Monday, 27 August 2018

Solomon's temple and Jesus 1 Kings 8

Today we encounter a major moment in Biblical history. In our reading from 1 Kings we read about the dedication of the very first temple that Solomon built (967bc). This was a big deal. This temple focused the people of Israel. It made Jerusalem the unquestioned capital of the united kingdom. It fulfilled the dream of Solomon’s father, David. And it tied together David’s royal lineage with the worship of Israel’s God. 

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The Ark of the Covenant is brought into the temple. The Ark contains the tablets of the Law that Moses received. The centrality of the covenant made with God on Mount Sinai is a part of the power of the Ark. … The upper part of this God was called the “mercy seat”- it was almost like a throne for God. Then, the cloud of God’s glory fills the Holy of Holies. When we hear about this cloud of God’s presence we should think about the cloud that led the people in the wilderness, and the cloud that rested on top of Mount Sinai, and the cloud that was with the tabernacle where Moses met with God. …

We could spend a lot of time just going through the various parts of the temple and the furniture there, and even talk about how it connects to church architecture. For example, there was a large basin of water near the entrance of the temple called the “sea”, and it sort of relates to where traditional churches place the baptismal font near the entrance of the church, which symbolizes that we enter this community through the purifying waters of baptism.

And the sections of the temple corelate to the sections of the church. There is the Inner Court that relates to the nave of the church. There is the Holy Place that relates to the chancel. Then there is the Holy of Holies that relates to the area around the altar which is sometimes called the Sanctuary. 

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Those who were interested in designing worship looked to the Bible for inspiration and wanted some recognizable continuity with our Hebrew roots. Of course, the meanings of these symbols were updated to reflect their Christian meanings. They weren’t just trying to recreate Old Testament worship, but they weren’t wanting to deny those roots because Jesus and the early followers of Jesus worshiped in the temple and so much of what Jesus said and did reflected and fulfilled the deep symbolism of temple worship. There is a lot of symbolism we could go into- the show bread, the lamps, the incense altar, the two giant pillars, the cherubim statues in the Holy of Holies, the curtain that kept you from seeing into the Holy of Holies. The Early church saw symbols all over the temple that pointed to Christ. … We won’t go into detail with that today because it could be a whole sermon series by itself.

After the Ark is brought into the temple, Solomon prays a prayer of dedication. Solomon recognizes that this temple is not a prison for God. He prays, “Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you; how much less this house that I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27). Yet, Solomon asks that God’s “eyes might be open night and day towards this house” (1 Kings 8:29). He is asking that God will pay special attention to what happens there and to the requests of the people that are made in the direction of this temple. He prays, “and when you hear, forgive” (1 Kings 8:30). The temple will be, among other things, a place where forgiveness is sought.

Oaths made at this temple are to have particular power- This is to be a place of justice. The righteous are to be vindicated and the wicked punished as a result of their interaction with this temple. But, when the people sin and repent and pray in this temple, God is asked to hear and forgive. Solomon even asks that God would hear the prayers of foreigners that prays towards the temple.

Then a massive sacrifice of animals is made. This temple will be a place of sacrifice. There are different kinds of sacrifices, some of those sacrifices were about seeking forgiveness for sin, and there were others, but they were ultimately about drawing closer to God and sacrifice was recognized as a part of that. … It’s worth saying that these animals were often eaten after they were sacrificed. Their blood would be poured on the altar and the bodies would be roasted on the altar. It wasn’t just animals that were sacrificed, there were also grain offerings.

It was a massive religious symbol. Only one temple was allowed. They wouldn’t build another temple for those who lived further away. No, there was only one and this was the place where prayer and sacrifice was directed. It became the heart of Judaism. The people would all orient themselves towards the temple for worship. When Daniel is in exile in Babylon he prays towards Jerusalem, but specifically he is praying towards the temple. Muhammad and his early followers originally prayed towards Jerusalem, and to the place where the temple once stood. Once they conquered Mecca they changed the direction.

Solomon didn’t think the temple up out of nowhere. He built this modelled on the Tabernacle, which was a kind of portable temple. It housed the Ark of the Covenant and it was where Moses would meet with God. (It was like a portable Mount Sinai). The temple had a lot of the same furniture as the tabernacle- it was just portable so they could pack it up and carry it through the wilderness.

