Sermon preached by the Reverend Nicholas Lang
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost – August 5, 2012
In the name of God: Creator, Redeemer, Reconciler. Amen.
For the past several weeks, the first reading on Sunday is from the Old Testament Book of Samuel, offering a theological history of the Israelites and affirming and explaining God’s law for Israel under the guidance of the prophets. Samuel begins by telling how the prophet Samuel is chosen by Yahweh, the god of the Israelites, at his birth. The story of the Ark which follows tells of Israel’s oppression by the Philistines, which brings about Samuel’s anointing of Saul as Israel’s first king. But Saul proves unworthy and God’s choice turns instead to David, who defeats Israel’s enemies and brings the Ark to Jerusalem. God then promises David and his successors an eternal dynasty.
In Samuel’s old age, he appoints his sons as judges, but they are unworthy, and so the people clamor for a king. Yahweh tells Samuel to anoint David of Bethlehem as king. Saul’s son and heir Jonathan befriends David and recognizes him as rightful king. Saul plots David’s death, but David flees into the wilderness, where he becomes a champion of the Hebrews. David joins the Philistines, but continues secretly to champion his own people, until Saul and Jonathan are killed in battle.
The elders of Judah anoint David as king, but in the north Saul’s son Ishbaal rules over the northern tribes. After a long war Ishbaal is murdered. David is then anointed King of all Israel. David captures Jerusalem and brings the Ark there. David wishes to build a temple, but Nathan tells him that one of David’s sons will be the one to build the temple.
Much of what is included in Samuel is not a particularly pretty story, but it was last week’s reading that really raised the hair on some of your heads. Yes, clergy got feedback! If you missed it, David commits adultery with Bathsheba and plots the death of her husband Uriah
In today’s episode, David faces the consequences. God sends the prophet Nathan to haul him over the coals. God has looked with favor on David and bestowed many blessings on him; but David has consumed to the corrupting influences of power. For the remainder of his reign there are problems: one of his sons rapes one of his daughters, another son kills the first, his favorite son rebels and is killed, until finally only two contenders for the succession remain, one of them Bathsheba’s son Solomon. As David lies dying, Bathsheba and Solomon plot Solomon’s elevation to the throne.
This all makes Peyton Place look like a children’s fairy tale. We don’t like to hear stories like these in church. They are too real. We want nice stories that comfort us and give us hope. Yet these stories are our own story—the unfolding of our history as a faith community from the time of our ancestors, the people of Israel. Some of those people did bad things. Some of them like David who had a position of power did awful things: deception, betrayal, murder.
We’re neither unfamiliar nor immune to all that. People walk into theaters and shoot 70 unsuspecting adults and children. People betray their marriage vows all the time. Children bring guns to school. Some of our political leaders embezzle money while some athletic and religious leaders molest children. Poverty is rampant and the most affluent get even wealthier. There are stabbings and shootings weekly within two miles of this church. People plot against each other and lie and cheat and do all sorts of things to gain and retain power. It’s nasty stuff, but it’s life.
My approach to the Samuel saga on a hot humid summer morning is this: keep it simple. So here is just one thought for us to chew on and take home for the week: We’re all in this story. We may not be murderers or adulterers but there isn’t anyone here who has not transgressed God’s laws in some way. It’s not a popular topic, but we sin and there are consequences to our acts and behaviors—not necessarily punishment but profound effects on lives and the origin of situations that may not be easily alleviated or forgotten. Don’t underestimate the damage of what can be done on Facebook.
People do bad things and people in power sometimes do awful things. And we are all victims of the evildoing of others. People hurt us, betray us, lie to us, cheat us, abuse us, and even kill us—either literally or attitudinally by their neglect or bigotry. And we are all at one time or another called to be a “Nathan”—to stand up to another and say “your behavior is really bad” or “what you are doing is just wrong. You are hurting another person as well as yourself. Just stop it!”
The good news today is that God gives second, third, fourth, and many, many more chances to recognize our need to be transformed and to seek God’s forgiveness, reconcile with those we have harmed, and be restored to the fullness of life that God has intended for us. God gives us courage to speak out in the face of bad behavior and blesses us for our chutzpah. And God heals our broken hearts and distressed lives when we have been the brunt of another’s wrongdoing. And that’s the happy ending to the story.