David speaks – from the wilderness

O God, you are my God, I seek you, my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.

My life has been full – there have been moments of joy and fulfillment. I can think of moments in my life that I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. I can think of moments when all the shadows seemed to be banished. There was that beautiful moment when the prophet Samuel plucked me out of obscurity, anointing me with oil – marking me as king. Some days I can still feel the oil poured over my head – some days the smell of the oil still fills my nostrils. It was such a dramatic and hopeful moment.

I think back also to my friendship with Jonathan – what a gift he was to me – what a gift his friendship was. He challenged me, he encouraged me, he helped me. We experienced very real happiness together.

I also think back to my early years as king, when the people were united with me – when we successfully defended the land against the Philistines who tried to drive us out. There was joy, glory, victory.

Those moments in my life  – when all the shadows seemed to be banished – I wouldn’t trade them for anything. Continue reading

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david and bathsheba…

Well, we come this morning to another of the well-known stories of David – it is the story of David and Bathsheba. The story of David and Bathsheba is one of those stories that has all the compelling elements that makes it stick in our mind. There is a beautiful woman bathing, and a king watching her; there is a sexual liaison; there is a pregnancy, and then a murder of the woman’s husband. Finally, there is that remarkable scene of confrontation between the prophet Nathan and David – in which David unwittingly judges and condemns himself.

We made it clear last week that David is far from perfect. The narratives of First and Second Samuel certainly present David as a remarkable figure, in the best sense of the word. In important ways, David has embodied the strength, the grace, and the hospitality of God. In some profound sense, as one filled by the Spirit of God, David is a man after God’s own heart. Yet in the unfolding of the narrative, we find another David emerging – one who will stoop so low – one who falls so far. Here is a David who can engage in activities that are nothing less than morally outrageous. Continue reading

politics, cynicism, faith

Well here we go again – yet another federal election campaign. The evening newscasts will be filled to the brim with stump speeches and political panelists. The papers will give us all the latest polling data – who’s leading, who’s picking up steam, who’s falling into the basement of political opinion. The local candidates will be knocking on our doors. The political leaders will be making a swing through our city. Promises will be made. Opponents will be attacked.

From the sermon title for today, you’ll see where I want to start this morning – with the question of cynicism and politics. In a way, we all become cynics in the middle of an election campaign. A cynic, of course, is someone who is convinced that no matter what people say, no matter what people do, they are really only interested in themselves. The cynic says: People may look like they care, but if you dig a little deeper you’ll quickly discover that they’re only thinking about themselves. Continue reading

the house god builds

Again, following Brueggemann’s basic interpretation of the passage.

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For over 2000 years, the Tuareg people of West Africa have wandered in the Sahara desert, driving herds of sheep and cattle as they went. They have lived in portable tents made of animal skins. Spending much of their time through the regions of Mali, in West Africa, they were known to travel as far as Libya and Egypt in order to conduct trade. For over 2000 years, the Tuareg lived as a people on the move – they were defined by movement. Over the last 30 – 40 years, however, changes to the Saharan climate have led to changes in the culture of this people – the lakes at which the Tuareg would water their herds have dried up. The rains, limited as they always were, and on which the Tuareg depended, have also dried up. In the past 5 – 10 years, this ancient people has been forced to give up its nomadic ways. They have mostly put away their tents – they now live settled villages – in the same mud houses as other people in the region.

Perhaps we can imagine the difficulty of the blue-turbaned men of the desert in giving up their nomadic ways. Perhaps we can imagine the feeling of constraint and enclosure the Tuareg must feel.  We can imagine that the idea of living in a mud house after living for generations in the open-sided tents, might have been almost claustrophobia-inducing. The Tuareg of West Africa are making the transition with some difficulty. From a nomadic people, to a people fixed in one place. Continue reading

how to love a fool…

Though I haven’t read or heard the sermon, I borrowed this title from a sermon in the Redeemer Presbyterian Church (Manhattan) series on David. I have in many ways relied on Brueggemann’s analysis of the passage (his commentary in the Interpretation series).

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This morning we come to the climax in that contest of wills. As we recall from last week, on one side of this contest is Saul, who wants David dead. And on the other side of this contest is God, who wants David alive. Today’s story from I Samuel may not represent the high point of David’s whole life story, but it is certainly the climax of his relationship to Saul.

As we look at the story from I Samuel 24, I want to come immediately this morning to the question of what this story means for you and for me. My sermon title for this morning is intended to capture the meaning of this story for us. You’ll see it on the screen and in the bulletin. How to love a fool… It seems to me that this is what the story teaches us – it teaches us how to love a fool. Continue reading

friendship and god’s purposes

Have you ever been involved in a contest of wills? A contest of wills – when two people have become stubbornly fixed in their positions. Each one has dug in his or her heals. Neither one is going to move. It is a contest of wills – each one will try to outlast the other over some disagreement.

It happens sometimes between husband and wife:

We’re going to my sister’s for dinner next Thursday.

I’m not going to your sister’s place for dinner.

We’re going to my sister’s.

No we’re not.

We’re going to my sister’s for dinner.

No we’re not. Continue reading

david, spirit, music

This past week B and I had S and S Jenvey as guests in our home. Of course many of you know them since S served as student minister here a number of years ago. They were back in town so S could attend the continuing education program at the Presbyterian College. A special part of their visit with us this week was the fact that S brought along one of her harps. On the first night that they stayed with us, S went up and played a lullaby on the harp for R and E as they were settling down to sleep. It’s a common part of the human experience, isn’t it – the lullaby. After a full day, to calm excited bodies, to sooth anxious minds, to settle the child down for the night, the lullaby brings everything down a notch or two. It was a wonderful gift for us this week to have the tones of the harp setting the bed-time mood in our home.

We all know this soothing function of music – this capacity of music to bring comfort – it’s not reserved for children or for bedtime. For many of us, in many contexts, I’m sure, music has had the capacity

to relieve our sadness

to dull our pain

to ease our fears. Continue reading

Samuel and the idols

That sounds like the name of a rock band, but it’s a sermon title…

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When we hear about idol worship, what do we think of?

Maybe when we hear about idols and idolatry, we first think of places around the world where idols are part of the cultural landscape. We might think of those countries where statues or shrines are plentiful in public and private places. In a similar vein, when we hear about idols and idolatry we might think of the Old Testament – passages like the one we read this morning – a story where the people of Israel had got caught up worshipping at shrines set up to the gods of their neighbours.

Now when we think about idolatry and idols in this way – in terms of statues and shrines, and in terms of the gods of the ancient Canaanites, for example – we create a kind of distance between ourselves and the notion of idolatry. We aren’t generally tempted to set up shrines to various gods in our homes. The temptation that the Israelites felt to worship the gods of their neighbours – that isn’t really a part of our experience. So when we initially think of idols and idolatry there is a kind of distance – we’re not immediately sure how this reality connects with our own lives. Continue reading

Hannah’s grief, Israel’s future

When it comes to the problem of infertility, you’d have to say that a few things have changed in the last three thousand years. One big change, of course, is that we know a lot more about the causes of infertility – in women we know about endometriosis, and hormonal problems, and about the possibility of physical damage to the ovaries. In men we know about low sperm counts and we know some of the causes.

Not only do we know a lot more now about the causes of infertility than humans did 3000 years ago – we can also do a lot more to work around those biological problems. We’ve got technologies they wouldn’t have dreamed of 50 years ago let alone three thousand years ago. Of course some of those technologies raise serious theological and ethical concerns, but without getting into those questions we can say that technological advances mean that in situations where pregnancy and birth might have been impossible three thousand years ago, they are possible today. Continue reading