2 Samuel 5:1-10
Thought for Meditation:
Why is "I am with you" so important? It means that David and all of us later royal and priestly children of God are never alone. However sinful and however lacking in confidence we might be, God is not ashamed to hang around with David, Bathsheba, or us. There is an implicit word of forgiveness in this simple sentence. Ralph W. Klein
A United Israel
This summer I plan to preach a series of sermons based on the life of David. David was one of the two most important Old Testament characters. Moses, who led Israel out of Egypt, and David, who was the king of Israel at the peak of its power, are the most important people in the Old Testament.
We are not going to have time to look at all of David’s story, so I want to focus on the second part of it. Let me give you a little short review of the first part of David’s story. He was born approximately 1000 years before Jesus. He first appears in 1 Samuel 16. He is a boy, maybe 12 or 13 years old, the youngest of the eight brothers. Because he is the youngest he is the shepherd of the family sheep. We tend to glorify that job, but it was the worst job, the least favorite, given to the one who was least important. In spite of the fact that David is the least important of his brothers, the prophet Samuel anointed him as the next king of Israel.
David is also known as a singer and songwriter. As a young boy he went and played the lyre and sang songs for King Saul. Many of the Psalms are attributed to David.
The best known story is about David and Goliath. David kills the Philistine giant with a slingshot and a stone.
David was best friends with Jonathan, who was the son of King Saul. You may remember the stories of Saul trying to kill David. David had to run away and he gathered a group of outcasts who lived in the wilderness. In spite of the fact that Saul tried to kill David, David refused to kill Saul when he had the opportunity.
After Saul and Jonathan died David was anointed as the king of Judah and Benjamin, the two southern tribes. The ten northern tribes chose Saul’s son, Ishbaal, as their king. He was king for two years and then murdered.
That leads us to our passage for today. “2 Samuel 5:1-10.”
David’s first act as king was to make Jerusalem the capital. Let me give you a little bit of background to this story. When Joshua led Israel into the Promised Land they conquered the whole country. The book of Joshua paints a picture that they controlled everything and lived happily ever after. The reality is that throughout the land there were cities that were not conquered, including Jerusalem. All the way through Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and 1 Samuel, it was a city controlled by the Jebusites. The Jebusites had been so successful in keeping enemies out that they believed that no one could ever capture the city. That is what their taunt is all about. “Even if our soldiers were all blind and lame you wouldn’t be able to capture this city.”
Verse 7 is understated. This city had never been captured. “Nevertheless David captured it.” Verse 8 tells us how they did it. There was a tunnel that ran from the center of the city on the hill, down to a well, so that the people in the city could have their food and water, and outlast an enemy. David must have known about that tunnel and it was through that tunnel that they captured the city.
Capturing Jerusalem and making it his capital was a very strategic move. Part of that was because it was a good fortress and was easy to defend. It went beyond that. Jerusalem was located on the border between the two southern tribes and the ten northern tribes. Neither side controlled it before David captured it so neither group could say that David was playing favorites. Making Jerusalem his capital helped David unify the kingdom of Israel.
There is a tendency to think that when Moses led the Israelite tribes out of Egypt they were one unified body. The reality is that they were a loose confederation of tribes. There was not a strong connection. That becomes obvious as you read through the book of Judges. These tribes more or less acted on their own. Under Saul the tribes started to come together, but Saul wasn’t a good leader and wasn’t able to unify them. It was under David that Israel became one, unified nation.
Unity! It’s a great idea. We all believe in unity. We know God wants us live in unity. However, it’s not so easy to live it out. Charles V was the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire from 1519 until 1556. He stepped down as emperor and spent his last few years at his palace in Spain. He had six clocks in his palace. He tried as hard as he could to get these six clocks to strike together on the hour. It never worked. They would stay together for a few hours or even a few days. But over time they get out of sync. In his memoirs he wrote this:
How is it possible for six different clocks to chime all at the same time? How is it even more impossible for the six nations of the Holy Roman Empire to live in harmony? It can’t be done. It’s impossible, even if they call themselves Christians.
