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Sun, Jul 08, 2018

When he began to Reign

Duration:19 mins 27 secs

Throughout the summer we are following readings suggested by the lectionary from the Old Testament in a series we’ve titled, “Called: Flaws and All.” As we encounter the unique and memorable characters of Samuel, Saul, David, and Solomon we pray that we may have eyes to see and ears to hear how God might be calling us as indiviudals and all of us together as the church in new and perhaps surprising ways.

Our Second Reading for today comes from 2 Samuel, chapter 5, verses 1-10. This text represents a turning point in our narrative. Up until today we have been reading about the rise of David. Today, we begin the reign of David. Even though David had been anointed as the king by Samuel when David was just a boy, King Saul still reigned for many years. After Saul’s death, David initially becomes king of his tribe - Judah. It takes about seven years after Saul’s death for the all the tribes of Israel to come to David so that he might be king over all the people. Let us hear this Word of God.

1Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.

6 The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back”—thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7 Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. 8 David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” 9 David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

The first church I served after graduating from seminary was the Salem/Pageland Presbyterian Church in Pageland, SC. We moved to the area about two weeks before my ordination. I wanted to be able to hit the ground running when I actually started serving, so I asked the clerk of session if we could meet to have lunch. He was happy to do it and suggested that we meet at Eddie’s Pit Stop.

I discovered that Eddie’s Pit Stop was a small one-man grill on Route 9 just outside of Pageland. Arriving a bit early, I went in to wait. Opening the door, as my eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, I heard, “Well, hello Reverend.” Thinking I might have an opportunity to meet one of my new pastoral colleagues, I turned around to see who else might have come in behind me. Not seeing anyone, I looked at the half a dozen or so tables to see if someone just looked like a pastor. It is always dangerous to make assumptions based on appearance, but it did not appear to me that there were any pastors in Eddie’s Pit Stop that day. So, I kept walking and heard again, “Hello, Reverend.” I followed the voice to the man standing and smiling behind the grill. It was only then that I realized there was a “Reverend” in Eddie’s Pit Stop - me! Turns out Eddie was a member of the church. He recognized me from my picture in the Pastor Nominating Committee report.

Yes, that was first time I remember someone I did not expect, or even yet know, call me by this title, identifying me as: “Reverend.” It caught me off guard. I realized that something had changed.

That became even more evident just a few weeks later when I knelt at the front of the sanctuary of the Summersville Presbyterian Church. We had moved to Summersville on the day I started sixth grade. My family joined the church later that fall. I had stood in front of that church on the day I made my public profession of faith. I sang in the choir from time to time when I was in high school. I had even climbed into the pulpit every year on Youth Sunday, a little nervous but also a bit arrogant to believe that as a teenager I could preach the Word of God! Yes, that congregation had loved me and prayed for me while I was student at Davidson College and Union Presbyterian Seminary. That church and these people felt like home.

And yet, as I knelt there before them for the prayer of ordination, the hands of the commission from the Presbytery of West Virginia resting on my head and shoulders, I suddenly felt the weight of it all. Something significant was happening. This calling from God to serve as a pastor had a gravitas, a heaviness, to it that I had not expected. As I knelt there those hands seemed so heavy on my head and on my shoulders.

Then, after the “Amen” of the prayer, those same hands helped me to stand. They literally lifted me up and I knew I was not in this calling alone. But something had changed. I had knelt down as a recent seminary graduate. When I stood I was a Minster of Word and Sacrament in the Presbyterian Church (USA). In a real and yet somehow mysterious way, I suddenly felt I could now answer the next time Eddie said, “Hello, Reverend,” when I walked into the Pit Stop. What happened after I answered, well that was yet to be seen.

Something like all of that is going on in our text for today. When the elders of Israel come to Hebron to see David something real and yet mysterious is happening. David had been anointed by Samuel many years ago. Do you remember how God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to anoint one of the sons of Jesse as the next king of Israel. Samuel sees seven young men before him; God rejects them all. But there is one more: the youngest. He is out in the fields keeping the sheep. So, they send for this shepherd boy and when he arrives Samuel anoints him as king.

