David's Lamentation – Sermon for 9 August 2009

The video camera ran out of memory this morning before it recorded the sermon, so I'm afraid I can only offer the text. However, before it ran out, it did record me singing David's Lamentation which came between the first two readings. A useful reminder that it is not only by listening to sermons that we can directly encounter the text.

Here it is:

Here is the sermon itself:
For the last month or more, we have been getting snippets of a story from the Hebrew Scriptures which have been building up week by week. We have been reading the story of David. On Sundays, we have been treated to some of the big events in his life, whilst during the week, those who come to Morning Prayer have been dutifully ploughing their way through the whole of David’s story in the second book of Samuel.

It is a story with lots of action. And very often as we have been reading it, it has been hard to listen to.

Indeed, one day someone said to me, “Why do we get to read this stuff in the Bible. Did David ever do anything that was good?”

It is a good question.

For fundamentally, it is a world with different ethical standards to our own. It is a world where violence reigns. It is a world where marriage is often used to cement political realities. It is a world where women are owned and traded and trafficked between men as a sign of their power. (And the writer presumes that the Lord God Almighty is in on this trade too). It is a world in which war is the norm and the killing of relatives in order to stay at the top of the tree seems merely a political necessity.

Yet is this a world so very far from our own place in the universe. For me it seems a long way away and yet I then come upon a passage like David lamenting over the death of Absolom his Son and my heart is immediately moved. O Absolom, my Son, my Son he cries, and I hear within that cry the cry of the so very many sadnesses and griefs that we carry around with us.

And it is the depth of emotion which we are plunged into as we read David’s story which must remind us of the biblical tradition which is to ascribe to David the book of Psalms.

And that is one of the difficult things to me. David does not seem a terribly attractive figure in many ways, but his name is always associated with words which daily move me. Words which provide the backdrop to life in the psalms which punctuate our worship and the backdrop to death when we sing Psalm 23 at funerals.

Yea, though I walk in death’s dark vale,
Yet will I fear no ill:
For thou art with me, and thy rod
And staff me comfort still.

O Absolom, my Son, my Son.

There is no doubt that words associated with David move me, move me very deeply. Yet as soon as I think of the David tradition which is one of the kingdom traditions which we inherit, I find myself in a kingdom which seems a very foreign country. Where ears, noses and intimate body parts are snipped off to provide proof of virility in battle. Where David the king thought he could dally about with anyone he fancied from his rooftop, as we heard about in the story of David and Bathsheba last week and the week before. And throughout all that, David’s sin was not sleeping with the wrong person, it was stealing another man’s property – for Bathsheba belonged very much to Uriah, not to David.

Such a world is one in which I do not live.

The whole society bears more resemblance to Afghan warlordism or to those who divided up power in the Balkans by a sinister combination of brute force and charisma.

I’ve been trying to think who David is like and the best I can come up with is a rather disturbing comparision with Radovan Karodic – freedom fighter for some and brutal warlord for others and all the while a famed national poet.

If you met David of Jerusalem, would you like him?

All of this goes to show that the world of the Bible is not our own. The ethical world view of the greatest of characters of the bible is not our own. And beware of people who think it is. They are ignorant, deeply ignorant of what God has been doing with us for thousands of years. Making us people who can create societies which are not based on violence and not based on fear.

So why do we read these stories? Why read the saga of David the king? Why keep on reading?

Well, sometimes it helps to know where we have come from and how great a path we have trodden. Sometimes it helps to know that things have not stayed the same through time and if, in the company of God things have changed in the past then in the company of the same God they can change for the better.

I find myself a little uncomfortable with the stories that the lectionary compilers have had us read. They show very clearly the macho culture of David’s day but leave crucial details out of the picture. David seems like a prototype superhero – that is the way he was sold to me in Sunday School. David beating Goliath – what a man! David and Bathsheba – just one of the lads!

Yet we have heard almost nothing in church on Sundays of other characters from this time – of Michel, Saul’s daughter, traded like a pawn from one ruler to another. Of Rizpah the concubine quarrelled over by kingmakers Ishbaal and Abner but who eventually triumphed by silent belligerent protest to get the victims of violence buried decently. She is a model of non-violent protest whom we know too little about. And of Tamar, a young woman who resisted, who did not consent to an attack upon her and who is the perhaps the first figure in our religious history to challenge with her own voice the idea that a man could take and violate her own body.

Where have these stories been whilst we have been hearing the macho war stories of David and even the butch prophecy of Nathan who himself never challenged the idea that Bathsheba was anything other than chattel, a thing which could be stolen.

To keep faith with the stories of old we need to read them carefully. Our reactions to them change in time. Sometimes they will provoke cries of outrage within us when for example we read of the attack on Tamar, the cruel action which actually led to Absolom’s death and to David’s Lamentation. let it provoke us to say, No, such things will not happen in our name.

Our task with the bible is to read it with open eyes, focused minds and kind and generous hearts. We will find morals enough to help us build a better world if we look at what is written in our hearts as we read as a community than if we expect God to give us them written down on a page for each individual to obey or be damned.

We read, sometimes to be inspired. Sometimes to react against what we read.

And so we live and abide and grow, in dialogue with the tradition, in faithfulness to God and moved, utterly moved by the experience of those who have gone before us. Amen.


  1. Muriel says

    Thank you very much for your very moving rendition of David’s Lamentation this morning in between the two readings. You were in excellent voice. I am surprised there are (as yet) no more comments but I am glad that the video held in there until your song was ended.
    I will be putting in on my new IPod once I have bought it and,more importantly, got to grips with it.
    A haunting and memorable moment……

  2. susan s. says

    Thank you for posting this Lamentation. As Muriel says, haunting and memorable. If ever I get to Glasgow again I can come to church and hear you in person.

  3. RosemaryHannah says

    It not only moved me to tears (not that hard) – it raised the hairs on the back of my arms – which is just about vanishingly rare. Stunning does not do justice to it. Just how profoundly the congregation were affected was heard in the quality of the silence which fell afterwards.

  4. Thank you very much for this sermon and for the music accompanying it.

  5. Jimmy says

    Considering the machinations of our leaders over the last few years, the accounts of David’s life are quite up to date.
    In our hearts and in our political and social structures we are no better than the people then and we have not moved on.
    Hypocricy at home and exploitation abroad is not my idea of an improved mankind or world.
    There is not one person in this world who does not need to get on their knees with psalm 51 in front of them.

  6. Yes, someone said to me on Sunday that they did not think we had moved on at all. However, I think we have.

    Clearly the whole world hasn’t moved on at the same pace or to the same place. However, I’d rather live in the UK with all its faults and failings than live in Burma or Zimbabwe or Afghanistan.

  7. The lamentation is beautifully done, Kelvin.

    I’m with your parishioner who said that we have not come so very far from the times of David.

  8. Simply wonderful.

  9. Maureen (McK) says

    I loved the lamentation, Kelvin, having never heard it before. The sermon was very good, too. Thanks

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