2 Samuel 5:1-5, 12b-19
The world watched with anticipation as the Berlin Wall was dismantled, signifying the unification of a German people divided by political differences. It was an event that had global implications—a moment that would be remembered by its promises and challenges. Two governments, economies, and educational systems had to be integrated into one functioning society. If the merger was to be successful, it was essential to find an effective and widely accepted leader: a world changer.
Through a series of events, David—who had been king of Judah for seven years—was anointed king of Israel. For thirty-three years David led a united people who had once been divided. King David’s rise to leadership was inevitable but not because of his political prowess. Rather, he had a variety of interests and accomplishments: celebrated athlete (1 Sam. 17:34) , accomplished musician (1 Sam. 16:14) , prolific writer, composer, and poet.
God is calling men and women today to change our world by unifying the loyalties and purposes of humanity for a sacred commitment. Three essential qualities of David’s life emerge from this text as criteria for those who would be world changers.
I. David’s Sacred Devotion Was Affirmed by a Secular Declaration
David was recognized by the leaders of the tribes of Israel as qualified for the task of uniting the kingdom. They shared a “kinship.” The leaders declared “we are your bone and flesh.” That statement seems to state a quality preferred even to the more generally authoritative covenantal relationship formula for the selection of leadership. World changers are local, home folk committed to Yahweh’s mission.
David’s leadership credentials were another important factor. Even when Saul was king, David was the driving force, the respected leader, a hidden messiah.
David’s churchmanship proved to be important. The Lord had summoned David to feed the people. This idea of David becoming the “ruler over Israel,” or the crown prince is an interesting development. Here, the secular designation of a king took on theological application.
Contemporary Christianity sometimes seeks to place Christians in the political arena. God chose a committed and proven secular leader to become theologian. Indeed, our religious grammar should be corrected theologically. Effective churchmen are not so much Christian physicians or Christian attorneys but physician Christians and attorney Christians.
II. David Maintained a Spiritual Conviction Which Prevailed Over Social Conscience
Verses 6-12 describe an attempt to persuade David to gain cultural approval through actions that contradicted the will of God. David, however, had a non-negotiable spiritual conviction. David faced the roar of the insensitive with the conviction that he was not alone with his spiritual convictions.
III. David’s Meaningful Spirituality Resulted in a Memorable Personality
Like David, those who desire to make a lasting impact with their lives will notice the order of his two leadership priorities. David maintained an inward reflection. As he centralized the government in Jerusalem David “built the city all around from the Millo inward” (v. 9). He moved toward the temple first.
Next, David experienced an outward expansion: “and David became greater and greater” (v. 10). The scene in verses 12-19 illustrates those priorities. When confronted by opposition David sought God’s will. He turned inward to the voice of God, which turned him outward to victory over the Philistines.
A lasting impression can be made on the world by those who will develop an appropriate personal spirituality consistent with God’s summons. David understood God’s unique plan for his life and he walked closely with God. God has called you to be a world changer, too. Will you also walk with God? (Barry J. Beames)
Power in Our Weakness
2 Corinthians 12:1-10
Our society doesn’t have a lot of interest in weakness. We pay to see strength, not weakness. We like to be with winners, not losers. Sometimes, however, what appears to be strength isn’t all it seems. And what looks like weakness at first glance may actually be something altogether different.
The Corinthian people were not asking anything that had not been asked before. They simply wanted proof that God was really with them—to see signs and hear about miracles and revelations, things to prove that God was really strong and powerful, really present with them.
Paul had tried to dissuade them from this inclination earlier in his letter (see 10:18). But by this point in the letter, Paul seems resigned to the necessity of revealing his own “credentials” as a person who has experienced revelations from God. Reluctant as he is to do so, he goes ahead anyway. What follows is a third-person account of his own ecstatic experience of being called by God.
I. Thorns Are Present in Every Life
But then a curious thing happens. In the middle of his litany outlining his own personal strengths and credentials, Paul stops suddenly and changes his course entirely: “to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh . . .” (v. 7). We don’t know what that thorn was, but whatever it was, it tormented Paul without end. Repeated prayers give us a sense of his desperation in trying to contend with it (v. 8).
