Monday, July 27, 2015

The god of our misunderstanding

John 6: 1-21, NT pages 97-98 Betty White was the star of the hit TV show “Golden Girls,” and just a year or two ago she was invited to host one of my favorite TV shows, “Saturday Night Live,” because of an outcry of support from Facebook. Mrs. White is 93 years old, she doesn’t have a Facebook account, and rather than thank her millions of fans who requested that she host “Saturday Night Live,” she said something like, “I don’t even really know what Facebook is, but it sounds like a gigantic waste of time.” Now that’s true, and if I had a good idea of how much time I would waste on the social media outlet I might never have signed up, but had this logical side of my brain prevented me from signing up for Facebook I also would not have heard that Buddy Fisher has been named Alumni Volunteer of the year by Vanderbilt University, I would not have seen so many beautiful pictures of your children, and I would not have been overjoyed to receive so many happy birthday wishes last Tuesday. My friend Andrew Hickman said to me once that you can complain about Facebook as much as you want, but it is hard to beat how nice it is on your birthday to hear from old friends. Jane Carney is one old friend that I heard from on my birthday this past week. She was a member of the church I served outside Atlanta, and I was always amazed by her dedication to the people of Haiti. She served on the mission committee, and as often as four times a year she would fly down to Haiti to be a part of medial mission trips. She talked me into going with her once, and I remember calling Sara from Haiti while on that trip and saying, “if I had known it was going to be like this I’m not sure I ever would have agreed to go.” Haiti is a country that shines so clear a light on the reality of economic disparity in our world. It’s a country without – without food, without healthcare, without roads, without electricity, without water – and that was my impression before the catastrophic earthquake of 2010. For our flight down there we met our team at the Atlanta airport, and it was there that Jane showed me my wheel chair. She told me I’d need to ride in it and maybe if it hadn’t been so early in the morning the logical part of my brain would have been working better and I would have asked some questions like, “why do you need me to ride in that wheelchair,” or do you think I’ll get in trouble ridding in that wheelchair since I don’t actually need it,” but like I said it was early, so it didn’t really occur to me that pretending to need a wheelchair when I didn’t need a wheelchair might have landed me in Guantanamo Bay. They waved me around the metal detectors, let me board the plane before everyone else, and all I had to do was remember which leg I was pretending was hurt. Having arrived in Haiti safely we rode in a van down miles of potholed dirt roads to an isolated field near a village. A crowd was already assembled and was waiting for us to provide them with medical care. The first in line was a man in a wheelbarrow. His son had pushed him for 8 miles in the hope of a proper wheelchair. Now we’ve been taught to think before we act. To count to 10 before we speak. That just because everyone else has jumped doesn’t mean that we should, because we should be smarter, guided by logic and not emotions, led by our rational mind and not taken advantage of by our lack of information. That describes our religious tradition in some ways. John Calvin who established the theological base of our tradition was distrustful of human emotions believing that a tearful conversion on Sunday morning was only as good as the change in lifestyle come Monday. That tradition continued, so while James K. Polk’s mother was a good Presbyterian, a longtime member of this church, it is the Methodist Church across the street that has his likeness at the center of their rose window due to a conversion experience he had at a Methodist Tent Revival. There would have been no Presbyterian Tent Revival in those days – you want to become a Presbyterian you will have to accept the beliefs of this tradition in your mind, you need to hear all the standards of the Westminster Confession, not just the parts espoused by the revivalist’s sermon. Think before you act. Count to 10 before you speak. And just because everyone else has gone down to the alter doesn’t mean that you should, because you should be smarter, guided by logic and not emotions, led by your rational mind and not taken advantage of by some traveling preacher who may not tell you the whole story. But what if knowing the whole story stands in the way? We can watch the weather channel now. Receive reports of what the weather might do 24 hours a day to avoid planning a picnic on a rainy day. We can watch the stock market as much as we want. Watch it go up and down and back up again. There are projections for all kinds of things. We can go to the library to read, surf the internet for breaking news, and hear all kinds of theories from all kinds of sources and this can all be so very good – there is power in knowledge – but with knowledge can also come “paralysis rather than empowerment” . You might have read in the Daily Herald last Tuesday that James Bennett, the editor, quoted an academic at the University of Southern California who predicted in 2012 that newspapers would be gone by 