Thursday, June 24, 2021

Song of the Bow...

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

1After the death of Saul, when David had returned from defeating the Amalekites, David remained two days in Ziklag.

17David intoned this lamentation over Saul and his son Jonathan. 18(He ordered that The Song of the Bow be taught to the people of Judah; it is written in the Book of Jashar.) He said: 19Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen! 20Tell it not in Gath, proclaim it not in the streets of Ashkelon; or the daughters of the Philistines will rejoice, the daughters of the uncircumcised will exult. 21You mountains of Gilboa, let there be no dew or rain upon you, nor bounteous fields! For there the shield of the mighty was defiled, the shield of Saul, anointed with oil no more.22From the blood of the slain, from the fat of the mighty, the bow of Jonathan did not turn back, nor the sword of Saul return empty. 23Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely! In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. 24O daughters of Israel, weep over Saul, who clothed you with crimson, in luxury, who put ornaments of gold on your apparel. 25How the mighty have fallen in the midst of the battle! Jonathan lies slain upon your high places. 26I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women. 27How the mighty have fallen, and the weapons of war perished!


“How the mighty have fallen…” How many times have we heard this quoted, usually without realizing from whence it came—the Hebrew Bible. Oh, there may be more of this “Song of the Bow” than we have recorded here in Second Samuel, as the text tells us it was to be included in the Book of Jasher, one of the non-canonical books of Hebrew lore, but what we DO have here is pretty impressive.


“How the mighty have fallen” is often used to describe high-flying politicians who fall from grace, either due to scandal, prosecution, or a surprising loss at the ballot box. It may be applied to an egotistical athlete who has the world by the tail, only to have his or her over-inflated self-valuing punctured like a party balloon by a streak of lousy performances or after being cut by a team for ineffectiveness. TV evangelists and other high-profile clergy are not exempt from being included in the “mighty” who have stumbled, usually after some moral failure, being it a tryst or a trust-breaking dip into the till. 


But did you know this lamenting line is from David’s “Song of the Bow”? David’s lament is “sung” after Saul and Jonathan are both gone, felled in the sorrow and senselessness of battle. David has lost a king and a BFF (Best Friend Forever, for those of you about as savvy with “texting” shorthand as I). His sadness is documented for the ages, possibly with the hope that others will learn from it, and put “the bow” down before more get hurt. “The bow” here stands in for all weapons of war—past, present, and future—and more probably for war, itself.


Jesus would espouse another proverb: “He who lives by the sword will die by the sword” that has a similar warning. Violence rarely solves anything. In fact, in our day of gross polarization—domestic and global—an act of violence carried out to “stop” the actions of a faction will most assuredly just rile that person/group/party up and result in an equal (or not so equal) “reaction,” most likely resulting in more hurt, pain, and even death. Terrorism, for example, is the reaction of “under-armed” people to violent attempts to control by those either IN power, or who have more powerful “bows.” 


In the “Song of the Bow,” the author pays tribute to the fallen: In life and in death they were not divided; they were swifter than eagles, they were stronger than lions. In these words designed to bring valor to violence, David is possibly guilty of giving what we would call a “Memorial Day” speech. Each Memorial Day in America, we pay tribute to those who died in service to their country—in battle. The words used are just as lofty as David’s—every one was a hero, “swifter than eagles…stronger than lions.” It seems we have to redeem violent death by pronouncing its victims as larger-than-life, self-sacrificing. Why can’t we just honestly admit most who die in battle were scared, rushed into a battle with a predictably bad outcome, and most always much younger than we imagine. They are no less to be recognized and remembered, even if the truth be told about their unplanned, undesired, yet probably not unanticipated demise when the bullets began to fly. Each year we offer our own “Song of the Bow” for them, don’t we?


If we believe God is a God of love, if we believe that “For God so LOVED the world that God gave God’s only son,” then it becomes less and less “Christian” or God-fearing to glorify violence, or believe it is the shortest distance to conflict resolution. Obliterating an enemy just eliminates that particular enemy, and infuriates a new class of enemy who, in good order, will take the place of the one violently taken out. However, putting aside “the bow,” and engaging in dialogue and negotiation has a chance to solve the conflict and create a successful “pattern” to use in approaching future ones which may erupt. Remember that the line from the 23rd Psalm—“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies” means that God desires we invite our present enemies TO THE TABLE. We, like other creatures, are most vulnerable when we are eating, and when we share a meal with our enemies, there is an excellent chance to “bury the hatchet,” as some may say. Sounds a lot like putting down the bow, to me.


One of my favorite movies is “The Untouchables,” starring Kevin Costner and Sean Connery. Connery plays an Irish Chicago beat cop who joins Elliot Ness’s band of liquor-fighters during Prohibition. He is brutally murdered by the evil Frank Nitty during the movie, as is another member of Ness’s team. As Kostner-as-Ness sits for the last time at his desk, looking over old photos of his decimated team and recalling the “war” over booze, he muses, “So much violence…” Unfortunately, almost every day, we can look over the news from around our own nation, recalling the daily shootings, and are left with the same assessment: “So much violence.” 


