The following sermon is from a sermon series we recently started that follows the lectionary selections from David’s life in the books of Samuel, entitled: Psalms, Swords, Sorrows, Strengths: Life Lessons from David. The previous week we read the preceding chapter of 2 Samuel, which accounted the murder of Uriah and David’s adultery with Bathsheba.
Sometimes the Truth Hurts:
A Sermon on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13
Last Week, Karen gave a sermon and all but ended it with a “To Be Continued.” And then everyone looks at me, like I have the riveting conclusion to so graphic and disturbing a picture of institutionalized evil that she so skillfully painted. So as such I could begin: “Previously on the Book of Samuel.” This story we have before us could truly be featured on any popular TV Drama. I’ve always fantasized about HBO picking up a book of the Old Testament, yet I fear the product would be so explicit that we could not show it inside the doors of the church. David gets caught up in adultery with Bathsheba , failed attempts at cover-ups and eventually the murder of Uriah.
Throughout the story up to this point, David is more or less oblivious to the gravity of what he has done. I cannot find evidence that he really took issue with his actions, we only see a moral callousness that is haunting for so great a figure.
If this is the case, that David felt no guilt after sexual crimes and a few counts of murder, then I declare him a master of self-deception. Self-deception is a daily part of our lives, we have to constantly retool and touchup our lives as we ourselves perceive it. We are professional decorators of our own consciousness, we take the jagged rough edges and the splotchy, stained parts of the raw facts of our lives and soften, recover, and re-arrange the details of our lives in order to make our own lives livable, tolerable, and justifiable.
There is a story about Frederick the Second, the Prussian King, visiting a jail. As he walked through the halls, all the inmates begged for pardon as they were innocent, except one man, who Frederick spoke to:
“Why are you here?” Frederick asked him.
“Armed robbery, Your Majesty.”
“Were you guilty?” the king asked.
“Oh yes, indeed, Your Majesty. I entirely deserve my punishment.” At that Frederick summoned the jailer. “Release this guilty man at once,” he said. “I will not have him kept in this prison where he will corrupt all the fine innocent people who occupy it.”
This story humorously depicts the rarity of an honest sinner. Frederick was shocked by the man’s confession, because he heard so much of the self-deluded innocence the other inmates wished to portray.
And this skill spills over into the most serious of sins, people who engage in affairs may tell themselves that their marriage was dead anyways, that they never loved their spouse so the marriage wasn’t official.” Similarly, sins of alcoholism may be justified with excuses for the need to socialize and wind down after a day at work, and our very lack of action in the face of need we may justify to ourselves, with the excuse that we simply do not have the time or resources to help out anyway. The point is we are good at it. We are excellent at devising reasons why we are the exception to the rule. Now, David has convinced himself that he stands justified in his actions.
Our sins are often before us, plain to see, but we maneuver our way around so that they look to us like right actions. We like to tilt the frame, to adjust the filter and aperture, and to gloss over our imperfections. This murder wasn’t really murder because after all I am the King, and its my job to control the forces, I might have made a strategically regrettable decision that resulted in the death of a few men and Uriah, but murder? My hands are clean. It is to such a man that Nathan approaches. Full of the Holy Spirit, he approaches David with his parable.
Because at this point, God knows David cannot hear him. Nathan does not come as many of us would if our leader and friend had committed such atrocities. He comes not with accusation, he doesn’t even come with a “hello.” He just jumps in with “There were two men.” A poor man and a rich man. The rich man had everything, so much his personality isn’t even described. But the poor man had a young girl lamb. A sweet adorable little girl sheep that he lived with, he let it eat from his bowl and drink of his cup, such that is was like a very daughter to him. I’m sure you know someone who treats their animal like a child. And then the rich man has some company over, not great or prestigious company worthy of the sacrifice of one of his plump lambs, but a politician or a mother-in-law, worthy of stealing the poor man’s sheep and killing and eating that precious little girl lamb.
David reacts quite violently to such a horrifying story, He is angry, over the top, angry. David is a shepherd, quite literally, so Nathan’s words resonated with him when he spoke of the innocent lamb. David’s judgment is in line with the law of the day, and the punishment he prescribes was a fair one in the eyes of the time.
“You are the man!” David, you are the man you condemn. Nathan’s parable is not simply an apt illustration, It is an object of power. An object of power that short circuits David’s circle of self-deception. David had fallen into a cycle of sin and shame that only led deeper down into the pit through further lies, cover-ups and deceit. His moral consciousness was still in tact, for he could clearly see how the rich man deserved death, yet David could not see himself or his own sin. Nathan’s words throw a wrench into the dark machine running in David’s life.
