Sermon Text: 1 Samuel 21:1-6
Date: June 2 & 3, 2018
The Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
1 Samuel 21:1-6
David came to Ahimelek the priest at Nob. When he came to meet David, Ahimelek was trembling with fear, and he said to David, “Why are you alone? Why isn’t there anyone with you?”
David said to Ahimelek the priest, “The king sent me on a mission and told me, ‘Don’t let anyone know anything about where I am sending you or about your orders.’ I have instructed the young men to wait for me at a certain place. So what do you have on hand? Please give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is available.”
The priest answered David, “I do not have any ordinary bread, but there is holy bread—I can give it to you only if your young men have kept themselves away from women.”
David answered the priest, “Yes indeed, women have been kept away from us just as they have been on previous occasions. Whenever I go out on a mission, the bodies of the young men are kept holy even if it is only an ordinary journey. How much more then shall their bodies be holy today?”
So the priest gave him holy bread, because there was no bread there except for the Bread of the Presence which had been removed from the presence of the Lord and replaced with hot bread.
Why Do You Do What You Do?
Early on in the musical adaptation of Victor Hugo’s classic novel Les Miserables, as an audience we meet two important characters. We meet the main protagonist of the story, Jean ValJean, and the warden of a prison Javert. We meet them on the last day of ValJean’s nineteen years in prison. As generally a justice-loving people, we might expect to feel glad that ValJean had paid his debt to society and are excited to see how he makes up for his wrongs in the rest of his life.
However, we very early on learn some disturbing information. ValJean and Javert have a back-and-forth argument as ValJean is about to leave. Javert reminds ValJean that he is not free; he’s on parole. He gets his “yellow ticket of leave” that he must show to any potential employer identifying him as someone who had been jailed—and likely lose out on work opportunities or at least the wages that he could otherwise get. Javert reminds him, “You are a thief! You robbed a house!”
Then it’s ValJean’s response that is disturbing. At first, we understand: “I stole a loaf of bread [and] broke a window pane.” Well, sure, we reason, that’s not HUGE and probably not worth the prison time, however it was still against the law and he deserved to be punished for breaking the law. But ValJean goes on, “My sister’s child was close to death and we were starving…. They chained me and left me for dead, just for stealing a mouthful of bread.” Now our opinion turns, doesn’t it? Someone starving in poverty stealing food to save a child’s life is a pretty big departure than someone stealing a wallet to going wild with the credit card, right? In fact, we might even wonder if the former is even wrong.
In our first lesson this morning, we have David doing something not dissimilar as he seeks to take care of the men tasked to him, an event that Jesus referenced in our Gospel. At the focus of our meditation this morning, then, is the motivation behind our actions. Why do you do the things you do? What drives you? What motivates you? Is it possible to do the wrong things for right reasons? Is it possible to do the right thing for wrong reasons?
As we meet up with David, he is running for his life from King Saul. David is the next king, chosen and anointed by God. In fact, God had said he had rejected Saul as king. Saul had fallen unrecognizably far from God’s standards for the leader of his people, and this continues into extreme jealously of David that is leading Saul to want to kill David.
David and his men have had a long, difficult journey. They’re starving. They come to the tabernacle, the worship place of God’s people then located in the city of Nob, and David asks the high priest for some food. There’s a problem though, the only bread they have is forbidden bread. The priests would put out twelve loaves of bread on each Sabbath Day as a reminder and thank offering to God for the daily bread he gave to his people. Then, after the week was over, the bread was for the priests to eat, but only the priests. No one else was allowed to eat it. But here we have David and his men desperately in need of food. Ahimelek finally decides that the rule of mercy overwhelms the rule of who can eat this specific bread.
Or go to the Gospel. Jesus’ disciples are hungry. They’re walking through the fields and pluck a little, unnoticeable snack from the grain. The “problem” is that it’s the Sabbath Day, a day where God had commanded that no one should work. The Pharisees are quick to jump on this: JESUS! Why do let your disciples break the commandment?!
