29 January 2016

Who Do You Want To Be?

Who Do You Want To Be?
29 January 2016
Lexington Theological Seminary Chapel
II Samuel 12: 1-13

We live in a difficult time.

In a world of facebook
and twitter
and 24/7 news coverage,  
we are more connected than we’ve ever been before.

But we’re also more anonymous than we’ve ever been before.
We hide behind the electronic personas we’ve created for ourselves. 
We share images and articles
and our particular flavor of political commentary
in formats where we don’t have to listen
when someone pushes back against it.

We sidle up to programs
and websites
and agencies
that reinforce what we already believe
and     We.       Cover.             Our.              Ears.
to the voices that disagree.

We are more connected than ever before
and yet we have separated ourselves               from the community.

Living in chosen anonymity is hard.
And it’s also dangerous.

When we choose to insulate ourselves
from the many voices
and hear only the one,
we begin to believe our voice
is the only voice that matters.

We call ourselves prophetic when we talk about “hot button” issues.
We believe we’re advocating for what’s best for our community –
Whether that be our position on guns in schools
or term limits for elected officials
or salary caps for professional athletes.

We believe that being prophetic
means being an irritant against the systems
we believe are wrong.

In a way, that’s true.

But how we go about being prophetic is critical.

The scripture this morning picks up in the middle of a larger narrative.

What we have not read this morning is the back story that most of us will know:
          A few months prior,
David has been lounging in his castle
when he sees Bathsheba across the way,
bathing on her roof.
          David longs for her and has her sent to him.
He lies with her and she becomes pregnant.
Bathsheba is married to Uriah – a prominent soldier in David’s army,
And he is LOYAL!

When David finds out that Bathsheba is pregnant,
he gives Uriah a bit of a vacation from the war
– encourages him to come home for a little “r and r.”
But Uriah refuses to enter into a “romantic interlude” with his wife
so David does what any self-righteous king would do.

He sends Uriah back to the war
with the instructions to put him
at the front of the combat.

He puts one of his trusted leaders
in the place he
– as King –
should have been
– at the greatest risk of death –
in leading the soldiers in the worst part of the combat.
In essence, David kills Uriah.

Now that Uriah is out of the way,
David takes Bathsheba into his home
as one of his wives.

This is where we pick up the story.

With Nathan.

Nathan comes to David and tells him a story.
A story of a poor man with one little lamb that he loves.
And a story of a rich man with a whole flock.
In his greed and his lust,
the rich man takes the one little lamb from the poor man
so he can serve it to his dinner guests.

David is outraged!
He declares condemnation on any man
who would do such a thing.

David cannot see what he is doing:
          he condemns himself.

Power and privilege do that to us.
They mask the reality of the world around us.
Not just political power, either.
The power of being in the majority.
The power of having resources.
The power of health insurance
and clean water
and education.

The power we have blinds us to the errors of our ways.

David’s story is a story about power.
It’s the story of the powerful abusing the weak. 
David’s position of power puts him in the driver’s seat.

Bathsheba has no authority to act in her own best interest.
Uriah doesn’t even KNOW he’s being manipulated like a pawn.
Only David knows the full scope of the story.
And he acts in whatever way will make HIS life easiest.
He refuses to hear the other voices in his community.

David never takes into consideration that Uriah is a loyal servant.
It never occurs to David to question if Bathsheba wants to be his wife.
He doesn’t even think about
what the death of Uriah
will do to his own political efforts
on the warfront.

David thinks only of his situation
and of getting himself out of trouble.

That’s the problem with having privilege –
the situation looks different to you
than it does to everyone else.

The people of God are called to be Nathan in this world.
We are called to speak the truth – to name the sin in our midst.
We are called to be the voice of God
in a hurting and broken world.
The prophet Micah teaches us to do justice,
to love mercy,
and to walk humbly with God.
Jesus tells us the poor will inherit the kingdom of God,
the hungry will be satisfied,
and the grieving will reap joy.
King Jesus takes the role
of the lowest servant
when he washes his disciples’ feet.

The Kingdom of God is the Upside Down kingdom
where the least become the greatest
and the King is the filthy servant,
kneeling on the dirt floor
to wash the manure from our feet.

If David had understood that, this would be a very different story!

It is our job to be faithful to the Kingdom,
to build the Kingdom,
to speak truth to power
and to work for justice.

We have to live like Nathan, unencumbered by fear.

But how?
How do we serve as that
irritant to power
without making the situation worse?
Our words are so often lost in the noise of the world around us.
It doesn’t do any good
to stand in this pulpit or any other
and proclaim that we must care for the poor!
It doesn’t change the systems
and the structures that keep them poor. 
It doesn’t change the access they have to a job. 

Is it enough to call our elected officials and scream about justice?
Do we march on our capitol cities to tell them we’ve had enough?

How do we live like Nathan in a world so different from his?

Maybe the real issue is not so much
that our world is different from Nathan’s
as it is that we are different from Nathan himself.

This is not the first time David and Nathan have met one another.
Nathan shows up as advisor to David
and to his predecessor, Saul,
in other places in I and II Samuel.
Nathan is a Jew.
He is part of the covenant community.
It would be feasible that Nathan
is actually a member of David’s royal court.
The two men have a relationship with one another prior to this encounter.

As a prophet, Nathan’s job
is to advise the King on matters
the King may not see fully from his position. 
Nathan’s position is unique because
he is compelled to speak the truth
to the powerful King,
but he has to do it in such a way
that the King is open to hearing him
rather than condemning him.
Nathan comes to David hoping to create
confession
and repentance,
not hostility
and violence.

Nathan does not come to a stranger and demand he change his ways.

