Scripture – John, chapter 9
Change You Can See
Britt’s and my first ministry charge was to a three-church cooperative parish in a small city in Pennsylvania. In one of those churches was a young man named Tommy. Tommy experienced a mild intellectual disability but he was fully and actively engaged in the life of the church. He loved his church and the church loved Tommy. When the church doors were open, Tommy was there. When a volunteer was needed, Tommy’s hand went up. On one occasion, we had a cooperative parish picnic. It concluded with communion and Britt and I decided that, to build bonds among the congregants, we would sit in a circle so that each person served could, subsequently, serve the person to their right and – in that fashion – the juice and the cup would make their way around the large circle, each person having the opportunity to both give and receive the body and blood of our Lord. Tommy, in his usual eager fashion, sat next to Britt and me. So he was the first to receive and to give. But, in his enthusiasm, Tommy failed to comprehend that, once he had served the person to his right, he should release the cup and loaf to that person and they would serve the individual on their right. When they reached for the cup and loaf, Tommy, instead, moved with enthusiasm to the next person in the circle. Now, once folks recovered from their initial surprise, a couple bold souls tried to explain to Tommy that he needed to relinquish the bread and cup. But I suspect that Tommy had never experienced the joy of serving the body and blood of his Lord to his church family. And he was so overjoyed at the opportunity; nothing could deter him from his mission. In the end, although there were a couple chuckles, no one was actually upset that the instructions hadn’t been followed. Tommy, with his unbridled joy and undiscriminating love, was a blessing to our church family.
Not surprisingly the ancient world was very different from our post-modern Western world. Today in America, although we may still struggle inwardly with stereotypes or prejudices, most of us believe that judging someone’s character based on physical characteristics or intellectual ability is inappropriate... Perhaps nowhere was this modern value more clearly expressed than in Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. King proclaimed, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."
But in the ancient world, it was considered not only appropriate, but prudent, to judge someone based on their physical characteristics and abilities. They believed that physical characteristics and inward character were so intertwined that, if one were to change, so must the other. Now, blindness in the ancient world was considered particularly suspect. Most ancient people did not understand the scientific or medical process for sight. Rather than understanding that light enters our eyes as part of the vision process, they believed the origin of the light that results in vision was within the person; it emanated from their heart. That's why Jesus, in Matthew's gospel is quoted as saying, "the eye is the lamp of the body."[i] Blindness was associated with sin. That is why Jesus' disciples inquire of him regarding whose sin led to this man's pitiable circumstances. The blind were judged to be ignorant. Hence lack of physical sight was linked to lack of insight or knowledge. Finally, people in the ancient Mediterranean world lived in great fear of the evil, or dark, eye. Since sight resulted from light that emanated from the heart; lack of sight meant a dark or evil heart. That evil would come out of the blind person's body through their eye and fall upon a person or object causing them harm or even death. Overall, to be blind in the ancient world was a dreadful state. As Britt writes in “One Thing I Know,” this blind man “would have been at best, pitied and looked down upon, and at worst feared and despised.”[ii]
And so there is a dimension to the story of the man born blind that would never even cross the mind, never be considered by, us in our culture today: the dimension of social isolation. Imagine how lonely this man would have been. People wouldn't have wanted to be his friend and he was likely treated by his family as a shameful embarrassment to them. This man, through - as Jesus affirms - no fault of his own, is living a lonely and isolated existence. That is, until Jesus passes his way. Within the first few verses of this story, Jesus has blessed him with physical sight. But the healing portion of this healing story is the shortest part of the story; and if that were the only change in this man's life, he wouldn't end much better off than he'd been at the beginning because we are human beings created in the image of a God who desires fellowship. From the Garden of Eden and on and on through Old Testament scripture and into the New Testament, it is abundantly clear that God wants to share close and intimate fellowship with us and God has placed within our hearts a longing, a yearning, to be in relationship with him and with one another. We are hard-wired for relationship. It is built in to our DNA...
