Call to worship
Whoever we are,
Whatever we have done
God welcomes us home,
Invites us to stay,
And claims us as family.
Hymn Together in Song 213 Father, whose everlasting love
Prayers of Adoration and Confession (incl Psalm 51:1-12)
God of all,
We come to worship with just a fragment of understanding of who you are,
You are perfect in all things and completely beyond us,
Yet you choose to live in relationship with us,
And choose to meet with us.
You have given us only two rules
To love you, and to love our neighbour,
And in our imperfection, we have failed to live up to your standard in even those.
We come to you with our prayers of confession – and we share the words used by King David
Psalm 51:1-12 – Responsive - confession
Declaration of forgiveness
God’s love for us is eternal. When we choose to return to God, we are joyfully welcomed back. So I have confidence to say to you: our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God!
Hymn Together in Song 467 I am the church! You are the church!
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
This is the word of the Lord:
Thanks be to God!
Sermon: Turning Around
Who would want to tell a king they were wrong? Imagine what Nathan went through to deliver his message to David. That was the normal job of the prophet, however, to speak out on justice issues. The constant message of the Old Testament prophets was about treating the poor properly, defending the widows and orphans, those who were vulnerable. Justice was the heart of the job of the prophet.
King David, usually known for doing the right thing in God’s eyes, had behaved incredibly unjustly. He’d seen Bathsheba fulfilling her monthly purification ritual, and decided he needed to have her. He sent the palace heavies, to collect her. Bathsheba would have had no choice at all about going.
Then, to cover up his crime, David had first tried to trick Uriah, and failing that, had set him up to be killed.
So here was Nathan, with the worst job in the world – to reprimand the most powerful person in the nation. He set about doing so in terms of a parable. He put David in God’s role – the judge, and told the story of a rich man who instead of using his own wealth of resources, stole all that his poor neighbour had. Once David had offered the judgement – then Nathan explained that God shared David’s opinion – but that the offender had actually been David himself. David, God’s chosen king, had been guilty of rape and murder. He had committed pretty much the worst crimes it was humanly possible to commit.
Nathan’s story reminded David, that although God loved him dearly, God also loved both Bathsheba and Uriah as well. Crimes against them were crimes against God who loved them.
David’s immediate response had been repentance. He confessed what he had done, he turned back to God. The psalm we used as our prayer of confession this morning was David’s prayer of repentance after Nathan confronted him.
Repentance is more than just saying sorry, it’s about a whole reorientation of life, so it is focussed back on God. That is what David was doing.
And God forgave him.
Now, here’s where this applies to us.
I want you to think now about the worst thing you’ve ever done. I’m not suggesting you tell anyone – but just remember what it was. Whatever it was – it did not stop God loving you and wanting the best for you. Whatever it was – it was not so bad that God could not forgive it.
God is a God of justice, and, as we hear from the prophets again and again, wants us to love justice too. God wants us to care for those who cannot care for themselves, to protect those who are vulnerable, to feed the hungry, to care for the sick.
We, however, are human beings. We are fragile and fallible. We slip up.
Sometimes, like David, our own greed, our own desires, get the better of us, and we mistreat others to get something for ourselves.
Sometimes, we get disoriented. We have what seem like very good reasons to do things that are actually unjust or harmful to vulnerable people around us. (Think of all the “very good” reasons put forward for rules which actually make life even harder for refugees.)
Sometimes, we just don’t get the whole picture. Think of the times people use a single verse from Scripture, without the context of the rest of what that passage of Scripture was saying, to try to justify an opinion or an action. It’s not that they’re trying to do the wrong thing, they just didn’t read the whole story. The message was only half-heard and half-understood.
Sometimes, we just take the course of least resistance. We do what everyone else is doing without thinking critically about it. We don’t stop to ask how God would see the situation.
What these things are called is sin. Sin is putting anything else in the place of God. When we just go with the flow – we are putting society, or our democratic or capitalist system, or peer pressure, or whatever, in the place of God. When we give in to our own wants and desires ahead of God’s justice – we are putting our own greed in the place of God. When we come up with “good reasons” to rationalise unjust actions, we are putting whatever those good reasons are in the place of God. When we take a single verse of Scripture without the context of the whole of Scripture, and use that to justify injustice, we are putting our own agenda in the place of God.
The aim of God’s justice is not punishment – it’s love. To provide for the poor isn’t about punishing the rich – it’s about loving and sharing the good things God has given. To protect the vulnerable isn’t about punishing the strong – it’s about loving our neighbour and sharing God’s gifts so everyone can benefit.
Likewise, the aim of God’s justice in dealing with our sin is not about punishment – but about love. That’s not to say that God cannot or will not punish human sin. It is to say that God loves us so much as to not want to punish us. God would rather restore us to that same loving relationship we enjoyed before we sinned – before we put something else in God’s rightful place.
Because God has given us free will – the freedom to make our own choices about the way we will live our lives – that restoration requires something from us, as well as from God. It requires us to make a choice – to repent (literally to turn around). It requires us to make the necessary changes in our lives so that God is once more in charge of all of life.
That is what David did in the psalm – recognised that what he had done was more than a crime against human beings (as king, there was no higher human authority to answer to for that), but that it was a sin against the greatest authority of all – God.
And next he sought God’s help to change – to put God back in God’s rightful place in his. “Create in me a new heart – and renew a right spirit in me” – is a request to get his life oriented back the way it is supposed to be – directed towards God.
God’s justice aims always to restore us to that relationship of love. Love is a relationship that works two ways, so that restoration works both ways – God is always willing to forgive. But to receive that forgiveness we also have to act – we have to make a choice to re-orient our so that God is most important.
Hymn Together in Song 155 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder
Prayers of the people
We pray for this world of yours.
You are a God of justice,
Yet there is so much that is unjust in your world
There are people who do not have enough to eat,
Who do not have a place to sleep,
Who do not have homes or productive work,
Yet, you have given this world everything we need.
We pray for the people of this world –
For our leaders, and for all of us,
That we will have the will to share your gifts justly.
In a time of silence, we pray for those needs on our hearts and minds…
In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
The Lord’s Prayer
Hymn Together in Song 690 Beauty for brokenness