Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Empower and Speak Up - 2 Sam 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 • John 6:1*21

Link to Scriptures

 

Opening Prayer

 

A couple weeks ago, I mentioned the great 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.  We know today how some will manipulate power by saying things like its God's will.  This week’s lesson reminds us how power can corrupt great minds and do some serious damage to people. Good thing about our scripture is that it is willing to reveal how damaging the dark side of humanity can be and force us to learn from them to hopefully prevent them in the future.

 

Traditional  View

 

I grew up reading this and hearing about this story in a very traditional way that pits Bathsheba as an object between two men. There is a traditional way to look at this text from a perspective of adultery where both Bathsheba and David are married, but that implies some agency on the part of Bathsheba. 

 

When we studied this text in seminary along with midrash from Dr. Wilda Gafney who reviewed the perspective of Bathsheba in depth, we almost universally agreed this looks more like manipulation of power and violence against Bathsheba. In fact, in light of recent conversations surrounding the MeToo movement, this feels very much like a MeToo moment in the Hebrew scripture because it reads so similar to cases that arise today. 

 

Bible does not ignore Timely Parallels

 

Should we ignore these uglier stories for the good ones?  Well if we did we live in a fantasyland where everything is rosy and Disney-sized parades, 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.  Unfortunately, This story and the many like it are part of humanity. 

 

Let them serve as lessons for all of us, and are among the reasons why the Bible is such a rich collection of stories.  The Bible is not just a feel good book for us, but a hard 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 does not pull punches. Yes, the Bible calls out serious infractions because clearly this is characterized as terrible. 

 

No matter how despicable or painful this is to consider, this is a story in humanity that we need to address. Even though we read how David was blessed to bring God into the center of the people. I wonder if he became forgetful of what that power means.  David allows power to cloud his brain into thinking he can do whatever to whomever he wants and commits serious wrongs. Incidentally, he gives us evidence there is no such thing as a victimless sin or crime. We know this happens today, and thanks in part to the #MeToo movement, there is serious dialog about this. 

 

Midrash

 

Curiously the story starts with 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. She does not really have the option to deny the request. David is king, this king wants what he sees, thinks he can have whatever and whomever he wants, and the king just sent people to get her. Why she doesn’t make a scene on the way out forcing to dragged out? Gafney suggests this is her holding pride and dignity. David holds all the power and already has 6 wives. Bathsheba is in no place to deny the king.

 

David uses power to get her, she cannot deny him and then later to murder her husband, Uriah with his troops. 

This is destructive to not just her life but literally to those around her.

 

We see parallels to behavior in some high-profile people today that manipulate power for personal benefit, regardless of whom they hurt and many without a shred of remorse 

 

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. There is a wonton disregard and yes often no shame in this conduct.  They often recharacterize the conduct as “she deserved or wanted it.” 

 

Quite frankly this is an example of “locker room” banter that diminishes people to mere property, disposable objects and slaves of desire. (Note that this “locker room banter” does not fare well in the presence of women because we are more than objects and women know this.)

 

How many people would say that we are just property? No one.

 

That disregard for humanity might explain why David finds it easy to cast out the husband Uriah to misery and certain death. All one can do is pray the experience gets over soon.

 

No matter how much we try, survivors cannot simply numb our senses of the pain, drown out the terrors because it just doesn’t go away. We cannot just pretend all is well when everything inside feels hollow and void. There is immeasurable guilt and shame that we attach to ourselves in these. The questions of why me and how did I let this happen? As survivors, this will be carried for the rest of life, even as the Davids-of-the-world continue on with their lives. 

 

Still God is willing to forgive and does and calls us to help that effort.

 

How to Live with the Damage

 

There is damage in these bits and we help those that have been damaged like this by walking wth them and hearing their stories.

 

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.”

 

I cannot answer the questions with anything that might resolve the personal pain underneath. I can do my best to walk with people and be mindful of my own failings and my words.  We all can.  

 

I can, however, through Bathsheba’s experience here, demonstrate how one was able to move beyond the pain.

 

For my own, cats and a dog help.

 

Even more so, our lesson has an example when we continue to read about Bathsheba. 

 

Does Bathsheba let this define her? We don’t know much about her reaction or words said. Yet, Neither she, nor I, nor anyone of us can change the past. We can only live in today. No, we cannot undo the painful deeds. We can learn to live, and we can remind people of their responsibility to others around us and our society.  

 

Yes, this is a part of my experience and many more.  We can question many things of why, and the answer is not always what we want. 

 

We may find comfort in knowing we are not alone, and that there is someone with big shoulders and hugging arms for us where we can be safe, without manipulation and without judging.

 

We are reminded through this story to teach our children and community the good way: the God way — rather than the impulsive, destructive disregard for people , especially from those in power. People are more than objects or property, and we all have personal dignity. 

 

The epistles of St John remind us that we are all God’s children — as valuable human beings with worth and love.  Let that sink in. Let that be you. Let that help us heal and fill our hearts. Let us go forth and teach that worth and that lesson.

 

With what we know from history, 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 slaves to anyone.

 

We are all God’s children: broken, sinful and hurt. We have worth, and God will forgive those willing to make amends. The lesson from this story is that we deserve life that values us as worthy. 

 

If anything should speak to us in this lesson is the consequence of living as property. We do not want to go back to being just property or slaves. Our story will be heard if you speak it, our lesson will be learned if you teach it, and our community will be stronge when we live together as equals.  

 

From Ephesians, I pray that God may strengthen our inner beings with power through the Spirit and that Christ may dwell in all our hearts, especially those afflicted by such damage. Find your roots grounded in love. 

 

Remember that God is with you and that you are worthy of God!

 

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.