Jesus puts them in their place, doesn’t he? He doesn’t even touch the fact that plucking some heads of grain for a snack could hardly be considered against the prohibition of harvesting a field on the Sabbath. He says that they have things backwards. The Sabbath was meant as a day of rest and worship. The spirit of the law was not put in place so that people would starve for 24 hours if they were hungry. It was meant to be a day of focus on God’s mercy and love and make them a priority over making money. Obeying the Sabbath Day rules did not earn people heaven or erase sin, but those rules did help people to make God and his Word the priority of their week and their life, the Word that speaks of God’s gifts of mercy, forgiveness, and eternity.
David didn’t come to the tabernacle to brazenly defy God’s law. He came out of desperation. He knew he was the Lord’s anointed but that nothing God had promised would happen if Saul killed him. God provided daily bread for David and his men through what had been reserved for the priests.
Sin, then, is found much more in the motivation than in the action. Now, some actions are just inherently sinful. It’s difficult to think of a situation where someone commits adultery for the “right” reasons. But isn’t murder permissible for the right reasons—self-defense? Isn’t a lie that protects someone’s life appropriate? Isn’t “skipping” church to help a family member who is in need a decision a Christian might make with a clean conscience?
Our natural tendency for justice leads us to think that anyone who breaks a rule should be punished, should suffer the consequences for that action. Maybe even in Jean ValJean’s case, where in that story he steals a loaf of bread to feed his starving nephew, we think, “That’s a bummer of a situation, but you did was wrong and you need to face the consequences.” Maybe we think for David that there should have been swift and clear punishment for his sin of eating bread reserved for the priests, and yet, there was none. The disciples did not suffer for supposedly breaking the Sabbath.
If there’s a justice-obsessed part of us that grumbles a bit at that and says, “This shouldn’t be!” Consider these other things that should not be:
· As miserable, rebellious sinners, we should not end up in heaven; we should be in hell as the proper punishment for our sins.
· As miserable, rebellious sinners, we should not have daily bread, what we need for our lives.
· As miserable, rebellious sinners, we surely should not have the myriad of other blessings that we have received from God’s hand.
· God should not have mercy on those who sin against him.
· God should not die for rebellious sinners.
· God should not suffer hell, the punishment that sin brings with it.
Our relationship with God is not one centered around laws and rules. Our relationship with God is not on our terms—on how well we behave and follow directions—but on his terms, how well he has loved us. Jesus is Lord of the Sabbath—he gives laws for our good because he loves us not because we need to follow them to make him love us.
So why do you do what you do? Husbands, why do you love your wives? Wives, why do you love your husbands? Workers, why are you faithful at your work? Students, why do you look to finish out the school year well with faithful work in your studies? Children, why do you listen to your parents? Why do any of you do what is “right”?
If our answer to any of those questions or any other one is “because we have to,” we might have the wrong motivation. Our self-righteous sinful nature might be seeking to justify itself before God because we’ve “done what was right.” Condemn that part of you and instead focus on what God has done for you. That whole list of things that “should not be” that we rattled off before, those are gifts of God’s grace. They shouldn’t be, but because of God’s undeserved love for each and every one of us, they are. We shouldn’t have forgiveness, but we do, not because God ignores sin but because he solves it in Jesus’ life and death for us.
So consider this week the “why’s” associated with your actions. “Why am I doing this?” God help us to have the answer to that question be, “To thank my Savior for what he’s done and will do for me.” Anything else is self-congratulating and perhaps even trying to be self-righteous. But Jesus puts an end that motivation as he does all things for us. We are his now and forever and we get to thank him with our lives—the way we treat one another and the way we conduct ourselves in every situation in life.
Thanks be to God for his unending and undeserved love that enables us to thank and serve him with our every thought, word, and action with the motivation that brings him glory! Amen.