Raise your hand in any creative way you'd like, if you've heard any of these phrases.
-There's no such thing as a free lunch, …free ride….
-You can't get something for nothing.
-Nothing is free.
-“NOTHING will come of nothing,” said King Lear to Cordelia, according to Shakespeare.
-You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours.
The phrase “something for nothing” has been around for ages. The concept has been around even longer. Here are some ways that phrase has been used. If you are a chronic shoplifter who has been arrested and released you may enter a program along with your parole officer, called Something for Nothing. Something for Nothing is also the name of a podcast and a single, by the band RUSH, and is also the name of a punk band from Janesville, WI.
Stories of people trying to get something for nothing, and prove the old adage wrong, was the focus of an episode of This American Life. In one story, a truck company held a contest where 15 people could come into their showroom and each person would put a hand on the same truck that was on display. Whoever was the last person to get tired and give up and leave, would get to take home the truck. Basically getting something for nothing. I think 17 hours was the longest anyone held their hand on the truck. Of course they didn't get the truck for nothing, but they did get it for no money.
You will find studies of gambling behavior, studies in quantum physics, arguments for and against the idea of Basic Income, books about negotiations, psychology, sales and advertising, as well as children's story books that take on the concept of getting something for nothing.
The psychology of the concept of “something for nothing” is put to use by some stores and restaurants by offering “pay what you want” sections in their stores. Many people will walk away without buying the thing they came in for because they don't know what to do. They don't want to not pay nothing, but can't figure out what to pay. Most people would pay something, because it is almost unbearable to get something for nothing.
In nature and science the notion of balance is something the universe seeks out. Newton's third law of motion says, “For every action there is an equal and opposite re-action.” We seem to be wired for equal, symmetrical, yin and yang, push and pull, balance. Something for nothing is just plain unnatural, it's just wrong!
Biblically, an eye for an eye is a familiar phrase; leaders in biblical times all the way through including the present day have been in the position to reward loyalty with protection and power.
Everything is transactional.
When we think like this, look how quickly our search for balance and our wish that things be tit for tat, the same for all, leads us to struggle with the idea of fairness. Our concept of fairness becomes mixed with our concept of value, access, quantity vs. quality. Equality is not always equity.
Today's scripture is a prime example of God turning all of that on its head. David, has defeated armies, has united the divided kingdom of Israel, and is “settled in his house.” Why do I have this nice house and God only has a tent? I want to build God a house. Nathan, seeing that God has done so much for David, says, go for it. If Nathan's job as a prophet is to notice how God is working in David's life, he assesses David's successes and comfort and judges that it is okay for David to do as he likes.
That night however, the Lord comes to Nathan and gives him a different message to give to David. And here is the covenant with David that is the source of all that the psalmist speaks, and the promise that Jews today look to and quote, and is central to the Christian faith too. The Lord says to Nathan, “Moreover the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.” And Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever. In this text, using a play on the word for house, bay-yit, God says your bay-yit olam, literally your “house of the world,” or dynasty, will be established forever. This is the promise: a messiah, one anointed by God will come.
During our Advent season, it is this quote that Gabriel refers to in Luke 1 that will be read in Christian churches all over the world. “In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin's name was Mary.” (Luke 1:26-27) In this text from Luke, Gabriel announces that the Davidic covenant will be fulfilled and it is Mary's baby will be that one, no longer a messiah, but The Messiah.
Not only is the text from 2 Samuel that we read today pivotal as it points to the promise of a messiah, it is crucial as it says just what the mandate of that messiah is. Here is what the Lord told Nathan to say to David:
13 He (the one the Lord will anoint) shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his (that anointed one) kingdom forever. 14 I will be a father to him, and he shall be a son to me. When he commits iniquity, I will punish him with a rod such as mortals use, with blows inflicted by human beings. 15But I will not take my steadfast love from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.
The Messiah shall call God father, and will be God's son. Just like a human father God will punish when the messiah is wrong. But, unlike Saul, the king before David, God will not remove his steadfast love from the messiah. Jesus the Messiah was human, but as the one who was promised in this message to David, will have a different kind of kingdom.
The messiah who was promised will have a kingdom where one doesn't need to build a house for God in order to thank God for all that he has done, or to show a loyalty to God so that God will reward the king again. According to commentary by Samuel Giere, “The royal house is not established solely for the monarch of the day but for the Lord's people.” “In light of the incarnation, life and ministry, death and resurrection of Christ, the Davidic line is reinterpreted in terms of the incarnation and of servant kingship.”
The location in our Bible of the book of 2 Samuel comes with 29 more books to go before we get to our first gospel, Matthew. Something about that physical distance and the sheer quantity of events in between this Davidic covenant and the birth of Jesus surprises me. Imagine the generations that went by waiting for that one to come. No wonder the disciples were so astounded and aghast and said “could it be?!” The Davidic covenant turned the concept of individual loyalty for protection, loyalty for power, standard kingdom hierarchies, the concept of something for nothing on its head.
Commentator Sara Koenig says, “For God changes the equation from any sort of transaction into an unmerited gift.” Something absolutely unheard of before. This chapter ushers in some important new “truths about a relationship with God when grace – and not works – is the currency in the divine economy.”
When it comes to God, nothing about our lives is normal. When nothing looks possible, God makes something happen. It almost feels like every move I make is suspect because of my own cautions around covid. Do I have my mask, did I touch something, did I use sanitizer, can I hug this person or that person, is this person in my pod, I forget that I'm not supposed to touch anything in a store that I do not plan to buy, should I wear plastic gloves for this or that task, was that really six feet? I have this odd thought that that kind of micro-self examination that we are all experiencing will be good practice for a completely new future. It is exhausting to question Every. Single. Movement. And Thought. I get in the car and doubt my automatic behaviors and wonder if I've completely left off something crucial. The most basic assumptions have to be questioned. Am I dressed before I go outside? So far, so good, but I've gone to the store in my slippers once! Being pushed by Black Lives Matter, possibilities in the future leadership of our country, using new wording to eliminate biases, questioning everything I thought we knew, is exhausting, uncomfortable, but so necessary.
The messiah came to turn the world on it's head. Some people don't make changes until they're scared, or until someone they love is affected, mostly because no one can take in everything. With covid, anyone could be affected; with civil discourse the way it is anyone can offend anyone else and all of our force fields and shields are damaged or destroyed so we are very vulnerable. With our election choices and news outlets battering our brains it is impossible to find a way to make the right choice, or at least not to make the wrong choice.
The Messiah did come. What if God knows that everything we thought we knew, who we thought we were, what we thought we'd do, is losing its grip and slipping away? What if God says, this is what it's like to be fully reliant on Me? We are always fully reliant on God and let ourselves believe that we do everything ourselves. I'm bristling at that too.
We can acknowledge that all that we have, all that we are, all of our core values and our choices about why we love what we love, all stem from our experiences of struggle and God's grace. From there, we do what we do and discover what matters. We make giant strides, we do generous things, we see farther and dream bigger because loving God in Jesus Christ has an effect on us. Other people, who love God have had an effect on us.
It might be nice to stand with our hand on a truck for 17 hours, but loving the Lord who promised and delivered our Christ, is so much easier.
Thanks be to God.
Reverend Debra McGuire
October 25, 2020