Good morning! It is always a joy and a privilege to worship with the extended community of First Presbyterian Church, San Anselmo- here in the sanctuary and on Zoom. I am grateful to Rev. Scott Clark and the Session of FPCSA for the invitation to be with you today. I am also grateful for the hospitality of the worship team for this morning- Nats’ko, Karl, Martha, Jessica, Mary Kathryn on Zoom, and Patrick- Director of Family Ministries and Interim Director of Communications in the tech booth this morning, and a special welcome to Claire Love who is joining our AV team. So thankful for a great team and abundant grace!
Our worship theme for this summer has been “ A Summer of Welcome,” directing our attention to ways that we can better practice God’s hospitality in all creation, especially in our own lives and communities. We have looked together in our scripture for pointers to ways to practice welcome and hospitality. This morning our lectionary passage from the Hebrew Bible had little of hospitality or welcome in it. Thank you, Martha, for taking on the reading of such a difficult text. And thanks be to God that this is not the only scripture we have to guide our reflections and actions as we live and move in this world as people of God!
The lectionary is a set of readings from the Bible, designed to cover most of the Biblical text over the course of 3 years. As I began to prepare for preaching, I looked at all the passages in the lectionary for today. None of them particularly captured my attention, but this one repelled me immediately! It gave me an unwelcome sense of discomfort and unease. But I am beginning to learn that my discomfort or unwillingness to engage may be a signal that something needs attention. Our twinges of unease, nips of guilt, or shadows of shame are likely a nudge from the Spirit of God to pay attention, to look closer, to acknowledge that something is not right and needs to change. What is there within my discomfort or desire to turn away that I can learn from, what needs to shift within me, what needs transformation?
So instead of avoiding this unwelcome passage, I decided to look carefully at what light it may shed on what needs attention or transformation. Where is God’s Word bringing hospitality, welcome, wellbeing and wholeness through this text? This is a deeply disturbing passage about King David and the world he lived and moved in.
Now, I was born and raised Presbyterian. I grew up in the church; I was a faithful Sunday school student. I served as a youth representative in my home presbytery. I attended a local church during college and taught Sunday school. And then I went on to Seminary right after college. It is an unwelcome admission that in my head, David has been a shining example of faithfulness, righteousness, and covenant relationship with God- the young, upstart, shepherd who became Israel’s greatest king. Even Jesus is connected to David and the Davidic covenant! It is an unwelcome thought that I was comfortable with this image of David, even though I knew it was not true. This morning’s passage is one of the most egregious examples of how far from the ideal of faithful covenant care, of welcome and hospitality for all of God’s people King David’s actions actually were. This is not a pretty story. Far from the Hollywood casting of the story of David and Bathsheba as a tragic love story, this is a story of a man in a position of great power and privilege taking advantage of his power for his own satisfaction, sliding down a slippery slope that ends in the destruction of innocent life, and murder.
This is a story of sexual misconduct, if Bathsheba were given voice, perhaps she would call it rape. In this passage (as in many places in the Bible for women,) Bathsheba’s voice is silenced. She has no options, no power, no recourse to address how she is used
by David. And this passage is not only about David and Bathsheba- it includes Bathsheba's husband Uriah, a loyal and faithful officer in David’s army. And it includes Joab, David’s commander-in-chief, and other palace soldiers and servants in David’s household that do his bidding.
I chose the New American Bible version for our reading this morning, because the language in it more clearly reveals the violence David commits when he sends soldiers to “take” Bathsheba from her home, and then “takes” her to bed. I am grateful to Biblical scholar Bruce Birch for this observation, and deeply sorry that I was blind to it myself. What an unwelcome realization, that I have been blind to the ways the text silences not only women’s stories and identities, but even their voices! And yet, I am grateful for my discomfort. It gave me the opportunity to stop and learn and look for ways to create God’s welcome for those who are silenced- especially in Scripture in my role as preacher and interpreter. It also gives me encouragement and motivation to look for who and how voices continue to be silenced in our world. This moment of profound, unwelcome discomfort, even shame, shifted my perspective toward greater sensitivity and welcome for those who are silenced.
As we move further into the story, Bathsheba discovers she is pregnant. The Bible passage makes it very clear that only David can be the father- because she had purified herself after her menstrual period. David spotted her from his roof when she was bathing in the ritual of purification. Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was away at war. When Bathsheba sent word to David that she was pregnant, he plotted a cover-up. I will not address it today, but I do want to note that there were a lot of people who supported David and participated in the power structure that gave David the opportunity to commit his acts of violence.
In our reading for today, we hear how David brings Uriah back from the front, wines and dines him, and tries to get him to go home and sleep with Bathsheba. When that fails, twice, he plans to have Uriah killed in battle. Our lectionary selection today doesn’t give us the end of the story. So, in case you are not planning to hurry and read the end of this story for yourself- here’s the summary: David’s plan worked, Uriah was killed, other soldiers lost their lives with him, Bathsheba mourned the loss of her husband, and then David married her. Their son was born, and died not long after. At the end of verse 27 (which we didn’t hear today) we learn that what David did “was evil in the sight of God.” Over the many years of reading and retelling the story of Bathsheba, interpreters have wrestled with how to understand David’s evil deeds. Scholars have blamed Bathsheba for bathing in the king’s sight. She has been cast as a temptress trying to sleep her way into the palace. Some have rationalized David’s behavior, imagining a love story- with Bathsheba as a willing participant in the drama. Others have speculated that Uriah was an abusive husband and David Bathsheba’s savior from abuse.
