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"The Mirror of Impeachment"
II Samuel 12:1-7, 11-14
December 6, 1998

For the last ten months a morality drama has played under the hot glare of publicity at the highest levels of our government. On several occasions during that period I have declared that character is a seamless garment which cannot be divided into public and private portions. Other than that, I have tried to avoid President Clinton's scandal. It is a subject so disgusting and so saturated by partisan politics that my instincts told me to stay away from it. But some matters are so fraught with moral and spiritual significance that they must be addressed. This is one of them.

Some of you will be uncomfortable with this sermon. I respect those who may disagree with me. I welcome opportunities to listen to your perceptions, perhaps over a cup of coffee. But I cannot avoid an unpleasant issue just because it is controversial. I believe God has called me to declare the truth as the Bible and the Holy Spirit discloses it to me.

If the pundits are right, President Clinton's scandal is about to be swept under the rug. According to all the polls, the American people are sick of hearing about it. The conventional wisdom is that the general public believes that it's just about sex and lying, and since most people mess around and lie about it, no one should throw stones at the President. Therefore, let's give the President a gentle slap on the wrist, if we must, and then move on. After all, we're at peace and the economy is healthy.

As always, we turn to the Bible as our true rule for faith and ethics. As a guide for us, we have in the second book of Samuel the story of another national leader who got into trouble about sex and his efforts to cover it up. His name was David. This is the true story of a warrior king, a beautiful woman, and a prophet of God.

One spring when David was accustomed to going to war along with his army, he decided to stay home. After all, the enemies they were fighting were minor-league in quality, not really a challenge. One afternoon David got up from a nap and went for a stroll on the rooftop to catch whatever breeze might be blowing. On an adjacent rooftop he saw a beautiful woman taking a bath. Her name was Bathsheba. He felt a surge of lust and sent one of his servants to request her presence. The fact that she was Uriah's wife did not slow him down. He began an affair with her.

Soon thereafter she sent word to him that she was pregnant. Then the cover-up began. First, he sent word to the Army commander to give her husband Uriah a furlough. David figured that if Uriah spent even one night with his wife, then everyone would suppose that the child she was carrying was his. But Uriah was a faithful soldier. It was a custom in those days that if the Army was in battle, the soldiers denied themselves the pleasures of home and bed, out of a sense of solidarity with those in danger. So, Uriah would not sleep at home. David even tried to get him drunk, hoping to wear down his resolve. But Uriah could not be tempted.

David then instituted Plan Two. He sent word to the Army commander to place Uriah in a front-line position, and then to withdraw support from around him. In other words, arrange to have him killed by enemy troops. This plan worked. Uriah was killed. Bathsheba mourned his death for a while. Then David moved her into the palace as one of his wives. She bore him a son.

More than a year passed and nothing happened. Certainly King David thought the matter had been put behind him. Even the gossips around the palace no longer talked about it. Lots of people knew what had happened, but the conventional talk on the street went like this: kings live by a different set of rules than the rest of us. The nation is incredibly strong; the economy is healthy. And after all, it's essentially a matter of sex and a bit of cover-up. Just forget the whole thing, and move on.

But the last verse of chapter 11 is heavy and ominous: "... the thing David had done displeased the Lord." David had broken at least three of God's Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not commit adultery; thou shalt not murder; thou shalt not covet another man's wife. He was about to learn that not even a king can show contempt for God's commandments and get away with it.

God's resident prophet was named Nathan. He had listened to the gossip and had sorted out the truth. He had prayed fervently and listened to God's call. Finally, God sent him to speak to the King. To reprimand the king was dangerous. David could have ordered his execution without even so much as a trial. Nathan did not say to David, "You have sinned, but your sin was not related to your official duties as king; it was related to your private life. Therefore, it does not rise to the level of vital importance in the eyes of God." Neither did Nathan say, "God is going to cut you some slack because the economy is healthy and the nation is the only super-power in the world."

Nathan went to King David and told him a made-up story. A certain rich man had many sheep whereas his neighbor, a poor man, had just one little ewe lamb that he had raised like a pet. He loved it almost as if it were his child.

The rich neighbor had a guest coming for dinner. Instead of slaughtering one of his many sheep for supper, he took his poor neighbor's little ewe lamb and slaughtered it.

King David, believing that this travesty of justice had actually happened, declared, "The man who did this deserves to die!" Then Nathan stuck a bony finger in the King's face and said, "You are the man! You struck down Uriah with the sword and took his wife to be your own."

To David's everlasting credit, he said immediately, "I have sinned against the Lord." There were no excuses, no cover-up, no opinion polls were taken. In Psalm 51, David talked about his sin. He said to God, "Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight."

He did not mean that no one else had been wronged by him. He meant that his offense against the holy and righteous God of the universe, who had established the nation and made him king, was infinitely more grievous than all the bad things he had done to Bathsheba, Uriah, and the people of his kingdom.

Nathan was prepared as God's spokesman to declare four judgments against David. The first was a death sentence. David had committed adultery, and Leviticus 20:10 said that the death penalty was in order. But when David made an immediate and complete confession, Nathan was authorized by the Spirit of God to set aside the death penalty and to allow David to remain as king throughout his life.

Just imagine what would have happened if David had said to Nathan, "I have never had sex with that woman, Bathsheba." Just suppose that for seven months he had sent his associates to all the talk-shows to deny his guilt. Just imagine what would have been God's response.

Despite David's repentance, there were three other judgments for his sin that were carried out. Nathan declared, first, that the sword would not depart from David's house. In the years that followed, three of his sons died violent deaths. One of his sons, Absalom, led a civil war against his father, causing the deaths of thousands.

