Tuesday, July 28, 2009

God is not Pleased

2 Samuel 12:1-13

But God was not at all pleased with what David had done, and sent Nathan to David. Nathan said to him, “There were two men in the same city—one rich, the other poor. The rich man had huge flocks of sheep, herds of cattle. The poor man had nothing but one little female lamb, which he had bought and raised. It grew up with him and his children as a member of the family. It ate off his plate and drank from his cup and slept on his bed. It was like a daughter to him. “One day a traveler dropped in on the rich man. He was too stingy to take an animal from his own herds or flocks to make a meal for his visitor, so he took the poor man’s lamb and prepared a meal to set before his guest.”

David exploded in anger. “As surely as God lives,” he said to Nathan, “the man who did this ought to be lynched! He must repay for the lamb four times over for his crime and his stinginess!” “You’re the man!” said Nathan. “And here’s what God, the God of Israel, has to say to you: I made you king over Israel. I freed you from the fist of Saul. I gave you your master’s daughter and other wives to have and to hold. I gave you both Israel and Judah. And if that hadn’t been enough, I’d have gladly thrown in much more. So why have you treated the word of God with brazen contempt, doing this great evil? You murdered Uriah the Hittite, then took his wife as your wife. Worse, you killed him with an Ammonite sword! And now, because you treated God with such contempt and took Uriah the Hittite’s wife as your wife, killing and murder will continually plague your family. This is God speaking, remember! I’ll make trouble for you out of your own family. I’ll take your wives from right out in front of you. I’ll give them to some neighbor, and he’ll go to bed with them openly. You did your deed in secret; I’m doing mine with the whole country watching!”

Then David confessed to Nathan, “I’ve sinned against God.” Nathan pronounced, “Yes, but that’s not the last word. God forgives your sin. You won’t die for it.

As we pick up the story, David, the apple of God’s eye, God’s chosen and anointed King, is in the process of screwing up big time. You just have to love David. Whatever he chose to do, he went at it full force. So when David decided to commit adultery he did it in grand style. He managed to get the wife of the commander of his troops pregnant while her husband was out of town on a business trip – a trip David has sent him on. Since the trip involved warfare, David decided to plot with the guy’s troops to expose him in battle and get him killed. And it worked. David was off the hook, scot free. Or so he though.

Somehow in the heat of things (pardon the pun) David lost sight of God. That should not surprise us since that is exactly what we do when we give ourselves over to sin. We turn away from God. Sometimes when we do that we compensate and rationalize by developing a god that approves of what we are doing or at least a god who understands why we need to do what we are doing and is willing to turn a blind eye to it. We decide that the god we follow is a loving god and that means our god wants us to be happy so he/she not only allows us to do whatever we wish, he/she approves of what we are doing. With that approach to theology so prevalent, morality and holiness have pretty much disappeared off of the church’s radar screen. Right or wrong is measured by what makes us happy.

Fortunately, when David found himself in this self induced na-na land of “I am living like hell but that is okay”, God did not abandon him there. Enter Nathan. Nathan was sent by God to jerk a knot in David because God really did love David and God loved him too much to leave him in that mess. Just like us, when David gave himself over to sin he broke his relationship with God. Just like us, David pretended that everything was just fine, but it wasn’t. God loved David too much to lose him. So he sent in the rescue team; a team of one named Nathan. I truly admire Nathan. He had more courage in one finger that most of us exhibit in an entire lifetime. He took on the task of telling the KING that he (the KING) was full of crap. Not a job I would want to sign up for.

Now, Nathan is a pretty sharp cookie. Instead of showing up with Bible in hand and boney finger pointed at King David, Nathan just told David a story. Everyone loves stories. The story Nathan told was a morality tale of an unjust, rich, powerful, stingy man who took advantage of a situation and some people and abused them. It was just about a pet sheep that he took to feed a guest but David was incensed. He went off and demanded that justice be served and the wrong be righted immediately. At that point Nathan turned to David and said, “You are the man.” I wasn’t there but I envision Nathan bathed in sweat, shaking like he was freezing; his voice cracking as he strained to deliver what could be a life ending message for him. There was an excellent chance David would kill him on the spot. Don’t forget that at this point in his life, David was behaving rather badly. What’s another dead guy if it helps cover his behind? As frightened as he must have been, Nathan looked the KING in the eye and called him a sinner.

Fortunately for Nathan and more fortunately for David, David repented. Repenting repaired David’s relationship with God but it did not get him off the hook of bearing responsibility for and results of his sinful behavior. Bad stuff happened anyway. But the most important thing was, not that David’s live was problem free and everything happening was making him “happy”, but that he was returned to a right relationship with God.

