the seven deadly sins, ii.

2 Samuel 11
In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.
2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, ‘This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.’ 4So David sent messengers to fetch her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. 5The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, ‘I am pregnant.’
6 So David sent word to Joab, ‘Send me Uriah the Hittite.’ And Joab sent Uriah to David. 7When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. 8Then David said to Uriah, ‘Go down to your house, and wash your feet.’ Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. 9But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. 10When they told David, ‘Uriah did not go down to his house’, David said to Uriah, ‘You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?’ 11Uriah said to David, ‘The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.’ 12Then David said to Uriah, ‘Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.’ So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, 13David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. 15In the letter he wrote, ‘Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.’ 16As Joab was besieging the city, he assigned Uriah to the place where he knew there were valiant warriors. 17The men of the city came out and fought with Joab; and some of the servants of David among the people fell. Uriah the Hittite was killed as well. 18Then Joab sent and told David all the news about the fighting; 19and he instructed the messenger, ‘When you have finished telling the king all the news about the fighting, 20then, if the king’s anger rises, and if he says to you, “Why did you go so near the city to fight? Did you not know that they would shoot from the wall? 21Who killed Abimelech son of Jerubbaal? Did not a woman throw an upper millstone on him from the wall, so that he died at Thebez? Why did you go so near the wall?” then you shall say, “Your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead too.” ’
22 So the messenger went, and came and told David all that Joab had sent him to tell. 23The messenger said to David, ‘The men gained an advantage over us, and came out against us in the field; but we drove them back to the entrance of the gate. 24Then the archers shot at your servants from the wall; some of the king’s servants are dead; and your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead also.’ 25David said to the messenger, ‘Thus you shall say to Joab, “Do not let this matter trouble you, for the sword devours now one and now another; press your attack on the city, and overthrow it.” And encourage him.’
26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord ….

Sermon
It is a very dangerous thing for me
as a white man—
a middle-aged white man—
to say anything about lust
that might in any way come across as an excuse—
a justification
for abusive behavior.

Nothing excuses or justifies
treating another person as an object.
Nothing excuses or justifies overlooking the wholeness of a person.
Nothing excuses or justifies acting as if a person
doesn’t have their own desires and needs—
as if the way we treat others does not have deep and lasting consequences.
Nothing excuses or justifies using power to strip another person of their dignity.
Pleasure without conscience.
Is that pretty clear?
And yet we’re all part of that all the time.

Cameron Russell has been a Victoria’s Secret Model
and has walked for Versace and Chanel,
posed for Vogue,
been the face of Ralph Lauren and Tiffany & Co.
She knows something about being objectified.
It goes with the territory.

In a 2012 TED talk that’s been viewed over 30 million times,
she shows side by side pictures (it’s fascinating) and comments,
“This is what I looked like with my grandma
just a few months earlier.
Here’s me on the same day as this shoot.
My friend got to come. Here’s me at a slumber party
a few days before I shot French Vogue.
Here’s me on the soccer team and in V Magazine.
And here’s me today. And I hope what you’re seeing
is that these pictures [the modeling pictures] are not pictures of me.
They are constructions, and they are constructions
by a group of professionals, by hairstylists and makeup artists
and photographers and stylists and all of their assistants
and pre-production and post-production,
and they build this. That’s not me”
(https://www.ted.com/talks/cameron_russell_looks_aren_t_everything_believe_me_i_m_a_model/transcript?language=en).
They build this. That is not me.
The language of objects.

And the language of our economy—
the assumptions and presuppositions endemic to our culture.
We all know sex sells.
This deadly sin of lust—this cardinal vice—is profitable.
So we turn a blind eye to the leering eyes and the dead eyes of those who know they’re being leered at.

Lust is not the only profitable sin.
Envy is the basis of most marketing and entirely too much social media,
but we’re not talking about that today.
It is a terrible theological observation and insight though:
sinfulness is consistently overlooked for money—for greed—
but we’re not talking about that today either.

We are those, however, who should be those pointing out to our children—
to our youth—to each other—
these constructs—these constructions
in our magazines.
We should rigorously be pointing out
how much masquerading as real is fake.
That’s not always easy or comfortable.
I remember a sexologist once telling me,
“If you come across your child watching porn
consider sitting down and watching with them—
making them stay there as you watch it with them
and point out to them everything that’s fake.”
Make you feel queasy?
But if you keep thinking about it for a while,
doesn’t it make a kind of profound sense?

The church has failed our children by in large
by being unwilling to talk explicitly about sex.
We’re pretty good at condemning pleasure without conscience,
but we don’t say too much about how in good conscience—
in relationship and commitment,
sex brings great pleasure as God’s good gift.

