Generally speaking, I like pools. The pool at Capon Springs was freezing; 98 degrees outside and 65 degrees in the water. Cumberland Pool is warmer, but still refreshing. I like to sit at the poolside and read my book and just be. But I will stay away from the pool of Gibeon.
At Gibeon, a place of refreshment becomes a blood bath. I am reminded of that horrific scene in “Saving Private Ryan” when the waters of the English Channel have turned pink with the blood of soldiers storming the beach at Normandy.
The scripture passages we heard this morning couldn’t be more contrasting. The Hebrew scripture depressing, the NT passage refreshing. But, in fact, we need to take account of both and in the tension we may find some truth.
Give me just a moment to give you a quick synopsis of the passages. King Saul and his son Jonathan (who David loved so profoundly) are dead on the battlefield. David is proclaimed King of Judah, the southern kingdom, while Ishbaal (which means “man of Ba’al”) the other son of Saul, is made king of the north (Israel).
The servants of Ishbaal meet with the servants of David at the pool of Gibeon and what at first appears to be a “stab” at negotiated diplomacy turns into a horrible battle scene. The servants of David win that skirmish and thus begins a protracted civil war.
It is a rather nasty bit of biblical narrative.
The verses in Mark describe Jesus showing compassion and mercy to all. Ephesians lifts up the good news that in Christ Jesus all are unified and Jesus has “broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.” Jesus should have been a lifeguard at the pool of Gibeon.
Let’s not get confused by a superficial interpretation. Some suppose that the Hebrew Scriptures reveal a God who not only condones but sanctions violence and vengeance, while the New Testament reveals a God of love, compassion, and peace. This is much too simplistic a notion and it is untrue.
Certainly this Hebrew narrative is more earthy, to say the least – but in the earthiness there is a profound faith proclaimed: the human tendency to react in aggression and violence will not hinder God’s trajectory towards reconciliation and peace. The human tendency to suppose that God is always on “our” side or to use God to justify violence and aggression is transitory, while God’s promise of life is eternal.
What I like about the Hebrew narrative is that it presumes that God in engaged in the blood and gore – not necessarily affirming, blessing it and sanctioning it – but not removed from it. God is in the midst – that there is no “thing,” no situation, that God is not using, from the chaos of the first moment, so too every chaos, every formless mass, every possibility – God is moving us along. God uses the messiness of history, the action of humans shaped by violent cultures as well as the call to be peaceful.
Not so much a God who controls and protects as a God who adapts and adjusts.
It raises the question: how could God be involved in that? And it makes me wonder how God can be involved in the tragedies, the horrors that you and I face? Those events that make us blanche and call everything into question: The disappearance of the little girls, the terrorist bombing in Bulgaria, the shooting in Colorado; the presence of evil – when we are treading troubled waters and in over our head. And yet I will cling to the lifeline believing that you and I are ultimately tethered to hope.
The narrative of Samuel is not ancient at all – it is being played out all the while as we sit here and worship: In the villages and towns of the dusty by-ways of Syria, in the standoff between Israel and Iran, in the confrontation in Tahrir Square of Cairo, in the confrontation between the Taliban and the elected leadership of Afghanistan. And yes, even in the less violent, but no less confrontational campaigns in our own elections, where one candidate is called a “felon” and another is called a “liar.” The aisles of our Congress are divided and the representatives are separated by a contemporary pool of Gibeon. The passage of Samuel may be more descriptive of your life and relationships right now than either Mark or Ephesians. We might as well get real and not just “Pollyannaish!” That is what I like about the Hebrew scripture!
It is hard to imagine that God can use or is in the midst of such cruel wars and half-hearted diplomacy, and blood-letting and power politics, of such dysfunction.
But this is, in a way, what the Hebrew text reminds us – In, with and under the sordid is the possible redemptive. God is writing straight with crooked lines. And our actions, even the most scandalous, driven by the greatest scoundrels will not and cannot detour the ultimate divine hope of creating the beloved community.
There is always a tension between the tragic and the triumphant – and that the worst history can deliver, and the worst we can do to one another cannot ultimately re-determine God’s path towards restoration, towards reconciliation, towards new life for all people.