2017. Academics make a lot of predictions like this one. Every publication in the religious world is analyzing declining membership numbers in the churches of the United States and Western Europe – many concluding that the church is failing. And then there are commercials that ask questions to keep you up at night: “Are you getting a good night’s sleep?” “Will my car insurance cover this?” “Will you have enough for your retirement?” These are good questions, and those who don’t think about them are foolish, but those who think about them too much might be even worse. Thomas Jefferson is famous for having edited his own Bible. He was man of the Enlightenment, so wanting to distance himself from superstition he cut out the parts of the New Testament that he could not make sense of using his considerable intellect. In the Jefferson Bible there are no miracles like the two we’ve just read, and it had to be this way, because Jefferson, like so many of us, believed in a God that he could understand. The term – “God of your own understanding” is a helpful term used by Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and the other groups in this significant family of recovery support. They use the term to be inclusive of a variety of religious beliefs, which is helpful, but the sin of our culture and the sin of the disciples, is that our God will not be limited by our understanding. We have a God who lives and works beyond our best efforts to understand and comprehend. Idolatry is one of those religious words that people use and know is bad, but what it means is this – that we are prone to create our own gods and to mistake the gods that we create for the living God who was incarnate in Jesus Christ. We don’t want to be superstitious, and beyond that, we want to make intellectual sense out of what we read, so we go to the Gospel of John, read that Jesus fed this crowd with the bread and fish that the little boy brought with him and we explain the miracle rationally. “Maybe what happened is that the boy’s willingness to share what he had inspired others to share, and the miracle is not that God provided but that people shared what they had?” we say. Indeed this is a miracle that people shared, but we must be careful with our boldness. We are fools to limit God according to our definition of what is possible, for here in the Gospel of John our Lord is calling us to step beyond our understanding. To get over our logic and our convictions about what is possible, to get beyond our intellect which is natural, and to live into our faith, which is based on the super-natural. The prophet Elisha was called to a hungry people. A righteous man brought food but asked, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” And the Disciple Philip said to Jesus, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.” We worship the God of our misunderstanding. We hedge our bets and wring our hands and rush to accept the literal facts that are before us. That was the case with my friend Fred. We were in seminary together and Fred was in the midst of an internship as a hospital chaplain. He was called to the room of a woman whose husband had just died. Fred knew that as the chaplain it was his duty to comfort the family in this time of death, so he gave a nice prayer. A very nice prayer, but when he was finished the man’s wife was disappointed. “You forgot to try to raise him from the dead,” she said. When Fred told me this story I laughed, but the more I think about it the more I have to come to terms with my laughter in the face of this faith that I claim which affirms Christ’s resurrection. We’ve been taught to think before we act. To count to 10 before we speak. That just because everyone else has jumped doesn’t mean that we should, because we should be smarter, guided by logic and not emotions, led by our rational mind and not taken advantage of by our lack of information, but if we do, is there any room in our minds for the Lord who walked on water? According to our faith in the God of our misunderstanding there must have been a sandbar or something to stand on. Our obedience to the God of our misunderstanding means we dull down the words of our Savior when he tells us to turn the other cheek – but in Scripture is the Lord who was whipped, beaten, nailed to the cross, and do you know what he said? “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” I don’t understand it, but I don’t have to understand it. I have to believe it. I have to believe that after he fed the 5,000 he told his disciples to gather up the leftovers, that while his disciples looked around with all the logic of clearheaded men the call was not to be clearheaded, but to be faithful. We’ve been seeing what we are supposed to see. We’ve been looking at our bank accounts like those who trust in riches. We’ve been thinking like good and proper boys and girls but the God of our misunderstanding won’t protect us from anxiety and fear – won’t offer us anything we didn’t have already, which means that maybe it is about time for us to hear from Jesus who said, “It is I; do not be afraid.” Do not be afraid, even if they tell you that you should be. Do not be afraid, even if you run out of options. Do not be afraid, even if you go to the cupboard and the cupboard is bare, for the one who walked on the water, who fed the 5,000 is the living God, and the living God still provides, still sustains, and still faces the storm with so much power that you need not be afraid. Amen.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Song of the Bow

