Sunday, July 12, 2015

Young and Restless

2 Sam 6: 1-2, 13-23

David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand David and all the people with him set out and went from Baale-judah, to bring up from there the ark of God, which is called by the name of the Lord of hosts who is enthroned on the cherubim.

13 and when those who bore the ark of the Lord had gone six paces, he sacrificed an ox and a fatling. 14 David danced before the Lord with all his might; David was girded with a linen ephod. 15 So David and all the house of Israel brought up the ark of the Lord with shouting, and with the sound of the trumpet.David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand As the ark of the Lord came into the city of David, Michal daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and saw King David leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.

17 They brought in the ark of the Lord, and set it in its place, inside the tent that David had pitched for it; and David offered burnt offerings and offerings of well-being before the Lord. 18 When David had finished offering the burnt offerings and the offerings of well-being, he blessed the people in the name of the Lord of hosts, 19 and distributed food among all the people, the whole multitude of Israel, both men and women, to each a cake of bread, a portion of meat,[g] and a cake of raisins. Then all the people went back to their homes.

20 David returned to bless his household. But Michal the daughter of Saul came out to meet David, and said, “How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!” 21 David said to Michal, “It was before the Lord, who chose me in place of your father and all his household, to appoint me as prince over Israel, the people of the Lord, that I have danced before the Lord. 22 I will make myself yet more contemptible than this, and I will be abased in my own eyes; but by the maids of whom you have spoken, by them I shall be held in honor.” 23 And Michal the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.

Luke 18:9-14

Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Ah to be young and restless. To be ambitious and confident. To be heading into the future with joy and excitement…

The scriptures about the rise of King David have all the intrigue and romance of a soap opera or a novella or a what my grandmother would call a story, but what unfolds is God’s word to us.  In the David stories we find holiness and sin, right and wrong.  We also find things that challenge our understanding of God. Today’s episode gives us important lessons in how we treat others. We learn that contempt destroys relationships.

As we begin the summer sermon series on the life of Kind David, we have to know some of the people. First, we have David, our hero or leading man. We also have Michal, the daughter of King Saul and David’s first wife.  We can think of her as a princess and maybe even a queen, though the Bible never calls her that.

Michal was totally smitten with David. Everyone was. The Bible says Michal's father King Saul loved David greatly and her brother Jonathon loved David as his own soul. David, the handsome young warrior in the royal court was the talk of the town. He was a little bit of everything--a warrior and a poet. A lover and a leader.  He had charisma and charm and everybody seemed to adore him.

Remember young love? Remember how those junior high crushes would just consume you? Remember how you knew that so and so would walk down a particular hallway between 3rd and 4th period and you would manage to be there to get a glimpse of him or her even though your class was in a different part of the school? Remember how your heart would thud and your mouth would go dry? Remember how much you wanted to be cool and say something but instead you just walked past? 

We can imagine that Michal would think of excuses to be in the room every time David came around, lingering in a corner hoping to be noticed, wearing her best clothes and fiddling with her hair. Or maybe she’d sneak up and sit beside the doorway to her father’s room while David played his lyre for him, her heart pounding and her imagination inventing scenes of she and David on their wedding day.

When her father King Saul mentioned bringing David into the family, her heart probably soared. But as the younger daughter, she was second in line for marriage.  Saul was offering his oldest daughter Merab. But, then in a Hollywood twist of fate someone else claimed Merab and so Michal would get to be David’s wife.

Image her joy. Her excitement. Her pride. Her sister may have married first, but she, Michal, was marrying better. She was getting the handsomest, sexiest man around. Michal snagged the future king. And she loved him. It says so in the Bible. 

The Bible says Michal loved David. It is the only instance where a woman is said to love a man romantically in the Bible. (I should mention that the book the Song of Solomon mutually describes a man and woman’s love relationship, but it’s much more sensual. It's also generic. We don't know who the lovers actually are.)

In the Bible it’s common to read that men love women romantically —Isaac loved Rebekah, Jacob loved Rachel. King Solomon loved --many foreign women. But, Michal loved David.

Michal loved David even when her father the King started to hate and fear him.

One time Michal heard that Saul was going to kill David in the morning. So she helped him to escape out the window that night. Then she plumped up some goats hair and put an statue of an idol under the covers to look like a person.

When the Saul sent messengers to grab David, Michal lied to the guards saying David was sick to buy him more time for his escape. But Saul didn’t care. He said bring me the sick man in his bed, I will kill him there. When he discovered he’d been tricked, Saul was furious.

“Why’d you do it?” Saul asked his daughter Michal.

“He said he’d kill me,” she lied to her father, the king.

 She risked her own life to save his.  Michal loved David.

But something happened. David was gone and so Saul gave Michal to be the wife of another man. Michael remarried. But when Saul died, David came back as king and insisted that he have his first wife, Michal, back.

But in the time that passed, something had changed. Michal was no longer young and in love. She was probably wiser and more world-weary. She didn’t see David anymore through starry eyes of romance. Michal sees a different David and we see a very different Michal.

