Pastor Sherry’s message for June 27, 2021
Scriptures: 2 Samuel 1:1-27; Psalm 130
We live in a time when we are encouraged to get our revenge on our enemies, political or otherwise. Recently I heard a news commentator, Trey Gowdy, do a monologue on why he prefers sports to politics. (Gowdy used to be a US representative from South Carolina, but did not run for re-election due to his disgust over the corruption he encountered while serving in D.C.) He compared our national situation to a choice between golf, baseball, and professional wrestling: He said that in golf, players call penalties on themselves (The best golfers own their mistakes. No one respects the ones who lie or cheat.). In baseball, all agree to abide by the rulings of an umpire, and we all hope the umpire is fair to both sides. But in professional wrestling, there are no rules; no fairness; the end justifies the means (do whatever it takes to win); the outcome is fixed; and it is less a sport than entertainment.
Gowdy strongly implied that our national government is currently run more like professional wrestling than we might think or want. Political wrongdoers lack the integrity to hold themselves accountable or to admit and apologize for their wrongs. There is no national umpire/referee to enforce the rules fairly. And one’s political ends clearly appear to justify the means.
Nevertheless, Gowdy went on to opine that he has hope for America, due to how we tend to behave in sports:
1.) He reported having seen a woman in pro-golf recently pull for her opponent to sink a crucial putt.
2.) He related how another woman golfer–who had led the tournament only to lose at the end–did not blame others, the course, or her circumstances, but graciously thanked the fans for lifting her spirits.
3.) He shared how the Alabama softball team’s coach responded at the college world series. They interviewed him as his team was losing (This seems like kicking a guy when he is down, but reporters do this all the time). Rather than display anger or a vengeful attitude, the coach praised 2 other coach-peers who were retiring after the series.
The commentator hopes we will, as a nation, respond more like the sportswomen and the coach he referenced and less like politicians who do not congratulate or pull for their opponents; who only appreciate their followers but castigate those who disagree with them; and who blame anyone else for their defeat and desire revenge against their opponents.
A similar story is told about General Robert E. Lee, from about 150 years ago now. It appears that General William Whiting, a confederate peer, loudly and critically criticized Lee behind his back. You might think that Lee would wait for an opportunity to seek revenge upon the man. In fact, an opportunity presented itself one day when President Jefferson Davis summoned Gen. Lee to meet with him. The President asked Lee what he thought of Gen. Whiting. Without hesitation, Lee commended Whiting with high praise for his military abilities. Another officer who was present at the meeting called Lee aside to suggest that he must not be aware of the unkind things Whiting had been saying about him. Lee answered: “I understood that the President desired to know my opinion of Whiting, not Whiting’s opinion of me.” General Robert E. Lee was a man of integrity and a true gentleman—and a personal hero of mine. Lee could have potentially cost Gen. Whiting his career, but chose to take the higher road, instead.
Our Old Testament lesson today (2 Samuel 1:1-27) speaks to how our God wants us to take the higher road as well. The context finds Saul, his sons, and the Israelite army at war once again with the Philistines (about 14-15 years after David had defeated the Philistine champion, Goliath). David, not yet king and trying to maintain some distance from the murderous Saul, has been fighting the Amalakites.
As our passage opens, David has defeated his Amalakite opponents and returned to Ziklag, a town now unknown but reputedly somewhere south of Jerusalem.
It was there that he learned that Saul and Jonathan had been killed at Mt. Gilboa, in southern Galilee (to the north of David). Jonathan, as well as his two brothers, Abinadab, and Malk-Shana, was killed in battle. Saul himself had been seriously wounded but chose to fall on his own sword (to commit suicide) rather than being taken captive by the victorious Philistines.
David is severely grieved at the death of his dear friend Jonathan, but also very distressed at King Saul’s death. He had had 2 opportunities to kill Saul himself but had held off because he knew Saul was “the Lord’s anointed”. 1 Samuel 24:6 The LORD forbid that I should do this thing [kill Saul], to the LORD’s anointed, to put out my hand against him, seeing he is the LORD’s anointed. The Lord had agreed to Saul’s kingship. The people chose him and God had the prophet Samuel anoint him king. David reasoned the Lord would remove kingship from Saul when He, not David, determined. Notice: David waited on the Lord, the theme of our psalm today, Psalm 130.
