Preaching this morning is Brian Crisp. A former chairman of Pullen’s Missions & Outreach Council, Brian has just completed the first year of his studies as a PhD candidate at Vanderbilt University.
Text: 2 Samuel 11:1-15
It is not uncommon for me to ask my colleagues walking the hallowed halls of that august divinity school rather poignant questions such as, “Really, in the cinematic adaptations, who do you think played the better David?” Most of the time such interrogations are met with bewilderment and silence. Yet, those of you in this congregation know that, although embracing the full frivolity of the moment, these questions are posited with purpose. Most of the time.
Hollywood has constantly turned to the Hebrew scriptures for inspiration, and in doing such, has never fallen short of celluloid reproductions of the ancient monarch. The King of Israel has been fleshed out in mediums from animation to lavish melodramas. The Italians, although going for a rather unknown actor to play David, did convince Orson Welles to roam the Israeli countryside portraying an avant-garde Saul in the stark David e Golia. Glossing over any relationship with Jonathan, The Story of David features Jeff Chandler in a pioneer-inspired portrayal that mirrored Chandler’s more famous role as Cochise in the 1950 western, Broken Arrow. Atticus Fitch, I mean Gregory Peck, kept his resolve but lost the legal jargon to dramatize the monarch in the blockbuster love story, David and Bathsheba. The 1980’s, adhering to its nature, produced an over-the-top indulgent epic King David that featured a young Richard Gere scantily clad in an ahistorical ephod dancing for over five minutes before the Ark of the Covenant. Because I am amused so much with this scene, I often open the YouTube clip, mute the volume, and play other music from my library as the soundtrack. This works rather well with “I’ve Got the Horse Right Here” from Guys and Dolls, a musical selection that emphasizes the ancient Israelite’s proclivity for raising amazing horses. Particularly, I love it with “Dancing Machine” by the Jacksons or Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” Although Gere’s gyrations could not save the film from box office disaster, they can provide moments of levity, and the movie’s trailer continues to catch my attention. Over muted trumpeters and roaring chariots, a narrator firmly proclaims the rightful status of Israel’s ancient ruler: “David, a name for a hero. The lover of Bathsheba. The slayer of Goliath. The rebel. The fighter. The King.”
This is the David we like to remember: a hero, a rebel, a fighter, a king, a lover of Bathsheba. I would imagine that many of us have memories of hearing the story of David and Bathsheba in Sunday school as we sat around felt boards decorated with pristine characters overly clothed and white washed into a sanitized romantic relationship where hand holding seemed scandalous. Although Gregory Peck and Susan Hayward are a little less sanitized in their portrayals, Bathsheba is given a stunning necklace as David proclaims her virtuous, and in a great moment of melodrama, Bathsheba praises her king’s nobility. And scene. Fade to black.
The more fortunate amongst us, if lucky, have heard the word “adultery” associated with this story. Perusing the multiple educational resources for this passage, one of the major denominational publishing houses in a lesson provided for elementary-age children titled, “Even David Sinned,” suggested the children dramatize the story of David and Bathsheba. Upon reading that recommendation, I texted Nancy Petty and asked “Really? Really?”
In a biblical passage that denotes a great turning point for the David arc, the writers have pulled out all the literary stops in order to realize an ingenious touchstone of covenantal theology. Famed Hebrew Bible scholar, Robert Alter notes, “Thematic words, the shifting play of dialogue, the intricate relation between instruction and execution, the cultivated ambiguities of motive are orchestrated with a richness that scarcely has an equal in ancient narrative.” (Alter, 249) True, reading this in Hebrew with its assonance, ambiguity, and word play is nothing short of breathtaking for its equal parts of the sublime and the abhorrent. In a few short verses we have a keen construction of sloth, greed, rape, manipulation, warmongering, commodification, irresponsibility, and execution. No, this beautiful passage is not for emulation or dramatic play. This is scandal.
