Psalm 24; 2 Samuel 5:1-21
July 25, 2021
- Creating a Capital for Israel
There is something you must know about me. If the Olympics are going on, I am going to talk about them. I love the Olympics, not because I am necessarily some kind of super sports nut, because I am not, but I love the idea of people striving to such potential and achieving those moments of seemingly impossible human accomplishment, feats of near superhuman strength, agility, and endurance. The skill is awesome and terrific. And I do enjoy learning about different, unfamiliar sports. Then, there are the sports that you think you know but are different in competition like the new 3×3 basketball. That’s a fast and fun one.
Not all sports hang around though. Do you know what Olympic sport you would have last seen in the 1900 Olympic games? One is Croquet. If I had known that before this week, I might have paid a little more attention to learning the game of mallets and balls and hoops in my grandparents’ backyard growing up. Who knows? There could always be a resurgence of Croquet and my shot at the Olympics. We do have an American Olympian in his late 50s, after all – one of our Equestrian Olympians. I bet the horse is not 50, though.
It occurred to me Friday as I was watching the parade of nations that it would be pretty amazing to have a country in which EACH AND EVERY ONE of the citizens was as Olympian. Of course, you could unimaginatively name the city-state Olympia. It could not be a very big nation in number because of contestant limits, but in pride it would be unparalleled, a nation of living excellence.
The city of Jerusalem, however, seems to have different standards for its residents. This seems to look more like a city of Paralympians, who can be even more inspiring and excellent that regular Olympians, but that is not the meaning here. As we have seen, David’s life is one strange story after another, one shocking event or disturbing turn after another. The Samuel books are so interesting because we should expect the unsettling events of life 900-1000 years before Jesus. What David does with those crazy times, however, is adapt.
Last week, we witnessed how David was able to become the king. King Saul was killed in battle. Pretty much his whole family was killed. A passerby in that area found Saul near death and brought the crown to David. Apparently, everyone – even Saul, knew it was only a matter of time before David was going to be king. Everyone knew it. That idea is re-expressed here in today’s reading. David was always the one to act like the king, well before he was the king. Last week, David’s heart was broken over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, but he did take the crown, just not over all Israel.
The big tribe of Judah did follow David, and he became the king over it then. The rest of Israel, however, was brought under Saul’s last remaining son, Ish-bosheth. He ruled Israel for a while until he was murdered in a horrific way. That left no one else to rule but David. That also opens chapter five here. All Israel is behind David and chooses David as king. Finally, he lives into that anointing to be king that the prophet Samuel gave him when he was just a child. There is just one problem: where is he to be king?
He had been ruling in Hebron for six years, well in the south of the nation. Ish-bosheth had been ruling in a town well into the north where the rest of the tribes of Israel were. If David stayed in Hebron and made the throne for all Israel there, then the northern tribes would be slighted. If David left Hebron for the northern capital where Ish-bosheth was king, the biggest tribe and his people, Judah, would be offended. What’s a new king to do?
Of course, you find a new capital somewhere between the two. That brings us back to Jerusalem. It is good geographically and has a strong enough defense that the Jebusites who were living there thought they could defend the city with their weakest people. They were not worried about David, at all. They did not know how resourceful David was, how good he was at adapting. David and his men snuck into the town through the water system and no more Jebusites. That’s how Jerusalem first gets brought into the biblical story. Now, it can be the capital for Israel going forward.
David’s victory is short, however. The Philistines were not done with him, either. When they found out that David was made king over all Israel, they went on the hunt for David. They had killed the last person who wore that crown, so they were not about to let David consolidate power peacefully. This was David’s first test as king. What should he do? Here is the difference between David and Saul as king. Saul was not decisive, not flexible, not able to make the decisions that God wanted him to make. He did not even seem to be able to communicate well with God. David, on the other hand, is much more in step with the Lord, able to communicate, and willing to do whatever God asked. Saul would take directions from his servants; David saw himself as a servant of God. Again, David was adaptable and David won. Next week, we shall see how David continues to respond to his life after he settles as king.
