David: A Complicated Character

Sermon for Year B Proper 6
June 17, 2018

“The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7

Growing up I loved the Old Testament heroes and heroines, patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and judges.  I loved their stories.  Like Abraham, who left his people for a land promised him by God.  Or the young boy Samuel, who answered the Divine calling with, “Here I am!”  Or Esther, who became Queen of the Persians and saved her people from extermination.  Yet the older I’ve become and the further time between me and my Sunday school years, the more I’ve realized that some of these heroes and heroines, patriarchs and matriarchs, prophets and judges, are rather complicated characters—like King David.

I imagine when we consider David’s character, we conjure up certain stories—like him defending his flock of sheep from a lion; or when he takes down Goliath with just a slingshot (a vignette we will read next Sunday); or our reading for today, which takes us to the beginning of David’s story when is anointed king over Israel.  Today we meet David the shepherd, the youngest of Jesse’s eight sons.  He is handsome yes, but rather inconspicuous otherwise.  I imagine his red hair is mess, his face is covered in dirt, and his sandals are caked in mud and sheep dung.  And yet God says to the prophet Samuel: “The LORD does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the LORD looks on the heart.”

God saw within David a heart that was open, willing, ready to commit to God.  And so although David—this teenage loner who spends all his time watching sheep in the mountain valleys—is an unlikely choice (barely more than a boy), God chooses him to replace Saul as king of Israel.  And David was a good and worthy king at that—well at least at first.  The more I’ve studied our sacred Scriptures, the more I’ve realized that David is one of the most complicated characters.  He is a broken, divisive, flawed human being.

We will hear more of his story as the summer progresses.  But if we were to jump forward to the lection assigned for July 29th, we would hear the story of David and Bathsheba.  This great king who had everything he could have ever wanted, somehow wanted more.  He coveted the wife of his general Uriah.  And so because of his desire for Bathsheba, he sent Uriah to the front lines of battle, and therefore had him murdered.  And later in David’s narrative—after he has had many children, beginning to grow into old age—we find him ignoring the fact that his son Amnon sexually assaulted his half-sister Tamar.  Yet King David does nothing to punish this prince of Israel for such a deplorable act.  Then on August 12th we will hear the sad story of David attempting to kill his own son, Absolom—the heir to the throne of Israel.  By the end of the story, David’s son and heir will be dead.

Yet today in this scenario with Samuel, we encounter a young David whose heart was open and willing and committed to following God.  A man who is still a boy and yet is chosen to be King of Israel, because “the LORD does not see as mortals see… the LORD looks on the heart.”

So where did David go wrong?  What happened for him to be so led astray that he would murder someone, ignore one son’s sin and turn against another?  How and why did his heart change so drastically?  I imagine it is not that hard to do.  Being a human being is difficult enough, let alone being the king of a budding nation.  How easy is it to forget about God in our daily lives? To forget to open our hearts to the Divine?

I myself have done it.  On Thursday night I was driving Ginnie’s convertible with the top rolled back, down Highway 28 to a dinner at Camp Galilee, and I looked out onto the Lake and the mountains and praised God for the glory I was blessed to witness.  Yet in that moment I realized it had been several days since I took such time; allowed myself a deep breath; permitted myself to be present, fully present with the Divine.  Instead it has been so much easier to be focused inwardly instead of opening my heart outwardly.  I have been consumed with a move across town—with dealing with property managers and new landlords.  I have been wrapped up in my work—with a wedding this weekend in Tahoe City and pastoral concerns with many parishioners.  I have been so worried about my husband’s well being—in his new position at his at work—that I had not taken the time to sit alone with God, to meditate, to contemplate, to simply just pray.  I had gotten so wrapped up in my own life and the lives of others that I, a priest, had forgotten to pray.  And it is in my job description!  I had forgotten to turn my heart to God.  And the distancing had begun.

For the calling of the Divine is not a single moment in time.  The Lord does not look on our heart one day and not the next.  Salvation is not solely one coming to Jesus moment.  But the life of faith, our walk with Christ, means to everyday return to God, to redirect our view on the Divine, to open our hearts up to the Lord.

This is where David, our hero, the King of Israel, may have gone astray.  This broken man in the busyness of being King, in the burden and responsibility that was placed upon his shoulders, I imagine he forgot to return to God, to redirect his view on the Divine, to open his heart up to the Lord.  As a shepherd in the years before he was anointed by Samuel—and that holy oil ran down his face as he embarked on his journey as King—, David had ample time to sit in silence as he watched his sheep; to contemplate in contentment as he strummed his harp and wrote some of the Psalms; to mediate on the Divine day and night under the branches of an olive tree and under the stars shining through the darkness.  So when the Lord looked upon his heart in today’s narrative, David was open and willing and ready to commit to God.  But as he became king and consumed with certain duties and responsibilities, David forgot to take that time to sit in silence, to contemplate in contentment to mediate on the Divine day and night, to simply just pray.

Anyone is capable of this, not just David.  Us broken and limited human beings, we have a tendency to divert our attention from the Divine and place ourselves instead at the center of the universe.  We are inclined to distract ourselves with daily commitments that may seem important in the moment, but just create unnecessary anxiety in our lives.  We like sheep are “prone to wander…prone to leave the God we love.”  Yet thankfully everyday we have the opportunity to return to our God, to redirect our view on the Divine, to open our hearts up to the Lord.  All it takes is that single moment to stop, take a deep breath, and simply pray.

May the Lord look on our hearts today and everyday, and find them open and willing and ready to commit to our God.

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