Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 15, 2018

Generosity

Matthew 25:31-40 and 1st Samuel 30:1-24
 David and his men have been hiding out among the Philistines for more than a year.  They’ve been living in a village called Ziklag, spending their time in raids against the Amalekites who lived in the Negev Desert, and serving Achish, the king of Gath.  It certainly hasn’t been an ideal way of living, but it has been a way to get by.    But now there’s trouble brewing.  After several years of uneasy peace between Philistia and Israel, they are going to war again.  And Achish expects his “loyal” servant David to come with them and to fight against Israel.    They march up the coast to the Valley of Jezreel, almost all the way to the Sea of Galilee.  But on the eve of battle, the other Philistine kings are not happy.  They’re not happy about David and his merry band of Hebrews fighting alongside them against other Hebrews.  They tell Achish to send David home!  Achish doesn’t want to do that because he trusts David, but he has little choice.  He’s outnumbered, four kings to one.  The good news for David is that he doesn’t have to fight against his own countrymen.    They were probably quite glad to go home.  Or at least they were until they get there.  It was a 50 mile march over three days to get back to Ziklag, and when they arrive, they find disaster has struck them.  The Amalekites took advantage of Israel and Philistia both going far up to the north and leaving their southern borders exposed.  They have launched raids throughout both nations.  And the climax of these raids is that they have taken every single person from Ziklag, all the wives and children of David and his men, along with everything else of value.  And when they left, they burned Ziklag to the ground.    David and his men are now homeless, destitute, and worst of all, they’ve lost their families.  Disaster can bring out the worst or the best in people.  We’ve seen that time and again.  Some people in the wake of disaster help their neighbors in any way they can, even if they have nothing to give.  Others turn to stealing and looting.  Some raise prices to take advantage of people who need the most basic things.    Disaster brings out the worst in David’s men.  Their grief soon turns to anger.  They blame David.  After all, he’s their leader.  And now they want to murder him.   But it brings out the best in David.  David finds strength in his intimate relationship with God.  And he turns solidly back to God in this moment of crisis, as we all should in difficult times.  He goes in to Abiathar, the high priest, and together they pray and consult God.  And David receives an answer:  Go, and you will recover what was taken.  So off they go.  But they’re in no shape for pursuit.  They’ve been on the march for days.  They are hungry, tired, thirsty, and demoralized.  They make it 15 miles to the Brook Besor, the southern border of the land of Canaan.  The Brook Besor was a wadi, a dry valley that only filled up with rain in the spring time.  Since this was spring, it might have been full of water.  The walls of the valley were steep, and if there had been rain, the creek might have been difficult to cross.  One-third of David’s men give up.  They can’t go on.  They’re too weak and exhausted, and they’re left behind.   David and the remaining 400 go on.  But the trail has gone cold.  There’s no sign of the Amalekites.  They had a three day head start.    Instead of the trail, they find an Egyptian, sick, dying of thirst and hunger in a field.  There’s no reason he should expect to receive any help from David and his men.  He is a foreigner, and they are busy with an urgent matter.  But David has compassion on the man.  They give him food and water, and he begins to recover.    And it turns out that this Egyptian was a slave to the Amalekites, and he was with them on their raid, and he knows where they were going.  He leads David and his men to the Amalekite camp.    The Amalekites were not expecting trouble.  They knew Israel and Philistia were at war, 75 miles to the north.  They were “living it up,” partying and drinking and celebrating the spoils of war.  In this condition, they are no match for David and his men, exhausted though they were.  And David and his men recover everything and everyone who was taken from Ziklag, as well as a substantial amount of loot that the Amalekites took in their raids.  
David’s men change their tune.  A few days earlier they wanted to kill David.  Now they proclaim:  “All of this is David’s reward!”  
 Of course, people are fickle, aren’t they?  The story’s not over yet!  A day or two later they return to the Brook Besor, and it’s no longer David’s plunder.  Now it’s theirs.  And they are unwilling to share any of it with those weaklings who stayed behind.  After all, that’s just fair!  Why should they get anything?  They didn’t fight.  They didn’t endure the hardship of the pursuit.  They risked nothing!
 But David speaks up.  He has a very different attitude about this plunder.  He doesn’t think that it’s his plunder or their plunder.  To him, it is God’s.  God gave it to them.  If it weren’t for God’s counsel and help, they wouldn’t have it.  
 The foundation of generosity is the understanding that everything belongs to God.  It doesn’t belong to you or me.  God has simply entrusted it to us, for a time.  And so we should use all we have in ways that honor God.  And so we should share it freely.  
 Grace, not fairness, rules the day in God’s economy.  David’s men came to him in the wilderness because they were also “on the outside” of society.  They were debtors, disreputable characters.  It’s only by God’s grace that they entered into the life of God’s salvation and providence.  
 And we’re in the same boat.  All we have, we have by God’s grace.  Christ did not die for us because we deserved it.  Christ died for us in spite of the fact that we did not deserve grace or salvation.  What we have, we have by grace, so we should also be generous with it!  
 David shows himself to be a very wise leader throughout this episode.  He demonstrates that a wise leader acts out of prayer and counsel, not emotions.  Once he makes a decision, he is firm and committed.  He shows persistence, faith, and integrity.  Even when it would be easy to ignore someone in need, David has the integrity and compassion to do the right thing.  
 Jesus makes it clear to us that one of the ways that God will judge our actions is how we treat those who can do nothing for us in return.  Jesus said, “Everyone loves their friends and is good to those who are good in return.  But a truly faithful person loves his enemies and is good to those who are unable to return our favor.”  
 David does that for the dying Egyptian.  Yes, it’s true the Egyptian does turn around and help them, but David didn’t know that he could offer any help before he showed him compassion.  
 David also treats all those who follow him equally.  Even those 200 men who lacked the strength to go on share equally in the spoils of this endeavor.  It’s always easy for those who are the front lines of anything to grab all the attention.  And often we give all the attention to those who serve in visible positions.  But leaders who show favoritism do not tend to stay leaders for long.  
 But the thing I really want us to focus on is that David shows himself to be a person of generosity and compassion.  Compassion is action motivated by sympathy.  We see someone in dire straits, and we feel bad for them.  That’s sympathy.  But compassion is more than sympathy.  It leads to action.
 I think one of the problems in our society is that don’t move beyond sympathy often enough.  We feel badly about the plight of others, but too often we don’t go on to action.  In a way, that’s very self-centered.  We feel better about ourselves because we’re the kind of people who feel for the misfortune of others.  We say things like, “My heart just breaks for those people.”  And maybe as we say it, we think, “What a good person I am, I feel so much for others.” 
 But if we don’t go on to action, then we are not compassionate people, no matter how strongly we feel.  

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