Feeling Guilty?

Delivered February 11, 2001 by Rev. George Antonakos.

Sermon Text:
II Samuel 12:1-14

We can take some comfort when we compare ourselves to a horrible person, but everybody is on a spectrum. Some of you may be here today thinking that there is something in your past that God technically forgives, but deep down you still think you’re on God’s “B” list and will never really be what you should be or could be. This is the stuff that today’s Old Testament lesson deals with, because it deals with a man who, in the space of a few days, commits adultery and is so smitten with the woman with whom he has committed adultery that he has her husband sent to the most fierce point of a battle against Israel’s enemy, specifically for the purpose that he will be killed.

II Samuel ends with this chilling sentence: “But the thing that David had done, displeased the Lord.” Another translation says, “The thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord.” So what will happen? What will God do to someone who so premeditatedly committed a grievous sin? Now, there are three points I want to make, but first I am going to read the passage and then briefly raise those points with you, but it’s so important to see these points for they are the keys to receiving not only God’s forgiveness, but also the keys to forgiving ourselves and to letting go of guilt and to live freely. So let’s look at II Samuel, Chapter 12, verses 1-14.

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him he said that there were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it and it grew up with him and his children and it shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him. Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him. David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, this man who did this deserves to die. He must pay for that lamb four times over because he did such a thing and had no pity.’ And Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man.’ This is what the Lord, the God of Israel says, ‘I anointed you King of Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul, I gave your master’s house to you and your master’s wives in to your arms, I gave you the house of Israel and Judah, and if all this had been too little I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah, the Hittite with the sword and took his life to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword will never depart from your house because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah, the Hittite to be your own.’ This is what the Lord says, ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you, before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you and he will lie with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight for all Israel.’ And David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan replied, ‘The Lord has taken away your sin; you’re not going to die. And because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die.’

The first point in this very sobering text is that when we forgive a previous sin or when we have done something that we find very hard to forgive, even in ourselves or in others, the first thing that we need to understand is that God moves toward us and not away from us. God moves toward you not away from you. That’s in Chapter 12, verse 1, “The Lord sent Nathan to David.” And through God, Nathan comes to David, not carrying a big stick, but carrying a parable. A parable that’s intended to get David to see what he has done, to confront himself and to understand that he is in denial. It’s interesting how God chose to use, through Nathan, the story of a shepherd, something David could relate to very easily. And shepherd David’s anger peaked when Nathan told him a story of how a man took the one little lamb that was like a pet to his neighbor and prepared it for a meal. In verse 5, David burned with anger and he says “as surely as the Lord lives,” isn’t it interesting how somebody who is in denial can talk a good religious game? “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this thing deserves to die, for he’s had no compassion!” Nathan walks straight up to him, looks him square in the eye, and says, “You’re the man!” You’ve been in that position, haven’t you? I hope that you have been in that position. We look at the cross and hear the story of God’s son dying on the cross, and all throughout this world there are people who look at that cross and say, “Boy that’s a shame, that’s a tragedy. Why did such a good man have to die? Who did this thing to him?” And I hope you’ve been in the position where God has come to you and, figuratively speaking, looked you in the eye and said, “You did it, you put that man on the cross. By virtue of your sins. By virtue of your offenses, you put the innocent lamb of God to death.” You see we have to own up to it. We can’t just talk a good game. We have to see that God moves towards us, to own up to it. Or, are we more like Matthew Poncelet? Matthew Poncelet is a character in the movie, Dead Man Walking. And in the clip that I am going to show you right now, Matthew Poncelet is being confronted by Sister Prejean. She’s a nun, and she comes to a convicted killer and she’s trying to get him to own up to his offenses. Let’s look at this one-minute clip and see if it works. “You’ve got to own up,” Sister Prejean says. And it’s the same for us; we have to own up to the part that we played in the death of the Son of God. But the key point that I am trying to communicate is that God moves toward us and not away from us in sending a messenger to David.

The second point is this. God doesn’t give up on us. He moves toward us to get through to us what the root of all sin is. It’s not only shown there, it’s at the top of your bulletin. It’s the mother of all sins; it’s the thing that causes everything else to be symptom. In verse 9, God through Nathan says, “Why did you despise the word of the Lord, by doing what is evil in his eyes?” And in verse 10, he repeats himself, “You despised me,” God says. The word despise there means to raise one’s head loftily and disdainfully. You know, kind of strut around. Look down upon someone else. That’s what God is saying here. God is saying, “You despised me.” You know David did despise a lot of people; he lifted his head haughtily, and loftily towards Uriah, the Hittite, Bathsheba’s husband. He looked haughtily and disdainfully upon Bathsheba herself, to treat her like he did. He even despised himself, but he mainly despised the Word of the Lord. We can carry guilt around for sinful acts, but the root sin is to keep living with an attitude of disdain toward the Lord or his word, or even an attitude of indifference. And the reason that David in another part of the scripture is called a man after God’s own heart is because of what he says in verse 13. David says to Nathan after he has been confronted, “I have sinned,” and he didn’t stop there. He said, “I have sinned against the Lord.” You know there’s another wonderful passage of scripture in Genesis, Chapter 39, it’s about a very handsome young man named Joseph, who was tempted and enticed to commit adultery with his master’s wife, who kept telling him, “Come and be with me.” You know what Joseph says in Genesis 39, verse 9? “I have been given everything, your master hasn’t withheld anything to me except you because you’re his wife. How could I do this wicked thing and sin against,” and he doesn’t say my master but says, “How could I do this wicked thing and sin against the Lord?”

