Sermon: Sunday, June 13, 2010: Time After Pentecost, Lectionary 11

Texts: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15Psalm 32  •  Galatians 2:15-21  •  Luke 7:36-8:3


When I was growing up, my favorite bible story was the one about David and Goliath. I remember reading it in my children’s bible and thrilling to the idea of the little boy who defeated the armored giant with nothing but a slingshot. I brought the story bible our Sunday School teachers have been using with our children here at St. Luke’s to show you what I’m talking about…

Now if I turn the page in our story bible, the next story I find is one about Solomon building the temple. No more stories about David for the kids. Just the one image of David as boy-hero, no mention of his guerilla campaign against King Saul, his friendship with Jonathan, his dancing naked through the streets and being scolded by one of his wives, and certainly no mention of his affair with Bathsheba.

I remember that when I was older and started reading from the grown-up bible, I was a little bit shocked, and captivated, by how scandalous it was! King David, the adult version of the boy-hero I’d pretended at being in the privacy of my imagination, grew up to be a selfish, spoiled man! He took the wife of one of his soldiers, an honest and dedicated man, and got her pregnant. Then, when David couldn’t get Uriah to come off the field of battle long enough to sleep with his wife and cover up his shameful behavior, he had Uriah sent to the front line so that he would be killed in battle. When Bathsheba’s period of public mourning was completed, he brought her into his house and made her one of his wives.

God is understandably displeased with David’s conduct, and sends the prophet Nathan to confront him, as we heard in the first lesson appointed for this morning. Nathan tells David a story of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man had everything he could possibly want, the poor man had only one little ewe lamb that he loved. Nathan lays it on thick, saying that the little lamb “grew up with [the poor man] and his children, it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.”

We remember that before he was a king, the boy David was a shepherd. He knew what it was to tend for a little ewe lamb. Nathan is appealing to David better self, his younger self, who still knew the difference between right and wrong and was unafraid to stand up to powers far larger and stronger than himself. He draws David, the king, into caring about this poor man and his ewe lamb, and then tells him that when a visitor came to visit the rich man, rather than having one from his own flock or herd slaughtered for dinner, he takes the poor man’s only, beloved lamb and has it killed instead.

David does exactly what Nathan expects him to do. He sees the injustice of the situation, sides with the poor man, and makes a snap judgment, “as the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” And then, finally, Nathan the prophet brings the story back around to its point and declares to King David, “you are the man!”

Nathan reminds David of all that God has already given him: kingship over Israel, protection from King Saul, all of Saul’s titles and houses and wives. God, speaking through Nathan, goes even further saying, “and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.” So then why, God asks, have you despised the gifts of God by selfishly taking what was not yours when so much more had already been given to you? Why could you not be satisfied within the limits of what God has given you stewardship over? Why was there no limit to that which you would grasp and claim as your own, without care for the consequences to others?

Can you imagine being the prophet Nathan on that day? Being sent to tell the king that he was in the wrong, that he had exceeded his proper boundaries, that he had gone too far. It is exactly the kind of task for which the saying “don’t kill the messenger” was coined. It is a dangerous thing to speak the truth to those in power, but standing up to blunt power was exactly the thing that had gotten David this far in his own life and now he was being tested with the roles reversed. Now he was the giant, and Nathan was the one armed with nothing but words, weaker weapons than smooth stones and a slingshot.

A report came out last fall, published by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press that indicated that the number of Americans who say there is solid evidence about global warming and climate change is decreasing. In April 2008, 71% of Americans believed there was solid evidence that the earth is warming, but by last October that percentage had dropped fourteen points to 57%. In April 2008, 47% of Americans believed that global warming was being caused by human activity, but by last fall that had dropped to 36%. In April 2008, 73% of Americans thought global warming was a very serious or somewhat serious problem; but by last fall that number had dropped to 65%.

As pundits try to analyze why public opinion is changing so rapidly, while the consensus of the scientific community has stayed overwhelmingly the same, plenty of theories are emerging. One explanation is the so-called “economic crisis” that Americans are now experiencing. I say “so called” not because I don’t believe that there’s a real shift going on in global economics, but because I think we are called to examine what this crisis really represents – and to whom.

Like the story of the rich man and the poor man that Nathan tells King David, who you empathize with affects how you tell the story. For the millions of human beings on the face of the earth who live in deep poverty, who do not have access to clean water, who fear death by malaria delivered by a mosquito bite, who live on dollars a day – the so-called “economic crisis” faced by developing nations in which people still have homes, but lament that their value has dropped; or still have food, but lament that the price of gas is soaring, is difficult to comprehend. But, relative to the standard of living that many (though not all) Americans enjoy, there is an economic shift happening right now that draws our attention away from the dire situation our planet is in and refocuses it back on ourselves.

