Minister's Sermon - Sunday 14th October 1028 (St. Francis)
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenSt Francis, Valley Park

Sunday 14th October 2018 10.00am

2 Samuel 11:26-12:14 

Mark 10. 17-31

Sermon: Misplaced trust

Introduction

Last weekend was the end of mixed week for women. It began with President Trump’s shameful mocking of Dr Christine Blasey Ford’s response to the questions she’d been asked in the Senate Judiciary Committee. And ended with the Judge Kavanaugh being appointed to the Supreme Court and all that will mean for laws that promote inclusion. But on Friday there was good news. Nadia Murad - a Yasidi activist and Denis Mukwege - a Congolese doctor – shared the Nobel peace prize. And on Sunday, the sky did not fall in, when despite all the gloom-laden predictions, Josie Whittaker became Dr Who. You may be wondering what on earth these things have to do with the readings we’ve heard – and the theme – Misplaced Trust. We’ll get there! I want to begin with the un-named and silent woman, in our reading from the Hebrew Scriptures. Because our relationship with her, with the “poor” who Jesus speaks of in our Gospel reading and with the people involved in the stories I’ve just spoken of, reveal where we place our trust.

Bathsheba, women and powerful men

The silent, un-named woman is Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, one of King David’s warriors. “In the spring of the year, the time when kings go into battle,” David sent his army into battle. But remained in Jerusalem. One day, he saw Bathsheba bathing, and decided he wanted her. She became pregnant, and when she sent a message to David, he arranged for Uriah to return from battle so he could sleep with his wife. Uriah refused, and because David needed to cover his tracks, he plotted to have Uriah killed. At the beginning of our reading, Bathsheba is no longer named, she’s only given the dignity of a name before she’s “possessed by David.” Afterwards she’s Uriah’s wife, his property, until David sends for her, and she becomes his property. We could say, this is a story about David not her, so none of this is surprising. Yet, that’s not the whole truth, because she’s the reason David got into this mess in the first place. Since the beginning, people have struggled with this part of David’s story. The Book of Chronicles, records the same period of history but leaves this one out. Others suggest David is seduced by Bathsheba, so, place the blame on her. While a different approach is taken in the 1951 film starring Susan Hayward and Gregory Peck. They fell in love! And Love can't be wrong… None of these interpretations really see Bathsheba. They don’t recognise that her actions reflect the cultural practices of her time. Or that each time, David “sent” for her, there’s no mention of whether or not he consented. Gennifer Benjamin Brooks says, that “Most likely she is unaware that her husband was murdered, and given her situation, pregnant and without a husband, she has no choice but to become the wife of the one who is responsible for her untenable situation. It is the plight of so many women across the world, especially women caught in the grip of poverty, that they are subject to repeated victimization because they are without other options.” The story of God’s people in the Hebrew Scriptures is mostly the story of those on the top side of history. Kings, prophets, men. There are a few stories of people from the underside, but even those tell the story from the perspective of the powerful, and they reflect their culture, their practices, their traditions. This is David’s story. And because it’s in scripture, similar actions and cultures, have been justified – in religious and secular circles. So, Isis see the treatment of the Yasidi women, as part of a holy war. In the Congo, and many other countries, rape has been seen as a legitimate weapon of war. While in many Western countries “men are just being men,” or “the women were asking for it,” when they’re accused of touching or kissing or even raping a woman. The Hashtag Me Too movement, and protests about women’s experiences, are made fun of. [And Dr Who being a woman, is the last straw for those who saw it was a beloved British tradition, and who thought it would become “joyless, resentful, bitter, intersectionalist, feminist / LGBT propaganda!” I do wonder how people can get so worked up about a TV programme that was originally created for children!] But what I’m pointing to is serious. Bathsheba’s situation as a victim of personal and sexual abuse and violence is shared by many women today. And even ‘though I believe their actions displease God. When the prophet Nathan comes to David, the message of God’s displeasure, is not linked to the harm done to her. David’s evil is the murder of Uriah. God, says Nathan, is displeased because of Uriah’s death. And there is no mention of Bathsheba’s suffering at the hands of God’s chosen king. In her commentary on this story, Gennifer Benjamin Brooks wonders whether, “God reacts differently to the suffering of women… than men?” I believe the answer to this question, is, no. I do not believe that God treats women differently, and that whether “it’s recorded or not, God saw what had been done to Bathsheba.” God sees what is happening to women around the world right now. And God continues to enable people who take the risk of speaking out and putting things right. And that leads me to the Gospel.