It hits so close to home- sexual misconduct, victim-blaming, rationalization, abuse of power, cover-up, and murder. It sounds so much like what we hear from the #MeToo movement or Black Lives Matter or reports from the ICE facilities at the US border, or observations about the pattern of COVID illness, treatment and recovery that highlight the inaccessibility of appropriate health care and economic power for Brown and Black people.
So, let’s look again at the Scripture lesson- what are the ways this passage unsettles you? There is so much here to turn your stomach. I am grateful for the ways this passage disturbs me. It is not a story that I want to be comfortable with. We know that David’s behavior continues to be found in people today, and that such behavior continues to be “evil in the sight of God.” Our discomfort or unwelcome feelings about this Biblical text can be a call to ask where in our own lives we see any of these dynamics at play. How do we participate in structures of power that take advantage of others? How have we taken advantage of others, tried to cover up brokenness, or turned a blind eye or deaf ear to wrong? What can we change in ourselves? How can we help heal
the brokenness that allows oppression, silence, exploitation, murder, failure or absence of justice? What hospitality can we create to equalize power, to amplify long-silenced voices, to share privilege, to restore right relationships and healthy social structures and living conditions in our world?
How does this passage upset you, appall you, or call you? Later in the service, during the Shared Concerns of the Community’s Life, we see some of the many ways that members of FPCSA are already engaged in ministries that seek to address the violence of abusive power and privilege and to restore equity and justice in our community and in God’s world.
These may be comfortable places for us to move, comfortable ways to offer hospitality and welcome. Where are we uncomfortable? Where might the Spirit of God in Christ Jesus be nudging us to further growth in love and care for one another and our neighbor? What is God’s call to us in this summer of welcome? Perhaps we find it not in comfort, but in discomfort. Perhaps we are called to look again at circumstances and situations that we haven’t wanted to see or hear or know about.
I am not a person who enjoys confrontation. It makes me physically ill to think about what I may need to see, to hear, to learn about, but I am learning to welcome this discomfort. It may be a pointer to where the Spirit of God is already working to restore
justice, equalize power, and share privilege. It may be an invitation to join in God’s welcome into wholeness and wellbeing for all humankind and all creation.
We are capable of change, capable of extending God’s welcome and hospitality, because we are God’s own people. We are made in God's image, endowed with creating power, co-creating with God a new way of being, of wholeness and wellness, of dignity and respect for all creation. Heeding the call to join the Spirit of God in Jesus Christ to overturn abusive and exploitative power systems, to amplify suppressed voices, to share the uplifting and empowering love of God is not easy, simple, or quick work, but it is possible.
It begins with the desire to change, a longing for the reality of God’s welcome to be shared among humankind and all creation. With God’s help, our desire can lead us into courage, compassion, and action.
It is a big challenge- we have to be willing to leave our comfort zones. We have to be willing to let go of what we think we know. We have to be willing to expand our awareness. We have to be open to new experiences, new ways of being. We have to let go of the ways we believe ourselves to be right. We have to let ourselves be made new in Jesus Christ.
We don’t have to do it all at once. Every time we practice newness in Christ, every little bit of hospitality we share, contributes to God’s shalom, to the well-being that is good in God’s sight. In every relationship of true mutuality, we contribute to the wholeness that God intends for all creation. Every action we take that affirms the dignity, beauty, and value of those we encounter in our daily lives more clearly reveals God’s welcome and hospitality in all the world.
We can start small and stay close to home. We can practice, and in practice, we grow in capacity and awareness of the need for welcome. As we become more and more well-practiced, we share more and more hospitality in the world. Maybe it means joining in opportunities already in place here at FPCSA. Maybe it means upping your game in water and energy conservation at home and/or at work. Maybe it means picking up litter as you walk through your neighborhood- to care for the environment you share with others. Maybe it means writing a letter to the editor to discomfort comfortable people. Maybe it means contacting an elected official about our global climate emergency and the need for a local and comprehensive response. Maybe it means committing to fellowship with members of a different faith tradition. Maybe it means making the first gesture to reconcile with an
estranged friend or family member. What is your call to share hospitality and welcome?
The Spirit of God in Christ is already ahead of us, creating unimagined possibilities, transforming unjust realities, voicing welcome and practicing hospitality in our world. Already, the Spirit works in us to grow hospitality in our hearts and lives. Our Creator God evokes in us new awareness. Christ’s love works in us to encourage us, to embolden us, and to inspire us to grow into the welcome God intends for all creation.
How are you nudged to further extend God's welcome and hospitality in our world this summer? Only you can know. Let us begin anew this day and every day to extend God’s welcome and practice God's hospitality in all creation!
In the name of the Triune God- Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer- Amen, and Amen.
© 2021 Dvera Hadden, shared here with permission.