by: Rev. Jason Radmacher
Text: Pslam 51
Few people capture the imagination of Old Testament readers like King David. When he first came on to the scene, he gave hope to underdogs everywhere by bringing down Goliath, the ultimate one man wreaking crew. Although he was a youngest son, God chose him to be king. And when he ascended to the throne he proved to be an able and faithful ruler.
Under David’s authority, God’s people prospered. Their borders grew. David even redrew the map by establishing Jerusalem by Israel’s capital. And along the way, he wrote and inspired some of the world’s most treasured words of hope and assurance.
Psalm 23—“The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
Psalm 40—“I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined and heard my cry.”
Psalm 103—“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me.”
Psalm 141—“I call upon you, O LORD; come quickly to me; give ear to my voice when I call to you.”
David’s life is an inspiration. His importance is undeniable.
Maybe that’s why we’re still talking about his greatest personal failure some three thousand years later.
David and Bathsheba—two lives forever joined by one man’s arrogance.
The 11th chapter of Second Samuel lays out the disturbing story. With his army at war, David was enjoying an afternoon in the sun on the palace roof when he saw Bathsheba, the beautiful wife of one of his generals, bathing nearby.
The king sent for her, he had sex with her, and Bathsheba became pregnant.
And then David used the same creative mind he used to write songs for God, to save himself—regardless of the cost.
As soon as Bathsheba told David that she was pregnant, he called her husband, Uriah, home from the front line hoping that a baby born nine month after a soldier’s homecoming would raise few eyebrows. But Uriah was so honorable that he refused to sleep under his own roof while his men were fighting. Even after David got Uriah drunk, the general still wouldn’t go home to his wife.
So David had to make a decision. He could come clean about what he had done, or he could simply eliminate the problem. David chose the latter.
He sent Uriah back to the front line. He also sent orders to another general to abandon Uriah once the fighting became most fierce, and Bathsheba’s husband was killed in battle.
The scripture tells us that soon after all this took place God sent the Prophet Nathan to talk with the king. And in that encounter with someone who had been inspired and equipped by God to speak the truth to power, to speak the truth to someone who was waist deep in a bloody conspiracy, David got called out.
He had become the man he did not want to be.
He had turned his back to God.
It’s said that Psalm 51 was David’s first step back toward the light.
Have mercy on me, O God, because of your unfailing love.
Because of your great compassion, blot out the stain of my sins.
Wash me clean from my guilt. Purify me from my sin.
For I recognize my rebellion; it haunts me day and night.
Confronted with the truth about himself, David chose to face up to reality rather than doubling down on denial. And David’s reality was that of a man who had made a complete mess of his life and caused harm and destruction in the lives of others.
“Blot out the stain of my sin,” he says.
Nathan’s ministry confronted David with the truth about what he had done, but the prophet also centered David in the truth about who God was.
The tension between David’s sin and God’s mercy, therefore, not only gives Psalm 51 its life, but extends to us an invitation to enter the space in which Good News transforms brokenness to healing and violent division into wholeness and peace.
Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow…
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
Do not banish me from your presence, and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and make me willing to obey you.
As we begin this season of repentance, we’d do well to consider the significance of David’s prayer.
Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.
These are the words of one who had seen the futility of giving in to arrogance and pride, of one who had seen that when a heart is consumed by conquest and bending people to its will, rather than being in the will of God, that heart becomes broken, that life, a distortion of its God given potential.
When he heard the Word of God, David recognized that he was not where he needed to be.
It’s a basic building block of Christian faith that the Word of God—the word made flesh in Jesus—still has the power to shine a light into the darkness of our lives and reveal the ways in which we’re still bound by the chains of sin.
The Word also has the power to set us free and point us in the right direction.
That’s exactly what happened in David’s life.
David had any number of vices and pleasures at his fingertips to try and fill the void in his heart. He could have tried to ease his conscience by trusting in his wealth to buy his way to a better life. He could have trusted in his power to make people do what he wanted. He could have lined up sycophants to tell him how great he was. He could have had a lot of sex.
Basically, the same voices that clog our inbox’s spam filters were whispering in King David’s ear, but he charted a different course.
He realized that none of these things, that nothing at all in his power could make him right again. David needed God to bring about an inward change, and so do we.
We need to pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God. Renew a loyal spirit within me.”
You see, every year in these weeks leading up to Easter, the Church—that is the faithful brothers and sisters who have gone before us in worship, in prayer, and in service—every year during Lent, the Church invites us to hear the great invitation of the scripture and to respond to that message with an honest confession of sin and a humble submission to God’s transforming grace.
“Repent—turn around—and prepare the way of the Lord. Get your heart, get your house ready, to receive Jesus in a new and powerful way.”
Every year in these weeks leading up to Easter, we can do one of three things with this invitation.
We can ignore it and continue on our own way. “No, thanks, God. I’ve got this thing called life pretty much taken care of.”
We can accept it, but only on our terms, saying, “Sure, I’ll get my ashes. I’ll give up something, but I’d prefer if you not go digging too deeply into my life, God.”
Or we can say, “Here I am, God, and I know that I am not where I need to be.
Change my heart, fill me with something new, move me in a new direction. Draw me closer to you. Make me a better friend, a better spouse, a better disciple. Have mercy on me. Wash me. Restore me….Create in me a clean heart, and let the work begin today!”
I pray that we’ll choose wisely and faithfully.
I pray that God will change our hearts.
Thanks be to God. Amen.