Is anyone else as shocked as I am that King David is known as a hero of the faith?  I mean, give me a break.  There’s really no getting around how badly he messed up.

He’s at war.  His eye falls upon the wife of one of his officers.  I imagine he’s something like a major in our world.  David lusts after his wife, he takes her, and he tries to cover it up.

When that fails, he arranges to have the officer murdered.  And he doesn’t seem to care about collateral damage.  A lot of other people die so that his death can seem to be of natural, or at least war related, causes.

It’s hard to think of anything much lower than this.

He marries his widow.  He has a kid.  Life is going swimmingly.  And then God has Nathan call him to task.  It’s a story about a rich man who slaughters his neighbors’ only lamb for a feast, rather than kill one of his own flock.  And David, not recognizing himself, is outraged.

And, though I won’t go into it, frankly this is not an isolated incident.  David messes up repeatedly.

And then I remember that the Catechism in the Prayer Book asks, when we fall into sin, if we will repent, and return to the Lord.

It doesn’t say if we fall into sin.  It says when we fall into sin.  And I remember William Temple, in his commentary on John’s gospel, talking about how all sin is the same.  It happens when we put ourselves, and our own desires, in the center of our universe, in place of God.  So all sin, really, is the same.  (I remember getting in trouble, the first time I preached on David’s sin, by saying that I got into trouble the same way …  By which I meant, by putting myself in the center of my universe.  Which we all do.)

David, when you come down to it, is able to recognize what he has done.  He turns back to God with fasting.  His son dies anyway.  He recognizes what he’s done.  But he moves on with his life.  He moves forward from there.

In the daily office readings for this past week, we read about Judas’ role and Peter’s role in Jesus’ crucifixion.  Neither of them comes off too well.

I have to tell you that I picture them both as well meaning people.  I imagine Judas sees himself in the role of Judas Maccabaeus, who threw out the oppressor from the temple (in a guerrilla action and who’s victory is honored at the feast of Hanukkah).  That’s what the messiah was supposed to do, I think, in his mind.

And earlier in Israel’s history, Jacob’s son, Judas, saved Joseph’s life by selling him into slavery in Egypt, rather than letting his brothers kill him.  He was paid for this.

That’s what I think Judas had in mind.  Saving Jesus’ life, and making him claim the mantle of messiah, and free his people from the oppressor!  All he needed was a push!

When it doesn’t work out that way, Matthew’s gospel has Judas returning his blood money.  This is not what he wanted or expected.

Peter also had good intentions.  He would stick with Jesus through thick and thin.  Except he didn’t.  When push came to shove, in fear of his life, he denied Jesus, not once, but three times.  He was emphatic in his denial!

So both Judas and Peter messed up big time.

The real difference is what they did when they realized what they’d done.  In Matthew’s gospel, Judas hanged himself in despair.  He gave up when he realized what he had done.  Peter, however embarrassed, admitted and confessed to his community what he had done.  And he went on to use this as a motivation to change his life in the future.

So it seems to me that faith is not about whether or not you mess up.  We all do.  We all put ourselves in God’s place, at the center of our lives.

The real question is what we do when we mess up.

Judas couldn’t face what he’d done.  He gave up in despair.

David and Peter, however embarrassed, admitted what they’d done.  And, frankly, David as king could probably have had Nathan killed and hushed up what he’d done.  He didn’t.  Peter’s failure was not public — at least in his community.  He probably wouldn’t have been found out if he hadn’t admitted what he’d done.  But that would have been as bad as Judas.

You see, failure doesn’t have to be the final word for us.  It’s pretty much assumed as part of the human condition.  We all mess up.  We all fall short.

But God is willing to forgive us.

God is not willing to ignore what we’ve done.  We can’t bury our heads in the sand and pretend that we never did it.  We can’t hang ourselves in despair as though there is no way forward.

But if we can admit and face what we’ve done, God will travel with us, and renew us, and bring us to a new place.

Real forgiveness involves really changing our lives.  It involves making such restitution as may be possible.  It involves admitting and changing how we operate.

It’s not magic.

It’s work.

And at the same time, it’s a free grace.  It’s a gift.

I find myself thinking about what a friend in AA said her friends told her about changing her life.  (She kept socializing with the same friends, doing the same things, and it wasn’t working for her.)  They told her you’ve got to find a new playground and make new friends.  If you keep doing the same things, with the same people, you’re probably going to keep doing the same things.

Do something different.

Change the direction of your life.

Look to God, and go where God leads you.

That’s the only way forward.

I say this to you in the Name of God:  Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.  Amen.

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