Unlikely Hero - Week Six: "Absalom! Absalom!"

This week we are going to be concluding the six part sermon series that we've been working for eight weeks (try and figure that one out) on the life of David, a sermon series we've entitled "Unlikely Hero."

The story that we're going to be exploring from David's life this week is one that could easily be re-written for the big screen---heck, it has been re-written for the big screen and it was called The Godfather.  But I digress... This is the story of a dysfunctional family---of incest, murder, rebellion and tragedy.

Intrigued?  I bet you are.

Before we dig into that text, though.  I have a statement that I need to make:

Family is Complicated.

There.  I said it.  I know that I went out on a limb with that one.  I'll get cards and letters from angry church members, I'm sure.  And you're thinking at this point, "Uhhhh, thank you Captain Obvious!"  To say that family is complicated is pretty much the understatement of the year.

But I needed to say it, because it's one of the foundations of what we're talking about today.  We've all had our encounters with the complexity of our familial relationships.  Some of them are fairly awkward and weird.

For example, when I was in my early twenties I had an incredibly awkward and embarrassing moment with some family members at the airport... let me share.

You see, at the time I was a quickly rising through the ranks into management at Walt Disney World.  I was part of Disney's management training program, and had the opportunity to meet and get to know some of the vice presidents of the respective parks as part of my training.  In fact, on the week that this embarrassing moment occurred, I had lunch with the VP of EPCOT Center and he and I had hit it off---at least from my perspective.

So, fast forward a few days and I am at the airport doing my dad a favor by picking up my grandmother, aunt and uncle who were flying in to visit from Colorado.  My grandmother, aunt and uncle were not exactly the most fashionable people.  My grandmother preferred wearing sweaters and head scarves at all times.  My aunt and my uncle both wore cowboy hats, and those weird cowboy boa ties, western shirts and jeans---everywhere.  At one time they always wore cowboy boots, too, but as they got older they opted for sneakers to round out their look.

When they got off the plane, I thought for a moment that I might be able to make a run for it, but then they spotted me.  After retrieving their luggage, we were in the elevator heading to the parking garage when the doors opened and a man walked in.  It was, in fact, the VP of EPCOT center that I had just bonded with a few days earlier in hopes that I would be ingrained in his memory for future promotions and such.  Our eyes met.  Then his gaze strayed to my family. My aunt smiled at him and said something like "How do?" or "Howdy" or... it doesn't matter.  I wanted to melt into the floor.  "Hey Leon," the VP said.  "Is this your family?"

You know what I'm talking about don't you?

It's happened to you.  You've taken an awkward family photo or three:

This one's pretty awesome.

'Merica.

One of our church members shared with me how at a recent visit to her husband's Great Aunt Florence house their three year-old son came across the threshold, and exclaimed, "What happened here?  It stinks!"  She tried to be helpful in the moment and told him, "That's just Great Aunt Florence's dog."  To which Great Aunt Florence declared, "I don't have a dog."  Awkward.

Or maybe it's a little more serious.  A friend told me that her family life was complicated because she came from a blended family where some kids got to have two Christmases because they would go to one parent's house and then the other.  Maybe you have a similar memory.

But then family can get so complicated sometimes that it gets all too real and serious.  I have a friend whose son has fought a fifteen year battle with drug addiction.  The pain his struggles have caused have been almost too great to bear.

Or what about when your daughter is dating that guy that you know is a terrible influence on her?  Or the family member who betrays you and stabs you in the back? Or a spouse who is angry, distant, unfaithful or abusive?  Or a parent that hurts you and keeps on hurting you?

Too many of us know just how complicated and hurtful family can be.

It's been said repeatedly, "You can't choose your family..."  This is true.  But I think it goes a bit deeper, and this is what I want us to focus on today:

You can't choose how your family members will act, but you can choose how you will act in your family.  

The good news is that we aren't the only ones who have had to deal with messy, complicated family situations... and the Bible is chock full of them.  Like this moment from the life of David that we find in 2 Samuel chapters 14-18.

I'm not going to read the entire story, but we'll jump in from time to time as I retell it and focus on a couple of verses.

To begin with, David had multiple wives and multiple children from these wives, which is complicated enough.  When you add to it the fact that his oldest son, Amnon, who was heir to the throne, became infatuated with his half-sister Tamar---that makes things even more complicated.  Amnon was absolutely obsessed with Tamar, who was a virgin.  He imagined that he was in love with her, but it wasn't love--it was unbridled lust.  Amnon tricks her into coming to his room, and then rapes her.  Once he rapes Tamar, Amnon despises her and sees her now as a serious problem.

Tamar is disgraced and essentially goes into mourning for the rest of her life.  Her brother Absalom brings her to his house to live and then plots to kill his brother Amnon for what he'd done.  Eventually he succeeds and has Amnon assassinated at a party he threw.  David is grief-stricken, over both his dead son and for Absalom.  Eventually, after a period of five years or so, David and Absalom are reunited and Absalom is forgiven.

