By Pastor Tracey Leslie
Scripture: 1 Samuel 24
We have all, I imagine, heard those clichés about enemies. Let’s see, there’s this one: “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” That one has some wisdom in it, I think. I assume the idea is so that you’ll know what they’ve been up to. No one wants to be blind-sided by trouble. There’s also the one: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” I’m not really so sure about the merit of that one. It assumes that mathematical axiom that two negatives make a positive. If you ask me, in life, two negatives usually just make things a whole lot worse. And then, there’s the one: “With friends like you, who needs enemies?” That question answers itself, I’d say.
We live in a world that is marred by dissension and animosity. From that ancient, mythical moment when Cain sarcastically countered God’s question with his own: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” we have been a people at odds with God and one another… and, most often, with those who are closest to us. That is the thing about enemies. Theirs is not an indifferent disregard; enemies must share a mutual passion of disdain, mistrust and envy. I contend that few of us really care much about a terrorist halfway around the world who hates us, just so long as they don’t try to blow us up. But far more troubling, day after day, is the family member who continually belittles us, the supervisor who steals credit for the work we do, the church member who gossips behind our back. We might desire a peaceful life, but we often find ourselves embroiled in conflict. Even as a nation, we are repeatedly told that “the other” is out to get us and we must take a defensive stance or even a pre-emptive strike.
So, if there is to be peace on earth, peace within our nation, peace within our community, or even peace within our homes, let it begin with me… and you. And let us look to scripture for a good example.
Last week’s I preached on the anointing of David; a story found in 1st Samuel, chapter 16. This morning’s story comes from the 24th chapter of 1st Samuel. If you do the math, you can see that eight chapters later (and perhaps an historical decade later) David has still not ascended to the throne. Saul, the man God pronounced unfit for duty, still reigns over Israel.
At David’s anointing, God’s Spirit falls mightily upon him even as God’s Spirit has departed from Saul. Worse yet, we’re told God sends an evil spirit upon Saul.[i] Now that’s more than a little disturbing to our 21st century ears. But we need to keep in mind that, for ancient people, God was perceived as being directly responsible for everything. If someone was rich, God had made him rich. If someone was poor, God had made her poor. And so, Saul’s increasingly erratic and violent behavior is attributed to an evil spirit sent by God. Enter David. Beyond being a shepherd, he is a talented musician whose music soothes Saul’s savage beast within. When David plays, Saul becomes more relaxed, less anxious and agitated. But beyond being a court musician, David is also a heroic and skilled soldier. His defeat of the Philistine giant, Goliath, launched him to fame. And King Saul begins to feel a growing resentment and envy toward this young legend that evolves into murderous intent. Yet David never assumes an offensive posture or attempts to strike back.
So here’s what David can teach us about handling our enemies. 1st: “Don’t be stupid, exercise caution.” I bet you didn’t expect that to be number one, did you? Twice, at least, Saul falls into a murderous fit and attempts to pin David to the wall with his spear. David is no idiot. He elicits the assistance of Saul’s children (who are close friends and allies), to discern Saul’s intentions. And when they all recognize the horrible truth – that Saul will stop short of nothing, not even murder, to rid himself of David – then David goes on the run. He is not going to be so stupid as to continually place himself in situations where Saul has the opportunity to do him harm. Instead, he flees and does that which is necessary to stay alive. Now fortunately, most of us don’t have enemies who are trying to kill us. Yet, some of us have or have had someone who seeks to do us harm in terms of our emotional well-being or our reputation. And, if we are in that kind of a situation, then we need to be cautious. Don’t willingly enter into situations where you make yourself vulnerable to someone who’s clearly shown a desire to hurt you.
But here’s what else we can learn from David about how to deal with our enemies: leave the situation in God’s hands. This morning’s story demonstrates how easy it would have been for David to take matters into his own hands. He could have killed Saul in a heartbeat. Saul was caught with his pants down – literally and figuratively. David could have destroyed his enemy. And in fact, his own men, his allies, encouraged him to do so. But David refused. Friends, no matter how bad it gets, never seek the destruction of your enemy. No good can ever come of it. David, in fact, even repents for having snipped off a piece of Saul’s robe. Now that doesn’t seem like such a big deal, does it? But any little thing we do to demean or disrespect those who are against us, is still wrong. This morning’s scripture tells us that Saul wept when David spoke to him. This is the only time we read that Saul cries. Perhaps he cries because he has been shown mercy by the one he has hunted mercilessly. Saul is moved by David’s mercy. He says, “Who has ever found an enemy, and sent the enemy away safely?” That’s not how the world works. That’s not what people expect. But, my friends, there is nothing more powerful, nothing more transformative, nothing more Christ-like than mercy shown toward those who don’t deserve it. Nothing is stronger, nothing is more powerful, than grace.
Finally, let us learn from David to see our enemy as God sees them. Saul was once the Lord’s anointed… just as David is now. David doesn’t identify Saul as his “enemy.” He is still his king; he is still the Lord’s anointed. When David cuts off the corner of Saul’s robe, he is stricken to the heart; stricken, perhaps, because his heart is like God’s heart. And God, my friends, has never sought our destruction no matter what we’ve done wrong, no matter how sinful we’ve been. Friends, the grace of God is available even for those who seek our harm.
Author Lee Strobel tells the story of Elizabeth Morris[ii], a woman who had been sitting up late two days before Christmas in 1982, waiting for her son, Ted, to come home from his job at a shopping mall. He had just completed his first semester at college and was working to get some extra money during Christmas break.
But at 10:40 p.m., Elizabeth got the call all parents fear. “Mrs. Morris, this is the hospital,” said the voice. “Your son has been in an accident.”
As it turned out, another young man who had been driving drunk had crossed the center line and smashed head-on into Ted’s car. Ted Morris was dead.
Elizabeth and her husband were devastated. Their anger escalated when the young man who killed Ted was given probation for the crime. Elizabeth felt the hatred grow within her and consume her.
She ached for revenge. Sometimes she would fantasize about driving down the street and encountering Tommy, the one who killed her son. She would imagine hitting him with her car, pinning him against a tree, and watching him suffer in agony as she crushed him to death.
She began stalking Tommy to see if she could catch him violating the terms of his probation. Her bitterness drove a wedge between her and her husband. It drove away her friends. It drained away her ability to enjoy life. It was destroying her from the inside out.
But eventually she came to the realization that her Heavenly Father also had lost his only Son. And when Jesus was suffering on the cross, he looked at the soldiers in charge of torturing him and said, “Father, forgive them.”
That’s when Elizabeth knew it was time for her to offer forgiveness to the man who killed her only son. So she did. Over time, not only was she freed from her bitterness but she and her husband were able to build a relationship with their son’s killer. Their friendship led Tommy to begin following Jesus and turn his life around. Elizabeth’s husband, a preacher, baptized Tommy and later presided over his wedding.
During this month of August, each sermon will conclude with a brief time for us to share with one another. It gives us an opportunity to get a sense of the flavor and format of our new gatherings that will take place this fall, Fusion, happening on the third Monday of each month. So this morning I invite you to cluster in groups of 4-5 for just a few minutes and share your responses to the question printed in your bulletin.
[i] See 1 Samuel 16:15, 16, 23; 18:10
[ii] God’s Outrageous Claims by Lee Strobel; Zondervan; 1997.
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