“David replied to Abigail, “Praise the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you to meet me today! Thank God for your good sense!” (1 Samuel 25:32-33)
We were invited to dinner at our friend Jane’s lake house. Jane’s daughter, who worked at a veterinary clinic, was also there and she brought an unexpected guest. An eight-week old German Shepherd mix puppy the people in the vet’s office had named Baxter. Baxter had been abandoned and had several quarter sized bare batches of fur that might have been from cigarette burns. When Jane’s daughter put him down on the floor he ran straight to a corner of the room and hid under a table. My wife, Stephanie, picked him up and held him and looked at me and I knew exactly where this was heading. “No way”, I said. “We already have two dogs. Unh, unh. I don’t want another puppy. Nope.”
Baxter came home with us that night and has been with us the last twelve years. We’ve become good buddies but we got off to a rocky start. He annoyed the heck out of me as a puppy. The more I got irritated with him and pushed him away the harder he tried to get my attention. One day I was out in the backyard on a beautiful spring morning planting a batch of new flowers. I’ve always found working out in the yard as a way to get away from everything, work off some stress, get that good feeling that comes from physical work and a sense of accomplishment, commune with God. We had a big backyard and I planted the flowers in the corner because of you know who. Sure enough, Stephanie let him out and he came tearing right to the corner of the yard, starting “playing” back and forth over the flowers while he looked at me with his tongue hanging out and then for good measure lifted a leg to do his business. I threw down my shovel and stormed into the kitchen.
“That dog of yours just ruined a whole morning’s worth of work! I am so sick of him. He ruins everything I do out there!” Stephanie didn’t miss a beat and said to me, “You know, Honey, when you get to Heaven, God is not going to say to you, ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You had the nicest looking yard in the neighborhood.’ But he might say, ‘Well done good and faithful servant. You cared for and gave a home to one of my creatures that someone burned with a cigarette and then abandoned.” Ouch. Don’t you just hate it when someone is right like that? And yet, aren’t you thankful someone cares enough to speak the truth. In our home we have come to call that “getting hit with a two-by-four across the face.” Not literally, of course. More like the old Mennen Skin Bracer After Shave commercial from the ’70’s when someone has some Mennen aftershave slapped on their face and then says, “Thanks. I needed that.”
In 1 Samuel 25, David was blinded with rage and about to kill Nabal who was ungrateful for the protection of his fields that David and his men had provided and refused to give David any food in return to compensate them. In steps Nabal’s wife, Abigail, who gives David plenty of food and also a dose of godly counsel. She calms David down and prevents him from acting on his rage so “[he] won’t have to carry on [his] conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed and vengeance” (1 Samuel 25:31). She hit David across the face with a two-by-four and David had a “Thanks, I need that moment.”
It is ironic that before I became a believer I thought that religious people needed religion as a kind of crutch because they couldn’t deal with the reality of life. What I have found out over time is that Jesus is the most real person who ever walked the earth and that believing in him and following him keeps me grounded in true reality – God’s reality – as opposed to living a reality solely of my own making with me and my wants, needs and desires at the center. Worship on Sunday mornings is not an escape from the world. Worship through God’s word and sacrament re-focuses me on the centrality of God as I live my life Monday through Saturday. Affirmation is a wonderful thing. We all need affirmation that God loves us – in fact we can’t hear it enough. But affirmation without an occasional two-by-four leads to narcissism, and pride which is the root cause of a host of other sins against God and our neighbor.
“No discipline is ever enjoyable while it is happening – it is painful! But afterward there will be a quiet harvest of right living for those who are trained in this way.” (Hebrews 12:11)