Corruption launches the first words of the Second Samuel passage, “at the time that kings go forth.” This is war and conquest. Winter rains are over, and David’s troops are going out to expand the empire in a move that should surprise no reader of the Hebrew scriptures. David has subjugated the Philistines, the Edomites, the Syrians, and the inhabitants of Moab. To ensure his right to the monarchy, he has massacred all of Saul’s family except the physically compromised son of Jonathan. And now, he sends the troops to ravage his former friends and allies, the Ammonites. And David does all of this while lounging in his bed until early evening.
It’s at this point that the king finally rises, walks out to his perch and takes something else that is not his: another human. Bathsheba is a Hebrew woman following Torah on a roof that can only be seen by a king from a high perch. David does what he does best: conquer. No, Bathsheba has no agency in this relationship, and although we like cinematic melodrama, this is not an accurate portrayal. This is no adultery; this is rape. And at the moment Bathsheba finds her voice and proclaims, “I am pregnant,” her assailant ignores this Torah-abiding woman and utilizes all his power to manipulate and contort the situation. David tries to expel Bathsheba’s husband from the palace. In a succession of moves and countermoves, David wants to eliminate his problem, shed any responsibility for his actions, and maintain the authority of his empire. In his mind he is left with only one option, and the story ends with a dutiful man unknowingly carrying his own death sentence.
Yes, this is a scandal of immense proportion, and the story is designed to leave the reader chilled and breathless. A man, as the book of Acts tells us, who was with the heart of God, overtly controls, consumes, and disposes of all that is around him. As the king, David’s actions are not confined to just natural resources but extend into the realm of God as he exerts all his powers to contain and domesticate the Divine Presence. David moves YHWH into his palace and profanes the Covenant by marrying God to the empire. Yet, God is blatantly silent, glaringly gone. God never responds to David’s actions. There is no endorsement of war, rape, and execution. There is no acknowledgement of God’s aspirations for a Divine Community but only reiteration of David’s desire for power. In fact, in most of the story there is no God at all. Yet, we are reticent to read the Bible in such a way especially since we readily call the words of Acts that gives the impression that God originates and ordains all the actions of Israel’s King. This practice is neither isolated nor obsolete. The idea of binding God to our ideas seems to happen most often when we are seeking justification to be complacent, irreconcilable, malicious, horrific, or violent. David’s kingdom is but an early example of this practice, not an exception. People and institutions have been prodigiously faithful to this tradition.
In this story known as “David and Bathsheba,” Uriah the Hittite is not the most memorable of the participants. His presence is almost invisible. In fact, in browsing the credits of those Hollywood adaptations, Uriah is commonly found near the end among nameless and inconsequential characters with such titles as “palace guard” or “third peasant.” Yet in the passage, by placing his name and nationality last in a succession of names, the writers are bringing to us multiple clues. The writers break the tradition of prominently listing the head of the household and place Uriah behind his wife and father-in-law and then highlight his nationality. Uriah has no status; he is seen as less than Bathsheba. He is no Israelite, he is from an indigenous population that has been conquered and colonized; Uriah is an immigrant, and like many displaced people, he employs a strategy of assimilation as a means to be accepted by David’s kingdom. He lives in the capital Jerusalem, near but not in the palace, and works diligently to make himself desirable by serving in the Israelite army. Yet, David does not want Uriah and through a course of machinations deems the Hittite displaced, despised, and disposable.
This is a repeated practice that has seen too many manifestations throughout the history of empires. Empires consume the natural human resources of labor and culture with little regard for dignity and humanity.
We, a Christian nation, partake in a national economy that continues to be built on the backs of immigrants. In our current society, our labor force is welcoming to the manual work of undocumented Latinos without questioning the lack of dignity in their human experience. According to the Pew Hispanic Center, the eleven million undocumented Latinos who reside in the United States work diligently to build our houses, staff our hospitality and leisure industry, and propel the workforce of agriculture. As citizens, we benefit from their labor and, in return, a large portion of our society degrades Latinos as “illegal.” Pathways to citizenship have been mired in a comprehensive breakdown of public policy. Under the immigration-reform law passed by the Senate in 2013, a path to U.S. citizenship would have been clear; under the executive actions announced by President Obama in 2014, undocumented Latinos could obtain work papers and driver’s licenses. Yet, the House continually fails to vote on the Senate immigration bill, and a federal court in several states have placed these initiatives on hold while undocumented workers have no choice but to wait, work, and worry.
And during this waiting period, Latinos continue to be subjected to harsh racial prejudices. Recently, in his speech announcing his candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination, Donald Trump addressed the issue of illegal immigration. “When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best,” he said. “They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems to us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” It seems this sinful rhetoric continually charges those among us with darker skin.
If our national public policy is a disadvantage to Latinos, then our international policies are equally egregious. As I have just returned from working with our brothers and sisters in Matanzas, Cuba, I could not help but wonder the effects of United States foreign policy on a country with a scarcity of resources. Although the trade embargo has been in place since 1960, there have been exceptions for certain agricultural and medical products. Yet, United States law requires Cuba, a country so devastated by the absences of support and resources, to pay cash for all goods imported from the U.S. The United Nations General Assembly has, since 1992, passed an annual resolution condemning the ongoing impact of the embargo and declaring it to be in violation of the Charter of the United Nations and international law. In a recent Washington Post article about the ease of travel restrictions between the United States and Cuba, several heads of agriculture, telecommunications, and travel commented on the numerous economic benefits that will flow from free and open access for their customers. Yes, “their customers.” The article made no mention of Cuban citizens, just America’s proclivity for consumption.
Yet, there is another scandal in this story from Second Samuel and, if read too quickly, we can miss the significance of “Uriah the Hittite.” In a bold and scandalous move, God breaks free of David’s Empire and relocates in the immigrant. Uriah, a name given only to four other prophets in the Hebrew Bible means “the light of YHWH.” The displaced, disposable, stranger, Uriah, in contrast to David, is not a descendent of the Torah, but oh, he is its faithful representative. You see, Scandal is a bit different in the Divine Economy. Divine Scandal rejects the role of empire and oppression. Divine Scandal promotes the last as the first and gives preferential treatment to the oppressed among the oppressed.
That is how Divine Scandal works; it’s the wild mustard seed or leaven in the dough. It’s wild and chaotic. It dissolves obstinate boundaries and barriers that do not want to come down easily. It gives us a glimpse not into a kingdom but into a kinship. Divine Scandal shines the great light on those that the world tries to keep hidden in the dark; it illuminates not the value of commodity but the value of human dignity; and it amplifies the voices of the unexpected and pleads with us to listen, to see, to move.
Divine Scandal breaks forth in the Egyptian Slave, Hagar, who flees to the wilderness and calls the Divine, “You are the one who sees me.” Divine Scandal embodies the Hittite immigrant, Uriah, who proclaims he will not abandon the Covenant of Israel and Judah in an open field. The Divine Scandal erupts in a Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous Guatemalan peasant who declared, “we feel it is our duty to create the Kingdom of God on this earth. We don’t need a king in a palace but a brother who lives among us.” Divine Scandal shines loudly in the priest from El Salvador, Oscar Romero, declaring, “We must overturn so many idols of self so that we can learn to work together in the way the world really needs.” Divine Scandal flares up in the writing of Gustavo Gutierrez answering that great gospel question with “My neighbor is not the one whom I find in my path, but rather the one in whose path I place myself, the one whom I approach and actively seek.” Divine Scandal is heard clearly in today’s other lectionary reading from John where Jesus is outraged and heartbroken that people are not fed, and in response, insists that they all have bread.
Now, before we start feeling too good and excited about the Divine Scandal, I want to be clear about a fact: It stings, it is shocking, and it is downright disruptive. I cannot think of a more accurate response to the Divine Scandal than of Ruby Turpin, the protagonist of Flannery O’Connor’s short story, “Revelation.” For years, Ruby categorized and commodified people into a nonchalant understanding that justified shuffling inferior people groups into boxcars and incinerators. In a great moment of incarnation, Ruby’s world is knocked down, literally. Her response is one of the most courageous and realistic in all of art. She looks at the heavens and in a final surge of fury asks God “Who do you think you are?” We are told that after her glimpse of the Divine Community and er proposal of the beatific question that “the color of everything, field and crimson sky, burned for a moment with a transparent intensity. The question carried over the pasture and across the highway and the cotton field and returned to her clearly, like an answer from beyond the wood. She opened her mouth but no sound came out of it.”
