2 Samuel 23:1-7
1These are the last words of David:
“The inspired utterance of David son of Jesse,
the utterance of the man exalted by the Most High,
the man anointed by the God of Jacob,
the hero of Israel’s songs:
2 “The Spirit of the Lord spoke through me;
his word was on my tongue.
3 The God of Israel spoke,
the Rock of Israel said to me:
‘When one rules over people in righteousness,
when he rules in the fear of God,
4 he is like the light of morning at sunrise
on a cloudless morning,
like the brightness after rain
that brings grass from the earth.’
5 “If my house were not right with God,
surely he would not have made with me an everlasting covenant,
arranged and secured in every part;
surely he would not bring to fruition my salvation
and grant me my every desire.
6 But evil men are all to be cast aside like thorns,
which are not gathered with the hand.
7 Whoever touches thorns
uses a tool of iron or the shaft of a spear;
they are burned up where they lie.”
It is amazing, but I have realized that the older I get, the dumber I get. It confounds the mind. Truly. I could have sworn that I was a lot smarter back when I was an adolescent. At least I know that I thought I was a lot smarter when I was an adolescent. I thought I knew who I was, what I was about, what I was going to do for a living, how to best live my life, and finally, I actually thought I knew what we needed to do in order to fix our nation and our government. 35 or so years later I realize that I am still trying to figure out exactly who I am and what I am about, since it keeps changing as I grow older. After eight years of graduate school and seven years in private practice, I have a much better idea of what I am going to do for a living, but I still cannot adequately describe it to someone outside of the Methodist Church without thoroughly confusing them. I think I know how best to live my life at this moment but am not always sure of what I should be doing next. And after years of political debates and voting I know that fixing our nation and our government is a very complex task that is far beyond my limited mind and abilities. It turns out that I peaked in terms of wisdom at the ripe old age of 15 and it’s all downhill from there.
This whole process has been kind of disappointing, because as a young woman I lived under the delusion that growing older would make me feel more sure of myself, feel more capable, more intelligent, more savvy, and instead I feel more tentative, more unsure, more willing to sit back and wait-and-see because I no longer feel certain about anything. And a little certainty would be nice. But that’s just not going to happen.
In 1990 my husband and I joined St. Matthew United Methodist Church. Phil and I had moved from St. Louis to Phoenix only a few months earlier and we were totally new to the area, so our church was one of the few places where we felt at home. I met this older woman shortly after we joined—her name was Alice—and she was the most godly, awesome, spiritual woman I had met in a long time. I remember listening to her talk and thinking—gosh, I want to grow up to be just like her! Years later when I was seminary and she was celebrating something like her 85th birthday, I went up to her and said “You know Alice, I look at you and I look forward to growing older. I see your faith and how strong it is, and it amazes me. I guess that’s one of the big benefits of growing older—all those years spent growing in grace. It must be magnificent to walk with God like that.” And Alice turned to me and said “I used to think that too. I thought I would be so spiritual when I got older. And I keep waiting for it to happen, but the truth is that I’m just as bad at being faithful now as I was back then.” That really threw for a loop, because I thought for sure that somehow getting older was going to make things easier spiritually, that I was going to eventually gain some special grace that would make me capable of all the things I don’t seem to be capable of now. But no. Apparently, that’s not going to happen either.
The truth is that when I put my life together and take a good look at it, it looks like I’m struggling on every front: as a person, as a parent, as a Christian, as a counselor, as a pastor. It’s kind of embarrassing. I would get down about it, but reading my Bible seems to help. Because every Bible story you read involves somebody screwing up. Everyone in the Bible seems to be struggling just as much as I am—except Jesus. But everyone OTHER than Jesus is bumbling along from mishap to trial to mistake. Not that I get pleasure out of other people’s problems, but they do make me feel just a little more normal. It’s like when my kids were younger and I’d talk to the parents of my daughter’s friends. Inevitably, they’d start talking about the trouble that they were having with their daughter and I’d find myself saying “Your kid does that too?!” and suddenly I’d feel normal instead of feeling like a total loser. The Bible does that for me all the time.
My Bible reading for today was 2 Samuel 23:1-7. In this passage King David is laying on his deathbed, speaking his last words, and David says “The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, His word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God?”
And I immediately thought: NO! Not hardly! I mean really, where exactly did David get that idea?!
Now I realize that having gone to seminary might have gotten me a little deeper into the characters in the Bible than most people get, so I’ve got to tell you—David was one interesting guy. I know that we normally think of David as the good king, and he was a good king, but I need to be honest about the man. He had some serious problems going on.
David basically stole the affection and loyalty of the Israelites away from King Saul long before David actually became king. This is part of what made King Saul chase David out of Jerusalem and what made Saul eventually go crazy, and of course the Israelites got to put up with all of Saul’s craziness while David laid low and watched the country go to pot from a distance. Nice guy, huh?
