TEXT: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:23; Psalm 51
On this Memorial Day weekend, it seemed appropriate to lift up the wartime death of a Biblical soldier, Uriah the Hittite. Most of the time it’s Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba, gets the attention, but Uriah deserves to be remembered as an honorable soldier, loyal to both his fellow soldiers and the King who betrayed him to his death.
Uriah was not just your average private. Uriah was one of what the Bible calls “The Thirty,” a select group of seasoned warriors who comprised the elite force of David’s Kingship. And yet we know the story. While Uriah is out fighting David’s battles, David has become a peeping tom and is lusting after Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba. David is King and ancient Kings could do as they please, so David sends for Bathsheba and sleeps with her.
She ends up pregnant, and David starts perhaps the most famous Biblical cover-up. He brings Uriah home from the battle in the hopes that he will sleep with his wife and the child will be assumed to be his. No such luck. Uriah will not indulge himself while his fellow soldiers are laying their lives on the line in battle. So David sends him back and instructs the field commander to put Uriah out in front and then to pull back and leave him vulnerable. That happens and the most honorable soldier in all of the Bible is killed. David then takes Bathsheba as his wife.
It isn’t a pretty thing for this King that God has chosen to bear an eternal promise. God took the Kingship from Saul for much less. But David doesn’t suffer that fate. David has piled sin onto sin…he has broken just about all of the commandments in this one ugly situation. But God stays with him. Why? It’s hard to say, but I believe it is because David truly and gut-wrenchingly repents.
I’ve titled this sermon “Sinning 101” because I think that while the church is quite good at reciting a list of “thou shalts” and “thou shalt nots,” the church has not been so good at telling us what to do when we don’t live up to that standard. The church has not done a good job of teaching us what Christians should do when we sin, aside from the Roman Catholic practice of assigning penance. In fact, in some circles, they will tell you that if you sin you’re not a Christian at all, but we are not immune from sin, just because we have declared our faith in Jesus Christ.
Well, praise the Lord for David. David, the chosen one of God, sins big time. More than that, David, the chosen one of God, sins big time and remains the chosen one of God. That's really good news for those of us whose lives, even after our professions of faith, have been less than perfect. In fact, I think it’s the Gospel. Of course some go to the opposite extreme of what has been termed “cheap grace,” with the notion that you can do what you want because God will always forgive you. David shows us that sin is much more complicated than either of those extremes.
Let's go back to the text for a minute, because I believe that in the passage we read for this morning are some of the long-lost instructions for how God's children are to respond to sin in their own lives. At the beginning of chapter 12, David is breathing a sigh of relief. Things had gotten kind of tense there for a moment, but it seems to be all smoothed over with nobody the wiser. But...always that "but." The very end of chapter 11 says, "But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord."
Maybe you've seen the T-shirt that claims "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." Well, the Old Testament writers who knew God, knew that "If Yahweh ain't happy, ain't nobody happy." The bad news for David at the end of chapter 11 is that Yahweh ain't happy. And, just like Mama, Yahweh is going to do something about it.
In this case, Yahweh sends Nathan--the resident prophet in the court of King David. And Nathan goes to David with a parable. You see, part of David's problem is that he has become blinded to his own sin. Oh, I suspect he knows it's wrong in a technical sense, but David has been a warrior for so long, and involved for so long in a court where he could have what he pleased, that it seems like a trivial matter to him. One more woman in the harem, one more warrior dead--it's more a matter of statistics than real wrong. It's just part of what you have to do to maintain a kingship.
So Nathan brings another perspective--a perspective that takes David back before his days as King--back before the day a brash young teenager stepped out onto the field to kill Goliath--back to a boy who used to risk his life protecting sheep. Perhaps David had never really learned to love people, but David had learned to love and care for sheep as he cared for them in his father's house. Nathan's parable hits home, and David is outraged. "As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die," says David. You can feel the knife cut as Nathan responds, "You are the man!"
Now, David is bright. If this had been the disciples, you can imagine their response..."But, Master, we haven't been near any sheep in years. When did we ever do such a thing!" David is not a simple fisherman, but a king. He makes the connection between the real shepherd watching over real sheep and a king watching over his country in a flash, and you can imagine his growing shame and horror as he hears God's condemnation and punishment through the words of Nathan.
And David's response begins our instruction. He doesn’t deny or justify a thing. David doesn't say, "Well, yes, God, but you have to understand my position." David doesn't say, "I know I did some damage, but I live in such a violent society that I just didn't know what else to do." David doesn't say, "I was abused as a child and couldn't help myself." David says, "I have sinned against the Lord." That's it. No excuses, no extenuating circumstances, no plea bargains. Just a plain, old-fashioned, admission of guilt.
This, I believe is the first step for the Christian who sins: Confession and acceptance of responsibility. And before you put this in a back file because you haven't committed adultery or murder lately, let me remind you that those are not the only sins that displease the Lord. I even tend to believe that those are not the sins that displease the Lord most. We are all guilty at one time or other of displeasing the Lord. It is no accident that such an admission is also the first step in any 12-step program. Nothing gets solved until we are willing to admit that there is a problem. "I have sinned against the Lord."
