August 9, 2020 – “The Gospel According to David: Receiving Grace” by Rev. Cody Sandahl

Watch the Sermon

First Reading = 2 Samuel 11

11In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

6So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.” 16As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; 19and he instructed the messenger, “When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, 20then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, ‘Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? 21Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?’ then you shall say, ‘Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.’” 22So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. 23The messenger said to David, “The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. 24Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king’s servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.” 25David said to the messenger, “Thus you shall say to Joab, ‘Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.’ And encourage him.” 26When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27When 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,

Introduction

We are still in our series about the Gospel According to David. David demonstrated, received, and desperately needed the grace of God just as Jesus’ disciples did so many years later. Last week we heard how David demonstrated unmerited grace and favor to someone who was heckling him. We were encouraged to choose someone who was pestering us or getting under our skin and choose to show them unmerited grace for one week.

As I promised, this week we are looking at how we need and receive the grace of God. And David demonstrates this in spades in our text today. In our first text, we heard the depth of David’s sins. You probably already knew that David had an affair with Bathsheba. But David was just getting warmed up!

He tried to trick Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah the Hittite. And the text notes how Uriah, a foreigner, was faithful to the Lord while David, the king of Israel, was trying to get away without getting caught in his sins. He then sent Uriah back to the army carrying his own death sentence in a sealed letter. To carry out David’s instructions to kill Uriah, the commander of Israel’s army had to send several soldiers to their deaths.

Just to add a little spice to the story, as if it needed more spice, Uriah was one of David’s Mighty Men. We heard about them last week. They were his most loyal soldiers and each of them, including Uriah, were famed for their prowess in battle.

This would be like Jason throwing away the lives of his Argonauts to save face. This would be like Odysseus killing some soldiers who went with him on the Odyssey to avoid being embarrassed. Or imagine if an American general had sacrificed an armored platoon to cover up some of his own shady dealings. How would that go over once it was discovered?

And that’s where our main text picks up the story. David thinks he got away with murder…literally. But there’s one person you can’t ever hide from… This is a bit of a long text, so try to hang with me.

Main Reading = 2 Samuel 12:1-25

12and 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. 2The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3but 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. 4Now 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.” 5Then 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; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” 7Nathan 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; 8I 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. 9Why 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. 10Now 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. 11Thus 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. 12For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” 13David 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. 14Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”

15Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill. 16David therefore pleaded with God for the child; David fasted, and went in and lay all night on the ground. 17The elders of his house stood beside him, urging him to rise from the ground; but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. 18On the seventh day the child died. And the servants of David were afraid to tell him that the child was dead; for they said, “While the child was still alive, we spoke to him, and he did not listen to us; how then can we tell him the child is dead? He may do himself some harm.” 19But when David saw that his servants were whispering together, he perceived that the child was dead; and David said to his servants, “Is the child dead?” They said, “He is dead.” 20Then David rose from the ground, washed, anointed himself, and changed his clothes. He went into the house of the Lord, and worshiped; he then went to his own house; and when he asked, they set food before him and he ate. 21Then his servants said to him, “What is this thing that you have done? You fasted and wept for the child while it was alive; but when the child died, you rose and ate food.” 22He said, “While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me, and the child may live.’ 23But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.” 24Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba, and went to her, and lay with her; and she bore a son, and he named him Solomon. The Lord loved him, 25and sent a message by the prophet Nathan; so he named him Jedidiah, because of the Lord.

Accepting the Rebuke

I was just on the outskirts of a small Texas town. I was parked on the side of the road. I rolled down my window with a grimace on my face. “Did you know that you were doing 55 miles per hour when the speed limit was 30?”

“Well, officer, I knew I was going 55. I didn’t know the speed limit was 30. I thought it was still 55. I must’ve missed the speed limit sign,” I said venomously.

Unmoved by my explanation, the officer replied, “I need to see your license and registration.”

At this point, I realized that my anger was being a bit misdirected. So I took a deep breath to calm down, and I told the officer, “I’m sorry that I’m coming across as angry. I’m angry at myself for missing the sign, I’m not angry at you for doing your job.” He nodded to me and said, “I appreciate that.”

Now a really great ending to this story would be that he converted my sizable speeding ticket into a warning. But that’s not my story.

He decided to only write me up for going ten miles per hour over the speed limit instead of 25. That’s a big difference on the fine, let me tell you! And if you ever find yourself in the car with me…don’t worry, this was not a recent event. I’m twice the age I was when this happened.

Have you ever been called on the carpet to answer for something? Maybe it was a traffic ticket. Maybe it was a botched project at work. Maybe you let a secret slip and a friend confronted you. Maybe it was a family conflict – those are the biggest powder kegs of all.

