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Sunday, August 19, 2012

And David Danced--A Sermon

And David Danced
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

August 19, 2012

David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.
2 Samuel 6:5

My wife’s grandmother is one of those people I have always enjoyed.
She is very down to earth.
About ten years ago the family was gathered and we were talking politics.
The conversation turned toward President Clinton
who at the time had just left office.
Grandma Helen had the best evaluation I have heard then or since.
She shook her head and said,
“He was a good president but a naughty boy.”

I think that might be a good evaluation for King David in the Bible.
He was a good king, but a naughty boy.

Some of the best literature in the Bible is found
in the narratives of 1 and 2 Samuel.
They are the stories, for the most part of David.
He is the shepherd boy chosen by God over his older,
stronger brothers because the text tells us
For the Lord does not see as mortals see;
they look on the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks on the heart. 1 Sam. 16:7

David is the one chosen by God to replace Saul and be king over Israel.
Many of the stories reflect this tension between Saul and David.

When Saul goes mad, David is the one who soothes him with music.
David is the brave young man who slays the giant Goliath
with a slingshot and a smooth stone.
David is a mighty warrior.
While Saul kills his thousands, David kills his ten thousands.
The plot is complicated as Saul’s daughter Michal loved David.
But David really loved Saul’s son, Jonathan.
When Jonathan is killed in battle, David weeps for him and says,
“..my brother, Jonathan,
greatly beloved were you to me;
Your love to me was wonderful,
Passing the love of women.” 2 Sam. 1:26

David is a victor and knows how to celebrate his victory.
After he brings back the ark of the covenant,
           he strips down to his underwear and dances.
David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals. 2 Samuel 6:5

His wife, Michal, is not impressed and tells him that
 he is dishonoring his role as king.
But apparently, God was on David’s side on this one.
The text says that
“Michal, the daughter of Saul had no child to the day of her death.” 2 Sam. 6:23

Biblical literature has an odd way of punishing its characters
in its attempt to determine what God might think.
I think it is important to remember that this is literature
and these are all literary characters created by their authors.
These literary characters include the character, God.
This literature has left a legacy in which tragedy is viewed as divine punishment.
But just because these ancient authors wrote in that way,
it doesn’t mean it is true.

Yet the passion is poignant.
David is acquainted with grief.
In addition to the death of his beloved, Jonathan,
David’s son,Absalom, also dies in battle.
David voices one of the greatest cries of grief
known in western literature:
‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’ 2 Sam. 18:33

In David, we see great joy and great grief.
And it is all out there.

In a narrative that begins with another great line from literature,
         “In the Spring of the year the time when kings go out to battle,”
David does his naughty thing.
He spies on the beautiful Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, bathing.
He has an affair with her while her husband is fighting for him.
Because he thinks she might be pregnant,
David tries to cover it up by calling Uriah
back to spend the night with his wife.
Uriah is such an honorable soldier that he
refuses to enjoy pleasure with his wife
while his comrades are fighting.
Then David has Uriah sent to the front lines where he will be killed.
After that happens, David makes Bathsheba his wife.

David’s scheme does not go unnoticed.
The Lord who sees on the heart also sees the sins of the heart.
The prophet Nathan confronts David with a story:

Once there was a man who had a small lamb.
He loved his lamb as if it were a child.
Another man had many lambs.
But the day the wealthy man wanted a feast
he took the poor man’s lamb and slaughtered it.

“What should happen to that man?” Nathan asks David.
David filled with righteous indignation said that the wealthy man deserves to die!

And Nathan says, and I need to use the King James to get the full effect,
“Thou art the man!”

Nathan tells David of his sin and David repents.
In the biblical way of regarding tragedy as judgment,
the child of David and Bathsheba dies in infancy.
And in the biblical way of expressing redemption,
another son of Bathsheba and David,
Solomon, eventually becomes David’s heir.

David is credited with writing the psalms,
all the great poetry of praise and lament.
It was fitting to credit David with that as his own life was filled with passion.
Plus he was a musician who could dance.
Current scholarship does not regard the psalms as authored by David.
In fact, the literature surrounding David is now considered by many scholars to be fiction more than history.
He is like King Arthur, more of a legend than an historical figure.

While that might be considered a loss,
that is the loss of the historicity of David, I tend to think of it as a gain.
Seen as literature, the authors come alive.
What is it they want to tell us about life, passion, and God through these stories?

In the character of David,
we are shown the depth and the height of human experience.
The greatest joys and the deepest sorrows are found in him.
In David, kingdoms are formed.
Battles are won.
Battles are lost.
He achieved greatness and he paid for that with great personal pain.
In the portrait of David,
the authors paint a life fully lived, filled with joy and sorrow.

This summer’s sermon series is on happiness.
One of the resources is a book by psychologist Jonathan Haidt,
The Happiness Hypothesis:  Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom.

One of the topics he addresses is life’s purpose and meaning.
Rather than speak objectively about the meaning of life,
which is pretty hard to do, actually,
he writes subjectively about something that is a bit more approachable.
What is the meaning within life?

How can we make our lives meaningful and purposeful? He writes:
Why do some people live lives full of zest, commitment, and meaning, but others feel their lives are empty and pointless? P. 219

The goal isn’t to judge ourselves or others
but really to give ourselves permission to invent or to reinvent ourselves.
We might look at some of the things human beings need.
In the end he says we are social creatures and industrial creatures.
We need love and attachments.
We need real relationships.
Also, we need vital engagement and meaningful work.
We need a calling, if you will.

He writes:
Happiness is not something you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you. Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge. P. 237-8

As I look at the story of David
who has relationships with many, both men and women,
who had meaningful work, battling giants and enemies
who established a kingdom for something higher than himself,
          that is God,
who sins, and yet knows enough not to blame someone else for it,
          or wallow in guilt,
          but repents and pays the consequences,
who grieves deeply in his heart,
who makes music, writes poetry, and dances…

…so what of David?

Was he happy?
He probably had a good a chance as anyone.
So do we all….

Amen.

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