Monday, August 10, 2009

Repentance and forgiveness . . .

And now the great King David is caught. For the past couple months, we have been following the rise of King David, the king after God’s own heart. Just to remind you of the story, since many may have missed church over the last month with your own vacations, think what we have considered about David: (1) He was anointed king as a youth, while Saul was still king; (2) He waits patiently for God’s plan to be worked out; (3) No matter how many times Saul abuses David’s loyalty (tries to withhold his daughter from marriage to David despite his pledge; tries to kill David; is even envious of David’s victories in his and God’s honor; etc), David refuses to take matters into his own hands and to kill Saul; (4) When the foreign ambassador congratulates David on Saul’s death, David kills the ambassador in a rage because God’s anointed has been killed; (5) David accepts the crown cognizant that he is but a regent for the true king of Israel, Yahweh; (6) and last week, he saw a hottie bathing on the roof and decided to take advantage of his position; (7) David set about purposely to violate not one, not two, but three of the ten commandments (coveted Uriah’s wife, committed adultery, and ordered that Uriah be killed) in one fell swoop. After the long slow build-up and praise of David, he is brought tumbling back to earth. The king after God’s own heart seems to be more like Saul that God. What in the world is God trying to teach us this week about David and about ourselves? What is He trying to teach us about Him?

Though there are any number of lessons in our reading from 2 Samuel this weekend, an easy 3 point sermon presented itself. I say easy because it is obvious, not because the teaching is anything but hard for us to accept. I have shared with this congregation a few times that one of the least discussed subjects in many Episcopal/Anglican churches (at least according to Church Times and other esteemed publications) is the idea of judgment. Very seldom, indeed, are pastors ever willing to preach on the subject of judgment. What is interesting, of course, are some of the subjects that are even less popular subjects of sermons. One such subject is central not only to our reading this weekend, but to the books of Samuel. That subject is sin. I have been accused, at times, by other clergy, of having a “high doctrine of sin.” I suppose what is meant is that I believe it to be ever present in the human condition. I do not know that it is high or low. I think God teaches us that it is ever present in our lives. In fact, I think the Bible teaches us that sin is so prevalent in our lives that we are often blind to its presence. Now, some clergy who accuse me of this high doctrine of sin encourage me to spend my time on God’s mercy and God’s grace. Yet, they are the opposite sides of the same coin, as this passage teaches us. How can God’s mercy be present, if there is no sin? How can we see His grace at work in our lives if we cannot see ourselves misled by our own efforts?

David illustrates this perfectly. David has everything. He has power. He has wealth. He has a great place to live. He has wives and concubines. All his needs are met. And why not? He has faithfully followed God’s call on his life. Should he not be thus blessed? And then, while his men are off fighting for him, he is blinded by his own lust. He sees Bathsheba sunning herself. He conspires to sleep with her (apparently his numerous wives and concubines were simply not enough). Worse, when he impregnates her, David conspires to cover up his actions. Unfortunately for David (and Uriah!), David misjudges Uriah’s righteousness. Uriah refuses the comforts of home while his men and friends are still fighting for the king and for Yahweh. So, David has Uriah killed and marries Bathsheba. Seemingly, his problem is solved. Sure, some may figure out the dates don’t quite work out when Bathsheba finally delivers her son six or seven months after the marriage, but no doubt few will play close attention. Then, as now, the powerful can get away with a lot.

Then, God’s prophet arrives on the scene. He tells David a story. And, rightfully, David is enraged. How dare the rich man take the poor man’s lamb. He deserves to die! And Nathan says to his king, “You are the man!” David was so focused on his wants, his desires, his perceived needs, that he forgot Whom he served. Rather than standing under God’s word, as he is called to do, David causes a horrible mess, and then makes it worse by sinning more to cover up his initial sin. And God’s prophet is there to remind him and us of this fact.

Far too often, we are like David. We forget that we are called to serve (or in extreme cases reject the notion that we are called to serve) God. We become so focused on our own perceived needs and wants that we become focused on their fulfillment. Like David, we will do almost anything to have those perceived needs fulfilled. Those needs or wants, rather than God, becomes our focus. Like David, we are blinded by the idols in our lives. We may think ours are different, easier to spot I mean, come on, adultery when you have multiple wives and concubines? Who would be that stupid today? And yet we look for solace, fulfillment, love in countless other places than He instructs us. We turn to alcohol, to money, to power, to prestige, to other human beings, to drugs, to any number of other idols to meet our own perceived needs. And, ultimately, each fails us. And, like David, we discover that we often make messes bigger by trying to “clean up after ourselves” in those instances when we realize that what we have done is wrong. I may have stabbed people in the back to get a job, but I’ll be a good boss once I am there. I may have been loathe to share my wealth with the needy, but if God will just give me a lottery ticket, I can help a lot of people. I may use other people for my own pleasure, but when I meet the right one . . . —on and on goes our justification of our actions. We forget that God has called. We forget that God has revealed what He expects of His adopted sons and daughters. We forget, far too often, the lesson from Psalm 51 this weekend, of our offenses, our wickedness, and our sins. We want to pretend desperately that sin is not present in our lives. But if we examine our lives as we are called so to do, we become like the psalmist. We begin to see ourselves with His eyes and realize our true need. What to do?

Unlike his predecessor, David reminds us of the only response we should have when confronted by God with our sins—we repent. Unlike Saul, who always offers an excuse for his sins, David responds to Nathan’s “You are the man!” with the simple “I have sinned against the Lord.” David, in a simple sentence (two words in Hebrew), demonstrates the proper response we should have to all our sins. We are called to turn from them and back to God. It is that simple. Though we will, lacking God’s grace in particular areas in our lives, continue to sin and sin and sin, our job is easy. We are called to recognize our sin and turn back to God. We recognize our sins through our study of Scripture and through our corporate worship. Sometimes, the number can seem overwhelming. And yet, all He requires of us is to turn away from the sin and back to Him.

Such repentance on our part leads to that one product of faith that the human condition, at least rightly understood, is so in need of—forgiveness. Though the gracious response of God is cut out by our lectionary editors (we will not read about Nathan’s reply to David’s confession next week), it is important for us, as heralds of His Gospel, to pronounce the ultimate fruit of the acknowledgement and repentance of our sins. Like David, we are forgiven if we truly repent. To accept God’s grace, we must first be made aware of our need. And our passage reminds us of the relation between repentance and forgiveness. Immediately after David’s confession, Nathan asserts that “The Lord has taken away your sin.” The rightful punishment which David himself has pronounced (“the man who did this deserves to die”), death, has been removed. The Lord has taken away David’s guilt.

As Christians who live on this side in history of God’s work in Christ, we see how all of David’s sins, and our own, have been dealt with by a just, righteous, and merciful God. Christ has died so that neither David nor us would have to die, at least eternally. The penalty for all our sins has been paid. We are no longer separated from Him by our actions, but drawn into a right relationship with Him through His efforts on our behalf! We are forgiven, if we repent and accept His offer of salvation! It is that easy.

What must we do to perform the works of God? Believe in the one whom He has sent. Brothers and sisters, as Christians, we are called to examine our lives against His instruction, against His plumb line. And where we fail, where we sin, we are called simply to repent. We are called to believe in the one whom He has sent. That is His plan of salvation for each one of us and each person that we meet. That—discerning our sins, repenting of them, and accepting His forgiveness, is His wonderful Gospel and our life’s calling!



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