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God's Long-Term Faithfulness
a sermon based on 2 Samuel 27:1-7
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Ivan Ilych is dying. [1] 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 Tolstoy’s 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 don’t 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 died.’"

Nothing unusual about the notice except the way Tolstoy moves us from platitudes to inner thoughts about this death. We’re suddenly listening in on polite conversations and to what these people are really thinking.

"That’s too bad," whispers one. "They said it was incurable." But inside he’s thinking, "Oh boy, Ivan’s dead! Now I’ll get that promotion and the extra 800 rubles a year."

"His wife must have taken that real hard." But inside he’s really thinking, "Great day! Ivan’s out of the way, now I’ll be able to arrange for his wife’s brother to move here; that’ll keep her from nagging about how I never do anything for her family." What whispers will make the rounds about us at our leaving?

Whispers are making the rounds in a new bestseller about Benjamin Franklin’s 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 . . . [2]


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 believ’d) Appear once more,

In a new and more elegant Edition

Revised and Corrected By the Author.

I’ve 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 they’d 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 person’s character had inspired them to greatness or virtue. Sad, isn’t 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 David’s time to die. And what words will he utter as his parting words?





Disaster crouches near David’s door of death. His death will open a Pandora’s Box of trouble to a troubled family in a nation with a troubled past. Maybe his situation is a little like what’s 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.

David’s 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. It’s a kingdom that he’s worked hard to build; he’s united two warring factions into a new nation, established a new capital and consolidated worship, defeated his nation’s 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 righteousness?

What about us in this story? Most of us don’t 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. We’re 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 unsettling.

I think we wonder don’t we? We wonder how everyone will be taken care of when we are no longer around. "What about my wife?" wonders a dying man who’s been married longer than he’s 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 death.

So David now faces the inevitable. He faces the "death" part of Ben Franklin’s 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 David’s family tree. More than anything else, David fears for this. He certainly hasn’t kept up his end of the deal. So he prays.

Maybe it’s a scared-prayer. You know that kind. It’s the prayers we pray when we’re desperate and when the outcome is very uncertain. But maybe the prayer is simply a political ploy-telling everyone who can read that Israel’s 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 David’s 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 David’s line through the centuries, though later it will virtually be eclipsed completely through Israel’s bad choices and Israel’s 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 David’s 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 God’s 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 God’s 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, God’s 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, she’s finally ready to come home!" "I’ve wanted to meet her for a long time!" "Welcome, friend! I know you’ve suffered, now enter a joy and peace that you never could have imagined on earth!" "Yeah, so great to finally meet you!" "You don’t know how we’ve all longed to be with you." "We’re going to celebrate your homecoming!" You get the idea-our arrival will be anticipated and we will be welcomed. And only because of God’s 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 don’t have to cringe and avoid or try to out-maneuver death. We know that our life is in God’s 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 God’s 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 don’t 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. God’s 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 Lord’s. Great is Thy Long-Term Faithfulness! Amen.

[1] “The Death of Ivan Ilych,” by Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy, 1886; internet downloaded by Chuck Cox:
[2] These words appear on the tombstone of Benjamin Franklin.