Sunday, 22 March 2015

King David, Breaking Bad, House of Cards, and Psalm 51

If you feel the weight of crushing sin, the kind that turns your whole life upside down, the prayer that Christians have turned to throughout the centuries has been Psalm 51. In the lines just before the Psalm begins the Bible connects this Psalm to David when he is confronted by the Prophet Nathan. David is like a mirror. He reflects us. He shows us a very human life. And like us sometimes David falls flat on his face. The story between David and Bathsheba is a powerful story about how sin works.

David’s armies have gone off to fight. But, David stays behind. From the roof of his palace David sees a beautiful woman bathing. He asks about her and finds out that she is a married woman. She is the wife of Uriah, who is one of David’s soldiers. He sent for her and he slept with her.

David doesn’t seem to feel like a sinner at this point. No one ever really feels like a sinner when they are sinning. That’s the sneaky thing about sin. When we are sinning we feel powerful. When David sent for Bathsheba he didn’t feel like a sinner. He felt like a lover. Sin is sneaky. We think it will make our lives better, or more exciting, but really it leads to destruction and chaos in the end, if not sooner.

Sooner or later we have to deal with the consequences of our decisions. David soon learns that Bathsheba is pregnant. David’s first instinct, like ours, is to cover up the sin so no one finds out. It is hard to face our sin. It’s hard to look people in the face when they know you’ve done something horrible. It’s just easier to cover it up so no one finds out.

David suddenly has to scramble to cover up his sin, so he comes up with a plan. He calls Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, back home to give a report from the front lines. When Uriah has given his report David tells him to go home and enjoy the company of his wife. David hopes that if he goes home and sleeps with Bathsheba then Uriah will think the child is his and the sin will never be discovered.

Uriah leaves the palace, but rather than go home to sleep with his wife, he sleeps at the entrance to David’s palace. Uriah is a model of honour and faithfulness. He will not go home and sleep with his wife when he knows the army is out in the field. Out of solidarity with his fellow soldiers Uriah decides to not go home.

Instead of David being moved by Uriah’s honour, he becomes frustrated. David asks him to stay another day and this time he gets Uriah drunk. David is hoping that a little liquor will loosen Uriah’s libido- so he’ll go home to his wife. Again, even when drunk, Uriah has more honour and self-control than King David.

David is frustrated. Now he has to go to extremes to hide his sin. Often hiding a sin requires another sin. David sends a command to Joab, Uriah’s commander. He tells Joab to put Uriah in the front lines where it is most dangerous and then have everyone pull back from the front line leaving Uriah alone with the enemy.

David plays god. He feels like a king and a general here, not a sinner. David isn’t plunging a knife into Uriah’s chest- someone else is. It’s not technically wrong to command such a thing. A king can command troops to go where they want and sometimes they die. That is part of the job description for a soldier. David doesn’t feel like a sinner here. We don’t feel like sinners when we’re sinning.

For anyone looking from the outside they can see the adultery, the lies, and the murder. David can dress it up, but it was murder. David’s action with Bathsheba was adultery as best- Rape at worst. It wasn’t a romantic love affair.

Sin often leads to more sin. Sin is like a disease. It spreads and infects others- even if it only causes people to be suspicious of each other and their leaders. And the more we try to hide it the more it digs in. 

{The following video may be disturbing to some}

A few of you might have watched Breaking Bad. It is all about the slippery slope we are talking about. The main character makes little decisions that dig him deeper and deeper into a life that is dramatically out of control. It begin when he discovers he has cancer and want to find a way to make money for his family so his treatments don’t lead them to bankruptcy. Also, in case he doesn’t survive he wants to make sure his family is taken care of. He is a high school chemistry teacher and decides that a quick way to make money is to use his skills to make Crystal Meth. At first the decision makes sense. But that decision leads to another and another. It eventually leads to murder and he has to try to cover up his actions with lies. Soon he loses his family and his life is spinning out of control and he has become a very different person and has become capable of things he wasn’t when he began walking down this road. Like David, and like us, one sin leads to another.

David is confronted by the prophet Nathan, who has become aware of David’s sins. David’s conspiracy falls apart. That is the moment we are invited to hear Psalm 51 on David’s lips, “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. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.”

There is a lot of talk about sin and evil in Christianity. Right from the moment of Baptism we start talking about sin. As a part of the baptism liturgy we reject spiritual evil, we reject the systemic sin of the world, and we reject our own personal sin. We learn the Lord’s Prayer and we pray over and over, “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”. When we meet on Sunday mornings we have a time to confess our sin. If we do Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Compline we reflect and confess our sin at least once per day. Then when we get into the season of Lent it seems like we are talking about it a lot. We don’t like thinking about ourselves as “sinners”. But we can’t get away from it. The Bible reminds us of sin. Our prayers and liturgies remind us of sin. We can’t really get away from it without cutting big holes in our Bibles.