Jesus and relationships

The story of the encounter between Jesus and the rich man, who called him “Good Teacher,” is challenging. When the man meets Jesus, he kneels. Kneeling, is an attitude of submission, of worship. A way of saying I will do what you ask of me. And his question – what must I do to inherit eternal life - seems genuine enough. In contrast, Jesus’ reply, could be interpreted as being quite dismissive. “Why do you call me good?” And when he quotes from the ten commandments, he leaves out the first four, the ones concerning our relationship with God. The ones the man is presumably quite comfortable with, and he only cites the last six, the ones that focus on his relationship with other people. When the rich man says he’s kept all these since his youth, Jesus says, “You lack one thing…” In her weekly lectionary blog Karoline Lewis points out the irony in Jesus’ words. “We can… assume that given his wealth, his many possessions, the rich man lacks nothing. What could he possibly be without? What wouldn’t he be able to purchase, to acquire, to make happen in his life given what he clearly has? After all, wealth provides you with everything you could possibly imagine, right?” Jesus’ suggestion that he sells what he owns and gives the money to the poor, is challenging for all of us who do not struggle with daily life, for lack of money. But a better translation of “You lack one thing” is, “you are lacking in one thing.” “What he lacks… is not something but a certain state of being, a way of being, an orientation in the world and towards the world.” And this orientation, this way of being, is about our relationships. Relationships, not just with Jesus and God, but with the communities in which we live, and the wider world. Jesus demonstrates what this should look like in his body language as well as his words. After Jesus hears that the man has kept the commandments since his youth, Jesus “looked” at him, and “loved” him. Then he invites the rich man to “come” and to “follow.” In his looking and loving, his coming and following, the rich man has fallen short. Because all of these actions, demand that we move beyond ourselves, and pay attention to the other. And he has not. Jesus’s way insists that treasure lies not in how we love ourselves through what we buy, who we associate with, or the freedon we have to do what we wish. But Jesus’ way, God’s way, our “truest treasure,” is when we see and love people who are poor. Whether they are people in need. Whether they are people who do not add to our status. Or whether they are people who contribute nothing to our power. So, it turns out that what the rich man lacks, is everything. Everything Jesus stands for. Everything God’s Kingdom is about. His wealth has worked against real connection. He’s revered riches over relationships. And he’s rejected community for possessions. What Jesus offers him, is relationship, a relationship with God, that is worked out in relationships in his community. It’s why Jesus doesn’t stop at “sell all of your possessions.” Because it’s not just his wealth that’s the problem. The problem is that he’s using wealth as a substitute for relationships with people and God. So, Jesus says, “sell what you own and give the money to the poor.” Let me be clear. Jesus isn’t saying wealth is bad or you should give more money to the poor. He’s insisting “that wealth without a commitment to connection will pull you away from the relationship Jesus wants for you… That wealth without seeing the other… leads to narcissism. Wealth without loving the other exposes the absence of empathy. Wealth without the risk of answering an invitation to join something outside of yourself, to follow a path not known… results in fear.” And it’s not just wealth. All of this applies to anything – wealth, beauty, status, gender, power – that leads us to believe we lack nothing.

