Three Part Sermon Series on the Story of David and Bathsheba,  2 Samuel 11-12:25; 1 Kings 1-2

Part 1:  King David in the Palace   Part 2:  Nathan’s Story    Part 3: What about Bathsheba?

August 5, 2018   “ Part 1- King David in the Palace”  by Rev. June Fothergill

Scripture:  2 Samuel 11: 1-15

Wow.  Can we be outraged?!  David, the hero of our Sunday School bible stories; that boy who trusted God and defeated the giant Goliath; David, the warrior who united the people and defeated the Philistine threat ; David, the one who God chose when he saw his heart as a young shepherd boy.  David, who mourned even those who had been his enemies, who loved Jonathan, who honored the anointed nature of King Saul, who was kind to Saul’s crippled grandson, who already had at least 4 wives and  6 sons.   David who has been given so much- God’s favor,  wives, children, a kingdom, adoring followers, faithful generals and fighting men, a beautiful house in his own town Jerusalem.  David, the greatest leader and beloved king.

Yet, sitting in that beautiful house or palace, no longer out on the battlefield, David changed.  The David we see in this passage is a transformed person.  He is King now.  And being king means he can take what he wants!  Samuel long ago warned the people that the office of king would bring  oppression. That kings take what they want ( 1 Sam. 8:11-17).

Biblical scholar,  Walter Brueggeman  points out that David just acts. He takes no time to consider, to ponder.  He sees the beautiful woman and wants her.   He asks who she is. And even when he discovers that she is the wife of one of his most loyal fighting men, likely a man who had been with him from the beginning of the journey to become king; a man whose house was next to his own;  a man who even now was out fighting David’s battles.  David doesn’t stop.  He wants and he had the power to take and he does.   There is no hint of conversation or affection or tenderness.   He gets her, he lays with her,  and sends her home.  He is the king.   Bathsheba says nothing.

But then, we hear the last verb of the sequence-  she conceived. And we hear her voice for the first time. She sends word to David simply saying, “ I’m pregnant”.   Whoops.   His kingly power and control are shattered by such a simple reality.   He knows it is his ( for she had been purifying herself after her period) .   What will he do?  Well, he is the king after all.  He will find a way to cover up  this reality.  He calls Uriah the husband back from the battlefield for some r and r with his beautiful wife!  That’s the ticket.   Ah, but in Uriah he runs into someone who in contrast to himself, is still seeped in the sense of duty and honor to his fellow soldiers.  David tries to get him to go down to his home. But Uriah refuses to do so!  Even when he’s drunk!  David is king. But he can’t control biology, he can’t control steadfast, honorable Uriah!

But he can count on Joab, he trusted general.  He is still the king.  He holds the lives of his subjects, especially his fighting men in his hands.  So, he sends Uriah back to Joab with the note that will see that  Uriah is killed.  Wow!

What do we do with this story?  It’s a terrible story.   Walter Breuggeman puts it this way,  “This narrative tells us more than we want to know about David and more than we can bear to understand about ourselves.  “  (p. 272, 1 & 2 Samuel, Interpretation Commentary)   It is an intrusion of a sin into the life of David ( and Israel) that cuts so sharply that it rivals in power the ‘original’ act of Adam and Eve.

1.  David is a fallen hero.     It is unnerving when someone who had such a close relationship with God, who relied on God for most every decision on the battlefield, who  had so much charisma could become so controlling and ruthless.    We are shocked and disappointed when people we admire fall.    With all the disclosures about misconduct among folks in the news, it’s not hard to think of someone we admired who has miss used their power in some way.   I have had several of those in my own life.  At one time I had to deal with the fact that three people I had admired:  a former mentor, a Clinical Pastoral Care supervisor and a beloved  conference pastor  all proved to be  involved in sexual misconduct with others.  I was shocked, grieved, betrayed, and distrustful of my own perceptions, for I  had had no clue.   The truth is that when this happens in our lives we have to grieve: to grieve the loss of our own innocence, the harm to others and ourselves, and the brokenness of the abuser.  And also as in the story of David, we all have to deal with the consequences of the harm done.    We can bring all this brokenness to God  for healing and hope.  We can also let God lead us to changes in our community and institutions that take into account this human failing.

