08/12/18 – A King, A Father


August 12, 2018
12th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Sam.18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Ps.130; Eph.4:25-5:2; John 6:35-51
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

For the past few weeks, we have been landing here and there on the extensive saga of the life and reign of King David of Israel. Last week we heard the story of David and Bathsheba, relaying David’s fall from grace when he seduced the wife of one of his faithful generals, Uriah. When she became pregnant, David decided he must do something to cover up his dastardly deed. As we well know, the cover-up often leads from one sin to many more. Not being able to convince Uriah, an honorable and loyal leader, to leave his men to have a conjugal visit with his wife, David finally resorts to murder. He ordered Uriah to the front lines on an impossible mission so that he is killed in battle. In last week’s reading from Second Samuel, Nathan delivers this ominous prophecy from God: “…the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me …Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house… (12:10-11) And, God kept his promise in a big way. From that point through today’s reading, David went from one crisis to another.

To catch up with today’s reading, I’ll do a short synopsis of David’s troubles. If you like family dramas with crime, jealousy, intrigue, and revenge, read the 2 Samuel chapters the lectionary skips over this year between chapter 12 and 18. The story of Absalom’s rebellion against his father, David, begins with seeds of jealousy, probably also fueled by David’s various wives. Since David was only the second king of Israel and the first king, Saul, was not his father, the law of primogenitor had not yet been firmly established. Therefore, there was jockeying for position among David’s sons. Since Amnon was the oldest, he was expected to be the next in line for the crown. But, like David, Amnon was impetuous with women. Though he loved his half-sister, Tamar, he was not patient enough to go through the proper steps to marry her. In antiquity, the marriage of half-siblings was not taboo as it is today. Amnon tricked her into entering his bedchamber and raped her. We could say Tamar was one of the “Me Too” victims in the Bible.

This monstrous offense infuriated Absalom, Tamar’s full brother. David, however, felt compassion for Amnon (none, evidently for his daughter) and did not punish him. Injustice is a deep wound that resists healing itself. To borrow a line from our epistle reading, Absalom ‘did not let the sun go down on his anger’ and he did, indeed sin. Absalom devised a scheme in which he invited all of David’s sons to a big sheep-shearing party, a celebration of the last shearing of the season. As expected the celebration was accompanied by lots of good food and wine. Hopefully, the wine was consumed before the sheep-shearing or, more likely, the servants did the shearing. Absalom made sure Amnon got drunk and, then, ordered his men to kill him. In doing so, Absalom got his revenge, intimidated his competition for the throne and boosted his place in the line of succession. Absalom fled to the King of Geshur, the maternal grandfather of both Tamar and Absalom, where he remained for three years.

Absalom was not just biding his time in Geshur, he was ingratiating himself with the people, bad-mouthing his dad, and gathering an army to seize the kingdom rather than waiting to inherit it. He led a coup d’état against David’s army, at one point sending David fleeing Jerusalem. From his failure to defend his daughter to his abandoning his kingdom and the people who depended on their king to protect them, we can see that the elder David is not the same man as the youthful David. So. taking the reins of power through subtle manipulation, David’s sly general, Joab, carefully groomed David to fight for his kingdom.

Yet, despite Absalom’s terrible deeds, David could not bear to see his son killed. David the king, was also the father. He instructed his generals to ‘deal gently with him.’ Joab did not agree that was the right course of action. For Joab, the battle lines must be unequivocally drawn in the sand. David could not love his son and his people. Joab never intended to fulfill David’s request. When the tide of battle turned against Absalom and he was forced to flee, his hair became caught in the branches of a tree and he was left hanging, “between heaven and earth.”

Walter Brueggemann, the Biblical scholar, has made an intriguing observation:

“Absalom is suspended between life and death, between the sentence of a rebel and the value of a son, between the severity of the king and the yearning of the father. He is no longer living because he is utterly vulnerable, but he is not dead.     [Walter Brueggemann, Interpretation: First and Second Samuel (John Knox Press, 1990).

When David learns of his son’s death, he cries out in anguish, one of the most wrenching lamentations of the Bible:
“O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” 

Most of us who have children or grandchildren have experienced an “Absalom moment” like this. A time of grief when our children have failed to live by the values we hold dear and have tried to instill in them. And, if we are honest with ourselves we give God Absalom moments ourselves. This is why we have the confession in our worship. Reconciliation with God calls for confession and repentance. At this point in David’s life, he and God are of one heart, and that heart is broken. A father’s love, hanging on a tree, speared by soldiers, the desire for a death of substitution —  we shouldn’t wonder why this Old Testament text is read on Good Friday. David’s unconditional love for Absalom echoed God’s love for God’s rebellious children.

Perhaps if David had been a better man for his sons to imitate, Amnon and Absalom would not have been such a cause of grief for their father. The author of Ephesians wrote to that congregation: “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” That is a pretty tall order. We are familiar with the bible encouraging us to imitate Paul and to imitate Jesus – but imitate God? Throughout the Bible we are warned not to try to be like God — doing so has created a lot of trouble in the world. The key word in this passage is “love.” We are to love as God has loved us, as Jesus has loved us by giving himself up for us. This is a love that is sacrificial. Yet, sacrifice has always tested those of us who desire to be Christ’s disciples. When we cannot sacrifice even an hour to worship or the smallest fraction of our abundance, what happens when God leads us to sacrifice more for justice and love for all God’s children, our brothers, and sisters? What happens when God calls us to right injustice from which we have gained, but others have lost?

David’s family drama reminds us that we live in a world where brokenness tends to beget even more brokenness.  Sinful acts and moral compromise continue to breed pain and distress to the second and third generations and beyond. When we desire the wrong things, others suffer. And, still, we are loved and forgiven by a God who, in Jesus, died instead of us, while we were his enemies crucifying him. Jesus, this Son of David lamented Jerusalem that would crucify him, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Lk.19:41-42).

Today, we are living in a society that operates along Joab’s way of thinking. We cannot love our country and still seek to correct injustices our country commits. We cannot have compassion for victims of police violence without hating the police. We cannot care about and respect people who are different from us without betraying those that are like us. If we love Palestinians, we must hate Israelis. We cannot be for poor working people making a living wage, without demonizing the rich. We are fed a steady diet of Joab’s political maneuvers every day in the media and online. As one biblical commentator described: “we eat it, and we eat it, and it makes us sicker and sicker until we die in a wilderness of eyes for eyes, swords for swords, missiles for missiles, until Nagasaki burns again across our world. Joab died in that wilderness eventually, by the sword, for this is the bread of death, and we are choking on it.”

But Jesus said, “I am the bread of life. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever, and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’” As his disciples, we are called to love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived and, give ourselves up for others as he gave himself up for us – a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Unlike Absalom, we are not left hanging between heaven and earth, but we gently lifted to the realm of heaven, the kingdom of God. Jesus enfleshed David’s words: “Would that I had died instead of you.” But still, God’s heart breaks on the cross. While lamenting our transgressions, God’s own lament embraces us, God does not leave us to suffer on our own but enters our suffering and joins us in death. God’s promise was not that our suffering would be removed, or even explained. The promise is that God will be present with us in our suffering. ‘Greater love hath no one than this.’

All power, honor, and glory to our Triune God.



© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2018, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church
1420 W. Moss Avenue – Peoria Illinois 61606
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