Hallelujah

Oh… David.

Our reading from 2 Samuel this morning is one of the most famous stories from the Bible. It’s famous enough to make it into a Leonard Cohen song that’s been covered time and time again. I won’t ruin your morning by singing it, but you know it. You’ve heard it. “Your faith was strong, but you needed proof; you saw her bathing on the roof; her beauty in the moonlight overthrew ya.”

And because it’s so well-known, a lot of us only know a little bit of it; mostly from the Leonard Cohen song. David and Bathsheba and an affair. Something goes wrong.”She tied you to the kitchen chair; and she broke your throne and cut your hair; and from your lips she drew…”

Ain’t love grand?

But that’s not the story. This isn’t a story about a love affair. This is a story about David screwing up… and covering up the fact that he screwed up. And because it’s one of those stories that’s different in the popular imagination than it is in the Bible, we’re going to spend some time with it. We’re going to dig in.

It’s springtime. It’s the time when kings ride out to war and David has a war planned. His army is going out to fight against the Ammonites and siege the city of Rabbah.

But David stays home. He’s walking around on his roof when he looks over and sees into the courtyard of another house, not too far away. And he sees a beautiful woman bathing; purifying herself. He asks around, “Who is this beautiful woman?”

“Her name is Bathsheba,” they tell him, “she is the daughter of Eliam, she it the wife of Uriah the Hittite, who fights in your army.”

So David… has her sent to him. And they sleep together. And she goes home.

And that’s bad enough, isn’t it? But, oh, it gets worse.

Bathsheba sends word to David that she is pregnant. So David sends for Uriah the Hittite, her husband. He asks some questions about how the war is going. You know, the war that David isn’t at. And then he says, “Hey, Uriah, while you’re here, why don’t you go home and, um, ‘wash your feet’… if you know what I’m sayin’?”

And Uriah… doesn’t. He stays in a camp with the other soldiers and servants who are at the king’s house. Because if his brothers in arms are out in the field killing and dying, and if the Ark of the Covenant is in a tent on the battlefield, he is not going to stay in comfort at his own house.

So David keeps urging him. Day after day, he says to Uriah, “Uriah, go home, wash your feet.” And Uriah keeps not going home. And David knows that he’s never going to go home. He’s never going to wash his feet. And he’s going to find out what David did.

So he changes his strategy. He sends Uriah back to the war. Y’know, the war that David is not at. He has his general send Uriah to the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then pull back the other soldiers, and let Uriah die on the battlefield. So that David can cover up his crime.

And it isn’t in our reading this morning, but it works. Uriah is sent to the worst of the fighting. And he sees his comrades fall back. And he dies in the way. The general sends word to David. And David shrugs his shoulders, “The sword devours now one,” he says, “and now another.”

And when Bathsheba hears about it, she laments. And when her mourning is over, David sends for her again, and marries her, and she bears a son.

And that’s bad enough, isn’t it? But, oh, it gets worse.

You see, David isn’t just some guy — some shepherd soldier — who happed to be king of Israel. He is the bold letters in all caps and a deep voice KING OF ISRAEL. According to legend, he was a fierce warrior and a wise ruler. He was so pious that his prayers could bring things from heaven down to earth. His thoughts were so entirely directed towards God and goodness that the evil inclinations that the rest of us struggle with had no power over him.

And there are centuries of spin, defending King David. There are stories.

They say: In the springtime, when the kings rode out to war, women got letters of divorce from their husbands in case they died in battle. So it’s not like David really committed adultery. Bathsheba wasn’t really married.

They say: Uriah the Hittite disobeyed a direct order from his king, and that was a capital crime. So it’s not like David schemed to have him killed. It was a perfectly legal execution.

They say: David was so righteous that he asked God for a trial — his faith was strong, but he needed proof — and this was a growing experience for him. So it’s not like David fell to sin. It was a lesson.

They say David did nothing wrong.

And that’s bad enough, isn’t it? But, oh, it gets worse.

Because there’s a voice we do not hear. Bathsheba is all but silent. The king sends for her, and sleeps with her, and sends her away. We don’t know how she acted. We don’t know how David acted. But we understand power dynamics. The king sent for her, and he had expectations, and he had all the power.

And, after her husband died in battle, the king sent for her again, and married her. We don’t know how she acted. We don’t know how David acted. We don’t know if she knew what he had done. But we understand power dynamics. The king sent for her, and he had expectations, and he had all the power.

