Sunday, August 16, 2015

One Life to Live


 When King David was very old, he could not keep warm even when they put covers over him. So his attendants said to him, “Let us look for a young virgin to serve the king and take care of him. She can lie beside him so that our lord the king may keep warm.”

Then they searched throughout Israel for a beautiful young woman and found Abishag, a Shunammite, and brought her to the king. The woman was very beautiful; she took care of the king and waited on him, but the king had no sexual relations with her. Now [one of David’s sons] Adonijah, whose mother was Haggith, put himself forward and said, “I will be king.”…

15 So Bathsheba went to see the aged king in his room, where Abishag the Shunammite was attending him. 16 Bathsheba bowed down, prostrating herself before the king.
“What is it you want?” the king asked.

17 She said to him, “My lord, you yourself swore to me your servant by the Lord your God: ‘Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne.’ 18 But now Adonijah has become king, and you, my lord the king, do not know about it. 19 He has sacrificed great numbers of cattle, fattened calves, and sheep, and has invited all the king’s sons, Abiathar the priest and Joab the commander of the army, but he has not invited Solomon your servant. 20 My lord the king, the eyes of all Israel are on you, to learn from you who will sit on the throne of my lord the king after him. 21 Otherwise, as soon as my lord the king is laid to rest with his ancestors, I and my son Solomon will be treated as criminals…”

David Makes Solomon King
29 The king then took an oath: “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered me out of every trouble, 30 I will surely carry out this very day what I swore to you by the Lord, the God of Israel: Solomon your son shall be king after me, and he will sit on my throne in my place.”


8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

Our scene today is a soap opera classic. Our patriarch is on his deathbed and the people around him scheming to see who will get his money and power. Adonijah, the oldest son, declares himself king. 
But, while Adonijah has the confidence to be next king, it’s Bathsheba who has David's ear and affection. She’s heard that Adonijah has his eye on the throne and sets out to do something about it.

You may remember Bathsheba from the scriptures the last few weeks—the bathing beauty  whom David “takes” from another man and then has her husband killed after he discovers she’s pregnant. They lost that child but had another boy, Solomon, a year or so later.

This week we’ve fast forwarded the story, leaving out a lot of David’s royal drama. Today David is OLD.

He's so old can’t get out of bed. He's so old he can’t keep warm. He's so old he can't act like a king. His servants and elders have brought in a beautiful woman to serve and take care of him and hopefully rouse him to action. This woman is young and enticing as she flits around the royal bedroom, sometimes plumping pillows, sometimes feeding the king and other times crawling under the covers with him to keep him warm. But, David, one known for his sexual prowess, does not or cannot “take” her.

In walks Bathsheba. Bathsheba was once the beautiful, enticing young woman catching the king’s eye. But, she, too, has aged. She may have put on a few pounds living in the palace with all that rich food. Maybe she has some gray hair here and there.

She and David have been married long enough for Solomon to become a young man.  She has come to David to advocate for Solomon. She wants her son on the throne.

She takes stock of the old man in his bed. She bows down and prostrates herself before the impotent king and reminds him of his promise to her.  “You swore that my son Solomon would be king after you, but Adonijah is saying he has become king.”

David’s mind might struggle to recall that promise. Maybe I made it after the first baby died, he might think. Or maybe I made the promise when Solomon was a toddler after seeing how much joy he brought Bathsheba. He doesn’t specifically remember making that promise, but perhaps when he looks at her through the lens of his memory he could imagine promising her anything.

“You swore,” Bathsheba says looking directly at him, tugging at his conscience. “And if my son Solomon is not made king, both he and I may be killed once you are gone. You swore to me by the Lord your God …”


Except there is no place in the Bible that says David made such a promise. Bathsheba makes a bold play to get Solomon crowned king.

Now Bathsheba often gets a bad rap for scheming to get her son on the throne. But before we judge her too harshly, we have to remember what life was like for her. She was one of the king’s wives, and when the new king came along he would take David's wives and concubines. And yes, he would likely “take” them in that sexual sense of the word. The new king may also decide to kill any rivals to the throne. Bathsheba may have been scheming to protect both her dignity and her child.

“You promised,” Bathsheba says and David agrees. Maybe he’s been reflecting on his life and feels guilty for the underhanded way in which he acquired Bathsheba. Maybe he remembers that he was a younger son and he ended up as king. We don’t know why, but David rises to the occasion, gets up out of bed and goes out to publically declare Solomon king. Shortly thereafter he dies and Solomon takes the throne--and Solomon has his rival Adonijah put to death.

David’s life and his death are far from ordinary. If David had a newspaper in his time, I’m sure he would have had an impressive obituary. He had a fancy job title, lots of family left behind, many accomplishments worth listing. David is a notable and powerful man.  But he’s not the only one. Bathsheba has power, too.

The Bible shows us that how we use our power is one of the most important decisions we can make in life.

Let’s look at the three examples of the power people have from our scriptures today—two from the David and Bathsheba story and one from Jesus.  