Israel had hoped for a great, just ruler in David.  Surely this one could do it right, he was God’s  beloved!    The wisdom of ancient Israel was that none of us can do it right.  They looked clear eyed at the corrupting influence of power and control on human behavior.  They told this story about their most beloved king to remind us all that only God can truly rule with justice and truth.   We human beings are wonderful, beloved  creatures with  many gifts but dealing well with power is often not one of them.

This is why the prophet Samuel warned them about having a king. This is why God gave to the people the torah, the law and the prophets to help keep a balance of power and influence in their community.   This is why we today have things like a free press, a balance of federal powers, religious freedom and safe sanctuary policies to help us deal with and prevent some possible corruptions of power.  This is why movements which  tell the stories of hurt and help people find new life and healing are important.  This is why helping people name the sin of abuse, repent and find new ways to live are important.   God sent to us Jesus, to walk with us and show us a better more loving way.  Jesus was willing to suffer and die at the hands of oppressive rulers for the sake of all of us rather than misuse his power.   Jesus, whose death and resurrection reminds us that  God offers us all salvation and new life!  Why all of us?

Well because King David is us.   We too can succumb to temptation and misuse of power.  We too can get wrapped up in the delusions of sin.    David’s story invites us to realize that we are all human beings in need of the grace of God.  Even the best of us can get trapped in the self delusions of power and control.  How does this happen?    We convince ourselves that we have the “ right”  to control and manipulate others for our own agendas.  Whenever we start to look at the persons around us as objects to control- for whatever reason-we are beginning down David’s path of destruction.    Whenever we  choose to act out of our selfish nature rather than  our compassion for another we start down a path of harm to self and others.

I remember one woman in the first church I served who told me  about some of her struggles with infertility.   Being a young pastor, I neglected to guard this confidence and told some others folks about this women’s struggle.     This gossip was an abuse of my power and influence as a pastor. She had trusted me and my gossip hurt our relationship.

When we come to this communion table, we come as persons in need of God’s forgiving grace.  Few of us are kings with power like David, but we have experienced falling short of the glory of God.  Most of us can think of times we acted with selfishness and disregard for others.    We know that we live in a culture that tends to put down some people and elevate others in ways that are hurtful to all.  Some of us are dealing with the harmful effects of such abuse in our lives and families or society.  We bring to this communion table our human mess.   So, we

come remembering that we have a powerful, loving Savior in Jesus the Christ. One who knows our very messiness!  And who was willing to go to the cross for our sake- to take away the sins of the whole world.

We come remembering that God did not abandon King David.  David was still his beloved.    This imperfect king was still the king that reminded Israel of God’s love for them.  And after the tragic death of the child of his abuse of power, David gets up and starts anew.  He makes a different choice in how he treats Bathsheba- In 12:24 the story tells us- “ Then David consoled his wife Bathsheba”   Next week we will look at what helped him make this different choice. Today we see that each day we can make such choices of compassion too.

For we come to this communion table because we trust  God will bring to each of us the new resurrected life- a life where we can each moment, each day choose anew  to act with the compassion and love Christ gives us now and forever.

August 12, 2018  Part 2-  Nathan’s  Story by Rev. June Fothergill

Scripture: 2 Samuel 11:27b-12:15 ( 16-25)

I want to add the verses from Chapter 11 in 2 Samuel to remind us of what had happened to King David.  He has become manipulative and cruel, sending his long time loyal soldier, Uriah the Hittite to his death because he wants to cover up  his adultery with Uriah’s wife.   But we see this change most chillingly in David’s response to the news of not only Uriah’s death but others because of this ploy.  He says to the messenger, “  Do not let this matter trouble you or be evil in your eyes, for the sword devours now one and now another.”     Then as soon as the wife of Uriah has finished her period of mourning her husband, he sent and brought her to his house and she became his wife.  There is no sense of concern for her, just for his own reputation.   David has justified his own behavior.  He assumed that no one  would notice.   But in verse 27 we hear something different from God.  “  But the thing that David had done displeased God or was evil in God’s eyes.  “

But what was the remedy?  God had a resource in the human court of Israel’s kings.  The king’s court included a prophet.  This was an institution of Israel, for there to be someone in the court whose job it was to speak truth from God.  This was David’s saving grace!

