Sermon June 16, 2013


“A Friend for Father’s Day”


June 16, 2013

The Reverend Dr. Joanne M. Swenson


2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13

26When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.  27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord,

12and the Lord sent Nathan to David.  He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.  2The rich man had very many flocks and herds; 3but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought.  He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.  4Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” 5Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man.  He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”  7Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.  9Why 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.  10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.  13David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die.


John 15:15

15I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.


It’s Father’s Day, and dads will get the classic gifts of Father’s Day:  the special golf club, the power tool, the lovingly prepared meal – and the wall plaque with the singing trout.

In that perennial category of Father’s Day ties, I have a story.

Back in the 1960’s when men’s style was being transformed by the Beatles and the swinging London scene of Carnaby Street, my sisters and I decided that, for Father’s Day, we could import a little swagger from England. Now, I want you to picture my dad – a small-town doctor in North Dakota, a man who wore thick glasses, black suits and narrow ties – opening his Father’s Day gift: a hot pink dress shirt, with a wide, psychedelic, “Peter Max” tie.  Can you guess what he said, as he lifted the shirt and tie out of their box?

“I don’t think I need this.”

So, what does every father need?  Today’s scripture lessons suggest that the gift every Father needs is a friend.  But not just any sort of friend.  Every father needs a spiritual friend – a friend who shares our spiritual values, our spiritual identity.  Through our Old Testament Lesson, we’ll see why Nathan is the kind of friend every father – every man – needs.  And through our Gospel lesson, we’ll discover where we find such friends.

Would you pray with me?  Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you – you our Rock, our Redeemer, and our Friend.  Amen.

Today’s Old Testament Lesson is the story of the prophet Nathan confronting King David.

Now, the Bible is filled with stories of confrontations between kings and prophets.  Typically, in these scenes, a king does some destructive, despicable act, and the prophet storms in, pronouncing punishment.  The classic pattern is the prophet’s scorching rebuke to the king; followed by a symbolic gesture of warning, such as when Ezekiel clapped his hands and stamped his feet [i]; and finally, a dire pronouncement of coming doom.

(Actually, this sounds a lot like parenting.)

But what we have in this story is different.  What we have is not so much Prophet versus King.  What we have, rather, is a friend telling another friend the truth.

Nathan is David’s friend.  Indeed, Nathan is the kind of friend that every father needs.  Now, Nathan shows himself to be David’s friend in three important ways[ii]:  I’ll speak to the first two now, and we’ll circle back to the third reason, by the end of the sermon.

First, we can be sure Nathan is David’s friend, because he sees not just David’s crime, but he sees David’s best.  In Nathan’s story about the stolen lamb, he appeals to David’s best memories of himself as a shepherd boy, caring for lambs.

And Nathan appeals to David’s best adult self, a religious and seasoned ruler:  he knows that David would recognize that Mosaic law had been violated in this story.  Exodus states that the penalty for stealing a sheep is to pay back such theft four-fold.[iii]

So, David responds at his best, speaking both as a shepherd boy and a ruler.  David says:  “That rich man has no pity, and must pay four times over, for stealing that pet lamb.”

Nathan appeals to the best in his friend. He doesn’t just see David’s crime.  He shows in this moment that he sees King David, with all of his strengths and his failings.  That’s how a friend sees – and that’s the kind of friend men need.

You know, one phrase I’ve heard some of our men use is “game face,” that men in New Canaan are particularly good at keeping up their game face – the face that says, “I’m strong, I’m confident, I’m a winner.”  But in that moment of crisis, David’s game face falls away.  David reveals his shame.  He shows Nathan his real face – confused, guilty, anguished.  He finds a friend with whom he can bear the truth.

Second, we know that Nathan is David’s friend because he moves David to repent.  David accepts Nathan’s rebuke and admits his wrongdoing.  The 51st Psalm, the Psalm we read this morning as our Confession, is traditionally understood as David’s lament for his crime:

Have mercyon me, O God,
according to your unfailing love. . .
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.

A friend made this cry of repentance possible.  You know, I think when Nathan rebuked King David, he didn’t condemn, yelling, “You are that man!”  I think instead he quietly said, “David, David…that rich man is you.”  I can imagine Nathan put his hand on David, showing compassion.

That’s what fathers need.  A friend with whom they can admit their errors and face where they have stumbled.

