Sermon for 10 Pentecost Yr B

10 Pentecost Yr B, 1/08/2021

2 Sam 11:26-12:13a & Ps 51:1-12

Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson

“Forgiven sinners—David and us”

In a Sherlock Holmes mystery, titled “The Case of the Dancing Men,” the story opens with a young woman gathering flowers in her garden. Suddenly, her face is transformed into terror by something she sees. She drops her basket of flowers and runs panic stricken toward her home. Once inside, she bolts the windows and doors, draws the drapes tight, and falls sobbing and trembling into a chair. Her alarmed husband and maid both rush to her aid. She is both unable and unwilling to tell them what has frightened her so. A long time passes before she is finally able to take her husband to the garden and show him the cause of her terror. Someone has painted small figures of dancing men on the wall of her garden. These dancing men are symbols of a troubled past that she has tried to forget. From this moment on, she walks about half dazed, with terror always lurking in her eyes. She could not leave her past behind.

In today’s passage from 2 Samuel and Psalm 51, David could not leave his past behind either. As the old saying goes: “Your sins will find you out.” They certainly did for David. In the 2 Samuel passage, the prophet Nathan, at first, does not directly spell out in great detail the exact sins of David. Rather, he wisely tells a story about a rich man and a poor man. The rich man, to feed a traveller, took the poor man’s only ewe lamb, which was like a daughter to him—even though the rich man had plenty of his own animals that he could have chosen. David, upon hearing this story, is angry and says: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

Nathan then replies, “You are the man!” Nathan then goes on to confront David with his sins of coveting and committing adultery with Bathsheba and murdering her husband, Uriah. David thought that he could get away with his sins, however, with the LORD’s help, Nathan spells out his sins, as well as the consequences of his sins. The child that Bathsheba was about to give birth to would die, and furthermore, Nathan tells David that the sword would never depart from his house.

Nathan was correct, disaster did afflict David’s household. The child died, David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped. His son, Ammon, was murdered. His boy Absalom, rebelled and was slain. His next son to qualify for being king, Adonijah was killed. Then Solomon married over 1,000 wives and they turned his heart away from God. So yes, David’s sins did find him out, and he suffered greatly for them. 

According to one poll taken, out of 250 pastors who had been caught committing adultery, they had one thing in common. Each of them thought, “It can’t happen to me.” Well it did, and their sins found them out. Some of them not only resigned from the ministry, their marriages also ended, and some had health issues. 

Our sins find us out too, that is why it is so important to confess them. That is why in our services of Holy Communion we Lutherans begin with confession and forgiveness. 

Picture Martin Luther as an Augustinian monk in Germany in 1511. He would go to confession, sometimes for up to six hours at a time, in order to share with God every slight flaw in his character and behaviour. He literally believed that every iota of sin had to be confessed in order to be forgiven. He found no real remedy in all this confessing, any more than he did in a string of good works, or in a barrage of good advice from various mentors. Eventually he realized it was not enough to feel sorry for wrongdoings or even to confess them all—he needed a new nature, a fresh start. He needed to say with our psalmist. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.”1 That too, is what David came to realize, after the prophet Nathan had found his sins out.

So David responds with this beautiful Psalm 51. As the superscription states: “To the leader. A Psalm of David, when the prophet Nathan came to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” 

According to my NRSV Lutheran Study Bible (p. 849), Psalm 51 is a penitential psalm and a prayer for help. The Lutheran Study Bible gives it this title: “Prayer for Cleansing and Pardon.” The Good News Bible has this title: “A Prayer for Forgiveness.” 

In the first nine verses, David prays a prayer of confession and repentance. He takes his sins very seriously and employs three different words—transgressions, iniquity, and sin. As “transgression” it is nothing less than “rebellion” (pésha‘ ); as “iniquity” it connotes perversion and twisting of moral standards (‘awon); and as “sin” it implies that the divinely appointed goal that has been set for us has been completely missed (chatta’th).

In addition to these words to emphasise the seriousness and tragic and tormenting consequences of his sins; David prays with two interesting phrases in desperation to seek cleansing and forgiveness. Twice he employs the phrases “wash me” (kibbes) (vv 2 & 7) and “blot out,” or as the Good News Bible renders it “wipe out” (vv 1 & 9). The verb for “wash” is more vigorous than the translation might suggest, for it includes pounding, stamping, and vigorous rubbing in order to loosen the dirt. But there again, if God does it, the effect will be an adequate cleansing, in fact, he shall become “whiter than snow,” a phrase that is reminiscent of Isa 1:18, which statement of the prophet could well be based on this passage.2 Speaking of the Book of Isaiah, the phrase “blot out” (machah) is also found in Isa 43:25, where God is speaking, and declares the following words of promise: “I, I am He who blots out your transgressions for my own sake, and I will not remember your sins.”

In other words, God will and does forgive, cleanse, restore and recreate David and you and I. Verses 10-12, are familiar to us, since in our liturgy we often sing them as the “Create in Me” offertory hymn–#185 – #188 in our Evangelical Lutheran Worship.

Notice that in verse 10, we sing and pray: “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” Or as the REB translates it: “God, create a pure heart for me.” For the Jewish people, the heart is the symbol and the centre of one’s thoughts and plans, will and attitude, which motivate one’s actions. As Jesus said, everything begins in the heart evil and good, hatred and love.  Only God can give us; only Godcan create in us a clean, a pure heart. That comes when God removes completely our sins. In response we are able to rejoice, to be joyful with our willing spirits we can then begin afresh, like waking up to a new day to love and serve our God and our neighbour. 

Like David, our sins take their toll on us and have consequences. Thank God that is not the end of the story! Also like David, as we go through the hard times, and by God’s grace working in us through the Holy Spirit, we confess and repent of our sins, God can and does forgive us, wash us, and blot out, wipe out our sins, and create in us clean/pure hearts to love and serve God and our neighbour. Now that gives us joy, and is worth celebrating, thanks be to God! 

1 Ben Witherington III, Incandescence: Light Shed through the Word (Grand Rapids, MI & Cambridge, UK: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), p. 93. 

2 H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House Co., 1969), pp. 401 and 404.