You know a person, Christian or not, with a temper can confess and be remorseful over turning a table over in his home and can be remorseful for cursing his wife and children, and say “I’m sorry”, in tears, but until it gets to the very core of his being that the chief sin is not against his wife and children, but against the Lord. He’s doomed to repeat it. He doesn’t get and will not get over it. He has not repented, as the scripture says, “toward God.” So God moves toward us, not away from us. God wants to get through to us, what the root sin is, and that’s despising God’s word and turning from God’s word.

And then there is one more point. God doesn’t give up on us. Now let me say quickly, we see from this very text that there are consequences for sin. I mean, when we do something wrong, we ought to pay in some ways, especially when we have hurt somebody, we’ve harmed society or whatever, but what I want to try and say here is that even though we have to deal with those consequences, it doesn’t mean that we are done in God’s economy. God can still use us, scars and all, to affect his purposes. The scars are not meant to immobilize us, they are meant to remind us and guide us in the future. I remember as a kid, six years old, I took a steak knife and a twig and I was carving, you know, whittling, and my mom said, “You better cut that out, you’re going to get hurt.” “No, I’m okay,” I said, “I’m whittling.” Just after that, “Whaaaaaa!” And I never got stitches, but I have a scar here on my left index finger to prove that my mom was right. And you know what, I never did that again. Never. In fact, I became very cautious when it came to that sort of thing. That’s what God wants to do, to use these scars to remind us of the damage that can be done, but not to immobilize us, but that then we can share our scars, so to speak, with others, so that they too can come to understand the love of God. And even in the rubble of all these consequences and there are many, later in the chapter in verse 24, David has relationship with Bathsheba again, and he takes her as his wife and the son that is born to them, his name is Solomon. And listen to what it says about Solomon. This is David and Bathsheba’s son. “The Lord loved him and because the Lord loved him, he sent word through Nathan the prophet, to name him Jedidiah, loved by the Lord.” You see how God does? He takes the consequences and he takes the rubble and he brings light out of darkness, and life out of death. Listen to what another murderer wrote. It’s from Ephesians, Chapter 3. Just listen carefully. This is Paul the Apostle, who murdered many people, writing this. “I pray that you being rooted and established in love may have power together with all the saints to grasp how wide and how long and high, and deep is the love of Christ and to know this love that surpasses knowledge. (That God’s love is so wide, so high, so deep, so long, that it surpasses knowledge, goes beyond anything that we can think about.) That you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” If God can do that in David’s heart, if God can do that Paul’s heart, then God can do that in your heart.

I want to show one more clip to end this sermon, or come close to ending this sermon. In this scene, towards the end of the movie, the nun is again speaking to the convicted killer. But this time it’s different. He is confessing and by implication, even though he doesn’t say it, by implication I believe asking God’s forgiveness and letting go of denial and guilt, and I think he is receiving for the first time in his life the love that he has always needed.

That was a little bit hard to follow, but he confesses that he did kill a boy and he raped a girl and the nun says that there are places of sorrow that only God can touch. And later in that clip he says, “I just hope that my death can give their parents some relief.” And he says, “You know, I never had any real love myself, I never loved anybody else.” He says, “It figures I would have to die to find love. Thank you for loving me,” he says at the end of the clip. And so this is the point that God is trying to make today. God comes to us and says, “I love you, I have always loved you, and I love you even now”. Dietrich Bonhoffer said that guilt is one of the hardest idols to ever break down or let go of. Because we carry our guilt around with us and it’s almost as if we say, “You know God, you can’t love me because I am so bad, and so by dwelling on my past, I am going to prove that I am beyond your forgiveness.” That idol has to go like every idol. I want to close by asking you to close your eyes and just kind of follow with me in an image, just imagine if you would for a moment, recall the story of the woman who was dragged in front of Jesus because she had been caught in adultery. Now imagine for a moment that no longer is it the woman who is sitting before Jesus at his feet, being dragged through the dirt, but it’s you. And imagine if you would Jesus hearing the accusers speak your sin. And now you look up in his eyes and he says to you these words, “Where are your accusers? Is there no one here to condemn you?” Now hear these words as Jesus looks at you, “Neither do I condemn you, go and sin no more.” Amen.

Gracious God we thank you that you love us so very much and you come to each one of us personally. We thank you for the words of the Psalmist who said “Blessed is He, Blessed is she, whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the person to whom the Lord inputs no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” Help us throw down the idol guilt today, Lord. Help us to open our arms and receive your love, to admit our responsibilities, but also to receive your great righteousness. We pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.