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Worship and Sermons
July 1, 2018

“Keeping God First” by the Rev. Don Wahlig, July 1, 2018 [Pentecost 6 B] –  2 Samuel 1:1, 17-2:1 •  Psalm 130  •  Lamentations 3:22-33  •  2 Corinthians 8:7-15  •  Mark 5:21-43

FOCUS:  Stay humble and God-led.

      I’ve been spending time this week reading up on the ancient Greek Tragedies.  Some of these are almost 1,500 years old, but it’s amazing how relevant they still are. 

      The most popular ones – Oedipus Rex, Antigone, Prometheus Bound – are still regularly performed.  You may have had to read, or even act in one of them when you were in school, as I did.

      If so, then you know at least two things about them.  First, more often than not, the downfall of the protagonist is hubris – excessive pride.

      Second, there is usually a chorus.  The chorus is a group of actors who give commentary on the action.  They’re like the peanut gallery.  

      They’re not just passive, however.  They interact with the main character.  They advise him, they persuade him to do the wise and virtuous thing.

       This kind of Greek chorus is exactly what David is trying to establish when he teaches the people of Israel to learn and sing the lament we just read.

      When we left off last week, David had just killed Goliath. The next 12 chapters of I Samuel read like a soap opera.

      Saul takes David into the royal household.  David plays the harp for Saul – which comes in handy, because Saul’s gotten awfully moody. 

      Saul’s jealous of David.  As with most repressed emotion, it comes out at odd times and in violent ways.  Every once in awhile, Saul chucks a spear at David across the room. 

      Even worse, Saul begins to plot against him.  He uses his daughters as bait to lure David into a suicide mission. “Collect 100 Philistine foreskins, David, and you can marry my daughter.”  

      But, much to Saul’s surprise, David accomplishes this mission - and marries Saul’s daughter.

      Not only does she love David, but so does Saul’s son, Jonathan.  Saul’s thinking, “It’s not enough that the people are singing David’s praises, but my own family adores him, too!”  And that sends Saul over the edge.

      He goes after David himself.  David runs off to Samuel for protection.  When Saul pursues him there, David goes into exile.  And for the next ten years, David is a fugitive, a man on the run.

      Eventually, he holes up in a cave several miles south of Bethlehem.  There, He does well by the local people.  In the process, he attracts a band of 400 followers. But Saul gets wind of his whereabouts and comes after him again. 

      So it is that, one day, who should come shambling into David’s cave hideout but none other than Saul himself, searching for an indoor toilet.  If there’s ever an opportunity for David to kill Saul, this is it.

      Instead of killing him, David creeps over in the darkness and clips off a corner from Saul’s cloak.  

      Then, as Saul is walking away from the cave, David pops out and shows him the little stitch of fabric as proof that David means him no harm. 

      Saul’s impressed by David’s righteousness, and he goes away.  But it’s not long before he’s after David yet again. 

      And this time David knows he has to go even further away.  He seeks shelter with Israel’s arch-enemies, the Philistines. 

      David’s playing a dangerous game:  he’s convinced the Philistine king that he’s working on behalf of the Philistines raiding Israel’s southern villages. 

      In reality, however, David is ransacking the towns of the Amalekites, Israel’s other arch-enemies even further south. 

      Then the moment of truth comes.  The Philistine king commands David and his band to take part in an attack on Saul’s army.  Fortunately for David, the Philistine commanders refuse to fight alongside him. 

      So it is that David and his growing band of men are far away in the southern desert on that fateful day when Saul and Jonathan are killed by the Philistines.

      When David hears the news, he’s overcome with grief.  He vents his sorrow by composing a song. That song is the moving lament we read this morning.

      But there’s something odd about this lament.  We can all understand why David would mourn his soul sibling, Jonathan, but why would he also grieve so deeply for Saul?

      I’ve been giving that a lot of thought this week.  The answer is that this lament has another purpose beyond grieving the deaths of Jonathan and Saul.  It’s meant to be David’s warning to himself to avoid the same fate.

      David knows what’s coming next:  he knows he was anointed for God’s purpose.  That purpose was to be Israel’s next king.

