This Week’s Sermon – Learning God’s Math

SCRIPTURE – Matthew 14:13-21 – Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” And he said, “Bring them here to me.” Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

SERMON
Learning God’s Math
Matthew 14:13-21
August 3, 2014

When I was little, every Christmas morning after we opened presents, my mom and I would join the rest of the family at my grandparents’ house for breakfast. Now my grandfather, PawPaw, had a very small shotgun kitchen, barely enough room for more than two people at a time. When we got to his house, I would run to the kitchen to see how things were going. On the counter I would see a small bowl of batter, a half-dozen eggs, maybe a potato or two, and then PawPaw would shoo me out of the kitchen while he and my grandma Bonnie worked.

About a half hour later, PawPaw would call us all into the dining room, where he had turned that bowl of batter and those few potatoes into biscuits and sausage gravy, scrambled eggs, crisp bacon, hash browns and fried potatoes, buttered toast, pancakes and syrup. The more we ate, the more food appeared from that little kitchen. When we were all finished, there were enough leftovers to feed Santa and all his reindeer. We would sit back, pat our satisfied bellies, and marvel at how PawPaw and Bonnie worked their miracle.

Now, as I look back on this event as an adult, I know this wasn’t a miracle. It doesn’t diminish the meaning of the memory for me, but I know there was more food stored in the refrigerator and the pantry. I know how PawPaw did it. But I don’t know how Jesus did it. I’ve tried to make sense of this story several ways, but it just doesn’t fit into any of the math I learned in school. I’ve applied my algebra, my trigonometry, even my calculus, and nothing fits. I remember the old equations I would do for homework. If 2 times X equals 4, what was X? The answer, if I remember correctly, was 2. But that doesn’t work here. Two fish and five loaves times Jesus equals everyone being satisfied and 12 baskets left over.

Did you know that only one of Jesus’ miracles is told in all four gospels? It’s not the calming of the sea or raising Lazarus from the dead or changing water in to wine. It’s the feeding of the 5,000. Even though each gospel writer tells the story a little differently, to me, this fact lends credence to the authenticity of the miracle. If one eyewitness told me they saw a gorilla loose in Lexington, I’d smile politely at them and quickly walk the other way. But if four eyewitnesses told me they saw a gorilla loose in Lexington, I’d be much more inclined to believe that it’s true. Plus, I’d hide my bananas.

But the fact that this story is repeated four times doesn’t make it any easier to explain, does it? As humans, we like problems we can solve and occurrences we can decipher, yet this story from Matthew defies description. Some people have tried to rationalize it by saying that Jesus only gave each person a pinch of bread, feeding them spiritually rather than physically. Others say that when the disciples began sharing their own food, the crowd, who had been hiding the food they brought, got it out and began sharing, as well, creating an abundance of food for everyone. But both of those theories diminish the miraculous power of what happens here. Five loaves and two fish are turned into feast.

That happy ending is a far cry from how the story begins. I imagine if I were one of the disciples on that day, I would have had the same concerns they did. After all, Jesus wasn’t considering the reality of the situation. In the passage just before this one, we learn of the execution of John the Baptist by King Herod. When Jesus hears about the death of his close friend and cousin, Matthew says, “He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” As you would expect, he wanted to be alone. But the crowds knew Jesus was someone special, so they followed him. Jesus, seeing the crowd, has compassion on them and spends the day with them.

As the day goes on, it’s obvious that Jesus isn’t paying attention to the details, because it’s getting close to dinner time and Jesus hasn’t even considered how all these people are going to be fed. The disciples, being the rational, realistic bunch they are, bring this point up to Jesus, and he says, “You give them something to eat.” Talk about something not computing!  Jesus obviously hadn’t learned his multiplication tables yet. Doesn’t he know we only have five loaves and two fish?

You know, I take issue with the disciples here. Usually I’m right there with them in my lack of understanding or fair-weather faith, but not this time. I understand they are frustrated at Jesus, I know they are tired and hungry, too, but there’s no need for them to use profanity like that. Did you hear it? That word, “only.” That’s a four-letter word when it comes to faith. I wonder how often we use that word. “I only have a few minutes.” “I’ve only opened my Bible a few times.” “I only know a little about what I believe.” The disciples use that bad word as an excuse, as if to say, “Well, if that’s all we have then the equation is settled.”

Do they not know about the Great Mathematician standing in front of them? Do we not realize that we worship a God who has rewritten the multiplication tables, who has graced us with a new math? Our God turns “only” into abundance. Our God takes what we have, no matter how small, and turns it into something we can share with others. Our God says, “You give what you have and let me worry about the math.”

We can try to explain it a hundred different ways, but the point of a miracle is that it defies explanation, just like the challenge to remain faithful sometimes defies explanation. Our lives get rudely interrupted by some crisis or detour, and we know we should have faith, but we can’t quite figure out the equation. When we look ahead and all we see are the challenges, it’s easy to shrug in defeat and forget the promise Jesus gave us at the end of Matthew when he promised to be with us always. It’s so easy to lapse into a language of scarcity, using words like “only” to describe what God can do.

We all come to this place today with concerns. Each of us has something in our lives that is weighing us down. Maybe it’s a health issue or a financial issue. Maybe we’re worried about an aging parent or a straying child. And we get so distraught, so caught up in the challenges that we almost forget Jesus’ promise. In fact, we may be 99% sure that we’re all alone on this journey.

I promise this will be the first and the last time I quote the movie “Dumb and Dumber” in a sermon, but there is a scene were Jim Carrey’s character Lloyd is trying to find out if a girl he likes will go out with him. She tells him the chances aren’t good. He says, “Not good, like one out of a hundred?” She responds, “More like one in a million.” He pauses, looks pensive, then says, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance! Yeah!”

We may believe that the chances of God helping us are one in a million. We may be 99% sure that God can’t bring about something good from our situation. That 1% of hope is all God needs. “You give what you have and let me worry about the math.” If we believe in a God who loves without limits, who can turn a small snack into a banquet feast, why would we limit our understanding of what God can do in our lives? We worship a God of abundance, and we have no problems being the recipients of that abundance, yet so often we choose to live with a mentality of scarcity.

Here’s the thing. In order for God’s math to work in our lives, in order for us to move from a spirit of scarcity to a spirit of abundance, we have to be willing to give some things over. Jesus couldn’t have multiplied the bread and fish had they not been given into his hands to bless, break, and share. The disciples could have hoarded what they had, which would have ensured two things: (1) they would have had something to eat, and (2) no one else would. I can’t guarantee that God will always fix things the way we want them. But I can guarantee that God can’t work with what we’re not willing to give.

“You give them something to eat.” The amazing thing about this story is that God chooses to use us to do God’s work in this world. Just the fact that we are called to be God’s co-laborers is a miracle in itself. For example, let’s say for argument’s sake that this wasn’t a real miracle, and instead one of the more rational explanations of this story is accurate. Let’s say that when the people saw the disciples’ willingness to take their five loaves and two fish and share it, the people took out their own food they had been secretly saving for themselves and added it to the collective bread basket for distribution. Let’s say this spirit of hoarding was transformed into a spirit of sharing by the disciples’ generosity.