Unity is something that the Sharon church has struggled with. The conflict of the past several years created divisions in the church and broken relationships. It left many of you deeply hurt, angry and afraid. When I got here last October there was a dazed look on many of your faces. You were worried about Sharon. Was there a future for this church? Was there a future here for you? I still hear people ask that question at times.
I have a sense that we are moving in a healthy direction. Healing has started and we are moving back toward a sense of unity, though we still have a ways to go. Now, in a twenty minute sermon I can’t say everything that needs to be said about unity – the need for forgiveness and reconciliation, the need for focus as we move toward the future, the need to make some changes in how we work together, and live together, and worship together. What I’d like to do is share with you two ideas about unity that come out of David’s story of bringing together the people of Israel.
First, the unity that we need, the unity that we want, the unity that God wants for us, takes time. If you look at the timing of events in Samuel David is the king of the Judah for 7 ½ years. Ishbaal is the king of the northern tribes for 2 years. That leaves 5 ½ years that the northern tribes didn’t have a king. During that time David could have sought to become king of the northern tribes. He was probably strong enough that he could have attacked the northern tribes made himself their king. He could have forced the unity of Israel. Instead, he waited for 7 ½ years, until the northern tribes were ready for him to be king. Notice that in verse 1 it says that the northern tribes came to David to ask him to be their king. He didn’t go to them. He waited. He waited for God’s timing to work out the unity. David was patient.
A Methodist pastor was visited by his bishop. The bishop asked the pastor how he could pray for him. The pastor said, “O pray for patience. I have all these dreams and hopes and ideas but the people are moving too slowly. Pray that I can be patient.” The bishop prayed for him: “Dear Lord, bring tribulation into this young man’s life! Bring trials and suffering. Bring struggle and conflict.” The pastor interrupted him. “I asked for patience, not for problems and trials.” The bishop said “Patience comes through suffering and struggle. God doesn’t give us patience, he gives us opportunities to learn to be patient.”
Most of us probably want to be more patient, right now. We want unity – right now. We want Sharon to move past the conflict and be a perfect church – right now. The problem is that unity takes time and patience. It will also take a lot of hard work to heal the wounds, to rebuild the church and renew our faith. Those things will not happen quickly. My friends, be willing to wait. Be patient and do the work that is needed to become one, unified church.
The second lesson for us is that the unity we want and need comes through the presence and power of God. David was the greatest of all the kings of Israel. He was king when Israel was at the peak of its power and faith. However, the reason Israel was so great under David is not because he was so great, or perfect. We will hear some stories in the coming weeks that make that obvious. David was the greatest king because God was with him. Look at the last verse of our passage. “And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him” (2 Samuel 5:10).
The hope for Sharon church is not based on having the right pastor or other staff. It doesn’t depend on starting the right programs to reach certain people. It isn’t based on the members of the church giving more money or working harder, though those are important. The hope we have for Sharon is based on the belief that we have a great God, who loves us and is present with us.
Our hope is that we will learn more and more What that means for us is that we are called to trust in God’s power and presence. We are called to seek God with all our hearts and minds and souls. We are called to do everything we can to grow in our faith. Our unity, our strength, our hope is in God, who loves us so much that he sent his son, Jesus, to live with us and die for us, and was raised from the dead that we might have an eternal and abundant life. The hope for our unity is based on the presence of God with us.
Remember Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor who thought it was impossible to keep his clocks all at the exact same time? Today it is possible to keep clocks at the exact same time. To stay on the same time they all need to be calibrated and connected to the same standard. It is called Greenwich Mean Time. Clocks can be in different places, and as long as they are connected to Greenwich Mean Time they will have the exact same time.
Unity in the church is possible as we stay connected to our standard, Jesus Christ. In him we are one. Our job is to stay connected to Jesus, to grow in our understanding of who he is and what he wants. The unity we long for, the unity we need, comes through Jesus Christ. In Jesus we are, and can be, “one great fellowship of love, throughout the whole wide earth.”
