A sermon preached by Intern Pastor Bob Schaefer
Fir-Conway Lutheran Church
The Second Sunday after Pentecost - June 16, 2001
Text: 2 Samuel 11:26--12:10, 13-15
Nathan said to David, "You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: 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. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me." 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."
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you in the name of the Lord Jesus. Amen.
Have you ever done a Very Bad Thing? One bad enough that it needed a capital letter for each word? One so bad that it could never, ever see the light of day? One so bad that it changed your life forever? King David had done a Very Bad Thing, and now, perhaps a year later, it seemed as though he might just have gotten away with it.
It had started, as most Very Bad Things do, quite innocently. It was a lovely, clear afternoon. David, arising from a luxurious afternoon nap, stretched splendidly and yawned. Stepping outside onto his rooftop veranda, he admired his city--Jerusalem, the City of David--stretching out before him like an amber jewel in the sunshine. But a sparkle caught his eye, a twinkling facet of his gemstone which he had never noticed before. The sparkle came from a courtyard adjacent to the king's palace where a pool of water was reflecting the afternoon sun. And now, sending ripples through the glittering pool, a woman, naked and beautiful, descended into the waters and began to bathe herself.
Who knows how long David had wrestled with that scene? Perhaps he quickly averted his eyes in startled modesty. Perhaps he told himself, "No, I must not do this thing! It is sin." Whatever his initial reaction, in the end David was consumed by the memory of this naked beauty. Throwing caution to the wind, he sent for her. Drawing on every last ounce of kingly persuasion, David seduced and coerced this beautiful creature, and she spent the night in King David's chambers. One solitary night of passion, and then she returned to her own home.
David must have known his sin right from the start. This woman was Bathsheba, the wife of one of his best soldiers. Her husband Uriah, as a matter of fact, was at this very moment waging a campaign on David's behalf with the army of Israel. David knew the commandments, knew the terrible consequences of adultery. This knowledge of his sin must have weighed on him, but he was the king of Israel! The power and prestige of God's people among the nations rose and fell in lockstep with his own. It would ruin the nation if his indiscretion were to become public. So David sat on his sin, probably taking comfort in the fact that this reckless matter was in the past now.
Such things, however, have a way of coming to the light. Bathsheba was now pregnant. With her husband Uriah gone to war, there would be no question who had fathered this child. After unsuccessfully trying everything he can think of to bring Uriah to his wife's bed as a cover story, David finally committed the coldest, most ruthless act of his career: He sent secret orders to place Uriah in the heart of the battle, and then to pull back all the troops, deserting Bathsheba's husband, leaving him to be slaughtered in combat.
After Bathsheba had mourned her husband, David took her into his palace and married her. His Very Bad Thing had been covered up at last, albeit with one Even Worse Thing after another. David probably even gained a little esteem in the eyes of his citizens. Here was the royal king, taking in and comforting the widow of a valiant soldier in her loss, providing for her in her lowliness. Yes, it had worked out pretty well. Sleepless nights and screaming conscience aside, David's Very Bad Things were now deeply buried secrets.
But, we are told, the Lord knew David's sin, and his wrath burned bright against the king. He summoned his servant Nathan, and sent him to King David with a message.
And so we have today this clever story from Nathan the prophet, a story about lambs and love, about wealth and wickedness. As Nathan's story unfolds, David is outraged at the cruelty of someone who could steal a beloved family pet--the only time any animal is every described as a pet in the Bible--in order to turn it into dinner for a houseguest. David pronounces his judgment: Death! Death was the proscribed penalty for kidnapping, which is how David must have seen this vicious act. But the offender's death was not enough. Additionally, the stolen lamb must be replaced fourfold, according to Israelite law.
Alas for David, his judgment is on himself. "You are the man!" cries out Nathan the prophet of God, and all of David's clever lies and machinations are pierced, his shameful sin laid bare for all to see.
It is like a slap in the face to David. And it finally restores him to his senses. No longer desperately trying to prop up the ruins of his deceit, no longer worrying to cover the nakedness of his shame, there is only one thought on David's mind, one whispered confession on his lips: "I have sinned against the LORD. I have sinned against the LORD."
Even now, as the depths of his depravity and fallenness overtake David, drowning him... even now, he is not beyond God's grace. "The LORD has put away your sin, David." The prophet's words cut through David's remorse. "The LORD has put away your sin, David. You shall not die."
David is an example for us, if not in his bold sinning then at least in his heartfelt and honest confession. We all have skeletons hidden in the recesses of our closets; we all have Very Bad Things in our past that we hope no one will ever know. But God confronts us with them. We cannot be hypocrites, Jesus taught his disciples. God will see to it that "nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops." We cannot hide our sins away in the closet, hoping that they will be forgotten there in time.
The only thing that can be done for sin is to confess it, to have it put away by the Lord. It's like a friend of mine who stepped on a small thorn one day while out in the yard. It would have been a small thing to visit a doctor and have the little thorn removed from his toe, but a busy schedule and a fear of hospitals intervened, and the thorn remained. Soon a callous had formed on my friend's toe, layer upon layer of tough skin built up by his body to protect the sore spot. It was easier to walk on much of the time now, possible even to forget about most days--but the original problem had never been addressed. By the time my friend finally had the thorn removed, the wound had become infected, and what should have been a simple procedure became considerably more painful and complicated.
When we sin, it sticks our spirits like a thorn. If we avoid the Doctor of our souls--if we allow layers of lies, deception and denial to build up like hard, dead calluses to protect our vulnerable spot--we are only irritating the problem. Thank God that he is faithful and diligent. He doesn't wait for us to bring forth those hidden Very Bad Things. Instead, he uncovers them, exposes them to the light, says to us, "Let me have a look at that." When we sense God rummaging through our closets for ugly old skeletons, or when we feel him take our feet to look for a thorn, David's words of confession should become our own: "I have sinned against the Lord."
Now, my friend had a rather large bandage on his two for some time after that thorn was finally removed, and his limp was obvious. David, for his part, was spared from the sentence he had pronounced upon himself--"Death!"--but grief and trouble followed his family like a curse because of his sin. The son he had conceived with Bathsheba fell ill, and died. A son of Bathsheba, Solomon, would eventually succeed his father David to the throne, but only after violence and bloodshed had left more princes dead and David's own heart broken. Bathsheba's own grandfather, one of David's most loyal warriors, would turn against the king in hatred over what he had done. "The sword shall never depart from your house," warned Nathan the prophet. Sin, even when it has been forgiven, has consequences.
But here again, David should be our role model. Even as he struggled through the consequences of his sin, he rejoiced in God's mercy in bringing that sin to light and leading him to forgiveness. Years later another son would be born to David. This boy was given the name Nathan, after the prophet of God who had come to David to convict him of his sin, and bring forgiveness.
Receiving correction is always difficult. Having our deepest, darkest secrets--our Very Bad Things--brought to light is a terrifying, humiliating experience. Confessing our sin simply and plainly is the hardest act of self-knowledge we can ever do. But this is all God's way. It is only through such a process that we can be healed of our sin. Thanks be to God our redeemer for tending to our ailing souls, for he is not willing that even one should be lost to sin. Amen.