SERMON BY THE REVEREND AMOS MCCARTHY
5TH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY
FEBRUARY 4, 2018
Title: “Can You Handle the Truth
Text: 2 Samuel 12:1-10
1.And Jehovah sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, there were two men in one city; the rich one, and the other poor. 2. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds; 3. But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own morsel, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. 4. And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him, but took the poor man’s lamb, and dress it for the man that was come to him. 5. And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As Jehovah liveth, the man that hath done this is worthy to die: 6. And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. 7. And Nathan said to David, thou art the man. Thus said Jehovah, the God of israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul; 8. And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added unto thee such and such things. 9. Wherefore hast thou despised the word of Jehovah, to do that which is evil in his sight? Thou hast smitten Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon. 10. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thy house, because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.
In ten days, Christians will begin the season of lent. It is a forty day period beginning Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter Sunday. It is a season when Christians come before God, praying and fasting. It is a time of self denial. It is a time Christians give up a particular food (breakfast, lunch, or dinner), or a habit (smoking, watching television). It is a time to repent of our wrong doings and put away wrongful habits. It is a time when we focus on Jesus’ death and resurrection. It is a time when we consecrate ourselves to God. In order to make this time a meaningful one, it is important to face the truth of our wrong doings, and take responsibilities. What if God confronted us this moment about our wrong doing? “Can we handle the truth?”
“A Few Good Men” is a very popular movie. The movie is mainly about the investigation of the death of a Marine private William Santiago, at the naval base at Guantanamo Bay, and the trial that followed. Two other marines were charged with the murder of their fellow marine and were court-martialed. During the trial, the Defense Lawyer was Lieutenant Daniel Kaffee, played by Tom Cruise. Another main character in the movie was the base commander, Colonel Nathan Jessup, played by Jack Nicholson.
Towards the end of the trial, Lieutenant Kaffee called Colonel Jessup to the stand as a witness. During questioning, Lieutenant Kaffee discovered a contradiction in the Colonel’s testimony where he said he wanted to help the dead marine but had ordered a “Code Red,” which meant violent punishment for marines who didn’t fit in. When Lieutenant Kaffee asked Colonel Jessup if he ordered the “Code Red,” his lawyer told him not to answer the question. But Colonel Jessup said, “I’ll answer the question. You want answers?” Kaffee says, “I think I’m entitled to them.” Jessup asked again, “You want answers? ”Kaffee yells, “I want the truth!” Jessup yells back, “You can’t handle the truth!” Then he goes on to explain why it was necessary to order the death of another marine, because it saved lives. In the end, Colonel Jessup was found guilty and arrested.
The line, “You can’t handle the truth” is one of most memorable part of this movie. This line is important because it makes us wonder, if we are confronted with our sinful words and deeds, are we able and ready to recognize them, to claim them, to admit them and to take responsibility for them? This is what happened in the case of David. After all the sins he committed against Uriah and against God, was he able to handle the truth?
God decided to confront David by letting him see his sin in the form of a parable. God sent Nathan, the Prophet who came to David with a story. In this story, there were two men living in a certain town. One was rich and had a very large number of sheep and cattle. The other was poor. He was so poor that he had nothing except one little ewe lamb. This baby lamb was special to him and it was his family. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup, and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
Nathan continued with his story and told David how one day the rich man received a visitor. The rich man decided to entertain his visitor. Instead of getting a sheep or cow from his huge number of animals he owned, he went and took the one lamb the poor man had, killed it and prepared it for his guest. When David heard this story, he became outraged, and furious. The Bible says, “David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, ‘As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.’”
David was King of Israel and he was declaring judgment on the man who would abuse his power that way. He was pronouncing justice on the person who took advantage of the poor because he was rich. He had issued a decree: The man who did this must die. It was such a serious crime that it deserves capital punishment. Not only must the man die, he must repay the poor man for his lamb four times over. David was reflecting the Jewish concept of repentance and forgiveness. According to the Jewish tradition, if a man committed a very serious sin, he can only be forgiven if he perform certain acts of atonement such as: acknowledging and apologizing for the sin, abandoning the sin, acting and speaking with humility, and restoring the loss he caused to the other person. This was the law and David was enforcing the full extent of the law. The law generally did not call for the death of the perpetrator but David went as far as declaring death for this person.
