"Struck Down"

The title of today's sermon, you will note, is "Struck Down." A Sunday School teacher finished telling her third and fourth grade class the story of how the Egyptians were struck down as they tried to cross the Red Sea in pursuit of the Israelites. She then told them to paint a picture of the story with the paints and sheet of paper she had given each one of them. As she moved around the room she came upon a boy who was dabbing at the paper with a dry brush. She asked him what the picture was. "That's a picture of the Egyptians chasing the Jews through the Red Sea," he answered. "Where is the sea?" the teacher asked. "Oh, that's rolled back to let the Israelites through." "Where are the Israelites?" the teacher asked further. "They've just gone through," the boy said. "Well, where are the Egyptians, their enemies?" "Oh, "replied the boy, "they'll be along in a minute."

I chose the topic 'struck down' because it's in the last line of the reading from 2nd Samuel and most people take away a wrong idea from the story because of it. The topic is really better suited to a forum or Bible study, but I felt the Holy Spirit was telling me not to let it go by. To try to say what I could in the space of a sermon since many of you would never get to a Bible study to discuss it. It's a great story-a wonderful lesson. It's one of those moments of reckoning where one has some of their own actions thrown in their face. They don't recognize the actions as theirs, but they can recognize them in someone else and condemn them.

It took great courage for Nathan to confront King David. The Lord told Nathan he had to confront David. So Nathan tells King David a story, as though the heinous acts were those of another man. But he is really recounting how David had a woman's husband, one of his own soldiers, singled out to be killed in battle, so David could then take the soldier's wife for his own, a woman whom he had gotten pregnant while the soldier was fighting battles for David.

It's a powerful moment when David says the man in Nathan's story deserved to die for what he did. And then Nathan says, "The Lord says, 'You are the man!'"

It's a great lesson story for us all. We're so often ready to condemn someone else for their actions, yet, if someone looked at our lives, the actions and thoughts and words that aren't always the most noble or compassionate, they could say to us, "You are the one!"

It's a great story for each of us in our own personal spiritual growth as we might recognize how we have treated someone in less than a Christian manner, and with none of the compassion and love of Christ.

But it's the end of the story that I don't want you to misunderstand. After David recognizes his evil deeds, and repents, Nathan tells him that there are consequences to his actions. And here's a really important point to understand. There are consequences to EVERY action we take. There are beneficial consequences and there are non-beneficial ones. But there is always a consequence to everything we do.

The same is true about every word we speak. Words are spoken out of thoughts and feelings. We know that there is energy created because of actions as well as thought and feeling. Energy doesn't stop; it keeps on going. It has an effect on more than just one person or situation.

There are consequences to the energy we give off through our words, thoughts, feelings, actions. So, Nathan tells King David that there are consequences to his actions-severe negative ones. He says to King David, "the child that is born to you shall die." It is not the LORD who is taking the life of the child, rather, it is David who set up a chain of events that is going to somehow take the life of the child.

I'm telling you this to prepare you for the next line. I want you to be clear that the death of the child that Nathan foretells is as a result of a negative chain of events that David has set in motion.

To give another example, when a business or corporation doesn't follow guidelines and pollutes the ground water supply and the toxic waste causes cancer in children who come in contact with the water or ground where the toxic waste is, it is not GOD who is causing this. People want to blame God. They want to say "How could God let this happen to an innocent child?"

God is with us to help us get through all the negative situations that we, as part of a sinful humanity, have to suffer. Children and adults suffer negative consequences of what someone has set in motion. God doesn't cause suffering, humans cause suffering. Humans do terrible things to one another; do terrible things to all parts of God creation.

We so often denounce what large corporations do. How they pollute and pay a fine, but keep on polluting, keep on breaking the rules that safeguard human beings from exposure to toxic material. Or we denounce the government waste we see. But here's an aha! Here's where Nathan can turn to each of US and say, what rules are you breaking? How do YOU take care of the environment? How do YOU make sure you aren't polluting? Do you do simple things like recycle? We have every opportunity to recycle, yet how many throw newspapers away? How many don't recycle every aluminum can (cans that if you bring them here to Trinity and we recycle, we send kids to camp on scholarships with that money)?

Those are "Nathan telling David" stories. We denounce someone else, but are doing the very same thing in different ways in our own lives.

The point, remember, is that we are part of a sinful humanity, and the sins of humanity produce consequences. Thus things happen to us as a result of our own actions, thoughts, words, as well as those of humanity of which we are a part. It is not GOD doing this to us.

The last line of the story says, "The Lord struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David, and it became very ill."

First, knowing that GOD did not do this, knowing that God helps us THROUGH the consequences we bring about ourselves or as part of humanity, we then have to say, well what else could this sentence mean?

Anytime you come across a line in Scripture that doesn't seem like that of a loving God, you are right to question it. And if you can't figure it out, talk to me.

