Sunday, November 26, 2006

God With Us: Living into the Promise

“O come, O come, Emmanuel!” we sing together through the season of Advent. This hymn sweeps us into our longing for the felt-presence of Christ in our daily lives. Emmanuel is the Hebrew name which translated means “God With Us.” It comes from the prophecies of Isaiah who promised that God would give the Israelites a sign: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Emmanuel” (Isaiah 7:14).

This Advent season at Shell Ridge, we will be contemplating ways in which God comes to birth in each and every one of us. Even as we anticipate celebrating the historical moment in which the Christ was made incarnate in the infant Jesus, we will also be paying attention to those times in our lives—as individuals and as a community—when we knew the loving presence of Christ coming to birth within and among us. How do we recognize those moments? How do we learn to slow down and quiet down enough that we’re enabled to experience God’s still, small voice in our midst?

The great mystic and prophet Meister Eckhart (1260-c. 1329) offers some guidance as we look for the evidence of God With Us. “What is the test that you have indeed undergone this holy birth?” Eckhart asks.
Listen carefully. If this birth has truly taken place within you, then no creature can any longer hinder you. Rather, every single creature points you to God and toward this birth. You receive a rich potential for sensitivity, a magnificent vulnerability. In whatever you see or hear, no matter what it is, you can absorb therein nothing but this birth. In fact, everything becomes for you nothing but God. For in the midst of all things, you keep your eye only on God. To grasp God in all things, that is the sign of your new birth (Meditations with Meister Eckhart, a centering book by Matthew Fox).
You are invited to begin the season of Advent with the Hanging of the Greens on Saturday, December 2 from 9:00 – 12:00. During this time we’ll prepare the sanctuary – even as we prepare our own hearts – for the mystery of God’s loving presence in our midst. This is an all-ages, intergenerational event. Kids will have the opportunity to work with Frances Sedar in the creation of a gingerbread village for the narthex, too! Hope to see you there!

Peace and grace,

Jennifer Davidson
Worship & Spiritual Growth

The Last Words of David Devotional, Part 1

Below is the first of a two-part devotional I contributed to the book Ordinary Time. The scripture these devotionals are based upon are from the Hebrew Scripture texts for Sunday, November 26, 2006--the day we celebrate Christ the King.

2 Samuel 23: 1-7

Now these are the last words of David:
The oracle of David, son of Jesse,
the oracle of the man whom God exalted,
the anointed of the God of Jacob,
the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:

The Spirit of the Lord speaks through me,
his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken,
the Rock of Israel has said to me:
One who rules over people justly,
ruling in the fear of God,
is like the light of morning,
like the sun rising on a cloudless morning,
gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.

Is not my house like this with God?
For God has made with me an everlasting covenant,
ordered in all things and secure.
Will God not cause to prosper
all my help and my desire?
But the godless are all like thorns
that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar
or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed on the spot.

The last words of David. So it all comes down to this: David on his deathbed, weak, breathing shallow. Maybe he is surrounded by advisors, some military men, and a few loved ones. Perhaps his son Solomon is there, feeling the weight of his coming reign. And maybe Bathsheba is there, ever-watchful. David, the great king and poet, the writer of soaring songs and heart-wrenching laments, breathing his last words.

It all comes down to this as he faces the finality of death.

His life passes before our eyes:

We see the boy David, the youngest son of Jesse, outside tending to the sheep as Samuel considers his brothers one by one as possible heirs to Saul’s throne. But the brothers were not to be chosen. Rather, the boy with beautiful eyes is anointed and receives upon himself the Spirit of God, even as the very same Spirit departs from Saul.

There is David now, cowering as he plays his lyre to soothe the tormented Saul’s spirit. And soon we see the small boy facing down the giant Philistine, killing him with a stone, and carrying his head as a trophy for Saul.

We see the love between David and Jonathan, their souls bound together as one.

And there is David the great warrior, slaying tens of thousands, gaining loyal followers, wooing women.

We see David the king, spying Bathsheba on a nearby roof. And we grieve as David conspires to have her husband, Uriah the Hittite, placed on the front lines and killed. We lament as David takes Bathsheba with all the authority of a king. And our heads fall into our hands as David indicts himself in response to Nathan’s bold challenge.

Our hearts are heavy when David and Bathsheba’s first-born child dies in infancy. And we marvel at the birth of their next son Solomon because we know his destiny.

Years later, there is David again—outraged at the rape of his daughter Tamar by her brother Amnon. And we want to shake him out of his moral paralysis while he neglects to seek justice for her, “because he loved Amnon, for he was his firstborn.” (2 Sam 13: 21)

How our hearts break when, partly as a consequence to David’s inaction, his son Absalom is assassinated. The world seems to come to a standstill as David cries out in the agony of profound grief: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!” (2 Sam 18: 33b)

David the boy, the warrior, the man, the king, the father, now faces the finality of death. And in that moment, the Spirit of God speaks through him. The Rock of Israel gives him a vision of the one who rules justly. This one “is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.”

The vision is spectacular. It is a vision of new life, of infinite possibility. The land has been quenched of its thirst overnight. The sun now bursts across the sky and catches the moisture still clinging to the grass. The world is bejeweled. There is nothing hidden on a cloudless morning.