Nathan then said to David, “You are the man!” Nathan went on to deliver a message from God about how much God had done for David. God anointed him, protected him from Saul, made him king over both Judah and Israel in a United Kingdom, and gave him everything Saul had and then some. God even went as far as saying, “And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more.” God exposed David’s sin so he could see it: “You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonite.” God brought charges against David. He was charged with murder and adultery. The verdict from the Judge of Heaven was guilty. The punishment was death, destruction, and disgrace for David and his family. David knew he was guilty. He knew he had done all those things he was accused of. He was the man in the parable, the rich man who abused his power and killed the poor man’s lamb. He was the man without regards for anybody else. His wealth and power made him arrogant. He looked down on others because he thought he was better than everybody; he didn’t care how people felt about him. He did what he wanted to. He was rich and he was powerful. But God saw everything and exposed the truth. Now that he knew the truth about himself, what was he going to do about it? Could he handle the truth?
Not everybody in the Bible handled the truth the same way. When Adam was confronted about eating the forbidden fruit in Genesis 3, Adam blamed his wife, Eve, and she blamed the snake. Both of them refused to acknowledge and take responsibility for their sins. In 1 Samuel 3, when God told Samuel to tell the priest Eli that God wasn’t happy with the way his sons were behaving and treating the Temple worship, rather than saying he was sorry, Eli said, “He is the Lord. Let him do what is good in his eyes.” In 1 Samuel 15, when Saul disobeyed God, he tried to justify his action by saying what he did was for God, but Samuel told him, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”
When David was confronted with the truth of his sinful behavior, David handled the truth well. He took full responsibility for his actions. The first thing David said was, “I have sinned against the Lord.” That was an admission, a confession. Not only did he stop there, he wrote an entire prayer asking for forgiveness. Psalm 51 is that prayer. David wrote: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2 Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.” He continued, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5 Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6 Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place.”
After confessing his sins and declaring God was just in the punishment against him, David pleaded with God and said, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” David was asking for purification, for reconciliation and for restoration. David had handled the truth like a mature person of faith. He has given us an example we can all follow whenever we fall short of the glory of God and God has shown our sins to us.
In 2001, when George W. Bush was President, he had a White House Public Liaison name Tim. Tim had almost daily access to President George Bush for seven years and helped with managing information from the White House to the public. Then it all ended abruptly on February 29, 2008. A well-known journalist had revealed the surprising fact that Tim plagiarized 27 of the 39 articles he published. By mid-afternoon the next day, Tim’s career in the White House was over.
Tim admitted his guilt and said the incident began “a personal crisis unequaled in my life, bringing great humiliation on my wife and children, my family, and my closest friends, including the President of the United States.” Tim was summoned to the White House to face the President. Once inside the Oval Office, Tim shut the door, turned to the President and said, “I owe you an…” President Bush simply said: “Tim, you are forgiven.” Tim was speechless. He tried again: “But sir…” The President interrupted him again, with a firm “Stop.” Then President Bush added, “I have known grace and mercy in my life, and you are forgiven.”
After a long talk, a healing process was launched for Tim, which included repentance, reflection, and spiritual growth. “Political power can lead to pride,” Tim later reflected. “That was my sin. It was one hundred percent pride. But offering and receiving forgiveness is a different kind of strength. That’s the kind of strength I want to develop now.”
For Tim, it was pride and stealing other people’s writings. For David, it was murder and adultery. For others, it might be a different sin. But no matter what sin we have committed that led to the death and destruction of others, God knows and will call our attention to the truth of our actions. When God confronts us with the truth, will we be able to handle it? We can act like Adam and Eve who blamed others, or we can be like David who took responsibility for his sins. As a result of David’s ability to handle the truth, his relationship with God was restored. Despite the painful outcome of his sins, God was there to comfort him and help him along the way.
This week and every week, when the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sins, may we be ready to say, “Yes, Lord. I admit my shortcomings. Have mercy on me, save me and restore me.” When we do, because we are in Jesus Christ, the truth will set us free and we will be renewed. As we prepare for the upcoming season of lent, may we acknowledge, claim, and take responsibility for all our wrong doings. When we do this, God will restore our relationship with him. Amen.