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Sermon for the 10th Sunday after Pentecost - July 29 2018

Sermon for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B
July 29, 2018
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

2 Samuel 11:1-5; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

At General Convention, during the first week, the House of Bishops read twelve statements, six from women and six from men, describing ways in which the church let them down because of sexual harassment or abuse.  This was the first time such stories were told in public to a large audience, conveyed by those in authority in the church, and it was an extremely important first step in addressing the structures, systems, habits, and mindsets that have let such problems be hidden, to fester and continue to wound, in the shadows.

Today, we heard one such story read, but we heard it read from the point of view of those with power, not the point of view of the ones without.

These stories are always about power, and the use, misuse, and abuse of power to ensure that power remains in the hands of those who have it, and is never to be shared by those who do not.

I’m about to tell a version the story of Bathsheba, but for most of what follows, there is no scriptural text to back it up.  That’s the silence.  My take might not be yours; it might not be hers; but it is a story we might hear from any number of women today, and there is nothing to say it couldn't have happened in this way.  Fair warning.

So, here we go.

Good morning.  My name is Bathsheba; I’m an old woman now, but I’ve never been given the chance to tell my story in my own words.  Thank you for being willing to listen – I have longed for someone to hear my words since just about forever.

When I was 14, my father married me to a foreigner, a soldier, a Hittite named Uriah.  He was kind to me.  He let me continue in our own religious practices and customs.  He was an important man and fought for the great king, David, of the Israelites.  Every year, when the armies went out to battle, Uriah was among them, often leading the charge. 

But one year, not too long after we were married, when he was at war, I was taking my usual monthly ritual bath, that I mostly did on the roof because it was quiet and private.  Sometimes, I liked to look at the king’s house and wonder what it would be like to be a woman of the court, but I never dreamed I would ever find out.

And I didn’t know the king was at home that day, and not out with his army, and I didn’t know he saw me.

So when my maid came to tell me the king had sent for me, I was astonished, and a little bit excited, and a whole lot nervous. 

He was so handsome.  He spoke softly to me, and invited me to sit down, and then he sat next to me, and my stomach did a little flip, and I began to shake, and then he put a hand on my leg, and I was suddenly so frightened; I didn’t know what to do – he was the king!  I looked around, and all the attendants that had been there, who had brought us fruit and bread and wine, were gone, and I was alone with him.

I didn’t want him touching me, and I tried to move away, but the bench was against the wall, and there was nowhere to go, and then … well, you’ve heard the stories.  He took me, and I got pregnant, and Uriah didn’t come home, and I knew he would know that someone had been with me, and I was so afraid, so very afraid, I had nowhere to turn, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.

And then, I had word that Uriah had died in battle, and my maid told me that David, the king, had told his general to put him in the most dangerous place, and I think the king must have wanted him to die, because as soon as the mourning period was ended, he sent for me again.

And I had to go.  I had nowhere else.  My father could see that I was with child, and he knew Uriah had not been at home at all, not for months, so I think he suspected the king, especially after the king sent for me again, and my father called me names I didn’t even know until he spoke them, ugly names, ugly words, and then … he stopped speaking to me – I never spoke with my father again; my heart broke, and I have never forgiven David for what he did to me, to Uriah, or to my father.

Finally, the baby was born, but he was sickly.  The king went about all gloomy and sad and angry, crying out to God to save the child, and telling me he was sorry about what he’d done, and that God wanted our child … my firstborn … dead. 

And after the child died, which he did so soon, so young, the king got up, washed himself, and went on as if nothing had happened.

I know you heard that he consoled me; he did not.  There was no consolation, no comfort.  I mourned my husband, my father, and now my child, my life, my hope, and even my faith in God – all were lost to me.

And he; he acted like everything was fine now.  I was, he said, his favorite wife, the most beautiful, the most lovely of all seven of us. 

I had wondered what it would be like to be a woman of the court, and I found it was a place of spite and meanness, of jealousy and manipulations, all done behind pretended friendship.  I grew angry, and I saw that the only way to protect myself was to submit to his attentions, and to have as many sons as possible; perhaps one of them would avenge his mother, and in the meantime, they would win his favor for me, and with luck he would not find out how much I hated him.

After my firstborn died, I made him swear that my second son, Solomon, would be king after him.  And when he got old, and his son Adonijah, his eldest surviving son, began to act like he would be king, I went to the king and reminded him of his promise, and, rather to my surprise, he kept it.  But I made sure, after David’s death, that my enemies paid the price of my pain with their lives.

That’s my story.  May the Lord do thus and so to me, if every word I’ve spoken is not the truth.

[Pause]

In the coming weeks, we will hear more about David and the unrest in his house, which led to the deaths of two of his beloved sons, and the despair of his daughter caught between them. 

Stories like these are painful to hear, painful to contemplate, and even more painful to live through.  We’d rather ignore the abuse of power that results in bad choices and broken lives.  We know that Israel and the Hebrew and Jewish people have always considered David to be the great king, and that in Jesus’ time, everyone thought the messiah would come from the house of David – as it is said Jesus did – but the unwelcome fact is, that God was right when telling Samuel that having kings might be a really bad idea.

Do you remember what Samuel warned? 

“He said ‘These will be the ways of the king who will reign over you: he will take your sons and appoint them to his chariots and to be his horsemen, and to run before his chariots; and he will appoint for himself commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and some to plow his ground and to reap his harvest, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots.  He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.  He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his courtiers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers.  He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work.  He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves. And in that day you will cry out because of your king, whom you have chosen for yourselves; but the Lord will not answer you in that day.’”[1]

[Pause]

Jesus’ kingship, though, is completely different.  In his life, we see his notion of authority, not in the misuse or abuse of power, but in its application to address the needs of the powerless. 

In fact, John’s gospel says he ran away when he saw the people wanted to force him to become king.  That’s not what he was about. That’s not what God was asking of him. His purpose – the purpose of the Incarnation – was that we might have life and have it abundantly.

As St Paul said, God’s desire is that we may be strengthened in our inner being – at our deepest self – with power through his Spirit, that Christ might dwell in our hearts, that we might be rooted and grounded in love.

While Jesus walked this earth, this was what he offered.  To everyone.  Let those with ears, hear. 

May we seek the power to comprehend … what is the breadth and length and height and depth; may we know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge – may we be filled with the fullness  of God.

It’s why we are here – not just at Christ Church, but on this earth – it is our purpose, the reason for our being – not to rule others but to pass on what we have learned and absorbed and received – and abundance of grace, an abundance of mercy, an abundance of love, and an abundance of life.

Christ came so we might have life, a life of joy, a life of love, and life of meaning; a life to be shared in relationship with one another; a life to be lived in the glory of the presence of God.

 

 

[1] 1 Samuel 8:11-18.