7/22/18: Telling the Truth, 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Telling the Truth
Last in the series, Holy, Broken Hallelujah
First Lesson: Psalm 51:1-7
Second Lesson: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Rev. Scott Dickison
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins,
and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Poetry our tradition hands down to us as David’s prayer of confession after the prophet Nathan comes to him and confronts him about his taking of Bathsheba and eliminating of Uriah her husband.
Powerful images of newness, or resurrection, even—of what has been broken being put back together.
And it all begins in the opening verses of the psalm we heard read earlier: “Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your steadfast love…For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.”
When we last saw David in the previous chapter there in self-imposed exile in the king’s palace, he was trafficking in deception: scheming a plan to hide his misdeeds which finally let to the death of Uriah. Now, as this sad moment in the life of David, and also in biblical religion, comes to its resolution, we learn that the only antidote, the only thing strong enough to cut through the web of lies and deceit that we find in David but of course hear resonating throughout our own lives and world, is the truth.
Our scene opens with what amounts to jab at David sitting there in his house summoning people to his presence, sending messengers here and there. Now we’re told the Lord sent Nathan to David.
Nathan comes with charged with telling David the truth—a risky business if ever there was one. David has already proved himself capable of heinous crimes, working with a shaky moral compass, blinded by his power, and now Nathan would come to confront him on these things? Power doesn’t often respond well to the truth. In fact power often has a contempt for truth because truth is the great challenge to power. The definition of power, you could even say, is the ability to fabricate your own story of reality and have people believe it. Power makes its own truth—this is what David’s scheme with Uriah was all about: crafting a different version of reality—first where the child would be his, and then, callously, that Uriah simply died in battle as soldiers do. But the backbone of biblical faith, the thing that, if it’s not true then the rest of it doesn’t hold any water, is that in the end Truth stands apart from human power.
Truth stands in opposition to power. Truth is a threat to power. And so Nathan comes charged with one of the riskiest callings of God there is which in the end may be the only calling of God there is: speaking truth to power. It’s what Moses did to Pharaoh,
it’s what Queen Esther did to King Ahasuerus,
it’s what Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah—eventually, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah, and Malichi did to all the kings and princes and courts and various other powerful folks.
It’s what John the Baptist did, costing him his head, and what Jesus did, costing him the cross. And it’s what Mary Magdalen, and Peter, and Paul, and all the other apostles did. It’s what countless other people of faith have done through the generations: speak God’s truth to the powers of the day.
It’s what Nathan did for David, and he does so in the telling of a story. A simple story, as far as it goes, of two men one rich and one poor, and their flocks. The rich man had many flocks and herds but the poor man had but one ewe, which he had bought at great price. A little ewe that had grown up with his children, eating at his table, snuggling in his easy chair—it was like a daughter to him. This is more than a sheep, this is the family pet. Guests come to see the rich man and, though he had all the sheep in the world to choose from, he instead goes and takes the poor man’s pet lamb, wrestling it from the man’s children, kills it, prepares it, and serves it to his guest.
At this, King David, the son of a shepherd, and once a shepherd boy himself—thought even now to be God’s shepherd for the people—rages against this man, and declares with the full weight of the throne: This man deserves death for what he’s done!
At which Nathan says to him: You are the man.
You can almost feel the air sucked out of that room and David’s chest. The truth has been told. It falls like a rock and in a second shatters the scheming and deceiving and power like broken glass. Nathan goes on with his prophetic forecast, outlining the fall that would come to David’s family in the chapters ahead, but I wonder how much David heard as the truth of what he had done and who he had become washed over him?
And while there’s little in this story to affirm in David, we can say that Nathan was not the only one to tell the truth that day. After absorbing the judgement from Nathan, David stands there soaked with the full weight of his transgressions, and he finally says to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
He tells the truth.
He tells the truth to Nathan.
He tells the truth to God.
But perhaps most important of all, he tells the truth to himself.
