2 Samuel 3:1-12 – Which One Would You Follow?

The war between the house of Saul and the house of David lasted a long time. David grew stronger and stronger, while the house of Saul grew weaker and weaker.

Sons were born to David in Hebron: His firstborn was Amnon the son of Ahinoam of Jezreel; his second, Kileab the son of Abigail the widow of Nabal of Carmel; the third, Absalom the son of Maakah daughter of Talmai king of Geshur; the fourth, Adonijah the son of Haggith; the fifth, Shephatiah the son of Abital; and the sixth, Ithream the son of David’s wife Eglah. These were born to David in Hebron.

During the war between the house of Saul and the house of David, Abner had been strengthening his own position in the house of Saul. Now Saul had had a concubine named Rizpah daughter of Aiah. And Ish-Bosheth said to Abner, “Why did you sleep with my father’s concubine?”

Abner was incredibly angry because of what Ish-Bosheth said. So, he answered, “Am I a dog’s head—on Judah’s side? This very day I am loyal to the house of your father Saul and to his family and friends. I haven’t handed you over to David. Yet now you accuse me of an offense involving this woman! May God deal with Abner, be it ever so severely, if I do not do for David what the Lord promised him on oathand transfer the kingdom from the house of Saul and establish David’s throne over Israel and Judah from Dan to Beersheba.” Ish-Bosheth did not dare to say another word to Abner, because he was afraid of him.

Then Abner sent messengers on his behalf to say to David, “Whose land, is it? Make an agreement with me, and I will help you bring all Israel over to you.” (New International Version)

“Leadership is the capacity and will to rally men and women to a common purpose and the character which inspires confidence.”

World War II British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery (1887-1976)

Our inner character is a combination of what we do, why we do it, and how we go about it. Personal character is seen in the reactions and responses of life events and situations. And Holy Scripture is concerned and attentive to all our attitudes and actions in the world.

Stories in the Old Testament are largely designed to help us, as readers and listeners, to compare and contrast the mindsets, motivations, and morals of the principal actors in those narratives. We are meant to understand the difference between godly and ungodly people through how the story shakes out.

Three leaders are paraded before us in today’s Old Testament lesson. The story is arranged so that we will take a look at their manner of life. The lesson begs us to implicitly ask: Which of the three characters would you follow?

David

King David was a true leader, having G-d’s calling, inquiring to G-d continually, and using his ruling authority to extend kindness, like G-d does. Because of David’s character, his reign became stronger and stronger. David neither planned to annihilate all of Saul’s heirs as rivals to this throne, nor did he set out to make their lives miserable – despite the fact that most people of the time would actually expect him to do that.

Ish-Bosheth

Whereas David was initially ruling only Judah, Ish-Bosheth was a son of Saul and king of Israel. He was a mere figurehead. Abner, the army’s general, was really calling the political shots in Israel. Ish-Bosheth was too fearful to challenge Abner, and so, never exerted a significant influence. Instructive for us as readers is the absence of this king’s prayers or efforts to do anything helpful or constructive for his people.

Ish-Bosheth’s name essentially means “Master,” a dignified word which is meant to communicate respect. The incongruence between Ish-Bosheth’s ascribed name, and his actual attitudes and lack of action, betrays a double-minded person, divided in decision-making, not knowing quite what to do, so doing nothing of substance which helps anyone.

Contrasting Ish-Bosheth with David, we clearly see that David is no figurehead but the leader of his people. Unlike Ish-Bosheth, David is no washrag and is no one’s puppet but takes charge of situations by inquiring of G-d, then acting.

Confidence comes from knowing the Lord and stepping out in faith, which is precisely what David’s pattern of kingship was like.

“God grant that men of principle shall be our principal men.”

Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America (1743-1826)

Abner

Israel’s general, Abner, was neither like David nor Ish-Bosheth. Although Abner had the qualities of confidence and taking charge, unlike David, he was a self-serving leader.

Abner used his position to gain for himself power and prestige. He was willing to quickly switch his loyalties when it was no longer helpful for him, personally. Although Abner did right by working toward uniting the kingdoms of Israel and Judah (a good thing) he did it for all the wrong reasons (a bad thing).

Compared to David, Abner has only self-interest, not the common interest of all citizens. He acts for what he can personally get out of it – which is just the opposite of David, who has an eye which scans the horizon to do what is best for the common good of all the kingdom’s subjects.

Conclusion

When we read today’s story, the guided narrative wants us to arrive at the conclusion of saying, “I don’t want to become or follow somebody like Ish-Bosheth or Abner. I want to become and follow someone like King David.”