If you’ve ever been called on the carpet to answer for something, how did you respond emotionally? Did you lash out at the other person? Did you deny it? Did you accept it right away, or did it take some time like me interacting with the police officer?

When I was trained in restorative practices, I learned that there are generally four automatic, knee-jerk reflex reactions when we’re called out like that. Some of us attack others. Some of us attack ourselves. Some of us avoid the problem and try to sweep it under the rug. Some of us withdraw and try to get away from the confrontation. Since it’s a reflex, the definition of a “healthy” reaction is based on how long you spend in your reflex versus how quickly you can get back under control.

We don’t know what David’s face looked like when Nathan cried out, “You are the man!” We don’t know what David was doing while Nathan delivered his message of rebuke from God. Maybe David was reaching for his sword to cut down Nathan. Maybe he was looking around for somewhere to hide. We don’t know.

But we do know how he replied at the end of Nathan’s message. It’s simple. It’s direct. “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Now, let’s imagine that Nathan and David had lived inside of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. There’s a scene where Sampson bites his thumb at Abraham as a sign of disrespect. Abraham says, “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?” “I do bite my thumb, sir.” It goes on like this for a while until they draw swords and fight each other over the “dishonor” of a rude gesture.

David could have done that to Nathan. But he didn’t.

How many rulers would accept that public criticism and admit their failure? How many kings would sit there and take it instead of killing the audacious prophet standing in front of them? How many bosses or co-workers or family members or friends have you had who would raise their hand and say, “You’re right. It was me. I’ve sinned against the Lord.”? Not many, I bet. Some would get there eventually, but that was David’s first reply.

So let’s give David a little credit here for being willing to accept the public rebuke. Most people aren’t quite that composed when they’re called onto the carpet to answer for their sins.

Has someone been trying to tell you something, but you haven’t been willing to hear it? Is God trying to tell you something, but you haven’t been willing to hear it? If so, I encourage you to listen as David did to Nathan’s message from the Lord.

Consequences

So we gave David his credit. But admitting your fault doesn’t usually get you out of adultery, abuse of power, misuse of the the army, callous disregard for the lives of soldiers, and – lest we forget – murder. In Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the knight Lancelot charges into battle to rescue a supposed damsel in distress. In his wake lie dozens of people in their finest clothes. A man shouts at him, “This is a wedding! You killed eight wedding guests! You killed the father of the bride, that’s all!” And Lancelot replies, “Very sorry. You see, I didn’t mean to…Is he all right?”

Sometimes, “Sorry” doesn’t cut it!

And sometimes, even admitting, “I have sinned against the Lord” doesn’t get rid of all the consequences of our actions. Sometimes when God forgives us and restores us, God says to us, “I still love you, but I’m not going to save you from the dominoes you started knocking down.” Just as the police officer reduced my fine but didn’t eliminate all the consequences of my unintentional speeding, sometimes we have to face the music.

That’s what happens to David in our text today. Nathan summarizes it well, “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.” And Nathan also shares that God will raise up trouble from within David’s own household, and violence will pervade his family.

If you remember last week we talked about the rebellion of David’s son Absalom. That rebellion essentially fulfilled much of what the Lord foretold today. David prevailed, but at the cost of several members of his family and he lost the respect of many in Israel.

In a similar way, I know families who have had to tell a child or a spouse with an addiction, “I love you and I’ll be there for you, but I can’t have you in this house. It’s too dangerous for everyone else to have you here.” That’s gut-wrenching for all involved, but sometimes it’s necessary. Love can restore a relationship, but it doesn’t always get rid of the natural consequences of someone’s actions. God demonstrates that with David in our text today.

Receiving Grace

So to recap, David gets a little credit because he accepted the rebuke and admitted that he “sinned against the Lord.” But, like Lancelot wiping out the wedding guests in Monty Python, sometimes, “I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. God did not abandon him, but God also made David face the consequences of his actions.

Now for the good news part of this sermon. Are you ready for that switch? I am. There are two very big pieces of good news.

First piece of good news. When I was a child, I could have the greatest day. I could go to an arcade, get ice cream, and somehow convince my parents to buy me a cheap plastic sword at the toy store. But then when that plastic sword inevitably broke, I would bluster, “I’m just having a bad day!” All the good didn’t matter, because something bad happened!

In our text today, bad things happened. Lots of bad things happened. Let’s move our focus away from David and ask Bathsheba to recap her year. She had an adulterous relationship with the king. Her husband was murdered by that king. Her child born out of wedlock died. That’s a bad year for Bathsheba – even by our crazy 2020 standards!

But the bad news didn’t get the last word. The bad news – and it was very bad news – wasn’t the end of the story. Like Jesus’ death on Good Friday, Bathsheba’s terrible year wasn’t the end of the story. There was new life, new grace, to be experienced. God wasn’t done with her yet.

