Primary preaching text: 2 Samuel 6:1-10
Secondary text: Mark 6:14-29
The second-most difficult thing for me about this reading from second Samuel is verse 4 -- David was thirty years old when he began to reign. I'm almost thirty, and what have I done with my life? I'm not ruling a nation, and I'm not prepared to start a ministry like Jesus did when he was thirty.
On the other hand, I haven't slain any Jeubsites, so there's that.
The hardest part of this passage are verses 6-8, which, coincidentally, are the verses that the Revised Common Lectionary cuts from this morning's appointed lesson:
6The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David, “You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back” —thinking, “David cannot come in here.” 7Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. 8David had said on that day, “Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those whom David hates.” Therefore it is said, “The blind and the lame shall not come into the house.
In the scripture that many of us read together two weeks ago, David was a young shepherd from Nowheresville who killed a very tall Philistine with a slingshot. Last week, we looked in on David grieving for King Saul and Saul's son Jonathan.
In between those moments, Saul grew increasingly mad, in the sense of angry and also in the sense of not in his right mind. His jealousy of David, who had the Lord's favor, poisoned what had been a mutually beneficial relationship. Saul tried several times to have David killed, and David ended up on the run, fleeing for his life.
He killed a bunch of Philistines and acquired a couple of wives, and he spared Saul's life, even though Saul wanted him dead and he had multiple opportunities to kill him.
Saul died, falling on his sword rather than letting himself be taken captive by Philistines, and, as we read last week, David's grief over his death was heartfelt and genuine.
The few chapters between last week's reading and this week's tell us about the conflict between the Northern and Southern Kingdoms that followed Saul's death. David is the acknowledged and anointed ruler of the southern Kingdom, Judah, where he was born, and for seven and a half years he ruled Judah from the capital city Hebron, while Saul's descendants and followers held Israel, the northern kingdom. Scripture tells us, "There was a long war between the house of Saul and the house of David; David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul became weaker and weaker." (3:1)
After seven and a half years, the people of Israel, even Saul's own tribe, the tribe of Benjamin, are ready to accept David as king, and David accepts them as his people.
David has been ruling from Hebron, which belongs to Judah, and it seems prudent that he shift the seat of rule to a neutral city. He chooses Jerusalem, which is about twenty or thirty miles north of Hebron and uninhabited, except for the Jebusites who have been living there for centuries.
David's people came into the city through the water shafts -- tunnels bringing water into the city from an outlying spring -- and struck down the Jebusites. He didn't spare people with disabilities, and it's hard to imagine him sparing the old or the young or the women, either.
And a generation later, those Jebusites who did survive, along with those who were left among the Amorites, the Hitties, the Perizzites, and the Hivvites, were conscripted as slaves. Their forced labor built the temple that Solomon dedicated to God.
Classic rabbinic lore tells us that Jerusalem remained unconquered prior to David because it was part of an early land deal. Abraham made a covenant with the Jebusites: Jerusalem would remain unmolested by Abraham and his descendants, and in exchange Abraham took possession of the cave in which he buried his wife Sarah.
This is why (the rabbis tell us) we read in the book of Joshua that, "the people of Judah could not drive out the Jebusites, the inhabitants of Jerusalem; so the Jebusites live with the people of Judah in Jerusalem to this day."
The rabbis also tell us that the Jebusites invalidated their covenant with Abraham by going to war against Joshua and his armies, and that when David took possession of the city, he paid the Jebusites its full value.
We are so eager, when we write our histories, to justify the atrocities committed by our ancestors.
And to be clear -- David is just as much our ancestor as he is the ancestor of those rabbis.
Or, name a nation founded by people who conquered a land already inhabited, enslaving those people who weren't killed outright, and who justified that conquest using God's name -- who believed that they'd been given this land by God and that the people who already lived there didn't count as people because they didn't believe in the same God --
Happy Independence Day.
In the fifteenth century, forty years before "Columbus sailed the ocean blue," Pope Nicholas the Fifth granted to the King of Portugal and his successors -- and by extension all Christian rulers -- the right, indeed the divine mandate, to "...invade, search out, capture, vanquish, and subdue all [Muslims] and pagans whatsoever, and other enemies of Christ wheresoever placed, to claim the kingdoms [...] possessed by them and to reduce their persons to perpetual slavery."
This papal proclamation helped frame the beliefs that Europeans brought to this land, that it was ours by right, that non-white people were three-fifths people or not people at all, that the people already inhabiting this country didn't count.
