July 5, 2015

by Rev. Dr. Amy Ruth Schacht

2 Samuel 5:1-5,10


We Are Not the Best

   I believe it was in the pre-game analysis when the US was about to face China in the women’s world cup that I heard the US commentators all agree whole-heartedly that the USA was the best team and the best country in the world. It’s a familiar sentiment, repeated often on the 24 hour news channels. That was June 26th, 10 days after the AME church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Since then, in this great country, seven other churches in South Carolina have been burned. Apparently women pastors in South Carolina have been threatened. And I cringe, even as I too am caught up in World Cup fever and will watch the match later this evening, and be pulling for my fellow countrywomen.

&sbsp;  It is blasphemous in this country to temper that insistence that we are the best with a reality check. And this July Fourth weekend, with flag-waving and fireworks blazing, independence celebrated and freedom flying, who dares say anything else? But honestly, we are only the best in the same way that my kids are the best. I suspect you may disagree with me especially if you have kids of your own – What makes my kids so special? Well, they are the best, because they are mine. And your kids are the best, because they are yours. So if this is your country, of course it is the best. And if you hold a US passport, then maybe you too will feel that surge of pride as the National Anthem is played on the soccer field before tonight’s game. But not everyone gathering here to worship holds the same citizenship.

&nbps;  And we are arguably not the best in the world, at least not by many measures: We do not have the best-educated children. We do not have the best school systems. We do not have the best medical care, we are not the best in family policies, or vacation policies, or infant mortality, or longevity. Yes, we are the best when it comes to spending on military, and we do have great power on the international negotiation playing field, and our technological innovation drives world markets. And yes, we have great freedoms, freedoms we should never take for granted, but so do other countries. We are not the only ones.

   And as intertwined as this world is, the policy of isolationism is no longer tenable. The world is just too small for that these days. I realized just how connected we all are when I heard the German National Anthem played: It is one of our very own Presbyterian hymn tunes, and one of my very favorites – Natalie, could you play the opening of hymn #285, “God, You Spin the Whirling Planets?” It’s also the tune for the hymn “Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken.” And some historians suggest that Haydn, the Austrian composer, borrowed the melody from a Croatian folk song, which the Germans then claimed as their own.

&nbps;  But there you have it, the overlapping loyalties of our hearts. Even in this country with its strict, often challenged, constantly refined separation of church and state, there is little escaping that we are citizens of two countries – We are both a political people, and a people of faith. Practically the entire Hebrew Bible is about the Israelites and their governance and faith; even Jesus addresses the Roman leaders: Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.

   And so even this passage today is steeped in the intersection of faith and politics: King Saul has died, his son has been appointed King of Israel. But at the same time, David was fighting for the Philistines, and he is anointed King of Judah, and the now the two leaders are battling, and the country is in a civil war. David wins the fight, and Saul’s son has been assassinated, and that is where our story picks up today. Listen to the Word of God, from 2 Samuel 5:1-5 and 10: Then all the tribes of Israel (remember, Saul’s now assassinated son had been king of Israel) came to David in Hebron (Hebron is the capital of Judah, the other half of the land that David rules.) and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. (They are referring to when David fought successfully for King Saul) The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the Lord, and they anointed David king over Israel. David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years. And David became greater and greater, for the Lord, the God of hosts, was with him. “

   What strikes me are the very first words the tribes of Israel speak to David: “Look, we are your bone and flesh.” Look, we are the same as you, from the same family as you, from the same tribe as you. And I love that image, of them coming in humility, knowing they need to be governed, and cared for. No civilization can operate, no group of people larger than 150 can function, without some governance in place.

   I’m reading “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harari, and one of his key points is how trust is the foundation of all groups, and all nations, and really, the world. Not only that, but he takes the long historical view – and I mean the tens of – even hundreds of – thousands of years, and he points out that the trajectory of the human race is to keep coming together. Yes, there are Civil Wars, but according to him, and history, those are the anomalies and blips – More usual is how peoples respond the way these Israelites do – They keep coming together. Think about small hunter-gatherer tribes; think about how many languages used to be spoken, how many different animist gods were worshipped. In comparison, we are much more alike than we are different, and we have infinitely more in common with people now than 600 years ago.

   He points out how no one can predict the future, and how this will all turn out – But I find it heartening to recognize that those Israelites from say 900 years before the common era – More than 3000 years ago – Said to the warrior who had been fighting their ruler, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.” Yes, today, we gather at this table, in this July Fourth Weekend, and we come with a variety of passports, citizenships, birth countries, birth languages. But still, we all can say to one another, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.”

  Around this table our primary identity is brothers and sisters of Christ, nothing more, and nothing less. Come to the table that binds us as one; come to the table the heals our divisions; come to the table where we are one family, no one greater, no one lesser, all made in the image of Christ. For this is where we start, this is where we end, in Christ.