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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Pentecost 08/05/2018

Last week we had the first part of the story of David and Bathsheba, today we get the rest of the story. It’s not a pleasant story for a couple of summer Sundays; I’m pretty sure it won’t be part of Vacation Bible School this week. If it was a movie it would be rated R for sexual content and violence. Some might even be surprised that such a story is in the Bible if they hold to the mistaken idea that the Bible is just about characters who are holier than thou and would never do such things.

It’s not a pleasant story and it’s also one that I think we hear differently than we did even three years ago, the last time it appeared in the lectionary, what with the ongoing stream of stories of men in positions of power and authority being accused of committing and/or covering up acts of harassment and abuse and violence against women. Even if you were to question the validity of some of the accusations, where there’s that much smoke there has to be fire and the David and Bathsheba story tells us that the fire has been burning for a long time with not a lot of effort to put it out; it’s good that women are coming forward, not feeling like they just have to view such treatment as being acceptable, boys will be boys.

With the current situation in mind, it’s perhaps even more noticeable that while we always call this the story of David and Bathsheba, it’s much more about David than it is Bathsheba; she fades into the background pretty quickly, no longer even named as the story unravels but only referred to as “the woman” or “the wife of Uriah.”

Still, I think one does have to be careful in forcing too much of our modern sensibility onto this. You have to remember that the whole narrative we’ve been following in First and Second Samuel is about David. He’s the story so it’s not really surprising that the text pretty much ignores Bathsheba’s victimization and her plight as a woman with limited options. It’s not surprising that her plight is ignored in the text, but that doesn’t make it OK for us to ignore it. While not forcing our sensibilities onto the story and thinking that it should have been written differently, it still should serve as a reminder to us that such victimization of women and others who are vulnerable for whatever reason, is not OK; it shouldn’t be pushed into the background. The story is about David, but Bathsheba should not be ignored.

What becomes glaringly obvious in this account is that David is no longer the innocent but brave shepherd boy whose faith in the Lord enabled him to take on Goliath and kill him. He’s also no longer the brave warrior who led armies into battle against the Philistines and others. Instead, as the first verse of last week’s reading said, “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him. But David remained in Jerusalem.”

David remained in Jerusalem; his power was now great enough that others could fight his battles for him. From there it becomes a story of power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. After abusing his power with Bathsheba and after failing in his first efforts at a cover up, he then used his power to ensure that Bathsheba’s husband Uriah, a brave and loyal soldier, would be killed in battle, and so it happened. Bathsheba could then become one of David’s wives and no one would be the wiser, it might even appear that David was being gracious and kind in taking in this poor widow of one of his brave soldiers. No one would be the wiser, except for Bathsheba who knew she couldn’t say anything and…except for the Lord: “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord.”

This then becomes a story of repentance that as Lutherans we can look at through the lens of Law and Gospel which was a key concept in Luther’s understanding of the Bible. You perhaps know that Luther’s theology is often set up with one idea set against another and the relationship between Law and Gospel is central.

For Luther, there were three uses of the law. The first use had to do with civil law as a means of maintaining order in society. Such laws are often rooted in biblical law and Luther was concerned with maintaining order, but that wasn’t his primary concern in thinking about law. More important for him were the theological uses of the law, the first of which was to reveal sin. He compared this to a mirror, a mirror in which we can see ourselves as sinners, sinners in need of forgiveness.

The third use of the law is as a guide, a guide to living in ways that are pleasing to God. In the deep recesses of your memory you might remember that in Luther’s explanations of the Commandments in the Small Catechism, besides describing what constituted a violation of the commandment, he also provided ways of properly observing the commandment so both the mirror and the guide are there.

Sometimes however, we can have trouble looking in the mirror that Luther talked about; in some cases it gets too foggy so we can’t see clearly and can continue to fool ourselves. Seeing clearly was David’s problem. You have to figure that he was familiar with the law found in the commandments, including the ones about adultery, murder and coveting. You get the idea though, that he didn’t want to look in that mirror because he knew what he would see so instead he fogged it up with his efforts to cover up what he had done to Bathsheba and to Uriah.

The prophet Nathan however, came along with a cloth to wipe off the mirror, a cloth in the form of a story about two men, a rich man who had many flocks and herds and a poor man who had just one little lamb who he loved and treated as if it was one of his children, kind of like how many of us treat our pets. Nathan told David the story of how the rich man didn’t want to use an animal from his own flock to feed a traveling stranger so instead he took the beloved lamb of the poor man. Even though it was just a story, David was outraged at the behavior of the rich man and only then did he realize that Nathan had wiped the fog from the mirror. Only then did he recognize the sinful nature of what he had done, and…only then could he hear a word of forgiveness.

Central to Luther’s understanding of the Law, was the idea that the Law, by revealing sin, should lead to repentance and the saving grace of the gospel. The law without the gospel leads to despair, but with the gospel comes hope. Forgiveness is always available, but we can’t experience it until we wipe the fog from our own mirrors and recognize our need for forgiveness. David is often talked about as a character we can identify with because he’s not perfect and neither are we. One of the ways we identify with David though is in our own difficulty in looking in the mirror, our own difficulty in recognizing sin.

The story is about David and as he finally recognizes the sinfulness of his actions, for us it does provide a good example of how recognizing sin leads to repentance and forgiveness. Today’s Psalm 51 which the tradition attributes to David, is the best know penitential psalm, always used on Ash Wednesday with its acknowledgment of sin, “I know my offenses and my sin is ever before me,” and its plea for a new beginning, “Have mercy on me O God; create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit within me.” In and through Christ, the mercy and forgiveness the psalmist prays for are given as a free gift. That mercy and forgiveness are experienced with the recognition of sin and with repentance.

The story is about David and we give thanks for his model of repentance and the possibility of a clean heart and a right spirit. But I don’t want to forget about Bathsheba. There are those who suggest that she was less of a victim than it appears, that she saw David’s advances as a way to get herself into the king’s household. In the long run, she does wind up as mother of the king when Solomon succeeds David.

In this story though, she is the victim of a man who used his power and position to get what he wanted. David’s immediate effort to cover things up indicates that what he did was wrong and he knew it. The story is about David, but Bathsheba too is a child of God. The story is a reminder that there is still work to be done in ensuring that God’s justice applies to everyone, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalized. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Nathan, not to point fingers at others, but to be honest in recognizing sin and especially in recognizing ways we can be part of the problem. We are called to follow in the footsteps of Nathan and, in whatever ways we can, to be agents of God’s justice for all people.

Rev. Warren Geier

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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