Thursday, March 8, 2012

Lenten Midweek Sermon: "Scandalous Forgiveness"

+ Lenten Midweek, 2012 – Servants of the Word Pulpit Exchange +
Theme: Confession and Absolution
Title: “Our Need: Living as Saint and Sinner” (the 1st of 5 parts)
Text: 2 Samuel 12
NOTE: As the notes above suggest, this the first in a five-part sermon series based on the 5th chief part of Luther's Small Catechism, Confession and Absolution. This Lenten sermon series is also part of a pulpit exchange with local Lutheran pastors in our area, leading up to a Catechism Convocation on April 21, 2012 on the same topic - go to for more information. The upside is I only have to write one sermon for the midweek services. The downside is I don't get to preach the other 4 topics. Call it a homiletical catch 22. Nevertheless, it has been a joy to participate with the brethren in this effort and we look forward to the culminating event on the 21st of April.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
            Scandal. Coveting. Lust. Sex. Adultery. Oh, and don’t forget the cover-up. Murder, an illegitimate child and a wedding. You watch with white knuckled anticipation. What happens next? What juicy drama – don’t touch that remote!
            But this isn’t the latest episode the Real Housewives of fill in the blank city. You’re reading the Old Testament. Who needs Desperate Housewives drama when there’s plenty of it in the Bible? An adulterous tryst with Uriah’s wife – notice her name isn’t even mentioned - turns into an unplanned pregnancy. Wisteria Lane has nothing on King David. He’s got it all planned out though, doesn’t he?
            Give Uriah the soldier a weekend pass. Some free time with his wife. And the rest, as they say, the birds and the bees. Uriah goes back to war. Bathsheba is pregnant. And everyone can connect the dots.
            One problem though! Uriah won’t go home and sleep with his wife. He refuses. He sleeps on the porch. You could cut the irony with an Ammonite sword. There’s only one thing left for David to do. Order Uriah to the front line. Then pull back. Leave him high and dry. King David pulls a Tony Soprano. Offs Uriah through one of his generals.
            Then after the funeral’s over and everyone has mourned the fallen soldier, King David turns on the charm. Offers to help the poor widowed Bathsheba. Takes her into his home and makes her his wife.
            “What a magnificent king! Look at how he provides for our war widows!” Can you imagine the paparazzi snapping the couple’s first kiss and the cake cutting ceremony of Israel’s most benevolent king? What a great story. Everyone loves a royal wedding.
            The only thing better is a celebrity baby. Everyone will think that baby bump under Bathsheba’s dress is King David’s legitimate child. He wants everyone to know he’s the father…just not the real story. Ah, I love it when a plan comes together. Sounds great, huh?  No one will ever know.
            Too bad it’s a fraud. A big fat lie. Glamorous and glitzy on the outside. But full downright filthy on the inside. 2 Samuel gives us the real story: coveting, adultery, theft, murder, and idolatry. Scandal upon scandal upon scandal.
            David needed forgiveness. He made his bed, but didn’t want to lie in it. But before he could receive forgiveness he needed to know that he needed to have a need for forgiveness.
            So God sent Nathan the prophet. Nathan means gift – a rather fitting name, don’t you think? After all, David needed pastor Nathan – like a sick man needs a doctor. Like a man about to get hit by a bus needs to be shoved out of the way. David needed what we need – the gift of Confession and Absolution. This is what the Lord does. He’s in the business of working repentance and forgiving sins. That’s why he sends you pastors to confront your sin and speak God’s Word of Absolution.

            That’s the part of Confession we hear about tonight. Our need. Forgive the silly comparison, but it’s kind of like men and shopping malls – if there’s something we need; we run to it; get in and get out get on with life. Otherwise, why bother.
            So too with confession. If we knew the dire need we’d beat down our pastor’s door to absolve us. We’d high-tail it to Confession and Absolution faster than someone looking for shelter in one of those zombie apocalypse movies: “Let us in; save us for Christ’s sake.”
            That’s what Absolution is all about: salvation for Christ’s sake. A word of rescue. Absolution through from God himself, through your pastor’s mouth to your ears. That zombie business – thrilling science fiction no doubt – but it’s not all that far off from the truth. That’s more or less what David was before Nathan came to him: a living dead-man, a sinner in need of repentance, the walking dead. Lent reminds us that we were that way too. Enemies of God. Rebels. Sons of Adam. Dead men walking.
            So Nathan comes to David with a story. It’s worth repeating:
“There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4
            Very clever that Nathan. He does what practical jokers have known for centuries; the best way to make the guy look like a complete fool is to have him play the joke on himself.
            A well-crafted parable. Who better to tell this story about sheep-stealing to than a former shepherd? No coincidence her. Nathan, the shepherd of souls comes to David, the shepherd of Israel in order to rescue this little lamb from death.
            David went to great lengths cover his guilt with fig leaves but God saw through it. And all David’s careful planning came unraveled with Nathan’s word: “You are the man.” David was angry – who wouldn’t be? The irony is that David’s righteous indignation was kindled against no one but himself. As David passed judgment on the hypothetical sheep-stealer, he uttered his own death sentence. He slammed the gavel on his own head.

            He broke the 5th, 6th, 7th and 10th commandments but his chief violation was the 1st: “Why have you despised the Word of the Lord and done what is evil in his sight.” David needed to hear. You need to hear Nathan’s words: “You are the man.” We can’t point the finger of judgment at David without heaping coals on our own head. “I have sinned against the Lord.” Like David, our need for confession is great…but the cross, the blood, the absolution of Jesus is greater than your sin.

            And now we’ve finally found the most scandalous part of this story. “David receives reconciliation from the Lord Himself through the spoken Word of forgiveness: “The Lord has put away your sin,” Nathan declares!  David was right. He deserved to die. And so did we But that’s not what we get.
             Are you kidding me? The Lord just up and forgives David? Forgives us too? All our wickedness? No promises to do better? No conditions? No strings attached? No turning our lives around?

            Yes, that’s right. The Lord has put away your sin. It’s gone. Paid for. Covered in Jesus’ death for you. Pastor Nathan just up and absolves poor miserable sinners. The law-breaker goes free. The wicked are let off the hook. The innocent pays for the guilty. The free man dons the shackles of your slavery.  He who knew no sin becomes sin for us. Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the scarlet sins of David and you and makes them white as snow in his blood.
            The Lord has also put away your sin and buried it in his tomb. And there’s only one thing coming out of that tomb: the resurrected Lord…and your eternal life with him. Every lust, murder, gossip, theft and wickedness your of your heart; Every rejection of God’s Word – Christ has taken and put away. You are hidden from death in the flesh of Christ as Moses was tucked in the cleft of the rock.
            David’s sin is put away by David’s greater Son, Jesus. And so is yours.  David doesn’t get what he deserves. Neither do you. Neither do I. That’s what Lent; That’s what Good Friday; That‘s what Confession and Absolution is all about. Outrageous forgiveness for undeserving sinners. Even sinners as scandalous as King David.
            What a gift this sacrament is. As Luther says, we ought to be happy to run more than 100 miles to confession without coercion. Just to hear that word again: “The Lord has also put away your sin.”
            Washed away in Baptism. Drown and flooding over in the cup of Christ’s saving blood. Fed and nourished with his body. Confess your sins. Receive Absolution. Get in. Get out and Get on with life. Your sin is put away in Christ. Your pastor’s ear is the tomb where Christ buries your sin. The Word he declares in your ear drums is God’s own voice. From the mouth of the Lord, through his servant, to your ears: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ…The Lord has also put away your sin; you shall not die.”
 In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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