Sermon of 05 Aug 2018, at First Christian Church of Hampton, VA. I have truly blessed by the wise counsel of friends and come to understand just how vital intentional counsel is within the Christian walk. Such are the conversations we need.
2 SAMUEL 11:26-12:15 (New Revised Standard Version)
When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, 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. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 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. 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.” 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; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: 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. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife. Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.” Then Nathan went to his house.
The years have gone by quickly. Hard to believe it has been 17 years since I became friends with Kenny and 3 years since I buried him.
A fellow Navy chaplain, I had been his sponsor into his first active duty assignment, when he became a battalion chaplain within the same Marine regiment as myself.
2000-2001 were two tough years.
I had deployed for 8 months, during which I learned I had failed to select for Lieutenant Commander, and then learned this had been the handiwork of a particular chaplain under whom I once served. I would later promote and then again, but at that time… the sting was fresh upon me. Then, Julie’s dad developed terminal cancer and we lost him.
There were just lots of stresses, even though we lived in beautiful Hawaii. But, I had become close friends with Kenny, so there was that.
We didn’t agree on politics. We didn’t agree on some religious issues, even though both Christians. But, Kenny and I trusted each other, and trust… it is the coin of the realm in so many ways.
Amid that trust, one of the things Kenny challenged me, in his soft-spoken, kind way, was the need for personal accountability. It had not really been a part of the discussion at my seminary, but was for him and I learned something new in my faith walk.
So it was that Kenny, another chaplain, and even one of my former corpsmen, became those whom I empowered to be truth-tellers to me. I still chuckle at the latter, who asked “Why me, Godsquad?” He always called me that. I chuckled and noticed that he was a recovering alcoholic of 16 years, and that if anyone knew what self-deception is, it would be an recovering alcoholic!
I wanted them to walk with me, to speak truth if and when I needed it most, for my sake as much as the ministry to which I was called.
I would add to this learning, which would become essential to my welfare in the years ahead, and remains so today.
WHY I BRING THIS UP
It is this element of spiritual accountability that lies at the very center of this poignant passage from II Samuel, recalling a not so great moment in the life of King David. A moment in time that speaks to a needed element of all who would seek to follow after God, keeping His commandments – and living justly in relationship with others.
It is easy to overlook how in God’s Word, the whole person is reflected in the narratives, giving us a place to see our reflection, to be students, and see the redemptive hand of God moving through flawed human beings. So it is now with David.
In the preceding chapter, it is all too evident that the once humble David has gone rogue, become arrogant, lost his spiritual bearings.
He doesn’t yet realize it, but God knows, as always. There is no secret sin before God.
He had put his most skilled general in the front lines, quietly having given orders for the troops to pull back and let their enemy kill him – as if that would not make David culpable for murder.
David does this, because even though he had multiple wives, nothing was enough for him now, as he bedded the wife of Uriah, whom he had seen bathing from the high vantage of his rooftop, she had become pregnant, his efforts to pin that on Uriah had failed, and now he moved to have him killed and quickly take her for a wife – all to conceal his sins of adultery and coveting.
One is not prepared for this, “thing that was evil in the eyes of Yahweh.” Not from David of all people.
David has mistaken his divine appointment as freedom from accountability.
He thought it would go unnoticed.
At this point, Nathan enters, with a story to tell David, one that catches David’s sense of justice… A story of a poor man with but one beloved female lamb. A story which uses loaded words like “he took” and “lie” – that carry an undertone of rape, while speaking of selfishness, destruction, and greed.
David is rightly enraged, as David pronounces sentence upon the unknown rich man – only to hear four words of blunt rebuke from Nathan, no longer couched in story: “You are the man!”
Nowhere to hide, finding himself on the receiving end of a dynamic that would a thousand years later find its fuller expression in Jesus’ words as found in Matthew 7:3 [ESV]: “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?
Powerful reminder. Even a king must tolerate AND heed a prophet’s reproach, for his failure to honor Torah, having violated three commandments: adultery and coveting, bookending a murder.
If David was seduced by the royal view of divine right, he is now shown to be answerable to the covenantal reality – something he cannot escape.
All are accountable before God, that is the final word.
Now, knowing this, what stands out is that even if Nathan took care and had a strategy to ensure David owned his sin, there is the evidence that what set David apart was his acceptance of that word. Unlike some in positions of power, he did not weasel his way out it… He did not tweet about other people who had done something bad or worse…. He did not try to spin it as fake news as to what had transpired with Uriah. He did not go looking for prophets who would whitewash his sins because, after all, there was so much “good” he was doing that they wanted the government to do.
No, David owned the acceptance.
