A Lament

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost
July 1, 2018

2 Samuel 1:1, 17-27

On the wall behind our kitchen table, Maggie and I have hung pictures of our family going back a hundred years. We have pictures of my parents when they got married, a picture of Maggie’s parents when they were dating. We even have a picture of my great-grandfather meeting President Franklin Roosevelt. We fondly remember our family, those whom we love. 

But I’ll be the first to admit, we don’t have pictures of everybody in our family on that wall. There are some people in our family that we have conveniently un-remembered. You know what I mean. Sometimes the disagreements have been too bitter, the history too intense, that we keep those pictures safely in a box, in the attic, conveniently un-remembered.

Family feuds are always the worst because they turn love into hate. It’s always been that way. Take a look at what’s been happening in the Old Testament over the past few weeks. Just a refresher. Saul had been anointed King of Israel. But Saul turned from God and God anointed David as King of Israel. But to make matters more complicated, David married Saul’s daughter. David’s best friend was Saul’s son. But both Saul and David had been anointed as King of Israel. So the followers of Saul fought against the followers of David, they fought over who would be king, they fought a civil war. I doubt that Saul would have wanted his rebellious son-in-law’s picture at his kitchen table. I bet that David would have preferred to keep his father-in-law’s picture locked away in the attic. Family feuds are the worst.

But the Bible always manages to surprise us. See, Saul is surrounded by an army of Philistines, the arch-enemies of the ancient Israelites, and Saul uses his sword on himself. Right before what we read this morning, David gets word that Saul, his own father-in-law whom he had been competing against to be kind, is dead. Now, a normal person, who wants to become king, someone with their eyes set on a worldly prize, someone like us, would be happy that their opponent is dead. We would expect David to rejoice, to sing and clap his hands. “That bum Saul is dead and now I’m king!”

But that’s not what David does. He mourns. David cries out, “Your glory, O Israel, lies slain upon your high places! How the mighty have fallen!” That’s where that phrase comes from. Imagine that, Saul had been trying to kill David. But it’s Saul who dies, and instead of celebrating, David mourns. Instead of hiding that picture of Saul in his attic, David puts it right smack in the center of the wall. 

Now, I am not suggesting that you drag out all the pictures of your estranged relatives and put that on display. The real pain, the abuse, and the neglect of some of those relationships are definitely best left in the past. But that’s not the pressing lesson here. 

When Saul took the low road, David took the high road. That’s the crux of this story. There had been many instances when David could have killed Saul, but he didn’t. When Saul died, David could have thumped his chest in pride. We expect war stories to be about macho men parading around when their enemy dies. We expect family feuds to end with one side trashing the other. But David took the high road.

Like I said, the Bible always manages to surprise. Jesus said to pray for your enemies and those who persecute you. Pray for them. Jesus does not say to strap on your sword and show them who’s boss, but to pray for them. To pray for your enemy. To pray for that person whose picture you keep hidden away in the attic.

It’s a tall order. But the whole landscape of our world would be different, it would be lovelier, if we took this to heart; if we did what Jesus told us to do and prayed for those who hate us; if we learned from David that we can lament for our enemies. If we hung up pictures of those members of our family. Not to celebrate them, or to say that they weren’t that rotten after all, but simply to acknowledge the pain of the broken relationship. With David, to sing a song of lament. And maybe that’s all I’m asking for. Is that we – as a church, as families, as a society, as individuals – have the courage to acknowledge pain instead of covering it up. To pray instead of thumping our chests.

Don’t hear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying that your estranged family members aren’t that bad after all. Remember, Saul is described as a man who turned away from God. David’s song of lament isn’t making a judgment on Saul’s righteousness or unrighteousness. And if you remember your Bible, David wasn’t all that great either. David’s song is simply acknowledging the human pain and suffering caused by this broken relationship.

It’s true in family feuds, and it’s true in war. Which is really just a big family feud because we are all children of God. War does something to us, it wears us down, it hurts us in one way or another. I think about my peers, the kids who graduated from high school with me. For us, the United States has been at war for over half our lives in Afghanistan and Iraq. We’ve had friends die over there, they’ve come back wounded, with PTSD, they’re still over there. Veterans take their own lives at an astonishing rate. I am not making a comment upon the war other than to say it has caused suffering in more ways than one. Hearts have become calloused, marriages destroyed, precious lives taken away. And like David, sometimes I just want to sit and weep at what we have lost. To weep instead of beating my chest. And I think the way forward – the way of peace, to care for our veterans, to help repair broken families – is to acknowledge the pain, to hang the picture on the wall, instead of keeping it hidden in the attic.

Yes, I look forward to celebrating Independence Day with fireworks and BBQ and God Bless America. But I will also take a moment to reflect on the unholy trinity of pain – the pain we have inflicted upon others, the pain we have inflicted upon ourselves, the pain that has been inflicted upon us. I am going to take a moment, like David, to mourn for those souls who have been chewed up and spit out by it all. By no means am I going to hang up pictures of all the evil dictators of the world on my wall, but I will weep for a moment, I will weep for just how broken the world is. I will weep at the mere fact that humanity has been singing these songs of lament since the time of David. 

This is a day and age of triumphalism, of refusing to back down, of never admitting fault. But that’s not the path of Jesus. What I ask you to do this week, is to take a moment and pray for our enemies, big and small. Pray for our enemies around the world. Pray for those family members of yours that you haven’t spoken to in years. You don’t have to pray that one day you’ll hold hands with them and sing Kum-Bay-Yah. Just, hold them up to God and weep for this broken world. 

We, the followers of Jesus, have the unique capacity to hold space in our hearts and in our prayers for our enemies. We learn this from the Lord himself, who forgave those who crucified him even as they crucified him. We are the ones who can hold space. We can give the world a refreshing break from all that hardness and chest thumping. In our baptismal promises we promise to God that we will respect the dignity of every human being. Every human being. And that includes the very people who have wronged us, and wronged us deeply.

We, as the followers of Jesus, can take out all those un-remembered memories from our collective attics. Not to forgive and forget. But to forgive, to remember, and to pray.

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