Keith Underhill: July 2015
Preached by Revd Keith Underhill on 26th July 2015
2 Samuel 11:1-15
It was King David who represented the golden age of the monarchy for God's people. David gave them stability, David brought them wealth, power, success and unity.
In times of trouble, when things were not going well they would look back to the reign of this man and reflect on the good times of the past and how things were no longer the same, no longer what they had been.
They would also look to the future when, (according to the prophets) one from David's line, one of his own, would come again.
David the giant slayer; David the musician; David the warrior; David the mighty leader; David the one of whom the crowds sung; David God's man and, as today's passage reminds us, David the adulterer and murderer.
The whole sordid and sorry story of Bathsheba and the lengths that David went to hush it up and keep it all quiet, the plotting of the death of her husband Uriah (his faithful servant and soldier) does not cover him in his usual glory.
This episode in his life and reign is in stark contrast to all that went before and is as shocking as it is scandalous.
This was a calculated and premeditated act of coercion and violence — carried out through a series of accomplices, communications and proxies.
It is not even as though he was motivated by love, for this was a violent act of force and power. This had nothing to do with love, forbidden or unrequited.
David saw, he wanted, he took.
As the dust begins to settle on the row and furore following the Sun's publication of the private royal family film footage taken back in the early 1930's — just think of what the tabloid headlines would have been following David's escapades — how social media, Facebook and Twitter would have immediately gone into melt-down!
"Beautiful bathing babe's bath time booty call"
"Randy regal beds bathing Bathsheba"
"Loyal lieutenant's deadly betrayal"
But such titillating sound bites, betray the seriousness of the King's actions.
Whilst it is tempting to see this sordid episode in the life of one of God's favourites as being about sex — it is not.
For just as in cases of rape and coercion — it is about the misuse of power and violence. It's about taking what you want because you can, regardless of the consequences and subsequent fall out.
In our world where rape is so often used as a weapon of war, where young girls and women are trafficked for sex and a couple of days after six men have been found guilty of abusing school girls in Aylesbury; this event that began with David taking a night-time stroll around his palace rooftop, is as contemporary as it gets.
It is a reminder that we are the sons and daughters of Adam — that we exist and live in a fallen world, that we all share the same common humanity; that which enables us on the one hand to demonstrate great acts of kindness, self-sacrifice and bravery towards others but also makes us capable of cruelty, betrayal, violence and the like.
When those in positions of great responsibility and power, when those we idolize and look up to are caught out, found out, tripped up and publically held to account, when those we trust are caught with their pants down or their hands in the till, we are shocked and feel betrayed and let down.
Perhaps we shouldn't be, for we know that it is a precarious existence being on a pedestal, it is no place for those with feet of clay. For just like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand, when the rain and the storms come, the clay too is quickly and easily washed away and they come crashing down.
In the independent report of the past case review that went to Methodist Conference last month (the review that looked into the historic claims of abuse going back to the 1950's and for which the Methodist Church has made an unconditional apology) it was disclosed that the perpetrators in a quarter of all cases were Ministers.
The truth is, we all have feet of clay. Those we look up to the most are just like us, and they are just as fallible as we are.
Like Lady Macbeth, as sons and daughters of Adam, our hands are stained and we are unable to get rid of those spots.
Charles Dickens' "A tale of two cities" begins with these opening lines; "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way. . ."
In many ways, an apt description of who we are and the struggle that we face, the contrasts between the best we are capable of as well as the worst — it was St. Paul, who in his letter to the Church at Rome said in Chapter 7, verse 15; "I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do."
David's nocturnal betrayals may well seem to be a long way away from Archie's baptism that took place here two weeks ago — but the fact that when we responded to the promises, we all said together "With God's help we will", suggests that perhaps it is not such a gulf as we'd like to think.
Whilst our shortcomings and failings may not be on the same scale as those that David was responsible for, we all nonetheless know what it is like to misuse power and abuse the trust that is placed in us to one degree or another.
It is that kind of understanding that lies at the heart of Jesus' teaching on the sermon on the mount — where it is anger that is at the heart of murder and lust at the heart of adultery.
It was into this world, David's world, our world and into our lives that the love and grace of God himself came.
It was God's love and God's grace that felt the full force of the premeditated and calculated misuse of power, of coercion and violence upon the cross at Calvary, of Good Friday, of crucifixion.
Yet we know that even then in the midst of it all, forgiveness for those who did not know what they were doing and the invitation to the penitent one by his side, were sure signs of what was to come three days later.
Easter day itself reminds us that even the worst that could be done to someone was not as strong or powerful as the love and grace of God himself.
Whilst these verses from 2 Samuel 11 remind us of the worst traits of humanity, of what sometimes is and of what we are capable of — the passage from Ephesians 3:14-21, gives us a totally contrasting picture — that of what can be, of new possibilities.
Here the writer to the Church in Ephesus is praying for this congregation that they might know the love of Christ in all its fullness and it in all its completeness.
That through this same love, they might also be strengthened and transformed. For, as this passage reminds us, God's love is total.
This love reaches into every corner of our lives and our experience — a love that is beyond our comprehension and our imaginings.
To try and convey the enormity of such love, he writes, it is higher, wider, longer and deeper and it surpasses knowledge.
Sentiments reflected in choruses and worship songs sung in churches and by such celebrities as Peter, Paul and Mary, and Elvis Presley who voiced;
Well, He's so high (so high you can't get over Him)
So wide (so wide you can't get around Him)
So low (so low you can't get under him)
Great God Almighty (you must come in at the door)
And more recently echoed in Our God is a great big God — higher than a skyscraper and deeper than a submarine.....
A love that is available to all and to everyone regardless of what they have done and what they have been.
A love for David, even after his betrayal of trust and the total misuse of his power and because of that, a love that is offered and is freely available even for me and you!
Remember churches are not schools for saints, they are not for the perfect, nor are they for the goodie goodies.
No, Churches are hospitals for sinners and are for the imperfect, for those who get it wrong, for those who make mistakes, for those who muck it up, for me and for you.
For here, together, we look to support one another as we seek to be God's people — reaching out to grasp the length, depth, height and width of this unfathomable love in order that we may grow in faith and understanding and continue to be moulded, shaped and transformed. Gradually and step by step through God's love and grace, being changed from who we are to what we shall be.
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