Seward United Methodist Church
Thursday, August 16, 2018
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Sin

John 8:1-11 and 2nd Samuel 11:1-5

Let’s play a little game of word association. I’ll say something, and you fill in the blank. “David and _____________.”

In all likelihood, you filled the blank in with either Goliath or Bathsheeba. Those are the two names most closely associated with David. On the surface, they are very different people. Goliath is a giant, ugly, brutal warrior. Bathsheeba is a beautiful, sensuous woman. But both play a very similar role in David’s story. Both represent moments of testing. In the first test, David prevails and is revealed to be a man of prayer. In the second test, David fails spectacularly, but in his failure, he once again becomes a man of prayer and is restored in his relationship with God.

The story begins in the spring. Israel is at war with its neighbor to the east, Ammon. Military campaigns happened almost exclusively in the months of March, April, and May, after the winter rains, and after the crops were planted, but before the first of the harvests. The army of Israel is laying siege to Rabbah, Ammon’s capital.

But David has stayed behind in Jerusalem. He sent Joab to do the dirty work of war. Normally, kings went out to war. Not always. If there was some pressing matter at home, then a king might stay home and send his commander in his place. But in this case, there doesn’t seem to be anything pressing at home. It begs the question: Is there some malaise in David’s spirit? Is he bored? Is there no challenge to rise up to meet? Is he withdrawing from life?

He seems bored and discontented, doesn’t he? In the middle of the day, he’s sleeping away the hours on the roof of his palace. But when he wakes up, he finds that a beautiful woman is taking a bath on the roof of her home, in sight of the palace.

Temptations will come our way. But we always have a choice how to respond to temptations. We can flee from temptation, or we can hang around and indulge the temptation. David chooses the latter.

He sends someone to find out who she is. And he learns that she is Bathsheeba, wife of Uriah, daughter of Eliam, and the grand-daughter of Ahithophel. Uriah and Eliam are two of David’s “Mighty Men,” his personal body-guard, his finest and bravest warriors. Ahithophel is one of David’s closest advisors, an advisor who, later on, betrays David. Gee, I wonder why?

David sends for Bathsheeba. He sleeps with her, and then he sends her away. But she becomes pregnant, and now David has a problem. A moment’s lust is turning into a murderous conspiracy. That’s the nature of sin. Once we go down a road, it becomes harder and harder to turn around!

David sends for Uriah. He tries to fool Uriah into sleeping with his wife so that he will be deceived about this child. But Uriah takes his duty as a soldier seriously and won’t do it. So David sends him back to Joab, bearing his own death sentence. Joab dutifully sees to Uriah’s doom, and sends a report back to David.

The key word through the whole story is “send.” It’s an impersonal word, a word lacking in relationship. It’s a word of power. David is full of himself, barking out orders, demanding that they be obeyed and that his will be done. He sends Joab to war, sends for Bathsheeba, sends for Uriah, sends a death sentence with him, and so on. David imagines that he is in control. After all, he is the king!

But he isn’t in control, is he? Bathsheeba sends word of her pregnancy. Oops! David couldn’t control that! Joab sends word back to David about Uriah’s death. Joab knows David is arranging for a man’s death. And ultimately, God sends Nathan the prophet to David. David has been “playing God,” and suddenly, God intervenes.

Nathan tells David a story about a rich man, who had many sheep. But when company came, and it was his duty to feed his guest, he stole the sheep of his poor neighbor, his only sheep, whom he loved.

David reacts just as we do when we hear a story of selfishness, greed, injustice. He is furious! He cries out, “That man deserves to die!” That’s our typical reaction to the sins of others, isn’t it?

And then comes the twist. Nathan tells David, “You are that man. It’s you!” I am also that man. And so are you. The gospel is always about you and me. And the gospel only becomes real in our lives when we acknowledge that it applies to us personally. Until we hear and know that it applies to us, and we also cry out, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Confession: “I have sinned against the Lord.” Confession seems like such a sad thing, such a guilty moment. But in fact, it is not sad or guilt-filled. Confession is full of hope, because it is full of God. And God is gracious, and quick to forgive.

Eugene Peterson talks about an idea from Augustine, a bishop of the early church. Augustine used a phrase, FELIX CULPA. FELIX CULPA means “happy sin!” Seems strange to think of sin as a happy thing! But Augustine’s point is that it is always a happy moment when we see and acknowledge our sin. Only when we see that we ourselves are sinners can we then come back into a right relationship with God. As long as we deny our sin, we are lost. So it’s always a happy moment to say, “I am a sinner.”

Sin is a denial of our true relationship with God. It is a God-illusion. Sin is more a spiritual matter than it is a moral matter. Sin is more about our relationship with God than it is about right and wrong. When we sin, we imagine ourselves to be gods or our own lives or gods over the lives of others.

What was the very first sin in the Bible? It was Adam and Eve, eating from the forbidden tree. And how were they tempted into it? Satan said, “You will not die, but you will be like God.” Sin is grasping after God’s proper place.

David was playing God in the lives of Bathsheeba and Uriah. And while it’s certainly true that David has sinned greatly against Bathsheeba and Uriah, first and foremost, he has sinned against God. He pretended to take God’s place.

This is one of the reasons worship is important. Worship matters because it takes our eyes off of ourselves. It puts the focus back on God. It reminds us that God is God, and we are not.

One of the reasons that we hate to face our sins is that by facing them, we have to admit that we are not the gods of our lives. Admitting our sin means letting go of our God-illusions. We are afraid that we will become less if we let go of our sin. In truth, it is sin that makes us less. David has become less because of his sin with Bathsheeba and Uriah. He only becomes who he is meant to be when he confesses his sin.

David’s sin will have far-reaching consequences in his life. We’ll talk more about that next week. But God’s grace is greater than sin. His redemption is bigger than our sins. Watching sin is like watching re-runs. There’s nothing new to sin. David’s story could be in the newspaper tomorrow. Sex, murder, lies, and abuse of power: Those are par for the course with sin. But God’s mercy is new each and every time we experience it. Sin is boring, but grace is extraordinary!

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