The second judgment was that lust and violence would afflict David's house. In the years that followed, one of his sons raped his half-sister and was killed by his brother.

The third judgment was the death of the baby of Bathsheba and David.

The bottom line is that even though David was forgiven, his sin had consequences.

In the current impeachment investigation, the evidence and facts lead most reasonable people to one conclusion: Bill Clinton lied under oath about his sexual affair in the Presidential office with a 21-year-old intern. He demeaned the Presidency, violated the law, and lied to the nation.

He broke at least two of the Ten Commandments: you shall not commit adultery, and you shall not bear false witness.

I have prayed for President Clinton almost every day for the last ten months. My deepest wish is that he experience genuine repentance, forgiveness, and salvation, whether that be past, present or future. I do not judge his relationship with God.

His eternal destiny is vastly more important than whether he keeps his present job for another two years.

I also pray for America. In one sense we are as much on trial as is Bill Clinton. Even though the official decisions will be made by Congress, our legislators read the opinion polls and want to be re-elected; so they generally respond to our wishes. Therefore, the matter of impeachment is a mirror held in front of our faces, requiring that we render a verdict on several significant questions. Even as we instruct our legislators concerning the fate of Bill Clinton, we will be answering vital questions about our society:

First, Is Adultery A Major Sin? Or, as some in our secular society believe, should sexual relations between consenting adults be removed from moral scrutiny?

The Bible declares that to commit adultery is not only a violation of one of the Ten Commandments; it is also a terrible personal tragedy. It wrecks spouses and children emotionally. It is not nearly so common as some would like for us to think. In America only 21 percent of men and 11 percent of women have committed adultery at some point in their marriage.

Some Americans believe that sexual sins are not quite as bad as other sins. The Bible disagrees. The Bible declares that sexual sins are at least as bad as other sins, and perhaps even worse. This is what St. Paul writes in First Corinthians 6:18: "Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit...You are not your own. You were bought at a price. Therefore, honor God with your body."

Are we as members of the Body of Christ going to agree with God or with our secular society about the serious nature of adultery?

The second question we must answer about ourselves is this: How Serious Is Lying? If a president knowingly gives false testimony in a court of law and to the American people, will God tolerate it? Should the American people tolerate it?

The ninth commandment--"You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor." - is specifically related to a court of law. God knew there could be no justice if people lied with impunity in a court of law.

The presidency is a position of uniquely high moral authority. The person holding that office can in a national emergency send our sons and daughters into battle. Thus, it is vitally important that we trust our president. Yet, President Clinton with premeditation committed perjury in a federal civil deposition and again before a federal grand jury. Are we willing for that person to continue in the highest position of moral authority in the land? And if the answer is yes, then what does that say about our respect for truth?

Our nation is built uniquely on the balance of power among three co-equal branches of government: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The bedrock principle of the judicial branch is that a person will speak the truth when under oath. If the person sworn to faithfully execute the laws of the land himself lies under oath, and is not held accountable, our system of government is fundamentally weakened.

America is a better country today because President Richard Nixon was forced to resign twenty-four years ago. America sent a clear message that it is intolerable for a president to obstruct justice.

Once again we face the challenge of holding a president accountable. Is America still strong enough to do that?

Some persons will urge us to stop saying judgmental things about the President and instead to extend Christ-like forgiveness. But as Bill Bennett reminds us in his book "The Death of Outrage," Jesus himself judged and exposed those who he found were leading people to disaster as "blind fools" and "a brood of vipers."

St. Paul, whose hymn to love in First Corinthians is awesome in its beauty, chastised that same Corinthian church because it had accepted immorality in its midst. He urged the church to expel a man who was an adulterer.

Jesus and St. Paul loved sinners deeply. But they never tolerated or winked at sin.

Much of what our society calls "forgiveness" is the counterfeit substitute that the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "cheap grace." He wrote that "cheap grace amounts to the justification of sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who departs from sin and from whom sin departs."

Forgiveness is a blessed reality for Christians. All Christians are sinners saved by grace. But the first step toward forgiveness is full and complete repentance. And, even the forgiven person must be held accountable for his acts, as was King David.

Bill Bennett suggests that we Americans have lost our capacity for moral outrage. Too many of us are not appalled. We're just tired of it, perhaps too tired to care. We have forgotten how to be disgusted by disgusting behavior.

We talk about censure because it has no strength. Someone has called censure a "booby prize for bad behavior."

President Clinton has broken two of God's Ten Commandments. He committed adultery in the White House, lied under oath, lied to his family and associates, lied to the nation, and demeaned the presidency. Unless he can present clear and convincing evidence that would exonerate him, he should be forced to resign or be impeached.

The House of Representatives will likely render judgment this month, based on our guidance. But God will have the last word.

God's word says, "Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people." (Prov. 14:34) "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows." (Galatians 6:07)

As we ponder the awesome matter of impeachment, remember, we are gazing into a mirror. We are declaring what we believe about Bill Clinton's standards and also about our own. We have a responsibility as members of the Body of Christ. We must pray for President Clinton and for America. And, we must exercise our own Bible-based consciences and try to exert an influence. Every Christian in America should contact his or her Congressional Representative. For the sake of America's soul, we must stand firm for the highest that we know.

Let us pray:

O God of justice and God of love, bless and guide President Clinton, Congressman Hyde, the House Judiciary Committee, and the entire House of Representatives. Give us wisdom to deal with our President justly and mercifully, in such a way that we keep faith with the moral bedrock of our Judaeo-Christian heritage. May our actions this month pave the way for a greater America in the next century. Amen.

Dr. William R. Bouknight, Senior Pastor
Christ UMC
4488 Poplar Ave.
Memphis, TN 38117

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