At it’s heart, this is what confession is: it’s one way we tell the truth about ourselves. It’s not the only way. Celebration is another way we tell the truth about ourselves—another important way. For some, it’s just as much a struggle to celebrate and delight in what we’ve done and, even more, who we are, as it is to confess when we’ve fallen short. Celebration is important and something, when we’re at our best, we do well here at the church—encourage each other, build each other up, as Paul puts it. Celebration is an important way we tell the truth about ourselves and each other, and is—or should be—a core feature of life in a community of faith.
But so too is confession. The practice of being honest with ourselves and being able to summon the strength to say, “I did that.” And like celebration, confession, too, can only truly happen in community. A community where we’re free to tell the truth about ourselves in this way and trust that our truth will be received with care and with love, and with the assurance that even as we must face the consequences of it, we need not face them alone. And creating a culture of confession, in the end, is so hard—even in the church—because confession is one of the more counter-cultural things we do as people of faith.
We’ve talked about this before, but no where else in the world is confession expected, and it’s certainly not encouraged. The voices we most often hear in popular culture tell us instead to “Deny, deny, deny,” until you absolutely cannot anymore, and then deny again. Never confess, is the rule we receive from the world. We live in a culture of self-protection, which is the opposite of confession.
But to say we don’t live in a culture of confession is not to say that we don’t live in a culture of guilt. In fact, in my experience, I believe most of us live our lives carrying around an incredible amount of guilt. We live in a culture of inadequacy, surrounded by voices that tell us we don’t do enough, we don’t achieve enough, we don’t accomplish or own or win enough—the sum total of which is: you are not enough. So we feel guilty for not working enough, or not being a good enough parent or not being fully present to our loved ones or our children—guilt created precisely because of our guilt for not working enough. In our zero-sum, you win/I lose, achievement oriented, high-anxiety system, guilt is ubiquitous. Guilt is our currency.
It’s precisely because we don’t have a culture of confession that we carry this guilt around, because the end goal of confession is not to make us feel guilty, but to offer us a path to forgiveness. This is absolutely crucial. Any Christian confession is always immediately followed by the assurance that you are forgiven. Guilt is not the goal of confession, forgiveness is. But without confession, we have no practice, no ritual, no way forward to move through and beyond this guilt and so we stay there in it. Or we do our best to bury our guilt down as far down as we can, only it never really goes away, it only festers and grows and becomes something so much more than the original offense.
Forgiveness, in the end, is every bit as countercultural is confession. Forgiveness pushes back on the prevailing assumption that the only way we can truly be made whole is to move one, keep working, keeping doing, keep spending, keep taking on more and more and more—that this is the only way you will be made whole. The good news is that this is a lie. The good news—the truth—is that wholeness is not achieved in taking more on. Wholeness is received, almost paradoxically, in holding on to less. Wholeness is found in letting go. It’s in the “letting go” of confession and the forgiveness we’re offered in it that we’re made whole again—that allows us to reconcile, to atone, that we become “at one” again, with ourselves, with God, and with our neighbor. This is the good news. This is the truth.
And it would be the truth for David. The consequences would come as they must, but he would meet them with a clean heart, with a new and right spirit, knowing the God who had brought him this far would continue to be there with him through it all. And thank God the same is true for us.
We’ve come a long way in this story of David told over these past several weeks. We’ve seen him rise from fair-eyed shepherd boy, to giant slayer, to God’s chosen king, to lustful tyrant, to humbled, broken man. But more than anything, we’ve seen how this story was never truly about him in the first place—at least not fully. There were always so many other there around him, from Hannah and Eli and Samuel, to Saul and Jonathan, to Nathan and Bathsheba and Uriah. This is the story of a people and the God who works through even their darkest moments. But even more than that, it’s a story of all people, it’s a story about us—with all our meanderings in and out of faith, human frailty and failed institutions. And the God who works with us, stands beside us, laughs and cries with us, but most of all, who loves us through it all. Amen.