2 Samuel 11:1-15 NRSV
Psalm 14 NRSV
Ephesians 3:14-21 NRSV
A wonderful facet of Holy Scripture is its sheer candor. Unlike much of other ancient literature, the Bible does not protect its greatest heroes from their shortcomings and failures as sinful human beings. Absent of any spin and bias, the writers tell their sordid stories with astonishing honesty. Their misconduct and foolishness are laid bare, with remarkable objectivity.
All who take time to study the Bible are privy to the impatience of Moses, the skepticism of Sarah, the reluctance of Jeremiah and the cowardice of Peter. But of all the offensive exploits of God’s special men and women, perhaps none is more despicable than David’s dealings with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.
David’s treachery is even greater when we compare it to Uriah’s fidelity. Uriah is faithfully defending his country when David learns that Bathsheba is expecting with his child.
David thinks: “I have to cover this up.”
David deceitfully pretends to inquire about the war’s progress, but his real purpose was to devise a reason for Uriah and everyone else to assume that the unborn child naturally belongs to Uriah.
He encourages Uriah to go home to be with Bathsheba so the adulterous affair might not be revealed.
However, Uriah’s integrity and loyalty to his comrades on the battlefield supersedes the hospitality of his wife. Uriah sleeps out back in the servant’s quarters, explaining to David that this was his way of keeping faith with his fellow soldiers.
Frustrated, David tries once again by getting Uriah all liquored up. However, even while intoxicated, Uriah remains faithful to his comrades by sleeping on the sofa.
Uriah’s loyalty to his troops is especially remarkable when we remember that Uriah is not even a native Israelite, but a Hittite. Yet, his personal code of conduct, his unwavering fidelity repeatedly stands in the way of David’s deceitful plans.
And here is when the story really goes awry. Frustrated by the fidelity of Uriah and knowing that as soon as the child is born it will be clear to all that adultery had been committed, David spirals out of control, desperately, deceitfully and audaciously ordering the death of Uriah.
Perhaps we have all heard the hopeful words of Jesus recorded by Matthew, “With God, all things are possible.” Well, the story of David reveals that the opposite can also be a true.
It was the 19th century Russian philosopher Dostoevsky who penned the phrase, “Without God, everything is permissible.” Without God, things are quick to go awry, get out of hand. Without God, we all have the propensity to spiral out of control. Without God, everything is possible.
As the Psalmist warns, without God all behavior that is foolish and destructive is not only possible, it has no limits.
Without God, God-created sexual attraction is transformed into selfish lust leading to the objectification and dehumanization of others and sometimes to betrayal, deceit, and even murder.
Without God, a little money earned fosters insatiable greed leading to the exploitation of others, especially the poor.
Without God, the understanding that all of life is a gift from God, that all is grace, is twisted into an egotistical and entitled pride leading to all kinds of bigotry and exclusivity.
Without God, power derived from birth, inheritance, dumb luck, is used to dismiss and to oppress, to abuse and to misuse, those born without power.
Without God, the holy call to forgive as we have been forgiven is replaced by a call to resentment, revenge and malicious acts of violence.
Without God, lies and propaganda breed fear, and fear breeds bitterness, and bitterness breeds anger, and anger breeds hatred, and hatred can provoke a man to take a gun into a movie theater, into a school or into a church and start shooting the innocent.
Without God, narcissism, sexism, racism, extremism, despair, murder, limitless atrocities are not only possible, they are probable.
Walter Brueggeman has correctly observed that: “It is the knowledge of the reality of God present and at work in our world and in our lives which sets limits to destructive possibilities.”
David’s problem was simply a lack of this knowledge. David had become so powerful, so confident and so proud, that he became blind to the reality of God present and at work in our world.
David imagined that he was somehow exempt from the supreme law of God to love his neighbor as himself. David lived his life, made his decisions, and acted out without knowledge of God, as if God did not exist. And it was this self-indulgent lifestyle which brought destruction to him and his family.
I want to suggest that the prayer in our epistle lesson can help us to avoid such foolishness or madness—madness of which we, including yours truly, are all capable.
One does not have to be a King to forget who we are and whose we are. For all of us, perhaps especially us Westerners living in the 21st century, there exists the danger to go too far with our freedom. We are tempted to cross the line with our liberty. In our sinfulness and brokenness we tend to forget that the world in which we live in is bounded by the mysterious but trustworthy love and law of God. We sometimes forget the reality of God present, at work in our world and at work in our lives—we forget that all of life is bounded by God’s inexplicable, but unfailing grace.
I believe the prayer for the church at Ephesus needed to be David’s prayer and needs to be our prayer today.
I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.
We need to know that God’s connectedness with us is so intimate and so personal that God, God’s self, has named us. God is as close to us as good parents are to their children. We need to know that God cares for us and nurtures us and loves and suffers with us like a devoted parent. We have all heard the phrase, “only a mother could love that man!” God’s love for us is always present. There is no end to its trust, no failing of its hope. It stills stand when all else has fallen. And this love is all we will ever truly need.
I pray that, according to the riches of his glory that you will be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts as you are being rooted and grounded in love.
We need to know that when we are physically weak, God can and will make us spiritually strong. God can and God will strengthen us to overcome temptations and trials. God will be our conscience and help us through the knowledge of Christ to replace our lust with respect, our resentment with forgiveness, our hatred with love, our disregard and disdain for the poor with a conscience for justice.
I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses all knowledge so that you may be filled with the fullness of God.
We need to know that God loves us more than we can possible imagine. This is why the Bible can be so honest and so objective. This is why this book is a canon of candor. This is why misconduct and madness can be laid utterly bare. David can be as sinful as a person can be, and, by the grace of God, be remembered by the Apostle Paul in Acts as “a man after God’s very own heart” (Acts 13:22).
Think about this: If David understood the breadth and the length and the height and the depth of God’s love and God’s grace, would David have gone as far as he did to cover up his sins?
God’s love for us is so great and so big, that there is nothing in all of creation that can separate us from it, through Christ Jesus our Lord. Thus, with God, when we expose our sins, when we reveal our shortcomings, when we lay bare our brokenness, when we confess our anger and hate, we are enveloped by an amazing grace that is greater than our sin.
But, if we ignore our sins without God, never confess it, pretend it doesn’t exist, conceal it by calling it by another name, try to somehow justify it, then, well, anything is possible.
The good news is that the breadth and length and height and depth of God’s love is so great and so intimate and so personal that it has the power to make all that is destructive in this world simply impossible.
Without God, things can go completely awry. Without God, all Hell will break loose. Without God, all things are possible. But with God, there are many things that are impossible.
With God, unforgiveness is impossible.
With God, absolute loneliness is impossible.
With God, being completely lost is impossible.
With God, utter despair is impossible.
With God, being unaccepted, unloved and unworthy is impossible.
With God, spiraling out of control into utter madness is impossible.
With God, saying things or doing things or voting for things that harm our neighbors, especially our neighbors whom the Bible calls the least of these, without a conscience that that names these sins and calls us to repent to obey the supreme law of God to love neighbor as self is impossible.
With God, coming to church, praying, singing hymns and listening to a sermon without a divine call and a holy conviction to leave the comfort of this sanctuary to go out into a dangerous world to be the church, to do the things that Jesus did, lifting up the lowly, seeking out the lost, healing the sick, speaking truth to power, and confronting and challenging and exorcising all kinds of evil, is impossible.
With God, total destructiveness, eternal death, and all Hell breaking loose is impossible.
Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.