A Sermon by The Rev’d Peter Jin
Across the centuries, the figure of King David has fascinated musicians, artists, and spiritual writers. Many scholars argued that King David is not a historical figure. It doesn’t bother me. I am not the expert. I’ll leave these historical and literary speculations to the specialists.
This evening I am here just making some theological reflections based on David’s prayer from the second book of Samuel, our first reading.
One of the themes in the second book of Samuel is kingship. In the biblical reading, the bad ruler of Adam in the garden of Eden led to the disaster of the fall, and ever since that disaster, human beings have been searching for the right ruler.
In today’s reading, David prays that God chose a people, Israel, to shape Israel according to God’s own mind and heart so that Israelites might draw all of humanity into right relationship with God. David came out as the most successful king of Israel.
The writer or the editor of the second book Samuel presents David as Israel’s greatest, indeed archetypal king, but also ruthlessly exposes David’s moral and political failures.
Theologically speaking, David is indeed a new Adam. His task is to rule a restored Garden of Eden, but he is also a descendant of the Adam who allowed the garden to be compromised by the serpent. In this, David sets the tone for the long line of his bad successors as King of Israel, weakening the nation.
This is another way of suggesting that Israel, even as it celebrates David, has to await another king. For us Christians, we know who another king is.
Returning to today’s reading, we have heard the promise that Yahweh made through Nathan, which is in the earlier verses of chapter 7. In verse 18, David went in and sat before the Lord. Then, in total and sincere humility, the king started to pray the most beautiful prayers.
The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson this morning gave us a striking and poetic sermon. She talked about a ‘thin place’, a place where ordinary human beings might encounter God. Encounter Bay for Jenny is a thin place. Then Jenny said here St Peter’s Cathedral helps us encounter God. ‘As we come here at the end of a busy week, we come here to reflect on our story and the music and the liturgy helps us know’.
I am convinced that prayer, at its height, is this deep personal encounter with God. We are not always ready to move from our day to day world right into that mystic experience. We need some discipline and some practice to get us to that point.
The Buddhist tradition often talks about the calming of the monkey mind. Our mind, like a monkey, is always leaping around from one tree to another tree, one branch to another branch, thinking about the next move. This kind of mind is always rolling so it is obvious that our mind is not ready for communion with God. It needs to be calmed.
That’s why my experiences with the Anglican, the Catholic, and the Orthodox churches helped me to calm my consciousness, to prepare me for the union with God – the music and liturgy presented in these traditional churches.
There is another aspect of prayer this evening I want to share with you: our will and God’s will. Throughout his life, at his best, David even in small matters sought God’s advice and consulted the Lord. In other words, he placed his will in the context of a much higher will, the will of God.
From my teenage years to my late 30s, I was into my own will. It was my project. It was my life and my plan. But the Bible has been always telling the opposite story – that our little projects and plans are nothing compared to what God wants to accomplish through us, with our cooperation. David goes wrong precisely when he falls into that ‘me, me, me’ way of thinking.
I have become a much happier person in the last 10 years. It is not only because I met my wife, and I left competitive China and lived in green clean New Zealand for the past 13 years. It is mainly because a late Swiss theologian, Hans Balthasar, changed my way of thinking and influenced me a lot.
He once suggested that there are two different dramas we can live out in life: an ego drama or a Theo drama. The key to happiness is it is not the ego drama, that is my little drama, I am the producer and star. The key to happiness is it is the Theo drama that matters, which is God’s drama. God is the director and producer. It is highly possible that I am not the star, but I do have a role to play, and the key role for me to is to find out what that is. It is clear that Hans Balthasar suggests that we move into a passive stance. To be honest it was very hard for me to digest this. I love the active stance and I am a very active person.
Theologically speaking, Adam’s problem is he doesn’t listen when God tells him what to do and what not to do, but he sets off on his own path. What the Ignatian spirituality exercises have taught me is how precisely to cultivate a detachment from our own little program of life in order to allow God to work effortlessly in us.
Listen to the Psalmist’s prayer: ‘Lord, you search me, and you know me. You know my resting and my rising, you discern my purpose from afar.’
God knows everything about us. God wants nothing but what is best for me and for us. So to surrender to God is to surrender to our own best self. It is a high paradox, but it is right at the heart of the biblical revelation. Amen.