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That Which Cannot Be Undone
August 2, 2015
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Our text is from the Old Testament book of II Samuel, the 11th and 12th chapters. In the verses preceding our text, we read a story of sinfulness so perverse that it is amazing that it made it into the Biblical narrative. King David defiles Bathsheba. Then, to cover up that sin, he arranges the murder of her innocent husband, Uriah, a courageous and loyal officer in David’s army. It is as sordid a narrative as there is in all scripture. In our text today, the prophet Nathan courageously confronts the most powerful man on earth. Hear what the Spirit is saying to the Church this day:
II Samuel 11:26-12:13a
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 meagre fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveller 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 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. 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 neighbour, 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.’ Nathan said to David, ‘Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.
The sixth commandment is: “Thou shalt not kill.” The seventh commandment is: “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” My first thought upon reading today’s lectionary text from II Samuel was: “Oh, what a tangled web we weave.” And then I began to wonder: are there decisions we make that lead to consequences that cannot be undone? And it is obvious that there are.
I suspect if we are honest, every single one of us has made a decision somewhere along life’s journey that we would like to go back and undo. Maybe the consequences were not as dire as King David’s. Maybe you have not violated the seventh commandment and broken your marriage covenant like David broke his. Maybe you have never violated the sixth commandment and conspired to have one of your most trusted friends killed. Maybe in your circumstance no one was really hurt and maybe no one died. Maybe all you have done is hit the “send” button on an email and then regretted it immediately. But my suspicion is that at some point all of us have spoken a word or made a decision or created a circumstance in which someone else’s life is changed forever.
Volume One of Cormac McCarthy’s Border Trilogy is a splendid novel called All the Pretty Horses. In the story we become acquainted with the central character, John Grady Cole, and his friend, Lacey Rawlings. John Grady is escaping a painful betrayal by his own mother, a betrayal of his hopes and dreams. This journey into Mexico is almost a necessity as he seeks to move on with his life. John Grady and Rawlings ride from Concho County, through the Trans-Pecos area of Texas, to the Rio Grande. There, on the border, with only a shallow river between him and the possibility of beginning again, a stranger rides up on John Grady and Rawlings. He is a scrawny young kid named Jimmy Blevins and everything about him says “trouble.” They immediately recognize that he is riding a stolen horse and escaping from some as yet unnamed circumstance in his life also, and it is also obvious that a much more sordid past lies behind him.
Rawlings is immediately suspicious and wants nothing to do with this kid. But the kid wants to join up with them and cross the River into Mexico together. Rawlings begs John Grady not to give in to him, not to let him ride with them. He says to John Grady:
“I’m goin to tell you something, cousin.” John Grady leaned and spat. “All right.”
“Ever dumb thing I ever done in my life there was a decision I made before that got me into it. It was never the dumb thing. It was always some choice I’d made before it. You understand what I’m saying?”
“Yeah. I think so. Meanin what?”
“Meaning this is it. This is our last chance. Right now. This is the time and there won’t be another time and I guarantee it.”
Lacey Rawlings words ring so true. They are true for you and they are true for me and they are decidedly true for David. “There was a decision I made before that got me into it.” This moment on the Rio Grande came to mind as I lowered myself into the cess-pool of II Samuel this past week. The story of David being confronted by the prophet Nathan is breath-taking in its sordidness. It is the kind of story you see headlined in National Inquirer as you stand in the check-out line at H-E-B. Emblazoned across the top of the tabloid you read:
King David: Adulterer & Murderer
And of course we are much too sophisticated to actually buy a copy. Much less read such trash.
Except this time it is all true. And it all begins with a decision. A choice that David makes to break several of the Ten Commandments. It is moral failure of epic proportions. David thinks no one will notice his transgressions, and he suspects even if they do notice they won’t care, and he decides that even if they care they will decide it is too dangerous to confront the most powerful man on earth.
David is wrong. Nathan “speaks the truth to power.” He risks his life to confront David and he spins a parable that traps David in his own web of lies and deceit and violation of the commandments of God. Because David’s sin has set in motion that which cannot be undone.
So what does David do in the aftermath? The damage has been done. A woman has been defiled. An innocent man has been murdered. As with most sin, it begins rather innocently. Gradually, one seemingly innocent decision leading to another, until suddenly David finds himself in a web so tangled that there is no escape. It is a story that has repeated itself endlessly over the ages. How does someone who is described as “a man after God’s own heart” fall so quickly into such a cesspool of sin?
Have you noticed that sin stories, after awhile, begin to sound pretty much alike? (Eugene Peterson, Leap Over a Wall: Earthy Spirituality for Everyday Christians) And unless you have achieved a level of perfection that has escaped y notice in my short time here as your Acting Head of Staff, it is pretty easy for all of us to find ourselves somewhere in this story. The precise details may be different. You and I may have broken different commandments. But as the Apostle Paul reminds us: “All sin and fall short of the glory of God.” And in case you are unaware, the God we have come here to worship this morning does not take sin lightly.
Like David listening to Nathan’s parable, we listen to the gospel and assume it is about someone else. It is so easy to get worked up about someone else’s sin. Yet just as Nathan points at David and says: “You! You are the man,” so the gospel points at us and says: “You! You are the one.”
And then something odd happens. David does not get defensive. David does not attempt to justify his actions. David confesses. David says: “I have sinned against the Lord.” In other words, he confesses that his life is a mess. He confesses that he is in deep trouble. He confesses that he needs help. He confesses that he needs God! And that is the beginning of David’s salvation. It can never undo that which cannot be undone. But in the irony of all ironies, Bathsheba becomes the mother of Solomon. And Solomon is a direct descendent of Jesus.
The confession that “I have sinned against the Lord” is, ironically, the most hopeful sentence in this story. Indeed, this is the most hopeful sentence in all of scripture. Why? Because confession is full of hope because it is full of God. I believe that is, ultimately, why we come here week after week. We want to be in a place and we want to be with a people where we can be honest about ourselves and with a people who are convinced that our only hope in this world is the Lord God.
Someone suggested a few weeks ago that my theme for the summer ought to be “Faith Lessons from East Texas” since I have seemed to work that in each time I have preached. So here is this weeks offering. Near my parent’s home east of Quitman, on SH Highway 154 on the way to Gilmer, there is a little community set among the rolling hills and pine trees. There are only two or three houses and a Baptist Church there. The community and the church are both called “Little Hope.” Little Hope, Texas. Little Hope Baptist Church. Can you imagine going to a church where they have virtually conceded all hope? Well, I want UPC to be known by a different name. I want us to be known as a place of “Great Hope.” For we worship and serve a God who saves and forgives and restores. Even God cannot undo that which cannot be undone. But God always runs and welcomes sinners and throws arms around us and invites us to the banquet that has been prepared for all who sin and fall short of the glory of God. AMEN