O What a Tangled Web We Weave – Pastor Robert’s sermon for Sunday, July 29

Several years ago, I heard someone offer a terrific sermon that included a story that I wanted to use in one of my own sermons.  I sent a short note to him asking for his permission to use this story since it was original to him.
     This gracious preacher promptly responded to my letter and in his note he wrote this funny line to me, “You always have permission to use any of my stories because the only thing original about me is original sin.”  I laughed as I read this.  “The only thing original about me is original sin.”
     If only we can all be as humble as this preacher and admit that we are all sinners.  Nobody’s perfect.  This is one of the very basic things that the bible teaches.
     Original sin is the doctrine that goes all the way back to the Book of Genesis, the first book of the Bible when Adam and Eve sinned and ate of the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden.  God clearly told them to not eat from that specific tree but they did anyway.  And from that point on, every single person has been born into sin.  Sin is like this pull of gravity that seeks to keep us from having a relationship with God and to be the people we are created to be.
     You might recall the man who offered this prayer one day.  “Dear Lord, so far today I’ve been doing alright. I have not gossiped, lost my temper, been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish or self indulgent.  I have not whined, complained, cursed, or eaten any chocolate. I have not charged anything to my credit card….but I will be getting out of bed soon, and I think I will really need your help!  Amen.”
     One of the spiritual disciplines that I try to incorporate in my life is the spiritual discipline of fasting or giving up a meal.  Giving up a meal is not something I enjoy doing.  I would much rather read the bible or pray than I would to fast from a meal.
     I was telling this to another pastor who has much more experience than I do with the spiritual discipline of fasting.  I told him, “The reason I don’t like to give up a meal is because it makes me so grumpy and irritable during the day.”
     And I’ll never forget what he said back to me.  He said, “Oh, it’s not fasting that makes you grumpy and irritable.  Fasting only reveals what is already in your heart.”  Well, that wasn’t what I wanted to hear.
     Sometimes, we don’t even realize the ugliness of sin that lies within us.  But when we practice the spiritual disciplines like fasting, reading the scriptures, and prayer, God is able to reveal those parts of our lives where we need transformation.
     When people join the church they respond to some membership questions and one of those questions is pretty heavy.  The question is, “On behalf of the whole church, I ask you: Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world and repent of your sin”
     The church doesn’t sweep this whole sin problem under the rug or sugarcoat it.  As that preacher told me, “The only thing original about me is original sin.”
     During our summer series on the life of David, we have been learning some positive things in what it means to be faithful in following God.  
     As we’ve gone through these Old Testament stories, these stories of David have taught us to pray boldly, to be a person after God’s own heart, to allow God to comfort us during times of grief, to seek unity where there is division, to dance and rejoice in God’s goodness and grace, and to be open to receiving the gifts and blessings that God has in mind for us.
     But in our scripture reading for today, the lesson we receive from the life of David is, “Don’t make the same mistakes that I did.”  Today, we get the story of David’s adultery with Bathsheba.  It’s a very tragic story that reminds us of this doctrine of original sin.  Even though David was known as a man who was after God’s own heart and he was this great king of Israel, he was still vulnerable to the gravity and the pull of sin.
     When we hear this story, we tend to only focus on David’s sin of adultery with Bathsheba, but when we look carefully at this story, we find that David didn’t just break one of the Ten Commandments, he broke at least three of the ten in just this one story!  “Do Not Covet” is one.  “Do Not Commit Adultery” is the second one.  And the third commandment that David broke was the commandment, “Do not kill.”
     This story reminds us how easily one sin can lead to another and then to another.  Walter Scott wrote the famous line, “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”  This pretty much sums up this sad story from the life of David.
     David’s sin is great.  He commits adultery with Bathsheba while her husband was out fighting a battle for Israel.  He tries to cover up his involvement in Bathsheba’s pregnancy by having Uriah come back from battle to be with Bathsheba.  This plan backfires because of Uriah’s vow to not be with his wife until the battle is over.
