Sunday, July 26, 2015

Hate Kills; Sermon for July 26, 2015, 2 Samuel 5:1-10

Rev. George Miller
July 26, 2015
2 Samuel 5:1-10

Every family is unique. Every family shares some similarities.

For example, Cain and Abel are not the only two brothers who never got along.

Isaac and Rebekah’s family were not the only ones to have secrets.

And the Israelites are but a long line of folk looking for something tangible they can believe in.

None of them were the only ones to sin or to miss the mark and to turn from God.

My own family shares similarities with others, yet is also unique.

For example, on my father’s side was Grandma Miller. She was a survivor, someone who had many surgeries and every kind of –ectomy you can imagine.

As a result, she was one of those people who was always old. White hair, comfortable housedress and a silver walker with tennis balls on the bottom, even when she was in her 50’s.

Unique perhaps, but I thought nothing of it, had no reason to know better.

On my mother’s side, there was mental illness- depression, personality disorder, schizophrenia.

I had an aunt who we stopped visiting when I was 9 because she was simply deemed too unstable for us to be around.

Unique, but again, I thought nothing of it, had no reason to know better.

On my Dad’s side we were English, Irish, French. My mother’s side is German and Hungarian, with family folklore saying that we may have also been part gypsy.

Now that, I will admit, felt unique. Perhaps it explained my restless spirit, love for bright colors and lively music.

I had the usual jobs many young people have: bagging groceries at the supermarket, working as a bus boy and waiter at a restaurant.

One job I had that I felt was unique was caring for youth living with developmental disabilities.

Loved that job.

It opened up my eyes. Each child had their own personality. They were each unique and 3-dimensional. Worthy of being loved and of loving in return.

Made me redefine what it means to live. Helped me to understand that every life is sacred and that intelligence can be measured in so many ways.

There was Micah who could unlock a door with just a penny. Ted who possessed a photographic memory and could recite entire commercials.

I spent almost a year with a youth named Johnny. He had welcoming eyes, a broad smile, loved to laugh and an interest in clowns.

He was also autistic and self-injurious, one of those children who wore a helmet because he would yell, punch his head and bang it against the wall.

It was not easy caring for Johnny the first few weeks. But trust developed, and with it some discoveries.

One was that bubble baths were calming for Johnny. I think the sensation of the water pressing down gave him a sense of safety. Not just that- music being played helped during bathtime, and not just any music- but a Nat King Cole CD.

With a tub full of bubbles and some “Orange Colored Sky” being sung Johnny could spend over an hour in the tub, smiling and safe, even to the point we could take the helmet off.

So, that’s how a part of my life was, caring for youth living with developmental disabilities. Just like in any school, there was the popular one, the introvert, the flirt, the nerd, the bully and the class clown.

They were unique, complete individuals, just like my grandma, just like my aunt, just like you, just like I.

In the Kingdom of God we are all God’s unique children, lovable and worthy of being loved, included and welcomed at the table.

Wonderful message, end of sermon. Let’s go home, right?

…Sorry to say, but no, because today we have a difficult scripture to study. A scripture about the beginning of God’s kingdom here on earth.

It all starts with David, the man who was once a shepherd boy, a descendant of the fractured family of Isaac and Rebekah.

David is approached by the elders of Israel to be their king, uniting both the north and the south. David says yes.

Jerusalem is to become their Washington D.C., the capital of the unified nation, as well as the Holy City of God.

But if you paid close attention to today’s reading, you’ll know that something does not sound right.

David, in leading the conquest of the city, tells his soldiers to attack the blind and the lame, the ones that he hates.

Why would David say such a thing? How is it possible that the beginning of God’s Kingdom on earth can start with an obvious hate crime, something that today we would categorize as a sin?

This is not an easy text; it is not a comfortable text. It is a reminder that our Bible has its own history of violent, scary texts of terror.

So let’s wrestle with it a bit.

In order for David to secure Jerusalem as the city to rule from, he has to conquer its inhabitants, the Jebusites.

