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July 22, 2018
2 Samuel 11:1-15 (ish)
Tough Faith: Confessing
When I picked this passage to preach,
So in my justice-oriented, and I confess, a bit of self-righteous indignation, I was all ready to dig into this passage with you all. I was really studying this passage, when it occurred to me - we have a wide span of ages in this worship service – We have children here – Something every single commentary I consulted didn’t take into consideration. While I’m fine with kids going home and asking parents theological questions about God and Jesus, and there are some issues that definitely need to be addressed, a fire and brimstone sermon on David and Bathsheba doesn’t seem the time and place, if you know what I mean. So listen to the children’s sermon for today:
“Everyone, you’ve been super patient – Thanks for waiting for me. And look what someone left for each of you – Your own bag of skittles! (hand them out.)
(Stacy Coker comes forward, carrying a huge bag of skittles, popping one in his mouth. He says, to each kid, I want your bag of skittles, and slowly takes them away from the kids.)
“Wait, why do you need more skittles – You’ve got that huge bag all to yourself, why do you need our skittles? We’ve only got a few!”
“Well, I’m older, and I’m bigger, and I’m stronger, and I know more about God, and I’ve been at this church longer. Clearly, I’m more important here, and I need them – I might run out of skittles, so I’m taking yours.”
(Ask the congregation and/ or kids:) How does that make you feel? Are his reasons valid, justified? Is what he did right? And if not, can you articulate why?
So you all know Stacy, and you know he would never do this –– But, if someone bigger, and stronger, and more important, than you, someone with control over your life, were to really do this, take something from you as treasured as candy to a kid, and you could do nothing about it, and no one understood or see anything wrong with it, how would you feel? It’s not right, in fact, it’s down right wrong, for someone to demand something, either implicitly or explicitly, just because they have power over us -
(Send kids back to their seats with their bags of skittles.) But that’s what David did, in his position as king – Here’s a summary: David is avoiding the battlefield, hanging in his castle, when he sees a woman in the neighborhood he fancies, Bathsheba – So his guards take her to the castle, he has his way with her, sends her home. Now she’s pregnant, and he is about to get caught – Her husband has been out of town fighting David’s war – no way to pass it off as his - so David has the husband fight on the front lines where he knows he will be killed. Then the guards come again to take Bathsheba to the castle, now as one of his 6 wives. Here’s what 2 Samuel 11: various verses between 1 and 15, plus a few more verses, has to say – And as you are listening, try to set aside every argument that’s been made over the years to blame Bathsheba, or to minimize what David did. Instead, think about what it would have been like to be her.
“In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabah. But David remained at Jerusalem.”
It happened late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah, the Hittite.”
So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.” So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah (Bathsheba’s husband, a soldier).” When Uriah came to him, David asked how the war was going.”
Then David sent Uriah home, to spend time with Bathsheba, but he didn’t go – He stayed with his troops. David tried a few more times to get Uriah to go home, and when Uriah insisted on being a soldier of loyalty and virtue, staying with his troops, David sent a letter:
In the letter he wrote, Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” … When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the morning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”
So that’s the story – And like I said, there is so much to dig into here about how some people those use their power and position only for themselves, regardless of how many other people they hurt, I thought, as we pastors say, “That’ll preach!” But, on second thought, this is definitely a PG-13, bordering on “R” rated subject. Hence, the skittles.
And all the commentaries seemed to approach this scripture by dividing the world into an “Us – Them” paradigm. The world is made up of Davids and Bathshebas. And given today’s account of King David, no one wants to be him in this story – None of us want to confess we’ve ever mis-used our position as the bigger, the stronger, the person with more power, more pull, more influence, to get something we wanted. But we have, sometimes in small ways, unfortunately sometimes in bigger ways, but we all have –
When I was a kid, maybe 8, old enough to know better, I swindled my 6 year old sister out of her cookies by telling her if she gave me her cookies, I would tell her a secret – The secret was that a neighborhood girl didn’t want to invite my sister to her birthday party – Yikes – That still makes me cringe to this day – Lack of compassion, kindness, discretion – I used my age and access to information to get more cookies for myself, regardless of how that would hurt my sister, who ended up losing on all counts. We’ve all done something like this, but like David, a lot of the time, we aren’t aware of it –
But when we do realize it, what then? Take a look at your bulletin cover – It’s taken from the Responsive Reading for today – Psalm 51, one of David’s psalms – And what does it say?