So, Nathan the prophet enters the story. This is his second appearance.   The first was in a similar setting in Chapter 7 when the king was settled in his house in Jerusalem and gets the idea that now he would build a temple for the ark of God.    Court prophets can get caught up in the enthusiasm and energy of the king and court like anyone else.  Nathan at first tells David- go for it, God is with you. But then Nathan learns more what it means to be a prophet. God tells him in the night a different message for David- Don’t you build me a house but I will establish your kingdom and your house and you son will build me a house.  So Nathan has to tell David, in the midst of good news about his legacy, that he will have to wait- no temple building for him. Surely that was not an easy message to tell the King but now!

So, Nathan had to be brave!   There is no reason to assume that his prophetic word to David about Uriah and Bathsheba would be at all welcomed!  His very life might have been at risk.  But Nathan had also learned to be wise.   How does Nathan tell David that his actions have been evil, despite his own self justifications?  He doesn’t come in all self righteous, words blazing. Instead he tells a story.  He tells a story that will remind David of his own sense of justice and injustice, he own compassion- the spirit of God in his heart.  Nathan and God’s purpose in this seems not to be so much punishment, although there are tragic consequences but a changed heart.    The story involved David in his best self and opened his heart to the change God offered him.

You just heard the famous story.  David had been a poor shepherd so he knew the importance sheep can have in a family.  He sees right away the injustice of the rich and powerful man abusing his power by taking the poor man’s lamb. All Nathan has to do is to have the courage to say to David- “ You are the man.”

Then David hears his own indictment.   God had given him so much- yet he had to take what was Uriah’s his wife and his life!  Nathan tells David that this act of abuse of power will lead to troubles for his whole family and the death of his child.   David’s response is simply, “ I have sinned against the Lord.” David no longer tries to justify himself and his actions.  He humbles himself before God.  And Nathan pronounces God’s forgiveness and that David will not die but his child will.   Then the child grows ill and David goes into a time of fasting and prayer for the health of the child.  He cannot be consoled.

David’s whole focus has changed.  Now he is concerned for the welfare of his child and eventually he even Bathsheba.  Nathan’s story and truth telling awoke David once again to his relationship with God.   In the rest of the story of David is a more humble presence.   His reign is not smooth sailing.  He does have family difficulties and loses two more of his sons, but he also shows kindness and forgiveness to others.   He is not quite the same arrogant King who just took what he wanted.

This story has many implications for our lives.

It seems to me that we need Nathans in our own lives.   We need people around us who can speak the truth but also do so in a way that invites us to be our best selves, to grow the  love and compassion  and sense of justice we have.   I think also that sometimes we are called to prophet work like Nathan’s. Sometimes God wants you and I to speak truth to power.   In that case Nathan provides us with an interesting model.       It invites us to reflect upon the purpose and role of the prophet.

First of all Nathan had a relationship with David.  Nathan is not outside the palace shouting on the doorstep.  He has built trust.   We can speak truth to power most effectively when we are willing to develop relationships with the people we want to influence.  For example a politician is more apt to listen to someone who goes to their town meetings and interacts courteously with them.  I know from experience that leaders in the local community want to hear from their constituents.  Rally and protests can have their place but taking the time to get to know people and treat them as people makes dialog possible.