And there are some who say that the tabernacle and the temple were modelled after an understanding of the Garden of Eden. The first couple was cast out of the Garden east of Eden and there was an angel with a flaming sword that guarded the way back to the tree of life and God’s presence. The entrance of the temple faced east so it would let in the rising sunlight. So to go into the temple it was a bit like going back towards the entrance to the garden. You enter from the east and you face large cherubim guarding the way into the Holy of Holies. If this is true, then the Temple symbolizes an attempt to return to paradise- a return to being in God’s presence the way Adam and Eve experienced God.

By the first century, when Jesus was walking around on earth, they had a rebuilt temple. The temple Solomon built had been destroyed by the Babylonians and then it was sort of rebuilt when the exiles returned (under Zerubabbel- Ezra 6:14-16; then the Hasmoneans), but it was nothing compared to the temple Solomon built at the height of his wealth and power, and they didn’t have the Ark of the Covenant which had disappeared when the Babylonians attacked. Over the years there were other renovations and additions made to it. The most recent in Jesus day was the major renovation king Herod did.

The temple was beautiful again, but there were some who felt like they were still in exile since the cloud of God’s presence never returned to the temple. The Pharisees assumed that the people weren’t following the law faithfully enough and many assumed that the temple leadership was corrupt. So, the temple was very important in Jesus day, but it wasn’t a place without questions and suspicion.

Jesus participated in temple worship, but he was also critical of it. When Jesus turned over the tables of the money changers and let all the animals go he essentially shut down the temple. It was a prophetic action- He symbolically destroyed it (Matthew 21:12).

In Matthew 12:6 Jesus boldly refers to himself when he says, 

“I tell you, something greater than the temple is here”.
 Jesus is accused of saying that he would destroy the temple and build it in three days (Matthew 26:61; 27:40; Mk 14:58). In the Gospel of John Jesus says something like this. In John 2:19-21 we read, 
“‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews then said, ‘This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he was speaking of the temple of his body.”
 And when Jesus dies on the cross we read in Matthew 27:51 that, 
“At that moment the curtain of the temple [that hid the Holy of Holies] was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
Clearly the early followers of Jesus drew a connection between the temple and Jesus. Jesus seems to replace the temple. The temple was a place to encounter God and to seek forgiveness for sin through sacrifice. In the New Covenant we turn to Jesus for these things. The temple is no longer necessary, and it was destroyed in 70ad- less than 40 years after Jesus’ death and has never been rebuilt. He is the last sacrifice (Jn17:19; Heb 8-10). He is the new temple. He is the place where people go to encounter God.

And this extends to us as well because the Body of Christ is also known as the church. You are the place where the Holy Spirit dwells on earth as the Body of Christ. Paul asks the church, 

“Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?” (1 Corinthians 3:16).
 And in Ephesians Paul says, 
“you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling-place for God.” (Ephesians 2:19-22; see also 1 Pet 2:5).

If you are the Body of Christ that also means you, as his representative, as a container of the Holy Spirit, are also a place where people can seek to encounter God. Surely that is what Jesus means when he says that you are the light of the world (Matt 5:14-16). If we allow God’s reality to take hold of us, if we allow Jesus to express his character in us, then we (amazingly) can become places of encounter. We, through Christ and in Christ, replace the temple. … May we live into that incredible calling.


Monday, 20 August 2018

There is no fear in love- To Rachel and Matthew on your wedding-

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:18-19

So there are some that will say that what Matthew and Rachel are doing is pretty crazy. … and it’s not completely irrational to think that way. Someone who says that is probably just saying that they would be afraid to do it.

Well, why might someone be afraid to get married? … How about this- When Crystal and I got married, she married an electrician who pretty recently became infatuated with Jesus. She did not marry a pastor and had no aspirations to be a pastor’s wife, but 16 years later that’s where she finds herself.

You know who Matthew is now. He’s a hard worker. He’s a people person. You don’t know who he’ll become.

You know who Rachel is now. Like she’s crazy smart and funny. You don’t know who she’ll become.

