Fellow Passengers: This week’s Promise Passage* (2 Samuel 7:8-11) transports me to a dreaded de-cluttering project in my house, which means going through lots of boxes of stuff – photos, memorabilia, and junk. Last night I happened across a box that had a yearbook from Oakley Elementary, ’74-’75, my seventh grade year. That’s the sort of thing that slows the de-cluttering work to a snail’s pace, as I have to read all the commemorative messages, look at pictures, tell Kim stories, and think about where all these children of promise have wound up. One’s a brain surgeon. One has brain cancer. One’s a pilot. One’s a preacher. One’s in prison serving a life sentence. Some of the notes reveal how much we were into wrestling and the rock group KISS. Other notes make reference to a little “club” that a group of us formed, the All She Wrotes, a group of ne’er do well boys who lived for mischief and practical jokes and made life miserable for many of our teachers and fellow students. I had to laugh at a competition of sorts that came up in the signing of the yearbook, as one friend (the pilot) put “the greatest” after his name, which later got marked through by somebody else who wrote “the greatest” in larger letters after their name, followed by others who felt like they deserved the title. You’d think we were a bunch of Ali wannabes.
The passage today has a bit of the feel of a yearbook note among a class of people concerned with greatness. Imagine the Lord writing in David’s yearbook, as the shepherd king prepares to move from one grade level of battles to the next, We’ve been together a long time. I’ve seen you through a lot. Remember how I protected you from all your enemies? Now I know you’re destined for greatness. In fact, your name will be among the greatest. And then the Lord gives a promise that seems a bit outlandish, to say the least: My people will have a home of their own and will never be disturbed again. Wicked people will never oppress them again. It has the feel of that adolescent sense of pride and invulnerability. We’re the greatest – God told us so – and nothing bad can ever happen to us. It’s a seventh grade yearbook.
The rest of the Bible shows how that outlandish promise unfolded, and we can look out and see what happened to the young smiling faces in those yearbook photos. The sense of greatness and invincibility eventually gave way to failure, exile, recovery, and then a grown up version of David, in the person of Jesus. Jesus was surrounded by people trying to re-live their childhood dreams, fantasizing about greatness, about who would be able to have “the greatest” after their names. And he wanted none of it. He was more concerned about the person with the brain tumor and the guy serving the life sentence in prison than he was wrestling holds and glam rock stars. And he knew that he couldn’t promise that no one would ever oppress the people of faith. Two thousand years later, we’re still sometimes living in the seventh grade yearbook dream world. People claim greatness, have that claim marked through, and dream about an undisturbed future with God on their side. When I think about the disciples, how they continually missed what Jesus was telling them, and I think about our own discipleship today, how we continually miss what Jesus is telling us, I look back at that Oakley yearbook and figure that the least I can do is live out the greeting several of my peers wrote, you’re a good but dumb friend. Given humanity’s track record, maybe that’s the best any of us children of promise can hope to be.
How about you? Where does this Promise Passage take you on your journey of faith? Feel free to comment.