Pastor Adrianne Meier
10 September 2023
Saint Thomas Evangelical Lutheran Church, Bloomington, Indiana
Urgency and the Kin-Dom
1 Samuel 27:1-3, 8-12
David said in his heart, “I shall certainly perish one day by the hand of Saul; there is nothing better for me than to escape to the land of the Philistines; then Saul will despair of seeking me any longer within the borders of Israel, and I shall escape out of his hand.” So David set out and went over, he and the six hundred men who were with him, to King Achish son of Maoch of Gath. David stayed with Achish at Gath, he and his troops, every man with his household, and David with his two wives, Ahinoam of Jezreel and Abigail of Carmel, Nabal’s widow.
Now David and his men went up and made raids on the Geshurites, the Girzites, and the Amalekites, for these were the landed settlements from Telam on the way to Shur and on to the land of Egypt. David struck the land, leaving neither man nor woman alive, but took away the sheep, the oxen, the donkeys, the camels, and the clothing and came back to Achish. When Achish asked, “Against whom have you made a raid today?” David would say, “Against the Negeb of Judah,” or “Against the Negeb of the Jerahmeelites,” or “Against the Negeb of the Kenites.” David left neither man nor woman alive to be brought back to Gath, thinking, “They might tell about us and say, ‘David has done so and so.’” Such was his practice all the time he lived in the country of the Philistines. Achish trusted David, thinking, “He has made himself utterly abhorrent to his people Israel; therefore he shall always be my servant.”
I’ve known pretty cheeky kids in my time in the church. One kid who stole one—just one— of my new leather sandals and put it in the drinking fountain and turned it on. It never matched the other shoe again. One kid who loved the pithy, sarcastic barb, loved to lob them at fellow youth-group-ers, but whose eyes would cloud with tears anytime someone dished it back. Little ones who just discovered they could scream an insight seemingly purposefully timed to the clincher of my sermon, which was now unheard. Kids, who just having heard a children’s message about loving others, would return to their pew and slap their sister. Actually, that one was me. The greatest in the kin-dom of heaven, supposedly. I’d really hope when Jesus had this kid on his lap, they picked their nose and wiped on Jesus’s robe. Something really kid-like, you know? But Jesus doesn’t laud their perfect wonder and curiosity any more than a child’s ability to turn their parent’s face beet-red. He lifts up their humility. Their low estate, their helplessness.
Imagine the future of someone who was a child in 30ish A.D. What will they inherit? By the time that child was, well, just a little bit older than Jesus is at this point in the story, the Jewish-Roman wars would have commenced. They would have born witness to the utter destruction of everything familiar. They wouldn’t know it, as they folded into the Lord as only a child in a trusted lap can do, as laid their head upon his chest… they couldn’t know of how utterly everything would fall apart. But knowing this future is to be reminded that underneath the humility of a child is an urgency we ignore to their peril. They cannot effect the state of the planet they will inherit, the country and its laws, the society and its norms. They are humble because they are entirely dependent on preceding generations to feel the necessary urgency to do not just the right thing, but the difficult thing for the sake of those who will come after them. When Jesus says the greatest in the kin-dom is a child, he is telling us where to the look for the kin-dom among us, where God is at work: in the urgent need of the humble and the least.
It is, apparently, an easy thing, though, to ignore the humility and vulnerability of succeeding generations. David had no problem ending their future completely. Politics is a dirty business, filled with the kinds of decisions none of us really wants to make. David has to face facts: if he stays in Israel, Saul will kill him and likely the 600 men who have followed him and their wives and their children. If Saul learned his lesson with the Amalekites, he will put this usurper under the ban, and make an example of any who would attempt to coup the monarch of Israel. It is for that reason that David cannot kill Saul, the anointed of God— I mean, what value would David’s monarchy be? And what safety could he assure for himself or his own family, if he assassinated Saul? So, David retreats to Gath, the home of Goliath, his foe, to live among his enemies. Skillfully, he procures for his followers a new home, one David hopes is temporary, and King Ashich hopes is permanent.Day after day David does Ashich’s bidding, going out against the enemies of the Philistines. Unfortunately, there is a discrepancy about who that is exactly, Ashich assumes it is Israel, and so David tells him, but it is really other tribes – Geshurites, Girzites, Amalakites. Trying to save his own skin, his own people, their own children,he massacres, we assume, the children of other tribes. Monarchy is a brutal business, children merely collateral damage. And it is easy to write this off, to say that it is just “the way of things,” to hide the realities of the past from ourselves, to justify brutality, violence, and destruction. In so doing, we retain our heroes, but we blind ourselves to the urgency of the future and the need for a new way for the sake of those who come after us.
The writer Flannery O’Connor said, “To know oneself is, above all, to know what one lacks. It is to measure oneself against Truth, and not the other way around. The first product of self-knowledge is humility.” Of course, when I realize what I lack, I learn I am not much different than child being held in the lap of Jesus. I have no real knowledge of what the future holds; I am prey to a despair that the future could be quite bleak. I have no sense of my own future, no confidence about the world my children will inherit, but I know the future of the one who holds us all. I know the violence and destruction in Jesus’s future. I know I will find him vulnerable, alone, and humiliated on a cross. I know he will never leave me alone in mine.
The nature essayist Barry Lopez died in 2020, from complications from prostate cancer. After his death, a collections of essays was published called Embrace Fearlessly the Burning World. The essays chronicle his work with Arctic foxes and learning from Indigenous people. They also tell heartbreakingly of Lopez’s sexual abuse at the hands of a respected doctor. The stories belong together— the invisible suffering, the unspeakable violence,the utter vulnerability. We know that, even now, the repercussions of our warming planet are borne out on the young of every species. The need is urgent. Lopez writes, “We must invent overnight, figuratively speaking, another kind of civilization, one more cognizant of limits, less greedy, more compassionate, less bigoted, more inclusive, less exploitive.” This is the kin-dom work to which we are called, urgently.
Week after week as we prepare to welcome Christ in, with and under bread and wine at this welcome table,we sing “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord,” a fragment of a verse that also says, “Hosanna to the son of David.” The son of David. Jesus is from this line, brutal as it is. Jesus is heir to this throne, bloodied as it is. This is what he inherits. But when he is asked who is the greatest, he does not name David, nor his son Solomon, nor any well-known hero. He names someone filled with unknown potential— potential which will not be achieved if they cannot grow into adulthood. The greatest in the kin-dom is the one for whom we will participate in God’s new way. The greatest in the kin-dom is the most vulnerable among us, for whom our most faithful expression is hope, hope that there is a still a new way.
Ruminating on the state of our planet, Barry Lopez asks, “Is it still possible to face the gathering darkness and say to the physical Earth, and to all its creatures, including ourselves, fiercely and without embarrassment, I love you, and to embrace fearlessly the burning world?” Look, Jesus holds on his lap a child, perhaps a different kind of a child than we expected: an infant sequoia, seeds still nestled tight in its cone, waiting for the heat of a wildfire to unleash its potential growth, but who will not survive the burning of an entire planet. This is the greatest in the kin-dom of heaven. Beloved, let us attend to the future with a passionate urgency that in seeking out the vulnerable and humble, we might witness the kin-dom of God in our midst. Amen.