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Sunday, August 12, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 23 & 2 Samuel 18, selected verses
Rev. Jill VanderWal

This summer we have been following the lectionary texts which is a 3 year cycle of readings that cover a majority of the Bible. The Old Testament Lectionary has followed the life of David.  David was anointed in his youth as “one after God’s own heart,” and he was the shepherd with the courage to face Goliath. Troy taught on David’s grief when Saul died and he was anointed king. He unified the tribes of Israel and during the last two weeks Troy preached on his adultery and the murder of Uriah and the fallout from that. This week we dive into a story that revolves around David and his third son, Absalom.

This last week I was driving home listening to 1A on the radio, and Joshua Johnson was interviewing Lance Armstrong. It has been 6 years since Armstrong was forced to admit to using performance enhancing drugs. For him, digesting the fall of his career, and what lessons to glean from his mistakes, has been a long process:

“It’s been six years since things came crashing down. I spent three years, at least, in not a great place. Not so much physically, or even mentally. But just upset, bitter, angry. And then the last couple of years or so, I found a different  place. The thing that allowed me to re-engage with the public was the first podcast I did, which was a weekly show called “The Forward”.

His podcast has become pivotal in more ways than one. Armstrong says he had a “come-to-Jesus” moment when a former Livestrong employee listened to the podcast and eventually reached out to invite him to coffee:

This was a moment of reckoning for Lance- sitting with an employee who had defended his innocence and then felt complicit in his lies and betrayal. (From the interview with Lance Armstrong 1A, July 17th, 2018)

One thing stood out to me during the interview – it was the air of humility that can only come from being broken and then beginning the process of putting life back together.

Brene Brown, an author and shame researcher, calls this the moment, where we have to face what is broken or hurt or a mess… “the reckoning.”  She wrote a book called Rising Strong. In it she discusses the process of the reckoning – rumbling and revolution in our lives. She writes and talks about “drilling down deep into the most difficult and uncomfortable moments in our lives, getting honest, and holding ourselves accountable to move forward. She reflects – “I wasn’t sure I wanted in on all of that in my own life. It seemed hard and dirty and messy and, well, uncomfortable.”  What is on the other side? The hope of rising strong.

Today we see David in a broken place. Absalom, father of peace, is his young, proud and beautiful son (who is actually the eventual heir to the throne as the first two sons are no longer alive). Absalom leads a revolt and wages a civil war. As the troops go out David says to his top commanders, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” Absalom is reported hanging from a tree by his hair (his pride). As he is hanging there, Joab comes and kills him. When David gets the news, he is distraught.

David’s Reckoning
I wonder how David thought this story would end? He has clearly been holding out hope for this son – the hope of a good ending.

Absalom is a sort of prodigal child. Remember how Jesus told a story about the Prodigal Son? In Jesus’ story the child rebels, leaves in bitterness but then wakes up and comes home and there is reconciliation and rejoicing. If this was a “choose your own adventure” story, I think we would all vote for Jesus’ ending.

Maybe you can relate to David, holding out hope for what could be? For the child to come home, for the spouse to have a change of heart. Absalom’s death, even though it is a victory for David’s army, means the death of David’s hope to be reunited with his son. He is broken.

Absalom’s death causes not only “the reckoning” but also the “the rumbling” as Brene Brown calls it. David has to get real with how he has led his family and the nation. There’s a reality check that brings up blame, resentment, heartbreak, regret and forgiveness (this is what I heard in Armstrong’s interview—the rumbling and coming to terms with his decisions, his life and the course of his story).

We have all had situations where we had imagined the end of the story to be one way, and the way it ends up looks nothing like what we were hoping for. We are met with pain, anger, and despair. Those who rise strong are willing to get real with their stories and their pain. Spiritual questions are often at the center of our rumbling. Where is God in all this? Why did this happen to me or my family? Why did God let this happen? Doubts seep in…and we try to hide it. We isolate ourselves. It is exactly in these times that we need people, friends, and an authentic community where we can walk through it together.

What does truth or challenges does this story have for you and me today? The ones I come away with are from the prologue and epilogue of the story.

From the Prologue:
The part of the story we skipped over is that David and Absalom became estranged after Absalom killed his own brother. After the murder there was a two-year period where Absalom was in Jerusalem and wanted to meet with David, but David was unwilling to meet with him. This is just one of many tough conversations David avoided.

  • Don’t avoid the difficult conversations you need to have. David avoided the conversation/ confrontation, – so we will never know how it would have gone if he and Absalom had spoken before the war.
  • Make every effort to make peace today- before it’s too late. There is no guarantee of our days.

Now the Epilogue-(…Rumbling….how will this story end?)
Troops feel shame, cover their faces – mourn. In private, Joab comes to David and says, “do you love those who hate you and hate those who love you? Your actions give a clear message: officers and soldiers mean nothing to you. You know that if Absalom were alive right now, we’d all be dead—would that make you happy? Get hold of yourself; get out there and put some heart into your servants! I swear to GOD that if you don’t go to them they’ll desert you; not a soldier will be left here by nightfall. And that will be the worst thing that has happened yet.”

I said earlier that we all need friends and community to support us through tough times, but this is a reminder that we all need people who will speak truth to us.

Was David justified in his personal grief and mourning? Yes, BUT… he was the king and the commander of the army. 20,000 men had died for him…and his public grief shames them. This is a hard word, and a true word. So, David goes out and meets the army as their commander.

F. Scott Fitzgerald offered to edit Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises. Hemingway was told his first draft was unpublishable and Fitzgerald agreed, writing a detailed 10-page critique of the book’s “careless and ineffectual” aspects. He was particularly scathing about the opening chapter. To his credit, Hemingway took the advice, cutting the first 16 pages of the book and made major revisions elsewhere. The book was published.

Who have you invited into your life to speak truth?  Do you surround yourself with or even tolerate truth tellers?  Are you willing to speak truth to others, even to those in power?

In Closing
God’s big story has room for brokenness. We don’t have to hide the divorce, financial ruin, moral failures the estranged child, our agony and heartbreak. There is a lot of real estate in the Bible dedicated to David. He is just one in a long line of broken people who inconsistently followed God. There is space for David, there is space for you.

It’s OK to be real with the mess, the broken places. This is the reckoning, the rumbling and the revolution. It is a deeply spiritual journey of trusting God to take what is broken and to lead us toward rising again stronger. So what is the revolution? We haven’t made it to David’s yet…but the revolution for all of us is about writing a new ending to our story based on what we’ve learned from the rumble in our lives and to use this new, braver story to change how we engage with the world and to transform the way we live, love, parent, and lead. We are all invited to this journey of transformation.