Those who follow college football – and those who don’t – have been following the saga of Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State football program when allegations of his sexual abuse of children came to light. The investigation and grand jury that resulted showed that the scandal went deeper and longer than most people would have realized. Head football coach Joe Paterno and Penn State administrators were found to have barely addressed the problem at best and covered up the abuse at worse.
Just a few days ago the NCAA handed down sanctions against the university that stopped just short of killing the football program. The school will have to pay $60 million dollars – the average annual yearly income the program brings. The football program will have a 4 year ban on any post season activity – bowl games. All game victories since 1998 will be vacated which includes 6 bowl game wins and 2 national championships. And the program will have to reduce 10 scholarships immediately and eliminate 20 over-all.
Joe Paterno’s coaching record is also affected by these sanctions. With the vacating of the games, he loses the number 1 rank of most wins, going from 409 to 298, and now becomes the 12th overall winning-est coach. And, of course, we shouldn’t forget his bronze statue being removed from Beaver Stadium.
All because somebody – ok, a lot of somebodys – did something wrong. There’s more than enough blame to go around. There’s Sandusky, who abused little boys. There’s Paterno who, seemingly more concerned about his football program than the lives of children, either did nothing or not enough to report Sandusky’s actions. There are administrators at the school, other Penn State coaches – plenty of people who were drawn into this unholy mess.
But there will continue to be fallout from this. I’m not just talking about victims who have yet to come forward – and believe me – there will be more. Sandusky didn’t just wake up one day in 1994 and decide to become a pedophile! What about the young men who were recruited to play football at Penn State. The program that they were promised, no longer exists. What about the programs at the school that depend upon the revenue the football program brings in? $60 million is a lot of money to be used for education. What about Bill O’Brien who became the head coach last November when Paterno was fired? He has to try and keep a program together facing the possibility of team members leaving the program, trying to recruit new players in light of a scandal and without the ability to be able to promise them a national championship. Yes, the effects of this mess will be long coming and long reaching.
All because people made the choice to do something wrong – to do something God tells us not to do.
And this is where we find King David today. This is one heck of a mess he’s gotten himself into. And everything he did was wrong: adultery, lying, manipulation, even murder.
Let’s take a minute to remember what we talked about last week. Often times what we want to do isn’t what God wants us to do. Either it doesn’t fit into God’s timing or his plans. Or what we plan to do isn’t really for God’s glory but our own. And it is that very reason that led to the events in today’s scripture.
Remember, David is riding pretty high on the hog right now. He’s achieving military victory after victory. He believes that God has blessed him and rightly so. But then his ego gets in the way and he really starts to think that he can do no wrong. He sees a woman – a married woman – that he desires sexually and goes about making it happen. His one moment of putting what he wants above what he knows is right changes the course of people’s lives.
It doesn’t take a genius to realize that when God tells us not to do something and we do it anyway, things are probably not going to end well. But instead of coming clean about what we’ve done, we try to clean up the mess ourselves – as if that’s going to go any better. And we find ourselves exactly like David.
So now that David has committed this sin, he has to find a way to cover it up. (And you thought political sex scandals were just a recent phenomenon!) No one can find out! is what David thought. And he began to enlist people to help him do this. Of course, he started out enlisting people to help. After all, he sent someone to bring Bathsheba to him. Surely, this person had some idea of what David had in mind.
After Bathsheba had returned home and discovered she was pregnant and sent word to David, he sent Joab to bring Uriah to him. He tried to manipulate Uriah several different ways to entice him to go home and sleep with his wife, making it seem as if he had fathered the baby. Apparently, people hadn’t begun the practice of trying to decide who the baby looks like, mom or dad, and wouldn’t have noticed if the baby bore no resemblance to Uriah. And finally, when those plans didn’t work, David used Uriah, sending him back to battle with his death sentence in his own hand.
Yes, the choice of one man certainly had vast consequences beyond himself! And it’s easy for us to see that – from the outside looking in. Yet, when we make a boneheaded choice against God’s will, we do the same thing. “What can I do to take care of this?” Or “How can I cover this up?” Or “How can I fix this?” And we seek to enlist the help of people we trust. If I had a dollar for every time I’m approached to help fix a problem that I didn’t create. I’m not talking about counseling someone and helping THEM figure out a solution. I’m talking about people who expect me to solve the problem. “Amy, you need to call so and so because they’re acting really weird. What I’m not telling you is that I’ve really ticked them off so they have a right to act weird around me and I can’t call them myself. But you call them and find out what’s going on.”
When we can’t figure out a way to cover up what we’ve done, we panic – just like David did. He heard those words, “I’m pregnant” and immediately went into “How do I fix this” mode. When we panic, we don’t think rationally. We start coming up with all of these ideas that may seem like they’ll work, but in reality have disaster written all over them. I mean, deciding to essentially murder Uriah after he wouldn’t return home. Does this seem like David was thinking rationally? Or does this seem to be the action of a desperate man? Of course, you know the answer. And yet, we fall into the same trap as David when we panic.
When we’re trying to hide a poor choice that we’ve made, we do everything we think will work to keep our secret. Well, everything except the one that will work which is to admit what we’ve done and accept the consequences of OUR choices. We aren’t thinking rationally and we don’t realize that our actions are probably not going to cover anything up.
Then we find our lives out of control – much like David did. There were two things in this situation that were in David’s control: whether or not he slept with Bathsheba and his ordering Uriah to the front lines of the war. The rest of the events were beyond his control. And when things feel out of control, we do whatever we think we have to get things back under control. In David’s case, it was ordering the assassination of Uriah. The problem is that the more David did to try and get control over the situation back, the more out of control things got. Sure, once Uriah had been assassinated, one problem was solved. But how many more did that act create?
The hope that comes out of this story of King David is God’s promise to give us another chance. If we were to continue reading this story, we discover that the baby that was conceived from David’s & Bathsheba’s adultery died in infancy shortly after he was born. All of that conniving, all of that plotting, that one poor choice made by David in a moment of weakness, didn’t work and continued to have effects months later. It was the death of that child that brought David back to God. And David received mercy and forgiveness and was given another chance. We later learn that David and Bathsheba conceived another child – Solomon who was considered the wisest king to have ruled.
God wants the best for us but he also wants us to listen to him. Like most parents, he has good reasons for telling us what to do – reasons that we don’t always understand. But he gives us the choice to obey or not.
When we think we know better – or at least just as good – as God (There’s that original sin, again) we see just how much we don’t. Like David, we panic and come up with ways to keep our sins hidden. And just like David, we sometimes have to be brought to our knees to be able to bring us to our senses – and bring us back to God. We repent and we try to better next time.
Doing better next time doesn’t mean that we aren’t going to sin and mess up any more. But it does mean that instead of trying to hide it, we confess it and hand it over to God to handle – in his perfect way. He is able to make beauty rise from ashes, to make something good come from something bad. We have to give up our control, trust him and allow him to do what he does so well.
So the choice is yours? What will it be? Amen.