This was a message with good content and good storytelling (David, Abigail, Nabal from I Samuel 25) and a good title, but ultimately in search of a bottom line.
I started out with It’s not your fault, but it is your chance. Then I moved to God adds his intervention to your initiative. I thought of It’s your chance to start taking the responsibility you used to avoid.
Honestly, all were versions of a bottom line from 2014’s Lost & Found series about Elijah in which the message Lost Hope landed at: God won’t do for you what he needs to do with you. Still one of my favorites.
Then I kept circling back around to the four “quicklies” that govern Abigail’s story in I Samuel 25. I had the congregation read those “quicklies” responsively during the message. That emphasis on decisiveness and haste led to a longer bottom line but nevertheless one I believe worked:
It’s not your fault. But it is your time.
The right time isn’t something you wait for. It’s something you make happen.
I bet that almost everyone here, at some point in your life, has been in the middle of what they call circumstances beyond your control. Where it’s nothing you DID; it’s more what life do TO YOU. Circumstances in which you find yourself in a mess & you can say honestly that it’s NOT YOUR FAULT. Makes me think of the little boy, 5 or so, who is at the doctor’s for a shot. It’s not his fault he needs the shot; it’s a function of his age! And he’s trembling, scared, dreading. So the doctor holds up the syringe and says, “Which arm?” And with quiet terror in his voice, the boy says hopefully, “Yours?” Beyond your control.
My most trying was certainly as a teenager where in spite of washing, scrubbing, medicating, antibiotic-ing, the pimples stayed. If you’re not a teenager you think NBD, but if you are, it’s the end of the world. And it wasn’t my fault. I actually remember trying to bargain one night with a God I didn’t believe in – if I’d wake up in the a.m. and they were magically gone, then I’d believe in him. They weren’t, so I didn’t. Anyway, think of all the circumstances beyond your control. None of you chose your parents. Not your fault. You didn’t choose your skin color, body type, eye color, hair thickness, HAIR THICKNESS. Not your fault. You didn’t choose WHERE you were born – if a Southerner, NYF, if an immigrant, NYF, if a from New Jersey … well, maybe your fault. Things just happened.
But it all gets a bit darker. Because sometimes the circumstances that aren’t our fault are quite debilitating. I have this unhealthy fear that I’m a bother & that any disagreement will end a relationship. NMF. Maybe for you, it was when your parents divorced. NYF. A parent died. NYF. You were born with a special need. NYF. You’re prone to depression, it’s a miracle you got out of bed this morning. NYF. Your mate left you. NYF (mostly). So: how do you bounce back when circumstances are beyond your control, when you are a victim of them, when you’re in the middle of a deal & it’s NOT. YOUR. FAULT?
Why is why Abigail is such a great bouncebacker. You may know some real life Abigails today (like my niece) and this story is often the source of that name. We meet Abigail in an often overlooked story from the life of David – the same one who slew Goliath and slept with Bathsheba – from about 900 BC or so. And in I Sam 25, David is on the run from jealous King Saul and David also has a militia. 600 armed men. He’s almost a Shadow King. Anyway, look what happens in 25:2-3:
2 A certain man in Maon, who had property there at Carmel, was very wealthy. He had a thousand goats and three thousand sheep, which he was shearing in Carmel. 3 His name was Nabal and his wife’s name was Abigail. She was an intelligent and beautiful woman, but her husband was surly and mean in his dealings—he was a Calebite.
Oh, so she married a jerk. Her fault, right? Some of you are like, “oh yeah, I remember doing that and it WAS my fault!” But wait wait wait. Remember that world? There were no LOVE marriages, no CHOICE marriages. It was arranged between the families, there was a price involved, and she had no say. Her parents, Nabal’s parents, and she is stuck. She is a woman (obviously) in world that treated women as disposable property, she’s married to a boor, and she is trapped. And none of it is HER FAULT.
Look what happens next:
4 While David was in the wilderness, he heard that Nabal was shearing sheep. 5 So he sent ten young men and said to them, “Go up to Nabal at Carmel and greet him in my name. 6 Say to him: ‘Long life to you! Good health to you and your household! And good health to all that is yours!
