Last week, we met Joshua and the Israelites as they told the story about all that the Lord had done for them and reaffirmed the covenant that the Lord had made with them.
And this week, we meet Nathan. And there’s been a bit of a time skip. So let me catch you up.
After the Lord brought the Israelites—the descendants of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob—out of the land of Egypt and the house of bondage, the Lord led to the land that he had promised their ancestor Abraham that they would inhabit. And the Israelites conquered that land, and took it from the people who lived there.
They lived on land where they had not labored and in towns that they had not built. And they enjoyed the fruit of vineyards that they did not plant and olive orchards that they did not tend.
And, for a while, the Israelites were ruled by the covenant that the Lord had made with them. And, for a while, the Lord would raise up leaders as they were needed.
But the Israelites looked at the nations around them and saw that they had kings to govern them and go out before them and fight their battles. So the Israelites asked the Lord for a king. And, while the Lord was not keen on the idea—while the Lord knew all of the problems that a king can cause—the Lord raised up a king named Saul.
And Saul ruled. And then Saul turned away from the Lord. So the Lord raised up a new king named David, who overthrew Saul, and who became the king of Israel. And not just ‘the king’, but the king… the great king… the all-caps-and-in-bold KING OF ISRAEL to whom all other kings would be compared.
And the Lord made a covenant with David: “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me; your throne shall be established forever.”
And this week, we meet Nathan, who is on his way to tell David—the all-caps-and-in-bold KING OF ISRAEL—exactly what the Lord thinks about what he has done.
This is a famous story. There’s a Leonard Cohen song about this story.
One spring day, David saw a beautiful woman. And he asked around. And he learned that she was Bathsheba, whose husband was Uriah, who was on the front lines of David’s army in their war against the Ammonites.
And David… had her brought to him. And they slept together. And then she went home.
But then Bathsheba sent word to David that she was pregnant. So David sent for her husband Uriah. And David said to Uriah, “While don’t you go home for a few days and, um, ‘wash your feet’… if you know what I’m saying’?”
But Uriah refused. His brothers-in-arms were out in the field killing and dying. And the Ark of the Covenant was in a tent on the battlefield. And he was not going to betray them by staying in the comfort of his own house and enjoying the company of his own wife.
And David kept urging him. And Uriah kept refusing him. And David knew that Uriah was never going to go home, and he was never going to wash his feet, and he was absolutely going to find out what David had done.
So David changed his strategy. He sent Uriah back to the war; along with a letter for his general. And the letter told the general to send Uriah to the worst of his fighting, and then to pull back the other soldiers, and to let Uriah die on the battlefield, so that David could cover up his crime.
And when David got the news that Uriah had died in the war, he shrugged his shoulders, and said, more or less, “The sword devours now one, and now another, and what can you do?”
And when Bathsheba got the news, she mourned.
And when an appropriate amount of time—but not too much time—had passed, David had Bathsheba brought to him again. And he married her. And they had a son.
This is a famous story. There’s a Leonard Cohen song about this story. There are centuries of spin about this story.
There are people who say that before the army rode out to war… women would get letters of divorce from their husbands… in case they died in battle. So it’s not like this was really adultery, because it’s not like Bathsheba was really married.
But the simple truth is that the king sent for her, and he had all of the expectations, and he had all of the power, and it’s not like Bathsheba really had a choice.
And there are people who say that Uriah… disobeyed a direct order from his king… and that this was a capital crime. So it’s not like this was really murder, because it’s not like Uriah was really an innocent man.
But the simple truth is that the king sent him into battle, and he had all of the expectations, and he had all of the power, and it’s not like Uriah really had a chance.
And this week, we meet Nathan, who is on his way to tell David—the all-caps-and-in-bold KING OF ISRAEL who has committed adultery and rape and murder—exactly what the Lord thinks about what he has done.
Nathan is in a strange position.
You see, Nathan is a court prophet. The Lord speaks to Nathan and the Lord tells Nathan what to say. But Nathan takes the messages that the Lord has given him and delivers them to the king… to the government… to the powers that be.
