Aug 1, 2021
The individual right to decide for oneself.
Many of us might call this freedom. And it can be that. We— or our loved ones — have fought — and some have even died — for the sake of liberty. Remember the story from last week’s sermon about Liberation Day in Guam? Or perhaps you recognize the famous and very political cries from one Patrick Henry proclaimed from within St. John’s Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia in March of 1777: “Give me liberty or give me death.” For many, this— the individual right to decide for oneself— is the why behind those warriors deaths and injuries that for many offers meaning.
And sometimes our liberty — the individual right to decide for oneself— comes at the cost of another’s death.
Let me share with you story this morning, you may recognize some of it…
“The Lord sent [the prophet] Nathan to [king] David.” And “[Nathan] came to [David], and said to him,” in a manner of speaking:
“There were two men in a certain city…” both fought for liberty and the individual right to decide for oneself. One was powerful, and the other vulnerable. The status quo was not designed for both.
One man had nothing and was considered to be nothing by those in power; just an acceptable loss. But this man knew that God was his light, YHWH was his flame and he had love. He had one little ewe lamb, which was known, and grew by his side, and ate from alongside him, and lay has his bosom and down by his feet. Together they were sheep.
Now the prince of a man had very many flocks and herds on his ledger — he’d slaughter the fatted calf on a Tuesday, just because (definitely not for a prodigal). He’d put on a pedestal of entertainment the Greatest of All Time, the G.O.A.T., and when she choose her life over performing for his pleasure he mocked her patriotism. He had billions to burn on a pleasure ride to space, but his storehouses of treasure would not contribute to the care of those more vulnerable.
No, they would not. He was loathe to take even one of his own herd for the sake of a stranger. He exercised his individual right to decide for himself, and he did what was right for his own eyes. He saw that Mary had a little lamb and he took the lamb of God and prepared that those who had come for him.
Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against this prince of a man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, because he did this thing, and he had no compassion” no love for his neighbor, only deciding for himself and his own self-indulgent appetites. And Nathan said to David, “You are the man!”
Now you probably haven’t heard that version— it’s a bit of midrash, it’s called incarnational translation. It’s kinda like what Nathan was doing for David— he was taking a story that he could see and helping him see himself in that story.
Let me be as clear as I was last week— the thing — “that David had done was evil in the eyes of the Lord.” It is not of God, that the privileged powerful of this world care more for their own comfort than our siblings lives. Rarely is the liberty of the vulnerable privileged over the liberty of the powerful. All too often the liberty of those with power — to right to individually decide becomes a decision for oneself, one’s own sake and benefit and desires as is best in our own eyes, often it renders others else in the ledgers of our heart as an acceptable loss. The Uriah the Hittites and Bathshebas of the world become for the Davids of the world the sacrificial lamb.
And once again, the truth of this story often threads through our stories in a legion of sometimes sssublter ways. Can we recognize it? Ways we are complicit in systemic and structure sin? Ways that we bow to the powers and principalities of this world? Ways that when we exercise our individual rights to decide we prioritize our own comfort over the lives over the vulnerable? Ways we too are King David?
Can we hear Nathan saying to us: “You are the man.” “ We are the man.”
What is it like to be David in this story from 2 Samuel?
What is it like to face with the depths of our unworthiness, wretchedness and complicity in wickedness? Many of us do not want to take responsibility or be accountable for our actions for we like to avoid discomfort. And so we instead disengage, deny, defend or deflect. We disengage and move away and avoid. We put blinders on the truth so we cannot see, we stop up the ears of our heart so we don’t have to hear. Till like Pilate washing his hands of his part of Jesus death, we disengage. Or maybe we deny. We craft such elaborate stories of misinformation and put it on a loop till we believe the conspiracies and fill in the gaps with confabulations and we craft a story that we believe but is not true. Till like the soldiers at the crucifixion, we simply know not what we are doing.
Or maybe we defend and move against. We double down and armor up and make ourselves so invulnerable that we harden our own heart. Till like the high council, in our attempt to protect what we have constructed we actively seek to crucify Christ. Or maybe we deflect and bounce the blame to another. We seek out a scape goat saying I’m not the man— it was the woman who gave me the fruit— it was at the serpent who tricked me. We know that story that is as old as time. Till like the church through the centuries who in their antisemitism pinned the death of Jesus on “the Jews,” we think we have the power to absolve ourselves. When we are faced with the truth of Nathan’s words that “[I] am the man,” how often out of our discomfort do we disengage, deny, defend, and deflect and sacrifice the lamb?…
Here’s the thing, for all the awful done by David— and there is a lot — I mean A LOT — David in our story does not have a hardened heart: he does not disengage, or deny or defend or deflect, he takes responsibility and confesses: “I have sinned against the Lord.” God loves a repentant sinner. The fatted calf is for the prodigal. There is joy in heaven over the sinner who repents. God so loved the world that God gave Jesus not for condemnation but for salvation. The lamb— Mary’s little lamb, the lamb of God, takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. … Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, have mercy on us. Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
My hope and my prayer is that we use our freedom, our individual right to decide not for ourselves but for one another. I pray that we freely decide to repent of our own self-indulgent appetites and ways, and like Jesus privilege the vulnerable. I pray through all of this, we live in the continual mercy and loving-kindness and grace of our God in Jesus Christ, the lamb of God. In the words of our Psalmist that we pray every Ash Wednesday,: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”