Saturday, June 23, 2007

Sermon on 2 Samuel 11:26-12:15 and Psalm 32. "Wasting Away for Blessedness"

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. The sermon for today will be based on the reading from 2 Samuel, about David’s sin with Bathsheba, and also on Psalm 32, a psalm of confession that Hebrew tradition tells David wrote after he had repented of his sin. I will reread the Psalm for your hearing:

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah. I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.
You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you. Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you. Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

You may want to keep both the 2 Samuel and the Psalms readings at hand to refer to during the sermon. And notice the contrast that is painted between the state of a person when their sins are confessed and forgiven, and when they are not. We are going to see what it is like for a person to end up wasting away in their unrepentance, when they could be experiencing the blessedeness of God. Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

The Old Testament reading today happens to be a particular picture of fatherhood. A happy coicidence for this Father’s Day, perhaps? We’ll see. This turns out to be one of David’s darkest moments as a father, and as a king. It was actually his role as father that came to be the problem in this account. You see, David had let his lust for women get the best of him, and had fathered a child with another man’s wife. He committed adultery with Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of David’s soldiers. And David went to no small effort to cover up his crime; attempting first to send Uriah home from war to sleep with his wife. Honorable and loyal as he was to his fellow soldiers, Uriah would not take this privelege. David then got him drunk to encourage him, but again, honorable Uriah did not go home to his wife. With cold calculation David sent word to his general to put Uriah in the front lines and to pull back from him so that he’d surely be slain. David’s efforts to cover his sin up had to get bigger and worse each step of the way, until he was finally satisfied that the whole matter had successfully been swept under the rug. Hardly a good example for us or for our fathers this Father’s Day.

Commentators say it was about a year that David lived in unrepentance over these sins. From the reading in Samuel it seems almost as if the events never bothered him. He quietly waited till Bathsheba finished the proper period of mourning over her dead husband, and then in an apparent gesture of compassion and consolation, David took this sorrowing widow home as his wife. From outward appearances David was still the faithful king that was the people’s champion, and he seemed rather oblivious to any wrongdoing. But from David’s personal reflection in Psalm 32 we learn otherwise. During this lengthy time of unrepentance, David was wasting away in his bones. There was a deep gnawing guilt that burdened his heart as he tried to maintain that mask. In sweeping the matter under the rug, he did not find the peace of a guilt-free conscience, but rather the deep groaning and ache of living a lie. Like being parched in the heat of summer, with no water. All this was going on inside while David tried to keep up the show of innocence on the outside.

Does this sound at all like us? Probably most of us have never started that big…even David probably had his fair share of practice with smaller sins before. What I mean is covering up our guilt. Pretending that we are innocent. Finding excuses for our sins, or pleading that “It’s totally understandable why I did it.” It’s such a part of our sinful human nature to play this game of “self-justification.” We may be prepared to confess and admit some of our sins. But there are always those pet sins that are just a little to close to home for us to be willing to give up and confess. Maybe it’s because we’ve kept them so well hidden that no one else knows about them. Pornography can be one such addiction. Maybe it’s because the particular sin is one that everybody does know about, and they’re OK with it. They just wink and turn their eye because no one is willing to speak God’s Word that it is a sin. Pre-marital sex is an example. Or cheating on your income taxes. Or a little innocuous shoplifting. Maybe it’s because even though we’ve heard God’s Word on the matter, we have a hard time convincing ourselves that God is right. After all, if it’s OK with society, how could God be bothered by it? While perhaps few of us think we have sins as big as David’s to hide, all of us are familiar with this game of self-justification, and hiding our guilt. It goes all the way back to the fig leaves in the garden of Eden.

And if we play this game, we’ll find that the silence of unrepentance—the silence of not confessing our sins before God—will be a poison in our bones. We will waste away in groaning from the guilt of our sin. Even if we’re pretty good at keeping up the façade, even if we’ve got everyone else believing our spotless reputation. There are at least two that remain unconvinced. You know that God is one of them. We are the other. Unless we have lived in unrepentance so long that we believe our own lie, we each know deep down in our heart that we are guilty before God. And that weight is a burden we can’t lift. We will be wasting away in the guilt of unrepented sin instead of receiving the blessedness of God.
So watch what happened when the Lord confronted David’s unrepentance. He sends the prophet Nathan, and instead of coming outright and condemning his sin directly, Nathan first tells David a story. After hearing the story about how a rich man didn’t show compassion to his poor neighbor, but rather stole his only little lamb and cooked it for his guest, David is outraged. Thinking that this is something that has happened in his own kingdom, David decrees the punishment for this crime. He decreed death to the man, and a fourfold repayment of what he had taken. Our translations don’t really grasp the full force of his statement when they say “this man deserves to die.” Literally, David said “By the Living Lord, the man that has done this is a son of death!” A son of death! And so it was that David found his own decree turned against himself. When the prophet Nathan spoke the words “You are the man!”, David realized that he was the son of death! And he had just decreed his own punishment! This is the end of the game of self-justification. We get caught in the web of our own lies, and all our pretense of innocence crumbles away before the real Judge, God Himself. By nature we are children of wrath, says Ephesians 2:3, because we have been born into sin, and because we live in the desires of sin.

