Even the Powerful Are Accountable
2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12
The story of David and Bathsheba is a powerful reminder to us that we can easily become blind to abuse of power, when people are afraid to challenge us. It seems that everything is permissible to one who has enough money and power. It seems that the “natural” level of our insensitivity might be commensurate with our wealth and social power.
In the episode with David and Bathsheba, David did a fairly good job of breaking all of the 10 Commandments in just 2 Chapters of the book of Second Samuel. He was very efficient. In the passage we read, the prophet Nathan tells a story to David that incites his sense of justice. When David vows retribution for this misdeed he is confronted with the prophet crying out, “You are the man!”
Psalm 51 is a bedrock of the Lenten season. Attributed to David in response and remorse for the shocking abandonment of his ethics and morals, David strives to make peace with his God. The child conceived in the rape of Bathsheba did not survive. Later, the couple was blessed with another son who became the renown King Solomon.
So let us make a couple of observations quickly while we are in this story. Did you notice that the name of Bathsheba was not used in this entire passage? She was never identified as a person. The story and even David’s sense of guilt never included the violation of this woman as a point of interest. The need for the “#MeToo” movement is rooted in neglecting the personhood of women. It is a clear and persistent weakness in our faith heritage. God is still speaking, because the written record is not complete. The Bible was dependent on the collective wisdom of the age and understanding where the stories were rooted. And still today, men of wealth and power lack respect for the personhood of women.
When I hear people demanding a return to what they call “biblical marriage” are they praising the dozens of wives and concubines of King David? I rather doubt that. I suspect that they are also neglecting the sanctity of his intense personal relationship with Jonathon. So often we are happy to settle for nice sounding phrases, without actually determining if they really capture what is meant. My guess is that most Bible Quoters, are not very insightful Bible readers.
I believe it is very important for us to recognize that God does forgive, even outrageous moral failures. David was able to receive forgiveness, and live with blessings, even after this terrific failure. I think it is very hard - even for me - to believe the extent to which God will provide forgiveness.
There is such an expectation in the culture that we christians are at our most comfortable when we are judging and screaming about the sins of others. We are so de-sensitized to our ordinary judgementalism, that we only react when it gets taken to the extreme. We turn our eyes away from our own daily failures. Like David, we need the prophet to step up to us and declare, “You are the man!” or should we say, “You are the human!”
Knowing that I am blind to a great many of my own short comings, I have invited the staff here at Community UCC to let me know how I have been less respectful than I should have been to their ministry to this congregation. With the Sunday worship as the centerpiece, I have tried to work with the staff to share resources, and support each other in the most positive ways possible.
As Pastor Leah Kabira arrives next month, you will have a chance to begin again. What she knows of you will be how you behave and treat her and the others in the congregation while she is present. So let me suggest that you have a little talk with Jesus, and open your heart to hear the truth. Invite God to increase your self-awareness to your own wealth and social power. Look for the ways you are able to dismiss the needs and feelings of some of the people around you, and accept this opportunity to do better.
Many of you will find it necessary to learn new ways of responding to a new pastor, who has different gifts and different sensitivities than the pastors you have known before. You cannot ‘will’ Leah to fit your ideal image of a pastor. You are being called to recognize in her the potential for the ideal expression of her gifts for ministry among you. It requires a shift in your own mind. And trust that Leah’s presence is part of how God is faithful to you and your future.
Who is Pastor Leah, and how has God gifted and prepared her for ministry, and how do God’s blessings in her - best address the needs of this congregation for today and tomorrow? You cannot look to the past for the key to being the best you can be, you must look forward.
So David has sinned, and sinned grievously. Even his act of contrition falls short of the ideal. He cannot see beyond the cultural status of women, and dismisses her full personhood. In all of that mess of imperfection, God forgives and blesses David.
If you read the whole story, David’s life does not suddenly turn into a bed of roses. Illicit sex and violence will plague his family for his remaining days. He will struggle within the family as an imperfect man. And still, God does not abandon David.
God does not demand that you reach perfection before you are loved and blessed. God does not wait to work within the community until everything is ‘just right.’ God goes with us every step.
In our move towards a mature faith and a personal connection with the holy, we are often blind to our own addiction to sin. We have more wealth and social power than we admit, and cast a long shadow where our thoughtless sins survive.
If you would truly be contrite, you would be open to the love of God helping you to be aware of your shortcomings and weaknesses, and try to be better. You can begin to treat those ‘Nathan moments’, when the awareness of your sins hits home, to be counted among the blessings that God gives you. They are opportunities to let God’s love, and God’s eyes, permit you to see yourself and the world, as loaded with the potential for being more closely in tune with God’s justice and love for all.
You and I live a charmed life. We share a perspective that has been nuanced by education and a faith that is not afraid of science and facts. We operate out of our own modest base of wealth and social power. We do not feel like our lives need a prophet to call attention to our short comings.
When you open your heart to the Christ, you will learn to be sufficiently self-aware that those, “You are the human!” moments are true blessings. Those moments are invitations to grow in wisdom and maturity of faith. They are invitations to imagine your life in a better relationship with your neighbor, which is the key to a better relationship with God. “You are the human!” and loved by God.