“It’s Earlier than We Think”
June 28, 2015
II Samuel 1:1, 17-27
I still remember reading Hamlet in high school and coming to the
end of the play with all of its violence and death. It was a tragedy, and I
should have been expecting as much. But it seemed a portrait of devastation,
despair, and futility.
That is what we encounter in the lesson
from Second Samuel this morning.
We’ve started reading through First and
Second Samuel on recent Sundays. Last week we read the story of David and
Goliath in chapter 17 of First Samuel. This week we skip over fourteen chapters
and come to the opening of Second Samuel. Now, that seems like a large chunk of
scripture to avoid.
What’s going on?
The quick answer is that the ecumenical
committee that developed the Revised Common Lectionary nearly twenty-five years
ago chose to omit all those chapters in selecting readings for Sunday worship.
But you know, of course, that we are not bound by the lectionary and I could
have chosen any text from the end of First Samuel for the sermon this morning.
Indeed, I read through those fourteen chapters and found nothing that seemed
Here’s what you missed:
After killing Goliath—a story that, as I
suggested last week, is not really appropriate for children even though
childhood is the last time most of us heard or considered it—after killing
Goliath, David pledges himself to King Saul and binds himself in deep
friendship with Saul’s son, Jonathan. Saul quickly becomes jealous of David’s
fame, however, as the people sing: “Saul has killed his thousands, but David
his ten thousands.” In a burst of
anger he throws his spear at David—and the relationship goes downhill after
The ensuing chapters tell of Saul
seeking to take the life of David, of Saul’s anger toward his son because of
Jonathan’s friendship with David, of further battles with the Philistines, and
the deaths of Saul and Jonathan, with the Philistines, as scripture tells us,
carrying “the good news to the houses of their idols and to the people.
In short, we missed the devastation,
despair, and futility of war.
If you were here last Sunday you might
recall one of the children of the church, as I tried to talk with them about
David and Goliath, about the Israelites and the Philistines, asking: “Why were
they fighting in the first place?”
It is a question for which most of the
time we can’t give a very good answer.
We know the long history of warfare—as
well as its present reality—and we often don’t know why people were or are
fighting in the first place.
The story of David and Saul and Jonathan
doesn’t help us with answering that question.
And David’s lament only heightens the
sense of the devastation, despair, and futility of war.
There is a way beyond all of this. There
is a way beyond all the devastation, despair, and futility that we encounter in
life, in this world.
It is the way of forgiveness.
Listen to David’s lament alongside the
cry of Psalm 130 that we also read this morning:
Out of the
depths have I called to you, O Lord;
If you, Lord,
were to note what is done amiss,
O Lord, who
For there is
forgiveness with you;
shall be feared.
You know that the “fear or God” in the
Bible has more to with a sense of awe, a feeling of wonder than with being
frightened, and in the face of forgiveness—divine or human—we do stand in awe.
As individuals and as a nation, we are
still amazed by the most recent display of forgiveness.
Simmons, whose grandfather was killed at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal
Church, was in the Charleston courtroom for the bond hearing, but she was not
prepared to stand up and talk. Then she heard Nadine Collier, in what has been
called “a startling moment of anguish and grace,” speak to the man accused of
shooting nine church members. “I forgive you and have mercy on your soul,” said
Ms. Collier, whose mother, Ethel Lance, was one of the victims.
moment, Ms. Simmons said, her own path became clear, and she joined other
relatives of the dead in expressing both their pain and forgiveness to the man
charged with causing such despair. “We are here to combat hate-filled actions
with love-filled actions,” Ms. Simmons said. “And that is what we want to get
out to the world.”
there are moments of rage and heartbreak. And forgiveness is in no way
But as one
person said: “We have been taught forgiveness.” They are determined, as their
new movement puts it, that “Hate Won’t Win.”
Many of us who have also been “taught
forgiveness” listen and look in awe and wonder at such statements and actions.
But forgiveness is the only way through,
the only way beyond. As is so often the case, times when it is most difficult
to live out our Christian faith are just when it is most necessary that we do
so. And we can only give thanks when people find a way to do that. We can only
give thanks and follow.
So hear the honest and hope-filled words of
Desmond Tutu, the Anglican archbishop who knew firsthand the abuse and
oppression of apartheid in South Africa. He tells us: “To forgive is not just
to be altruistic. It is the best form of self-interest. It is also a process
that does not exclude hatred and anger. These emotions are all part of being
human. You should never hate yourself for hating others who do terrible things:
the depth of your love is shown by the extent of your anger.”
Hope begins to emerge when the
devastation, destruction, and futilty are met with forgiveness.
Hope begins to emerge when the devastation,
destruction, and futility of racial violence are met with forgiveness.
