Monday, November 18, 2013

The Great Story – The Making of a Heart like God’s Heart: The Shepherd King

Preached on Sunday, November 17, 2013

Scripture readings: 1 Samuel 17:17-54; 1 Samuel 24:1-22

The story of David and King Saul in the cave is very serious and also very nearly crazy and absurd; absurdly funny. This is basic. I don’t think we can understand the Bible, or the God who is revealed in the Bible, or God’s way of working in our lives without understanding this foundation of seriousness and absurdity.
Some Creatures: Summer and Fall of 2013
The stories of our life are often very serious and it is often hard to make sense of them. Until we do, these parts of our life can seem crazy and absurd. They seem like thing that should not happen, or cannot happen; and yet they do happen. As God’s people we must learn to build our lives through these serious parts of our lives that seem as though they should not happen. We need to learn to live through these parts of our life by faith
I have to confess that I can never read about Saul using the cave for a bathroom, and David being able to argue with his men at the back of that cave, and sneaking up behind King Saul, and cutting off a corner of the king’s robe, with a knife, undetected, without my wondering about how it was even possible.
David should not have been able to cut the corner of Saul’s robe without getting caught. Saul shouldn’t have been allowed to escape from the cave. Saul should have ordered his army to slaughter David and his men, when David came out of hiding. Saul should not have responded to David by weeping. David should never have been forced to live so much of his life on the verge of destruction.
Most of what I can say to explain it (or to explain it away) is just that I have had a lot things happen to me that shouldn’t have happened. There have been so many things that were highly improbable and completely ridiculous. The improbable and the ridiculous do happen.
And then there is an old limerick that suggests a biological process. This process could have resulted in a miracle for David. The most ridiculous thing in the world could have covered up David’s movements in the cave. The limerick goes like this.
I sat next the duchess at tea,
It was just as I feared it would be.
Her roarings abdominal were simply abominable.
And everyone thought it was me.