Saul’s death was a big deal—he was the 1st King of Israel. We might equate his death with another: Back in March of 1991, one of the oldest and largest Redwoods in California died and fell to the ground. Locals called thetree “the Dyerville Giant,” and apparently it still lies where it landed. The tree had been 362 feet tall (the height of a 30-story building). They measured its diameter at 17 feet and its circumference at 52 feet. Experts somehow estimated its weight to exceed one million pounds and believe it was probably 2,000 years old. (My daughter has a degree in forestry and has told me that trees do have a life span. Like us, they grow old and die—no matter how well we water or fertilize them–just as this amazing redwood did.) When the Dyerville Giant hit the ground, people from a mile away said thought they had heard a train wreck. The vibrations were felt 10 miles away, and no doubt some thought they had experienced an earthquake. The death of this tree had a huge physiological impact on many. Additionally, people were touched and saddened at the demise of something so monumental.
But, sadly, in our contemporary view of things, there is no such respect—like for Saul or even for this tree–for those in authority with whom we disagree. We speak badly about them. We dismiss them or hold them in contempt when they fail to meet our expectations, or disappoint our hopes. And, in the extremes of “the cancel culture,” we target them for revenge, even when they are out of power, blasting them and castigating them in the press and on social media; trying to prevent them from getting new jobs, eating lunch peacefully, or just going about their lives; intimidating them with nuisance lawsuits and even threatening their lives.
Notice how David responds to the Amalekite man who brings him Saul’s crown and bracelet. (Obviously this guy does not realize that David has just been battling his own people.) Not understanding David’s godly forbearance for Saul, the guy mistakenly thinks David will reward him for falsely claiming he killed the king. Instead, David has the fellow killed, saying, (v.15)à Your blood be on your own head. Your own mouth testified against you when you said, “I killed the Lord’s anointed.”
Then, David writes a lament which he intends for all the archers in Israel to memorize and recite as they each work on their bows. He expresses his grief:
1.) He curses Mt. Gilboa for being the site of Johnathan’s and Saul’s deaths. I looked this mountain up on the internet and saw where it is to this day only barren rocks and soil. Nothing seems to grow on it, over 3,000 years later.
2.) He praises Saul for the good he did, especially for bringing such prosperity to Israel that women could dress in red cloth (expensive due to dying techniques of that day).
3.) And he mourns for his close friend, Johnathan, who had proven more devoted to him (not in a homosexual way) than had most of his wives—including Johnathan’s sister, Michal, who Saul had given to him in marriage as a reward for killing Goliath.
4.) He seasons the lament with the repeated refrain, How the mighty have fallen! (which reminds me of the tree!)
I must admit, I am not always very respectful of those in power who make what I consider bone-headed decisions for our country, nor am I often kind to sports opponents. I wonder if the Lord is chastening me to be more respectful and grace-filled toward those with whom I disagree. I do believe that we are all called by Christ to offer grace and to respect the rights of those we consider our opponents. That’s part of the Gospel message, isn’t it? We are to love our enemies and pray for them. As Paul says in Romans 12:19-20àDo not take revenge, my Friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge. I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
While our culture may currently resemble professional wrestling, this is not God’s desire for us. This week, let’s try to be like a good golfer and admit our faults and correct our failings on our own. Let’s also remember we do have an eternal, heavenly, perfect umpire/referee who enforces the rules fairly; offers grace and forgiveness to us all; and who doesn’t miss a thing!
In closing, I would ask you to consider the former custom of a prehistoric tribe in New Guinea. When they prepared to confront an enemy tribe in battle, they would preface their attack with what they called “murder songs.” As they sang these songs, they named before their gods the specificpersons they wished to kill. However, once they converted to Christianity, instead of shouting the names any people they hated, they shouted the names of the sins they hated, and called on God to destroy these sins. We could take a lesson from these Paleolithic tribesmen! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! Alleluia! Alleluia!
©️2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams