Tuesday, September 15, 2009

"God-Impacted Life: Sin & Repentance"

Based on Scripture Readings: 2 Samuel 11:1 through12:25; and John 8:2-11

There was a famous classical guitarist named Andre Segovia. Once, after a concert, he was asked why he played one particular piece so fast. His answer was: “Because I can.”

There was a lot to like about David the underdog; in the years before he became king. He was almost innocent. He was loyal and compassionate. He gave people chances even when he knew that they had failed him before. He didn’t use people. He lived his faith.

There was a lot to dislike about David the over-dog, David the king; especially in this case of the beautiful Bathsheba and her husband Uriah. We see how he could do anything to get what he wanted. He manipulated others and told lies. He saw the honesty and integrity of others as an obstacle to getting what he wanted and needed. The most basic human bonds meant nothing to him. The lives of those who served him were dispensable.

Where did this new David come from? The new David was there all along; only waiting for an opportunity to come out, and play, and show itself. If you could have asked this new David, “Why are you doing these things?” the new David could have said, “Because I can. I am the King.” And this would be the truth.

But there was a greater, deeper truth; and David was able to get in touch with this truth. David saw the truth and he said, “I have sinned against God. I have sinned against the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:13)

David was able to see this truth because, as far off the path as he had gotten, as self-blinded as he had made himself, David still possessed a God-impacted life. He was not living his faith, but his faith had not died.

David was lucky that his faith had not died. No, David was not lucky at all. He was blessed. He was held by the hand of God at the very brink.

I had a friend in seminary, named Paul, who, when he was about ten years old was playing ball with friends in his yard, and the ball went out into the street, and he went after it, and a car zipped by, and Paul froze in fear, and the car came right by him, so close that it ran over his feet: just his feet. It is almost as if God held him on the brink, protecting him from an evil that could have been so much worse.

His feet were broken; but otherwise he was unhurt. And his feet did heal, but the accident had an odd result. The car, crushing Paul’s feet, did something to the sweat glands in his feet, so that his feet stank horribly from then on. In the dormitory at seminary, people did not go into Paul’s room because it stank so badly, because he did not always wear his shoes in his room. He didn’t sleep in his shoes. But as long as his feet were inside his shoes, he was OK.

Like my seminary friend, David went right to the dangerous and stinky brink of an evil that could have been so much worse. Instead of running into the path of a car, David ran another path. First he surrounded himself with people who would let him do what ever he wanted. And they would even help him do whatever he wanted.

Then he used them to get him a woman he wanted, even though he knew she was married to someone who was loyal to him. Then he did what he wanted with her.

Then he pretended to be Uriah’s friend to cover up what he had done, and tried to get Uriah to compromise his sense of duty, to cover up what David had done. David tried to make Uriah a disloyal man.

Then he had Uriah killed because he would not be disloyal. David used others to kill Uriah for him. He got blood on other people’s hands.

Then Nathan the prophet confronted David with the truth, and David could have had Nathan killed for this. David had already killed to keep this secret. He could kill again.

But he was held back and, like a hiker walking through fog in unknown territory, finds the fog break just in time to keep him from walking off a cliff; David sees the cliff, and stops short, and says: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Perhaps this is one way in which David demonstrates why God considered him “a man after his own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14)

The difference between the old David, whom we like, and the new David, whom we often don’t like, is not that the old David was not a king, and the new David was the king. The difference rested in the ability to say, “I will do this thing because I can.”

David was only a good king when he did not play king. When the people of Israel begged the prophet Samuel to give them a king, Samuel warned them of the dangers. They wanted a king because they thought a king would give them the status and power that other nations had, but Samuel told them that kings were prone to be takers and not givers. (1 Samuel 8:1-18) David was a good king when he was a giver, when he was a servant; but never when he was playing king.

We are all this way. In the Garden of Eden, Eve and Adam were tempted to eat the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and part of that temptation was the temptation to be like God, who knows everything. If they knew everything, then they could be in charge of their lives. They would not need God any longer; or so they thought. (Genesis 3:4-6)

Playing king or playing God: it’s all the same. We do this thing because we can. We can lie. We can misrepresent the truth. We can make ourselves seem, to others, to be something other than what we really are. We can deceive ourselves and pretend that we aren’t the person others see that we are. We can use other people for our pleasure, or our profit, or our influence and power.

This doesn’t mean that we will succeed, at least not for long, or not forever. But we can avoid thinking about that yet, too: as long as we are having fun, or having our own way, or looking out for ourselves.

