Saturday, July 24, 2021

Empower and Speak up - 2 Samuel 11

Empower MeToo

Tony E Dillon Hansen

25 July 2021 

 

A reflection based upon 2 Samuel 11:1-15 • Psalm 14 • Ephesians 3:16-17

 

Opening Prayer

 

There is delicate balance that must come with bringing God into the center of government (e.g. politics) – to be wary of letting religious power go to one’s head to abuse political power.  David, like any human, is a flawed person, and here, David reveals some of those flaws. David manipulates power in several ways and the Bible is highly critical of these errors.  “It highly unusual for ancient literature to criticize powerful and successful kings” (JSB, p622), and so here we are. 

 

This week’s lesson reminds us how manipulative power can do some serious damage to people. This is a lesson for us to learn from them - hopefully to prevent future occurrences - Teaches us to empower people.

 

Traditional  View

 

I grew up reading this and hearing about this story in a traditional way from a perspective of adultery by Bathsheba and David (both married to different people), David already has 6 wives (a 7th, Micah is locked away).  Yet, this implies some “agency” on the part of Bathsheba. Worse, some read this as her asking for it.


Midrash Interpretation


When we studied this text in seminary with midrash from Dr. Wilda Gafney who positions a deeper perspective of Bathsheba, we almost universally agreed this looks more like manipulation of power and violence against Bathsheba. In fact, this feels very much like a MeToo moment in the Hebrew scripture because it mirrors countless cases today. 


Curiously, the story starts by noting David is not where he is supposed to be (aka fighting with his armies). Some might suggest that “she came to him” (as it is written) but was that really voluntary?  Consent you ask? I submit to you that she did not have the option. “To come when beckoned by the king does not imply consent.” (Gafney, p214) She could not deny the request. David is king; this king wants what he sees; the king thinks he can have whatever and whomever he wants; and the king just sent people to get her. 


It is fair to say the scripture does not suggest David using force against Bathsheba. Why she doesn’t make a scene on the way out forcing to dragged out? Gafney suggests this is her holding a “shred of dignity” by not being dragged out or worse. David holds all the power.  Bathsheba is in no place to deny the king. 


Bathsheba contrasts David by performing Torah-rituals of cleansing for 1) herself and then 2) due to the sexual encounter (whether consensual or not).

 

David uses power to get her; she cannot deny him.  There is no mention of how she went home (whether under guard) or how difficult it may have been to learn that she now carries his child. But she finds strength to deliver these words, “Im pregnant.” Then, David follows bad behavior with more… murdering her husband along with his troops. This is destructive not just for her life but for many. Nathan and God scorn David for this.  

 

Bible does not ignore

 

Should we ignore these uglier stories for the good ones?  Well if we did, we live in a fantasyland where everything is rosy. That might be nice for a while.  Personally, I cannot ignore these ugly truths, the church should not ignore them, and neither should we as a society. No matter how despicable or painful this is to consider, we need to address these stories.

 

They serve as lessons for all of us.  The Bible is not just a feel-good book for us, but a look at all aspects of humanity and our relationship to God.  The Bible challenges us to be more than who we are and challenges us to be the best our humanity can be.  Thus, there should be no real surprise that the Bible admonishes this. 

 

Even though we read how David was blessed to bring God into the center of the people. I wonder if he forgot what that power means.  David allows power to cloud his brain into thinking he can do whatever to whomever (like property) he wants and commits serious wrongs. Yes, there is no victimless sin or crime. 


For Us Today

 

We know this happens today, and thanks in part to #MeToo, there is serious dialog about this. Manipulation of power and assault does real damage. 

 

I have seen the horror this can do and the emptiness it causes upon a person.

 

If this has happened to you, know that it is not your fault. You are not alone. Know that God is with you.

 

The destruction and soul-shaking cannot be understated. To make matters worse, victims are shamed into “she/he wanted it” glossing over what happened - like that one song. That is patriarchy working.

 

That disregards people as property - might explain some of David’s attitude here.


As Survivors

 

We are not just property, and we are survivors. We are children of God.


No matter how much we try, we, as survivors, cannot simply numb or drown out our pain because it doesn’t just go away. There is immeasurable guilt and shame attached to these. The questions of “why me” and “how did I let this happen” festers with that shaming. As survivors, this will be carried for life, and our stories must be heard. 

 

We help survivors by walking with them and listening to their stories - not ignoring them. I cannot solve the personal pains, but I can walk with people and be mindful of my own failings and my words. We all can. Then we can heal.


Further, we must empower people, especially young women, to speak up and speak out.  To prevent things like this from occurring, we must be willing to teach that is ok to say no and for all people to accommodate that “no.” 

 

Does Bathsheba let this define her? We don’t know much about her emotions or words said, but she does move on. No one can change the past - undo painful history. We can only learn to live in today. I want to hear her “confront David and demand respect she deserves.” 

 

With scriptures, with what Jesus teaches, and with this story, we are called to listen even when the message is difficult.  We cannot and should not accept being property to anyone. We remind people of their responsibility to our neighbors - beloved of God.


More importantly, find comfort in knowing we are not alone, and that there is someone for us where we can be safe, without manipulation and without judging. There is God.

 

We are reminded through this story to empower and to teach our children and community the good way: the God way — rather than destructive disregard for people, especially from those in power. God made you more than just someone’s property, and blessed with personal dignity. 

