Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Tale of Two Sins - A Sermon

Great story about Naboth and Ahab and Elijah, huh? (1 Kings 21:1-14) And that Jezebel? We love to hate her!

Classic story. I mean, there you have a rich king who wants something, and he takes it. And if some underling should die as a result, oh well. Then you have a prophet who comes and condemns the king’s reprehensible behavior.

But didn’t it sound familiar? Oh, I know – there was an alternate story the lectionary picked for today. It involved a different king, a different prophet and a different victim but was otherwise pretty similar. Anyone want to guess? That’s right! David and Bathsheba.

You remember David and Bathsheba. There David was on his balcony one evening when what does he see but beautiful Bathsheba, the wife of David’s general Uriah, bathing on her roof. He wants her. He takes her. Then, when she reports herself pregnant, he tries to cover up by bringing Uriah back from the battle so he can have a nice time with his wife. Uriah is too noble for that, however, and says he won’t enjoy himself until all of his men can come home to their families. So, David has him killed, then marries the unfortunate widow.

But there are differences in these stories, aren’t there? For example, while Ahab is led astray by that wicked Jezebel, David think up his own sin for himself.

More importantly, when the prophet Nathan condemns David, he tells a story and lets David figure out his sin by himself. Then he punishes him by killing Bathsheba’s and his baby.

Elijah, on the other hand, goes straight for the jugular with Ahab. He condemns him straight out and punishes him with a death sentence. I mean, the dogs will lick up his blood? That is worse than a death sentence because it means ultimate humiliation. Ahab and his family will be wiped out forever.

Why is that? It’s the same sin essentially. Why does one king get off “light” (just the death of one child) while another gets the worst treatment?

You could think up a lot of excuses. Because David was the first great king. Because kingdom grew so much under him. Because he was never defeated in battle.

Of course, David had family troubles. His wife hated him. His son raped his daughter. His other son killed that son then rebelled against David in a civil war. Israel was not all peace and joy under David.

But Ahab! That scoundrel had the audacity to be led by a woman AND to die in battle. Besides, apparently he just wasn’t that popular.

But what’s that got to do with the sin? Does this show our human tendency to cover over the sins of those we love and exaggerate the sins of those we don’t? Of course it does. And we do it all the time.

So what lesson to draw from that? We can start with: Be careful whom we condemn. And whom we call good.

But perhaps we can take another lesson from another set of two sins. The woman who came to Jesus and anointed his feet – she was a sinner (though in what way it does not say) – yet she was so grateful to Jesus for letting her know God loved her. The Pharisee was surely also a sinner, but he barely covered the basics of etiquette in welcoming Jesus.

Why? Because, as Jesus said, the woman was forgiven much while the Pharisee felt he didn’t have to be forgiven that much. The one who felt forgiven the most LOVED the most.

One lesson out of this tale of two sins might be not only that we must be careful whom we condemn, but that those we are most tempted to condemn are most in need of our forgiveness – and the impact on the world of our forgiveness will be multiplied.

Another lesson might be: It’s not the sin that’s the important thing to Jesus but the love that comes from it. After all, if sin is that which separates us from God, what’s the difference between a chasm this size and a chasm thiiiiiiiiiiis size? It’s still an un-breachable chasm. Jesus is not interested in the sin so much as the love that comes from the breaching of that chasm.

Let me repeat. He’s not looking at the sin. He’s looking – with love – at the thankful sinner who loves him back.

Of course this makes no sense in the world – but God’s thinking isn’t ours, God’s ways are not ours. In God’s world, the worst of the worst are allowed to stand shoulder to shoulder with the best – as co-equal children. So, careful whom we condemn, and instead of condemning, let’s try forgiving. Not as satisfying in the short term but in Loooooong term, it’s the only way for God.