7 “‘Now I hear that it is sheep-shearing time. When your shepherds were with us, we did not mistreat them, and the whole time they were at Carmel nothing of theirs was missing. 8 Ask your own servants and they will tell you. Therefore be favorable toward my men, since we come at a festive time. Please give your servants and your son David whatever you can find for them.’”
9 When David’s men arrived, they gave Nabal this message in David’s name.
You know what this is, most likely? A shakedown. I’ve protected you “VOLUNTARILY” and now I’m here to collect my dues. David is not above that kind of thing & he’s got 600 men to enforce it. But look at 9c:
Then they waited.
They WAITED. In a honor & shame culture, where respect is everything, Nabal is showing his protector the ultimate disrespect. And in 25:10-11, Nabal earns his name and piles on the disrespect:
10 Nabal answered David’s servants, “Who is this David? Who is this son of Jesse? Many servants are breaking away from their masters these days. 11 Why should I take my bread and water, and the meat I have slaughtered for my shearers, and give it to men coming from who knows where?”
It’s like saying it to Don Corleone, only he can expect worse than a horse head in his bed. Mockery, shaming to a giant killer with 600 men. Bad idea!
So look at David’s response in 25:12-13:
12 David’s men turned around and went back. When they arrived, they reported every word. 13 David said to his men, “Each of you strap on your sword!” So they did, and David strapped his on as well. About four hundred men went up with David, while two hundred stayed with the supplies.
Now THAT escalated quickly!! You see what David’s default response is to personal offense: bloodshed and lots of it. Tuck that away. Fortunately, an unnamed servant intervenes to tell Abigail what her moronic husband has done in 25:14-17:
14 One of the servants told Abigail, Nabal’s wife, “David sent messengers from the wilderness to give our master his greetings, but he hurled insults at them. 15 Yet these men were very good to us. They did not mistreat us, and the whole time we were out in the fields near them nothing was missing. 16 Night and day they were a wall around us the whole time we were herding our sheep near them. 17 Now think it over and see what you can do, because disaster is hanging over our master and his whole household. He is such a wicked man that no one can talk to him.”
What I love about that is the irony that the man is NOT named and the woman is the star, the hero, and we very much know her name.
Look at what happens next because it has one word that governs the whole bouncebacking story:
18 Abigail acted quickly.
Circle “quickly.” That’s the word for this woman who is a victim of her circumstances, a woman who could be excused for throwing up her hands and simply allowing life to happen to her. Instead, she seizes it. Decisively. Quickly. Dare I say it? Masculine-ly. Then she does what Nabal does and prepares the meal and the gifts, extravagantly so and then look – READ 25:21-22 context! – at 25:23 for our word again:
23 When Abigail saw David, she quickly got off her donkey and bowed down before David with her face to the ground.
What follows is this skillfully diplomatic speech to David in which she insults her husband in an effort to save his neck. DON’T TRY THIS AT HOME! (25:25). 25 Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent.
And look at her rationale for trying to calm David down in 25:31:
31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”
No innocent blood. You’re going to be king one day, everyone knows it, the Electoral College map is TOTALLY in your favor, so you don’t want to put a blemish on that with my husband’s unnecessary blood. He’s a moron but he’s MY moron! (The irony in all that is because of what David does later in life, why does the Lord discipline him? The shedding of innocent blood.) But for this scene, look at David’s response in 25:32-34:
32 David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”
There it is again, quickly. Third time. Not by accident! Author’s design! When she could settle, when she could be simply a pawn in life, when she could throw up her hands & say it’s NOT MY FAULT & there’s nothing I can do, Abigail acts with decisiveness & haste. She shapes life rather than bending to the shape it offers.
Listen, listen, listen, all you who are in the middle of a dog pile and it’s NOT YOUR FAULT: have you given up? Observing life instead of owning it? Celebrating your powerlessness? Are you excelling at learned helplessness? A victim of your circumstances and that’s the most comfortable place to be because it’s NYF?