2nd Samuel 1: 1 and 17-27, OT pages 275 and 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. You 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 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 your 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! Sermon There was big news from the cereal aisle this week. General Mills, maker of sugar cereals like Trix, Reese’s Puffs, and Lucky Charms, announced last Monday that they plan to remove artificial colors and flavors from its cereals by 2017. Instead of using chemical dyes like Yellow number 6, the crunchy yellow colored balls in Trix cereal will be colored naturally with turmeric, a yellow spice often used in curries and mustard, the blue Trix will be colored using blueberries, and the red with radishes and strawberries. This change seems to many to be a step in the right direction when it comes to nutrition in our country, but Michele Simon, a public-health attorney was quick to point out the fallacy in this effort – “These companies are desperate to keep parents buying these really unhealthy foods,” she wrote, “and now they can trumpet ‘no artificial dyes’ as if that makes [these sugar cereals] health food.” According to Simon, who probably feeds her kids kale for breakfast, General Mills is hoping that changing this one little thing – the chemicals used to color Trix cereal - will trick you into forgetting about the big thing – that feeding your child Trix cereal will turn him into a diabetic by the age of 9 regardless of what is used to color the cereal. The point I want to make with this news from the cereal aisle is that it can be hard to get the full story. Companies might not lie outright, but some are perfectly happy to misinform you by only giving you the part of the story that they want you to have. This is a problem, and it’s even more of a problem because plenty of people are perfectly happy to walk around with nothing more than partial knowledge. The Central High School football team will be going to NaCoMe from July 19th to the 24th. Coach Stone likes the idea because it will get his team away from everything that would distract them down in that beautiful valley in Hickman county without any cell phone service, but he may not know how linked this church is to NaCoMe – the team may not know that we’re participating in a fundraising campaign for the 75th anniversary, that our church was a vital part of getting that camp together. I’m guessing here, but there’s a good chance he only knows part of the story, and those who know only part of the story can miss out on the greater truth. General Mills is hoping that when you hear they have used natural dyes to color their cereal you’ll forget that their cereal is made of sugar – they’ll use a lack of information to their advantage – and our society is using that same technique all the time. Politicians like to talk about criminals in harsh terms. “We’re going to lock them up and throw away the key,” they’ll say, which may be an important thing to say if you want to get elected, but if you really want to understand the men and women who are incarcerated – you’ll look for more information you’ll look beyond the one fact that you’ve been supplied. If you want to know more then you’ll be thankful that this week the Daily Herald printed an article about two former inmates who saved a woman from her burning home. To many these two men are defined by one attribute, one fact, the crime that they committed, but to understand who they truly are, they must also be defined by this act of heroism, and if we can hold both the crime and the heroism in our minds simultaneously than we can appreciate the complexity of a human being, though doing so also makes life more complicated, and living blind to the full picture of humanity is sometimes more convenient. Wives think about the man they sleep next to at night – all the dishes that he never took out of the dishwasher, the way he went down to the laundry room to get a clean white t-shirt out of the dryer but left all the other clothes in there for you to fold – I’m not describing any husband in particular by the way – that’s just what people do to each other, especially when they’re angry. There’s only one thing that defines the person you’re mad at – the thing they did or the thing they failed to do. When you’re in a fight with someone you’re not taking the time to consider their most pleasant attributes – that would be an inconvenience. When you’re angry sometimes you conveniently forget. I heard a story this week about a man who caught himself in such a state of anger. A funeral procession was going by – but it was with resentment in his heart that he pulled the car over so that the deceased and his mourning family could pass. As he did so he thought to himself, “I have to be in Nashville by 2:00. Who had the audacity to die on a day like today?” It’s not that anger is bad. It isn’t, but ignorance is, especially that kind of ignorance that makes it easy to hate. Think about the woman in our first scripture lesson. She doesn’t have a name anymore. No one knows where she came from, who her parents are. You know only who she has been reduced to by the society who needed to know as little as possible