Hope begins to emerge when the
devastation, destruction, and futility of homophobia are met with forgiveness.
Hope begins to emerge from forgiveness.
Hope is the attitude that “It’s earlier
than we think,” to borrow the phrase that the 20th century computer
pioneer Vannever Bush coined when he was 77.
I like that. It’s earlier than we think.
There’s still time.
There is still time for the world to
exhibit more of God’s desire for life for all creation.
There is still time for our individual
lives to reflect something of the image of Christ.
There is still time for us to discover
an “open heart,” what President Obama on Friday, using the words of Marilynne
Robinson called, “that reservoir of goodness.”
In all the chaos and upheaval and
turmoil in our individual lives, in our national life, and in the lives of the
nations, hope is always a possibility for our lives.
When developing hope in our lives, we
begin in the present.
Hope asks the question: “What kind of
future are we building for ourselves?”[i] In
other words, hope is not about positive thinking or wishing hard that something
might happen. Hope asks about what we are doing.
In difficult times we ask a lot of
questions. I once read a list of what were called the “four worst best questions.” These questions
What are my
What are my
What are my
What are my
weaknesses and shortcomings?
Start by asking these questions, and
you’ll end with a bountiful harvest of despair, depression, and despondency.[ii]
When looking for a way through those
times and events that weigh you down, I invite you to start instead with your
strengths, with what you have, with your opportunities. In difficult times,
these are the things you most need to know. With them in mind you can ask the
question of hope: “Where am I headed?”
Hope has a destination, an end result
toward which we build.
What kind of future are you building?
What action can you take—today—to bring you closer to your desire?
What garden are you planting?
“Hope does not disappoint us,” Paul
writes. He doesn’t say: “Our hopes are not disappointed.” He knows, as you
know, that they can be and often are. Quite often, in the quest for peace, in
the search for equality, in the work toward justice we are disappointed.
Genuine hope, even if it is crushed, does not disappoint, however, because it
is grows from the conviction that we have what we need—that we are at all times
held in the love of God.[iii]
We are invited to live in hope—to live
with the conviction that there is a future to build; with the conviction that
we are going somewhere.
Hope begins in the present.
Hope sets our sights on the future.
When the present is filled with shadows,
we look into the distance.
Rabbi Edwin Friedman tells the story of
a man who had a rare form of cancer and needed surgery. The survival rate for
the surgery was twenty percent. The patient said that he wanted to be part of
the twenty percent. He proceeded with the surgery without prior consultation
with family or friends. He was back at work in a month.
Friedman asked the man if he had ever
heard about the USS Cruiser Indianapolis.
He hadn’t. Maybe you have. After delivering the atom bomb, the cruiser sank in
the Pacific. Suddenly struck by enemy fire, the ship went under, sending 800
sailors into the ocean. Before long, sharks encircled them. Every so often a
sailor would swim toward the sharks and give himself up.
How, Friedman asked, could the man
explain why some survived. “Those guys who swam away,” the man replied, “They
didn’t have a future.”[iv]
When the waves and the sharks are
fierce, hope gives us a horizon on which to set our sights. When we seem to have
nothing at all, hope gives us the future with its limitless possibilities and
opportunities. Hope is the bird, the saying goes, hope is the bird that feels
the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.
Hope sets our sights on the future.
Hope reminds us of the power beyond
Arlo Guthrie talked about this in Studs
Terkel’s book, Hope Dies Last. The
gray sixties icon said: “The older I get, the more I realize that most of the
people I know are already dead. My dad, my mom, my grandparents, my
great-grandparents, even some siblings are gone now. And most of my friends.
“My great hope,” Guthrie says, “is that this isn’t it.”
“When we live life at our best, we are
Easter people. We know our hope is not only in what we are building or what the
future might bring. Our hope is in God.”
Because we have this hope, all the great and noble
things that we would dare to do are worth doing. What we do today and in this
life—showing compassion, acting with courage in the face of fear—what we do
today and in this life matters and matters eternally. Resurrection tells us
that what we do to the glory of God is important both now and into the future.
When hope arises in the midst of tragedy, there we see
what is truly an act of God.
There are times, such as last Friday
when the Supreme Court affirmed the right to marry to all people—a right we
have been exercising and supporting for years in this place—there are times
when hope is fulfilled, when our work is vindicated.
We need times like that. We rejoice in times
But even when such occasions seem few
and far between, we can choose to be people of hope and continue to build the
future that we want—a future of love and respect, a future that seeks to make
God’s love real in the world, a future of abundance and generosity, a future of
joy. We can gather up our strengths, our resources, and our opportunities and
move toward the future God desires for us.
It’s earlier than we think.
We can still build lives of hope.
And hope does not disappoint.