Is it just another episode of a rather clichéd daytime soap opera?
Is it just another story of a “golden boy’s” descent into greed, lust, and the chilling abuse of power?
Is it just another story in which the puffed-up pride of a man who has had too many years of victory makes him believe he is exempt from the rules?
Is it just another story confronting us with the idea that the necessary twin of power is corruption?
Is it just another episode of “Lost” that I missed last season?
The scripture passage from 2 Samuel, which is our lectionary passage for this, the ninth Sunday after Pentecost, challenges our most cherished ideas of David. David from whose House Jesus traces his lineage. David who like us is humanly flawed but divinely loved.
One thing is clear about this story: David is lost.
Could this possibly be the same David who took only these five stones with him to battle the great and powerful Goliath—and who slew that warrior with only a slingshot and a strategically placed stone to the forehead? How the mighty had fallen!
Could this possibly be the same David whose sweet music on the lyre and whose expressive and beautiful psalms calmed the most anxious heart—? And yet kindled a jealousy that ultimately destroyed the powerful Saul? How the mighty had fallen!
Could this possibly be the same David whose love of Jonathan is chronicled for all time as one of the most tender and soulful loves between two human beings?
Could this possibly be the same David who was the great warrior who conquered the enemies of Israel and Judah and built peace between the northern and southern kingdoms, creating the city of Jerusalem the Golden at its center?
Yes, this is the same David. But one thing is sure. David was lost. How the mighty had fallen!
Fallen prey to his own successes, his own handsomeness, his own fame, his own popularity, his own riches, his own power. Yes, David had conquered Goliath, he had conquered his “ten thousands”, but now he was confronted with an even more difficult foe. A foe that could not be conquered by force, but could be conquered by taking to heart his connection to God, who could show him the way back to true hope and a life of true fulfillment and abundance.
Yes, David was lost—and a part of him did not want to be found.
The part of him that stayed behind in Jerusalem, while he sent out others to do battle and did not join with them in the struggles.
The part of him that did not ask God to help him look away as he was gazing across the beautiful city from the rooftop of his magnificent palace and saw the stunning beauty of Bathsheba in a ritual bath.
The part of him that did not ask God to help him remember that she was the wife of one of his own best soldiers, Uriah, a man of valor, and loyalty, and obedience.
The part of him that plotted to kill this honorable Man Uriah to cover up and run from his actions, rather than face into the responsibility for his own choices he had made.
The part of him that had gotten lost in the maze of lust and greed, lies and deceptions, that followed like clockwork one upon the other.
When we are lost, we need to stop, listen to the quiet center where God comes to us. Sometimes we hear God in the sheer silence, breaking through to us with the news that sets us free: news of mercy and hope that can set us free from our worries, our fears, our losses. News that reminds us that God loves us more than we can love ourselves, and will come to us in our places of despair and hopelessness. God will go the ends of the earth of hell to free us from the prisons in which we have found ourselves. Caught in circumstances sometimes of our own misguided choices and sometimes in situations far beyond our own control.
But sometimes God sends us messengers to wake us up and to hold up the mirror into which we have avoided looking. Mirrors we have been running from in a frantic need to be our own validation, scurrying about to find a way to vindicate ourselves.
God sent the prophet Nathan to David to bring him back from his lost state. But it wasn’t an easy thing to speak to the all-powerful king. Yet prophets are like that: telling us words that are not easy to hear but words that ultimately bring us to life from the dead places in our hearts and souls.
Listen to Nathan as he speaks to David in the next chapter of 2 Samuel.
“There were two men in a certain city, one was rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb. He brought it up and it grew with him and his children and it used to eat of his meager fare and drink from his cup and lie in his bosom and it was like a daughter to him.
Now there came a traveler to the rich man and the rich man was loathe to take one of his own flock for the wayfarer who had come to him, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die.”
And Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
YOU ARE THE MAN! How the mighty have fallen!
Yet David’s projection putting the problem outside of himself and onto someone else, is broken by the truth that he himself, King of Israel, was not beyond the laws of respect and honor, justice and love that God had showed him.
And the greatest sadness may be that when we are lost and refuse to be found, refuse to recognize our connection to all other human beings who deserve to be loved and cared for with justice and hope, as we hope to be treated. These parts refuse to understand that all life is sacred, and that to treat another as an object for our use ultimately dehumanizes us. When we do this, we take others with us:
Think of Bathsheba who had no choice in this matter but to obey the commands of the most powerful person in her world.