Yes, the king could have had the same symptoms as the duchess; only much, much, much worse. The king could have made quite a racket all by himself. We know that Saul was always very up tight.
One of the foundations of The Story of the Bible is the process of how the shepherd boy (David) became the king of Israel. It is another part of the story that tells how such a king as David could be the foundation of the whole gospel, the good news of Jesus. David was an ancestor of Jesus. Jesus is the Christ, the King, the Messiah, the Lord’s anointed; somehow, strangely based on the kingship of David.
We have, before us, a stretch of The Story that tells us the long process of how a shepherd boy could become a king. In this story we see how God works in human lives. If we can imagine the process of God working in you and me, this part of the story shows us that God shapes us and works in our lives through a long process of struggle
A struggle can just be a long, hard job. In such a job you probably have some set of tools to do the work. A struggle can also be a fight, or a battle. In such a battle you probably have a set of weapons.
In the Old Testament Book of Proverbs there is a line about people being like tools or weapons. It goes like this: “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Proverbs 27:17)
God shaped David’s life and character by means of the strangest tools and weapons: people who grossly underestimated him, people who hated and despised him, people who loved him, and people who feared him. God shaped David through insanity, and fear, and betrayal, and confusion. God changed David, or transformed David, by taking him, just as he was, and mixing him up, over a long period of time, through many crises, with many people, through hot and cold, and thick and thin.
Every person and every success and failure is a tool of God in a never ending project. There is that saying from years ago: “Please be patient, God is not finished with me yet.”
The judge and prophet Samuel, who secretly set the boy David apart as king, said this to King Saul, “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command.” (1 Samuel 13:14)
But just when was David a man after God’s own heart; when he was a shepherd boy, when he was a commander of Saul’s troops, when he was on the run, when he was the miserable father of spoiled children? Were you a person after God’s own heart when God first made himself to be real, and beautiful, and strong, and good, and desirable in your heart? By the grace of God you were. And are you a person after God’s own heart today? By God’s grace you are.
But do other people think so? Do you always think so? Or do you see some awful difference, some great gap, between God’s heart and your own? By God’s grace you do see it: you must see it. Yes!
Yet there is a danger in not seeing what God has done, or what God has put there, or what God may do. There is the continual danger of the sin of underestimation. You underestimate others and they underestimate you. We all underestimate the raw materials God is giving us to work with. We can’t begin to know how to estimate our successes or our failures, our virtues or our sins, or our time in life. We don’t know how to place the right value (God’s value) on all these parts of our lives, or on all of these people.
When Samuel went to Bethlehem to find the man who would be the king after God’s own heart, he went to the home of Jesse because he was told to find that king there, among Jesse’s sons. The very first son, the oldest, looked like the one. He looked every bit the king.
The Lord told Samuel “no”. The Lord said, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7)
David’s father knew that Samuel was there to make something important happen, and so he had his seven sons there, ready to be part of it. Only he had an eighth son who clearly wasn’t needed for something so important. David was the eighth son.
David was the spare boy. Maybe he was the runt. Clearly his older brothers saw him this way. When they were out facing Goliath (or not facing him) and David came with the supplies, they saw their youngest brother as a nuisance and a brat. Maybe they had good reason to think of him that way. Then David must have been a nuisance and a brat after God’s own heart, and his brothers were underestimating him.
The more I read about the Goliath business, the more I think that King Saul was only using David. Sending a kid against Goliath was an excellent way to insult the champion warrior, or to put him off guard. Saul deliberately sent David into what had to be certain death.
The only good that could come of it was that David might beat the odds and injure Goliath just enough to put him off the field. Goliath might get so mad at the sight of David that he could get careless.
Most of all, if Goliath killed a kid like David, it would not be in a fair fight and the term of the duel could be disputed. The terms were that the winning champion would decide which nation had defeated the other, and which nation would serve the other. In a clearly unfair fight, all bets were off.
What Saul saw as a game and a plot, his son, the crown prince Jonathan, saw as the evidence of God at work in a kid of faith, and courage, and humility. As cocky as David seemed, he had no problem admitting that he wasn’t a warrior who could wear a king’s armor, or that he could fight with anything but a slingshot.
This is a courageous humility. So we read that as soon as Jonathan saw David, he loved him.
Jonathan was very close to being a person after God’s own heart, and he saw that David was just such a person. And so Jonathan saved David’s life more than once, and he was like a good brother to him; much better than David’s own brothers, and his best friend.
The tools and weapons that God used in David’s life (in order to transform him from a shepherd into a king) included commanding the Saul’s troops and marrying the king’s daughter. They also included nursing an insane king; singing and playing music to calm him, running from him when the king tried to pin him to the wall with a spear. The tools of God included years on the run, years of danger, and years away from anything like home.
In the end, when David was king, when we are told that “the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies” (2 Samuel 7:1), David was grateful. We might not have been so grateful. We might have resented all the wasted years.
We underestimate God’s raw material for our lives. We underestimate God’s tools and weapons. We think that God owes us rest, when rest is a prize, a miracle. David’s real life was never about rest, except as a miracle.
Rest was a blessing that came in the moments when God gave it. Rest was something to be passionately enjoyed and celebrated and lived to the fullest, but always as a blessing and a miracle.
Sometimes, in his worst possible moments, David did not underestimate or undervalue the tools and the weapons of God. And so, after he cut off the corner of the king’s robe, he was cut to his own heart. He went out and showed himself to Saul; and David called Saul, “My father!” (1 Samuel 24:11)
Even though Saul had devoted his life to destroying David, something in David’s experience, when he was still young, kept him loving the mad king. There was something between the times of madness, and maybe even during those times, when David had played his harp for him, that Saul had become just like a father to him.
Sometimes David would fail at this but (in the case of Saul) David had a heart after God’s own heart. So David could see the very thing that God had seen and loved, when God told the prophet to make Saul king. David never turned his back on that. David never undervalued the gift of Saul.
David could see what the others around the king could not see, because those others were using Saul for themselves and for their own security and their own ambtions. They were underestimating and undervaluing Saul. They were making a mistake that David would never make because he was a person after God’s own heart.
David was a person after God’s own heart, and he could an honest look at “Saul the mistake”, and love him, and see what God might do with him, or might have done with him. At least for a while, David’s confession broke Saul’s heart and brought him to tears. David’s sorrow led to Saul’s shaky change of heart.
Though we hardly see it or hear it, and though it didn’t change Saul’s future or his final failure, Saul may have gone to his end with a better heart than he had for many years. David’s willingness to speak to Saul’s heart shows us God’s heart, and this is the God we meet in Jesus, the Son of David.
We underestimate the people around us as the proper and legitimate tools of God (if we can call them that). We do not love them. We are not thankful for them though they are working on us through the hands of God who shapes us through them. We are not thankful for the times in our lives when God may be doing his most important work. We are not always people like David: people after God’s own heart.
God uses strange tools and weapons in his struggle with us and in his long, long labor of love. God became human in Jesus in order to be the iron that sharpens our iron. Just as David went out to fight the giant with sticks and stones, God comes to us with sticks and stones: the sticks of a cross and the stone that covered his grave.
We are not changed into people after God’s own heart by our intelligence and courage, or by our practice and wisdom, but by receiving the mercy of a cross and the defeat of a grave. As the apostle Paul says, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

Our hearts are only made in the image of God’s own heart through receiving the power of mercy and grace. Only through the strangest tools, in the hands of Jesus, does God make our hearts like his. Will we let him change us and give us a heart that sees all the strange seasons in our life, and all the people in our life, as the work of God to make our hearts like his own heart?

1 comment:

  1. hello pastor dennis,

    this is very inspiring one.
    i totally love your enlightening treasures that continue to bless my heart and my day, pastor dennis.

    have a blessed weekend!

    and thanks for all your wonderful comments and continued support.