The most profound and powerful lesson in all of this is the obedience of Nathan. Because God had called him and empowered him, Nathan spoke the truth about sin to the most powerful man in the country. It could have literally cost Nathan his life. He had no guarantee that David would respond well and repent. Nathan’s obedience saved the King and probably saved the country.

I wonder what would happen if we, you and me, started telling the truth? What would happen if we started calling a sin a sin? We don’t because: it is not politically correct; it is none of our business; who are we to judge; where do we come off deciding what is right and what is wrong: it would make us uncomfortable; somebody might get angry. And the list of excuses goes on and on. Blah, blah. What it comes down to, we have all moved to the na-na land that David had moved to and when, or if, God sent us our Nathans, we failed to listen. We need to repent. My prayer is that God loves us enough to send us another Nathan or two and we have the good sense to repent.

Just a thought.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Some of My Best Friends Are Atheists"

I think this psalm could be used (misused, actually, in my opinion) to slam atheists and make the case that those who have arrived intellectually at the conclusion that there is no God are incapable of good deeds. However, it seems to me that such an approach is not only untrue but much too simplistic. What the psalmist probably has in mind here is something else entirely.

A couple of Scriptural connections can be made. The RCL pairs Psalm 14 this week with the story of David and Bathsheba. That is instructive, because King David was by no modern definition an atheist. Yet his behavior here is certainly foolish--tragically so--and perhaps demonstrates the true intent of the psalmist.

Another connection is with Jesus' parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:16-21). This fellow, having been blessed with abundant harvests, decides to build gigantic barns to store his crops, and to devote himself to his own pleasure. "I... I... my..." reads the man's soliloquy. And God calls him, "You fool!"

The problem the psalmist sees is not intellectual--someone ruling out God's existence through reason and logic--it's behavioral and theological. Wicked actions, including mistreatment of the poor, indicate, in the psalmist's view, what a person believes about God: not so much whether or not God exists, but whether or not God matters. This practical atheism is a problem not just outside communities of faith, but within them.

The challenging question for us is, "How do our actions demonstrate our theology?"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Minor Characters

2 Samuel 6:1-5, 12b-19

The long arc of David’s story — from shepherd to giant-conqueror to warrior to fugitive to king — is told through 1 and 2 Samuel, and again in 1 and 2 Chronicles. This week’s Old Testament text portrays a triumphant moment for David. He’s leading a group of men, and they’re bringing the Ark of the Covenant to the city of David, playing musical instruments, shouting, and dancing with all their might.

And mentioned in the middle of the passage is Michal, daughter of Saul, who looked out the window and saw David “leaping and dancing before the Lord; and she despised him in her heart.” (v. 16 )

Who is Michal, other than Saul’s daughter? Why does she despise the sight of David dancing? It’s tempting to skip over this single verse, because it doesn’t seem to fit.

Michal was Saul’s youngest daughter, and years ago, she fell in love with David. Her father found out, and used her as a pawn to lure David into a dangerous wager that Saul hoped would result in David’s death. David delivered on his end of the bargain, so Michal became his wife.

Not long after that, Michal defied her father and helped David escape, saving his life. And then he went on the run.

With David gone, Michal’s father gave her to another man in marriage. This man loved her — when David returned years later, triumphant, and sent men to bring Michal to him, her second husband followed, begging not to lose her. He was told to go back home. Scripture doesn’t tell us how Michal felt about this turn of events, but perhaps this week's text gives us a clue.

Michal is a minor character compared to others in the story — David, Saul, her brother Jonathan. But she still has a story. If given the chance, how would she tell it?

In our own lives, we often look at others as minor characters. Even if we understand our lives as part of God’s story, we still run the risk of putting ourselves, our family, our church, our friends, our workplace, our nation, and our culture, at the center. We almost can’t help it. It’s the “view from the ground.” It’s how we make sense of the world.

The danger is that in relegating others to a minor role, we may forget that with God, there are no minor characters. When we forget that, we lose our capacity for compassion outside of our small circle. We also lose our ability to be blessed by learning what God is doing in others' lives.

God, in the person of Jesus Christ, demonstrated quite often that in God’s story, there are no minor characters. He specialized in turning upside-down every conventional notion of "major" and "minor." He conversed with an outcast Samaritan woman at a well. He noticed a blind man calling out for mercy, and healed him. He called out Zaccheus, up in the tree, and invited himself to dinner. He saw a widow putting small change in the offering, and lifted her up to the disciples as an example of great generosity.

Who are the "minor characters" in our world today? Who are the "minor characters" in our own lives? How can seeing them differently help us to be more compassionate? How can seeing them differently allow us to receive the blessings they bring?