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Fit to be King, Fit for a King
a sermon based on 2 Samuel 5:1-5; 9-10
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Sometimes I like to take a close look at biblical characters because they mirror our own lives. Their stories aren’t just isolated, dusty biographies, but windows into our own motives, experiences, and storied lives. During these summer Sundays, I invite you to step away from the same old, same old and into the stories of David as he lengthens his stride and enlarges his embrace.

If you were a shrewd listener this morning, you may have noticed that someone has grabbed their scissors and pulled a cut and paste job on this passage. Did you notice that some pieces were missing when this story was read? Why would that be? Someone sitting on a committee somewhere decided that we should not hear what’s written in verses 6-8, so they simply cut it out of the assigned lesson. But here’s what the missing piece says:

The king and his men marched to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land, who said to David. "You will not come in here, even the blind and the lame will turn you back"-thinking, "David cannot come in here."

Nevertheless David took the stronghold of Zion, which is now the city of David. David had said on that day, "Whoever would strike down the Jebusites, let him get up the water shaft to attack the lame and the blind, those who hate David."

Therefore it is said,

"The blind and the lame shall not come into the house."

What a difficult text! What harsh words about the blind and the lame! No wonder the lectionary committee cut them out of the passage - they seem to be hurtful words about physically-challenged folks. I wouldn’t want somebody to use my daughter’s asthmatic condition to make a point. In fact, I find myself standing with the very ones that are being disparaged. Wouldn’t you want to stand with the very ones being thrown around in the conversation? And that last line is so sad-Therefore, certain people "shall not come into this place." That’s so sad. Reminds me of Rosa Parks being told to sit in the back of the bus all over again. Certain people getting pushed around like nobodies because they lack beauty or grace or age or wealth.

So I went to the commentaries because they have all the answers to perplexing problems. Opened them up and read, "This is a difficult text." I thanked the authors very much. But consider with me, first of all, the lame and the blind are mentioned three times-like a neon sign pointing this phrase out lest we gloss over it. Second, David doesn’t hate these folks. In a couple of weeks we’ll discover that David is practically going to adopt a kid who cannot walk. And finally, we discover that in the larger fabric of the story, Jesus son of David will go out of his way to welcome the very ones who are handicapped or physically challenged. No, I think something else is going on here that we may never fully uncover.

Allow me to reconstruct this hard saying through the imagination of Jewish scholars that may get us to the heart of the story. Comes out of the 14th century.

In this interpretation, the blind and the lame were actually not people at all! They were two huge stone and wood statues designed to scare the geewilikers out of people. Not only that, they roughly parodied two of Israel’s heroes-old Isaac who could not see and thus got hoodwinked and young Jacob who limped from his all-night wrestling match with the angel. The Jebusites had twisted these heroes into two gargantuan evil idols-demonic figures with misshapen bodies and distorted faces to scare anyone caught close enough to their fortress. We do have evidence of other groups who did exactly the same thing.

But one commentator adds a little more imagination to the story. Do you remember that scene in the Wizard of Oz where Dorothy and Toto and the Tin Man, the Scarecrow, and the Cowardly Lion encounter the Great Oz? They are so scared that the Lion breaks ranks and tries to exit, the scarecrow faints, and everyone is overcome with fear. What they don’t know is that behind the curtain, the professor is working the levers and dials to spoof and scare them away. Well, that’s apparently what the Jebusites were doing-they had ingeniously rigged a hydraulic system to the huge statues so that, along with smoke and levers, the stone figures would appear to belch smoke and water and move. No wonder no one ever attacked the Jebusites!

Parents probably scared their children into obedience with stories about the Jebusites demons. Young people, scared each other around summer camp fires with the Jebusite version of "I Know what You Did Last Summer."

I’m not sure given the culture of the day that I would really go out of my way to visit the Blair witch that lived in Jerusalem. So why would David want to go to such a weird place?

David is making a new start. He is being asked to rule over the north and the south of Israel. He needs neutral turf. A place where both groups can come. He knows something else: Jerusalem is not haunted by demons. He’s heard enough out on the desert-bits and pieces from Jebusite refugees to realize that these grotesque things weren’t demons at all, but hooked up to an ingenious mechanical system. He knows old blind Isaac and limping Jacob are frauds-pipes, pulleys, hinges, and smoke. So he knows he has to get up the water shaft and destroy to plumbing into order to conquer the city.

Remarkably, Jerusalem, lived up to its name when David attacked "the city of peace." The battle was quick and bloodless. Turns out, behind all that apparatus were weak-kneed types-the Jebusites turned out to be all bark and no bite. David, in turn employed the Jebusites to work with him. And so enemies join David’s group and together they begin a working relationship.

That, according to a group of Jewish scholars, is what was really meant by the phrase, "the lame and the blind."

So what is this story about? I think we have on our hands a story about newness. Two things are new: a new leader and a new place. God’s future for Israel is tied up with new leadership and a new place. It’s interesting isn’t it, that at the moment neither David nor Jerusalem is anything near "holy." David has been marginal for years. He’s been sleeping in a different bed each night for as long as he can remember. He’s been out raiding others, running for his life. David is not holy. And Jerusalem. Jerusalem is at the moment named after a Jebusite idol, shelem. Jerusalem is not a holy place. What an unpromising story this is! We’re hearing words about conquest, the possible exclusion of less abled persons, a town named after a Jebusite god.

Here we are! A new "leader" and a new place in ministry in our church. In some ways, perhaps our own story at Swarthmore may seem as unpromising as Jerusalem was-you’ve been through some stuff that no congregation should have to go through. There has been a lot of pain within this congregation. Some have felt the pain acutely and even yet feel excluded from this worship place.

And what about this new guy who’s come riding into town? What’s he going to be like? Will he be a controller? Sure, we’ve heard stories about his former congregation. But will he to try to turn us into them? And how much change is he going to try to make us accommodate to? Someone’s asking, "Yeah, and how much money will it cost?" Will this new guy change our worship style? More questions than answers in a story of newness, I’m afraid.

But hear the Good News! God can turn leaders and congregations into holy persons and holy places for ministry. David and Jerusalem may have started out with a limited vision, but God expanded the vision of both. "David grew greater and greater" - that phrase in the Hebrew language could be translated that David developed "a longer stride and larger embrace." That is, David grew in his ability to include more and more persons in his life. He grew to welcome persons who had worked so hard on his behalf, but also to welcome those who were "lame and blind," persons who were wounded and unsure about all this.

This story begins with what may be an exclusion of folks - but it’s not going to end that way. God will expand the vision of Jerusalem to include all people and possibilities: "I saw the holy city, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God . . . he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away" (Revelation 21:2-4).

So God will continue to work on both of us. God is after organic growth in our lives. Not just changes. God will take everything from our past-even the garbage-and make spiritual compost out of it. And then God will assimilate our stories and experiences into a growing, holy. Amen.