This sermon was initially going to be about “speaking truth to power.” Perhaps we are the power that needs speaking to…
12 1 and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “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. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man!
Sermon: “Speaking Truth to Power”
I still remember the first time I got in big trouble. I mean BIG trouble.
I was on the playground at the church preschool, and we had a tire swing that you could spin in circles.
It was incredibly fun.
And my class, the 4-year-olds, had play time with the 3-year-olds.
And there was a cute little 3 year old that decided he wanted to play on the tire swing.
So being the good little friend that I was, I decided to show him how fun it was.
A friend of mine and I spun him and I spun him and I spun him.
And he screamed…
We all screamed on the tire swing.
It was so fun!
But this time, the child was screaming in fear.
He wanted off the ride, and that was gradually becoming clear to us.
But at 4, we already knew a lot, you know.
And we just knew how fun this spinning ride was.
And so maybe if he just stayed on it a little while longer, he’s learn how fun it was.
But he just kept screaming, and a few turns later, crying.
But from my perspective, I was showing this kid the time of his life.
Welcome to the playground, I was thinking. This place is the best!
But in his mind, an older child was bullying him and not letting him get off this terrifying spinning donut.
A teacher ran over, stopped the swing and put me in time out.
And understandably so.
She explained that he was 3. And we were 4. And there were 2 of us. And if he said stop, we had to stop. That was the rule.
“What you did was mean,” she said.
How would you feel if you were scared, and someone kept spinning you like that?
And then I started crying.
And I think I cried for a long time.
I felt terrible.
I had really scared and hurt this little kid.
Me, the 4-year-old little girl who was now crying in time out.
I had power, and I used it irresponsibly.
Thankfully, there was a teacher who was willing to intervene.
In our story today, Nathan is the teacher. And he puts David in Time-Out.
David isn’t a 4-year-old. He’s the king of Israel.
But like that 4-year-old kid who didn’t get that she had power, David doesn’t recognize, until Nathan says something that David crossed a line.
And he crossed a big line.
The backstory to today’s text is that David, newly king, sees a woman bathing on the roof. He falls in love with her and yada yada yada, he gets her pregnant.
It’s not clear whether or not she consented to this arrangement, but frankly, when the king of your entire nation propositions you, you don’t have much power to say no.
So in addition to her being an inappropriate choice, given her social status in relation to the king, and her consequent inability to really consent, David’s choice to sleep with her was even more problematic, because she was already married to one of David’s military officers.
But hey – David had a bunch of wives. And he was king. Everything was his domain.
No big did.
Except it was a big deal. Because she’s pregnant by David, he’s in a bit of a bind, because her husband has been off at war, and he’ll know the child isn’t his.
So David sends him from his current military post to the front lines of the war, where David knows he’ll die. Which he does.
Problem solved, right?
Well, Nathan has a different perspective.
And Nathan tells David this story to help David understand the gravity of David’s actions.
And David does. What FOLLOWS our text today is a confession from David. And genuine repentance and sadness for what he’s done.
To me, as an outsider, it seems obvious that what David did was wrong.
You don’t take another man’s wife, sleep with her, and then send the man to die.
But in David’s mind, he was just following his heart.
David was a romantic. A musician and an artist.
And she was a fully consenting adult, right?
She was your servant. One of your subjects.
And you were the most powerful man in Israel.
But see, David doesn’t see himself as powerful.
He sees himself as the little shepherd boy who was the youngest and smallest of 7 brothers.
The child that his father refused to send to war.
The child that was asked to bring his brothers food, but not enter the war.
He ended up being the armor bearer for the king before him.
But not because he was strong or particularly skilled in battle.
It was because his music, his songs and his harp, soothed the dying king’s anxious mind. He was a music therapist.
And a consummate underdog.
He grew to fame when he killed Goliath, a giant.
But David didn’t slay him with a sword.
David wasn’t even strong enough to carry the heavy armor the king provided him.
David went into battle in his ragged shepherd’s clothes.
With a slingshot, the weapon of children and thieves.
And so yes, he killed a giant, but not with weapons or strength typically attributed to great warriors.
When David became king, he didn’t shake that story.
Even though he ended up commanding all the armies of Israel, in his mind, he was still that little shepherd boy, the youngest child, the artist and musician, the poet and care-giver.
He was like that little girl on the playground, the 4-years-old, who didn’t realize her strength.
And so when Nathan tells David this story, David undoubtedly puts himself in the place of the poor shepherd.
Because David understood that role.
He understood what it was like to fall asleep next to the sheep, to love them and care for them.
He saw himself in that role.
And so when Nathan talks about the rich man, who, like David, took something precious from a poor man, a man’s wife, in David’s case, David’s world is turned upside down.
Suddenly, his eyes are opened, and David recognizes the horror of what he’s done.
He repents, he prays for forgiveness, and Nathan offers it.
As we read it, who do we relate to?
Are we the poor man from whom our precious possessions are taken by the rich?
Are the we the victims of cruel and mindless tyrants?
Or are we the ones with power, taking from the powerless?
I’m not sure it’s that simple.
None of us is the King of Israel.
And none of us, as far as I know, is a poor man with one sheep.
Power dynamics are a lot more fluid for most of us.
Power tends to come from resources – money, prestige, a title, a job position. But it also comes from resources we don’t think about – our education, our ability to communication, our connections. Being a part of this community of faith gives us power.
If we’re in a difficult situation spiritually or emotionally or financially, the church always finds ways to help us. Not everyone has that in their lives.
Power can also come from things like age and gender and skin color – things we can’t control, and yet people project power onto us based on those things.
Because I’m a woman, even though many people think about men as having more power often, as a woman, I have access to some places and opportunities that men don’t.
As a white woman in particular, I have the power to walk around pretty much any neighborhood in the Northeast Heights I want without suspicion. If I walk with my dog, people tend to trust me even more.
If you’re a large black man, that’s probably not going to be the case.
Even those of us who feel generally pretty powerless, those of us who are US Citizens all have the power to vote.
And we have the power to make use of city resources.
Some of us have friends in “high places,” which gives us unique access.
All of this is to say that like David, we are not always the underdog. Even those of us who are 4-years-old or who feel like we have the very limited resources of a 4-year-old, even we have power.
So the good news is that we all have resources, some that we don’t usually think about. We’re probably more powerful than we realize.
Which means we have more responsibility than we realize. Because with all the power we have, we have extraordinary capacity to help people. But we also have the power to hurt people.
So my challenge to us this week is to be mindful of what power we have. What resources are at our disposal. What power is projected onto us that we didn’t ask for? How can we use it responsibly.
My other challenge to us is to consider when HAVE we acted like King David? When HAVE we accidentally crossed a line or accidentally hurt people who had less power than we do?
The good news is that God forgives us and works through us and through others to transform us, just as God worked through Nathan to transform David.
So when we do spin people too fast on the tire swing or get caught up and wander across boundaries we shouldn’t, we always have the power to listen to those who are pointing out the truth of the situation. And we always have the power to transform ourselves….