David listened to G-d, prayed to G-d, and acted with justice and kindness because of G-d. There’s likely no better approach to the spiritual life than that.

Grant us, Lord G-d, a vision of our world as your love would make it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the benefits of abundant life are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races and cultures live in tolerance and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice, and justice is guided by love. And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

*Above statue of King David by French artist Nicolas Cordier, c.1610

1 Corinthians 12:12-27 – One People for the Common Good of All

The body of Christ has many different parts, just as any other body does. Some of us are Jews, and others are Gentiles. Some of us are slaves, and others are free. But God’s Spirit baptized each of us and made us part of the body of Christ. Now we each drink from that same Spirit.

Our bodies don’t have just one part. They have many parts. Suppose a foot says, “I’m not a hand, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the foot still belong to the body? Or suppose an ear says, “I’m not an eye, and so I’m not part of the body.” Wouldn’t the ear still belong to the body? If our bodies were only an eye, we couldn’t hear a thing. And if they were only an ear, we couldn’t smell a thing. But God has put all parts of our body together in the way that he decided is best.

A body isn’t really a body unless there is more than one part. It takes many parts to make a single body. That’s why the eyes cannot say they don’t need the hands. That’s also why the head cannot say it doesn’t need the feet. In fact, we cannot get along without the parts of the body that seem to be the weakest. We take special care to dress up some parts of our bodies. We are modest about our personal parts, but we don’t have to be modest about other parts.

God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body. (Contemporary English Version)

“If instead of a gem, or even a flower, we should cast the gift of a loving thought into the heart of a friend, that would be giving as the angels give.”

George MacDonald (1824-1905)

It’s easy to take things for granted.

For instance, we don’t typically think too much about our toes… until we stub them, drop something on them, break them, or need a podiatrist to operate on them. Then, we not only know they’re still there, but our entire body (along with the mind and emotions!) feels the need to give a lot of attention to the lowest end of our body that enables us to stand and walk without thinking much about it.

The body is an apt metaphor for how to think about humanity and its various systems and institutions. We might see the face of any church or organization, but there are scads of people behind the scenes doing all kinds of good work. For example, the golfing profession understands the importance of caddies; lawyers know the need of paralegal professionals; healthcare facilities and organizations rely not only on nurses and social workers, but also on cooks and housekeepers; schools need the coordination of teachers, parents, students, volunteers, and the entire community to effectively realize the education of children.

Also, as you well know, it’s easy to take for granted services we receive… until we don’t receive them, or in a way to our liking. Then, we pay attention. We want action and resolution. We want our food now and to our exact specifications. Sometimes we might even forget that we are dealing with people, not cogs in a machine or parts in a system. Millions of people labor every single day, sometimes even seven days a week, just to make ends meet and provide for their families. When we neglect to see or understand this, we have done our fellow human beings a gross disservice.

It’s also awfully easy to forget how radical the Apostle Paul’s words were for first-century folks, especially in religious circles. Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew community was God’s people. If you wanted to worship the one true God, you came to Jerusalem and learned from Jews.

But Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit changed things in such a profound and organic way that the world would never be the same again.

Paul preached with fervor and flavor that there would not be a separate Jewish church and Gentile church. They have become one Body of Christ through the redemptive events of Jesus. Both Jews and Gentiles have the same Spirit – not different Spirits for each group. Jesus did not die so that people could be fragmented from each other; Christ was crucified to end, once and for all, the segregation, discrimination, and ostentation of one group of people above another. 

The cross was the ultimate radical act of justice against the powers of this dark world that seek to rank people according to their relative importance and worth.

The power of resurrection is the energy of God raising Christ from death to triumph over the realm and system of evil throughout the earth. All kinds of people everywhere are to rise with Christ in a great demonstration of God’s power to subvert the status quo of discriminatory racism, extreme individualism, gender inequality, social and economic classism, and any kind of “ism” which places one group of people in subjection to another in misguided notions of superiority.

The church is to be a community of redeemed people reflecting the diversity of God’s big world.

No two groups of people could have been more different than Middle-Eastern Jews and Greek Gentiles. Yet, Paul adamantly insisted that they together, not separate, make up the one Body of Christ.

It isn’t easy listening to another group of people who think and act differently than you and me. But listen we must. And respond we must. It is our biblical responsibility as believers in the way of Christ. Believers are only the Body of Christ when we are united and together as one people of God.

There is no ability to look down your nose on another person if you are already kneeling on the ground in humble prayer at the foot of the cross. There is only the chance to look up. There is even the opportunity to allow someone less privileged and fortunate to assist you.

Yes, we all need one another – even if it doesn’t seem that way at first.

