Sermon delivered on Trinity 10B, Sunday, August 5, 2018 at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.
If you prefer to listen to the audio podcast of today’s sermon, usually somewhat different from the text below, click here.
Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a; Psalm 51.1-13; Ephesians 4.1-16; John 6.24-35.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
What are we to make of our OT lesson with its story of God’s judgment on David’s sins? How did God “put away” David’s sins? Why would God’s anointed king resort to committing the twin evils of adultery and murder after being so richly blessed by God? What are we as Christians with our own impressive baggage of sins to learn from this sad episode? And where’s the Good News to be found? If God pronounced this kind of judgment on David, “the man after [God’s] own heart” (Acts 13.22), what hope do we poor schleps have when we stand before God’s judgment seat? These are some of the things I want us to look at this morning.
If ever there were a compelling reason for us to believe the old proverb that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9.10), our OT lesson provides it. After hearing God pronounce judgment on King David through the prophet Nathan, we almost instinctively wonder how we will escape God’s judgment on our sins, and it makes us afraid. The story itself raises as many questions as it answers. Yes, there is God’s judgment on David’s sins of adultery and murder. But God also tells David through Nathan that God has put away David’s sins after he confessed them. But how? And why didn’t God remove David as king the way God did with David’s predecessor, Saul? Adultery and murder are about as serious as you can get, yet David remained God’s chosen king. What’s that all about? Like all sin and God’s reaction to it, it’s complicated and there are surely some questions that will remain unanswered this side of the grave. But that should never stop us from learning what we can from God’s word.
We start with David. Why would this man, so blessed by God, resort to committing two evils? Had Father Gatwood preached one of his tepid sermons on the OT lesson from last Sunday, the ostensible answer would have been that David wasn’t where he should have been—leading his men in battle against Israel’s enemies. But this is only a superficial answer. One of the things the writer surely wants us to see is that this episode is another tragic example of how the human heart—the biblical term for the core of our very being—is desperately wicked and beyond our understanding as the Lord himself reminded his prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 17.9). In other words, we humans are terminally sin-sick, even the best of us, even the man after God’s own heart. Even though David wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he could have looked away and resisted his lustful urge to take the beautiful Bathsheba. But he didn’t. He chose to commit adultery and then tried to cover his sin by ultimately having her husband murdered. We can relate to this, even if we have never committed adultery or murder. How many times have we refused to take the high road and indulged our sinful desires instead? More than most of us care to admit. If our hearts are that thoroughly corrupted, who among us can hope to escape God’s judgment on the chaos our sins produce? We are truly the man in Nathan’s story.
To make matters worse, as Nathan pointed out to David, David’s sins were like spitting in God’s face. David knew they were wrong but chose to sin anyway, despite the fact that God had been so graciously generous to David, blessing him by making him king, but also granting David success at every turn up until David chose to transgress against the Lord. We understand this dynamic as well. How often do we tend to turn our back on God when things are going swimmingly well for us? How often do we give ourselves credit for our successes and want to blame God when things go south for us? In other words, how often does success and God’s blessing actually harden our hearts toward God as it did David’s? We are the man!
Last, but certainly not least, as God pointed out to David, his sins gave the enemies of God even more reason not to put their loyalty and trust in God. If God’s chosen one acted this way, what kind of God was he actually be worshiping? In this age of instantaneous communication, the consequences of our sin are even more vital for us to consider. As people watch how we behave and treat others in our lives, what are we proclaiming about the character of our Lord Jesus whom we profess to worship and follow? Are we accurately portraying the character of Jesus or are we projecting the image of the false idols we worship, thus causing harm to the Name? None of us likes to have our name or character besmirched by others. How much more for the perfect and holy triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? As we look at how many times we have failed our Lord publicly, we are forced to acknowledge once again that we are the man.
But God’s reaction in this tragic story is just as breathtakingly mysterious. By Law, David’s offenses were clearly punishable by death. So why did God spare him? Is this part of what Nathan meant when he told David God had put away his sins? We aren’t told. And why did not God remove David from office the way God removed Saul? David’s sins were as bad if not worse than Saul’s, but God did not remove David. Why? Again, we aren’t told, but I am persuaded that we see a glimpse of God’s love and grace here that might help explain why David remained king after sinning so grievously against God. You recall that two weeks ago we read the Lord’s promise to David. David had wanted to build God a house in which to dwell (i.e., the Temple at Jerusalem), but God refused. Instead, God promised to build David a house (a dynasty) that would one day include God’s anointed one, the Messiah (2 Samuel 7.1-17). It is here that we see the love, grace, and faithfulness of God shine through the darkness of human sin. God would punish his wayward king but God could never abandon him by reneging on his promise to David. As St. Paul reminded Timothy right before Paul’s death, God remains faithful even when we are unfaithful (2 Timothy 2.13). God cannot be untrue to himself or revoke his promises, even in the face of our flagrant sins. Here then is surely the main reason God did not remove David as king. God had to remain faithful to his promise to David that there would always be an ancestor sitting on his throne. That would be hard to do if God removed David as king! So even in the midst of judgment, we find God’s faithful love and grace piercing the darkness of our sin.
What then are we to make of God’s judgment on David? Didn’t God put away David’s sins after he confessed them to God? Well yes God did, even if we are not told exactly what that entailed. What we do know is this. God’s judgment on David matched David’s sins. David had flagrantly dishonored the marriage bed and took another man’s wife because he could. In return, God’s judgment matched the crime. David’s own wives would be taken by his own son, Absalom, and David would be publicly humiliated. David had committed murder to cover his adulterous tracks. God’s judgment also matched that crime. David’s sons would rise up in rebellion against David and two of them would die violent deaths. Violence and political intrigue would haunt David’s family until the day he died. Hard as it is for us to watch, especially considering the fact that we too are the man (and woman), we see God’s perfect justice being executed on his king.
All this makes us wonder how this represents God’s forgiveness. It is here we must remember that when God forgives our sins, this does not mean that God automatically removes the consequences of our sins. Sometimes, by God’s grace, we are spared many of the consequences of our sins, both those we anticipate and those we don’t. But God doesn’t always spare us from the folly of our sin. For reasons known only to God, we often must deal with consequences of sins long since repented of. It’s part and parcel of living in a sin-sick and evil infested world. This doesn’t mean God refuses to forgive us. After all, God spared David’s life when God’s own law demanded it be taken. Instead, God simply let God’s justice be done and we all get that. We look around at all the wrongs of our world and we know that something has to be done about it. Without justice there can be no mercy. If God is truly just and good, God must do something about the evil in God’s world and those who commit it. Unfortunately, because we are the man (and woman), we can all expect to come under God’s fierce judgment.
Uh, Father Maney, I hear some of you muttering right now. We know you’ve haven’t been in the pulpit since like Moby Dick was a minnow, but aren’t you supposed to be a preacher of Good News? Helpful hint. Good News does not focus on beating us up and reminding us that we all fall short of the glory of God without hope of fixing all that is wrong with us, n-kay? We know all too well that we are the man!
Patience, my grumpy and judgmental ones. I have been laying out for you the basis of the Good News of Jesus Christ and it is never a bad thing for God’s people to consider regularly the consequences and destructive power of our sins, which we have just done. Doing so reminds us God is already at work on us. Yes, we are the man. Yes, our hearts are desperately sick and beyond our ability to repair them. Yes, there are often lasting consequences to our sin and folly. Yes, we all can expect to fall under God’s fierce and terrible judgment if left to our own devices. But here’s the thing, my beloved. We are not left to our own devices. Thankfully we worship and serve a God who hates evil and who has promised to rid his good creation of all traces of it. If God did not hate evil and promise to pronounce judgment on it, we would have no hope of ever living in a new creation that is devoid of all evil and brokenness and hurt. In our heart of hearts, we all know that justice is necessary to address the wrongs and transgressions we all commit, even if we don’t want God’s judgment on us. To not believe in justice means that we could not support any kind of criminal justice system, that it would be OK for us and our loved ones to suffer all kinds of injustices and crimes because none of it really mattered in the end. Nobody in his or her right mind believes that for a minute, broken as we are. We all know wrongs must be put to right and that is exactly what God promises to do.
