August 5, 2018
In last month's newsletter, on the prayer page, Julie's article that adjoined the list was titled “Praise His Grace.” But when I read it, I really felt it dealt with fairness. She told of parents dealing with strong-willed children and how when they grow up and deal with their own strong-willed children, that seems, she wrote “just” but I'd say that seems more like fair. She used Matthew as her example, but I think Stephen makes a better example. Stephen was not strong-willed, he was very compliant. At least on the surface. Underneath...he liked to stir things up. Kind of like his Dad. And sometimes I would confide in him some smart remark I'd like to make about his mother... but was too wise to say it out loud. But he made it his mission to inform his mother anything I did or said that he thought might get me in trouble. And now his daughter Allie does it to him and I call that fair.
Our Old Testament lesson has a story about fairness.
We need a little background to understand, as last week we left the lectionary and missed what happened in King David's life. It is a well known part of his life, so quickly; he saw Bathsheba bathing, lusted after her, sent for her, had his way with her, sent her home. She got pregnant so David called her husband home from war thinking that if he slept with his wife, his sin would not be discovered. The husband, Uriah, was too honorable to enjoy what his fellow soldiers were denied. When his plan didn't work, David sent Uriah back to battle with secret orders to have him sent to the heart of the battle and have the troops move back so he'd be killed. And that's what happened and that's where we join the story. “When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.”
But that's not the passage that points out fairness. See, David did all this without remorse or guilt. He was the king; the king could get by with anything. The king was above the rules of fairness. That seemed to be his thinking. So the current prophet in Israel, Nathan came, not declaring the king's guilt, but simply telling a story so that the shepherd David was might see the unfairness of his actions:
A poor man had one little ewe lamb...and not just a lamb but a family pet. Nathan says the lamb was like a daughter to him. He's making clear that this was more than just a lamb raised for slaughter, this was a beloved pet. And I know many of you can relate—not to the lamb but to a beloved puppy or kitten that you have for years; a part of the family. That was this ewe.
But there was this rich neighbor with many lambs. And when a friend came to spend the night. As a good host, he wanted to feed him. But he was a little too selfish, too self-centered to take one of his own lambs. He was rich, he was powerful, he could do what he wanted and so he stole that family pet and prepared lamb for his guest. Not nice. But this was a situation David related too. And the writer says, “Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.”
It's interesting, isn't it. David could have a soldier killed so he could get what he wanted. But that human life did not get his attention; the story of the death of a lamb did. It reminded me, Julie and I were watching TV and one of those ads for donations came on; it was for St. Jude Hospital—which we support in the interest of transparency. The next commercial was very similar, but it was the SPCA, Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. I remember Julie noting this contrast and saying something like, “I hope people will give to the children first”. But the story of the pet being killed is what got David's attention, and his anger.
David's judgment against the man who did this to the neighbor's pet was to restore fourfold what was taken...but in fairness, the man should die. Strong words. But David's sense of fairness and justice were awakened by that story.
And now it was up to Nathan to connect this story to David's own sin, “You are the man!” Nathan declared. He went on to list the blessings David had received at the hand of God. So, he asked David, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.” David got so angry at the man killing the neighbor's lamb; but now he was challenged to make the connection to what he did. In selfishness and self-centeredness and greed and lust and power, he had taken what wasn't his, he had murdered, he had unfairly sentenced a man to death. And David came to his senses and confessed, “I have sinned against the Lord.” As you know, David wrote many of the Psalms in the bible. He wrote one shortly after this confrontation, Psalm 51 begins like this,
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight.”
David confessed his sin. He pleaded for mercy, and God forgave him. But that wasn't the end of it. David and Bathsheba were married but the baby died a week after birth. Nathan brought God's word that David would suffer due to this sin, and David’s household experienced further hardship in later years. In total, four of David’s sons suffered untimely deaths—the “four times over” judgment David had pronounced upon himself.
So we see that sometimes life treats us fairly...David's sin found him out and he was judged for it, he suffered loss because of it. Sometimes life treats us unfairly... consider Uriah and the circumstances surrounding his death.
In the Epistle that Julie read, we read of God giving gifts, talents, to various people in the church. We could say that the distribution of those gifts given by God might be called unfair. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers.” Not everyone has the gift they may desire. We have some gifted people in our congregation using the gifts God gave them. But is the distribution of talents fair? My gift isn't as an evangelist, but wouldn't it be nice if it were. Maybe the church would be growing by leaps and bounds. It isn't fair that my gift isn't evangelizing. Or is it?
Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people.... That brings up the question, “Is God fair?” It isn't hard to find examples of things in life that just don't look fair. The innocent suffer, the evil prosper. We all know examples of undeserved suffering; the very term undeserved shows it is unfair. What do we do when life isn't fair? Thomas G. Long addresses this in his book What Shall We Say? “For people of faith the presence of undeserved suffering in the world is more than a pragmatic and ethical dilemma; it raises questions about the motives of God and the goodness of God.” Is God motivated to play fair? And of course we'd say, yes. God is just, God is fair. But by what measure; by who's measure? That is a very big question that we each have to come to grips with. And we all have to some extent or you probably wouldn't be here. Nowhere does Jesus promise that life will be fair. Arlyce introduced me to the term “the luck of the womb.” We have no say over where, when or to whom we are born. I was born in a wonderful, loving, stable family. Not everyone is. It is not fair. But there is also a degree of self responsibility we have. Our attitude counts in how we perceive life. Its a bit like Snoopy sitting by the road watching the kids walk to school. He says...”I wonder why it is that some were born people and some were born dogs. It just isn't fair.” And then in the last frame he concludes, “Why was I one of the lucky ones?” We can bemoan our troubles, our birthright, our gifts, or we can consider our blessings.
Life isn't always fair...and we gather on Sunday mornings to celebrate that fact. Yes, I said celebrate. From your Sunday School or confirmation lessons: what are the wages of sin? Death. How many have sinned? All have sinned. What do we deserve? Death. And yet what are we promised? Eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord! That's not fair. Fair would be if we could work for our reward. Fair would be that if our good deeds outweighed our bad, we'd get to heaven. Fair would be judgment for the evil and salvation for the righteous. But God isn't fair. God has offered the great gift of salvation to everyone, free and clear. We can't earn it...not fair. We don't deserve it...not fair. But sometimes it works in our favor when things aren't fair.
I'm reminded of when the kids were young. We had pie for dessert and Matthew noticed that I always got the biggest piece. He didn't think that was fair, and asked why it was. Well, I didn't have a good answer, but I told him that when he is a Dad, he'd probably get the biggest piece too. I have never asked him if he does.
The picture on the front of our bulletins today give a picture of what may come to mind we we say “be fair”. Kids have an innate sense of what is fair and what isn't. “It's not fair” is a common plea. But as we discover when we grow up, and as you undoubtedly heard from you parents, life isn't fair. As Christians, we can work at treating others with fairness and love; remember the Golden Rule. Being fair is one of Jacob's 11 we are studying. But we can also give thanks that life isn't fair because if it were, where would our hope be? Our hope would hinge on being good enough, doing enough to earn our eternal reward despite our sin and trespasses. “ But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved).” SanDawna last week talked about her love for the book of Ephesians. For me, this verse from Ephesians is the heart of the gospel. And the truth is that God doesn't treat us fairly, God treats us with grace. And that is good news. Amen.
Hymn: Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise 263 PH