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.

AMEN

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