Really, is that any less of a miracle? The fact that people were willing to give up their only sustenance for the sake of others strikes me as pretty miraculous. And look what God did with that. God not only fed those who gave, but everyone else, as well. When we are willing to share what we have, we participate in God’s ongoing miracle of abundance. God asks us to give, no matter how small the gift. If we turn our hopes, our talents, our resources over to God, we are giving God the ability to multiply them for use as a blessing, not just for us, but for many, many others. If we live our lives with a spirit of generosity, God can feed a lot of people – literally and spiritually – with what we’re willing to share.

We have a roof over our heads. We have transportation. And we have enough food to feed ourselves. We are rich. God has blessed us abundantly. Those blessings are not to be hoarded, but shared. How much can God accomplish with what you give? How many lives can be changed? How big a difference can you make? As we starting talking about our vision and mission in the coming months, we’ll be seeking to answer those questions. And I bet whatever answers we come up with, God has something bigger planned. And the cool thing? God wants to work with us and through us to make it happen. Us! We have been given all the tools we need to make a difference in this world, a world where people are starving for food and starving for God. Now, you give them something to eat.

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The Killer King sermon series – #7: The Death of David

The is the last in my sermon series on the life of David. You would expect his last words to be something memorable. They were, but not in the way I had hoped!

The Killer King sermon series
#7 – The Death of David
2 Kings 2:1-2
July 27, 2014

             Today, we end our journey through the life of King David. It’s been quite a ride, hasn’t it? We were there when David was anointed as the next king of Israel by the prophet Samuel. We cheered him on as he stood up to and defeated the giant Goliath. We watched in horror as he committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband Uriah killed. We saw David extend generous compassion to a lame man by including him in a royal banquet. And last week we saw David suffer the consequences of his sin with Bathsheba, which lead to the death of David’s son Absalom.

            Today, we will be with David on his deathbed as he prepares to be with God. Before he checks out, though, he’ll have a few last words to share with his son Solomon, who is poised to succeed David as the next king of Israel. You expect there would be a lot of wisdom and inspiration in David’s final words. After all, this the greatest king of Israel, one of the superstars of the Bible. And yet, this is also David, the violent, vengeful, power abuser. We all know people we would label drama queens; David is history’s first drama king.

            Our drama today is actually in three acts. To get a handle on the context of David’s deathbed words, we have to go back to Act 1, which takes place in 2 Samuel 16. David’s son Absalom had fled Jerusalem after murdering his brother, but then came back with the agenda of kicking his father David off the throne and becoming king. Absalom garners enough support that David has to leave town. On his way out of town, we’re told this peculiar story:  When King David came to Bahurim, a man of the family of the house of Saul came out whose name was Shimei; he came out cursing. He threw stones at David and at all the servants and warriors of King David. Shimei shouted while he cursed, “Out! Out! Murderer! Scoundrel! The Lord has avenged on all of you the blood of the house of Saul, in whose place you have reigned; and the Lord has given the kingdom into the hand of your son Absalom. See, disaster has overtaken you; for you are a man of blood.” As David and his men went on the road, Shimei went along on the hillside opposite him and cursed as he went, throwing stones and flinging dust at him.

            There’s no question that David’s violent actions are worthy of this kind of response. As Shimepart of the previous king’s family, Shimei had witnessed David’s violence first-hand, and his anger boils over at this moment. It reminds me of a player on the visiting team leaving the basketball court, and all the home fans are cursing and throwing sodas on him and generally behaving like idiots. And you have to question Shimei’s sanity because not only is he treating the king of Israel like this, but he’s doing it while the king is surrounded by his soldiers. One of the soldiers says to David, “Let me take care of this guy for you,” but David basically says, “We’ve got bigger fish to fry. Leave him alone.”

            Act II takes place later, when David has defeated Absalom’s army and is returning home to Jerusalem. So let’s say you’re Shimei, and you see on the news that the king, the one you cursed and threw stones at while he was fleeing, is now coming back to town and bringing all his soldiers with him. What would you do? Hiding in a closet or wearing a wig and changing your name to Fred would be viable options. Here’s what Shimei does in 2 Samuel 19: Shimei fell down before the king, as he was about to cross the Jordan, and said to the king, “May my lord not hold me guilty or remember how your servant did wrong on the day my lord the king left Jerusalem; may the king not bear it in mind. For your servant knows that I have sinned; therefore, see, I have come this day, the first of all the house of Joseph to come down to meet my lord the king.” One of David’s soldiers answered, “Shall not Shimei be put to death for this, because he cursed the Lord’s anointed?” But David said to Shimei, “What have I to do with you, that you should today become an adversary to me? Shall anyone be put to death in Israel this day? For do I not know that I am this day king over Israel?” The king said to Shimei, “You shall not die.” And the king gave him his oath.

            That’s pretty generous of David, don’t you think? Let’s conveniently forget that everything Shimei said about David being a murderer and scoundrel were 100% true. Even with the curses ringing in his ears and the bruises from the stones still fresh, David looks at Shimei and pardons him for his acts. Maybe, just maybe, during his time of exile and his battle with his own son, David’s had a fundamental shift in his perspective. Maybe he’s finally chosen to leave behind his violent vengeful ways so that he can finish his reign in peace and go to his death bed with a clean heart. Maybe he’s finally let go of his grudges. Wouldn’t that be nice?
            Well, that’s just not going to happen. The final act in our drama today is the scene at David’s deathbed. Here’s what we read in 1 Kings 2: When David’s time to die drew near, he charged his son Solomon, saying:  “I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his ordinances, and his testimonies, as it is written in the law of Moses, so that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn. Then the Lord will establish his word that he spoke concerning me: ‘If your heirs take heed to their way, to walk before me in faithfulness with all their heart and with all their soul, there shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.’

            Now, if David had just ended there, then we would be able to tie a nice yellow bow on top of his life and declare that all’s well that ends well. But drama king David just can’t leave well enough along, so he continues to talk. He gives Solomon instructions on how to handle several political loose threads, and then says this: “There also with you Shimei son of Gera, who cursed me with a terrible curse on the day when I fled Jerusalem; but when he came down to meet me at the Jordan, I swore to him by the Lord, ‘I will not put you to death with the sword.’ Therefore do not hold him guiltless, for you are a wise man; you will know what you ought to do to him, and you must bring his gray head down with blood to Sheol.” Then David slept with his ancestors, and was buried in the city of David. 

            So let me get this straight. On David’s deathbed, as he is about to die, his very last words to his son Solomon are this: “Follow God and do what God says and you will be blessed. Oh, and by the way, kill that one guy who called me a bad name a few years ago.” That’s what David wanted his last words to be? That’s the equivalent of someone in Hospice care saying, “By the way, there’s a car in Lexington with the license plate 123ABC. Twelve years ago they cut me off in traffic and didn’t use their turn signal. Promise me you’ll slash their tires.”

            This is just ludicrous, but David’s words are doubly sinful because of when he says them. The deathbed scene has a lot of significance in the Bible as the place were significant blessings were bestowed. Think about Jacob stealing Esau’s blessing from Isaac on his deathbed, or Israel conferring blessings upon his twelve sons as he was dying. The deathbed is sacred space, the place of blessing, and through his words David has desecrated it by using it to plot revenge.

            As we come to the end of David’s life, having traveled his journey with him, here’s what I really wonder about him. What inside of him was so twisted, so messed up, that he would hold onto this grudge for so long? I thought we had seen a new side of David when he pardoned Shimei by saying, “You shall not die.” Instead, David was making a mental note to make sure Shimei got what was coming to him at any cost. Really, David? That’s really what you want to be remembered for?

