Fourth Sunday after Pentecost (LCMS Readings - Year C)
Thursday, June 24, and Sunday, June 27, 2004
Nathan said to David, “You are the man! You’re the man!” Or as we’d say in today’s slang, “You da man!”
Except, be careful, is that really what Nathan is saying, “You da man”? That phrase today means, “You’re awesome, you’re the best.” I don’t think that’s what Nathan the prophet meant when he approached David the King and said, “You are the man.”
Nathan was confronting David, pointing out David’s sin, going to David to speak God’s Word. David had committed adultery with Bathsheba, gotten her pregnant, tried to cover it up by bringing her husband Uriah home from the war, and then had Uriah killed in battle. No, when Nathan said, “You’re the man,” I don’t think he meant that David was the best, that David was awesome.
When Nathan said, “You’re the man,” he meant that David was the sinner, the rich man in Nathan’s metaphorical story. You see, there was no poor man with a lamb and a rich man who took that lamb to slaughter for his guest’s dinner. Nathan told this story to get David’s reaction, to help David to see his sin. When Nathan says, “You’re the man,” he is saying that David is the rich man who was greedy and took the poor man’s lamb, David is the one who was greedy and took Uriah’s wife, David is the one who deserves to die as David himself said about the rich man in the story. When Nathan says, “You’re the man,” it is not in that positive sense of today’s “You da man;” it is in a negative sense.
Of course, in modern slang, we’ve also got a negative sense of “the man.” Since at least the beginning of the 20th century, if not dating all the way back to slavery in America, “the man” was a way to refer to the one who was in control or in authority. African-Americans have used this against whites, calling attention to the oppression, racism, and prejudice in this country. In the 1960’s, it became common to call the government or the police “the man,” referring to their control and authority over society, including the crack down on protests over the Vietnam War.
When Nathan says to David, “You’re the man,” we’re not actually that far from this negative sense in today’s slang. David is the Man, the one in control, the one in authority, the one who uses his power to oppress or for greed. David is the Man, the King, who takes what he wants from someone who doesn’t have control, David takes Bathsheba from Uriah who isn’t in a position to stop the king. Uriah was a pawn of the Man, was killed by the Man. Bathsheba was caught up in the power play of the Man.
So while we wouldn’t say that David is da man, in the positive sense, the best, the awesome, someone who is highly respected, we wouldn’t say that about David in this moment of adultery and murder, we would say that David is the Man, in the negative sense, one who uses his authority for his own greedy purposes, oppressing those who don’t have power.
The key, though, is that Nathan brings David to a place where David will admit that he is the Man, in the negative sense, and a place where David will also admit that God is da man, in the positive sense. David confesses his sins, admits how he has used his power for evil, and in turn, David is saying that God is da man, highly respected, the best, awesome, holy and righteous and true, far above our sins. In seeing Nathan’s conversation with David, we are seeing what happens in Confession and Absolution, seeing what happens when we come before God to admit our sins and to admit that God is holy.
But how does Nathan bring David the King, David “the Man,” to this place of confession? Nathan was a true prophet of the Lord, not just some yes man who would agree with anything the king did; Nathan was there to point out David’s actions that were sinful in the eyes of God. Other kings in other nations surrounded themselves with prophets, wise men, and religious leaders who would say that everything the king did was right and holy and true. In other countries, they might even consider the king to be divine, to be a god.
Israel as a kingdom was not built that way. In Israel, the king submitted to God; God was in ultimate control of the kingdom. The king ruled on behalf of God, only ruled because God invited the king to rule. This meant that the king must listen to the prophet. Nathan probably dreaded going to the throne room and saying David was sinful, but Nathan had full divine authority to speak God’s Word to King David.
Nathan’s words have that same divine authority for us. Here in 2 Samuel, beginning in verse 7, we have an outline for Confession and Absolution, an outline for admitting sins and receiving God’s forgiveness. Imagine Nathan coming to you today, his words shifting to focus on you and your sins.
Nathan says to you, “You are the man; you are the woman; you are the sinner. This is what the Lord, the God of the Church, says, ‘I anointed you with My Holy Spirit, and I delivered you from the hand of Satan. I gave you gifts of life and peace and daily bread. I gathered you together as My Church. 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 sinned against Me in thought, word, and deed. You justly deserve My present and eternal punishment.’”
Our response to this is: “I have sinned against the Lord. I am the man; I am the woman; I am the sinner.”
Then Nathan speaks the Absolution, together with reminding us of the consequences for our actions. Nathan says, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die. I forgive you all of your sins in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But by doing this, you will suffer consequences for your sins; you will need God’s help to be reconciled to the people and world around you.”
When we imagine Nathan confronting us with our sins, it forces us to face all of our sinful impulses. It would be easy to condemn David for his actions—adultery, purposely getting Uriah killed. It would be easy to say, “The man who did this deserves to die! He must pay for what he did, because he did such a thing and had no pity!” It would be easy to stand in self-righteous judgment, thinking of how terrible David was. Yet, even as Nathan used the story about the poor man and rich man to help David realize his sins, so too we read about David and realize our own sins.
