He Will Take

Notes from www.billbrucewords.com
Trinity on Church UC, Kitchener
Sunday, July 29, 2018 

Text: 2 Samuel 11 

The title of this sermon, and the cover of our bulletin posted online, was taken from ‘Christians for Biblical Equity’, cbeinternational.org.  The story is about David and Bathsheba, Uriah and Joab, which is not a story of seduction. The ‘Big Idea’ was about the abuse of power by a guy of idle privilege, like us.  Our prayer for grace before the scripture reading ran like this:

God we gather, here, in summer…. one of two seasons in Canada,
if not winter, then a season of construction, of farming, of hard labour.
Most of us have known hard labour, if briefly, in younger days, but not latel.y

We’ve done nothing wrong: we do nothing, our institutions do our sinning for us
But we benefit from a changing world where others sow, build, fix, and sweat
While we consume, enjoy, and too seldom give thanks or ask how it all works.

TFW visas for farmworkers or nannies, asylum seekers, refugees, immigrants –
serving our commonwealth with their common sense as newer Canadians -
sharing our aspirations for a good life, yet unvisible, unheard, unwelcomed.

God knows we don’t do slavery now – at least not too close to home,
but in offshore factories, by labour best renamed ‘human trafficking’ –
which is not about sex, but power - abuse (as if ‘use’ were somehow OK)

God we gather, here, in summer… Remind us again who serves us, and how
What word do you have for our hearts O God, give us ears to hear.  Amen

General Council 43 has ended, with a dramatic change to Friday’s agenda as the weeklong meeting ended.  Paul Walfall, an intercultural observer originally from the West Indies and a UCC minister from Alberta, told the council that despite its fine words, racialized and marginalized commissioners felt invisible and unheard.  An hour later, the council took 2 hours to hear from a parade of those commissioners.  
I hope you watch it!

You chatted for a while, of when you felt a bit smug, until you were corrected, reminded that you hard hardly begun to re-imagine your world… then I spoke.

In the spring of the year,
the time when kings go out to war…
David didn’t.

David had arrived. He was king over the 12 tribes. No longer the kid, the underdog, the young Turk, he was middle aged, management, a ‘suit’, and he delegated.  After all, how many times can you gird your loins, ride off to battle? Lions and bears as a child shepherd, then trash talking Goliath to wow crowds, guerrilla raids from Hebron forever.  What’s he got left to prove? Let others go.

Idle minds are the devil’s playground, idle hands the devil’s workshop, they say. David naps, then looks around, and rooftop Peeping Tom peering into a mikvah where women purified themselves after their monthly menstruation. It’s sordid, lazy, unimaginative, the sins of midlife crisis: ‘My wife doesn’t understand me’. Sure, Michal laughed when David danced.  He will take.

In the spring of the year,
the time when kings go out to war
David didn’t.

David let others go do the heavy lifting, and in his idle privilege, indulged a sin of pride and an abuse of power. It’s not about sex, and hardly about seduction.  David asks his bodyguards ‘Who’s that?’ ‘She’s the daughter of one of our guys, (‘Eliam’ means ‘one of God’s people’) and wife of that Egyptian mercenary’. Bathsheba’s Jewish father and North African husband are off doing a tour of military service, leaving her safe in the city, protected by the home guard.

Nothing changes.  He will take. It’s not strangers, but folks in positions of trust
that violate boundaries. This weekend, it’s Cardinal McCarrick.  6 years ago on July 29 2012, a CBC radio host’s monologue riffed on Kim Jong-Un, North Korea ruler, marrying Ri Sol Ju, beautiful actress.  ‘Sure, she consented!’  Ghomeshi’s  own story broke 2 years later, in 2014, costing him his CBC job for assaulting women from his own position of power.

David’s boys bring Bathsheba to the palace. He sleeps with her. Is that consent?  What further coercion was needed, for ‘#metoo’? Next, she’s pregnant, and David escalates from one abuse of power to another. Cover-up is not just a 20th century idea! David brings Uriah home from the front to sleep with his wife. Who will ever know that’s not how she got pregnant? So: deniability and timing. 

But Uriah’s got class, and won’t do it. He won’t enjoy the pleasures of home, while his comrades remain in the field, at the front. David asks again, gets him drunk. But he still won’t go home. Uriah is now ‘dead man walking’, expendable.

So the cover-up escalates. David sends a note to Joab the general, ‘Send Uriah to the front, then back off and leave him hanging’. He sends the letter with Uriah, trusting that the Boy Scout won’t read it, and trusting that Joab will do what he’s told. These guys are not David’s foes. These are his flaws, and he is his own foe. It’s not about sex. It’s about idle privilege and abuse of power, and denial of responsibility. It’s about cover-ups and ‘friendly fire’.

