David – What Happened?

This week the Narrative Lectionary points us to 2 Samuel 11-12 and Psalm 51.

It’s a part of King David’s story that is both shocking and disappointing. It’s not shocking for a King to use his power to use people, but we know King David as a ‘man after God’s own heart‘. He is exalted in Scripture in a way that few are. Yet as we read his descent into abhorrently destructive behavior we wonder where the David we know and love went off to?

David – what happened? How do you fall so far? We probably don’t ask those questions very loudly. We know very well the deceptiveness of sin and the lust of the flesh. It is just that we hope that someone of David’s stature can show us how to avoid falling into sin. But he doesn’t.

David is someplace he shouldn’t be. Why isn’t David at war? The text says that it was “the time when kings go out to battle” (2 Samuel 11:1), but David sends Joab and he remained in Jerusalem.

David is watching something he shouldn’t watch. We are human. We know that beauty, as we see it, attracts our hearts, minds, thoughts. Humans aren’t strangers to the allure of sexual attraction. We know we can look away, but do we? David didn’t.

David acts upon his thoughts in a way he shouldn’t have. Sending for Bathsheba is both an act of privilege and power, as well as physical lust. We have no idea from the text that David is interested in Bathsheba as a person. She is merely an object to him.

David attempted to cover his shameful behavior. Uriah is a potable figure in this story as well. He is another person David uses as a means to an end. The shame of this is multiplied by the faithfulness of Uriah to his King.

David descends deeper into sin and shame by having Uriah killed. These were days of brutality and King David, writer of the Psalms, lover of the ways of God,  has spiraled into a barbaric act of desperate self-preservation.

Enter Nathan the Prophet. Nathan would play a key role at times of David’s life (and Solomon’s) when he needed to hear the word of the Lord. This is one of those times. Nathan’s parable enraged David, but it was only when he revealed the true meaning of the parable that David began to understand what he has done.

The suffering David brings into the lives of others and himself is immense. The son born to this union becomes ill and dies. Bathsheba has lost husband and son. David is humiliated in the mess he made of his own life and others.  His life at this point is a poor reflection on the people of God.

The Narrative Lectionary has us reading Psalm 51-:1-9, but I think 1-17 would be more complete. The utter contempt with which David views his sin, his desire to be cleansed, to express his heartfelt desire to be restored to a walk with the Lord – are all signals to us that David recognized the truth about his own actions.

In preaching this month on being faithful to our Faithful God, I think we should consider that faithful Christians yield and repent to the Lord. Nowadays nothing is a sin. The only sin  is to label something a sin! But David sees the way he has let God down by his actions and his heart.

Are we ever broken over our own sins? Do we find ourselves in the death spiral of David … following the flesh, covering up our sins, wounding others to make ourselves look better, abusing our power and privilege to lift up ourselves … I don’t know about you but I’ve been down some of those roads. Let us hear the calling to be broken over our sins, not dismissive of them. Feel the pain of how we displease the God who loves us so much, instead of pretending He doesn’t notice. When is the last time we wept tears of bitterness over our own fallenness?

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise. – Psalm 51:17

This episode of David’s life stands out to the Biblical writers. In our less patriarchal times, we are mindful of the pain and loss suffered by Bathsheba. But the Hebrew writers continue to point out Uriah as the one who was hurt. And he did pay a price for his loyalty.

1 Kings 15:5 For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.

Matthew doesn’t let us forget this episode in the genealogy of Jesus when he writes:

Matthew 1:6 David was the father of Solomon, whose mother had been Uriah’s wife…

This was not the last word in David’s life. He wasn’t ever perfect. But he did go on to lead productively and the rule of Jesus was referred to as the ‘Throne of David’ that would have eternal implications. Our worst moments do not define our entire journey either. But they do remind us of the need to be committed to hearing the Lord and maintaining a penitent spirit.

Resource: NATHAN THE PROPHET

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Joshua and a Call to Commitment

The Narrative Lectionary this week points us to Joshua 24:1-15 [16-26]. We are at the end of Joshua’s colorful life. The most familiar verse in this text is in verse 15:

“But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

This text serves as a recommitment to the task of serving God only.  

We could begin our sermon with a lame preacher riddle about which Bible character was the son of Nun (which sounds like none). But please don’t. I digress.

A couple of preaching points occur to me on an initial reading, centered around commitment.