In an act of boasting, the Jebusites tease David and his men. They say to him “You’re army is so weak that even our blind and lame can defeat you.”

It’s virtually a “My dad can beat up your dad” kind of taunt.

What happens when the delicate male ego is threatened? It puffs itself up.

“Oh yeah,” says David. “I’ll show you. My men are going to come in and kill the blind and lame, because I hate them anyway.”

There is no further indication that David meant the words he said, or that his men did as told…

…But in light of the Emanuel massacre and the Chattanooga deaths of the Marines, we cannot take words of hate lightly.

Words can kill; hate kills.

Hate has no limit, and those who are seen as different, less than or broken can often experience punishment, ostracism and death.

Those points were really driven home for me in 2002 when I visited the Holocaust Museum in St. Louis.

One exhibit to really affect me was about “Aktion T4” in which the Nazis murdered those who were living with physical and mental disabilities.

There was a photo of a disabled boy being taken out of a tub, and I realized he could have easily been Johnny, Micah or Ted.

Those wonderful, individual children I had worked with would have been the first killed in Nazi Germany. Same probably would have happened to my aunt, to my grandma.

Another exhibit showed the triangle patches given to the concentration camp prisoners to wear:

patches for those who were Jehovah Witnesses, patches for those who were Jewish, patches for those who were gypsies, patches for those who were gay.

I realized that I would have been given one, if not two patches. So would many people I knew.

Hate kills.

Therefore we cannot take David’s statement lightly. We cannot let this story off the hook. This becomes one of those scriptures we must face head on, we must wrestle with.

This is a story in which the holy habitation of God is begun with an act of hate speech, of how the city is conquered by a claim to crush the blind and the lame.

But thank God this is not the only story about God’s holy city in the scripture; thank God this story does not have the final say.

Because this is but one story, in one book, that makes up the entire Bible.

For as we begin to read the Bible in its entirety, we begin to find other stories that whittle away the hate and begin to speak about welcome and inclusion.

We get to see and learn how the story of God’s Kingdom here on earth does not end with David’s conquest.

Instead it stretches out and grows and becomes an expansive, hopeful vision of what God’s Kingdom actually looks like.

We catch the first glimmer just a few pages latter, when in chapter 9 King David takes in the handicapped son of his best friend and promises to take care of him forever.

Talk about personal transformation and grace in action.

Later, we encounter the words of the prophet Isaiah who speaks of a day in which the blind will be made to see and the lame will leap like deer.

And in the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 21 we encounter a new kind of king, who enters into Jerusalem not in conquest, but on a donkey.

A King who immediately goes into the Temple, and proceeds to welcome the lame and the blind, and the children who sing out “Hosanna!”

This King is, of course, Jesus Christ. Our Emmanuel- God is With Us.

Yes, the earthly kingdom of God began in a way that is filled with hate and raises the hair on my skin, but the true kingdom of God, the real kingdom of God, as expressed by the actions, stories and meals of Jesus Christ is one in which:

the lame, the blind, the children, the hated, the despised, the different, the prodigal, the “other” are all welcome and all offered to join in songs of celebration.

King David made have cold-heartedly spoken words of sinful hate, but in Jesus we have a king who speaks words of welcome and words of love.

In Jesus, Emmanuel, we are called into action, we are called into welcome, we are called into mission: to bring good news, to be good news and to share the good news.

Jerusalem, the earthly kingdom of God, may have begun with the threats of David, but God found a way to work through that sin, and to fix the fractures.

Because Jerusalem is not where the Kingdom of God ends.

I believe that in God’s true kingdom, we are all beloved children. No sickness, no physical handicap, no mental illness, no age, no character defect can keep us from the sight of God.

God’s Kingdom is big enough and wide enough to include all. Where everyone can gather, good food and good music can be enjoyed, old and young, abled and survivors co-exist.

It’s our task now to continue the promise of Emmanuel- God is With Us- and to find our own way to make the true Kingdom of God made known here, for all of Sebring to see.

We should have no doubt that as long as we act free of hate, as long as we are guided by the examples of Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit that this task is indeed possible.

Amen and amen.

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