I imagine that in her moments of silence, the Divine Scandal mirrored that question to Ruby and, in her reflection, she noticed a grave lacuna in her existence. It is the same thing that is missing from David in the passage from Second Samuel: the Covenant. The Divine Covenant that compels the Sinai community, the exiled Hebrews, a ragtag group of Roman-Occupied Jewish peasants, and the first-century church to embrace and care for the stranger. YHWH’s idea of a Divine Community is a scandalous proposal where citizens and immigrants are not separated but equally loved, cared for with a distribution of goods and tithes, and protected like chicks gathered by a mother hen. I imagine that is the reflection that comes screaming back to us all echoing “Who do you think you are?”
Well, I had this moment a few days ago with our sisters and brothers in Matanzas sitting in the sanctuary of the Kairos Center, drenched with sweat and blushed with heat. The Divine Scandal gently blew around the bodies of brown and white skin, hands embraced, and eyes seeing. That is the Ruach of the Hebrew Bible and the Pentecost of Acts. God’s Spirit will break into our lives and we suddenly realize that we are all somebody, not because of anything we have done or made or bought or sold. We are somebody because we accept the stranger as ourselves and, in doing so, accept the One who calls us “partner.” As my friend Ryan says, “Your heart cannot help but beat towards it.”
The Divine Scandal is an invitation; it is a call…subtle, persistent, and aggravating. It will shine light on a state legislation that gives precedence to monuments instead of black lives. It will shine light on Latinas working multiple jobs without healthcare and living wages. It will shine light on migrant farm workers exposed to deadly pesticides. It will shine a light on this building and the building next door and scream “open the doors, open the windows, open ALL the doors and open ALL the windows to the light of God.” Divine Scandal will beckon you to care taking, peace building, and justice making, and although it may ask us to speak against the empire it will never be a political or economical solution. Divine Scandal draws you into life: the joy, the struggle, the celebration, the heartache, the abundance, the scarcity, the mutuality, and the partnership. God’s Divine Scandal reminds us that kings are not warranted but the hands and feet of the community are desired. Oh, it’s troublesome and unruly and scandalous and it will creep upon you on a city street in Cuba in the voices of dark-skinned strangers in a moment that is both shocking and familiar:
Sí únenos Dios
Con cuerdas que nunca se quiebran
Sí únenos Dios
con cuerdas de Paz y de Amor
Bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together
With bonds that cannot be broken.
Bind us together, Lord,
Bind us together.
Bind us together with love.
I think we call this “church.” Amen.
 Robert Alter, The David Story (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2000), 249.
 Michelle Ye Hee Lee, “Donald Trump’s False Comments Connecting Mexican Immigrants and Crime,” The Washington Post, July 8, 2015, accessed July 25, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/fact-checker/wp/2015/07/08/donald-trumps-false-comments-connecting-mexican-immigrants-and-crime/.
 Michael A. Fletcher, “U.S. Trade Embargo with Cuba Keeps Broader Economic Impact at Bay for Now,’ The Washington Post, December i8, 2014,a accessed July 25, 2015, http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/us-trade-embargo-with-cuba-keeps-broader-economic-impact-at-bay-for-now/2014/12/18/7d418a30-86dd-11e4-b9b7-b8632ae73d25_story.html .
 Rigoberta Menchú, I, Rigoberta Menchú: An Indian Woman in Guatemala, ed., by Elisabeth Burgos-Debray. (London: Verso, 2003), 159.
 Oscar Romero, The Violence of Love, (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2004), 132.
 Gustavo Gutiérrez, A Theology of Liberation (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1988).
 Flannery O’Connor, “Revelation” from Everything that Rises Must Converge (New York: FSG Classics, 1965).
 Ryan Blane Mays Conversation, July 14, 2015.