The shocking story of David and Bathsheba could hardly fail to raise crucial issues, and require us to be alert to the corrupting power of lust. This sermon was part of a long series on the amazing spiritual roller-coaster, that was the life of David.
One day, late in the afternoon, David got up from his nap and went to the palace roof.
As he walked about up there, he saw a woman having a bath. She was very beautiful.
2 Samuel 11: 2
Just before I was going off to University – in the Autumn of 1968,
my mother took me into the kitchen, and gave me some advice.
“ Son,” she said “Never forget! Sex is a very powerful drive in a young man!”
How right she was!!
I read somewhere that men think about sex every 12 seconds.
Actually, I would have thought it was more often than that!
But, maybe that’s just me…
History is full of the stories of great men brought low
by sexual impropriety.
Kings and Presidents
Popes and priests.
From Henry VIII to Bill Clinton:
Politicians too numerous to name
Celebrities by the score…
The story breaks, and heroes quickly become villains.
The pedestal crumbles…
Lust drives them – then destroys them…
King David- as he now was… had it all going for him.
The bloody Civil war following the deaths of Saul and Jonathan was over.
The long War against the Philistines was going well enough…
Well enough for David to stay at home…and walk the terraces of his palace…
Take it easy:
enjoy an afternoon nap.
The Nation had been united…
South and North were one
and he was secure on the throne.
The people enjoyed a prosperity you could smell.
That fateful day…
David was restless and listless,
and the heat was oppressive…
Unsettled, he wandered the palace, bored - and perhaps a little guilty that he was at home while his comrades fought…
But, rank has its privileges…
The truth was he had
too much time on his hands…
Your granny was right…
“The Devil makes work for idle hands…”
He glanced out of the palace window…
and saw her…
She was beautiful…naked…glistening…sensuous beyond words…
Washing her fabulous body in the warm sunlight…
Desire hit him with an almost physical force…
A surge of primitive needing, swept his body…
The thought of the woman filled, swamped his mind…he could think of nothing else, no one else…but her…
As king – he had the power to make his own dreams come true:
to turn his passion into action.
Who could stop him…who would dare?
What he wanted he could have.
And he wanted this woman with a primal, raw urgency -
He could make his fantasy happen.
He knew who she was, whose wife she was…
he knew fine…
But, he said the fateful words anyway…
“Bring her. Bring her to me now!”
They brought her.
And David took her.
Making love to her was all he dreamed it would be.
It felt good.
She felt good……..
he felt good!
He took her.
Another man’s wife.
A fellow officer’s wife.
It was shabby. It was shameful.
It was disgraceful, dishonourable.
He put everything at risk, in order to have her…
His reputation…his dignity…and certainly his peace with God.
For, now that he had made this choice…
A whole ugly catalogue of other choices, decisions, mistakes, wrongs was going to unfold…
as David sought to keep up appearances;
to cling to the tattered vestiges of his reputation
as a good man, a godly man.
Everything was sullied now.
And it was going to get worse…much, much worse.
The internal rationalising could go on all day…
“ He was a man of big passions…an artist…he had needs that ordinary men could not understand…as a poet…the normal rules did not apply; as King – he had pressures he had to deal with.”
The message came from Bathsheba – and it chilled his very soul.
She was pregnant.
David was the father.
There was no way to hide the fact – what with her husband being away at the war….
Disaster. Unmitigated disaster.
In his desperation to hide what he had done…David devised a plan…
Bring her husband home for long enough – and if they slept together…perhaps her husband would believe the child was his…
One night would do it…
But Uriah won’t play the game. He refuses to enjoy
“ the comforts of home” while his comrades risk their lives in battle…(and the unspoken sub-text is that neither should David be idling his days away while others risk their all for the nation’s safety.)
Try as he might, David can’t engineer events in such a way that Uriah might be conned into thinking the child is his.
It’s at this point that the story – already seedy and messy,
becomes ugly, and foul, and disgusting,
terrible beyond telling.
David sets it up for Uriah to be abandoned by his comrades
in the heat of battle,
in the face of the enemy…
so that he will surely be killed.
It is a murder most foul…
the action of a man so desperate to preserve his own reputation that he will sink to the lowest levels to do that…
He will abandon all decency, all morality –
just to avoid being found out.
The adultery – the lies – the deceit…these were sorry enough affairs…
But the betrayal and murder of Uriah takes David’s infamy to a new low level of ugliness…
inexcusable in any man – but in the king of Israel…
in the poet- hymn-writer…
in the so called greatest King Israel would ever know…
it is shocking beyond words.