in order to easily sweep her under the rug. She was nothing to them – nothing but “a woman who had been suffering from hemorrhages for twelve years.” That’s what we do to people who we need to walk on by. That’s what we do to people who we need to be angry and stay angry with. That’s what we do to people when circumstances force us to look upon them through a rifle’s scope or put them in the sights of our bow. We reduce them down and define them by partial knowledge. No need to complicate matters by considering more information than we have. They are reduced down to the way that they make us feel. But David intoned this lamentation. Beloved and lovely. Swifter than eagles. Stronger than lions. It’s no caricature of two monsters, it’s no song of celebration that the battle is over and his life is saved. When David learned that Saul and his son Jonathan were dead the fog that clouds the judgment of men in battle cleared and he saw them truly – he remembered them and the way he loved them. Now this is a strange thing to do, especially for a man who could now be called king because Saul and Jonathan were dead – but if you know what it’s like to be demonized, to be the victim of harsh generalization, to not be fully known but only known through the lens of blurred hatred, than you know how important David’s vision is. He sees, not according to his own convenience, but with honesty. He sees, not as the world sees, but as our savior sees with sight that looks beyond public opinion, rash emotion, and broad generalization. He sees, and he calls us to see the world as God does, but what a challenge that can be! Think of the great debates that divide our society today – marriage, health care, racism. One side will reduce the other to the lowest common denominator and will never so much entertain any information that would challenge their misconceptions. Some will decide what they believe about marriage without ever meeting the people these changes effect. Some will say that President Obama is a socialist and it’s as easy as that – think nothing of the families who benefit from the health care changes he initiated. And then there are plenty who will say that Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, Nathan Bedford Forrest, even Thomas Jefferson are slave owners, racists, and nothing more – not looking past the one thing to see the whole truth. But David sang for Saul and Jonathan – he saw them through the eyes of grace and love – not just as enemies but as men, heroes even, anointed by the hand of God. Thanks be to God the Lord looks upon us the same way – so go and do likewise. Do not judge your neighbor according to the worst rumor you have heard. Do not define your spouse by the qualities that you hate. And do not go looking around for reasons to condemn your brothers and sisters, for if that’s what you are looking for you will find it, but you will be a fool. Look instead for what is good. Prime your vision to see what is worthy of praise. For if you did – if we all did – how few triggers would be pulled. The Song of the Bow is the song that David sang – and it warns us all that anger in the heat of battle can make us blind. Let us instead be led by wisdom, compassion, and love. And may the Lord Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, help us all to see. Amen.

0.4 Miles to Go

2nd Samuel 7: 1-17, OT page 280 When we got sick as kids we’d lay on the couch in the living room, because that’s where the TV was, and Mom was OK with us watching TV for the morning, but usually around lunch time she’d abruptly enter the living room, turn the TV off and tell us that we’d seen enough. We all knew better than to protest, but without the TV being sick is pretty boring and we’d settle for almost anything to do. One day I was home from school, banned from watching television, I wandering into the formal dining room so desperate for entertainment that I sat down to watch my mother fold laundry. She threw a towel at me, which I folded, and to avoid folding anything else I picked up the book I had been assigned by my English teacher. That is the sign that I truly couldn’t think of anything else to do, that I picked up a book. I had been assigned To Kill a Mockingbird by my teacher, and when my mother finished folding laundry she took the book and started to read to me. The part I remember her reading is the scene when Scout is in the courtroom sitting next to her family’s housekeeper, Calpurnia in the balcony. Her father, a local attorney, had just defended an innocent black man named Tom Robinson, but after a long deliberation the jury still declared him guilty. My mother read the description of what Scout’s father, Atticus Finch did next: “Then he left the courtroom, but not by his usual exit. He must have wanted to go home the short way, because he walked quickly down the middle aisle toward the south exit. I followed the top of his head as he made his way to the door. He did not look up. Someone was punching me, but I was reluctant to take my eyes from the people below us, and from the image of Atticus’s lonely walk down the aisle. Miss Jean Louise? I looked around. They were standing. All around us and in the balcony on the opposite wall, the Negroes were getting to their feet. Reverend Syke’s voice was as distant as Judge Taylor’s: Miss Jean Louise, stand up. Your father’s passin’.” Then my mother put the book