We must give up this game and be willing to make full confession of our sins. We must be prepared to fully unload our sins before God, and confess with all our heart that we are by nature sinful and unclean, and that we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. Sins that we have done, and the good that we have left undone. To stop bargaining with God about which sins are “ok.” The only reward in holding on to our sins is to waste away in the silence of guilt. But to those who confess, there is blessedness, as we will see.

So David awaits his verdict. He’s already been stunned by the realization that he’s been caught in his guilt. God’s answer to David is to ask why? Why have you done this? Why have you despised the Word of the Lord? Have I not given you enough blessings, and could I not have poured out more? But instead you have despised me. At this point, there is no longer any point in trying to make excuses or justifications for our sin. I’m a master of these excuses. They all start pretty much the same: “If it weren’t for the fact that you…” “If only you had given me this, I wouldn’t have…” “You can’t really expect me to love them after they did…?” “You know that it was just a moment of weakness, right?” We expect that somehow the fact that we do evil will make sense to God. As if it were logical why we disobeyed His commandments. But sin is never excusable to God, because it is so contrary to His nature. It never makes sense to Him why we would hurt or harm our neighbor, or even to speak badly of them. It never makes sense to Him that we would know His perfect commands and yet despise them and choose to sin instead.

But not all is lost for this Father’s Day! We find out that David actually is redeemable as a good example for fathers and the rest of us. Showing what makes a true Christian father to be faithful and humble, David owns up to his sin. He confesses, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Oh that those words would be on our mouths each and every day! For all the wasting away for blessedness that we have done! For all the times that we have labored under sin’s heavy burden, and wasted away in unrepentance. But true blessedness awaits us! The joyous conclusion of David’s story and David’s Psalm is that there is blessedness for the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. There is blessedness in giving up the game of self-justification, in admitting ourselves to be real sinners who have offended God.

David experienced this blessing when Nathan gave those words of absolution, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Today you experienced it in the words of Absolution, whether you felt it or not. God’s Word is active! Imagine what a terribly uncertain thing it would be if God’s Word only worked when I “felt” the joy of forgiveness? It doesn’t make a difference whether you “feel forgiven” or not, God’s Word says that it is so! The repentant sinner is always forgiven. So more importantly than being redeemable as an example for us, David himself was REDEEMABLE. Because Christ redeemed him and all sinners by His death on the cross. In the Psalm for today David writes, “I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.” When we uncover our iniquities and sins in confession to God, Christ covers them. He forgives even the greatest of sinners; even the best at the game of self-justification. It flies in the face of all human reason that when we admit the guilt we have, that God would not punish us. The joyous surprise for David was that even though he knew his own sentence should have been death for his sin, he was spared as God spoke through Nathan: “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.”

How is this possible? How is it possible that God should not punish us for our sins, as we deserve? Because the blessedness of being forgiven is a free gift to us, payed for with the precious blood of our Savior Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ proclaims to us that God has put away our sins. Jesus took all our sins, even the ones that we waste away trying to hold on to, and He put them away from us at the cross. Jesus’ death took the full penalty for all we had done wrong. Now do you see why it is so foolish for us to cling to our sins, to live in unrepentance? Now do you see why it makes no sense to waste away under our guilt, when we could be living in the blessedness of sins forgiven? “Blessed is the man whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.” Our sins have been covered by Jesus’ blood, and we have been covered—not by a façade or pretense of innocence, but the real, spotless, perfect innocence of Jesus Christ, claimed as our own by faith in His death and resurrection. With the last words of today’s Psalm we can join in those prayerful words: “Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord. Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!” Call to everyone, that they may come and know the blessedness of being surrounded by the steadfast love of the Lord, and to have a song of joy and praise in our heart, to the God who gives us blessedness through the forgiveness of His Son Jesus. Amen.

Now the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting, Amen.