            It reminds of the story you may have heard about the two shop owners whose stores were across the street from each other. They had a bitter feud as they battled for customers that fostered hatred between the two men. One day, the Devil appears to one of the men and says, I’ll make you a deal. I’ll grant you any wish you want, but the other shopowner will get twice what you request. So the shopowner says, “I wish that you would make me blind in one eye.” By holding this grudge inside of him for so long, David not only hurt Shimei by ultimately calling for his life, he robbed himself of the peace that comes with letting go of anger and animosity.

            I’m sorry I can’t give you a better ending to David’s story. I was really tempted to skip this part and tell you all about what a wonderful person King Solomon was, how God offered him anything he wanted and he chose wisdom. That’s the kind of high note on which you want to end. But we can’t cut out of the Bible the fact that David ended with unfinished business, and his singular focus was on making sure that his desire for revenge was satisfied. And in the end, Shimei is indeed put to death. Both men suffer the consequences of resentment.

            Here’s a hard fact about living: At some point in our lives, we are going to be wronged. Someone is going to curse us, or sling mud at us, or cut us off in traffic. If you choose to risk being in relationships with people, then you risk getting hurt. That’s a part of life. I’ve asked you to do this before, but I think it’s worth it. Pause for a second and think of someone you really don’t like, someone who really gets your blood boiling. Could be a family member, a friend, a political leader. Got someone? Now, stop and realize that someone could be thinking of YOU. We all play the parts of the wronged and the wrongdoer at some point in our lives. When we’re the ones who’ve been wronged, we feel that resentment starting to grow in us like a cancer. I wouldn’t want someone lying on their deathbed thinking about getting revenge on me. We have to address it and aggressively pursue peace before that cancer poisons us.

            Don’t be like David. Do you have someone in your life with whom you are in conflict? Do you have someone against whom you’ve been holding a grudge? Is there a relationship in your life that needs reconciliation, or at least closure? Then take care of it. Don’t wait for it to resolve itself, don’t wait for the other person to make the first move, don’t ignore it and hope it will go away. Deal with it. Hebrews 12 says, “Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.” Resentment grew in David like a cancer until he became consumed by it. We’ve got to cut off that feeling at the root.

            I’ve learned a lot from David during this series. He’s shown great bravery, deep compassion, and strong faithfulness. He’s also shown weakness for temptation, an inability to take responsibility for his actions, and a murderous desire for revenge. In other words, he’s human. Just like you. Just like me. There is much we can learn about how to live from David, but there’s also a lot we can learn about how not to live, especially in how he dealt with those who disagreed with him. So I hope one of the things you take away from this story is the importance of seeking peace in the midst of the turmoil in our lives and in our world. We don’t have to look very far to find something that will make us mad. All the more reason for us to focus our lives on making peace. If you don’t, you might end up like David, lying on your deathbed and thinking only of revenge. That’s no way to die, and it’s certainly no way to live.

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The Killer King sermon series – #6: The Greatest Loss

The Killer King Sermon Series
#6 – The Greatest Loss
2 Sam. 18
July 20, 2014

            We continue this morning looking at the roller coaster life of King David. We have witnessed his highest highs, like being anointed as the king of Israel and defeating the giant Goliath. We’ve also seen him at his lowest when he committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband Uriah killed to cover it up. We know he can be ruthless, but we’ve also witnessed the depth of his compassion, like his treatment of the lame man Mephibosheth, which Robyn preached on last week. This David guy is a complex character, and today’s story only adds to that complexity.

            We’re going to cover the time span between David’s killing of Uriah and the events of 2 Samuel 18. I’m not going to read that whole chapter, but will be referring to key passages as we go along. I invite you to keep your Bibles open to 2 Samuel 18, or to simply sit back and hear the story.

            When David was confronted by the prophet Nathan for his acts of adultery with Bathsheba and the murder of her husband, Uriah, David responded contritely with, “I have sinned against the Lord.” But that didn’t absolve him from the consequences of his actions. God tells David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your enemy, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.” In other words, for David, he made the decision not to turn away from sin, and now he must deal with the consequences. And there are always consequences.

            A minister friend of mine told her congregation, “Next week I plan on preaching about the sin of lying. To help give you some context for my sermon, I want you all to read Mark 17 this week.” The following Sunday, the minister said to the congregation, “Last week I asked you to do some reading in preparation for this sermon. Now, how many of you read Mark 17 this past week like I asked? Please be honest.” After a few seconds, hands started going up until almost everyone in the sanctuary had their hand raised. The minister smiled and said, “Mark only has sixteen chapters. So let’s talk about the sin of lying, shall we?” When we make the decision to sin, there are consequences.

            For David, those consequences are painful and divisive. The baby Bathsheba conceived with David dies right after childbirth. His family is rife with dysfunction as one of David’s sons, Absalom, kills his brother and then flees Jerusalem. When Absalom returns, he starts a plot to usurp his father’s throne and gains enough support that he forces his father David to flee Jerusalem. Finally, David musters up an army and prepares to fight his own son Absalom for control of Israel. All of this is a result of David’s one decision to commit adultery with Bathsheba. There are always consequences.

            Our sins, no matter how big or how small, have consequences. If we make the choice to not address our sinful thoughts and actions, then we have to be prepared to face whatever consequences occur because of that. Or, as one person put it, “If you pick up a stick, you have to be willing to deal with what’s on the other end of the stick.” We can try to ignore those consequences or blame them on someone else or run from them, but eventually, they catch up to us.

            In college, a friend of mine named Tom had a problem with his car. His “check engine” light came on and wouldn’t go off. I was always afraid to ride with Tom, but he assured me it was no big deal. One day I got in his car and noticed the “check engine” light had gone off, so I asked him how he fixed it. He reached over to the dashboard and pulled off a piece of black electrical tape that he had put over the light. Out of sight, out of mind, right? Two weeks later his car broke down.

            We have lights inside of us that go off when we know we’re moving into dangerous territory, don’t we? Our conscience, the God voice inside of us, will flash and say, “Whoa, be careful with that thought, that can be dangerous.” And we can choose to listen to this voice and deal with it, or we can put a piece of tape over it and hope it will go away. But if we do that, we have to be willing to accept the consequences.

            King David learned this the hard way. He decided to ignore the flashing lights and warning signs and give into his temptation and desire for Bathsheba, and as a result his family broke down, leading to this confrontation between David and his son Absalom. I’m sure David never thought that this one bad choice would have such devastating effects. We rarely think about the consequences of our actions; it’s a lot easier to act and worry about those later.

            Still, David does own up to his sin – “I have sinned against the Lord” – and receives forgiveness from God. But he still has to deal with the consequences. Does that bother you? After all, God forgave David. If that’s the case, why do these other things have to happen? There’s a fundamental distinction to be drawn here between punishment and consequences. David was spared from God’s punishment for his sins. He was forgiven by God, just as we all are through our faith. But being saved from punishment doesn’t mean we don’t have to deal with the resulting implications of our sinful actions.

God has given us the freedom to choose how to live, but if we do so in a way that is destructive to ourselves and others, there are consequences. These aren’t necessarily directly from God – God doesn’t send down lightning bolts to smite us. Consequences are different than punishment. Consequences are the naturally playing out of our own sinful decisions I don’t believe God enacts punishment when we sin; I believe the consequences of our sins are that punishment. And there are always consequences. If I sin, and in the process of sinning break my arm, I can come to God with a genuinely repentant heart and receive forgiveness, but I still have to deal with my broken arm. God’s not going to make that magically disappear.