People change. Maybe Matthew is going to become passionately obsessed with learning how to speak Wookie. … You don’t know.

People grow. They learn. They get new interests.

You don’t know how you are going to be interacting 10 years down the road. … Have you ever seen those couples in the grocery store that snap at each other? “That’s not the mustard we buy! What’s wrong with you?! You know I hate that kind!” They wouldn’t talk to a stranger that way, and here they talk to the person they are supposed to love that way? … There can be a little twinge of fear- I really hope we don’t become a couple like that.

But sometimes it isn’t about things we have control over at all. Sometimes life just throws things at us. You don’t know what that future will bring. You are holding hands and jumping into the water in the dark and you have no idea what might be swimming in those waters. You are promising to love, comfort, honour, and protect each other no matter what swims your way. …

There might be better things that swim your way, or there might be worse things- maybe a richer fish swims your way, but maybe a poorer shark will nibble at your toes. Maybe a sickness snake swims by, or maybe a health lily floats near you. …. You don’t know. The future isn’t clear. ….

But, you are promising that, regardless, you are going to bind your lives together not knowing what is coming your way. You are giving your futures to each other and you don’t even know what that means.

People might be right to think that is a bit crazy. People might be right to feel a twinge of fear at that thought. The future is unknown and to make a promise for that unknown future can be a frightening thing.

Well, when you’re frightened, it’s not a bad idea to turn to the Bible.

The passage of Scripture Matthew and Rachel have chosen speaks about both fear and love. It’s actually from my favorite chapter in the whole Bible.

John’s first letter, chapter 4, verses 18 and 19 says this- 

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:18-19).

For the congregation John was writing to, the fear he’s describing had to do with judgement at the time when our lives will be examined by the eternal and all-seeing judge. How will your life look to that judge? What will the verdict be?

But, I think it is also more than that. We live in a world that is dealing with the consequences of Sin, and so in a sense the brokenness of the world is like living in a kind of judgement.

The brokenness of the world is flying at us- it even lives within us-
that brokenness causes overwhelming fear for many people. We don’t often call that fear anymore, we tend to call it anxiety. It is fear of how the brokenness is going to affect us.

John’s letter seems to suggest something impossible- “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear”. What can he possibly mean by that?...

John Calvin commenting on this passage says, 

“when the love of God is properly known, it calms the mind”.
 Could it be that our fears and anxieties, on some level, come down to a misunderstanding of God?

There are probably some in this room who don’t believe in God, but even for some of us who do believe we can sometimes have funny ideas about God. Maybe he’s really not someone we can trust.

Let’s push those doubtful thoughts aside for a moment. Set aside your doubts. If you don’t believe, just allow yourself to believe for the next 2 minutes.

Imagine that there is a God, without a doubt. … And now imagine that God wants only the best for you. This God is for you, not against you. Even when you have done something wrong and you know it, this God is like a Father who runs to you and embraces you and barely lets you finish your apology before rushing you off to celebrate being with you. … Imagine that this God only lets you endure a difficulty in your life if it means that in the end you will benefit more than you would if you were saved from the pain. … Like a Father teaching his child to ride a bike- it’s scary, and you might scrape your knee, but in the end the joy from riding the bike outweighs the fear of learning. … You might not get why these things happen, but say you just trusted that there was a reason beyond your understanding. And the reason is good and loving. Imagine this God is willing to suffer to show His love for you- which is what we see on the cross. Imagine this God is so loving that John can say earlier in this chapter that not only is God loving, but “God is love” (1 John 4:8) … This God is the foundation of the whole universe and He knows your name, and He loves you more than you can possibly imagine.

Imagine you know that deep in your bones in a way that couldn’t be taken away from you. God is for you. The whole foundation of the universe is love. … Suddenly the universe is not an unfriendly place to be in. Suddenly any difficulty that you encounter is a chance to grow into being the person your loving God has made you to be- beautiful, and good, and powerful, and loving.

The love of God is a reality that is too beautiful to really be fully described, but people who encounter that reality are forever changed.

If that reality is fixed in our hearts, then we know what it is to be loved by God. … And what response can we possibly have to a God like that? … We love Him right back. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). ….

