February 19, 2023
• Rev. Rob Fuquay
In the latter part of the 19th century Gilbert and Sullivan were the hottest team in musical productions. Gilbert wrote the lyrics and Sullivan the music to some of the most popular comic operas of their time such The Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore. They did amazingly well together until they bought their own theater, The Savoy. Sullivan decided it ought to be recarpeted but when Gilbert saw the bill he hit the ceiling. He took Sullivan to court because he felt Sullivan ordered the carpet without consulting him and therefore should have to pay for it all himself.
They became so divided they quit talking to each other…though they kept working together. When Gilbert wrote lyrics he sent them by messenger to Sullivan to write music for them. When they attended the performances of their operas, they walked on stage from opposite sides to take their bows but never looked at each other. In fact, for the rest of their lives, they never spoke to each other again. (Homiletics vol.6, no.1,p29)
Were they successful? Sure. But did they have fun and find joy and fulfillment in their partnership? No. It is possible isn’t it, to be on the same side with someone and yet treat each other as opponents?
We conclude today a series on relationships called Tug of War recognizing, as Pastor Jevon has pointed out the last couple weeks, that relationships involve give and take, tension like in a tug of war. And healthy relationships understand that not every battle should be won. But somewhere along the way, we have to change the analogy. Somewhere we need to move from being in a tug of war and come together on the same side.
So today, we finish this series looking at a story in the life of David that is not so well known. In fact it was a very odd 16-month period of his life where it appeared as though David had joined sides with Israel’s enemy, the Philistines. Why did he do this? Because David had been in a conflict with King Saul that was exhausting him. Ever been in conflict that just gets exhausting after a while. Saul had tried to kill David on numerous occasions and hunted him constantly. David needed a break. Sometimes relational tension and battles will do that to us. We just need a break.
David determined that if he went to the land of the Philistines Saul would not follow him there, so he did and was befriended by a Philistine leader named Achish. To keep in good standing with Achish, David and his men would go out on raids of other villages and bring back the loot they took and give it to Achish. So Achish prospered from his relationship with David, but David was deceptive. He told Achish he was raiding Israelite villages, when in fact he was going to towns in the direction of the Egyptian border and raiding villages of the Amalekites. He made up this ruse so that Achish would think David is attacking his own people and was really with them. Achish would think, “David is one of us. He’s on our side.”
Well, the day came for a showdown between the Philistines and the Israelites at Jezreel. The five commanders of the Philistine forces lined up for battle when David and his men ride up on their horses. The commanders call for Achish and ask, “What are those Hebrews doing here?” This is worth a comment, because the word “Hebrews” was a derogatory term. It meant something like scavengers. Ever notice when we don’t trust someone, or don’t like someone, we need names to call them that lower their worth as people. Scavengers. Bigots. Rioters. Looters. Troublemakers. Because once we make someone less noble we become more right.
Achish tried to defend David before the commanders. He said, “Since he deserted to me I have found no fault in him to this day.” (v.3) But the commanders won’t have any of it. They tell Achish not to be a fool. In the heat of battle David will turn on them so he can win favor with his own people ad be able to return home. They will not allow him to fight with them. So Achish has to deliver this news to David. He says, “Go back now, and go peaceably.” (v.7)
There are a lot of relational dynamics at play here. David and Saul were on the same side but Saul treated David like an opponent. They were in a game of tug of war against each other, so David had to retreat. He joined sides with Israel’s true opponent, the Philistines. He befriended their leader Achish but that put Achish at odds with his side.
So Achish determines that he’s not going to cross his commanders. He’s going to pull with them, and therefore tells David to go back. And this begins David’s return to Israel and eventually coming to claim his destined role as king of Israel.
This story offers several helpful reminders to us when we get engaged in a game of tug of war in relationships. Notice first of all that when we get crossways with people we care about, we all need an Achish. We need someone who tells us to go back, retreat, return. We need people who will be honest with us and say, Don’t push ahead. Don’t keep stating your case. Don’t demand your rights. Let it go. Go back.
When we get into a tug of war with a spouse or a child or a boss or colleague, it is so easy to seek out people who tell us what we want to hear. People who agree with us and tell us we should stand our ground. And it takes a lot more maturity to seek someone we know will not just agree with us, but will be honest and will be willing to say things we might not want to hear, like “Go back. Return. Let go of some things. And the pause might lead to our being able to find reconciliation.