But it gets even more complicated.  Absalom was a popular and handsome young man, who was filled with pride and a sense of bravado over what he'd been able to do and get away with.  In the story it says that he had a huge head of hair that was long and flowing.  Long, flowing har was a sign of vigor and vitality in the Ancient Near East, and many kings and tribal leaders had themselves depicted as such. At any rate, Absalom starts ingratiating himself to the people of Israel, undermining his father, making everyone wish that he was king---the guy who had big hair and a big heart for the people.

At last, he declares himself king in one of the cities of Israel and starts a rebellion against David---intent on overthrowing him and undoubtedly killing him as well.

So how did David respond to all of this?

Here's where it gets strange.  You would think that he would rise up, that he would get angry, that he would raise an army and go after his upstart son.  Eventually he does defend his kingdom, but in the early days of the rebellion, he flees and acts in surprising ways.  This is what chapter 15 verse 30 indicates about David's state of mind:
But David continued up the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went; his head was covered and he was barefoot. All the people with him covered their heads too and were weeping as they went up.
David was full of sorrow, but even more so---he was covered in humility.  This is the act of a man in grief, who humbles himself before God and his people.  Not quite what you would expect from a proud man who was defied by his son, is it?  There's more, though... 

As they are leaving the city of Jerusalem, David's caravan is harangued by a man named Shimei who was once a supporter of the house of Saul.  So, he's glad to see David leaving in disgrace and he lets him know it.  He insults him, shames him, covers David in abuse.  And when David's soldiers ask if they can go lop of Shimei's head, David replies: 
David then said to Abishai and all his officials, "My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the LORD has told him to.
You can almost hear the remorse in his voice as he says this.  David owns his part in the strife.  He realizes that in part this is a result of the legacy he created with his own sins, his own pride and desires.  

And when the whole affair ends, and Absalom is ultimately caught and executed---against David's orders---the king shows his heartbreak in chapter 18 verses 31-33: 
31 Then the Cushite arrived and said, “My lord the king, hear the good news! The Lord has vindicated you today by delivering you from the hand of all who rose up against you.”32 The king asked the Cushite, “Is the young man Absalom safe?” The Cushite replied, “May the enemies of my lord the king and all who rise up to harm you be like that young man.” 33 The king was shaken. He went up to the room over the gateway and wept. As he went, he said: “O my son Absalom! My son, my son Absalom! If only I had died instead of you—O Absalom, my son, my son!”
David was still filled with love for his wayward son and cries out beni Avshalom! over and again at the news of his death.  

Throughout this entire tragic event in the life of his family, David's response was one that is worth examining.  He responded first in humility, rather than lashing out in anger and pride.  He owned his part in the rift between him and his son, and he never stopped loving Absalom and hoping for reconciliation. 

So here's a question for us all.  What would this look like if we practiced it? 

How would it look if you practiced this with the spouse who has wounded you, betrayed you and broken your heart?  With the parent who treated you unfairly or abused you?  With a child who rebels and breaks your heart?  

Listen, before we go any further with this---I am not advocating that you continue to place yourself in harmful situations, or that you become an enabler of addictive or abusive behavior.  

What I am saying, though, is that you are in charge of how you act, and how you respond to the hurtful ways that family members may treat you.  

Maybe it's being willing to admit your share of the blame in the brokenness of your marriage. Maybe it's having the humility to keep from saying all of the things you want to say to your dad when he treats you that way that makes you feel less than, or not good enough.  Maybe it's simply listening to your child rather than lecturing your child...  

And sometimes it might mean saying to someone.  "I'm not going to fight back, I'm not going to get angry... and I know that I may have done things in the past to hurt you... But I can't be with you... or help you... or go there with you... 
Still, I want you to know that I will never stop loving you, and hoping that things will be made right."    

There's a time limit on these kinds of things.  
We don't get forever to work them out.  

Several years ago, I was at the hospital bedside of a man who was in a coma and on life support.  The decision was made to take him off of the machines that were helping him to breathe.  Astoundingly, he kept breathing after the respirator was removed and a new kind of vigil was then kept by his family.  At one point I remember asking if there was anyone in the family who had not had the chance to say goodbye.  I had been taught and experienced that sometimes loved ones will hang on to life until certain things get resolved or they get the chance to say goodbye to loved ones.  Sure enough, there was a son who had been estranged from his father for years.  They had a fight, and never reconciled.  The son was contacted and finally arrived hours later.  His face was tight with pain and grief when he went into the room alone with his father.  I told him as he went by me, "Say what you need to say.  I believe he will hear you."  No one heard what he said to his father, but the young man was in the room alone with him for half an hour or more.  He emerged wet-faced and red-eyed, but more peaceful than when he entered.  

In just a few moments his father passed away.  

It was a long overdue conversation.  But one that I am sure that young man wishes he had initiated with his dad when his dad could have spoken to him.  

Imagine what it would look like if those broken relationships... those tense family dinners... those late nights of arguing and worrying...  the silence between brothers and sisters...  were filled with grace and peace?  

Imagine what our lives, our families could be like if we all responded in humility to the hurts we receive... if we owned our part in what caused the rift and strife... if we truly acknowledged and expressed our love for the ones causing us pain... and honestly hoped for reconciliation.  

If we all truly realized... 

You can't choose how your family will act, but you can choose how you will act in your family...  

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