Sunday, July 29, 2012

In the morning

2nd Samuel 11: 1-15, page 284 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; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house. In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” Sermon This Scripture lesson is full of contrast. There is the image of the entire army out there fighting and risking their lives away from the comforts of home, while David remained at Jerusalem lying around on a couch. There is the image of Bathsheba’s silence through the whole affair that takes on a new meaning when set against the only words she speaks: “I am pregnant.” Then there is David’s behavior, dishonesty of the worst kind in attempting to get Uriah back to his wife before it is clear who this child doesn’t belong to, that manages to appear even worse when compared to Uriah’s refusal to even go to his own house while the other troops are out in the fields sleeping in tents. The morality of a Hittite, not even an Israelite, sets the example in this story when the greatest of the kings of Israel fails us. And that is the greatest contrast of all – comparing who David is supposed to be, with who he truly is. We turn to Scripture when society fails to guide us clearly. Indeed, when society fails - faithful people issue the call to “wipe off the dust from the Bible,” and return to the age old standards of right and wrong. But the problem is that here in the Bible is the very story that we’d all like to get away from. You thought President Richard Nixon had faded into the past, but here the same old story of mistakes and betrayal and secrecy rears its ugly head. It’s better to remember Martin Luther King Jr. by what he said and not what the CIA said he did, but this story of David reminds us that just because he was faithful to the cause of equality didn’t mean he was faithful to his wife. This story of David and Bathsheba brings up memories of Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinski, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings, it reminds us of pastors and priests and college football coaches – here is the story of people in power taking what they want and thinking that getting away with it is all that really matters. It’s the story of power and how power corrupts, and it’s not supposed to be here in the Bible because the Bible is supposed to be better than that. Here it is however, and that it’s even in here astounds me, especially when you consider what is at stake. Surely no presidential campaign could withstand a scandal like this one. The recorded conversations from Watergate were all it took to call for impeachment, and when you consider how much image matters, the fact that David is one of the heroes of our faith, this story threatens the foundation of who we are and what we believe. How can a monarchy stand, especially if that monarchy is based on divine right, if the king chosen by God acts in such a way to deserve God’s judgment? It makes sense to hide it away, to pretend it doesn’t exist, and to deny that it ever happened. That is the technique that David employees at any rate. What happened “late one afternoon” had to be swept under the rug in the morning. It’s in the morning that the reality of the night before sinks in. It’s in the morning that you look yourself in the mirror and wonder who you are and how it is that you could have done such a thing. It’s in the morning that you have to decide – can I live with what I’ve done? Can it stand the light of day? For David the answer was clear – there would be no recovering from a mistake this big and it had to be erased as much as possible. That desire is certainly at work in our society as well. If you’ve ever had the chance to make it disappear, to cover it up, to make it look like it never happened, maybe you can understand. If it’s gone you can pick up where you were the day before – wherever that was – ignoring, as much as possible, the sin that stands there waiting to take away everything that you hold dear. You can’t see a path to redemption, for something like this there can be no forgiveness, and the only option will be to make it as though it never happened. That’s what this story is really about. There is who David is supposed to be and who he truly is, and to make it as though he is who he is supposed to be David takes what is bad enough and makes it worse. Denial may be the right word here, or maybe deception. Regardless, the mistake that David tries to make disappear takes on a life of its own “In the morning”, when “David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” If the husband is gone, only his wife will be left to point her finger, and in the ancient world that was something David could live with. Here is the reality of sin’s power – one sin can hurt one person deeply, profoundly, maybe even permanently, but if that one sin doesn’t see the light of day it will grow and grow until it does. Likewise, Jerry Sandusky is one man, who by his own hand did untold damage to children he treated as objects, but he is one man who could have been stopped. Instead, this week came the sure sign that when a sin never sees the light of day it grows and grows until an entire university must be punished. In King David comes the harsh truth that even God’s elect can fall short, but what’s worse is that even God’s elect will do more and more harm in attempting to cover up and deny what has been done. How much wiser to look sin in the face rather than try to brush it under the rug. How much less damage would be done if all sins were brought out into the light of day. How much better it is to look yourself in the face, willing to see who you are instead of who you are supposed to be. But if David couldn’t do it, what hope do you have? Only the promise that where forgiveness seems like a dream, mercy like an impossibility, and even the hope of redemption a fairy tale, stands the hidden God of love. Loving you – not who you are supposed to be – but who you truly are. Standing beside you – not when everything is going right, but when everything is going wrong. Shepherding you – not simply from one success to another, but away from the danger of letting sin corrupt and infect all of who you are, leading you into the light of day where faith, hope, and love abide. Let God prove to you that wrong should indeed see the light of day. Amen.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