Commitment to God leads to a life God blesses. Joshua has lived a life of commitment to God. This text is at the end of his life, giving a retrospective. The faith of Joshua is amazing. One could begin with the amazingly brave faith he and Caleb had as they reported to Israel what they had found in Canaan. Both Joshua and Caleb were lifelong unmovable servants of Jehovah. In this text Joshua speaks on behalf of God to Israel’s leaders (Joshua 24:1, 2). He reminds them of God’s faithfulness to Abraham (whose father was an idol worshiper), Moses, Aaron.  I find some humor in verse 7, “Then you lived in the wilderness for a long time.” Boy did they!  

Joshua 24:13 “ So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.’

Commitment to God is challenged by the presence and appeal of other gods. This was the biggest struggle of Israel, and it’s ours as well. Joshua counters this by lifting up the power and faithfulness of God and asking for a commitment:

Joshua 24:14-16 “Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.”

Joshua is issuing a challenge to consider that there are other gods, and we are free to make the choice to live for them. It seems clear, though, that God demands that a voice be made. He won’t tolerate sharing our hearts with inferior gods. The false gods of our time are attractive, alluring, captivating even. If you want to get in trouble you can start naming the gods of our time, but be aware that everyone has ‘gods’ nearby that are asking for head/heart space. So if you want to tell how evil someone else’s gods are, include your own. But are we willing to lose our connection with God in order to serve them? Joshua affirms you can make that choice, but as for him and his house, they will serve the Lord.

Commitment to God influences family systems. This chapter begins with Abraham taking a different path from his family. Terah evidently served idols, but God removed Abraham from that setting and sent him on a new journey. We have to wonder what this says about…

*Leadership in the Family

*Religious unity in the Family

*Willingness of a family to be different from the world around it

Joshua is committed to leading his family in love and service to God. Are our families today united in devotion to God? Or are we torn in our various pursuits of other gods?

Commitment to God requires strength and courage. Reading through Joshua it is hard to miss the theme of courage. “Be Strong and Courageous” is found at least five times.  Joshua heard this admonition both from Moses and the Lord in Deuteronomy 31. Perhaps this is where Paul is inspired to write in 1 Corinthians 16:13, “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.”

Commitment to God is a testimony to the world about what is really important in life.  In Clarence E. Macartney’s The Greatest Men of the Bible, he points out that Joshua is the equivalent of the New Testament name Jesus. He writes, “Joshua is the Great Heart of the Old Testament.” He recounts Joshua’s encounter with the commander of the army of the Lord (Joshua 5) and writes, “Back of his heroic achievements was a deep acquaintance with the holiness and the majesty of God. It cannot be otherwise with us in the battle of life.” He concludes, “The world needs men who can preach like Joshua; not only rehearse and describe the great things of God and of Christ, but persuade men to choose them, and to choose them now.” Also, “There are plenty of gods won you can serve, aside from the true God and his Son Jesus Christ. Among these gods are business, society, money, power, fame, appetite, pleasure. But what are all these gods compared with Jesus Christ? … Who ever chose God and lived to regret that choice?”

Commitment to God provides a powerful example. God’s final testimony about Joshua:

Joshua 24:31  Israel served the Lord throughout the lifetime of Joshua and of the elders who outlived him and who had experienced everything the Lord had done for Israel.

Commitment to God leaves behind a legacy of faith. These are some of the last words of Joshua, from the previous chapter:

Joshua 23:14-16 “Now I am about to go the way of all the earth. You know with all your heart and soul that not one of all the good promises the Lord your God gave you has failed. Every promise has been fulfilled; not one has failed. 15 But just as all the good things the Lord your God has promised you have come to you, so he will bring on you all the evil things he has threatened, until the Lord your God has destroyed you from this good land he has given you. 16 If you violate the covenant of the Lordyour God, which he commanded you, and go and serve other gods and bow down to them, the Lord’s anger will burn against you, and you will quickly perish from the good land he has given you.”

I’m sure my sermon will take on a form I can’t quite picture at this moment. This are some initial thoughts as I look at the text for next Sunday.

John

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Ten Commands

The Narrative Lectionary texts this week are Exodus 19:3-7; 20:1-17. These are some initial thoughts looking ahead to Sunday.

The giving of the ten commands is a prolific shift in culture and community that affects us even today.  The posting of the Ten Commands in public places has become controversial.  Last June in Little Rock a privately funded 6 foot tall statue of the commands was placed on the grounds of the Capitol. It cost more than $26,000. Less than 24 hours later Michael Tate Reed drove his car into it while filming it on his cellphone and posting the video on Facebook. It was destroyed. (Link). There were other objections also. The commands relate to the importance of loving God and loving others.

