Questions and Reflections

June 2015

A reflection on 2 Samuel 1: David and Jonathan's Death

Our first reading is 2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27.

Last week we saw David defeat Goliath when Saul's army cannot. This is how we're introduced to Saul and David's relationship. And now, this week, we skip over much of the story and learn that Saul and Jonathan (Saul's son and David's best friend) are dead. David and Saul had a complicated (to put it lightly) relationship but David and Jonathan were different. They were best friends. Their friendship is one of the few times when scripture talks about what friendship is all about. Jonathan, as Saul's Son, and David, as Saul's enemy, were in a complex web of politics and situations. Yet their friendship glows throughout the story. They truly love each other. But now, Jonathan is gone. David, his heart broken, sings a true lament. He doesn't pray for help or ask God to change the situation. Nothing can change that Jonathan has died. All that remains is pain. So David can do nothing else but sing one of the most lyrical and poetic songs in the Old Testament. 

This is one of those pieces of scripture that we shouldn't try to explain away. We can sometimes try to put this song into its proper place inside the plot. We want to know what happened before and what happens next. We skim over David's song because we are busy getting to the next thing. But whenever there is poetry in Scripture, that's an opportunity for us to stop. Instead of rushing through the words, we're invited to hold these words close to us and sit with what God is showing us. Poetry and songs can reach us in ways that stories can't. We shouldn't rush through the poetry to get to the other side.

So, I invite you this week, to re-read this piece of scripture and just hold it. David experienced God's glory and presence in the person of Jonathan. This is what friendship can be in God's creation. How are we experiencing God's glory in our relationships and how can we reflect that glory so that all who know us see God too?


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A reflection on 1 Samuel: David and Goliath

Today's first reading is 1 Samuel 17:32-49

If you get a chance, read all of 1 Samuel 17. The story of David and Goliath is fantastic. 

We hear a lot about the Philistines when we read the Hebrew Scriptures but, by the time of Jesus, the Philistines were long gone. The Philistines lived along the coast, from Egypt through Syria, in the Middle East. They were many tiny kingdoms, ruled from cities, that spent their time trading, raiding, being pirates, and renting out their armies as mercenaries all over the world. The Philistines lived and died by the sword - and Goliath is the strongest soldier they have. He’s quick, resourceful, and skilled with sword or spear. He’s the best of the best - and he’s part of an army fighting King Saul and the Israelites. 

And this is when David shows up to challenge Goliath to a duel. 

This is a fight with a huge underdog. On one side we have David who is young and has never served in the army. When Saul covers David in armor and weapons, David can't even move. On the other side we have Goliath, the one-man Seal Team 6 of his day. When these two start to fight, it’s a no brainer who the underdog is: Goliath. 

Goliath as the underdog is surprising but that's because we tend not to truly hear what David is saying in  verses 34 through 37. David spent years tending his sheep, away from people, and deep in nature. He isn’t as strong as a bear nor as swift as a lion. When they attacked his sheep, David shouldn't have been able to defeat them. David should be dead. But he isn't. Instead, David found himself protected, feeling God's presence in his life. He learned to place all his trust in God. This isn't a story where David is going out to do battle with Goliath. This is a story where Goliath is facing off against God and even with sword and spear, Goliath doesn't have a chance. 

This is a story about David’s trust that God is with him, which makes him the king that Saul can never be. This isn’t a story about a kid defeating the odds; it’s a story about a kid trusting that God is with him in his life journey. We don’t know where our life will take us. We don’t know which Goliaths will come into our path. And we don’t know all the battles we’ll face or how they will turn out. But we do know that God is with us in all things and that, through Jesus, we are heirs to God’s promise. With Jesus, our final victory has already been won. So the question is: do we really trust that? 


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A reflection on 1 Samuel: David's annointing

Our first reading is from 1 Samuel 15:34-16:13

Last week in 1 Samuel we heard the story of the creation of the monarchy in Israel. Samuel, prophet and leader of the people, is old. People are concerned who will rule next. Looking around, they see kings who are able to protect their cities and people. So the people, against Samuel's advice and God's counsel, ask for a king. Saul is crowned and wins a few military victories over the hated Philistines. ext. But, almost immediately, Saul loses God's favor. HIs behavior become erratic. He stops listening to God. He becomes paranoid. As Saul begins to self-destruct, God seeks a new king and leads Samuel to some fields outside Bethlehem to meet Jesse and his 8 sons. 

Now, there's a lot about this passage that is striking. In verse 15:35, we hear God feeling sorry, regretting making Saul king. This is just amazing because when does God, the creator of the universe, actually have regrets? God's all-knowing - and we know that God warned the people about what kings do. But God here expresses remorse, showing that God is more than just a powerful being in the distant sky. We find God weeping for the members of God's family when they are wronged or suffer injustice. God is connected to us, emotionally engaged and committed to those God claims. 