When your days are fulfilled

2nd Samuel 7: 1-17, page 281 Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?” Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you. Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. In accordance with all these words and with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David. Sermon Roben Mounger is a longtime member of this church and a frequent contributor to the Daily Herald. Last Thursday a piece of hers was published with a question for the title: “What stands beyond place and time?” The answer to this question, “What stands beyond place and time,” is chicken spaghetti. This dish, one that her mother always cooked, was a comfort when Roben’s mother died suddenly. Chicken spaghetti was the thing that made the whole family, but Roben’s young daughter, especially, feel better. Even when her grandmother died, there was still be chicken spaghetti, and this dish became a symbol of stability for her in a world where tragedy comes fast and even the ones you love can disappear, because chicken spaghetti was still there even if her grandmother was not. That’s an amazing thing about food. The thing that you eat is interconnected often with a person or a place. We eat bread and we drink from the cup and are reminded of our savior Jesus Christ who broke that bread, just as macaroni and cheese with more cheese than macaroni will always make me think of my own grandmother who died last summer. When the process works right we live interconnected. Things are passed from grandmother to mother to daughter – and in so doing the present is connected to the past and the future. Roben learned her mother’s chicken spaghetti recipe and now as her daughter moves away from all that is familiar to go and live in Salt Lake City, Utah she’ll make chicken spaghetti herself for a taste of home. We pass things on like that, but the tricky thing is figuring out how and when. When do you step back and teach your daughter how to make chicken spaghetti for herself? When do you let her become the one who makes it? If you teach her too soon she won’t have to come home to get it and you’ll lose your place as the recipe holder too early, but if you wait you might wait too long, so when is it the right time to pass something so important from one generation to the next? King David wasn’t a cook, but God did call him to pass something down from one generation to the next, only he wasn’t sure it was time to pass it down. He got the idea himself saying to the prophet Nathan: “See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.” He was ready to build something fitting and permanent, a Temple. What a great symbol this Temple would be too – the sure sign of God’s presence among the people amid all the changes of human life. Generations will rise and fall but this temple would stand as a testament to God’s eternal presence. It wouldn’t be so different from chicken spaghetti – it was to be a comfort to the people, comfort, and order, and the assurance that while life is full of change – disease, heartache, and even death, “God is with you.” However, the privilege of building such a monument would go to his unborn son. While most every father looks forward to his son taking up where he left off by inheriting the family business, taking over the family farm, or finding comfort in the same faith and pledging himself to the same God there is still the question of timing – no one wants to step down before it is absolutely time. In Homer’s Odyssey, the hero, Odysseus, returns home from an extremely long trip. Telemachus, his son, has been caring for the family in his father’s absence, but when Telemachus is handed his father’s bow to string he doesn’t do it, leaving generations of readers wondering if it really was too difficult, or if it just wasn’t the right time. While all good parents prepare their children to stand on their own two feet, to be strong and independent, passing the torch from one generation to the next means the end of one era and the beginning of another, and Telemachus knew that the beginning of his time meant the end of his father’s. In the same way, if God turns to Solomon, David’s unborn son, where does that leave David? Surely David was not ready to move aside. He had only just established a time of peace and stability – this wasn’t the time to retire or to even be thinking about it – this was the time to really start thinking about what to do, what great policies to implement, what great monuments to build. This wasn’t the time for David to step down and have his son do the heavy lifting, this wasn’t David’s time to step back, this was the time for David to leave something great for his children to enjoy and was not the time for David to leave something unfinished for his son to do. But these transitions are never easy for the parent or the child. It may seem like a dream to some of you, but at some point the child will reach out to pay for dinner and the parents will have to decide if they’re ready to allow it, having grown used to being the ones who give and not the ones who receive. At some point for many there is the tricky business of car keys: the child may worry about aging parents still on the road, but how strange this role reversal must feel for a parent. How did it happen, and how did it happen so fast? But this is life. We fool ourselves into thinking that our role is established – forever the child, forever the parent, forever the boss – but our roles are not fixed in this ever changing world. And our world is ever changing – so things like chicken spaghetti or stone temples bring comfort and assurance that some things can stay the same. Much has changed over the past 50 years, but the house we live in today has lasted through it all. Because yesterday was my birthday my wife Sara gave me the week off and paid a man to cut our yard. He came to the door, I was a little embarrassed to have someone come over to do the work I felt like I should have been doing, but at the same time I was really relieved to see him there as hot as it was, and he told me he had cut my yard before. “Was it when the man who managed the Wal-Mart lived here,” I asked. “No, this was before that guy from Wal-Mart did all the renovations to your house, I cut the yard back when Mel Duggar, the preacher, lived here,” he said. It’s when someone knows all the previous residents of your house that you realize how small Columbia really is. Knowing who used to live in our house is also a reminder that it’s not really our house. We’re just the ones lucky enough to care for it while we’re here. The truth is that the torch must be passed. That one generation must give way to the next, and the best any of us can hope for isn’t to stand in the spotlight for as long as possible, to stay in charge as long as you possibly can, or to maintain control as long as you still have a heartbeat, but to have faith enough to trust that whatever work God has entrusted to you for your time, God will entrust to those who follow. What David wants is to be the one who gets to build the Temple, but what is far greater is the assurance that God gives: “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.” Here is something that can bring real comfort – not the lie that you can go on forever, but that when you do step down or step back God will be there to prepare and support whoever must take your place. Have faith then, that God will ensure that those things that so truly matter will continue, that the work that truly counts will get done, and the heritage of faith that you hold dear will never disappear but will be nurtured again in those who follow. Have faith that God will take care of those who follow, just as God has taken care of you. Have faith enough to believe that when your days are fulfilled the work God has set you to will not be forgotten. Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