For now, I want to roll a little while with this idea of adaptability in our service to God. David had to figure out a way to establish a capital for the new Israel, a home for his throne, that would not offend his countrymen. We have also seen adaptability in Japan over the Olympics, the same Olympics that were supposed to happen last year but got postponed. Japan was determined to have them this year, but because of the continuing cases of COVID, they had to make many changes.
It turns out God needs the faithful to respond to a changing world with great adaptability and flexibility, too. The very motto of the Protestant Reformation is Ecclesia Reformata, Semper Reformanda – the Church having been reformed, always to be reformed. Our very beginning as a Reformed Protestant Church is one that embraces adapting to the changing times in the Spirit of God. Presbyterians have tried to adapt through the centuries and to varying levels of success. When they have tried to cling to the ways things have always been, they have suffered though. There are Presbyterians out there who still do not have much music or who do not sing anything but the Psalms. Can you imagine having no music but adaptions of the actual Psalms? Sure, that could be pretty, but our wealth of music would be so limited and diminished. We have always prided ourselves on our gifts in music, but at one point in our church history, music was viewed as suspicious and too worldly.
For us, music right now is another big one that we have to be able to adapt to. We are losing our cherished Dr. Smith back here after his time of service with us, giving us his love of music and for our organ through these months of change. This is a pretty big change. We had really just acclimated to our loss of Elizabeth, but now we are going to have to be able to pivot, again. Of course, this is something we need to do well and faithfully, but we need to be open to where God might want to lead us as a church in music.
There is no getting around the fact that we are going to have to be more flexible than we ever thought we would have to be in the coming years. You have already done a great job of adjusting to a changing world through technology, and as a church, we are making strides in adapting to the times. We are finding a new home, so-to-speak, in a new day and age. The decades leading up to now over the last 70 years have witnessed some of the most rapid changes in human history, and the church is still right in the thick of it. You have done well, but we cannot let up. There is no digging in the heels here. The world is changing with or without us. If we refuse to change, we become irrelevant.
Adapting to a new world does not mean we have to become something we are not, though. David held to his convictions and his faith through all of his changes and challenges. It is no different for us. In fact, it is because God wants us to continue our ministries and to continue being relevant to this community that we are engaged in this time of focused outreach. How we do things will look different. We are still the same people, however. We adapt to the emerging challenges of our community and the needs that pop up or the ones that have been there for ages unaddressed. We must realize, however, that no one owns us but Jesus. He is the one we answer to for our actions. He is the one directing our work. He is the one and the only one who is Lord in this church, in our community, and across our world. His love and his life are our gifts to share.
Adapting is not always easy. It may often be difficult. David had to pick up everything and move to serve the people, fight multiple wars, bring the ark of the covenant home, and who knows what else that we don’t even have in the text just to make Jerusalem the new home of the Kingdom. While that was hard, it seemed to be the smart choice, and as Albert Einstein said, “The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.”
John Register was an up and coming Olympic hopeful in Track and Field. He was training in the hurdles one day when as he was crossing the last one, he felt his leg snap in half. I won’t go into the gory details, but you need to know that a couple of hours later at the hospital, he had a decision to make: keep the leg but stay in a wheelchair with his leg immobilized the rest of his life or lose the leg for a prosthetic. He chose the prosthesis. Post-surgery, as he was wheeled out of the hospital, he burst into tears, unable to walk over to his wife and son playing on the playground. Everything he couldn’t do came crashing down in that moment. His wife had the words that he carries wherever he goes: “We’re going to get through this together. It’s just our new normal.” In the face of this challenge, he chose to adapt.
He went on to make the Paralympic swim team and later, after returning to Track and Field, won the silver medal in the long jump in the 2000 Paralympic games and set the American Record in the process. Ever since, he has been helping others to meet their challenges and find space to change, to adapt, and to become better.
There is no challenge we cannot face with God, but we will not survive any challenge if we are unwilling to adapt. While we can hope and pray that things will calm down soon and that we will have some new normal for a while, there are no guarantees. As we know, the only constant in life is change.
Thanks be to God that we are in this together, and Jesus is walking with us. We will do this, one step at a time. We will find our way into a new day. To God be the glory. Amen.