Sermon delivered on Sunday, Trinity 8B, July 29, 2012, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Columbus, OH.
Lectionary texts: 2 Samuel 11.1-27; Psalm 14.1-7; Ephesians 3.14-21; John 6.1-21.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In today’s OT lesson, we find one of the most shocking stories in all the Bible, the story of David and Bathsheba. Here we see the man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13.14; cf. Acts 13.22)—the man, whom, as we saw last week, God promised to bless with an everlasting house, a promise that was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus—commit adultery and resort to murder to cover up his dirty deeds and save his own skin because being caught in adultery was a capital offense in ancient Israel. If this kind of stuff could happen to David, it can (and probably has) happened to us. Our baggage may not be so spectacular, but surely if we are old enough, each one of us has been confronted with some kind of catastrophic moral failure in our own lives. And so we as Christians need to ask how this moral failure can (and did) happen to David and then see if Scripture gives us any guidance regarding what we can do about it to help prevent future failures in our own lives. That is what I want us to look at briefly this morning.
As we look at this tragic story of David and Bathsheba, the first question that comes to mind is why is this story included in the OT in the first place? For example, if we were to read about David in Chronicles, we would discover that this story is omitted entirely because the Chronicler had a different purpose for writing his material and had a different audience to consider. So what purpose does this story serve beyond providing us with some potential titillation? We will come back to this question shortly.
But for now, let us unpack the dynamics of the story. We are told that this affair took place in the spring when kings go off to war. So we wonder why King David is home in Jerusalem rather than with his troops. The writer of Samuel tells us later that David’s advisors had urged him to stay in Jerusalem for a variety of reasons and so we can understand why he might have been there instead of with his troops. But this creates an unholy opportunity for David because he apparently has too much time on his hands, and when he wakes up from his late afternoon nap, he spies Bathsheba bathing nearby.
Now there is nothing wrong with an attractive woman catching a man’s eye. It happens all the time. But there is more going on here than a woman catching David’s eye. First, she’s naked and second, David didn’t do what he needed to do to prevent the situation from escalating. He didn’t turn away and occupy his mind with something (or someone) else. Instead, he asked a servant about Bathsheba and then sent one of his lackeys to go fetch her for some illicit activities. This, of course is how temptation turns to sin. Hear the apostle James:
When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (James 1.13-15).
And of course today’s story is a classic example of what James is talking about. David called for Bathsheba because he allowed his sexual desire for her to grow to the point where he could no longer overcome it by his own power (cf. Jesus’ reaction to his wilderness temptations, Matthew 4.1-11; Luke 4.1-13). Augustine surely would have understood what’s going on here because he prayed this famous line, “Lord, make me sexually pure but not yet!” (Confessions 12.7.17). If this weren’t bad enough, Bathsheba’s father was part of David’s personal bodyguard and her husband was one of David’s generals who was out fighting for the king when this all took place. The whole thing stinks to high heaven. Whether it was a one-night stand or an extended affair, the result was that Bathsheba became pregnant and this put both of their lives in mortal danger because as we have already noted, adultery was a capital offense in Israel.
What to do? David, being the clever fellow he is, seizes on a brilliant plan. He’ll call Uriah back home from the front, give him a quick furlough so that he has time to sleep with his wife, and no one other than the palace staff will be any the wiser to the whole sordid affair. But unfortunately for David, Uriah will not cooperate, even after David gets him all liquored up. How can he possibly eat, drink, and have sex with his wife when the ark of God and David’s troops are up on the front, fighting the king’s war? And so David, who let his own desire entice him into committing adultery instead of turning away from it, conceives another, even more diabolical, plan to get rid of Uriah so that David can take Bathsheba as his wife before the conception to birth timeline gets too out of whack and people get suspicious. If that weren’t enough, David gives Uriah his own death warrant for Uriah to deliver unawares to his commander Joab. And after the murderous deed is done against the righteous Uriah (yet another example of bad things happening to good people—this time committed by the Lord’s anointed king no less!), David tries to convince Joab that Uriah’s death is nothing more than another casualty of war.
We would expect this kind of behavior from some mafia thug but instead we are seeing David, God’s anointed king and a man after God’s own heart, commit these terrible acts and think so callously about it all. If you are like me, it leaves you stunned. Throughout it all, David has broken the last five commandments. He coveted his friend’s wife and committed adultery. David then commits murder to cover that up and steals Uriah’s wife from him. Did I mention he lied multiple times? Who needs reality TV when you can read stuff like this in the Bible?
So why did the writer of Samuel include this story? We have seen how this happened to David. He really wasn’t where he was supposed to be, he let sexual temptation entice him rather than flee from it, and in doing so he allowed his desire for Bathsheba to grow until he had to act on it. We can understand this dynamic because we all have succumbed to something like this in our own lives and it demonstrates just how broken we are as God’s image-bearers. But that’s not the reason the writer includes this sad story. He shares it with us as a warning and reminder to us. David, while being God’s anointed, is not God. He is human and fallible, just like we are. This reminds us that while human role models are needed and good, we must keep them in proper perspective and see them for the good they do but also remember they are not perfect. In other words, the writer is reminding us that there is only one person in whom we can put our whole hope and trust, and that is God himself, the God whom we know as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, because even the best of humans are bound to fail and let us down at some point. But God never lets us down or fails us, and this is the consistent witness of Scripture.