     David tries to convince Uriah again by getting him drunk but that plan doesn’t work either.  So David sends Uriah to the front of the battle where he would definitely end up being killed.  And this is pretty much the end of this sad story of David’s sin.  “O, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.”  
     This story is included in the Bible to help us see that because of original sin, we are all prone to sin against God. Even this man who is known to be one of the greatest people in the entire bible made these terrible decisions that led to tragic consequences. 
     This story of David is a story about power and how power can sometimes lead us to sin.  Early in this story, we get a hint that something is going to go wrong when II Samuel tells us in verse one that “It was in the spring of the year, the time of the year when kings go out to battle.” 
     Even to this point, Israel has been at war and David’s job as King was to continue to lead the people in battle.  Instead of doing what a king should do, David sends Joab to wage war instead while he stays back in Jerusalem and takes it easy.  
     David, who had been such a great leader is now beginning to let power go to his head.  He thinks that he can handle things his own way.  He no longer has his focus on God.
     In his hymn, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing,” Robert Robinson penned these words, “Oh to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let they goodness like a fetter bind my wandering heart to thee.  Prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart – O take and seal it; seal it for thy courts above.”
     Robinson wrote those words because he was known to wander from his faith because of sin.
     Like this great hymn writer and David in our scripture today, all of us are prone to wander and leave the God we love.  The pull of sin can keep us from being the people God created us to be.
     Maybe instead of just being born again, we need to be born again and again and again and again and again.  We need to be born again every day.  We need to receive God’s grace moment by moment, kind of like we need to breathe again and again and again.
     The Christian faith is not a sprint.  It’s a long journey that includes ups and downs and detours and zigzags.  But it also includes wonderful and unforgettable moments where God’s grace is present for us just when we need it the most.  All we need to do is receive it.
     You know, when new members join the church, they also respond to this question which is an important one for us to always remember, “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”
     We don’t have to give into sin and we don’t have to allow the pull of sin to lead us down the wrong road.  God’s grace is always reaching out to us to help us be the people we are called to be in any given situation.
     About a year ago, a friend of mine who’s a pastor was sharing with me about a situation he was facing in his church.  One of his church members was undermining his ministry by always speaking negatively about him and his family.  
     Another member of the church agreed to serve as a mediator between them.  So late one night, the three of them met in the sanctuary to work things out.  My friend said that before that meeting, he had been praying all day long to remain calm and to take the high road no matter what this member of his congregation might say in that meeting.
     Unfortunately, the meeting did not go well at all, even with the help of a mediator.  This person made accusations about my friend that just weren’t true.  I asked him, “How did you respond to her?”  And he said, “I just listened the best I could and when it was my turn to speak, I calmly pointed out that what she was saying about me just wasn’t true.  But she would interrupt me and didn’t want to hear what I had to say.”
     And then he said, “The worst part of the meeting was at the end when the mediator, sensing that this other person had no interest in working things out, said, ‘Well let’s at least close in prayer together.’  But the woman refused and said, ‘Oh, I’m not going to pray with him.’”
     And the mediator making sure she heard this correctly said, “I’m sorry, did I hear you correctly? You’re refusing to even close our time in prayer?” “That’s right,” she said in a huff.  “When I do pray for him, I pray that he’ll leave the church or something bad will happen to him.”  The mediator’s jaw dropped in disbelief at what she just heard, especially since they were sitting in front of the sanctuary altar for this meeting. 
    My friend said that he was shocked as well, but surprisingly remained calm and didn’t react.  And I asked, “How on earth did you manage that?” And he said, “Oh, believe me…It was all I could do to not reach over and…”
     I know why he didn’t reach over. Somewhere in that heated moment, God’s grace helped him to resist. 
     God’s grace is what enables us to not act impulsively even when we feel that we have been treated unfairly. Just ask my friend.
     God’s grace is what enables us to turn back to God after we have wandered from the faith. Just ask the hymn writer, Robert Robinson.
     We don’t need to get caught in tangled webs of sin of our own making. It’s not worth it. Just ask David.
     And remember that in any given moment, you and I can accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist evil, injustice, sin, and oppression. 
     Take that, original sin!