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David in Recovery
a sermon based on 2 Samuel 15 -18
by Rev. Thomas Hall

By trade, my daughter is a halo-demolitionist. Whenever I feel particularly holy or especially spiritual, all I need do is call on Lizzy. She rushes to my aid, brushing all religious jargon aside in order to get to the real important stuff. Listen in on Sunday dinner after church at the parsonage:

"Hey, Liz, did you get the sermon about Mephibosheth today?"

"Yeah, but Dad, do you like my pierced navel?"

"Hey Liz, what did you like about church today?"

"What do you mean I have to be home by 11:30 tonight?"

"I felt God moving in deep ways among us during worship today."

"Why do you pour the juice into the cup from way up in the air?"

So Lizzy helps me to land the plane, to come down from the clouds to where I’m supposed to be. She’s honest. Actually she’s too honest; tells me when I’m wearing two different colored socks, when the broccoli is hanging between my teeth, and when I need to get real.

Maybe David had a daughter like that; maybe she’s the one who recorded her dad’s life. If we’ve had any romantic ideas about David, they’re gone. We’ve met a man who can sin with gusto. Yet there is a Davidic life, out there-a life of following Jesus, centered in the worship of God. David has discovered some of that life. There are times when he is deeply passionate about God; he becomes aware of God’s presence. But at other times, he gets so full of himself that he almost believes he is God. More David less God. Today we find David at his lowest point; he’s sitting in a local AA meeting. He is in recovery for the mess that he has created for himself and his family.

David and Absalom

How he comes to need recovery is the story about David and Absalom. One day, one of David’s sons, Amnon, is infatuated with beautiful Tamar, Absalom’s little sister. Amnon forces Tamar, violates her. Absalom is outraged, but he doesn’t lose his temper. He reacts with cool, calculated murder. Even the favorite son status doesn’t free him from a murder rap. So David banishes Absalom to exile.

But now comes a very sad part of the story. David eventually does let his son return home, but he never again will embrace him. He will never greet him by name, never allow Absalom in his presence, not even for a moment. David chooses to hold on to his bitterness. But what Absalom needs is a fresh start. He needs more than a piece of royal stationary that says, "get out of jail free." He really needs his dad to say to his face, "Absalom, you are forgiven."

But he didn’t make that choice. Instead, deep down inside David refuses to forgive, he withhold blessing, and denies grace. Can you imagine living in a small town like Jerusalem? Each day, David looking around to make sure he won’t see his son, or his son see him? How sad.

Well, eventually, hope dies. And so Absalom replaces that hope with bitterness. Absalom’s motto has always been: don’t get mad, just get even. Takes him four years, but he gets his father back. He builds up quite a following among the citizens. He convinces them that he can do a much better job that David. So when he thinks he has enough support, Absalom pronounces himself king and forces David to evacuate Jerusalem and run for his life.

David in Recovery

Recovery for David begins on the run. He takes stock of his situation-he’s lost his kingdom and his beloved son. He’s hurting. Someone has said that suffering makes us better or bitter. What is suffering going to do to David? Could make him bitter. But it could bring him into recovery-and that’s a much better place to be.

As David leaves Jerusalem, fleeing for his life, God sends the king a halo-demolition guy named Shimei who preaches to him. Shimei walks along a ridge above the road David is traveling; he throws rocks at him and throws dust up into the air and yells out, "Get out of town, you worthless old man!" "You corrupt, stupid king! Murderer! Dirty old man." And he throws more rocks and hurls more curses.

Abishai, one of David’s bodyguards, says, "Hey, David, let me go over and ice that guy-nobody’s going to talk to my king that way." But David says no. He says, "No. Shimei is right. He is telling the truth about me. He is preaching God’s word to me this night. Let him alone-his sermon of curses is God’s word to me."

Those words tell David precisely what he has become, the wrongs he has committed, all the people he has failed. He faces the truth-his real identity is not king, but sinner. David let his suffering lead him back to the God who loves and forgives.

