“We come together to create a new reality. A new community, deeply invested in one another, for the long haul. A community which demonstrates a new possibility and motivates bold action for change. We come together to stop the death spiral of violence and retaliation and injustice by creating a more powerful alternative. We want to displace the majority that calls for the destruction of the other, that wishes their enemy would just go away, that says peace is impossible and nothing can change.
St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral, Seattle, WA
“Is the young man safe?” David wanted to know, about his favorite son Absalom. “Is it well with him,” he asked
As the battle raged, as twenty thousand died around them, the heart of a father had only one concern – “Is my boy safe.”
You see, on this day of battle – recounted in our lesson from Second Samuel, David and his son Absalom were on opposite sides. Enemies. Fighting for control of the land. But still David yearned for his child.
He had given his deputy Joab strict orders to protect Absalom at all costs. But to no avail. The battle would engulf Absalom, too.
As legend has it, the main problem was with Absalom’s humungous hair.
Hair so big, so thick, that a haircut left three pounds of extra on the floor. So big that as he rode under a tree his hair got stuck in the branches as his horse went on without him – Absalom, literally hanging there, helpless in mid-air. And ten eager soldiers from his father’s army could not resist the sight. Could not resist the chance to get rid of this annoying son once and for all. And the deed was done.
We are left with a very-not-happy ending – an ending where everyone loses, with the tears of a father for his son; a son he could not keep safe.
But how did it come to this?
Taken its own, this morning’s passage from Second Samuel is a strange, curious tragedy.
An ill-fated series of events. The unfortunate result of a few over-eager, bad apples among David’s soldiers, who would not obey the orders of their king.
But that’s only half the story.
When you get home, open your Bibles and read the six chapters of Second Samuel that lie between the story of David and Bathsheba from last week (when he sent Uriah to the front lines to die), and today’s story of David and Absalom.
In those six chapters, we are plunged into some of the Bible’s worst intrigue and violence. Absalom’s death is no random tragedy.
It is the ultimate consequence of a destructive series of events, sin after sin, bad decision after bad decision, that led to a literal death spiral of devastation.
In these six chapters, we encounter what Biblical scholar Phillis Tribble called, texts of terror.
You see, it begins when David’s son Amnon raped his half-sister Tamar. At first he promised to marry her; and then cast her aside. Absalom was outraged and demanded that Amnon be punished. But David would not, since Amnon was his first born. So Absalom killed Amnon himself. Absalom flees. David is convinced to welcome him back. He returns, but for three years they awkwardly avoid each other on the streets of Jerusalem. Absalom asks Joab, David’s trusted advisor, to help patch things up, but when Joab refuses, Absalom sets his hay fields on fire. And then Absalom mounts a rebellion, telling the people he will be a better king than David. After committing his own sexual violence against David’s concubines, Absalom gathers an army, forces David out from Jerusalem, but ultimately is killed in the battle that he started. Killed, along with twenty thousand others. Killed, under the watchful eye of Joab who purposely disobeys David and has his revenge on the pesky boy Absalom.
How did it come to this?
Some scholars see it as the consequence of David’s adultery. Others write it of as the warring nature of days gone by. Son against father, father against son.
But if we are honest, we know this story all too well – We know about
- Innocent victims like Tamar, crying out for justice
- Incompetent bureaucrats like Joab who put pride before all else
- Cunning kings like David who cling to power at any cost.
- Desperate almost-heroes like Absalom who try to do the right thing but get caught up in a twisted web of anger and frustration – acting in ways that bring their own demise.
How did it come to this?
It’s a question we can – and should – ask, about all the great social challenges of our time. Poverty, disease, war … you can make your list.
It can seem like these evils are always with us, or that they arise from nowhere.
But they are – as we see in Second Samuel – the product of a series of decisions. Injustice after injustice, revenge after revenge, fear after fear, hurt after hurt, drawing more and more people into its deadly embrace.
Twenty thousand dead in Second Samuel. Two hundred thousand dead in Syria today. Our minds don’t even comprehend.
And what are we to do?
For sure, we must shed tears – as David did over Absalom. As thousands upon thousands of parents and children and wives must have done that day – over the other twenty thousand nameless dead.
But there is more.
Even amid the powerful momentum of a death spiral of violence, we can make a choice. A choice to interrupt this
- What if David had sought justice for Tamar?
