(Preached on July 18 at the Wednesday Morning Service at FUMC Birmingham)
1 Samuel 24.1-7
When Saul returned from following the Philistines, he was told, “David is in the wilderness of Engedi.” Then Saul took three thousand chosen men out of all Israel, and went to look for David and his men in the direction of the Rocks of the Wild Goats. He came to the sheepfolds beside the road, where there was a cave; and Saul went in to relieve himself. Now David and his men were sitting in the innermost parts of the cave. The men of David said to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said to you, “I will give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good to you.” Then David went and stealthily cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. Afterward David was stricken to the heart because he had cut off a corner of Saul’s cloak. He said to his men, “The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to raise my hand against him; for he is the Lord’s anointed.” So David scolded his men severely and did not permit them to attack Saul. Then Saul got up and left the cave, and went on his way.
The cave was cold and dark. His fingers tapped lightly on the pommel of his sword in rhythm with his beating heart. The man who had threatened his life sat frighteningly vulnerable before him in the shadows. It would take only the simplest move, the slightest flick of the wrist and everything would change. As he unsheathed his sword his eyes fell upon the thinning hair of the man; he was close enough to sense the shaking anxiety within him and he brought his sword above his head to strike him down.
Just minutes before, he was sitting patiently with his cohort of loyal men surrounding him, yet the sight of a frail man’s body at the lightened end of the tunnel was enough to make the sweat begin to bead on his forehead. “Is that really him?” he thought to himself. His men crept closer and whispered to him, “Here is the day of which the Lord said that he would give your enemy into your hand, and you shall do to him as it seems good.” When the king finally sat down to relieve himself, near the entrance of the cave, David tightly gripped his weapon in one hand and began the quiet crawl towards his enemy. While he deliberately dragged himself across the cold damp floor, the memories of the past materialized in his mind.
He remembered the day so long ago that the prophet Samuel came to Bethlehem and poured the oil over his head and he felt the spirit of the Lord come upon him; that particular moment where his life took on a new path leading him eventually to the cave. He pondered about the first time he met the king who was now silently waiting in front of him- Saul was tormented beyond comprehension until the call went out for someone to come and play the lyre to sooth him. “I was the one,” he thought to himself, “I was the one called to help Saul and now look at what he has done to me! – Or the day of the great battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, I was the one who went forward to fight the mighty Goliath, I was the one who saved Saul and the kingdom from destruction!”
David’s pace continued slowly until the figure of Saul sat sharply before him. The days of flight had taken their toll on David. He had done so much for Saul and the kingdom, yet nothing could quench the wrath of Saul and David was forced to live as a fugitive. With his hand gripped tightly around Saul’s certain doom, David took his last step toward inevitability. Yet, in that moment, looking down upon Saul’s thinning hair, David was unable to do it. He crouched slowly down, and instead of taking Saul’s life; he took the corner off of his cloak with his sword and returned to his comrades.
After Saul finally left the cave, David made his way out into the brilliantly blazing sunlight. “My lord the king!” David cried out while prostrating himself on the ground. “Why do you listen to the words of those who say, “David seeks to do you harm? This very day your eyes have seen how the Lord gave you into my hand in the cave; and some urged me to kill you, but I spared you. I said, ‘I will not raise my hand against my lord; for he is the Lord’s anointed.’ See, my father, see the corner of your cloak in my hand; see this and know for certain that I have not sinned against you, though you are hunting me to take my life. May the Lord judge between me and you!”
“David?” Saul questioned. “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. Now I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.”
Although I doubt that many of us will have our enemies delivered before us in a damp dark cave, I think this morning’s passage from 1 Samuel truly resonates within us. How many times in our lives, perhaps in our careers or within our families, have we felt like David? I think it is so easy to commiserate with him in this story because we have all had moments where it seems like there is nothing we can do to fix the past.
If you will permit me to tell another story… When I was a sophomore in undergrad, my maternal grandfather came to visit me at school. While growing up he had always lived far away and we rarely spent time together, so knowing that he was coming to see me at school was a real treat. Upon his arrival we went out to a nice restaurant in Harrisonburg, Virginia in order to catch up and enjoy one another’s company. I was anxious in excited anticipation, but it became apparent that my grandfather had a specific purpose for our reunion. After we ordered our food, my grandfather made it very clear to me that he was disappointed in my desire to pursue a vocation in ministry. He claimed that Christianity had done more evil for the world than good, and that if I followed through with my education I would be wasting my life.
Ever since that night I shamefully admit that I have avoided my grandfather. Our little communication dropped to basically nothing. And we are at the point now where I think we are both too proud to admit that we have handled the situation terribly.
Just as with the relationship between David and Saul, my grandfather and I are in a difficult place. As I read the scripture over the last few days all I could think about was calling my grandfather and apologizing, apologizing for not loving him even though he doesn’t love what I do. So a few days ago I reached out, I made contact, and I apologized. I confronted my Saul in the sunlight beyond the entrance to the cave.
In giving his Son up to the cross, God reconciled humanity unto himself. God reached out to us, and beckoned us back within his saving embrace. Through the death and resurrection of his Son, God also reconciled each one of us to each other. For through one man, all will be saved; if Jesus forgave those who betrayed him, if David could forgive Saul, think about what we can be capable of. As you leave this morning I want you to think about the Sauls in your life. What would it take for you to reach out to that person? What would it take to confront that thing in your life that you cannot get past? As with Saul and David, and my Grandfather and I, it’s up to us to take the first step out of the dark cave and into the brilliant sun.