St. Augustine spoke about “Original Sin”. The idea is that when the first couple defied God’s direction and ate the forbidden fruit it then became impossible for human beings to live a sinless life. All areas of human life was infected. It is like having a jug of water and you add one drop of sewage water into the jug. Not all of the water is sewage, but you probably don’t want to take a drink. All areas of human life became polluted.

Human beings have become infected with a disease, and we live in a world that has been broken. This isn’t to deny that there is good in the world. We are still created in the image of God, but that image is cracked. Like a broken mirror, we reflect God’s image in a broken way.

The strength of our will is not enough to overcome sin because our will is broken. Our will has become twisted so we want things that lead to our own suffering or the suffering of others.

It’s not just that we feel the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin, but if we were in their place we would do the same thing. He sort of accurately represents us in the scenario. There is a story about a man who comes to a monastery in the evening and asks if he can have a room for the night. The monks are very hospitable and a monk shows him to a room. Before the monk leaves he says, “There is one condition to staying in this room. There is a high window over your bed. You must not look through that window”. The man agreed and the monk left. Suddenly the man found that he couldn’t think about anything but the window above his bed. He resisted the urge to look out, but eventually he cautiously stood on his bed to peer through the little window. On the other side he saw a room full of monks staring back at him, who started laughing. The monk that showed him to his room came to the window and said, “We always do that”. Adam and Eve faithfully represented humanity before God. They did what we would do.

I don’t know if any of you have watched the TV Show “House of Cards”. It is about American politics in Washington, D.C.. After watching the show you see that the whole thing is a mess of egos trying to scramble their way into power. They use environmental causes as a way to garner public support, but then will just as quickly support those who exploit natural resources and damage the environment. It was hard to imagine someone with integrity walking into that kind of mess and getting anything done. To work for your cause you need to operate on the principle that the ends justify the means and be willing to make dirty deals to get the changes you wanted. It was very hard to imagine someone going into that situation without becoming seriously corrupted, or they just wouldn’t survive in it at all. If they refused to become corrupt they would get steamrolled and would have no effect. I’m not sure if the world of politics is really like this, but when I watch the news it sure seems like the world can be like this.

Psalm 51 is about when we realize that are not just victims of the world being a mess, but actually, we contribute to the mess. We bear some responsibility for the mess. But, Psalm 51 is not a hopeless Psalm. Like an alcoholic admitting their disease, so our recovery includes admitting our disease. This kind of repentance is ultimately about hope, otherwise it would be pointless. It admits the mess we are in- “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” (51:3) But it also is hopeful in that we are not hopelessly lost in our sin- “Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin” (51:2); “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me” (51:10); “Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit” (51:12). The repentance we see in Psalm 51 is full of hope. It is all about reaching out to the one who can grant us transformation and save us from the mess we are in. God can cleanse our hearts and fix our desires.

This repentance also has the power to stop the cycle of covering one sin up by committing another sin- just as David murdered to cover up his adultery with Bathsheba. In repentance we limit the destructiveness of our sin by facing our responsibility.

God is like a loving parent watching over us. Sometimes parents need to correct their children. Sometimes they need a timeout, or need to say sorry, or need to have a serious talking to so they know the seriousness of playing in the road. It is love. It doesn’t always feel like love, but it is. A God who doesn’t care wouldn’t care if you were playing in the road, or if you hurt someone, or if you were becoming a cruel person. It is a loving God who cares who we are becoming and on what path we are walking.

We don’t always like to look at this aspect of our spiritual lives. We don’t want to look at sin. It doesn’t feel nice. It feels gritty and uncomfortable. When we aren’t feeling well we go to the doctor. The doctor will poke and prod a bit. They might ask us to take off parts of our clothing. They might place a cold stethoscope on our chest and ask us to breathe deeply, or cough. And then they might ask us about our lives. Do you smoke? How do you eat? Do you exercise? Then they might find the cause of our discomfort and they will describe a particular disease to us. It’s not a comfortable process, but when we get down to understanding our disease then we can make changes by taking medicines or doing certain exercises. Then we will begin feeling better. We would like to jump over the uncomfortable part- David would have liked to- but that would be to lead a shallow life. We are called to lead lives of deep transformation, and that means honestly facing who we really are- the parts we like and the parts we don’t. God doesn’t shy away from our not so pretty parts. God sees us truly and loves us knowing all our deep dark secrets, but God also loves us too much to leave us as we are. God calls us, like he called David, to face our sin so we can lead a better life. Amen

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