You are the man!
Have you ever had to say something really hard to someone? To a friend or family member? I think of things like writing a Dear John letter or telling someone they’re fired. Or how hard would it be to be that person who knocks on the door of a military person’s family to break bad news? Many years ago, I worked for a software development company in State College as an accountant and this company was very customer service oriented with in person software installation and training. There was a man there who had terrible body odor. Needless to say, he was put on telephone support. But the real problem was with his co-workers; this man was so bad we couldn’t stand to be in the same room with him. So for weeks, we whispered behind his back about who should talk to him about his problem. Finally, two of the senior development engineers decided the president of the company needed to be the one. Now our president was an unassuming, very low key guy and I can just imagine how he must have felt with this task. But after days of hesitation and probably rehearsal of what he was going to say, he called the man into his office and started a conversation. I don’t know exactly what was said, but I do know that questions were asked like: Do you bathe every day? Do you use deodorant? It turns out that this guy never washed his clothes. So in our reading today, we have Nathan. God wants him to go to the most powerful man in the country, the king, and say: “Hey, you’ve done a really bad thing. You’ve actually done several really bad things.” And, of course, I’m referring to his affair with Bathsheba, his attempt to cover it up and his plot to kill Uriah. David had become like a little god at the height of his royal, political and spiritual power. He may have thought he escaped the reality of the old Torah tradition, maybe he forgot he was accountable to God. He had come to a terrible place in his life. He had gained the whole world, but lost his soul. He was in trouble. Nathan had no choice but to obey the Lord. God needed somebody to perform a rotten job and only Nathan could perform that risky job. He and David were long-term friends, but with men of power you can never be sure whether such a relationship will save your neck. Somebody had to tell the king the bitter and ugly truth, not to embarrass him, but to set him free because in this one incident David violated three laws of God. Namely, thou shall not commit adultery, thou shall not kill and thou shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. But 12 months later, here’s Nathan standing in front of him ready for a confrontation. The way Nathan did it was pure genius — not head-on like a fire and brimstone preacher, but sideways with a story. Why did he take such an indirect route? Because he had not come to condemn David. That would have been easy enough to do, given the facts, but Nathan was up to something much more profound. He had come to change David’s life. Nathan’s job was to help the king see what he had done, so that his conscience could be revived and his sense of justice restored. Why did the Lord wait to deal with David’s sin? It may be that David was not ready to be confronted when the sin was first committed. He might have rebelled at that time. God confronted David at the perfect time to get the right response. So Nathan told David a story. Once upon a time there were two men, one rich, one poor. The rich man had everything. The poor man had very little but his one little lamb which he treasured like a daughter, nurtured with his own food, held in his arms when she slept. The rich man needed food for a feast, but instead of taking a lamb from his own flocks, he cruelly and arrogantly took the pet lamb of the poor man, killed it and served it to his guests. Nathan’s parable does its work. The choice of a lamb was purposeful. Nathan appealed to the heart of the shepherd boy turned king. If anyone understood the love for a special lamb, it would be the shepherd. David is drawn into the story and rushes to the poor man’s defense. David’s judgement of restoring the lamb fourfold was a direct application of Exodus 22:1: “If a man steals an ox or sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox and four sheep for a sheep. As David’s friend, Nathan understood the kings knowledge of the Law. “You are the man!” Nathan says to David and for the first time in the whole sordid saga, David sees what he has done. “I have sinned against the Lord,” he said. Not because Nathan told him so, but because he discovered it for himself. David might have rationalized his sin: He might have said, “You need to understand that I’m from a deprived background. I had a hurtful upbringing. I was denied many things in my life. If I’ve done anything to hurt anyone, I’m sorry, but I really couldn’t help what I did. But Nathan contradicted that saying, You have been given everything and you are a man who doesn’t know a thing about thankfulness. You’ve been given protection, honor, standing, authority, wives, everything you wanted and if there were anything else, you would have been given that as well. What need has gone unmet in your life? David could also have said, “I didn’t mean to do this. I didn’t understand. It was an inadvertent slip-up. But Nathan was having none of that either. Twice he said to David, ‘You despised,’ a very strong word. He despised the word of the Lord and despised the Lord himself. He trampled on the Ten Commandments. You despised the word of the Lord. There was no ignorance. You did mean to do what you were doing. Third, David could have said, “It’s not my fault.” Remember David and Joab cooked up the lie at the end of 2 Samuel, chapter 11, that said, people die in wars; maybe Uriah would have gotten killed anyway. The Ammonites were really the ones who killed him. It’s not our fault. But again, Nathan would have none of it. He said, “You took his wife, and you killed him by the sword of the Ammonites. It is your fault.” David had no where to hide. Hebrews 4:13-15 says: “No one can hide from God. His eyes see everything we do. We must give an answer to God for what we have done.” It was time for David to fess up. As soon as David confesses, he is told that his sins have been forgiven and that he