And she despised him in her heart

2nd Samuel 6: 1-22, pages 280-281 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. David and all the people with him set out and went from Baalejudah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim. They carried the ark of God on a new cart, and brought it out of the house of Abinadab, which was on the hill. Uzzah and Ahio, the sons of Abinadab, were driving the new cart with the ark of God; and Ahio went in front of the ark. David and all the house were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. When they came to the threshing floor of Nacon, Uzzah reached out his hand to the ark of God and took hold of it, for the oxen shook it. The anger of the Lord was kindled against Uzzah; and God struck him there because he reached out his hand to the ark; and he died there beside the ark of God. David was angry because the Lord had burst forth with an outburst upon Uzzah; so that place is called Perezuzzah, to this day. David was afraid of the Lord that day; he said, “How can the ark of the Lord come into my care?” So David was unwilling to take the ark of the Lord into his care in the city of David, instead David took it to the house of Obededom the Gittite three months; and the Lord blessed Obededom and all his household. It was told King David, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obededom and all that belongs to him, because of the ark of God.” So David went and brought up the ark of God from the house of Obededom to the city of David with rejoicing; and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting and with the sound of the trumpet. As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal, daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart. They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat, and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes. David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!” David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death. Sermon The Presidential campaign is picking up steam, and in addition to presenting their policies and plans for the future, each candidate is now attempting to present himself to us as a real, authentic, and normal human being. This part of the campaign shouldn’t be the most important to voters but it seems as though it is. Now the families come in, just as Mitt Romney’s sons did last month on the late night talk show, Conan, to talk, not about taxes or health care but really funny pranks that their dad pulled. One son told about a prank he had only heard about since it took place before he was born, when Mr. Romney was invited to be a groomsman in a friends wedding. The night before the wedding Mr. Romney snuck into the groom’s hotel room and painted the letters “h-e” on the sole of his left shoe and “l-p” on the other. No one would have noticed it since the letters were painted on the soles of his shoes, but it was a Catholic wedding, so the bride and groom had to kneel down for a prayer, and then bottom of the groom’s shoes were facing the congregation spelling out “H-E-L-P”. This kind of story goes a long way in lightening up the image of a candidate whom many perceive to be a stiff businessman, but when it comes to showing one’s human side it can be easy to go too far. Pranks show voters that Mr. Romney has a sense of humor, playing the saxophone made President Clinton seem cool, but do you remember when Howard Dean yelled? It was 2004 following the Iowa caucuses and Mr. Dean was rallying his supporters, only he got so caught up in what he was doing and in a message that he believed in that he let out a scream that resounded onto FOX news and every other media outlet to be criticized by every reporter until the Dean campaign was completely annihilated. What every politician needs is someone to help them figure out where the line between likable and ridiculed is, every politician needs help in knowing how far is too far and how