Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yes, but that's not the last word

This sermon is part of a series I did for the Deer Creek Charge on the story of King David. I won't post the whole series, just parts of it. I hope it gets you interested in the story from 1 and 2 Samuel to check it out for yourselves!

2 Samuel 11:1-15, 27 (Common English Bible)

In the spring, when kings go off to war, David sent Joab, along with his servants and all the Israelites, and they destroyed the Ammonites, attacking the city of Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.

One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone and inquired about the woman. The report came back: “Isn’t this Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (Now she had been purifying herself after her monthly period.) Then she returned home. The woman conceived and sent word to David.

“I’m pregnant,” she said.

Then David sent a message to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked about the welfare of Joab and the army and how the battle was going. Then David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”

Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. However, Uriah slept at the palace entrance with all his master’s servants. He didn’t go down to his own house. David was told, “Uriah didn’t go down to his own house,” so David asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just returned from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?”

“The [Ark of the Covenant] and Israel and Judah are all living in tents,” Uriah told David. “And my master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and have sex with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!”

Then David told Uriah, “Stay here one more day. Tomorrow I’ll send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. The next day David called for him, and he ate and drank, and David got him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out to sleep in the same place, alongside his master’s servants, but he did not go down to his own home.

The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. He wrote in the letter, “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.”

But what David had done was evil in the LORD ’s eyes.

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13 (The Message)

When Uriah's wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.

But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him: “There were two men in the same city--- one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him.

“One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man's lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”

David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be [hanged]! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!”

“You [are] the man!” said Nathan. “And here's what God, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master's daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn't been enough, I'd have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite's wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is God speaking, remember! I'll make trouble for you out of your own family. I'll take your wives from right out in front of you. I'll give them to some neighbor, and he'll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I'm doing mine with the whole country watching!”

Then David confessed to Nathan, “I've sinned against God.”

Nathan pronounced, “Yes, but that's not the last word. God forgives your sin...”

Psalm 51:1-12 (Inclusive Bible Translation)

O God, have mercy on me!

Because of your love and your great compassion,

wipe away my faults;

wash me clean of my guilt;

purify me of my sin.

For I am aware of my faults,

and I have my sin constantly in mind.

I sinned against you alone,

and did what is evil in your sight.

You are just when you pass sentence on me,

blameless when you give judgment.

I was born in sin,

conceived in sin---

yet you want truth to live in my innermost being.

Teach me your wisdom!

Purify me with hyssop until I am clean;

wash me until I am purer than new-fallen snow.

Instill some joy and gladness into me;

let the bones you have crushed rejoice again.

Turn your face from my sins,

and wipe out all my guilt.

O God, create a clean heart in me,

put into me a new and steadfast spirit;

do not banish me from your presence,

do not deprive me of your holy Spirit!

Be my savior again, renew my joy,

keep my spirit steady and willing[.]


Famed preacher Barbara Brown Taylor points to this story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba to counter the claim that the Bible is a wholesome guide to family values.1 And when I realized that this Sunday was the actual Sunday before school starts, I thought, hmmm, this story doesn't fit well with back to school, child-friendly themes. But I thought it was a part of David's story that was too important to skip over. Early in the summer, you talked about a young David's trust in God through the story of his anointing and of his defeat of Goliath. The last two weeks, we talked about David dancing with all his might before God and we spoke of how he wanted to build God a house, but God decided to build David a house instead. I have been careful to point out that David is flawed, but we haven't focused on any particular story that illustrates his sin. And this is the big story. In fact, the bible tells us in first Kings chapter fifteen verse five that David was faithful in all things except in the matter of Uriah the Hittite.

And so a sermon series, even a short one like this one, on David, is not complete without looking at the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba. But I think it is a story that does more that just disprove the idea that the bible is a wholesome guide to family values. It also shows us that even when we sin in big ways like David did, God still loves us. God does not leave us. God asks for repentance and then forgives us completely. And so this service, our scripture readings, our songs, our prayers have been about inviting us into that part of the story. It isn't about us wallowing in our sin, wondering how God could ever forgive us, no--- David didn't do that. It is about recognizing the truth of our lives, and trying to make things right, with the promise that God is beside us.

So let us pray:

Patient Teacher,

Guide us through this difficult story this morning,

difficult for so many reasons

including the fact that it reminds us too much of our own battles with sin.

May your presence with us show us the way to your abundant grace. Amen.

Many of you know the tradition that says David wrote most of the Psalms we find in the bible. Psalm 51 in particular is linked to the story we read earlier of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba, thought to have been written after David recognized his sin. And the language of the psalm is certainly what I picture the David who danced before the Ark of the Covenant writing. When he asks for forgiveness and a clean heart, he isn't just asking for peace, or for a removal of guilt. Be my savior again, renew my joy, we read. David is asking for the return of joy, that joy he knew so well that really defined his relationship with God.

