Sermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 25, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas

ASEP Sermons

2 Samuel 11:2-15+Psalm 32:1-7+(2 Peter 3:1-4,8-9)+Matthew 5:21-26

And so, we have come to the story of David and Bathsheba, a story pitched through the centuries as a love story which only obscures the fact that it is a story of murder, rape, and domination.

Because we had baptisms last week, and I wanted to focus on that, I did not include anything about the reading from 2 Samuel which detailed David’s lament over the deaths of Saul and Jonathan. I had spoken in an earlier sermon over the summer about how the text speaks of the deep love between David and Jonathan, so I wasn’t trying to avoid the complexity of that. (And if you missed the earlier sermon, some claim the words as evidence of an amorous relationship between David and Jonathan while other dismiss the idea out of hand. My position is that it’s possible, but we just don’t know.)

In the 10 chapters between David’s lament and our reading this morning, David is made king over all Israel, he consolidates his power through wars and conquests, establishes Jerusalem as the capital, and leads the procession as the ark of the covenant is brought to the city. And to top it all off, God made an eternal covenant with David and his descendants, descendants which include Jesus of Nazareth.

David was on top of the world. He could have had as many wives as his heart desired, but he wanted someone else’s wife. And so, he takes Bathsheba, she becomes pregnant, and he cannot persuade her husband to sleep with her in order to cover up the identity of the father, and so he orders that Uriah the Hittite be put in the front line of battle where he would surely be killed. And he was.

Tradition tells us that the psalm we read this morning is one of David’s.

            My sin I made known to you,
            and my iniquity I did not hide.
            I said, “I will make known my transgressions to the Gracious One,”
            and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. (Psalm 32:7)

Yes, God forgave adultery, treachery, and murder, all committed by David, the great king of Israel. If you ever wonder if you have committed an irredeemable sin, take heart.

Interestingly, the gospel today actually doubles down on the requirements placed on our behaviors. Not only are we not to murder, but we’re also not to be angry or to hurl names at someone who has wronged us. And if we come to church in our Sunday best and are about to put our offering into the basket but remember that someone is upset with us, we are supposed to go handle that first.

Wait, what?

If someone has something against us, we are supposed to take care of it, not if we know we have caused someone harm.

There is a deep justice issue here that does not often get the kind of exploration it ought to.

Like many of you, I imagine, this week I watched the powerful three-part Ken Burns documentary, “The U.S. and the Holocaust.” It’s a pretty searing indictment of our lack of response to the plight of the Jews in the years leading up to Germany’s Final Solution. Some of that seeming indifference was driven by our isolationist tendencies, not wanting to get dragged into another war, and it was also a result of millions of people who were just trying to keep food in the mouths of their children through the Great Depression. However, the underlying reason – one often spoken out loud – was antisemitism. Burns does a thorough job of exploring our antisemitic history from restrictive immigration policies to the eugenics movement. Some of the most well known figures in our history were unrepentant antisemites, from Henry Ford to Charles Lindbergh. In general, even the Church’s main concern during those years was the persecution of non-conforming churches rather than the escalating violence directed at Jews.

If we take Jesus at his word here, very few Christians following World War II could authentically attend worship or make even the most generous contribution and expect to be right with God. The entire Jewish population had plenty of reason to have something against us, and it took years for the Holocaust to even be named, much less reckoned with. Yes, the State of Israel was established in 1948, but that does not absolve anyone from permitting the extermination of the Jews to occur by our inaction and indifference.

Any discussion of reparations to African Americans in this country also begins here. Reparations is not just about slavery; it’s about persistent Jim Crow laws and attitudes; it’s about redlining; it’s about white flight; it’s about destruction of Black neighborhoods. It’s about our own inability to step outside of our privilege to actually make life better for our Black neighbors who absolutely hold something against us when we come to make our offering at this table.

So, yes, God can forgive David the murderer and rapist, and God can forgive us, too. David poured out his misery in some of the psalms, he threw himself on God’s mercy. Most of us don’t even realize that we are in need of God’s mercy, principally for those things we ought to have done but have left undone, as our confession puts it.

None of this is about feeling guilty. None of this is about not being worthy. Jesus was all about relationships, and we can’t fully be in relationship with others if we simply look past their need, their hurt, their suffering.

No one has to solve racism or antisemitism on their own, but each of us can and must do our part. We have folks sporting swastikas in the year of our Lord Two-Thousand-and-Twenty-Two.  Don’t imagine this is just old history we’re talking about.

Jesus promises us a new way forward, but it does mean we have to open our eyes, open our hearts, use our voices, and do whatever we can do so that the words “never again” are a reality.

ASEPSermon for the Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost, September 25, 2022 – the Rev. Dr. Elaine Ellis Thomas