The other striking part of this story is just how dangerous the situation is. Samuel is visiting Jesse to anoint a king while there is a king currently sitting on the throne. This is an act of rebellion and treason. Samuel is in a pickle, stuck between his king and his God. He chooses to follow where God takes him but even Samuel fails to fully see what God is doing. Samuel follows the standard protocol, looking for kings from Jesse's eldest sons. He announces that the new king must be there, worshipping God like they are. But God reminds Samuel that God doesn't do what we do. God is more than just our expectations. God isn't looking for more than who we think should get the job: God is looking for a king. And a king will be found with the shepherds, which is an ancient biblical and near eastern metaphor for who a king is. A king should be caring, feeding, and watching those entrusted to them. And those who watch will be found out there, in the fields, tending God's sheep. 


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A reflection on 1 Samuel: the birth of Kings

Our first reading 1 Samuel 8:4-20;11:14-15.

This text from 1 Samuel isn't about governing systems. If we read this text and bring our contemporary political battles and opinions into the text, we're missing a central part of the story. 1 Samuel 8 doesn't allow us to demonize who we see as the politically powerful (say a Democratic President, a Republican Congress, or whoever controls the boards in our towns). Instead, 1 Samuel is centered on God - and the first commandment. 

We're now a few generations after Exodus. God freed the Israelites from Egypt, sending them into the modern day areas of Palestine, Israel, Jordan, and Syria. With this new territory and as a new people, the Israelites need to figure out how to rule themselves. Joshua, the heir to Moses, arrives and then a system of judges (including a woman named Deborah) follow. But as things go from bad to worst, a prophet named Samuel is raised up and leads. The question for the people is who should follow next. Samuel's kids are bad apples so the people look at the nations around them. They notice that they have kings. So the people ask Samuel, out of their fear and concern that another nation might destroy them, to name a king for Israel. 

The people are afraid and have decided to put their trust in kings. The nations around them viewed kings and rulers as divine representatives. They were gifts to the people, with god-given rights. But not so for the Israelites. The people, not God, wish for a king. Even when God shares all the terrible things a king will bring, the people don't change their mind. Their trust is being placed in someone other than God. The people are breaking the first commandment (You shall have no other gods but God). 

This text invites us to ask questions about what we trust. Do we trust money to keep us safe? Do we value our own opinions over others? Do we trust in our own health, intelligence, and wisdom to get us through any problem? Or do we not think about who we trust, instead just going through life as we can? What we trust is not an easy question to answer and we might not enjoy the answer we find. But God's grace pierces even our mistaken trust. God tells Samuel to listen to the people and name a king. A monarchy rules (poorly) for 400 years. Empires come, oppressing Israel for centuries. But the line of kings - the Davidic family line - continues, leading to the one King who God brings to all: Jesus.


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What does eternal life look like?

Pastor Marc's article for the Messenger, our monthly newsletter.

I've been thinking about this question during the last two months. We've been in the gospel according to John for most of April and May and 'eternal life' keeps popping up. In fact, one of the most favorite verses from scripture, John 3:16, mentions "eternal life." So what does eternal life look like?

We might say that eternal life means "never" dying and that it's an opportunity for immortality. Eternal life is the next step in our journey through God's creation. We're born into the world, spend the next decades living our lives as human beings, and then die, only to transform into a slightly better, and more immortal version of our past self. We'll spend forever in our favorite shirt, drinking our favorite beverage, while relaxing on our own private beach in heaven. 

But that isn't necessarily the vision of 'eternal life' that Jesus talks about. In a reading we heard last year, Jesus is praying right before he's arrested. He's prepping his disciples for his eventual resurrection and ascension into heaven. Jesus asks his Father to protect his disciples. He also asks that God help his disciples to love as he loved. And in the middle of this prayer, Jesus describes eternal life. Eternal life is knowing, and being known, by God (John 17:1-3). There's no talk about a life after death. There's no mention of heaven. Instead Jesus says in one short verse that eternal life is knowing God and knowing Jesus. That's it.

That feels a little simple, doesn't it? Yet I find grace in Jesus' words. His words show that eternal life can't be separated from our current life. We don't need to think of eternal life only something that happens after we die. Jesus knows us and we know Jesus even if we are sometimes confused by what Jesus is doing - or not doing - in our lives. And since Jesus continues to make himself known through worship, readings, and holy communion, we're have eternal life. Eternal life isn't about what comes next; eternal life is about our lives right now. So if we have eternal life, just what is God calling our lives to look like today?


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