She didn’t tie him to the kitchen chair, or break his throne or cut his hair. And if she drew anything from his lips, it was coerced. At least a little.

And that’s bad enough. But this isn’t just a story about David and Bathsheba.

We know this story. This story has been on the news. We know the names: Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Al Franken, Roy Moore, and so many others. Some of us have lived this story. Some of us have been David. Some of us have been Bathsheba. Some of us have been both. We know that this story plays out in hotels and restaurants and office suites and, yes, even churches across this country.

Misogyny is embedded deeply in our culture. It’s embedded so deeply that someone could hear this story and think that it was about love. It’s not. It’s about lust. It’s about sin.

After all these things happen, God sends the prophet Nathan to David. And Nathan confronts David, and Nathan forces David to confront himself. And David, finally, says, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

Honesty is the beginning of repentance… and David has a lot to be honest about. He has sinned against God. And even though he cannot see it yet, he has sinned against Bathsheba and against Uriah. And it is only once he has been honest… about that… with himself… that he can begin to do better.

And God calls us to the same work.

Believe me when I tell you that I know how much more comfortable it can be to retell and reframe our stories.

It is so much more comfortable to say that in the springtime, when kings rode out to war, women got letters of divorce from their husbands. It is so much more comfortable to say that disobeying the king’s order is a capital offense. It is so much more comfortable to say that it was a test meant to throw us off.

It is so much more comfortable to say that she tied him to the kitchen chair, broke his throne and cut his hair, and from his lips she drew…

It is so much more comfortable to make our sins someone else’s fault. But that means lying to ourselves, to our friends and neighbors, and to God.

To the men in the congregation this morning: misogyny is our sin. To the white people in the congregation: racism and white supremacy are our sins. To the straight people: homophobia is our sin. To the cisgendered people: transphobia is our sin. And I could go on. And we are not solely responsible. But we are responsible.

And if that’s uncomfortable to hear, then know that it is uncomfortable to say and it was uncomfortable to write. Because when I look in the mirror in the morning I, too, am faced with the reality of my position and my power and my privilege. And I know that I have not used those things as I should.

It is my brother and my sister, and my friend and my neighbor, and it is me, O Lord, standing in the need of prayer.

But there is good news: there is grace in that discomfort. Because we are responsible — because we have that position and that power and that privilege — we can do better. We can repent. We can turn to God, and she will make in each of us a clean heart. We can become instruments of love. And there is nothing that can stop us.

And when we do that — when we are honest with ourselves and with God, when we see our failings and turn to Christ, when we accept that God has freed us from the chains of our sins — then we will no longer be cold and broken. And we will be free to erupt in hallelujahs.

Who We Will Be

A couple of years ago, Mariah and I went on vacation to the House on the Rock. If you’ve never been there, I really can’t do it justice. In the 1950s, this guy named Alex Jordan Jr built this crazy museum on Deer Shelter Rock in Wisconsin. There are rooms and gardens and displays, and they’re all incredibly weird.

There’s the Streets of Yesterday, a recreation of an early twentieth century town; the Heritage of the Sea, with a 200 foot model of a sea monster and a bunch of nautical exhibits; a collection of pneumatic orchestras where air hoses make violins and trumpets and drums play themselves; the world’s largest indoor carousel; and room after room of just… stuff.

And I vaguely remembered it from childhood. And it showed up in a novel I read. And so Mariah and I went there. On the last day of the season. And we walked through it… by ourselves.

And here’s the thing. When I was a kid, it was probably an enchanting place. I mean, the world’s largest indoor carousel! But now, well. It’s dusty, and everything’s broken, and there’s carpet on the walls, and almost everything is a model or a replica or something that you could pick up a bunch of at a roadside stand in the 50s. It’s creepy.

And I don’t think that it’s changed that much in the twenty or thirty odd years since I went there as a kid. I suspect that it was always this way. It was always dusty and rundown and, dear God, there has always been carpet on the walls.

But I’ve changed. Some of the magic and easy wonder of childhood has worn away. I see the world through different eyes.
Time changes us. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. And that can be hard to remember. And it can be hard to remember that this is true for everybody.

In today’s reading from 2 Samuel, we see David, in triumphant glory, sitting on the throne of Israel. All of the tribes of Israel — and the elders of the tribes of Israel — are with him. They are making a covenant, and they anoint David to be the king of all Israel. He is thirty years old and he will rule for forty years. And he will become a symbol of Israel. His name will be synonymous with a golden age. Centuries and millennia later, people will long for that kingdom to be restored.

