If you’ve been dipping into church this summer in between weekends away and other commitments, you’ve heard me preaching a lot out of the OT books of Samuel, which recount the stories of the early kings of Israel: Saul, David and Solomon. And even if you think the Bible is often boring and sometimes incomprehensible, you probably know about David the shepherd boy and Goliath the giant; about David the young king who restores the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem; and about David and Bathsheba.
But since most of you are Episcopalians and it’s not the custom to bring your bibles with you to church (although I trust you all have the Bible Gateway app on your smart phone!), let’s check what you remember about this story of lust, sex and murder.
Do you remember that Bathsheba tempted David into sin by exposing herself to his view? That she wanted to entrap the handsome, powerful young ruler? That she knew exactly what she was doing? If so, you may have had your memory shaped more by Hollywood than the Scripture. For centuries, this portrayal has crept into art, novels and movies with Bathsheba as the beautiful temptress and David the man who could hardly resist her charms. Serious scholars of the Bible have offered similar theories and interpretations.
But if you pay close attention to the Bible you will find that the blame for this tragedy of rape, murder and the consequences lands squarely on David. He is the man who “took” the only wife of Uriah, used her and then planned to abandon her until he discovered that she was pregnant with his child.
Or maybe you remember that this was just one slip, one mistake that David made and when he discovered her pregnancy he tried to make it right by calling her soldier husband home so that the child would have legitimacy through their marital relations. Or that David was so very sorry for what he’d done that he married Bathsheba and gave her a wonderful life and that her son Solomon would become a great King and build the Temple. After all the good he did and his beautiful faith in God, this very human sin was an opportunity for repentance and a renewed experience of his worship of God.
But, if you read the account, you know that David never had any plan to care for Bathsheba and that in fact, he effectively murdered her husband Uriah, an honest and honorable man, and destroyed the life she had known. His sense of entitlement, his abuse of power, his selfish grasp of only what he wants ruins Bathsheba and puts the nation and the royal succession at risk.
Be careful with the Scripture. When it is used to justify a point we want to make without considering the integrity of the text and the relationship of the Holy One to humanity, it can bite back. We can find ourselves convicted of the very things we have accused others of.
David’s is a story of an extraordinarily gifted and successful man who puts his own needs and interests above everything and everyone else. He and his innocent victims suffer terrible consequences and the nation is put at risk because of the immorality and failure of its King.
To quote from Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun.”
We are at an incredibly sensitive and tender time in our relationships with one another at work, in public, in our leadership, in the church and in our daily lives. Every day brings a new revelation of the equivalent of “You are the man!” as those who have engaged in abuse, harassment and even rape are accused and exposed. Many who have been victims are terrified of what it will mean to tell their stories. They have too often been scapegoated by being accused of encouraging or acquiescing to behaviors that left them damaged and shamed. Too often the Davids of our day have been excused or protected and their abuse has been downplayed.
The consequences continue to play out in our families, institutions and communal life. And, in our church. For the first time in my over 30 years of ministry, we have begun to speak aloud what has only been whispered. Abuses that have been kept confidential, effectively protecting the perpetrator, are beginning to come to light. Structures that have privileged the influential, the male, the ordained are being examined for how they reinforce patterns of abuse, discrimination and harassment.
It’s a tender and terrifying time for those who have been abused or discriminated against. It is a nerve-racking time for those who are examining their conscience and behavior to discover or admit for the first time they ways they have wounded others. And it’s a risk to the survival of a shrinking church to deal directly with what has been kept quiet or covered up.
And yet, we are the People of the Book. It should not surprise us that even those who have found favor with God can sin mightily. We should not be afraid to tell the unvarnished truth. After all, the Bible is extraordinarily honest about David’s failures even as it records his great gifts and heroic deeds. There will be more stories of abuse and those who tell them will need to have companions and advocates standing with them. But true healing will only be complete when there is honest admission of guilt.
It may be even harder for the perpetrators of sexual abuse and harassment, and systemic discrimination against women to examine and discover their sin honestly admit their wrongdoing. There are consequences.
But we are also Jesus people and that very fact gives us deep resources of strength and grace to honestly face our sin and its very real consequences. We follow the one who refused earthly acclaim and power in order to stand with the ones most wounded and marginalized. We eat with the One who can feed thousands with the bread of life and the cup of salvation. When we fall into despair, sorrow and remorse, and fear is threatening to undo us, we hear the words of the one who says “It is I; do not be afraid.”
I confess that I can get overwhelmed by the scope of the difficulties and my own limited resources. As we face the evils of racism, sexism, and abuse of power it’s easy to focus on how little we have. We’re like the disciples who can only rustle up 5 loaves and 2 fish in the face of 5,000 hungry people. It’s easy to get paralyzed when you feel powerless. We aren’t able on our own to solve every problem or heal every ill. We don’t have enough knowledge to solve this or enough money to fix it. Being nice, good people isn’t enough. Holding the right political positions won’t prevent anyone from grave error. Whatever we are or have on our own is just not enough.
But we are not alone. Jesus has called us together and placed us in communities of mercy and justice. God has placed the Spirit in and between us with the power to overturn the forces of evil and sin. None of us is ever alone.
I was reminded of this yesterday when we held the Memorial Service for Bevin, a 34-year-old woman who died in the van she was living in outside St. Luke’s. She had been in the neighborhood for just under 4 years. Her severe epilepsy made her unable to manage on her own although she desperately wanted her independence. She suffered with terrible seizures, memory loss and the indignities of being sick and homeless. The severity and frequency of her seizures led to her death.
But she was not alone. Close to 100 people attended her Memorial Service. An entire community cared for Bevin. There were people from various churches where she ate and got clothes on a regular basis. There were her friends who are part of the unhoused community in Ballard, including the man she lived with in the van and his daughter. Many members of St. Luke’s and Edible Hope volunteers pulled together to provide flowers, photos, food and to help with the service. Business owners and employees from Ballard showed up to honor her with free Starbucks coffee and her favorite candy. There was so much love and care for her by so many different and diverse people.
As Paul writes to the Ephesians, “God, who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.” With God’s help and in community we can care for the most vulnerable. With God’s help and in community we can feed the multitudes. With God’s help and in community we can confess our racism and work together for a more just society. With God’s help and in community we can name abuse and change our behavior.
I am joining with others in our church to develop ways to listen and respond to personal and systemic abuse and discrimination towards women. I am aware that this touches nearly everyone in some way and I want you to know that I am available to listen, to own the ways I have failed you and the church has failed you and to work together in community towards repentance and accountability. It is overwhelming and yet, I am hopeful because we are not alone on this journey. With Jesus in our boat, we will come to our journey’s end.
2 Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14 St.
Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21