In the God-impacted life you live in the presence of God. You cannot escape. You will be caught and exposed. And this is the first step in the best thing that can ever happen to you.

When you can’t play king, or play God, anymore, then God becomes the king again, and that is a great relief. Other people stop being things to use or things to protect yourself from. They become creations of God. They become human souls of real value. And that is a sight worth seeing. And, then, you see yourself.

In a sense, David didn’t really know himself until he saw the so-called “new David”. He would always have thought of himself as the noble and innocent victim of others.
And he was, in so many ways. But to see what was in his heart by the process of seeing what he was capable of doing when he could do anything he wanted, was also a sight worth seeing. Once David saw that sight of his true self it would be hard for him to deceive himself ever again.

There are things we can never know about God until we can say with all our heart: “I have sinned against the Lord.” We can never really know how much he loves us. We can never really know what love and mercy mean.

When religious people do not truly know themselves well enough so that they can say, from their heart of hearts, “I have sinned against the Lord,” they become the self-righteous. They become the Pharisee, the hypocrite. They become the people who like catching someone else in their sin, and exposing and shaming them, just as the teachers of the law and the Pharisees did, when they brought the sinful woman to Jesus, and wanted him to condemn her.

By saying, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone,” (John 8:7) Jesus gave them a true vision of their own hearts. They snuck off, one by one, and not one of them stopped to thank Jesus for the gift he had given them: the gift of seeing themselves.

In both of these stories, we can see what sin is like, what sin does to others, what sin does to the heart of the person who cherishes sin in their heart as a means to get what they want.

We see the ugliness of it. It led David to kill an innocent man. In the gospels it led the teachers of God’s law to seek, first, to kill a guilty woman in order to shame Jesus and, when that failed, they would go on to kill Jesus for exposing their own self-righteousness. We can see that sin stinks.

We also see grace. We see what grace is, and what it is not.

We can see that the grace of God is the love, within God, that causes him to restore people to fellowship with him. God, in his grace, makes himself known to people who do not know him; and to people who mistakenly think they do know him; and to people who do know him but fail to be true to what they know.

The woman caught in the act of adultery knew that, although she was guilty, she was not condemned by Jesus, and Jesus told her that, as a result of his acceptance of her, she could live a new life, a new way of life. She knew that her life would always be lived under two marks: one, that she would always be known for her sin; two, that she would always be known as one who was forgiven and loved by Jesus.

It is important to realize that she would live with the consequences of what she had done. But she could and would be a different person, a new person, even so.

Because of Jesus, she would always be a child of God. His saving her life that day made her a child of God. But, even more than that, his dying soon a few days later, on the cross, partly as a result of the love he had shown for her that day also made her, truly and completely, even more, a child of God.

With David and Bathsheba, too, there were consequences that could not be escaped. Nathan said, “The sword will never depart from your house.” (2 Samuel 12:10) This meant that the whole future history of David’s family would be marked by violence and conflict.

The story of the house of David, the descendants of David, is a sad story. That is the rest of the history of Israel, in the Old Testament. But we will talk more about that next Sunday.

The son of David and Bathsheba died and then they had another son, whom they named Solomon. Solomon was the son who would fulfill the beginning of the promises that God made to David. Solomon would build the Temple that David had wanted to build.
And the Bible tells us that the Lord had a special love for this Solomon, this son of David and Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan sent them a message telling them to call Solomon by the name Jedidiah, which means “Loved by the Lord.” (2 Samuel 12:25) But not even Solomon could take away the punishment of the sword that would not leave their family in peace.

The birth of that Solomon, out of that awful, awful chain of events (plotting, adultery, lying, and murder) was a sign that David himself was still loved love by God with a love that would never end.

Grace never means getting away with things. There will be, there must be, consequences. But grace is the infinite love of God that will not stop loving you in the middle of all those consequences. That love will give you a new life every day.

Solomon was the next link in a story of grace that is still going on to this day, but the center of the story is Jesus, who is the love of God in the flesh. Jesus is the son of David, after many generations, who dies on the cross in order to say to you, “Has no one condemned you? Neither do I condemn you. Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:11) In other words: live a new life, live a new way of life, because of the fact that my love has set you free.

The Lord’s Supper is a place where we meet the Lord who knows us, invites us just as we are, and dies for us to give us a new life where we live a new way. The life, and the death, and the resurrection of Jesus are like food for us.

Ordinary food we eat, and we change it into ourselves: blood, tissues, organs, bones. When we receive the nourishment that Jesus gives, as it is promised to us here, he enters and changes us into himself, and we become like him. Here, he makes us his children who live a God-impacted life.

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