November 25, 2012
November 22, 2009

2 Samuel 23:1-7  David’s last words: He has made with me an everlasting covenant.
OR
Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14  Daniel’s apocalypse: the son of man comes in the clouds to the Ancient One and is given dominion and glory and kingship.

Psalm 132:1-12, (13-18)  O Lord, remember David’s hardships and his faithfulness.
OR
Psalm 93 – Ever since the world began, your throne has been established. (Ps. 93:3)

Revelation 1:4b-8  He is coming on the clouds, and every eye will see him. I am the Alpha and the Omega, says the Lord.

John 18:33-37 – Jesus: My kingdom is not of this world. I testify to the truth. Pilate: What is truth?

2 Samuel 23:1-7

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: The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue. 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, is like the light of morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land. 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? But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away; for they cannot be picked up with the hand; to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear. And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

David’s Last Words

Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the church year. Next week we begin a new church year, with the first Sunday of Advent. We also begin year three of a three-year lectionary. This year the gospel readings will focus on Luke’s gospel.

Some folks believe people have trouble making sense of “the church year.” I don’t think so. They get that there is a Chinese calendar and a Chinese New Year. They get that there is a Jewish calendar. There was a Mayan calendar. They get that some companies have fiscal years that are not concurrent with the calendar year. They understand that the school year begins in August or September and ends in May or June. Most people are able to understand that time is a pie that can be cut in many ways. So this Sunday we begin thinking about the end of things: the end of the church year, the end of the calendar year, the end of time, and the end of our short lives. For us in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s winter, and things are dying all over. It’s a good season for taking stock of things.

Famous Last Words

What will be the last words to come out of your mouth?

Rainer Maria Rilke’s last words are reported to have been, “I don’t want the doctor’s death. I want to have my own freedom.”

As Benjamin Franklin lay dying, his daughter told him to change position in bed so he could breathe more easily. Franklin is supposed to have said, “A dying man can do nothing easy.”

Martin Luther’s last words may have been, “We are all beggars. It is true.”

John Adams died on the Fourth of July, 1826. So did, ironically, Thomas Jefferson. John Adam’s last words are reported to have been, “Thomas Jefferson still survives…” He had not, however. He had passed away earlier that day, but news had not yet arrived.

Thomas Jefferson’s last words were, “Is it the Fourth?”

T. Barnum said, “How were the receipts today at Madison Square Garden?”

Charles Darwin said, “I am not the least afraid to die.” Hmm. Now why would he say that?

Queen Elizabeth I said, “All my possessions for a moment of time.”

Some seem painfully aware that they are dying, others, not so much. H. G. Well’s last words were, “Go away. I’m all right.”

What will be your last words? You may or you may not get to choose.

Second Samuel 23, our first reading for this coming Sunday, begins, “These are the last words of David.” Martin Luther is not so sure. He actually wrote a treatise entitled, The Last Words of David. Luther believes this is perhaps David’s last will and testament, not his actual dying words: “For these are not the last words that David spoke during his lifetime, nor are they his last administrative speech, but they are his last will and testament. We Germans call this Seelrecht, on which a person is willing to die and which is to be executed unaltered after his death. The jurists call it a ‘last will.’ A person may live a long time after this has been issued, and he may speak, do and suffer much subsequently… (LW 15:270ff)

If you think about it, your will may indeed be your last words. Whatever you might say in death, in clarity or delirium, your will is your last chance to say something while yet of sound mind and body.

Do you have a will?

This might be a good time to talk about legacy. What does your life say to the world? How will you be remembered? How would you like to be remembered? What are you doing to make that happen? What are your last words? Have you completed a will? Are your life priorities reflected in your will, so that your spirit comes through in death as in life?

Exodus 23

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:

Ted Smith points out that the majority view is that these words were penned by a later editor. Ralph Klein points out that these are the first of many “last words of David,” in the Bible. He counts ten (1 Kings 2:2-4, 5-9, 1 Chronicles 22:7-16,17-19; 28: 2-10, 20-21; 29:1-5, 10-19; 23:27). Karla Suomala of Luther College points out that legends grow and often evolve to serve the needs of the community recounting them.