And what room is there for fear? If we know we are loved like that, and our whole being is turned to God in love- then we are wanting to live the way God says because we trust that is the best way. What is our loving Father going to do with His children when it comes to the day of Judgement? Of course there is no fear! He’s our dad!

This freedom from fear, however, carries itself far beyond the final judgment. Rachel and Matthew can trust that in that unknown future is their loving Father who is there in the water with them. No matter what swims their way in those dark waters of the future. Whatever comes their way it will be all used for their good.

If Matthew wants to get passionate about learning Wookie, well that will teach Rachel patience. If they have a time in their life where they are poorer and not richer, well they can allow God to teach them that they don’t survive on bread alone, but on the very words that flow from the mouth of God.

Matthew and Rachel, if you trust that God is for you and not against you- if you dare to believe that God loves you more than you can imagine, and you dare to love Him back- and you dare to let Him love through you- then there will be so much love that there is no room for fear.


Solomon becomes king and asks for wisdom

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We have been walking with King David this summer. And this week we see David hand the throne over to Solomon.

For David, it seems like things were much better for his soul when he was on the run living in the wilderness and was forced to rely on God for survival. There in the wilderness he would seek God first, and then things would seem to fall into place for David. Once David gained power, he gave into his lust and even murdered one of his loyal soldiers to cover up his sin. For the rest of his life David is haunted by violence. Things went better for David when he sought God first. That is the David we look up to.

Power isn't just dangerous because of those outside who want to take it from us- as Absalom tried to steal power from David. Power is also dangerous from the inside- it leads to all kinds of temptation- like David thinking he can use Bathsheba as a plaything and command the death of her husband with no consequences. It leads to the illusion that we are God and can do what we like. Power is dangerous, not because it corrupts, but because it exposes corruption. The dark parts we see in David were likely there all along, but the power he gains as king allows for that corruption to be expressed. It is also true that the more authority and power you have the more wide ranging your corruption will be felt. And the more power you have, the less one often feels the need to seek God first, rather than rely on yourself and your own resources.

Like David's other sons, Solomon embodies David's virtues and his vices. Solomon seems to be humble and intelligent. But, within Solomon there are glimpses of the desire for power and worldly success. Solomon has great ambition, but we don't see that right away.

At the beginning it seems as though Solomon has the throne thrust upon him. But, Solomon's enthronement isn't as smooth and easy as our reading makes it seem. We've skipped a few bits. Solomon's brother, Adonijah, claimed the throne. It seemed like no contest. Adonijah had the support of Joab, the general of the army. There where important priests who were supporting his claim to the throne. David was quite old by this point and not all that well. David wasn’t really doing anything to oppose Adonojah’s claim. Adonijah had the power on this side and it seemed like no one was standing in his way. He went forward with his plans to become king without a second thought about any competitor for the throne.

A small group had other plans. Bathsheba, the prophet Nathan, and a few others went to David to tell him about His son Adonijah's bold move to claim the throne, and also to remind him of his promise that his son Solomon would take the throne. We don't really get a sense of what Solomon is thinking.

David is still well enough to organize a response and give his son advice. Solomon is anointed king by the prophet Nathan and he rides into Jerusalem on King David's mule (1000 years later another son of David would ride into Jerusalem this way- we call that Palm Sunday). It was a bold move, but David was still respected enough that this action was sufficient to make Solomon king without any serious resistance. Solomon's brother, Adonijah, and all who followed him were shocked. For all we know Solomon was shocked as well.

I have a certain respect for those who have leadership thrust upon them. I often think of those people as having a lack of selfish ambition. St. Augustine is said to have been basically kidnapped and forcibly consecrated a bishop. It wasn't his own striving for power that led to his becoming bishop. ... Solomon may have been such a person. Leadership is thrust upon him and he is then forced to respond.

Solomon shows himself to be a leader who can make difficult choices, and who understands the intricacies of politics. As he begins his rule he makes shrewd decisions that firmly set the kingdom under his rule. All potential opposition is dealt with. The young 20 year old Solomon has proven himself to have what it takes to be a great king. He even begins to think outside of his own kingdom and starts setting up relationships with other nations. He marries the daughter of the Pharaoh and secured an alliance with Egypt. He is a good politician.

