Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Song of the Bow

Due to a few technical difficulties, we didn't get a video of Sunday's message recorded.  So, here is the message from June 28.  At FUMCA, we're currently following the Old Testament stream of the RCL, studying the monarchy of ancient Israel has handed down to us through 1st and 2nd Samuel.  Below is a sermon on 2 Samuel, 1:1, 17-27 - the "Song of the Bow".

What happened in Charleston was still running through my mind as I wrote this on last Thursday.  I'd never had to preach on racism before, and here God is calling to speak on it two weeks in a row.  I don't know if I got everything right, but I do know that in the face of such horrendous tragedy, maybe the worst thing a pastor can do is say nothing.


Have you ever had a tried and true enemy?  Someone who all-out opposed you every chance they could?  Where things just got more and more terrible?  Maybe this enemy is one of your closest friends … Or a sibling … Or a spouse … A surprise.  How have you dealt with adversity that came at you in the form of a person, or people?  With a hot head?  Or with peace?

Last week, we read one of the more popular stories of the Bible, probably one of the few stories that people inside and outside of the church probably know, David and Goliath.  David, the passionate servant of God, trusts in God’s power to save him and his Israelite family, and takes on a giant.  He took on an enemy of our God, and by God’s power, he won.

If you know your Bible, from that moment on, things get kind of hard for David.  King Saul, who had lost his faith in God and in turn lost the Lord’s favor, grows jealous of David.  Saul knows that God has chosen David over him to be King and he isn’t too happy about it.  David ends up being the most famous general in Israel, fighting for Saul, but soon Saul’s jealousy takes over and forces Israel into a civil war, pitting those who love David against those who love Saul.

Things go back and forth through the end of First Samuel, our book for the last few weeks.  In the end, Saul loses his life, not by David … David actually spares his life multiple times, even as Saul continually tried to murder David … Game of Thrones stuff … Saul suffers a defeat at the hands of the Philistine army, in the end taking his own life over becoming a prisoner of war.

What happens after that, is one of the most touching moments in the Word of God, that you’ve probably never read.  When David hears of the death of Saul, he loses it, in front of his people whom he was anointed to lead.  He never chose to be Saul’s enemy.

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27 Common English Bible (CEB)

After Saul’s death, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, he stayed in Ziklag two days.
David mourns Saul and Jonathan
Then David sang this funeral song for Saul and his son Jonathan.  David ordered everyone in Judah to learn the Song of the Bow. (In fact, it is written in the scroll from Jashar.)

Oh, no, Israel! Your prince lies dead on your heights.
    Look how the mighty warriors have fallen!
Don’t talk about it in Gath;
        don’t bring news of it to Ashkelon’s streets,
    or else the Philistines’ daughters will rejoice;
    the daughters of the uncircumcised will celebrate.
You hills of Gilboa!
    Let there be no dew or rain on you,
    and no fields yielding grain offerings.
Because it was there that the mighty warrior’s shield was defiled—
    the shield of Saul!—never again anointed with oil.
Jonathan’s bow never wavered from the blood of the slain,
    from the gore of the warriors.
        Never did Saul’s sword return empty.
Saul and Jonathan! So well loved, so dearly cherished!
    In their lives and in their deaths they were never separated.
They were faster than eagles,
    stronger than lions!
Daughters of Israel, weep over Saul!
    He dressed you in crimson with jewels;
    he decorated your clothes with gold jewelry.
Look how the mighty warriors have fallen in the midst of battle!
    Jonathan lies dead on your heights.
I grieve for you, my brother Jonathan!
    You were so dear to me!
    Your love was more amazing to me than the love of women.
Look how the mighty warriors have fallen!
    Look how the weapons of war have been destroyed!

David often chose music and poetry to express his emotions.  He even danced on occasion … We’ll get to that one in a week or two … Seventy-one of the hymns in the Book of Psalms have his name in the superscriptions - “A Psalm of David” - while at least twelve of them clearly describe events in his life.  He was a warrior poet, and here he composes a lament for the dead, a song of mourning for those he would consider dearly departed, a song that he would make all of Israel learn.

It’s amazing to think that Saul tried over and over again to murder David, and still, he would write this song.  And to have to compose these words so personally at the end to memorialize his very best friend, Jonathan.  It’s a beautiful song.  How would you write of your enemies?  Could someone write this one for you?

As a worship minister, I participated in the music for an awful lot of funerals.  Many while we were in Louisiana.  But the biggest one I ever participated in wasn’t for a person, it was for an event, and event names after a person … A hurricane named Katrina.

