Monday, 26 September 2016

Depths of Mercy - Sunday 25th September 2016

It feels easy to trust God when things are going well. We lazily assume that they are going well because God loves us and we are pleasing him in the way we are living. But what about when things go badly? What about when things go badly through our own fault? How easily can we trust God then?
Towards the end of his life, King David seriously offended God by conducting a detailed census of Israel’s potential army. Almost as soon as the census was complete, David realised his error: he had failed to trust God, trusting - instead - the strength of his military force. God took action to discipline the ageing king, and demanded that David choose from three proposed punishments. David made his choice immediately. He opted for the third, three days of plague, stating: “Let’s fall into the hand of God, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands.”
Even though David’s trust in God had evidently become somewhat flakey, he was quick to trust God’s discipline. He did not think of God as being terribly vengeful, but as being essentially merciful. One of the features of David's story is that he was evidently an experienced sinner, and as such, understood more than many people the depths of God’s mercy. If he was going to be punished, David had no doubt that he wanted to be punished by God.
It is when we entrust God with our failures and our disasters that we begin to experience the depth of his mercy. And it is as we begin to experience the depth of God’s mercy that we learn how to show mercy to others.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Emotional Dilemmas - Sunday 18th September 2016

Emotions are part of being human. In addition to our intentions, understandings and beliefs we have feelings which can scoop us up and sweep us off in unintended directions. Some emotions are desirable companions: joy, laughter and love. Others are unwelcome guests: sadness, anger and grief.
After King David was driven into exile by his son, Absalom, the only way he could return to his home was if Absalom was defeated. Before the inevitable battle, David pleaded with his generals to be gentle with the young man. The generals ignored the king’s request. Absalom was dispatched; David’s reign was restored, but his son was dead.
David collapsed into searing grief. It is perhaps not a surprise, as he was a poet, that his grief was hauntingly poetic: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”
It was good for David to express his grief. Grief needs to be expressed. But there was a problem. Because David was grieving loudly and publicly, his victorious troops were sneaking back to the city like defeated men. The chief general, Joab, gave David a stiff talking to, the gist of which was: ‘If you don’t get your act together and show some appreciation for your soldiers, you will lose your kingdom a second time.’
Emotions are great asset to human society, but they can also be a challenge. Their great power can be a force for either good or ill. Some people are emotionally manipulative; others are emotionally repressed.
David needed to express is grief. He also needed to pull himself together and do his job. We all face such moments. The best guide in the emotional jungle is, love. Jesus’ advice is hard to beat: “Treat others as you would have them treat you."

Monday, 12 September 2016

When things go wrong - Sunday 11th September 2016

Things go wrong. Occasionally they go horribly wrong. The news is filled with such moments, but we don’t need to look that far. In our own lives, something goes wrong most days. The question is: what happens next?
Do you dissolve into tears or flare into anger? Do you look for someone to blame, or blame yourself? When things go wrong we experience an urgent need to respond somehow.
When King David was well settled into middle age, things went horribly wrong for him. His son, Absalom, usurped his kingdom, causing him to dash into exile. As David hurried away from Jerusalem, his life’s work in tatters, he was followed by an old enemy, called Shemei, who threw stones and curses at him in equal measure. One of David’s generals offered to kill the man. David was indignant at the suggestion. “It may be,” he replied, “that God has told Shemei to curse me.”
In the middle of intense disaster, David was trying to discern what God was doing in the situation. Perhaps God had raised up Absalom. Perhaps David had had his time. Perhaps Shimei was right to curse him. On the other hand: perhaps God would restore David to his throne, and repay him with good for the cursing he was receiving. David needed time to answer those questions.
Ancient European religion believed there were two sets of equally matched spiritual forces in the world: good and evil; life and death; light and darkness. Much of that primitive thinking has seeped its way into Christianity. King David, however, had no such thoughts. For him there was only one significant spiritual force: God. And he had learned to trust God when things went badly just as much as when things went well.
Christians often assume that nice things come from God, and nasty things come from sin or the devil. That is far too simplistic. When things go horribly wrong - and they inevitably will at times - we would do well to follow David’s example: trust God, and pause to consider what he might be doing.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Failure & Potential - Sunday 4th September 2016

David, Israel’s greatest king, the writer of psalms, ‘man after God’s heart’, revered as a prophet…saw a beautiful woman - Bathsheba - taking a bath, learned she was married, invited her to his bed, made her pregnant, fell in love with her, and killed her husband so he could marry her.
That would bring a sudden end to most people’s careers, whether or not they were a political or religious leader (David was both).
God moved swiftly. David’s multiple crime was uncovered, and severe punishment detailed.
It is here that the story takes a surprising turn. David apologised, quickly and unreservedly. God, equally quickly and unreservedly, forgave him. David continued to be Israel’s greatest king, a writer of psalms, a man after God’s heart, and revered as a prophet.
And there’s more: David’s relationship with Bathsheba was accepted and blessed by God. The child of their adultery died, but their second son - Solomon - went on to be Israel’s next greatest king, and was the ancestor of Jesus.
When God forgives, he forgives totally, because he values our strengths above our weaknesses, our potential above our lapses, our achievements above our failures. God knows that we sometimes sink to dismal depths, but he also knows that we can rise to soaring heights. He doesn’t want our failings to get in the way of our potential.