Let me briefly try to help you understand what that line means. The Israelites believed God was totally involved in their lives. They did not see themselves as apart from God. With that kind of connection, anything that happened in their lives, then, was attributed to God.

As a people who believed in ONE God, they were years ahead of the cultures that surrounded them. They were years ahead in their theology, their knowledge and understanding of God. They developed rules for living that were meant to benefit the people. One that we see as primitive today was way ahead of the cultures that surrounded them at the time. The rule "an eye for an eye; a tooth for a tooth" meant that you could only do to someone what they did to you. If they knocked out your tooth you couldn't maim them or kill them. Today, there are still cultures that allow one to kill someone in retaliation and revenge for the slightest offense.

Israel constantly was absorbing people from other cultures into their own. They constantly had to fight off the desire to go back to old ways. They still harbored old ideas in their mind about how to treat people. So, we often see that they attribute the slaughter of a town or people as God having told them to do it. They believed that if they had this idea about winning a battle and how to treat the vanquished, that it was God instructing them because their lives were intimately intertwined with God.

But read the Psalms of David carefully. There are many that ask God to do horrible things to his enemies. Even David, whom we often put on a pedestal because of how God used him in spite of all his faults and heinous actions, even David wasn't free of vengeful thinking.

It is important, however, to realize that it was David's thinking, not that of God. It is wonderful that we have a written record of how the people recognized God was so intimately involved in their lives, but we must remember, also, that the Bible shows us how God has to work through the evil deeds and intentions of mankind to bring about a good thing. Because God has to work through such tainted vessels as we humans, it often takes longer to work out a good effect than if God were working with perfect instruments (he created us a lot differently than what we have turned ourselves into).

So, it isn't GOD who struck the child that Uriah's wife bore to David. To the writer of the book of Samuel, it is the understanding of the relationship the people experienced at that time. They were still developing a theology, a knowledge of God, an understanding of how God worked in their lives. As you read through the Old Testament you can see how their relationship and understanding of God was changing, growing.

It isn't till we get to the love and compassion of Jesus that we have the opportunity to fully experience the love that is God; the love that God has for us. Even today people who believe in God, no matter what denomination, what faith, what religion, we humans are still trying to fully understand what the love of God means. We Christians have the experience of God in Christ Jesus. Yet, we don't follow what Christ taught. We don't love as Christ asks us to love. We don't forgive as Christ asks us. We harbor thoughts of hate and revenge, especially toward enemies. Yet that's not the way Jesus tells us to think about our enemies.

So, again, we can be brought to a "Nathan telling David" place in our own lives. We want other countries and people to be like us. And just what part of 'us' is that? The part that won't forgive? The part that seeks revenge? The part that takes joy in seeing someone put to death? The part that takes advantage of the poor? The part that allows wealthy cheaters to get off free while those folks like us bear the burden of their having cheated?

I mean it can go on and on. So, is it GOD who is making people starve? Is it GOD who is making people poor? Is it GOD who is reeking disease after disease upon people?

NO. God loves us and wants only the best for us. God helps us through the incredible messes we have made and continue to make. God gives us opportunity after opportunity to make the best of the havoc we have caused in our own lives as consequences of our own actions or the consequences of a sinful humanity (which are the result of listening to the Devil, letting the Devil turn our head so that we take our eyes off Jesus and turn from the power of the Holy Spirit and do things on our own).

When the Bible relates that God struck down a child, or God ravaged a people in war, remember, the Bible shows us how the people of God understood their relationship to God. God was not something apart from their thinking. They saw themselves as chosen by God, guided by God. So, to them, what they did was sanctioned by God. That's the way they saw it. That was how they understood God. And as you read the Bible, you can see that their understanding developed, and prophets showed how they could develop it even more but they failed. But the prophets laid it out as to the kind of God their God was-a God who wanted people to act justly and love mercy, which was a far cry from where they started in their understanding.

And then along came Jesus and humans had a chance to make huge strides in their spiritual growth and relationship with God. But we still struggle today to follow Jesus' teachings, Jesus way. It seems we'd rather listen to the Devil and lose our focus and revert to old ways of doing things, old understandings of God: a God that tells us to seek revenge; a God that tells us we don't have to love our enemies; a God that tells us we don't have to care what happens to others as a result of our actions. Well, folks, if that's what we want to listen to, be aware that it ain't God, that's the Devil turning our heads from a focus on Jesus and us denying the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

God does not strike down out of anger or revenge. That's petty. That's the way of humans. God is love and acts out of love. And if we humans acted out of love for one another, the consequences of our thoughts, words, and actions and those of humanity would make this a very different world. So, we need to start with our own selves. Clean up our own individual acts. Love is what will change the world, and any change in the world begins with you and me, right here and now as we live out our lives truly striving to follow what Jesus taught. He told us that we would do even greater things than he did as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Imagine. Greater things. You and me. Each of us can make a difference. Jesus showed us the way. Let us be courageous and loving and follow it. Amen.