            That’s the difficult lesson David had to learn. In the battle between his and Absalom’s army, David asks his soldiers to deal gently with Absalom, even though Absalom is trying to kick David off the throne. We pick up the story in 2 Sam. 18:9: Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His hair caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. One of David’s men saw it, and told Joab, the army general, “I saw Absalom hanging in an oak.” Joab said to the man, “What, you saw him! Why didn’t you kill him? But the man said to Joab, “The king told us not to hurt him.” Joab said, “Fine, I’ll do.” He took three spears in his hand, and thrust them into the heart of Absalom. When David is told the news that Absalom is dead, he cries out, ““O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

            Consequences. Is it any wonder that the division in David’s house included sexual immorality and murder? The old saying goes that, “The sins of the fathers are visited upon the sons.” David’s boys learned to commit adultery and murder from watching their father’s actions. David’s army general, Joab, is the one responsible for killing Uriah. He learned to do whatever was necessary to protect David, even murder. So is it any surprise that he murders David’s own son? They all learned from David that the only way to deal with a problem is to kill it. Our sins have consequences that go far beyond our control. So what do we do about this? If we are imperfect people who commit sins, and there’s no escaping our consequences, how do deal with them? I think there are two things we can do to help us with this.

            The first thing we can do is change our perspective on dealing with sin. I don’t want to downplay the importance of God’s forgiveness, because that’s a cornerstone of our faith. But if we rely too much on God’s forgiveness, we can fall into the trap of abdicating our responsibility as a Christian, of treating God’s grace as a “get out of sin” card that frees us to sin all we want. Think of it this way: You’re charged with teaching a new driver how to drive a car. On the first day of class, you say, “Today we’re going to talk about your first crash. We’ll learn how to contact the police and exchange insurance information.” Now, this is important information, right? But you don’t want to start off talking about crashing. It’s called corrective thinking. If we only focus on what happens after we’ve sinned, we miss the chance to help ourselves avoid sin in the first place.

            The alternative to corrective thinking is preventative thinking. If you teach that driving class how to obey the rules of the road and how to put safety first, you greatly reduce their chances of getting into a crash. Similarly, if we can focus on how we can stay away from temptation and how we can say “No”  to avoid destructive behavior, we can reduce our need to call on God’s forgiveness. Had David practiced preventative thinking when he first saw Bathsheba, he wouldn’t have needed to utter the corrective statement, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

            But nobody’s perfect, right? We can’t always avoid crashing, and the time will come when we are in need of God’s forgiveness and have to lie in the bed we’ve made. So the second thing we can do when facing our consequences is just that: face them. We can’t run from them or avoid them or try to sluff them off on somebody else. That would only get us into more trouble. The best we can do is confess to God, receive God’s forgiveness, and then trust that God is beside us as we deal with what’s on the other end of the stick.

            God was with David, even as he watched his family unravel. After her first child died, his wife Bathsheba gave birth to another son named Solomon, who would go on to continue David’s reign and would build the first temple dedicated to God. Despite the mess we can make of our lives, God can work through all situations – even those we bring upon ourselves – to bring about God’s good will, if we turn to God and ask forgiveness. I believe that part of receiving God’s grace means that God, in forgiving us, gives us the strength to endure the consequences and will help us learn from them. Let us be thankful that, no matter how far we run from God, no matter how egregiously we disobey God, no matter how many times we sin, God never stops loving us. And the power of the love is stronger than any consequence we face.

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The Killer King sermon series – #4: David and Bathsheba

SCRIPTURE – 2 Sam. 11:1-15, 26-27 and 12:1-13
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.

But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

SERMON
The Killer King Sermon Series
#4 – David and Bathsheba
July 6, 2014

We continue our look at the life of King David today. So far we’ve seen him anointed as the next king of Israel; we’ve watched him defeat the giant Goliath; and we’ve followed him into the wilderness as he was chased by the current king, Saul. Eventually Saul dies and David takes over as the king of Israel. He sets up Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and settles into his prosperous reign. But although he is a popular and successful king, he is by no means perfect.

Aside from the original sin of Adam and Eve, probably no sin in the Bible is more well-known than David and Bathsheba. That’s not necessarily something you want to be well-known for; that’s like getting on TV – in an episode of “Cops.” This doesn’t make David any worse of a person than you and me; we’re talking about one of the greatest kings in history, not some wild man or social deviant. The only difference between our sins and his is that his were published in the best-selling book of all time. Really, he’s no different than us.

Up to this point in his reign, King David had nothing but success. He restored the nation of Israel to peace and has built a formidable military power. His authority stretched throughout the land, and because his army was so powerful, he was king over many nations. He was king of Judah, of Israel, of the Philistines, the Moabites, the Hittites, the Edomites, the Stalagtites, the Stalagmites, and the Gesundtites. He has it all.

But it wasn’t enough for him. How could a man who had everything possibly want more? David would be about 50 now, so maybe he was hitting a mid-life crisis. He’s started using Rogaine, had a treadmill installed in the royal workout room, eating a lot more bran. Maybe he needed something to help him feel young again. When we stop being happy with what God gave us, we become vulnerable to thinking we need something more.

We should know David’s in trouble with the very first verse of this passage. It tells us that spring is the time when kings go off to war, yet David is sending his general Joab to lead the army instead of doing it himself. David, who was created by God to be a great warrior, decides to stop doing what God called him to do. He’s neglecting his duties. He’s got too much time on his hands. And, as the saying goes, idle hands do the Devil’s work.

So instead of leading his army into battle, David is walking around on his roof one night and sees a woman bathing herself. Now, David was a passionate man – passionate about serving God, passionate about leading the kingdom, and passionate about his passions. David is the king, he can have anything he wants, and at this moment, staring right into the face of temptation, David decides to not look away. Just because David was a faithful man of God doesn’t make him immune to temptation. When we make the decision to not turn away, we have to be prepared to face whatever comes of it.

So he asks a servant about this woman, and the servant says, “This is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah.” You hear what the servant is doing, right? He knows that David is thinking about more than baking a loaf of bread for this neighbor, so he tactfully tries to snap David back to reality. “Yes, King David, that’s Bathsheba, Uriah’s wife. Uriah is her husband. She’s married. To Uriah. He’s her husband.” But David doesn’t hear him. He’s already decided to not turn away.

So David brings Bathsheba to the palace and sleeps with her, and she conceives. Now some guys in this situation might panic. But not David. Notice the narrative doesn’t pause for an instant. David is a man of action, a problem-solver. He didn’t get to where he was without dealing with a few messes. And this situation, this matter of adultery and an unborn child, was merely another problem to be solved. So the cover-up begins.

That’s usually our first reaction when we do something wrong; we try to cover it up and hope that no one will notice. I once ran my dad’s car off the road because I was driving too fast to impress my date, and I damaged the car’s front end. I spent the next three days trying to keep my dad from looking at the front of his car; he was amazed at how much help I needed putting things in the trunk. Then one morning when I woke up my dad said, “Boy, what did you do to my car?” And in a moment of panic I said, “Uh, I hit a bucket!” As if there are buckets just lying around the roads of Southern Indiana. To this day, I think Dad still believes I hit a bucket.

