Sunday, July 26, 2009

today's sermon--2 Samuel 11:1-15

Please pardon the bizarre formatting--I don't feel like making it into paragraphs.

A sort of procedural note before I begin today
I will be making many references to some excellent TV shows in the coming years
So, to make sure we’re all on the same page
It might be best for y’all to go ahead and
Put a bunch of them on your Netflix queues or order from Amazon
If you’d like a simple syllabus,
they’ll be available in the lobby after worship…
there’s a science-fiction sho on the BBC you may have heard of,
a spin-off of Dr. Who (that’s on the list)
called Torchwood—this last week was an experimental 5-episode season
instead of 12 episodes over several months,
it was essentially 5 short movies
anyway, no spoilers here, but in the end, the hero Captain Jack Harkness
commits an unforgivable act
Jack the hero
Jack the lovable con man
Jack the savior of humanity
Jack goes from hero to villain in five seconds
Fans are asking, “How can we watch the show anymore?”
Knowing what he does,
Regardless that it was necessary to save the Earth,
Knowing one piece of information can ruin a relationship
and you can’t un-know it
This story about David—it’s the same thing
David’s the greatest King of Israel
He’s named as the writer of 150 Psalms,
bringer of decency and faithfulness to Israel
he’s the spunky little boy who brought down Goliath with a slingshot
and according to St. Matthew, he’s also Jesus’ granddaddy generations back,
an idea that brings Jesus legitimacy
David was a Good King, a hero—a hero’s hero
So it was wartime—
Soldiers fought other soldiers for freedom and honor and oil and…well…
whatever it is people have been fighting for since the beginning
And our heroic David, victor of many battles, was sitting at home,
watching reality tv and reruns of Touched by an Angel (not on the list)
Well, there must have been a good reason
for the king not to be with the army
—I mean, it was 3000 years ago—
we don’t know what it was like
I’m sure he wasn’t being lazy or anything
So he looks out his window and sees a woman bathing on her roof,
Naked as we all are when we bathe
—“nice” he thinks—
and then he thinks, “am I or am I not the King
—I don’t have to just look…”
[it’s going to get a little sexy here—a little PG-13]
and when she arrives, the object of his desire
David finds out that she’s already married
—oh, good—he’ll do the right thing, send her home—
he’s a hero’s hero after all, right?
He wouldn’t…yeah, he does
[Now, as an aside,
we don’t know how Bathsheba was feeling about this
Was she terrified for her life and that of her beloved husband?
Was she annoyed to have the phone ring while she’s in the bath,
to be summoned to the king’s side?
Was she thrilled by the illicit pleasure of being with the king?
Who by all accounts was very handsome?
Was it rape?]
So, David takes Bathsheba to bed and then sends her home
—he’s taken what he wanted—
And to add insult to injury,
the story says Bathsheba was in the time of cleansing after her period
—she was, according to the Law anyway, unclean
No one, not even her husband, was allowed to touch her
I’m not feeling very good about David right now,
but I suppose we all falter
Even heroes have Achilles’ heels, right?
Y’all watch TV, too, I know.
Sp even if you hadn’t already heard the story, you could guess
what happens after the King takes a married woman to bed
She’s pregnant. Of course.
Well now David has a serious problem—now there’s proof of his indiscretion.
No—let’s lay it on the line, his sin.
He has screwed up, so focused on his wanting and his taking
that the consequences haven’t crossed his mind.
Now something has to be done.
Since he’s a hero, a Good King, he’ll certainly own up to his sin
—make reparation, take care of the child, something.
That’s what heroes do,
they help the helpless, protect the widows and orphans.
He sends for Bathsheba’s husband Uriah the Hittite
who’s out fighting in the war
—that war that David should be leading right now?—
he brings Uriah back from the front lines,
covered in sweat and dirt and the smell of death and says,
“go wash your feet”
—which of course doesn’t mean “wash your feet”—
it means “go sleep with your wife”
Go sleep with your wife so that when you find out she’s pregnant,
you’ll be thrilled to be a new father,
you’ll assume the baby is your own,
though he has rather Davidic features…
Devious, yes. Still forgivable, I suppose.
Who hasn’t tried to cover up an indiscretion
—how many of us have tried not to get caught in something we shouldn’t be doing?
Maybe told a white lie to avoid suspicion?
Uriah, though, seems to have more integrity than the good King David…
he says, “no, how could I take comfort and relax
in my home with my wife
while the army is still camped in tents,
in harm’s way, in the thick of a war?
They have no wives to go to, no soft bed to sleep on
—how could I take what I want when they have nothing?”
And he sleeps on the floor of the palace.
So David gets him drunk,
thinking that will make Uriah want to go visit his wife.
No dice.
And so David, in a desperate desire not to be discovered in his sin
(because clearly at this point he knows what he’s done)
takes the unforgivable option
He goes from hero to villain
in the 5 seconds it takes to write a note.
“Eyes only: General Joab, deploy Uriah the Hittite to the front line of the next battle. Ensure he’s the first over the top and a casualty of enemy fire.”
How can David be a Good King? How can he be a hero?
I can’t unknow this—I can’t look at him the same way anymore.
He’s not a hero—he’s a Bad King—he’s a creep.
Jesus’ granddaddy is a murderer and an adulterer and a slimy git.
And that’s the end of the reading.
What are we supposed to do with this?
Let me turn this conversation over to you:
what do you make of the story? How do you feel about David? About Bathsheba? About Uriah? Do you see any connection to your own life? Where is God in this story? What is God telling us through this story?
How would you think about the story
if I told you that, in just a few verses, David will marry Bathsheba?
And that later on, she bears him a second son named Solomon?
Does that justify it? Does it make it worse?