Too much we let the world spin its fantasies
and market them as what’s real
because we’re simply too embarrassed to be honest.

Part of our job as parents though—
our calling as followers of God in the way of Jesus
is a persistent questioning of—
confronting—rejecting—so much of the status quo
so much that is constructed and fake and one-dimensional.

It is our sacred calling
not to allow fake posing as real to go unnamed and unconfronted.

King David’s not himself in our text today—
or he’s not who he used to be.
for in the spring of the year, we read,
when kings go out to battle,
David sent Joab and his servants and all Israel against the Ammonites,
but David remained at Jerusalem.

He used to be at the forefront of the fighting—
so much so, we remember, that he would get all the credit.
Just back in chapter eight, we read
that David defeated the Philistines (2 Samuel 8:1),
and David defeated Moab (2 Samuel 8:2),
and David defeated Hadadezer (2 Samuel 8:3),
and the Arameans (2 Samuel 8:5), and the Edomites (2 Samuel 8:13).
I mean aren’t you just a little bit suspicious
when you read David killed eighteen thousand Edomites?
What did he cure cancer too?

So what has changed?
It may be that David has changed—
no longer in his prime.
Maybe a medical condition affecting his legs—an old war injury.
Maybe he had to stay in Jerusalem.
Maybe he was, in fact, encouraged to stay in Jerusalem.
Maybe he was more important in Jerusalem now as king and symbol
than to be risked on the front lines.
And maybe it started back in chapter ten
where we read that Joab led the fighting
against the Ammonites and the Arameans,
and David didn’t even appear until the end (2 Samuel 10:17-18)—
until after the enemy was actually said to be defeated (2 Samuel 10:15).
Had to have been hard—relegated to the sidelines.

And if you have always received external validation—
validation for your good looks—
validation for what you’ve done—
what happens when you lose those looks?
what happens when you can’t do such deeds anymore?

Again, not excusing anything. Just observing—
and finding a word for us all.
Growing up—maturity—is, in part, for all of us,
the movement away from purely external validation.
We admire—our culture admires, as David’s did,
the external victories, the obviously impressive.
And we need to cultivate a greater appreciation—
we, as the people of God, need to cultivate a greater appreciation
of the more subtle, the less obvious victories—
the work of realizing and accepting the importance of every individual—
of administering justice and equity to all people.
And as we work to become more mature,
maybe our so very immature culture can too.

Awakening in the late afternoon, we read
(and what’s up with that? indolence? or bed-ridden?)—
awakening late in the afternoon,
walking on his roof, David saw a woman bathing,
and she was very beautiful.

The immediacy of such situations can short circuit thinking—
bypass perspective and priorities and beliefs and standards.
Lust can feel right. It feels important. It feels good
and natural and thus justified.
Everyone hear that?
Just because if feels right, does not make it so—
especially perhaps when it comes to lust.
And lust for what?: a fantasy of what sex might be,
a fantasy of what more money might be,
a lust for power—for control,
of forcing people to respond to you?

One servant said, “That is the daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah.”
In the midst of objectification, the relational reminder:
she is in relationship with others; she is the heart of two families.
But David sent for her nonetheless,
and he lay with her.
This is wrong on so many levels.
This is sexual abuse; it is the abuse of power.
It is the betrayal of David’s anointing as king
and calling as shepherd.
But that’s why this has to be a David story—
a story of the hero—of the man after God’s own heart.
And there is no excuse—no justification.
That needs to be the unequivocal voice of the church.
when power (personal, political, or ecclesial) is abused.
It is critical for us as followers of God in the way of Jesus
to prophetically condemn abuse.

Our story’s even worse than we supposed
as we remember, she was in the bath purifying herself.
She was cleansing herself in obedience to the laws of God.
David saw her in an expression of her faithfulness
and took her as an expression of his own faithlessness,
and as she was cleansing herself,
in accordance with the law after her period,
she was at the time most likely to conceive, and she did.
And she who had been sent for—
she who had been the one unknowingly spied upon,
brought before the king and taken,
she who had been passive before the power of the king—
acted upon—now takes the initiative
and sends word to the king, “I’m pregnant.”

David, in his fear, and in his arrogance—
attempts to continue to be in control of people and consequences.
He sends for Uriah, her husband, one of his elite fighters.
He sends for Uriah, just as he had sent for Uriah’s wife,
and asks for an update from the battlelines.
We lose it in translation.
In Hebrew David asks about the peace of Joab,
the peace of the army and the peace of the war—
three repetitions in Hebrew of the word “shalom”—
David asking about what he is in the very process of undoing.
Sin undoes shalom.

