God's Long-Term Faithfulness
a sermon based on 2 Samuel 27:1-7
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Ivan Ilych is dying.  The man had only
intended to do a small, routine task in the house, but one slip from a ladder and the fall
became the beginning of the end for Ivan Ilych. In Tolstoys famous story, several
lawyers later sit around talking during court recess. One of them suddenly interrupts the
conversation when he notices someone he recognizes in the obituary section of the paper.
"Gentlemen, Ivan Ilych has died!"
"You dont say?" says the others.
"Yeah, it says right here in the paper: Praskovya Fedorovna Golovina, with
profound sorrow, informs relatives and friends of the demise of her beloved husband Ivan
Ilych Golovin, Member of the Court of Justice, February 4th of this year 1882, has
Nothing unusual about the notice except the way Tolstoy moves us from platitudes to
inner thoughts about this death. Were suddenly listening in on polite conversations
and to what these people are really thinking.
"Thats too bad," whispers one. "They said it was incurable."
But inside hes thinking, "Oh boy, Ivans dead! Now Ill get that
promotion and the extra 800 rubles a year."
"His wife must have taken that real hard." But inside hes really
thinking, "Great day! Ivans out of the way, now Ill be able to arrange
for his wifes brother to move here; thatll keep her from nagging about how I
never do anything for her family." What whispers will make the rounds about us at our
Whispers are making the rounds in a new bestseller about Benjamin Franklins life.
Like King David, Ben Franklin was a mixed bag-his achievements and inventions still
inspire us. But also like David, we read of his nadir of unfaithfulness and the sad
estrangement from his only son. Listen to the final words from this dying man . . . 
The Body of B Franklin Printer (Like the Cover of an Old Book
Its Contents torn out And stript of its Lettering & Gilding)
Lies here, Food for Worms. But the work shall not be lost;
For it will (as he believd) Appear once more,
In a new and more elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected By the Author.
Ive presided at a lot of funerals. I recently officiated at a funeral of someone
I did not know. She was on the membership roll I guess. The service was a sad moment for
me. The family insisted that friends and family offer fitting words about their loved one.
One person described theyd get together on Friday nights and drink themselves silly.
Another told how this person introduced her to a life a great vodka-drinking. Several
others said similar things. Not a single person mentioned how the deceased persons
character had inspired them to greatness or virtue. Sad, isnt it? How sad to be
remembered for recruiting others to hard liquor. Thankfully, that scenario is out-balanced
by many funerals in which I also did not know the deceased person, yet was inspired by
their acts of forgiveness, self-less service, faithfulness, and the wholesome humor that
marked their lives.
Now its Davids time to die. And what words will he utter as his parting words?
[ READ THE PASSAGE FROM 2ND SAMUEL 23:1-7 ]
Disaster crouches near Davids door of death. His death will open a Pandoras
Box of trouble to a troubled family in a nation with a troubled past. Maybe his situation
is a little like whats happening in Afghanistan-a thinly united nation with plenty
of radical fundamentalists just waiting for the right moment to rush in and fill the
vacuum of power.
Davids death will also create a vacuum of power that power-hungry people will
rush in to fill. David knows that on one side of his breath is a kingdom under his
control. Its a kingdom that hes worked hard to build; hes united two
warring factions into a new nation, established a new capital and consolidated worship,
defeated his nations enemies, and started a royal dynasty.
He also knows that on the other side of his breath is more than death. He has been
unfaithful to God, to his family and to his nation. He knows that he has severely violated
the very God who lovingly elevated him to power. He knows that he will leave behind a
family deeply wounded by his adultery and murder, by intrigue and incest, and sibling
murder. David, no doubt would be anxious about these terrible troubles crouching near the
door of his death. He wonders what whispers will make the rounds when his breath leaves
him. Will the kingdom survive? Who will succeed him and will they rule with justice and
What about us in this story? Most of us dont go to the extreme consideration that
John Donne was reported to have gone-he occasionally would lie inside a coffin just to
remind him of the finality and the inevitability of death. He wanted to know that death
was crouching near the door of his life. Were not one to move a coffin into the
guest bedroom to serve the double function of reminder and guest bed!