Our hearts cannot help but to leap on such a morning as this. We rise, as it were, to the occasion. Such a morning draws us into itself. We experience it as an invitation into the fullness of life. This is the attraction, the charisma of the one who rules justly. There is a beauty to it that sweeps us off our feet, that gifts us with possibility.

David sees the vision and asks, “Is not my house like this with God?” Oh, how he wants it to be so, dear David the boy, the warrior, the man, the king, the father. He remembers God’s everlasting covenant and hopes that surely God sees David’s rule as the light of morning. Still, we hear in David’s question the remnants of his cries. David has witnessed so much loss, been made inconsolable by so much deception, that he cannot quite say with utter confidence, in the stark honesty of the deathbed, that his rule has been like the sun rising on a cloudless morning. He wants to say it with all his heart. But it comes out in the form of a question: “Is not my house like this with God?”

On his deathbed, David must be looking both backward and forward. He must be gathering into his question all of his life’s experiences as boy, warrior, man, king, and father. But he must also be gathering into it all of his expectations for the future. It is not his future, true. But it is the future of David’s kingdom, his beloved Israel. He has already drawn Solomon close to him and urged him to “Be strong, be courageous, and keep the charge of the Lord your God . . .” (I Kings 2:2) Inasmuch as he may have fallen short of God’s vision of a just ruler, David desires Solomon to attain to it.

Looking backward and looking forward, David places his hope in a vision of God’s justice.

Holy Spirit of God, grant me a vision of your kin-dom and enrapture me with the infinite possibility of your bright dawn. Give me the courage and strength to greet this and every dawn in unending hope.

-Jennifer W. Davidson

Last Words of David Devotional, Part 2

Below is the second of a two-part devotional I contributed to the book Ordinary Time. The scripture these devotionals are based upon are from the Hebrew Scripture texts for Sunday, November 26, 2006--the day we celebrate Christ the King.

Yesterday we considered David’s deathbed vision of the just ruler. It was a vision that swept us into its beauty, a vision of infinite possibility. With David we could see the bright morning sun dazzling the grass with brightly jeweled water droplets. We delighted in the cloudless sky of a new day.

But we also faced with David some of the hard realities of his life and reign. We heard a cry in his question: “Is not my house like this with God?” In the facing of death it is difficult to turn our backs to life. In the facing of death, we must also honestly face the realities of our lives. For David that meant acknowledging in some sense the failures of his reign. God did not find David’s house to be a vision of infinite possibility. But God was with David and continued to prod him into visions of justice.

David’s vision on his deathbed seems to be one more place where the narrative of the monarchy is undercut by a strain of subversive critique. In the beginning of 1 Samuel, the people beg Samuel for a king to govern them. They wanted to be more like the other nations. It was not enough for them to be in relationship with the Great Liberator, the Saving One. No, the people wanted flesh and blood. Someone who could “go out before us and fight our battles.” (1 Sam 8:20) Memories of a pillar of fire and cloud could no longer suffice.

God warned the people through Samuel of all the ways they would live to regret allowing a king to rule over them. The king will take their sons to be soldiers and their daughters to be cooks; he will take their vineyards and olive orchards and grains; he will take their slaves; he will take their cattle and donkeys. Even so, the people persisted in their desire. And God, with regret, granted their desires. We will make the best of it, God seems to sigh, “Listen to their voice and set a king over them.” (1 Sam 8:22)

But the biblical narrative retains this voice of critique in connection to the reign of kings over God’s people. Sometimes the critique is between the lines. Sometimes it’s the violent shout of the raging prophet.

The voice of critique urges us to recognize that centralized power will inevitably lead to corruption. It will inevitably become the hard-hearted power of Pharaoh or Caesar.

The critique is no less real today. Even now, we can be certain that centralized power will take our sons and daughters to be soldiers. It will not protect the weakest members of our society. It will abandon the disinherited to the rising waters of poverty and starvation. Centralized power will lie to protect itself. It will speak as if it were God.

But the power as the world conceives of it is not power as God conceives of it. “God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor. 1:27)

This coming Sunday we will celebrate another king, one who comes from the line of David. It is in this king that we will see, finally, a realization of God’s vision of the just ruler. For this king, the crucified Christ, is one that offers infinite possibility.

This king is no king. This lord is no lord. He is a king that stymies the powerful. He is a lord that does not rule over. His power makes no sense. His power leads him before Pilate and to the cross just beyond. His power leads him into death. And his power disrupts death’s grip.

As we discovered yesterday, David’s vision of the just ruler is a beautiful vision that attracts us to it with its warmth and bursting energy. It is the beauty of life-giving possibility. The charisma of the Christ, the Just Ruler, is irresistible. We wish to bask in the light of that cloudless morning.

Notice that in David’s vision, the just ruler does not do anything, does not rule by controlling anything. Rather, the just ruler evokes a response, a heart-leaping response. Indeed this is not power as the world conceives. (Truth is, it’s the undoing of the world’s power!) The power of the just ruler, of the Christ, is one that makes us want to say, “Yes!”

What barriers do we put up that keep us from basking in the light of God’s cloudless morning? What is our limited view of power that keeps us from opening ourselves to the infinite possibility of “Yes!”

Bedazzle me, Infinite Light, with visions of justice that draw from me my “Yes!” Open me to the possibilities of your power available to all. Give me the eyes to see your compassionate Spirit at work in the world, like water-jewels sparkling in the morning sun. Grant me the living faith to bask in you.

-Jennifer W. Davidson