David was engaged to marry Saul’s daughter Michal, but after Saul chased David out of town, he married Michal off to another guy. When David came back to Jerusalem the triumphant hero and soon-to-be king, he decided he wanted Michal as his wife after all, and so he sent someone to take her away from her children and her husband, and the Bible says her husband followed her back to Jerusalem “weeping as he walked behind her all the way.” Like I said, that David—nice guy, huh?
After stealing Michal from her rightful husband, David decided that he really, really liked some other guy’s wife, too—Bathsheba—and after committing adultery with her, David had Bathsheba’s husband killed so that he could marry her and hide his adultery. Really—nice guy.
And David didn’t do too well on the parenting front either. His son Amnon raped his own sister Tamar. Then David’s other son Absalom killed Amnon in retribution and ended up fleeing the country because murder was a crime punishable by death. David decided that he was okay with the whole thing and pardoned Absalom for the murder, mostly because Absalom was his favorite son. Did David ever say one word about Amnon raping Tamar? Nope. Did David ever suggest to Absalom that taking the law into his own hands was a bad idea? Nope. Seriously, this guy is a gem.
Then, after Dad got Absalom off the hook for murder, Absalom decided to overthrow David as king, so he chased his Dad out of Jerusalem, and then did immoral things with David’s wives. And when David’s army finally killed Absalom so that David could retake the throne and restore order to Israel, did David thank them? No! David spent a few weeks mourning Absalom—the kid who murdered his brother, took over the kingdom, slept with his father’s wives, and tried to kill his own father. Holy smokes, folks.
Personally, I think David is just a little warped. A great king, a leader of Israel, the guy that God chose to make the covenant with, but still, a little warped.
And yet all these years later, don’t we call David ‘the good king’? Isn’t he the guy that we hold up as the great king of Israel, along with his son Solomon? There’s got to be a reason for that.
And there is. You see, David may not have been the greatest guy—in fact, sometimes he was a really big idiot—but he had this huge advantage. He had faith in God, a huge faith in God, and even though David blew it again and again and again, he always came back to God after he blew it. And God, in return, kept the covenant that He had made with David—an everlasting covenant—that David and his sons would rule Israel in justice and righteousness forever. And while David falters in his faith many times, while David falters in his commitment to God many times, God never falters in His commitment to David, and so each time David repents and returns in faith to God, God restores justice and mercy and righteousness to David’s kingdom.
You see—it isn’t David and his big skills that make his kingdom just and righteous—David is just as human as you and I and he is never going to be able to sustain that kind of righteousness in his own life. It’s God and His faithfulness that make it all work. So David can fail and will fail and fail some more, and as long as he keeps coming back to God, as long as David truly repents and returns in faith, God is there to restore him, to restore his kingdom again and again and again. And so what David says is true, in fact: “One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” Yes indeed He will! Not because David is so righteous, but because God is so mighty.
And to hear that makes me glad. Because it isn’t too long after I wake up rejoicing in the day that the Lord hath made that I start asking God to maybe make this day really short so that can I try again tomorrow. All these years I’ve been waiting for greater wisdom, greater grace, greater patience, greater something that will keep me from making the same mistakes over and over, and then I find out that it isn’t me that makes my household righteous. It isn’t me that makes my government just. It isn’t me that makes my daughters walk in the way of the Lord. Sure, I have an impact. I have a role in it all. I have my part to play. But in the end, the outcome is not in my hands. My house is righteous not because I am so very righteous, but because it is a house in God’s hands. My marriage is faithful not because I am so perfectly faithful but because it is a marriage in God’s hands. My life is what it is and has the impact that it has not because I am so great but because I am a woman in God’s hands with God’s covenant on my side. The Christian church worldwide is what it is and is able to do what it does in the world not because we as the family of God are so very holy, not because we are so very righteous, but because we are a people in God’s hands—with God’s everlasting covenant through Christ on our side—and therefore all that we are is defined by God and God alone, and all that is possible in and through our lives is truly created and made possible by God through Christ in us.
This coming Sunday—November 22, 2015—is Christ the King Sunday. Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the Christian year before Advent begins and a new Christian year begins and we look forward to birth of our Savior again. And at this time of year it is good for us to remember that no matter how screwed up things seem—in our personal lives, in our families, at our jobs, in our nation, in our world—no matter how far off the track we seem, that it is God, through Christ, that will make things what they ought to be. Justice, righteousness, order, security, prosperity: these things only exist as God-given possibilities, given to us through God’s covenant with us in Christ. So we must stand on that covenant and not on our own abilities. We must stand on the covenant wrought through Christ, through His death and resurrection, and we must put Christ at the head. At the head of us, at the head of our families, at the head of our church, at the head of our jobs and our corporations, at the head of our government, at the head of our world—Christ at the head because Christ is the King!—and when Christ is the King it will be with us as it was with David, that despite our frailty, we will look back at the end of our days and ask “Is not my house like this with God?” And the heavenly host will resound: YES IT IS! Because Christ is King! Christ is King indeed! Amen!