Why did David rise? How did David thrive? Now, why and how did David fall? It’s our story, Israel’s story, Jesus’ story, God’s story, and ours. It matters to me, and to us, and shapes the meaning and choices of our lives, individually and collectively to name the sins within us and around us. Do I have to spell this out?  Have I not already spelled this out? He will take.

In the spring of the year,
The time when kings go out to war…
David didn’t.

David was no coward. Maybe he got tired, or complacent, or rested on his laurels.  Perhaps these are midlife sins of pride, middle class sins of self-indulgence, first world sins of degeneracy. It’s a personal story, and a collective one, and a familiar one, as empires rise and fall, and heroes triumph and fail.

Gibbons’ “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” was written between the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars.  Hodgkins’  “Barbarian Invasions of the Roman Empire” came a century later, in late high Victorian days. Quebecois film-maker Denis Arcand alluded to each in “Decline of the American Empire” and “Barbarian Invasions”.

Gibbons wrote his account to warn about corruption and degeneracy not only in Rome, but pre-revolutionary France and in his own England. When the Italian peninsula could no longer feed itself, it became entirely dependant on the breadbasket of Carthage, north Africa. Vandals cut the supply line.  Augustine’s city of Hippo fell.  

Hodgkins updated the themes to recognize a polyglot Empire: the Roman armies weren’t very Roman, but were populated by a succession of ‘barbarian’ hordes: Visigoths, Huns, Vandals, Ostrogoths, Lombards, Franks.  Victoria’s troops spoke English, claimed to identify with being British  – but relied on Celtic Scots, Irish, Indian, African, Asian muscle.  Colonial Christendom fell.

Arcand knew this plot line: not only in our heroes’ tragic flaws, but our complicit  huddling under the American umbrella of empire. Glib global liberalism is falling.

This summer is a season of trade wars.  The China price, or South Asian IT outsourcing, cheap clothing from Bangladesh or Indochina, the energy cartel price-fix, have ruled our economic fortune since ‘the end of history’ was proclaimed by Francis Fukuyama, and ‘the end of religion’ by Harvey Cox.  Whether it’s free trade or fair trade, or 25 years of proxy war in the Gulf, Iraq, and Afghanistan, ISIS or Putin’s run of power in Russia – it ain’t over. 

Still, we prefer to blame, rather than to confess.  Let the new Canadians sweat the small stuff and fund our CPP and social welfare state.  We do know about David’s flaws, for they are ours. Let somebody else do the dirty work. Let somebody else hustle. Send the kids. We steal from moral, political, financial capital accumulated by our elders, and beggar our children.

Idle, we find plenty of occasions for abuse of our power. Worse in turn, we cover up consequences of our choices, even to the extent of silencing ourselves about ‘collateral damage’, ‘acceptable losses’, or ‘friendly fire’. These David stories are subversive stuff, the core narratives of culture: invisible, unheard.  

The smartest guys in the room, the chosen, the heroes, the best and the brightest, the charismatic leaders and dancers, are never more immune than David to the sins of power.  We assumed we could share the ride, and sent others off to hustle for us, while we reaped from pensions we hadn’t sowed, when we rose from our couch and looked around, amusing ourselves to death. This is not about sex. It is not at all erotic. It is about power, deceit, and fraud.

In the spring of the year,
the time when kings go out to war –
David didn’t

It never changes.  It’s pathos and tragedy.  He will take. Uriah is dead, David seems to get away with it all – but the lesson ends with a warning: But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord…  Stay tuned for chapter 12!  Meanwhile, Martin Buber put it this way:

We cannot avoid
Using power,
Cannot escape
The compulsion
To afflict the world, 
So let us,
Cautious in diction
And mighty in contradiction
Love powerfully.

Unsatisfied by all that, I also told you this familiar old story:

Once upon a time,
there was a people who lived by the water.
They loved to swim in it, boat on it, fish in it –
They lived and movedand had their being in it and from it.

It met their needs, supplied their food and their fun,
Made them and kept them healthy….

Of course, in the nature of things,
There were some risks and dangers,
for weaker swimmers, in smaller boats, or in worse weather.
A few of the people were chosen,
and rose up as heroes in each crisis.

They were the lifesavers, who dove in to respond to emergencies.
There always seemed to be enough, at the right time…almost….

But over the course of time,
People could see that there were patterns,
in the emergencies, and in the responses.

So the lifesavers organized some equipment,
And even scheduled some to wait and watch as lifeguards.
First an outpost, a high chair for watching –
Then a shack for sheltering the lifeguards was built….

You know where this story ends:
The clubhouse got nicer, the members more comfortable –
They hired kids to sit in the chair, and wait and watch,
while they enjoyed their members-only club inside.

They rarely even swam or boated or fished –
Let alone practice lifesaving, or sharing lifeguarding
What will happen to that club, in the end?
What will happen to our club, in the end?

God forbid that our legacy be reduced to the old story:
He will take.
Rather, let it be:
See what they gave!