Thursday, 8 September 2016

The church: Those considered to be the scum of the earth (1 Samuel 22:1-2)

Suppose we changed the name of our church.  Last week I told Dermot O’Mahoney (the pastor of Elevate Church) that we were going to change our name to Elevator Church.  Think of it, Jesus is the Elevator who brings us to God!  Don’t worry I wasn’t serious.
We could change our name to Grace Church.  I love the idea of being called Grace Church because grace is what we should be all about.  We want to preach and live in light of God’s unmerited, unearned and undeserved favour.
But the church name that grabs my attention is Scum of the Earth Church in Colorado.  In their mission statement they point out that there are plenty of normal churches reaching normal people, but they want to reach those who are considered outcasts among society.  (They take their name from First Corinthians, where Paul says that we are considered to be the Scum of the Erath).
This morning we see a motley crew gather around David.  These people, who might be considered the scum of the earth, are a wonderful picture of the church.
Jesus not only knows how we feel, he has experienced worse than we feel
At this stage in the story God has rejected Saul as king, but not yet removed him from the throne.  God has anointed David as king, but not yet placed him on the throne.  David has killed Goliath and become a leader in the army.  He has become best friends with Saul’s son, Jonathan.  The women of Israel have stirred Saul’s jealousy as they sing, ‘Saul has killed thousands, and David has killed tens of thousands.’  David has fallen in love with Saul’s daughter Michal, and Saul said ‘you can marry her if you bring me the foreskins of a hundred Philistines’ (he thought that this challenge would end with David’s death).  Saul tells Jonathan to kill David, but Jonathan pleads his case.  Michal has to help David escape through a window in their home, when Saul’s troops come looking for him.  David flees to Gath, offering himself as an anonymous mercenary, but King Achish’s servants recognises him, so David pretends he is a madman and Achish sends him away.  David departed from there and escaped to the cave in Adullam (22:1a).
He has been humiliated—having to let his spit cover his beard like he was insane and scratching the gates of an enemy his in order to look crazy.  But surely the humiliation is nothing compared to the pain of being separated from his wife and family, losing his job and home, and having his life in constant danger.  Have you ever felt anything like David must have been feeling?  What should you do at such moments?  You should pray!
‘With my voice I cry out to the Lord, with my voice I plead for mercy to the Lord.  I pour out my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him’ (1-2).  He prays with real honesty.  Such honesty is common in the Psalms.  Pour out your troubles to God.  Take this psalm for yourself.
As often happens in the psalms, David’s perspective changes as he prays.  He grows in confidence in God. ‘When my spirit faints within me, you know the way’ (3a).  ‘You are my refuge’ (5a).
Remember that Samuel had anointed David.  David was God’s anointed leader.  The term Messiah (or ‘Christ’) comes from the word ‘anointed one.’  When I read of David’s pain in the Psalms I think of the emotions of Jesus.  These were prayers that Jesus put on his lips.  He knew what it was like to be alone, apart from his friend and family, and pursued to death.  He put a psalm on his lips as he cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  Jesus not only knows what you feel, he has felt worse than you feel.  And he has compassion on us!
Those that the world sees as the Scum of the Earth are God’s gift to us
David prayed, ‘Attend to me …’ (6), and our prayer answering God hears him.  We read, and when his brothers and his father’s entire house heard it [that he had escaped to the cave], they went down there to him.  All those who were in distress or in debt or discontented gathered around him, and he became their commander.  About four hundred men were with him (1 Samuel 22:1b-2).
One question we should ask when we read the Old Testament is, how does this point to Jesus?  Another question is how does this point to his people?  I believe that the distressed, indebted and discontent that gather around David are a great picture of the church.  He is the anointed leader and we are those who are brought to him.  We are the outcasts of society and those considered to be scum of the earth!
It’s funny, back in Psalm 142 David declared, the righteous will surround me (7), yet God surrounds him with all the outcasts of Israel.  God makes outcasts his righteous people.  He takes the broken and lost and he cleanses us through the blood of his Son.  He takes moral failures and treats us as if we had lived Jesus’ perfect life.  Jesus makes us the righteous of God.
In some ways this group of people were the last people David needed at this moment.  They are bitter in spirit.  Yet as the story goes on these very people become David’s army and the leaders in his kingdom.  God takes broken people like us, gives us gifts to serve each other and one day we will share in his reign.
Are God’s ragamuffin people your joy?  Elsewhere David will speak of his delight in God’s people (Psalm 16:3).  If you aren’t delighting in God’s people then there is a problem with your spirit.
In 2008 I was on my way to watch Munster beat Toulouse in the Heineken Cup final when I read the following in the Irish Times:  ‘Maybe in years to come, the sociologists will decide that the Munster phenomenon was down to people needing to identify with a big-hearted and inclusive movement at a time when there was a dearth of such churches.’  In this morning’s text we are going to see that God wants his church to be a big-hearted and inclusive movement.   
What a wonderful picture of the church!  And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt, and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered around God’s anointed leader.  And he became captain over them.  And they were with him.  A big-hearted and inclusive movement!
Last week, before Café Church, a young Christian asked me the question, ‘why me?’  Why had God revealed himself to him rather than other people he knew?  We agreed that it cannot be because he is any better than anyone else.  In fact I told him of what Paul declared in First Corinthians, ‘for consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth.  But God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God’ (1:26-30).  This is the picture we see in this morning’s passage.  Never let the fact that you are a Christian let look down on those who are not!  You weren’t saved by your own goodness; you were saved by grace!
So go home with Psalm 142.  Next time you are in distress pray it.  Jesus knows how you feel, has felt worse, and he cares for you.  Our God answers prayer and gives us his people.  We are both nobodies who have been accepted as God’s people and children of God saved for a great purpose!  

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