And he knows that his position depends on not saying the wrong thing, at the wrong time, in the wrong way.
So when Nathan steps into the room and stands face-to-face with David, he tells a story…
There was a rich man and there was a poor man.
And the rich man had flocks and herds like you would not believe. And the poor man only had this one sweet little ewe lamb who ate from his plate and drank from his cup and slept in his bed. And he loved that lamb.
Well, one day a traveler came to visit the rich man. And he didn’t want to take one of the lambs from his flocks and herds to serve for dinner. So he just took the poor man’s one sweet little ewe lamb.
And when David hears this story, he gets mad. He shouts that the rich man deserves to die for what he has done, and that he will have to give the poor man four lambs as restitution for what he has done, and even that won’t make up for it.
And that is when Nathan, who has a message from the Lord, and whose livelihood depends on the king, tells the all-caps-and-in-bold KING OF ISRAEL, “You are the man! You had everything and you could have had more. And yet you committed adultery and rape and murder because you saw a pretty girl.”
And when David begs for mercy, Nathan can only tell him, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before the Lord; your throne shall be established forever. But you will still pay a price.”
Nathan, the court prophet, looks at David, the all-caps-and-in-bold KING OF ISRAEL, and speaks truth to power.
I know… at least, I imagine… you can tell where this is going. But it’s true. We are Nathan.
We are a respectable, well-heeled, comfortably middle-class, descended-from-pilgrims-and-patriots, mainline Protestant congregation in a small town in Iowa. We don’t make waves, we don’t cause trouble, we don’t make a scene. We just get together on Sunday mornings, and hear a word of good news, and we go along and get along.
And we don’t. get. …
But we are Nathan. And God has spoken to us and God has told us what to say. God has given us this message… this good news… this gospel.
You are loved and you worthy of love and God loves you. God laid aside glory and came into the world as one of us, and lived the life that we cannot live and loved the love that we cannot love, and went to the cross and to the tomb, and on the third day rose again… for you. Because of that, you are reconciled; because of that, you are forgiven. No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life’s journey.
And the thing is…
This gospel cannot stop at the doors that lead out of this sanctuary, or the doors that lead out of this building, or the apron that leads out of the parking lot.
Because if there is anyplace where this gospel is not true…
…if it is not true for a single person who lives in a mansion or for a single person who sleeps under an overpass…
…if it is not true for a single person patrolling the halls of a penitentiary or for a single person languishing in the segregation unit…
…if it is not true for a single person who I love with all of my heart or for a single person who I just can’t stand to be around…
…then it is not true here, either.
This good news must be good news for everyone. This good news must be good news everywhere. This good news must be good news all the time.
And that means that we need to carry this message, this good news, this gospel, this truth that no matter who you are, and no matter where you are on life’s journey, you are loved and you are worthy of love and God loves you out beyond the doors that lead out of this sanctuary and the doors that lead out of this building and the apron that leads out of the parking lot.
We need to carry this truth everywhere. We need to live this truth everywhere. We need to demonstrate this truth everywhere.
Until everyone knows… without an ounce of doubt… that they are loved, and they are worthy of love, and God loves them.
And the other thing is…
Not just anyone can go to the all-caps-and-in-bold KING OF ISRAEL and tell him the truth. But Nathan can. Because Nathan is a court prophet. And Nathan can walk the halls of power.
And not just anyone can go to the powers-that-be in our world and tell them the truth. But we can. Because we are a respectable, well-healed, comfortably middle-class, descended-from-pilgrims-and-patriots, mainline Protestant congregation. And we can walk the halls of power.
And I would never suggest that we breach that wall between the church and the state.
But we have the ears of kings—maybe, every once in a while, we even have the ears of all-caps-and-in-bold KINGS—and we can tell those kings the truth: that the greatest riches are found in charity, that the greatest justice is found in charity, and that the greatest power is found in love.