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Sermon: Falling Apart

July 24, 2009

2 Samuel 11:1-15

When I lived in Hawaii, I was driving past a crew clearing heavy weeds from the side of the road.  One of the men was using a Weed Eater.  I could hear it, buzzing away.  Suddenly, there was a loud THWAK! on the windshield just in front of my face.  I jumped in my seat, but kept driving.  Clearly, one of the workers kicked up a small rock and it struck my truck.

As I went along, I thought I could see a little chip or crack in the windshield.  It turned out there was a crack, maybe less than one-eighth of an inch long.  “That’s not too bad,” I said to myself.

Well, it wasn’t too bad, but a week or two later, the crack looked suspiciously larger.  It didn’t seem to be a problem, but it was definitely bigger than before, so I kept my eye on it.  Sure enough, within another few days, the crack was starting to spread.  Before long, it had spread all the way across my windshield.  I tried to ignore it.  My windshield seemed solid, and didn’t look like it would collapse on my.  I did nothing but cross my fingers.

Eventually, it was time for me to renew my automobile registration.  In Hawaii, a mechanic must inspect your car for safety before you can renew your registration.  He looks at the lights, the turn signals, the tires, the brakes and a few other things.  The very first thing my mechanic said to me was, “You can’t pass inspection with your windshield cracked like that.”  I guess I couldn’t ignore the crack in my windshield any longer.

It cost me two or three hundred dollars to fix the windshield, and to a pastor on minimum salary living in a place with an enormously high cost of living, that hurt.  I called the county to file a claim for the damage.  I had a slim hope that I could get reimbursed, but they rejected the claim outright.  The responsibility for the windshield was all mine.  It had started as just a tiny crack, barely visible, but ended up costing me quite a bit of time and money as well as a few gray hairs.

Things that start small, that seem insignificant at the start, can quickly get out of control.  Just ask King David.

One fine spring, the time of the year that kings go off to war, David sent his army off to fight.  David was a brave and successful warrior, but this time he decided to sit it out.  He had earned a rest by clobbering his enemies and capturing the city of Jerusalem.  As David took his vacation, his men off at war, he spied a beautiful woman on a nearby rooftop.  She was taking a bath.  David was a red-blooded man who already had several wives, and he thought to himself, “That woman looks very good to me.”

He sent his servants off to find out who she was.  It turned out the woman was named Bathsheba, but she was already married to Uriah, one of David’s soldiers.  Yet this didn’t seem to bother David one bit.  The text gives us no indication that David even hesitated, never once thought “is this a good idea?”  So he sent messengers to get Bathsheba.  You can do that sort of thing when you are king.

When the king asks you to do something, he isn’t really asking.  Bathsheba knew enough to come to David’s palace as ordered, where the king had sex with her.  For David, it was as simple as that.  He sent her back on her way and probably assumed that would be the end of it unless he decided to “invite” her over again.

That was a relatively small beginning.  It started with the king shirking his duties.  He was expected to lead his armies into battle.  In fact, that’s why the people asked God for a king in the first place.  And then, as far as the king was concerned, it was only a slightly more serious matter to sleep with the married Bathsheba while her husband was away at war.  For a king, no big deal.  The crack was getting wider.

But then, Bathsheba sent a message to David: “I am pregnant.”  Those words have been life changing—sometimes in devastating ways—for people throughout human history.  “I am pregnant.”  This was not good news for David.  Perhaps for the first time, he had to think about what he had done…and what he was going to do next.

David devised a simple plan: call Uriah back from the front under the pretext of sharing information about the war.  Then, send Uriah back to his house for the night where he will surely sleep with his wife.  David and Bathsheba could both pretend that the child belonged to Uriah.  Easy, right?

In one of the most terribly ironic moments in the story, Uriah is too faithful for his own good.  “As long as the ark of the covenant—the sign of God’s presence with our people—and as long as my commander and my brothers in arms are living in tents far from home, I will never go in to my own house and my own bed and my own wife.  I would never think of doing such a dishonorable thing.”  And David, who by all rights should have also been living in a tent in the army camp, said nothing, but kept Uriah in Jerusalem one more day while he considered Plan B.

The next day, David gave a feast for Uriah and made him drunk.  David hoped that maybe the soldier would forget his vow and go down to his house to sleep with Bathsheba.  But instead, Uriah slept on a couch in David’s palace, and did not go home.

The day after that, David had to make sure that Uriah would never go home again.  He wrote a letter to his general, Joab.  “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”  Joab was a man even more ruthless than David, and he understood perfectly.  He did his job, and Uriah perished because he was more honorable than his king.

It all got away from David so quickly.  He was spending his time idle in Jerusalem, taking a few moments of secret pleasure with another man’s wife, but in an instant, everything turned.  There was a pregnancy, a failed cover up, and finally murder.  The little crack had spread all the way across the windshield, and there was no going back.

*     *     *     *     *

You and I understand temptation.  We know what it is to want something so badly that our desire overrides our judgment.  We understand the urge to cover up our sin and failure, to protect our reputations.  These are not native characteristics only of kings and politicians, but they are part of our basic, common human nature.  The Apostle Paul recognized that our faith in Jesus Christ, the power that God gives us to live our lives and share the Gospel, is contained within “earthen vessels” (2 Corinthians 4:7, RSV).  That is, we are fragile in body and spirit.  The treasure God puts into us is powerful and enduring, but the nature of the vessel is weak and sinful.

Perhaps the good news of this story—and really, there seems to be little good news in David’s treachery—is that even though God understands that we are liable to such error, God continues to entrust us with so much.  God uses human beings to share love and wisdom and grace even though we have such a terrible track record.  That speaks of God’s great love for us, that God values us despite our failure.

And so if God is willing to use us, we can honor that trust.  David fell apart; he trampled on that trust and destroyed human lives in order to satisfy his selfish desires.  In that respect, we are not much different than David.  We will fall.  It is inevitable.  Yet that doesn’t have to mean that we give up trying.  God has not given up on us, and so we do not have to give up, either.

As we read the story, we can see there were several points along the way where David could have put a stop to the ever-widening chaos that he had set in motion.  If David had been somewhat mindful of his behavior, he might have put a stop to it.  But unfortunately, David was not prepared to do that.  It would have required humility and, possibly, a great blow to his reputation and power.  He was not ready to take his medicine, to take the consequences that he—and he alone—had earned.  And so, to protect himself, David destroyed the lives of others.

David had the opportunity to prevent the crack from spreading all the way across the windshield.  In our lives we will have that chance, too.  In my life, I have done a few really stupid, terrible things that I could have prevented…if only I had not let my pride get in the way…if only I had let myself act with an ounce of humility…if only I had accepted the consequences sooner rather than later.  If I had done that, then others would have not suffered as deeply as they did.

It is a pretty simple concept: handle the crack when it is small, and you won’t have to buy a new windshield.  Unfortunately, it is all too easy to imagine that if I do nothing, maybe I can avoid the effort.  But no, avoidance only leads to greater consequences—for you and for the innocent.  If David had been willing to act with humility and to face up to his sin, Uriah might have come home to live a full life with his wife.  But like us, David is merely an earthen vessel.  He ignored the crack, and it broke him apart.

Let us have more wisdom.  Let us do a better job of honoring God’s confidence in us.

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