And who was he kidding if he thought no one would know?
The conspiracy was out.
And were saddened – outraged….ashamed for him, and of him.
The man who had been a hero to his generals,
a role model for his generation,
had sunk to this level.
Nothing was sure anymore…no one was safe anymore.
If it was Uriah who was disposable this week – who would it be next week?
And those who were just obeying orders – and who had left their comrade to die…were stained with complicity – ensnared in David’s desperate attempt at a cover-up.
What a mess! What a mess!
The very foundations of the nation’s integrity were being undermined…the whole edifice of national life was shaking…
And the old certainties – that David was living by the standards laid out in the law of the Lord - were gone.
Moral anarchy seemed to be the mood of the day…
“Whatever gets you out of a personal inconvenience…do it!”
There was something rotten in the state of Israel.
The rank, dank smell of corruption filled the air.
And all for what?
Never underestimate the power of lust.
“I have never had sexual relations with that woman…”
Says the most powerful man in the world…
And his lie is exposed…his integrity shot…his stupidity there for all to see…his family life wounded.
When lust bites - the urge comes naked and shameless, sudden and blind
And the process begins…lies, deceit, disgrace.
But the problem is that.
even knowing this might happen - and almost certainly will
men – and it is mostly men – still do it!
Risk everything - for sex.
There is a popular misconception,
perhaps on account of the long years in which clergy were required to embrace celibacy, that somehow or other,
the Christian faith rather frowned on the sexual side of our humanity.
Over-zealous priests and theologians from the monastic traditions certainly seemed to see their way of life as the preferred option, and normal sexually active life – as some kind of second best. Well, we know who got that one wrong!
For the Christian faith celebrates and embraces the wholeness of our humanity, and affirms and rejoices in the sexuality that God has given…when it takes place in the context of love and commitment, and becomes a free, joyful, untroubled expression of that love and commitment…nothing to be ashamed of afraid of or coy about…just the kinds of creatures we are made – and there, in the correct context - where there is no confusion as to what it is about, and what it is for…there, we can explore, enjoy, delight in and gratefully celebrate our sexuality – without shadow or doubt.
That said, the world in general, and the press in particular have an unseemly preoccupation with those who slip - who falter, and who stumble, in the area of their sexual activities.
The lustful vicar, the randy curate…the naughty bishop – and the sex-crazed cardinal…these are grist to the press barons’ mills.
A juicy sex-scandal involving the clergy – counts as scoop of the week. These particular moral derelictions bring a disproportionate notoriety…compared with vicars who display snobbery, ministers steeped in the temptations of materialism, or canons strutting in pride, arrogance, and ambition.
There’s something very British and seaside postcard about the media’s preoccupations with the sexual shenanigans of the rich and famous – or especially the devout and clerical.
Yet, when I read only this month in the Scottish press details of a close colleague standing up in front of his congregation to admit to a sexual affair…and following that confession with his resignation…I realise, as we all do, the power of our sexual urges to drag us into dark places full of disappointment and damage. None of us should feel over-confident that this is something that will never sully our story…put at risk our dreams.
Get it wrong - and watch the wrecking-ball swing with inexorable purpose.
The thing to remember in all of this is –
that we are not talking simply about some offence against propriety – some tear, cut in the fabric of good social order.
The question is – what did this do to David’s relationship with God?
“ The Lord was not pleased with what David had done.”
How could David have forgotten that, hidden though his sin just might be from everyone else…God saw…God knew –
and the fracture that ran deepest, was the one between the heart of David - and the heart of God.
Sin isn’t primarily about man-made rules that are contravened.
It’s about how sin intrudes itself between the free heart of an individual – and their connection with, their worship of…their service of God.
When it all comes out in the wash…the real heart-stopping realisation that hits David is that that is
“ O Lord, it is against you and only you have I sinned and done that which is evil in your sight.”
Even if he had gotten away with it – by some miracle or other…the reality was that each time he came to prayer – each time he approached the altar with his offering – the truth would be inescapable…he had offended God…flouted the will of God…
Never mind what other people think…what does God think….
Never mind the verdict of society – what is the verdict of the Lord.
Until that mess is sorted out…David will know no peace.
There is only one putting right that matters:
one bridge that needs to be rebuilt.
Between us and God.
Only when that is right
Are we right. That’s how it works. That’s how we work.