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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

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Pentecost 08/05/2012

We love a scandal don’t we?  We must; if we didn’t, what passes for news these days wouldn’t focus so much on the latest celebrity, politician, sports star, family, church or school that’s in trouble about something.  For the most part this so called “news” doesn’t affect our lives in the least other than to take our minds off of things that might actually matter but those who produce the news know that we’re fascinated by the illicit nature of these things.  We’re fascinated by the lives of the rich and famous, even more when they get in trouble.  We pretend to be horrified, but we can’t wait to find out more, so they tell us more.

I don’t know if King David was the first example of this kind of thing, but he certainly is a classic example of it.  In the readings that we’ve had last week and this week he has definitely changed as a character, and not for the better.  It is quite dramatic though as the first stories about him from back in First Samuel are all so positive in contrast to this one.  He starts as a nobody, the youngest son of Jesse, a shepherd boy looking after the flocks but after that, after he’s anointed to be king, he is pretty much perfect.  He’s good and brave and compassionate and forgiving, everything he does is done for the right reasons, his faith in the Lord always comes first.  If he has any serious flaws, the one who tells these early stories isn’t inclined to reveal them. 

David is portrayed as a hero and we’re familiar with that concept.  I don’t know how they do it these days but when I first learned about people like George Washington and Abraham Lincoln when I was a little kid it was all the good stuff, the hero stuff and they were good and heroic characters.  When you read more grown up things about them later on you find out they were good, but not perfect, but still, we need heroes so those early portrayals were OK; you have to start somewhere and what we were taught was the truth, it just wasn’t the whole truth. 

The people of Israel needed heroes too and in the early stories of David that’s what they got and as with our heroes it was the truth, just not the whole truth.  The trouble with heroes when they are portrayed as flawless though, is that it’s hard to identify with them because we know we’re not flawless.  They might inspire us and that’s a good thing; for example with David we like the last becoming first aspect of his portrayal when he’s anointed as king; there’s hope in that for those who might feel that they’re closer to last than first, so we like that.  We like the underdog story of him taking on Goliath and winning; it can help us to have courage when the odds seem to be against us.  For the most part though, in the early stories about David he does become increasingly perfect and therefore less and less like us.  The stories may be interesting, even inspiring, but they’re hard to relate to. 

When David’s flaws are revealed though, we find out he’s not so different from us after all.  Like many other people of celebrity who have followed him, David is subject to the same weaknesses and temptations everyone else is; he is human after all.  What’s a little bit striking though, is just how bad David winds up looking in this story after having been so good.  When you really look at it, the person he becomes is pretty awful.  The first hint of this change in him is from last weeks portion of this when the text says that David sent his officers out into battle, but he himself remained in Jerusalem.  David, the brave military hero ever since the battle with Goliath many years ago, is now going to leave it to others to do his fighting, thus freeing him up to do other things. 

Then, the encounter with Bathsheba is just brutal.  When David sees her, he wants her and as the king he can have what he wants; the rules don’t apply to him.  From there it’s all blunt action; he sent, he took, he lay; then the woman, not even named yet returned and conceived.  It’s all action, one thing after another; no conversation, not even a hint of caring or affection or love, just power and lust. 

When David finds out the woman is pregnant he responds quickly, he is a man of action.  The attempt at cover up begins and as we find in so many of our modern day scandals, the deed is bad, but the cover up is worse.  David first thought he’d try what he probably saw as a little innocent trickery, try to make it look like Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was the father because who’d ever know the difference?  Bathsheba certainly wouldn’t dare say anything and who would take her word against David’s if she did?  But when Uriah turned out to be more honorable than David had bargained for, innocent trickery thus having failed, David in essence imposes a death sentence, sending Uriah to the front lines where he was sure to be killed.  People do get killed in battle after all so again, who would know and after the fact David could make Bathsheba one of his wives and no one’s the wiser…except the Lord.

That’s today’s part of the story as the Lord, speaking through Nathan, uses a little bit of trickery himself, telling an innocent sounding story about a rich man taking advantage of a poor man and his pet sheep that causes David to look in the mirror and point the finger at himself, to condemn himself when he recognizes that he’s the man.  From there things do turn, as David asks for forgiveness; Psalm 51 is attributed to David as his prayer of repentance, but after such an odious series of actions, adultery, deceit, cover up, murder, maybe God can forgive him, but can anyone else?  Either way, the human damage can’t be undone even if it is forgiven.

The books of First and Second Chronicles cover a lot of the same material as First and Second Samuel, but the author of Chronicles, writing later, chose to leave this David and Bathsheba episode out; it didn’t fit with how he wanted David remembered so he conveniently omitted it.  But there are good reasons to leave it in and not just so we can feel morally superior because, of course, we’d never do anything that bad. 

Reading this in light of today’s reading from Ephesians, part of which was about gifts, it occurred to me that this chapter in David’s life represented a massive misuse of the gifts he’d been given, a violation of the call to “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”  Those are beautiful words about how God wants us to live and a couple of verses later there is an additional caution about being tossed about by trickery, craftiness and deceitful scheming. 

Now obviously David never read these particular verses as they were written hundreds of years later, but it’s not hard to see him tangled up in them because of his trickery, craftiness and deceitful scheming.  David had been blessed by the Lord and given many gifts, gifts that he used well in many cases.  But in this story David had strayed from the ways of the Lord, no longer (in the words of Ephesians) promoting the body’s growth in building itself up in love.  Instead, the only body David was concerned about was his own.  He was used to being in control.  At his best he recognized the Lord as the source of whatever control he had, but having lost sight of that, as powerful as he was, it didn’t take much for things to spin tragically out of control and that’s the caution for us.

David is an extreme example but rather than say, “I’d never do anything that bad,” we do better to acknowledge that in some fashion, we’ve all been there, straying from the ways of the Lord, trying to cover our tracks, causing human pain and brokenness along the way.  God’s forgiveness is always available, and maybe the human damage can be undone, but still it’s a caution to use the gifts we’ve been given to build each other up, to bear with one another in love.

We’re going to celebrate the sacrament of Holy Baptism here in a few minutes.  The story of David and Bathsheba and its aftermath don’t seem very baptismal, but connected to the Ephesians lesson and the discussion of gifts, I think it works.  “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  Hadley has been given gifts, she will be given gifts.  Right now we don’t know what all those gifts are (apart from her being exceptionally cute and having a loving and caring family) but added to them today is the gift of the Holy Spirit.  That is the gift that will guide her in using the other gifts she is given, the gift that will enable her to speak the truth in love as she grows up and as she grows in the knowledge and love of Christ. 

Guided by the Holy Spirit, Hadley will use her gifts well, she will live a life worthy of the calling to which she is called, whatever that calling may be.  When she fails, and she will as we all do, the gift of forgiveness is always available, another lesson that’s reinforced by this David story.

It is a scandalous story and we are perversely fascinated by such scandal.  But connected to Ephesians it reminds us of another scandal, what St. Paul called the scandal of the cross.  In baptism we don’t just gaze from afar at that scandal, each of us is joined to it as we die with Christ, but in the mystery of our faith, we are also joined to the forgiveness and new life to which the cross leads.  Today, as we celebrate with Hadley each of us can remember our own baptism, and remember what a precious gift it is.

Rev. Warren Geier


Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor

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one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
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one who
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