Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, May 26, 2018

Growth

Psalm 23, Luke 2:41-52 and 2nd Samuel 2
          Saul and his dynasty have come to an end. David has been made the king of Judah, and now the 11 northern tribes, collectively known as Israel, also come to him and make him their king as well. 
          They say to him, “We are your blood. Even when Saul was king, you were really the one leading us. Just as God said, you will be shepherd and prince of Israel.” David makes covenant with them and they anoint him as king. He is now king of all Israel, but a king whose power is tempered by the ideas of “shepherding” and covenanting together. 
          David is now 37 years old. It has been about 24 years since the prophet Samuel came and found him as a shepherd boy and anointed him as king. David has finally lived into God’s promise. He was once an ignored shepherd boy, not even important enough to bring in for the feast. He was once an enemy of the state, hunted for years through the wilderness. But now he is king. 
          What kind of king will he be? Will he continue to become greater, or will he, like Saul before him, now become lesser?
          One of his first acts as king is to establish a new capital for the newly united kingdom. He chooses Jerusalem. Up until now, Jerusalem has only been mentioned in the Bible a handful of times. But from this moment on, it will become the most important city in Scripture, and the argument could be made, that it has remained the most important city in the world because of what God did there. 
          It’s a wise choice. For starters, Jerusalem does not belong to any of the 12 tribes of Israel. It’s on the border between Judah in the south and Benjamin in the north. It’s not a “northern city,” David is not abandoning his own tribe of Judah. It’s not a “southern city.” David is not showing favoritism to his own tribe. 
          It was also located near the intersection of two of the main trade routes through Canaan, one going north-south, the other going east-west. 
          And it’s a strategic city. It was built on a narrow ridge that dropped off sharply to the east, west, and south. The only easy approach the city was from the north, so it was easy to defend. And it had a reliable water source in the Gihon Spring that had been brought into the city through a water tunnel. 
          The ancient city was much smaller than the modern city, and also located a bit to the south of it. It was actually a pretty small city, only about 1500 feet north to south and 400 feet east to west. It had an acropolis, a fortress built on a hill at the highest point of the city. The acropolis was called Zion. That’s the origin of that rather important word in Scripture.
          The only problem with Jerusalem was that it was not controlled by the Israelites. It was still controlled by the Jebusites. Centuries earlier, Joshua had defeated them, but never captured the city. And for over 400 years, the Jebusites had repelled any attempt to dislodge them from their citadel. They arrogantly said that “lame and blind” could keep out invaders.
          In the Middle Ages, a fanciful story arose that this expression referred to two giant mechanical automatons built by the Jebusites. One was a mockery of Jacob, made lame by his wrestling match with God. The other was Isaac, blind in his old age. And these automatons scared away any would-be attackers. 
          Well, that fanciful story was just that. The Jebusites meant that their city was so strong that lame and blind men could defend it. But David found its one weakness: That water tunnel. Somehow they found a way into it from the outside. And either they climbed up through the water tunnel to take the city by surprise from the inside, or they somehow stopped the flow of water and forced the Jebusites to surrender. 
          David captured the city and made it his capital. And it became the military, political, and eventually spiritual center of the nation. David began to expand the city, building outward by a series of retaining walls and terraces until, eventually, it became unrecognizable as it existed 3000 years ago. 
          David, once a marginal figure in Israel, is now the central figure in the nation. And he continues to become greater and greater. Not because of who he is, but because God is with him.
          He began construction of a royal palace in Jerusalem. He had more children. He married more wives. I think it’s probably quite debatable how wise a move that was! And he gave security to Israel by defeating the Philistines once and for all. 
          For about 10 years, the Philistines had controlled much of Israelite territory after their victory over Saul in the Valley of Jezreel. And they knew that a united nation under King David was a threat to that control. So they tried to reassert their control. Instead David defeated them and put an end to their power in the region. David trusted God to lead them in war, and when they were victorious, David gave the credit to God. 
          David has grown and is continuing to grow. Not just as a shepherd boy or a court musician or an army captain, but now as king, David is continuing to grow. 
          Maybe this is the difference between Saul and David. Saul was made king. But after he was made king, he didn’t grow. If anything he became less. He trusted God less. He became more self-absorbed and less interested in the good of others. On the other hand, David was anointed king long before he became king. And he grew into the role of king through very difficult circumstances. 
          Eugene Peterson, in his book Leap over a Wall, points out that change is inevitable, but growth is a choice. We live in a society obsessed with change, but not very good at growth. We are always latching onto the newest thing: the newest idea, the latest trend, the newest technology, the next iPhone! That’s even true in the Church. I think the American Church has bought into the “latest and greatest” trend. 
          But maybe our attitude toward growth is best summed up in the proverbial question: What do you want to be when you’re grown up? The assumption of that question is that growth is a biological process that begins at birth and ends somewhere around the age of 18. 
          But God wants us to grow for a lifetime. Growth means always becoming more than we have been in the past. 
Growth means having a larger embrace, a greater web of relationships and influence. David has gone from leading sheep to leading a band of outlaws to leading a tribe and is now leading a nation. 
Growth means moving into new territory. David has captured Jerusalem, new territory, a new capital. And with that new capital comes new opportunities. David is now able to make Israel more secure, to put an end, finally, to the endless stream of foreign armies troubling the nation. He can make it more influential in the world. And as Jerusalem becomes the spiritual center of the nation, he also begins to put an end to the idolatry that was so widespread throughout the nation. David will soon take the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem and focus the nation’s spiritual life on God.
Growth means becoming more completely a child of God. The world is chock full of lies about who we are. But the truth is that we are God-created and God-connected. David has found his identity in God and is keeping his eyes on what God is doing. He doesn’t act without God’s input. 
David doesn’t forget where he has come from. You see, growth is an organic process. We don’t discard the past. Rather, we assimilate the past into a new future. Peterson’s image of growth is a compost pile. The past is laid on the pile, but it’s not discarded. The good in it becomes the “fertilizer,” the nourishment for the future. 
David’s life has been leading up to this moment. The humble origins of a shepherd from Bethlehem have helped to make him king. The time he spent in Gibeon in Saul’s court has helped to make him king. The experience of trusting God in the Valley of Elah as he faced Goliath has helped to make him king. The loneliness of exile and the fellowship that he found in the Cave of Adullam has helped to make him king. The harshness of life in the wilderness of Jeshimmon has helped to make him king. The community that was formed in those hard years has helped to make him king. The compassion he learned at the Brook Besor has helped to make him king. These experiences have all made David who he is. They’ve all become part of him and contributed to his growth. 
Your life today is the culmination of everyone you’ve known, everywhere you’ve been, and everything you’ve done. God can use all of them to make you the person he wants you to be. But only if you let him. Growth is a choice.
The past has the power to hold us back, to keep us from moving forward. Or the past can be the thing that propels us forward. It depends how we respond to God. Do we allow God to grow us through both the good and bad experiences of our past? Or do we get “stuck” in our past? 

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