And that is why it is a critical point, a place of mounting tension, in this morning’s gospel story when the religious leaders expel this man from the synagogue. He is thrown out of the place where God and God’s people connect. But our story doesn’t end there because Jesus wouldn’t ever let it end there. God doesn’t want us to live lives of isolation, shriveling under the judgment of others. Jesus came so that we might have life: a close intimate fellowship with him and with one another. Jesus finds this man who would have never recognized Jesus. Jesus very purposefully seeks him out. Technically, this blind man has not yet looked upon the face of Jesus. But Jesus finds him and he reveals himself to him. And the formerly blind man believes that Jesus is much more than initially meets the eye. The man’s encounter with Jesus changed his life because he now is in close relationship with God and with God’s people. And when chapter nine of John’s gospel concludes, Jesus continues to reveal who he is, describing himself as a Good Shepherd who draws together an ever-growing fold, an ever-expanding flock. And amidst their diversity and their differences, they are one flock led by one shepherd.
Friends, I hope you know yourselves to be a part of that Jesus flock. I hope you know him and trust him as your Good Shepherd who even laid down his life for you. And I hope that you also feel blessed to be a part of a flock, a fellowship, that isn’t defined by worldly labels and values; a fellowship that doesn’t judge your worth in relation to the income you make or the job you hold, how attractive you are, how witty you are, the kind of house you live in or your level of educational attainment; because Jesus came not only to change how we relate to God; Jesus came to change how we relate to one another. Jesus founded a flock that doesn’t judge based on outward appearances or abilities. Jesus founded a flock where the weakest and most vulnerable, folks like Tommy, are cherished and protected. The change that Jesus brings to our world ought to be clearly visible in the way we care for one another – fellow sheep of the fold and lambs of the flock. Jesus didn’t just give a blind guy the ability to see. Jesus gave a lonely isolated man a place to belong. He drew him into the fold and we are called to do the same in Jesus’ name.
[i] Matthew 6:22, NRSV
[ii] One Thing I Know: How the Blind Man of John 9 Leads an Audience Toward Belief. 2015. Pickwick Publications. P. 129.
I love scripture. But, I have to confess that, sometimes, I also find the stories of our scriptures frustrating. It seems to me that God communicated a lot more clearly to those bible characters than he does to me. They saw visions and had angelic encounters. God promised them very specific signs and he delivered. Now, that's not to say that I'm not aware of places where God is moving in my life. But, sometimes when I am struggling with a decision, I wish God would deliver his answer in such a blatantly obvious fashion that I just couldn't miss it.
Well, if you ever share my frustration, then this morning's Old Testament story of Esther might be encouraging for you. Now, if you've never read the book of Esther – don't feel embarrassed. Esther – like the Book of Revelation – only just barely made it into the bible. The reason? The book of Esther doesn't mention God a single time. However, the fact that God's name isn't mentioned in Esther doesn't mean that God isn't at work in Esther.
Now, before we get into the story, I want to give you a little background to provide the context for our story. Last week I preached about King David. Under David, Israel and Judah are united in a strong, cohesive monarchy. But, David's son, Solomon, so embitters his subjects that, shortly after his death the kingdom is split in two. Later the ten northern tribes of Israel are conquered by the nation of Assyria. But, the southern tribes of Judah manage to hold their own until they are overrun by Babylon. Babylon trashes Jerusalem and they take the brightest and best of the Jewish people away into captivity. Now, no doubt, life in Babylon posed challenges for the Jewish people. But apparently, some of the Jews adjusted well to life in this foreign culture and land. Later, when the nation of Persia defeated Babylon, King Cyrus of Persia allowed the Jewish people to return to their homeland. But some chose to remain where they were. And that brings us to this morning's story – the story of Esther. Esther is a young Jewish woman living outside her Jewish homeland – living within the vast Persian Empire. Now, if you dislike history and you’ve checked out over these last couple minutes, here's your summary: Once Israel was its own mighty nation. But, at the time of Esther, the ruling world power is Persia and Jewish people have been dispersed throughout the Middle East.
And so the story of Esther begins…
The king of Persia is named Ahasuerus. He is throwing a grand party for his officials and advisors and, as the party progresses and he becomes drunk, he sends for his queen – who is elsewhere entertaining the ladies in a more proper lady's fashion, we assume. However, Queen Vashti – for a reason we do not know – denies the king's request and refuses to appear. The king becomes enraged and consults his advisors about what he should do. They remind him that insubordination in the palace will result in chaos throughout the empire. So, if men are to remain in control of their households, Vashti should be properly punished. And she is. She is banished and a royal decree is sent out throughout the kingdom that "each man should be master of his own house."