Her next child with David was Solomon. Out of David’s many, many children, do you know who became the next king? Solomon. This wasn’t grace toward David. This was grace toward Bathsheba, in my eyes. She who had been lowered so far was elevated in the end. That’s the first piece of good news. The bad news doesn’t get the last word with our God. Friday isn’t the end of the story, because Sunday is coming. You may be in the middle of bad news – real, very bad news. Your relationship with Jesus doesn’t make that bad news good somehow. Instead, your relationship with Jesus helps you see that your bad news doesn’t define you and it isn’t the last word on you or your life. Jesus defines you. Jesus gets the last word on your life. And that word is “Loved,” not “Condemned.” If you’re in the midst of bad news right now, hang on to that piece of good news for dear life.

Confession

Now for the second piece of good news. As a pastor, I pretty regularly hear from people that they don’t know if God can forgive them for something they did. I pretty regularly hear from people that they don’t believe that God will still want to hear from them or see them because of something they did. Maybe you’ve felt that way before. Maybe you know someone who feels that way.

Consider this. We see in our text today how God speaks to David through Nathan, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.” So David was granted forgiveness and even grace. The vast, vast majority of us have never done anything from a human perspective that even approaches what David did in our text today. I mean, David could be facing the death penalty in some states if he were to do these things today! I’ve messed up a lot in my life, but I haven’t done anything that could get me the death penalty. Most of us haven’t. But we see that even if our actions approach the level of David’s abhorrent actions, God can still restore us to right relationship with him.

The consequences usually don’t go away. But our relationship with God isn’t destroyed even by such terrible actions as David’s. As long as we can say, like David, “I have sinned against the Lord.” If we can admit that, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ is available. That’s good news.

If you are willing to receive the Lord’s honest reply and the Lord’s unending love, if you have those two things, then you can’t out-sin Jesus’ forgiveness and grace. Let me sit there for a second. If you are willing to hear the Lord’s honest evaluation of your actions and you are willing to let Jesus love you, then you can’t out-sin Jesus’ forgiveness and grace.

So are you willing, like David, to receive God’s honest thoughts about your actions? Are you willing to say, “I have sinned against the Lord?” And are you willing to let Jesus love you? Are you willing to say, “I don’t understand it, but I trust that Jesus loves me?” If you are willing, God is willing. Your sins cannot outpace the love of Jesus Christ. So even if you are the source of your own bad news, Jesus still says, “Loved” instead of “Condemned.” That’s pretty good news.

Many years ago, I interviewed at a church where they didn’t have a time of confession and assurance of pardon during their worship services. I asked the pastor about that, and he told me that confession didn’t really gel with the culture of the area. That’s when I knew I couldn’t go to that church.

Because confession isn’t about what “gels” with our culture. And confession isn’t about ensuring that we feel properly bad about all of our mistakes. That’s a common misconception.

No, confession is about claiming the shocking freedom that is found in Jesus. Just about every other religion in the world requires people to earn their way into their god’s favor.

But Jesus takes our weakness and replaces it with his strength. Jesus takes our sin upon himself and replaces it with his right standing with God. Jesus takes our lies and our failings and our missteps and replaces them with his love. Confession isn’t about feeling bad about things so that Jesus will forgive you. Confession is about opening the windows of our souls and letting the love of Jesus blow in some fresh air. Confession is like ventilation. Confession is a cross-breeze. It’s a breath of fresh air – the very breath of God.

I was once working on a project in our basement. I was trying to figure out how to turn discarded plastic bottles into feed stock for my 3D printer. And I learned something that day. Some plastics have to be treated very carefully when they’re recycled. If you don’t handle them properly, they have this unfortunate tendency to explode and catch fire. After I learned this lesson, my entire basement smelled like burned plastic. The fumes were also very toxic, but who’s counting?

Would it have been useful for me to pretend that the fumes weren’t toxic? Would it have been useful for me to pretend that the basement didn’t smell like burned plastic? “No honey, I can’t smell that! I don’t know what you’re talking about!” When the basement stinks, you need to get some fresh air. That’s confession. In confession, we acknowledge what stinks so Jesus can bring some fresh air into our souls.

So to close today, I’m going to give all of us a chance to let in a little fresh air – to breathe some of the breath of God in our souls. I’m going to give you 30 seconds – it’ll feel like an eternity, but it’s just 30 seconds – to consider what stinks and ask Jesus to ventilate that part of your soul. What do you need to confess? Whatever it is, you can’t out-sin Jesus’ love. Take the next 30 seconds to bring in that fresh air.

[PAUSE 30 SECONDS]

Sisters and brothers, our bad news doesn’t get the last word. Jesus gets the last word. And he says, “Loved,” not “Condemned.” That’s the grace of God. And like David, we all need it. Receive it today. Amen.