- What if Joab had brokered a reconciliation?
- What if Absalom had simply walked away – content with his big hair, and not also intent on a kingdom.
Today, I join you on behalf of Kids4Peace. Founded in Jerusalem in 2002, Kids4Peace is an unlikely community of Palestinians and Israelis and Americans – Jews, Christians and Muslims – who have made a choice to stand up against a rising tide of injustice and vengeance and fear and death.
They could have made different choices. They could have joined the racism and hatred that infect their communities. They could have gone to soccer camp or computer camp or music camp or just stayed home playing video games.
But they made a choice – to meet their so-called enemy, to break down the walls that divide their communities, to speak their truth and listen to the painful truths of others. To find hope amid despair; courage amid fear; possibility where it seems like there is only a dead end.
It is not easy to be a peacemaker. Not easy to stand against the tide that engulfed Absalom, and the tide that presses on us today.
I think of Kids4Peace like Alexandra, a Christian from the Old City of Jerusalem, who every day is spit on and laughed at and attacked with bottles and stones, every day – by both Israelis and Palestinians, who think she is from the other side.
I think of Kids4Peace like Mohammad, a Muslim boy from Wadi Joz in East Jerusalem, whose house is covered in skunk water and tear gas anytime there is even the threat of violence on his street.
I think of Kids4Peace like Shira, a Jewish girl whose friend was the one killed last week at the gay pride parade in Jerusalem – a victim of terror and hatred.
While our Kids4Peace youth gather in a spirit of trust, hope and love (and with the endless energy of teenagers) – we do so against the backdrop of violence and destruction.
Skunk water and terror attacks, racist chants and tear gas, desperation and injustice and fear that is more palpable now than it has been in decades.
We come together – here at summer camps and in meetings all year round – not out of a naïve belief in coexistence, that somehow through dialogue and understanding all the conflict will go away.
We know this is not true. We know that simplistic dialogue programs don’t work. That they are weak in the face of violence, injustice, oppression, and fear.
In Kids4Peace, we do something different.
We come together to create a new reality. A new community, deeply invested in one another, for the long haul. A community which demonstrates a new possibility and motivates bold action for change. A community of interfaith understanding. A community that helps children – from a young age – sit together to talk, solve problems, and end conflict together. Something their parents’ generation has failed to do.
We come together to stop the death spiral of violence and retaliation and injustice by creating a more powerful alternative.
We want to displace the majority that calls for the destruction of the other, that wishes their enemy would just go away, that says peace is impossible and nothing can change.
We want to show that living together is possible – that there is room in the holy city (and our cities) for three religions, many nations; room for children to find their place and their voice, with dignity and security for all.
Over the last thirteen years, we have become a community more than a thousand strong. Already the largest and most diverse interfaith youth movement in Jerusalem. Already taking root in communities here in America – communities that are just as divided, just as un-just, just as full of prejudice and fear as Jerusalem is.
But we are ready for the next step –
- We don’t want to be the exception, we want to change the norm.
- We don’t want to transform the lives of a few dozen people; we want to build a powerful movement of thousands upon thousands who will take charge, persevere through innumerable obstacles, and turn the tide on this conflict once and for all.
The conflict in Jerusalem is not the biggest, not the most deadly or the most intractable or even the most important one in the world. But it is one we can solve, as people of faith.
One we can solve through relentless pressure, and through bold investment in a new reality – a new generation of peacemakers right here in our midst.
One with such symbolic power, such that peace in Jerusalem can spread to the ends of the earth. Or at least that’s what the Bible tells me
And the Bible tells me another thing, too. That we transform this world by creating a new reality in the midst of the broken one, a new creation that will replace the old – this is how the reign of God comes. As fragile, at first, as a mustard seed – or a few hundred teenagers with the audacity to love their enemy.
But by this the world will be redeemed.
Dear People of St. Mark’s
- As you fight injustice, I ask you today also to build the new creation.
- As you testify to truth, give voice also to hope.
For without an alternative we will be stuck in despair; stuck in an endless circle of frustration and suspicion and fear – the kind that led to Absalom’s end.
It does not have to be this way. No more fathers need to weep over their sons.
Give as you are able. Pray with all your heart. And share the good news that there are some who stand up for hope; that there is – in our midst – the beginning a new creation.