Scene 2: Some time passes and the king has grown lonely. New advisors suggest that he summon all the virgins throughout his empire. They are to be brought to the palace, where they will spend an entire year undergoing a regiment of beauty treatments. Then, one by one, they will have one night with the king and, whichever virgin pleases him most, will become the new queen. Now, this part of the story is, obviously, distasteful to us today. But, it was a different world and different times.
Among the young ladies summoned to the palace is Esther. When Esther's parents died, she was adopted by an older cousin, Mordecai. Mordecai is already employed within the palace. And, for a reason we do not know, although everyone is aware that Mordecai is Jewish, no one seems to be aware that Esther is Jewish. Now Esther is, apparently, a lovely young lady, and, upon her arrival at the palace, the king's assistant immediately begins to favor her. He gives her the best food and the best cosmetic treatments. And, he moves her to the head of the class, so to speak. When it comes Esther's time to "audition," shall we say, for the king, he is delighted with her and she becomes the new queen of Persia.
Next scene… Now, the story focuses on Esther's cousin, Mordecai. Mordecai is a faithful servant of the king and, on one occasion, he uncovers a palace coup. He reports the assassination plot to the king, via his cousin Esther. Although the king is grateful, he fails to reward Mordecai for his loyalty… A fact which will become critical as the story unfolds.
Second in command to the king is a man named Haman. Now, don’t get lost in our character list here. We have the king, Ahasuerus; his new queen, Esther; her cousin and the king’s advisor, Mordecai; and the king’s #2, Haman. Now Haman thinks quite a lot of himself. Mordecai, however, is not nearly so impressed. While other palace employees bow before Haman, Mordecai does not. He refuses and such insolence drives Haman nearly mad with rage. And in his rage, he makes a vengeful decision. Since he knows that Mordecai is a Jew, he decides that he will respond to his insubordination by exterminating the entire Jewish population. This he can do, of course, only with the king's approval.
So Haman approaches the king, dishing out half-truths designed to appeal to the king's ego and incite fearful self-preservation. He tells the king that these Jewish people are different; they have different laws. They separate themselves from other people and they disregard the king. Now, certainly the Jewish people were different and did have distinctive commandments that God had given them. But, they have been living peaceably among the other inhabitants of the Persian Empire and this Jew Mordecai has obviously demonstrated great loyalty to the king. Nevertheless, Haman's speech – and a rather large bribe – secures the king's approval for a day of slaughter. Haman may send out a decree throughout the empire that, on the 13th day of the month of Adar, it will be open season on the Jewish people. Anyone who may like may slaughter them – even their women and children.
When the decree is posted, Mordecai is devastated. He dresses in sackcloth and ashes and sits outside the palace gate weeping and fasting. Word of his behavior reaches Esther who, at this point, knows nothing of the decree. She summons a servant to approach Mordecai who relays the message of their impending doom. Furthermore, Mordecai advises Esther that she had better do something. But Esther is in a quandary for, not even the queen can approach the king unless she has been summoned. Still her cousin Mordecai's words of wisdom compel her to act. He says: "Do not think that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silence at such a time as this relief and deliverance for the Jews will rise from another quarter. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this."
And so, Queen Esther agrees to take the ultimate risk. She will approach the king unsummoned – a transgression punishable by death. However, she is lucky and the king gladly receives her into his presence. Such a bold move, he can only assume, means she has a request to make of him. And he invites her to make her request known. But Esther is quite clever. She does not reveal her hand too quickly. She is an astute student of her culture. A culture in which, one of lesser station first begins by making small requests of those in a superior position. In doing so, they demonstrate their trust in their superior and honor them. So, Esther's initial request is that she be allowed to prepare a dinner for the king and Haman. That Esther would want to be in Haman's presence is a shock! But, perhaps this is an example of the adage: "keep your friends close and your enemies closer." Meanwhile, Haman continues to be incensed by Mordecai's failure, still, to bow before him and so, at his wife's suggestion, Haman erects a gallows on which Mordecai the Jew shall be hung to death.
We're brought to another scene. It is night time and the king is suffering from insomnia. Is it indigestion? Or could the Almighty be at work in this tossing and turning? Wide awake in the middle of the night, he summons servants to bring him books containing the royal archives. If that wouldn't put you to sleep, I don't know what would. But, the king is awake reading until dawn, at which time he comes across the story of Mordecai who foiled a plot to assassinate the king. King Ahasuerus notices that there is no record of Mordecai having received a reward for this good deed. About this time, Haman shows up for work. The king summons him and asks this question: "What shall be done for the man whom the king wishes to honor?" Haman, always full of himself, thinks the king is referring to him. So he suggests that the one the king wishes to honor should be clothed in royal garments and paraded through the city streets on a royal steed. Imagine how flabbergasted Haman is when he is instructed to do just that for his arch-enemy Mordecai.
