J. D. Ousley/Sermon—29Jul12/ “Cover-up”
In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.
Bible heroes aren’t like other heroes. For however successful they are as leaders or prophets or priests, they are never perfect.
And the Bible always points out their faults. The Bible’s ruthless honesty contrasts with the idealistic portraits other religions give of their founders. I could offer many examples of the Bible’s truthfulness, but, today, I would like to concentrate on one leader and on one appalling episode in his life.
The leader is David; the episode occurs when he was king of Israel and the nation was at war. As our First Lesson tells the story, David sees a woman named Bathsheba who is bathing. He is filled with desire, and he decides he has to have the woman—even though she turns out to be married to a soldier in Israel’s army named Uriah.
So David makes use of his supreme kingly power: he sends for Bathsheba and sleeps with her. Some time later, Bathsheba tells him that she is pregnant.
Then, rather than own up to his sin, David decides to eliminate Bathsheba’s husband. He makes sure that the husband, Uriah is sent into battle and then abandoned by his troops. David’s orders are carried out and Uriah perishes. David then takes Bathsheba as his wife, and the baby born to Bathsheba appears to the world to be David’s son.
That’s not the end of the story, however. As we will hear next week in its conclusion, the Lord reveals to the prophet Nathan what has occurred. Nathan confronts David, and the king realizes the gravity of his sin.
And his sin is truly enormous. For not only has David essentially raped Bathsheba and committed adultery–but he has in effect murdered her husband in order to hide what he has done.
After Nathan speaks to him, David does penance for his behavior. He is forgiven by God, and David’s kingdom endures; as I noted a few weeks ago, his descendants would ultimately include Jesus.
But despite David’s acknowledgement of his crimes, the lesson from the story remained in the record of Israel’s history: however high and mighty the leaders of God’s people may be, they will still have feet of clay.
And the more general lesson is that the rules of the Kingdom of God allow for no exceptions. Modern democracies say that, “no one is above the law.” But the Bible applied that principle even to its kings. No one is above God’s law.
Commentators on political scandals in our own day have noted how often politicians make things worse for themselves by trying to cover up their bad deeds. Sometimes the bad deed isn’t even a crime—just an embarrassing lack of judgment. So, then, it’s the subsequent lying and hiding the truth that causes the real trouble.
No wonder that experts in public relations recommend that companies who have had some scandal, like an embezzlement or an illegal investment should go into what they call, “crisis PR mode.”
The companies should first find out the truth of what happened. Then they should get all the bad news about themselves out as soon as they can, and they should say what they are going to do in order to put things right. (Things could have been so different at Penn State if that policy had been followed…)
Public openness is a good spiritual lesson for individuals, too. No cover-up will work with God; that’s not even an option. We have to admit our sins before God.
If we look at the sequence of disturbing actions by David, it is the last sin of trying to deny the adulterous pregnancy and avoid its consequences where most of us will learn our own moral lessons. While we would never be able to sin on the scale of the Old Testament figures, we are equally capable of cover-ups. We’ll go to considerable lengths to avoid admitting the thoughts, words and deeds that we’re not proud of.
Take the way you may carelessly waste time when you should be off to meet a friend, and when you see your friend, you make up some excuse to explain why you’re late so you don’t look so bad.
On the moral scale, this is not a huge failing. But that excuse is still a lie—a lie, moreover, that you tell for the trivial reason that it will keep you from having to confess to your friend that you didn’t make the preparations you should have made to be at your meeting on time.
Another example would be when you mess up a project at work. Instead of admitting your error, you try to find a way to make the mistake look like an accident or someone else’s fault. While again this isn’t a capital offense, it’s still a form of bearing false witness.
Another time when cover-up is an issue is when we tell anecdotes from our past, and we manipulate the truth to make ourselves look better than we were. No one is harmed by these embellishments, but, we’re still hiding the truth.
Most people do some or all of these things regularly. We present a false picture of who we are. The difference for us who are religious is that we can’t pretend that we’ll get away with deception. For we know that to God, “all hearts are open” and “all desires known.” We know that to God, “no secrets are hid.”
Before God, honesty about our failings isn’t just the best policy—it’s the only policy.
And when we are honest about ourselves, we can experience the liberation that comes from admitting the truth. Think of another occasion when you weren’t honest with a friend.
But then, you had a frank talk with your friend and admitted that you had been deceiving him. The pain of that conversation was awful–but as you revealed your cover-up, a barrier was lifted between you and your friend, and you felt relief—and a new closeness with your friend.
Bible heroes have feet of clay—that expression actually comes from the Bible. But we all have feet of clay. That’s the point of the Bible stories—to remind us that even the most spiritual people can succumb to temptation.
No one is perfect. Only God’s grace can lead us out of temptation. Only God’s grace can deliver us from evil, and bring us to the freedom of God’s Kingdom.
And now unto that same God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be ascribed as is most justly due all might, majesty, power, dominion, and praise, now and forever. Amen.