Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sermon: YOU are the Man!

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church
SundayAugust 2, 2015

“YOU are the Man!”

2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:15

           When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning 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, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him,
           “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
           Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”
           Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
           Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
           Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
           David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”

Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.

One: This is the word of God for us, the people of God.
All: Thanks be to God.

Last week, we heard the story of David and Bathsheba, and concluded with the hope that God can redeem the most broken of people, the most blatant of sinners. If God can redeem David, think how much God can redeem us.
           Today, we hear the story of David’s conviction. David, the beloved of God, the one from whom our Savior has descended, the king of Israel, has been caught. After all, before any sort of redemption, there must be confession. The prophet, Nathan, comes to David and tells him a parable about a rich man who has many flocks, but when a traveler comes to visit, he takes the beloved lamb of a poor man. One who has much takes the sole, tender possession of one who has little. David hears the parable, and doesn’t recognize that this story is Nathan’s wise attempt to convict him of his guilt.
           “The bait is set and David seizes it: what the rich man has done is unconscionable. David is incensed and swears a rather elaborate oath in the Lord’s name that the rich man must restore the poor man’s lamb many times over. It may be that David also issues the death penalty for the rich man. At the very least, the rich man will pay dearly; he may also have to pay with his life. ”[1]
           But then the blow is struck by Nathan: “You are that man!” In Hebrew this phrase is only two words long, and is the second of three important two-word phrases that drive the plot in this story. This is a story that includes much detail, but the pivotal moments are told with great economy of language. When Bathsheba comes to David to announce her pregnancy, she says, simply, “harâ anokî,” ָא ֹנ ִכ י ָה ָר ה “I am pregnant.” Two words to change their lives. Two words upon which hang the possibility of choice and consequence. The choice David makes is clearly the wrong one. In a host of already bad decisions, he opts for the most harmful solution to his present problem. He has Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, deliver his own death sentence to the general who sends him to the front lines of battle.
           After David receives word of Uriah’s death, he sends for Bathsheba and makes her his wife. But, these things displeased the Lord, and the prophet Nathan was sent to convey God’s displeasure. Parables are God’s way of speaking to those who have ears to hear. So often, parables seem to confuse more than they explain. But, perhaps this is an indication of David’s connection with God. The parable Nathan shares cuts to the chase; David gets it. And, Nathan’s response to David’s reaction: “You are that man!” (attâ ha-îš) demonstrates the simplicity of his conviction. God knows! Nathan knows. David has not escaped judgment.
But, David’s response is his own two-word phrase after hearing God’s judgment through Nathan, “I’ve sinned against the LORD” (ah-ah-tî la-YHWH). Much is communicated with very few words in this narrative. Big things hang on two-word phrases.
I’m pregnant. harâ anokî
YOU are the man! attâ ha-îš
I’ve sinned against the Lord. ah-ah-tî la-YHWH
This is the entire story of what could have been David’s fall from grace. But, one thing is critical to note. This doesn’t end with a press conference or excuses. David does what many of us can’t: he confesses that he has sinned against the Lord.
           God has every right to be angry. God says to David, “I anointed you king. I rescued you from Saul’s hand. I gave you a house, wives, the house of Israel and Judah. AND, ‘if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.’” WHY, David? Why? Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in God’s sight? For a man who has everything, why has he sought to take what belonged to another?
            The consequences of David’s actions are real. God says that he will give his wives into the hands of his neighbor. Trouble will be raised up in David’s house, and the sword will never depart from it. If ever we wonder about God’s willingness to punish the righteous, we can see from this account that no one is exempt from the judgment of the Lord, including the one “after God’s own heart.”
            There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that what David did was wrong. Nathan’s visit and parabolic re-telling of David’s actions are to ensure that David himself can understand the gravity of his actions. Can he? Is it possible for the anointed one of God to feel contrition, guilt? To be accountable?
            What we hear in David’s response is an absence of denial. “He hears Nathan’s parable, hears the two-word conclusion, attâ ha-îš (“You are that man!”) and replies with a stunningly quick and brief two-word confession: ah-ah-tî la-YHWH (“I’ve sinned against the LORD”). It almost seems too quick, too brief. We’d like to hear David say more, be more contrite, than just two words. And yet, with only two words at hand, David doesn’t deny, he confesses. Immediately, quickly, without excuse -- in front of Nathan and God and all others who witnessed this dialogue. There he is: Great king David, a man after God’s own heart, an adulterous, murderous sinner. And yet, there he is: adulterous, murderous, sinful David,confessing. Perhaps he is a man after God’s own heart after all because he is somehow able to hear God’s judgment and immediately accept it and the results that follow upon it.”[2]
           But, what we want for someone who has done such wrong is an admission of guilt, a litany of sorrow and grief, an acknowledgement of the hurt he has caused. We’d like to hear him talk about how he knows his wrongdoings and how his sin is always right in front of him (Psalm 51:3). We’d like to hear him say that he knows God is correct in judging him (Psalm 51:4b). We’d like to hear him beg for mercy and forgiveness (Psalm 51:1-2, 7-13). But that response doesn’t happen, at least not with Nathan present.
           But, let us not forget that there was “a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord.” That chord is what resonates in Psalm 51, the prayer for cleansing and pardon, which David writes after Nathan’s prophetic visit.
            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 judgment.
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.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
           Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
           Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

“Remembering the fullness of this story can help us see all of life as the theater for God's wily, costly, persistent performance of redemption.”[3]

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