August 8, 2021
Our first reading today is probably going to need a bit of backstory to really get what is happening. It’s part of the ongoing story of King David and the way his story changed from being a young shepherd and boy wonder, to a seasoned king grappling with the challenges of palace intrigue. Two weeks ago kicked off the turning point in David’s career with the way he used his position of power to use Bathsheba, and then had her husband killed on the front to cover up his crimes. Things went sideways from there, and in a lot of ways, it was the moment where even the Bible admits a loss of innocence for its favorite king.
But more than just a shameful story of how David fell into the trap of sin, the saga of David and what he did to Bathsheba and Uriah is a story of how he was seduced by the power that came with being king. It impacted his family, because without David guiding them to be good and righteous people, they let loose on indulging in palace intrigue. There was wheeling and dealing and backbiting to shame even the halls of congress. Giving into the temptation of power led directly to the story we read about this morning, the rebellion of his son Absalom.
Absalom was the heir to the throne, and he had all the swagger, self-righteousness, and vanity of a son born into the palace. You can read all about it in 2 Samuel, but long story short, Absalom saw himself as being the kind of righteous, just, and worthy king that Israel needed. David, his father, failed to even discipline his own children and so, to Absalom, he wasn’t worthy of the throne he held. So Absalom took on a populist campaign, convincing the people that he would make a way better king than his father, bad-mouthing the king and ensuring everyone knew things would be so much better with Absalom as king that, hey, why should they wait? So he raised a rebellion.
The thing about this kind of rebellion, though, is that it could only have one of two outcomes. In the end, either David would be dead and Absalom would be king, or Absalom would be dead and David would be king. More than some teenager rage-shouting “I hate you!” and slamming the door, Absalom was essentially telling David “I wish you were dead,” and he meant it. It was an awful, awful way for a father and son to end up. But it got worse.
There are few points in scripture where we can see right through the flowery words and the reverence we see the Bible with, but this is one of them. It’s the news of Absalom’s death at the hands of David’s own army, after David ordered them to take him prisoner, that cuts to the heart of anyone who’s ever had kids—and especially those of you who have lost one. Despite all the evil that Absalom intended, despite his disrespect for his father, his rigidly cruel view of justice, his willingness to kill his own dad if it meant he could seize his father’s throne—despite all of that, David is utterly broken by news of his son’s death. No father should ever have to bury his children, and that truism rings deafeningly loudly in this passage.
Because, with very rare exceptions, the love a parent has for their child shows the extreme limits of how far human love can go. There is nothing children can do that will make their parents stop loving them. There aren’t any conditions on whether or not parents will love them with their whole heart. They would sacrifice things for their children they wouldn’t even sacrifice for themselves. Every time a child succeeds, their parents are filled with pride; and every time they are hurt, their parents are cut to the core. And all they had to do to earn this love was exist!
So if we fallen, prideful, selfish people can love our children this deeply; if flawed, sinful, power-hungry David could love his son so unconditionally, can we even begin to fathom the love of God? Paul points out in Ephesians that we are God’s beloved children. John writes that we are all children of a God who is love. Jesus tells us that God sent the Son into the world in order to save it all. If God speaks of us as children, and we know just how immeasurable our own love for our children is, it throws into chaos any idea of God that pretends there is something you or I or anyone else can do that will put limits on God’s love.
Because how can we possibly say that we can love more purely than God?
So if anyone has ever told you that there is something about who you are or what you have done that makes God not love you, I tell you with all the authority I have from this pulpit and this calling as an ordained minister in the Church of Christ: that is a lie. Just as David loved Absalom without condition, even when he was fleeing for his life; just as I love Hazel and her unborn sister without condition or limit; God loves you infinitely more. You cannot do or be anything that will cause God to stop loving you.
Now we may wonder, does this love mean that I can be as heinously awful as Absalom, disrespecting my father, murdering my siblings, doing countless other terrible things, and suffer no consequences? No. A good parent knows that we can’t shield our kids from the consequences of their actions. And the pain we cause others has real-world consequences that we have to reckon with. David’s sin against Bathsheba and Uriah led to the breakdown of his moral center, and filled his family with conflict and strife. But just because he had to face the consequences of how he treated other people doesn’t mean that God stopped loving him.
God will always root for us. God will always cheer us on when we do right, and will always be heartbroken when we do wrong. Like a parent, God will always have your back, and support you in your hour of need, and be honest with you when you’ve gone the wrong way, and never stop reaching out with love and mercy and grace. Because nothing gets in the way of God’s love. Nothing stops God’s love. Nothing is more powerful than God’s love. So be imitators of God, and go, love.
Thanks be to God. Amen.