A writer for Newsweek put it more simply,

“I have serious doubts that most people care about the fate of the planet beyond a generation or two – and I think two is stretching it. Of course nobody wants to say that out loud, because here’s what it sounds like, ‘I believe that global warming is a problem, but it’s not my problem, because I won’t have to face the consequences.’ It sounds selfish. It is selfish. So instead we say ‘I’m not convinced global warming is real,’ or ‘it’s a complete hoax.’”

What we know about global warming is that it is caused by the increase in carbon dioxide and other gases that are by-products of our consumption of fossil fuels, like coal, gasoline and oil. Global warming is the by-product of a planetary reliance on fossil fuels, and everyone has a part to play in addressing the climate crisis – but the truth is that we Americans bear a larger burden in the struggle to save our planet.

We Americans are only 5% of the world’s populati
on, but we use 24% of the world’s energy. As early as 2006, President Bush – who I think we can fairly say carried some skepticism about global warming – declared that our nation is addicted to oil. On average, each American consumes as much energy as 2 Japanese, 6 Mexicans, 13 Chinese, 31 Indians, or 370 Ethiopians. So, it really is fair to say that we bear a larger burden when it comes to addressing the energy crisis that leads to climate change.

And we are already seeing the effects of climate change. Glaciers are melting; species are being driven from their natural habitats and forced into extinction. A 2003 review of biodiversity research centers predicted that, because of climate change, 15-37% of land species would be committed to extinction by 2050. There is certainly plenty of data as well to indicate that the increase in both number and severity of tropical summer storms, like Hurricane Katrina, are a direct result of global warming.

birds oil The poorest people of the world suffer the most from the consequences of climate change, and the earth itself is crying out under the distress we are laying upon it. Like the prophet Nathan, the planet is trying to get our attention with words and images strong enough to move our hearts and change our actions – images like the ones we have been seeing the last few weeks coming out of the Gulf coast of birds slathered in oil that is spilling out of the ocean floor at a rate as high as 50,000 barrels per day.

It is easy to blame the greed of oil companies like BP for this mess, especially as they continue to pay out dividends to their investors while world leaders call on them to begin setting assets aside now to pay for the costs of clean up and fines for negligence. But the reality is that these companies are only doing the dirty work that must be done in order for the rest of us to be able to keep going to the gas pumps for our cheap oil. For better or worse, we live in a supply and demand economy, and companies will continue to drill for oil, even when the risk to human life and the environment make that action foolhardy, as long as there is sufficient demand to generate profits.

Faced with evidence of his own misconduct, David the king remembers the values and commitments of David the boy-shepherd and does not kill the messenger, but instead confesses his sin. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he says, and Nathan replies, “now the Lord has put away your sin, you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scored the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” And the child born of David’s affair with Bathsheba, we are told, became very ill.

Our actions are making all of our children, all of the earth’s children, all of God’s children ill. It is long past time that we confess that this is true. Like King David, we have been given so much already – earth and sky, sun and rain, to be shared with all the earth’s peoples; friends and family and all of humanity to know and to love. And, perhaps like King David as well, we prefer to tell a story about ourselves that remembers only our best selves, the times when we stood up to the giants of the world and won a victory for the causes of justice and peace. But today we are reminded that we have taken God’s gifts for granted, and have overstepped the bounds of what is sustainable and just for all the peoples of the earth. Like King David, we stand in need of confession, repentance and forgiveness.

All of the texts assigned for this morning deal in some way with the act of confession, and the assurance that God’s way of working with us is full of grace and forgiveness. It is easy to skip over the act of confession that leads to forgiveness, because it is difficult for most of us to admit when we have done wrong. Perhaps we grew up in households where forgiveness was seldom given, or where it was accompanied by heavy guilt trips. As a result, maybe we have learned to avoid acknowledging our sins and misconduct – even to ourselves – as a way of avoiding the pain and judgment that accompanied confession.

But the reality of our membership in the family of God is that we now belong to a community where forgiveness is offered graciously, over and over again. Confession is not something we have to do in order to appease an angry God, or humiliate ourselves before one another, it is the action that allows us to acknowledge our participation in the suffering of others so that we can let go of our rationalizations and our justifications and finally return to ways of being that bring life, healing and wholeness to all of God’s creation.

Let it be so with us. Amen.

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