Narrative Lectionary Reflection for October 19, 2014 (Year One)
2 Samuel 12:1-9; Psalm 51:1-9
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions. Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin. Psalm 51:1-2
As I have been praying over and reflecting on this tough combination of two passages of scripture this Monday, I have also been following news from Ferguson and St. Louis, Missouri, where protesters have gathered and where some have been arrested. These citizens, civil rights activists, and religious leaders are protesting issues of police conduct in response to the killing of two young black men, 18-year-old Michael Brown (August 9) and Vonderrit D. Myers, Jr. (October 8). Among those arrested today are professor and activist Cornel West, pastor and author Jim Wallis of Sojourners, and Lisa Sharon Harper, author and senior director of mobilizing for Sojourners. In this case, the sin of the individual reflects the sin of the people. The echo of David’s wanton disregard for human life and his lack of mercy, compassion, and basic regard for human dignity ring clearly in contemporary contexts. Injustice, abuse of power, fear, racism, and greed rear their ugly and pervasive heads.
The lesson on which we are called to preach and teach this Sunday focuses on the prophet Nathan confronting King David about his adultery with Bathsheba and the killing of her husband, Uriah. Nathan uses a parable to open David’s eyes to his sinful and merciless behavior. Convicted, David immediately (at least according to verse 13, which is not a part of our lesson) confesses that he has sinned against God. Our lesson moves instead to Psalm 51, where the superscription refers to this particular scenario.
Of course, there’s a very private and individualistic aspect of David’s sin, but I wonder if any sin is really all that private. Sin hurts. There are consequences, and the ripple effect of our sinful actions spreads wider than one might ever imagine. David’s blatant sins of adultery and murder are wrapped in a cloak of abuses of power and disregard for those of lower status and gender. But even the powerful will ultimately suffer the consequences of sin, and this powerful and beloved king is no exception.
Any treatment of this lesson might need to be accompanied by a warning/disclaimer of the tough and volatile nature of its content. There may be those in the community who have experienced the consequences of such sin–both those who are known to us and those who suffer in silence. So be careful. Be ready to offer support in the wake of this story. But do not avoid it. Glossing over the surface of these individual and corporate transgressions does nothing to promote awareness, lament, confession, forgiveness, and ultimately healing.
Oh, how much healing is needed in our world! None of us is innocent. Our actions and inactions perpetrate violence on others we may never know. Our ignorance and assumptions cause needless pain. Our disregard for the value of all human life is so easily masked and rationalized. Our surety and self-righteousness has far-reaching repercussions. As followers of Christ we cannot stand idly by without confronting the insidious nature of sin that dwells within all of us.
This week why not take the opportunity to shape worship around a public confession, a communal lament, and a corporate expression of forgiveness? Give voice to the pain and suffering in the world that is a needless and/or collateral result of our actions. Yes, it is something that we as leaders much approach with utmost care, sensitivity, and fervent prayer, but such opportunities are needed and give the church a powerful witness of public acknowledgment of sin and the seeking of forgiveness.
Mercy, justice, and concern (and the lack thereof) for our neighbors’ well-being are also issues of stewardship of all creation. After all, as Archbishop Oscar Romero once said, “A church that doesn’t provoke any crises, a gospel that doesn’t unsettle, a word of God that doesn’t get under anyone’s skin, a word of God that doesn’t touch the real sin of the society in which it is being proclaimed — what gospel is that?” What gospel indeed? Prayers for you and blessings on your bold and faithful witness, your unflinching exposure of the sins that plague our communities, and the unmitigated offer of God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness. May it be well with your soul.
Consider creating a Stations of the Cross using modern images of suffering and injustice that mirror the suffering of our Lord. Invite the congregation to experience, either by physically walking or by projecting images, during worship. If you are Lutheran, consider including the Corporate Order for Confession and Forgiveness (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, p. 238ff). Be sure to include communion and offer anointing with oil and private prayer. Take care with pacing to offer time for reflection.
Consider using Shakespeare’s Macbeth, particularly the scene where Lady Macbeth cannot wash the blood from her hands, as a springboard for discussion. Some questions you might ponder could include: What stains do we as a culture, as a people, and as the church still try to wash away? Why is it so hard to live into God’s forgiveness and change our ways? How do we deal with the consequences of sin on a corporate level? What can we do to make a difference in the name of Christ?
This is a tough topic for children. Most children can easily grasp the content of Nathan’s parable and will see the injustice. Consider crafting your own simple parable about taking a prized possession only to destroy or devalue it. Would the children be willing to forgive such an act? Remind them that we all make mistakes and hurt others. Fortunately God forgives our sins, and Jesus loves us. Remind the children that consequences still happen as the results of our bad decisions but that God remembers our sins no more and washes us clean.
Photos: Shawn Semmler, Joshua Steven Fernandez, and Lau_Lau Chan, Creative Commons. Thanks!