Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 5

Giving up privilege is a difficult process. It’s a humbling process.

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“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Text: Acts 9:26-30

“When [Saul] had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples; and they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, brought him to the apostles, and described for them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken boldly in the name of Jesus. So he went in and out among them in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. He spoke and argued with the Hellenists; but they were attempting to kill him. When the believers learned of it, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.”

It might seem strange to include Saul in a set of devotions dedicated to stories of outcasts and those on the margins experiencing the power of the risen Christ. Saul is the poster-child for the not-outcasts. By his own words in his letter to the Philippians, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” He’s the cream of the crop, so it were! And as a Roman citizen, he’s granted an extra layer of enormous privilege, which he’s not afraid to leverage.

After his experience on the road to Damascus, Saul is in a different position though. Trying to leave his former life behind, he goes to meet the disciples in Jerusalem, and is met by fear. And rightfully so! He was a zealous persecutor of the church, and they have no reason to trust him. All of a sudden, Saul finds himself on the outside looking in.

Giving up privilege is a difficult process. It’s a humbling process. How wonderful if would have been for Saul if, when he went to Jerusalem, the disciples had said, “Saul, you’ve changed! Welcome to the club!” But that’s not how it works. Saul is treated with contempt, mistrust, and suspicion, and has to earn their trust. Threats are made on his life by multiple groups and people because of his preaching. Only then, leaving the privilege of his old life behind, is he able to fully know what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ.

We Christians enjoy an enormous amount of privilege in our country. This is especially true for those who are white, male, heterosexual, and cisgender. That privilege can be a powerful tool—Saul used his privilege whenever he could to advance the good news of the risen Christ—but it is also a barrier that separates the privileged from the outcast.

We don’t have to have a Damascus Road experience to recognize our privilege. But will we use it to further God’s mission and the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ, taking us into uncomfortable places? Or will we use it to shield ourselves from the difficulties of life experienced by those God loves?

Let us pray: God of reversals, you took Saul, a persecutor, and flipped him into one of the most important and compelling missionaries in the history of Christianity. Give us the courage to lay down our privilege and experience life “in the trenches” alongside those who need your grace the most. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Privilege” by Stephen Dann is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

The Story of King David: Week 5

THE BIG OOPSIE
2 Samuel 8:1 – 12:31

Summary:

It took a lot of work, but after a bloody fight over the throne and the capture of Jerusalem, David has finally settled down to rule the Israelites. Things go quite well at first. David conquers the Philistines, the Moabites, the Arameans, and the Edomites, quickly expanding his territory. Every so often these groups pop up again, forcing David to go out to war again.

Yet David still feels a longing for Jonathan and his family, so searches for any living descendants of his best friend. He finds a son of Jonathan named Mephibosheth. Because of his love for Jonathan, David gives Mephibosheth all of his grandfather Saul’s land and possessions, and invites him to eat at his table every day (a very high honor!).

The going ain’t good forever though, and David becomes tied in a net of his own making. He happens to see a woman named Bathsheba bathing and becomes infatuated with her. He summons her to his house and sleeps with her, later finding that he has made her pregnant. Uh oh… David has to think quickly if he is to avert disaster.

David summons Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite, who has been fighting in the army. He tries to convince Uriah to go home and sleep with his wife, but Uriah refuses, as active military men are not supposed to engage in such activity. His plan foiled, David writes a letter to Uriah’s commander, Joab, and asks Uriah to deliver it personally. What Uriah doesn’t know is that the letter asks Joab to put Uriah up in the front lines where the fighting is fiercest so that Uriah may die. Uriah delivers the letter and seals his doom, for during the next battle, he is put in the front lines and killed.

That little problem taken care of, David marries Bathsheba, thinking he has gotten away scot free. But God is not so easily deceived and sends Nathan the Prophet to tell David a little story about a rich man who steals a poor man’s lamb to cook for a party instead of using one from his own very large flock. David is incensed and condemns the rich man for his greed and deception. Nathan reveals that David IS the rich man in the story and that David has rightly condemned himself. David realizes that he has committed a grave crime by killing Uriah and taking his wife. As punishment, God says that the baby Bathsheba is carrying will die. As the baby gets sicker and sicker, David gets more desperate, pleading with God to spare the child. But the baby dies anyway, forever a reminder to David of his crime.

David and Bathsheba conceive another child later, whose name is Solomon. He becomes VERY important later…

Discussion:

1. David never forgets the love that he and Jonathan shared. It is this love that drives him to find any of Jonathan’s descendants. There may also be a hint of remorse here—though he had promised to leave Saul’s family alone, the struggle to gain the throne nearly destroyed Saul’s family. What do you think?