That’s what sin does to us: the guilt of our wrongdoing causes us to try and cover it up, heaping lie on top of lie until we’ve dug a hole out of which we can’t escape. David’s cover-up is especially insidious. If he can get Uriah and Bathsheba to spend a romantic weekend together, Uriah might believe the child was his own. The only problem was that Uriah was out fighting a battle and was sworn to celibacy until the fight was over. David orders him back to Jerusalem and tells him two different times to go show his wife how much he has missed her, but Uriah, being a loyal soldier, refuses to sleep with her. Finally, David resorts to killing Uriah. He sends him back to the battlefront with a note for Joab to put Uriah on the front lines and then draw away from him, assuring his death.

You see what has happened here? David didn’t start out to be a murderer. But his neglecting of his kingly duties led to idleness which led to temptation which led to adultery which led to deceit which led to murder. James 1:14-15 says, “One is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it; then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.” Most problems don’t start all at once; they start a little at a time, and each time we choose not to turn away, they grow to be much more deadly.

Once, at a committee meeting, someone had provided some snacks, including a big bowl of grapes, which was placed very close to me. This is not a good thing. I love grapes. As the meeting started, I ate eat one, then another, then another. And about halfway through the meeting, I reached for a grape, and they were gone! I had sat there and ate the whole bowl. So I took my napkin and placed it over the bowl – my own version of a cover-up. Someone asked, “What happened to all the grapes?” And I said, “Someone must have eaten them all!” I didn’t plan on eating the whole bowl; I thought I could just eat a few and then stop.

The problem with little sins is that we think they are manageable; we think we can rationalize our way through them. But to rationalize is simply to tell rational lies. “This is such a little thing, it won’t hurt anyone, no one will know, it will only be this once.” But the reality is that every time we choose not to be honest with God about a sin, every time we choose not to turn away, we commit more sins to try and cover it up, furthering our dishonesty, until before we know it, we’ve sat there and at the whole bowl of grapes. We didn’t plan on it, it just happened that way, and we couldn’t stop it.

David finally does break his cycle of sin, thanks to the brave actions of the prophet Nathan, who realizes that for this deception to end, David has to be held accountable. Deitrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian who was killed by the Nazis, once said, “Nothing is more cruel than the leniency which abandons others to their sins.” The apostle Paul talks about speaking the truth in love to each other. Telling people what they want to hear is not love. When people are engaged in destructive, soul-threatening behavior, they need a mirror. No one sets out to become an adulterer or murderer or absent parent or closet alcoholic. No one plans these things. But they happen every day. Why? Partly because we have no one in our lives whom we’ve invited to tell the truth.

We all need someone to hold us accountable. Who is that person for you? And are you that person for someone else? This is delicate, because we have to both speak the truth and speak it in love. John Ortberg says there’s a theological distinction between being a prophet and being a jerk. And yet, if we see someone in trouble, and we don’t speak the truth, what could happen? James writes, “Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his ways will save him from death.”

So Nathan holds up a mirror to David in the form of a parable, and David falls for it hook, line, and sinker. David sticks his head right into the noose and Nathan gives it a pull: “You are the man!” I wonder what went through David’s mind at that point. I guess the weight of what he had done finally hit him, and he responds with the words that I believe save his life: “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Those are not easy words to say. It’s a lot easier to make excuses, to deflect the blame, to write it off by saying, “It just happened.” But you can’t un-ring a bell. To say these words means admitting that we’re wrong. It means admitting than we’ve messed up and fallen short. It means swallowing our pride and acknowledging that we have hurt someone else and hurt God. And yet the only way we accept the forgiveness offered by God is by acknowledging our need for it. No words can bring more healing and reconciliation than those words. “I have sinned against the Lord.”

David showed great maturity, albeit too late. There are still consequences of his sin that he will have to face. Had David been obedient to the will of God on the rooftop, he wouldn’t have been disobedient in the bedroom. But, with the help of Nathan, he is finally honest with God. The moment we know we need God’s help and say so out loud, God can hear us and find us and bring us home.

There are many reasons we remember David as heroic, but I think this is the greatest reason of all. David was a hero because of this moment of honesty, when he stopped covering up an instead uncovered his heart, when he acknowledged who he was and what he had done, when he turned away from his sins and turned toward God. That’s what heroes do.

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The Killer King sermon series – #3: Into the Wild

This is the third sermon in my series on King David. Rather than read the scripture beforehand, I incorporate pieces of it into the sermon text.

The Killer King sermon series
#3 – Into the Wild
June 29, 2014

This morning, we are continuing our look at the life of King David, one of the greatest saints and sinners in the Bible. Two weeks ago, we witnessed how David, the eighth son of Jesse, was anointed as the new king of Israel. The only problem was that Israel already had a king, Saul, which will create all sorts of problems for David. Last week we shared the famous story of David, still just a pimply-faced shepherd boy, slaying the giant Goliath.

Today, we pick up the story after that stunning upset. Immediately after David’s victory, his fame began to spread. People were tweeting and texting and posting on Facebook so that before he even made it back home, David was an instant celebrity. I Samuel 18:7 tells us that as David and Saul processed through towns, people would throw ticker-tape parades and sing, “Saul has killed his thousands, and David his ten thousands!” Now, I’m no genius at math, but if I were King Saul, that song would not make it into my Top 40 playlist. In fact, I’d be a little bit peeved. We’re told that upon hearing this song, Saul began to keep an eye on David.

Even though Saul didn’t know David had already been anointed as the next king, he still grew more and more suspicious of him. The Bible tells us that Saul also began, using a medical term, to lose is marbles. We’re told in 18:10 that, “The next day an evil spirit rushed upon Saul, and he raved within his house.” Once this evil spirit entered him, he turned the full force of his rage upon David. Saul tried to kill him six different times. If I’m David, I’m thinking, “OK, one time, maybe that was an accident. Two times, I must have caught him on a bad day. But by the sixth time, I’m getting the idea this guy doesn’t like me.”

Saul’s mental madness leads him to go to great lengths to get rid of David. One time he gives David his daughter Michal to marry, and then demands as a dowry the deaths of 100 Philistines. Saul is probably thinking, “Surely David will perish in his attempt to fulfill this pledge!” Instead, because God is with him, David kills 200 Philistines, to which Saul probably thought…well, I can’t repeat in church what he probably thought. When David presents the spoils of his victory to Saul, the Bible says, “Saul was David’s enemy from that time forward.”

Saul continues this vacillation between rage and remorse toward David. He tries to kill David and fails, then Saul’s son and David’s best friend Jonathan intercedes on David’s behalf. Saul is remorseful for a bit, but then gets all worked up and tries to kill David again. This cycle plays out several times until finally David’s wife persuades him to go on the lam, fleeing from Saul’s presence. David was probably about 20 years old when he left home and went into the wilderness.

Does that sound kind of familiar? What were you doing when you were around 20? As best as I can remember, I was in college. Is there any better description of that time in our lives than being in a wilderness? I was wandering around, spiritually and vocationally. I was working at a video store – remember those? – trying to figure out my major. And I had no real connection to God or a church. Like David, I was in the wilderness.

We’ve all be there, haven’t we? One day we’re relaxing in the luxury of our palaces and then – boom! – we’re in the wilderness, driven there by a doctor’s appointment or divorce papers or bad news from our children. That’s the thing about the wilderness: no one ever chooses to go their voluntarily. No one wants to leave the safety and comfort of the Promised Land. No one expects to live in a season of dryness. And yet, for each of us, the wilderness is a reality.

