Proper 13 Year B
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Waco
Audio available here. (August 5th)
Sometimes it feels like the Old Testament readings are a bit of an elephant, standing in the middle of the aisle that we all tiptoe around and try to not smell. They can be downright uncomfortable. And yet, if you asked me what my favorite thing was about the Bible, I’d tell you this: the Bible doesn’t give you any crap. It tells it straight, like it is, no gloss. Sometimes the thing we need to hear most comes from that big, uncomfortable elephant. So I want to talk about David this morning. David, who for the last two weeks has been an enormous, smelly elephant who makes us squirm if we’re paying attention.
Here we have David, the greatest hero of the Hebrew people. The king, the icon of what a king should be. He’s It, he’s the man. And yet, these last two weeks he’s been a horrible king, and a pretty rotten person. He hasn’t acted like a hero at all. He certainly hasn’t acted like someone who deserves to be God’s favorite!
He’s played the peeping Tom, and he’s gone beyond that and abused his power to rape a married woman. In doing so, he puts her at risk of being stoned to death for adultery. Then, when it looked like his abuse might be made public and cause him shame, he kills Bathsheba’s husband to keep his dirty laundry under wraps.
You can almost feel him breathe a sign of relief, as we frown, when the text says that he took Bathsheba as his wife and she bore a son. Whew. He got away with it. All’s good, he’s still the man. No one has to know. We’re left thinking, poor Bathsheba! Poor, honorable Uriah.
This is not the way we want the characters in our holiest stories to act. We want them to be better than this. We want them to be people we can talk about to our children, the sort of people we hope our children can emulate! We want them to set good examples. I want them to be better than me, I want them to show me that human beings can be good and true and righteous if only they get their relationship with God right. We want the people who walked and talked so closely with God to be somehow different because of their relationship with God.
And then yet another flawed, conflicted, sinful person marches onto the scene. So here we are in our Sunday best, with David, and all his ugliness.
God has given David much. From his good looks, to his skill with the harp, his friendship with Jonathan, victory over Goliath, and finally a throne, a kingdom, and a thriving family. But most importantly, God gave David a promise of steadfast and abiding love. Love that would never be taken away, love that was given freely. At every moment of David’s life he has been the recipient of blessing.
I suppose it must have been a pretty heady experience to expect to spend your life tending your family’s herds of sheep, the youngest son of a big family; and to end up king. But after all those years of receiving from God, David has come to believe in his own mythos, he has forgotten that all he has was given to him. And now he begins to take.
It started with taking a peak from his roof down into a private place of purification, to Bathsheba herself, to Uriah’s life. David has ceased to wait on God, he has ceased to receive with open patient hands. And he has certainly ceased to give good things out of the bounty of God’s grace. He thinks only of himself. Of his desires, and his own fears. The people around him become objects to use and discard, tools to be destroyed when they cease to please him. And each time he reaches out and takes he has to go deeper and deeper into his own dishonor and sin to cover up the sin that came before. And all the while, David the king, believes he’s in charge.
He has lost sight of why God gave him the throne in the first place, to lead and guide and shepherd God’s people. To give them wisdom, to give them God’s word, to give them security, and justice. Instead, the shepherd who once had nothing, who would have given his life to defend a bunch of real sheep begins to take from God’s flock. His hands, open and ready to receive have closed into grasping, crushing fists.
Where’s the good news?
Into this dark place God speaks, and Nathan appears. Nathan must have know that when we are confronted with our weakness and failing we grow defensive and blind. We cover up, we hunker down, and we lash out in fear. So Nathan does not stride into the throne room thundering condemnation. Instead, Nathan tells a story. The story of two men. One who has been given everything, and the other who has been given just a little. One for whom a lamb is just a lamb, just another commodity. The other for whom that single lamb is all the world. The wealthy man, takes, the precious lamb of the poor man. Kills it, and feeds it to his guest.
Who, hearing such a tale would not condemn the heartless neighbor. And so David, at last, can see his own sin.
And David, who has killed a man to cover his tracks confesses to the prophet, and to God.
Why do these huge smelly elephants fill our holiest stories? Because they fill our lives. Because we all grasp and take, when we should be open to receive. We do it out of fear that we won’t get enough, out of anger that another has gotten more, out of a feeling of having earned what we desire. Whatever the reason, we have all sometimes reached out and taken. We have held on too tightly to what was not given. We have dug ourselves deeper and deeper into darkness trying to cover up the stain on our hearts. That is why we hear in church about how God’s favorite, God’s beloved king fell so far. David, who rose so high could fall this hard. When he finally turned in horror and grief to God, what did he find? What will we find?
He found love. Truly, he did not find the consequences of his actions erased. David set in motion a course of events that would bring him pain, and those hard things could not be simply undone. But the love of God remained. We call him King David today, we celebrate our own Savior’s descent from him because of ringing words of an anguished soul. “I have sinned against God.” When we stand in that painful place of realization, when we feel our hearts squeezed by grief at the pain we have brought another, when our souls feel pierced by a sword we made ourselves, we have David’s words. “I have sinned against you Abba! I have tried to take what you said it was not good for me to have. I have not waited to receive, I have not given from your bounty, I have not recognized your blessing, I have crushed and imprisoned the ones I should have protected. I am so sorry. I am so lost. I am so ashamed.”
And Nathan does an amazing thing. Nathan declares that God has wiped away David’s sin. And out of that sin, out of the pain that David suffered God eventually brought forth Solomon, who himself became a blessing to Israel. The good news about the elephant in the aisle is that God redeems all things that we bring before him. He covers them with his own cloak, he blots them out of the world, he remakes them through his love into new life.
We too must learn from David, to hold loosely we must open our hands. Open hands that can receive, but which cannot take what isn’t already given or offered. Open hands that cradle the gifts of our life gently. Open hands that lead to open hearts. We are each God’s beloved, flawed, imperfect human being. We are gifts, and we receive gifts, and we must give gifts. This is God’s economy, what we call grace. Unearned and unbreakable. Free for the asking, but we must ask. We must see our own sin and face it in the light of the Son of God who drives out all darkness. We must unclench our hearts and allow love to remake us, to heal us, to make us new.