Scripture: 2 Samuel 23:1-7: 1 Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel: 2 The spirit of the LORD speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.
3 The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me: One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, 4 is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.
5 Is not my house like this with God? For he has made with me an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things and secure. Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?
6 But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; 7 to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.
Sermon: Redeeming Memories, 2 Samuel 23:1-7, November 25, 2012
In late May of this year, for example, five of the top 10 books on The New York Times nonfiction bestsellers list were memoirs of one form or another. Unlike a biography, (which is usually a little more objective given the burden of historians and biographers to get the facts straight,) a memoir is really an unfiltered and personal version of the writer's life -- the facts as he or she saw them.
Susan Cheever calls the memoir the new novel of the 21st century -- "truth" often being more interesting than anything on the fiction shelf.
On the other hand, a memoir can also be transparently honest about one's own past, using writing as a means of healing. Indeed, those memoirs are often the most popular because they reveal the depth of human pain and failure to which many readers relate.
(Frank McCourt's) Angela's Ashes was a runaway bestseller in 1999 because it tapped into the pain of childhood that many of us feel, and yet it offered hope that we can overcome it.
(Paul Rusesabagina's) Hotel Rwanda showed us that we can be brave even through the midst of crippling fear and crisis. We love these personal stories because they show us what is possible for humanity.
We can look at the value of writing and reading memoirs by studying King David’s life. We might think of this week's text from 2 Samuel 23:1-7 as a kind of closing statement of King David's own memoir.
His biography, as it were, is recorded in 1 & 2 Samuel, while many of his writings are included in the Psalms. His life and legacy are heroic and tragic.
As death approached, David reflected on his long, complex life. He had been shepherd-boy, warrior, commanding general, king and singer of psalms. He now gives voice to his belief that what
had sustained him through the years of triumph and tragedy, sanctity and sin, was God his Rock, who kept his promises to be with him. David could now lie down and rest, assured that God would continue to be with those who would come after him.
These last words of David are in the form of a psalm. The standard edition of the Hebrew Bible (BHS) uses poetic typesetting for 2 Samuel 22:1-23:7, as do the print editions of NRSV, NIV and NLT. It is clear that they are a kind of poetic memoir of both praise and pain. Poets tend to write their memoirs less in prose than they do in verse, and David's last words are no exception.
Verse 1: Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse, the oracle of the man whom God exalted, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel:
These words of David were written as an "oracle" puts David in the company of the prophets (2 Samuel 23:1). God speaks through David (v. 2) and says,
"One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land" (vv. 3-4).
At first this might seem like fiction, given the reality of David's own story. David's song here is really less autobiographical of the past than it is hopeful of the future.
While David was not above self-aggrandizement, he realizes here that his position and power ultimately have come from Yahweh. The God of Jacob/Israel has exalted and anointed him (v. 1).
David's story is about himself, but it is also a story about God. Even with all of David's brokenness, revealed again and again in the story, the promise of God will still be realized through his royal line.
To put it another way, the point of the memoir is less about what David did than about what God will do. God is faithful to his promises even when we are unfaithful.
David says as much in the next few verses. God has made a covenant with David despite the king's failure to live up to his end of that covenant. God's promises are always "ordered in all things and secure" (v. 5).
No matter what the "godless" do (and if we're honest, we're all "godless" at times), God will stick to His story of redemption for the whole world (v. 6).
That's an important reality to remember as we write our own memoirs. This kind of writing can be devotional. Journaling is a spiritual discipline that helps us verbalize/express our inner thoughts and recollections
re: our past, present, and future. We redeem memoires when we intentionally set out to write our story with God’s story in mind. Journaling, or writing our memoirs, can be prayerful.
Those who belong to God, however, will recognize (as David did at the end of his life) that God is the only hero our memoirs require. We need to always remember that our life stories only have lasting value if they're folded into the story of what God has been doing, is doing and will do in the world.
David looked back at a life fraught with both power and pain and said, essentially, "No matter what, God will put things right. Anyone who aspires to be a king ought to remember that and rule justly in the fear of God." David's memoir of the past leads him to think, at the end, about a bright future.
David was redeeming his memoires. He reflected back over his life, his family, his leadership and his failures. By acknowledging the good, the bad and the ugly, he was transforming his memoires in light of God’s working in his life.
In essence, he recorded his spiritual journey; seen in the larger portion of today’s text (2 Samuel 22 and 23), as well as the many Psalms he wrote. Of the 150 psalms, 73 came to be attributed to David.
David took the time to reflect and honor God with his life. David’s story is part of God’s story and our story is also part of God's story.
The memoirs of God's people should look very similar to David's. In fact, our memoirs, journaling, or even scribbling, should focus as much on the future as on the past. Memoirs remind us that we all have a past, and that we have been shaped by the events and people we've known over the years.
Tapping into that story can be therapeutic for us and may be inspirational for others. Memoirs remind us, too, that we are all broken people who are prone to big mistakes, regrets and detours that have led us in directions we didn't necessarily envision.
An epic memoir will speak the truth about ourselves; otherwise it would be pretty self-serving and boring to the rest of the world. After all, who wants to read about someone who's perfect (unless it's Jesus, of course)?
A Christian memoir, however, will also include at least a chapter about what God is doing with our story -- how God's love and grace have redeemed even our greatest failures and turned them into something good. Like David's memoir, ours must always end with a hope for a future made possible by God.
While our past can make for a great story, God's future for us will be an even better one that is full of hope, possibilities, and new life. That's the kind of memoir that the world needs to read, even if it's only written on our hearts.
So, what's your story? What does your story look like so far? Even if you don’t plan to write your memoirs, you might consider journaling, writing poems, writing free hand, stream of consciousness during your prayer time and see what thoughts or insights develop as you reflect.
This is one way of praying for people who don’t like to sit still. Writing keeps our thoughts focused.
However, if you were to write your memoirs ... What information would you include?
- Would you include significant events? What are the events in your life that have shaped your attitudes, informed your understanding of the world and changed the direction of your life?
- Would you make a list of significant people if you were writing your memoirs? Who are those people? Who has influenced you most for good or for ill? What was their contribution? How did it affect you?
- Would you make a list of significant places that are a part of your life's geographical story? What are those places? Why are they important to you?
- Would you try to distill your major philosophy of life? What is that philosophy? Why does life have meaning for you?
- Would you try to put in one paragraph of the advice you'd pass on to others? What is that advice?
- Would you try to answer the question, "If I had it to do over again, I'd ..."?
- Would you try to understand where God has been in your story? Were there times when you thought God had gone AWOL and you never expected to hear from God again? Was there a time in your story when you went AWOL?
- Would you share how your relationship with God is the basis of your life; that it explains who you are and everything about you?
Our lives are a story that God is writing. We are each at different chapters, in different places, but our ending is the same. Wherever God takes us from here, we know that we will one day live with him.
David, whose words are our text for this Sunday, also wrote perhaps the most famous poem in history. We call it the Twenty-Third Psalm. And at the end, he predicts how his story will end.
It can also be the way our story can find its most wonderful conclusion: "Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long." Amen.