First Presbyterian Church

Once Upon A Time…

2 Samuel 11:26-12:15
Ephesians 4:1-16

Many wonderful nights ended with just those words…”once upon a time.” And of course a short time later they concluded with “and they lived happily ever after.” Obviously in-between those points came all sorts of dragons to be fought, curses to be broken, big bad wolves to vanquish and damsels in distress to be rescued. What was your favorite “once upon a time?” I don’t remember a particularly rousing story attached to those words in my growing up – being the youngest of 4 long after the 3rd had escaped the nest, it was pretty much a lot of entertaining myself, with much more emphasis placed upon “and they lived happily ever after” than upon “once upon a time.” “They lived happily ever after meant that the struggle was over which was fine with me since life had enough struggle by itself without adding more in some nighttime nursery rhyme. Our scripture today has such a story. One that definitely begins with “once upon a time” but not so much with the “and they lived happily ever after.”

King David was one of the greatest heroes in the Bible. He was a fearless fighter and faced Goliath (the giant) without any real weapons. He became a brilliant military leader and excellent city planner. But he came to desire a woman who was married to someone else. Bathsheba was Uriah’s wife. David sent for her and committed adultery. Later she informed David that she was pregnant. David tried to cover up his sin by having Uriah lie with Bathsheba but Uriah was an excellent soldier and knew the rules against active military avoiding sexual contact. David got Uriah drunk but still Uriah held out. Finally David had Uriah placed on the front lines of battle and sure enough, Uriah was killed. David claimed Bathsheba as his wife. But Nathan the prophet went to David with a story. It was a story of a man who owned a small lamb that was loved and cared for by his family. A rich man stole the lamb and prepared him for dinner. When asked what should happen to the rich man, David reacted angrily and said the man should die. But Nathan revealed that the man in the story was in fact David who had stolen something in Bathsheba when he took her from Uriah. David was caught red handed and for his sin, he was sorry. His life was spared but the life of his unborn son would not be nor would the lives of his other sons who would all die or be killed before David met his own death.

David’s story certainly began with “once upon a time” and definitely did not end with “and he lived happily ever after.” I’m afraid that many of our stories are the same. They all start off well enough. Most don’t have dragons to be fought, curses to be broken, bad wolves to vanquish or damsels to rescue but, instead, we certainly have in-laws to pacify, creditors to satisfy, and problems to rectify. We all have grown up, life-altering, mind-bending problems that confuse the heck out of us.

And in the meantime we go to church. To most of the world, it looks like we come into this stained glass building good for special occasions like funerals or weddings and on Sunday’s we say words that seem a little far removed from the rest of our lives and sing songs about divine love that excels. The rest of our week we’re going back to real issues that frighten us and stump us and make us angry and make us curse and cause us to lay awake at nights because we don’t see any magical answers in sight. So where’s the connection? When does what we do here connect with the rest of our lives? When do these songs and these prayers and this sermon cause us to go, “Oh, that’s what that meant. That’s why that story he told Sunday has stayed with me so! Because it helped me to understand my way through that particular problem.
David heard a story that sounded familiar. Sure it was a story of a man with a lamb that was stolen and cooked to feed an important guest. But for David it struck a nerve and he reacted violently, angrily, “What I would do would be to come down hard on that man; taking that man’s lamb like that, one that he had raised to be like his own daughter.” Finally Nathan levels with David, “That man who stole the lamb is you.” The one who did wrong is none other. You’re the one in the wrong. You’re the man in the story, David. Finally David saw his own life in perfect Technicolor and he didn’t like what he saw. He was sorry, really sorry. And he told Nathan that and in his way he expressed his sorrow to God. Nathan told him that it was OK, he was forgiven, and that he would live. But as I said, his story doesn’t end with “And he lived happily ever after.” It ends with “David, you’re life is spared but the life of your son to be, will not. That child will die. When you live in sin, sin causes pain and heartache and death. Always has…always will. But until you recognize that in your own story, and until you recognize yourself in God’s story, you’re missing something important. Until you find the connection between what we do here with the in-laws to pacify, the creditors to satisfy, and problems to rectify and what we think this book is saying and what these songs mean and what this gathering every week does for us, until we make that connection, then we’re missing out just what it is that all this can mean for our day to day and week to week functioning in this dark and dangerous world.
For that we turn briefly to Ephesians, written after the death and resurrection of Christ, after the beginning of the church that was based on the resurrection. As David’s world was rocked by his own sin, and the overwhelming pain that the death of his child and the ultimate death that all his sons would cause him, he came broken and empty to God looking for understanding. It is the same understanding that Beth is looking for this morning. Beth is the grandmother of 6 year old Hannah, who Beth would bring to church every Sunday. But this morning Hannah has been missing since last Monday last seen in the car with her mother who both not having been seen since. Beth’s world has been rocked and she’s looking for understanding even moreso than 3 years ago when her husband of over 40 years died suddenly at the age of 59 following a brief bout with cancer. For Beth, Hannah is her meaning in life. So too is 16 year old Michelle looking for understanding following the recent divorce of her dad and step-mom, her own mom’s dating of a new boyfriend that gives her the creeps and Michelle’s recent involvement in a accident in which her 22 year old boyfriend was driving her and her 5 friends to a graduation party when a truck ran out in front of them, causing a massive pile-up and costing the life of Michelle’s best friend and her own fractured spine and pelvis. Michelle too is looking for understanding. But it says in Ephesians, “Each of us is given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” Do you understand what that means? It means that whatever we are dealing with – whether a sinful mistake on our part or accident or injury or even a missing child, there’s something called grace – forgiveness, mercy, understanding that can be ours! Free, dispensed here in the songs and prayers and in every handshake and hug. To that end, we, in this place, are called to be the dispensers of grace. Ephesians goes on to say, we aren’t thrown around by people’s meanness, but instead, dispensers of love, understanding and forgiveness. Here we find pastors and teachers and those who are called to serve. It is here that we have something to offer that matters, that counts, that the world needs desperately that isn’t found in too many other places. What does it matter? What do we do that no one else does – AA/NA? Service/Civic organizations? Bridge clubs? All are places where people gather where total honesty happens and where love and forgiveness are dispensed. But that ought to be here – with us – or else we’re in the wrong business. Our call-our opportunity is to be the place where love is freely given, where understanding happens and where acceptance is offered without reservation. Together we can be that place! With God’s help we must be that place!