Four Sundays ago, we left King David sitting on top of the world. He has become king of all Israel, having gained the support of the armies, the people, and God. He has captured the city of Jerusalem and made it his capital. He has heard God promise to bless his reign, while politely declining David’s offer to build a Temple. He has responded with a faithful prayer, praising God and asking for guidance, and he has been promised that guidance. Everything is going wonderfully; David, and Israel, are on top of the world.
But David is a human being, and no human beings are perfect. One day, as he is walking along on the roof of his palace, King David sees a beautiful woman next door, named Bathsheba. He decides he wants her to be his wife. But there is a problem: Bathsheba is already married, to a soldier named Uriah. Now kings of Israel could usually have whatever they wanted, but one thing they could not have was the wife of another man. So David arranges to have his own soldier Uriah killed in battle; in effect, he murders him. And then he takes Bathsheba, no longer another man’s wife, to be his wife, and several months later she gives birth to David’s son.
David believes that what he has done was in secret, that no one knows about it. But God knows, of course, and God’s response begins in 2 Samuel 12, verses 1-10 and 13-24.
David’s servants, we are told, were quite bewildered by their king’s behavior, and we can understand why: the custom in Israel regarding the death of a family member was to display one’s sorrow during a period of public mourning: wearing plain or even torn clothes; fasting; weeping aloud. Public mourning was the expected behavior when a loved one died. David, however, had displayed this mourning-type behavior before his child died – the fasting, the plain clothes, the neglect of his duties – and then when the child did die, stopped the behavior and went back to his normal routine: eating, wearing his fine robes, working. He did things backwards. What was going on with their king? Finally the bewilderment was too much for the servants, and they came right out and asked him: “What is this thing that you have done?”
And David replied: While the child was still alive, I wept and fasted because then I hoped that God might be gracious and allow the child to live; I thought it might do some good. Then, it was not yet too late. But now he is dead; now it is too late; there is nothing more I can do. I cannot bring him back again. So what purpose is there in fasting now?
David has decided . . . to move along with his life. He sinned, he confessed, he suffered the consequences of his action, he was forgiven. “Now the Lord has put away your sin,” Nathan had said. It is behind him; it is over. It is time to move along.
The alternative for David would be to allow the sin and its consequences to keep him paralyzed, to keep him inactive, to keep him stuck in one place, not moving ahead with his life. This alternative might be in line with custom and might keep the people around him from being bewildered, but otherwise it offered nothing. It would not bring a child back to life, nor would it affect David’s relationship with God. Because both issues were already settled, both situations already resolved. Death, we know, is almost always final; that person will not come back to us in this life. And David realizes that the other situation, his relationship with God, is also settled: God has forgiven the sin, and put it behind them. It is no longer an issue between them, so David doesn’t need to keep dwelling on it and continuing to allow it to keep him inactive. He did it, he confessed it, it is forgiven. It is over.
“David said to Nathan, ‘I have sinned against the Lord.’ Nathan said to David, ‘The Lord has put away your sin.’” It is over. So it is time to move along with life.
A few months later, David’s claim that his conflict with God is over is verified: David and Bathsheba have a new son, whom they name Solomon, and God loves him and blesses him; he becomes the next king of Israel. The Lord did not continue to hold David’s sin against him. Solomon represents a new beginning.
When a sin is confessed and forgiven, it is over. It is gone. It is no more. Forgiveness is complete, wipes the slate clean, as if it never happened. And then it’s time to move along.
Our New Testament lesson told us the same thing: “Our old self was crucified with Christ; the body of sin was destroyed, so we are no longer enslaved to sin . . . so you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” Don’t dwell on the past, dead sins; move along.
Martin Luther learned this the hard way. For years, as a monk, he used to confess his sin five hours a day, afraid he had missed something, afraid he hadn’t done it right, afraid his repentance wasn’t deep enough. He was obsessed with the sins he committed or might have committed; he couldn’t set them aside. Then one day he re-read Romans, and realized he was forgiven, through the actions of Jesus Christ, that all he had to do was believe that good news. And he stopped confessing five hours a day, so probably got a lot more done. He moved along.
Every Sunday, after our confession of sin in worship, we have an assurance of forgiveness. “Know that your sins are forgiven,” it says. “God has put away our sins.” The assurance is required by our Book of Order because it is such an essential part of how God works: if you have a prayer of confession in a service, you must have an assurance of forgiveness. We committed sins, we confessed them, God forgave them. Now it’s time to move along.
And our sacraments teach us the same lesson. We are baptized once, and one meaning the water of baptism has is a washing away of our sin – all our sin, committed up to that point and for the rest of our lives, as long as we continue to have faith and continue to confess and repent and try to do better. We need not be baptized every day or every week – washed again. No, we made our confession of faith, we claimed God’s promised forgiveness of our sins, through Christ, and now it’s time to move along.
And in our other sacrament, the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, we renew our relationship with God, and all who believe are welcome – not just those who are perfect, not just those who haven’t committed any wrongdoing since last communion, not those who confess five hours a day – all who believe. If a person believes and acknowledges their sinfulness, the sins are forgiven and forgotten. The Lord has put away our sins. And it’s time for us to put them away, too, to forgive ourselves, and move along.
Perhaps today is a good day for you to claim that fresh start, that clean slate, that promise of forgotten sins. Let today’s service symbolize your new beginning, your opportunity to move along. Yes, we have all sinned. But the sins have been confessed, and forgiven; they are gone. It’s time to move along.
The television show “LA Law” would begin each episode with a meeting of the firm’s lawyers, where they very quickly go over the cases each one is working on, to see how they are progressing. Since it’s a room full of strong personalities and controversial subjects, the lawyers frequently digress into a discussion or even argument over the issues involved in a case, in spite of the long work day stretching ahead of them. On these occasions, senior partner Leland Mackenzie reminds the moderator of the meeting, Douglas Brackman, that they don’t have time for such digressions. “Move along, Douglas,” he says, at least once a meeting. “Move along, Douglas.”
I’ve often thought: wouldn’t it be great if life was like that? If every time someone started a long boring story, or a meeting went off on a tangent, or we were stuck in a long line, we could just say, “Move along, Douglas” and things would get back up to speed again?
Well life isn’t like that. We can’t say “Move along, Douglas” to the whole world. But we can, to a large degree, with our own lives. When past mistakes threaten to bog us down, to immobilize us, to make us fearful, we do have the freedom to remind ourselves: “Wait a minute. I made that mistake, but I confessed it and it is forgiven. It is no more. I can . . . move along.
Let’s pray: God, thank you for your willingness, through Jesus, to forgive our sins, to wipe the slate clean, to renew our relationship with a fresh start once we have confessed our mistake. Help us to accept that wonderful gift, to learn from our mistake but then move on, to devote our energies to leading lives pleasing to you. Amen.