He was a poet, a musician, a skilled shepherd, a marksman and everything a King will be ruthless, cunning, shrewd, strategic and insatiable. The unlikely hero of an epic battle with a giant, the runt of the sons of Jesse, the impossibly anointed heir to the throne, David’s story makes Game of Thrones a lot less thrilling.
I implied in last week’s story that David knew exactly what he was getting into when he went up against Goliath, that he was not the underdog history has made him out to be. No, David was a skilled defender who was rapidly becoming a skilled offender.
In our ancient story for this morning from the 2nd book of God’s prophet Samuel, we hear the tribes of Israel proclaiming their allegiance to David as the new king. Saul is dead as are his sons, murdered in a coup, possibly orchestrated by the cunning new king himself, why else would he have the insurgents executed, who carried out the murders and brought the evidence (Ishbaal’s severed head 2 Samuel 4: 5-12) to show to the king at Hebron, then to leave no witnesses? No scripture implies his guilt, but there are plenty of stories implicating David as a murderer, rapist, adulterer, liar, coveter etc.
The lectionary leaves out the juicy details between the show of allegiant unity in the covenants made with the tribes at the coronation and the description of David as the greatest king of Israel a man after God’s own heart. The storyteller recounts David’s attack on Jerusalem occupied by Jebusites, the northernmost fortified city in Judah not owned by any tribe of Israel and thus a perfect capital city to rule from.
Like a modern day case of gerrymandering to control one’s legacy as a undefeatable career congressman or a play on the electoral college, David’s first conquest as king after his coronation by the tribes was to protect his growing political and military power by ensuring no one could easily dethrone him. At 30 years old the newly crowned King fortified his reign of 40 years, there’s that number again, in the walled city of Jerusalem which he renamed the City of David.
In a sense, David set the stage for absolute allegiance from the people of God as their savior king and lord, titles only God was supposed to claim. His people will listen to him and do as he says, ring any bells lately?
Allegiance is defined as loyalty or commitment of a subordinate to a superior or of an individual to a group or a cause. Allegiances are important.
Our first allegiance is likely to our parents and then our extended family and our teachers, preachers and finally our community and nation. For Christians, somewhere in that mix God and Christ come into our circle of allegiances, hopefully at the center.
I can remember learning to say the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart when I was in half-day Kindergarten – not much preschool available when I was little – and the year I went to Kindergarten was 1976 the bicentennial of the Declaration of Independence when my mother crocheted a flag in honor of the celebration.
The Pledge of course has been modified more than once with the original written in August 1892 by socialist minister Francis Bellamy who hoped it would be used by any citizen of any country
“I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
But politicians never leave anything good enough alone. After WWI during the nativity of American Exceptionalism and a fear of new immigrants, in 1923 the words “the Flag of the United States of America” were added.
As the threat of so-called godless Communism to American Exceptionalism globally or to the capitalistic economic superpower our young nation was rapidly becoming, President Eisenhower encouraged Congress to add the words “under God” in 1954.
A political move designed to build the emotional case for American domination of other cultures around the globe as the chosen nation of God’s salvation of the world, akin of course to our nation’s westward domination beyond the colonies through occupied territories known as Manifest Destiny, which viewed native North American peoples including Mexicans and Hispanics as less than fully human and in need of being tamed in the fallaciously God ordained conquest of the west and Texas.
A grab for allegiance demanding power, absolute Power, Manifest Destiny fueled by the Doctrine of Discovery and then American Exceptionalism were all emotional drivers of irrational acts, agendas, and vitriol or hate speech then and remain so now.
As we explored in last week’s ancient legend of David and Goliath, absolute Power has the capacity to be corrupted and to corrupt. And whenever power and religious belief combine corruption is just around the corner, or across the next river or arbitrary human border.
The sentimentalism we feel this week as we gaze on the red, white and blue does not want to hear the bitter but truthful testimony of a history of corruption of God’s will for humanity in the name of profit, nationalism, white supremacy or even Christian privilege.
The patriotism we feel as our hand moves over our heart as the colors are raised, does not want to admit that the stains of innocent lives run as deeply in those stripes as does the blood of patriots who paid the ultimate price with their lives in wars they did not necessarily declare.
Our allegiance does not want to see our true colors or hear the voices of those we have slaughtered.
Allegiance like the Law is a means to an end, as Americans we aim for “a more perfect union” or in Christian terms we build “the beloved community.”
When allegiance becomes the end in itself, the goal, the aim, the product, trouble is at hand, sin is present and the end will not end well.
Recently, allegiance to or submission to governing authorities has been thrown around as the will of God, quoting sentences out of context from Romans 13, to claim Biblical authority for the separation of immigrant children from their parents illegally entering the country seeking asylum at our southern border.
These 7 verses of scripture are often misused, when lifted away from the chapter before, the verses and chapter following in Paul’s letter or systematic theological statement to the Christians in Rome, the hot seat of Roman empirical power, where disobedience meant a prompt visit to the Colosseum for torture and death.
Used by British loyalists against the revolutionaries of colonial America, used by slaveholders to justify slavery, by Westward Expansionist to defend their God given right to conquer, kill and displace entire peoples and recently by the US Attorney General to justify the modern day internment prisons in the south, these sentences have done more evil than perhaps any other scriptures with exception of the abomination passages of Leviticus that have been used as death warrants against all sorts of people – Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.
While ignoring the very next sentences:
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13: 8-10
Tyranny does harm to a neighbor. Slavery does harm to a neighbor. Manifest Destiny does harm to a neighbor. Separating immigrant children from their parents does harm to a neighbor. Yesterday thousands marched to keep families together in protest of the sinful way we are treating the immigrant community, the alien and the foreigner those whom God demands we welcome with hospitality as if they were residents so says Leviticus 19, Isaiah 58, Jeremiah 22, Zechariah 7, among others.
Blind allegiance to policies and to leaders blind themselves to the harm they do is not excusable in God’s eyes.
God, who through Paul in Romans 12, calls for One true Allegiance:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Our allegiance is to God, at the center of our transformed lives guided by our Lord Jesus Christ who commanded us to love one another.
But some will say its complicated, its just not that simple.
It’s like the original Pledge. It was simple and complete “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Then we muddled it up with exceptionalism and religious legalism.
Jesus was trying to uncomplicate our relationship with God. Trying as God incarnate to say, “look I’m not your enemy and I’m not their enemy either, my mercy and my love are complete, absolute and are the only part of me that desires your full allegiance.”
Text from My Message for Today Allegiances based on 2 Samuel 5:1-10. Central Christian Church, Bourbonnais, IL. July 1, 2018.