Some of you may have heard me tell this story before so if it s repeat, at least it’s a good one to repeat. Author Tony Campolo tells about a time when he preached for a chapel service at this evangelical college. He was in an anteroom behind the chapel waiting for the service to start and a group of students came to pray for him. They laid hands on him and he said they don’t just say short prayers. They go on for a while. And the longer they go on the heavier their hands get.
Anyway, this one guy starts praying but he doesn’t pray for the service or for Tony. He prays for his friend Charlie Stolzfus. He says, “Lord, you know Charlie. He lives just off Exit 33 at the end of the service road in a red house.” Tony Campolo thought, “Im sure the Lord knows where he lives, can you get on with the prayer.” The guys said, “Lord, Charlie is leaving his wife and his kids today. Lord send someone to help Charlie, to help him turn around. Lord help Charlie.”
Finally the prayer ends and they go into the service. After its over, Tony gets in his car to drive home. He’s turning onto the interstate when he notices a guy thumbing for a ride. He pulls over and asks where he’s headed. The guy says, “As far as you’ll let me ride with you.” So Tony invites him into the car. He says, “My name is Tony Campolo.” The guy said, “Hi, I’m Charlie Stolzfus.” Campolo, “no way!” He looked at him and said, “I know who you are. You are planning to leave your wife and kids, but I’m going to take you home.” Charlie’s eyes got really wide. And then when Campolo took his exit and turned on his road and pulled into his driveway, his mouth dropped open.
Charlie said, “How do you know who I am and where I live?” Campolo said, “God told me!” So he followed Charlie up the steps and into the house. He introduced Tony to his wife and Tony sat down with both of them and talked for a couple hours. Campolo said that not only did Charlie stay with his family, he started going to church and became a Christian, and eventually went into the ministry and is served as a pastor out west!
Sometimes the people who seem to say their craziest things, people who tell us not what we want to hear, are the ones God uses to speak to us. We all need Achishes in our lives.
We need someone telling us what we don’t want to hear so that we do what we need to do!
All Achish said to David was “go back.” But its what David needed to hear so that he eventually began the journey back to his people. Its sort of funny when you think about it. The Philistine commanders who wouldn’t let David fight with him actually did him a favor. Just because someone doesn’t agree with us doesn’t mean they are against us.
And that ties into another part of this story. When David was conducting raids in Philistine territory it appeared like he was attacking his own people, but he wasn’t. He was raiding Amalekite towns. While appearing like he had sided with the enemy David was actually still with Saul. Sometimes we come to see that what appears to be opposition is actually support…IF we don’t get reactive!
There are times when it appears someone is not being helpful, they don’t care, they are being resistant, or even spiteful, but if we don’t jump to conclusions or act on our assumptions, we might discover that our impression wasn’t accurate at all.
Some years ago when our girls were little I used to get frustrated that Susan didn’t take the garbage bins out to the street on the day when trash pick up came. Especially if it was raining or cold, I felt she deliberately left these for me so as not to be inconvenienced. As usual, the night before trash pick up, I would pull in the driveway after a long day, and evening meetings, and realize the bins are still sitting in the garage, and when I ask why she didn’t carry these out, you can imagine those conversations didn’t go well. Well, one night I pulled into the driveway and the trash bin had been pulled out of the garage and left in front of the garage door a long way from the street so that I couldn’t even pull my car in. I thought, “Oh so that’s how we’re going to play it. You are going to make it so that I have to stop and get out of my car and move the bin.”
So I go inside and in a very compassionate tone open the conversation with words like, “So why can’t you do your part around here?” Something very sensitive like that. She said, “What are you talking about?” I said, “You put the trash bin right in front of my side of the garage and left it there on purpose.”
She again said, “What are you talking about?” And then she thought for a moment and said, “No. I remembered it was trash day tomorrow and wanted to take it out before you got home. I started when one of the girls screamed from inside. She had hurt herself and I went to take care of that and forget to come back.”
I asked if the jury would disregard early testimony that had been spoken.
One of the best ways to get on the same side with a person we are in tug of war with is to develop the art of stopping. Just stop before we go too far. Remind ourselves, “I might not have all the facts. I might not know the whole story. Before I commit a penalty, just stop.”
In football, a player sometimes shoves an opponent out of bounds like when they are trying to tackle the quarterback. Many times when you ask a player, “Did you know you were out of bounds when you shoved the other person?” They will say yes. “Did you know this could be called and cost your team fifteen yards?” They say yes, so when you ask, “Then why did you did you do it?” What do they say? “I couldn’t stop myself.”
A game changer in any sport and in any relationship is to develop the ability to stop ourselves when we start to get out of bounds.
