Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Whole Story (A Sermon about David, and a whole mess of other stuff)

The text for this sermon was from 1 and 2 Samuel and Psalm 51.  In worship, we read the story of Samuel anointing David, from 1 Samuel 16.  Those of you who know David's story might remember that it got a little....complicated.

Oh, it started out well. The story begins so beautifully. David has a lovely pedigree:   The son of Jesse, the son of Obed, the son of Boaz. A good line, people who made good decisions, wise decisions, people with generous hearts who worshipped the Lord. On the women’s side (they don't make it easy to find, but it's worth knowing...), there was Ruth, the savvy widow who secured a future where there seemed to be no hope. There was Rahab, the woman who welcomed everyone into her apartments (even the spies sent to scope out her city) and who wrangled a promise of protection from them.

Read between the lines. We’re supposed to fall in love with David. Everyone does, in the end. God has an eye on the runt of the litter, a shepherd, at work as the story begins, and unable to join the party. The others were invited in to worship. The others were invited to meet the prophet. But David, the youngest, was left out. And so because God loves the outcasts, we know that good things are in store for David.

Oh, we love the story of this beautiful, ruddy youth, love the youth himself. Love what he represents: tan from his time in the sun, strong and fit from all that wandering after sheep, and a musician, too. What’s not to like? Practically irresistible. Of course God would call him. How could he not be called? (David, the beautiful youth – scripture tells us he was not chosen for his beauty, but the writer takes such pains for us to know just how handsome he was, this king-to-be, hero-to-be…so we know better, don’t we.)

So when Samuel has him kneel – Samuel, the prophet, the one who hears God calling in the night. – when Samuel has him kneel we know the oil is going to pour down and we are witnessing a great day. A GREAT DAY for the nation of Israel. A GREAT DAY for the line of Jesse.

(Mind you, there’s already a king in Israel. It’s probably a good thing he doesn’t know what’s going on yet.)

David doesn’t disappoint. He soothes King Saul’s restless sleep with the strings of his harp. He becomes fast friends with Saul’s son Jonathan (perhaps more than friends, if you’re reading between the lines). He confronts a giant, armed with a sling and a stone, and wins. When the king dies in battle, when his line is extinguished, David is ready. Battle-hardened, and politically savvy, a musician, handsome as all get out. He brings the Holy Ark of God to Jerusalem. God makes a covenant with him, establishes the House of David.

Oh, how we’re supposed to love him.

You know it can’t last, right? Somehow it’s all going to come crashing down. And so it does. There are only so many praise songs one man can write; at some point, things begin to get complicated. The war goes on, David’s cooped up in his palace, and a pretty woman catches his eye. Except that pretty woman, Bathsheba, is actually married to another man. David didn’t let “thou shalt not covet” stop him. He got the woman pregnant, and he had the man killed. And what he had done was evil in the Lord’s sight. The story that began in such promise, went spectacularly off the rails when David saw Bathsheba and made his terrible choice.

And when he was called on it, he wept in anguish:
“Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!  Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!” (Ps 51:1) 
This is where the story breaks open. This is where it actually begins to get interesting, where it begins to matter, intensely, to those of us who understand the broken bits.  We know David’s desperation. At some point in our life, we have all prayed – or will pray – his prayer:

 “Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!” (Ps 51:10)

We treat these times of brokenness as if they represent a discontinuity – as if they somehow sever the beginning of the story from the present and the future. We see this in our common life: we put people on pedestals, and when they show a sign of their humanity, exhibit a flaw, we tear them down with glee. But they are one life, one person. Inseparable. Light and dark, sunshine and shadow, glory and pain. One gives definition to the other.

David who is anointed, and David who makes both wise and questionable choices, and David who repents with bitter tears – all of these are one person. The handsome shepherd and the beautiful singer, the warrior and the husband, the king and the lover – all of these are one.

There is no human being who has a straight path home into the heart of God. You were born the apple of God’s eye, precious, beautiful, beloved. Yet from your first moments, you caused pain. You received pain. You have been shaped by love and loss and day-by-day choices. Some of them pleasing to God, and others, well…. Not so much.

God does not claim only the beautiful parts of your story. God claims the whole story: the parts that were created whole and holy, and the parts that are broken and need to be redeemed.

Wherever your life has gone off the rails, whether it is by your choices, or someone else’s choices, or sheer circumstance, know this: You are the same child who was once - and is forever - washed in the water of divine love. You are the same youth called in from the wilderness and invited to kneel – even though you barely had a clue what was happening, what you were in for. And precious oil anoints your head, always, and you are called beloved, chosen of the Lord. That holy moment overlays every broken moment that brings you to your knees. They are, together, the fabric that makes up human existence, the pattern of our relationship with God.

Life didn’t get any easier for David. War and family strife followed him all of his days. But even so, the shepherd king kept singing:

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, my deliverer…
my stronghold and my refuge, my savior.” 
(2 Sam 22:2-3).

“In my distress I called upon the Lord; to my God I called…
he heard my voice, and my cry came to his ears.” (2 Sam 22:7)

He did not forsake the holy moment that still sang within him. He made his offerings to God.

In his old age, the stories tell us, David still found the company of a young woman a pleasant way to keep warm.

Shall we speak of what is holy, and what is broken?

 “O Lord, open our lips, and our mouths will declare your praises.” (Ps 51:15)



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The Whole Story by Rev. Kerri Parker is licensed under a 
It was preached at McFarland UCC on October 20, 2013.