The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
July 22, 2018
II Samuel 11:1-15
As many of you have noticed and mentioned, I do have some new glasses. As Maggie told me earlier this year, I needed some glasses that looked a little more hip. For a priest, that’s a stretch. So here I am. New prescription. New glasses. New perspective.
It’s funny, right? The things I’m looking at haven’t changed. It’s my perspective. It’s my new, hip glasses. I’ve heard some of you say that same after cataract surgery. That tree isn’t actually yellow, it’s been green all along. The road at night hasn’t been that dark, it’s just your eyes that couldn’t see it so well. We see the old things in new ways.
It’s a matter of perspective. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve read this story from the Old Testament about King David and Bathsheba. Okay, okay, I got it. King David is chilling out in his capital city of Jerusalem while his men are off at war. Which is our first hint that David isn’t where he should be. He should be with his soldiers. David, maybe a little bored, idle hands and all that, catches a glimpse of Bathsheba and, well, you know what happens next. Bathsheba becomes pregnant. David gets scared, so he tries to cover it up. He tries to set it up so it seems like that child would be Uriah’s, Bathsheba’s husband. That doesn’t work. So David rigs up a battle to get Uriah killed. That does work. A convenient, tidy little cover up.
Honestly, this is a story we know far too well. It’s a story we have heard far too many times. A powerful man exploiting a woman, or a man, to satisfy his own desires. To exert power over an innocent person. And notice, notice when you hear those stories, how many times the story focuses on the man. Maybe how he confesses, how he is a changed man, how he has moved on. It’s like the women who are hurt are an afterthought, or an inconvenience, a sidebar to the story. It’s a way of saying that David was the main character here and that Bathsheba was just a detail, she was just collateral damage.
Well, it’s time for us to get a new pair of glasses, to change our perspective. And though it’s late, and countless women have been hurt, it’s time that we pay attention to Bathsheba. She’s not collateral damage, she’s not a detail, she is the story. It’s time to change our perspective.
Take a closer look. Bathsheba was doing nothing out of the ordinary, she was not trying to seduce anybody. The roof was the place to bathe because it was simply the coolest place to be. And her bath was probably the ritual cleansing that was required of women on a monthly basis. This was a bath that she had to take, dictated by law. David is the one who is just walking around on the roof of the house, not doing anything. Bathsheba is a completely passive character. Notice the blunt words used here. “So David sent messengers to get her.” I do not believe that Bathsheba had a choice. David, using his kingly influence, made her to come to him. We’ve heard this story before. Exploitation followed by cover up. And I think it’s time, it’s time, for justice.
We modern Christians get a little squeamish with the idea of justice and judgment. “The wrath of God” just seems so, uncouth. But I think that for the used, the abused, and the exploited, God’s justice is good news.
Let’s look at this way. You all have seen or heard of an injustice that just made your blood boil. You see something that you know, you know in your bones is repugnant to God. Women being exploited, men who are indifferent, the lies, the cover up, more women getting hurt. I remember watching the trial of that doctor for all the gymnasts. I remember hearing the women, those gymnasts, weeping at what they lost. And my blood was boiling. That, as best as I can describe it, is as close to what I can imagine is the wrath of God. It is God’s anger at injustice and evil. God’s anger that those with power entrap use those without power. That, I think, is when God’s blood boils.
I know, talking about the wrath of God and judgment seems so un-Episcopalian. But we can change our perspective. I think God’s judgment on evil is simply another way of measuring how much God loves the world. God loves the world so much that God refuses to let injustice win. God’s blood would boil at such heinous cruelty and evil. Next week we’ll hear God’s reaction to what David did to Bathsheba and Uriah. It’s jarring in its simplicity - “the thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (II Samuel 11:27). And our hope, is that God’s reaction hasn’t changed to those who continue to exploit their power.
This is what we mean when we talk about the Last Day, when Jesus returns to be our Judge. We’re talking about God restoring the world to its rightful order, about conquering evil once for all. We’re not talking about a judge in a criminal courtroom like in “Law & Order,” sentencing you to prison or punishment. What we’re talking about is an image that is closer to a justice of the peace. Someone who weighs out the claims of the powerless against the powerful. I tell you, God’s judgment, God’s justice, is good news. It’s not good news for David and for the predators of the world. But it’s good news for Bathsheba, and all who have been entrapped like her. The good news for her is that justice will be done.
Imagine Jesus on the cross, his arms outstretched as the scales of justice. The cross means that the world will be made right. The world will be brought back to balance. The cross is a warning to those on top - be careful how you use your power. The cross is a promise to those on the bottom - you have been heard. Some will be brought down and others will be brought up. God’s justice.
And until the Last Day, we cannot keep going on as we are now. There are too many Davids exploiting their power. There are too many Bathshebas crying out for justice. For too long we have fawned over the man in power. We have giggled at the headlines. Or we’ve explained away their indecent and sinful behavior, “boys will be boys,” whether they be doctors, coaches, or politicians. And for too long we have turned away from the abused woman, saying that it must have been her fault. That she’s to blame.
As difficult as this sermon might be to hear, it is difficult to preach. For the story of David and Bathsheba has played out all across the Church. Sadly, tragically, sinfully, this story is also our own. We know the stories of those in power exploiting others for their own desires. Covering up their sins. Threatening those who have been abused. Yes, even the clergy.
And in times like we this, with news reports every day of such sinful stories, in our do-goodedness, we ask ourselves, “how will history judge us?” Huh, I’m not worried about history. I’ll be dead and gone. They can say whatever they want about me. The real question is this - how will God judge us? How will God judge a society that celebrates men who exploit and shame women who are exploited? How will God judge us when we see something, but don’t say something? How will God judge a world that so blatantly disregards the message of the cross?
I also realize that some may think this sermon is ripped from the headlines. Well, it is ripped from the headlines insofar as the story of men exploiting women has always been the headline, but we, men in power, just haven’t paid attention to that story. And it’s time that we, those in power, change our perspective.
For too long we have forgotten that the cross is peering down at us, and that God’s justice will be done. Now or later, it will be done. And so it’s our choice, and the choice is pressing, it will give life or take it away - are we willing to change our perspective and do justice to those who have been on the wrong end of power?
Take off those glasses of yours that are colored by the desires of this world. This is not a political consideration, but a spiritual one. Do not look at the world, at your brothers and sisters, are resources to be exploited; as avenues for gain; as objects of your desire. Rather, see that God has special concern for the oppressed and the victim. Put on the cross of Christ as your glasses. And wherever you look, look at the world as if you are on the cross with Jesus, looking at a world so ignorant of its own evil, so callous to those who have been hurt. Change your perspective, and start looking for justice.