The so-called “last words of David” are curiously placed. For one thing, there is quite a bit more action involving David in the balance of even 2 Samuel. But there will be more words and more narrative to come in also the opening portion of 1 Kings. It’s as though the author and editor of this part of the Bible carved David’s epitaph into granite while there was still a bit more of the story to unfold. But that bit of misplaced text need not detain us.
The text is striking enough on its own! If David really did speak these words, you can’t help but notice that they are a tad on the self-referential, self-aggrandizing side of the spectrum. In essence David says, “God spoke through me and said, ‘David, you’ve done a really good job!’ And I agree. My house is in order. God is on my side forever. Everything I want, I will get. And to those rotten folks who have never liked me and who are God’s enemies: to you I say: So long! You are destined for destruction!”
I like Psalm 23 better.
In the Revised Common Lectionary, this Christ the King / Reign of Christ text is paired with that snippet from John 18 that shows Jesus before Pilate discussing how or whether Jesus is really a king. There Jesus makes it clear that yes, he is a king, but not the kind of king someone like Pilate would ever need to worry about. Jesus is not here to bring politics as usual, to defend himself with violence, or do anything else that would smack of this world’s way of doing things when it comes to kingdoms and power. So if Jesus is David’s ultimate heir (as Christians believe he is), then he is clearly going to be a king of a different nature than even David had been.
But there is one very lyric portion of these seven verses in 2 Samuel 23 that do tie in with both David’s observations and the nature of Jesus’ Kingdom. “When one rules over people with righteousness . . . he is like the light of morning at sunrise on a cloudless morning, like the brightness after rain that brings the grass from the earth.”
Now that’s poetic! And somehow it evokes in our hearts precisely what we so often pine for in this world but so seldom get. So much of this world—and so much of the kingdoms of this world and the people who run them—are like a long dark night or an overcast day filled with storms and dismal showers. So much of the time we can do little more than hunker down and hope the long night will pass, hope the storms will pass over, hope that we will survive somehow in a world where too often it seems that the little people, the marginalized and the poor and the powerless are overlooked if not actively shunted aside.
But then perhaps King Jesus finds us and scoops us by grace into his divine embrace. He brings us into his kingdom and suddenly it’s as though the sun has come up over the eastern horizon, signaling that the long and dark night has fled away at last. It’s as though the rains that seemed so threatening have blown away and what is left is a world cleansed, restored, and newly verdant.
We come to ourselves, we blink our eyes against the brightness of the dawn, and we’re like Adam and Eve coming alive to a world of splendors and wonders that go beyond anything they could ever imagine. We’re like children let loose Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory where everything is edible and delicious. We’re like Dorothy landing in Oz and opening her front door to move from a sepia-toned world into a Technicolor world so vivid as to take one’s breath away. We are like the children and the animals in C.S. Lewis’s “The Chronicles of Narnia” taken to the New Narnia where every blade of grass seemed to mean more than it ever had in the old world that had passed away.
We look around us and realize that things can be different than they’ve always been. There can be a King who cares for all and his Kingdom really can come in surprising ways that are not dependent on the old ways of doing business.
Maybe David was a bit self-aggrandizing in this final “oracle” of his. And maybe someone else wrote it for him. But one thing we know for sure: the ultimate King of whom he spoke really would one day be like the rising sun on a cloudless dawn and the brightness that comes after a hard rain, revealing a creation where all things are new.
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In his deeply moving book Open Secrets, Richard Lischer tells of his first three years as a pastor in a small rural town in southern Illinois, near the Missouri border. Fresh out of school, he had been in his new congregation only a week when the phone rang at 3am. It was Ed Franco saying his wife, Doral, was at St. Joe’s hospital with a ruptured gall bladder. Surgery was imminent and things were shaky. “We need you here, if you can,” he said. So Pastor Lischer jumped into the car and took off. He found them in an alcove just off a main corridor of the hospital, flanked by a dingy curtain and a red fire extinguisher on the wall. Ed was nervously patting his wife’s sweat-pasted arm. The Francos were a childless, middle-aged couple who never missed church but whom Pastor Lischer had not yet gotten to know.
As he approached the gurney on which Doral was lying, Ed and Doral looked expectantly at him. It was then Lischer realized he’d forgotten his prayer book, his Bible, and anything else that might help him figure out what he was supposed to say in this situation. Doral was, he says, the most frightened person he’d ever seen, and she was looking right at her pastor! It was very quiet in the alcove, until Pastor Lischer croaked out the only thing he could think of: a scrap of a traditional litany. “The Lord be with you,” he said. “And also with you,” Ed and Doral replied in unison, as though they had been waiting for just this opening. “Lift up your hearts,” Lischer intoned. “We lift them to the Lord,” the Francos shot back. And suddenly, Lischer writes, the Lord himself was in that alcove. He was the Lord of the alcove in that sacred moment and suddenly much that had been disheveled and fevered and sweaty was recomposed. They said a brief prayer together and Doral was soon wheeled away into the O.R., calmer and somehow now ready for surgery.
When you are citizens of God’s kingdom, things like that happen now and again no matter where you go in the world–even dimly lit hospital alcoves. As members of the kingdom, we know a Lord and so have a power and a joy and a comfort the world will never know on its own.
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Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 21, 2021
2 Samuel 23:1-7 Commentary