David also recovers his life of prayer. He gets in personal touch with God again. To accomplish that, God sends him another halo-demo guy-his trusted advisor, Ahithophel. Try saying that name three times real fast! This guy has been with David for decades, always counseled him toward the best course of action. When Ahithophel talks everyone listens! But what David didn’t know is that this trusted advisor was an opportunist. All the smart money that night was on Absalom, so this advisor runs over to the new king.

No single piece of information could be more devastating to David than this news. Ahithophel was worth more to David than a thousand soldiers-but he was even more valuable to Absalom because knew David’s mind so well. The coup was now assured.

So David is on his knees again. Been a long time since he’s prayed. I mean, who needs to pray when you’ve got Ahithophel? But now he prays once again, "O Lord, I pray that you turn the counsel of Ahithophel into foolishness." And God begins to answer David’s prayer.

One more thing that I can see that David recovers in his suffering. See if you can pick up on what it is. Imagine the chaos. Civil war is raging in the kingdom. And as David’s troops go out to fight Absalom’s troops, David yells, "For my sake, deal gently with the young man, Absalom." Deal gently with the young man, Absalom? Yeah right! How did that sentence get into the story? That young man has forced him out of the palace. That young man has violated his wives. That young man has divided his kingdom. Deal gently with him? Therein lies one more thing David recovers- he recovers his extraordinary capacity to love. He now realizes that he loves his son, Absalom, no matter that he’s screwed up life.

He now confesses that he has been the one who distanced himself from his son. He is the one who has refused to bless, he is the one who has shut the door on his son’s fingers. And now he’s going to change all of that.

Unfortunately, his captain brushes this compassion aside as if it was silly sentimentalism. Finding Absalom caught in the forest, he does not treat the young man very gently, but he viciously spears him and then invites his young warriors to target practice on Absalom’s body as if a bunch of Neanderthals had trapped a mammoth in a pit.

When David hears of Absalom’s death, he utters the most pathetic words a father could ever utter: "O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! I wish I could have died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!"

I wonder how differently this story would have turned out if David had heard Jesus’ story about the Prodigal Son. A punk-kid makes some dumb choices and ends up in a pigpen. And even though the kid has made a mess, his father screens his eyes against the landscape looking for that familiar figure to come home. He wants so bad to forgive him, to restore him to the family. And when he finally sees that familiar shape on the horizon, how does he greet him? With silence? With anger? With "Oh, so you think you can just come crawling back now, do you?" Jesus, describing God’s action toward us, says that the father runs out to the son and throws his hands around his son’s neck and sobs. And kisses him and throws a party for him. That’s what the ideal Davidic life looks like when we’re in touch with God.

Hear the good news! We are people in recovery. We are recovering the power to become people of humility, people of prayer, and people of compassion. So let me close back in that AA meeting. We’re all there. David. Absalom. Ahithophel. Shimei. Hall. Halo-demolitionist, Liz. You. Listen in as the meeting begins.

The Serenity Prayer is just being read, then silence. Harry reads from the AA book and then Michelle recites the Twelve Steps. Jack is the appointed leader for the night. "The theme tonight is gratitude," he begins, "but if anybody wants to talk about something else, let’s hear it."

Immediately Phil’s hand shoots up. "As you all know, last week I went up to Reading to visit family and missed the meeting. You know I have been sober for seven years. Last Monday I got drunk and stayed drunk for five days.

The only sound in the room was the drip of Mr. Coffee in the corner.

"You all know the buss word, HALT-don’t let yourself get hungry, angry, lonely, or tired-HALT. Or you become vulnerable. The last three got to me . . ." Phil chokes up and so he lowers his head. Moist eyes, tears of compassion, soft sobbing are now the only sounds in the room.

"Same thing happened to me, Phil, but I stayed a mess for a whole year."

"Thank God you’re back."

"Boy, that took a lot of guts."

"I’m so proud of you."

"Hell, I never even made it close to seven years."

The meeting ends and Phil stands up. He feels a hand on his shoulder, another on his face. Then kisses on his eyes, forehead, neck and cheek.

"You old ragamuffin," says Denise. Let’s go. I’m treating everyone to a banana split." Amen.