In scripture, David’s wilderness story falls between two others. The first is the Israelites 40-day journey through the wilderness to get the Promised Land after Moses leads them out of Egypt. The other is Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness after his baptism. All three of these stories are characterized by testing, by the feeling of separation from God, and by significant spiritual growth, as iron is refined by fire. The Israelites make it to the Promised Land; Jesus survives his temptation in the desert. What will happen to David?
One of David’s first stops on his flight away from Saul is at Nob, to a group of priests who lived there in a temple. While there, David receives holy bread to eat and a sword for protection. It makes me wonder where we go when we’re in our wildernesses? There are many tempting options available to us to help us escape the rigors of our deserts. I believe that many addictions and so much debt are caused by people trying to escape the trials and temptations of a dry season in their lives. Sometimes it easier to check out than to push through.

Where did David go while in the wild? He went to church. He went to a group of priests, where he received community, sustenance, and protection. During our difficult times we are so vulnerable to quick fixes and easy solutions, when what we really need, deep down in our parched souls, is spiritual nourishment, protection from temptation, and a reminder that we are not alone on our journey. And that’s what the church has to offer us. That’s where I ended up when I was in my own wilderness during college, and I think that’s worked out pretty well so far. The church is an oasis in the midst of our desert, offering provision and companionship and bread for the journey.

Once David left the priests at Nob, he continues to wander in the wilderness, trying to stay one step ahead of Saul and his army. By this point, David was known fugitive. His face was on wanted posters and although the people liked him, they dared not help him or face the wrath of the unstable king. Several times Saul gets scarily close to catching David, only to be called away for a battle. In one scene in chapter 23, Saul has David trapped on a mountain. Saul is on one side and David is on the other. It’s like when you’re hiding from someone behind a tree, and when they move one way around the tree, you move the other. Saul’s madness is heightened by his frustration over not being able to capture David.

At one point in the story, we’re told that David is joined by a group of supporters. The beginning of 1 Samuel 22 says, “David left there and escaped to the cave of Adullam; when his brothers and all his father’s house heard of it, they went down there to him. Everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was discontented gathered to him.” People in distress, in debt, and discontented – sounds like the church! This group of people was a tangible reminder to David that he was not alone on his journey and they helped him stay one step ahead of Saul.

But David’s ability to elude Saul was more than just craftiness. We are told repeatedly throughout this story that the Lord was with David. As you may know, among many of David’s accomplishments is the fact that he wrote a number of the psalms we have in the Bible. And many of those psalms were written while David was in the wilderness. As he negotiated rough terrain, as he searched for food and water and sleep, as he came face-to-face with Saul’s evil intent, David continually turned to God for comfort. Knowing what we know about David’s story so far, listen to these familiar words of David, and hear them as if he wrote them during this time in the wilderness:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;he restores my soul.He leads me in right pathsfor his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley,I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff—they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

In Ch. 24, Saul learns that David is in the wilderness of En-Gedi, so he pursues him with 3000 men. While there, the passage says that Saul needs to relieve himself – even kings need potty breaks! So he goes to a nearby cave to take care of business. Unbeknownst to him, hiding in the back of that cave is David and his followers. David’s men say, ““Here’s your chance! Catch him with his pants down and kill him!” Instead, David says, “I can’t do this to him, he’s the king!” So instead, he cuts off a corner of Saul’s cloak to prove he was there, then he let Saul escape.

In our wildernesses, we will be tempted to be someone we’re not. Jesus was tempted by Satan to do things that went against who Jesus was created to be. The Israelites succumbed to their own temptations to forsake God, building a golden calf to worship instead of trusting in God’s promises. David faces that same temptation. Should he give in and kill the king to save his own hide? Are we tempted to do things in the wilderness we normally wouldn’t do? How do we respond?

Once Saul leaves the cave, David comes out and says this to Saul: ““My lord the king! Why do you listen to the words of those who say, ‘David seeks to do you harm’? This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See the corner of your cloak in my hand; for by the fact that I cut off the corner of your cloak, and did not kill you, you may know for certain that there is no wrong or treason in my hands. I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you! May the Lord avenge me on you; but my hand shall not be against you.”

David stays true to himself, true to the person God created him to be, even when faced with the chance to escape once and for all. I’m sure it wasn’t easy for David to spend that decade in the wilderness, just as it’s not easy for us to spend time in our own wildernesses. David’s wilderness time defined him, but it didn’t force him into becoming something he didn’t want to be. The wilderness we face will indelibly shape us – the time we spend in a hospital bed or an attorney’s office can never be erased. But it’s up to us whether or not we let the wilderness make us or break us. For David, he went through the wilderness and yet stayed true to the person God created him to be. Even in the darkness of a cave, he honored God by honoring Saul. He didn’t let the wilderness win by changing him into someone else.

We don’t choose the wilderness, but it is there, and there will be times when we find ourselves in a barren place not of our choosing. The only way through it is through it. Even if we run away, it will be there. But if we can’t run away, we can still run. We can run to church, an oasis in the desert of our dry season. We can run to each other, the distressed and discontented among us, a reminder that we don’t walk this journey alone. And we can run to God, our shepherd, who leads us to quiet pastures and still waters, who walks with us through death’s valley, who restores our soul, who overflows our cups with grace and love. The only way through it is through it. Be we are not alone.

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The Killer King sermon series – #2: David V. Goliath

We continue our summer sermon series on the life of King David. Rather than read the lengthy passage for today’s sermon, I will comment on it and read relevant passages as I go along through the sermon. If you want to follow along, you can find the story in 1 Samuel 17.

 

The Killer King sermon series
#2 – David v. Goliath
June 22, 2014

I faced a giant once. I played one year of football in high school, which was about two years too many. I wasn’t built to play football; I was built to be the team manager. I ended up as a wide receiver because that was the position that was farthest from the ball and had the least amount of contact.

I always dreaded the drills we had to run in practice. My least favorite was the tackle drill. Two people stood about 20 yards apart. One person’s job was to take the football and run full-speed at the other person; that person’s job was not to die and to try and tackle the ball-carrier in the process.

One day when we were doing these drills, I realized that I was matched up against Tim Blankenship, who played middle linebacker. I think Tim was on steroids before it was popular to be on steroids. Although he and I were in the same grade, he was a head taller, about 40 pounds heavier, and he shaved three times a day. Plus, he was mean.

So there was Tim, about 20 yards away, football in his hand, smirk on his face, saliva drooling from his lips. And there was me, knees knocking together, trying to figure out how far I could run in the opposite direction before Tim caught me. The coach didn’t blow his whistle to start the drill; he played “Taps” on the bugle. The last thing I remember seeing was Tim barreling toward me, and then a bright white light with angels and harps. When I came to and sat up, I saw Tim sitting next to me – actually I saw about three or four of him sitting next to me. He looked at me and smiled and said, “Nice tackle.”

In our scripture today, King David also faced a giant, although I bet Goliath didn’t shave as much as Tim did. You may think you know this story, but it becomes even more amazing when you hear it in its context. As we heard last week, young David has been anointed as the next king, but the current king, Saul, is still ruling. Now settled in the Promised Land, Israel was constantly fighting off foes who wanted to invade and take their land from them. The most current challenger is the Philistines.

The two armies meet in the Valley of Elah with the Israelite army on one hill and the Philistine army on the other. As they are surveying each other, out of the Philistine camp steps Goliath, who is described in terrifying detail. He was over nine feet tall, he wore armor that weighed almost 200 pounds, and he had a shield so big that it took a full-grown man just to carry it for him.

