Sunday, July 26, 2009

David and Uriah

The Old Testament lesson from this morning is always called "David and Bathsheba," but the story to me is more about the different responses of the two male characters. Here's an abridged version of the sermon I gave this morning at St. Michael's, Fort Bragg.

If you wanted, you could label Uriah an innocent or a fool, killed by a scheming monarch for a faithless wife. But when I look at Uriah’s story, I see something else. I see someone who is secure within himself that he is being honorable. I see someone who can live with himself, and because he can live with himself, he can die at peace.

Now, maybe this is foolish and na├»ve of me. In fact, I’m fairly certain of it. It is a rare and lucky person who can live and go to their death secure in their honor. Some of those people are so secure in their own honor that they are intolerable. A clear conscience is not necessarily a sign of innocence.

The thing is, and the point I want to make is that the only behavior under our control is our own. Uriah could not control David or Bathsheba. He could not read minds. He could not suss out other people’s motivations. All he could do was do what he thought was right by his own lights: obeying his commanding officer who told him to come report; disobeying when he was told to go home and take his ease. David’s folly in this story is that he kept trying to arrange other people’s behavior and it never quite turns out as he plans. His one-night stand turns into a long, entangled affair. His attempt to keep Uriah from knowing ultimately leads into everyone knowing.

One of the lessons we might take from this story if we look only at David is, We should realize that our actions have consequences. So don't do the wrong thing and you won't get mixed up in the consequences. But there’s another lesson to this story which is that sometimes we have no idea what the consequences of our actions will be. We can behave well and honorably as Uriah did and still get killed for our pains.

I think the point is that our guiding principle should not be, “What will the result be? Will it be good or bad?” Our guiding principle needs to be, “Is this action that I am about to take right and good and honorable? Is this pleasing to God?”

That’s all each of us can do: do what we think is right, based on our best efforts. In the Anglican tradition, we call upon Scripture, tradition and reason to help us make those ethical decisions. We pray, we talk with others, we read and study Scriptures and read and study other people who have read and studied Scriptures. We learn from science and scholarship and skills. And ultimately give it our best shot, trusting in God to see us through.

Our collect for today asks God that “with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.” That is indeed our hope and our prayer, that within our limited perspective of time and circumstance we may do what is pleasing to God who holds all things in his hands.

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