Because this joyful relationship with God is nowhere to be found in our story this morning. We see David waking up in the morning, not full of the presence of God, as he may have been that morning he decided he wanted to build God a house, no. Rather he wakes up in the morning plagued by what inspirational author Max Lucado calls “altitude sickness.”2 He says that David has been too high too long, too powerful for too long. He has become the kind of guy who no longer wakes up in the morning full of gratitude and joy for what God has done for him. He has begun to think too much of himself, and he has begun to take for himself. He no longer sees the need to be with his own men in battle, and not because he's had a change of heart, wanted peace, but because he wants to lounge about at home instead, napping and doing as he pleased.

We all start to get this complacent at times. Now, it doesn't always mean that we then sin quite as grandly as David did, but it does open us up to some poor life decisions. We start to forget to trust God, the way young David trusted God when he fought Goliath. We start thinking that we are self sufficient. We may forget God's presence alongside us--- our forgetting doesn't mean that God is no longer, there, however. It just means that we are prone to doing things as though God is not beside us.

And this is what David does. He sees a woman, decides he must have her. He's told that she is married, and her husband is named as though David knows who he is. But David takes what he wants, without caring about the woman, her husband, or God.

The thing about the bible is that we have all read it or heard the stories many times--- but often it is the interpretations that stick and begin to take a life of their own rather than the text. This is why I keep naming this as the story of David, Bathsheba, and Uriah, rather than David and Bathsheba. While there is nothing wrong with interpreting--- we must interpret scripture, we must try to make sense of it! That is what we do in worship and bible study. But sometimes we don't ground ourselves enough in the text. We allow our Hollywood sensibilities to take over. That is how we begin to think of the story of David, Uriah, and Bathsheba as a story of lust and seduction rather than abuse of power.

One commentator I read pointed out:

Interpreters have found a variety of ways to help us forget David's sin in 2 Samuel....Some ...have blunted the bite of sin by making this a tragic story of love. David and Bathsheba, the 1951 film starring Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck, [for instance] seems to say that whatever happened wasn't really sin, because they really, really needed one another. David was the sensitive, reflective king who just wanted to be loved for who he really was. Bathsheba was the lonely wife of an over-dedicated soldier. They fell in love! Love can't be wrong, or at least not very wrong. The event is remembered, but not as anything like a sin.

If this second interpretation has flourished in modern times, a third has shaped readings of 2 Samuel in many ages. It remembers the story in a way that attributes the seduction--- and so the sin--- to Bathsheba. She was bathing on her roof, after all. If the sin must be remembered, and remembered as sin, it can at least be blamed on the woman.3

Such interpretations happen over and over again in movies and in popular books, trying to smooth over David's power-hungry nature, and trying to make the story about sex rather than about abuse of power. There are incredibly dangerous, especially in a country like ours today where politicians try to define rape as occurring only if there is brutal physical force. Let's not play word games with women's lives, even women's lives way back in biblical times. Bathsheba was the victim here, and David sinned against not only Uriah, not only God, but also Bathsheba. And Nathan's confrontation with David names him a sinner and Bathsheba a victim. Nathan offers an interpretation different from our idealized Hollywood love story.

But before we even get to Nathan, we have David snowballing out of control in terms of sin. Like Ruthie and the Teeny Tiny Lie, David's transgression against Uriah and Bathsheba does not end with the one night with Bathsheba. Bathsheba tells him she is pregnant. That is all the note says, but between the lines we read that she will suffer, maybe even be stoned to death according to the laws of Leviticus, if her husband discovers her pregnancy, after all, he has been away at war and the baby cannot be his.

And so David devises a plan, bringing Uriah back home, only to find that Uriah is a better man than he is. While David has been home doing as he pleased the whole time, Uriah refuses to go to the comfort of his own home even for one night, even after he is drunk. Uriah reminds David of the other men living in tents on the battlefield, and also mentions that the Ark of the Covenant, the beautiful chest that symbolized the presence of God for the Israelites, is there too. Uriah remembers God's presence. David does not. And faced with this more moral man, David does not turn to God for guidance as he would have when he was younger. Instead, he arranges to have Uriah murdered.

Though our own sins are not on this scale, I think we can recognize this cycle David is going through. How our own disconnect with God continues to widen and widen. And yet David still does not recognize his sin. He brings Bathsheba to his home to become his new wife. This is not a David who says a create in me a clean heart, but a David who says, well let's just make the best of a bad situation.

But God sends Nathan, the prophet, to wake David up. God is still with David, though David cannot feel God's presence anymore. God is still there, calling David back, patiently, maybe even angrily sometimes. God pursues us, will not let us go.