But God also knows we are the man (and the woman) who deserve God’s just wrath for our sins. God knows we are thoroughly infected by the power of Sin and incapable of pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Self-help is a farce and a lie. And because God made us in his image and loves us more than we can comprehend, God has moved to save us from destruction. Despite the fact of our ongoing sin and rebellion against God, which will produce permanent alienation and death if left unchecked, God’s great love and faithfulness are made known to us in Jesus Christ. St. Paul reminds us that while we were still active enemies of God, God sent his Son to die a shameful and godforsaken death on our behalf so that we would not have to suffer God’s just condemnation of our sins and the evil that resides in us. Like David, we are spared from death by the mercy of God. To be sure, barring the Lord’s return in our lifetime, we will all suffer mortal death. But we will not die because of Jesus. St. Paul reminds us that when we are baptized, we share in a death like Jesus’. And because we share in his death, we also share in a resurrection like his because our baptism unites us with our crucified and risen Lord. God raised Jesus from the dead and in doing so destroyed death forever. So we too will be raised when the Lord returns to finish the work he started in his death and resurrection. As Jesus told Martha, those who believe in him will live, even though they die, and anyone who lives and believes in him will never die (John 11.25-26). So here is God’s response to our sin and the evil it unleashes. God promises to condemn evil and evildoers but sent his own dear Son to bear that condemnation himself so as to spare us from having to suffer it. God did this for us while we were still his enemies because God loves us and is faithful to his good creation. God wants us to live and God has overcome death in the resurrection of Christ, promising those of us who believe the same destiny, the promise of eternal life in God’s new world that is devoid of evil and sin of any kind. None of us deserve it because we are too broken to live as God’s people. But God gives us his Holy Spirit to heal and transform us, one inch at a time, backsliding and all, to free us from our disobedience and slavery to Sin. God can do this impossible thing because he is the God who calls things into existence that don’t exist and who raises the dead. The extent we are able to live faithful lives in accordance with God’s created order and revealed is the extent we will enjoy real peace and true happiness. Jesus promises as much in our gospel lesson today. He is the true manna, the bread of life, that we are to consume regularly on our journey to the new creation, the new promised land. That’s why we feed on him in our hearts with thanksgiving each week. We literally consume Jesus and are healed and reminded of God’s wondrous promise to heal and deliver us from our sin-sickness, thanks be to God!
If you are not overwhelmed by this Good News, then there’s a good chance that you either have not fully considered the seriousness of sin in God’s eyes and/or you don’t believe that God can be that good and loving. Believe it, my beloved. It’s true. Here is the nature of the heart of God whom we worship. God used our disobedience to imprison us so that God could show mercy on us! Amazing grace! God’s perfect justice has been executed in Christ but not yet fully implemented. One day it will be and we will be astonished at God’s love and mercy in ways we cannot now comprehend. Yes, we will all stand before God’s judgment throne. But because we belong to Christ, we will hear the verdict of “not guilty,” despite our mountain of sins.
And if you are overwhelmed by the Good News of God’s love made known to you in Christ, thank God, because it must change you. God did not die on a cross for you to continue to act like an ungrateful twit. God did not die for you so that you could keep on in your sinful and death-dealing ways. God is not a cosmic Enabler. God is the Supreme Lover. God gave himself for you and promises you eternal life so that you can start enjoying it right now in the power of the Spirit. None of us gets it right all the time, but if you want to know what being a new man (or woman) in Christ looks like, start by rereading our epistle lesson this morning. Christian unity will give you a good starting place to think about what Christlike living, real living, is all about.
And so, my beloved, remember this. The bad news is that we are all prisoners to our sin and rebellion. The Good News is that God’s love and mercy are stronger than our sinful folly, and God has acted decisively on our behalf to give us life. Accept the gracious invitation and give your life to the One who is the source of your life. Then you will know that you are the beloved and that you have Good News, now and for all eternity, despite your sins and the times when you walk through the darkest valleys of life. To him be honor, praise, and glory forever and ever.
In the name of God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.