Sermon on 2 Samuel 1 - The Way of the Heart
Part of me this morning, as we return to our trek through Samuel and Kings, wanted to say something like – When we last left our heroes… but there aren’t very many heroes here. Last time we were in Samuel it was 1 Samuel and Israel had rejected God, rejected Samuel, wanted to be like everyone else. They wanted a king. And now we have the death of that king and the rise of the next. Much has happened while we have been gone. It’s been a couple of weeks. Let me catch you up.
1. God finds them a king in Saul. The type of king they want. Tall. Strong. Pretty. One whom the Spirit of God causes to prophesy and yet he showcases exactly what Samuel warned about as the king. His first action, when a city is attacked and besieged, he cuts up an ox and sends pieces to every tribe saying – Any man who doesn’t come and fight will end up like this ox.
2. Then Saul goes the way of Israel. He disobeys God’s command which was a rather bloody command, so I’m kind of thankful for that, but he also assumes the role of priest because he was afraid of his enemies and couldn’t wait for Samuel to come and do his job. Impatient and obstinate, God says he will give the kingdom to another.
3. That other is David. One who is announced as a “man after God’s own heart.” Where he is the youngest and smallest of his brothers and yet God chooses David, apparently because of his heart. That he will follow the Lord. We’ll see about that.
4. This gets cemented with everyone’s favorite Sunday School story. David and Goliath. David slaying the giant who dares to insult the armies of the Lord. David gets shown to be the example of what a king should be. Reliant on the Lord, not on himself.
5. We then have the death of Saul. Saul dies in battle against the Philistines. At the end of 1 Samuel he takes his own life, falling on his own sword because his armor-bearer won’t kill him.
Now that we are caught up, let me tell you again – these are not stories of virtue. Of heroes. These are not there to try and tell us, just be David and you will slay the giants in your life. No. We are not David. We shouldn’t want to be David. Definitely not Saul. Too often the Bible is held up as stories we are to emulate or morality plays to help make us into nice people. No. These are stories of failure. Stories of disaster. Stories that don’t paint the best portraits of our heroes but showcase them with their warts, their bad hair days, their missing teeth and often wretched lives.
Take our story today. David has become King because Saul dies. His first kingly act is to kill a man who lied about what he did. I told you that at the end of 1 Samuel, Saul begs his armor-bearer to kill him because he is going to be surrounded by his enemies and doesn’t want to die at their hands. His armor-bearer refuses and so Saul kills himself. Falls on his own sword. Here, a man comes in a manner of mourning. Torn clothes. Dust on his head and pays homage to David. David asks about the battle and he tells him that he came across Saul leaning on his spear. Exhausted? Wounded? Mad? The Hebrew means a lot of things. Saul begs him to kill him and he does. He takes the crown and the arm-ring and comes to David. That is what this man says to David. My assumption is that he wants to gain favor with him and so takes credit for the death of the man whom he presumes to be David’s enemy. But it ends poorly for him. He presumes wrongly.
How often do we assume we know what is the best thing to do for God, or our leaders, or ourselves? How often are we maybe willing to take credit for something that was not our doing? How much of our dialogue in this country is full of all sorts of people assuming they know what Jesus would do? Assuming they know what Scripture says on a topic and are doing the will of God? Often that will or word is interspersed with our own desires, our own opinions or expectations. Or in our politics, being more worried about what the leaders might expect or want, winning the game, thinking we know what they might need, or them thinking they know what is best for us. I see here in this Amalekite a danger for us. A warning sign of our inability to really know. Or, what we think we should get for whatever we think is good might just be our downfall. Killing our enemies. Destroying them. That’s what is assumed here as the work of God in a way.
I was at my dad’s ordination service in Pasadena a couple of weeks ago. The morning after the 2 hour long service (told the kids they can never complain about Daddy having church go 1 hour), I was down in the lobby of the hotel doing my morning readings and drinking coffee, you know…being Lutheran (Bible and Java), and a gentleman I did not know came up to me, introduced himself and asked if he could sit down. He commenced to tell me how he saw me reading the Bible and told me he had a word of God for me. OOOOKKKKK? This was a man who is a member of the denomination I came out of. He told me that because I was listening to the word, obeying the call of God to read the word, that God had so much good in store for me. That he was going to bless me and prosper me because of it. I said thank you and he left. My morning was completely uprooted with that. What does he know of me? He doesn’t know my story. He doesn’t know my weaknesses. My sins. The fact that there are not too many examples of blessings and greatness coming upon people who think they are going to listen or obey the word. Read the book of Acts. Study church history.
It floors me to think that I could possibly ever know the mind of God, apart from what he has told me in Christ. That there is nothing that will ingratiate me. That often the direction that the Word of God, ie – Jesus, takes us is not often to greatness but to Calvary. Not to some superior moral standard but to a place where our sins become real, our failings become evident, and our need for Jesus becomes the only thing that draws us to church. Because every where else mercy is absent. Forgiveness doesn’t exist. We live our lives in a world that says love is expected to fall only upon the lovable. Forgiveness only on the penitent. We say that love trumps hate yet have no problem placing an asterisk on Luke 6 and Matthew 5 when it tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. To turn the other cheek. To love those who don’t love us. What????? That’s in there. Yep. I know what I need to confess today. It is all tied to God having loved his enemies. You and me.
In fact, what David showcases for us is the exact way that the world works around us. Punish the sinner. Death to the broken. There is no evidence within the Scriptures that what David did to this messenger was a command of God. No evidence that what he did was what he was supposed to do. Later on in our venturing through 2 Samuel we find David having the desire to build the Temple but God says “No. You are a man of blood.” That is – he is one who has shed much blood. A man of violence. Not a man of peace.
It is crazy for us to make heroes of people. To make either yourself a hero or some other person. If we look far enough we can find the demons our heroes carry. The sins that would tarnish their armor and make them less in our eyes. Causing us to become part of the crowd to shout them out of a restaurant or destroy their lives on social media.
In truth, there are no heroes in the Scriptures. All those we think to be heroes are not. The way we pastors fail you by making them heroes is horrible. Because when we do, often it leads to us being a hero too for you. I am no hero. I am not holy. I am not blessed or great or anything. I will fail you at some point. I will make you mad by something I say or don’t say. I will preach on something that makes you uncomfortable. I will fail to visit when I should, or visit when I shouldn’t. I’ll shove my entire leg in my mouth, not just my foot. Don’t hold me up. I am not going to be David for you. I am just another beggar walking alongside you leading you to where we can find bread. THE bread. Jesus. The only hero. The hero who wins by losing. Who dies in order to win the battle. Who does not slay his enemies, but instead saves them by his blood. Who looks around the world and only sees sinners worth redeeming not condemnation. That is the Gospel truth. That when I fail so much at loving God and neighbor, Christ not only says “Come to me and find the forgiveness you need,” but “While you suck at loving, I am really good at it. I forgive the unforgiveable. I love the unlovable. I become the Jesus the world needs rather than the one it wants. A Savior. A REAL Savior, rather than a politician, an artist, an athlete. One who loves you when you are at your worst, and gives you myself so that what is good in you is me.” That is Jesus. That is the hero. That is what church is for. The broken in need of redeeming. Thanks be to God. Amen.