The storm changed that church and community in vivid ways that are still evident when you walk the streets of Slidell, especially in the outskirts of the town.  But on the fifth anniversary of the storm, my pastors decided it was time for the community to put it to rest.  We mourned the losses that day.  Friends that had to leave, never able to return due to houses lost.  Friends that could return, only to have to rebuild their lives once the waters receded.  The loss of many lives in a region that wasn’t ready.  We sang songs of lament … but then we celebrated a community that was able to rebuild.

We concluded the services with a style that only that region has … A song welcoming the saints … complete with a second line and hankies in the air.  Because with any funeral, we celebrate that the worst thing is never the last thing, right?

However, how do you mourn an enemy?  David stops everything in Israel when he hears the news of Saul’s death.  Everything.  The fighting.  No rejoicing.  David feels a deep loss in his soul for himself and his nation, a loss of one who was anointed to lead.  But there is further weight on his shoulders … He’s going to have to rebuild this nation after its civil war.  It would be years before David could unite north and south again.

It’s just got me thinking about how we treat our enemies, with those that oppose us.  When you watch the Cowboy game, right, when a player is injured on the field, everything stops, even if we're playing against Philadelphia.  You know what I mean.  Maybe our cornerback made the most amazing tackle on the Eagle’s wide receiver.  A game saving tackle when a player was on a break away.  Even so, everything quits.  The hush falls over the crowd when trainers and coaches rush onto the field, even for a player from the Eagles.  Players are standing over their comrade.  If it’s bad a stretcher comes out and the cart that comes with it to hurry the player across the field to the locker room, perhaps even to an ambulance.  And everybody falls into a hushed stillness.  People that have their faces painted in team colors, with signs that say terrible things about the opposing team.  All still.

And the player is loaded onto the stretcher.  And then the cart.  His neck is immobilized and you can’t hear what the people are saying.  But then you see him give a thumbs up as he’s driven off the field.

What does the stadium do?  It claps.  It cheers.  Breaths that were held are let out.  People that jeer are booed.

Why?  Because there’s a difference between wishing your enemy to fail and wishing your enemy harm.

Do we get that?  We are called to always seek to “Do no harm.”  Regardless of the opposition; we pray for changed hearts.  And changed minds.  And changed lives.

The events of last week are still weighing heavily on my heart.  A young man does to a church and accepts the hospitality of a faith family, even though he looks drastically different on the surface than they do.  After studying the Bible with them for an hour, he commits an act of terrorism, and nine of God’s children perish.

How does the church react?  It falls into a hush, but then it sings songs of mourning.  It laments that the stain of racism still hasn’t been washed clean from our world.  It prays that Jesus is still at work, that the Holy Spirit is still moving to fix people’s hearts.

I call us all to search our souls for what the Lord’s justice would look like in today’s world; what people who ultimately believe in God’s hopeful reconciliation would bring to the table.  I pray for the enemies of justice to fail, and I hope that God will change their hearts.

I grew up in Farmers Branch, TX.  Not a town that’s done super well on race relations, in recent history, but that doesn’t mean that amazing things can’t happen in the midst of dealing with an influx of immigrants just trying to find a home.  In high school, I did a little tutoring in a reading program at Central Elementary in Carrollton.  At the time it was full of little kids learning English as a second language.  You’d guess that most of them were coming to English from Spanish, and on the whole, you’d be right.  But, back then, there was a surprise when you walked in the front entrance, a sign, that said hello in every language represented by the student body, which was 3rd through 5th grade.

“Hello” was written on this sign in thirty different languages.  Thirty languages.  Quite the job for the teachers, right?  But they did the work for those precious children.

I pray for those that perpetrate racism in our nation to fail, and those that would divide God’s children up into categories to have changed hearts.

David prayed for his enemies, and mourned their loss, because they were children of God.  But, our Lord Jesus Christ takes things a whole lot further than that.

‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Listen, whether you’ve joined this faith family or not, I’m just going to assume for a moment that you’re part of the Body of Christ.  If you are, if we are, Christian, how is it that Christ called for us to be known in the world?  By our love.  We’ve been studying the monarchy of ancient Israel, learning about leadership and how God calls us to lead.  However, we follow something other-worldly, an alternative Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, a Kingdom based on a value of love that is above all and eternal.

May we hear the call of our Lord, to share God’s perfect love, with imperfect people, that someday we may all set aside what we think sets us apart, and just be children of our Heavenly Father.