II Samuel 23:1-7 – Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday – for Sunday, November 25, 2012
“Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, son of Jesse…” (II Samuel 23:1)
Now these are the last words of David . . .
Thus begins the twenty-third chapter of II Samuel. David the King was “the anointed of the God of Jacob, the favorite of the Strong One of Israel.”
David the human was also a fool, sheepherder, petty, virile, vulnerable, devious, brilliant, Goliath-slayer, Uriah-killer, lustful and yet devoted to the “God of Jacob.” Based on the diverse stories of his life, the shepherd-king arguably possessed the best and worst qualities of a leader of Israel.
Anyone familiar with the Bible knows him well. We are astounded as at the heroics of the ruddy-cheeked lad Samuel the prophet blessed as we are offended when the mature David leered through a palace window and craved the pleasures of Bathsheba.
So read what II Samuel claimed are his final utterances before the nation mourned the old king and welcomed Solomon, the new king. Did David declare everything the chapter claimed? Were any of those eloquent (and long-winded) sentences truly what he said before a last breath?
Final words can fascinate.*
Henry Ward Beecher, the 19th Century preacher . . . “Now comes the mystery.”
Grover Cleveland, the American president . . . “I have tried so hard to do the right.”
Robert E. Lee, Civil War general . . . “Strike the tent.”
Writer George Bernard Shaw . . . “I want to sleep.”
Gertrude Stein, the American author and Paris resident . . . “What is the answer?” No answer came. She laughed and said, “In that case what is the question?”
Henry David Thoreau’s aunt asked him . . . “Have you made your peace with your God?” His response, ”I never quarreled with my God.” She persisted with, “But aren’t you concerned about the next world?” To which he replied, “One world at a time.”
Comedian W.C. Fields read the Bible on this deathbed . . . “I’m looking for loopholes.” (Sorry, couldn’t resist adding a Fields clip.)
And, of course, Steve Jobs of Apple Computer fame . . . “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.”
Were any of these last words true? Maybe. Maybe not. Perhaps you have your own favorite last words, someone famous or an infamous member of your family.
What would you wish your last words to be? And let me, just to provide reasonable (or unreasonable) limits, encourage you to craft imagined last words based on the arbitrary boundaries of tweeting.
140 characters and spaces . . . no more, though less if you desire. Try it! Become your own King David, but without a meandering chapter with room to roam for an abundance of verbs and adjectives. Instead, claim 21st Century brevity.
I think of me as a writer . . . Well, I guess I’ll never get any of my books published, but at least I was persistent (or foolish) and kept revising and trying!
Of me as a pastor . . . Failed in most personnel decisions, but enough of the time I listened to each person, reminding him/her a loving God loved them. Forever.
Of me as a spouse . . . Divorced once and still weep over mistakes, but how wonderful to be married a second time…spending my life helping make her life joyous.
Why even attempt a few words to summarize a life?
In the flow of the lectionary, of those scriptures selected by a gaggle of scholars to help us move through the life of Jesus, II Samuel’s 23rd chapter comes on the final Sunday of the season of Ordinary Time entitled Christ the King/Reign of Christ Sunday. It’s included in the last of the verses prior to Advent, before the pages turn and Jesus’ birth story begins anew. Soon Biblical passages will highlight Mary and Joseph, a real and mythic place called Bethlehem and—above all—the bold, divine and gritty account of a baby that transformed the world . . . but first started in swaddling clothes, much like you and I began.
But that’s next week.
This week, the lectionary wraps it up. This week, we’re a last word and final message people, or—to use Robert E. Lee’s pronouncement—a “strike the tent” reader of the Biblical text.
So I happily, humbly challenge you: sum up yourself. Be brief. Be honest. Be revealing.
What did King David really say on his deathbed? I suspect we’ll never know. Did Steve Jobs declare Wow three times? As someone owned by a Mac and iPhone, I’d like to think so.
If you do write 140 words and spaces for a last-gasp summary of your life (so far), they’ll inevitably be artificial. Epitaphs written while we’re rosy-cheeked and chock-full of tomorrow’s plans will be too optimistic or too self-critical. But try it anyway**. Let self-reflection prepare you for Advent. Let a fabricated curtain call help you welcome a new day, new and renewed possibilities.
Or, as Thoreau may or may not have muttered to his persnickety aunt, prepare for “One world at a time.”
*I spent at least a minute scouring the Internet for my research into “final words.” Dedicated and diligent, eh?
**And share them with me, and others . . . add a comment on this blog with your 140 word/space epitaph. I’d love to read it!!