A heart for God

 David was a great king.  But he also did some awful things?  How can that be?  Lutheran theology gives us a key.

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A heart for God

October 20, 2013 – I Samuel 16:1-13


            Nadia Bolz-Weber is an ELCA pastor who has done something that I thought was impossible.  She has made it cool to be Lutheran.

            Her coolness comes not from her hyphenated name.  (I’ve had that going for me for a long time and I have never been cool!)  Her coolness doesn’t come from the fact that she is tall and athletic.  (She met her husband at a pick-up volleyball game.)  And her coolness doesn’t come from the fact that she lives in Denver, Colorado, rather than Minneapolis, Minnesota.

            Her coolness comes from her tattoos.  You can see a bit of them on the cover of her just released book, Pastrix.  They go up and down her arms and around her body.  But the tattoos on her arms are symbols of the church year.  And she has a large tattoo of Mary Magdalene – her patron saint and first witness of the resurrection – on her back. 

            Her coolness comes also from the ultra-creative and edgy ministry she has started at House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver.  It is a congregation made up of people who have felt rejected or greatly misunderstood by the church of their youth and young adulthood.  (Although it now has grown to include upper-middle class mom and dad types.)

            But I think her coolness comes mostly from her Lutheranism.  You see, Nadia grew up in a conservative church.  It was a church that taught her to memorize lots of Bible verses, and she is grateful for that.  It was church that loved her when she felt like a geeky high school kid, and she is grateful for that.  But it was also a church that said, among other things, that – based on I Timothy 2:11-12 – 13-year boys had more spiritual authority than 70-year old women.  Spo, Nadia knew that, as a girl, no matter how smart or pious or good or learned or wise she became she would always be secondary to all men, including teenage boys.

            After she left that church – the church of her parents – Nadia spent about ten years with bad, short-term boyfriends and hard, long-term alcohol.  She also spent several years as a stand-up comic and as a recovering alcoholic.  Then she met Matthew, a tall Lutheran volleyball-playing seminary student, who eventually convinced her to attend church with him. 

            Nadia fell in love the liturgy.  And she fell in love with Lutheran theology.  The primary reason she became Lutheran was because of the Lutheran doctrine of simul justus et peccator – simultaneously saint and sinner.  She knew how many times she had died and how many times God had brought her back from the dead.  She already knew how many ways she had messed up her life, and how God continued to love her more than she could possibly know.  And she knew that this was not going to stop.  So, when she heard about simul justus et peccator, Nadia says, it described her experience.  She was 100% sinner and 100% saint and 100% loved by God.


            Nadia might say that the best example in the Bible of the sinner-saint is her patron saint, Mary Magdalene.  And she is a very good choice.  But for my money – maybe because I’m a guy – it’s David.

            David was not the first king of Israel.  He was the second, but he was by far the greatest.  He united all the tribes of Israel into one kingdom.  He defeated their enemies all around, including the hated Philistines.  He brought stability to Israel, so peace and prosperity were the rule of the day.  But most important of all, he brought the Ark of the Covenant – the container of the law of Moses and the representative of the presence of God – to Jerusalem, thereby, establishing Jerusalem as the one, true place to worship the God of Israel.

            David was not a child prodigy who was known for his talents far and wide from a young age.  No, David was the seventh son of a Bethlehem sheepherder, named, Jesse.  In short (pun intended!) he was the runt of the litter.

            When God gave the commandments to Moses, their basis was – I am the Lord your God.  God – the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage – was their king.  God had freed from the rule of the pharaoh, so that they would never need to serve a pharaoh – a human king – ever again.

            But that wasn’t enough for the people.  The people wanted to be like other nations. They wanted a human king to unite them and to protect them.

            So, God sent Samuel – no longer a boy, but now a man and the recognized prophet of God for Israel – to anoint Saul of Kish as king.  Things went well for a time, but then Saul became unfaithful to God – disobedient.  And God rejected him.

            Even before that day, God sent Samuel to anoint his successor.  So, no one would get suspicious, God told Samuel to make up a story about going to Bethlehem to perform sacrifice.  And make sure he invited a man named Jesse and his sons to join him in worship.  This is what Samuel did.

            When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Eliab, the oldest, and said, “There’s a king if I ever saw one!  This must be God’s chosen!”

            But God said to Samuel, “Looks aren’t everything!  Just because he’s tall and handsome doesn’t mean he would make a good king.  In fact, I’ve already eliminated him.  You see, I judge differently than people do.  You look on the outside.  I look on the inside – at the heart.”

            So, then Jesse brought presented his other sons to Samuel, one by one.  But none of them was God’s choice.

            After the sixth son came and went, Samuel turned to Jesse and said, “Do you have any other sons?”

            “Yes,” said Jesse, “but he’s the smallest.  I assumed you wouldn’t want to see him.  He’s out tending sheep.”

            So David was brought.  He was the picture of health – bright-eyed and bushy tailed.  Then and there, Samuel anointed him.  And God’s Spirit moved powerfully in David from that moment on.


            The story of David is a long saga.  He rose from being a shepherd boy to being Israel’s greatest king.  But, as high as he rose, he also had a great fall.  He remained king to the end of his days, but he did not remain without sin or trouble.

            After his fighting days were over, he had an affair with another man’s wife – a man who was one of his army officers.  She became pregnant.  And David had Uriah killed in battle.

            The prophet Nathan brought God’s word of judgment to David: he himself would not die, but the son born to Bathsheba would and he would have great difficulties with one of this other sons. 

            This story seems to produce a stronger reaction among confirmation students than any other.  How could David do this?  How could some who committed adultery and murder be considered Israel’s greatest king?  How could David, as the Bible tells us, have a heart for God?

            Perhaps it was because, when David was confronted with the truth of his sinful deeds, he repented.  He did not deny.  He did not flee.  He did not fight.  He easily could have.  He was king after all.  But he didn’t do any of those things.  Instead, David faced the truth about his actions and he repented.  He surrendered again to God.

            Although Psalm 23 is the best loved psalm of David, it is Psalm 51 that is the psalm associated with this period in David’s life.  It is a psalm that we say each year on Ash Wednesday.

            Have mercy on me, O God, according to your loving kindness; in your great compassion blot out my offenses.  Wash me through and through from my wickedness, and cleanse me from my sin.  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me…

            Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.  Give me the joy of your saving help again, and sustain me with your bountiful Spirit…

            The sacrifice of God is a troubled spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise…

David gave his best for God, but, when he did his worst, he did not hide.  He brought his whole self to God.  He did not avoid it.  He did not deny it.  He brought his whole self to God and allowed God to work on him, to restore him, to change him, and to bring him back from death to life.

            David is a sinner-saint.  He is not part one and part the other.  He is 100% sinner and 100% saint – simul justus et peccator.  And he is 100% - every last bit of him – loved and redeemed by God.


            And so are we.