Oh Lord, uphold Thou me, that I may uplift Thee. Amen.

Our lesson from second Samuel for today presents us with the culmination of the David and Bathsheba story. It is the perfect tale of power corrupting the individual and absolute power corrupting absolutely. Many of us know the story.

David, at the height of his power as King of Israel, falls prey to hubris and ego and begins to believe he can have anything, even the wife of another man, and an honorable man at that. Spotting the beautiful Bathsheba bathing on the roof of her home, David brings her into his palace, most likely against her will, in a perfect example of abuse of power, and takes her as his own. As a result of this infidelity (at best) or rape (at worst), Bathsheba becomes pregnant. Uriah is Bathsheba’s husband. He is a loyal soldier in David’s army, brave and dedicated. However, Uriah is not an Israelite, he is a Hittite, a member of a minority group that lived in and around Canaan since before the time of Israel. Looking for a way to hide what he has done and believing Uriah to be a member of an inferior tribe, David brings Uriah back from battle and sends him home to Bathsheba in the hope that her pregnancy will look innocent. But Uriah, sticking to his code of honor as a soldier, refuses to follow David’s direction. In the end, David sends Uriah to his death by placing him on the front lines as Israel lays siege to Rabbah, the stronghold of the Ammonites. Then, after an acceptable amount of time, David marries the widow Bathsheba and believes that the entire episode is behind him.

This is where our lesson for today begins. Nathan is Israel’s prophet. Set aside by God to speak for God, Nathan confronts David’s immoral behavior. In a brilliant rhetorical move, rather than confront David directly, Nathan appeals to David’s self-righteous sense of morality and tells the King a story of two men, one rich, the other poor, and the rich man’s theft of the poor man’s lamb to feed a wayward stranger. David is incensed by this story and declares, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” In one of the most dramatic moments in Scripture, Nathan confronts David, saying, “You are the man!” Nathan, using a parable, forces David to indict himself. God has looked with favor on David and has bestowed many blessings on him. But, David has given in to the corrupting influences of power and broken the commandments against covetousness, adultery, and murder.[1] In the end, David repents and our psalm for today, Psalm 51, is David’s confession to God and his plea to God for forgiveness.

Apart from some of the things Jesus said in the Gospels, our lesson this morning is perhaps the most profound biblical example of speaking truth to power. Nathan is bold and shrewd, using David’s own words against him, forcing the King to confront his own sinfulness. Now I know there are plenty of people here this morning who think our country needs a herd of Nathans these days. And there are some sitting here who hope that I will take advantage of this lesson to speak a little truth to power myself. And while that certainly happens here at the Cathedral, that is not my focus for this morning. Political critique is important for our democracy, and we perhaps need it now more than ever. But that is not my point for today. Why? Because the good news of our faith, while it does indeed have profound political implications, has even more profound personal and spiritual implications for you and me. So, rather than sending Nathan to Pennsylvania Avenue, I want us to wonder what Nathan might say if today he were speaking truth to us?

As a child and a young adult, whenever I did something wrong, something thoughtless or mean, my mother would always say the same thing to me: “Take a good look in the mirror young man and tell me if you like what you see!” For my mother, honestly examining yourself, your failings and your mistakes, was incredibly important. She saw it as her duty to hold up a mirror for both of her boys, whether we wanted her to or not, to reflect back to us our faults, our false assumptions and prejudices about people, our actions that mistreated others. It was a phrase I heard from her so often that even now, years after her death, I can still hear her voice in my head and see the pained look on her face. In the same way, Nathan holds up a mirror to David in today’s lesson, and we need to allow him to hold up a mirror for us as well. Because when it comes to the state of our civil society we are good at pointing fingers at the other party, the other politician, the other person, when the fact is, we get the country we deserve, we get the political and social climate that we create. Whose fault it is that we live in such a polarized society, split apart into different ideological tribes? I think Nathan might say it’s our fault – yours and mine. We have allowed it to happen. If we want to pass out blame then let’s start with us, we deserve a share of the responsibility, and if we want things to be different then maybe the place to start is by looking in the mirror.

Presidents come and go. Some of them do things that I like and some of them do things I strongly disagree with, but ultimately the question for me as a Christian is not – how can I get my way, but how can I love my neighbor? Now, loving my neighbor is not about how I feel about someone else, it is not a matter of actually having feelings of love for every person I encounter. No, loving my neighbor means treating them with honor, treating them with respect. It means being willing to see myself in them and them in me. It means giving them the same benefit of the doubt, the same courtesy of understanding, that I give myself. Therefore, when we reduce another person to a stereotype, to a political ideology, when we define someone by generalities rather than by the uniqueness and complexity of their individuality, then we dishonor them, and we fail to love them.

In an article for the Brookings Institute, Jonathan Rauch pointed out the overly simplistic tropes we use for one another in our country today. We talk about red America and blue America as if we all fit nicely and neatly into one category or another. Rauch writes, “red America is godly, moralistic, patriotic, predominantly white, masculine, less educated, and heavily rural and suburban; blue America is secular, relativistic, internationalist, multicultural, feminine, college educated, and heavily urban and cosmopolitan. Reds vote for guns and capital punishment and war in Iraq, blues for abortion rights and the environment. In red America, Saturday is for NASCAR and Sunday is for church. In blue America, Saturday is for the farmers’ market . . . and Sunday is for The New York Times.”[2] Is some of that true? Yes, it rings true. But is it Godly, is it loving, to define one another this way? No, of course not. We are all much more complex and nuanced then this simplistic duality. And until we are willing to examine our own attitudes and biases, to move beyond our smug indignation, we will never learn to collaborate for the benefit of our community and our country.  This is not me saying:  let’s all just get along. Rather, it is me saying:  when was the last time we took a good, long look at ourselves and owned our contributions to the poor state of our civic and societal relationships. When was the last time we really confessed our own prejudices and biases and false assumptions about our neighbor? Ninety-nine percent of the people we disagree with are not bad or evil. We may think they are wrong, but have we taken the time to really understand why they think what they think? Whether you consider yourself red, blue or something completely different, when was the last time you had an open, honest, conversation where you really listened to someone who thinks quite differently than you do? As the author Mark Gerzon says, “If you want to change your stereotypes, seek first-hand experience. Do not believe everything you are told. Find out for yourself. Listen.”[3]

In closing, who is your Nathan? Who plays the role of Nathan in your life? Perhaps like me Nathan is the voice of a parent that lives in your head, perhaps he is a partner, a spouse, or a friend. Whatever the case, we all need one. We all need a Nathan to hold up the mirror and help us see where our own egos, our own hubris, our own self-righteousness gets in the way of us loving our neighbor as ourselves. Like David in Psalm 51, we need to confess our sins. We need to ask God to help us see the people with whom we vehemently disagree as beloved, the way God sees them as beloved. There really is no better way to heal what divides us and no better way to grow beyond what separates us. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Amen.

 

[1] Synthesis, Volume 32 #8, Paula Franck, M.T.S.

 

[2] Bipolar Disorder: Is America Divided?, Jonathan Rauch, Saturday, January 1, 2005, Brookings Institute

 

[3] Mark Gerzon, American Citizen, Global Citizen: How Expanding Our Identities Makes Us Safer, Stronger, Wiser – And Builds a Better World

 

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