much emotion do citizens really want their leader to show. It was Michal who took this duty upon herself for King David, and knowing that the citizens of Jerusalem had seen their king dancing through the streets wearing only a linen ephod she was concerned – or maybe more than concerned, our scripture passage says that she “despised him in her heart”. Our scripture lesson for today is the story of two strong people. Michal, the strong willed daughter of the King becomes the strong willed wife of another king. And to make things even more complicated, David, her husband, didn’t actually kill her father with his own hands, but if her father and her brother had not been killed by David’s army David would still be a shepherd out tending flocks. What makes things worse is that her shepherd-made-king husband doesn’t act properly; he embarrasses her. So she goes to her husband the King, on the day of his greatest triumph, not to congratulate him but to help him act in a way deserving of his station: “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!” I’m sure you can see why she was embarrassed – she was raised as a princess and so she knew how kings were supposed to act, how there should be refinement, how there should be control and order and sanctity, especially when the people were looking. But I’m also sure that you can see this situation from David’s perspective – that there are some events in life that deserve celebration, when one person’s joy should be public, when human emotion that we would all rather keep hidden should be out for all to see. It’s an amazing thing that this fight between two married people is preserved here in scripture – it’s easy to assume that fighting is something that only we lesser human beings deal with so when we fight it’s more comfortable for proper people to keep it behind closed doors and then to act as though everything is perfect when people are looking. But this is no typical book we are reading from, and it teaches us, not how to be respectable but how to be holy, and so the worst part of David and Michal’s relationship is out in the open for us to see. For David that is how it had to be – before God nothing could be hidden – and so this joyous occasion demanded dancing, just as every trial demanded struggle, every death demanded mourning, and every sadness demanded tears. We would keep it hidden though. Behind closed doors, out of the way of public view, and far beyond judging stares. As though Michal were here watching, we bring to church, so often not our real emotions but our best selves, and so we cover our brokenness with church clothes, shade over our sadness with make-up, and substitute restraint for joy not realizing that before the very presence of God King David cold not stop dancing. I don’t know why we do it exactly, and I’m not sure how to do anything about it. But I am convinced of this – so often it’s the shame of who they really are that keeps people out of this place as though sinners had no place here, as though the broken were not wanted, as though the divorced, the lost, the angry, the unaccepted, and the hurting were not exactly who Christ came to this earth to serve. We keep our true selves at home and show up instead looking like the people we think we are supposed to be, when truly I tell you that what is required is to come into the presence of God just as you are. Hurting, crying, losing, mourning, rejoicing, dancing. Michal is here though, and if she was so bold to say that to the King what will she say to us once she sees us for who we really are and everyone else finds out that we aren’t as perfect as we’re supposed to be? How hard it is to stand up to her and all that she demands. How hard it is to be who we really are when she is there watching. But King David said to his wife Michal who demanded proper behavior: “It was before the Lord, who chose me that I have danced.” Dance then, for the Lord has chosen you as well. Amen.

