Sermon for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
(Proper 12)

Text: 2 Samuel 11:4,5
David sent messengers to get her (Bathsheba); they brought her to him and he made love to her. Then she went back home.  Afterward she discovered that she was pregnant and sent a message to David to tell him.

Guilt and grace

Have you noticed that many of the new movies these days are about super-heroes – Batman, Spiderman and Superman have been around for a while but now we have The Fantastic Four, The Avengers, Thor, Captain America, Iron-man and soon to be released Ant-man? These are comic book heroes – heroes of someone’s imagination – they have supernatural powers – they fight evil and stand for what is good.  They are entertaining and fun but really they are unbelievable and unreal.

But in another book – the Bible – there is a hero who is the real deal.  He is the definition of what a hero really is.  The man I’m referring to, of course, is the central character of our Old Testament reading today, David. The Bible depicts David as a hero, and art has followed suit portraying David as the ideal male.  Michelangelo's statue of him is history’s most famous depiction of the idealised male physique.

But more than that, this statue of David has political overtones as well.  It was sculptured by Michelangelo and placed in a prominent place in Florence with David the giant killer staring towards Rome as if to remind the Romans that Florence was a power to be reckoned with in its social, political, and economic conflicts with Rome.  Florence was not going to be threatened by any giant like Rome. It was free independent republic.  David represented freedom from oppression.

David’s story in the Bible is a remarkable one.  He starts life as a shepherd boy, the youngest of the eight sons of Jesse.

David shot to fame when he killed the giant Goliath single handed on the battle field with just a slingshot.  David was hailed a hero and people shouted his name as he went through the towns.  King Saul began acting like a crazy man and out of hatred and jealousy made several attempts to kill David.  He became an outlaw and was hunted by Saul and his army but even when David had the opportunity to easily kill Saul, he refused to do any harm to God’s chosen king. 

When Saul died in battle, David composed a song that hailed him a hero and ordered everyone to learn it and sing it.  Saul’s disabled grandson was given everything that belonged to Saul and David treated him like his own son.  David really was a hero and his fame spread everywhere.

David was a soldier-king – a warrior – and won many victories against the enemies surrounding his kingdom. He centralised the government and worship in Jerusalem.  He was a true hero.  He was famous.  He was compassionate, an unusual characteristic of a warrior-king. It was clear God’s favour rested on him. 

David was on top of the world, why did things suddenly go wrong?   

You know how the story goes.  His army is out in the battlefield fighting the Ammonites but for some reason David stayed in Jerusalem.  He spots a beautiful woman next door and uses his kingly power for all the wrong reasons.  He orders the woman, Bathsheba, to come to the palace.  He sleeps with her and she becomes pregnant.  He tries a cover-up. 

The cover-up involves ordering the woman’s husband home from the battlefield to spend time with his wife but he refuses out of loyalty to his men.  David is desperate.  He pulls a few more strings and makes sure that Uriah, the woman’s husband, dies on the battlefield.  Now he is able to marry Bathsheba. He thinks he’s gotten away with it.

These days this kind of story might be dismissed as a relationship between two consenting adults and the claim made that they’re not hurting anyone.  But there are always consequences where sin is involved. 
Bathsheba was the first victim – because of David’s power over her she was unfaithful to her husband. 
Uriah was a victim.  Because of David’s sin he lost his life. 
The son that Bathsheba was carrying died soon after birth.  He died so that the king might live.
And then reading the history of David’s family from now on, things really started to fall apart with family troubles including rebellion and rape.

We all know from our own experience that when we become involved in wrong choices and sinful actions, consequences follow, these will not only affect us personally but also the people around us. That’s why we keep telling our children that it’s important to make good choices and to choose God’s way, to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and what God tells us in the Bible.  We want them to avoid the same mistakes and the consequences that we have experienced.  We don’t want sin to cause terrible pain in their lives when it can be avoided by following God’s way.

