Pointing Fingers

By the Rev. Lee Woofenden
Bridgewater, Massachusetts, May 2, 1999

Readings

2 Samuel 12:1-13 Nathan's parable to David

The Lord sent Nathan to David. When he came to him, he said, "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 that he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. 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, the 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."

Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man! This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master's house to you, and your master's wives into 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 wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now, therefore, the sword shall 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 before all Israel.'"

Then David said to Nathan, "I have sinned against the Lord."


Luke 6:27-36 Love your enemies

"I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other one also. If someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.

"If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.

"But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful."

True Christian Religion #43.2 God's love for good and evil people

God's love goes out and reaches not only to good people and things, but also to evil people and things. So it reaches not only to the people and things in heaven, but also to the people and things in hell; not only to Michael and Gabriel, but also to the Devil and Satan. For God is everywhere and to eternity the same. He also says in Matthew 5:45 that he makes his to sun rise on the good and the evil, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.

Sermon

David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, "As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this deserves to die!" . . . Then Nathan said to David, "You are the man!" (2 Samuel 12:5, 7)

It is so easy to point fingers.

David was the king of all Israel, and Nathan the prophet had a tough job to do. You see, David had let his power go to his head. One day, as he was walking around on the roof of his magnificent palace (flat roofs were the norm in Palestine), looking out at the city laid out below him, he caught sight of a woman taking an evening bath. The woman was very beautiful, and David decided he wanted her. So he sent someone to find out who she was, and learned that her name was Bathsheba . . . and she was married. David was not deterred by this, as he should have been. After all, he was the king! Besides, her husband was off fighting against the Ammonites in David's army, and he would never know the difference. So David used his kingly power to have Bathsheba brought to him. And there at the palace, he committed adultery with her.

Nature took its course, and soon David received word from Bathsheba that she was pregnant. David had to do something about this embarrassing situation, so he turned to the natural first line of defense of those caught in the act: deception. He had Bathsheba's husband Uriah sent home from war and brought to the palace, where he asked him how the war was going. But this was just a cover for his real purpose: David sent Uriah to his house to be with his wife, so that Uriah would think that the child was his own.

But Uriah was too loyal to his fellow soldiers, and would not take his pleasure while they were fighting and dying. He would not go down to his house, but insisted on sleeping with the men at the door of the castle. David tried a second time, getting Uriah drunk so that his resistance would be lowered. Uriah would still not go down to his house.

So David, frustrated no doubt by the stubborn loyalty of this subject, had to take stronger measures. He used Uriah as the messenger of his own doom, giving him a letter for his commander with instructions for Uriah to be put in the front lines where fiercest fighting was taking place, and then to be left unsupported so that he would be killed by the enemy. When deception didn't work, David turned to murder.

And now, Nathan the prophet had the job of carrying the message of the Lord's displeasure to David, who had just used the position of power in which the Lord had placed him to steal another man's wife, commit adultery with her, and then practice deception and murder in order to cover up his offenses. Of course, Nathan hoped to keep his own head on his shoulders, so either from his own acumen or under inspiration from the Lord, he told David the parable that we heard in our Old Testament reading--and succeeded in getting David to point an accusing finger straight at himself.

It is so easy to point fingers that we rarely realize, when we are pointing an accusing finger at someone else, that all too often we may as well be pointing that finger at ourselves. The apostle Paul hit the nail right on the head when he said, "You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things" (Romans 2:1).

It is easy to see what everyone else is doing wrong; it is much harder to see what we ourselves are doing wrong. We hear in the news about people who do terrible things: murder, robbery, rape, embezzlement, fraud. And we are quick to hand down harsh sentences for those malefactors--just as David, in his anger, blurted out that the rich man who took the poor man's ewe lamb deserved to die, and then decreed fourfold restitution. But how could David pay restitution to a man who was dead by the king's own command?

