II Samuel 12:1-14
Summer Requests – FBC Laurens
August 11, 2013
In 1961, a Russian Cosmonaut by the name of Yuri Gagarin became the first man to orbit the earth. Desperately wanting to keep up with their world archrival at the time, the United States answered the Russians with a similar mission of their own on February 20, 1962. Our answer came in the form of a 41 year old Marine from Cambridge, Ohio by the name of John Glenn. As you can imagine, Glenn’s accomplishment made him an American icon overnight. From a ticker tape parade in New York City, to photographs plastered all over newspapers and magazines, the name and face of John Glenn was one that was instantly known in almost every American household.
The cost of fame for John Glenn was the fact that after his historic flight, neither NASA nor President Kennedy were very interested in him as an astronaut any longer. Simply put, as an American hero, he was just too valuable a commodity and the risk of something happening to him was way too great. In truth, this reality devastated Glenn, who very much wanted the chance to go into space once again.
As the years went by, the dream of returning to orbit seemed long dead for this great American. But then, ironically, as you may recall, in 1998, Glenn finally got his second chance when at the age of 77, he was once more granted the opportunity to return to space as an astronaut. The door that John Glenn thought was closed to him forever had actually still been open if ever so slightly. His long held desire to fly in space just once more was realized 35 years after his first mission.
Nathan’s very honest encounter with David in our text for today also speaks to this idea that things that may seem like only a part of our past may still be very much a part of our present and our future. The setting for our text is David’s moment of epic failure. The second King of the united Israel had stacked one bad decision and sinful act on top of another. He had developed an inappropriate relationship with Bathsheba and to try to cover it up he had her husband Uriah put to death. In the midst of it all, David’s focus and attention on Bathsheba and Uriah had come while his own men—the army of Israel, had been in the field of battle. The army of Israel was engaged in war and their leader was involved in covering up a scandal. David’s men were offering up their lives and he was at home just trying to save his own hide.
What is equally significant about the prophet Nathan’s coming to speak to King David about his behavior is the timing. You see, when we read the story, we can easily get the impression that all of this happened over a matter of weeks because the whole event is compressed into only two chapters of II Samuel that literally take us about five or so minutes to read. But, if we step back from the biblical narrative for a moment and think about it, we quickly realize that things didn’t happen as quickly as we often assume. After all, when Nathan came to speak honestly with David, the child of David and Bathsheba had already been born and very likely may have been well beyond a few days or weeks of age.
My point is that David’s actions were well in the past by the time of Nathan’s arrival. David was likely at least a year if not more removed from his behavior when Nathan came to confront him. In turn, one wishes that we could get into David’s head and simply eaves drop on what he was thinking. Was he still haunted by what he had done? Was he trying to forget? Did he feel that he had gotten away with it all? Did he wonder how God now felt about him? We can only guess at what David thought but we can know for certain what Nathan said. And this is where I come back to my earlier statement that as Nathan spoke as God’s messenger to the king, he reminded David and he reminds us that our past actions and God response to them really never die. Here is what I mean.
On the one hand, Nathan in this text, challenges David to realize that the actions of his past still are part of his present and will be part of his future. Nathan makes it clear to David that what he may have thought was in his past and what he likely hoped had long been forgotten would in reality continue to be very much a part of his life for a long, long time yet to come. Though it likely took tremendous courage for Nathan to share what he did—after all this was the king he was talking with—Nathan led by the spirit of God felt compelled to help David to understand that his past actions had ongoing consequences for his life and for others. Simply put, Nathan was honest with David whom he loved and cared about. He wanted him to appreciate that he was personally going to continue to feel the effects of what he had done and he also wanted him to understand that others whom he loved and cared for were going to continue to be affected by them too. What David had done did not happen in a vacuum. And, what David had done could not ultimately be covered up or simply blocked from his mind. Rather, it would continue to be a part of everyday life.
I don’t know which channel that you turn to for the nightly news, but, if you happen to watch NBC, then you may be aware that the host Brian Williams is on medical leave. Williams, who is 54, recently had knee replacement surgery. Why? Williams’ knee has troubled him ever since he took a helmet to his knee while playing football in High School. That one single act years ago was continuing to affect his ability to walk normally. Over 30 years after the fact, Williams was still feeling the ramifications of that moment.
Nathan’s honesty with David should be our honesty with each other as flawed vulnerable human beings. Our actions do have consequences. To think, believe or to suggest that no one will know or that we will be able to live with ourselves or that a poor decision is really no big deal in the grand scheme of things is only to fool ourselves. Sure, we don’t need to overplay things and act as though every poor move of our lives will totally wreck or destroy us—no doubt, such thinking is overkill to say the least.
But, the opposite and the idea that with a little time things will just take care of themselves can also be very naïve thinking. I believe Nathan wanted David to appreciate this not only for what he was going through in the moment but also in the midst of decisions he would make in the future.
I hope the same can be true of us. We can’t really do anything about our past, but, we can allow our past mistakes and how they continue to affect us to play a profound role in how we think through the decisions that are before us. Nathan wanted to be honest with David about this, and God, wants to be honest with us in this matter too.
On the other hand, the good news is that Nathan also invited David to embrace the hope that while his past actions still lived, God’s love, grace and forgiveness was still alive as well. Just as likely for David was the belief that God’s grace for him had died with his actions. In other words, while David may have hoped that his behavior toward Bathsheba and Uriah was behind him, he may have also convinced himself that God’s grace and love for him had died with those events too and that it was too late for God’s rgiveness in his life.
Fortunately, Nathan had good words to share alongside the painful words and they were offered in this direction. No matter how far in the past David’s behavior was, Nathan wanted David to be clear that God’s love for him was just as great now as it had been then. Sure, it was time for David to appreciate and own up fully to the ramifications of his behavior but it was also time for him to open up to the goodness of God and God’s love. God wanted to forgive, love and continue to use him even in that moment.
I hope this truth from David’s life speaks to all of us on two different levels. For all of us there are poor decisions in our past that we have struggled to get beyond. For many of us, as the years have piled up since those decisions, we may have convinced ourselves that it is too late for God’s forgiveness in this regard but the truth is that it never is.
At the same time, just as there are things for all of us that we wished we would not have done, there are also things that we should have done that we never did. Those things still haunt us too. But, thanks be to God, the love and grace of our Lord is still alive in regards to those things too. And, I would venture to say and challenge us all to believe, that for some of those things left undone the door may still be open even now no matter how many years may have gone by since those opportunities first came our way.
When I was at Duke, one of the classmates who inspired me was a Methodist student by the name of Doug. Doug was in his mid to late 40s at the time and was in class with lots of folks in their mid 20s. Doug had been a very successful accountant in Florida where he had lived throughout his adulthood. The problem was that for years, he had also felt that God wanted him to be a pastor and he simply kept saying “no”. Now, one would think that the door ultimately closed, that God stopped calling, that the ship passed ol’ Doug by, but it did not. Years after the first sense of calling, Doug left his job and his grown children behind while he and his wife headed to North Carolina to go back to school and finally say “yes” to God.
Yes, actions have consequences. But, no matter what the nature of our actions are they also carry God’s grace. And, when it comes to the failure to do something rather than avoid doing something — even now, perhaps those failures carry the possibility of a second chance. This is God’s honesty to all of us. Amen.