And it’s worth remembering the story. Because David has not always been the king of Israel. He was not born into the royal family; he was not raised to sit on the throne.

David is the youngest son of a shepherd. He was a shepherd and a musician. He became a warrior and a trusted member of King Saul’s court. And when God chose David over Saul, he became a fugitive and a rebel. When he and Saul reconciled, he became the heir to the throne. And now he is here; the king of Israel, becoming greater and greater, because God is with him.

And it’s worth remembering the rest of the story. Because this is not who David will always be. He will sin against God and his neighbor. His favorite son will rebel against him and die. He and his kingdom will pass away.

Time changes everyone. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. Time changes everyone. Even David… even Jesus.
In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus has come home. He has been out in the world preaching and teaching and healing. He has gathered disciples and crowds come to see him. And now he is doing the hardest thing that a preacher can do: he is preaching in the worshipping community that he grew up in.

There are people there who have known him since he was a child. And they’re saying, “This is Jesus, right? Mary’s kid? Remember when he was little? Remember that time he…? Or that time he…? Ha! Who is he to tell us anything?”

But Jesus isn’t who he was, once upon a time. He isn’t a little baby, meek and mild. He isn’t a kid doing all the things that kids do. He is a hidden king, with a throne in heaven, ruling over the whole earth, rebuking the wind and calming the waves, raising people from the dead, bringing the kingdom of God into the world.

So he leaves. He moves on. He gets back to work where his work will be appreciated.

He has gone out. He has come home. He goes out again.

And he calls us to the same work.

Today, we are blessing and commissioning our Jamaica mission trip team. I spoke to one of the members of this team the other day and they told me about their first trip to work with the boys at Sunbeam Children’s Home. They told me how it pulled them out of their comfort zone, how they saw the faith of those boys, and how the trip had rejuvenated their faith.

And I know that person is not alone. I know from experience — I know from watching hundreds of volunteers go through Back Bay Mission, I know from watching friends who have gone on mission trips, I know from my own mission work — that going out to serve changes us. Sometimes those are big changes. Sometimes those are little changes.

Going to serve — whether it’s a flight away or a drive away or a walk away; whether it’s halfway around the world or across the country or down the street — plants a seed in us. And we care for that seed by loving our neighbor. And it grows.

When Jesus leaves his hometown again, he gathers his disciples. He gives them the authority to cast our demons, and heal the sick, and call people to repentance, and deliver the good news. And he sends them out into the world in pairs. And he tells them not to take anything: no staff, no bread, no bag, no money, no extra clothes (but to wear sandals, because protecting your feet is just good advice). They are going to be dependent entirely on the hospitality of the people they meet.

They will go out. They will come back. And, even though the Bible doesn’t say anything about it, they will be changed. They will meet new people. They will experience new things. They will do things that they have never done before.

Time changes everyone. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. Time changes everyone. Even David, even Jesus, 

Time changes everyone. None of us are who we were, once upon a time. And, by the grace of God, we have a choice about how we will spend that time. By the grace of God, we have a choice about who we will be tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, when today is once upon a time. By the grace of God, we have the choice to grow closer to God through service to our neighbor.

Last week, I used a saying that a friend of mine uses all the time: There is no such thing as other people’s children. This morning, I’m going to use a saying that I got from Connie Schultz. Connie is a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist who used to write for the Cleveland Plain Dealer. She’s also the wife of Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown. A few years ago, she spoke at the United Church of Christ’s General Synod, and I heard her say this: Christianity is about serving others and fixing ourselves, not the other way around.

Let me say that again: Christianity is about serving others and fixing ourselves, not the other way around.

And that’s not quite right. We don’t quite fix ourselves. But when we serve others, we open ourselves up and invite God to fix us. Christianity is about being open to God’s healing love… through our service to others… whether those others are the boys at Sunbeam, or kids at the border, or families in DeWitt. That is who we are. That is what we do.

Today, we are blessing and commissioning our Jamaica mission trip team. We are doing that so that we can send them out in love. We are doing that so that they can be changed. We are doing that so that next week they will not be who they are today. And we do that so that we can welcome them home again… so that next week we will not be who we are today.

Time will change us. Service will change us. The Holy Spirit will change us into people who are a little bit closer to the people who God calls us to be.

Hallelujah.

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