This Sunday's Sermon
Message for Sunday, June 20th...
THE HEART OF GOD’S MAN
1 Samuel 16: 1 - 13
You had to know my dad to appreciate his humor. I recall the time when he was honored by the Thurmont Jaycees as Young Man of the Year. When I – a little boy – asked how it was that he came to win the award, he simply smiled and told me that the finalists had to get down and engage in a contest to determine who could do the most push-ups; and that he did more than everyone else. Well! Of course I believed him. He was my dad, after all – the big, strong man in my life! It wasn’t until sometime later that I figured it out. The "Young-Man-of-the-Year” honor was given as an acknowledgement of his devotion to community service. He wasn’t going to tell me the truth because it would have come off sounding like a boast. Humor was he way of disarming what would otherwise have been an awkward and uncomfortable conversation.
It was not a joke, however, when – in the year 2010 – my dad was given by his doctor a grim diagnosis of a late stage sickness. Yet those last weeks of his earth-bound life did, in fact, inspire the very best in him. All those years of concern for the wider-community was returned by the wider-community expressing concern for him. Never in my experience had he been so open and direct in expressing his deep affection to comrades in the fire department, to the former Boy Scouts he helped to guide, to his in-laws and siblings, to neighbors, his friends from church and, of course, to those of us who called him dad, pappy, and husband. It was, for me, an object lesson on the way of male strength revealed in the Way of caring and commitment, integrity and faithfulness.
Dads are destiny. It’s by way of a father’s role modeling and guidance that a boy learns how to handle – for better or for worse – the powerful feelings within of anger, frustration, and hunger for independence. Statistics bear out the reality that young girls, too, benefit immeasurably from fathers (or father figures) who love, support, and affirm them for who they truly are. By way of a positive relationship with dad, daughters develop more finely tuned intuitions into what it is that makes for a healthy male relationship, while young men learn from the example of good fathering how better to honor, respect, and nurture the women in their life.
We’d like to think that God’s man is particularly well suited for the role of effective fatherhood; and, indeed, we’d be right in thinking it. God’s man brings strength and character into a child’s life; yet God’s man is likewise aware of his imperfections. How do I know that? I know that by looking to the guy who’s been described in the Bible as "A man after God’s own heart.”
When the LORD God sent the great prophet and priest, Samuel, to pick out a new ruler to replace disobedient ol’ King Saul, God wasn’t interested in the things that impress most people. As Jesse’s sons were paraded before Samuel, it became evident that strikingly good looks and muscular physique didn’t matter. "Men and women look to outward appearance,” said the Creator of the Universe, "but I look at the heart.” And wouldn’t you know it but that the ‘baby’ of the family – that skinny shepherd boy who played harp in his spare time – was the one selected by the Most High God to become leader over Israel.
As young David’s story unfolds, we learn a few things on what it means to be God’s man. We learn that self-examination is essential; that forgiveness is power; and that faith in God is what makes for strength from weakness.
As for self-examination and forgiveness, the story on King David was NOT written according to the American school of political spin. NO attempt is made in the Bible to hide David’s flaws and weaknesses. It was bad enough that he fooled around with Bathsheba – getting her pregnant – while the husband was off fighting in David’s war; yet David’s sin was compounded several-fold when David plotted to have the jilted husband killed in the heat of combat. Then, too, he refused to discipline his children when discipline was so badly needed; thus leading his third-born son, Absalom, down the road toward rebellion-against-dad that led to grief in the family and, ultimately, to Absalom’s his own destruction.
It’s evident, then, that David had good reasons to confess his sins before God and all God’s people. And confess them he did, in a very public way. He lays it all out where everyone can hear him. Bible tradition tells us that he wrote it down in a prayer that we know as Psalm 51. Listen to a few excerpts: Have mercy on me, God, because of your unfailing love. Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins. Wash me clean from my guilt… I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night… I have done what is evil in your sight… I was born a sinner— yes, from the moment my mother conceived me. But you desire honesty from the womb, teaching me wisdom even there. Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves; then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.”
God’s man can therefore admit before God and humanity when he’s been in the wrong. God’s man asks forgiveness of God. God’s man asks forgiveness of his spouse and children, friends and neighbors when giving in to spiteful language, hurtful impatience, misguided priorities, and insensitive neglect of meaningful relationships. God’s man finds strength and freedom in confessing his seasons of weakness and failure.
