Weekly Seeds: Resilient Leadership

Sunday, July 4, 2021
Sixth Sunday after Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
Resilient Leadership

Focus Prayer:
God of grace and powerful weakness, at times your prophets were ignored, rejected, belittled, and unwelcome. Trusting that we , too, are called to be prophets, full us with your Spirit, and support us by your gentle hands, that we may persevere in speaking your word and living our faith. Amen.

Focus Reading:
2 Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10
5 Then all the tribes of Israel came to David at Hebron, and said, “Look, we are your bone and flesh. 2 For some time, while Saul was king over us, it was you who led out Israel and brought it in. The LORD said to you: It is you who shall be shepherd of my people Israel, you who shall be ruler over Israel.” 3 So all the elders of Israel came to the king at Hebron; and King David made a covenant with them at Hebron before the LORD, and they anointed David king over Israel. 4 David was thirty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned forty years. 5 At Hebron he reigned over Judah seven years and six months; and at Jerusalem he reigned over all Israel and Judah thirty-three years.
9 David occupied the stronghold, and named it the city of David. David built the city all around from the Millo inward. 10 And David became greater and greater, for the LORD, the God of hosts, was with him.

All readings for this Sunday:
2 Samuel 5:1–5, 9–10 and Psalm 48
Ezekiel 2:1–5 and Psalm 123
2 Corinthians 12:2–10
Mark 6:1–13

Focus Questions:
1. Think of a famous leader who you admire. What qualities do they embody?
2. How did their leadership impact the lives of the people they influenced?
3. What do you consider to be marks of resilience?
4. How have you had to adopt resilience in your life?
5. How can we cultivate resilience in our faith communities?

By Cheryl Lindsay
They make it sound so easy. The words found in 2 Samuel provide an abbreviated portrayal of the kingship of David over Israel and Judah. It tells the story of the affirmation of his call by the people and the tenure of his rule. We might consider this short passage as David’s brief bio. It highlights key components of his life as Israel’s leader, but it doesn’t tell the full story. If this was all you read about David, you wouldn’t know much about him.

So many of the biblical characters lack full portrayals. We see glimpses of their lives and attempt to extract significance and meaning from their narratives. With David, however, we have a more fulsome account that reflects not only key points of what he did, we also receive access to the hills and valleys he traveled and even the meditations of his heart.

What we know of his people is filtered through the lens of his tenure. Certainly, other individuals receive attention in the biblical text, but primarily as supporting characters who round out his story. In this passage, though, we get a taste of the people as writers of their own story who have collectively affirmed David as the lead:

The fact that David’s kingship over Israel was at the initiative and with the full affirmation of the nation was crucial. The compact that David made with the people would have included mutual obligations, making explicit his responsibilities to them and the support he could expect from them. (Mary Evans)

As Evans notes, the details of the negotiations remained largely confidential to the biblical witness. We don’t know the full terms of the agreement, but we clearly understand that David was called by the people to lead them after receiving the anointing of God. He did not come as a conqueror; his elevation transitions him from shepherd of sheep to shepherd of a nation who accept him as their own. “David is acknowledged as one of the people, their own flesh and blood, as a competent military leader, and as appointed by God. All three are key elements in the Israelite understanding of kingship.” (Mary Evans) David, not his failed predecessor Saul, will define the model of leadership.

We might contrast this with the reception that Jesus receives in the gospel text this week. Like David, those around him recognize Jesus as having come from among them. Unlike the elders who assure David’s coronation, those who heard Jesus’ teaching in his hometown synagogue rejected his authority because of their familiarity with him. As another prophet reminds us, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house), they shall know that there has been a prophet among them.” (Ezekiel 2:5) I doubt anyone would suggest that David was a more effective or convincing leader than Jesus. The difference, then, rests with the people and their response to the leadership before them. Their willingness to be led enabled David to be the king that he became and the people to enjoy the successes and prosperity of his reign. God chose David, and the people demonstrated their trust in God by choosing to follow God’s appointed leader.

David and the people were called together, to be mutually obligated and relationally connected. It was a different model of sovereign rule than the nations around them, but it was forged in a divine paradigm of covenantal leadership. Centuries later, when the people are looking for a king in the model of David, they emphasize the competent warrior in hopes of extracting themselves from Roman rule. But that isn’t the inheritance that David’s leadership leaves behind.

Yes, David enjoyed military success, which overshadows his clear distaste for the fight itself. Years of running from Saul, when he could have easily defeated him in direct physical contact, illustrate that David was not looking for a fight. He submitted himself to the will and purpose of God and protected the people charged to his care in the same way that he shielded the sheep of his pasture from the encroachment of lions and bears. He came in the name of the One who called him and did what that Name required of him.