So what are we to do with this? Throw our hands up in the air and resign ourselves to the fact that we are consigned to sin boldly and hope that God really does forgive us our sins? Not really. It is indeed true that our sins are covered by the blood of the Lamb and God’s gift of forgiveness is a free gift to us because none of us deserve or merit God’s forgiveness. But as Paul reminds us in today’s epistle lesson, we do not have to allow sin to conquer us because God will empower us to be more than conquerors. To be sure, we have to put in our sweat equity. We have to learn what to do so that temptations do not entice us to sin. But we do not have to do this by ourselves because we have the power of God himself living in us through the presence of his Holy Spirit. And as we can see from Paul’s prayer for the church at Ephesus (the pronouns and verbs in Greek are plural, which indicates Paul is talking to the Ephesians primarily as a group), the power of God to help us be his holy people is available to us through prayer and mutual Christian support through Christ’s body, the Church.
As Paul reminded us last week, we are to make Jesus our very foundation for living. In other words, we are to grow in our relationship with him so that we seek his guidance and approval for everything we do. That’s not easy because we are like David in that regard. We tend to love ourselves and our desires more than God and his desires for us. But Paul insists here that through perseverance and prayer, we can grow to be like Christ and that will only make his presence in our lives stronger and more reliable, which in turn makes us better able to conquer sin. Sometimes we do not know how to pray as we ought. But the more firmly rooted we become in Christ so that we recognize his active presence in our lives, the more confidence we have that our prayers will be answered, and in spades, even when we ask for the wrong things. We see this principle illustrated in today’s gospel lesson. The people wanted food to eat and when Jesus produced in spectacular fashion, they wanted to make him king on their terms. But Jesus knew there was a better way and as he told the crowds later in the chapter, he was there to offer them himself, but on his terms, not theirs.
Likewise with the storm that threatened to drown Jesus’ disciples. Surely they were terrified and praying not to die. But our Lord gave them something even better. Not only did he answer their prayers by calming the storm and walking on the water to be with them. He also demonstrated to them a power that was God’s alone, so that they could trust that he was the very embodiment of God and follow him with confidence. But their eyes couldn’t see, at least at that moment–it would take the resurrection to accomplish hat–and so they missed this deeper lesson Jesus was showing them. Will not Jesus do the same for us when we cry out to him as we are wracked by the storms of life? But first we must have eyes of faith to see!
So let me ask you this. Are you spending the necessary time and effort on your prayer life so that you begin to have this kind of power to overcome sin in your life? Are you praying boldly for those things that God knows you need (as opposed to what you think you need) to make you his holy one who will serve him faithfully in the living of your days? If not, what is stopping you? Why would you not want to live your life in God’s power rather than your own, which is bound to fail you? And if you are praying boldly, are you expecting God to do greater things for you than you dare ask or imagine because you know God is God and you are not?
The second thing we can learn from Paul and our OT story is the need for us to surround ourselves with faithful friends who love us enough to dare speak the truth in love to us and tell us we are going astray. Think of the difference it would have made for David had he had a companion with him who could have distracted him and warned him of the dire consequences of his desire. But David didn’t have that kind of friend available and it helped cause his undoing. This should make perfect sense to us because as we have seen many times before, God typically uses human agency to accomplish his will and to work out his redemptive plan. That is why we should never hesitate to augment our prayers by seeking help from those we trust, whether it be the wise counsel of a trusted friend or seeking medical or psychological help to bring about God’s healing. If we really understand that God’s typical and preferred way of doing business with his fallen world is working through human beings, we should never think that we lack faith and trust in God when we seek help and healing from others in answer to our prayers.
I used to not get this at all. At one point I suffered from great anxiety and prayed to God to take it from me, but nothing seemed to happen. It never occurred to me to ask God to show me human agents whom he would use to help me. But once, by God’s grace, I realized this was God’s modus operandi, I sought help and voila! Prayers answered. Some problems like pornography and other kinds of addictions take both prayer and the human touch to conquer. That is why need each other as Christ’s body, the Church, and the only way we can develop the kind of mutual trust needed is to develop real friendships in the context of small groups. Who do you have in your life who loves you enough to speak the truth in love to you or to point you to those whom God can use to heal you when you are struggling? If you don’t have someone like that, you are setting yourself up for disaster, just the way David did and countless others have.
That is why it is such a wise and godly thing for us to receive formally Mark and Elizabeth into our fellowship this morning. In joining our congregation, they are joining the larger church of which we are part. They are promising, in part, to let God use them to help us in our lives and be open to our help in theirs when they need it. Again, we don’t do any of this on our own but in and through the power of the Spirit. So the next time we are tossed about by the dark and stormy waves of life and are threatened to be engulfed by them, we just may discover that as we cry out to the Lord in fear and desperation, often he will answer us far beyond our ability to ask, and in many cases use one of his people as part of his answer so that we will fall on our knees in wonder and praise. And when by God’s grace we experience this so that we really do believe it, we will know what it means to have Good News, now and for all eternity.
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.