A homily preached at St. Dunstan's, Madison. Proper 13, Year B, Track 1.
Good morning! My name is Jonathan. I am a priest, the chaplain at SFH, the 103 year old Episcopal Student Center at UW-Madison. Go Badgers. I am Mother Miranda’s friend. Put better, she is my good friend. Wonderfully, I am blessed to count many of you as friends, too. And the ones I don’t know yet, I hope to count as future friends - it’s been my happy discovery that God is generous like that. Miranda has invited me and my family - my wife, Rebekah, our 3 kids, Annie, Jude, and Dorothea - to journey with y’all during this sabbatical time, and I can’t tell you how honored we are to be invited to walk with you like this. There are opportunities for get-to-know-you times between the services today and after the second service next week, there will likely be other times, too, and I hope you’ll risk friendship. It’s one of the many good gifts God means to give us. It’s a gift for me, Bek, our family, to worship the living God with you in this season.
So, uh, yeah, right. Next order of business. David and Bathsheba. I thought all week and finally gave up hope for finding a good segue.
Can I be honest? I said that once to my therapist and he looked at me with a kind of disbelief, like, “Why else are you here?” Can I be honest? There are a bunch of things that bother me about this story, which is maybe an awkward first story with which to begin three months together. First, as my dear friend Mother Dorota has powerfully preached, Bathsheba was not somebody else’s pet, or sheep, or any other kind of property, which is confusing given that when Nathan comes on the scene today to set David right, this is exactly what he seems to say, not entirely surprising given the cultural norms of the time, but today we would not hesitate to say, and absolutely should make clear, that the power differential between Bathsheba and the king of Israel is so great as to make a consensual relationship impossible. This was rape. Not only a violation of Uriah’s marriage, but a violation of Bathsheba’s person.
Second, David is a fool. You might be thinking, David is a lot of other things in this story, too, but let’s not miss also that David is a fool. He doesn’t have Uriah killed in order to run away with Bathsheba for the rest of their lives. That’s a little too forward thinking for David. David has Uriah killed only after several attempts to keep his secret one night stand fail; excruciatingly, David’s attempts to keep his secret fail exactly because Uriah is such a loyal friend.
David is not the first or last politician to remind us that the powerful are often every bit as frightened as the powerless. David kills to hide. He kills to hide from the truth; to protect his reputation; to run from what is real. On the one hand, this is not surprising. The one with the most to lose in the story goes to the greatest lengths to protect what he has. On the other hand, the most powerful person in the story hides from anyone and everyone around him, manipulates conversations and behaviors, leaves no room for laughter or other surprises of grace. Everything is scripted, and the world must act his script. Meanwhile, the king is the one who cowers and lives in a perpetual fear that turns even the loyalty of his friends into a thing he learns to despise. The pressure he feels to hide his failures causes him to hate his people. His world, his relationships, and his deepest hopes for both of these things are distorted, twisted, and mangled by his devotion to the secrets he must guard. But David is the king. If another way were possible, an alternative to this hiding, this hiding which is crippling his way of being in the world, surely it would be possible for him. But fear rejects all possibilities except mistrust and isolation. David of all people has the power - I would think - to live differently and yet he fears all but his own shadow. Maybe there are some things even power cannot change. Maybe David is a fool.
A third thing that bothers me about this story: David’s story stokes outrage in me. I am appalled by David. But then Nathan shows up and tells David a story that outrages David. A story so outrageous even David is appalled. Nathan tells David that, surprise!, David is really outraged at a picture of himself. Suddenly, I feel nervous about my own outrage. What I had mistaken as a two dimensional text that doesn’t care that you and I are looking in, that you and I are listening, now seems to be aware of our presence in the room, daring us, you and me, to be as oblivious as David, sitting there ready to yell to us, “Surprise, it’s you!”
It’s the allure of outrage, in every age. Hate the other in order to distance yourself from that brand of evil. To assure yourself of your difference. Prop yourself up. Subsequently be confronted with your own not unrelated wrongdoing and now take your pick between two doors: door number one, Rationalization and Denial, or door number two, Shame that leads to the isolation and self-loathing of David.
None of this is to say that we cannot speak out with confidence when power is abused, misused, etc. Indeed, we must. To spot the story’s invitation to see ourselves in the pattern of outrage is not to make the case for moral equivalencies. It is to say that secrets that must be held at all costs - get this - will cost us, and those around us, depriving us of the world in which God first planted us, in which we were first gifts and not threats to one another. A world in which we did not need to hide. Think of Adam and Eve before their meetup with the snake.
But such is no longer our world. Like David, like Adam, like Eve, my life has come to be determined by secrets that threaten to distort my relationship with God, my neighbors, and the world around me. My life is determined by secrets I am still learning to speak. Not so secret secrets like white privilege. Not so secret secrets like my nation’s indebtedness to and dependence on the military industrial complex. No nation in the history of the world has ever spent more to produce peace through mastery of war. Not so secret secrets like I don’t have all the answers. Or even many of them. Not so secret secrets like my consumer practices do not reflect a willingness or ability to fully act upon my understanding of my consumptive impact on this world or the generations that will come after me. Not so secret secrets like I sometimes substitute selfishness that mimics love for real love. Sometimes I do this by mistake. Sometimes I don’t. My life is determined by secrets I am still learning to speak.
So David is a fool. I am not David, but I am sometimes also a fool. Taking good gifts of God and imagining them into threats, still protecting some fantasy idea of myself. And maybe you are familiar with this experience.
David is an important figure in the New Testament. The New Testament authors want to emphasize that Jesus comes from the line of David. But the really Good News is not just that Jesus comes from, but that Jesus comes to, people like David whose lives have been twisted by the lies they live out toward others, themselves, and God. Knowing everything about me, David says, the living God sets a table before me. Psalm 23, one of David’s greatest hits. That we are here today is a sign that we have learned to sing David’s psalm; we are learning to trust the One who sets the table before us and insists on God’s love for us.
The bread that Jesus offers, and is, at the table set by God becomes the feast that makes us the Beloved Community in which we find space and grace to become untangled, untwisted, and made whole. Space to discover God’s love for us as the most true and determinative thing about us. Space to begin to trust this love and to grow in trust of this love, with God and one another, even to the point of being able to speak more truthfully about ourselves and the world and God. No more secrets! No more hiding. Instead, the generous exchange of mercy and forgiveness, given and received. Worship of the true God begins and generates this true speech in us. Likewise, worship of the God who is our judge begins and generates the heart of true justice in us. From this bread we receive all we need to become God’s bread for others.
“I am the bread of life,” Jesus says. “All who come to me will never be hungry.”
Gracious God, give us this bread. Today and always.