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Sermon: Accepting Responsibility

July 31, 2009

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

What do you do when the governor is missing?  Nobody knew the whereabouts of South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford.  There was a rumor that he was hiking on the Appalachian Trail, but no one seemed to know for sure.  He hadn’t left word with his staff, or even his family.

Then, the news came out that he had been in Argentina, of all places.  The Governor of South Carolina had gone missing and turned up in Argentina.  Was this a kidnapping?  Was he a secret agent for the government?  Finally, the truth came out: Sanford admitted he had been in Argentina with his mistress.

Sanford, who is married with four children, did apologize to the people of South Carolina for going AWOL, and he did apologize to his family, but he seemed to indicate he would remain in office.  To defend his position on the issue, Sanford compared his situation to King David.  You may remember that David had an affair with the wife of one of his soldiers.  Then, when his mistress became pregnant, David had the husband killed.

Sanford said of his own situation,

I think there is a remarkable capacity for forgiveness in the state…David failed, literally, and yet he reconstructed his life, put it back together and became a guy who was after God’s spirit.  So I would say I’m on the larger voyage…My hunch would be that it’s a good example with regard to my boys—if you fall down in life, that you get back up.  I think it’s a good example from the standpoint of the larger voyage of humility.  (Phillip Rucker, The Washington Post, June 27, 2009;

It is true that both King David and Governor Sanford were both guilty of conducting affairs with married women, and that the secrets of both men were ultimately made public.  The truth came out into the light.  But the similarities end there.  Sanford, in fact, was misusing the story of David.  The lesson of the text is not about getting back on your feet if you stumble.  It isn’t about being on a larger voyage of humility.  It is about sin and its consequences.  It is about the danger of pretending that we are equals with God.

Our lesson begins with the aftermath of Uriah’s murder.  Bathsheba mourned for her husband.  David took her into the palace as his wife, and she gave birth to the child conceived in their adultery.  As far as David was concerned, the matter was over.  He did what he had to do to protect his reputation— kill Uriah.

David forgot that even a king cannot hide the truth from God.  God, who seemed so terribly silent as David’s plot was playing itself out, finally spoke through the prophet Nathan.  The prophet appeared before the king and told a story about two men, presumably to ask David to judge the situation.

One man was very rich and had everything.  The other man had only one little ewe lamb.  That little lamb was like a daughter to the man and his family.  It grew up with his children.  It ate from his table.  It slept in his arms.

One day, the rich man had a visitor, and instead of taking one of his own animals, the rich man took the poor man’s lamb and slaughtered it.  He fed it to his guest.

David was furious.  “Oh, the man who did this deserves to die.  He had no pity!  He will restore everything four times over.”  That was the judgment of the king.

Nathan knew the king would judge wisely.  The rich man’s behavior was a clear violation of God’s law.  But Nathan had a surprise.  He said to David, “You are the man!

“Thus says the Lord: I anointed you king over my people.  I rescued you from Saul.  I gave you the kingship and all that comes with it, including many wives.  In fact, if that hadn’t been enough, I would have given you much more.

“So why have you despised me?  Why have you done such evil by taking Uriah’s wife and then murdering him?  Didn’t I do enough for you?  Weren’t you satisfied?”

David listened quietly to everything Nathan said.  I imagine that David was stunned.  His secret had become public knowledge.  And God was angry.  The real moment of truth came when Nathan finished his prophecy.  David still had a choice.  He could have asserted his royal will once again.  He could have fought to keep his secret a secret.  It would have been easy for David to kill Nathan, just as he killed Uriah.  What would David do?

David said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

There was no bargaining.  There was no making of excuses.  There was no rationalizing.  David simply admitted what God had known all along:  I have sinned.

Most of us—when we come to this point in our lives, when the game is up, when our misdeeds have come clearly into the light, when our terrible secrets are common knowledge—most of us immediately begin to figure out a way to mitigate the consequences of our behavior.  We try to spin the truth so that we don’t look so bad.

South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford said that for him to overcome this obstacle, as if he were suffering from a terrible disease or had been a victim of injustice, rather than facing an obstacle of his own making, would be a good example to his boys.  Pick yourself up when you’re down.  The Governor even said that he had initially encouraged his mistress to return to her estranged husband (“South Carolina Governor admits affair,” June 24, 2009;  Perhaps he was just a man who had good intentions, but got caught up in the moment.  See, he’s not such a bad guy.  Even David had his struggles.  Right?

You might think I’m being a little hard on Governor Sanford, that I’m being judgmental.  You’re probably right.  But my point is that the Governor did what we all do—myself included.  I am certainly no better than the Governor in this respect.  What we all really want—with our apologies, our admissions of failure, our claims of repentance—what we really want is to be freed from the consequences of our sin.  We want God to look favorably on us and to save us from the complications of our actions.

But that is not what David did.  He said only, “I have sinned.”

God, through Nathan, said to David, “Because you have killed Uriah with the sword, the sword will torment your life, too.  You and your descendants will suffer from never ending strife.  And because you took Uriah’s wife in secret, your own wives will be taken from you in front of the whole world.”  Those were to be David’s consequences.

And David said only, “I have sinned.”  For the first time since this episode began, David acted with true humility.  He accepted the judgment and sentence of God with no other comment than “I have sinned.”  That implied, of course, that David understood that he deserved every last consequence he would suffer.  If you read to the end of 2 Samuel, you will see that David did suffer.  And so did others.

Far too often, we apologize and we rationalize because we still want to be saved from the consequences we deserve.  We still aren’t ready to accept God’s judgment.  We have not yet reached a place of true humility.  We are not yet free from our sin.  That is the lesson we learn from David’s story.

Yet, that word of judgment is not the last word.  There is another pronouncement.  Even as we suffer through the consequences of our sin, even as we struggle in the mess of our own making, God has something else to say.  We hear the words as they are whispered from an empty cross.  They are more powerful than sin, and they are more powerful than judgment.  “You are forgiven.”

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