Well, back to Abigail and her intrigue; insulting her husband and in so doing saving his life. The story takes a twist in 25:36:
36 When Abigail went to Nabal, he was in the house holding a banquet like that of a king. He was in high spirits and very drunk. So she told him nothing at all until daybreak.
Doh! More irony! He’s not a king, pretending to be one, while insulting a real one! So Abigail wisely waits til the morning, gives him some coffee & Alka Seltzer, tells him what she has done done & look at 25:37-38:
37 Then in the morning, when Nabal was sober, his wife told him all these things, and his heart failed him and he became like a stone. 38 About ten days later, the Lord struck Nabal and he died.
He is either so humiliated that his wife saved him OR so frightened that David wants to kill OR both that he apparently has a stroke and then dies. She has, quite literally, killed him with kindness. She saved his neck and he thanked her by exiting her life.
Well, David gets words of what has happened to Nabal and David is a playuh and he TOO can act quickly. And remember that the bible, OT in particular, describes what it does not necessarily endorse, so look at 25:40:
40 His servants went to Carmel and said to Abigail, “David has sent us to you to take you to become his wife.”
Her response again in 25:41-12:
41 She bowed down with her face to the ground and said, “I am your servant and am ready to serve you and wash the feet of my lord’s servants.” 42 Abigail quickly got on a donkey and, attended by her five female servants, went with David’s messengers and became his wife.
The Quicklies have it! So subtle, so artful, so penetrating, so inescapable. So much the heart of a bouncebacker, especially one caught up in circumstances beyond her control. Because what Abigail does – and the four “quicklies” show it more than anything else has she overcomes the odds of culture & gender – is refreshing for every person here who is a victim of circumstances beyond your control: It’s not your fault, but it is your time. The ‘right time’ is not something you wait for, but something you make happen.
Yes! It may not be your fault but it is your chance! It’s your chance from moving from life’s pawn – moved around at the whim of others – to God’s partner. That’s what Abigail does. Why take orders when you can take charge? It’s your chance to unlearn the learned helplessness to which you have grown accustomed and in which you have become comfortable. God is longing for you to break through of being the victim. He has things he will not do for you because he needs to do them with you and then through you. It’s not your fault, but it is your time. The ‘right time’ is not something you wait for, but something you make happen.
Because here’s something that I know from observation and experience. A lot of you have become so comfortable as the victim – either the victim of other people or of your substances or even of your depression – that you don’t see all the resources God has already given you. You’ve heard me say a million times before I preach that without the Spirit I am powerless and you agree with that. But you tune out the next part! Because of the Spirit I am never helpless. Well, neither are you! Sometimes the most loving thing that we in church & in counseling can do is say, “No, I won’t counsel with you today about that. God has already given you all the resources you need to handle the situation, and you’re hanging on to me as a way of avoiding.” I can’t help but wonder if God isn’t answering prayers your praying today because he is still waiting for you to act on the last prayer that he answered! It’s not your fault, but it is your time. The ‘right time’ is not something you wait for, but something you make happen.
Even much more recently when the UMC talked to us about Zoar Road I was like, Nope. Not interested. But others here, more optimistic, more adventuresome than I were like you gotta take a chance & do this. So we did. Why throw up the very hands that God came to empower? It’s not your fault, but it is your time. The ‘right time’ is not something you wait for, but something you make happen.
Or listen to his note I got from a GS friend: READ Not bad for a hopless, helpless, hapless drunk! It’s not your fault, but it is your time. The ‘right time’ is not something you wait for, but something you make happen.
Or the guy I knew who starting at about the age of 15 lost a critical part of his vision. To the extent that he couldn’t drive, which if you’re talking a 16 year old guy, that’s tragic. But the vision loss was, of course, NOT HIS FAULT. And yet my friend seized that circumstanced and victored over it rather than becoming a victim of it. As sometimes happens, he grew especially acute in his other senses, and developed a savvy in reading people in particular. You might know my friend as well because he grew up to be a pastor, and a fine one at that. It’s our own Wayne Hobson. (AV) Yeah, it might have started with Abigail but we’ve got a chance seizer right among us. How about we add a few more to the list? It’s not your fault, but it is your time. The ‘right time’ is not something you wait for, but something you make happen.