When are we going to learn the lesson David intended in “The Song of the Bow”? Or we can just continue to “tsk-tsk” over the bloodshed, thinking it inevitable, or worse, that it will somehow lead to an end to conflict.


Jesus was right—the one who lives by the sword will die by the sword, and just may take the whole nation with them. 


Oh, and remember that Book of Jasher in which David chose to immortalize his “Song of the Bow” lament? Its Hebrew name is best translated “The Book of the Just Man.” In our constant cry for justice, may we heed the warnings of “The Song of the Bow.” 

Friday, June 18, 2021

An Acceptable Time...

Welcome to my updated BLOG I'm calling P.R.O.D. for Post Retirement Observations and Delusions. You never know what you may find here, but I AM hoping to write and post regular sermons, for your edification, and to prompt my continued ability to write them! This sermon is called, "An Acceptable Time."

II Corinthians 6:1-13

As we work together with God, we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain. For God says,

"At an acceptable time I have listened to you, and on a day of salvation I have helped you."

See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation! We are putting no obstacle in anyone's way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as imposters, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see--we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything.

We have spoken frankly to you Corinthians; our heart is wide open to you. There is no restriction in our affections, but only in yours. In return--I speak as to children--open wide your hearts also.

What was Paul thinking about when he talked about the "acceptable time"? Was he mirroring the divine voice from the Hebrew Bible? Was he being dramatic like we preachers tend to at least try to do to catch our listener's attention? Or was Paul suggesting that we humans have a tendency to wait, wait, wait for some "ideal" moment to enact the important decisions and/or actions in our lives, often missing the opportunity? I think this is where he was coming from, honestly.

As one who is formally entering retirement on July 1, I can say that I'm a bit concerned with what is happening in the stock market right now. This week it has taken a serious tumble over the threat of inflation. Other than a few shares of stock I bought just to support a couple of companies that did the right and just thing at an "acceptable time," I've not had serious money to invest in the market, so why should I care? Well, like so many of you, my pension funds are invested in the market, and while our excellent Wespath pension people have moved most of my funds into a more "safe harbor" of fixed income investments, still, if the market drops precipitously like it has this week, it will affect the major fund that will be annuitized to form part of my income in retirement. Large market drops could make a difference of $100 a month, or so, in income, and as they say, "That ain't chicken feed." So am I retiring at a bad time? Is this not the acceptable time to take the plunge? For me, faith has had to step in and answer, "YES, it's the right time!" Once one gets trapped into that waiting game or "gamble" that there will be a better time, the wagers can be both addictive and endless. Think of some of the ones people have taken on that turned out to be less than affirming:

"We're not having children now, because we don't think we can afford it."

"I'm not going to college right now because I'm burned out on school, and I need some 'down' time."

"We aren't getting married right now because we don't think we know each other enough, so we're waiting for us to be sure."

"I'm not getting the COVID vaccine because it was created too fast, and I'm going to wait until the right time when they can prove to me it's safe."

You can probably think of many of your own, and may even have a few regrettable waits of your own!

For people of faith, such major decisions are best done with much prayer and reflection. However, once a direction is discerned, and a vector is chosen, it's time to step out on faith. My experience is that God is a loving "catcher" as surely as God is a proactive "pusher." But I will never know either if I just put out the anchor and refuse to move.

I have a female clergy colleague who felt that her heart and her Lord willed that she become a mom and raise a couple of children. As her "biological clock" was nearing midnight, and no promising "traditional" relationship was in the offing, she used medical/artificial means to become pregnant. Twice. The result has been two wonderful and precious children who have been loved by a mom with a heart the size of Montana, and by a handful of congregations. She has also had the support of close friends and colleagues. This journey into the "acceptable time" hasn't been without its challenges, about which she is honestly and inspirationally transparent. Life is not easy for a single mom of two growing children, with their needs and activities. And a clergy mom has an hellacious schedule, makes less money than a guy on a bread route, and has only one income to support her family. If that isn't enough, recently she was chastised by a fellow pastor who told her how it was not God's will for single-parent families to exist. Still, if you were to ask her if she made the right decision at the acceptable time, I believe you would hear a resounding "YES!" 

Hall of Fame hockey great Wayne Gretzky is credited with saying, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." 

When the Apostle Paul said today was the acceptable time for salvation, he was challenging the people of Corinth to not wait to become a Christ follower. Even after detailing the kinds of persecution and hardships he and other Christ followers have had to endure for the sake of the Good News, he still wouldn't have it any other way, and urges them to "open their hearts." So many people believe that waiting for the "opportune" time to take the leap of faith, whether it is in Jesus, or making an important decision about something life is presenting, is wise. In fact, it could be more like sitting on a ticking time bomb. Paul says today is the day of salvation--don't put God off!

This message is not designed to cause us to act foolishly and call it faith. It is designed to challenge us to take important steps in faith so as to not foolishly miss the direction in which God is trying to lead us.

Open your hearts wide, dear friends. Pray, reflect, and act on faith, for today is the acceptable time for all kinds of salvation, for you, me, and the world. 

What's Next?

  What’s Next?   2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19 6:1 David again gathered all the chosen men of Israel, thirty thousand. 6:2 David and all the people...