2 Samuel 11:1-12:15
Twenty Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 19, 2014
First Christian Church
The story of David and Bathsheba is the Bible’s own political thriller. It has everything: powerful men, sexual affairs, murder and cover ups. Before there was Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, there was David and Bathsheba. There’s even what I would call a Woodward and Bernstein character: the prophet Nathan who is the one that finally accuses David of the wrong he had done before God.
It’s easy to look at this story and leave it as a political thriller. It’s easy to join with Nathan in accusing King David and ignore how close we all are to becoming just like David. No, we probably won’t try to have people killed (at least I hope not), but the temptation to fall into sin is just beneath the surface. I think we are all capable of becoming King David.
But let’s review the facts first. The passage opens with David in Jerusalem. It’s spring, the time when kings normally go to war with their armies, but for whatever reason, David decided not to go. He was walking along the roof of the palace when he encounters a beautiful woman taking a bath. He does some checking and finds out that this is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a warrior in the Israelite army. He invites Bathsheba to the palace and has sex with her. Afterwards she goes back home and David is probably thinking that nothing more would happen. Of course, we know more did happen. Bathsheba informs David that she is pregnant. David decides to recall Uriah in the hopes that time with his wife would make it look like the baby was Uriah’s and not David. But Uriah, along with all warriors swear off sex while in battle. So in a last attempt, David has Uriah send his own death warrant to Joab, one of David’s generals. At David’s urging, Joab puts Uriah on the front lines where he is killed. David had finally covered up the crime. He marries Bathsheba after the mourning period and the baby is born. No one is none the wiser.
Except someone was the wiser: God. Through Nathan, David is caught red-handed.
As fanciful as David’s sin was, it is important to remember that we are not that far from being David. A few months ago, I read an article by anthropologist Helen Fisher. She has done some extensive research on adultery among various culture. She notes that while most humans do enter into a long lasting relationship with someone, also called pair-bonding, they can and do enter into extra-martial relationships quite frequently. She notes that studies show that anywhere from 20-40% of heterosexual men will have an affair in their lifetime. For heterosexual women it is 20-25%. She adds that there is a 70% incidence of dating couples experiening infidelity. And this final statistic is amazing: 60% of men and 53% of women admitted that they had tried to poach a partner, trying to convince a wife or husband to have an affair.
David isn’t the only one in trouble here.
“For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” is what Romans 3:23 says describing humanity’s common lot. David was considered a man after God’s own heart. He was considered faithful to God. Because of his faithfulness, Israel prospered. And yet, this man sinned. Big time. Like Nixon-level big time.
As you have heard me say since we started using the Narrative Lectionary, these stories are actually one story: how God works to bring salvation to all of creation. The reason this story is part of the salvation story is that even though David committed a few sins, including some big ones, even though he had to face the consequences of his actions, even though he displeased God, it was through his lineage that Jesus came into the world. God still used him to be part of the salvation story. David experienced grace from God, grace that wasn’t earned, but was given nonetheless.
This story is important to us for at least two reasons. The first is that this story reminds us that we are people who sin, who sometimes wander off, that we fall short of the goal again and again. That’s not something we like to hear. I remember a few years ago, hearing a fellow pastor preached. He noted he didn’t like one of the words in the hymn Amazing Grace. If you know the hymn, the first few lines go like this: “Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.” He objected to the word “wretch.” In his view it was a word that hurt people. I can remember him saying that none of us our wretches. Maybe that word is a bit harsh, but for the writer of this hymn, who was slave trader, the words were the truth. We can’t understand God’s grace, unless we understand that we are not okay. Nathan’s parable is a story that shines a bright light on David’s sins. He has to face the music, he has to realize that he isn’t all that and a bag of chips. He has sinned. Maybe our sin isn’t adultery, but we have all sinned and will sin in the future. A church is a meeting place of sinners, or at least it should be. We come to church to join with other sinners to experience grace and healing. A church should be a hospital for sinners, a place where we can be made whole.
The second thing to remember is that God still uses us for God’s work in the world. We feel God’s grace, the love that won’t let you go even when we fall short. None this means we should go and sin, but it is nice to know that we are loved even when we mess up which at least in my life is rather often.
In my time as a pastor, I’ve learned about pastors caught in affairs. One such incident happen when a pastor was caught in a prostitution sting. The revelation spelled the end of his time at a church where had he been pastor for over 20 years and had to be suspended from active ministry. The faith tradition he belonged to had procedures to deal with pastors. A church judicial committee had to place sanctions on the person and he had to do certain things to be restored as a pastor. I happened to be at the meeting where his sins were made known in public, as well as what his path to restoration had to be. Beside this man was another pastor, who stood by his side as an advocate and truth teller. The pastor had his very own Nathan, that was there to stand beside him during the rough times and make sure he is on the straight and narrow. It was an interesting mix of sin and grace taking place.
I can’t say that I would never sin. I’m human. What this pastor reminds me is that I’m not perfect. And neither are you. We are capable of doing terrible things. But God has not given up on us. There is judgement, but there is also grace.
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Indeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.