Nathan uses the story of the poor man and rich man which causes David to pass harsh judgment against the rich man, but really David is aware of his own guilt, his own sin; he is passing judgment on his own actions. As one commentary on this passage says, “David’s reaction is proof. . .that humanity is endowed with a keen sense of justice which operates effectively, provided that the individual passing judgment is not personally part of the case,” (Baldwin, 237). In other words, when David thought Nathan was just talking about some other rich man, David had no trouble seeing what would be a just reaction, seeing what punishment would be right in the eyes of the law.
The same with us, we have no trouble seeing that God is right to punish David for his sins. We have no trouble seeing that David is the Man, in the negative sense, an authority using power for his own selfish motives. We have no trouble seeing that God is right when he punishes drug dealers, child abusers, murderers, liars, stealers, people who have done bad things, but people who are not us. When we look at the sins of others, we’re pretty quick to say that they’re wrong, they deserve punishment, they don’t belong in church, they messed up and no one should ever talk to them again.
It is much harder to see how you yourself are the Man, the authority, the oppressor, the one uses some kind of power for selfish motives. It is much harder to see how you yourself are like David, are like the rich man in Nathan’s story. Those terrible fundamentalists in Iraq, beheading their hostages, it’s easy to see that they’re sinners, but what about the hatred in your heart? Jesus says anytime you hate someone that’s the same as murder. Are you the Man?
Yet, in order to be forgiven, it was vitally important for David to admit his sins. In order for us to believe that we need God’s forgiveness, we must admit our sins. We must say, “I am the man; I am the woman; I am the sinner.”
If we see ourselves as the Man in the negative sense, confessing our sins also means seeing God as da Man, in the positive sense. God is highly respected, is the best, is awesome, is holy and righteous and true. Even while admitting our sins is difficult, it may also be difficult to admit that God is da man. We may resent God’s authority, probably because we want that control ourselves. We want to be da man. We want to be all that. It’s a power play, a struggle for control.
Yet, in order to be forgiven, it was vitally important for David to set aside his own control. If David had simply clung to his power and refused to see that God was ultimately in control, he couldn’t have heard Nathan announce God’s forgiveness. In order for us to hear God’s forgiveness, we must see that God is da man, the highly respected one who has given us everything. We must say, “God anointed me with His Holy Spirit, and delivered me from the hand of Satan. He gave me gifts of life and peace and daily bread. He gathered me into His Church. And if all this had been too little, He would have given me even more.”
When we believe that God is da man, the one able to forgive our sins, we also see that confession means accepting consequences. We may want to claim that it’s no fair, that God should forget what we did, that God shouldn’t make us suffer or be punished.
Yet, forgiveness doesn’t erase the consequences in this world. It was vitally important for David to accept the consequences of his actions, to take responsibility for what he did. We must take that same responsibility for our actions. God comes with love and forgiveness, but He doesn’t just come like some cosmic janitor to clean up our messes. We still must face the people we have hurt; we still must deal with the problems we have created. God will give us strength to get through the consequences, but we must say, “I will suffer consequences for my sins; I will need God’s help to be reconciled to the people and world around me.”
It is hard to admit that you are the Man, in the negative sense, the one who has used power, authority, or control for selfish gains. It is hard to admit that God is da man, in the positive sense, the one who is truly the best. It is hard to accept the lingering consequences for our sins, even after those sins have been forgiven. We don’t like any of these parts of Confession and Absolution. But it all ends with forgiveness.
While it hurts to admit where we were wrong, where we tried to take control away from God, where we have a mess to deal with, the goal of Confession and Absolution is forgiveness. Nathan came to David and said, “You are the man,” because Nathan’s goal was to tell David about God’s forgiveness. I come to you today to say, “You’re the man, in the negative sense,” because my goal is to tell you about God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ.
When we have admitted our sins before God, when we have been honest with God over how we have strayed, then we will know what a gift that we have when He says that our sins are truly forgiven through His Son, Jesus. If you don’t think you’re guilty, then you cannot be freed from that guilt. If other people are the only sinners, then you cannot see how God’s love can transform your heart. If you rejoice in yourself, then you cannot taste the joy that only comes from God.
Yet, today, if you are willing, then admit your sins before God once again. Admit that you are the Man, in the negative sense. And when you have truly confessed your sins before God, you will know what His forgiveness means, you will understand Martin Luther’s description of forgiveness when he says,
“The forgiveness of guilt. . .does away with the heart’s fear and timidity before God; it makes the conscience glad and joyful within and reconciles man with God. And this is what true forgiveness of sins really means, that a person’s sins no longer bite him or make him uneasy, but rather that the joyful confidence overcomes him that God has forgiven his sins forever,” (LW 35, p. 9).
If today you felt the pain of guilt, the bite in the pit of your stomach, hear now Nathan’s announcement as God’s announcement to you: “The Lord has taken away your sins. You are not going to die.” Amen.