2014-11-23 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

2014-11-23 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato

2014-11-23 – Rev. Dr. Ryan Sato – First Baptist Church Edmonton

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Echo the Story #13 of 36: David
2 Samuel 18
“A Royal Flush of Tragedy”

In the wake of one of the most famous King David stories… the prophet Nathan tells David that as a result of the affair concerning Bathsheba and Uriah the sword would never leave David’s house, … trouble would follow him all the days of his life…

And troubles burn like wildfires in David’s family tree… we read of David’s daughter, Tamar, who is raped by one of David’s sons, Amnon.
Absalom, David’s third son (2 Sam 3:3), takes revenge by killing all his older brothers (2 Samuel 13).
Solomon, who has only just been born to Bathsheba (12:24), is left alive.
In the aftermath of his sibling-murder-rage, Absalom flees from his father.
David’s feelings for Absalom are mixed and full of misgivings…
After three years he yearns for reconcilliation (13:39) and Absalom returns to Jerusalem (14:21-24). However, while David forgives his son’s actions (14:33) Absalom is plotting to usurp his father’s throne.
After four years Absalom gained majority support in Judah and he secretly planned to be crowned king in Hebron (15:1-13). Now it’s David who flees from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15-17).
David is resigned to the loss of his throne and entrusts his future to the Lord (2 Sam. 15:24ff). However, he is cunning enough to plant his own man, Hushai, in Absalom’s court (15:34) so that he may spy on Absalom and destabilize his court from afar.
As a sign that he had supplanted his father, Absalom makes a public display of sleeping with David’s concubines (16:21-22), a detail that fulfills Nathan’s earlier prophecy (12:11).
(The intrigues of the Absalom’s court are narrated in 2 Samuel 16-17).

By the start of chapter 18, David has finally abandoned his “passive policy” toward Absalom. He appoints loyal men to lead his army divisions (18:1-5).
Yet he still bears tender feelings toward his son for when all preparations have been made and in the hearing of all the troops, he instructs his generals:
‘For my sake, deal gently with the young man Absalom’ (2 Sam 18:5).
Now the scene is set for David’s great(est) tragedy…

[ read 2 Samuel 18 reading ] + { see insert w/ lyrics }

STEVE BELL’s song “Absalom, Absalom”

Come and smear me
With the branches from that tree
Hyssop dipped in innocent blood
To make me clean
Let an old man’s broken bones
Once more rejoice
Absalom, you were my little boy

Absalom, Absalom
My son, my son, my son
Caught in the tangles of deceit
Hanging lifeless from that tree
Absalom, Absalom
My son, my son, my son
Caught in the tangles of your hair
The fruit of my own sin to bear
Oh Absalom

You were the laughing boy
Who bounced upon my knee
You learned to play the harp
And use the shepherd’s sling
Always watching my impressionable son
Absalom, what have I done

You were watching
When I took a good man’s wife
And gave the order for his murder
Just to cover up my crime
All the vanity, cruel arrogance and greed
Absalom, you learned it all from me

When Steve Bell sings that song live, he prefaces it with a story that has stuck with me…and haunts me…almost everytime I listen to it…

Steve didn’t write the song but was mesmerized by it. He imagines David, hearing the news of his son’s death….a death that he so desperately wanted to avoid and yet, perhaps, in his heart of hearts, it was a death that he felt was inevitable.

His son had risen up against him. His son hated him so much that he took over his kingdom and he mocked his father. This same kingdom that Absalom had grown up in…running around the palace as a toddler, stealing cookies from the golden fancy dinnerware…this lifestyle and the accouterments that came with it became the springboard for Absalom’s life of envy, greed and violence.

As Nathan prophesied… “The sword shall never leave your household.”

And when Steve Bell reflects on this song, he reflects on his own journey of fatherhood (influence)….he talks of a time in his left when he recognized that all the goodness of what he had done for over 20 years of being a father to his child…and all the badness and dysfunction of what he had done for 20 years is there to stay. There’s no turning back the hands of time. There’s no getting it back.
“All the vanity, cruel arrogance and greed, Absalom, you learned it all from me.”

“You learned it all from me”….now we can recognize that that phrase has some poetic hyperbole in it…and yet, as I heard Steve sharing the story, it was like a dagger to my heart (in the best sense of the phrase!). The things that I am doing and saying in my house are forming patterns that will continue through my childrens’ lives for generations to come…and there will be nothing that I can do about it, except pray that God will continue to be God…that the story is (ultimately & thankfully!) being written by God…and that God will be with my children and will somehow, in some way, guard them, protect them and lead them in the way of life & wholeness VS the way of shame & death.