down, not able to continue reading for the tears in her eyes. In a sense this scene captures something significant about the South. By this courtroom scene you can see that there was love and respect in the segregated South, true and honorable love and respect mixed right in with the kind of racism and cruel injustice that would declare a man guilty, not based on evidence but prejudice. I believe that understanding the South requires a willingness to face all of that – not just the love and respect but also the injustice – and not just the injustice but also the love and respect, but like most cultures, ours comes close to choosing a sort of amnesia rather than a good hard look at the truth. Our history is a mixed bag in reality, but so many prefer that it be one thing or the other – a point of pride or a point of shame. So some wave the Rebel Flag and call it heritage, others want to tear that flag down as a symbol of hatred, and the same is being done when it comes not just to flags but also to people. There’s a bust of Nathan Bedford Forrest in the Tennessee State House, and I can understand the charge to move that man’s likeness into the attic. I remember the first time I saw that statue of him rearing back on his horse surrounded by all the flags of the Confederacy that you pass by on your way to Nashville – I interpreted that statue fresh out of Atlanta as a high concentration of redneck in a very small area, but the statue on 65 captures only one use of the man and not the man completely as he was. Sometimes we turn people into symbols to make a point, but how far can you go in removing a person? There is no getting away from the people in our family tree – you can put his bust in the attic but his blood still runs in our veins, his legacy is a part of this state, this region, and that’s simply reality. We can send his statue up to the attic, but there’s no getting away from who we are. That’s why these issues of our Southern Heritage get so sticky for me. There’s a part of our past that should not be celebrated, but if we go and exile people to the attic where will that take us? And who will be next? Will it be Robert E. Lee? The general who Lincoln wanted to command his troops, but who sided with his home state of Virginia – who served courageously, freed his slaves voluntarily before the war even started, and was known for his strong Christian faith? Or maybe it will be Stonewall Jackson, so brave as to face enemy fire like an immovable stonewall, called by some a fanatical Presbyterian. Or maybe the next person that we’ll try to erase from our history, the next to be exiled to the attic will be Atticus Finch. Harper Lee’s first book was released on Tuesday. Go Set A Watchman, it’s called, and you may know already that it’s set 20 years after To Kill A Mockingbird though Go Set A Watchman was written first. In this new book, Harper Lee tells us a different story about her father Atticus Finch, for in Go Set A Watchman he is an ardent segregationist who his daughter struggles to understand. “How could a man be a hero on the one hand and a segregationist on the other,” she asks in this book, but her question isn’t new. It’s no different than wondering how King David could be so faithful as to face the Giant Goliath on the one hand, yet so horrible as to seduce Bathsheba and murder her husband on the other. Scripture has a funny way of telling history that has much to teach us these days. I think of Paula Dean’s fall from public approval just a few years ago and am reminded of our society’s ability to take people, put a light on their failures, and use those failures as reason to move their statue up to the attic. Scripture is as deliberate in telling us the failures of King David as the Today Show was in the case of Paula Dean, but whereas Paula Dean will probably never be heard from again after all her sponsors dropped her, the Lord said to David through the Prophet Nathan despite his misdeeds and his shortcomings, “I 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.” In this promise is the assurance that God did not give up on David, and with that promise comes the assurance that God will not give up on us, which is a complex idea that our shallow culture is unable to comprehend. So somehow we must learn that our Lord chose to be by David’s side as he sang to the sheep out in the fields as a young boy, chose to be by David’s side when he went down into the Valley of Elah to face the giant Goliath, chose to be by David’s side as he triumphed over the Philistines in battle, and even chose to be by David’s side in the Prophet Nathan who confronted him for his treatment of Bathsheba and his murder of Uriah the Hittite. The blessing wasn’t taken away, for the blessing did not depend on David so much as it depended on God, nor was history whitewashed to make God’s blessing easier to understand. In King David is the complexity of understanding our parents, our grandparents, and the legacy that we all inherit for he left his children an example to follow in some instances, mistakes to avoid in others, and in this promise in 2nd Samuel chapter 7, you see that God’s work will continue in us. David longed to build the Lord a temple, but the Lord forbid it. The author of 1st and 2nd Chronicles wrote that it was because there was blood on David’s hands, but regardless of the reason, the fact of the matter is that like