The use of the shepherd-sheep metaphor for David suggests a variety of other uses of the metaphor that may be related to our exposition. Reference should be made to Psalm 23 and the extensive use of the figure in Ezekiel 34. The primary requirement of a “good shepherd” is to remember that the shepherd exists for the sake of the sheep and their well-being. A bad shepherd, by contrast, is one who acts as though the sheep exist for the well-being, enhancement, and profit of the shepherd. The use of the metaphor applied to David thus provides a critical criterion for David, who on occasion gives himself for his flock. (Walter Brueggemann)

Still, he had personal failings. His love life was problematic to say the least. Most notably, his abuse of Bethsheba and role in the murder of her husband represent the depravity that living a violent and entitled life can evoke within an overall faithful and commendable life journey. David’s relationship with God does not exempt him from accountability, rather, it heightens the impact of it. David never claimed perfection but he did demonstrate remorse and repentance. He learned to lament as well as rejoice, to grieve as well as to shout victory, and to turn from his wicked ways as well as to turn toward the God of righteousness, grace, and mercy. David’s story is one of resilience.

David’s story is also Israel’s story during his tenure as king as his leadership extended beyond military rule and political governance. The forty years of his leadership undoubtedly contained even more valleys and zeniths than the biblical narrative can explore with any detail. Toward the end of his life, he has an unexpected moment of disconnection from God’s will when he gets the idea that he should build the Holy One a temple. It’s not a bad idea, but it’s not his assignment, and for someone who walked so closely in the will of God, it’s remarkable that he failed to question his own motivation in that moment. Nevertheless, God redeems the work David has done toward that goal and uses the supplies even as God selects a different builder. Some leaders get to build up while others have the hard task of tearing things down. Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that the one who had to battle and live with the destruction of those conflicts wanted a chance to build something beautiful, enduring, and wonderful for his God.

Of course, David did build the city for the people to inhabit as a period of peace and prosperity commenced. It must have been both the shepherd and the warrior within him that encouraged him to encase it in a wall, to provide a barrier against intrusion. A temple to keep God safely at hand and available for worship would have been the natural conclusion in David’s building project. But God ends David’s story by refusing to be contained in a temple, because God was never confined to a tent. In the course of David’s time as leader of Israel and Judah, where was God?

With David. Even “while Saul was king over us, it was [David] who led out Israel and brought it in,” the leaders of the tribe tell David. Before his coronation, David served as leader. The conferring of the title of king was simple recognition of what God had already done in and through him. David didn’t need it to be Israel’s king, and God didn’t need to be placed in a palatial earthly home to be honored and worshiped by David. God had been with David in the pasture, in the field of battle, and in the home David built for himself. The promise of God’s covenant is that God is with us, and David’s increased and increasing stature rested from his tethered connection to the Holy One. The Israelites recognized it.

But, in Nazareth, they failed to see God with them. All they could see was this young man they had watched grow, and they dismissed Jesus because their imagination could not conceive that the miracle maker could have been among them all that time. Resilience requires the ability to adapt to changing circumstances, but it also means the ability to process new information.

Throughout human history, nations rise and fall. Leaders are elevated and rejected. None of it occurs in a straight, predictable line. We often tell our stories as if they are fairy tales where you can clearly define the heroes and the villains, the victims and the sympathizers, who is right and who is wrong. We frame these narratives in simple terms because complexity makes us too uncomfortable and challenges our binary notions of good and evil. As a result, history adopts the form of mythology where the symbols that represent the myth become idolized and the harsher truths are relegated to footnotes that no one wants to read.

But our stories deserve a full telling. David has a messy story, but forgetting the mess diminishes the glory.

That’s not easy. Around this time of year, I frequently hear conversations about incorporating the celebration of (American) Independence Day in worship. These debates happen around many secular holidays, such as Mother’s and Father’s Days, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. As the Fourth of July falls on a Sunday, it is a particularly relevant question. However your faith community addresses (or doesn’t) the day, there is a critical lesson we can learn from the telling of David’s story and from Jesus’ reception from his hometown.

Tell the whole story. Do not allow the richness of the journey to become sanitized into a fairy tale. Do not ignore the struggle, the mistakes, and the horrors to be forgotten any more than the victories, triumphs, and glory. We learn this from David and his resilient leadership. Perhaps most of all, let us not be so intently focused on the promise of a human ruler that we fail to see the Sovereign One in our midst.

I am reminded of the words found within The Battle Hymn of the Republic, “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord….His truth is marching on.”

For God’s glory, God’s truth marches on.

For further reflection:
“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” ― Elizabeth Edwards
“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.”― Jodi Picoult
“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.” ― Mizuta Masahide

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at http://www.ucc.org/worship_samuel.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gather ed communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.