We see these sorts of sins in the news all the time
—governors and secret trips to mistresses,
cigarette companies deceiving the public about addiction,
teens posting inappropriate videos on youtube and denying responsibility
And we live it
—when was the last time
you bought something that you really wanted
but perhaps couldn’t really afford or didn’t really need?
Something that you had to justify to yourself as you were paying?
When was the last time
you tried to hide something you’d done so that others wouldn’t find out,
so that you could keep the thing you wanted, that you took, that you have?
If no one knows, it’s not a sin, right?
There’s got to be some grace here—we’re a church of the good news, after all
The real end of the story is something we’ll read next week—
I’ll give you a sneak preview.
It’s a wonderful, complete about-face.
The prophet Nathan, a wily and intense man,
shows David the hurt he’s caused,
shows him the wrongness of his path
and David listens and repents.
He doesn’t pull the politician’s card of the non-apology
—“I’m sorry people were hurt by my actions.
I did not have complete information.”—
but says “Have mercy on me a sinner.”
He sees in full the consequences of his actions,
feels grief and remorse in his soul, and repents.
He turns away from his wrong-doing and towards God.
we speak of saints and sinners as easily and neatly divided like sheep and goats,
but we all know in our hearts that doesn’t work.
Maybe that’s the point, the lesson we should draw from this story—
David, greatest king of Israel, forefather of our Lord Jesus the Christ—
David was human and messed up just like the rest of us.
He performed amazing deeds and he made terrible mistakes
He is a Good King and a Bad King, saint and sinner.
We, too, are both saint and sinner, good king and bad king.
Our victories and our failures may not be as dramatic
—few of us lead armies, or decide the fates of nations—
but they are just as important in the eyes of God
All of us give in to sin from time to time, and rationalize our choice,
telling ourselves and others that what we did wasn’t really so bad
It can be hard—it is always hard—but we need to catch ourselves
and say, “I messed up.”
No justifications. No excuses. “I messed up, and I am sorry.”
We are always in need of repenting
and always in need of celebrating the spark of divinity within us
being both saints and sinners means that the story doesn’t end here
it means we were created by God,
we are beloved by God,
and we are redeemed by God

Sunday, July 19, 2009

book thoughts

Moo, Baa, La La La by Sandra Boynton

One of the greatest books I've ever read. It's educational (sounds animals make), silly ("three singing pigs"--genius!), and open-ended ("what do you say?"). It even has ambiguity, both in its open-ended-ness and, more importantly, in the representations of the characters. Boynton's art style offers animals whose attitudes are far from clear. What might look like sadness on the surface might, upon further contemplation, suggest despair or confusion. A face alight with glee might also be one of manic loss-of-control. A pig uttering its species-appropriate "oink" looks strangely disgruntled, perhaps even filled with longing for the days of show-biz.