The spoken and written word have this power, to disrupt our mental worlds, to illuminate or give a new perspective. In the history of this nation, Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin and its vivid depiction of the evils of slavery awakened the moral consciousness of the nation. Such that Abraham Lincoln deemed her the little lady who started the great war. Think of the power of fairy tales and nursery rhymes to shape our moral consciousness. I think the only reason I got over being picky as a child was because I read Green Eggs and Ham so many times.
David realizes his own hypocrisy as his sins are laid before him. David does not even have time to fear what the consequences of his actions will be before Nathan offers a prophecy of what David’s future will contain, the pain and anguish of a broken house. The constant presence of violence and death, even the death of his own son.
David’s response is not what we would expect. I fully would have expected David to act in a proper royal manner more akin to the Queen of Hearts in Alice in Wonderland: “OFF WITH HIS HEAD!” Yet, David’s response is humble and human: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Gone is the wall of self-deception. Gone is the ego of a King. David has remembered God. Church, this is the power of the Holy Spirit. God spoke through Nathan, and the Holy Spirit worked through those words to reveal to David his own sinfulness. God has set David back on the path. David wrote one of the most famous Psalms, Psalm 51 where he entreats God to “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love, and he beseeches God to create a clean heart in him.
The response is immediate. “The Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” David’s contrite and newly turned heart is given forgiveness. David is free of his own judgment, because David said the man should die, but the Lord says “you shall not die.” This is not a happy ending, for David has to deal with the death of his child and the future betrayal of his Son. Yet, this passage is a story about the victory of God. David, the pristine King by which every subsequent King is judged, returns to God after falling away from him. He is welcomed and forgiven.
Much like our lives, forgiveness, restitution and new chances are not tidy and neat. All the loose ends are not tied up and in David’s story we have the raw account of forgiveness. This is God’s mercy, mercy that is tangled up in pain, death, and suffering. God’s mercy brings joy and happiness, but those who are deeply entrenched in sin do not always feel instantaneously different. Rather, the freedom we find in forgiveness often disorients us and that is the beginning of the process of learning what it means to love again.
Church, we need the Holy Spirit to know just how deep into sin we are. In the lives of David and Nathan, we see the power of the Holy Spirit. The beginning of salvation is not found in our repentance or in our prayer, rather it is found in God’s prevenient grace that lets us know of God’s presence, and allows us to realize when our lives are not in accordance with the will of God.
Here we see a clear picture of the role of the church in the world. The Church is responsible for fostering modern day Nathans, those who are not afraid to proclaim the Word of God to the powers that be, alerting a brother or sister to the sin they may not see. The courage with which Nathan speaks is now our courage, the courage that we are called to take in order to speak out against the kingdoms of this world, against the abuse of power. This is the gift of the gospel; the capacity to speak the truth, even if the truth is painful or hard to hear.
It is obvious that there are those in the world in the same situation as David, great men and women that have lived upright lives, yet suddenly find themselves in a place of guilt and sin. David had become disillusioned that the Kingship was the ultimate authority, and Nathan was not afraid to say “You’re Wrong!”
Just as ready as we may be to proclaim God’s judgment, so must we be willing to “receive and acknowledge judgment for our participation in anything that creates brokenness.” In other words, the church has both Nathans and Davids, and we must be willing and able to accept our roles as either one. To hold one another accountable. We need accountability in the church because each one of us may be stuck in the circular cycle of sin without realizing it, and we need our Holy Spirit-charged brothers and sisters to alert us to it. Only together, as a unified body, can we earnestly seek to follow the Lord. Alone and separate, we may find ourselves blinded by our own self-deception, by our own reasoning. But as a community of faith, we are able to entrust one another with the duty of alerting the community and each of us to our shortcomings, out of a deep love for the body of Christ.
I ask this morning: What parable is waiting to be shared with us? What needs to be described to us that would shake us out of our moral ignorance, out of our petty logic and reasoning? For the church, the power to short circuit the circle of sin and self-deception is found in the cross of Christ. Because of Christ, we have but to ask for forgiveness and it is there. His life, death and resurrection has secured it firmly for us. Not only forgiveness, but we are formed into the image of Christ as we increase in holiness by the Spirit. Because of Christ, we can find the courage to tell the truth of the gospel, and not to idly view corruption and sin from a distance.
The truth is that David had the courage to speak, just as Nathan did. He proclaimed with the same Holy Spirit that he had sinned against the Lord. Let this be a reminder that the illusion of sin’s power still holds a grip in this world, false claim though it may be. But let us also not forget the capacity for forgiveness and the gift of God’s mercy.
In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.