities have good administrators, outstanding professors and great students.
America promises to be like that, too. Freedom and prosperity abound here than any other country at any other time. I find it interesting that the one government in all the world that consciously derived its power from the people became the greatest.
So maybe all we need are good administrators, outstanding role models, and great neighbors?
I am the bread of life, Jesus told them…and us. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever has faith in me will never thirst.
The power is in you. You just need to understand it is a relationship. It isn’t just for this moment and it is not set in stone for all time. It is a relationship.
More than that, it is a loving relationship. It just is. There are no conclusions to be drawn from it. There is no conclusion to it.
God pursues us with the truth, sometimes throwing it all around us like those lightening bolts in the old time cartoons. God gave us minds and hearts to see the truth and know the truth.
And God invites us into a relationship with each other and with our neighbors and with God so we can walk through the lightening bolts together.
Love one another and do not hate. This is how they will know that your are mine: that you love one another.
Easy to say, you might reply, but hard to live out.
Everything is hard to live out. This is about as easy as it gets. It’s not about me. It’s about this relationship I do or do not have.
When to thrust forward and when to parry? That is a question for each of us, too. If we have that relationship with our creator and our redeemer, the light can sometimes shine though more brightly than others, but it will all be good.
Let us look for it, and let us call out to each other when we catch a glimpse of it.
O, Lord, what is it that you want to do in the world through me this day? Amen.