Haman returns home with his tail tucked between his legs and shortly thereafter, he is summoned for the royal feast with the king and queen. As they dine, Esther finally makes her request known. She wonders if the king might spare her people whose lives have been sold and whose extermination is about to come to pass. The king, in his usual thick-headed fashion, wonders how this has come about. Duh. Esther points the finger at his right-hand man, Haman. Haman is seized with fear. The king, angry and clearly frustrated, takes a walk around the palace to clear his head. Meanwhile Haman, utterly distraught, proceeds to throw himself at Esther's feet and beg for his life. When the king returns he sees Haman throwing himself at Esther and assumes that he has added insult to injury by making a pass at the queen. Enraged, the king, under suggestion by a eunuch, has Haman put to death on the very gallows he had built for Mordecai.
And that, my friends, is the conclusion of this remarkable biblical tale.
As I mentioned before, the fact that God's name is absent from the story of Esther does not mean that God is absent; for it appears that God has set the stage perfectly at each step along the way so that his chosen people will be preserved and protected.
Yet God’s work is not demonstrated through some kind of miraculous, supernatural intervention. Rather, God appears to be at work through his people. Old Testament scholar Tom Dozeman says of this story: "The reader [of Esther] is given no easy clues to uncover divine action or motive in the events of the book. No prophets enter the story to tell us what God is thinking, and there is not an all-knowing narrator to link heaven and earth for us. Instead, we are only allowed to see the events unfold." In fact, we observe the inward struggle of a young Jewish girl in response to her wise cousin's question: "Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this." Who knows? Esther does not know for sure. She must determine if the risk is worth taking. She must determine where God may be leading her; her: a powerless young girl in a man’s world. But, although from her perspective, the risk may appear to be huge, God is faithful and working behind the scenes. The king's sleepless night insures that Mordecai will be honored, rather than executed. And, as I queried before, is it just mere coincidence that the king has a restless night? If you, like me, have ever awakened in the night with someone on your mind, knowing in a way that can't be explained, that they are in need of your prayers… Well, perhaps the king's insomnia is not so happenstance, not so random.
The bottom line is this, my friends… We cannot always know with certainty what is accidental, what is coincidental, and what is God at work. But we can decide to live as people who are willing to take risks – willing to step out in faith: to say what must be said, to do what should be done. Risking protocol and even our own security to do what is loving and just and right. And trusting that God, in whatever way God chooses, will be at work through you and me and all of his people – in all times and places. Who knows but that you are hearing God’s call this very day? Who knows but that God has placed you where you are so that his deliverance and faithfulness might be made known to others through you? Who knows how God will use you and whatever small sphere of influence you might have? Who knows? God knows. So, trust in him and step out in faith.
Scripture: 2 Samuel 12:1-9a
I have been incredibly fascinated to observe the rise of Donald Trump in Republican polls. But here is what I find troubling: that many attribute Trump’s allure to his “winner takes all” approach. During Thursday’s debate, in responding to a question about his multiple bankruptcies, Trump stated, repeatedly, that he had “taken advantage of the laws of this country, like other people.” It is true, of course. There is nothing illegal about Trump’s bankruptcy proceedings, although they have negatively impacted his creditors, business partners and employees. But it does introduce an interesting moral question: Is it OK to take advantage of a situation simply because we can? And, as people of faith, a faith whose “founder” gave even his own life, how are we called to live in a “winner takes all” culture?
This morning's Old Testament scripture is the story of David, the shepherd boy turned king. He is just a young, scrawny boy taking care of his father's sheep when he is catapulted to fame by slaying the Philistine giant Goliath. David is also a musician and he serves King Saul by playing the harp for him. Saul, however, feels threatened by David and, on multiple occasions, tries to kill him. Yet even after his menacing behavior, David continues to show Saul respect and deference. David is, consistently, a man of grace and strength and honor.
Well, up to a point.
