June 7, 2017 Courage Has Its Rewards, and Selfishness Has Its Consequences – 1 Samuel 25:35-42

Abigail

Then David received from her hand what she had brought him; he said to her, “Go up to your house in peace; see, I have heeded your voice, and I have granted your petition.”

Abigail came to Nabal; he was holding a feast in his house, like the feast of a king. Nabal’s heart was merry within him, for he was very drunk; so she told him nothing at all until the morning light.  In the morning, when the wine had gone out of Nabal, his wife told him these things, and his heart died within him; he became like a stone.  About ten days later the Lord struck Nabal, and he died.

When David heard that Nabal was dead, he said, “Blessed be the Lord who has judged the case of Nabal’s insult to me, and has kept back his servant from evil; the Lord has returned the evildoing of Nabal upon his own head.” Then David sent and wooed Abigail, to make her his wife.  When David’s servants came to Abigail at Carmel, they said to her, “David has sent us to you to take you to him as his wife.” She rose and bowed down, with her face to the ground, and said, “Your servant is a slave to wash the feet of the servants of my lord.” Abigail got up hurriedly and rode away on a donkey; her five maids attended her. She went after the messengers of David and became his wife. 1 Samuel 25:35-42 (NRSV)

On one level this narrative is a cautionary tale regarding natural law, or of “what goes around comes around.” It is human nature to find it rewarding to see someone reap the natural consequences of his or her actions (or of his or her failure to act.)  It is a bit more humbling to realize that as much as we would want to always be an Abigail or a David in this story, we are also Nabals.  Save by the grace of God, we could all be considered selfish, short-sighted and possibly even drunken fools, just as deserving to be struck down as Nabal was.

There is peace to be found in having the courage to do the right thing.  Not only did Abigail avert the sure wrath of David and his men by making provision for them, but she also got God’s attention.  God responded to her dilemma and rewarded her faithfulness by improving her situation.  As cruel as it may sound, Abigail and her household likely had great peace when Nabal dropped dead.  No more drunken ravings.  No more offending all the neighbors and putting up with loud parties in the middle of the night and slogging through the inevitable clean up in the morning.  No more having to cover for someone too drunk to think rationally.  Those who have lived with alcoholics or those addicted to other drugs know what it is to always be walking on eggshells, not knowing what will trigger the next drunken, destructive rage.  Living with someone who is not in their right mind for whatever reason is a stressful and soul killing way to live.

It is true that the reward for being courageous is not always readily apparent, and the consequences for foolishness are not always so swift or obvious. Sometimes we do not see our reward while we live on this earth, even though in Christ we can be confident that He is storing our treasures in heaven.  We live under God’s grace, and He knows that we fail and don’t always succeed at doing the right thing.  He gives us many chances to repent (to turn around and go the opposite direction) when we are headed the wrong way.  If we were left to the harsh reality of natural law apart from the grace of God, none of us would be able to stand on our own merit.

The wisdom to be found here is in listening to the voice of God, and in appreciating (and extending) the grace and mercy of God. Do we heed the warnings of others like David did when Abigail approached him and apologized for her husband’s surliness and inhospitality?  Do we extend grace even in situations in which it would be justifiable to lash out?

June 6, 2017 – Courage in Generosity- 1 Samuel 25:18-19, 1 Kings 17:8-16

 

Generosity

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys, and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:18-19 (NRSV)

Not only did Abigail respond in a crisis, but she responded generously, and with prime provender. She didn’t pack up the generic mac-n-cheese or last week’s stale potato chips.  She sent the very best of her household’s goods- not leftovers, not expired canned beets and dented cans of creamed corn, but the good stuff.  She brought out the stuff you would serve to your own family and friends.

It takes a certain amount of selflessness to give others the prime stuff we would rather keep for ourselves. But it is true courage in generosity to give the best of ourselves to others, even when it is at risk of our own personal loss.