It is not with the weapons of a heavily armed warrior, but with a shepherd’s sling and a stone that this shepherd boy will defeat the Philistine giant Goliath. As he grows he will lead the people of Israel in battle, he will dodge the attempts King Saul makes on his life, he will hide out in the wilderness, he will spare the life of the king, and he will lead his own tribe. Through it all, David trusts in the Lord. He finds his perseverance and strength not in himself, but in YHWH – the God who delivers. He is now a little taller, a little older, but he still carries the simple faith in God he had as that shepherd boy.

Yes, when the elders of Israel come to Hebron to see David something real and yet mysterious is happening. “Look, we are your bone and flesh.  For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be [prince] over Israel.” It is like they are saying, “David, you know that we are all family here. Even when Saul was king, you were the real leader of our armies. So, remember what the Lord said to you.”

You shall be our shepherd. Yes, the shepherd is the model leader in Israel. Think of the words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” The shepherd provides green pastures, and still waters, right paths, protection in the darkest valley, and feast in the presence of enemies. The shepherd cares for and protects the sheep. That is what the leader of Israel should do.

When later kings fail miserably at this task, the prophets will criticize them for eating the fat and clothing themselves while ignoring the sheep. For example, Ezekiel declares:

You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

The leader of Israel is to be a good shepherd. And that vision begins with David, the shepherd boy who becomes the shepherd king.

But wait, not yet a shepherd “king.” At least that is not what the rulers of Israel request. The prophet Samuel had warned them about kings. Their recent experience with Saul confirmed the pitfalls that kings bring. The word in Hebrew for king is melek and it is used several places in this text, but not in the elders’ request. No, they use the word, nagid, which literally means “prince.” They remember in this moment that YHWH is king of Israel and the earthly shepherd of the people is God’s prince. There is a limit to monarchial power in Israel marked by the covenant between God, the prince, and the people.

Yes, something real and yet mysterious is happening when the elders of Israel come to Hebron to see David. The shepherd boy becomes the shepherd of Israel. The youngest son of Jesse becomes the prince over all the people. And David makes a covenant with the all the elders of Israel at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David “king.”

I thought he was supposed to be the prince?

But they anoint David “king” over Israel and something changes in him. From this point on in this story, there appears to be a struggle within David. Is he the shepherd caring for his sheep or is he the king consolidating power? Is he the shepherd laying down his life or is he the king taking life for his own gain? Is he the shepherd rescuing the weak or is he the king throwing out all who cannot produce something of value to him?

Yes, David is called “king” and we do not have to wait long to see what happens next.

Immediately after his anointing, David seeks to find a political capital for his reign. He chooses Jerusalem, the city of the Jebusites; a city on the border between the territory of the tribe of Judah and the territory occupied by the northern tribes. The city was thought to be so well fortified, so unconquerable, that the Jebusites taunt David that even the blind and the lame could defend it.

And yet, what David says in response is absolutely horrifying: “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore, it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.” These are not the words of a good shepherd. These are the words of angry and impulsive king. Yes, something has changed in David – and not for the better.

My friends, I ask you this morning to consider what you are called. It might not be as stark as being called “Reverend” for the first time in public. It might not come with the heavy hands of ordination or anointing as shepherd and prince by the elders of Israel. But, my friends God’s call to you is still just as sure. You were once the child of your parents, but they handed you over to a pastor to be baptized. After the water was poured over your head, the pastor handed you back and you were now called “child of God.”

That is who you are. That is your real name. For you are called to follow not King David, but the one who came to Jerusalem giving sight to the blind and new strength to the legs of the lame. The one who was crowned not on a throne in a palace but who found his throne on a cross just outside the walls of the city of David.

Yes, something real and yet mysterious has happened to you. Will you answer when Jesus calls you by name? What happens after that, remains to be seen.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray.

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