David, Bathsheba, and American Greed

August 2, 2015

Bible Text: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a |

Throughout the summer we’ve been following the life of King David – both for good and for ill. Lately it’s been on the “ill side” of the scale. Last week he seduced Bathsheba, his neighbor Uriah’s wife. Then, when he found out she was pregnant, he arranged Uriah’s murder, then took Bathsheba as his own wife.

This week he got caught.

If we were to look at David’s actions in light of the Ten Commandments, we can see that he is guilty of:

#6  Thou shalt not murder.

#7  Thou shalt not commit adultery.

# 10 Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house…your neighbor’s wife…nor anything that is thy neighbor’s.

He’s probably guilty of #3 – Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vane – because he was worshiping God publically during the many months of his secret sin.

And he did his best to break #9: Thou shalt not bear false witness, but he was thwarted by Uriah’s integrity

Suffice to say, this is a low point in David’s life. But if we are honest, most of us can probably point to some time in our life when our moral integrity has gone to hell as well. We might not have reached David’s dizzying height – “If you are going to sin, sin boldly!” said Luther – but sin begets sin and we are complicit at every step along the way.

But by the grace of God, at some point we get caught; our sins are exposed and it’s shameful beyond belief. But it also stops us in the foolish trajectory of our downward ruin. In David’s case, it came in the form of the prophet Nathan who told him the parable of the rich man who was loathe to kill one of his own flock to feed a traveler, but instead stole and slaughtered his neighbor’s one and only, beloved little lamb.

The interesting thing is that David has become so accustomed to his own sin and successful cover-up (remember: it’s gone on for at least nine months), that he can’t perceive the glaring reality that the parable is about himself. And again, this is all our story. We all have sin in our lives. And most of us have a particular sin that consistently plagues us and causes deep shame. And without even thinking about it, we’ve developed myriad ways to conceal it or rationalize it, to hide it from one another … and from ourselves.

Unfortunately, we don’t all have a Nathan in our lives to expose it, a friend who – in love – will call a spade a spade and then walk alongside us in the painful journey of repentance and restitution and healing. I will say, though, that – for those brave enough to choose it – that is the value of using a professional therapist. It’s someone who can help us to know ourselves, to see where sin has lodged itself in our lives, and to understand the patterns of behavior we’ve developed to conceal our sin and shame. A fellow priest-friend of mine calls going to therapy “dental floss for the soul” – simply a regular discipline of soul care, that he may be the healthiest person he can be.

But back to David – although his sin blew out of control and led to adultery and murder – at its heart was something we are very familiar with: it was greed. That is the sin that stands at the center of Nathan’s parable. The rich man wanted to preserve his own wealth and so used the power available to him to take what was not his.

And folks, we live in a culture that has taken greed to a new art form. Greediness and acquisitiveness have become a way of life in our country to such an extent that we can’t even see it for the scandal it is.

  • The United States accounts for 5% of the world’s population, and 33% of total global consumption. We use a quarter of the world’s energy resources.
  • $200 billion is spent on advertising each year in America – nearly half of the total spent in the entire world. It is four times the amount necessary to ensure adequate food, clean water and basic education for the world’s poorest people.[1]
  • It’s hard to fit modern refrigerators in kitchens that were designed just twenty year ago, because our Costco mentality requires more and more space to store the food that we’ll throw away next week. Americans throw out 200,000 tons of edible food every day.[2]

The statistics go on and on. And my concern is that we aren’t even recognizing the extent to which we’ve bought into our culture’s insistence on acquisitiveness, of presuming the right to consume and consume. We buy new houses based on how much storage space they have, rather than asking the basic question, “Should I change my lifestyle to require less stuff?”

A principal temptation for many is the pursuit of the next benchmark in our investments. No matter how much our portfolio grows, any surplus profit is always the seed money for the next goal. You break fifty thousand or hundred thousand, and then it’s just below 75 or 125. No matter how high it gets, there’s always another benchmark that fuels our selfishness.

