Out of the depths have I called to you, O Lord;

If you, Lord, were to note what is done amiss,

O Lord, who could stand…


On 2 February 1965 I drove down to the National Guard Armory in Texarkana, Arkansas. There I signed my enlistment papers and joined Company B, 1st Battalion.

Not too many years later at our annual two weeks training at Ft. Chaffee near Ft. Smith we learned we would have a distinguished visitor the next day – indeed the commander of the Guard, the Governor of our state. As our company commander at the time, it was expected that I would greet him when he visited our unit.

That would be a little bit of a challenge. Part of our unit would be training at the mortar range and the balance in a field location. But we managed and I was able to greet him at both locations. Our company is a split company between Texarkana and Hope. I suspect our unit was selected for the visit because the new governor had been born in Hope.

The visit went well but I was surprised when not too many weeks later I received a letter from him at my home. It was a thoughtful letter and he thanked me for seeing that he had a good visit with our Guard unit.

He was a well-known public figure. I have been interested in politics from very young days so I felt I “knew” him. I knew his publicly expressed opinions on many public issues. Yet this thoughtful gesture – this personal gesture – on his part completely floored me. Maybe I didn’t really “know” him, I remember thinking at the time. There is much more to him than I had thought.

This Arkansas political figure went on to greater political successes. I think of him sometimes when we study about David, King David. Sometimes we associate one incident with David and overlook all the other things he did in his life. David is human and over the course of a long life – and for his times, a thousand years before the time of Christ – he lived a long life. And in the course of a long life, you have the opportunity to do a lot of things- some of which you would as just soon forget and some of which you take some justifiable pride.

But how do you understand a person- much less a society – who lived three thousand years ago?

My short answer is that I go to a Commentary. In this case I went to the series called “Interpretation” and its Commentary on the two books of Samuel by Walter Brueggemann.

Well, I’ve started down this rabbit trail. Let me keep going.

Bruggeman suggests that in studying or trying to understand these ancient Biblical stories -and these are ancient stories – we tend to go one of two ways. Some tend to take a “historical” or “realism” approach. An approach that emphasizes social, political, or technical factors. The other might be a” theological” or religious approach. Brueggemann suggests that solely a historical, realist approach “reduces life …to power, arms, force, and violence” while a strictly “theological” reading “tends to end in a monopoly of certitude.”

He suggests a more “artistic reading” –I’m not sure I like that term – but nevertheless a reading which includes and recognizes three aspects: 1) power, 2) personality and 3) providence. Well, that’s easy to remember – the three “P’s” so to speak: power, personality, and providence.

It does seem to recognize those major things that influence the workings of society. And in this case – the times of David – that would recognize the forces at work. This ancient society was working its way to a more advanced society with all that would involve. Certainly, David was a strong personality that influenced Israel at that time. And certainly, the influence and working of God.

We meet David in today’s reading as a much older man. He is no longer the young David. His son Absalom has grown into a young man much like his father. He, too, is an attractive person – who takes great pride in his appearance and particularly his hair, which he lets grow quite long.

He lives in his own house, has an entourage of the bright, smart people of his day. He also has ambitions which he is not too careful to hide. Not to put too fine a point upon it, he is the young son of the king – the young spoiled son of the king. Joab, a trusted friend and supporter of David, does not like what he senses about the king’s son. Joab is also one of the commanders in David’s army.

Joab’s suspicions are well-founded. Absalom leads a rebellion against his father David. There is war – a nasty civil war of rebellion. There is a great battle with loss of life. It is at this point that we join the story. Fortunately for David it does not look like the rebellion will succeed- indeed it will go to a bloody end. We hear David telling the three commanders of his forces including Joab, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” At this point he is ashamed to even call him his son. His son who has caused so much heartache and loss of life.

In the noise and chaos of the battle Absalom is on his mule. With the noise and confusion of battle his mount runs away with him. Some of you who have ridden horses – we don’t see many mules ridden these days– may have experienced your horse running away with you on him. It is not fun. Horses do not have brakes. And when they are in this runaway mode they like to head into brush or trees to get rid of their rider. Absalom’s long hair gets caught in the tree. So, Absalom is hanging in mid-air – “between heaven and earth” in the Scripture’s quaint phrase. And then Joab’s armor-bearers find him. Absalom is killed. These are rough and brutal times. I don’t think warfare has become much gentler since then.

At this point someone may say, “What’s the point? What’s the point of the story?

I guess one of the reasons that I appreciate these stories – and indeed would like to study more about David and other figures from the Bible – is that I feel these are real stories about men and women who actually lived and experienced the things we read about…Life is messy – sometimes relationships in families can be troubling. Yes, we are not reading news reports from three days ago and these stories come down to us from writings and recollections hundreds and hundreds of years ago with certainly with some imperfections. Yet they have the ring of truth about them. The have the ring of life about them. David putting up with all the stuff that Absalom did –I know people today who have children or family members who have caused grief for their family. Yes, what Brueggemann calls “power” is an important factor in understanding history – power, arms, force, violence.

There is the influence of personality. The Arkansas Governor and political figure I mentioned in the beginning has been a great influence in his life. He’s made a difference, he’s changed lives. His living has made a difference. This is just not true in the political realm only. I suspect all of us could name people who made a difference in the company, or part of government, or school, or in our community with which we are familiar.

Some years ago, I was a member of a church – not St. Luke’s – that was not doing too well. The bishop called us to a meeting about our situation. I don’t know if you would call our meeting with the bishop a “Fish or Cut Bait” Meeting or a “Come to Jesus” Meeting but I know I will never forget it. And you could probably use Bruggeman’s three-part analysis to describe that situation. First there was the overall environment – this church’s location, the demographics of the neighborhood and community, the large mortgage on the church…And then there is personality – in this case that of the bishop. He had analyzed the situation of the church, his understanding of the people of that church, where that church was going if something or some things did not change…

And then there is providence – God.

I suspect God had something to do with what the bishop had said. I suspect that long before he had talked to us, he had been praying about our situation. I suspect that there were members of that church who prayed to God for guidance and help after that meeting – and probably long before that meeting.

Something did happen. Men and women stepped forward. Several were ordained to various responsibilities for the work of the church. It continues to be a strong voice for God. The church is still there.

This morning as I listened to the words of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, I didn’t hear so much words written on a page but rather the voice of Paul himself calling to the members of that Christian church in Ephesus, crowded in a room in someone’s home as he speaks these words – and now he is speaking these words to us in these particularly divisive times:


In all things let us speak truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Speak with strong opinion, but do not sin in how you speak. Do not let the sun go down on your anger.

Let no evil talk come out of your mouth -but only what is useful for building up.

Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice…

Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, and forgiving as Christ has forgiven you.

As beloved children of God, imitators of God, live in love as Christ loves us.


Paul is talking to us today.

In the early days of the church others would say of those Christians – ‘See how they love one another!’ Would they say that of us today? We certainly need to be a voice that speaks for right – but also and emphatically of God’s love for everyone.

Maybe in these times of divisiveness, dissension and disagreement that is what Paul is reminding us of what we should be doing.

For we are the followers of the One who is the Bread of Life.


O Israel, wait for the Lord.

For with the Lord is mercy.

With Him there is plenteous redemption,

And He shall redeem us from our sins.



Richard Robertson