this is the first draft, aka "the one I had to get out of my system first." Rewrite to come Saturday evening...probably. possibly. maybe. or maybe I won't chicken out and I'll just preach this. or maybe I'll get braver and be more specific. who knows. feedback welcome in the comments.
Rev. Teri Peterson
2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a
August 9 2009, Ordinary 19B (18B text)
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, 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 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.’
There aren’t many things I love more than a good story. On my day off you can often find me curled up on my couch with a novel or two…or three or four. All my favorite TV shows and movies are favorites because they do a good job telling a story. I love to listen to a good storyteller. Most of the things I love about church involve people telling their stories and hearing the stories of others. And, in case you were wondering, if I were stranded on a desert island with just one book for the rest of my life, I really would take the Bible, because it has so many different stories told from different perspectives with lots of great character development and some good action scenes too.
The best stories, in my opinion, are ones that make the reader feel a part of the plot, one of the characters—allowing us to get caught up in the narrative, transported to another place, far away from our own everyday lives and stresses. There’s action, there’s conflict, there’s adventure and wonder and fear and hopes and dreams…these are the makings of a great story, whatever media we use to tell it. In these kinds of stories, we get so caught up in what’s happening that we have real emotional responses, like anticipation or love or anxiety or anger. And when the credits roll or we turn the last page, there’s a little sense of loss, like we didn’t want to come back to this world quite yet.
Nathan’s story is a little like this. Nathan, a prophet, is a world-class professional storyteller. His job is to tell the king God’s story and God’s vision of David’s place in that story. It’s actually been going pretty well…until now. Now comes the make-or-break moment in the storytelling prophet’s career: the moment he has to tell a story the king won’t like.
David, you see, is a man who has everything. He has money and a big house and many wives, all the military power, all the good looks, all the charm. He’s the king, after all. But he seems to have forgotten something important: that when God calls a king, that doesn’t mean what you think it means. A king in Israel, a king called to lead God’s community of people, is different. He’s a shepherd, a leader by example, a man of God, not the power, money, and war-mongering monarch of other tribes. And a king in Israel is called and anointed, not born into his position—that’s how David, the youngest of the shepherd boys, got the job in the first place!
But all that is forgotten when he actually gets the power and the money. Gone is the man who once refused to take land for free, though he could since he was the king, because he refused to offer God offerings that cost nothing. In his place is the man who sees, wants, and takes. He saw Bathsheba bathing. He wanted her. He took her. When it looked like her husband would find out, he tried to trick Uriah into taking his wife back, but Uriah was an honorable man who refused to leave his army in the field alone while he enjoyed the comforts of home. Since that didn’t work, David had him killed, and now Bathsheba is another wife in David’s harem. See, want, take. That’s how it works when you have the title, the power, the money, the right skin color, the right gender, the right job.
Enter Nathan and his story, a story of the haves stealing from the have-nots, a story of extreme inhospitality, a story of injustice. Everything about us wants to scream, with David, that this is NOT FAIR!!! How could the man who had everything at his disposal take away the one thing that the other man had, the one thing that made him happy, the one thing that gave him comfort? How could the rich steal from the poor? How could the traveler and the neighbors stand by and allow this? It’s a story that we get caught up in, a story that tugs at our heartstrings and then rips them apart, a story we want to end differently. Why did this have to happen? What kind of person would do such a thing?
And suddenly it’s not just David’s story, it’s not just a story of a king misusing his power or misunderstanding his role…it’s our story.
YOU are the one who did this.
The prophet speaks directly to us, to all of us together, as a nation, as a culture, as The Church, as a congregation.
YOU are the one.
The prophet speaks directly to us, to each of us individually, to me and to you.
YOU are the one.
The one with the power and the resources. The one who took from others what you had already at your disposal, because it was convenient. The one who stood by and ignored the injustice going on next door. The one who used someone else for your own ends.
You are the one.
No one likes to be confronted with sentences like that. No one wants to hear the follow up either, where God says to us, “I gave you life, I gave you resources, I gave you air and earth and water and family and friends and love and so much more…and yet you despise me, you squander my gifts, you hoard them for yourself, you close your eyes and ears to the cries of my people that you are supposed to care for. And you do it in secret, behind closed doors, when no one can see, when you think it doesn’t make a difference, that you can’t do anything differently than the people around you, that it’s not your responsibility.”
I don’t know about you, but I’m cringing inside even as I say these things, because I hear the words spoken to me. I have said that things are not my problem, not my responsibility, too big for me to do anything about. I have despised the gifts God has given me, using them in ways that hurt rather than heal. I have neglected to even remember that everything I have is a gift from God, instead choosing to hold on so tightly you couldn’t pry things out of my hands or heart or mind—they’re MINE!
YOU are the one, God says to me, and to you, and to all of us together.
Then God says, “You do these things in secret, but I will bring them into the open.” And David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
He confessed. He brought these things out into the open himself. He owned up. He said, “I messed up. I did wrong. I distorted your image.”
Well…this is a lot harder for us than it seemed to be for David. We have a prayer of confession each week in worship, where we say here, in public, that we haven’t lived up to the vision God has for us as individuals or as a community. But when we get into specifics, like uneven distributions of power and wealth and resources, or our complicity in injustice, or the part we play in maintaining a status quo that serves us but not our neighbors, then we shy away. We get defensive. We remind each other that we can’t solve the problem or that we aren’t really as privileged and powerful as we might look. What we need is to confess, out loud, out in the open, that we have done things we ought not to have done, we have left undone things we ought to have done, we have been complicit in wrong.
When Nathan spoke truth to power, David’s response was, at first, simple: “I have sinned.”. Perhaps, instead of being defensive or passing the buck or sitting back thinking we can’t do anything, we too should start by recognizing the problem. We, in our choices, in our lives, in our speech, in our action, participate in injustice.
This is an uncomfortable topic for us. No one likes to be the one speaking truth to power or the one hearing it as truth spoken in love. We prefer to think of how Jesus died and rose again so we are free from sin…but reality is that we still do wrong things, we hurt people and ourselves and God’s creation, left in our care. We drive past injustice and avert our eyes, we take from those who have little to feed our own appetites, we neglect to show hospitality.
I don’t know a better story than the one Nathan told—maybe I could update it for the 21st century, but the ending would be the same…
We are the ones.
The good news is that healing begins when we own up, when we confess, when we bring things into the open so God’s light can shine in. May we be as courageous as Nathan and David.