What Nathan does
 is to come alongside a member of his community
and call him out for his sin.

That’s hard.

If we’re honest with ourselves,
we know it’s easier to call a stranger’s office
 and tell him we disapprove of his policy making
than it is to come alongside our next door neighbor
and talk to her about the violence
she’s living with
in her home.

It’s much easier to post a meme on facebook
lambasting the choices of our elected officials
than it is to engage in a conversation
with a friend
who supports those choices.

We can rant and rave
about a lack of legislation
to get the guns off the streets.
Or we can befriend an advocate we know
and begin to understand the problem
differently.

We can call out the Church Elder Board
for not doing enough
to care for the hungry children
at the local elementary school.
Or we can find out the name
of 1 family who needs
groceries this week.

Nathan risked a lot.
He risked his job, more than likely.
He risked his relationship with David.
He risked his very life.

Nathan had to be open to the fact
that the King of Israel could have said,
“HOW DARE YOU!?!  Put him to death!”

But because Nathan is in a relationship with David
that is not what happens.
Rather, David sees the truth in Nathan’s words.
He says, “I have sinned against the Lord!”

You see,
when we live in covenant community with one another,
 we are more able to take the risk of vulnerability.

Being vulnerable means more than “putting yourself out there.” 
It means you have to be open
to the change that may happen
To.    You. 
For Nathan, that change could possibly be the loss of his life. 
For us, it may be something entirely different.

But we cannot go into a situation
certain we know the exact right answer
and shout and scream
until we get our way.

Being prophetic is not about being right.

Being prophetic is about keeping
the covenant community
in relationship
with God.

We have to start by putting aside our need to be right.

I have very strong feelings
about some of the political issues
our country is currently facing.

Some of us probably disagree wholeheartedly on those issues.
If I choose to engage you in a conversation about these things,
          I have to be vulnerable. 
          I have to share my deep passions,
                              my worst fears,
          and I have to be open to what
                              you have to say,
                                        as well. 
If I can’t honor the fact
          that your convictions are just as strong
                                        and just as valid as mine,
                    I can’t live in community with you.

I have to come to a conversation
          realizing that I may walk away
                    with a different position than I had. 
It is entirely possible
          that you may convict me
                    of the error of my ways.

I have to be willing to be changed by you.
If I’m not, we are not living in community.

Will we choose to live that way?
Who will you be?

Will you choose to be David,
          manipulating those around you
                    to keep your own life as tidy as possible?

Or will you choose to be Nathan,
          risking everything for the health and well-being
                    of the community you love?

If we can choose to live like Nathan,
          we have immense power.

When the needs and well-being of the community come first,
          lives are changed.

So maybe we have to put aside our own desire
          for an extra cup of Starbucks coffee
                    and buy a healthy meal
                              for someone in need and just talk.
Maybe we need to create a back-to-work program
          to help people find employment
                    that gives them
                              not only a salary, but a sense of purpose.
Or maybe we just need to know the story
          of one family in town
                    and find a way to help.

I don’t know.
I don’t have all of the answers.

Because that would mean I was living like David.

I would be decreeing to you what needs to happen in your communities and how.
That’s not community.

Community is when we come together to talk.
To dream.
To fight.
To risk.

And then we act in the best interest of the community.

Like David’s life,
          it may be that acting in the best interest of the community
                    makes our own life a little tougher.
But that’s what makes it prophetic!

We put aside our selfish desires
                    to make our little world
                              a better place!

Being prophetic is not about being right.
About anything.
          It’s not about making sure everyone else agrees with your beliefs.
          It’s not about making sure the community solves a problem
                    the way you want to solve it.
It’s not about throwing a justified fit
          because you don’t like the way
                    something is happening in your world.

Being prophetic is about doing what is best for the community.
          It’s about sacrifice.
          It’s about a willingness to listen.
          It’s about truly hearing others when they talk.
          It’s about placing the
                    sacredness of our life together
                               in a place of more importance
                                        than our own agendas.

I want to live like that.
I want our churches to be places
          where we can say to one another,
                    “Help me understand why you believe this.”
I want the Church to be a place
          where the hurts
                    and sins of our neighborhood
                              are met
                                    and forgiven.
I want our churches to be places
          where people of every stripe
                    and sin
                    and heart-felt desire are welcomed.
Not just greeted and handed a bulletin – genuinely welcomed.

We don’t have to change the world today.
We just need to change one life.

We start there.

Nathan changed David’s life.
He came alongside him,
          confronted him in love,
          brought about repentance,
                    and brought David to a new place.

Nathan didn’t change all of Israel.
But David’s story changed Israel’s history.

David becomes known as the Greatest King Israel ever had.
He is the "Man after God's Own Heart."
David ushers in a reign of peace and prosperity
          that his son Solomon continues to build.

And speaking of Solomon …

Solomon would never have been born
          if David’s plan had worked.

Solomon is
the second son
of David and Bathsheba.

If David had succeeded in convincing Uriah to lie with Bathsheba,
          and thus,
          covering his tracks,
                    Bathsheba would never have come to live in David’s house. 

She would never have borne Solomon.


We never know
          who may be hiding
                    under the layers of anonymity
                              we create in our world.

We never know
          if the next great President
          or philanthropist
          or social leader
                    is in our midst.

But even if they’re not
           – in changing a life or two
                    we have changed the future
                              of our community.

Because we will have changed ourselves.

God has made it clear who we are called to be.
But the choice is yours to make.

Who do you want to be?

Do you want to be David,
          trapped in your own self-righteous palace?

Or do you want to be Nathan,

          risking everything for the sake of your community?

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