The story of David and Bathsheba begins with 2 Samuel, chapter 11, where the scene is set with these words: "In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him... But David remained at Jerusalem." That summary introduction tells us a great deal. In 1 Samuel, chapter 8, the Israelites beg the prophet Samuel for a king and this is the rationale behind their demand: a king will “go out before us and fight our battles.”[i] Yet here it is: the time of the year when kings go out to the battlefield – and, David is not on the battlefield. He is at home in Jerusalem, in his palace, busying himself with afternoon strolls on the rooftop. David, once a humble, courageous shepherd boy is now a well-established monarch. No more sleeping in foxholes or eating MRE rations for him. Now, he is "the man." He's become too important, perhaps, to jeopardize his life on the battlefront. Others now do that for him. And he, perhaps, has too much time on his hands, just ticking away. So he goes for a late afternoon stroll on the rooftop. We're not told why. Perhaps the roof provided a good vantage point from which to look out over his empire. That would certainly be enough to give anyone an inflated sense of power. And as David strolls across the roof, he spots below him a beautiful woman bathing. Perhaps in his younger days David might have looked away, his ruddy complexion turning redder still with embarrassment; but not anymore. Now, David indulges in this forbidden pleasure and takes it even a step further. He inquires of his servants about the identity of this woman and he's told that her name is Bathsheba. Her father is Eliam and her husband is Uriah the Hittite. Remember that this was a time when a woman didn't have her own identity. She was identified by the man to whom she belonged. And in this case, she belongs to Uriah. Uriah is a foreigner who serves in David's army. He is out of town; away fighting on David's behalf. So, David decides to take advantage of Uriah's absence and he instructs his servants to go fetch this Bathsheba and bring her to him and David takes her. Now, when I say that, I mean it as a euphemism – so I don't need to spell it out in the pulpit. But I also mean it literally. David takes her because he's king and what the king wants the king takes. David's behavior is a fulfillment of the warning the prophet Samuel gave to the people of Israel long before... again, back in 1 Samuel, chapter 8.
You see, it had never been God's desire that Israel should have a king because God was their king. They didn't need a king… anymore than modern day England does. But, they were enamored with the thought. And so, God gives in to their request. But not before God gives them a stern warning, delivered via the prophet Samuel. God warns them that kings are "takers." A king will take their sons and make them fight in his army. A king will take their daughters and make them servants in his palace. A king will take the harvest of their fields and the fruit of their vines. A king will even take their slaves and their livestock and there won't be a darn thing they can do about it because that's just the way kings are. Kings are takers. And so David takes Bathsheba. But David gets more than he bargained for when he is soon informed that Bathsheba is pregnant. But, not to worry; because here's another thing about kings: they control things. Kings are spin artists. Kings have the resources to tidy up whatever mess they've made. And so David sends for Uriah. He calls him back from the front assuming that Uriah will sleep with his wife while on furlough and, since there was no such thing as a paternity test in antiquity, Uriah will assume the child to be his and everything will be taken care of. David assumes Uriah will sleep with his lovely wife Bathsheba. After all, she's irresistible, isn't she? But David's little plan backfires because Uriah does not go home to his wife. He bunkers down with David's palace guards. David is perplexed. He inquires into Uriah's strange behavior and Uriah informs him that he just doesn't think it would be right for him to be home eating and drinking and enjoying his lovely wife while his buddies are out on the battlefield. David's plan is foiled when Uriah displays the kind of honor and integrity we would have expected from David. And so, David determines, he has no other choice but to eliminate Uriah. So he sends Uriah back to the battlefront carrying his own death warrant. He gives Uriah a letter that he is asked to deliver to the commander, Joab. The message is, no doubt, sealed with the official signet, to insure that Uriah can't tamper with it. The letter reads: "Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die." Those are Joab's instructions. But they are easier said than done because Joab risks mutiny if he's not careful. If Uriah's elimination is too obvious, the troops are liable to see through it and Joab will risk losing their loyalty and their trust. So Joab comes up with a plan. I won't give you all the details. But the end result is this. Many men die. Many die for the sake of one in a military advance that appears to go terribly, terribly wrong. When the fateful skirmish has come to an end, Joab dispatches another messenger to take news to David. The messenger is to describe the battle and its results. And, should David become angry that so many men perished in a poorly planned advance, the messenger is to make clear to him that, among the many killed, was Uriah the Hittite. The messenger delivers the news. Curiously, he does not wait for David's response but, early in his delivery, cites the death of Uriah. Perhaps this messenger (and others) knows more than they let on. David is relieved, but his charade continues. He sends a final message to Joab. He literally tells him, "Do not let this matter grieve you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it." That's what David says. But what he means is: "Well done, Joab. You knew what I needed you to do and you did it. Now, carry on as if nothing's ever happened."
