~ 2 Samuel 5:1-10/Psalm 48 ~
It’s one of those earworm songs – once you hear it you can’t get it out of your head.
This land is your land, this land is my land
From California to the New York island
From the redwood forest to the Gulf Stream waters
This land was made for you and me
As I went walking that ribbon of highway…
And it goes on and on. It is one of America’s most famous folk songs. It might invoke images in your mind like the one in our bulletin – sort of an idyllic America. However, it was actually written as a protest song. As Woody Guthrie traveled the country in the late 30’s he was just so tired of hearing on every radio station in every city and town Kate Smith belting God Bless America. This was his protest song, originally titled, God Bless America for Me! The song has many stanzas some of which spoke to the desperate situations of many Americans in during the Great Depression – long bread lines and walls keeping people out with “no trespassing” signs. So, it became this iconic expression that this land is for all of us, not just some. However, years later Bob Dylan would quip, “This land is your land and this land is my land, sure, but the world is run by those that never listen to music anyway.”
Guthrie’s lyrics sort of beg the question: Is this land made for you and me? Is it your land? Is it my land? And just how did it become your land? My land? On this 4th of July, this Independence Day, in celebrating our nation’s founding we find ourselves in the midst of a questioning time, a time of reconsidering our past. Some in our country see this questioning as harmful, as an attempt to tear down this ‘greatest nation on earth’. Others see this questioning as a hopeful time of healing and restoration, as an attempt to include those who, in the past, have been excluded. Indeed, as an attempt to be more honest about who we are and how we got here. My question for us here today: How do we live with our nation’s past in a faithful way?
“History is written by the victors,” Winston Churchill is supposed to have said. The historian that wrote or compiled First and Second Samuel was most likely a staff member of the King David administration. He was paid to make David look good. As we encounter this scene in today’s reading, Saul is dead, “long live the king.” The tribes all come to pay fealty to David saying that even when Saul was the king it really was David who made Israel what it is today. So, they declare him “king.” He was only thirty years old. And then the historian notes that David reigned forty years, thirty-three of those years in Jerusalem. Which means he must tell the story of how Jerusalem became the capitol of David’s kingdom.
Now the Jebusites were not one of the twelve tribes of Israel, but they were allies, having assisted David in several of his military campaigns. But David needed a capitol and Hebron just wasn’t making it. So, he took Jerusalem from the Jebusites. He wanted it and he took it. By stealth…or so the story goes. David and his men found their way into the center of the city by going through the underground cistern. Have taken it, David moved in. He called it the City of David. And, as the historian notes, “David became greater and greater, for God, the God of hosts, was with him.”
Our first reading, Psalm 48, extolls the greatness of David’s city, called Mount Zion in the psalm. It is a song evidently composed by the “Sons of Korah” whoever they might be – I mean, scholars can only guess who they were and when they wrote but most likely sometime during the Babylonian exile. Which means that even as David’s city lays in ruins off in Judea, they can sing of the grandeur of Mount Zion. Given that, note how they appeal to the readers’ imaginations to “walk about Zion, go all around it, count its towers, consider well its ramparts; go through its citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever.” David needed a city, so he took it. He was the victor. He gets to write the story.
This past Friday Linda and I went to see and hear the San Francisco Symphony at Davies Symphony Hall. It was their Independence Day concert. I understand they’ll be at Stern Grove this afternoon. Brrr! But what an experience to see the full orchestra play before a full house. The concert began with the playing of the National Anthem, the Star Spangled Banner. But not before the CEO of the orchestra came on stage to welcome us to the hall, but to also speak to the what the playing of the anthem might mean to us all. Even as we celebrate our country on this holiday, we also acknowledge that many through the centuries have been left out of the story or have been marginalized. He noted that the very space we were now in was once the land of the Ohlone and Miwok tribes; land which was taken from them by force. And he noted that we must realize that we still have much work to do to realize the dream of inclusivity and honor for all peoples. His words made me glad to be a patron of the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra. And so, we all stood, including the orchestra, to play and sing our National Anthem with pride and commitment to live into that dream. And after a wonderful program of American music, including a wonderfully expanded version of Gershwin’s Rapsody in Blue, we heard and enthusiastically clapped along to John Phillip Sousa’s Stars and Stripes Forever. But all of it set up with the words, “we still have work to do.”
“This land was made for you and me.” A wonderful sentiment about being citizens of this nation. But the fact is, this land was not made for everybody. Too often we Americans express out citizenship with “this land is my land” but not necessarily “your land” whoever “you” might be. Too often we don’t even realize the supremacy, the “white supremacy,” that is the story of our nation, the story we have been telling ourselves all our lives.
As people of faith, we are called to lean into the uncomfortable truths of our national story. We are called to make ourselves aware of how and where we can speak to and work for justice for all peoples. And that just might mean rethinking the stories we’ve told ourselves as a nation for all these years. I pray that we will embrace this time of questioning as a time for healing and restoration, especially for those who have too long been excluded. And in doing so, the God of justice, as those Sons of Korah in Psalm 48 say, “will be our guide forever.” Amen.