David tells Uriah to go home and to wash his feet. Uh hm.
You know what that means, right?
Go home and sleep with your wife,
so when she says she’s pregnant,
everyone will think the child is yours.
But Uriah thinks of the suffering of his fellow citizens,
the sacrifice of his fellow soldiers,
and proclaims it isn’t right for me to take advantage
and to enjoy what they can’t.
As you live, as your soul lives, I will not.
Of course, we’re now wondering about the state of the life of David’s soul, aren’t we?
David’s first attempt to cover up fails in face of Uriah’s honor.

David commands Uriah to stick around another day
and gets him drunk and tries to send him home again,
but he just wouldn’t go home and wash his feet!
David’s second attempt to cover up fails too.

Things continue to get worse.
David asserts his authority—his power, again abusively,
and has Uriah himself take the message to Joab back on the battlefield—
the message to have Uriah sent into the worst of the fighting
and to withdraw the other troops so Uriah would be killed.

David inserted himself in Uriah’s place with Bathsheba,
and then placed Uriah in what had been David’s place—
at the forefront of the fighting.
Uriah doesn’t survive. He’s no David.
But neither is David—not in this story—
even as he now thinks his third attempt at a cover up succeeded.
And that’s just it:
we can’t ever not remember that this is David.
Shepherd boy David. Hero David. Beloved of God David.
Greatest king of Israel David.
No excuses. No justification.
But some sense of cognitive dissonance
in the unfolding of the greater truth of the man.
And so we continue to chew on this idea of sin—

sin as less an expression of self —
or the imposition of self —
of personality or tendency —
or even of evil — of wrong — of bad,
but rather the sad reflection
of a self missing some section
of itself.
To consider, for example, the seven deadly sins:
lust, for example, reflects
a deep longing for connection —
for a legitimacy of intimacy,
and greed, a need
to try and ply the emptiness inside
with enough of some stuff to fill it,
and gluttony’s just a particular way
of trying to fill that void
none of us can avoid.
Sloth is being overwhelmed at
and paralyzed by potential —
which then never becomes experiential,
and pride and wrath
put either too much on yourself
or on another—indicative
of a loss of balanced perspective
manifest in too much boasting or too much invective.
Envy reveals a lack of assurance or confidence
regardless of prominence or competence.

So what if we were to think of sin as emerging
not from the bad someone is or even does,
but from their suffering and pain —
their grief and deep uncertainty.
What if a sinner is an empty person
we’re tempted to fill with our own anger
not to have to face our own empty inside
from which we hide or through which we grow.
What if sin is so not supposed
to lead just to anger but also to empathy,
not just rejection, but also affection —
to see in another’s hell
the struggle we all know all too well.

Sin is supposed to constitute a challenge
to both the one who sins
and the follower of God in the way of Jesus,
and everyone wins only if no-one loses.
For the one, the sinner, sin is the challenge
not to excuse or justify behavior,
but to grow through experience.
For the other, the follower of God,
the challenge of sin is not to excuse or justify
any sense of separation—the feeling of being
any different than—
to always remember,
“That is something I would could do too.”

What if sins are signs pointing to that
for which we were created
that we’re missing.

The Greek word for sin, you remember,
comes from a verb meaning to miss the target.

There is supposed to be a deep pleasure
integral to living out our conscience in relationship and commitment,
and a terrible loss to pleasure without principle.

It’s not excuse the sin.
Heaven forbid.
It is critical for us as followers of God in the way of Jesus
to prophetically condemn.
It’s not the cliché hate the sin, love the sinner,
because I’m not even sure what that really means—
other than that it makes it all about them.
It’s not extenuating circumstances
(because extenuating implies justifying and condoning
and we’re not doing that),
but it is the discipline of seeing a more holistic context—
for the person who sins,
and the systems in which we all turn our blind eyes to sin,
and for the temptation to feel like we’re different than they are—
a more holistic context that includes
holding on to clear perspectives on what is unjust
on what is exploitive on what is abusive
but with love and grace for us all.

It’s as Bryan Stevenson,
the lawyer who wrote the book Just Mercy
(which you should read)—
now out as a movie (which you should see)—
it’s as Bryan Stevenson said,
“Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.”

Have I been explicitly, crystal clear?
Because it is a very dangerous thing for me
as a white man
a middle-aged white man
to say anything about lust or sin
that might in any way come across as an excuse—
a justification
for abusive behavior.
But it is also a very dangerous thing for anyone
to set themselves up as judge
thinking themselves to be anything other than a sinner themselves.

May we walk the line
in the manner of the one
in whom the fullness of God was pleased to dwell
full of truth and grace—
and never the one at the expense of the other.

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