Sunday, October 21, 2018

Living Faithfully in the Promise: Confronting Sin

So the Lord sent Nathan to David. When Nathan arrived he said, “There were two men in the same city, one rich, one poor. The rich man had a lot of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing—just one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised that lamb, and it grew up with him and his children. It would eat from his food and drink from his cup—even sleep in his arms! It was like a daughter to him.

“Now a traveler came to visit the rich man, but he wasn’t willing to take anything from his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had arrived. Instead, he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the visitor.”

David got very angry at the man, and he said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the one who did this is demonic! He must restore the ewe lamb seven times over because he did this and because he had no compassion.”

“You are that man!” Nathan told David. “This is what the Lord God of Israel says: I anointed you king over Israel and delivered you from Saul’s power. I gave your master’s house to you, and gave his wives into your embrace. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. If that was too little, I would have given even more. Why have you despised the Lord’s word by doing what is evil in his eyes? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and taken his wife as your own. You used the Ammonites to kill him. 2 Samuel 12:1-9 (CEB)

Grace and peace to you from God, our Liberator, and from Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen.

Second Samuel. This is where this week’s story is from. Samuel is an exciting book in the Bible. It’s split into two parts because of its large size. The book of First Samuel focuses on the characters Samuel, Saul, and David and their roles in shaping God’s growing nation of Israel. Second Samuel focuses almost entirely on David. 

Today, I’m going to ask for your help in preaching this sermon. After I give you some background to bring us from last week to today, I’m going to jog your memories. And find out from you what you remember about David. 

So, last week, we heard Joshua recount for Israel all that God had done for them during the exodus from Egypt. We also heard Joshua renew the Sinai covenant with them - the agreement that  Moses and Israel made with God at Mount Sinai. That Israel would be God’s people and that God would protect and bless them, making them into God’s chosen people. 

At the end of the reading, Joshua dispersed the 12 tribes of Israel to their respective areas. In between the book of Joshua and Samuel in the Old Testament (or Hebrew scriptures) is the book of Judges. This book tells a story we’ve heard before. A story of Israel’s total failure after the death of Joshua. 

The judges in this book were tribal chieftains. Their story is very disturbing. It serves as a tragic tale of how Israel’s leaders become increasingly corrupt. No better than the Canaanite tribes they had overthrown. Yet, as we so often see, this story of the judges, though it is sad, is still a story of hope for the future. It shows us the vicious cycle of apostasy. (That’s a big word. Does anyone know what it means? In our context, it’s when one person or a group of people abandon or renounce their religious beliefs.) What we see in Judges is what we’ve heard before in previous readings from the Old Testament. A person or a group of people abandon God, become oppressors, and then, on repentance, are once again delivered by God.

The book of Judges ends with the apostasy of Israel with these words in Joshua 21:25, “In those days, Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes.” It is here where the book of Samuel picks up. First Samuel opens with Hannah, a woman who - similar to other women we’ve heard about - Hannah is barren. She prays to God. God answers her anguished prayers for a son, whom she dedicates to God’s service. This son is Samuel. 

He grow wise. And becomes Israel’s judge and leading prophet. A neighboring people - the Philistines - become a challenge for Israel. Israel insists that Samuel give them a king, like the other nations. Although this does not please Samuel, he asks God. And God gives Israel their first king. King Saul. And, once again, Saul becomes proud and disobeys God, who eventually tears Israel away from him and gives it to someone else. Saul slowly descends into madness and eventually dies.

But, it is under the reign of Saul, where we first hear of David. And, so, now it’s your turn to help me. What do you remember about David? [Son of Jesse, anointed by Samuel under Saul’s reign when he was a young shepherd. Defeats Goliath and becomes Saul’s assistant. Eventually becomes Saul’s enemy when Saul finds out David has been anointed as the next king. Hunted by Saul. Eventually becomes king of Judah and then of Israel (combined kingdom). Captures Jerusalem and makes it Israel’s capital. Desires to build God a house, instead God promises David an eternal royal house that will come from his descendants (Davidic covenant). Commits terrible sins (Bathsheba, Uriah). But damage is done: a future of family strife embroiled in politics, rebellion and death begins.]