When my Puritan ancestors came to Massachusetts on the Mayflower, they believed that the "new world" was a New Jerusalem, promised to them by God as surely as the original Jerusalem had been promised to the Israelites.
As for those people already dwelling here...
John Winthrop, the first governor of the Massachuetts Bay Colony,
claimed, "God hath consumed the natives with a great plague in those parts, so as there be few inhabitants left."
Governor Winthrop also generously contended that there was enough land and then some for Puritans and for the various Algonquian tribes already living in the area that would become Massachusetts.
Unfortunately, as I'm sure you know, peaceful cohabitation didn't last, and American greed was outpaced only by American exceptionalism.
At their most charitable, Christians wanted to convert and "civilize" native peoples.
Not all of them were as explicitly racist as the Richard Pratt, who, founding a school for Native Americans in the late eighteen-hundreds, explained:
A great general has said that the only good Indian is a dead one. [...] In a sense, I agree with the sentiment, but only in this: that all the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man.... [emphasis mine]
And Pratt was a reformer. He decried the massacre of Indians, and unlike many of his contemporaries believed, "it is a mistake to think that the Indian is born an inevitable savage." He believed that his students could achieve that most desirable of goals -- they could assimilate into civilized culture, by which Pratt meant white culture. There was no need to massacre American Indians -- only American Indian cultures. As if that weren't itself an act of savagery.
My people believed that destiny brought them to this land, that God had ordained this vast, beautiful continent for our possession and peopled it with savages for us to convert and subdue -- at gunpoint if necessary.
This destiny was made manifest in the blood and sweat and tears of Native peoples.
This destiny was made manifest in the blood and sweat and tears of black slaves.
What makes this part of our nation's heritage most appalling is that so many atrocities were carried out in the name of Jesus.
Think about how David established his kingdom: David and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of that land.
And this is how Jesus established his kingdom: Jesus went about among the villages, teaching. He called the twelve and began to send them out, two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits. And his disciples went, and proclaimed that all should repent, and cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick, and cured them.
David's people came into Jerusalem by stealth to kill its inhabitants; Jesus' people went into the villages openly, carrying no weapons, to live among the people, eating their food, sharing their homes, curing their sick.
To establish David's kingdom, the lame and the blind were killed. To establish Jesus' kingdom, the lame and the blind were healed and restored into society.
David went to Jerusalem to reign over a united Israel.
Jesus went to Jerusalem to die.
Far, far too often, people bearing Christ's name have ignored Jesus' example and used David's tactics to build kingdoms like his. We've trampled on Native lands and then turned around and built fences to keep immigrants out.
We are promised a New Jerusalem in Revelation:
The dwelling place of God is with mortals, and God will dwell with them, and they shall be God people, and God shall be with them in truth, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. Behold: God makes all things new. [Rev 21:3-5 KJV alt]
Some of our ancestors thought that this land would be the New Jerusalem. And some of our ancestors saw the people native to this continent as expendable. The Jebusites, the Amorites, the Hitties, the Perizzites, and the Hivvites were displaced, their cultures destroyed, their people enslaved to build the original Jerusalem.
And the Navajo, the Cherokee, the Massasoit, the Lenni-Lenape, the Iroquois, the Osage, and many more nations were displaced, their cultures destroyed, their people enslaved in the name of building a New Jerusalem.
Remembering guiltily the sins of our ancestors is unhelpful if we don't learn from them, if we don't vow not to repeat them, if we don't repent of the systemic racism that has been part of our heritage of our nation, if we don't boldly do a new thing.
Go, Jesus tells us. Go, and take nothing with you. Go, and accept the hospitality of strangers. Go, and heal the sick. Go, and bear witness to the Kingdom of God. This is why we have named the neighborhoods surrounding our church as our parish and our mission field. This is why we sing together, "Go into the streets and cities, to the farms and families. Tell about the splendid table, God's mercy." This is why we then do just that, why we spill out the front door onto Troost, onto Manheim and the Paseo and Prospect, why we go into this city and into others, to Jefferson City and to Washington DC, bearing the Good News.
This is why every week we share the splendid table and the news of God's merciful, healing love.
We don't need a fearsome king or a mighty army to participate in building God's kingdom. Jesus tells us we don't even need a change of clothes. Just ourselves, and the good news that we bear in our bodies: the Kingdom of God has come near. God is ushering in a new way. A new way of building a kingdom grounded in hope. a new way of being nation-states while living in peace. a new way of loving our country -- which is beautiful, and which is our home -- while still building hope, and singing peace, and holding love in our hearts and our bodies for all God's people.
Hymn of the Day: "This Is My Song, O God of All the Nations".