The Rev. Stephanie Hamilton
August 5, 2018
2 Samuel 11:26-12:15
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”
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.”
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”
Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.
The opportunity doesn’t present itself very often to preach consecutive Sundays and so it is nice to be with you this morning, continuing the conversation we began a couple of weeks ago. We are still in the second book of Samuel following the story of David and the Hebrew children. Since assuming the throne, uniting the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel, bringing the Ark of the covenant into the city of Jerusalem, and experiencing a life full of blessing, we arrive at a very troubling account of David.
If we backup a chapter, we learn that David has sent his troops to battle the Ammonites while he stayed in Jerusalem. While they were away he happened to catch a glimpse of Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, an officer in David’s army while she was bathing. David sends for Bathsheba, sleeps with her and consequently impregnates her. When she sends word to David that she is pregnant, David brings Uriah home, wines and dines him, then sends him home to sleep with his wife. Being the honorable person that he is, Uriah, refuses to indulge in any personal comfort while his men are in battle and so he chooses to sleep outside at the threshold of his home. When David realizes that there wouldn’t be an explanation for Bathsheba’s pregnancy, other than adultery, he decides that Uriah must die in battle. With a plan devised to leave Uriah exposed so that he would be killed by the Ammonites, David sends him to the front lines thus making Uriah’s death look like a casualty of war. Which brings us to this morning’s reading.
When Gavin, who is now 13, was a baby, I can remember one Sunday cutting through the Jr. High Sunday School in order to get to the chancel. As I was passing through I overheard the teacher reading a story to the class from the Old Testament. I focused more closely on what she was reading when I heard her say, “Oh bad David.” I knew immediately what she was reading and I giggled while I kept moving. As we gathered in the courtyard after the 11:000 service, the teacher found me and gave me the backstory of what happened in Sunday School. The students had come to Sunday School that morning and had asked to read the story of when David was bad. She was not aware of such story and agreed. So together they looked up the story and the teacher began to read, not having heard the whole account before that morning. I just happened to walk through when the story got to the part of David committing adultery with Bathsheba.
The only reason I giggled was in response to the teacher’s reaction. It was a very honest reaction of someone who was reading this account for the first time. If you have never heard this story about David, it is a bit disarming. When we think of David, this is not the first story that comes to mind. I think of him as a shepherd boy standing up to and then defeating the giant, Goliath. I think of him as the psalmist and the musician, brought in to calm the troubled mind of King Saul. I think of him as the faithful servant of God anointed to lead the united tribes of Israel as they claimed Jerusalem as their capital city and holy place. This is the David I think about; mostly. So what are we to make of this story in the aftermath of David sleeping with Bathsheba while her husband is away at battle, the pregnancy, and then the cover up?
This story is significant and its power comes from being a story where we can see ourselves in the main characters of both Nathan and David. Nathan plays the role of prophet when he comes to confront David. He is sent in specifically to hold David accountable for his violent misuse of power. Nathan is wise in that he leads with telling a story about two men and a lamb. The story is not personal to David, at first. When Nathan ends the story David’s heart has been moved and he is outraged by the cruel injustice of the rich man’s actions. He states that the rich man should die and that restitution be made. It is in this moment, once David shows good sense, that Nathan makes the story personal and says directly to David, “You are that man.” And from there reminds David of all he has and has been given is a direct gift from God. His position and power were meant to be used in leading the Hebrew children and showing them the ways of God. On the spot David acknowledges his actions, his guilt, and repents. And David is forgiven. Unlike his pronouncement of death for the rich man, David is told that his sin is forgiven and he will live.
Like Nathan, many of you at St. Mark’s are prophets responding to the deep hurts in our society and you hold our leaders accountable. It is important work you, we are doing. It is necessary work. And there can be a real temptation to stay rooted firmly in our position of prophet. Fredrick Beuchner, in his commentary on 2 Samuel has this to say about Nathan:
“Pitying and judging are religious sentiments that can be indulged endlessly, making us feel vastly superior to everyone around us, but not making a particle of difference in our lives…..Nathan is the patron of all who break through the barriers of detachment and sentiment and address the person.” (185)
It is in the personal address which moves this story forward and makes it so compelling. Nathan gives David an opportunity to repent. Repentance, the turning, cannot happen without the acknowledgment of where David went wrong. It was horrible what David did. And his ability to fully confess his actions makes it possible for the healing to begin.
In my lifetime there have been many leaders who have used their position in life to make choices which have caused their downfall and the downfall of others. Many have denied their part and like David, have tried to cover up their actions. There is one professional athlete, though, who comes to mind who made the courageous move to confess publicly and to take ownership of his actions. Unlike other professional athletes or political leaders who have tried to skirt around their choices and abuses of power, Tiger Woods fully and publicly acknowledged his transgressions. I remember watching the press conference and being somewhat impressed by his words and his attitude. Whether it was genuine or not, he did something that I have not seen before by going in depth with his statement and making himself vulnerable for all to see. Here is a portion of that press conference:
I knew my actions were wrong. But I convinced myself that normal rules didn’t apply. I never thought about who I was hurting. Instead, I thought only about myself. I ran straight through the boundaries that a married couple should live by. I thought I could get away with whatever I wanted to. I felt that I had worked hard my entire life and deserved to enjoy all the temptations around me. I felt I was entitled. Thanks to money and fame, I didn’t have far — didn’t have to go far to find them. I was wrong. I was foolish. I don’t get to play by different rules. The same boundaries that apply to everyone apply to me. I brought this shame on myself. I hurt my wife, my kids, my mother, my wife’s family, my friends, my foundation, and kids all around the world who admired me. I’ve had a lot of time to think about what I have done. My failures have made me look at myself in a way I never wanted to before. It is now up to me to make amends. And that starts by never repeating the mistakes I have made. It is up to me to start living a life of integrity.
My parents were in town and we watched this press conference together. My mother was not having any of this confession and apology. She couldn’t move beyond the choices he made in the first place. Which leads me to believe that it is probably easier to call out the misdeeds than it is to move forward with forgiveness. But that is where the real power comes in to play. Even with such heinous acts, forgiveness is possible for David. Beuchner again states, “The place of sin is not a place of accusation or condemnation, but of salvation.” (186) We see that nothing is able to separate David from God’s love. And if nothing is able to separate David from God’s love, it is a safe bet there is nothing that will separate me or you from God’s love. But for the forgiveness to happen, we must be willing to look inward and know where we fall short. It is neither easy nor pleasant.
As a community, I remember a few years ago when St. Mark’s received a letter from the neighborhood telling us we were not a good neighbor. I remember as the leaders in this church took a moment to let that accusation settle in and then what resulted from taking to heart what our neighbors were reflecting back to us. We could have been indignant. We could have dismissed those claims, but instead, the choice was made to have dinner with the people in our community. And for over four years once a month we invite the neighborhood to join us for supper in the Knox Room. And our community is richer because of it. New bonds have been formed because folks in this congregation had the courage to do the hard work of looking inward and then make choices to pivot and move in a different direction.
God’s love, that generous, radical, and sometimes offensive love is always present. Even so, it doesn’t mean that there are not consequences for bad choices. Our passage today concludes with the reminder that there are consequences for the choices we make. It is in forgiveness, however, there is love, acceptance and the power to face a new day. This indeed is a powerful story and as we face a new week, let us exhibit both the courage of Nathan and the humility of David knowing that there is nothing in this life that will separate us from the love of God.
May it be so.
Featured image: Henri Joseph François Triqueti, “Thou shalt not commit adultery (Nathan confronts David),” from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN.