Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Thou art the man

Reflection on 86th Street by Gidon Lowenthall

Steven is practicing the piano as I arrive. Teddy has everything ready. Hope arrives soon after.  It's August. Lots of folks away.  But Anna and Puppy are back.

The story in 2 Samuel (11:26-12:13a) is  one of my favorites. Last week, we had part one, where David sees Bathsheba, takes her, she winds up pregnant and he brings her husband Uriah home to try and create a cover,but being a faithful soldier, Uriah won't sleep in his bed and stays outside so David has him sent to  the frontlines so that he will be killed. This week is part two, the dramatic conclusion.     It's great drama. In the 1951 movie  Gregory Peck played  and Susan Hayward Bathsheba. Who would it be today?

I like this passage because of a sermon I heard my freshman year of college by Ray Swartzbach. Ray was one of the pioneers of Presbyterian urban ministry working in Cincinnati, riot torn Detroit, Cleveland. He decided to give his family a break and spend four years at the College of Wooster in bucolic Wayne County, Ohio. I can still hear his voice thunder as he spoke Nathan's words to David:  Thou art the man. (Sounds so much more dramatic in the King James version.)

In Ray's sermon, Nathan's story of the rich man who had everything taking the little lamb from the poor man who had nothing else was a parable for what the US was doing in  Vietnam. It was the fall of 1967 and opposition to the war had not yet become universal. That sermon kept me in church. Probably one reason why I decided being a minister would be a good job for me.  Years later at Yale, I would hear William Sloane Coffin, Jr. preach a very similar sermon on that text. It's parabolic value remains sadly relevant in  describing how the world we live in works.

Wes Howard-Brook in his recent book, Come Out My People, says that the whole Bible has an ongoing tension between two religions, that of  Empire vs. that of Creation. The people wanted a King, the david story shows what can happen. The tension is clear.

One of my colleagues in my clergy study group saw a connection between this story and the current War on Women where even basic hard won rights arfe being called into question.As the story goes on, Bathsheba is not even named, she becomes the wife of Uriah..And when Nathan says that David's wives will be taken sexually by his enemies, the focus is on the loss of honor by David, not the trauma of the women made victim to sexual violence.

What's also evident here is the sense  of entitlement that comes with position, power and privilege. Taking Bathsheba  would seem reasonable to David.  Just his due.  

Then there is the issue of collateral damage...who else gets hurt in what way? Act and cover up. Joab,  front  who gave the order that sent Uriah to the front was also a victim...I keep thinking of that janitor at Penn State. And all the others who participated in covering up the actions of Jerry Sandusky out of fear for their jobs or just not wanting to embarrass the university for ten years as the innocent victims continued to be preyed upon. 

And then forgiveness and consequences. David will be sustained through all, God will stay with him,  but he has set in motion countless consequences he will have to endure...strife within his family, violence to his wives: shame  and loss of  honor...

David hears Nathan.  He hangs his head, says I have sinned against the Lord. But wait... anyone else? I have always appreciated that in the Jewish High Holy Day sequence, the yearly journey to atonement, you can’t ask God to forgive what you did to someone else...

Our Psalm this morning is read every year on Ash Wednesday, to begin Lent. Was Psalm 51 David's  prayer after hearing Nathan? Against you alone have I sinned only makes sense in that a sin against any human being is a sin against God. To hurt another person is to hurt God. 

It goes on. I will go to court this week with one of our members. She has managed to support herself, keep a job, pay her rent for over thirty years. Signing a paper opened the door for a greed driven landlord to get her rent stabilization removed and begin eviction proceedings. Not only that, they're seeking years worth of the difference between the rent she paid and market rate. PLUS attorney's fees.  She will not only be homeless but financially ruined.  All to further enrich an already rich landlord. The rich man taking the little lamb again. I look at the landlord's attorney and think, how do you sleep at night? Do you not know what you are doing? If only Nathan could appear in court.....

What do we take for ourselves? We begin with  honesty, facing squarely our reality. Then, as in twelve step groups, we must make amends. And then begin again

And then, as in David's story, face the reality that some things broken remain broken...

It begins with speaking the truth in love...(Ephesians 4: 1-16)...having the courage to be open and honest with each other.  It's not easy, believe me, I know. 

We need each other....The word religion in Latin comes from the same root as ligaments. It has the sense  knitting together that which has been broken, fractured...We do that in we seek to be together the body of Christ.

Later, as we begin to gather for communion, a table of inclusion, I reflect on the Olympics. As I read in Sports Illustrated,  The first world record of the Games went to South Korea's Im Dong-hyun, an archer who's legally blind. Natalia Partyka of Poland, a table tennis player with no right hand, joined Oscar Pistorius, the prosthetically fitted "blade runner" from South Africa, as someone who would not be waiting for the Paralympics, thank you very much.
In a gesture of national healing, Japanese athletes arrived in London with medals already in hand-beribboned discs, hewed by children from driftwood left by the 2011 tsunami. The support greeting Megan Rapinoe after her recent announcement that she's gay had the U.S. midfielder playing some of the most exuberant soccer of her career. And no hijab could have concealed the womanhood of Malaysia's Nur Suryani Mohd Taibi, who competed in the 10-meter air rifle while eight months pregnant. I have two hearts, she said after placing 34th of 56, so maybe I am stronger.

Perhaps the church can learn from the example of the Olympics. That is the kind of inclusive community we are seeking to create. That is what we celebrate at this table. Let all who will come be welcome.

We share our bread and cup using the glassware I brought back from the Pittsburgh General Assembly. Symbolically joining our little community with the Presbyterians who had gathered from around the country. 

We gather around the table. Say our Alleluias and Amen

Our worship has ended. The service will continue. 

Robert L. Brashearu

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