I know in my own life, I need Nathan type folks who will hang in there with me and speak truth to my power.    I think of my two colleagues in the work for inter cultural competence in our Annual Conference. They are two older women, one black and one Klamath who are not afraid to say to me- it’s time for you to back down and listen.  They do it because they care about me and our work together.   I am learning to trust and value their prophetic role in my life.

Secondly,   Nathan chose to tell David a story that assumed and brought forth David’s sense of justice and compassion.    Nathan’s model of speaking truth to power is to find ways to reach the best in people.   One effective way to do this is through storytelling and the arts.   Jesus used this too: stories, parables and in our day photos, videos.  These are powerful ways that we touch each other’s hearts and appeal to  each other’s sense of justice and compassion.

I think of the Photo journalism of people like UMC missionary Paul Jeffery who has taken pictures of the church at work  in the midst of suffering people all over the world, pictures that remind us of our common humanity.  I think of the stories I heard   in Wilder Idaho about the experiences of poverty of the older women in the English Speaking church and realizing that they actually had much in common with the experiences of poverty of the younger Spanish speaking mothers.   Nathan’s story touched David because he recognized its truth. When Nathan said, “  You are the man.”   David knew.

Thirdly,   for Nathan the purpose of speaking truth to power was not to promote himself or his own agendas, it was to help David’s heart come back to God.  It is to help the community or the leaders or the king find their way back to right relationship with God’s purposes of love and justice, compassion and peace.   This is what happened in David’ case.

Walter Brueggeman points out that David had a choice.  He could have simply ignored Nathan or even had him killed for his word.  But David does not.  David chooses to repent.  He submits his life once more to God.   Here David is a model for all of us and of course all the kings of Israel for how to respond to the prophetic word.     He admits his wrong doing and turns again to God.   And Nathan assures him of God’s forgiveness and the sentence that he himself had declared- death will not be his.   God is gracious and willing to forgive a penitent heart.  This is good news.    When we use Nathan’s model of speaking truth to power, we remember that our purpose is repentance or  turning that will help bring God’s will and kingdom.   Repentance restores our relationship with God.

In David’s case this restored relationship did not take away the sting of sins consequences but it helped him to cope with the tragedy of his son’s illness and death.  When David learns that his baby will die.  He does not give up.  He spends time with God in fasting prayer for the sake of us tiny innocent son.  His restored relationship with God gives him a way to deal with his son’s illness and possible death.  And when his son dies, he knows he has done what he could and is ready to move on with his life.  He then chooses to go to Bathsheba and console her and make another baby with her.  He could have chosen to ignore her, to even desert her.  But instead, with his new softened heart and relationship with God, he renews a relationship with her which includes at least a bit of tenderness.

Finally,  Nathan’s model of speaking truth to power means being courageous about the truth.  Nathan knew the consequences of David’s abuse of power were servere, yet he bravely told David the truth.   It is hard to say things that others don’t want to hear. It is hard to be the bearer of “ bad news.”  Yet,  Nathan as a faithful bearer of God’s word to David, also had opportunity to share the word of grace as well.  He spoke to David of  God’s forgiveness and when  David and Bathsheba’s second son Solomon is born he sends word that that is little one’s name is also Jedidiah- God’s beloved.

So, Nathan’ story is about  being a prophet, speaking truth to power in a way that will touch and change human hearts, that will help bring about the repentance that can restore  our relationships with God and bring hope and healing to our world. Repentance does not mean that the consequences of sin all disappear but that with a renewed relationship with God we have spiritual resources to  deal with them.  We can make new choices based upon God’s ways not the world or kingly ways.    Having the courage to speak truth to power after the model of Nathan,  is one way we can help the world change toward God’s kingdom of love and justice.  For, this is this movement of  God that Jesus shows us and invites us to join when he preached, Repent, the Kingdom of God is at hand.   As the old shaker hymn puts,  “ Till by turning, turning we come round right.”

