June 12, 2016

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Pastor Bradley E. Schmeling

Listen to sermon by clicking on microphone above. (10:00 a.m. recording)

2 Samuel 11:26–12:10, 13-15 + Luke 7:36-8:3

In 2 Samuel, we hear the story of one of the great confrontations in the Bible. Just to give you a little background. King David saw Bathsheeba taking a bath and wanted her to be his wife. The only problem was that she was married to Uriah, a faithful, dedicated soldier. In order to get his way, he sent Uriah to the front lines, where just as planned, he was killed. David waits just long enough to make it make it look appropriate, then he takes Bathsheeba as his wife, and she bears a child.

Nathan, the prophet, shows up at the palace to tell the story we heard in the first reading. A rich king with many flocks takes the pet lamb of a poor man in order to make an appetizer for his guest. King David thunders in response to the injustice. And Nathan says, “You are the man.”

Nathan announces that the violence he used as instrument of power and privilege will certainly be used against him. The shattering of relationships, effected by his act, will shatter his own family. David’s pattern of life will echo into the future. Jesus would echo the same sentiment when he said,“Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”

The writer of Samuel says that the Lord will punish David. The Bible often talks this way, as if God is causing the evil. If we understand the whole of scripture, we have to reject that. God does not make bad things happen, or set violence into motion, or cause the death of a child. It’s better to think of Nathan as announcing the consequences of David’s behavior. It’s certainly true that our actions often set into motion consequences that we didn’t anticipate or imagine, sometimes for a next generation.

What’s remarkable about David is that he not only doesn’t kill Nathan, something any ordinary king would likely have done, or spin the situation to hide his treachery, something any current leader would do. He admits his fault. “I have sinned before the Lord.”

I haven’t talked about it much at Gloria Dei, but ten years ago, the bishop in Atlanta where I was serving, filed formal charges with the ELCA because of my committed relationship with Darin. At the time, our relationship was banned by the policy of the church. The charges led to an ecclesiastical trial, and a year later I was removed from the roster of the church. “Defrocked” is the rather quaint term you often year. During that time, the case was argued in newspapers and throughout the church. It got a lot of publicity. Prayer services were held all over the country during the five days of the trial. You even had one here at Gloria Dei. Thank you for that, by the way.

Early on, standing before TV cameras, I talked about those enforcing unjust policies as modern day Pharisees, those who insisted on rigid interpretations and practice of the law. The next day the bishop called me to tell me that he didn’t like to be called a Pharisee. It was my “You are the man” moment. As I railed against a church that judged people who are GLBT, I, publically and without reserve, judged those who didn’t agree with me. It was a moment when I saw the game that we were all playing: drawing lines, making judgments, acting all self-righteous—a game that would certainly have consequences into the future and beyond our own situation.

That day we made a pact. Together, we decided that we would certainly argue our case, but we would only speak well of one another. We would witness to a higher from of righteousness, the love of Jesus Christ. Going forward, we would play a different game. And, by and large, we did, with a few slip-ups along the way.

The future only opens when love takes its place in our failure and our sin.

The story of Nathan and David doesn’t go far enough. It only recognizes the first part, the reality of sin and the consequences thereof. The gospel text takes us beyond. A woman enters the home of Simon the Pharisee to anoint Jesus feet with perfume. By the way, I’m calling him a Pharisee because the Bible does, not out of judgment! Simon thinks Jesus should be aware of the woman’s sins. Truly, if he was a prophet, Jesus would announce the consequences of her sin. He would point out to her punishment. After all, that’s what a man of God would do, right?

Jesus does, indeed, make an example of her. She becomes the witness to the power of love and forgiveness. She becomes the image of God; the sign for what God does to sinners: anoints them with love and tears of joy.

And here’s the point: Forgiveness doesn’t change the past. It opens the future.

Love changes the way we go forward. It sets into motion new consequences that grow and move even within the consequences of sin—another narrative, with new choices and new possibilities. Love writes a different ending to the story. Love wipes away the debt so that we’re not paying for the past but are free to enter the future.

This is how I understand the cross. It doesn’t really take away the consequences of sin and failure. We will often continue to live with those. We will need to make amends and to try to play a different game. Yet the cross opens a new story line that could not have come into being without God’s forgiving power. The cross changes the rules of the game. Love wins. The empty tomb is the sign of our open future, an unending opportunity for us to start over, to “rise again” to a new day, as Pastor Lois proclaimed last week.

The woman now lives out of the love of God, not her past. She gives us a glimpse of what it looks like to live as if you’re raised from the dead: generosity, gratitude, joy, love, devotion to Jesus. Thanks be to God!