And here is another gamechanger. Another way to get on the same side in a tug of war, is to stop and recognize what the real opponent is. Sometimes two parents can have a problem with a child, but they have two very different ways of responding to the problem. Before long the parents are in a tug of war with each other over whose way is better. And they have to stop and realize, “We’ve got to pull together. We aren’t the opponents. We’re on the same side. The opponent is whatever is hurting our child. The opponent is whatever our child is struggling with. Let’s keep focused on what the true opponent is and find a way to pull together.”
The next time you are in a tug of war with someone you care about or someone you need to be in a good relationship with them in order to succeed, try those two approaches. Just say, “Let’s stop.” And then name the opponent. Name a common problem or enemy you both agree is what you are trying to defeat. And say, “We are on the same side of this issue. Now, let’s figure out a common approach together.”
It appeared David had joined sides with the enemy, but not really. He was with Saul. He was fighting the same battle just from a different location.
And that raises one last point to take away from this story, and that is to think of what happened as a result of David pausing that day, not fighting with the Philistines, heeding the advice of Achish. He ended up returning to his people. Saul would be killed in the battle with the Philistines. David would no more be hunted down by Saul. That would not be a problem any more. And David would eventually be made king of Israel. Had he went ahead and fought with the Philistines, that would not have been possible. He would never have been able to be king. And not only that, but God would promise David that one day the future Messiah would be his descendant. The Messiah would be a Son of David.
This reminds us that We don’t discover our greatest possibilities in life without the hard work of pulling together with people. Any number of things can pull us apart or at least cause us to pull against each other. We can go through life and do great things and have successes continuing in a tug of war, just Gilbert and Sullivan. But our greatest possibilities, the things we can become, are found when we lay down our end of the rope, and go to the other side, and find ways to pull together. That’s where our greatest potential lies.
Martin Luther King, Jr said in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail: “All (people) are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be, and you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be...This is the inter-related structure of reality.”
To discover our greatest possibilities, we have to get on the same side.
The United Methodist Church was founded by John Wesley, a Church of England priest in the 1700’s. But John Wesley may never had been born had it not been for someone going back.
You see John Wesley’s parents didn’t share the same politics. Wesley’s father, Samuel, was a strong conformist, supporting the reign of William and Mary. His mother, Susannah, however, was a non-conformist, believing that William and Mary were not the rightful heirs to the throne.
Well, one evening when Samuel prayed before the meal and ended with a blessing for the King and Queen, Susannah did not “amen” his prayer. When he asked why she plainly told him. This led into an argument with Samuel finally saying, “If we shall have two kings, we shall have two beds.” And he left the house. For months!
Finally he came to his senses and realized it was dumb to let politics come between a relationship. He went back. He and Susannah reconciled, and nine months later John was born. And 35 years after that, Methodism was born.
We don’t discover our potential, God’s potential for us, without doing the hard work of going back and doing what it takes to pull together with others.
Isn’t this what God does for us? Doesn’t God come back to us rather than leaving us dead in our trespasses and sin? Rather than leaving us in our willful disobedience and turning away from God. God comes back, and through his Son shows us a desire to initiate reconciliation, and pull together with us to overcome our real opponents—all the forces that would destroy us, destroy our relationships, fragment human community and our willingness to love all people as our brothers and sisters. This is what God does for us, and God offers His power to love the same way. Let us pray…
Lord, I pray first of all for those who are in healthy relationships that we may continue doing the things that keep these relationships strong. Give us a desire to keep investing, keep protecting, keep improving our relationships, so that we believe that there is no greater return on an investment than what healthy relationships provide.
And then, Lord, I pray for those struggling in a relationship right now, maybe spouses, or a parent and child, or greater family members, or a work relationship, or a friend. Give us the desire and courage to go back, to acknowledge any fault of our own, to express our deep hope for a better relationship, and show what we are willing to do to bring about such hope.
I also pray for those who are not able to go back to someone from they have been estranged. Perhaps it is no longer possible or prudent. Help us not to hold to our wounds so as not to injure other relationships. But heal us and help us know that even a bad relationship can make us better, can offer lessons that improve our current and future relationships.
And finally, I pray for all of us that we will seek to make better the lives of others rather than how we want others to make us better. For when we do this, we become bigger people, better people, and more beautiful people. For you are a God who displays such love toward us. You did not leave us alone in our sin, but you came back. You sent your Son into the world to be on our side, to pull with us, so that all that would pull us down, sin, hate, evil, would one day be destroyed. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.