10 Pentecost—Proper 13-B
August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Last Sunday we heard the first half of the David and Bathsheba story in which David uses his kingly power to steal and rape the wife of Uriah the Hittite, then sends her home as if nothing has happened, until something happens and she becomes pregnant. At which point he recalls her husband from the front, gets him drunk in order to have him sleep with his wife so as to cover up his crime. This fails because Uriah is an honorable man who will not sleep in comfort while his comrades in arms are living in the field. So David concludes the only way to cover up his crime is to have Uriah murdered by ordering his general Joab to set Uriah where the fighting is fiercest and then abandon him so he will be killed—which is exactly what happens.
So here’s a short list of 10 commandments broken in this soap opera: Thou shalt not steal; Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife”; Thou shalt not commit adultery”; Thou shalt not kill”.
Last Sunday two people said they were deeply disturbed by this story, even though they’d heard it many times before.
Which bring us to today’s reading in which we hear: “But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
This story is so unexpected: Up to now we’ve heard stories of the goodness and faithfulness of David: the young shepherd boy who kills Goliath, the new King of Israel that establishes Jerusalem as the capital. David, who in Acts is called a man after God’s own heart, jumps in ecstatic worship before the Ark of the Covenant as it is being brought back to Israel.
But this glorious David has a shadow side that is no different from the petty tyrants and slick operators the world over.
This is a profoundly human story, as an examination of the latest headlines and our own hearts will show.
Yet the Bible is not primarily about us, rather it is about God so that we may come to know the nature of this God who is the foundation and future of our lives.
So does this God abandon David for his sins?
Or does this God yawn and say, boys will be boys, and I love everyone so I don’t care what they do to each other?
The God revealed in 2 Samuel does not abandon David nor does he coddle him.
Rather God so loves David that he sends Nathan the Prophet to reveal God’s judgment as a sign of God’s unconditional love.
People hear talk about God’s unconditional love and they think that means anything goes. They don’t need to go to church, or struggle with their sins, or help their neighbors—because God loves me just as I am, right? So why change? Why struggle like those silly Christians who go to church?
No, we should “Be young, be foolish, be happy!” as the Tams sang years ago.
Like most good lies its strength comes from being almost true.
Yes, God loves us unconditionally, or to put it in Pauline terms, God elected us, chose us, in Christ before the foundation of the world.
This is a totally gracious gift that has nothing whatsoever to do with one’s worthiness. It has to do with the free choice of God in Christ to be for us forever.
There is nothing we can do to lose this love or fall out of this choice. Indeed, once this fact settles into our hearts, then it makes perfect sense to be happy and “Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth” as Pharrell Williams sings today.
Yet precisely because we have been chosen by God in Christ Jesus for unconditional love, we are subject to the justice of God and even the wrath of God, not to harm us, but to help us, not to swamp us but to save us, not to punish us but to perfect us:
God in his love can’t leave David to blindly carry on with his destructive behavior. God loves David too much and God loves Bathsheba too much to let this stand.
So God sends Nathan to tell David a story about a wealthy landowner who steals the only lamb of a poor dirt farmer in order to feed a visiting friend. David instantly sees the crime of this: “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
This shows that David isn’t morally dead. Yet David is only alert to the sins of others and asleep to his own, until this story gets behind his defenses and rocks his world when Nathan says: “You are the man!
This is the beginning of insight for David: he sees who he really is. He is the man who deserves to die for what he has done. God’s love won’t let David go through life without this self-knowledge that he is a man who violates God’s justice and tramples on those God loves.
“You are the man.”
But this isn’t condemnation. This isn’t rejection. This is the beginning of his healing because this judgment comes within the context of God’s covenant love.
This isn’t an angry father throwing his son out on the street. This is a loving father speaking the truth so his son will grow-up.
And indeed he starts to grow up and now comes before God no longer armored in arrogance, for as Karl Barth says, David now has “nothing to offer God except his need.” Church Dogmatics Index, page 482
It could be David speaking in Psalm 51:
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving-kindness; *
in your great compassion blot out my offenses.
Indeed, I have been wicked from my birth, *
a sinner from my mother’s womb.
Purge me from my sin, and I shall be pure; *
wash me, and I shall be clean indeed.
But there’s more: our sin has consequences as it poisons the river of our lives. We are forgiven for poisoning the river, yet after our forgiveness the river is still poisoned and needs to be cleaned up.
David’s behavior let loose powerful forces that split his family: his son Amnon rapes his sister Tamar, and his son Absalom leads a rebellion against David. This is an example of the saying, “what goes around comes around.”
This is why Step 8 is so important in Alcoholics Anonymous
“We made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.”
We don’t make amends in order to be forgiven; we make amends because we have been forgiven.
We don’t worship God to earn love; we worship God to give thanks for love and to hear transforming judgements.
We don’t serve others to earn God’s love; we help others because God in Christ first and always helps us.
Yet there is even more: in spite of the trauma, death, and destruction, God makes David and Bathsheba ancestors of Jesus Christ as we are told in the Gospel of Matthew’s genealogy.
We can’t fathom the depths of the love of this God who writes straight with crooked lines—but we can look at our own lives and see that it is true, and that we, like David, have nothing to offer God except out need and our praise.