Thought for Meditation:
“We must never believe the lie that says that the details of our lives are not the proper content of prayer.” Prayer, Richard Foster
“I think it’s significant that common folk in a little town enjoyed being with Jesus… His faith made him likable, not detestable. Would that ours would do the same!” When God Whispers
On Tuesday Tanya and I will celebrate our 31st anniversary. We had a rather unique wedding. We had planned it perfectly – or so we thought. I remember coming out from the side, watching Tanya process down the aisle. We walked up the steps and the service began. Gary, the pastor, was in the middle of giving a message when he fainted. He collapsed into my arms. I laid him on the ground. My first thought was, "He's having a heart attack." I knew Gary would get good care. In our wedding party we had a doctor, a paramedic and two nurses. There was also an undertaker at the wedding who was a family friend. Gary jokes about waking up and seeing the undertaker standing over him. Actually, all he did was bring up some smelling salts. We found out that Gary was sick. He had the flu.
Gary thought he could continue the service. They were bringing a chair up for him to sit in, but before it got there he collapsed again. This time a couple of the guys picked him up and carried him out. At that point I was wondering what we were going to do. Fortunately, another family friend who was at the wedding was a pastor. Mr. Charlie came up and finished the service. Tanya and I directed him through the rest of the service. Our wedding was very memorable. Those who were there will probably never forget it. The same thing is true of a wedding that took place 2000 years ago in the town of Cana.
2000 years ago weddings in the middle-east were different than weddings today. They usually started on Wednesday with a procession through the town. These processions were at night, with people carrying torches. They would go through the whole village, by every home, inviting everyone to join. They would go to the synagogue for the religious ceremony. The procession ended at the home of the bridegroom, where the couple would live. Then there was a feast. We think of a big wedding reception as a sit-down dinner at the country club. That's nothing compared to a middle-eastern reception. It was a party that would last for 7 days. There was lots of food and lots of wine. The problem at this wedding was that the wine ran out.
In the middle-east, hospitality was a sacred duty. A host was expected to do anything to show hospitality to a guest. Wine was an essential part of a feast. It wasn’t that the people got drunk, but for most people wine was reserved for special occasions as a way to celebrate. To run out of wine at a wedding was a great shame. It would be a catastrophe. It would put a stigma on the new couple. They would almost become outcasts.
Mary found out about the wine running out. She went to Jesus and told him about the problem. He gently rebuked her. "That isn't our problem. Let them take care of it." Yet Mary was persistent. With incredible faith she told the servants to do whatever Jesus said. There were 6 jars there, each holding 20 to 30 gallons. Jesus told the servants to fill them with water. The water then turned to wine and the party was saved. This wedding glitch did not humiliate the new couple.
I want you to use your imagination for a moment. Picture a small group of men walking along a country road in Palestine. They are following a rabbi they had just met a few days earlier. He had called them to follow him, but they didn’t know where they were going.
John thought they were going out into the desert. They would go out to fast and pray. It would be a time of solitude and contemplation. Truly spiritual people spent time alone in the desert. It was a place where you could face your demons and a place to meet God.
Peter had different idea. He was a man who liked to talk. He liked words. He said that they were probably going to preach someplace. They would go out and find a crowd and tell them about the Messiah. They would proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of Heaven.
James had another idea. He had a fire inside and a hatred of the unrighteous. He suggested that they would begin to carry out God’s judgment. Maybe they would go to the Temple and clean it up. They would preach against the hypocrites and condemn all the unbelievers.
Andrew was a man of action. He thought they were headed out on a mission trip. They were going to work among the poor. They would feed the hungry, build homes for the homeless. Maybe there would even be a miracle, some sort of healing.
They argued amongst themselves for a while until one of them asked. “Hey Jesus, where are we going?” Jesus said, “We are going to a wedding!”
Years later that same group of men were sitting around trying to figure out how they would tell the story about Jesus. They wanted to write it down so everyone could remember all of his preaching and teaching, and all of his miracles. One of them said, “Do you remember Jesus’ first miracle. It was at that wedding when he turned the water into wine? What was the point of that?” Most of Jesus’ miracles have some sort of a purpose or message. He fed 5000 people with a few loaves of bread and said, “I am the bread of life.” He raised Lazarus from the dead and said, “I am the resurrection and the life.” He healed people to show that he had power over the evil forces of our world.
