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2 SAMUEL 12:1-14
The Scripture lesson for this morning deals with a very unpopular subject; not only unpopular, but little understood and rarely applied.Perhaps the ushers should lock the doors to keep you here while we talk about the three-letter S-word: SIN.
For our unison prayer earlier in the service, I selected the ancient Prayer of General Confession from the old Anglican Book of Common Prayer. Did the words and concepts sound strange to your ear and experience?
David Head offers a tongue-in-cheek rewriting of the Prayer of General Confession which is much more palatable to our modern ears: Benevolent and easy-going Father: we have occasionally been guilty of errors of judgment. We have lived under the deprivations of heredity and the disadvantages of environment. We have sometimes failed to act in accordance with common sense. We have done the best we could in the circumstances; and have been careful not to ignore the common standards of decency; and we are glad to think that we are fairly normal. Do thou, O Lord, deal lightly with our infrequent lapses. Be thy own sweet Self with those who admit they are not perfect; According to the unlimited tolerances which we have a right to expect from thee. And grant us as indulgent Parent that we may hereafter continue to live a harmless and happy life and keep our self-respect. Amen.
Yes, that version of the prayer is more palatable to our ears, but powerless for it neither recognizes nor admits sin.
A few years ago, the famous Kansas psychiatrist, Karl Menninger, caused quite a stir by rebuking therapists, social scientists, and churches for losing sight of and watering down sin. The ultimate authority by which all human behavior was once judged has been reduced to a kindly, all-affirming, all-accepting indulgent therapist who blesses everything and damns nothing. "Hogwash!" said Menninger. Infidelity, cruelty, racism, stealing, prejudice, lying, and a host of other human behavior can only be called SIN.
What Menninger and many others today are saying is that the cause of today's problems is sin, sin against God. The culprit in the disorders of society, and the culprit that causes stress, illness, despair, frustration, lack of fulfillment, in our personal lives is, in the last analysis, sin.
What is sin, sin against God? What is that which separates us from God, our creator, our source of life? The Scripture lesson today is a scenario about sin. Let me tell you the story.
The prophet preacher Nathan asked for an audience with King David. He told the king: There were two men, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many flocks and herds, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb. The lamb grew up with him and his children. It ate off their table, drank from his cup, and lay on the man's chest. The lamb was like a member of the family. Now a traveler stopped at the rich man's house and it was the custom for the host to provide food and lodging. But, the rich man did not want to butcher one of his herd for the meal, so he took the poor man's lamb.
King David was outraged. "How dare the rich man take the poor man's lamb. He deserves to die. He shall repay the poor man with four lambs."
Then Nathan, having hooked David with his story, looked David squarely in the eyes, pointed his finger and said: You are the man! You're it! You have so much. God anointed you king. The Lord rescued you from Saul and gave you the kingdom. You have great power. You have great wealth. You have many wives.
Yet, you wanted more. You wanted Bathsheba. Enough is not enough for you. Greedy is your heart. Greed has control of you. You want more and more; you are never satisfied.
And so, you took what you wanted, using whatever means was effective. You took Bathsheba into your own house. You fathered her child, and you had to get rid of her husband, Uriah. O King, you showed no mercy, you showed no scruples, no sense of justice, no sense of fair play. You, the rich man, with many wives and much wealth, took Uriah's only wife, and terminated him in the process.
You sent a letter to General Joab instructing him to assign Uriah to the front lines in the midst of the heaviest battle, and then order the other soldiers to draw back from him, leaving Uriah alone and helpless to hold off the enemy by himself. You deliberately set Uriah up so he would die. You "killed him with the sword of the Ammonites."
You are the man, said Nathan. You have sinned. You're it! You have so much, yet you wanted more; and you took what you wanted--unethically, immorally, unscrupulously.
Therefore, and now hear this, O King, this is your judgment. You shall reap what you have sown. You shall harvest what you have planted. You shall get back what you gave. Thus says the Lord, "The sword shall never depart from your house." Violence, bloodshed, cruelty and hatred shall be your household virtues. "I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house."
Nathan's prophecy came true. David's family was ripped apart. Bathsheba's baby died. David's daughter was raped by her half-brother. Absalom mounted an armed rebellion against his father, and so on.
The point is this, the judgment is this: we live what we learn. We repeat what we know. Behavior is conditioned response. Once the method is learned, repetition comes easily. Each act is a building block, a brick constructing the future. Sin may be difficult in the beginning, but repetition becomes easier and easier. David acted violently; he learned how to get what he wanted through violence, and violence became a way of life.
If you picture your future differently from your present, don't count on it happening. As you are now is probably how you will be then, only more so. If you don't have time for your family today, don't expect some miracle to give you a loving family in your old age. If you turn your back on the poor, don't expect to develop a healthy, wealthy spirit. If you don't particularly like the life you now have, you have no one to blame but yourself. Hopefully, there is still time to change. You are special. You are loved by God and can be special.
What I am saying is love produces love, goodness produces goodness, justice and fair play produce justice and fair play, greed produces greed, greed does not produce generosity, violence produces violence, violence does not produce peace. Whatever you are doing, however you are living your life, becomes habitual, and difficult to change. Sin is habit forming. No pill or simple technique is going to suddenly make it all better.
What can we do about sin? How do we change? Take David's scenario, for example. You have much. You want more. So you take what you want any way you can, and thereby harvest what you plant, get back what you give. What can you do about sin?
1) Confess. David responded to Nathan's indictment, "I have sinned against the Lord." Humbly, sincerely recognize, and admit to God that you have sinned against the Creator's gift of your life. Confession is good for the soul. A priest had a pack of small boys visit him. One boy after another confessed he was guilty of throwing peanuts in the river. The priest was baffled but he listened to each one. The last child who was the smallest said nothing. The priest asked him if he too was guilty of throwing peanuts in the river. "Oh, no," said the boy. "I am Peanuts!" Confession also means to open yourself to the forgiveness and power of God to change. You don't have to try to change your life all by yourself. God will transform you. Confession allows God to enter the situation.
2) Make restitution when possible. If you've stolen or cheated, pay it back; like the man who sent $100 to the IRS, hoping he could then sleep at night. But, he wrote, if he still couldn't sleep, he would send the rest of the money! If you've hurt someone, confess and ask for forgiveness. Confession is not only to God, but also to people you have wronged or hurt.
3) Accept forgiveness from God and others. If someone will not forgive you, and you have done all you can to make restitution, leave it with God. Accept God's forgiveness. Leave the confession with God. Don't take it back. You can't forget, but you can leave it with God, and get on with your life.
4) Repent, turn around. Radically change your behavior. Act in the confidence you have been forgiven and empowered to live a new life, a life that will construct the future God created you to have and be.
Like David, you're it! You're the one! All of us have sinned and fallen short. Everyone. But, we can do something about it: confess, make restitution, accept forgiveness, and repent.
© 1991 Douglas I. Norris