When a King Repents

A sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
II Samuel 11:26 – 12:15

Have you ever been caught? I mean really caught?

The lights go on, and there you are with your hand in the cookie jar.

Your parents come home…early!

The teacher catches you cheating on a test.

You get audited.

There are flashing red and blue lights in your rear view mirror.

Our first instinct is denial… “Who me?” “But… but…”

But then comes that sick feeling. You are caught. There’s no one else to blame. Suddenly you feel like you are being featured on “America’s Most Wanted”.

Even if we are innocent, being accused can disturb us deeply. Don’t you hate it when the anti-theft alarm goes off when you’re leaving a store, just because someone forgot to remove a tag? Everybody looks.

But sometimes we are guilty. Sometimes we simply can’t take it back. Sometimes we are powerless to undo the wrong we have done.

0FKOne of my favorite movies by director Terry Gilliam is “The Fisher King” starring Jeff Bridges and the late Robin Williams.

Jeff Bridges plays Jack Lucas a radio shock-jock, think Howard Stern. One day, a young man called into the show and started to rail against yuppies. Kind of dates the movie… Jack agrees. “Yuppies are scum and should be shot.”

Well, the young man who had called in takes Jack’s humor as advice. He shoots up a nightclub full of yuppies. Jack loses his job, begins drinking heavily and falls deep into despair. He gets to the point of suicide, but is rescued by a decidedly insane homeless man named Perry, played by Robin Williams.

Jack and Perry connect, they even bond as Jack is introduced to Perry’s bizarre underground world of homelessness. Soon Jack realizes that Perry was once a successful and happily married professor whose life was changed in one horrifying moment – the moment a crazed young man shot up the club where he and his wife were dining. Perry’s wife was killed right in front of him.

As you can imagine, after this revelation Jack sinks even deeper into guilt. He has come to care about one life that was forever changed by his careless act. In one pivotal moment in the film, Jack cries out, “Can’t I just pay my fine and go home!”

King David has been caught. There’s no doubt about it.

David, despite having seven wives already has an affair with Bathsheba, another man’s wife. He arranges to have Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, killed in battle, so that he can have her, who is now pregnant, and no one will know that he had committed adultery.

This scene we heard this morning where Nathan the prophet confronts David is one of the most poignant exchanges in all of scripture, as chilling and suspenseful as anything from Shakespeare.

david-and-nathanNathan presents him with the case of this greedy man, who has many sheep already but steals away the prized lamb, the only lamb, belonging to another. He not only steals this poor man’s lamb, he eats it! David is enraged to hear this, “This man deserves to die!” Nathan’s words must have thundered deep in David’s soul, “YOU are the man.” David’s guilt, the blood of Uriah on his hands, is like the blood on the hands of Lady Macbeth, who like David is guilty of murder. Do you remember the scene in the play where she keeps trying to wash her hands, desperate to get the blood off? Her hands look clean to everyone but her. Wash them though he may, King David cannot remove the stain of his own sin. An innocent man is dead by his hand. David cannot undo the wrong he has done, even though he is the king.

To whom can a king turn when he has sinned? From whom can he ask forgiveness? From God and God alone. His sin is so great, even he believes he deserves death.

David does repent, before God and before his people. And we have a beautiful, moving portrait of that repentance in Psalm 51, perhaps the most beloved Psalm after the 23rd.

David’s plea is for mercy but also cleansing. “Wash me,” he begs God. His crime needs no trial. His guilt is all too real. His spirit is broken like bones. At this moment he can only throw himself on God’s mercy. It is this reaction, David’s complete repentance that shows us how he truly is “a man after God’s own heart.”

You tell me. When you repent of what you have done. When you beg for mercy and forgiveness, and you get it, does this mean you are off the hook for what you have done? Does this mean there won’t be consequences? David’s sin with Bathsheba affected generations of his family. We hear this chilling prophecy, “The sword will not depart from your house.” The consequences of David’s sin are VERY public. The son born to David and Bathsheba died a few days after birth. David assumed this was his punishment from God, but, as Nathan prophesied, there wasn’t much other happiness to be found in David’s royal court or his family.

Witness the story of David’s third son Absalom. Absalom was described as the most handsome man in the kingdom. Sound familiar? He had a swagger about him. My, the ego of this royal family!

But the sins of his father, David, haunted this royal court in ways that might make the Henry VIII or the Lannisters blush. Absalom’s sister, Tamar, is raped by David’s oldest son, Amnon, whom Absalom then kills in revenge. Absalom is ambitious and begins to gain power and support among the people. He sleeps with David’s concubines and ultimately declares himself king, leading a full-scale, armed revolt against his father.

absalomAbsalom dies in battle, in that unforgettable epic scene where Absalom’s hair is caught in the branches of a tree as he is riding under it. He hangs there, helpless. He is then slain by Joab, David’s military commander, the very same who allowed Uriah to be killed.

David’s grief is overwhelming. How many times, David must have wondered, would he need to pay for his crime? Like Jack Lucas, he wanted to pay his fine and go home.

In a moment, we will pray our regular prayer of confession, and I, as the priest, will pronounce to you the words of absolution. But these words are actually just a reminder of God’s promises. God has promised forgiveness to those who turn to him. This is a moment of transformation, though I think we often take it for granted. God has declared that we are at peace. As you have heard me say before, immediately following the pronouncement of God’s forgiveness and peace, we exchange the peace with each other. This is NOT just a moment to meet your neighbor. This is a very important moment when we show that we are not just at peace with God, but we are at peace with each other.

This is a moment when it would be very appropriate for you to be reconciled with someone who needs your forgiveness or who you need to ask to forgiveness from. That is the essence of “passing the peace,” but sadly we rarely do avail ourselves of the full opportunity it represents.

But once we have received forgiveness from God and have declared ourselves at peace with one another, it is THEN that we approach the Lord’s Table to receive the Eucharist.

It truly is a banquet of peace and forgiveness. We celebrate our repentance with the grace we receive through the bread and wine. Sometimes the forgiveness might seem bittersweet, especially when there are consequences that must still be faced. God’s forgiveness doesn’t mean we won’t face a fine, or lose a relationship, or endure a jail sentence. But the grace of the Eucharist remains. It cannot be worn out. It doesn’t expire. We are at peace. We have been forgiven. And we rejoice.

With David let us raise our voices in sorrow at the wrongs we may have done, to others or even to ourselves. But let us also trust the promises of God that we are indeed forgiven. Our blood-stained, sin-stained hands have finally been washed clean. Amen.

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