A sermon delivered to Calvary Community Church in New Berlin, WI
We fast-forwarded quite a bit through the story of scripture. We moved through the book of Judges, which describes the early life of the Israelites in the land. Rather than a unified nation, at first they were a loose confederation of tribes, and when a crisis occurred, God would raise up these leaders, known as judges. This book is where we meet Deborah and Samson and Gideon.
In the early days, the people did not have a king like the other nations, as God was their king. But the people were not happy with this, and they clamoured for a king, all of the elders came to the Prophet Samuel and asked for a king to govern them, like the other nations have. But God doesn’t like this, as they are rejecting God as their king, and so Samuel warns them of all the things that will happen when they have a king like the nations do. But they are undeterred, and they desire a king. Samuel anoints Saul as king, and that didn’t turn out swimmingly and then Samuel anointed David as king.
Throughout much of 1 Samuel, we see David’s ascent and Saul’s demise. However, although we are told in 1 Samuel that David is “a man after [God’s] own heart,” David was certainly not above reproach, and his actions were far from consistently noble.
It was Spring and kings usually go out to war, but David stayed in Jerusalem. So late one afternoon, David was walking on the roof of the palace, and looked into the courtyard of one of the homes, and saw a woman engaging in her ritual bath. David inquires as to her identity, and sends people to go fetch her, to seize her, to carry her away from her home and take her to the palace. So after David had his way, he became pregnant. Something that the great King of Israel needed to cover-up.
So first, David calls Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, back from the battle lines, to send him down to sleep with Bathsheba so that no one asks any questions, but the problem is that Uriah is so dedicated to his king, that he would not go to his home and his wife. This didn’t work. So David sends Uriah back with a note, a note that would order his death. David sent Uriah to the front lines of the battle, in the hardest fighting, and for the rest of the army to fall back so that Uriah would die.
So in David’s efforts to cover up his transgressions, he has killed one of his loyal soldiers.
But just as David thinks that he has covered all his bases, and have the secret confined to him and Joab, his commander. But God saw what David did and was displeased. God sent the Prophet Nathan to confront David on it.
Now, it was a risky thing to confront the king, often times there are court prophets around which would tell them what they want to hear, to oppose the prophets which speak from God, and are not always saying pleasing things. It could be a risky thing for a prophet to confront a king, after all, they are the king and generally kings don’t like to be confronted.
So Nathan confronts David. But how to help David see what he did? How can he ensure David will listen and get the point?
It is often easier to see the faults in others than it does ourselves, we can pick out others point out the speck in our neighbor’s eye while we still have a plank in our own.
Nathan approaches David with a parable, a story, a fable. Some way that Nathan can remove David from the picture for a bit for illustrative purposes. So Nathan tells this story which is so incredibly and objectively unjust. The injustice of this situation is not an opinion, it is a fact.
Nathan tells this story of a rich man with many flocks and herds, and a poor man with one little ewe lamb who was beloved and part of the family. But the rich man needed to prepare food and not wanting to sacrifice one of his own took the poor man’s lamb, that was almost like a daughter to him. There is no way that this could seem to be just, and David knew it. He knew it was so unjust that he became enraged.
But Nathan took David’s anger and turned it around, “You are the man!” It is only two words in Hebrew, but these words pack a punch. You are the one who had committed this injustice, Nathan tells him. Nathan then speaks for God, and speaks of all the things that God has done for David, and yet he had committed this great evil.
But the great King was able to see himself, was able to see what he had done. After God finishes pronouncing judgment on David and his house, David does not argue with him, he does not rationalize it, he does not try to argue why he is different from the rich man in this parable. The blood drains out of David’s face, and his heart sinks into his stomach, and the only words that he utters, “I have sinned against the LORD.”
Tradition, then, holds that David composed a psalm in response to this.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned,
and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you are justified in your sentence
and blameless when you pass judgement.
Indeed, I was born guilty,
a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being;
therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities. (Psalm 51:1-9)
I wonder, though, if perhaps David being a man after God’s own heart speaks not to his perfection and constant uprightness, but rather to his honesty about reality.
John Calvin, in the beginning of his central theological work, The Institutes of the Christian Religion, wrote this: “Nearly all wisdom we possess, that is to say, true and sound wisdom, consists of two parts: the knowledge of God and of ourselves” (I.1.i). After all, we must first grasp the brokenness of our situation, so that we can seek healing in the Triune God. If we spend time rationalizing our faults, if we spend time arguing why we are less bad than the “other” guy or gal, if we spend our energy in showing how our sins are not really all that bad, we have little need for the healing power of God.
A few weeks ago, we read the Ten Commandments, or the Ten Words, and we discussed how this serves, in part, as a mirror for us, so that we can see our sins, see our faults, see our shortcomings. The point of this is not so that we can see ourselves as bad, or as failures, but so that we can seek after God, and pursue the healing power of Christ, who can right our wrongs, who can heal our brokenness, who can cover our blemishes.
David was so caught up in what he was doing that he lost perspective for a bit, he lost the fact that it the issue was not only his public image, but also his life before God. David spent so much time trying to cover up his wrong by committing other wrongs, that he forgot that from God there is no hiding, there is no covering up.
So Nathan came to David to hold up a mirror, and David had enough humility to look clearly into this mirror.
We often think of humility as thinking less of ourselves. When we hear humility, we often think that we have to think the other better than us, or we must think of ourselves as worse than the other. We have to always defer to the other. This, of course, is not true humility. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves, it is not seeing ourselves as less important or valuable or smart, or anything else than another person.
True humility is understanding the truth of who we are in God’s eyes. On the one hand, then, we ought not be too puffed up with pride, after all, we are creations, not gods. On the other hand we ought not to think too little of ourselves because we remain God’s beloved children, the people for whom Christ came into the world — lived, died, and conquered death.
The humility here that David exhibited is not that of self-flagellation, but rather that he could see the truth of what he did, that he could take a step back, look in the mirror, see his transgressions, and then approach God for forgiveness. Perhaps, then, the fact that David was a man after God’s own heart refers not to his perfection but to his humility, his ability to see the truth of things.
And this is to what we are invited as well, we are invited to see the truth of our situations, to look in the mirror and see our own shortcomings, we are invited to see the plank in our own eyes. We are invited into this not because we are unworthy, not because we are bad or evil, we are invited into this because this is the first step toward healing, the first step toward wholeness. Understanding that we are broken and need redemption.
God helps us to see our shortcomings not because God wants us to see ourselves as bad, but rather because it is through this that we can be invited into something better.
I often say that God meets us where we are, but loves us too much to allow us to stay there. Sin is not bad because it violates some sort of law that we agree is wrong. Sin is bad because it disrupts the good order that God had designed, it adds dissonance to the perfect harmony which God originally envisioned, and which will be returned.
God had bigger things planned for David, things which were disrupted when David began this awful sequence of events.
There is a long Christian tradition of the daily examen. This is where one takes time each day to reflect on the day, to take a step back and look at what happened, look at where we saw God at work, look at where we could have followed God but didn’t. This is a way for us to live intentionally with God, this is a way for us to practice true humility. This helps us to gain perspective.
God invites us into something greater, greater for you and for me. God invites us into a peace, into a wholeness, into a harmony. We won’t get there completely on this side of the veil, but in Christ, the world has begun making steps, redemption has come, and it is slowly enveloping the world. This harmony, this wholeness, this peace has arrived, just not yet in its fullness. We as the body of Christ, are called to live into this redemption and restoration that we know is coming so that we can be, for the world, a foretaste.