“I have sinned against the Lord.” If you look again at the responsive reading, we said, “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.” Biblical scholars think this was written in reference to how David treated Bathsheba and Uriah – And honestly, it ticks me off, because nowhere does David, who, let me point out, already had at least 5 other wives, apologize or ask forgiveness of Bathsheba – As though when we sin, all we have to do is ask for God’s forgiveness.
We don’t hear many authentic apologies these days in the public venue. What we do hear are passive voice, “I’m sorry if what I said / did hurt you,” as though if you were hurt by what I did, that’s on you, because you are too sensitive – Not because what I did or said was hurtful. Or we follow our apology or confession with an excuse: “but…….That happened because of xyz…..” Often we mean, “I’m hurting too!”
Think about what we would want to hear from Stacy, had he not been playing a role that I asked him to play – We wouldn’t want him to just privately confess to God. We’d want him to say he was sorry – And mean it. And we’d want to know that he knew what he did in demanding our skittles was wrong – To hear something like, “I’m sorry – I was selfish. I was only thinking of myself, and what I wanted. I wasn’t thinking about you. I wasn’t respecting how you are also made in God’s image, how you also are a child of God. I just wanted what I wanted and thought I deserved it. I was wrong. This is why, and I’m going to learn from this and be more aware of when I try to get my own way and it hurts someone else. Will you forgive me? And what can I do to help make it right?
Why is it so hard to apologize? Why do we work so hard to avoid it, to explain it, to excuse it, to rationalize it? It’s humbling, to apologize – It makes us vulnerable, it goes against everything that took us to the point of needing to confess in the first place – That is, the same sense of entitlement, power, rights, that we leveraged to get our way in the first place – We have to let go of all of that. And that does not feel good. It hurts, to know we’ve hurt another, that we are capable of hurting another, that our own blindness and sense of being right can take us down a path of leaving hurt and pain and brokenness in our wake. No wonder it’s easier to remain blind to how we’ve hurt each other.
King David’s identity was built on the foundation of being special, chosen, king, important, deserving, powerful. For us, our identities can be built around our work, our military service, our education, our citizenship, our specialness and uniqueness and our deserving. For David to admit wrong-doing requires him to relinquish his very identity, how he defined himself – As special and chosen and king. Sure, that’s a very instable, insecure foundation – But that’s why it’s so hard.
To confess means to be honest before another person as what we most truly are: Nothing more, and nothing less, than God’s beloved child. Not any more or less important, not any more or less deserving. It means leaving behind all our accomplishments, putting our sense of ourselves as a good person aside. It’s doesn’t erase all that is good in us, but nor does it balance the scales. We are both / and, not either / or. We are more than, better than, our worst deeds, we are less than, worse than, our best deeds.
We are first, only, and always, like every other single person on this earth, a beloved child of God. That is who we are before God, and before one another. That is what it means to be a person of faith – That is our foundation. To be a person of faith, to say we trust in God’s love and Christ’s salvation, is to trust that identity so much, we hold every other identity lightly. And it gives us the courage to dare to confess how we have let our other identities in this world determine our place, our power, our importance. David wasn’t wrong to say he had done wrong in the eyes of God, but that’s not where the truth begins and ends. For God is in the other – In us, and in the heart of the people we hurt. And so, we confess, and know God’s forgiveness, and work to figure out how we ended up here, what we need to do so we don’t end up here again, and how we can make it right. That is the life of trusting in Christ. That is tough faith.