It isn’t our job to colonize other people’s culture and society to make it more like our own. It is our duty to share good news, make room at the Table, extend love in the name of Jesus, and work together as the one people of God, formed by the Spirit.

Almighty God of all creation, I understand we don’t struggle merely against flesh and blood but against powers and principalities – those institutions and systems that keep separatisms alive by perpetuating the lie that some members of the family are inferior and others superior.  Create in us a new mind and heart that will enable us to see brothers and sisters in the faces of those divided by human constructed categories of power disparities. 

Give us the grace and strength to rid ourselves of stereotypes that oppress some of us while providing entitlements to others. Help us to create a Church and nation that embraces the hopes and fears of oppressed people everywhere, as well as those around the world. Heal your family, God, and make us one with you, in union with our Lord Jesus, and empowered by your Holy Spirit. Amen.

*Above photo credit: music4life on Pixabay

1 Corinthians 12:4-11 – Spirituality for the Common Good

Jesus breathed on the disciples and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

There are different spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit gives them. There are different ways of serving, and yet the same Lord is served. There are different types of work to do, but the same God produces every gift in every person.

The evidence of the Spirit’s presence is given to each person for the common good of everyone. The Spirit gives one person the ability to speak with wisdom. The same Spirit gives another person the ability to speak with knowledge. To another person the same Spirit gives courageous faith. To another person the same Spirit gives the ability to heal. Another can work miracles. Another can speak what God has revealed. Another can tell the difference between spirits. Another can speak in different kinds of languages. Another can interpret languages. There is only one Spirit who does all these things by giving what God wants to give to each person. (God’s Word Translation)

A gift is meant to be unpacked. It would be weird if someone was given a gift, then let it sit unopened. Instead, we typically receive the gift, rip it open, and express gratitude for the thoughtfulness. Then, we use and enjoy it.

The Spirit, likewise, has been marvelously given to God’s people. Each individual Christian is specially provided a gift to open, use, and enjoy. Spiritual gifts graciously given to us are meant for the common good of all. And this use for the common good is where the gift is different than Christmas or birthday presents.

Spiritual gifts are designed by God to be acts and words of service, dispersed for the benefit of others.

They are not meant solely for personal satisfaction. So, if a person’s spiritual gift is teaching, they do not stand in front of a mirror and talk at themselves. Instead, they jump into the fray of learning and explaining, and do it in such a gracious and loving way that the enablement of the Spirit is evident.

If a person’s gift is faith, they do not merely step out and act with unusual courage for the purpose of personal betterment in a holy belief from God. They also demonstrate faithfulness to God’s people and to God’s world. The gift is for the common good of all persons.

The accumulation of wisdom and knowledge is meant for the strengthening of faith in others. Spiritual gifts are intended by God to be shared freely for the common good of all people so that souls are buttressed and supported for the rigors of daily life in the world.

We are to take initiative in identifying our gift(s), unpacking them, and indiscriminately using them. 

Spiritual health and wholeness can only truly be realized through everyone’s active participation in distributing their God-given abilities. Spiritual gifts are neither to be hoarded, nor miserly dealt to only people I like or my own little world of groupies and friends. Any and every ability comes from God, and is, therefore given for the benefit of all persons. Underprivileged groups need the giftedness of others, as well as discovering their own resources so that everyone is built up in a society of redeemed persons.

Mavericks are not helpful here. The Lone Ranger is not to be the model of aspiration.

Christians are the Body of Christ, meant to function as one. Just as the Holy Trinity of divine three persons – Father, Son, and Spirit – work together in unity of purpose and harmony of being, so the persons of the Church are to unify and act as one in the mission of God. Diversity of gifts are to be expressed in unity of building up others and extending Christ’s love to the world. When we harmoniously coordinate our joint efforts in utilizing our collective spiritual gifts, the world is turned upside-down with kingdom grace and ethics.

Sometimes we might succumb to “gift envy.” We observe the talented gift of another and secretly wish it for ourselves. The proper remedy to such a malady is gratitude. When we give thanks to God for the gift(s) we truly possess, then envy has nowhere to reside and slithers away.

None of God’s gifts are “sexy” in the sense that they come easily without effort and always look appealing.

On the contrary, our gifts are meant to be received and developed with lots of daily mundane work so that we live into the special endowment bestowed upon us. This, in fact, takes a lifetime of development because the Spirit’s gifts are so generously large – much bigger than we originally observe at first glance. Like an engagement ring in a tiny box, receiving the gift and putting it on will involve commitments and challenges we cannot at the time perceive.

Whatever it is you do well, do it to the glory of God.