Here’s my question about today’s passage – “So what? What is the point of turning water into wine?” It’s impressive, but it seems rather insignificant. It isn’t religious. Jesus didn’t even want to do this. Why did he end up bothering with such a small matter?
Maybe the message for us from this story is just that; Jesus is concerned about the small details of our lives. God wants to be involved in every part of our lives, even those which seem unimportant or insignificant. To the rest of the world a problem may seem trivial and unimportant. But if it matters to us, it matters to God. God cares about us so much that if we consider something important, God does too.
A little girl and her Mom were walking down the Boardwalk at Ocean City, New Jersey. It was a hot afternoon and both of them had ice cream cones. The little girl had a huge scoop of Candy Cane ice cream. It was hot enough outside that within a few minutes the cone would melt and drip all over the place, so mom suggested the little girl eat it quickly. She gave it a big lick, and as she did so the ice cream fell off the cone onto the hot boardwalk. The little girl was devastated. She couldn’t stop crying. Her Mom said not to worry about it, they would go get another one, but that didn't help. The girl wanted the ice cream that had fallen off her cone.
Most adults would think, "Bummer, I lost my ice cream cone. I guess I'll have to buy another one." To a 3 year-old child that type of reasoning doesn’t work. Part of that is because 3 year-old kids haven't learned to reason very well. Part of that is because most adults have learned how to deny their feelings. We are taught from the time we are little kids, "Big boys don't cry. Don't be upset. Don't be angry. Don't feel pain. Don't have feelings." We are embarrassed by our feelings and are afraid that they won't be acknowledged or accepted.
The good news of our story this morning is that God doesn't deny our feelings. The issues and struggles that matter to us matter to God, even if they seem insignificant to everyone else. If it makes us hurt, Jesus hurts with us. We don't need to be ashamed of our feelings, or afraid of them. Jesus loves each one of us so much that he wants to be involved in every part of our lives. There is nothing too small, too ordinary, or too unimportant for God, because we are important to God.
Here is another way to think about this. Because God wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives we don't need to wait for a major crisis to talk to God or to think about our faith. One of the great tragedies of life is that people often separate their faith from the rest of their lives. When they come to church, and maybe when they say their prayers, they think about God. The rest of the time they put God in a little religious box and don't think about God's involvement in the rest of their lives. We have a work box for when we are at work. We have a family box, a chore box, and all sorts of other boxes. We have a free-time box for our hobbies and activities. Then we have our God box – those times when we want to be spiritual and think about God. God is in this one box, but not in all our other boxes.
Then a crisis comes along and our faith isn't strong enough to carry us through it. We blame God for not being with us, but we haven’t learned how to be aware of God's presence in our everyday lives. God wants to be involved in every aspect of your life. God wants you to know that he is with you when you are driving to work, when you’re pulling weeds from your garden, sitting in a business meeting, or fixing dinner. Don't wait for a major crisis to look for God. God is with you all day, every day.
Jesus went to a wedding party. They ran out of wine and Jesus turned water into wine. It's a simple, yet profound story. It shows us that God loves us and wants to be involved in our lives. May Jesus touch each one of our lives with his love and glory, and may our lives be filled with joy and faith.
by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
Where do I abide? I rejoice that I abide in Christ. I will go so far as to say that in some sense I am grateful for my homelessness… There is a sense in which my peripatetic life, in which I belong neither to Scotland nor the United States has made me a good candidate for finding deep, emotionally satisfying and theologically legitimate meaning in the idea of having my home in Christ. Andrew Purves, Professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. He was born and raised in Scotland and lived in the USA since 1978.
Pruning & Abiding
What is the fruit that your life is producing? God doesn’t want us just to come to church or to be nice people. Those are important, but God’s goal for us is a healthy and mature Christian life that produces fruit. In our New Testament lesson this morning, Jesus tells us that there are at least two essential aspects of a healthy and mature Christian life.
