(The following was delivered on July 5, 2015)
It’s days like this when I want to give the people who came up with the lectionary a big hug, because what better day to talk about King David’s coronation than on the weekend of Independence Day in the US?
You really could not have picked a better day. I hope everyone’s weekend was filled with good times, barbecue, fireworks, and history lessons. I’m just kidding, of course; we rarely look deeply into the history of our country, even on historic days. What’s important for us to remember is that the US declared political independence from its imperial masters on July 4th, 1776, launching a bloody revolution, resulting what would become the modern United States of America. A new tradition of government was started, a government without kings. A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
In remembering that we broke away from kingship, perhaps it might be a good idea to look at a time when kingship was a positive thing in the eyes of the writers of the bible. David’s coronation was a nearly democratic, or at least representatively democratic, as governments got back then. He was chosen by the elders of the tribes of Israel, anointed for the third time as King. He would then go on to lead the nation as one of the best kings of Israel’s history. Even then, though that is his reputation, one ought not gloss over the history without looking at the side effects of it.
What you see, you may not like. History has a way of changing character when you look too deeply at it for too long. This passage that was read about David is best read with something else in mind: the kingship of Christ. If David was a human king, Jesus is the ultimate heavenly king. Reading this passage, we come to many conclusions about what life is like when we’re in charge, and looking at Jesus, we see what life ought to be like when God is in charge.
The Head the Wears the Crown
David’s coronation took place at a perilous time for the nation of Israel. But then again, when is it ever not a perilous time for the nation of Israel?
At this point in the story, Israel was divided into a northern and southern part, the southern part being much much smaller than the north. David ruled the south, whereas one of Saul’s sons ran the north. After much trouble, and loss in war no less, the north turned to David because even as Saul’s sons were losing, David kept winning battles and conquering their enemies. So the people of the north saw David as, ultimately, the one who was going to bring some semblance of peace to the Israelites.
So, they all get together, and meet at a place called Hebron, to officially bend their knees and pledge their allegiance to King David. They recognize that David was obviously chosen to lead, because hey, he’s got to be winning all these battles for a reason, right? And he’s also in the line of succession, since Jonathan gave David his birthright? So why not get over this petty rebellion and make him king. So they did. And there was much rejoicing… but not everywhere.
You see, one of the first things David does as king establish a new capitol city. Beforehand, it was in Shiloh… which is firmly in Northern Kingdom Territory. That does not sit well with the rest of Israel, aka the South. David then decides to establish his new capitol in a place called Jerusalem, not far from his home town of Bethlehem.
All this is fine well and good… until you remember that Jerusalem was home to a rival tribe of people called the Jebusites. Like any city full of people who like not having to fight a war, they were unwilling to be driven out of town by the invading Israelites. So vocal and devoted to keeping their city, their battle cry was remarkably inclusive in nature: “You’ll never get us in here! Even the blind and the lame will beat you back!” “David will never enter here.” Nobody would be spared in the effort to keep their city.
Nonetheless, David being the unbeatable general that he was, won the city. This, brothers and sisters, is where we begin to see the person of David veering quite far from the template of “loving his enemy” that he established in his eulogy for Saul. His siege of Jerusalem was so total, so vicious, David uttered this command to his troops: “On that day,” David said, “whoever attacks the Jebusites should strike the windpipe because David hates the lame and the blind.”[b]
That siege became historical. The text even proclaims that his hatred of the blind and lame affected his policies, and even the policies of the Jewish Temple. The text says: “That is why people say, “The blind and the lame will not enter the temple.”[c]
The historian summarizes after the siege. David went on to rule for a long time. He built up the city. He ruled for forty years, and all that time, God increased his power and might. All that time, God was with him.
Not of Gold, but of Thorns
Let’s fast forward. This was a pivotal moment in Israel’s history. However, History would prove that this kingdom would not last, that it would be conquered, and eventually, fall under the rule of foreign empires. The lineage of David would almost be lost to the sands of time.
Under one such empire, a child of that bloodline would arise. His name was Jesus of Nazareth. A construction worker, a wandering rabbi, a faith healer and a prophet, this Jesus would one day later make his own triumphant entry into Israel, but triumphant in a wholly different way. His would not be a siege by military force, though his followers would have fought for him. No, his was a siege by faith.
He had a reputation different from his ancestor David, whereas David had a negative outlook on the other, Jesus ate, drank, and partied with the blind, the lame, the deaf, the poor, and the outcast. David expelled them from his palace, and that precedent expelled them from the temple. Jesus said he would tear down that temple, and rebuild it in three days. That new temple would be one without walls to keep people out, including those who were historically expelled.
You could say that David lived because others had died. Jesus died so that others could live.
When we look at history, we are offered a crossroads. In David, we see what life is like when humanity is in charge, and though David was a good king, he still operated as human kings did. He took that which wasn’t his, and killed so that his property could increase. In Jesus, we see what life could be like under God’s divine rule, a banquet where all are invited, hope is given, and life is celebrated.
Free to Choose
All of this brings us back to today. Yesterday, we celebrated our American Independence Day. We remembered those who died in defense of country, and for the ideals that we hold dear. Liberty, equality, the pursuit of happiness–these are worthy things to fight for, to even die for. The American Experiment is a noble one, and worth celebrating. But we ought not to forget that America has a history where we tended to resemble David’s rule rather than Jesus’s rule. And that’s where we find ourselves today.
We are a country with a storied history, both of acceptance and expulsion. However, we are also offered a choice, a choice bought by a king who wore not a crown of gold, but that of thorns. We can move forward from our bloody past. We can be given new life, and choose freedom, equality, and brotherhood.
As we come to the table of grace today, I’d like to read you a poem. This poem is enshrined at the base of the Statue of Liberty. It’s entitled the New Colossus. Let this be our invitation today.
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”