Monday, July 2, 2012

I wait for the Lord, my soul waits

2nd Samuel 1: 1 and 17-27, page 275-276
After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.
David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. (He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the book of Jashar.) He said:
Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places!
How the mighty have fallen!
Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult.
The mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.
From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty.
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions.
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon the high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
Last week was Vacation Bible School here at the church. Evidence of it is still all around, and I hope that any of the 50 children who participated will be able to tell you about their week and how wonderful it was.
The Bible story that provided a theme for the week was that of Daniel who was captured and taken from Judah to Babylon where he interpreted the king’s dreams and was invited into the upper echelons of the Babylonian court. However, he refused to compromise his beliefs. Rather than accept the fine food he was offered, food that he considered unclean, he lived on a diet of vegetables. Then, along with his friends, Shadrack, Meshach, and Abednego, Daniel refused to bow down to a giant statue of the king even though worshiping this idol was a requirement of the Babylonian law.
The guards came for Daniel’s three friends, all who refused to worship this statue, and I, pretending to be Daniel, watched from the window as they were taken to the fiery furnace for their execution.
“Isn’t this awful? My three best friends are about to be thrown into that furnace!” I told the kids.
Then one little boy, full of righteous indignation stood up and said, “I think we should go and bust them out!”
“Yea!” all the kids in his group agreed. And before I could regain control a plan was emerging that involved dynamite and booby traps and kicking those mean guards until they let my friends go.
I am sure that all of you who are teachers, every once in a while, are encouraged by what your students say. That every once in a while their response reflects whatever lesson you’ve been trying to teach and you realize that they’re really getting it.
You’ll know then that this response wasn’t what I was hoping for.
The point that our curriculum for Vacation Bible School was trying to get to was a clear reflection of the Scripture passage it was based on – that by being faithful as Daniel was faithful, and by refusing to compromise your morals, you can influence the culture around you for the better. Just as Daniel’s faithfulness in Babylon eventually resulted in an edict from the king testifying to our God’s greatness, all of you can testify to God by your actions wherever you are.
Maybe that seems impossible. Too big, too drastic, too idealistic, and certainly not the way anyone in the movies deals with the bad guys.
Our temptation, then, is the same as it has ever been: to settle for something that seems more realistic. We are tempted to hope, not that the Babylonians will eventually be converted but, having reduced them to the bad guys, we hope simply to bust out our friends and to escape back to Judah.
We see the world too simply now, just as we always have. We divide it up into black and white, and we cast ourselves in the role of the good guys while casting those who might hurt us or stand in our way in the role of the bad guys.
Our first scripture lesson is proof that it has always been this way. Not understanding why God would prefer Abel’s offering of meat over his offering of produce, Cain reduced his brother to an enemy. Rather than try to understand or grow enough to accept the unfairness of life, Cain simply destroys his brother, choosing to live in a world of good guys and bad guys rather than in a world where it’s not always clear why bad things happen or why preference, even the preference of God, is often given for reasons that don’t make sense.
The Lord warns Cain before he’s done the thing that he’ll never be able to take back: “Sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.”
You must learn to live in a world where it’s not so simple – where your brother is still your brother even when he is treated better and you can’t understand why – where your brother is still your brother when he has what you want and you’re tempted to take it away. You must learn to live in this world as a master of jealousy, envy, and anger before these forces take you over and you do something that you’ll regret for the rest of your life.
Sin offers a clear picture though. Make them your enemies and then you can take from them what you want. Those bad guys don’t deserve what they have. That promotion, that raise, that happiness – he got it unfairly so why shouldn’t I take it away? I should have been given God’s favor – that he has it just isn’t fair, and rather than live with this unfairness why not take justice into my own hands?
This way of thinking is easier to understand and get our heads around than the reality that blessings and curses are given out in ways that often don’t make any sense. And a world of good guys and bad guys is much easier to handle than a world of people – all a mix of good and bad – especially when war is commonplace.
King David, at war against his best friend and his best friend’s father, finds that war is all the more tragic when you love your enemy.
Rather than celebrate or set off fireworks David writes a song -
O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle!
Jonathan lies slain upon the high places. I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.
How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!
This song is what makes David different from Cain. While they both were the cause of their brother’s death, while the blood of Able cries out to God, David himself cries out.
He cries out against the unfairness of war, the tragedy of death, and the nobility of his enemies. He laments the reality of life and longs for another way. He gives words to what is so complicated – a world where your friend and your enemy can be one in the same.
Here we are on the Sunday before the Fourth of July. This holiday calls us to celebrate all that is great about our country. It calls us to sing for what we stand for and to take pride in the men and women who have given up their lives that we might live in freedom.
But the Fourth of July also calls on us to make a choice: who is your enemy?
Is he a shadowed villain deserving of death – or is he your brother?
Christ calls us all to love our enemies, and how complicated this command gets when war is involved.
This day be bold and be different, even as sin is lurking at the door. Be bold and be different to recognize all people as created in the image of God.
Daniel was there in Babylon living a way of life that was different from all those around him. Here, in our society where enemies are demonized and complicated issues are simplified, be something different – stand for something different – and be bold to lament the death of this country’s sons and daughters along with the death of any country’s sons and daughters. For we are all one in Christ Jesus our Lord.