First, a healthy Christian life involves pruning. After I graduated from college my parents put a pool in their backyard. My Dad used to get frustrated with the trees that our neighbors had planted. They grew along the fence that separated our yards. The branches from these trees hung over into our yard and dropped needles into our pool. Every month or so my Dad would get out his long-handled saw or clippers and prune the trees up the fence line. Within a few months the branches grew back so Dad would need to prune again.
One summer I helped my Dad with the pruning. Rather than pruning “up the fence,” I pruned as far over the fence as I could reach. When Dad saw what I had done he was horrified. He worried that the neighbors would notice how much I had cut off and be angry. We walked around the block and looked over their roof at the trees and you couldn’t see any difference from that side. The neighbors never said a thing. It was more than a year later until we had to prune again.
Now, I don’t claim to be an expert at pruning. There is an art and a science to doing it well. On the other hand, I’m usually not afraid to prune and to take off more than just a little snip here and there. We have some azaleas in our side yard. Until last summer I had never pruned them. Last summer, after they bloomed, I thinned them out and whacked them way back. I wondered what they would look like this spring, if they would have any flowers. I’m happy to say that they were gorgeous this spring, covered with flowers. Pruning is an essential part of healthy plants.
Jesus knew this. In our passage in John he talks about two types of pruning. In verse 2 Jesus says that the vinegrower “removes every branch … that bears no fruit” (John 15:2a). In a vineyard each vine is usually planted about 5-10 feet apart from the next vine. There is a trellis between the plants and the branches grow on the trellis. On the bulletin cover you can see wires that the branches grow on. The vinegrower will go out in February or March and prune the branches way back. I remember the first time I saw a vine that had just been pruned. I couldn’t believe how much of the plant had been cut off. I thought they had killed it. But by the end of the season the branches had grown and filled in. They were covered with grapes.
The second type of pruning is mentioned in the second part of verse 2. “Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit” (John 15:2b). After the branches have grown back and the fruit has started growing, there are new branches that will keep growing. However, because they started late they won’t produce any fruit. Normally, in July or August the vinegrower will prune off these new branches so that all the energy of the plant can go to the fruit.
In verse 3 Jesus makes a statement that isn’t completely clear in the English. “You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you” (John 15:3). What isn’t clear in most translations is that the word “pruned” in verse two, and the word “cleansed” in verse 3, are the same word. It is the Greek word katharsis (catharsis). The point is this, just as the vinegrower prunes the branches, the Father prunes us so that we might be healthy. God takes a sharp knife and cuts out those parts of our lives that are not bearing fruit. God does it to individuals and to the church. It is not fun to be pruned, but it is an essential part of growing in our faith. God prunes us so that we can produce fruit.
At some point in our lives most, if not all, of us will need to be pruned. This pruning may involve struggling with our health or with a relationship. It may be losing your job or some sort of inner turmoil. As people go through those difficult times they sometimes wonder why God is punishing them. I’ve heard people say “I guess God is getting me back for the sins in my life.”
Let me remind you that the punishment for our sin was put on Jesus. He died and took the punishment that we deserved. In the difficult times God is not punishing us. Maybe we are paying the consequences of our sins. Or, maybe God is pruning us and preparing us to produce more fruit. God knows that the spiritual growth we need will come through the pain and struggle.
Do you remember Liberace, the flamboyant entertainer who played the piano. He would play popular music or even classical music in a simple but beautiful way. This is how he described what he did: “My whole trick is to keep the tune well out in front. If I play Tchaikovsky, I play his melodies and skip his spiritual struggles.” I think many of us would like to skip the spiritual struggles, but I have a sense that a healthy Christian life is more like Tchaikovsky than Liberace.
Friends, skipping the spiritual struggles will hinder our spiritual growth. Some of you are going through difficult times right now. Others will face challenges in the future. As you go through that pain, know that God is not punishing you. Instead, trust that God is pruning you so that you will grow in your faith and produce fruit.