It is at this point that Solomon has a dream where God appears to him. God says to Solomon “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” It is an amazing question. Implied in the question is that you will get whatever you want. How would you answer? ....

Solomon's answer is profound. He doesn't ask for long life, or money, or for his enemies to be eliminated. Solomon comes to God in humility saying, "I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties. Your servant is here among the people you have chosen, a great people, too numerous to count or number. So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong."

One of the main duties of an ancient king in Israel was to act as a judge. He was to make just decisions. He was the one who would correct the wrongs that have been done. He was to determine between right and wrong, and good and evil. Solomon asks for a wise and sensitive heart so that he can see clearly and grant justice.

God is so impressed with Solomon's answer that God indeed grants him a wise and discerning heart, and also adds other blessings. He grants what Solomon did not ask for- riches and honour- and if he walks in God's ways he will have long life. … We see here a foreshadowing of Jesus' words, "Seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matt 6:33).

Solomon seems to be a perfect image of a king, just like his father was at the beginning. At the beginning when we meet David he has an amazing innocence about him. He is confident in God and not afraid to face the giant Goliath. David has a very good heart and is constantly blessed by God because of it. Solomon likewise is following in his father's footsteps. He is thrust into leadership and performs well. God says to him to ask for anything and he asks for wisdom to make justice a reality in his kingdom. Solomon is a rising star, just like his father was. He has his father's virtues.

But, he also has some of his father's vices. Solomon may have come through with flying colours at the beginning, but with money and power Solomon will have many more temptations. His later decisions, ironically, will not be as wise as this first decision when he asked for a wise heart to enact justice.

Solomon marries an Egyptian, the Pharaoh's daughter, and allies himself with them. Egypt, for the people of Israel, will always be attached to the memory of power and slavery. Solomon will actually imitate Egypt in many ways. He will have huge building projects that will use forced labour- Essentially enslaving his own people in the Promised Land. As a king it was tempting to build bigger and better in order to show your power and strength.

Solomon will also have 300 concubines, and 700 wives, which is an important status symbol, but it also shows a heart filled with lust.

Solomon was a good businessman. He knew how to make money using his relationships with other nations and the trade routes that came through his kingdom. Solomon was amazingly wealthy, but it was never enough. That's one of the things about money- there's always more to have. Solomon became an icon of wealth, status, and extravagance.

Like his father David, Solomon was a mixture of virtue and vice- just like us. He did amazing things- he built the temple. He was full of wisdom and was a writer of proverbs. But he was also drawn to walk off the path set for him by God.

But, in today's passage Solomon does well. And through this we get another glimpse into God’s heart. Solomon asks for a wise and discerning heart to give justice to the people of God. This pleases God incredibly. This tells us that God cares about his people and wants them to have justice. That's the only reason God would see Solomon's answer as a good one.

Solomon seems to lose sight of the original reason he asks for wisdom, but another son of David will never reach the end of his integrity, and so he will be trusted with even more authority and power. That Son of David rules God’s kingdom and only wants justice for the subjects who live there. He does not make them into slaves, on the contrary, he serves them. He does not consume his people, on the contrary, he invites them to consume his life in the form of bread and wine.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

David, the mourning father

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For those of you who are parents, you know that your children often reflect aspects of your personality. Certain behaviours will present themselves with some force and mom and dad look at each other and one of them dares to say, “they get that from you, you know”. … Children seem to poses the strengths and weaknesses, even the temptations to sin, of their parents. Sometimes the thing we find most aggravating in our children is really a part of ourselves that we dislike that is manifesting in them.

Last week we heard about the prophet Nathan confronting David in his sin. In response David repents saying, “I have sinned against the Lord”. David has ignored the commandments of God and has violated the image of God in Uriah and Bathsheba. David’s repentance is accepted by God and he is forgiven, but there are still consequences to his actions. Nathan tells David that the “sword shall never depart” David’s house. David’s children will feel the consequences of David’s sin. The consequences often seem like they are the result of, in some way, inheriting David’s sins.