In my life within churches of Christ I was taught that we are not obligated to keep the Ten Commandments as such because they were a part of the Old Covenant. I was also taught that Jesus taught nine of the ten commands, so, in effect, we are to keep them. Precise, I suppose.

Law. Humans rebel against laws. It’s our nature. Adam and Eve had one law and failed to keep it. We break laws all the time and hope we don’t get caught. Has anyone driven over the speed limit lately ? I rest my case. The Israelites affirm here that they will keep this covenant, but Bible students know it won’t be long until they are bowing before a golden calf.  We struggle with laws, we want to jump fences, we long to push the limits, we cross boundaries even when we know it will hurt us or others. We run over the commands in more ways than one.

All of which ought to motivate us to be in love with God’s law, and more specifically the God of the law. The law can’t save our souls but it can save us a lot of heartache.  It is for our good to delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it (Psalm 1).

As disciples of Jesus we love the law and word of God. Jesus quoted Scripture (Hebrew Bible) often. He calls us to love a God and one another with everything we have. What would call us from being lawbreakers to law lovers? When we see the benefits of living according to God’s framework for civilization we are drawn to Him. They are “…For your own good” (Deuteronomy 10:13).

Once we become Christians we are called out of a life of being commandment wreckers to being commandment keepers. Inasmuch as we fail, we remain dependent upon the God who is faithful to us and covers us with Grace.

The man who ran over the Ten Commandment statue was acquitted recently due to mental illness. Not everyone who hates the commands are mentally ill. But I would propose that loving God, resting, respecting our parents, respecting the lives of all humans, and loving our neighbors are all the basis of a well adjusted mentally, emotionally, and spiritually healthy life. God knows us well!

Thanks for reading. JED

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Israel’s Question

The texts for the Narrative Lectionary this week are Exodus 14:5-7, 10-14, 21-29 (just say Exodus 14, it’s just annoying for them to leave snippets out! Ok, got that out of my system) and the Gospel text is Matthew 2:13-15. The very familiar story of the Exodus is one of the overarching themes of the Bible. So much is happening in this text.  Dr. Cory Driver notes the many movements of the text: 

The Israelite experience of freedom was deeply confusing: 
The Israelites were freed with gifts of gold and silver. 
And then they were pursued by an army. 
And then Moses told them to be still and see what God would do. 
And then God told them to stop standing still and move forward.
And then the pillar that had been leading them moved behind them.
And then they walked through the depths of a sea on dry land.
And then the army pursued them.
And then the army was drowned.

The question that the children of Israel ask has always stood out to me. 

Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us out into the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? – Exodus 14:11

I could probably read too much of myself into this text. I’m the king of second-guessers. I can feel so sure about something one minute, then wonder if it’s the right path the next. The children of Israel were rich with the gold of the Egyptians. They were free. They were following a leader who demonstrated that God was with him through ten plagues. After 400 years of oppression, people who had only known themselves as slaves marched victoriously out of the hands of their heavy-handed master. 

But with a sea before them and an aggressive army behind them, they began to second guess this decision. 

Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert! – Exodus 14:12

I am wondering what Moses was thinking at this point. He flounders a little. What do we do? we just stay put and trust that God will deliver us. But God doesn’t intend for them to stay put. He wants them to move forward. And when his providential pathway opens up, they do.

I’ve been there, haven’t you?

When tragedy strikes we can wonder, “God, is this the best you can do?”

When we are victimized by others we can think, “Lord, I’m doing what I can on this end… but there’s so much pain to deal with and it seems like you’re just busy somewhere else.”

When our lives have fallen apart we can ponder, “Maybe I should just give up on God and live however I want. It can’t get any worse.”

God, are you there? No path forward? Going backward seems … somehow safer? More comfortable? I wonder if God is going to do anything? 

I’m sure there was that moment when the children of Israel bathed in their doubts, but then God came through when He knew it was the best time to do so. This did not stop the children of Israel from ever doubting again … by a longshot. But it did give them a clear picture. 

And when the Israelites saw the mighty hand of the Lord displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the Lord and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant. – Exodus 14:31

Israel’s question was answered. Moses didn’t bring them out into the desert to die, but to live. 