Where do we find such friends?  Can our men be Nathan friends for each other?

Just by being here, in this place, in this church, our men have already taken a big step.  Here is the possibility, not just for social sharing and common cause.  Here is the possibility for Nathan Friendship.  Because the Christian faith is founded in Authentic Friendship.

Friendship is the phrase that captures best what we experience in Jesus Christ.  Gathered here, we are not just disciples, not just servants, not just followers, but “friends.”  Jesus calls us, “friends.”  In John 15 Jesus says, “You are no longer servants, but you are my friends;” “I call you, now, my friends.”

You know, there is a reason Christians love that old, sentimental hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” . . .

…all our sins and griefs to bear!

        What a privilege to carry

        everything to God in prayer!….

        Can we find a friend so faithful

        who will all our sorrows share?

        Jesus knows our every weakness;

        take it to the Lord in prayer.

Translated into countless languages, and found in every major hymnbook, this song expresses that our faith, at its core, is friendship with Jesus.

Now, think about this for a moment.  This is no small thing.  Jesus calls Peter his friend in John 15, but he knows Peter will deny him by John 18.  And still Jesus calls Peter, “my friend.”  The one who denies him is also the one that Christ calls to build the church.  In John 21, there is this amazing scene, where three times Jesus commands Peter to build the church.  He says, “Tend my lambs,” “Shepherd my sheep”, “Tend my sheep!”

Three times Peter fails Jesus, and three times Jesus honors Peter.  Jesus is Peter’s Nathan friend – a friend who sees the worst in Peter, forgives and believes in his best.

Jesus is Peter’s Nathan Friend.

When we’re friends with Jesus, we’re ready to be friends for each other.  Christian friendships are a spiritual thing – a gift of the Holy Spirit.  C. S. Lewis had it exactly right, when he wrote in his book, The Four Loves:

“In friendship…we think we have chosen our peers.  In reality, a few years’ difference in the dates of our births, a few more miles between certain houses, the choice of one university instead of another, posting to different regiments, the accident of a topic being raised or not raised at a first meeting – any of these chances might have kept us apart.  But, for a Christian, there are, strictly speaking, no chances… A secret master of ceremonies has been at work. Christ, who said to the disciples, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ (– this Secret Master of Ceremonies) can truly say to every group of Christian friends, ‘Ye have not chosen one another but I have chosen you for one another.’”[iv]

Exactly right:  Christ chose us for each other, and calls us together for friendship.  And this is not by chance.  We’ve all seen how God has worked here to bring together friendships.  Introverts and extroverts become close friends on a mission trip; liberals and conservatives study the Bible together over coffee at 7am; single men and grandfathers take the Spiritual Gifts course and help each other figure out the next steps in their lives.

And the most unlikely pairing of friends – the most amazing miracle of all? Men and Women!  Men and Women become friends here, despite all that divides us – and annoys us!  Christ builds these friendships.  What we share in common is that Christ has first made us His friends.

This Father’s Day, do you have that holy gift of friendship?  David and Nathan, Peter and Jesus – what name will pair with yours?  Let’s think about names for a moment, as we come to the end of this sermon.

We’ve seen two reasons why David and Nathan are authentic friends.  Nathan believes in David’s best, while recognizing his worst; and David can pour out his heart to Nathan, and before him repent of his crime.

Now we’ll consider a third reason we know David and Nathan are friends…

David names a son after Nathan.  Bathsheba and David go on to have several children, and their third child is named, “Nathan.”

“Nathan”!  The name of the prophet who confronted King David will be heard every day in his life.  Heard and cherished.

Do you have such a friend, whose name you would give your child?  That’s the gift every Father needs – a friend, whose name you’d honor every day – in your fatherhood, your marriage, your friendship.

Look around you.  A Secret Master of Ceremonies has been at work!  God has placed your Nathan friends here.  Christ has made us for Friendship – spiritual, authentic, forgiving friendship.  These friends of God’s choosing are among us now, a gift for you this Father’s Day.


[i] Ezekiel 6:11

[ii] My thinking here is inspired by Terry Francis, “A True Friend”

[iii] Exodus 22:1 : If a man steals an ox or a sheep, and kills it or sells it, he shall repay five oxen for an ox, and four sheep for a sheep.

[iv] C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (1960 Harcourt Brace)

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