To catch us all up, what has happened since the 2 Samuel reading last week is that David’s son and heir to the throne, Amnon, began to lust after his half-sister, Tamar. Sadly, Amnon doesn’t restrict his lust and he ends up raping his sister. … As you might remember, David did not restrict his lust towards Bathsheba.

As expected, David was furious, but doesn’t seem to have punished Amnon in any way. Tamar’s brother, Absalom, was also furious and was committed to take justice into his own hands. … Absalom set up a party and invited his brothers, which included Amnon. Absalom made sure Amnon was drunk and then he commanded his servants to kill him. All goes according to Absalom’s plan and Amnon is dead. Absalom fled and went into hiding for 3 years with his in-laws while David was mourning the death of his son. … This calculated violence reflects the violence David was willing to do to Uriah (though Absalom’s reasons seem much more justified).

David allows Absalom to come back to Jerusalem, but he is forbidden to see his father. David doesn’t really seem to have forgiven Absalom. It is a half-forgiveness. He is in limbo. He is allowed back, and he isn’t punished, but he is not allowed into the presence of his father. David continues to harbor unforgiveness. Eventually, with the help of Joab, he is allowed into the king’s presence again and things seem to be going well.

Absalom inherits David’s charisma. Absalom’s popularity reflects David’s after he defeats Goliath and becomes a famous warrior. Absalom was charismatic, handsome, and famous for his hair. When he returned to Jerusalem he began working his charisma on the people. He listened to the people’s problems and convincing them that if only he were king he could help them. He spent his time schmoozing with the people. He was campaigning. He was out kissing babies, shaking hands, and making promises. … So, Absalom began to build a strong following and planned a conspiracy to steal the throne from his father.

Eventually Absalom had the support he needed and (most importantly) he had the support of Ahithophel, who was David’s genius political counselor. … David was facing a surprise attack led by his son and he is forced to flee Jerusalem leaving the city flee for Absalom to take. David is forced into the wilderness, which is where David originally learned to be David. It is where he learned to rely on God.

The country is plunged into civil war- divided between David and his son. … That brings us to where we are in our reading. The battle between David’s army and Absalom’s army is underway.

David wants to win the battle, but he is very concerned that Absalom’s life be spared. As Absalom is riding through the forest during the battle his famous hair gets tangled in a branch and his mule rides on without him, leaving him dangling- holding onto the branch and trying to untangle his hair to no avail. … It is comical and tragic, and it is also highly symbolic. A source of Absalom’s pride, his hair, removes him from his kingly seat and traps him. His pride becomes his downfall. … David’s general, Joab, ignores David’s command to spare Absalom’s life and kills him as he hangs in the tree.

David seems like he doesn’t care that he has won the battle and goes to his room mourning for his dead son, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ … David forgets he is a king. Here he is a father.

There are plenty of things that David could have done better as a parent. But, this lament is exactly what a good parent does. They weep over the suffering and death of their children. David in this moment is a very good father. In his lament he speaks directly to his dead son, “If only I had died Instead of you”. David wishes to switch places with him. He wishes he could have died to save his son. This is the heart of a father who loves deeply.

When Jesus prayed, he called God “Abba”, which might be translated best as “Daddy”, or “Poppa”. It is not a formal word. Jesus' experience of his relationship with God was as a loving Father-Son relationship. Here we see into God's heart. If it is true that God is like a loving Father, then it is also mysteriously true that a loving father is like God. We can learn something about God through looking at David, the loving father.

In David's weeping we see God's heart. David weeps over a lost child. God, too, weeps over us and with us. When we suffer, God mysteriously weeps. God weeps over us as we make decisions that alienate us from him. God weeps when we are hurt by others. God weeps with us when we feel broken… because that's what a good and loving father does. Think about Jesus weeping over Jerusalem in Luke 19 and before the tomb of his friend Lazarus in John 11. If Jesus is the perfect image of God (Col 1:15), then we have a God who weeps.

David reflects God, who fathered him, in this way. David shows us God's heart when he says, “If only I had died instead of you- O Absalom, my son, my son!”. A good father is willing to sacrifice to benefit his child. The good Father wants to take the place of the suffering child. And when we look at Jesus we see God entering into the suffer of humanity on the cross in order to save us- “If only I had died instead of you”. That is the cross. It is God showing us he will take our place- he will suffer for us.

