Seward United Methodist Church
Saturday, September 22, 2018
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Theology

2nd Samuel 22
The very mention of the word “theology” is enough to cause many eyes to glaze over. And the thought of David as a theologian is kind of strange. After all, David was a king, a warrior, a sinner, sure, but a theologian? The word theologian conjures up images of an elderly monkish person poring over tomes of obscure theological concepts in a library, not David, the warrior king.
But David wrote more Psalms than anyone else, over half of them. And if you read David’s Psalms and come away with the impression that he was not a theologian, you’re missing something.
Chapter 22 of 2nd Samuel is one of David’s Psalms, specifically Psalm 18. It was written near the end of David’s life, as he looked back and reflected on this God-filled life of his. Culturally-speaking, it was a victory song. Throughout the ancient Near East world, it was common to compose a song of victory after some great triumph or achievement. We see that in Scripture as well. Miriam’s song in Exodus 15, Deborah’s song in Judges 5, and Mary’s song in Luke 1 are some of the best examples.
For us, this Psalm of David allows us to see a glimpse into some of his fully-formed theology.
One of the first things we see is that David saw God everywhere. The presence of God permeated life for David. He saw an organic connectedness between God and the created world. He sees God in a rock, God in a shield, God in a mountain, God in a tower. God was everywhere to be seen. God is everywhere to be seen.
But only “theologians” see him. In his book, “Leap over a Wall,” Eugene Peterson defines a theologian as a “God-noticer.” A theologian is one who sees God and then prays about what he or she sees. And that second part, prayer, is important. You see, theology is not the pursuit of a dry, academic subject. Theology is getting to know someone, getting to know a personal God.
God is a personal God. And he is a God who acts, a God who does something, a God who doesn’t abandon us in the midst of death and chaos and destruction.
In verse 5, David writes about the “waves of death.” In the ancient Near East mind, Sheol, the place of the dead, was understood to be covered by dark, swirling waters. Water was a symbol of death and chaos in that culture. In verse 6, David
describes the grave as having ropes or cords. This time the image is that of a hunter using a snare to catch his prey. Death is “out to get us.” Chaos is all around us. Destruction sweeps over us. All throughout our lives, death and chaos and destruction threaten us. We can’t stop or escape these chaotic forces. We can’t escape death or war or famine or disease or crime or accidents. It’s an illusion to think we can.
But we are not alone. There is a God who hears our cries. There is a God who is near and present in the midst of chaos. Though he dwells beyond the heavens, God sees and knows and acts on earth.
David describes in verses 8-20 how God reached down from the heavens and delivered him. A quick reading of these verses reminds us of another story from the Old Testament. The imagery used there is the imagery of the Exodus, and the flight through the parted waters of the Red Sea, and the arrival at Mt. Sinai.
It’s curious. Why would David choose to talk about his salvation in the terms of God’s deliverance from Egypt 400 years earlier? Why doesn’t David talk about Goliath and the Philistines, Saul and the wilderness? Why does he talk about something hundreds of years earlier that he himself did not experience?
The answer is because he did experience it. He did experience the Exodus and the Red Sea and the mountain of Sinai. God’s acts of salvation in the past do not stay in the past. They become present realities in our lives. God’s salvation is both a past and present reality. When we say, “I am crucified with Christ and risen to new life in him,” we understand that God’s acts of deliverance in the past continue to be made real on a daily basis in our lives.
Why does God save David? That’s the next question this Psalm explores. Why did God save? Why did he not abandon David? God saves to demonstrate his justice and to deliver the righteous.
Now, verses 21 to 28 of this Psalm might be a little bit hard to swallow. In those verses, David describes himself as righteous, innocent, pure, blameless, faithful, humble, and full of integrity. Now wait a minute here. Is this not the same David who sent for Bathsheeba so that he might commit adultery with her? Is this not the same David who ordered the death of Uriah to cover up his sin? Where does he get off talking about himself with words like pure, innocent, and blameless?
It’s true that our choices do make a difference in our lives, and often a very unpleasant difference. But God’s grace is greater. God’s grace is greater than all our sins. David’s life has been formed more by God’s grace and mercy than it has been formed by his sins. So David can talk about himself with words like pure and blameless because the same David also wrote in Psalm 51, “Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” And he wrote in Psalm 103 about a God who casts our sins as far as the east is from the west. David was not righteous because he made all the right choices. David was righteous because God is gracious and merciful. And in Christ, you and I are righteous as well. Our lives are defined by God’s grace, not by our sins.
Next, David’s theology describes a God who equips and empowers his people to do his work. In verse 30, David says, “In God’s strength, I can crush an army. With my God, I can scale a wall.” Eugene Peterson translates that second phrase as “By my God, I can leap over a wall,” hence the title of his book. To me, it’s the equivalent of Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
David goes on to describe the ways in which he has received God’s help and strength and provision: God keeps me safe. He leads me. He prepares me for battle. He strengthens me to destroy my enemies. He preserved my reign as king. He took away the courage of my enemies.
Are those really the kind of things we expect God to do? They don’t sound very holy. If someone came to us and said, “Please pray for me. Pray for God to strengthen me for battle so that I can crush all my enemies!” we might be a little bit hesitant.
But this was the world David lived in, a world of Iron Age war and violence. We don’t become God’s people in a vacuum. We are not cut off from the ugly realities of living in a sinful world. So God doesn’t just equip us for singing and praying and “going on a spiritual retreat.” God works within the conditions of our lives, because the holy life can only be lived in the midst of human conditions.
God’s work in you will not be limited to “church time,” or “Bible study time,” or “morning prayer and devotions.” God is also working in you when you’re at home, when you’re at work, when you’re at the store, and so on. God is everywhere, and so he is with us everywhere.
The question for us is, “Are we theologians? Are we God-noticers? Do we see God in everything and devote ourselves to ‘getting to know him?’” Are we living the God-filled life?
I think we sometimes make the assumption that the God-empty life is a “bad life.” People who don’t know God or don’t obey God are “bad people.” That’s certainly true in some cases, but there are plenty of people out there who don’t know God or want nothing to do with God who are, basically, decent people. The truth is that life that is not filled with God is not so much a bad life as it is a small life. It’s less than what it could be and less than what it should be.
Jesus said in John 10, “I have come that you might have life and have it in all its abundance.” Ephesians 3:19 says, “May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.”
There was an early Church Father, one of the great early theologians, named Irenaeus. He lived in the second century, in what is now Turkey. Irenaeus learned at the feet of Polycarp, who in turn learned at the feet of John the Apostle, who of course, learned at the feet of Jesus. So he’s got a good spiritual lineage. Irenaeus said, “The glory of God is a fully alive human being.” It seems to me that a “fully alive human being,” is the kind who might say something like, “By my God, I can leap over a wall.” Or perhaps, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
If your life is full of God, then you are fully alive.

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