Moving the Word to the center

Martin Luther moved the Word to the center of the life and faith of the church.  But he was not the first to do so.

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Moving the Word to the center

October 25, 2015 – I Samuel 5:1-5; 6:1-5

 

            In the history of Israel, no figure stands taller than King David.

            Abraham does not stand taller than David.  Abraham was the first person God approached after the crime and chaos of the first 11 chapters of Genesis.  God told Abraham to go, promising him land and descendants and blessing.  Abraham went.  And so the story of God’s redemption got underway.

            Moses does not stand taller than David.  When the descendants of Israel were held in slavery, God told Moses to go to Pharaoh and lead them out of Egypt.  Moses went. He not only went to Pharaoh and led the people out of there.  He also served as the intermediary as God proposed a covenant, a special relationship between him and them.  When things got hot Moses stood in the breach and somehow held things together, until the promise to Abraham was realized and the descendants of Abraham reached the land God had promised to Abraham.

            Yet as important as both Abraham and Moses are to the story of Israel, David looms just as large.  Because David has a heart for God.

 

            After the people of Israel crossed the Jordan River and they moved in to take possession of the land, they lived for many years as a loose confederation of tribes. They were ruled by judges, who not only acted in Moses’ stead as law-giver, but also led them into battle against an adversary when necessary.  But, as time went on, the people wanted a king – to rule them, to unite them and to protect them.

            At last God relented.  God directed the prophet Samuel to anoint Saul the Tishbite as king over Israel.  For a while, it worked well.  But then Saul started to do things in his own way while disregarding what he had been told by God.

            So, even before Saul had died, God told Samuel to anoint another to be Israel’s next king.  He directed Samuel to go to Bethlehem and to seek out Jesse.  One of Jesse’s sons was God’s choice. Upon seeing the eldest, Samuel thought, “He is tall and strong and handsome.  Certainly this is the Lord’s choice!”

            But God said, “No, it is not this one.  You are looking at the outside.  I am looking at the inside – at the heart.”

            One by one, the brothers came before Samuel.  Finally, the youngest, the seventh son of Jesse, was brought before him.  And God said, “This is the one. Anoint him.  He has a heart for me!”

            So, began David’s story.  His heart was obvious to God.  It doesn’t become obvious to us until Saul and the army of Israel were besieged by their arch-enemies, the Philistines.  Their champion was Goliath, a huge man, nine feet tall.  No one wanted to challenge him.  No one wanted to fight him.

            Then young David came along on an errand from his father.  When he heard that the army of Saul was cowering in their tents and quivering in their sandals, he said, “I will fight Goliath.”  His brothers told him to get lost.  He was too small.  The army told him he was too young.  When he tried on the armor Saul offered him, it fell off of him.

            So, without sword or shield, young David walked out into the field to face off with Goliath.  He carried only his slingshot and five smooth stones he had picked up from a dry creek bed.  More important, in his heart, he carried his trust in God.  And, with only that, he brought Goliath down and rallied the army of Israel to a stunning victory.

            David had a heart for God.  This did not mean that David was without sin.  It did not mean that he was not capable of serious sins.  Later in his kingship, he used his position to seduce the wife of another man and then, when his attempts to cover it up were foiled, arranged for the man’s death in battle.

            Then God sent the prophet Nathan to confront him.  David did not throw Nathan out. He did not deny or minimize what he had done.  He owned up.  He turned to God and confessed his sin.  There were consequences – serious consequences to serious sinning – but David was forgiven by God.

 

            David’s heart was made obvious in his showdown with Goliath.  His heart was revealed when he confessed his sin.  And his heart is revealed in his celebration of God’s Word.

            When David was crowned king of all Israel, thus ending a civil war between north and south, David chose a new city in which to establish his throne – the city of Jerusalem.  But not only was his throne to be in Jerusalem, so also the Ark of the Covenant – the representation of God’s presence – would also reside there.

            The ark was a box, built in the time of Moses to carry the tablets of the Law – the covenant between God and people.  So, at the center of their relationship was the word which God had spoken to them.  It was not offerings and sacrifices that were central.  It was not theological statements that were central.  It was not even spiritual acts of devotion that were central.

            It was simply God’s Word, given through Moses, given to the people, given by God.  This was what David brought to the city of Jerusalem and placed at the center.

 

            Hundreds of years later, when the church of the time seemed much more focused on rites and rituals, on buildings and bastions, on offerings and indulgences, a man named Martin Luther sought to bring the Word back to the center.

            Luther was a troubled, young man who sought peace with God.  He abandoned his study of law.  He entered the monastery.  He prayed to saints.  He fasted regularly.  He even made a trip to Rome.  None of this brought him what he was looking for.

            Finally, his mentor sent him to the university, to study and then to teach, the Bible.  There Luther found his peace.  There, in the pages of the Bible, he read that holiness of God is not expressed in judgement, but in mercy – in the infinite mercy of God that has come to us in Jesus.

            Luther read, “It was Abraham’s faith that made him right with God.”  He read, “For we hold that we are justified by faith and not by works demanded by law.”  He read, “For by grace you have been saved, through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is a gift from God.”

            And because Luther read these statements in the Bible, he made the Bible the center of our faith and of our life and of our worship.  That’s why we study the Bible.  That’s why we read the Bible.  And that’s why we speak Bible here – to keep the Bible at the center.

            We do not dance like David, though.  But we do sing.  So, let’s sing now.

           

            Jesus loves me this I know; for the Bible tells me so!

            Little ones to him belong; they are weak but he is strong!

            Yes, Jesus loves me!

            Yes, Jesus loves me!

            Yes, Jesus loves me!

            The Bible tells me so!