David may not have been a perfect father, but he had his moments. His life is a matted mess of sin and virtue, murder and love. David’s life is a messy life, but it is a life with God. There are some shining moments, even if they are sad moments, when we get to see the David God calls a man after my own heart (1 Sam 13:14). Once in a while we get a chance to see that person God saw.

And that is who we are called to be. We are called to be people who live life *with* God. We are not expected to live a sinless life, that’s not possible for us. We are expected to bring the whole tangle of our life to God- virtue and vice, ordinary and sublime. And there, with our life presented to God, allow God to transform it, so that we can become people who reflect some of God’s nature.


Thursday, 9 August 2018

You are the man!

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Human history is littered with powerful people behaving badly. We don’t have to look through history very hard to see brutality and selfishness in the lives of monarchs, and even popes (like the Borgias). That’s why the saying “absolute power corrupts absolutely”[1] seems to get circulated so often. I personally prefer the way Dallas Willard said it when he said, “power exposes corruption” (paraphrase). The more powerful you are the more likely it will be that the corruption within you will be exposed to the world and negatively influence the people around you.

When a person has their every whim answered- 

When they are on the top of the totem pole with no one to answer to- 
When they are surrounded by people that affirm them in their every thought- 
When the people around them are willing to look the other way when they are acting immoral- 
When they have more money than they can spend, and can afford an army of lawyers to scare off the law…. 
Well, a person like that is in danger of indulging in their corruption.
Image result for harvey weinstein
According to allegations, the movie producer Harvey Weinstein lived that kind of existence. He had the power to end the career of an actress, or drain her bank account in a legal battle that would end up being her word against his with little evidence for a judge to work with. (After all, some would say, maybe she’s just trying to boost her career through a false accusation that would be advertised in the news and on talk shows.) The #metoo movement has exposed numerous powerful, and previously untouchable, people to the spotlight of accusation.

In our Old Testament reading today from 2 Samuel we see a pretty dark episode in King David’s life. David seems to be feeling untouchable. He is freely indulging in his desires. Last week we read about David “taking” Bathsheba. The Bible doesn’t really say anything about how willing Bathsheba was, but the language of the story seems to suggest that Bathsheba’s willingness didn’t seem to be of interest to David.

When Bathsheba’s pregnancy threatens to expose David’s actions, he attempts to hide the pregnancy by calling Uriah back from the battle and having him spend the night with his wife. But, Uriah is an honourable soldier and is unwilling to go home when he knows his fellow soldiers are roughing it sleeping on the battlefront. Uriah's honour highlights David's dishonour.

Uriah is a reflection of who David used to be as a younger man. But now, David is a king who doesn’t have to prove himself in battle. He stays home with the pleasures of his palace while his men are out fighting his battles. When Uriah’s honour won’t let him go home to Bathsheba, David has to find another way to hide his dishonor. David slides down the slippery slope into murdering Uriah, by purposely making him vulnerable on the battlefield. … It is a dark, dark moment for David.

David has made himself above the law. He’s king, after all. The rules that apply to other people don’t apply to him. That’s probably not something powerful people tell themselves on a conscious level, but in some way they probably do tell themselves something like that. As pastor Eugene Peterson said, 

“David didn’t feel like a sinner when he sent for Bathsheba; he felt like a lover- and what can be better than that? David didn’t feel like a sinner when he sent for Uriah; he felt like a king- and what can be better than that?”
 David deluded himself into seeing passion and power rather than plain old sin.

None of this has escaped God’s attention. David may think that he has gotten away scot-free, but God has seen everything. So, God sends the prophet Nathan to David. 

Nathan is in a dangerous position. The whole reason David has been able to delude himself about his sin is because he is drunk on power. He has the power to end the lives of those who threatened to expose his sin. And here comes Nathan about to expose his sin. Nathan can’t confront him directly with his sin. Brilliantly, Nathan tells the king a story about a rich man with many sheep and a poor man with one pet lamb that he treats like a daughter. The rich man takes the poor man’s lamb and kills it.

