St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church
The Rev. Carolyn W. Metzler+
1 Samuel 11:1-15; Ps. 14; Eph. 3:14-21; John 6:1-21
There is so much about King David to love! Plucked from the fields to rule when he was a very young man after countless hours of silence, tending sheep. The Bible goes to great pains to tell us it had nothing to do with how handsome he was, and then goes to great pains to tell us how handsome he was! He leaves the fields and wins battles for King Saul. After Saul’s death this tender lad was made king over a people impossible to rule. He made good choices. God was pleased with him. He wrote some of our most beloved psalms. He built a magnificent palace for himself. He had at least seven wives, with slaves and concubines as well. In gratitude to God, he brought the Ark of the Covenant to Israel and offered to build a Temple, a task that went to his son Solomon. He danced for joy before the Lord wearing nothing but his ephod! God made a covenant with David, that David would be faithful all his days and God would bless David’s descendants forever. Nobody in the world had as much power as David. Everybody wanted to be his best friend. He was the envy of every other ruler. It went to his head. He made bad choices. And this story is about a whopper of a bad choice. Let us speak a truth that is not often spoken in Christian churches: This is entirely David’s sin. Bathsheba was wronged. I recently heard a sermon preached in an other denomination on this text where Bathsheba was labeled as a temptress, an adulterer, seducing David. I was furious, and confronted the preacher about it. I gave him a conversation NO preacher wants to have at the door to the church. David was the most powerful person in the world. Bathsheba was just a woman, though she came from a good family and was one of the few woman actually named in the Bible. The power differential was completely stacked against her. Deny her king his pleasure and she could lose her life. People like David are why we need the #MeToo movement. Bathsheba has a story too. It needs to be heard. I for one, want to hear it.
So David, who was used to getting his way, began to manipulate others which gave him what he wanted. And then he forgot about her. He did not give Bathsheba another thought until a message arrived that his pleasure had resulted in a pregnancy. David got scared. He probably knew Uriah, one of his own “mighty warriors.” They probably had fought side by side. Uriah was off in battle, making it clear the child was not his. So David began a conspiracy of attempted deception and coverup worthy of any headline today. As the conspiracy got more complicated due to Uriah’s unwillingness to play along with the charade, David brought more and more people into his scheming to do his dirty work. Finally he realized he just had to get rid of Uriah, making Bathsheba a widow, meaning he could marry her and legitimize the child as his own.
This is not the David of a few chapters ago. This is not the gentle, ruddy faced, clear- eyed boy tending sheep and composing love songs to God. This is a man whose power had gone to his head. He believed himself to be above the law of God and civil society. He had lost his way spiritually, caught up in a complicated web of greed and coverup. He was now hard, calloused. He did not feel anything but his own need. He had lost his moral compass.
We may not go to the lengths that David did, but there is not a person alive who has not betrayed their own heart for some lesser desire of the mind. We use people. We choose more of what we don’t need just because we can. Recently I saw a scarf in a thrift shop. I have about 30 of them. This was lovely. So are the others. Every voice in me told me this was just greed. I bought it anyway. It was a scarf, not a human being. But the root was the same. Also the coverup. I could use it in an altar for a retreat! That made it ok! When I make my confession, it generally includes the all ways I try to pretend I don’t need to make my confession! We excuse excess as individuals and as a nation. When did greed become a national status symbol? When did the coverup of “alternative facts” become acceptable?
Fortunately, the story does not end with the last line of our lesson today. Next week we’ll hear the conclusion of the story. Spoiler alert! I won’t give you the brilliant way it happens, but suffice it to say David is literally brought back to his knees. Then we see a David we can remember loving. Richard Rohr says that people do not evolve spiritually without some great love or great suffering. David is made to see the horror of his ways and his guilt and shame become unbearable outside of grace. He knows he deserves to die. Repentance doesn’t bring back Uriah who he killed. It doesn’t undo the evil David did to Bathsheba. There are still severe consequences to pay for his actions, and even then some of us might think he got off too lightly! But a profoundly repentant David experiences the grace and mercy of God. No it’s not fair. No it’s not just. Mercy is never fair! That’s why it’s mercy. Grace is never just! That’s why it’s grace. Those of us who have been violated and wronged may have a hard time with this part of the story. People who need a tit-for-tat world sometimes struggle with the grace and mercy of God. Many people I see in spiritual direction rail against a God who can forgive even abusers. And so David is a stand-in for each of us who use our privilege and agency for our own selfish gain, and David also is the stand-in for every person who is horrified by our capacity to betray the higher nature and longing of our own heart.
The story goes on even beyond next week’s lesson: the David saga continues. God knows David, knows his human flaw, and uses him anyway. “Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid…” That, friends, is the good news. We are more than our mistakes, more than our moral failings. When we turn again, allow mercy and grace to transform us into people who are aligned with the kingdom, we go on serving God’s purposes. Bishop Steven Charleston writes: “One of the great blessings of life is that we are always standing on the threshold of being something new. Whatever our past experiences may have been, however they may seem to define us, each time we open our eyes we look out on unclaimed territory of the heart. No matter what our current circumstances may be, the present does not own us, for the next step we take is always our decision.”
The Gospel reminds us that no matter who we are, what we have done, how puny our resources in the face of the enormity of world need, God takes us exactly as we are to use all that we might offer jn love. David’s sin was his using others to support his insatiable greed. Jesus does the opposite. He begins with a pittance of an offering - a few loaves, a few fish, and however it happens, people are fully satisfied. David just feeds himself. Jesus feeds the multitudes. David uses others as possessions. Jesus serves others with himself. David loved no one but himself. Jesus uses love as the means by which a little becomes more than enough. It is excess opposite of David’s excess. God’s strength begins with and is made perfect in our weakness. All God has is us. All God needs is us. What is broken and small in us is made whole and abundant. That’s the miracle. And so we can sing with Leonard Cohen,
“And even though it all went wrong I’ll stand before my Lord of song
With nothing on my tongue but ‘Hallelujah!
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah. hallelujah…”