We want experiences, too. As long as we can afford it, we have the right to take as many, and as extravagant of vacations as we want. We’ve adopted “the Bucket List” as a coming of age ritual for every retired American – all the things to be thrilled and charmed by before we die. But how many bucket lists are composed of things that actually denote a life well formed, of a character that has matured into the man or woman God calls us to be, which is the appropriate and fitting destination of the life journey we’re living.

Imagine a bucket list that says, “Before I die:

  • I want to forgive my ex-husband and to be so healed that I desire his good.
  • I want to visit the prisoner or the lonesome or the one who disgusts me most. And I want to do it with love.
  • I want to give my possessions away.
  • I want to have learned to treasure the view from my own back porch – whatever it may be – rather than scramble for a thousand new photo opportunities around the world.

For these are things of character. These should be the kind of goals we seek. As David Brooks recently described in his book, The Road to Character, we should be pursuing lives that will lead to a good eulogy, rather than a good résumé.

At some point in our lives our Christianity ought to kick in. At some point there should be some transition from self-centeredness to other-centeredness. That is the Jesus way. We start out life thinking only of our own needs – as infants we scream our lungs out every time we’re not being fed or warmed or given a nap. I remember Henry as a two year, standing on his bed and shivering naked after his bath, crying out, “I’m so cold and nobody’s putting clothes on me!” That’s fine for a two year old, but not so cute in a fifty-two year old.

At some point our Christianity needs to kick in. A generosity of spirit should transition from the margins of our lives to the center – such that our generosity no longer comes simply from our surplus. We make generosity the priority. How you spend your money is first determined by how you might love your neighbor. Your time and your priorities are chosen in ways that will bless the other. Your heart’s desire is not first your own self-preservation, but the blossoming of lives around you.

This is not to say that we don’t take care of ourselves or take time and resources to do pleasurable things. But we do so as the result of choosing a deliberately modest life that requires less and less: less money, less energy, less maintenance. And when we do take special trips and indulge in particular joys, we do so in the spirit of Sabbath: six days you shall work, and on the seventh rest. The rhythm and balance of our lives as we age should increasingly reflect a desire to care for the world around us. Yes, go ahead and enjoy your crossword each morning, and in the afternoon read books to children in a literacy program, write checks to worthwhile social agencies, take time to pray for the people whose stories you hear on the news. Enjoy your dark chocolate each evening, but over the course of a month consume a modest amount of beef. And every time you go grocery shopping include purchases to be given directly to the FISH foodbank. You don’t need wine every night, but go ahead and look forward to it as a gift of Sabbath. The rest of your alcohol budget can be given away.

This kind of life does not happen by accident, and it is not guaranteed with your AARP membership. It should begin in childhood – that at a formative age children see elders who model love and graciousness. In our twenties we’re experimenting with life, discovering who we are as distinct from our parents and what our particular skills and passions are. But by middle age we should have begun to evaluate our priorities and started shifting away from constant self-gratification and self-promotion, towards particular priorities of the Kingdom of God that resonate with our souls. By retirement we should be living into “second careers” – ones no longer rooted in earning and self-preservation, but in the blessing of those around us. As Donald Miller described it, “in the saving of many lives.”[3]

It is to this goal that Paul wrote the Ephesians:

I beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who is above all and through all and in all….The gifts he gave were…for building up the body of Christ until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (Ephesians 4:1-6, 11-13).

The arc of our life should move us from self-centeredness towards other-centeredness, from greed to love. This is the destination of our journey. This is the sign that our baptism has accomplished its work. We have become “in Christ” and we have discovered Christ living in us and through us. Amen.

 

 

[1][1] https://www.facingthefuture.org/IssuesSolutions/ConsumptionWaste/ConsumptionFastFacts/tabid/176/Default.aspx#.VbjTbxtViko

[2] http://www.mindfully.org/Sustainability/Americans-Consume-24percent.htm

[3] Donald Miller, Storyline: Finding Your Subplot in God’s Story

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