08/01/21 – From Arrogance to Humility


August 1, 2021
10th Sunday after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35
Elder Alan Willadsen

In the 1970s there were many female singer/songwriters who had a significant influence on popular music:  Joan Baez, Janis Ian, Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Carly Simon.  Each had a distinct style, voice, influence, and genre.  While we might most readily associate this congregation with Ms. Baez and her political activism and least likely to connect ourselves collectively with Ms. Simon and her pop style—even to the point of dismissing it—it is her song You’re So Vain that resonates with this week’s scripture passages.

Walter Brueggemann is reported to have said, “The prophetic tasks of the church are, to tell the truth in a society that lies in illusion, grieve in a society that practices denial, and express hope in a society that lives in despair.”[1]

We hear Nathan helping David recognize his flaws and see the truth.  Paul writes about unity, God’s gifts, and speaking the truth in love.  The crowd following Jesus is intently focused on their own immediate, bodily needs.  He calls them out to focus on the hope God provides:  life.  Our task today is to understand how these passages call out our own vanity and to challenge us to serve the world while keeping our eyes on what God calls us to do.

As we read the passage in 2 Samuel it is easy to focus on David and his change of heart—from powerful, vengeful king to humble, repentant sinner.  Before we look at that change of heart, let me point out a couple of things.

First, while David did not respect Bathsheba’s marital vows, he did respect her period of mourning.  Whether there was a prescribed time for mourning or she had grieved long enough does not matter.  Only “[w]hen the mourning was over” did he send for her. He also continued the relationship with the now-widowed Bathsheba rather than cast her aside.  Each of us mourns loss differently.  Respect the other person in their grief, rather than vainly expecting them to grieve as you want them to.

Second, David respected Nathan and was receptive to his teaching.  Remember how David had wanted to build a permanent structure for the ark?  Nathan said to the king, “Go, do all that you have in mind; for the Lord is with you.” (2 Samuel 7:3).  Nathan then reported a nighttime God-encounter to the king, who realized God had other things in mind, including having a son build the structure and establishing the throne of David’s kingdom forever, leading the king to understand he had a different task.  Nathan could speak the truth in love to David, who knew God was using Nathan the prophet.  Who does God send to speak truth into your life?

Let’s reflect on a couple of points in the allegory Nathan shares with David:

  1. Little is said about the rich man. Since he had “very many flocks and herds,” how could he have known what he possessed or even if one was missing?  We often infer a correlation between wealth and power in today’s world and perceive the rich man as also being powerful.  Jimi Hendrix said, “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
  2. We hear a good deal more about the poor man.
    1. He had a family;
    2. The lamb was like a daughter to him, a family member; and
    3. He had compassion for the lamb.
  3. Think of the poor in today’s world. The Peoria Journal Star ran a story this week about panhandlers in Peoria.  The reporter interviewed 2 panhandlers—actually gave their names and led me to consider them as individuals.  While I notice them more and more frequently—don’t know about you—the article helped me start to think about seeing  The thought of going to the poor is difficult.  The times were no different for David and Nathan, for “there came a traveler to the rich man.”  At no time would we have read “there came a traveler to the poor man.”   
  4. The rich man “was loath to take one of his own flock or herd.” That is, he was too cheap to share of his abundance with someone who came to see him.  Sure, he showed hospitality but in a way that cost him nothing.
  5. If taking the poor man’s ewe lamb reminds us of the cliché “the rich get richer,” I think it is because the rich get richer at the expense of the poor as in this story. The rich can do this because of their power.  There is nothing new under the sun.

David’s response reflects his understanding of his role as king.  He recognizes injustice and knows he has the power to deal with it and punish the unjust.  Yet, he also provides mercy.  You and I know this story is for illustrative purposes only. David’s reaction is real:  even though he says the rich man deserves to die, David pronounces a sentence consistent with the law in Exodus 22:1.  Restitution is not just for greed and the lamb, but for the rich man’s hardness of heart.

The word used here for what the rich man lacked, “pity”, is the same word Zechariah used: “For I will no longer have pity on the inhabitants of the earth, says the Lord. I will cause them, every one, to fall each into the hand of a neighbor, and each into the hand of the king; and they shall devastate the earth, and I will deliver no one from their hand.” (Zechariah 11:6) Those who show no compassion will receive none.  Lack of compassion destroys relationships.

