(This is an excerpt from a sermon in our series on People of the Old Testament.)
16Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me! 17The God of the people of Israel chose our fathers; he made the people prosper during their stay in Egypt, with mighty power he led them out of that country, 18he endured their conduct for about forty years in the desert, 19he overthrew seven nations in Canaan and gave their land to his people as their inheritance. 20All this took about 450 years.
“After this, God gave them judges until the time of Samuel the prophet. 21Then the people asked for a king, and he gave them Saul son of Kish, of the tribe of Benjamin, who ruled forty years. 22After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
David's life is huge. After defeating Goliath, David becomes a mighty soldier in Saul’s army. He marries Saul’s daughter and he’s best friends with Saul’s son Jonathan. The undersized shepherd-poet becomes a national hero, and eventually becomes King of Israel. He guides his country through a civil war and unifies it into one nation. He brings the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. He tries to lead the country into faithful worship and service in God’s name.
But David isn’t a saint. This man who followed God—who was called a man after God’s own heart—was pretty flawed, too. His family story reads like a soap opera. He doesn’t raise his kids very well, and they end up fighting and killing each other. One of them ends up trying to take the kingdom over by force. David seems to have a hard time walking into a village without slaughtering everyone in sight. And to cap it off, when he sees a beautiful woman bathing from his window, he begins an affair with her and has her husband killed. The psalm we read as our prayer of confession this morning was the psalm David wrote to repent of his sin with Bathsheba.
And yet, it’s David as the writer of many of the psalms who gives us our most powerful worship language. Some of them are praises. Even more of them are laments or complaints. It’s David who gives us the words to describe what it means to love and trust and believe in a God we don’t get to see.
Those psalms still speak to us today, 3000 years after they were written—they teach us to worship and pray in ways that we never quite see coming. A few years ago a Scottish publisher decided to issue individual books of the Bible, with introductions written by famous people. Bono, of the band U2, wrote the introduction to the Book of Psalms. U2 used to close every concert with a song called ‘40’, with words taken from the 40th psalm. He wrote this about that part of Scripture:
Psalm 40 is interesting in that it suggests a time in which grace will replace Karma, and love will replace the strict law of Moses. I love that thought. David, who committed some of the most selfish as well as selfless acts, was depending on it. That the Scriptures are brim full of hustlers, murderers, cowards, adulterers and mercenaries used to shock me. Now it’s a source of great comfort.
It’s through David that we learn an important lesson about being a follower of God: You don’t have to live a perfect life to be a person of faith. Isn’t that good news? That’s a liberating thing to hear as we face our own problems, our own brokenness, our own sin.
Whatever else he did, David lived a life of faith that mattered to God. He was flawed and sinful and violent, but he also loved his God and was loved back. That’s how he ends up in our text this morning—in the New Testament book of Acts.
The apostle Paul is giving a history lesson to some Jewish leaders of the day, and at the end he says this: ‘After removing Saul, who ruled forty years, God made David their king. He said of David: I have found him to be a man after my own heart.’
We say that every so often, don’t we? When someone does something that we really like, or crave or hope for, one of our responses can be: That’s a person after my own heart. This is where the phrase comes from.
We talk about people having heart, too. Michael Phelps has been all over the place this last week. Eight gold medals in one summer—15 in all. We learned a lot about his life and family during the games this year. Single mom, loving sisters, a drunk driving charge after the Athens games that got him back on track. In an interview he said that after his arrest he knew that he needed to give his whole heart to swimming if he was going to be true to his talent.
We learn a lot about love and commitment and restoration and achievement from Michael Phelps’ story.
What do we learn from David’s story?
God values a heart that is reckless in its love for him: In one story David was so completely absorbed in worship that he danced in the streets half-naked. His wife scolded him but David had bigger things than propriety on his mind. He was blissfully aware of God’s love and provision, and reckless in his expression of gratitude and worship.
The other thing we learn is this: We don’t have to be perfect to be followers of God. David’s story proves that in so many ways. In this election season, with each candidate trying so hard not to mess up—or to keep past mistakes from coming out, it’s pretty clear that David wouldn’t have made it through the primaries. But we’re not running or competing for God’s love—it comes to us freely, extravagantly, lavishly. David’s life proves to us that we don’t have to be perfect to be the people of God.
But that still leaves a question: How do we live ‘after God’s own heart?’ What is God’s heart like?
God’s heart is a heart that
As we move into a new year together as a family of faith—as a Christian community—the call is on each one of our lives is to gather as people who are after God’s own heart. As new arrivals to London seek us out in this season, and as we invite people to come and be a part of this church, it’s important that we’re on the same page in terms of what this church is about.
We are a community—a gathered collection of broken people from all over the world—we are a church after God’s own heart. The call to each one of us is to dig deep—to look around and to look to God—for the capacity to Love, to Forgive, to Challenge and to Reconcile.
That’s what we learn from the mighty King David. And that’s my prayer for all of us. Amen.