We’ve mentioned Harry Emerson Fosdick in our devotionals before.
Today, while reading our text from 2 Samuel 10, I thought of him again. I read something he once said that stuck with me: Only the preacher proceeds still upon the idea that folk come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.
I take that to mean Sunday morning sermons are not the occasions for drawn-out history lessons. Those are the sermons that bore people. Those are the ones most people forget. Yes, the Jebusites have a place in God’s story told through scripture. But, according to Fosdick, no one is there Sunday morning to listen to a lecture about an ancient people group.
We show up Sunday morning pretty selfishly.
We want to know what God has to say about my life. We want God to speak to my heart. To encourage me. To strengthen my faith. Now, to be sure, that’s not an altogether bad desire. It’s limited, but not evil.
That’s not to say we can’t learn from the Jebusites or the Ammonites, for that matter. See? When you start talking about all the “ites,” people already get confused.
In a devotional, we have a little more leeway to talk about history. Not too much more, I know.
King David had sent servants to the Ammonites at the beginning of 2 Samuel 10. Their king had died and David wanted to express kindness to them. The Ammonites did not receive the gesture well. They thought he wanted to spy on them so that he could conquer them. As a result, the Ammonites shaved the beards of David’s servants.
I wonder if church folk come to church desperately anxious to hear about what makes beards so meaningful. Truly! It’s an entire topic you can learn more about. In David’s case, it was a form of disgrace. Think of it as a slap in the face. The Ammonites also slit the clothes of the servants right down the backside–think old hospital gowns.
I love reading about this passage. Our translations go different ways. The Ammonites recognized the insult they threw at David. Some translations say they “obnoxious” or “odious.” The King James Version offers a more direct translation. The Ammonites “saw that they stank before David.”
The Message Bible also does a good job: It dawned on the Ammonites that as far as David was concerned they stunk to high heaven.
Realizing their stench, the Ammonites hired outside help to fight David and his army. David’s general, Joab, saw that the army was surrounded. His response was one of courage, faith and trust. He said, ” Be strong, and let us be courageous for the sake of our people, and for the cities of our God; and may the Lord do what seems good to him.”
I’m used to people telling me that my sermon spoke directly to them. “You were talking to me, brother,” they’ll tell me. I’ve learned to appreciate how sermons work like that. But you should know I don’t prepare a sermon to talk to you. I prepare for God to speak to us. Not just a collection of souls gathered in worship. But a collective group of God’s people gathered in worship. There’s a difference.
God checks your bags of concern, burden or joy that you bring to a Sunday morning worship gathering. Whatever you’re carrying, the Lord receives. That’s part of the reason we do more than listen to a sermon. We experience God’s grace through prayer, music and even silence.
As God comforts us, we become more able to hear God’s voice speaking through the word, even through a sermon like mine. Quite often, the message we hear is the same as Joab’s. Stay strong, be courageous and trust in God Almighty. That is a word worth rediscovering.