      As he prepares to take on this awesome responsibility, he increasingly realizes the risk of following in the footsteps of Saul.  This lament is to remind him to avoid that.

      Up until now, David has faithfully relied on God.  Wherever he went, whatever he did, he checked in with God.  That’s how he made sure he was doing God’s will.

      But, as he contemplates becoming God’s next anointed King, he realizes something very important. 

      In order to avoid a fate like Saul’s, he’ll have to be on his guard against the pitfalls that snared Saul.  That is why there are three warnings in this lament.

      First is the warning that power is tenuous.  It’s contingent on God’s blessing. That blessing only comes through obedience to God’s will.  Power can never be secured or maintained by human means alone.

      That’s what David means when he writes “Oh, how the mighty have fallen”.  He’s not just talking about Saul, but others who also relied on their own weapons and might.  

      Exhibit A, of course, is Goliath.  His unparalleled weaponry, armor and sheer strength were still not enough to triumph over David, who followed God’s will.

      The second warning is the warning not to gloat.  That’s what David is warning the Philistines in Gath and Ashkelon not to do.  But he’s also talking to himself.

      Surely, David felt the urge to gloat over Saul’s death.  But David’s aware that gloating when your enemies have fallen is dangerous.  The very same thing can and will happen to the new leader, too, if he strays from God’s ways. 

      So, David calls the people to remember that both Saul and Jonathan were mighty warriors.  Their triumphs enabled the people to enjoy the luxuries of treasure captured from their defeated enemies.

      The third warning is located in David’s grief specifically for Jonathan.  Like all the other Israelites who died in that battle, Jonathan’s death was the collateral damage of Saul’s colossal failure to obey God.

      Mourning the loss of Jonathan’s loyal and loving friendship reminds David of the highly personal, emotional risk of leading the people. 

      When leaders fail to seek and follow God’s will and, instead, rely on their own powers to pursue their own desires, they inevitably experience the sharp pangs of losing those near and dear.

      These three warnings in David’s lament boil down to one.  They’re David’s warning to himself to resist the excessive pride that often traps those who assume power.

      David’s had tremendous success, thanks to God. Thankfully, along with that success, God has also given him the gift of self-awareness.  This is a big part of what makes David a wise leader.

      David recognizes in himself the tendency to become big in his own eyes.  He knows as well as anyone that pride is the greatest sin of all.  Pride prevents us from seeking and obeying God’s will.

      So, he enlists the people’s help in warning him, just like one of those ancient Greek Choruses.  That’s why he commands this song of lament be taught to the whole nation.  He wants their help in staying humble and God-led.

      This is why David is so very intentional in consulting God about his next steps:  Lord, shall I go up to Judah?  Yes?  OK – To which city should I go?  To Hebron?  Yes – to Hebron.  And so, to Hebron he goes.  That’s where he will be crowned king.

      David is reminding himself to do what we should all do.  Stay humble, and stay in close touch with God’s will.  No matter how much we’re tempted to take matters in to our own hands, and to take the credit when things go right, the glory always belongs to God - and God alone.

      As all manner of organizational consultants are increasingly finding, humility is what makes the most successful leaders.  It’s true in business and in the church, at home and at work, in private life and the public sphere.

      As we celebrate our nation’s Independence this week, let’s remember and be inspired by the humble leadership of our first leaders.  At the top of that list, is George Washington.  

      Washington spent the harshest winter of the Revolutionary War living and walking among his men at Valley Forge.  When the war was won, he refused the title of king.  He insisted on wearing civilian clothes in office.  And he actually said no to a third term.  

      Above all, George Washington was a man who relied on God more than his own abilities. 

      The proof is in this prayer that he kept on his nightstand:  

      “Eternal and everlasting God, … Direct my thoughts, words and work.  Wash away my sins … and purge my heart by thy Holy Spirit, … that I may with more freedom of mind and liberty of will serve thee, the everlasting God . . .  this day and all the days of my life.”

      Friends, somewhere in the midst of all our barbecues, parades and fireworks this week, let’s all pray that prayer. 

      Let’s let it remind us to keep God first.   May it be so.

Last Published: July 3, 2018 9:52 AM
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