The story of David and Bathsheba is in Second Samuel, Chapter 11. It’s the chapter just before today’s reading. Up until this point, David has been a good king. And a successful king. First of Judah, and then of Israel. David has restored the kingdom of Israel that had become divided under King Saul. He has also been a successful warrior, leading his soldiers in battle again neighboring tribes. And restoring Jerusalem, which had been captured under his predecessor. In one of the most important acts in his reign, David had restored the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. This had made his reign and his control over Israel complete.

But, as we know, power tends to corrupt. And, in the famous 19th century words of Lord Acton, “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It corrupts because it creates a sense of entitlement. It happens frequently. And it’s what happened to David.

One day, as David’s soldiers are at the front fighting the Ammonites, which is where he should have been, David remains at the palace in Jerusalem. Now, it’s important to understand that the palace was situated on the highest place in the city. And, so, as David would walk on the palace balcony, he would have a bird’s eye view of many of the balconies in the city. Wealthy people in the ancient world used their roofs to cool off in the summer. The roofs were usually flat and festooned with makeshift tents to shield from the sun. When it was hot, people ate on their balconies and also slept there, too. And, as we know from the story of David and Bathsheba, they bathed on them, as well.

So, on that day, as David is strolling his balcony, he sees a beautiful woman bathing. A woman named Bathsheba. David sent someone to inquire about her and found out that she was the wife of Uriah. David, then, Scripture reads, “sent messengers to take her.”

Now there has been much written about Bathsheba. And about how she deliberately did this to entice David. And, yet, the Bible is silent on her motivation. It is not, however, silent on David’s motivation. And I could begin a diatribe here related to the #metoo movement, but I think you get the drift of how women have been treated under patriarchal systems. Scripture says that David sent messengers to “take her.” Who was she to refuse the demands of the king? Especially the demands of a king as powerful as David?

And, so, she went. And, you know the rest of the story. When Bathsheba become pregnant, David cold-bloodedly arranged to have Uriah, her husband, placed at the front of the battle, all but ensuring that he would be killed. And he was. 

This happens frequently. One sin leads to another sin. And then a more serious sin. And, on it goes. It’s one of the reasons there are two commandments about coveting. Because God knows that the simple and seemingly innocent act of coveting can lead to more and more serious sin. Just as with David in chapter 11. A chapter that ends with these words, “But what David had done was evil in the Lord’s eyes.”

And, so, God sent Nathan to David. Now Nathan was a prophet and an adviser to King David. One can only wonder what Nathan was thinking the night before he went to confront David. Was he reluctant? Did Nathan argue with God? Did he argue,“God, if I speak plainly to David, he’ll kill me. I’ll never get away with it.”  And, yet, Nathan came up with a brilliant plan. To tell David a story. The story of a certain man - a poor man - who had a lamb that he cherished. The he cared for in his own house. And that he treated as his own child. There was another man, a wealthy man, who had many livestock. When a visitor came to the wealthy man, rather than part with his own property, he stole the poor man’s lamb, slaughtered it, and made a feast.

It was a brilliant move by Nathan. He knew that, when David heard this, it would make him angry. Which is exactly what happened. It was then that Nathan said to David, “YOU are that wealthy man.” Immediately, David recognized the truth. How his power had corrupted him. And how he had sinned. Not only against Bathsheba and Uriah. But, in David’s own words, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Over the past couple of weeks, we have been learning how we are to live faithfully in God’s promise. One of the most important aspects of that living faithfully is being here in community with each other. Because it is here, in this place, where week after week we are confronted by each other and by God with our sin. And where, like David, we ask for forgiveness in words like or similar to those written by him in Psalm 51. It is here, each week, that we come face to face with our sin and our brokenness. 

But, it doesn’t end with our confession. It didn’t with David either. And even though he did not escape the consequences of his sins, God forgave him. And, then, made a covenant with David that from his line would come an eternal king. A king who would free all people. And us. From our sin. Jesus Christ. Our Savior and Lord.

Because that’s who God is. Always turning that vicious cycle of apostasy upside down. To bring deliverance. 

Thanks be to God! Amen.

Preached October 21, 2018, at Grace & Glory Lutheran Church, Goshen, KY.
Pentecost 22
Readings: Matt. 21:33-41; 2 Samuel 12:1-19; Psalm 51:1-10

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