I Samuel 21:1-9
September 1, 2013
Do you remember The Fugitive? I am referring to the old television show from the early 60s, not the later movie version or the song by Meryl Haggard by the same name. (Incidentally, I know that some of you are impressed that your pastor was aware that Meryl Haggard had a song called The Fugitive, and, I am sure others of you are depressed that I knew that!) Nonetheless, The Fugitive, as a classic television series aired from 1963 until 1967 and starred David Janssen in the title role as Dr. Richard Kimble. The premise, as you might recall, was that Dr. Kimble had been accused of murdering his wife. But, he had escaped on his way to prison and was now a man on the run. He was on the one hand trying to elude the authorities and on the other hand, he was also trying to find the man whom he believed was the real person who had killed his wife. A figure, from television lore, who was always referred to in the series as “the one armed man”. Needless to say, the idea was that Dr. Kimble, the fugitive, was actual the victim or the innocent one and that his time on the run was only a noble and desperate attempt to clear his good name. (The Fugitive from www.wikipedia.com)
A similar story of a biblical fugitive unfolds in I Samuel. The innocently accused in the scripture is none other than David himself. You see, David was selected as the second king of Israel long before Saul, his predecessor, left the throne. As David emerged as the future king, the current King Saul reached a boiling point in his own disdain for David and in regards to his jealousy of him. In turn, Saul decided that David needed to be eliminated. The problem was that Saul’s son Jonathan was David’s best friend. In chapter 20 of I Samuel, which is the chapter that precedes our text for today, Jonathan chose loyalty to his friend David over loyalty to his father Saul by tipping off David to his father’s plans. David, who had served in King Saul’s, responded to Jonathan’s information by doing the only thing he knew to do — he ran away, thus becoming a fugitive from justice in the eyes of Saul.
Early on in his running, David stumbled into the sanctuary in the Israelite town of Nob. He was alone, hungry and defenseless. There, he encountered the priest Ahimelech and asked for his help.
Now, to be fair, David was far less honest with Ahimelech than perhaps he should have been. He said that he was on a secret mission for Saul, not running from Saul. And, he claimed that he was on his way to rendezvous with a group of soldiers who would join him in this secret mission. While we don’t know if Ahimelech saw through David’s story or not, we do know that he decided to help him. In an interesting move, Ahimelech chose David’s needs over strict adherence to the law by giving him the bread of the presence which is to say bread offered on the alter that could only be eaten by the priests. Likewise, Ahimelech also gave David Goliath’s sword that appears to have been on display at the Nob sanctuary as a type of historical relic and sign of God’s faithfulness and power to his people. In short, to the sanctuary of Nob, hungry and defenseless David came and there he found physical nourishment for his body and protection for the days ahead. At the sanctuary at Nob, David’s current and future needs were met.
There are several lessons one could take from this episode but the one I like best is its reminder to all of us that each of us need sanctuary. What I mean by this is that David came to the sanctuary of Nob weary and in need. He left renewed, ready and better prepared for what lay ahead.
In our own life journeys which also leave us weary, we need regular sanctuary too. And, I can’t think of a better Sunday for us all to be reminded of this truth. I say this for two reasons. For one, this is Labor Day Weekend. Part of celebrating the value of hard work is also realizing that in order to be able to work also requires making the necessary space in our lives to renew ourselves so that when we do work we can be at our best. Also, I think this is equally a good day to talk about the importance of sanctuary because Labor Day weekend traditionally marks the return to a more structured and busy time in our lives. After this weekend, life, schedules and routines pick back up with our work lives, school lives and even in our church lives running on all cylinders. As a result, the busier we are, the more important and essential is the needed time to renew ourselves. As a result let me make two suggestions to all of us this morning.
First, I think David’s need for sanctuary reminds us of our need for this sanctuary. Simply stated, we all as human beings and as people of God need what this place of worship offers to us every week. We need to be with each other, we need to pray together, we need the chance to open the scriptures, to listen for God and to renew our faith at the start of each new week. This is what sustains us as a spiritual people.
Now having said that, let me thank you for keeping this commitment as a people. I must say that you are to be commended for your faithfulness as a church to our time together on Sundays — your priorities are evident and I am grateful that at this time in our life together, week in and week out you are here. No, we can’t always be here but by and large you are here when you can and I thank you for that.
