Sunday, July 23, 2006

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

2 Samuel 7:1-14a
Now when the king was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Nathan said to the king, ‘Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.’
But that same night the word of the Lord came to Nathan: Go and tell my servant David: Thus says the Lord: Are you the one to build me a house to live in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle. Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ Now therefore thus you shall say to my servant David: Thus says the Lord of hosts: I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep to be prince over my people Israel; and I have been with you wherever you went, and have cut off all your enemies from before you; and I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may live in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and evildoers shall afflict them no more, as formerly, from the time that I appointed judges over my people Israel; and I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house. When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come forth from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom for ever. I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me.

Conflict, Complication, Reversal, Resolution

For the students of literature out there, you will recognize these four words as the basic outline of the narrative form. Way back in grade nine, we learned the same lesson and called it plot: introduction, rising action, climax and denouement. Denouement, of course, is a French word that means denouement.

Looking back, I’m sure you were compelled to create a summary that went something like this:

1. Despite their feuding families, a couple of crazy kids named Romeo and Juliet meet and fall in love.
2. They marry in secret, and Juliet comes up with a scheme whereby she will pretend to be dead, escape her family and run away with Romeo
3. Romeo, of course, doesn’t get the memo and finds his love supposedly dead and ends his life while Juliet awakes and does the same.
4. The families discover the young lovers and decide to end their feud.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived at my third class in Chicago and was transported back in time to those early lessons about plot. The assignment was to illustrate the narrative style of sermon by creating a four-sentence sermon. Never one to shrink from a challenge, I wrote three:

1. The earth was corrupt in the days of Noah and was filled with violence.
2. God told Noah that God intended to make an end of all flesh.
3. But, God said, I am going to save your family and two of every living creature.
4. Finally, the waters receded, and God promised to never again end all human life.

1. Women make 75% of what men make.
2. To make matters worse, while men’s wages have remained stable, women’s wages have started shrinking for the first time since the early 1990’s.
3. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Jesus introduces workers to the story at nine, and noon, and late in the day and in the end they are all paid the same wage.
4. Thank God the Kingdom vision of Jesus never ends and leads our lives and not the vision of corporate America.

1. Genesis 6 describes the wickedness of humankind.
2. Imagine my shock to learn that demigods came to earth and slept with human women.
3. The text goes on to report that this new race died out.
4. Therefore you can forget that you ever read Genesis 6.

For those you who are keeping track, you have heard three sermons so far this morning and we’re barely into the fourth.

I share all of this to show you that in fact I was working hard in Chicago and not spending all my time at Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap (famous, by the way, as the pub where the late theologian Paul Tillich used to hang out). I also share all of this to illustrate the perfect narrative structure of today’s lesson from 2 Samuel:

1. David decides that God needs a house.
2. God tells the prophet Nathan that David is not the one to build it.
3. God doesn’t want a house, but he will make a royal “house” of David’s line.
4. Solomon, the next member of that “house” will get to build God’s house.

At first glance, this is a story about God’s unfolding relationship with David. David, as we know, will find himself in trouble in the next few chapters as he abuses his power to seduce Bathsheba and murder her husband. The child of this union will die, and David will bear this guilt as he remains King. Like Moses unable to enter the Promised Land, David can do many great things as king, but he cannot be the one to build a temple to the LORD.

At first glance, this is a subtle morality tale and not a story about the nature of kingship. But we need to look again. Hidden in the narrative is promise that David will be the father of a royal line, an unconditional pledge that a member of David’s line will always be king. It is this same line that Matthew is careful to describe in the first chapter of his Gospel.

Since I had my mind on Shakespeare and the use of narrative, this might be the moment to mention Richard III. Every August 22nd someone puts an “In Memoriam” notice in the Globe that reads something like this:

PLANTAGENET -- Richard, great king and true friend of the rights of man, died at Bosworth Field on August 22, 1485. Murdered by traitors and maligned by knaves, he merits our devoted remembrance.

It always gives me a chuckle to know that 520 years after the fact Richard’s friends are still trying to set the record straight. One of the “knaves” referred to in the ad is William Shakespeare, who wrote Richard III as a bit of propaganda to flatter his Tutor patrons. Google “Richard III” and you will find all sorts of historical societies dedicated to undoing the damage that a skillfully written play can inflict on someone’s reputation.

Reading about David and thinking about Shakespeare it becomes obviously quickly that this part of 2 Samuel is mostly propaganda. There was an ongoing struggle to legitimize the “house” of David and strengthen his line. Other claimants to royal power, named and unnamed, did not write the official record of David’s reign recorded in 2 Samuel. The version we get, in addition to recording the events of the day, also add in a dose of royal theology that is hard to ignore.

If we were to do a narrative analysis of this sermon, it would likely look like this:

1. Michael introduces the 2 Samuel 7 and grounds it in the narrative tradition.
2. Next, he describes the royal theology found there and, following Brueggemann, calls it “propaganda.”
3. Michael reveals the real meaning of these verses and points to God.
4. He makes a tidy conclusion and people still get to go home early.

Did you notice that we’re really only at number three? Now you’re getting worried, I can tell.

The real meaning, the one that we can read through the royal theology, is the nature of God’s promise. It comes in verses 15 and 16:

But I will never put an end to my agreement with him, as I put an end to my agreement with Saul, who was king before you. I will make sure that one of your descendants will always be king.

The real shift here is from the conditional to the unconditional. No longer will the characters in the unfolding story be subject to destruction for some misdeed. Punishment, perhaps, but never destruction. The line of David will persist in a way that the line of Saul could not. The shift is in the promises of God, and God’s desire to bless them and forgive them their wrongdoing.

The other meaning, or the meaning in the meaning is found in Isaiah 11:

1 A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
2 The Spirit of the LORD will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of power,
the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD -

Or Jeremiah 33:

14 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.
15 'In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.
16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.'

We search our hearts and we realize that the “righteous branch” is King of Kings, the newborn king, born the king of angels, born a child and yet a king, and the king of love my shepherd is. We search our hearts and we find the righteous branch and the true vine are one and the same. We search our hearts and find the royal line that chose to enter our world not with power but as the most vulnerable. We search our hearts and know that the unconditional promise to David finds full flower in the unconditional love of the one willing to die on the cross that we might live. We search our hearts and find the risen Christ, loving, forgiving, and Lord of all. Amen.


Post a Comment

<< Home