He steps into the valley and begins taunting the Israelites. “Send me one person to fight. If they win, we surrender. But if I win, you surrender. Today, I defy the ranks of Israel.” It’s biblical trash talk! I’m sure there were a few “nanny-nanny-boo-boos” thrown in there. Verse 11 tells us that when Saul and all the Israelites heard these words, they were dismayed and greatly afraid. This went on twice a day for forty days: Goliath would issue the challenge, and no one from Israel would be brave enough to answer.

David’s three oldest brothers were in the army, but David was stuck at home tending the sheep. One day, his father tells David to take a bunch of supplies to his brothers on the front line. While he was there, he saw Goliath and heard the challenge being issued. And then, he saw the whole Israelite army run away in fear.

David says, “What’s the deal? You’re going to let a Philistine defy the armies of the living God?” And the Israelites say, “Have you SEEN this guy? King Saul is offering a huge reward for whoever kills him: the king’s blessing, the king’s daughter, and no taxes for the rest of his life.” I’m not interested in the first two, but that last one would have been pretty enticing. David doesn’t get their fear. The soldiers had looked at Goliath and said, “He’s so big, how can I win?” David looked at him and said, “He’s so big, how can I miss?”

David’s challenge to the Israelite army gets back to King Saul, who calls for David, which sets up this interesting conversation. David, God’s anointed king, tells Saul, the king God has rejected, “I’ll do it.” Saul says, “You’re kidding, right? Have you SEEN this guy? You’re just a kid.” David responds, “As a shepherd, I’ve killed both lions and bears to protect my sheep.” Verse 37 says, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul says, “Go, and may the Lord be with you,” which is the Israelite way of saying, “We’re all behind you. WAY behind you.”

Before David goes, Saul tried to give David his kingly armor to wear. But Saul was a 52 long and David was a 36 regular and the armor didn’t fit. Rather than trying to be someone else, David is fine just being David. If he’s going to trust in God, he’s going to fully trust in God, not hedge his bets by making sure all the bases are covered. “Yes, God will protect me, but just in case God forgets, let me put on this chain-mail armor.” So he grabbed five smooth stones from the local creek and headed out to the battleground.

So we come to the climactic battle scene. When David stepped into the valley, Goliath takes one look way down and snorts, “Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?” and curses David. And David steps up to respond. You can just hear the orchestral music building in the background as he gives this stirring speech: ““You come to me with sword and spear and javelin; but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This very day the Lord will deliver you into my hand, and I will strike you down and cut off your head; and I will give the dead bodies of the Philistine army this very day to the birds of the air and to the wild animals of the earth, so that all the earth may know that there is a God in Israel, and that all this assembly may know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and he will give you into our hand.”

Yes! If I were in the Israelite army, I would be pumping my first and cheering for this little shepherd boy. And if I were Goliath, I’d probably be wondering if I picked a fight with the wrong kid. David then ran toward the big bully, took out a stone, slung it, and struck Goliath right between the eyes. The stone sank into his forehead and he fell face down on the ground. The giant has been killed.

Was David scared as he walked onto that battlefield? I would think so. Despite his supreme confidence in God, Goliath was still a giant and David was still human. But David’s real battle wasn’t against Goliath; it was against his own fears. Would he be ruled by his fears or by his faith? What rules us?

We also face giants in our lives today, forces that threaten to take over our lives and hold us captive. The reality of life is that we have to face these giants: a diagnosis we’ve received; the fear of getting older; regrets that keep us stuck in the past; problems that keep us fearful of the unknown future; a sin we can’t seem to conquer; a worry we can’t seem to shake. We all have giants in our lives whom we’re afraid to confront.

David shows us how we can face our own giants. He wasn’t intimidated by the size of his opponent. Sometimes our giants can loom ten times larger than they really are, making us think we don’t have the size or strength to fight them. That disease is too deadly, the addiction has too tight a stranglehold on us. But as we were told last week, God doesn’t judge us by our physical characteristics but by our character. So we are called not to be fooled by appearances. Like the saying goes, “Don’t tell God how big your giant is; tell the giant how big your God is.”

Something else David did was he ignored the advice of others. Very well-intentioned people will try to make you feel better by explaining away your giant. “Don’t worry, that surgery is no big deal.” “You just need to move on and leave that person.” But no one else can fight for you. Your Goliath is YOUR Goliath. Someone else might say, “Ah, that’s no big deal.” But to you, it’s Goliath. And no one else can battle him for you, not a counselor or a pastor, not a parent or a friend.

Saul tried to make David into someone else by putting armor on him. But we are not someone else. We are us, the person God created us to be, the person God wants to use to defeat those giants. When we are true to ourselves, we remember that we are not alone. “The battle is the Lord’s,” David said. We believe in a God who’s not intimidated by swords and coats of armor and bombastic speech. We believe in a God who’s not intimidated by tumors and hateful words and the power of sin. Our God is the true giant in this story and in our lives. We don’t have to be eloquent or strong or handsome. We don’t have to be beautiful or brilliant or have all the answers. God honors our faith. All God asks is we trust, that we stand before our giants with integrity and faith and call on God’s name.

To be fair, not all battles end in a rousing victory like David’s. Tim Blankenship definitely got the better of me in our collision. I wasn’t the winner. But I’m still here. There will always be giants for us to battle, but there will also always be God, standing beside us, ready to fight for us. Don’t let your giant problems of today eclipse the promises of a God who is, and was, and will always be. The battle is the Lord’s.

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The Killer King sermon series – #1: From Pasture to Palace

This week I’m starting a sermon series on King David called “The Killer King.” We’ll be looking at all the high and low points in the life of this biblical icon. Because many of the stories are longer, I’ll be interspersing the scripture in the midst of the text, rather than providing it all at the beginning. I hope this will help the sermon flow better, and will also let us discover the story together as we go along. God bless!

The Killer King sermon Series
#1 – From Palace to Pasture
June 15, 2014

There are a lot of big dogs in the Hebrew Scriptures. A hall of fame would include folks like Abraham and Joseph and Moses. But of all the Great Danes and Saint Bernards we read about in the Hebrew scriptures, David stands head and shoulders above the rest. Consider this: In that section of the Bible, there are 14 chapters about Abraham, 13 about Joseph, 11 about Jacob, and 40 about Moses. But there are 66 chapters dedicated to the life of David. His influence and stature grew so big that the Old Testament couldn’t hold him; there are 57 references to David in the New Testament. And he is credited with writing many of the beautiful psalms we have. Aside from Jesus, David is truly the big dog of the Bible.

But he didn’t start out that way. During this sermon series, we’ll be taking a look at the life of David, from his humble beginnings, through his rise to the throne, to his up-and-down rule as king. David has been called “the greatest saint and sinner in the Bible.” Since I believe we all have a little bit of both in us, David might have something to teach us about having faith.

To understand David’s story, we have to understand a bit about the history of Israel leading up to his appearance in 1 Samuel. The nation of Israel was governed for a long time by a series of judges. These judges served as God’s representatives and provided leadership for the people. But the only true ruler of the Israelites needed was God.

