Saturday, August 25, 2018

Trusting Mercy (2018-0729)

28-29 July 2018, Christ Mountain Top
Praying the Psalm, Psalm 130
Children, Mark 10.46-52
Message, 2 Samuel 24.1-25
Mission Moment, UMC Global Health, medical mission in Nepal

Trusting Mercy. Not that easy, especially when we deal with so many persons who are not at all merciful.

Some fascinating background questions…

Why is God angry at Israel?
Why does God instigate David to evil?
·       1 Chronicles 21.1, not the LORD but the Satan
·       What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God's part? By no means! (Romans 9.14)
·       No answer in the text, no consideration given in the least
·       Live in ambiguity, live without answers
·       David is ignorant of the back story… he just TRUSTS, and he trusts mercy! (The mercy of a God who is behind the whole thing!)

What’s wrong with a census?
Twice in the wilderness (book of Numbers), a census is taken of all Israel. How is this different?
·       The only census of Israel by Israel recorded in the Scripture took place in Numbers and under David
·       When you take a census of the Israelites to register them, at registration all of them shall give a ransom for their lives to the LORD, so that no plague may come upon them for being registered (Exodus 30.12).
Critical reading, looking at the subtext… (see Bruce Birch, NIB, 1380)
·       The ARMY conducts the census, under the assumption that people don’t want to be counted.
·       This census becomes the basis for a future military draft, forced labor, and taxation (1 Kings 4 and 5).

Bruce Birch remarks, “To those who have power, or feel they have access to those in power, bureaucratic processes most often seem benign, necessary, or neutral. But to those who live their lives outside the circles of power and on the margins of the social order, such processes are threatening and dangerous – even a census. For the 1990 United States Census, the percentage of those who remained uncounted in the inner cities of the largest metropolitan areas has been estimated as high as 25 percent. Among the poor and immigrant residents of our cities, many felt that to be found and counted was to be put at risk.” (1382)
      For the poor and the immigrant, for others on the margins, they unfortunately have precious few reasons to trust in the mercy of the state.
      As we approach the 2020 census, and deal with other public policy matters, it is our calling as the people of God to honor, love, and care for those on the margins. It is our calling as Christ Church to remember that one of our two ancestor congregations was located for people on the other side of the literal railroad tracks. While there may not be a climate of trust in the powers of the state, we can at the very least create and nurture a climate of trust and mercy in this fellowship.

Bruce Birch goes on to say, “The dangers of self-interested power do not go wholly unrecognized in our own time, but the response is often reform rather than repentance, renewed practice rather than renewed prayer” (1383).
·       More efficient bureaucracy is not a bad thing, but it does not solve the problem of power
·       We ALL need to repent

What does this reveal about the character of David?

·       “These sheep, what have they done?” He is the shepherd of Israel, and he remembers to put the sheep first
·       “I will not give to the LORD what costs me nothing.” No token, no tip … not even a tithe. A tribute – at great personal cost.

·       David was stricken to the heart because he had numbered the people. David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly." (2 Samuel 24.10)

·       I am in great distress; let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into human hands. (2 Samuel 24.14).

What do we learn about God?
For all the ambiguity of whether or not God is just, we do learn two things about God’s judgment in this story:
1.     It is finite, limited, perhaps even lesser in proportion to the sin. God gives David three choices, each of which is terrifying but each of which is limited.
2.     In the words of the book of James, “Mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2.13). God does not suspend judgment because of anything David has done. The episode at the threshing floor occurs after judgment is suspended. David chooses to fall into God’s hand, because David believes God to be merciful. And David is right.

Birch, Bruce. The First and Second Books of Samuel. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume 2. Abingdon Press: Nashville, 1998.

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