Sermon  August 19, 2018  “Part 3: What about Bathsheba”  by Rev. June Fothergill

Scripture: 1 Kings 1: 11-31

Not so long ago, I was telling my Mother that I was doing a sermon series about King David and Bathsheba.  Her first response was “  Oh, the one about David and Bathsheba falling in love.”    Her response reminded me of how we often see the Biblical stories through different lens, whether a film we saw or how the Sunday school teacher told the story.    Yet, as we have been saying the last two weeks this story of David and Bathsheba is not about romance but about power- mostly David’s powerful position and his misuse of it.  So, where does Bathsheba fit in all this?   In the era the #me too movement surely it is worth our time to look at Bathsheba.

Of course the first thing we find out about her is through David’s eyes- she is bathing and she is very beautiful.  She was espied by a powerful king walking around on his roof looking out over his subjects’ homes and backyards below him.    In other words, she has no say or likely even awareness of David’s actions.  He had violated her privacy from his roof top perch.  What matters is that she is titillating to David.  In our modern terms she is a sex object not a person.

What does it do to people when we objectify them? What does it do to us when we see people as objects?  We know that the experience of being objectified erodes people’s sense of worth and dignity.  They experience discrimination because others have defined them by stereotypes.  Such day to day stresses take a toll on people’s lives and health. There is growing evidence that the reason many more African American women experience health difficulties in pregnancy and birth is due to the stress of all the little indignities or micro aggressions they experience because of the color of their skin that all Afro American women share no matter what their status in life.   If people are treated as objects based upon their appearance, it harms them.

And what about when we do it to others?  I would agree with Jesus that it harms us as well.  He pointed out in Matthew 5:28-29  “ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  If your right eye causes you to sin tear it out and throw it away ; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.”   Whew,  I think maybe Jesus thought objectifying women to be pretty serious!    In other words, seeing people are objects for our own agendas and needs is not good for our souls!

One reason for this we see in what David does to Bathsheba.  David inquired about her and discovered who she is.   For a brief moment, she is no longer an object of his lustful eye. She has a name and a family.  David has an opportunity to see her in a new light.  She is the daughter of one of his mighty men and the wife of another. Even if he doesn’t want to honor her personhood by herself, maybe at least he can honor her family connections!   And his friendship with them.     Sometimes finding out more about someone can help us move beyond objectifying them.   This small window into Bathsheba’s personhood intrigues us.  Unlike many women in the Bible she has a name, although we only know her visa vi  her relationships with the men in her life.   Even so with her name and her family we are starting to see her as a person.

But David does not.  As we know he decides to follow his own sense of lust and power as king.  You know the story.  He takes her and has his way with her.  What I notice is that  during the rest of  this part of the story Bathsheba is not named by her name.  She is called “the woman” or the  “wife of Uriah”.   The narrative and the king have deprived her of her name and personhood.

Although she has lost her name in the story,  we discover things about her.   We learn that she had been bathing to purify herself after her menstrual period.  In other words, she sought to be faithful to the laws of the Torah in her lifestyle by obeying Leviticus 15  ideas about the need for purification.   And this faithfulness lets us all know that when she conceives, the baby is David’s.   We see her courage when she decides to assert her little bit of power by sending a message to David saying simply, “ I am pregnant.”

We also note that when she mourns her husband’s death, she didn’t just go through the form of grieving but actually cried out in lamentation.  We get a little glimpse into her pathos.  She is a grieving widow about to have a baby, what will become of her?   In vs. 27 we find the answer. David takes her to him as his wife and she has his son.   Yet, her suffering is not over.  We discover that their baby becomes quite ill and will not recover. This part of the story is told only from David’s point of view.  We are left to imagine that she must be experiencing.     It is only after her baby dies and David goes to console her do we hear her name again,  “  then David consoled his wife Bathsheba.”

Does it matter if we are called by name?   This part of  Bathsheba’s story reminds me of the many unnamed women and men in history whose day to day decisions and struggles are rarely recorded or acknowledged but who touch lives and influence others.  Despite the powerful forces that would erase her, Bathsheba chose to do what she had the power to do.   David held all the political, social and narrative power. This was his story!  David would do what David would do, but despite itself, the narrative gives us these few glimpses of Bathsheba and her concerns.  She showed that she cared about  her faith, herself, Uriah and her child.