Phew! Some heavy stuff!

But, I share this story because it brings out the judgment and promise in today’s complicated, violence-filled Bible story…
(and in the promise we seek to find the good news!)…

Israel, like any family of people…had begat a hell of a mess.
Last week we read that once Israel reached the promised land, they instantly corrupted it by giving themselves to foreign gods and “non-Yahweh” dependancies. They kept on seeking out human judges who would save the day, and then though peace might come for 10 or 20 years, it wasn’t long before “the Israelites AGAIN did what was evil in the sight of the LORD.”
And then, despite Samuel’s prophetic warnings, Israel decides they want to be like all the other countries and be ruled by a King instead of YHWH. God again condescends, but it gets no better. The King brings YHWH worship and restoration to the people, but it’s just a short time before everyone is out & about doing “evil in the sight of the LORD.”
And for David, though he goes down in history as a “man after God’s own heart,” his feet are made of clay…he’s just like us…in fact he’s even worse than us!
A self-serving, deceitful, lustful murderer. As one commentator put it “a man who sacrificed his humanity at the altar of power.”

And the murderous “way of the sword” that has propelled his ambitions forward, is used against him & his house in the form of the 3-speared slaying of his dear son Absalom.
(done by his favourite & most relied upon General Joab!).

But the good news in the David story…the good news for the people in exile who penned this story in 580 BCE….the good news for us as double-minded God-followers in Edmonton, Alberta in 2014 is that….


Or…to listen to the GodStory take on it…

Nathan’s judgment “the sword shall never depart from your house”

Is trumped by

Nathan’s promise “Thus says the LORD of hosts…I WILL NOT TAKE my steadfast LOVE from David.”

Walter Brueggemann, the OT Scholar, describes these 2 movements as “sustaining divine love” in the midst of “the jeopardizing sword.”

So whether it’s Steve Bell, the people of Israel, or you, me and that “impossible” imperfect Christian sitting next to you this morning, God is consistently looking past the “shabbiness of human character” (thanks again Brueggemann!) and accomplishing his ways of divine love as the lead protaganist in the story…

Quote: “History, as remembered and presented here, is an altogether human enterprise with all of the ambiguity and flaw of human character. Thus the books of Samuel attend to the inescapable ways in which the God of the Bible is KNOWN and SEEN to be at work…IN, WITH, and UNDER human life, in quite particular ways, and very often quite subservient to the choices and conduct of human agents.”

In other words…a fancy, theologically thoughtful way of saying: LOVE beats jeopardizing SWORD!

And though Love > Sword, the sword doesn’t magically go away…
As it was for Israel, it is for us 3000 years later…
God’s steadfast LOVE will mysteriously & providentially plunk itself into the midst of all the RECKLESS ways that we jeopardize our lives by the SWORD. We, too, undo ourselves by the sword don’t we?
– we cut our nose to spite our face
– we backstab one another
– we jab and jeer at each other with rage…be it passive or aggressive…

And yet God provides a way for us to free ourselves from the jeopardy!
As we look ahead to the Jesus narrative that we will prepare for next week in the 1st week of Advent, let’s remember there’s a better end in sight…
we’re not left in a tug of war between devil angel on one shoulder and god angel on the other shoulder…(it’s not a coin toss on who wins!)…

Though we’re prone to echo the lament of Paul in Romans 7-8 “the things I do are the things I don’t want to do”…we need to make it to the final promises of that passage…it’s not a matter of try harder…it’s a matter of being rescued by Jesus…

Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?
Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!…
…There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are IN Christ Jesus.

And the presence of Jesus adds power and personhood to the words of David, who wrote that “life on the run” prayer in Psalm 3:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying to me,
“There is no help for you in God.”
But you, O LORD, are a shield around me,
my glory, and the one who lifts up my head.
I cry aloud to the LORD,
and he answers me…
…the LORD sustains me.
I am not afraid.

(and this Psalm would also be one of David’s tried & true prayers…)
I remember the days of old,
I think about all your deeds,
I meditate on the works of your hands.
I stretch out my hands to you;
my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
Answer me quickly, O Lord;
my spirit fails.
Do not hide your face from me,
or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.
Let me hear of your steadfast love in the morning,
for in you I put my trust.
Teach me the way I should go,
for to you I lift up my soul.
Save me, O Lord, from my enemies;
I have fled to you for refuge.
Teach me to do your will,
for you are my God.
Let your good spirit lead me
on a level path.
For your name’s sake, O Lord, preserve my life.
In your righteousness bring me out of trouble.
In your steadfast love cut off my enemies,
and destroy all my adversaries,
for I am your servant.