Even your life is covered. I don’t know where you are in your life – your path wandering through pain or pleasure, mired in the sordid or freed into the lightness of being; treading water. No doubt some of you are feeling good today, and some bad. Some whole, some broken. Some carrying pain unimaginable, and some lifting joy inexpressible. You may be facing confrontation, a hard truth, a difficult way, the unfairness of life: “How did I get here?” “Why, God?” “Where are you, God?” “What, God? How, God?”
There is no simple, easy resolution – there is only faith, hope, love and action – life lived in the crucible. There is the intersection of life as we live it and life as we hope for it. And the faith challenge is not to go under or give into the temptation to despair.
You and I have to be inspired by what Paul described theologically and Jesus embodied practically that compassion overcomes heartlessness, and peace overcomes violence, and abundance overcomes scarcity, forgiveness heals guilt, and unity overcomes estrangement.
And so as we move from the complexities of life we are inspired by the vision of compassion and we celebrate it when we see it – and I proclaim that it can be seen all around – refreshing pools of grace!
I don’t want to embarrass her, but I celebrate the ministry of Tricia Dykers Koenig – a woman of great integrity who speaks her truth in love that all God’s children have a place at the table Gay, Lesbian, Bi-Sexual, Transsexual. I have never heard her say a nasty thing about the opposition; she is always courteous in her courage and loving in her truth. She embodies the kingdom.
Two elections ago when this nation was beset with the issue of “voting your values” – and that me mad because the values that were being lifted up as Christian didn’t include compassion for the hungry, and sharing of the abundance – it could have divided this congregation. But conservative and liberal met many times and jumped into the pool of shared vision. We may need to do this again now because we are too scared to talk politics.
Our Courageous Conversation on Race is an indication that we will be inflated by hope rather than deflated by despair.
The Labre ministry where we feed the homeless on the street is a sign of abundance.
Our Faith Leader program celebrates the gifts.
I loved Dean Myers’ op-ed two Sunday’s ago – when he suggested that the way to move past partisanship in Congress was to call a Congressional chorus that would sing together because a choir singing together is united.
And on August 11, we will hold our Midsummer Night’s outdoor worship service and Fresh from the Garden supper. So bring friends and let us witness to a faith that is not contained within walls but is a church without walls. Let us show what Christianity really means.
Speaking of walls, I just heard this story the other day: A female CNN journalist heard about a very old Jewish man who had been going to the Western Wall to pray, twice a day, every day, for over 6 decades. So she went to check it out. She went to the Western Wall and there he was, walking slowly up to the holy site.
She watched him pray and after about 45 minutes, when he turned to leave, using a cane and moving very slowly, she approached him for an interview. “Pardon me, sir, I’m Rebecca Smith from CNN. What’s your name? “Morris Feinberg,” he replied.
“Sir, how long have you been coming to the Western Wall and praying?”
“For about 60 years.”
“That’s amazing! What do you pray for?”
“I pray for peace between the Christians, Jews and the Muslims. I pray for all the wars and all the hatred to stop. I pray for all our children to grow up safely as responsible adults and to love their fellow man. I pray that politicians tell us the truth and put the interests of the people ahead of their own interests.”
“How do you feel after doing this for 60 years?”
“Like I’m talking to a wall.”
Yes, sometimes it seems that no matter what we do, it feels like we are talking to a wall and getting no answers. But then again, how do we not know that our words and deeds are indeed making an impression. And we keep faith that in the doing we are aligning ourselves to hope. In all your dealings, as best you can – ask yourself: What is your life witnessing to, what do your words express, what are you listening to? If you believe in a God of abundance, compassion, joy, and unity stay away from pollution that will drag you down.
And even if you falter and say the bad thing, or do the petty, or fall into the temptations you so hate, remember even in the bloodbath of Gibeon – God is drawing forth and moving on and we will participate.
Even in the midst of it all – Christ is looking at you with compassion and calling you to be part of the beloved community of reconciliation casting aside naïve and simplistic notions – your realism shaped by hope, your life shaped by love.
Come. Jump on in the pool of grace – the water’s fine!