Misplaced trust

David and the rich man show us what misplaced trust looks like. Like many people in today’s world, the rich man trusted himself to riches, rather than a relationship with God and other people. While David, used his power to appropriate Bathsheba, and to cover up his tracks when they could not be hidden. He could only get away with his crime because he was who he was, and could trust in his own power, to ensure nothing would happen to him. How familiar David’s actions sound today! From the use of rape as a weapon of war, to men who expect sexual favours of women, in return for jobs, the perpetrators are guilty of misplaced trust. Trusting their own power to get what they want, rather than in the power, of Jesus’ inclusive community. I believed Dr Christine Blasey Ford, when she said, “I am here because I believe it is my civic duty to tell you what happened to me.” The Hashtag Me Too movement – which was a year-old last weekend – enabled her to voice a secret that had injured for her life. In her, we saw the lasting impact something that happened in our teens, can have on our lives, our self-image, and relationships. And seeing how difficult it was for her to speak, I can only wonder at the courage of Nadia Murad who relives her experience of being a sex-slave, every time she talks about it. Yet, she insists she must fight for justice, for the victims of war crimes all over the world. Thankfully, their experience is extreme, but I doubt if there’s a community in the world, where power is not being used against women, children and men, because the perpetrators can get away with it. Contrast this with Dr Denis Mukwege, who has devoted his life to helping 50,000 survivors of sexual violence, in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In 2012, he and his family survived an attempted kidnapping, and murder. He fled to the US, but returned after three months, to continue work. But now, he can no longer leave the hospital, and he lives there watched over by UN peace-keepers. Eve Ensler’s comments in last Saturday’s Guardian, speak for many of us, “At a time when men are being encouraged – by Donald Trump and others – to reassert patriarchal dominance to demean women, to dismiss women and brag about how they can assault us without impunity… Denis Mukwege is a model for men. He risked his life literally to break ranks with a patriarchal culture of violence towards women. He did it by standing with us, for us, when it was one of the most dangerous things he could do.” Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad and Christine Blasey Ford are three people who have moved outside themselves. Each of them, in different ways, has adopted an orientation, a direction, a way of being with other people and the world, that moves beyond their own needs. They have seen what others have experienced. Their patients, their families and community, other women. And they’ve chosen to love them in words and actions. Dr Mukwege is a Christian, so we can confidently say, he is following Christ. I do not know about Nadia Murad or Christine Blaysey Ford. But in their actions, I see a commitment to a community, in which power is not misused. And they’ve each lost something. Denis Mukwege - his freedom. Nadia Murad - the possibility of leaving what has happened to her in the past. And Christine Blasey Ford has given up her privacy and opened herself to abuse.

Conclusion

In today’s world, people place their trust in such things as wealth, beauty, power, gender and status. Most of them would be surprised to hear it spoken of a misplaced trust. For the wider world – and for many Christians – these give people control over their lives and enable them to live a good life. The way I understand the Gospel, is different, ‘though. For me, life isn’t about me as an individual, it’s about sharing in growing the inclusive community God calls us to inhabit. Communities in which everyone can live fully, because we’re seen, loved, and free to make decisions about our future. Getting there, ‘though, requires an undoing - a dying, a losing to gain. The sort of dying Jesus invites the rich man to undergo. A willingness to risk our lives, of the sort we’ve seen in Denis Mukwege, Nadia Murad and Christine Blasey Ford. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan priest, says that “the Holy Spirit [must] lead and direct this undoing. We cannot take control, and this is our ‘dying’ as we have to gradually let go of our need for control, our small self-serving worldviews, and our comforting certitudes… It is a dying that we must both allow from our side and also allow to be done to us…” This is what happened to David when God sent the prophet Nathan to him. He was faced with his sin. David didn’t see it at first because he was captive to the ways of his culture. But when he did, he confessed, and God forgave him because God loves first. And God looks at us, God loves us, and God invites us to confess, to come and to follow. To die to all that gets in the way of life for God’s people all over the world. To confront that within us that leads to self-preservation. And to take risks with our lives for the good of all. It is hard. Harder than a camel going through the eyes of a needle. And yet, Jesus says, those who let go for the sake of the good news, will be blessed now and in the age to come. For those who lose gain. So, I pray that we will take the risk, and allow God to bless us now and in the age to come. Amen.

Sue Keegan von Allmen

13th October 2018