He saw his spiritual blindness for what it was. His moral courage found its footing, and his repentance was sincere. He abandons his sense of moral autonomy and returns to living in the covenantal relationship that starts with God.
Spiritual maturity can indeed emerge out of the deepest of moral failures…
When the truth is fully embraced about oneself, then the past becomes just that… past, through the forgiveness of our Lord, and…
When one ensures a means of spiritual accountability.
This brings me to what I recall from 2006, when I was amid a year-long clinical training program.
Not everyone has a Nathan.
Not everyone has someone inspired by the Letter of James (5:19-20, NRSV), where it is written: “My brothers and sisters, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and is brought back by another, you should know that whoever brings back a sinner from wandering will save the sinner’s soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”
Often, folks just stay silent. Perhaps because they know they aren’t perfect themselves. Perhaps because they fear being judgmental, or just being wrong.
But, as my supervisor added to the insight Kenny had shared with me five years earlier, he noted to my group that while we assume friends will tell us the truth – they generally won’t, unless we give them permission.
Why, one might ask?
Well, perhaps simply because they so value the friendship, they are afraid to risk it.
Does it really matter?
As to the questions, one pastor has suggested these five [edited]:
1. What are you doing to enjoy life? Calling upon us to pursue legitimate pleasures—in balance with our life responsibilities. “Shooting the breeze” about your favorite hobby is not just wasting time while your waiter brings your breakfast; it is part of the accountability relationship.
2. What new stressors are entering your life? When we don’t feel like anyone knows or understands what we’re going through, all of the lies that make sin appealing become more convincing. Sometimes our friend may be able to suggest things to reduce the stress, but –even if they can’t — these are not wasted conversations.
3. Would you like to “just hang out”? If accountability partners only spend time together “doing accountability” then their relationship will likely begin to feel like a sin-hunt. Having times when you “hang out” is vital to accountability providing the long-term protection.
4. Who or what is getting too much air time in your thought life right now? Asking this question is a great way to become self-aware of our thoughts. Similar to the stress question, it doesn’t have to carry the negative connotation.
5. What are you passionate about in the coming weeks, months, or year? How it is going? Your friend should already know, but if they don’t, then they have to know what “it” is before they can ask how “it’s” going.
Hearing these, the real question for us is, to whom would we willingly give permission to seek such truth?
Well, I am pretty sure after 35 years that Julie will tell me most of the time, but…. Sometimes, no matter the love and friendship, we may not hear our spouse holding us accountable. We might instead just push back, or just have selective hearing!
And let’s be real, I don’t think it’s much fun or even fair to place that whole burden on our spouse or significant other.
As for me, I added to my close circle along the way, not knowing how much I would need it.
I had been severely injured, as I have mentioned, in 2010. What you would not know is that only a few months before I had assumed a position as a regimental chaplain, where every chaplain had put on an eagle, making O6. It would not happen for me, not with me injured as I was.
A few weeks passed and I was talking with one of those trusted agents of mine, a friend whom I had so empowered to tell me truth about myself – even if it cost the friendship – so I would stay on the right track.
I had begun to pity myself and commented to him, “Well, there goes captain.”
The other end grew quiet.
Then two simple sentences.
“Vince, do you remember when you made me promise? You’re doing it, man.”
The promise had been initiated when I had promoted to commander, and I had told him if I ever sounded like my rank risked being more important to me than my calling, he must do whatever he needed to get my attention.
It hit me.
All I could say was, “Yeah, you’re right,” and got myself back in the lane that a better part of me had long before chosen.
It doesn’t have to be about the 10 Commandments, or the Golden Rule even, it can even just be about one’s state of mind.
I just needed kind truth.
Eight years have passed.
He and I are still good friends. We don’t agree on politics and we differ on some aspects of faith, but I will never doubt his counsel if he picks up on something that I need to hear about myself.
I would challenge you to identify your own accountability partners and/or invite a couple of “trusted ones” to officially become your honest ballast — as Nathan was to David. Having relationships we can rely upon to have our back through honest communication is truly among the best gifts we could ever have: as such accountability is really about helping us to live life well.
Pastor’s Note: There are a great number of books and articles, the one I cited and edited, is just one, but I like it because it isn’t about being on a “sin hunt” but just keeping healthy in life… so one is less likely to step into the wrong path. “5 Questions I Wish My Accountability Partner Would Ask Me,” Brad Hambrick, dated 22 Jun 2015. Accessed on 04 Aug 2018, at https://www.covenanteyes.com/2015/06/22/5-questions-i-wish-my-accountability-partner-would-ask-me/
©2018 by Vinson W. Miller, Hampton VA.