In turn, my reminder today to all of us is that as life picks up in pace, intensity and demands in the weeks ahead, there will be more and more things that seek our time and attention. As a result, it is important that we all individually and collectively resolve right now, as we begin this sprint which is the last four months of the year, to continue to see this as the critical time that we all need each week if we are going to be prepared as God’s people to be who we are meant to be the rest of the week.
Second, I think David’s need for sanctuary reminds us of our need for daily sanctuaries too. When we think of renewing ourselves and reenergizing ourselves as people of faith, it is common for our focus to immediately go in the direction that I have already taken us — toward the importance of being with God’s people on Sundays. At the same time, I would suggest that being all that God wants us to be demands more than just what this time each week offers.
What I have found over the years and what I think countless people of faith have discovered is that there is a need for a daily renewing of ourselves as God’s people too if we are going to truly be ready for all that each day brings our way. Certainly, this idea is embraced by many of us as we take time at some point in the day to pray, to read the scripture, to sit silently and listen to God, to write in a journal or to read devotionally. Again, the wisdom here is that the daily renewing of our mind is a crucial part of following God — sanctuary space is a daily need.
This idea is also embraced as we ensure each day that we find some time, if only for a short period of time, to stop our daily activities and sit quietly, clear our mind, rest our bodies and renew our energies. We must never forget that if you read the scriptures, you discover that idea of a Sabbath, was not only about worship but also about resting ourselves mentally and physically from the daily grind. This is a critical word. And, it is not just an activity that we should enjoy when all of the other work is done, but, it is an activity that we must make space for on a regular basis if we are going to be able to accomplish effectively everything else that is on our plates.
When I was in seminary, I became acquainted with a gentleman by the name of Wofford Boyd. Wofford as the time was with the Greensboro, North Carolina police department and we would occasionally have lunch together. Wofford was a good bit older than me but we enjoyed each other’s company and I think Wofford as an older man saw me as a younger man as someone with whom he could share some life wisdom. One of the things I remember about him is that he had a peculiar practice. He regularly carried a loaf of old bread around with him in his car. In turn, almost every time that we had lunch he would invite me to take ten extra minutes to go with him to “feed the ducks.” I thought it was an odd thing at the time. Why were we going in the middle of the day to spend 10 or 15 minutes in the park feeding ducks? What I learned however was that Wofford did this about three times a week at various times of the day. He didn’t take long, but, it was just the time that he needed to clear his mind, sit quietly, think and take a break. Wofford’s practice was not silly at all as I thought at the time. Rather, it was crucial to the rest of the week’s hard work with the police department.
This sanctuary space in our lives looks different for all of us. For some of us it is sitting quietly in nature, for others it is a quick power nap here and there, for others of us it is being faithful to our weekly golf game or lunch each Thursday with our close friends. Whatever, it looks like for you, be faithful to that sanctuary time in your life. Never be fooled into believing that such moments are not critical or can only be enjoyed when everything else is done. They are not really luxuries, they are essential to our well being.
As we seek this space, however, it is critical that we realize the purpose. It isn’t that worship, daily Bible study or rest become ends in and of themselves but rather it is so that they renew and reform us to be who God wants us to be in our engagement with the world and this reality must always be in front of us.
I have been intrigued this past couple of weeks by a story out of Pierce, Nebraska. You may have heard about the cache of cars discovered there recently that had never been driven. You see, the long time owner of the local Chevrolet dealership in Pierce had each year stored away cars that did not sell. In turn, in 2013, there are cars in old warehouses and in open fields in Piece from the 50s and 60s that only have 1 or 2 actually miles on them. The sell stickers are still in the windows and the factory plastic still covers the seats. In just a few weeks, car enthusiasts from all over the world are going to descend on Pierce for the auction of a lifetime with a chance to purchase these never used classic cars.
This is an exciting yet sad story from my perspective. You see these cars have never been used for the purpose for which they were made. Instead they have simply set idle. What a sad thing.
We are here and we need to rest. But, not for the purpose of study or rest alone but so that we can be renewed that we might be used each day for God’s purposes that we can be all that our creator wants us to be. So that we too, can run and operate on all cylinders. Amen.