God, through Nathan, calls out David’s sin, reminds David of all God has done for David and proclaims punishment.  Actions have consequences and sinful actions destroy community, family, and individual relationships.  David acknowledges and confesses his sin.  Tradition has it David wrote Psalm 51 in response to this epiphany.

Humbly the psalmist asks for mercy, acknowledging their own sin and affirming sin is against God and God alone.  As David exclaimed just punishment against the rich man, the psalmist professes the fairness of God’s punishment:

“So You are just when You sentence, You are right when You judge. . .”

In using allegory Nathan initially disguised the accusation.  So it is with us and our sin.  How many of us go around saying, “Look—here’s my sin.”  No—we seek to sin in private, hiding from others.  We are loathed to confess it to others or even admit it to ourselves.  “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.”  (1 John 1:8) Confession brings light into our dark lives.

“Look, You desired truth in what is hidden;
in what is concealed make wisdom known to me.”

We want to get past sin—easily if possible.  As Timon said in The Lion King, “You got to put your past behind you.”  Let the cup of consequences pass, from me, Lord God.  Even when we know our sin is great, we long to remain in God’s presence.  We know that’s not possible, so we say with the psalmist,

“Let me hear gladness and joy,
let the bones that You crushed exult.
Avert Your face from my offenses,
and all my misdeeds wipe away. . .
Do not fling me from Your presence,
and Your holy spirit take not from me.
Give me back the gladness of Your rescue

Having confessed our sin and understanding, we are no different from our neighbor in this respect “since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), Paul challenges us to do better: “to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”  God has gifted us grace and challenged us to lead a life in unity with the rest of the body.  The gifts God has bestowed are for building up each other.  What are your gifts for building up the body of Christ?

Master teacher Jerry Schenk tells the story of an aunt who told him the Bible says, “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.”  Being a curious fellow, he decided to look up the passage, only to learn the Bible says, in context, “Beware of those who say, ‘Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch.’” (Colossians 2)

So it often is with how we use Ephesians 4:15a to justify and excuse our criticism and correction of our neighbor.  You know what I mean, don’t you?

“I’m telling you the truth in love:  you need to stop that behavior.”

“I’m only pointing out what you did wrong because I want to speak the truth in love.”

Isn’t that what Nathan did?  Nooooo.  Nathan challenged David to own up to what he had done.  David knew what he had done and he knew it was wrong.  It may be a subtle difference, but go back and re-read this section of Ephesians 4.  Do not be so vain and think it’s all about you.  Paul challenges us to love, to live, and to grow into the body of Christ by using our gifts in healthy ways.

When we use these gifts, we are doing the work of God—the work Jesus was talking about.  Keep in mind this passage comes immediately after the feeding of the multitude.  Jesus first provided for people’s basic needs.  As Desmond Tutu said, “The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were hungry, Jesus didn’t say, ‘Now is that political or social?’ He said, ‘I feed you.’ Because the good news to a hungry person is bread.”[2]   We are physically hungry when we eat the earthly bread.  As a congregation following the challenge in Matthew 25, we understand being Christian requires us to meet basic human need.

In this passage, Jesus said we have more than mere physical needs.  He compared earthly bread, which does not satisfy for long, with God-given heavenly bread, which satisfies eternally.  When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, when we feast on the heavenly bread, we will never be hungry.  That bread is nothing other than Christ’s life as a role model for us to follow.

The crowd said, “Sir, give us this bread always.” (John 6:34) Life, sustained by the true bread from heaven is what we need, seek, and want.  We do not want another broken relationship like David experienced.  We do not long to condemn or be condemned by our siblings in Christ.  It is Christ and Christ’s way we humbly seek.

Amen and Amen.



Elder Alan Willadsen, 2021, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
WestminsterPeoria.org | 309.673.8501



[1]Many places on the internet attribute this quote to Mr. Brueggemann.  I first encountered it in a Facebook posting in Clergy Coaching Network, July 5, 2021.  See also,  Ministry Matters™ | 3 ways the church can respond to the Capitol building riot and Young, Liberal, and Faithful | Union Theological Seminary (utsnyc.edu)

[2] I don’t preach a social gospel; I preach the Gospel, period. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is concerned for the whole person. When people were… (libquotes.com), As quoted in God’s Mission in the World : An Ecumenical Christian Study Guide on Global Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals (2006) by The Episcopal Church Office of Government Relations and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.