Psalm 48; 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

July 18, 2021

  • Expressing our Hurting Hearts

It is deeply difficult to appreciate just how profound and dramatic and chaotic change can be sometimes, even if we are expecting it, even if we are looking forward to it.

Terribly difficult change is crushing our neighbor to the south, Haiti.  You have probably heard that their president was assassinated recently.  There was considerable controversy around him since he was supposed to have finished his term already, but he stayed on because his term started later than it was supposed to.  It seems some could not tolerate that.  Then, there is no clear successor.  The person who would have stepped in was in the process of stepping down to a different job, so is it the old person or the new person?  The courts are not in a good position to work it out as the chief justice of the supreme court there died the previous week from COVID (where, by the way, they have no vaccines yet).  The parliament is not functioning.  The few senators who are still legitimately in office submitted THEIR nominee for a new president.  All of this is being guided by a revised constitution written in 2012, but that constitution might not even be legal since it was not ever translated into the common language of Creole which is a requirement for constitutional amendments to be valid in Haiti.

That is a crazy amount of chaotic change crashing down on that country at once.  Prayers and prayers and prayers for them.  Grace (my middle daughter) and I got to go there as part of a learning team from the Presbytery of the James a couple of years ago, and we both really enjoyed Haiti.  Wonderful people are eking out an existence there in challenging and hardworking ways, and they deeply deserve our prayer and love.

David also felt his world crashing down on him in a torrent of change.  The books of First and Second Samuel are some of the most shocking in the whole Bible.  The story is fantastic and troubling and so wrapped up into one person, David.  All of this time up to now in the story, he has been running and fighting and hiding and seeking God’s direction as he waits for the day when he is able to be the king of Israel.  That day has finally come after many years.  David had been living among the Philistines for more than a year, and the Philistines had been preparing go to war against the Israelites.  David even tried to fight WITH the Philistines, but they did not let him, did not trust him.  That is the war, though, in which Saul and all his family die.  The same Saul who had been trying to kill David for many years in his jealous rage was now gone, and David was literally being handed the crown of Saul by a foreigner who was there when Saul died.

See David’s reaction: he is furious and heartbroken.  He actually had the messenger killed, but his rage quickly switched to extreme sorrow.  What should have been the greatest celebration and relief of his life, finally seeing his path to his destiny open, was instead a sea of lament.  Saul was no longer hounding his life, but his heart was broken with grief.  His lament is so powerful to him that he wants his whole tribe to learn it, and it is recorded in some unknown book – the Book of Jashar.

Again and again, the mantra is “the glory of God is slain, the mighty have fallen.”  This is such a bold statement, sounding almost like God’s glory is diminished by their deaths. But the great heroes and leaders of the people are no more.

Don’t tell the Philistines or let them know of the loss.  Their celebrations would be too much to bear.  No one takes advantage of this loss.

Even the ground, nature, should join in the song of sadness.  Nature is wounded by the violence done to them.

Saul and Jonathan were like holy sacrifices.  The holy gifts to God.  The normal sacrifices at the altar were the blood and fat of animals.  Saul and Jonathan were living, holy warrior offerings to God.  An undivided fighting team, in life and death.

Come, daughters of Israel, show how much Saul has done for you by your grief for him.

Of course, David loved Jonathan the most, as his own soul.  Maybe all of his grief is really about Jonathan, but he sings about both Saul and Jonathan.

This is so strange because you would think David would hate Saul.  He had every reason.  Saul took him as a child and put him in his court to serve the king.  Maybe that seems like a great honor to some, but David’s adolescence was spent working for the king and not with his family, fighting for the king, risking his life for the king – the same king to turned around and literally tried to kill him repeatedly.  Saul gave David his daughter in marriage but took her back and gave her to someone else.  Saul sent David out into the wilderness away from him so he would not have to look at David.  He hunted David with his army and drove David to living with the Philistines.  It was safer for David to sit at the table of his enemies than to live among his countrymen.  Saul was David’s greatest threat.

Hear the extreme situation, the extreme life, the extreme calling that God gave David, and when that burden was finally lifted, the hurdle removed, David’s grief flooded the nation.

I find this fascinating how David is reacting so completely the opposite from what I would expect, what any of us would probably expect.  This passage is remarkable and telling about David and how he wanted to honor his king and his best friend.

Sure, David may be trying to make sure he makes a public display of honoring of the king so that it does not look like he is happy Saul is gone, but I do not get a whiff of insincerity here.  David seems genuinely destroyed by his adversary’s death.

Somehow, in the midst of his suffering and strife and turmoil with Saul, David still found room to love him for God’s sake.  Absolutely, David was exasperated by Saul and flummoxed by his craziness and vexed by Saul’s violence.  The priest who helped David get away at the beginning, who did not even know that David was fleeing Saul, was summoned to Saul along with his whole family and the entire priestly order of the town.  Saul had them all killed and the entire town for assisting David’s escape unknowingly.  Saul was evil in some respects, but David could still love him for God’s sake.  No, I don’t think David valued Saul except for the fact that Saul was still the actual, God-anointed, chosen king.  But that was huge for David.  It had to be huge for him since he would be on the throne himself one day.  Saul also wanted to do things for God, even though God was not with Saul.  This is a sad and tragic story, but through it all, David’s own heart seemed to grow.  He became and more aware of how hard life can be and how God can walk with you through it all.  This is the same guy who sung that God shepherds us even through the darkest valley of death.  He expects life to be too much for us to handle sometimes.  He knows that the only thing he can count on is that God will lead him all the way.

Change always brings about loss, even good change.  It is easy to find things about change that cause us sadness or opportunity to lament.  What David was able to do, though, was consecrate the loss, dedicate the grief and sadness to God.  He brought the heartbreak into song to God and to his fellow Israelites.  His is an amazing act of faith.

I can remember the first time I heard someone say that there was no old normal that we could ever go back to.  Life is as life is.  We are living with the complexities and troubles of our day.  Things have changed and will continue to change.  Then, there is the change happening in our own lives, in our own families, and in our own communities.  Even good change is tough and can be sad.  It is always a loss of the way life used to be.

Now, I am not saying we need to sing our sad times to God and others but you are welcome to.  It would probably be a comfort to let out a tune that you find comforting.  There are many ways of expressing our laments.  Writing, song, planting or crafts, exercise, even cooking or cleaning are just a few ways.  And just talking it out with someone special, someone you trust to hold the loss with you.

David gave his grief a national expression and invited his people to hold their loss together.  We are here as a community and a family of faith, and part of that connection is the willingness to share our losses together.  It does make it easier to bear to know we are not alone.  That really is a big part of what church means, I think.  We share a common commitment in Christ, but life is lived out right here between us with the joys and the sorrows, the praise and the lament.

As people in faith, though, we are able to give even our sadness, our grief, and our lament to God.  You may recall the Jewish Holocaust survivor Eva Mozes Kor who became famous decades ago when she decided to forgive the very Nazis who had experimented on her as a child.  She publicly forgave individual Nazis and expressed her kindness to them.  Many people were offended by what she did, but as a Jew, forgiveness is at the core of their being.  As someone born into the people of God, she found space to love others who were made in God’s image, even if that image was distorted by evil and violence.  She gave her grief, her hate, her sadness to a holy purpose and made it love.

There is always hope for us, even in our times of greatest distress, because God is with us, supporting and caring for us.  But God most significantly walks with us into the loss and grief of our lives and helps us find room to love, even our enemies.  Just as Jesus did and did for us, so we are invited to follow.  To God be the glory.  Amen.