David, our ancestors have left us with work yet to be done. Our country is incomplete. Promises left unfulfilled; certainly this is the case when it comes to race. After the shootings in Charleston, South Carolina our city manager and several pastors called on our community to join together for a memorial service. I was proud to have been asked to speak, and not wanting to get there late, the day before I drove to St. Paul’s African Methodist Episcopal Church to make sure I would leave plenty of time to get there. As it turns out, the church wasn’t far. In fact, I was ashamed to find that there was a church I had never been to, a pastor I’d never met, just 0.4 miles away from this one. That’s what I spoke about that night. I said that race will always be an issue so long as two groups of people can be divided by such a short distance, and as I left the pulpit to return to my seat, Rev. Dennis Lawson, the pastor of St. Paul’s took my hand and told me that we started to bridge those 0.4 miles that very night. It’s true that my ancestors have given me so very much, and while they weren’t perfect, some the perpetrators of an evil that I find deplorable, today I am convinced that the past demands more than just our judgement. The past demands that we keep running the race that they ran before us just as proudly, swiftly, and imperfectly as they did. We have to be careful about our treatment of the past. In seeing the imperfection comes a deep assurance that just as God worked through them despite their flaws, so God will work through us. The Lord doesn’t need us nearly so much as we need the Lord and the miracle we see in Scripture again and again is that humanity is sustained so often despite us, always by the grace of God. David did not get to build the Temple, God did not need him to, for God does not live with those who deserve him. God abides with those he chooses. It is the imperfection of the generations that came before us that gives us encouragement to forge ahead faithfully, knowing that God chooses to abide with imperfect people. Harper Lee ends her new novel with a conversation between Scout, who now that she’s grown goes by Jean Louise, and her Uncle Jack. In her struggle to understand her father she has reacted in anger and despair, but finally it is maturity that her uncle leads her to. “Every man’s island, Jean Louise, every man’s watchman, is his conscious,” he quoted from the Prophet Isaiah, and “now you, Miss, born with your own conscious, somewhere along the line fastened it like a barnacle onto your father’s. As you grew up, when you were grown, totally unknown to yourself, you confused your father with God.” In saying this, in helping Scout to see her father in a new light – as a segregationist yes, but more importantly as a man, Uncle Jack enabled her to live her own future, and to see clearly the living God who worked through the men and women of history despite their failures – so let there be no doubt that our God will work among us now. There are some saying that Atticus Finch was never a hero, but I will still stand in respect to this man still, only now I will stand beside him and not behind, together we all stand as servants of the Lord. And this day let us work towards completion – let us walk beyond where they have led – for they may have brought us this far, but there are 0.4 miles left to go. Amen.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

She despised him in her heart

2nd Samuel 6: 1-5 and 12b-23, 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. 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 source of conflict in this second scripture lesson isn’t unknown to you. Well illustrated here is a problem that I’m sure you’ve heard about before, you may have even dealt with it yourself. It’s something like what happens to a lot couples at some point in the marriage. The happy couple rides off to begin their new life together after the wedding, but at some point or another expectations aren’t quite met and comparisons are made: The beautiful bride says to her new husband as he takes the car off to have the oil changed, “You know, my daddy always did that himself.” Or, dinner is served and the new husband takes a bite out of squash casserole, but the only thing he can say is, “this is good, but my mama’s is better; maybe you could watch her make it next time we go for a visit.” The comparisons aren’t all bad – but they can be the sign of something bad. In our second scripture lesson, Michael is married to David. He’s her husband, but the primary relationship in her life isn’t her relationship to David. He might be her husband, but Saul is her daddy. Dealing with that reality, the reality that David, her husband, ranks second to Saul, her dead father, has significant impact on her marriage. It is a big deal that after his display of rejoicing as the Ark is returned to Jerusalem, David goes home feeling as tall as a mountain, as strong as a lion, but his wife met him at the door saying, “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.” Battles have been won, peace established in the land, now the Ark, the dwelling place of God, is returned to Israel as all the people rejoice in their new king, but the last stronghold of his predecessor Saul’s power is in the heart of his new wife. David isn’t her husband nearly so much as Saul is her daddy. If her father were king, well – her father might have marched at the front of a parade into the city as the Ark was brought home, more likely he would have allowed a group of strong men to carry him into the city that he might look regal, dignified, like a man worthy of reverence and respect. And certainly. Certainly he never would have danced! In Michal’s estimation only a classless man would dance! So when she saw him dancing, “Michal, daughter of Saul, despised him in her heart.” It didn’t have to be that way then. It doesn’t have to be that way now, but it often is. Because for some the standards of proper behavior are set in stone. Normal behavior is defined. According to those for whom standards of proper behavior are established and unamendable, those who don’t follow the rules are just plain contemptable, worthy of being despised. They’ll say that husbands should change the oil in the family car all by themselves. That wives should follow their mother-in-law’s recipes. And certainly, certainly kings should never dance. Now we come to these conclusions early on I believe. I believe that we all grow up thinking that we had a normal childhood, that the way our families did things is just the way that things should be done. I remember the first time I ever spent the night at a friend’s house – we had dinner at 5:30, which was weird because at home we always ate at 6:00 and I assumed everyone else did too. Then the next morning things got even weirder because at the breakfast table there were two jugs of milk. One was for cereal, and my friend showed me that I should pour my milk for my cereal from the cereal milk jug, and then when I was finished with my cereal, if there was any left, I would pour the milk that was left in my bowl back into the cereal milk jug to be used the next day. That was perfectly normal for him, but sometimes what you think is normal is actually disgusting, so what becomes important in a marriage is that a husband and a wife change, that they begin to operate with a new shared definition for normal – if they don’t one of them will always be wrong, or worse - despised. I once met with a couple who lived with two standards of normal financial practices – one was a saver, one was a spender, they asked me who should win, who was right, and that’s easy – in this kind of situation they both lose – because what’s required in a marriage is adaptation, compromise, and the ability to shift your allegiances away from the family that you grew up in towards the new family that marriage has created. In the second chapter of Genesis we read that a man must leave “his father and mother and cling to his wife that they become one flesh,” and if he doesn’t – if he’s holding his wife with his left hand and his mother’s with his right, the thing that is certain is that he’ll be torn apart. Sometimes what’s demanded of the faithful is the ability to be flexible, to rethink those standards of what’s right and wrong and decent and proper. Relationships demand that. And that’s been true in my life – for a year I cut grass professionally, so that means I can make those fancy diagonal lines in my lawn. And my crew was all illegal immigrants – which is an issue that I felt one way about before I met them and a different way after I became their friend. Relationships demand that we change sometimes – that we re-think our standards of truth – this is especially the case when we consider our relationship to God. Our first scripture lesson illustrates the prophet Amos’ reluctance to embrace his new identity as God’s anointed prophet. He said, “I am no prophet, nor a prophet’s son; but I am a herdsman, and a dresser of sycamore trees,” but “the Lord said to me, ‘Go prophesy to my people Israel.’” There’s a challenge to human existence – for we’re reluctant to let go of what we know, we’re slow to embrace the new that has come, so just as Michael had do decide whether she was Saul’s daughter or David’s wife, just as Amos on the one hand knew himself as a herdsman and a dresser of sycamore trees but God called him to be a prophet to the people of Israel, so you have to understand yourself, not as a child of this world, but as a child of God. Every Sunday I charge you to remember who you are – not because you haven’t been told enough already, but because the world will tell you one thing, will call you to one way of life, and one set of expectations, but you cannot serve two masters like Michal – you have a decision to make. You have been called to a new relationship. A new standard. A new life. You are not just the king’s daughter. You are not only a dresser of sycamore trees. You are a member of the royal priesthood. A child of God – and a joint heir with Christ. This relationship must change the way that you understand your values – for the standards that you grew up with are changing, being reshaped even now – but it’s not the values that you grew up with that you should cling to so tightly. David danced and while it seemed shameful to his wife, it was Michael who was punished for holding fast to the traditions of a bygone era rather than embracing the new day that was dawning. So also Amos was a prophet on the one hand – a dresser of sycamore trees on the other. A decision had to be made. That’s how it is with you – so hear these words of the Apostle Paul: “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good, and acceptable, and perfect. Amen.