That is a challenging idea. It might raise the question, what are we supposed to do during those difficult times. That leads to the second part of a healthy Christian life. We are all called to abide in Christ. Jesus says “Abide in me as I abide in you” (John 15:4a). In four verses Jesus uses the word “abide” eight times.
The word abide is a relationship word. It is a word of connection. Sometimes it’s translated as remain in Jesus or live in him, or even rest in Jesus. Now, there are two ways that Jesus’ words can be understood. It could be that they are a challenge to maintain and develop your relationship to Jesus. “If you stay connected to Jesus then he will stay connected with you.” We all need to be reminded of that challenge at times. Put some effort into your relationship with Christ, into growing in your faith. However, these words can also be understood as an encouragement. Jesus says, “You can stay close to me because I will stay close to you.” Probably we need to hear these words as both a challenge and an encouragement. We need to work at our relationship with Jesus but we also need to trust that Christ is at work in our lives.
Andrew Purves was born and raised in Scotland. It only takes a few seconds listening to him to recognize his wonderful Scottish burr. He moved to the United States in 1978. He was the pastor at Hebron Presbyterian Church over in Clinton before he became a professor at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. The Thought for meditation has a quote from one of his books, about being homeless, not in the literal sense but in a spiritual sense. He doesn’t have a home that gives his life meaning and identity. He’s been away from Scotland long enough that it really isn’t home, just like California isn’t home for me. Yet western Pennsylvania isn’t really home either.
Those of you who have lived in western Pennsylvania your whole life may not understand that. There is something attractive to staying in the same place your whole life, rooted and connected. However, there is an advantage to not having a home. It helps us focus on abiding in Christ, living in him and staying connected to him.
There are countless ways to stay connected to Christ – worship, prayer, service, any of the spiritual disciplines. Let me mention one way that Jesus talks about in our passage. We abide in Christ by reading the Word. Jesus tells us that we have been cleansed, or pruned, by the Word. He also says “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you” (John 15:7a). We need to be reading the Word.
John Calvin, our Presbyterian forefather, has a wonderful word picture that shows how important it is for to be reading the Bible.
Just as old or bleary-eyed men (that didn’t bother me when I first read that 30 years ago. I didn’t need glasses back then.), just as old or bleary-eyed men and those with weak vision, if you thrust before them a most beautiful volume, even if they recognize it to be some sort of writing, yet can scarcely construe two words, but with the aid of spectacles will begin to read distinctly; so Scripture, gathering up the otherwise confused knowledge of God in our minds, having dispersed our dullness, clearly shows us the true God.
John Calvin, Institutes I.VI.1
I’m at that point now that I can’t read anything without my glasses. In the same way, we need the Bible to know Christ, to hear God, to abide in Jesus.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, the English poet, married Robert Browning. Her parents were very unhappy. They were so upset with the marriage that they disowned her. She and her new husband settled in Florence, Italy. Elizabeth loved her parents. She wrote two to three letters a month, long and expressive letters. For ten years they never responded, but she continued sending letters to them.
One day she received a package from her parents. She was so excited – she ripped it open. Inside were all the letters that she had sent to her parents, unopened. She had poured out her love to them and they hadn’t read any of it.
The Bible is God’s love letter to us. Have you opened it? Do you read it on a regular basis? If you are not reading God’s word you will not know who God is, what God does or what God wants. You will not know the depth of God’s love for you. I’m not talking about just listening to the Bible on Sunday morning as it is read and preached in worship. I’m talking about each person spending a few minutes on a regular basis, every day or even at least three to four times a week, reading God’s Word. Abide in Jesus by reading his word.
Henry Lyte, an Anglican pastor in England, went to visit an old friend who was dying. During their visit, his friend, W.A. Le Hunte, kept repeating one phrase over and over – “Abide with me.” It was his prayer as he approached death. Lyte took that phrase, and as his own health deteriorated, wrote a poem with eight stanzas. Five of them are in our Hymnal and we are going to sing three of them. It is about dying using the image of evening, neither of which, I hope, are close by. However, the message is one we can all make as our own prayer.
Abide with me…. In life, in death, O Lord, abide with me.