Sermon #1 in the Dickens of An Advent Series. Scriptures: 2 Samuel 12:1-15, Psalm 51, Romans 6:17-23
It’s been a few weeks ago now, but think back with me to the day we read about Elijah calling down the fire after mocking the priests of Baal…
While I was giving some of the background for that particular event, I mentioned something about the role of the King and the prophet in relation to the Laws of God. Do you remember how that was supposed to work?
The King was meant to lead like the judges had led before them. For several generations, the judges served as leaders of the Hebrew people, helping the people remain in right relationship with God, keeping the covenant by following the law and listening for God’s commands.
The people decided they needed a king, like the other nations around them. God selected David as the first of these kings. As King, David was still meant to keep the people aligned with God’s law. In David’s time and in every rule to follow, the prophets were responsible for keeping the king accountable to the law. We saw it with Elijah, Hosea and Isaiah the last few weeks, talking and preaching about the Kings leading the people far astray.
Today’s story backs us up a bit. We’re going back to David and a real turning point in his life. As I read, I want you to listen for a these 4 things, because I’ll be asking you to contribute to our conversation afterward…
- Who comes to speak to David?
- What is that person’s goal?
- How does he get David’s attention?
- How does David respond?
Listen as I read 2 Samuel 11:27-12:15 from The Message
OK – Who came to speak to David?
Nathan – the prophet, on behalf of God.
What is Nathan’s goal?
To get David to repent… but he has to understand what he has done is a sin first. So his goal is to have David confess his sin.
How does Nathan get David’s attention?
He tells a story… paints a picture that makes it really clear what is right and wrong. He appeals to David’s sense of justice
And How does David respond?
To the story… anger. Righteous anger. Ready to go out and kill the person who was wrong.
To the accusation… recognition. contrition. confession. He didn’t try to deny it.
God sent Nathan to speak to David about taking another man’s wife as his own and then having that man killed. And doing all of this in secret. I lost count of precisely how many of the ten commandments David broke or bent in that series of bad decisions. But clearly God had not.
Did you notice that God not only had Nathan speak to the details of the sin, but also to all that David already had? He listed all the ways that God had already blessed and provided for David.
David was in a position of power, privilege and authority over others. Over Israel and over Judah.
God had delivered him from Saul.
David had the good will of the people he was leading.
But apparently that was not enough. David is a great example of that part of the human heart that struggles to remain content.
Once he had been called out, David’s response was one of contrition and confession. He told Nathan straight up, “I have sinned before God. Now, did you notice that Nathan had no long, drawn out rituals of purification or absolution? God was ready to forgive David as soon as the confession was made. Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. That was it.
As far as the east is from the west, our sins are removed from us through the grace, love, forgiveness and compassion of God.
Of course, there were consequences. There are always consequences. The reality of David’s behavior affects the whole community, the whole nation. The choices he makes as a leader of his family, of his household, for the people of Israel and Judah… the effects of those choices ripple outward.. no matter how secret he thought those choices had been.
It’s interesting to think about the power God has and the choice God makes in this situation.
As we have seen time and again, God has given humankind agency. We are free to make our own choices and to reap the benefits of those choice. And to reap the sorrows that come along with them. God always has the power to intercede, and sometimes does.
But more often than not, God allows the world to continue, allows our lives to continue apace. We experience God’s presence in ways that are quiet, rather than miraculous. Which means that, more often than not, we find ourselves walking through messes of our own making, trusting that if we listen closely, God will guide us and teach us how to make less of a mess the next time.
I suspect it is easier to teach and guide individuals than it is entire people groups and countries. Even for the Creator of the Universe. After all, once you combine that much free will with strength and power, and then fear and greed get mixed in… well, trouble will surely follow.
We see this truth in David’s reign, as well as Solomon’s and even more-so in the division of the kingdoms in Rehoboam’s time. God’s people are not immune from self-destruction, nor are they protected from the hardships imposed upon them in exile, nor under Roman rule in the time of Jesus.
As much as we would like to believe that the coming of the Christ, that the teachings of the Son of God who walked among us and sent the Holy Spirit to empower his followers… as much as we would like to believe that one life could completely change the trajectory of humankind, we don’t have to look beyond the walls of this building to see that we are still sinful people, living in a world that does not yet reflect the glory of God.
That’s one reason that A Christmas Carol has remained a favorite since its writing in 1843.
The opening Stave or section introduces us to Ebeneezer Scrooge in his counting house on Christmas Eve. He has several visitors – his nephew Fred, a Christmas caroler, two gentlemen seeking donations for a Christmas charity drive. Scrooge makes clear to each of them that he does NOT celebrate Christmas. Christmas is, in Scrooge’s words, a humbug.
Scrooge leaves at the end of the day, but only after making his clerk, Bob Cratchitt, feel awful about taking holiday pay for Christmas Day. Scrooge’s evening is not what he expects, as he is visited by his old business partner Marley. The same Marley who has been dead for seven years.
I want to read a few paragraphs from this segment, then we’ll hit a couple of questions together. READ from pp 19, 20, 21
How is Marley’s visit to Scrooge similar to that Nathan and David?
Marley is sent to hold Scrooge accountable
What ultimately gets Scrooge’s attention (after the shock of seeing a ghost)?
The chains and the sadness they bring Marley. They are reminders of his failure to be about the business of caring for mankind
Eventually, Marley reveals his purpose for coming… I am here tonight to warn you that you have yet a chance and hope of escaping my fate.
Apparently Marley arranged this opportunity for Scrooge’s redemption somehow. His is the first of four visits designed to help Scrooge avoid a fate like Marley’s. Because for Scrooge there is still hope…
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he uses the concept of slavery to talk about our bondage to sin… and how we are set free from sin by grace and then become bound to righteousness instead… Listen to these words from Romans 6:17-23
Now, Charles Dickens never claimed to be a theologian, but he intentionally used his platform as a novelist to speak out about the social problems of his time. Any number of his novels paint an unflatteringly accurate picture of Edwardian life in all its glory and all its financial inequality.
In A Christmas Carol Dickens created an image of Marley literally bound – “captive bound and double-ironed”, he says — as payment for the business on which he focused in life. The wages of sin for Marley come after death. The wages of David’s sin was not his own death, but that of his son.
In both of their stories, there is a lack of connection to others. A lack of understanding that their fates are bound up with those around them. David’s desire for Bathsheba was so great that he tossed aside commandments and righteousness, leading to multiple deaths and generations of heartache. Marley’s focus on his own wealth was so great that he tossed aside the welfare of those to whom he loaned money or sold houses, those he employed, those who would have benefitted from charitable giving. And now Scrooge is walking that same path.
The hope that David was offered is the hope that Paul is pointing to in his letter to the Romans. It is also the hope that Marley is offering to Scrooge through the work of the three spirits. It is the hope that we have today. Our Hope is in the saving and sanctifying grace of God, offered freely through the life, death and resurrection of Christ Jesus.
The first step toward that hope is confession. Seeing and naming the chains that we have forged over time, the sins that bind us. Our prayer of confession was a good start, but I want us to spend a little more time today, examining our lives as individuals, as well as corporately.
All of us sin and fall short of the glory of God. That is and forever will be true. It’d be a great big lie to say otherwise. But the reality is that focusing on our personal sins allows us to ignore the ways that we contribute to or benefit from harmful and sinful structures and systems in our society
Most of the political, financial, educational and religious systems in our nation were were established by men who owned land or had wealth to begin with. As the Europeans arrived Native populations were killed or pushed farther and farther west, or forced to assimilate into the culture of the new arrivals.
Indentured servants and inmates, some arriving as political prisoners of war, became cheap or free labor as they worked off their debt or prison sentences. Many of their descendants live in Appalachia in some of the poorest counties in the country.
The slave trade destroyed countless lives and families for generations, creating a deep and lasting divide in our nation that is based solely on skin color, which spread well beyond the slave-holding states. An important aspect of the damage done to all Americans – black and white – as a result of chattle slavery is the lingering perception that some human lives hold greater value than others. Lynchings, segregation, mass incarceration, police brutality and the killing of young black men with impunity are all evidence our nation’s ongoing struggle to repent of our greatest sin.
Immigrants from Europe, Asia, Latin America and African nations have each experienced the sort of xenophobia currently faced by middle eastern refugees.
It should be no surprise then, that our power structures and systems of commerce and education have largely benefited the majority group across time – while limiting the opportunities for minorities – and they continue to do so. If nothing else, the rhetoric of fear and hatred used by celebrities, pundits and politicians hoping to gain our attention and votes should tell us that our nation has significant problems with racism, classism, sexism and ageism… and any other -isms you can think of.
But those folks make lousy prophets… they are useless as prophets.
Rather than showing us how our fear and grasping harms others, rather than speaking that truth to those with the power to affect change, they stir up even more fear, hatred and mistrust. And too often we don’t see it…
Like the chains that Scrooge carries unseen and invisible, we are implicated and weighed down because we benefit from and choose not to speak against the sins of our people.
While I am not responsible for creating these systems, my husband and I benefit from many of them to the detriment of people who are penalized for their ethnicity, arrested for being poor or marginalized because of their disabilities.
I am more likely to get a job, to be offered loans and credit at a fair rate, and to be let off easy if stopped by a cop that my sisters of color. When my husband goes to work in the morning, I don’t have to worry about him being racially profiled or hassled by the police. He is able to walk across campus and through the bookstore at UCF without being followed. The same cannot always be said for his Muslim and darker-skinned colleagues.
Church, listen up. This is not ok.
None of this is ok.
The fact that the church has been complicit and benefited from the maintenance of these systems of privilege…
That is not ok either.
And these are just some of the links in the chain that we’ve forged as a nation, as the church. These are only some of the ways we remain bound to the sins of our fore-fathers and -mothers.
I am calling us out friends. Until we are part of the solution, we are part of the problem.
I want us to take a little time to name these and other sins, confessing in writing and so that we can be prepared to speak them aloud outside these walls. Because only then can we take the steps to change, to grow, to repent.
We’re going to pause in silence for a bit. There are some strips of paper on the pews, on which I would like for you to write a word or phrase of confession. After a time of silence, we will read and sing parts of Psalm 51, which is attributed to King David.
Written after David’s confrontation of Nathan, Psalm 51 speaks of the pain and sorrow that comes with awareness of sin, awareness of its effects on our souls, as well as the consequences that come even alongside God’s grace and forgiveness.
Listen, and let this psalm be your prayer as I read and sing Psalm 51
NOTE: The questions in this sermon were not really rhetorical devices, so much as invitations for conversation. Some of the answers in this version are overviews of the kinds of responses from the congregation…