In verse one, David is described in four different ways:

  1. son of Jesse
  2. the oracle of the man whom God exalted
  3. the anointed of the God of Jacob
  4. the favorite of the Strong One of Israel

Luther points out David’s humility, by noting he is not ashamed to mention his humble upbringing at the hands of his father, Jesse. Jesse was a farmer who raised sheep.

In the second descriptor, David is a prophet who speaks for God, whom God has exalted. In the third place, he is anointed of the God of Jacob. Always interpreting Scripture christologically, Luther translates this, “The oracle of the man who is assured of the Messiah of the God of Jacob…” The writer certainly intended to insure his hearers David ruled by divine mandate, and that subsequent leadership would as well, but, as Ted Smith of Candler School of Theology points out, “speech about God has a funny way of outrunning even our intentions.” Luther understands David to be pointing to a different kind of anointed leadership in a distant future.

This fourth one is problematic in translation. Most translations render יִשְׂרָאֵל זְמִרוֹת וּנְעִים, “the sweet psalmist of Israel,” or “the sweet singer of Israel.” That he certainly was. Apparently, zum-ruth can also mean “strong one.”

Luther prefers the former reading. David is the beloved psalmist of Israel. Indeed, 73 of the 150 psalms are attributed to David. In addition to these, nine other psalms are attributed to David in New Testament passages. The psalms were meant to be sung in worship. The psalter is the hymnbook of the Bible. We don’t know the tunes anymore, but some believe that some remnants of ancient temple worship are preserved in synagogue chants, and ancient church liturgies that borrowed heavily from temple and synagogue worship.

The spirit of the Lord speaks through me, his word is upon my tongue.
The God of Israel has spoken, the Rock of Israel has said to me:

David is not just a king, anointed by God, ruling by divine will, and a singer/composer. He is also a prophet. He is an oracle, a mouthpiece for God. The spirit of the Lord speaks through him.

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. 

We get a taste of Davidic poetry here. A just and faithful leader is like the sun on a beautiful cloudless morning, glistening on the dew.

Psalm 72 says, “Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son… May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.”

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?

David here exalts his own administration. Has my leadership not been like this? Has God not glistened on the morning dew during my reign? This is a rhetorical question of course. This is David’s Vini, vidi, vici.

Sadly, Ted Smith points out, David’s reign, like many in history, was built on the corpses of his predecessors, Saul and Jonathan. It may have accomplished much, but it is also built on his sexual misconduct with Bathsheba and his subsequent arrangement of Uriah’s murder. And to make it all complete, he makes his son the next king, establishing a dynasty.

In fact, the last phrase here, “Will he not cause to prosper all my help and my desire?” is pretty darned arrogant. If we are not careful, we begin to believe our own press. Leaders can become puffed up. David appears to have a high appraisal of his leadership and his legacy. One cannot help but bring to mind certain would-be rulers today with the same attitude.

But the godless are all like thorns that are thrown away;
for they cannot be picked up with the hand;
to touch them one uses an iron bar or the shaft of a spear.
And they are entirely consumed in fire on the spot.

As if he heard us just now, David begins to retort by casting aspersions on his enemies. They are like thorns that can only be handled with iron bars, spears, and fire. David’s view of leadership is militaristic, compared to the prophets who will come after him. The anointed one who comes will remind us that to live by the sword is to die by the sword. He will teach us to see history not through the eyes of the conquerors, but through the eyes of children, through the eyes of the meek, despised, and hated of this world.

As church leaders, we might ask ourselves, how will we be remembered as leaders in our congregations once we are gone?

Even though David’s leadership did not live up to his own standards, we must admit, he understood that it was the responsibility of the ruler to rule with equity and justice. It was the responsibility of the ruler to care for the poor, tend to the needy, and protect the nation from oppressors. It may be this commitment to justice that he wishes to make his ultimate legacy.

Perhaps the preacher can come at this from a legacy standpoint. In all our endeavors, let us seek with humility the will of God. Let us begin with the end in mind. What is God doing in our midst? How are we becoming a part of that? Who are those in need in our midst? How shall we be remembered?

What will your last words be?