The Rev. Clare Fischer-Davies
St. Martin’s Church
June 13, 2010
Proper 6 C
“Let me tell you a story,” the prophet Nathan says to King David. “Let me tell you a story,” Jesus says to Simon the Pharisee. “Let me tell you a story.”
Telling stories is the way Jews and Christians have communicated their faith for thousands of years. Telling stories is the way we learn about who God is – and who we are in relationship with God and with each other. We tell stories – “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” “The Lord said to Moses: lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, so that the Israelites may go into the sea on dry ground…” “In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a village called Nazareth, to a young girl engaged to a man called Joseph. The girl’s name was Mary…” “On the night before he died for us, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “Take. Eat. This is my body which is given for you.”
Stories are concrete and vivid and real. They anchor us in authentic human experience. They connect us over time and space and give us a sense of identity and belonging. But something happens when we tack the word “bible” in front of the word “story.” A bible story becomes something else – either a way to entertain and maybe educate children, or else something that’s read out of big old dusty leather book, in language too arcane and archaic to speak to human experience.
But let me tell you a story. It’s a story about sex and a story about power. It’s a story about a king – an old king – a king who thinks maybe his best days are behind him, who’s feeling the ache of old wounds and for the first time in this life – in the spring, when kings ride out to battle, sends his officers out in his place while he remains behind in Jerusalem.
And that’s when it happens. Waking up after a nap, King David takes a stroll around the roof of his house and he gets a glimpse of a beautiful woman bathing. Suddenly King David doesn’t feel so old anymore. He feels a little frisky. He feels like finding out who that gorgeous woman is, and he feels like demanding that she be brought to him.
Make no mistake. This story is about power as much as it’s about sex. This isn’t Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward – this isn’t a story about love at all. This is a story about the abuse of power – about using power to take something David is not entitled to have – another man’s wife. He’s the king. He sends, she obeys, he lies with her. It wouldn’t be much of story if it ended there – but Bathsheba sends word to David a few weeks later: “I’m pregnant.”
And so, the story gets complicated. Bathsheba has a husband – Uriah the Hittite – one of David’s fiercest warriors – so King David sends for Uriah, brings him off the battlefield and offers the soldier a little R&R, suggests that he make a special conjugal visit to his house. But Uriah refuses. He won’t lie comfortably in a bed with his wife while his men are sleeping out in the open, while the Lord’s victory has yet to be won. David tries again. This time he invites Uriah to feast with him, gets the man good and drunk, and sends him down to his house once more. Even drunk, Uriah will not violate his conscience. He spends another night sleeping in his doorway instead of in his wife’s arms.
Here is Bathsheba pregnant, and here is her husband – refusing to be intimate with her. But David is the king – and there’s nothing to stop him from taking the final step. All he has to do is order Uriah sent to the front lines of the next day’s battle, and just to make sure, he commands the other officers to draw their men back, leaving Uriah alone – completely exposed to the enemy with no one to defend him.
Uriah is killed. David marries Bathsheba, and it looks like the end of the story.
But what David did was displeasing to God. David is pleased enough – he has gotten what he wanted and covered his tracks and no one will ever dare challenge his royal authority.
But there is one person who will speak to David about God’s displeasure – Nathan – the prophet. Nathan comes to David and says, “Let me tell you a story,” and he tells that little tale about a man whose most precious, beloved pet lamb is stolen from him, and killed and eaten by a man who had plenty of sheep of his own. That story enrages David and he thunders that the man who did that terrible, pitiless thing deserves to die.
“You are the man!” Nathan says in disgust. “You are the man.”
And then – Nathan tells David yet another story and now Nathan the prophet speaks as the voice of God: “I the Lord, the God of Israel anointed you over Israel – rescued you from your enemies – gave you the house of Israel and of Judah – and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.”
We have heard two stories of adultery and murder, of theft and of greed – and now Nathan tells a story of grace and salvation and purpose and covenant. God took David – a simple shepherd boy – and made him King over Israel, not to give David despotic power, but to make him Israel’s shepherd, Israel’s leader and protector. God’s story calls David into covenant and relationship – into responsibility and gratitude.
And it is God’s story that makes David realize what a sad and sordid story he has written with his own sin and pride. “You are the man,” says Nathan. “You are the man.”
God’s story collides with another sad and sordid story in the house of Simon the Pharisee. Simon has invited Jesus to dinner, but the party is interrupted when a notoriously sinful woman comes in and kneels down at Jesus’ feet. We are not told anything about why this woman bathes Jesus’ feet in her tears, dries them with her hair and soothes them with ointment. She just comes in and pours herself out in grief and devotion.
Simon is doubly outraged. It’s bad enough that such a woman has come into his house – but it is disgusting that Jesus, who has the reputation of being a holy man, would let such a woman touch him – and touch him in such an intimate and inappropriate way. She is kissing his feet! At the dinner table! Clearly Jesus is a fraud – a true prophet and rabbi would cast the woman out into the street.
“Let me tell you a story, Simon” says Jesus. “Let me tell you about two guys who both owed money to the same man. One of them owed ten times more than the other – ten times – and when neither of them could pay the debt, the creditor canceled it – just like that. Now – which one of those men is going to love that creditor more?”
Easy question. “The one who had the biggest debt will be the most grateful,” answers Simon – and I imagine him still seething as he watches the woman at Jesus’ feet. What does this silly story about canceling debt have to do with all the sin going on right under his nose?
“You are the man, Simon” says Jesus, “You are the man.” Your heart is small and hard and cold, because you don’t know that God has loved and forgiven you. You think your righteousness is all your own doing – you are full of arrogance and pride. You sneer at this woman because she’s done things you don’t approve of – but she understands that God puts all of that aside, forgives her, creates a new life for her – free from the burden of her past sin. She has a lot to be forgiven for – she knows that – she knows that she hasn’t been living a life that’s pleasing to God – and it has broken her heart. She has a lot to be forgiven for – and God has granted her that forgiveness. God’s story has changed her story.
God’s story changes the sinful woman’s story – she leaves Simon’s house a different person from the way she came in. God’s story changes David’s story – after Nathan confronts the king, David’s heart is broken by the knowledge of his own sin, and the consequences of that sin spread through David’s family like cancer. God’s story changes those human stories – and one of the reasons we come here week after week is because we believe that God’s story changes our own story.
God’s story – a story that begins at creation, a story of salvation – a story that we see most perfectly told in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – a story that the Holy Spirit is still unfolding today - God’s story challenges our own story. God’s story, told again and again in scripture, in hymns, in sermons and prayers and in the Eucharistic feast – God’s story reframes our story – gives us a context of love and grace and forgiveness that makes us see our own stories in a different way.
Bible stories aren’t just for children. And they aren’t just dry and dusty tales from a distant time, incomprehensible to the modern world. How many of you know a story like David’s – a story where lust and power lead to abuse and tragedy? How many of you know a story like Simon’s – a story where pride and self-righteousness lead to hatred and contempt? How many of you know a story like the woman’s – a story where grace and forgiveness lead to renewal and hope and transformation?
God’s story changes and challenges our story. God says to us – “I have made you in my image; I have called you into covenant; I have delivered you from bondage; I have given you victory over death itself. And it that is still too little – I will give you as much more.”
Let God’s story touch and transform your story.