final words

Last week we came to the end of David’s story. It’s been fun to live with David for several weeks, getting to know this inspiring, flawed, interesting man. We move on to Ephesians next week, and I think I’m going to miss David. Anyway, last week we spent some time with his final words from 2 Samuel 23:1-5. Audio is below and text is after the jump.

We’ve travelled a long road with David these last six weeks. Today we come to his final words. He’s an old man, looking back his life with God. These words aren’t literally his last words. He goes on to say some other stuff. But these are his last words in the sense of being his final statement—his summary of who he is, whose he is, and where his hope rests. Listen:

***

Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?

(2 Samuel 23:1-5, NRSV)

***

Huh. Awfully fancy words from a man who just last week was impaling people on a mountain.

Hearing this and knowing what we know about David, we might be tempted to roll our eyes. But I don’t think David is trying to cover up who he is and what he’s done. I think here he’s trying to really boil it down and set aside both the good he’s done and the bad, and get at what it’s really all about.

It starts with all that high-falutin’ language about being a man raised high, anointed, favored, which sounds pretty arrogant.

But look closer. He starts by remembering that he’s Jesse’s son. To his dying day, he’s the eighth son of a rural farmer. David never really leaves behind those humble origins.

And then, all that stuff about being raised high, anointed, favored, did you notice it’s all passive voice? None of this is about stuff he’s done.

It is all, every bit of it, about what God has done. God raised him up. God anointed him. God looked on him with favor.

As David looks back on his life, all that’s happened and the heights to which he’s ascended, David claims credit for none of it. Who is he? When all is said and done? He is God’s. He is what God has done with him. Nothing more and nothing less.

Do we have that kind of clarity about who we are? Deeply? Fundamentally? Because there are lots of other options for how we identify ourselves.

It is really natural to assume that we are what we do or have done. We are how much we earn, or how many hours we work, or how many nice things we do, how many people we help, how many friends we have, or how well people think of us. It is easy in our culture to imagine that these things define us. We are led to believe that we are what we make of ourselves, that we are self-made men and women, that what we construct is our own, and we deserve the credit or the blame for who we are.

But David confesses the opposite. David is the mightiest king Israel will ever know. He was fierce, and a hard worker. He was a musician, and a poet, a warrior, and a ruler. But in the end, he confesses, this is not my doing, but God’s. I am a child of God. Nothing less. Nothing more. That’s David’s final word on who he is.

It is only after David has established who he is and whose he is, that he moves into what he has done. What we do, day by day, and over the course of our lives, matters, but it is secondary, not primary.

David’s work was to be king. God doesn’t seem to call many of us to be kings anymore.

But God does call us. As God is bringing about God’s kingdom in this world, it is an all hands on deck affair. God needs all of us—bankers and lawyers, lobbyists and therapists, accountants, repairmen, engineers, secretaries, administrators, teachers, mothers, fathers, store clerks, musicians, caretakers, students. God calls us to all manner of work, some paid, some not, some glorified, much not. We work because God calls us to.

God claims our whole lives, not just the “spiritual” parts.

As David looks back over his life, he doesn’t divide it into the parts that were for God and the parts that weren’t. He didn’t live as if parts of his life were spiritual, and other parts weren’t. It was all for God. All of it.

And he looks back and marvels at how God has used his work. When he’s lived “rightly” and “in the fear of God,” it’s like the light of sunrise on a morning with no clouds, like the bright gleam on grass after it’s rained. My word, what an image.

Could our lives be like that? Could our work—our everyday rounds, our tasks and chores, could they be like the light of sunrise on a clear morning? Like the crystal clear gleaming world fresh from the rain?

Do we aspire to that kind of beauty in our daily lives?

David obviously messed up a lot. He muddied those crystal clear waters at times. And so will we. But even so, when we do manage to go about our business with kindness and justice, in humility before God, then our humdrum everyday work can glimmer and gleam with God’s glory. Maybe we’ll only see it in hindsight, like David did, but it’s real nonetheless.

Finally, after reflecting on who he is, and what he’s done, David gives his reason for hope. He has hope because of the eternal covenant God has made with him. In a narrow sense, this is the covenant God made to preserve David’s dynasty. But I think we’re missing the point if we read this that narrowly. God’s covenant with David is a piece of God’s everlasting covenant with all humanity, even with us.

Our first symbol of God’s covenant is the rainbow, and we have an elegant reminder of that symbol above our heads. The rainbow is a sign of God’s unilateral promise to be faithful. God chooses to love us. This is the covenant God makes with us.

As Christians, the cross is another profound reminder of this covenant. God is faithful to us, even in the midst of pain and brokenness and death. No matter what darkness we face, no matter if we find ourselves in a hell of our own making, or lost in a sea of heartbreak, God goes with us, walks with us, and finally, out of the darkest darkness, brings us out into the light. This is God’s promise—to be faithful, come what may.

And, the best news, is that this doesn’t rest on us either. God’s covenant with us is fundamentally unilateral. God loves us, period. Not because we’re good, or we earn it, or because we love God back. God will be faithful to us and to this world, no matter what, even if we’re not faithful, even if we forget, even if we walk away, no matter what, God has covenanted with us to be faithful.

This, in the end, is David’s final word. It is where his hope rests. It is the heart of the matter.

I am sure his mistakes still haunt him. His messy story still stands, as messy as ever.

But in the end, the only things that endure are those things that are of God. Everything else, St. Paul tells us, is passing away.

And so, in the end, this is David’s testimony: he is a child of God. He is who God has made him. His work is what God has done through him. There has been beauty in it. And his hope, his foundation, his beginning and end is God’s eternal covenant of faithfulness.

This is David’s story. It can be ours too. It can be yours. You do not have to be perfect to claim this story. You do not have to have it all together, or have never made a mistake. You don’t even have to be religious or have much faith.

If David, with his messy, messy story can claim this, then so can every last one of us. We are children of God. We are who God makes us to be. Our lives—our whole lives—are God’s. And our hope, our everlasting hope, rests on God’s promise to be faithful. Friends, this is the good news. May we trust it.

by Sarah W. Wiles
July 29, 2012
Bethany Presbyterian Church
Tacoma, WA
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