Unfortunately, they didn’t believe that. Once they got settled in the Promised Land, the Israelites looked around at other nations and saw they had earthly kings. All of a sudden, an invisible God as your ruler didn’t seem so cool. So the Israelites decided they also wanted a king they could see and touch and complain about on Facebook. God didn’t like this idea, but God let them have their way. So the Israelites named Saul the first king of Israel. His coronation a story includes runaway donkeys, a sacred cooked thigh bone, and Saul hiding behind someone’s luggage. Obviously, the Israelites are making up this monarchy thing as they go. Now, Saul was what you would expect a king to be: handsome, strong, well-spoken. His hair was well-coifed and his suits were Armani. As the tallest person in the kingdom, he commanded attention and respect. He was an obvious choice and the people were thrilled to have him.

The only problem was that Saul wasn’t a good king. He stopped seeking God’s direction and tried to take matters into his own hands. In fact, the last verse of I Samuel 15 says, “The Lord was sorry that he had made Saul king.” So that brings us to our text today. Let’s read v. 1-5:

The Lord said to Samuel, ‘How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being king over Israel. Fill your horn with oil and set out; I will send you to Jesse the Bethlehemite, for I have provided for myself a king among his sons.’ Samuel said, ‘How can I go? If Saul hears of it, he will kill me.’ And the Lord said, ‘Take a heifer with you, and say, “I have come to sacrifice to the Lord.” Invite Jesse to the sacrifice, and I will show you what you shall do; and you shall anoint for me the one whom I name to you.’ Samuel did what the Lord commanded, and came to Bethlehem. The elders of the city came to meet him trembling, and said, ‘Do you come peaceably?’ He said, ‘Peaceably; I have come to sacrifice to the Lord; sanctify yourselves and come with me to the sacrifice.’ And he sanctified Jesse and his sons and invited them to the sacrifice.

God sends the prophet Samuel to see a man named Jesse, because from his sons will come the new king. Samuel is a little concerned about this mission on which God has sent him. Samuel has no hesitation anointing a new king – he hasn’t been thrilled with Saul, either – but the problem is that appointing a new king to replace the old king can be hazardous to your health when the old king isn’t gone yet. Despite all his failings, Saul is still king, and probably won’t be too thrilled with Samuel to find out Samuel is going around anointing Saul’s successors. But Samuel’s loyalty is to God, not Saul, so he goes.

Samuel is not the only one concerned about this trip. Great prophets like Samuel didn’t just show up in backwater villages like Bethlehem. It’s like in elementary school when the principal would make a surprise visit to the classroom and the hair would stand up on the back of everyone’s necks. “Why is SHE here? Who’s in trouble?” But Samuel assures the elders he has come in peace to make a sacrifice. Let’s read a little more…

v. 6 – When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’ But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’ 

Samuel meets with Jesse and sees his oldest son, Eliab. Eliab was a wonderful physical specimen: tall, handsome, confident. Samuel says to himself, “There he is! He just looks like a king.” But God says, “No.” Then Samuel sees son #2, Abinadab. While not quite as impressive as son #1, Abinadab certainly met all the kingly requirements. But God says, “No.” The Samuel meets the third son, Shammah. OK, maybe not the top of the line model, his suits may be from Sears instead of Armani, but not a clunker either. “He’ll do,” says Samuel. “No he won’t,” says God. And then it turns into a version of “America’s Got Talent” called “Israel’s Got Royalty.” Will anyone make the cut? Son #4. No. Son #5. No. Son #6. No. Son #7. No.

That’s it. That’s all the sons that Samuel sees. Any of them would have been just fine as kings; they all looked the part. But as God reminded Samuel, God doesn’t look at our characteristics, but our character. God doesn’t consider the color of our eyes; God considers the capacity of our hearts. Like the Disney story, Samuel tries the glass slipper on all the brothers, but it won’t quite fit. None of these seven sons fit the bill.

There’s some interesting symbolism here. All you biblical numerologists out there – you know who you are – realize the significance of the number seven. It means completeness, perfection. Think of the seven days of creation. The seven sons represented all that is good and right and worthy in a worldly sense. They are the perfect pool from which to select a king. On the contrary the number eight doesn’t have that kind of meaning. We’re not told what God did on the eighth day of creation, because it doesn’t matter. In a sense, the number eight is meaningless. It’s extra baggage. It’s the leftovers. So what happens after God rejects the seven sons?

v. 11 – Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

After seeing the first seven, Samuel says, “Is that all there is?” And Jesse says, “Yeah…Oh, wait! There’s one more, little What’s-His-Name, out with the sheep. Do you really want to see him?” We all know of the last born children in families who have been labeled “accidents.” You get the impression here from Jesse that David is an accident. But Samuel, to his credit, says, “Look, God told me to see all your sons, and I’m not leaving here until I do.” So in comes the runt of the litter. We’re not even told his name. We are told that he was good-looking, but probably in an eighth-son sort of way. And God says, “There he is! Rise and anoint him; he is the one.” David is a true Cinderella story, rising from the dregs of the sheep pen to become the next king. God chooses the leftovers.

I’m not sure we can understand just how absurd this decision must seem. Samuel’s just seen seven fine, hardy, upstanding young men, and he’s been told to anoint the short one wearing stained clothes and smelling like sheep. It’s as if the Coach Calipari needed someone to shoot a game-winning free throw, and instead of picking one of his star players, he chooses the ball boy.

So God’s chosen king is David. He’s not an accident; he’s a divine intervention. Should we really be surprised? Haven’t we learned by now that God’s criteria are much, much different than ours? We’ve seen time and time again how God chooses the younger, the weaker, the less popular to do God’s work. The world has a pecking order: elder son over younger, Pharaohs over slaves, religious authority figures over common peasants. But God pays no attention to that order.

God often chooses those whom we overlook. So much of a person’s value is determined by worldly criteria: their looks, their wealth, their age. We naturally place our trust and authority in people who look like they deserve it and who look like they are worthy of being entrusted with it. There was a TV commercial on recently where a man dressed in a sharp suit and tie convinces people to hire him as their investment banker. He then reveals he’s actually a DJ at a local dance club. Looks can be deceiving, can’t they? The road of history is littered with fallen leaders like Saul, people who looked the part but didn’t have the heart to be faithful to God.

God doesn’t want people who make good impressions. He wants people who make good servants. We often overlook people because they don’t appear to be gifted or valuable. But that’s because we’re seeing them through the world’s eyes, and not God’s. God chooses people that others dismiss and devalue, even when we feel that way about ourselves. If you’re the shepherd boy, if you’re the eighth son, if you are the one who’s been on the outside looking in, God is saying that you are valuable. People may have told you otherwise, but they aren’t seeing what God is seeing. God sees our hearts, and God chooses us and anoints us to do God’s work in this world. No one is too small or too insignificant for that job.

That’s true for everyone, not just those of us sitting here today. There are people right now out working in the fields and in the streets and in the factories who probably smell like sheep or worse and who probably don’t fit our preconceptions of God’s chosen ones. As Christians, it’s our responsibility to make sure that these folks have a place at the table. The world looks at them and only sees what it wants to see; we are called to see what God sees. We are all valuable, we all matter, and we are all called to serve. If we want to get a sense of who God is calling to do great things, we might want to look around and see who doesn’t have a voice, to see who is being pushed to the side. Because it’s the very people most consider human accidents that are actually divine interventions.

You matter to God. And the people you think don’t matter, they matter to God, too. We are called to treat everyone as they deserve, to extend to them God’s hospitality and grace, not just the ones who look like the deserve it. Because you never know when your investment banker is only a club DJ, and you never know when the people around you who look like accidents and smell like sheep are actually God’s chosen. Just ask the eighth son of Jesse.

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