Many of us are not wealthy as Abigail was. Many of us are at places in our lives in which we don’t have abundance to give freely and to be generous from.  It is good that God Himself is the source of all good gifts.  Even if we think we have nothing to give, God provides.  It is often when we come to the end of ourselves and of our resources that God gives to us and through us, just as the story of Elijah and the widow illustrates:

Then the word of the Lord came to him, (Elijah) saying,  “Go now to Zarephath, which belongs to Sidon, and live there; for I have commanded a widow there to feed you.”  So he set out and went to Zarephath. When he came to the gate of the town, a widow was there gathering sticks; he called to her and said, “Bring me a little water in a vessel, so that I may drink.”  As she was going to bring it, he called to her and said, “Bring me a morsel of bread in your hand.”  But she said, “As the Lord your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of meal in a jar, and a little oil in a jug; I am now gathering a couple of sticks, so that I may go home and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it, and die.”  Elijah said to her, “Do not be afraid; go and do as you have said; but first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterwards make something for yourself and your son.  For thus says the Lord the God of Israel: The jar of meal will not be emptied and the jug of oil will not fail until the day that the Lord sends rain on the earth.” She went and did as Elijah said, so that she as well as he and her household ate for many days. The jar of meal was not emptied, neither did the jug of oil fail, according to the word of the Lord that he spoke by Elijah.  1 Kings 17:8-16 (NRSV)

elijah-and-widow-of-zarephath

It takes courage to be generous when we have very little. But God can multiply that very little and make that very little to be something very significant.

God calls us to come as we are, to bring what we are able, and to let Him make us His heroes through our generosity.

 

 

June 5, 2017 – Everyday Courage- 1 Samuel 25:14-18

abigail-intervenesBut one of the young men told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers out of the wilderness to salute our master; and he shouted insults at them. Yet the men were very good to us, and we suffered no harm, and we never missed anything when we were in the fields, as long as we were with them; they were a wall to us both by night and by day, all the while we were with them keeping the sheep. Now therefore know this and consider what you should do; for evil has been decided against our master and against all his house; he is so ill-natured that no one can speak to him.”

Then Abigail hurried and took two hundred loaves, two skins of wine, five sheep ready dressed, five measures of parched grain, one hundred clusters of raisins, and two hundred cakes of figs. She loaded them on donkeys,  and said to her young men, “Go on ahead of me; I am coming after you.” But she did not tell her husband Nabal. 1 Samuel 25:14-19 (NRSV)

The name “Nabal” means “fool.” As we all know, sometimes foolish people are put in positions of authority.  Sometimes others (and sometimes we do too) make bad decisions that put many people’s livelihood or safety at risk. Then we can be brought to a decision of our own.  Do we just go along with the fool in charge for the sake of our own stability or to preserve our own skin, or do we do the right thing even though it might put our own livelihood or safety at risk?

nabal the fool

Courage has been defined as, “feeling the fear, but doing the right thing anyway.” Being courageous is not the same thing as being fearless.  Knowing the risk and the possible consequences that can result from taking action requires even more courage.  There can be very real dangers involved in “doing the right thing anyway.”  Radical courage can cost us our possessions, our wealth and even our earthly lives.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Lutheran pastor in Germany during WWII who opposed Nazi control of the churches, and actively worked to help Jews escape from Germany.  He was imprisoned for his vocal opposition to the Nazi regime, and died in a concentration camp.  Bonhoeffer carried on his message and his work for justice even though his courage in doing so ultimately cost him his life.  God may only call a few of us to the extraordinary courage of a Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but He calls all of us to everyday courage.

dietrich bonhoeffer

We may not be put in a place where we have to stand up to Hitler, but there are everyday places where we have to stand and just do what’s right even when we are afraid. We all have to deal with everyday jerks who treat others unfairly.   Sometimes like Abigail we have to just do the right thing and not worry about the jerk who would whine and cry about it, the jerk who would try to forbid it, or the jerk who could possibly cause us harm in retaliation.

While Abigail was ultimately rewarded for her courage, she took a great risk. In her day, her husband could have had her tortured or killed or sold into slavery, had he been sober enough to realize that she had defied him.

Abigail still made the right decision for her family and her household when her husband would or could not do the right thing. That put her in an awkward position, just as sometimes we get put in awkward positions when we try to do the right thing.  Do we look the other way when we know there is domestic violence or drug abuse going on in a friend or family member’s home?  Do we fail to intervene and perhaps avert a tragedy because we are afraid?  Do we look the other way when we know others are lonely or hungry or in need of a friend?

Everyday courage for us may mean a series of little things that add up to big things. Everyday courage may mean taking a moment to compliment someone, or to help out in a little way- holding a door, carrying a package, or maybe writing a note of encouragement to someone who is struggling.

Abigail could have ignored the needs of David and his men. After all, in her day women were supposed to be subservient to their husbands even when their husbands were fools.  But she took the high road of courage and did the right thing.

God created us to be courageous. Our purpose is to bring about His kingdom here on earth.  Even though many times we are afraid, God equips us for the purpose He created us for.