Think of Uriah, whose life was taken because of David’s lost state, trying to cover his tracks of lust and deceit.
The grief, the despair, the horror of finding out what we have done.
The grief, the despair, the horror of living in a world where others have done unspeakable things to us.
Yet the promise of God is that there is no place so empty, so cut off, so dead, that God will not come to us there in that very place, taking on our brokenness, knowing the pain of betrayal, abandonment, denial, deceit, death itself. God who comes to us as we wait in our Holy Saturdays, somewhere between the crucifixion and the resurrection. God who comes trampling down the gates of Hell itself to be with us and then to set us free.
Letting go of our own ego-schemes to save ourselves and finding ourselves saved by the grace of God that shows us the way back, offers us a community, a place where to grow, to be transformed, to be healed. A place where we
learn and practice together the enormous power of mercy,
learn the complex ways of a forgiveness that always takes justice into account,
witness to the astounding imaginings and possibilities of the reconciliation of disparate parts and disparate people.
To walk the spiritual life is to bind back together the lost parts of ourselves, of each other, of our pained and broken earth. We recognize that we are one people on one planet trying to learn the way to trust life and to trust the power of Love.
So when we have been found, what is it for us to do?
While David lost his way by letting his power blind him, we look to Jesus who showed us another way. In Philippians 2: 5-11, one of the very earliest hymns of the church that was sung every time the followers of Jesus gathered is says:
“Have this mind among you that was in Christ Jesus,
That although he found himself to be equal with God,
He did not count equality with God a thing to be exploited or grasped,
But he emptied himself and became a servant to all.”
Rather than grasping at the power or greedily keeping it for ourselves, we already know that God is with us, which allows us to empty ourselves of the need to justify ourselves, and opens us to serving others and this created world.
So here are the stones. Having been found, what shall we do with them?
They are useless against the enemy within, who must be met with the love, compassion, and mercy of God. Mercy that opens a path to wholeness, integrity, and healing. All our fears and excuses are stones we still carry, weighing us down on the journey. So what shall we do with these stones? Perhaps we could do this. Stack them one upon another. Do you know what has been made here? Yes, it is a cairn.
Many of you have seen and know of cairns—stacks or piles of stones used especially on mountain heights above the tree line where all looks barren and stark, where no trail seems possible to be marked, and where we might easily lose our way.
The cairn stands silently yet speaks to one who may be lost on these desolate heights. The stones say: Here is the path. One has walked this way. Here is a sign to help you find your way back.
Yes, these very stones can speak to us:
To witness to the possibility of finding the way across this dangerous and confusing terrain. Someone has gone this way before. Are we willing to be living cairns for one another, as Jesus is for us?
Here is the way. “I once was lost, but now I am found.”
Sometimes we pile the stones of our own stories of being so lost in such a place of shadow and despair we thought we could never be found.
Here we find the courage to accompany souls that simply need us to be there with them, silently witnessing with the least, the lost, the lonely. We can say in our very presence, we are here with you. We will not leave you or abandon you.
Sometimes others have the courage and love to sit with us when we find ourselves to be the least, the lost the lonely.
Sometimes we build cairns of witness with silent presence, sometimes we are cairns in which our words of comfort are offered, our food is shared, our labor contributed, our love poured out.
But when we witness, we do so from the foundation of love—having been found ourselves, we know we can speak if words are needed or silently stand or sit or walk or roll or tumble or dance or crawl without judging, shaming, blaming, criticizing, embarrassing or forcing anyone. Knowing how lost we sometimes ourselves can be we honor and recognize the spirit in another, whether lost or not, knowing they too are a creation of God.
Having given ourselves to God our Higher One, trusting that God loves us more than we can love ourselves, we see our greed transformed into generosity, our aversion turned into friendliness, our delusion moved into wisdom. We become living cairns witnessing to a story of how God found us.
Yes, at points in our lives we will get lost, and will be found. Humanly flawed, divinely loved. Perhaps lost and found again and again.
And in the end lost again, but this time as our great processional hymn we sang together this morning, “Love Divine, All Loves Excelling”, reminds us—this time “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”