I think that most of us feel powerless sometimes.  Few of us here have a lot of social and political or economic power.  There are many things over which we have no influence.   Yet, what we do matters.  Like Bathsheba we can still do what we have the power to do. We can speak the truth of our experience.    We can express our sorrows and joys.  We can take care of our families and others.  We can be faithful to our God.

I have been looking and looking for the names of those first 16 peopled who started this congregation.  I cannot find any names from 1868 and only a few from 1877.  Yet, although unnamed and remembered, their lives made a difference.   We are here today as a congregation because they chose 150 years ago to form a church and ask for a pastor.   For awhile in the story Bathsheba’s name was lost, but she still mattered.  Our names may not make the history books but what we do with our lives matters!

Finally, Bathsheba receives her name back and also she has another baby- Solomon.  This baby will live and  even the prophet Nathan says that this child is beloved of God.   With the birth of Solomon the stage is set for another chapter of Bathsheba’s life.  We don’t hear about her again until 1 Kings.   Now she is Bathsheba, Solomon’s mother.  Her role is still important because of the men in her life, but she keeps her name!  She is now working with the prophet Nathan to secure the future for her and her son.  They believe that Solomon should be David’s heir.  They influence the failing king David to secure this position for  Solomon over against his rival and the logical next in line David’s  son Adonijah.  Adonijah makes the mistake of assuming the waning power of his father and taking the throne for himself without consulting David.  Nathan and Bathsheba take advantage of this to talk David into naming Solomon as successor.   Which he does.

Notice the difference in Bathsheba.  She doesn’t need to send messages or get permission.  She bows humbly before the king but she also speaks directly to him.   She’s been recruited and given what to say by Nathan but she gives her own speech.  Between Nathan and her, they secure the kingship for Solomon.   Later in on 1 Kings 2 after David has died and Solomon is on the throne Bathsheba is shown in the role of Queen Mother, receiving requests from others to take to Solomon.  In the mishnah and other Jewish reflections on these texts Bathsheba is seen as a counselor and teacher of her son Solomon, and the source of some of the Proverbs.

At the beginning of this story Bathsheba is harmed by the abuse of power and lust of King David. She was we might call today “ power raped” forced by someone more powerful than herself to have sex, she personhood was diminished and her reputation and life put in jeopardy.   She experienced great losses of husband and son. Yet, God did not forget her.  She becomes the Queen Mother and sees her son become the King.   Once again in the  biblical narrative the powerless and vulnerable  are redeemed.  There is a measure of justice for Bathsheba and her son Solomon.   And she has a connection to all who follow Christ for in Matthew’s geneology of Jesus she is there= the wife of Uriah the Mother of Solomon, David’s son.    Her story of  suffering and redemption touches us still.

In her bog Dalaina May shares how  Bathsheba’s story inspires her,” As a woman living in a world that still want me living  a secondary role to men, I am inspired by Bathsheba. She faced tragedy that I cannot even comprehend: rape, the murder of her husband, the stillbirth of her child, and the loss of her home and family for the sake of a man’s lust.  Yet, she was hardly a victim of her circumstances.  Bathsheba embodied the strength of passive resistance that honored her God and changed her world.  From her I have learned that God is never limited by the boundaries that society or the church places on its daughters. Even thought the stories of powerful women often go unnoticed, God used women to usher in his kingdom throughout scripture. God still does..”   ( “ What You Need to Know about Bathsheba”, Dalaina May  juniaproject.com April 29, 2015)

It turns out that the story of Bathsheba is a love story, just not the one we might have thought.  It is God’s love story:  the love story of a woman who sought to live faithfully in the midst of terrible losses and found a future for herself and her family; the love story of each of us learning to claim our personhood and worth in the midst of a world that would objectify us;   the love story of God for this world and in particular for the most vulnerable and easily hurt among us.  God’s love story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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