Sermon preached August 2, 2009
Text: II Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Men are interesting creatures. On the Prairie Home Companion, the following story was shared (108). Eve, in the Garden of Eden, said to God, “I have a problem. It’s a beautiful garden, but I’m lonely and I’m sick of eating apples.” “Okay,” said God, I’ll create a man for you.” Eve said, “What’s a man.” “He’s a creature with aggressive tendencies and an enormous ego who doesn’t listen and gets lost a lot, but he’s big and strong, he can open jars and hunt animals and is physically fun.” “Sounds great,” said Eve. “There’s only one thing. He’s going to want to believe I made him first.” Many jokes about men carry a modicum of truth. How are men and mascara alike? They both run at the sight of emotion.
But men can be intelligent and sensitive, though they may express it in unique ways. Watch a baseball or football game sometime, and you will see men, often reticent to be too touchy-feely, swat each other on the backside to congratulate the player who performed well.
More recently, we have invented a phrase to praise and admire another man. “You da man.” It is said best at a rather loud decibel level. When you analyze the phrase, it seems rather silly – to call a man a man. But as early as the first part of the twentieth century, the phrase, “the man” came in slang to mean someone in authority and control, and the phrase was used both positively and negatively. In jazz circles in the 1950s the phrase “you’re the man” became a term not to denote authority, but a term of admiration and praise. You’re the man. In our world of increasing clipped language, “you’re the man” has become “you da man” – still used in praise and admiration.
This morning’s Scripture reading is a sort of “you da man” story, but with some surprising twists. David is the man – he is the king. He has power and authority and control. Nathan, well Nathan is an advisor to David, and advisors to kings often find it helpful to tell the man that he is the man. “You da man, David, you da man.” Human history testifies to the need of those in power to be given praise and admiration.
But Nathan’s visit this time has a different purpose. Nathan has gotten wind of a troubling story – heard it from God, in fact. David, at home with not much to do while his troops were out fighting, has slept with another man’s wife, a woman named Bathsheba. He impregnated her in fact, but wanted to hide it. He brought Bathsheba’s husband Uriah back from the war, hoping he would sleep with Bathsheba and the illicit pregnancy would go undiscovered. Uriah refuses to sleep with his wife while his men are in battle. David, desperate to hide his action, sends Uriah to the place in the battle where the fighting is most fierce, and Uriah is killed. David marries Bathsheba so he can hide his actions. In fact, David might come off looking noble – marrying a widow who everyone will know was pregnant when she got married. You da man, David, you da man. This is better than “The Bachelorette.”
So Nathan, sent by God, tells David a story. Imagine two men in a city, a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had flocks of animals, herds of animals. The poor man had but one lamb. He bought the lamb young and it became like a part of the family, growing up with the man’s children, sharing their meager food stuffs. Now a traveler came to visit the rich man and he needed to serve him dinner. He looked at all he had, but was reluctant to use one of his own animals to feed this man. Instead he took the only lamb of the poor man and fixed it for the traveler.
David is angered, enraged. How morally obtuse of the rich man, how utterly wrong he was to take the single lamb of the poor man. “Such a man deserves to die, or at the very least re-pay the poor man four times over for the lamb he took.” David has some moral sensitivity to him. He can see wrong-doing when it happens.
Then it comes. To this point Nathan has taken the advice of Carlos Casteneda’s Don Juan, “the worst thing you can do is confront human beings bluntly” (quoted in Michael Eigen, The Electrified Tightrope, 147). Nathan has simply told David a story which engages David’s moral sensibilities. David is angered, outraged. Now it comes. “David, you da man.” And Nathan isn’t telling David he is powerful, and he is not telling him he should be admired. David is the rich man in the story who has taken the wife of Uriah for his own. Worse than that, his actions led directly to the death of Uriah, just so he could cover up his misdeeds. But the cover-up has failed. Nathan knows. God knows.
Intriguing story, but to the best of my knowledge no one here has acted anywhere near this horrifically. You can all breathe a sigh of relief. But I want to tell you another story.
A pastor asked children during a children’s sermon: “If all the good people were red and all the bad people were white, what color would you be?” Little Mary Jane replied, “Pastor, I’d be streaky like a candy cane.” (Anthony DeMillo, The Song of the Bird, 129). Another version of the story Nathan tells David, but only more general. Streaky people, anyone you know? Do you also hear a voice saying, “You da one!”
In some ways that whole Bible tells a Nathan story about humanity, about us – that we fall short sometimes, that we miss the mark, that our lives get off kilter. The Bible tends to use a rather ugly word to describe this being off the mark, off kilter. It calls it “sin.” David says, “I have sinned against the Lord” – and that’s not to mention Uriah!
But sin is an ugly word, and primarily because the church and church people have made it so. When we think of sin we think of people wagging their fingers at others taking them to task for their sins. We think of people making huge moral issues out of rather innocent activities like going to a movie or playing cribbage. Sin has been abused in so many ways that the word is almost unusable, but the idea behind it matters.
The purpose of the Bible’s idea of sin is not so others can tell us how awful we are, or come up with lists of sins and keep count. The purpose of the Bible’s idea of sin is asking us to be honest about our lives – and it says that when we are honest about our lives we admit that we are streaky people, people who miss the mark sometimes, people who are out of kilter sometimes. Have you ever been frustrated with your child over a legitimate issue, but let your frustration and anger get the best of you when you sought to correct that child? Have you ever let your anger get the best of you? Have you ever turned away when helping someone would have been quick and easy? Have you ever held a grudge too long? Have you ever been too proud to say you were sorry? Have you ever felt kind of good when someone who usually does better than you on something falls flat? To make matters worse, have you ever denied a mistake, and error, a wrong, and then had to keep constructing elaborate schemes to keep the truth hidden? Maybe you never sent a Uriah into battle, but the pattern is familiar. Missing the mark. Off kilter. Out of line. Streaky people. We da ones!
The God of the Bible wants to meet us where we are, but if we are not honest about our live, we don’t know where that is. The God of the Bible loves us as we are, but we aren’t sure who that is if we are not honest about our streakiness. Now God may want us to change and grow, but we always begin from where we are. We can be honest with ourselves and we will not melt.
And here is the utterly remarkable thing, God uses streaky people just like us to do good in the world. Listen to these words from Ezekial, written well after David’s time as king. It is written as a promise of God to the Israelites. “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them…. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them.” Pretty high praise for a letch, don’t you think? If God can work with a person like that, think what God might do in the lives of us whose streakiness never included sleeping with another’s spouse and then sending the spouse into battle to be killed.
There is also another kind of streaky people, and I was among them last weekend. A few of us traveled to Cedar Rapids to help with flood relief. By the end of the day, we were streaky people, people streaked with sweat and dirt and sun – all trying to make the world a little kinder, gentler, better, in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ. I won’t speak for anyone else on the trip, but I am a streaky person in the first sense – a person who misses the mark, who can be off kilter, who needs forgiveness sometimes. I am glad that God can work in me to make me a streaky person in the second sense – streaked with sweat and dirt and sun trying to do some good in the name and spirit of Jesus.
You see the bottom line of the whole David saga is that God uses streaky people to do good, to be streaky people in that Cedar Rapids sense. Ironically, God uses us best when we give up our pretensions, when we are honest with ourselves. It’s only when we know where we are that we can get some place better. You da one to do just that. Amen.