October 21, 2018 Sermon

“The King is Indicted”                                                              2 Samuel 11:1-5, 14-15, 26-27; 12:1-9
Rev. Sean Weston
Lyonsville Congregational UCC, Indian Head Park IL
October 21, 2018

If your eye causes you to sin, Jesus said, pluck it out. Better that then to end up on the moral trash heap.[1]

Many people, including me, don’t interpret Jesus’ saying literally. When teaching on adultery, he wants it to be clear that this is serious business. But I can’t help but note that if King David had taken Jesus’ advice he would have avoided committing several serious crimes, crimes which harmed countless others and of course himself. But instead, he saw Bathsheba on the roof and decided he wanted to be with her. He had no right. She didn’t ask to be with him. But she was beautiful and he was the king. Plus, her husband was out in battle. What harm could there be?

Well, a whole lot. As bad acts do, one led to another. It started small. First he was looking when he shouldn’t have. Then he called her to the palace and assaulted her – she didn’t ask for anything. It wasn’t even possible for her to agree to anything: that’s not how it works when it’s a king and a common woman. Then he arranged to have her husband Uriah murdered in battle. Then he took Bathsheba as his own wife. Listen to that work: took. He took her. This story is often talked about with the word sin. And yes, David certainly sinned. But David’s actions here are not the same as me cursing out another driver on the road. Better, I think, to use the word crime. David broke the lives of others. He broke the law.

There is one character whose voice we hear nothing of in this story: Bathsheba. Like many biblical women, her story is told through the eyes of men. She is a background character. She was doing everything she was supposed to do. It was David who was loafing around at home instead of going out in battle. Even David is confronted, the focus is on his crime against Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband. And yes, Uriah was the victim of a grave wrong. But Bathsheba was too, and she was forced to live the rest of her life as one of David’s wives. Her voice is ignored. Instead, over the centuries she has been presented as somehow at fault for what happened to her.[2] The same thing happens today: girls and women get blamed for the choices men make.

Of course, he probably thought he’d get away with it. He was the king, after all. He certainly wouldn’t be the only powerful man to imagine that he could do whatever he wanted. Thousands of years later, President Nixon would famously claim that “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal.” President Clinton tried to evade accountability by arguing about what the word “is” means. President Trump has stated publicly that he hasn’t asked God for forgiveness, asking “Why do I have to repent or ask for forgiveness, if I am not making mistakes?”[3]

The reality is of course is that all of us make mistakes – serious mistakes. The more power people get the easier it is to commit sins and crimes and get away with it. Today there is a whole lot of argument about whether a sitting president can be indicted. Legally, to be indicted means to be charged with a serious crime. But morally, I believe we are indicted by our own actions. The choices we make testify against us, even if nobody else does. In David’s case, his close friend the prophet Nathan, showed him the truth of what he had done and what the punishment would be. Nathan looked to his friend and said “you’ve done wrong. You’ve done serious, serious wrong.”

This isn’t the kind of story that gets wrapped up in a nice clean bow tie. David squeezed a lot of toothpaste out of the tube, it got everywhere, and nothing he could do would make things the way they were. We know today that people like Bathsheba – and there are so, so many, mostly but not all women – are affected in deep and long-lasting ways by the things that happen to them. Too often this story has been made neat and tidy because David realized the error of his ways and was deeply sorry for his actions. But being sorry doesn’t change the past. Being sorry didn’t bring Uriah back from the dead. Being sorry didn’t bring Bathsheba her full personhood. Even after all this, David gets to stay king. Things start going a lot worse for him. But he keeps his power. Yes, God is forgiving, and yes, healing is possible over time. But the damage is deep and wide, and it should never have happened. Hundreds of years later, one of David’s descendants named Jesus knew how serious this stuff was. Better to pluck out your eye, he said. Better that than to cause so much harm.

I can’t help but imagine that Jesus wouldn’t be too welcome in the halls of power today. Prophets – those who speak God’s word no matter the consequences – rarely are. In the Bible there are a lot of prophets. Many of them were part of governments, like Nathan in today’s story. They advised rulers on what God wanted. It could be a pretty good gig.

The story doesn’t tell us how Nathan comes to know what David did. I think God somehow made sure Nathan knew what happened. Nathan knew what he had to do. So he did it. I wish Nathan had recognized what happened to Bathsheba more. I wish he had seen the horrible ways women were treated and protested that too. Even so, he did what few people are willing to do: he went straight to the David and showed him the evil he had done. Plenty of prophets never did anything like this – these were what the Bible calls false prophets. They just told the king what he wanted to hear. And who can blame them? To confront the king could mean losing your job, home, place in the world. You could even lose your life.

It’s not easy to confront the king. And yet it is exactly what God calls people to do every day.

It’s easy perhaps to stand here and condemn David. It’s easy to condemn the people in his time for how they treated women. It’s another thing to look into our own lives, our own world. To admit the things we do that we shouldn’t do. But also to admit the times we see wrong things happening and say nothing, do nothing. The times we choose silence and comfort over what is right. For thousands of years people have been sweeping women like Bathsheba under the rug. In governments, in churches, in workplaces, in schools. Rather than have difficult conversations, face hard truths, make touch changes, we have chosen silence. And the human cost is so high. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil,” wrote Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who was killed by Nazis. “God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”
Or, as the ancient prayer of confession says: “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.”

I believe we are living in a time where God is bringing things to light that have been hidden in the darkness. “For nothing is hidden,” Jesus said, “that will not be disclosed, nor is anything secret that will not become known and come to light.” From Anita Hill to Monica Lewinsky to Christine Blasey Ford, and countless more, stories that used to be buried are now being told. We can no longer pretend that everything is okay because everything is not okay.

Nathan knew that when God showed him what David did, he had to take action. He could have ignored it, and hoped it would go away. He could have pretended he didn’t know anything. But he spoke up.

May we, too, be a people who pay attention to what God is showing us. Whether at home or school or work, whether at city hall or the U.S. Senate. Sometimes God will show us when we have erred. Will we ignore what we see, or seek to make it right? Sometimes God will show us where others have done wrong. Will we ignore what we see, or seek to make it right? The price of silence is always higher in the end. Always. Plenty of other people knew what David did and said nothing. If they had, lives may have been saved.

When God shows us hard things, let us not turn away. Let us instead respond with a brave, honest faith. Even when it is hard. For this is the path to life God offers, for ourselves, for others, for our world.

Amen.

 

[1] Matthew 5:29

[2] https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3813

[3] https://www.christianpost.com/news/trump-why-do-i-have-to-repent-or-ask-for-forgiveness-if-i-am-not-making-mistakes-video-141856/

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