Allow God to activate it and energize it for the prevailing needs of a church and a world which is in want of kindness, goodness, and love.

O Lord, you have taught me that without love, whatever I do is worth nothing.  Send your Holy Spirit and pour into my heart your greatest gift, which is love, the true bond of peace and of all virtue, without which whoever lives is accounted dead before you. Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

*Above painting by Jyoti Sahi, based on John 20:22

Mark 10:42-45 – True Leadership

Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (New International Version)

Leadership as Service

I remember a time when all politicians, government officials, and police were known as “public servants.” It was routinely assumed that such persons served the common good of all persons, regardless of who they are. I am also not delusional about the fact that, back in the day, just as today, there are those who served themselves first. However, at least, the ideal and vision of service was continually before the people.

Power is to be wielded for the benefit of the powerless. Authority is to be used to help those who cannot help themselves. Contemporary understandings of authority for many people today often do not have the common good as their guiding principles of leadership.

Misuse of Leadership

Rather, authority becomes the means of convincing others of the leader’s opinion or position. Power is used to influence, even arm-twist people toward the leader’s ideas. What’s more, those who enabled the leader to come to power expect that leader to use authority to benefit a particular agenda and only one slice of the human population. Lost is the vision of meeting needs for everyone, not just a certain constituency.

The ultimate use of power is to share it, even lay it down. Jesus did it in his incarnation, life, and death. He only took it up again after his mission was finished. We are to follow his cues on power and authority. We have opportunities galore to follow Christ in his leadership practice. For example, I once lived in a community with a large single parent family population. After talking with the elders of my church about this situation, they became excited about the prospects of reaching moms and children struggling to make it day to day.

The discussion did a hard turn of direction when I suggested we have some of those moms come in, sit around the table with us, and dictate what would constitute effective ministry which meets their needs. I was intentionally proposing that we, as church authority figures, share our power with the moms. The elders weren’t having it. One of them said outright, “Well, we can’t do that! We know better!” (than the moms do)

Whenever those in power and authority believe it is their mandate to make decisions without even having conversations with those whom those decisions effect, then they have become masters of small worlds, lords of folly, and ideational bullies. It is not the way of Jesus.

Appropriate Use of Leadership

Proper use of authority doesn’t mean we boss people around. It means we do what we need to do to help everyone in our scope of power. Taking charge must always begin with self. The self-control and self-discipline of the leader is the basis of leadership.

The heart of Christianity is loving service to one another as Christians, and humble service to a world which doesn’t believe, or act like us. Christian leaders are to focus on others’ well-being, success, and growth. They are to value character over career.

Christian disciples follow Jesus in the use of power and authority through:

  • Taking a humble posture of consulting and collaborating with others. And when decisions are made, they maintain relational connections.
  • Including others, and never vilifying or casting blame when stating a case for something.
  • Dealing with trouble and working to clear a toxic environment of noxious attitudes.
  • Directly confronting those they have an issue with, without creating destructive triangles to diffuse responsibility.
  • Encouraging a healthy dynamic of love and service which seeks listening before acting.

Leadership is more about being than about doing. Responsible use of authority comes from the person who understands themselves, is curious about others, and seeks to wisely apply Christ’s compassion to meet human need.

The Leadership of Jesus

Jesus healed people and delivered them from evil, sometimes at great risk to himself. He continually eschewed the perks of power to single-mindedly pursue the Father’s will. Even in his selection of disciples, Jesus purposely overlooked others to choose a rather motley band of men made up of uneducated country bumpkins, the poor, and the overzealous.

The Lord Jesus proclaimed a kingdom that belongs to children, using power to drive out demons and forgive sins. Christ delegated his authority to the disciples to do this same sort of work.

Jesus isn’t offering leadership theories; he is offering himself. Christ is our model of the appropriate use of power. Therefore, humbling ourselves must become our ambition! Our Lord, the ultimate authority above all authorities, humbled himself. Though being powerfully divine, he took the form of a servant, and became obedient to death, even the particularly shameful death on a cross—the ultimate humiliation. Yet God exalted Jesus Christ as Lord of the universe. (Phil 2:5-11)

Will you divest yourself of the pride in believing you know what is best for everyone around you? Will you cease speaking and start listening? Will you follow Jesus to the risky place of sharing power and authority with the powerless?

God, I am far too often influenced by what others think of me. I am always pretending to be either richer or smarter or nicer than I really am. Please prevent me from trying to attract attention. Don’t let me gloat over praise on one hand or be discouraged by criticism on the other. Nor let me waste time weaving imaginary situations in which the most heroic, charming, witty person present is myself. Show me how to be humble of heart, like you. Amen.