Rock Star—The David Saga, IX: David the Sinner
Bible Text: II Samuel 11:26–12:10 | Preacher: Reverend Dr. Jo Forrest | Click here to listen to this sermon.
Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man! —II Samuel 12:7
Pixar Studio’s first release, Toy Story, earned three Academy Awards and more revenue than any other film that year. Since then, Pixar’s success over two decades is founded on its ability to achieve a cross-over from kid movie to adult. Bright colors and lots of animals appeal to kids whereas the mature and insightful storytelling captures adults.
The Apple watch does not have Buzz, Woody, and Jessie from Toy Story as options for the watch face because of kids. You might smile upon remembering Inside Out, Monsters, or Finding Dory.
Through its movies, Pixar has been a moral teacher. Each film is cast with complex characters who possess charm and fatal flaws. Each movie’s rich story line follows a very simple six-point story structure. Each one.
Once upon a time there was a…
Then this was the result…
The endings are not expressed as “happily ever after,” as if the tragedy or tension did not exist but restore wholeness…they are kid movies.
Pixar’s devotion to such clarity inspires us to examine the stories of our lives, and particularly Holy Scripture, to distill out the noise, and find the truth. Written by those in exile, the David saga attempts to make sense of the monarchy’s rise and fall and the source of the misery they now endured.
Consider the first book of Samuel:
Once upon a time God’s people lived in a promised land.
Each day they praised God and lived according to God’s covenant.
One day they felt vulnerable to other tribes whose kings protected them.
Because of that, they asked their prophet, Samuel, for a king.
Because of what Samuel knew about human nature, he warned them that a king would one day take their sons and daughters, their wives and vineyards.
Unfortunately, then Samuel found a king who rose in power and later turned cruel.
At the time of the monarchy’s rise, a prophet was a truth teller, priest, and pastor all in one. He was to care for the people, the leader, and ensure God’s word was heard and followed. Nathan was the successor to the prophet Samuel.
Here is another story within the David saga…
Once upon a time a shepherd boy was chosen to be king.
Each day David governed and upheld God’s commands as he grew in power and wealth.
One day David took another man’s wife for his pleasure.
Because of that she became pregnant.
Because of that David had her husband killed to cover up his adultery.
Then God sent his prophet, Nathan, to speak the truth to him.
Before I read how Nathan carried out his task, please pray with me.
Oh God, you have spoken to us through the stories of old, teaching us of your love and how to live with one another. May these holy words of scripture speak to us now with power and clarity as they have through the ages. May our meditations, ensure we remain faithful followers of your son, who was your word incarnate, Amen.
2 Samuel 12:1–9
Nathan came to David, and said, “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?
Pixar did not invent creative storytelling to teach morals or to illustrate a message. They modeled the beauty of the parable for its stealth effectiveness in delivering a message that would otherwise fail with blunt honesty.
Our minds can defend against rational arguments, so from the oldest of time, a parable has been the way to lure listeners into a story, kind of like a Trojan Horse, such that when listeners becomes vested in the outcome and the story turns, they are convicted by their own actions or character flaws.
Given David’s ruthlessness in killing anyone who stood in his way, Nathan risked his life when God sent him to confront David.
Nathan began; “Two men…one rich and another poor…” leading David to think he was presenting an injustice within the kingdom, soliciting David’s judgment and punishment.
As an aside, Nathan’s parable is the earliest told in scripture.
Of course, Nathan’s story showcases a tender animal. This ewe would eat the poor man’s food, drink from his cup, and lie with him. Lest we forget, David might recall as a shepherd-boy how it felt to love a young animal, care for it, and receive its affection.
As an aside, this is the only story in scripture in which an animal is described as a pet.
Recalling an experience of innocent love, David snaps when he learns the sheep was taken and slaughtered. David condemns the man and, in turn, implicates himself.
“You are the man,” unleashes the parable’s trap letting David know that God knows of his sin. It is one thing to do something that is wrong and a much deeper abyss to fall into when know your sin and to know it is exposed for all to see.
Nathan speaks for the Lord…“I anointed you. I gave you Saul’s kingship. I gave you wives. I gave you the house of Israel…and would have given you much more.”
God gave, and David took and took and took. Seduced by royal power, David had grown to love himself above all.
Michelangelo’s great David statue has stood in Florence for 500 years to memorialize this, the shepherd-boys’ victory over Goliath. It embodies male perfection.
