Restoration in the City of Peace

by the Rev. Paul Nancarrow

This sermon is based on 2 Samuel 11:1-15 and 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a.

After church last Sunday several people asked me why I didn’t preach on the Old Testmanent lesson, why I didn’t preach on David. “That was quite a story,” they said. “I really wanted to hear what you were going to do with that story,” they said.

So, for everyone who wanted to hear what was up with David, hold on to your hats. Today you’re going to get a double dose of David.

Because last week’s story from 2 Samuel doesn’t really stand on its own. Things don’t really get resolved until this week’s story. The account of David’s sin and David’s crime doesn’t really teach us anything, it doesn’t tell us anything that helps for our lives, until we also get the account of David’s confrontation and David’s confession.

There are two things that Nathan’s confrontation with David really make clear about this story: One, that David’s sin is so bad not just because it violates Bathsheba and destroys Uriah, but David’s sin is so bad because it betrays God, because it betrays God’s purpose in making David king, God’s purpose in giving David the throne of Jerusalem. And Two, that violence begets violence, and corruption breeds corruption, and sin creates a cycle of sin that damages the whole community – until God breaks in with truth and leads faithful people to confession and restoration.

God sent the prophet Nathan to say to David, “I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.”

Those words remind David that he was not the first choice for king, and he became king not because he was clever and powerful and conquering, but because God chose him. And God chose him to do what Saul had not been able to do: to bring together the house of Israel and of Judah. Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin, one of the northern tribes; and the northern tribes of Israel were always kind of at odds with the tribe of Judah in the south; and Saul wasn’t able to handle that tension. But it was God’s will for there to be a whole monarchy, a single kingdom that would bring together all the tribes – and not just the tribes, but the resident aliens living among the tribes – so that all the peoples living in the land of God’s promise would share justice and peace and right-relationship and mutual well-being to show forth God’s purpose for the world. That was the purpose for which God called David and sent him to do what Saul could not.

And in a very real sense, the city of Jerusalem was the physical symbol of God’s uniting purpose at work in David’s kingship. Originally Jerusalem was not an Israelite city. It didn’t belong to Israel; it didn’t belong to Judah; it belonged to the Jebusites, a people who were not descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and who were not part of the covenant with Moses. David conquered the city and made it his capital, a place no tribe owned but all tribes could respect, so that it could be a sign for how everyone could live together. It didn’t hurt that the name of the city sounded like the Hebrew word for “Peace,” and it became known as the City of Peace. And just to make sure the point was clear, David welcomed into the city people who were foreigners, who were not Israelites, who were not part of the covenant, but who served God’s purpose of building up a richly diverse community united in justice and peace.

And one of those valued foreigners was Uriah. The text of the story makes sure we don’t miss that by calling him “Uriah the Hittite,” giving his ethnic designation as if it were part of his name. Uriah was a important part of David’s army command. And, with Bathsheba, Uriah’s household was an important part of Jerusalem society, one thread in the tapestry that made up the beloved community. Uriah and Bathsheba were part of God’s intention to bring many people together in one City of Peace.

And that is the divine intention David destroys by his sin and his crime. Adultery with Bathsheba, the murder of Uriah – these are the exact opposites of the right-relationships for mutual well-being that Jerusalem is supposed to be about, that the king of Jerusalem is supposed to seek and guard for God. David’s crime is not only personal, it is communal. David’s sin is not just a sin against two people, it is a sin against the purposes of God.

And that is why the punishment that Nathan describes for this sin is so severe. “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house,” Nathan says from God, “there will be trouble against you from within your own house; your wives will be taken before your eyes, and given to your neighbor.” The violence that David has committed will beget more violence. The corruption that David has covered up will breed more corruption. The sin that David sinned by abusing his power will create a cycle of abusive power that will leave David himself and his house torn and bloodied and broken. That’s what happens when God’s intention for the beloved community is torn by human greed and force and denial and self-security.

And that is why it is so important that David, confronted by Nathan, finally confesses his sin, finally admits his crime, and turns again to trying to be the kind of king God needs for the City of Peace. Violence begets violence; corruption breeds corruption; sin creates a cycle of sin – and the only way to interrupt that cycle is for God to break in with truth through Nathan, and lead David to confession and restoration. The consequences of David’s betrayal won’t go away overnight – it will take generations to work out all the trouble David started – but with David’s confession at least the healing can begin. That is what is needed to build up the City of Peace.

And that is the part of the story that speaks to us today. What we can learn from this ancient political soap opera is that it is God’s will to build up the City of Peace, the beloved community of right-relationships for mutual well-being, in which all people, of whatever ethnicity or race or orientation or religious persuasion will have a place and a role and a value. And because we belong to Jesus, and Jesus is the heir of David, that means we are inheritors of the kingdom, and it is God’s mission for us to build up the City of Peace every bit as much as it was God’s mission for David. And that means we, like David, must confess the sins committed against the beloved community, and open ourselves to repentance and changing-of-heart, so that God can interrupt the cycle of violence and bring restoration to us.

Whether that be naming the racial profiling committed by self-appointed armed “guardians” of military recruiting centers; whether that be standing up to opinions of exclusion that regard some people’s legal marriages as more “real” or more “proper” than others’; whether that be recogizing patterns of prejudice that have become so much a part of our community customs that we no longer even see them, and nobody remembers how they got started, though we can envision how they might end – in whatever ways we must, we can follow the example of David to name the sins committed against the beloved community, the sins we ourselves are part of, and we can be open to God’s truth and God’s grace to break the cycle and empower us to build up the City of Peace.

What sins against the beloved community will you witness and confront this week? And what confession and transformation for Peace will you be willing to make?

May God lead us, as God led David, to speak the truth and to act in love, for our city, and in everything we do. Amen.