I think most of us would prefer to avoid thinking at all about our own deaths. In fact,
we even try to out-maneuver death. We hear stories about colon cancer so we decide to eat
more fiber. Our neighbor takes the ambulance to the hospital for arrhythmia so we decide
to exercise more. We get a DUI so we resolve to drink less . . .to smoke less, to eat
fewer eggs, to drink more soy milk, and to imbibe more red wine before bed to lower our
cholesterol. Behind all of our strategies is the unspoken, fear that someday, somewhere,
someone will before our family and friends to say something about us. And that is very
I think we wonder dont we? We wonder how everyone will be taken care of when we
are no longer around. "What about my wife?" wonders a dying man whos been
married longer than hes been single. How will she manage? Those who know their
breath is leaving wonder, "Will my daughter grow into the beautiful, caring human
being I see and will she carry on our family traditions?" "Will his, will her
living of life make my dying meaningful?" "Will my life pay forward?" And
so we wonder about the whispers. We wonder about what lies crouching near the door of our
So David now faces the inevitable. He faces the "death" part of Ben
Franklins proverb: there are only two things certain in life-Death & Taxes. He
offers a short prayer. But it has an edge to it, an agenda. In essence, David reminds God
that they have an agreement between them in which God, years earlier, promised to provide
leadership from Davids family tree. More than anything else, David fears for this.
He certainly hasnt kept up his end of the deal. So he prays.
Maybe its a scared-prayer. You know that kind. Its the prayers we pray when
were desperate and when the outcome is very uncertain. But maybe the prayer is
simply a political ploy-telling everyone who can read that Israels kings come from a
divine precedent-God has done this-so back off, all aspirants to the throne!
What the prayer reminds us about however, is that the God who presides over beginnings
and endings is present to David all the way through his life. As Walter Brueggemann says,
"David is fully human with wounds, scars, and failures. He is neither sinless nor
innocent. But he is forgiven and that gives him power for a new life."
God stands at the end of Davids life-as God has at the beginning-ready to show
faithfulness and love. God is really into long-term faithfulness. Stands ready to carry
out the Plan that will go way beyond a single family or nation. God will continue
Davids line through the centuries, though later it will virtually be eclipsed
completely through Israels bad choices and Israels stronger enemies. Yet, God
continues to keep the Promise-it just comes in an unexpected way.
On this very Sunday we celebrate Jesus as the King and the answer to Davids dying
prayer. We call this Sunday, Christ the King Sunday. Our faith proclaims Jesus as the Son
of David and Son of God. God personally has descended in order to keep his promises.
So live your life in the knowledge that from the moment you were baptized to your final
day, God has been, is, and will be acting, building, creating, inspiring, guiding, and
fulfilling Gods purpose for our lives. Sometimes that purpose will be gained through
our best efforts but God will work despite of our worst failures. God is working mightily
within us, Paul says, both to will and to do of Gods good pleasure. The God who
greets us at the font, the One who nourishes us at the Table, and the One who welcomes us
at our death is powerfully present to us now and all the way through our life.
What should this knowledge mean to us? Personally, Gods long-term faithfulness
means that I no longer have to grasp life with white-knuckled fear. Behind that kind of
fear is a refusal to believe that God is at work bearing me along in a much larger purpose
in the world. Our faith assures us that there is Someone on the other side of our breath
waiting for us. Beholding us. Weeping with us. Loving us. I wonder what whispers make the
rounds about us on the other side? "Hey, look, shes finally ready to come
home!" "Ive wanted to meet her for a long time!" "Welcome,
friend! I know youve suffered, now enter a joy and peace that you never could have
imagined on earth!" "Yeah, so great to finally meet you!" "You
dont know how weve all longed to be with you." "Were going to
celebrate your homecoming!" You get the idea-our arrival will be anticipated and we
will be welcomed. And only because of Gods long-term faithfulness-that gives us
courage in the present context of our lives.
Every time I hear about the terrorism that stalks our international troops or the Red
Cross in Iraq; every time I hear of casualties at the hands of stupid terrorism, I am
saddened by how cheaply life is treated. But that will be our story too. Hopefully, more
predictable and less violent. Yet we too, will meet death. Nevertheless, when we have met
the God of Long-term Faithfulness, we just dont have to cringe and avoid or try to
out-maneuver death. We know that our life is in Gods loving purpose. That is enough
to give us courage for each day.
When Dwight L. Moody the 19th century evangelist was nearing his end, those who were in
his room reported that he said something like, "I see earth receding and heaven
opening; what a glorious moment!" Joseph Addison remarked at his death, "See in
what peace a Christian can die." On his death bed, King Charles V breathed his last:
"Ay Jesus." Because of Gods long-term faithfulness, we too can live from
beginning to end in the truth that God is present to give us courage for the living and
anticipation for the dying.
So dont just hear the Good News-believe the Good News! The God of Abraham, Isaac,
Jacob-and David-is deeply, faithfully, and endlessly committed to you. Gods
faithfulness will not override or ignore the warts of our personal lives. Yet the One whom
we worship is so completely committed to us that whether we live-or die-we are the
Lords. Great is Thy Long-Term Faithfulness! Amen.
 The Death of Ivan Ilych, by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 1886;
internet downloaded by Chuck Cox: http://www.tolstoy.org.
 These words appear on the tombstone of Benjamin Franklin.