If you study/preach with the Narrative Lectionary you are invited to my Facebook group called Narrative Lectionarians where I’ll share resources each week.  JD

 

Joseph’s Run

The Narrative Lectionary leads us farther into the Old Testament story this week by pointing us to Genesis 39. If there is an ancient story with more contemporary ties, I don’t know what it would be.

Bible students are familiar with the long arc of the story of Joseph. He was the 11th son of Jacob and a favorite son. It was upon Joseph that the coat of many colors was bestowed. Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down before him. As unlikely as this was (from a human perspective), Joseph showed little discretion in telling his brothers about it. They hated him for his favored status and his delusions of grandeur. Sibling rivalry, it appears, is an ancient reality. So they sold him to some Ishmaelite traders (Thankfully, Reuben talked them out of killing him. That’s what big brothers are for!). They dipped his colorful coat in animal’s blood and cold-heartedly told their father that Joseph was dead. I guess they learned deception from the master of it. Uncle Esau almost killed their father over a lie and the loss of a blessing, but that’s another story. Our text finds Joseph in the next chapter of his life, a slave in Potiphar’s house.

No one would think Joseph was a lucky guy, but he did get taken down to Egypt where one of Pharoah’s officials bought him. It became obvious to Potiphar that the Lord was with Joseph and he gave him the keys to his house and business to oversee everything.  It became obvious to Potiphar’s wife that “Joseph was well-built and handsome” (vs. 6) and that she wanted to seduce him. He did refuse, out of loyalty to Potiphar. But Mrs. Potiphar continued “day after day” … until she cooked up a plan to bribe him into sleeping with her.  He didn’t give in, and she put her plan into motion. She produced “evidence” that he had tried to sexually assault her.  For this, he was put into prison. In prison, by the way, the warden could see that the Lord was with him and he gave him responsibilities. 

This story is epic. We won’t cover the ascension to a powerful position as a ruler Egypt. We can’t get to the reunion with his brothers and father. We can’t talk about the offer for Israel and his people to come to the land of Goshen. And how that all led to 400 years of slavery and the Exodus. We are anchored in this one episode – an episode that many times we read over quickly to get to the exciting part of the story. But we shouldn’t move too quickly, for there are some important things here in our text. 

*Joseph suffered several injustices that we often see today.

– He was a victim of human trafficking, being sold by those who had power over him.

– He was a victim of human slavery. Although he was treated well and given responsibility, we cannot lose sight that he was a slave against his will.

– He is a victim of racism, as he is typecast here as a slave because of his background. Potiphar’s wife exclaimed, “This Hebrew…”

– He was a victim of sexual harassment. There was someone with power over him demanding sexual favor. 

– He was a victim of wrongful accusation. He was not believed. 

– He was a victim of incarceration because of false circumstances.

– He was a man of integrity, running away from temptation.

Human trafficking, slavery, sexual assault, wrongful accusation, false imprisonment – did this story come from this week’s headlines? The injustices this Hebrew young man faced would leave anyone bitter, resentful, and disinterested in a God who would let this happen. But that is not his attitude. 

*The Lord was with Joseph. Four times in this text the Scripture says that the Lord was with Joseph. From a human perspective, that’s not quite evident, is it? We generally believe that when life is good the Lord is with us. How many times when misfortune or injustice strikes do we say ‘the Lord is with us’? 

Our text leaves us with Joseph in jail and his life story unresolved. In a way, that is good, because that describes our own situations. We don’t know how everything is going to turn out. What do we do when life has given us one hurt after another? Not just general unhappiness, but the kind of hurts that leave scars and make us wonder if we’re going to survive. A few overall observations about considering that ‘the Lord is with us’ in our times of pain…

*The Lord is with us if we are with Him. Many ungodly people wonder why bad things happen and God doesn’t do anything about it. While I do believe God hears every prayer, for those who have rejected God in their lives we shouldn’t wonder if the Lord is with them. In light of what we know, He allows us to wander away and go out on our own and be prodigal children. So everyone who suffers and injustice does not do so as one who is with the Lord.

*The Lord is with us but that doesn’t remove suffering.  Joseph suffered in multiple, dehumanizing, painful ways. The idea that living for God only results in good things happening in life is false. One only has to look to Christ on the cross to know that godly living does not remove suffering. In some ways, people can suffer because they live for God.