In todays episode our hero David comes in to town leaping and dancing mostly naked with the Ark of the Covenant. The Bible tells us that Michal, daughter of Saul looked out of the window, and she despised him in her heart. We don’t know when or why Michal’s heart changed toward David.

She is the first wife and David is known for his numerous wives and concubines. Maybe her married life isn’t what she expected.

Maybe she looks out upon the revelry and thinks David too old to be behaving like a teenager, leaping and dancing with a bunch of young women around him. Maybe she was jealous of the other women, wives and concubines that David enjoyed, in every sense of the word.

Maybe she’s horrified that David would dance nearly naked before the LORD. That was something that the Canaanites did at their fertility festivals, not the Israelites. Maybe she thought David was acting too much like a pagan, a country dweller, and not enough like the king.  Maybe she was looking down on him because he wasn’t religious enough.

We don’t know exactly why, but the Bible tells us Michal despised David in her heart.  

The contempt she feels in her heart slips out of her mouth.

“How the king of Israel honored himself today, uncovering himself today before the eyes of his servants’ maids, as any vulgar fellow might shamelessly uncover himself!”

I’m sure you’ve seen this happen among married couples that you know. The husband or wife starts into the same old song and dance and their partner rolls their eyes, makes snide comments or tunes them out. Maybe you’ve felt this yourself with your own spouse when they start behaving in ways that you find ridiculous.

You’re too old for that! 
 You look like a fool! 
Are we going to hear this story again? 
How can be you so stupid?

Marriage counselors will tell you that contempt will kill a relationship. In fact, contempt is the biggest predictor of divorce, even over fighting. Contempt is worse than fighting. Fighting at least shows respect the other as person. There is a relatively equal balance of power as each person yells at the other one.

Contempt is an imbalance of power. Contempt means one person is inferior and one person is superior—at least in their own mind. Contempt shows up in our tone of voice, an eye roll or body language.  It says you are pathetic. I don’t respect you. You aren’t worth my time.

We can imagine Michal’s voice dripping with contempt for David as she chides him for his vulgar dancing.

David then one ups her by saying, “Hey, I’m the king here. God chose me. I will do lots of foolish things in your eyes and maybe even in my own eyes.”

Contempt destroys trust. Contempt destroys relationships. Contempt can destroy communities.  Contempt can even keep us from experiencing God.

In our New Testament reading of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, we see a similar situation as David and Michal.

The Pharisee is apart from all others as Michal is. He looks down upon all of the other people and thanks God that he is not like them. He has what he thinks is righteous contempt for the thieves, rogues, adulterers and tax collectors. He says, “I fast  twice a week and give a tenth of my income.” He’s not bothering to argue with the other people he’s just making himself superior to them.

His contempt keeps him apart from the sinners and he thinks this makes him holy. But he’s wrong, as Jesus tells us.

Jesus says it’s the tax collector who is righteous. It’s that annoying man making that God awful wailing as he beats his chest talking about how sinful he is.

These stories show us that contempt for the people around us can separate us from each other and from God. When we set ourselves apart as better than, we run the risk of being Michal or the Pharisee. When we feel contempt for someone because of their age or gender or ethnicity or language we are doing the opposite of God’s will.

Contempt means we are setting ourselves above and other people below us, we see some people as inferior.  Contempt means we are sitting and looking out the window and shaking our head and despising other people in our hearts.

Maybe we don't look out a window to the outside with contempt. Maybe our window of contempt is our TV screen. 

Maybe we are Michal, keeping ourselves separate and judging the actions of others. Maybe we watch TV news like the Pharisee thanking God we aren’t like those people. The TV is our window on the world.  What are you seeing out your window?

God has a window on the world, too. I have to imagine that the world looks pretty awful out that window. God sees humanity and all of the mistakes we make. But God doesn’t take an attitude of contempt. Does God get angry? Yes. Does God take action? Yes. Does God use punishment for justice? Yes. But ultimately the good news is God does not stay apart and distant from us.

God is above us and superior to us. God could feel contempt for us all as we bumble along in life, doing ridiculous things, making mistakes and sinning.

But does God keep separate like Michal or the Pharisee? Does God look down upon us with contempt? No. God looks upon us with love and forgiveness and calls upon us to do the same.

The apostle Paul puts in best in his letter to the Philippians in chapter 2:

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,

who, though he was in the form of God,
    did not regard equality with God
    as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
    taking the form of a slave,
    being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
 he humbled himself
    and became obedient to the point of death—
    even death on a cross.

God did not watch us from a window and pass judgment. God did not roll his eyes in contempt or despise us in his heart.

The good news of Jesus Christ is that God got up and left the window of heaven. God chose to join us in our crazy dance here on earth. God did not stay separate in righteous condemnation and criticize us for all that we do wrong, but humbled himself to walk with us, eat with us, and love with us.

God didn’t stay separate, but came to us to teach us how to love and live with one another.  God in Christ came to offer us the forgiveness we need, not the condemnation we deserve. Christ teaches us that to live in God we must walk away from our windows of contempt and out into God's world.