at Ames UCC
on October 20, 2019
©The Rev. Eileen Gebbie
Sermons are the result of pastoral preparation, congregational presence, and Holy Spirit participation. Please join me in that mysterious but always delightful process at 10:30 a.m. on Sundays, except in July and August when times vary. Check the calendar for details.
WHY SO HAPPY?
Who is this David to be so happy? What does he have to dance and to sing about with all his nation? I know that it reads in our bulletins as though this is a coronation parade, a celebration of David’s ascension to the throne of Israel after Saul’s leadership collapsed, but it isn’t. There are a lot of missing verses, a whole war of them. And there’s all of the war before them.
These people, the descendants of the escaped slaves of Exodus, decide they want a king, they want to be able to participate in international commerce, be a power broker in the region, too. God famously warns them that a king will make their children into soldiers and farmers who work only for the king. A king will make their children into servants of the castle and their best fields and vineyards the king will take. All slaves and workhorses will be the king’s to use. And after all of that, a king will also tax them at ten percent. The people refuse God’s counsel, ditch their traditional judges and prophets, of all genders, and elevate Saul.
Then everything God predicted comes true.
Saul goes to war against the Ammonites and the Moabites, cousins to the Israelites through the family tree of Sarah and Abraham. He goes to war against the Philistines, too.
The people get their international politics, all right, they get it in blood.
Then Saul’s monarchy fails, and so spectacularly that not even one of his own children can take the throne. So David, a shepherd and a musician, after a lot of lies and pain between the two of them, comes to take Saul’s place.
But the wars do not stop. David’s kingdom is not peaceable. No kingdom ever can be. Ours isn’t.
Our children, and we, are slaves to rising costs and jobs too demanding and insufficiently paid. The precious resource of our time is capitalized by propagators of division and perpetrators of lies. The precious resource of our attention is literally capitalized by devices and software that profit from our brain’s dopamine reactions and addictiveness. Our taxes seem little to serve us in terms of good schools for all, safe bridges, and decent and accessible mental health care.
And we know about war, too.
The veterans in this room have tales to tell that we would want to forget as soon as we heard them. The refugees from war in this room could likewise recount moments in their lives with details hair-raising and horrifying. Our families of soldiers may live right alongside us but quite distinctly from those of us who do not know how service of one is service of them all.
If we think our soil is soaked from all of these individual gunmen at nightclubs and schools and synagogues, we would be struck dumb by the rivers of red that have carved deep banks from the current U.S. involved wars and “conflicts” in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Niger, and Syria, whatever is left of Syria.
So who are we this morning to join in David’s dance in the streets, not with lyres and tambourines, but with piano and pip organ, when so much continues to be so bad?
Because it is our failure to do so that has allowed warfare to fill our lives.
In the story David and his legion are marching with the Ark not as part of a coronation celebration or religious rite but because they have retrieved it from enemies. It had been captured as part of their perpetually warring state. So this is a parade of conquest, a parade of return.
I do not begrudge them that joy. Yet I think it would have been a better story, a more faithful story, if they had marched with the Ark before going to war. In fact, I think all of that war and that loss might have been prevented if they had let the Ark and its contents, take the lead instead of their kings.
Remember what the Ark is said to carry: the second set of tablets onto which Moses wrote the Decalogue, God’s Commandments, God’s teachings, when they were a people first homeless and free: Do not kill, do not steal; do not spend your time ogling the people or the possessions on the other side of the fence; do not be sloppy with your language and your promises; do not make up powers only to suit you, but tend to the real power that makes people free; do not work too much or make anyone else work too much; do not ignore the wisdom of people who have walked this earth before you.
Imagine a people who, instead of worrying about national borders, instead of building up armies and fear, sang out regularly and often:
Oh, thank God, we do not have to practice death and deception any longer!
Thank God that violence is not our first tool but the practice of thoughtful respect!
Thank God, that we can ignore the push to greed and disappointment!
Thank God for the generosity we can practice when we are not exhausted from work!
Thank God for releasing us from the center of our own attention and allowing us to be awed by the power of creation!
Thank God that we have at last learned the life-losing lessons of those who came before us!
We can be those people.
We can be those people who, not despite the world-scale depravity we are experiencing in this time but because of it, sing for joy at the gift of cooperation and cultivation found in this guide for righteous, good-neighborly living both ancient and simple.
BE THOSE PEOPLE
Not only can we, but we must.
Joy is not an indulgence in the midst of grievous troubles, it is not a sign that we don’t care, joy is a revolutionary act of peace. When we are joyous, we are not trolling, when we are joyous, we are not bludgeoning. When we are joyous we are energetic, expansive, and just.
In this theological interpretation of their history, our faith ancestors told a story of God warning them of all the horrors a king would wreak. Whether God literally spoke those words, I don’t know, but it is a true story because generation after generation, people after people, have learned that kings in their worship of borders care not for lives or land except in service to themselves.
But our lives are not made for war, not intended for combative nationalism. Our lives are for a peaceable dance, a happy co-existence.
May we, in the theological interpretation of our own time, tell a different tale. Don’t hear that as anti-Semitism—Christians have long failed to uphold God’s invitations, too.
So let us now tell a story true about the day we let God’s good counsel be our guide. A story true about how when kings sought to steal our attention for hatred, our energy for division, our resources for devastation, we did a pirouette, we sang a song.
A story in which we sang for joy and love of God so loudly and so long, that all of the slaves, the slaves to fear, the slaves to racism, the slaves to labor, were set free once more.