will not be put to death as the Law demanded. Instead of justice, David received mercy and grace. He was forgiven. His time of alienation from God is over. He is restored. This is how God always operates. When a sin is confessed openly and honestly, it is forgiven. David is told that God has “put away” his sin. That phrase means to “take away, to pass over.” God took David’s sins away from him and they were gone forever. David wrote Psalm 51:1-12 when he realized the magnitude of his sins. His repentance was genuine and he never did such things again. No one sins in a vacuum. You might think that what you do affects no one but yourself, but that’s wrong. When you sin, your sin and the ripples it causes touch everyone around you. When you sin, it touches your family, your church, your work, your community, your friends, everything! God will forgive the sin when it is repented of and confessed, but that what was started in motion will play itself out in your life. Once there was a little boy who had a bad habit of lying. He just couldn’t seem to stop telling lies. Fed up, his father said, “I have to teach you that you are not to lie. Every time you tell a lie, I’m going to make you drive a nail into the post in the back yard. It wasn’t long until the post was just about full of nails. The little boy’s heart was touched and he said, “Oh, Daddy, I see what you’re talking about. I’m so sorry I’ve been lying. What can I do? The father said, “Son ask God to forgive you and then start telling the truth. Every time you tell the truth, I’ll pull a nail out. The little boy started telling the truth and nails started coming out. It wasn’t long until all the nails were out. The father came out and the little boy was sitting at the post crying. He said, Son, don’t be crying. It’s so wonderful. All the nails are out of the post. “I know daddy, but the scars, the nail prints are still there. Finally, Nathan spoke of consequences that were going to follow. He predicted violence and humiliation for David. Three of David’s sons would end up dying untimely deaths. Two of those were acting just like their father. They learned of his lust, lies and violence and acted the same. David buried his firstborn son. There were lasting consequences to what he had done and he lived with them rest of his life, but the point is that he lived. God took him back and gave him new opportunities. He and Bathsheba had a second son who Nathan named Solomon and he ruled Israel for forty years with unprecedented wisdom. We need to learn from David. Rather than respond with bitterness towards Nathan, David saw the love of a friend. He responded with godly sorrow that produced repentance. He understood what courage it must have taken for his friend to confront him. This is the kind of friend we need to be. That’s what our scripture from Ephesians Chapter 4 is confirming. Verse 2 says: Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. If someone was thinking of following Jesus, our actions could point them toward Jesus or away from him. Verse 11 encourages us in this: So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. In other words, we are to be a community of friends supporting friends. Two young women met on their first job out of college at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. Ann was quiet and diligent. Claire radiated down-to-earth clarity and fun. They went out for late lunches, movies, parties and Claire introduced Ann to her friends. They became friends and confidantes. Ann went to Italy for a year of grad school and when she returned she got involved with a man who would become her husband. Ann saw Claire less often. When Ann eloped, she did not tell Claire, which tells you the terrible mistake she made. She couldn’t tell her down-to-earth friend about her marriage. Claire had met the man once. Ann was smitten by his charisma and looks; Claire immediately saw the arrogance. Eight months later they met for a catch up lunch and by now the marriage was straining badly. Ann was dying of miserableness, but did her best to put on a brave front. She was too embarrassed to describe the awfulness, but Claire saw through the performance. She leaned across the table, dropped her voice, and said, “Ann, I’m not going to ask the details, but I’ve never seen you so unhappy and distressed. Here’s what I’m going to do; I’m going to get copies of my car keys and my apartment keys made, and if you ever need them, you are to use them. Are you hearing me? The next day Claire dropped of the keys to Ann at work indicating that Claire thought the situation was urgent. Just days later Ann landed on Claire’s doorstep late at night with a suitcase in her hand. Claire organized a group of friends and their cars to move Ann out of her old life and into a new one. Twenty years later when they met for lunch, Ann asked Claire why she did it. “You were in trouble,” she said. More than 20 years ago, I was also in trouble and couldn’t move beyond it. My first husband and I had separated in South Carolina and I moved back to Bellefonte. I felt like I had come home a failure and was embarrassed to see people I knew. I didn’t want to talk about it and I couldn’t bring myself to come back into this church. A year passed and still I didn’t walk through the doors. It was fall and I was sitting on the bleachers at a Bellefonte High School football game; I think it was homecoming. I heard this voice, “Linda, Linda.” I looked over and there was Sonia Myers yelling and waving. Well, what was I going to do. She was right in front of my face and I couldn’t ignore her. Nobody can ignore Sonia. I moved over to sit beside her and we chatted. “Why don’t you come back to church?” she said. “Oh and we need a Sunday school teacher. Do you think you could come back and teach again.” In all my life, I’ve never been able to say no to Sonia, so here I am. She may think I was helping with Sunday school, but it was she who helped me find some purpose and brought me back to my church community. Sometimes we need someone to simply be there. Not to fix anything, or to do anything in particular, but just to let us feel that we are cared for and supported. Be a Claire, be a Sonia, be a Nathan. YOU are the man. YOU are the woman. YOU are the one.