Perhaps our sins aren't quite as spectacular as David's. Power is a double-edged sword. It can be used to do great good, but when misused, it can also do great damage. None of us here in church today has the power of a king--at least, not outwardly. But within our own souls, we are king. We are the ones who will make the "big decisions" about how we will direct our lives, and what we will do with what the Lord and our society have given to us. We are the ones who will decide whether we will turn our lives toward good or toward harm.

And every one of us has, at times, made the wrong choice. Every one of us has personal weaknesses and failings that we struggle with even now--weaknesses that push us toward the wrong decision when we are in a tight spot. And like David, every one of us has tried to paper over with excuses some wrong thing we have said or done--and if that didn't work, we have resorted to the more subtle murder of character assassination by blaming our conduct on someone else.

"He made me so mad I couldn't help it!" Or, "Did you hear what she was saying about me? I had to defend myself!" Or perhaps, after we have been in a conflict with someone, we discredit the other person to make ourselves look like the aggrieved party: "His father had a nasty temper, and so does he. Nobody could get along with someone like that!" And so, like David, we try to walk away from the situation without taking any responsibility for our own words and actions.

But somewhere in our mind and heart, the Lord is trying to get a message through to us. Somewhere inside of us, the word of the Lord is coming to us, asking to be heard. That message might sound something like this:

I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies; do good to those who hate you; bless those who curse you; pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, offer the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not withhold your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you. (Luke 6:27-31)

These are difficult words to follow. Living as we do in a society that places a high value on material possessions and on personal sovereignty, our minds rebel at the idea of simply letting people attack us and take away what belongs to us.

And yet, even on the literal level, the principles of nonviolent resistance that come from Gospel passages such as these have conquered where retaliation and violence never would have. Gandhi drove the mighty British empire out of India, not with violence, but by teaching the people to absorb the cruelty of the occupying power without striking back, while not participating in the economic oppression that the British were imposing upon them. And so the British, with their overwhelming military power, were driven out by the moral and spiritual power of those they were oppressing.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., used the same principles to show the moral bankruptcy of prejudice and racial segregation, so that the moral power of love and respect for all people began to win the battle.

The power of loving our enemies and doing good to those who hate us works also on the deeper, spiritual levels of life. And it works when we are in the wrong as well as when we are in the right. When we feel that we are in the right, it is so easy to look down on the other person. But even as we look down on the other person, we are committing spiritual murder inwardly: we are killing their worth as a person in our hearts. And when we are in the wrong, it is so easy to turn a blind eye to our own attitudes and actions, and blame someone else instead. But in doing so, as Paul said, we pass judgment on ourselves, because we are accusing others of the very failings that we ourselves have fallen into.

The way of not resisting evil is a more difficult one, but the rewards are so much greater! I experienced this once in my early twenties, when I was making my living doing odd jobs and yard work. But I was getting lazy, and not taking the work--or the people--seriously. One day I showed up hours late to do some work for a man that I worked for regularly. This was the last straw. As soon as I arrived, he started yelling at me. Naturally, I didn't like that very much, and I was just about to start defending myself. But a voice inside me said, "No, he has a right to be angry, and you need to listen to him." And so I did. He yelled at me for perhaps twenty minutes or half an hour, recounting all my failings and my shortcomings in a way that was most painful for me. And I stood there and took it.

If I had tried to "strike back" and defend myself, my work relationship with that man would have been over. But because that time I listened to the inner voice, and did not resist the painful onslaught of words, the relationship continued. I admitted to myself and to him that I had not been treating him right. He decided I wasn't such a bad guy after all, and had me come back to work for him many more times. And after that, I showed up on time!

It is easy to point fingers. But in the long run, it works out so much better to listen to the inner voice of the Lord that says, "You are the one!" We are the ones who need to look inside ourselves and see where we have been mistaken and have not treated others right. We are the ones who need to look to the Lord for the strength to love our enemies, do good to those who hate us, bless those who curse us, and pray for those who mistreat us. Amen.

Music: Winds of Time
1999 Bruce DeBoer