A Sermon on the Old Testament Lectionary Reading for June 28, 2015: 2 Samuel 1
The man's clothes and the dirt in his head said everything that needed to be said. From the moment he saw the fellow coming up the road, David knew it was over. The Amalekite had no horse, but he himself looked like he'd been rode hard and put away wet. He was coming from the battle, and that meant the battle was over. He was coming alone, and that meant the battle had gone badly. The news of victory would come from the king himself, riding in strength and honor. But this lone foreigner, dressed for grief could only mean that the fighting was done, and the king was dead. It was all over. Of course the same news can mean different things to different people - one person's catastrophe can seem like another person's blessing. When David saw the Amalekite and thought "it's over," "it" meant more than just a battle with the Philistines. If king Saul was dead, it meant that David's life of fear was over. It mean the years of running were over. It meant day after day of living in caves, hiding from your own people, those days might soon be over too. For David, this news meant an end of the days of fear, an end of the days of the days of waiting, an end of the days of the special insanity that comes when your only allies in becoming the king of your people are the very people who want to destroy your people. Maybe we have to go back a bit to understand what David understood when he saw the Amalekite and thought "it's over." The best way I know to sum up what had happened to this point is this: Until the Amalekite showed up, David was both the anointed king in waiting of Israel, and he was a commander in the army of the Philistines. Those Philistines, the ones who were the sworn enemies of Israel. Perhaps you know how it came to be this way. Once upon a time, David had been the golden child of Israel. If Israel had tabloids, David's face would have been in the checkout aisle of every grocery store every week. David was tall and handsome; David was the most honored musician in the king's court. David was a special counselor to King Saul; he was the best friend of Prince Jonathan. And above all, David was the greatest military champion Israel had seen since Samson himself. David took on the Philistine giant Goliath, and David dropped him as easily as we might drop a stone. David was good for more than single combat, though. David could lead armies, and when he led them, he led them to victory. David was so obviously gifted by God that the people of Israel even wrote a song about him, and they made it the number one hit on "hum it to yourself radio." Everywhere you went in Israel you could hear the people humming it as they did their daily chores. It went something like - "Saul has slain his thousands, but David's slain his tens of thousands." I have to assume it sounded cooler in Hebrew.
And of course, that song sounded better to some ears than to others. King Saul, for example, could never quite bring himself to dance to that beat. Saul was happy to have David fight his battles and play his harp, but when other people started singing, Saul got a little antsy. And Saul didn't always handle the stress in the most productive ways. One time, we are told, David was playing a song for Saul, and Saul became so consumed with anger and resentment that he grabbed a spear and threw it as hard as he could, and he only missed by this much as he tried to turn David into a human pincushion. Long story short, that was the beginning of the end for David and for Saul. Soon after that, David went on the run. He took a band of followers and escaped to the hills, hiding in cave after cave as Saul's army came hunting after them. David, who was born to sing and to shine, who had once stepped into broad daylight to fight a giant in an open field, this same David was reduced to hiding and scrounging out a living as best as he could. Eventually, in the passage just before what we read today, things got so bad that David had to take a job as a mercenary for the Philistines. David, who slew Goliath, was now fighting for Goliath's people. and those same philistines were waging war on david's people. at a place called Mt. Gilboa, the Philistines surrounded David's old comrades and they wounded King Saul with arrows. The last we see of Saul is this proud man brought low, begging for his soldiers to kill him rather than let him be captured and tortured by the Philstines. When they refuse, Saul takes his own life. He falls on his sword. And it's over.
When we know all of that, perhaps we can understand why the Amalekite got a little caught up in the moment when he came to see David. Maybe we can understand why he stretched the truth, ever so slightly. "How do you know that Saul is dead?" asked David. "I know because I killed him," said the Amalekite. "I brought you his crown and his bracelet. I wanted you to know you are the true master. I wanted you to hear the good news from me. It's over. We won. I was the one who conquered your enemy, and I have brought you the news." I dont know what sort of reward the Amalekite expected. He must have expected something; why else would he have lied? He can't have expected what he got. He can't have expected to look in the eyes of the one he called "master" and hear these words: How did you dare to strike the Lord's anointed? On Friday morning, my television and Twitter and Facebook were filled with shouts of the same news that pretty much everyone here has been hearing all weekend long. On Friday morning, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that all states must acknowledge and protect the right of same-sex couples to marry, and from the moment the news was uttered, people began to shout "it's over," and they began to shout words like "victory" and "defeat." Some folks are shouting in joy and relief, others in anger, others in confusion and uncertainty; some are shouting because they are afraid, and they feel surrounded. Everyone seems to expect a different result from this news, but everyone seems to expect something. And many, many people seem very, very eager to share the news in a way that will prove to someone that they are on the right side. Many people seem to have very firm expectations of what will come next - some expect judgment, some expect freedom, some expect judgment on those who expect judgment - and many want to get on the right side of whatever is coming.
In this moment, many of us are eager to come with an announcement. We are eager to come with news. But today, David answers our announcement with a humbling question.
Do you dare to raise your hand against the Lord's anointed? There is coming a time for a discussion about what this week's news means. There is time for us to read and pray and discern how our church can most faithfully minister to all in a world that has changed its assumptions. But we cannot have that discernment unless we first have a firm answer to this question. Do you dare raise your hand against the Lord's anointed? If you do not know who the Lord's anointed is, let me remind you. We mentioned it just a few weeks ago, on Pentecost, when we heard the apostle Peter announce: "in these days I will pour out my Holy Spirit on all people." On all people. When Christ took on human flesh and made it holy, he became a new Adam, making visible the promise that every person bears bears the image of God. When the Holy Spirit came down at Pentecost; God announced that an anointing can happen anytime, anyplace, to anyone - usually when we least expect it. C. S. Lewis said it this way: "Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses." And so. When you post on Facebook; when you chat behind closed doors to the one person to whom you can say what you really want to say; when someone pulls out a tall, sturdy soapbox and invites you to stand on it, please know this: Saul was a bad king. Saul was David's enemy. But Saul was still the Lord's anointed.
Do you dare raise your hand against the Lord's anointed? And don't you dare say "it's only words;" remember, the Amalekite didn't really kill Saul, either. He died because of how he used his words: how he used them to posture at the expense of the Lord's anointed.
Do you dare raise your hand against the Lord's anointed? Whoever it is that you consider the enemy; Do you find yourself delighting in or indifferent to their fear, their hurt, and their anger? Do we dare to raise our hands against the Lord's anointed? If we dare that, then let us tremble.