What more could you ask from great literature?

Sunday, July 12, 2009

sermon idea only barely related to the lessons

One of my many charms is a predilection for preaching a completely different sermon to myself while listening to someone else preach. Today was one of those occasions. In a move which could only be described as provocative (or maybe blood-thirsty), the Revised Common Lectionary assigned the fantastic story of Salome's dancing for her step-father and her asking for the head of John the Baptist on a platter as a reward. It's awful and awe-ful and unfair, as the preacher rightly pointed out. Where is the good news here? She began speaking about how unfair all of our lives are, but my mind turned in a different direction altogether.

Last night, Loving Husband and I watched Ratatouille and, while the movie was pretty darned great, one moment struck me. [I should note that there will be a SPOILER in this post. Won't ruin the movie for you, but proceed at your own risk. Or just go watch the movie right now and we'll wait for you.]

So near the end of the film, the restaurant critic is waiting ominously in the dining room while chaos and artistry vie for supremacy in the kitchen. We know the critic to be a dour, excessively disapproving sort--one who delights in writing negative reviews. And we know that the fate of the restaurant and of our two heroes--their identities, really--hang on the critic's experience of the food. Because we're all smart people here, I don't mind saying it's a foregone conclusion that the critic will come around, but how? With such build-up, it seems impossible for anything to change his mind, much less for the animators to be good enough to capture it. And yet they do so with one of the most graceful and most beautiful of moments I've seen on film.

The chef prepares a "peasant dish" of ratatouille, a simple vegetable stew, unremarkable to anyone. Of course he puts his own spin on it--what can it be? There's no way for us to know except through the critic's experience. Because when the plate--elegantly stacked as all haute cuisine is these days--arrives on his table and he takes his first sneering bite, he pauses. He pauses mid-chew and is, with us, catapulted into a childhood memory of having wrecked his bicycle, needing his mother to comfort him, and her serving him a dish of comforting ratatouille. And just as suddenly, we're catapulted back into that restaurant where the critic's face is shining with joy. It is a revelation, both to him and to us. No words could do the moment justice, no argument could convince the critic of the food's worth, but the memory does.

I've had that kind of moment. Loving Husband and I went to dinner at Hollyhock Hill in Indianapolis. When they brought out the sixth pre-dinner dish of food, I thought I'd died and gone to heaven. But it was when I noticed that there were both cottage cheese and apple butter on the table that I swooned. I used to mix the two when I was small and called it "Witches' Brew." I spooned equal amounts into my salad bowl and stirred them with anticipation mounting. With the first bite there came a moment like the critic's when my taste buds remembered the smell of grass and the grain of the paneling in my neighbor's house. It was a taste that I had forgotten and which revealed to me my youth.

And that, my friends, is what the book of Revelation is about. I'm not certain about all the seals and the 144,000, but that moment of seeing clearly, of physically remembering something forgotten but pivotal and even simple, that is what John of Patmos' Revelation is about.

Monday, July 06, 2009

open source church

This is a thought-provoking article from Episcopal Cafe. She articulates very well what I've been thinking recently, particularly the bit about needing fewer cathedrals and more bazaars.

And, yes, I am catching up on my blog reading--why do you ask?

supervising sex

In the ongoing religious conversation about sex, comedian Lynn Lavner has this to say:
The Bible contains six admonishments to homosexuals and 362 admonishments to heterosexuals. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t love heterosexuals. It’s just that they need more supervision.

Click here for the [brief] Episcopal Cafe article from which I stole it.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

book thoughts

Began reading (or skimming, really) the new Evangelical Lutheran Worship today. There's good stuff in there--prayers, liturgies, music--but I was most interested in the illustrations. I know, went to school for three years and all she can talk about is the pictures.

There's one at the beginning which is an image of Jesus as the cycle of the year--it's stunning. Very simple and clean-lined but clearly evocative of the cycle of life and death and of Jesus' part in it. And on the first page of the Psalms is a marvelous image of the tree by the stream of living water which plays such a large role in Jewish poetry. These images speak to me, perhaps more than the words they are inspired by. They would make striking tattoos.

I haven't yet gotten to the copyrights page to find out who the artist is but I live in anticipation.