New Year’s Eve December 31, 2023
“Living With Secrets” II Samuel 12:1-13
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Pastor Walter Wangerin, Jr. tells a remarkable story of his childhood in the 1950’s. His father, Walter, Sr., was President of Concordia Junior College in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
One day big Walter saw little Walter flinging rocks at the lights high above the outdoor hockey rink. The light bulbs were six-thousand-watt’s, and very expensive. So when he sees little Walter flinging rocks at those expensive bulbs he had one word for him – “Don’t”.
But little Walter was little. He never, ever, got close to hitting those lights. So he didn’t put much thought to the commandment his dad had spoken. And then it happened. He said that the instant that stone left his hand he knew it was the perfect shot. Oh, no. It hit the bulb and the finest glass came twinkling down from above.
Immediately little Walter aimed a violent finger at his brother and said, “Paul, don’t you ever tell Dad.” He wrote, “Then I pointed at Feller and Randy and Dick and Jimmy Demos: ‘Don’t none of you ever breathe a word of this. Not ever, hear me? Not ever. Swear!’”
Living with secrets will eat you up. You’re always running from the truth. It can bring indigestion and ulcers. A good night’s sleep is a hard thing when you are living a lie and living with a secret. And it always seemed to me that my mom knew when I had a secret. “Look me in the eye and tell me what you just said.” Don’t do it. A mom can look right into your soul.
Walter’s secret was killing him.
And so was David’s. David had a wandering eye. Though married, he saw a beauty called Bathsheba. He desired her and took her, though she too was married. And in his taking she became pregnant. But such a thing needed to remain a secret. He had to cover his tracks. Her husband was a soldier, fighting for the dignity of Israel. David brings him back from the front lines and tells him that he should go home and be with his wife. But Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, insists that it wouldn’t be right. Why should he have that pleasure when those he is fighting with don’t have the same opportunity with their wife?
You see, David needed a person of lesser character. He needed his secret to be kept a secret. So his next plan was to do away with the husband. Send him back to battle, give orders for him to advance against the enemy and tell everyone else to retreat.
David lived with his secret for at least nine months. And it was the most miserable nine months of his life. He tried to run from his secret but it didn’t work. In Psalm 32 he speaks of the inner turmoil, “When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer.” (Verses 3-4)
He had a secret but a man called Nathan found out about it and came and told him that story about a rich guy who had a flock of lambs, but he wouldn’t take even one from his herd to feed his guests, but took his poor neighbor’s only little lamb, which was really a pet, and slaughtered that one for the meal for his guests.
David was furious when he heard what that man did to his neighbor. “That man deserves to die.” But Nathan told David this this story was really about him. His secret had been found out. God had given everything, in abundance, but he took what wasn’t his – Bathsheba – and brought death to her husband.
Hiding secrets doesn’t work. Running away from secrets doesn’t work either. Even if somebody doesn’t find out, like Nathan did with David, we still know. We have a conscience. Our memory can remember such things much too well.
How do you live with a secret? You don’t. In the 1928 Book of Common Prayer, used by those of the Anglican and Episcopal faiths, The Collect for Purity reads, “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love thee, and worthily magnify thy holy Name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
David, who earlier spoke about the inability to run from his secrets says, “Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord’ – and you forgave the guilt of my sin.’” (Psalm 32:5)
Wangerin, in his account of breaking that 6,000-watt light bulb, was in anguish. The supper table, just a few hours after the flinging of that stone, was abysmal. Everyone at the table was talking about the day. But not Walter. He answered questions with short responses. He didn’t feel comfortable being there. He squirmed. That evening his dad went into his room, as little Walter was lying on his bed. He entered and simply said “Wally” (“Ah-vee”) and his boy just burst into tears.
Walter knew that he couldn’t go on like this. He had to come out of hiding. He needed to go to his father and tell him the truth. Early the next morning he entered the Administration Building of Concordia Junior College. The ceilings of that building were high. As he walked down the long hall the click of his heels echoed around him. He came to the door of his dad’s office. In capital letters it read, “W.M. WANGERIN, PRESIDENT.” He knocked. “Come, in”. “Wally, what do you want?” “Do you know those six-thousand-watt light bulbs at the rink?” “Yes?” “Well, that’s what I want to tell you.” And then there was silence. “Yes?”, his dad prompts him. “Well. I broke one.” “Ah”, his father said, “Did you climb a pole and bump it accidently?” “No.” “Ah. What then? What did you do?” “I threw a stone…”
The secret was no more. Confession, though harder than he ever knew it would be, was good for his soul. There was some release by speaking those words. In the New Testament we read, “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16)
Today is the final day of this year. We begin brand new tomorrow. But this newness can’t be just with a different number for a new year, it is new when we live in God’s grace.
When Walter went to his father’s office, and spoke his secret, and confessed his disobedience, he was ready to be punished. He thought he would be spanked. His father left his side of the desk and walked toward Walter. He then knelt by his side and took him in his arms and hugged him. Young Walter began to cry and then he couldn’t stop. In his book, Walter Wangerin Jr. says of this, “Love killed me. I hadn’t expected love. I hadn’t expected the most underserved thing, to be forgiven.”
When Nathan came to David and told him the story about the secret that David was carrying, and how what was in shadows had come into the light, David spoke one direct sentence on how things stood, “I have sinned against the Lord.” (II Samuel 12:13) And Nathan gave a direct word from God about what God would do, “The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not going to die.” (II Samuel 12:13)
We can’t live with secrets. They will destroy us. We will never be able to be whole and complete. There will always be the part of us that is not true and right. But God says that we can live in grace. We can live forgiven and healed. We can start this new year as a person made whole by the blood of Jesus. I’m glad you’ll be at this table this afternoon. Without any exaggeration God assures us, “The blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” (I John 1:7) We are made complete because Jesus knelt by our side and took us in His arms and embraced us in His mercy. It is no secret how deeply God loves us. It is no secret the very cost that He would give to bring us back to His side.
Don’t live with secrets. Live in the grace of Jesus Christ. Live in His light. Happy New Year. Happy New You. Amen!!
(The story from Walter Wangerin, Jr. is found in his book “The Manger Is Empty”, pages 164-171)