First, there’s the blatant and overt power of the patriarch king.  In this hierarchy, the king makes things happen with a word. The king decides who lives and who dies. The king chooses which other tribes to fight and what land to take over. The king conscripts men for fighting and women for more personal services. The king orders builders to build and bakers to bake. The king has direct power over what he does and what other people do.

David used this kind of power to do great things for his people and his God. He made Israel into a nation instead of a rag tag collection of tribes. He conquered the city of Jerusalem and brought the ark of the covenant into the new capital city. He united the northern and southern kingdoms of Judah and Israel into one country. We should admire David for this.

But David found out that it was hard to keep this kind of power in check. He started using it, for the betterment of himself, not just the betterment of the country.  He stopped thinking about what impact his decisions might have on the people around him.  

We all have a David in our lives. Maybe not a king, but someone who has a lot of control over what we do with our time and energy. Luckily, there aren’t too many tyrants in most of our lives, with, perhaps, the exception of toddlers.

Think about parenting a two-year old. Such little bodies hold such incredible power--over our time, our energy and our frame of mind. We don’t always want to overpower our kids even though we can.  So we sometimes we resort to other techniques. After the fifth tantrum over the cookie jar—we just hide it in the cupboard rather than fight about it--again. We tease, cajole and manipulate to convince a child to eat broccoli rather than use force. But, this is our choice. We could choose to fight two-year old power with blatant parental power, but it's not healthy to do it all the time.

Bathsheba was not in a position to fight power with power. She can’t command David. She had to learn to live with his realm of power. So she’s using what she does have—her history and her emotional ties to David to get what she wants. She bows and cajoles and plays to his power. Bathsheba used subversive power.

I’m reminded of this scene from My Big Fat Greek Wedding where the mother reminds her daughter that the man may be the head of the household, but the woman is the neck who can make the head turn any way she wants. 

 David has overt and hierarchal power and Bathsheba has subversive power.

And then we have Jesus. Jesus is his own kind of power.

Our New Testament reading is usually heard on Palm Sunday. The crowds are so excited to see Jesus coming into town. They wave palms, and hail the son of David. They are convinced that the messiah has come-- a messiah, an anointed one, like David. They want a new king to put them on top in the hierarchy of power, to make them the bosses again, to make Israel great by defeating the Romans. They are filled with patriotic fervor and are expecting a brilliant political mastermind and a charismatic warrior-leader.

But they get something totally different.  They get a servant-leader.  

They get someone who uses his power completely differently. This is so important for us to remember as Christians. The people cheering Jesus wanted a David, but they get someone more like Bathsheba. Someone who doesn’t take on Rome head on but chooses to use another kind of power.

Jesus could have defeated Rome. Jesus had the power of God in his hands and could have done anything in this world. He could have raised armies and raised the dead. He could have commanded the sea to flood or dry up or turn into wine. Jesus had people lining the streets for a revolution. Jesus had people who were ready to fight and die for their nation under his leadership. 

But the crowd soon found out Jesus wasn’t a new David. There are some big differences between David and Jesus.

David commanded people.    
Jesus invited them.

David took the things he wanted.    
Jesus gave them up.

David lived in a palace.    
Jesus was homeless.

David feasted with leaders.    
Jesus broke bread with sinners.

David put himself first.    
Jesus put people first.

David executed the people who opposed him.   
Jesus died on a cross, executed by the people he loved.

We are all a little  like David, to some degree. We all want things in life to go our way.  We want to make choices for ourselves. We want to be independent like David, We want to kings and queens, even if it’s just in our own homes.

But, we aren’t called to be like David. We are all called to be like Jesus.

How many of us would say we are powerful on the world stage? Anybody here a national politician? A billionaire philanthropist? Nobel prize winner? Nobody?  

Those of us here don’t run big companies or make laws. Even so, Jesus shows us that we have power. What we choose to do in our everyday lives matters. What we do at home matters. Think of Jesus' ministry. He says in words and action: 
  •  How we treat our neighbor matters in the kingdom of God. Jesus says we are to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. 
  • Who we eat with matters in the kingdom of God. Jesus ate with sinners and prostitutes. Jesus fed the hungry. 
  • What we do with our money and stuff matters in the kingdom of God. Jesus tells people not to save up for another day but sell what they have to care for the poor. 
  • How we pray matters in the kingdom of God. Jesus tells us not just to pray for people we like but to pray for those who persecute us.

Each of us only has one life to live. We should live it like it matters to the world, because it does. We have the power to choose love or hate, bitterness or forgiveness, violence or peace. We can heal or we can hurt.

Jesus Christ shows us that the world is changed one interaction at a time, not by a great political mind, a brilliant war strategist or a show of blatant power. The kingdom of God is defined differently-- by a healing touch, an assurance of forgiveness or a shared scrap of bread.

Jesus shows us how to live in God's kingdom. It’s not like royalty, but like an ordinary, loving person. He shows us how to act toward God, our neighbors, our friends and our enemies.  

Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, shows us the way to eternal and abundant life isn’t achieved by gaining power, but by sharing it with those around us. In Christ, God gave up power to become flesh and dwell among us. In that one lived life, the world was changed forever. Thanks be to God.

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