We could spend time analysing what led David to such a dramatic fall from grace – maybe pride, power, lust or he did it just because he could.  David thought taking Bathsheba as his wife would be the end of it, but God sent the prophet Nathan who exposed everything that David had done.  He showed the king how far he had gone away from God who had brought him from rags to royalty and how his sin had now done so much damage to his own peace of mind and peace within his family.

David doesn’t argue or offer excuses.
He doesn’t quibble about the meaning of “sin.”
He doesn’t say he made an error in his thinking or that he and Bathsheba were consenting adults “So butt out, Nathan, and mind your own business!”
He doesn’t excuse himself by saying, “What’s new!  Everyone else is doing it these days!”
Instead, he said,
“I have disobeyed the Lord.”  “I have sinned and there are no excuses”.

We have to slip Psalm 51 in here because it gives us David’s words in greater detail when he confesses his sin. David prays, (Psalm 51:1-4a,7 NLT)

Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned; I have done what is evil in your sight.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean, wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

There is no longer any pretence that everything is fine.  He recognises that he has sinned against his own people; but worse – he has sinned against God.  He wants things to change.  He wants to be renewed, made clean, given a fresh start so he prays,

Create in me a clean heart, O God.
Renew a loyal spirit within me. …
Restore to me the joy of your salvation,
and make me willing to obey you.

Even when David is his most vulnerable and feels least worthy he knows he can go to God and seek mercy and forgiveness.  This is what is so amazing about God not only in David’s time but also today.  His love is supreme.  It’s beyond measure.  It goes beyond anything we can fathom in this life.  We try to get our heads around what grace is all about but there is always a limit to how much we can love, and how many times we can forgive, and how often we can show mercy before our patience and goodness just can’t take it anymore.

When writing to the Ephesians Paul prays that Christ will make his home in their hearts and that the love of Christ will take root in their lives, but even then he has to admit that the love of Christ is far greater than we can fathom.  He says,
“May (you) have the power to understand how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ's love. Yes, may you come to know his love—although it can never be fully known—and so be completely filled with the very nature of God” (Ephesians 3:19). The love of God in Christ embraces us completely even when we don’t understand why he loves us the way he does.

What can we learn from this incident in David’s life?  What are the implications of this event for us?  There many but let’s just pick a few.

David was a mighty man.  A man of God.  A leader of God’s people.  A person who enjoyed God’s favour and yet in spite of all of this he was a flawed and frail human like you and me.  At any time you and we can do something that can send our world spinning and set us at odds with the people around us.  Temptation and sin can disrupt our lives and we find ourselves caught up in a real mess.

Sin has consequences as we know and this story tells us there is no point sweeping it under the carpet and pretending that all is well – when it isn’t. In David’s case one sin led to another.  The initial sinful act led to a cover-up plan that was truly awful.  If David had come clean and realised sooner that he had overstepped the mark, the lives of Uriah and his new born son would have been saved.

This story tells us a lot about owning up, admitting to our sin, confessing, and coming clean sooner rather than later.  The benefits of quickly owning up are clear. The stress that guilt causes leads us to do more stupid things.

There is a story about a man who commits murder and buries the victim under his house.  He can’t escape his feelings of guilt and he begins to hear the heartbeat of the victim.  He breaks out in a cold sweat as he hears the thump-thump of a heart that goes on and on relentlessly.  In the end the sound of the beating heart drives the man out of his mind.  Even in his dying moments he could still hear the beating heart and then it stopped and he died.  All the time the sound of the beating heart wasn’t coming from body he had buried under the house but from the heart within his own chest.  The man died of a guilty conscience.

David’s story has a different ending.  David’s story is about the grace of God.  Yes, there were consequences for David’s foolishness but in the end David was forgiven.  He was restored.  He realised as he says in Psalm 32, “Many sorrows come to the wicked, but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord”.

We know this even more so because we have a Saviour who died on a cross for us and rose again.  He died for us and frees us from all our guilt and assures us of forgiveness and an ongoing relationship with our heavenly Father. We look at the cross and know just how much we are loved.  When we are drowning in our guilt and bad feelings about what we have done, Jesus is waiting for us to come to him and say, “Create in me a clean heart, O God”.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th July 2015

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