But something has happened. Perhaps some, like the messenger or palace guards, have even figured it out. Who knows? But, either way, it doesn't really matter, does it? The king is the king and we'll just look the other way.
But there is one whose gaze David cannot escape. For there is one from whom we can hide nothing. That one is the Lord God. And you can't fool him, no matter who you are. Someone in this story is going to grieve – and that someone is God. Chapter 12 of 2 Samuel opens by telling us that what David did grieved the Lord; grieved him enough to confront the king through the prophet Nathan. Now Nathan is no dummy. He knows court prophets don't have job security. It’s a dangerous job. It’s a wonder God could find any one to do it.
So Nathan cleverly enters David's presence on the pretense of needing David's help to settle a legal dispute. There are these two guys – one rich, one poor. [In other words, one with power and one quite powerless.] The rich one has lots of herds and flocks and the poor guy has but one little lamb that he dearly loves. It's like a member of his family. Now a visitor comes to the home of the rich man and, in the Middle East, hospitality is a serious thing. For company, you kill the fatted calf, you get out the good china, you break open the best bottle of wine. But this rich guy decides he doesn't want to sacrifice one of his own animals for the feast. Instead, he'll take his neighbor's little pet lamb. David has been listening attentively. And at this point in the story, he erupts with royal indignation. "How dare this man be so… so merciless! He'll pay for his lack of mercy, his lack of honor and he'll pay dearly." Nathan – perhaps looking his king straight in the eye powerfully levels the indictman: "You are the man." And David knows that he has been caught.
But that's not all. For now the prophet Nathan speaks those words that are the trademarks of prophetic speech "Thus saith the Lord…" Those words must have been enough to send a shiver down David's spine. And this is what the Lord said: "I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master's house, and your master's wives into your bosom, and I gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have given you much more." God, the giver of every good gift, has blessed David abundantly. David has, we have, what we have because God, who is compassionate, gave it to us. Because that is just the way God is. God is a giver.
It is curious to note in this story that David uses a very particular word to judge the “rich man” in Nathan’s parable. David claims that it is more than his actions that have earned him punishment when he says, “because he did this thing AND because he had no compassion.” Not surprisingly, there are different Hebrew words that can be used to describe the concept of compassion. But the one David chooses has a particular meaning. It literally means “to restrain oneself.” In other words, this describes more than the emotion, or feeling, of compassion. This describes the kind of restrained behavior someone demonstrates because they feel compassion. When we have compassion, just as God has compassion for us, we don’t simply take what we have the power to take or flaunt our authority.
Perhaps you have recently heard the story of Dan Price, the founder and CEO of Gravity Payments based in Seattle. In April of this year, Price decided to make changes to the compensation rates at his company when he set the compensation for every employee, himself included, at $70,000 annually. Now, most of us don’t live in the multi-million dollar world of multi-national corporations and we could sit here the rest of the morning discussing a myriad of questions related to Price’s decision… everything from the fact that he can probably still maintain his same lifestyle simply by living off his investments to questions of incentive and fairness among his employees. But this is the part of the story that fascinates me: that Price chose NOT to do what he had every right to do. Whether we think about it or not, David’s actions were nothing radical for a king in the ancient world. They took women all the time. It was how they did business. No one expected anything different. Well, no one except God. Nor is there anything radical about CEO’s having 7 or 8 digit compensation packages. It’s how business is done. We don’t expect anything different. But maybe God does. Now, to the best of my knowledge, none of you here this morning are royalty or CEO’s of multi-national corporations. And yet, in much smaller ways, on much smaller scales, we too face choices about whether or not we will be takers or givers.
Old Testament bible scholar Walter Brueggemann says of this tale: "If we face up to this story at all, we are soon made to face the harder questions of human desire and human power… This story is more than we want to know about David and more than we can bear to understand about ourselves."
Friends, there are within our world, those who, in response to desire, simply take; take because they can, because it’s just the way the world works; but there are also those who give, who comprehend that God is the ultimate giver of every good and perfect gift; that true authority comes through humility; that true profit comes through sacrifice; that winning comes through surrender; and that the rules of the world are different than the rules in the kingdom of God. And for that may we say, “Thanks be to God.”
[i] 1 Samuel 8:20. NRSV
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