Transfiguration Sunday – February 11, 2018
David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam. When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there. 2 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.
3 From there David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, “Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?” 4 So he left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him as long as David was in the stronghold.
5 But the prophet Gad said to David, “Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.” So David left and went to the forest of Hereth. (1 Samuel 22:1-5)
“Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, Great David’s greater Son!” We began our Transfiguration worship this morning by singing those timeless words. On this special Sunday we can readily see the Lord’s Anointed. Through our readings and hymns we can imagine the brilliance of “Great David’s greater Son”, Jesus.
That word “great” is quite a description. Not everything in this world is considered “great.” Places rarely get that distinction. The “Great Wall of China” has to be seen from space to warrant its designation of greatness. The great pyramid of Egypt has had to stand for thousands of years to hold on to its name.
And not many people have been given that surname “great” either. Alexander “the Great” conquered most of the known world to achieve his “great” status. Constantine “the Great” changed the Roman Empire forever. People and places earn that “great” label by being impressive and accomplishing amazing feats.
This morning we called King David “great.” He probably didn’t feel “great” by the time of our first lesson this morning. Although David had been anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, he was running for his life from King Saul. It had not been easy for David. On two occasions Saul had thrown a spear at David, trying to kill David while he played music for Saul. David was forced to beg priests for bread at Nob. When none was available, he had to eat the bread reserved for the priests themselves.
Like any man on the run, David was looking for safety. So he went to the last place Saul would look for him, in a Philistine town called Gath. It seemed like the perfect solution. David could hide out for a while. Then, after Saul died David could return to Israel as king. But Gath was no place for anointed Israelite kings. Achish, the king of Gath, recognized David when David arrived! What was this lone fugitive, this scourge of the Philistines to do? He did what he thought any sane man would do. He acted insane. Immediately, David was throne out.
That brings David’s journey to the moment of our first lesson this morning. “David left Gath and escaped to the cave of Adullam.” He couldn’t be alone any more. Thankfully, wouldn’t be. “When his brothers and his father’s household heard about it, they went down to him there.” His family weren’t the only ones who arrived. “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.”
The problem of solitude now gave way to the danger of the crowd. It was one thing for David to run from Saul by himself. What could he do now that his family was with him? How could he keep them safe? To answer those questions, David did what we might have done. “David went to Mizpah in Moab and said to the king of Moab, ‘Would you let my father and mother come and stay with you until I learn what God will do for me?’” The king of Moab, an enemy of Israel, agreed. “So [David] left them with the king of Moab, and they stayed with him.”
Logical sense is not always synonymous with the Lord’s will. There is something missing in this account of David that we might have expected. On the run from the priests at Nob to the Philistines in Gath and now to the Moabites we have not seen David ask the Lord for guidance once. Leaving Israel with his family seems to be a tactic David devised.
While did not take the time to go to the Lord for guidance, the Lord now patiently takes time to go to David to give him guidance anyway. “The prophet Gad said to David, ‘Do not stay in the stronghold. Go into the land of Judah.’” That could not have been easy for David to return to the land of Saul, covered with Saul’s spies and soldiers looking to kill David.
Would we have done things differently? We like to think that we would stand firm when a crisis of faith threatens us, but that isn’t always what happens. The callings the Lord has given each and every one of us – as students, as employees, as fathers and mothers, as grandparents, as officers in the church, as pastors – are often difficult. Perhaps like David, even our livelihoods are threatened because of what we believe. When those moments come the devil loves to tempt us with the desire to run away. “Escape your difficult calling!” he say. And we are often convinced.
We have had our “David moments” of running from our callings. And like David, we have used the excuse of “saving ourselves” to gloss over what we are actually doing – looking out only for ourselves. David had been anointed for a position far greater than fugitive or refugee. He had been anointed king. Now God was moving him to act like one.
Jesus wasn’t. The anointed one, “Great David’s greater Son” took Peter, James and John up the mount of Transfiguration. Jesus wasn’t escaping his calling. He was fulfilling it. “[Jesus’] clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them.” Soon Moses and Elijah were standing on the mountain as well, talking with Jesus.
Then Peter started talking. “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” Peter might not have known what he was saying, but we might have said the same thing. Who wouldn’t want to escape this world and stand in Jesus’ glorious presence on that mountain? Who wouldn’t want to hear God the Father speak from the cloud, “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!”?
Then, all at once, it was over. “Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.” Why would Jesus and his disciples come down the mountain from that glorious transfiguration? Because Jesus refused to escape his mission. Jesus came down the mountain in order to be lifted up on to the cross. And he willingly walked that difficult road for you. For all the times men and women like David ran away from their calling, for all the instances when you and I were tempted by the escape from living our faith, Jesus walked down the mountain. By doing so, Jesus would fulfill the words King David wrote in our psalm this morning: “You are my son; today I have become your father.”
King David was not always “great.” Like us he was a sinner in need of a Savior. Thanks be to God the Father that he sent his one and only Son. May he help us see anew this Lenten season Jesus’ “great” sacrifice of redemption and unconditional love. May he help us never run away from confessing with believers past and present: “Hail to the Lord’s Anointed, Great David’s greater Son!” Amen.