2. The seduction of Bathsheba is David’s “Big Oopsie”. By the time the story ends, Uriah is dead, Bathsheba’s baby is dead, and David’s family is cursed with infighting and death—all because David couldn’t appreciate the wives he had and wanted more. David is not without weakness. Are there things in life you regret? How do you handle your regret? Would you do things differently, or not?

3. Some have claimed that the David/Bathsheba incident is, ultimately, Bathsheba’s fault. They argue that no one living that close to the palace would reasonably expect NOT to be seen if bathing out in the open: therefore, Bathsheba wanted to be seen by the king. How do you respond to this claim?

4. “’While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept because I thought, ‘Perhapsthe Lord will show pity and the child will live.’ But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Am I able to bring him back? I will go to him, but he cannot return to me!’” (2 Samuel 12:22-23). David has to deal with the death of his and Bathsheba’s son. How do you cope with a loved one dying? Have you ever been there when someone died?

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Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://www.bible.org All rights reserved. This material is available in its entirety as a free download or online web use at http://netbible.org/.

The Story of King David: Week 4

DAVID’S ROCKY START
2 Samuel 1:1 – 7:30

Summary:

David, who had stayed behind when the Philistines and Israelites fought, is brought news of Saul’s defeat by a messenger who, hoping to gain favor with David, tells David that it was he who killed Saul. David, still loyal to his king, has the messenger killed for his foolishness, and mourns the loss of Saul and Jonathan.

The people of Judah anoint David as their new king, while the rest of Israel chooses Saul’s son, Ishbaal. Obviously, this creates a problem. The two sides attempt to solve the issue of succession with a multi-person duel, but when everyone on both sides of the duel kills each other, they find that nothing has been decided. Abner, the general under Ishbaal, and Joab, David’s general, fight and fight and fight, until Abner realizes he is on the losing side of this conflict and defects to David’s side. But Joab does not forget the harm Abner caused, including the killing of Joab’s brother, and slays Abner in cold blood.

Hoping to end the conflict quickly, two of Ishbaal’s soldiers assassinate him, cut off his head, and bring it to David. Remember the messenger from earlier? Yeah, these two get the same treatment–they are killed as well.

With Saul’s line clearly and quickly dying out, the rest of Israel decides that the best choice it so make David king. They anoint him as king over all Israel at Hebron, which becomes David’s capital for a short time thereafter.

Hebron doesn’t suit David, and he marches out against Jerusalem, which is controlled by the Jebusites. He achieves victory and fortifies the city, making it his new capital. He settles down with a host of wives and concubines to begin his rule.

The Philistines attempt to make trouble for the new king, but he dispatches them with ease. His next task is bringing the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. It is loaded on a cart and wheeled to the city. On the way, the cart hits a bump, and a man named Uzzah grabs the Ark to keep it from falling. He is immediately struck dead. David is so frightened by this display of power that he leaves the Ark where it is, and the place becomes blessed. Eventually, however, he decides to finally bring it all the way to Jerusalem, and he dances rather outrageously to celebrate its arrival. One of his wives chastises him for the display, and in return, she is cursed to have no children.

David, seeing that things are now pretty well settled down, decides to build a temple for God, seeing as how he lives in a big palace and God lives in a little tent. Nathan the prophet originally blesses the endeavor, but later is told by God that God is perfectly happy living in a tent and doesn’t need a big fancy house. Instead, God is going to build David a house, a line of descendants that will never be broken, and that will rule over the Israelites forever. This is the covenant made between God and David.

Discussion:

1. With Saul gone, one would think that David’s problems would get less, not more Yet immediately following Saul’s death is a long and bloody power struggle over who will succeed to the throne. Ishbaal, as Saul’s living son, had the legitimate claim, yet David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king. Where do you see thi same sort of power struggle today? How is it handled?

2. The Ark of the Covenant doesn’t appear too often in the Bible, but when it does, it is always an object of great power to be feared. Merely touching it when one is not supposed to results in instant death. It is a symbol of God’s power that is to be taken absolutely seriously. What are some of the powerful symbols in our society and culture? How do we react when we perceive that they have been violated?

3. “This is what the LORD says: Do you really intend to build me a house for me to live in? I have not lived in a house from the time I brought the Israelites up from Egypt to the present day. Instead, I was travelling with them and living in a tent. Wherever I moved among all the Israelites, I did not say to any of the leaders whom I appointed to care for my people, Israel, ‘Why have you not built me a house made of cedar?'” (2 Samuel 7:5b-7)

This is God’s response when David wants to build a temple. What does this say about God? In what places do you feel and experience God?

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Scripture quoted by permission. All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://www.bible.org All rights reserved. This material is available in its entirety as a free download or online web use at http://netbible.org/.