David Burns with anger. He said to Nathan, 

“As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
 It’s amazing how easily we can judge the actions of another person when we are outside and looking in on the situation. This is exactly Jesus’ teaching when it comes to pointing out the sins of others in Matthew 7:3 when he says, 
“Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?”
 David sees the sin easily when it comes to someone else and has no trouble judging it in the harshest terms. … Nathan has successfully made David pronounce judgement on himself. And Nathan gives the punchline, 

“You are the man!” 

Once David realizes that God has seen everything, David is suddenly able to see himself clearly. David is not at the top of the totem pole, because God is at the top. David can’t pay off the law, because he can’t manipulate God with money. He can’t murder his way out of this because he can’t murder God who will ultimately hold him accountable. There is no escape from what he has done. The only real reply is, “I have sinned against the Lord”.

This is why I think it is actually very helpful for a powerful leader to have a genuine faith in God who will ultimately hold them accountable. When they are tempted to think they are above the law they are invited into confession rather than denial. In worship they are reminded that there is a law-giver who will ultimately hold them accountable. Without Nathan, without God, David could have gone on, drunk on his power and treating people as objects.

Belief in God, who will hold you accountable, has sometimes been seen as an obstacle to the will for some. For some who would rather not conform to the morality of the God of Jesus Christ, some have decided to not believe in that God. (I seem to remember Os Guinness quoted one of the Huxley brothers (I think) saying that they found atheism provided less restriction for them in terms of their sexual exploration. The implication was that 'truth' wasn't entirely at issue, rather, the freedom from certain moral restraints was what made atheism attractive in that particular quote.) In reply to the atheist Richard Dawkins’ statement that "religion is a fairy tale for those afraid of the dark” the Christian John Lennox said, “Atheism is a fairy tale for those who are afraid on the light”- Meaning that atheism can be a way to avoid the responsibility that God places on us. If there is no God some believe that we have no ultimate moral restrictions. (By no means am I suggesting that ALL atheists are immoral, but for some this can be a strong motivation to become an atheist.) 

We are quick to judge David. In this story he represents everything we dislike about the rich and powerful. He uses people like objects. He casually uses a woman like a doll and then sends her away. He uses an honourable man’s life as if he is a chess piece in a game. He represents those who evade justice because of their power and wealth. … We are quick to judge David because most of us don’t know the temptations of the powerful.

The power of this story is that just as Nathan told a story to David to have him pronounce judgement on himself, so our judgement on David becomes our judgement on ourselves. ... His sin is different than ours, but surely we don’t claim to be without sin. His sin functions just as ours does. We want our will to be done rather than God’s. We want to be to God over our lives, even for a moment. We want God to not exist for a moment so we can be free from the moral code. We excuse our behavior saying, “I was just having a bad day”. 

I hope none of us are guilty of David’s crimes, but we do turn away from God at times in our own way. Perhaps we gossip, or maybe we are slothful when it comes to prayer. Maybe we are impatient with children or neighbours. Perhaps we are hopeless about God’s activity in the world. Maybe we carry a refusal to forgive someone from our past. Maybe we doubt God’s forgiveness for a past sin. … It is easy to judge David. But Nathan’s words are for us too- 
“You are the man” 
“You are the woman”.
 The Bible scholar Walter Brueggemann says, “These chapters describe more than we want to know about David and more than we can bear to understand about ourselves”.

The point is not that we wallow in our sins. The point is that we see ourselves honestly. The point is that we are aware of our weaknesses and the damage we are capable of producing. Psalm 51 is described as being connected to David after he is confronted by God through Nathan. It starts, 
“Have mercy on me, O God, According to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin!”
 The point is not to wallow in being a sinner, but to seek forgiveness and healing. That is what God wants to offer us. God does not want us to be in a state of denial, God wants the disease exposed and diagnosed so the cure can be applied.

God does not want us to lead a life that is obsessed with sin (wallowing or denying).He wants us to address it honestly so it can be healed by Christ. What he really wants is for us to be obsessed with Christ and his kingdom. That is where the fullness of life is to be found. 


[1] Lord Acton, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”

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