*The Lord is with us so we can act in godly ways during distress. When faced with a crisis many people abandon the Lord, others seek him more deeply. Joseph continued to serve God and he was ultimately rewarded to be in a place of power. It was during this time of power that his brothers came and bowed before him and begged him for help (not knowing he was their brother). This is the perfect time for revenge. Everyone in a position of power over him had sought to harm or treat him in inhumane ways. It was during this time he used his power for good. Although Joseph doesn’t know what the future brings as we read our text, we do not see him mistreating others. 

*The Lord is with us and in His presence tells us….

– He knows our hurts.

– He hears our prayers.

– He gives us strength and grace for endurance.

– He empowers us to make a difference. 

– He will never leave us.

– He ultimately will rescue.

In our day Joseph could have used a #metoo hashtag and could have spoken out against sexual harassment. He could have named the one who attempted to molest him. He could remind us of the destructive practice of human trafikking. He could have spoken out against slavery.  In these ways Joseph is very real in our world. Whatever hurts you have experienced, whether we named them this morning or not, I encourage you to find your hope in the Lord who is with you.

 

Abram’s Choice

Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.  I will  make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.  I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed. – Genesis 12:1-3 NRSV

Abram, as I see it, has kind of a sudden prominence in the Genesis story. There’s not much lead up to God’s amazing promise in this text. With Adam, we knew he was God’s first created human. With Noah, we knew that he stood out among all the people of his generation. With Abram? All we know about him is that he is the son of Terah. Terah gathered up his family in Ur of the Chaldeans and headed to Canaan. But he never got there. He stopped off in Haran and settled in there. Terah died without ever moving to Canaan. He left behind two sons (one had died) and their families. Abram was one of those sons. And he had a message from God to uproot from Haran and make his way to an undisclosed location. It’s not only undisclosed to us, it was undisclosed to Abram.

By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. – Hebrews 11:8

I suppose when one hears the voice of God there is some motivation to do whatever that voice says. Noah built an ark, indicating there was no doubt in his mind about what God wanted him to do. On one hand, we might say Abram had no choice in the matter. On the other hand, it seems to me that Abram’s choice was to obey this message from God – a God one wouldn’t think Abram knew. 

As I read it, Abram kept getting messages from God with affirmations of amazing promises. In response, Abram kept on responding in the belief that God would do what He said he would do. 

Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” – Roman s 4:18

And that promise (spoiler alert) was fulfilled, but it took a long time. In the meantime, Abram tried to make it come about by figuring out how to help God keep his promise. It was, after all, in his best interest for those promises to come true. When the promised son became a reality, the truth was demonstrated once again that our timing and God’s timing aren’t often in sync. But that’s another text. So much of the story of Abram depends on his answer to this call. Abram’s decision. I know the matter of ‘choice’ has vast theological turbulence among Christian thinkers. But I don’t only think Abram decided to follow God in this instance, but over and over throughout his life.  Abram’s choice to follow God …

Cost him everything.

Gave him everything.

Complicated his life.

Simplified his life.

Challenged his thinking.

Enabled his faith.

No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  – Romans 4:20-21

There’s a reason Abram is the father of the faithful. It’s not because he was perfect, flawless, without failures. It’s not because he was a charismatic leader. It’s not because he figured out how to give God what he wanted. 

He believed God. He believed God above the idols of his youth. He believed God when he took the first steps in a direction toward an unknown destination. He believed God before he ever received one of the promised blessings. He believed God when his body was dead but a promised son was still on the horizon. He believed God when he took Isaac to the mountain in Moriah. 

Thus the scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness,” and he was called the friend of God. – James 2:23

To have that kind of faith, to just believe God, in this age of skepticism is an amazement. How many ‘friends of God’ are there today? What decision do you need to make so that you can demonstrate that you believe God? What choices are in front of you? Where will that lead you?

The life of faith is not a life of mounting up with wings, but a life of walking and not fainting. It is not a question of sanctification; but of something infinitely further on than sanctification, of faith that has been tried and proved and has stood the test. Abraham is not a type of sanctification, but a type of the life of faith, a tried faith built on a real God. “Abraham believed God.” – Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

One more thought. By the end of our text, Abram pitches his tent. He chooses a spot between Ai and Bethel. Ai means “heap of ruins” and Bethel means “House of God”. So we leave our hero someplace between ruin and riches, defeat and victory. I think this is where we all live. But where we go next is a choice. 

What thoughts do you have as you read Genesis 12:1-9?

Narrative Lectionary for this week is Genesis 12:1-9. Gospel Reading is Matthew 28:19-20.