A More Light Congregation

Bethany Presbyterian Church

Guest Sermon

Easy Come

Reverend Debra McGuire

October 20, 2019

2 Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5

Psalm 150

Content trigger alert:  In order to honor the needs of everyone and because I am not familiar with particular backgrounds, I want to tell you that I will be talking about war, and shootings.  If at any time anyone needs me to stop, just quietly raise your hand or let me know in any way, and I will switch gears.

In 2015, fifty years since the first U.S. combat troops arrived in South Vietnam, The Council on Foreign Relations posted an article from The Water's Edge by James M. Lindsay.  Mr. Lindsay marked that anniversary by doing a series of blog posts on the best histories, memoirs, movies, and novels about Vietnam.  He writes, “Today's topic is protest songs. Much as poetry provides a window into the Allied mood during World War I, anti-war songs provide a window into the mood of the 1960s.” Here are some of his twenty picks for best protest songs in order of the year they were released.  Can you hear any of them in your head now?

Bob Dylan, “Blowing in the Wind” (1963).

Phil Ochs, “What Are You Fighting For” (1963). Ochs wrote numerous protest songs during the 1960s and 1970s. In “What Are You Fighting For,” he warns listeners about “the war machine right beside your home.”

Barry McGuire, “Eve of Destruction” (1965). By September it was the number one song in the country, even though many radio stations refused to play it.

Pete Seeger, “Bring 'em Home” (1966). “bring 'em home, bring 'em home.”

Arlo Guthrie, “Alice's Restaurant Massacree” (1967).

Joan Baez, “Saigon Bride” (1967). Baez set a poem by Nina Duscheck to music. An unnamed narrator says goodbye to his Saigon bride—which could be meant literally or figuratively—to fight an enemy for reasons that “will not matter when we're dead.”

Country Joe & the Fish, “Feel Like I'm Fixin' to Die” (1967). The chorus is infectious: “and it's 1, 2, 3 what are we fighting for?/Don't ask me, I don't give a damn, next stop is Vietnam.”

Pete Seeger, “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy” (1967). “Waist Deep in the Big Muddy”

John Lennon, “Give Peace a Chance” (1969).

John Lennon, “Imagine” (1971). Lennon's call to “Imagine all the people/Living life in peace” remains a radio staple more than four decades after it was recorded.

Recently, when I watched the Ken Burns series about the Vietnam War, I was really struck by a few things.  First, I wasn't aware in real time, as a child, of how many years the whole Vietnam/U.S. story really lasted.  I was old enough to be singing all the protest songs at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago. Pete Seeger, Bonnie Koloc, Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins were familiar names in my house.  I was too young to have any of my own peers drafted.  I was old enough to have a plan amongst my friends to put into action in case my brother got drafted.  I was too young to understand the lyrics, but old enough to understand that war is terrifying.  Second, I didn't realize until the Ken Burns special put everything together, how many of my big memories of events all happened at the same time.  I didn't know who Bobby Kennedy was, but he was assassinated.  I didn't know anyone at Ohio State, and I only knew who Martin Luther King was a little.  When I was in 2nd grade, I attended a K-8 school in the Chicago suburbs where my brother and I were the only white kids.  I used to wonder how everyone seemed to know that we were related.  Our classes were evacuated a few times because there were bomb threats.  Some of my close friends used to be concerned for my safety because the Black Panthers were coming to town.  Those of you who are bay area native may have your own black panther stories and know their history and context better than I do.  When I was in 5th and 6th grade, in another suburb of Chicago, I had my first taste of welcoming the stranger in a multicultural environment because several families in our school district had adopted Vietnamese children.

The other day I was in a bible study where we were discussing events that changed our lives, and we began talking about where we were on 9/11.  The teen in the group said that while she understood that it was horrific, to her, 9/11 was always there.  I imagine that me as a kid trying to understand Pearl Harbor might feel the same way.  To her, the moment she remembers feeling the impact of a life event was the day after the 2016 elections.  And Sandy Hook, and Columbine, and Oklahoma City, and Parkland.  And everything in-between.

(Let's take a break.  Everyone take a deep breath in…and slowly exhale.  One more time.  In…..Exhale.  Return yourself to this day, this room, this chair, these people.  Take a look around, and settle yourself right here in this space, with these people, with these symbols.)

Talking about past events that are still in living memory can put images and stories in our minds that we don't want.  If you fought in a war or protested a war, own a gun or hate guns, voted republican or democrat, the thoughts in our minds may differ from those of our neighbors.

The chaos that life can bring us in times of great upheaval is frightening.  That's just as true in history as it can be today.  The scripture reading today begins just after a messy civil war.  King Saul of Israel tribes in the north, were at war, and Saul and Jonathan were both killed.  After the strife and hardship of the kingships of the sons of Saul, the people came south to Hebron.  We read:

Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, "Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The Lord said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel." 3 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. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years.

David had already been King of Judah, the southern tribes for three years.  This story tells the story of the uniting of all 12 tribes under one king for the first time.  

Notice that David is not the first king to be mentioned in the bible.  It's the language used here that makes it a first.  The people said “The Lord said to you:  It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.”  The Lord said to you.  They came to David and recognized that The Lord said this to David.  The Lord is the one, recognized to have anointed David, not the tribes.  This is a God thing, not a human thing.

David is mentioned in the Bible more than any other human – 1,100 times.  Yet in the Revised Common Lectionary, we only read about him twice – slaying Goliath, and the story of Bathsheba.  Without this mention in the Narrative Lectionary, of David as King and as being anointed by God, all the talk later of Jesus as Son of David, and anointed by God, loses the import of being mirrored in events of the past.  So much of the gospel stories are taught through the lens of familiar stories and patterns from their own history, so Jesus' contemporaries would be more likely to understand the fullness of his message and so too can we.  Without this clear reference to anointing by God, we might miss the connection to Jesus as the one anointed by God to be our savior.

To cement the God connection to the united tribes, the kingdom united, David transfers the ark of Yahweh to Jerusalem with much pomp and celebration. .  . 5 David and all the house of Israel were dancing before the Lord with all their might, with songs and lyres and harps and tambourines and castanets and cymbals.   Dancing with all their might! This is to celebrate another new thing – that with this unity of the 12 tribes into a Kingdom for the first time, God is central.

As we will see next week, during David's 40 year reign, not everyone was feeling the love.  When we read today's text followed immediately by next week's text, it seems like no time has passed between the uniting and then the division of the 12 tribes.  Much like going from Palm Sunday right to Easter, without Good Friday and the waiting of Holy Saturday.  It just sounds too easy.  Tribes united.  Tribes divided.  Easy Come, easy go.

It's important to remember that there is a context.  There were probably grumblings, back stabbing, long hopeful speeches, maybe even protest songs, before the tribes were united.  The Psalms, are probably written for David, and like the poetry of World War I, and protest songs during the Vietnam war era, they likely describe the mood of many of these years of the Kingdom.  For now, we can live in the hopeful and life giving space that says that when God is involved in the movements of our lives, the big picture as well as the small, unity will happen.  Just as we remain hopeful because of our anointed, sent by God, son of David, Jesus Christ.