 

We are all God’s children: broken, messy and beautiful. We deserve life that values us as worthy. We have choices, and remember too, God will forgive those willing to make amends.


God forgives and calls us to forgive - Forgive ourselves and those who trespass against us. God invites sinners to healing by acknowledgment and repentance. Nathan beckons David to contrition. Perhaps that is why David does not “abandon her to starvation or to survival” - read trafficked or worse. We cannot force Bathsheba to forgive and we don’t know if she ever did. That is between her, God and David. We don’t know how hard it was for Bathsheba to live in that house, but there is always God’s forgiveness from contrite hearts. 


Our stories will be heard when you speak them. Our lessons will be learned when you teach them, and our community will be strengthened when we empower voices.  

 

From Ephesians, I pray that God strengthens and empowers our inner beings through the Spirit and that Christ may dwell in all our hearts. Find your power grounded in love. 

 

Remember that God is with you and that you are worthy of God! Be empowered to walk with others and listen to their stories.  Be empowered to see the truth and see that God is there for you! Be empowered to speak up and speak out!

 

Thanks Be to God

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Reach Out and Welcome Someone - Mark 5

Reach Out and Welcome Someone

Tony E Dillon Hansen

18 July 2021


Sermon based upon Mark 5:21-43, Psalm 23, and Lamentations 3:22-23


Opening prayer


I sense a need to focus our next couple of weeks about gender issues in the scriptures.  For this Sunday, this great story from Mark 5 about the woman reaching out to Jesus provides an excellent example of faith that heals.  Yet, there is so much more involved here - plenty for us to unpack in this story, especially how this contrasts with Jesus coming home to Nazareth.  This woman does not know Jesus at all but has heard about his power. Whereas hometown folks question Jesus’s power away. This woman gets it.  She recognizes Jesus’s power and so do the parents. What does she teach us in this moment?


There is a lot of symbolism and a series of questions we can raise from this seemingly random action.  A presumably, unknown woman suffering for years believes and recognizes Jesus’s power. 


We can wonder if this was an act of faith or of utter desperation.  For us, What would be the reason we would reach out to Jesus?  What prevents us from reaching out?


We do not know how long she has been there, but we can presume she is in the synagogue to pray.  We have to wonder how long has she suffered and for how long she has come to worship suffering.  At any point, she could have gave up, but she did not. For how long, do we go to church looking for that moment, that spark, the healing moment? How many times do we pray and how many times should we pray ?  


This is hope! We will find redemption and healing. When we reach out with our faith, we let God be with us rather than something else.  


When the moments arrive, we know them, and we can live into them. These moments happen to us and for us. Question for us, do we acknowledge these gifts and remember to give thanks? Do we honor God’s gifts and miracles to us with our welcoming hearts? Or do we just walk about expecting more little miracles?


As I mentioned, this story reveals gender issues that were evident in her time as much as they are evident today. Laws have been passed down for ages that discriminate due to gender. I submit to you that some laws are just an excuse to exclude. We don’t have to be ok with that.  


Yes we have a female governor and vice-president. We have had a black president and now vice president, but we well know that racism and misogyny both still poison our community. Case in point, there are people are so afraid of the vice-president becoming president. Is she demonized because she is black or a woman? How does that make people feel to hear this? 


It took centuries for women to get suffrage, and we have yet to pass the ERA. What is the excuse? Incidentally, why are people ok with new voting restrictions? Will we reverse years of progress? When will my right to vote be taken away? How do we change this?


This act of reaching out turns into a public display of healing.  Jesus presumably could have just walked onto the little girl, but Jesus makes a point to stop and publicly give witness to the woman and her healing.  He does this not just for theater.  Jesus does this because her “condition” means that for years she would have been excluded - left to fringes of the church - if she would even be allowed in the doors. For years, this woman has endured public shaming because of a bodily process – out of her control. This public act of declaring her healed is not just a physical healing but collective healing – an invitation to join the community.


This is a reminder to us here in this day.  Who do we, and for what reason, exclude from the grace of God? How can we be more inclusive and encourage others to be inclusive instead?  There are people that should be here that are not. A church that thrives invites not just us regular attendees but invites those in community to join us – wherever they are on life’s journey.


So individually and as a church, we ought to think beyond our perspectives and make sure they are correct.  Do we in fact invite and welcome people?  Nice thing about town this size, is that church is only a few steps away from neighbors.  There are neighbors around us that could be here in the church with us. Ask, “are we inviting them”, and if not, let us start.  


In order for us to reveal that extravagant welcome as a church, we individually and personally must also exhibit that invitation in our words and actions. In fact, “extravagant welcome” does not mean welcome “but only if….” Remove the preconditions and practice God’s love, God’s welcome, in our lives. 


That love doesn’t happen just when you say the right words because we know the power of words - as Jesus declares publicly that she is healed.  What words do we say publicly that lifts rather than tears down? Practice words of inclusion and lifting.


To the question of how do we change the issues impacting us.  It starts with you and me. It starts with us being that extravagant welcome and encouraging others to be that. It happens in our words we use and the empathy we extend to others. When we are welcoming in our thoughts, words and actions, we extend God’s radical and extravagant welcome one person at a time. 


So reach out and welcome someone! Then, hear the words, “Your faith has made you well; go in peace…” 

Thanks be to God.