Popular Christian preacher and author, Max Lucado, tells of a secret sin that had threatened to undo everything he stood for. As a young man he and a high school friend were given to drinking themselves sick. Aware of the risk – as alcoholism ran in his family – he decided to give it up; and yet something or another caused the habit to resurrect some years later, after he’d had a family and responded to God’s call to ministry. Oh he never popped open a brew or a bottle around the children. He didn’t want his little girls to think less of him. Nor did he drink anywhere out in the open where he might be discovered. Eventually, he couldn’t live with himself. He’d become the thing he hated – a hypocrite, telling others how to overcome their demons even as he caved in to them on a daily basis. The second thing he did, after throwing the booze into a trash can, was confessing his hypocrisy to the church elders. They, in turn, pronounced forgiveness over him. A dear, silver-haired saint of the church reached across the table and put his hand on the preacher’s shoulder: "God's love is great enough to cover your sin,” he said – "Trust God’s Grace.”
After talking to the elders, he spoke to the whole church – told the entire story and apologized for being two-faced amongst them. What followed was a refreshing time of confession in which other people also acknowledged the truth about themselves. The church was greatly strengthened, says Lucado, and NOT weakened by the honesty. "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth,” says 1st John 1:8-9, "But if we confess our sins to the Lord, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us.” It’s by way of confession and forgiveness that we are put right with God and with each other.
Now surely, no one could ever accuse King David of being a wimp. By way of courage and strength, wisdom and decisive action – by way of God’s guidance – he inspired a cluster of unimpressive tribes to accomplish what they and everyone else would have considered impossible: that is, the defeat of mighty empires and the building of a unified nation. And yet through it all, David was the sensitive man. He mourned for the lost humanity of his dead enemies. Having had multiple opportunities to destroy King Saul – who, out of jealousy, was trying to destroy him – David spurned the temptations. He was a poet and a musician – as we can tell from the numerous Psalms he wrote. He was a man who wore his feelings on his sleeve – notably, his feelings about the Most High God who claimed him, who forgave him, who re-made him and who guided him. Indeed! King Saul’s daughter scolded him after church one day for having danced before the LORD with such joyful abandon that a wardrobe malfunction revealed more of the king than she felt appropriate in mixed company (see 2nd Samuel 6: 16-20). Let it be said, finally, that David serves for us as a symbol of God’s man who lives by faith – who trusts God to set to rights what we have so often messed up because of our fears, our hungers, and sins.
So strong, in fact, was David’s trust in God’s transforming Grace that David became a sign for the revealing of God’s NEW man, as announced in the Gospel of Luke: "Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has visited and redeemed his people,” said the old priest, named Zechariah; for "God has sent us a mighty Savior from the royal line of his servant David” (1:68-69). It’s in Jesus Christ – son of David – that we behold the supreme image of God’s Man; that is, the man who never, EVER buys into the way-things-are that turns a blind eye to the things that bring us down and tear us apart from God or neighbor. Jesus is the Mighty One who comes to fix what’s broken and to renew what’s gone stale. Jesus is God’s wild man whose joy can’t be contained, whose passion for service and compassion can never be quenched, and whose trust in the One he calls Father endures always and forever. Jesus is God’s Man among us who equips and strengthens the men among us to be God’s men for all people. "You have already won a victory,” says 1st John 4:4 "because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” – that is, because the Spirit of Christ who lives in his followers is greater than the voices in this world telling us that true manhood is something other than Christ-like humility and hopefulness, Godly compassion and caring, patience and peace, faithfulness and forgiveness.
God needs faithful men to share their journey with young people who can’t help but benefit from positive role models of Christian masculinity. And, of course, the riches of Christ-like Grace that we have to share with others have no gender boundaries. So the question to every God-fearing man (… and woman!) remains: have you been made new – and made strong – by the Grace of God, in Christ, that’s loved, forgiven, and claimed you? Then come and walk the walk of the Christian servant who is strong and courageous enough to call on Jesus as Lord and committed enough to serve with the Christ in the Way of goodness and Glory everlasting.