I have vivid memories of picking blackberries as a child near my grandparents ranch. There is no way to remember the feelings of delight that came with filling a bucket with those wonderfully plump, juicy, purplish-black berries without also remembering the constant aggravation of thorns grabbing and snagging and scraping and pricking as we picked those luscious berries. We developed a formula for determining the ratio of berries to thorns in a blackberry patch: lots of berries, lots of thorns; a few berries, lots of thorns; no berries at all, lots of thorns!
II. God Touches Us at the Point of Our Weakness
One doesn’t need the experience of picking blackberries to know about the persistent presence of thorns in life, whether physical, emotional, or spiritual—jabbing at our lives, punctuating our happiness, abbreviating our joy.
Yet we are not alone in the suffering. The word of God to Paul during his struggle was, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” By the end of this text, Paul’s letter has taken a strange turn, and he has begun to boast of his weaknesses rather than his strengths, “for whenever I am weak, then I am strong.”
Fred Craddock once observed that it is the nature of grace that it can only enter empty spaces. That is to say, God’s power comes to us not when we’re full and happy and everything’s going our way, but when we’re bereft, when the dipstick has come up dry, when we have nothing else to go on. When we are weak then, by grace, we are strong. (Paul R. Escamilla)
The Sacrament of Failure
Jesus was a failure. At least in this instance that is the conclusion we draw if we take this passage from Mark seriously.
Jesus went to his hometown, the town where people knew him, and they said of him, “Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon . . . ?” They were not impressed. Thomas Wolfe said we can’t go home again. Well, we can, but there is always someone there who knew us when we were growing up—and who is not impressed, or worse.
Jesus went home and taught in the synagogue, and those who heard him were offended. So Jesus gave us the line that has ever since been applied to those who go back home and find the hometown folks unimpressed: “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown.”
It is a curious text. It follows a series of mighty acts: calming the storm, healing the Gerasene demoniac, healing a woman with a hemorrhage, restoring a little girl to life. Then Jesus went home, and no one was impressed.
How did Jesus respond to this failure, this rejection by those who knew him so well? He sent his disciples to teach and heal, and he told them what to do if they ever went to a place that would not receive them: “as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet.” In other words, do not let the failure continue to cling to your heels. Go on with life, with the next challenge. Leave Nazareth and go to Capernaum.
It has been called the Sacrament of Failure, this shaking of the dust from one’s feet. It is an appropriate text for much of our life, but it is an especially appropriate text for celebrating the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper—truly a Sacrament of Failure. After all, it was on the night of his betrayal that Jesus instituted this meal—the night before the failure of crucifixion.
This world of ours does not honor failure. It does not praise weakness nor reward defeat. Yet in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper we proclaim our faith, that it was out of the failure of betrayal, arrest, and crucifixion that God brought victory. It was out of the weakness of self-sacrifice that God brought salvation. It was out of the failure of death that God brought life.
Our world loves success stories. Yet most of us know, at some time in our lives, what it means to fail, to lose, to be weak. For that reason we can take heart in this sacrament. It is the sacrament that makes it possible for us to shake from our feet the dust of failure and move on toward life’s next challenge. It is the sacrament that makes it possible for us to look to the new beginning, the new possibility, the saving promise.
Come, then, to the table. Receive the sacrament. If you know or have known any failure in your life, let this sacrament be for you the moment of a new beginning. For we are people who are nourished by the heavenly food of one who looked beyond the disappointment of failure to the hope of new beginnings. Thus we are not immobilized by failure but energized by possibility. We are people for whom the promises of beginnings are stronger than the fears of endings.
So whatever the failure—of morality, of relationships, of purpose, of commitment, of hope, of vision, of intent—shake off the dust from your feet and go out into a new future. You will find beside you the Lord who gave the advice in the first place! (J. Lawrence McCleskey)