Sermon July 29, 2018

“When Deception Occurs In High Places”
Rev. Jeffrey Long-Middleton
Bradford Congregational Church-UCC
2 Samuel 11: 1-15
July 29, 2018

Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.   – 2 Samuel 11:8i

If the Bible is our guide, we are in trouble. The prophetic witness is clear – a people who sin, whose leaders deceive, who trample on the rights of the poor, who have given themselves over to pleasure rather than faithfulness will reap the whirlwind of God’s judgment. But don’t take my word of it. Listen to God’s word:

Isaiah, writing in a time of national turmoil and confusion, speaks of a people who have lost their way:

1:2 Hear, O heavens, and listen, O earth;
    for the Lord has spoken:
I reared children and brought them up,
    but they have rebelled against me.
The ox knows its owner,
    and the donkey its master’s crib;
but Israel does not know,
    my people do not understand.

Ah, sinful nation,
    people laden with iniquity,
offspring who do evil,
    children who deal corruptly,
who have forsaken the Lord,
    who have despised the Holy One of Israel,
    who are utterly estranged!

5 Why do you seek further beatings?
    Why do you continue to rebel?
The whole head is sick,
    and the whole heart faint.
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
    there is no soundness in it,
but bruises and sores
    and bleeding wounds;
they have not been drained, or bound up,
    or softened with oil…..

When you come to appear before me,
    who asked this from your hand?
    Trample my courts no more;
13 bringing offerings is futile;
    incense is an abomination to me.
New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation—
    I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity.
14 Your new moons and your appointed festivals
    my soul hates;
they have become a burden to me,
    I am weary of bearing them.
15 When you stretch out your hands,
    I will hide my eyes from you;
even though you make many prayers,
    I will not listen;
    your hands are full of blood.
16 Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean;
    remove the evil of your doings
    from before my eyes;
cease to do evil,
17     learn to do good;
seek justice,
    rescue the oppressed,
defend the orphan,
    plead for the widow.

Amos lived at a time when Israel was at its zenith. A strong military, a strong economy – it was a time of national prosperity. Yet God brought forth this shepherd from the small town of Tekoa and gave to Amos “harsh words to speak in a smooth time.”

2:6 Thus says the Lord:
For three transgressions of Israel,
    and for four, I will not revoke the punishment;
because they sell the righteous for silver,
    and the needy for a pair of sandals—
they who trample the head of the poor into the dust of the earth,
    and push the afflicted out of the way;
father and son go in to the same girl,
    so that my holy name is profaned;
they lay themselves down beside every altar
    on garments taken in pledge;
and in the house of their God they drink
    wine bought with fines they imposed.

Jeremiah speaks in graphic detail of the waywardness of God’s people. He likens their abandonment of God to a man satisfying his lust with a harlot.

Oh, the prophets speak of the sin of the nation and remind us that the payment for deception on the part of those of high station is paid by the nation that condones it.

And so it is with David who seeks to deceive not only Bathsheba’s husband but the nation. He has Uriah killed in battle so the consequence of his lust might be undetected. David’s sons follow in the footsteps of their father. One of David’s sons, Amnon, was filled with lust for his brother’s sister, Tamar, and conspired with the son of one of David’s brothers to have her come and care for him when he pretended to be ill. Dutifully she came and Amnon rapped her. When he was done with her, Amnon hated her with a pure hatred. Absalom heard of it and plotted to kill Amnon. Two years passed and at a party planned by Absalom, he tells his servants to wait until Amnon is drunk with wine and then strike him down, and it was so. Absalom, whom David loved, became a criminal and an enemy of King David that day. Yet was his sin any greater than David’s with Bathsheba and the murder of Uriah? Oh, David would weep when at last Absalom was slain. But the house of David lived out its unfettered lust and paid a dear price.

Sin has its consequence. Evil practiced by those in power stains a nation and brings retribution. Liberals do not like to talk about the wrath of God. We focus on love and forgiveness sealed in Christ Jesus. Yet the “The ark of the moral universe is long, but it is bent towards justice.” If the wrath of God is too chilling for us today, then call the inevitable bend of history towards justice by some other name. But mark my words: the world is made to be moral and woven into its creation are corrective forces that will not let evil go unchecked. People of religious faith have called it God’s wrath but whatever it is labeled, however, one sees it being played out in time, it comes.

We should take heed and hear the voice of the poets. Writing as the nation prepared for its bicentennial, Archibald MacLeish offers these words of warning:

Centennial bell that will not ring,

tell me why your iron tongue

rusts in the rain, your mouth is dumb.

Why are you silent, bell?

For shame.

You are not shamed. 

Not I but you.

We? With all we’ve done and do?

We’ve ruled ourselves two hundred years.

No name on earth is proud as ours.

It was your fathers’ pride that ruled:

their sons are tricked and lied to, fooled

as Lincoln thought no people could be,

all of them – always – for their good!

But still we’re free. Ring out! O ring! 

What man is free when fraud is king?

Our souls are ours: our minds our own. 

Your master listens on the telephone.

We govern. It is we decide. 

You to whom your government has lied!

Ring out and all will understand

This is John Adams’ well-loved land … 

John Adams would have seen you damned.

where Jefferson’s immortal word … 

Jefferson’s immortal word

is yet to hear. It will be heard

but not by those who sell his soul.

You ring now, bell.

I toll. I toll.1

It may have been worse for King David and the nation had not the prophet Nathan stood before the King with a question that begged for justice. Nathan tells the King of two men – one rich and the other poor. The rich man had many sheep and herds of cattle. The poor man had only one ewe lamb. He had bought the lamb and feed it and cared for it, taking the lamb into his home and treating the lamb like a member of his own family. One day a visitor arrived at the rich man’s home and as social custom would have it, the rich man was obligated to feed him. The rich man did not want to slay one of his own animals so he stole the one precious ewe lamb of the poor man and slayed it. In hearing the story, David became incensed and declared “the man who has done such a thing deserves to die; and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan standing in the court of the King said to David, “You are the man.” From that day forward, Nathan declared, the sword would bedevil the house of David and rebellion would rise within David’s own family. And so it was.

Long ago, when the King had Uriah killed, the prophet Nathan spoke truth to power. Who will stand for us and point her hand? Who will champion the cause of justice and bind the wounds of the poor? Where shall our prophet be found? I fear I do not know and thus I leave this place in fear of the retribution of God. May God’s mercy yet be moved and when our nation has repented of its sin, may God stay God’s hand. Let us pray…

1Archibald MacLeish, Conversations in a belfry, in The Star on September 9, 1973.

i2 Samuel 11:1-15

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. 2It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

6So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” 11Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” 12Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

14In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

This sermon has one central idea – namely, God can see us through.