Today micro-cracks are appearing ankle-high in the marble and jeopardizing its ability to withstand the ravages of time. What looks towering in strength is quite fragile. Certainly, Michelangelo did not plan these flaws, but they are so appropriate to the chiseled character.
David had many flaws. He believed the press releases that his conquests were due to his prowess and not God-given talents. He relished wealth, behaved as if he was above God’s covenant, and neglected his duty to love the poor and protect the weak.
Leadership is fraught with the risk—to rise, a certain swagger is attractive but if you believe your own swagger, you become blind. Like so many others who become leaders, David succumbed to hubris that manifests as an inability to admit weaknesses, let alone sins.
Think of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton or Rod Blagojevich, names from a recent past whose obligation was to care for the good of all people.
Or, consider the litany of church leaders across the ages and denominations whose ordained duty is to shepherd people and yet their desire for their personal enjoyment wreak havoc.
Among corporate leaders, it is rare to hear an admission of guilt unless the grievous act damages shareholders or crosses regulatory lines. Even then it is usually the organization’s spokesperson admitting—or not—to the lapse rather than the responsible individual.
Standing before Nathan, David has no choice. But for all his flaws, he musters the moral courage to admit his sin, later confiding, “I have sinned against the Lord” and pleads for God’s mercy.
Does this story end “happily ever after”? Far from it: David’s actions set in motion destruction he could not halt.
But, as immediate as David’s confession was so too was God ready to give him mercy. God looked away from his sin and he did not receive the punishment of death that David felt warranted.
This king does love justice and mercy and this king does bow before the creator and judge of all…God.
Though he only has a bit part, the hero of this story is Nathan. Isn’t that always the case? Those who stand up to the mighty, to risk it all to tell the truth, may be ostracized by communities, fade into history, or lose their lives.
There was Samuel, who warned the people to not trust in princes or powers. Micah spoke to the one percent of his time whose systemic greed oppressed the other 99 percent calling for them to love justice, do kindness, and walk humbly.
Isaiah saw a time when swords would be beat into plowshares.
People keep speaking truth to power or using their very lives to tell a story of God’s love. We see Nathans everywhere today…
On Thursday, thousands of employees walked out at Google from their offices in Mumbai to Dublin to Mountain View to say to leaders, “everyone is to be treated with dignity.” They were protesting a $90 million payout to a former executive who had sexually abused an employee.
Wasi Mohamed, the young executive director of the Islamic Center of Pittsburgh, stood up and said if you need “people outside your next service protecting you, we’ll be there.” Mohamed was repaying a favor: The Tree of Life Synagogue made the same offer to them after this election and the subsequent spike in hate crimes against Muslims. Across the country, rookie politicians are saying to the establishment and to us, we can do better.
These are the stories our lives tell…risky stories that speak the truth.
Then there was the parable-teller, first thought a prophet, Jesus, whose stories chipped away at all the acceptable structures. His stories ensnared the religious leaders to condemn the way they preyed upon the marginalized to elevate themselves.
Jesus confronted anyone who attempted to deny others their God-given dignity.
The gospel truth started out as a whisper and was kept alive by those no one wanted to listen. God’s truth has endured through the ages.
I will close with one more story:
Once upon a time, Jesus hosted a dinner for his closest friends.
In every land Christ’s followers have remembered his saving grace at his table.
Today we gather to “do this.”
Because of Jesus we are joined with those saints who have gone before us.
Because of Jesus, we are forgiven and reconciled to God.
Then we leave this table with the greatest gift, the grace of Jesus Christ.
God’s grand story of salvation is our story, written of love, and created for our future.
 Tyler Daswick, “Pixar Has Become the Moral Teacher of a Generation, RELEVANT, June 12, 2018, accessed October 28, 2018, https://relevantmagazine.com/culture/film/pixar-has-become-the-moral-teacher-of-a-generation/  This is a distillation of commentary by Jack Mills, God: A Biography, (New York: Vintage Books, 1994) 117. And Martin Copenhaver, “He Spoke in Parables,” The Christian Century, July 13–20, 1994, accessed October 28, 2018.  Filomena D’Amico, “Michelangelo’s David: the Fragility of Beauty,” Florence Inferno, May 24, 2017, https://www.florenceinferno.com/michelangelos-david-risk-collapse-lesions/  Bari Weiss, “When a Terrorist Comes to Your Hometown,” The New York Times, November 3, 2018, accessed November 3, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/02/opinion/pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting-bari-weiss.html?action=click&contentCollection=opinion®ion=rank&module=package&version=highlights&contentPlacement=9&pgtype=sectionfront