theolog cabin

Hosted by semfem, this is a warm, cozy place to curl up and ponder theological matters.

Friday, February 24, 2006

June 17, 2001 (Pentecost 2C)

[Preached at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church, Everett, WA]
2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 (primary text)
Psalm 32
Galatians 2:15-21
Luke 7:36-8:3

I think I figured out a solution. Click the time link below to see the complete sermon. (it's an early one...I'm not entirely proud of it, heh.)

David didn't know it, but that afternoon when he climbed the steps to his palace roof for some fresh air after the scorching mid-day desert heat, he was about to trigger an avalanche. When he saw the beautiful Bathsheba bathing in the distance, he succumbed to curiosity and asked someone to find out who she was. Why do we get the idea that her identity did not really matter to David? Her husband, after all, was one of David's loyal soldiers, but that did not stop him. Immediately he sent his messengers to retrieve her and gave in to his temptation.

When Bathsheba told David that she was with child, David was concerned for her reputation, but he was also concerned about covering his tracks and concealing what he had done. Right away he sent for Uriah, Bathsheba's husband, and cordially offered him a few days off so he could go home and be with his wife, which would explain her condition. Uriah, being an honorable soldier, refused this luxury because his fellow soldiers could not have the same pleasure. Since David's first attempt to cover his sin failed, he then plied Uriah with rich food and wine and made him drunk. But this didn't work either; Uriah just fell asleep without returning to his home and wife.

David was at the end of his rope. He had tried to cover his sin with minor deceptions and had failed. In his mind, he had to take drastic measures: he sent a message to his top general, Joab, and specifically asked him to place Uriah in the front where the bloodiest fighting would be. He even asked Joab to command the other soldiers to abandon Uriah on the battlefield, to draw back from him so he would be killed by the opposing army. And the ultimate irony was this: David had Uriah carry this message to Joab. Uriah delivered his own death sentence, and as far as David was concerned, Uriah had given him no choice. David had tried to fix things so that no one would be hurt and no one would be the wiser--no one would find out about his sin with Bathsheba. But when this didn't work, David needed a fast and permanent solution to his problem--one where direct blame could not be traced back to him.

At first, his solution seemed to work perfectly. Uriah died as expected at the hands of the enemy, Bathsheba mourned him, and then David promptly married her. Bathsheba eventually gave birth to a son. As far as David was concerned, all had ended well. But by progressing from sin to sin to sin, David unleashed an avalanche of sin, leading to injury and death just as an avalanche of snow would. David coveted his neighbor's wife, committed adultery and murder, abused the power given to him by God, and became insensitive to the pain he had caused and blind to his wrongdoing. Far from being a leader and protector of his people, he had resorted to using them to cover his mistakes, even to the point of killing them. It took a visit from the neighborhood prophet, Nathan, and a confrontational story before David could see the greed and callousness behind his actions. Fortunately, David's faith in God and willingness to listen to Nathan helped him realize what he had done and ask for forgiveness.

After the incident had passed, David expressed his guilt, shame and repentance by writing Psalm 51, the same Psalm we repeat every Ash Wednesday, the same Psalm that is sometimes part of our liturgy, the words that ask God to create in us a clean heart and renew a right spirit in us, to keep us in his presence and give us his Holy Spirit, to restore us with the hope of salvation and uphold us with the Spirit. David knew he had lost many of these things in the avalanche of sin unleashed with Bathsheba and pleaded with God to have mercy.

As a sequel to Psalm 51, David then wrote Psalm 32, our psalm for today. In this psalm David expresses the sheer joy of forgiveness and the rock-solid security of God for those who come to him with their confessions. When David writes, "While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer," we can almost feel the burden of his shame and guilt, weighing on his shoulders like a heavy load on a hot and dry day. Even after being stricken with the realization of what he had done, David's faith in the Lord led him to confess and enabled him to experience the wonder and joy of God's forgiveness--God's willingness to wipe the slate clean. The gods of other nations cannot match God in both his justice and mercy. "Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the Lord."

Now, the unnamed woman in our Gospel lesson would surely agree with David's words. She didn't need a Nathan to come to her and point our her sin; she knew that her profession placed her on one of the lowest rungs of society's ladder. And when she was compelled to be in the presence of Jesus, her sin rested heavy on her shoulders just as it did on David's. But her repentance, too great for words, was to humbly minister to Jesus' feet. Feet in Biblical times were usually dusty, dirty and in need of cleansing. By bathing and anointing his feet, this woman demonstrated her wordless faith and love for Jesus and enabled her to experience a cleansing of her own. Her actions also showed repentance and sorrow for the life she had led, and it is this repentance that made her redemption so sweet and her joy in forgiveness so pure. Just as in David's story, it is necessary to experience the bitterness of knowing our sin before we can fully experience the blessing of forgiveness. Without knowing how much we have been forgiven, we cannot love God as fully as we should. (5:30)

When we participate in confession in our worship, we also journey through the bitterness towards reconciliation with God. The first part of our confession is repentance, where we admit to God that we have sinned in thought, word and deed, just as David did in Psalm 51. We are faced with our shortcomings and mistakes and humbled by the fact that we can never get rid of sin on our own. Even though we are the ones who actually repent, we do so because the Holy Spirit gives us the faith we need and compels us onward.

But confession would not be complete without absolution, in which God forgives us and welcomes us back into his family. It's as though sin has hit a couple of grand slam home runs and we keep striking out, and in the middle of the game, God simply wipes all hits, runs and errors off the scoreboard, giving us a fresh start as though the sins had never existed. In absolution God makes us righteous--that is, we are "put right" with God, and can dine at his table and share our lives with him. David's joy in Psalm 32 reflects the spirit of absolution. God had not ignored or covered up David's many sins. He had wiped them away.

Because the Holy Spirit plants the seeds of faith in us, we can truly believe that God loves us and forgives us, giving us peace instead of heaping sin on our conscience like a heavy burden in the middle of the desert. As Jesus said to the nameless woman, "Your faith has saved you; go in peace." Her faith allowed her to experience forgiveness. Faith also motivates us to make confession in the first place, and without the true realization of our sin beforehand, the absolution is empty. And faith also equips us to hear confession and forgive others. It strengthens us to support others who may come to us with an unexpected situation or a problem, because absolution can flow through us to others in everyday life, not just on Sundays.

David--the most praised king of Israel--and the unnamed woman--one of the lowest of the low in Gospel times--and all of us in between experience repentance and absolution in different ways. For David both came through a confrontation with the prophet Nathan. The woman entered our Gospel lesson repenting through her humble actions and received loving absolution from Jesus. And every Sunday we repeat sobering words of repentance and reassuring words of absolution to experience forgiveness. We can also search for other ways, perhaps less word-focused and more action-focused, to repent and be absolved on the other six days of the week, and when God calls us to help others experience his forgiveness, we can answer. The king is not simply lowered by repentance, and the prostitute is not simply uplifted with absolution. We are all brought low together and then elevated as one.