We talked a bit about Nathan last week because he first appears with David to tell David that God does not want David to build a house but will rather build a house, a lineage, for David. Prophets in the Old Testament were always around trying to keep kings honest, trying to prevent corruption. And David, for all his flaws, seems to listen to Nathan. Of course, Nathan is smart. He doesn't just come in, trumpets blaring, demanding David repent of his sin. Too often when we have hurt another or hurt God, someone telling us straight out causes us to be defensive, to shut ourselves up even further away from God. Nathan doesn't come in pointing a finger at David. Instead, he tries to bring David back to the time when David was a young shepherd boy in love with God by telling him a story of a shepherd.

It is this story that reminds us again this is no love story. David has sinned. Bathsheba, the lamb, is the victim. Uriah, the poor man, is the victim. But David doesn't see the parallels with his own life at first. Something within him stirs, though, causing him to passionately defend the poor man against the rich, even calling for the death of the rich man for his selfishness. And so Nathan looks at David, looks deeply into him and says with a kind of power, whether or not was a quiet declaration or a loud denunciation: You are the man.

A story followed by four simple words. And David wakes up. He confesses right there: I have sinned against God. But the death sentence for himself that he himself has proclaimed is not the last word. Barbara Brown Taylor writes:

God does not turn away from us. God sends prophets to wake us up, to tell stories that show us who we really are. If we are lucky enough to feel our hearts split in two, then we may find that even the death sentences we have pronounced on ourselves are lifted, because the recognition of sin is the beginning of the end of it. The moment we know we are lost and say so out loud, God can hear us to find us to take us home.4

Like David, we also need to wake up from sin--- and like David, we see that sometimes even after we have had powerful experiences of God's love, we can forget and live as though God is not beside us, hurting when we hurt others. But God doesn't give up on any of us, not David, not any of us. God sends Nathans to wake us up, to recognize our sin so God can hear us and take us home.

We read Psalm 51 today because it expands David's realization that he sinned against God. You see the passion within the psalm, the desperation of the writer to reclaim that lost relationship with God.

O God, create a clean heart in me,

put into me a new and steadfast spirit;

do not banish me from your presence,

do not deprive me of your holy Spirit!

Be my savior again, renew my joy,

keep my spirit steady and willing[.]

David's is a story where we see him as murderer, adulterer, and predatory king. But that isn't the first word, and it isn't the last word. David is also a hero, beloved of God, and singer of psalms.5 It is a story that reminds us all that we have need of God's grace, and that reminds us of the enormity of that grace.

We read the modern-language paraphrase called The Message this morning when we read about David and Nathan because I love how after David has proclaimed his sin, Nathan says gently, channeling God's own love, “Yes, but that's not the last word. God forgives your sin.” The story continues with grief, as God tells David that the child will die--- which I cannot explain and certainly does not sound like grace and forgiveness, but you need to know the story. But such a continuation of the story reminds us that the consequences of our sin do not always end when we repent. Creating clean hearts in us does not release us from responsibility for old sins, but gives us the ability to live anew and make new choices. And that's why we remember that our sin is not the last word, even if the consequences from it reach deep into the future.

No, God's forgiveness is the last word, a forgiveness that renews our joy, strengthens our spirit, and washes us clean to face the world anew. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

Patient and Gracious God, we know there is a bit of David in each of us, strong and faithful, and sometimes foolish and deceitful. But we also know that you are a God of amazing grace and love, who forgives our sins, and gives us the resources to avoid them to begin with. Lord, Open our eyes to our mistakes, and to the ways you love us into preventing them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.6

1Barbara Brown Taylor, “You are the Man,” Bread of Angels (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997), 13.

2Max Lucado, Facing Your Giants: A David and Goliath Story for Everyday People (Nashville, Tennesee: W Publishing Group, 2006), 136.

3Ted A. Smith, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Commentary on Alternate First Reading, Ninth Sunday After Pentecost,, 2 August 2009,

4Barbara Brown Taylor, “You are the Man,” Bread of Angels (Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997), 15-16.

5“Preaching that tells this story in all its fullness will push us beyond the polarities that often order our thinking. It will remember David as murderer, adulterer, and predatory king as well as hero, beloved of God, and singer of psalms. It will break up the stories we tend to tell about others and ourselves, stories in which we are either good enough – not perfect, but good enough – that we have no real need of grace, or so bad that we are beyond the scope of grace. Remembering David's sin can also push us beyond the poles of cynicism and naivete in our political and institutional lives. The politics of David's court are brutal. But – often in spite of themselves, and almost always in ways the actors do not fully understand – these power politics are caught up in God's redeeming work. Remembering this can give vision for action that neither flinches from the morally risky work of politics nor tips over into a 'realism' that proceeds as if God had abandoned us to our own devices. Remembering the fullness of this story can help us see all of life as the theater for God's wily, costly, persistent performance of redemption.” Ted A. Smith, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a, Commentary on Alternate First Reading, Ninth Sunday After Pentecost,, 2 August 2009,

6Melissa McDade, closing prayer, David and Bathsheba sermon, 2 Samuel 11:1-15, Pent B, 5 August 2012.

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