David not only admits his guilt and his sin--David is sorry. David repents. As I read the Psalter reading for this morning, I was careful to read the inscription at the beginning of Psalm 51: "A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba." This Psalm shows us part of David's response to Nathan that is not recorded in Samuel. From his youth, David has always poured his heart out in song, and he does so here again. Psalm 51 is not just something to read. Psalm 51 is a lesson in what it means to repent.
Repentance is more than saying, "Gee, I'm sorry, God. It won't happen again." Repentance is agony. Repentance is being willing to stand before Yahweh, even when Yahweh ain't happy, and admit the whole nasty business. It isn't cowardly groveling, but an act of courage that stands before God and says, "I have sinned against you, God. You are justified in being angry, and I realize that I deserve whatever I get. But I still want to serve you, if you are willing to show mercy and forgive. And I will need your help to be better in the future." When we forget what it means to really repent, Psalm 51 sits in our Bibles as a reminder.
Now, these two steps are hard--acknowledging and confessing our sin, and then truly repenting. But the last part is perhaps the hardest of all. Nathan tells David, that God has had mercy. Even though David himself decreed that "the man who has done this deserves to die," God is not going to take David's life. Nathan says, "The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die." We are willing to handle that much. But, somehow, we often believe that forgiveness means being excused from any consequences of our sin. If that shopkeeper really forgives me for breaking her window, I won't have to pay for it. If God really forgives me for wasting half of my life in vain pursuits, the second half of my life will be as full of God’s blessings as those who have spent their entire lives serving God.
But in this matter, the story of David comes to irritate us again. David is forgiven. God does not require David's life as strict justice would require. No trap door to hell opens. God does not withdraw his Spirit, or his promises from David. But David does have earthly consequences to deal with. The child he conceived with Bathsheba dies. David's own house is filled with infighting, and soon another son, Absolom, tries to take his throne and is finally killed. There is a lot of pain in David's life from here on out, and we see David's agony as he wrestles with God in prayer, praying for the life of his baby. David was so upset over the illness of his child that his servants were afraid to tell him that the child was dead, thinking he might commit suicide. But God had said that the child would die. And the child did die. This is not a minor consequence. This hurts, big time.
But how does David respond? Does David curse God? Does David throw a tantrum and say, "No, fair, God. You were supposed to forgive me! I did everything right--I was really sorry. I confessed my sin and I repented. I shouldn't have to suffer."? No. David does none of those things. Verse 20 says, "Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate." David accepted the consequences. David accepted the sentence that God had imposed, knowing that it was more lenient than what he deserved.
This is the hardest lesson to learn. I'm not trying to say that everything bad that happens to us is punishment from God--that is a misreading of this. Remember, God was very up-front with David. David does not have to guess that the death of his child and the infighting in his house are God's punishment. God has told him plainly beforehand what the consequences would be. David stood before the judge's bench and heard the sentence. And, if we think about it, we are often aware of which trials we have brought upon ourselves by our actions and which ones have been unfairly put upon us by others.
The story of David and Bathsheba was not included in Scripture because it needed sex and violence to sell more copies. The story of David and Bathsheba was not included in Scripture so we could condemn David and feel self-righteous. The story of David and Bathsheba is a warning that we, too, can fall into sin, and it is our instruction on how a child of God should respond to the sin in his or her life. Acknowledge and confess the sin. Truly repent of the sin. Accept the consequences of sin. It's that simple, and that hard.
And so, once again, the story of David and Bathsheba is irritating. We want it to be simple--a simple message that will condemn someone else and let us go free. But it stubbornly refuses to play that role. Instead, the story stands as a sentinel at the gate of our judgment. When we want to say, "Sinner, you're going to hell," there sits David saying, "I committed adultery and murder and Jesus was still called Son of David. When we want to excuse our own sin, there sits David saying, "I have sinned against the Lord." When we invite others to join our faith by painting a wide, easy road--when we imply that all it takes is saying some magic words about Jesus being your Lord and Savior and you'll never have to worry about sin or its consequences ever again--there sits David, mourning a dead child.
As you consider the great truths of life and the great faith to which we are called, keep the picture of David in your mind. See the shepherd boy turned King of Israel, the handsome young man who by the power of God kills a giant with a single stone. See the man after God's own heart who danced with all his might before the ark of the Lord. See the man chosen to found the line of God's Son, who would be called by David's name. But see also the man who took any woman he wanted and could murder one of his most loyal soldiers in cold-blood. See the father, eyes bloodshot, laying in the dust without food to beg God for the life of his child. See the king whose throne is threatened from every side, even by his own son. See the humiliation of a man who says, "I have sinned against the Lord." See the Psalmist, see the King. See the sinner, see the soul in agony. He is David. He is me. He is you. Amen.
Sermon © 2006, Anne Robertson
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