This morning Tom and I had the luxury of a return to St. Matthews United Methodist Church in Acton, Massachusetts. I wrote about our first visit there on Monday. It was a luxury to return because it means we have been at the same campground for over a week. We enjoyed the church on our first visit so we thought a return visit would be even better.
We were greeted in the parking lot by one of the members who admired our big truck. We got to talking and found out this man had lived in Cincinnati and Memphis – at least two states where we had lived despite being in different cities – so we had a little bit in common. He had moved around a lot in his career and was now retired in this last place where he worked. As we entered the church, he introduced us to a couple of other people acting as greeters and one of these greeters sat close to us in the worship service so she could talk to us more after the service.
We were glad to see that there were more people at the church on this Sunday. There were also several families with children which was a good sign. Instead of a band accompanying the songs, there was a harpist who also played the piano for some of the hymns. Her name is Julie Spring and she is the best harpist I have ever heard. The pieces she played during the service were excellent and her accompaniment to the songs went more smoothly than the band last week.
The order of worship last week was unusual: different from any other order of worship we had experienced with the sermon first thing. This week the order of worship was changed, but still very unusual. Because it was the first Sunday of the month, we had communion. But the communion was the first thing in the worship service! Tom suggested that they wanted to get it out of the way. I suggested that they wanted to keep the most important part of the service as the first thing.
The sermon, by guest preacher Rev. Richard Black, was based on 2 Samuel 11 and 12 which is the story of King David, Bathsheba, Uriah, and Nathan. If you aren’t familiar with the story, you should read it. David sees Bathsheba, desires her, takes her, and then – when she becomes pregnant – tries to get her husband to sleep with her. When Uriah acts faithfully in spite of David’s unfaithfulness, David has him killed. Then the prophet Nathan confronts David by telling him a story of dishonor, greed, and selfishness. These two chapters tell a powerful narrative of David’s sin, his reluctant recognition of his sin, and then his heartfelt repentance. For me the climax of the story, after the detestable way David acted, has always been Nathan’s accusation, “You are the man!” (2 Samuel 12:7). David, while not recognizing himself in the story at first, is startled to an awareness that he has become someone that no longer pleases God. With the accusation, David’s hard heart is broken, and he repents. David pleads with God to forgive him, and, although God does forgive him, David is never the same “man after God’s own heart” again.
How difficult it is for us to recognize when we have sinned. Why is sin so easy to see in others and so hard to see in ourselves? Nathan had to come before David with a parable before David could see his sin. Who will tell us the stories we need so that we can see our sins, have our hard hearts broken, and return to to wholeness through God’s forgiveness?
I think the stories that Jesus tells help us to see the sins in ourselves. When Jesus talks about the woman searching for the lost coin, I renew my commitment to seeking God with my whole heart. When Jesus talks about the sin of the scribes and Pharisees, I repent of my pride in being “a good Christian” and seek to humbly serve in whatever he asks me to do. When Jesus talks to the woman at the well, I consider how many people I have ignored because they weren’t “my kind” of person. When I look for the point in the stories of Jesus, I can often hear him say, “You are the (wo)man!” My hard heart is broken and I seek to become a woman after God’s own heart.
Our return to St. Matthews today was a good visit. The sermon was powerful and made me consider how hard it is to see my sin – and how hard it is to change. Fortunately, nothing is too hard for God and I give thanks that he puts preachers in our lives that can tell us the story and help us to see what we need to become.
Precious Savior, break my hard heart and help me to acknowledge my sin. Speak to me in your stories and help me to hear. Forgive my sins and do not remember them, in your mercy. Do not let me continue in my sin, but call me to repentance and change so that I can follow you with my whole heart. Help me with the work I need to do in order to be a person after your own heart. Amen.