Sermon: Silence

There are two kinds of silence present in both of these two passages: the silence which makes space for the inner witness, and the silence of oppression. But, the ways in which the characters in each narrative respond is very different. What can we learn from these two stories?

"Thou Art The Man" (1884) by Peter Frederick Rothermel
“Thou Art The Man” (1884) by Peter Frederick Rothermel

For all of recorded history, bringing legal disputes to the local ruler or wise man for public airing and judgment was a centerpiece of good government, and still is. And, doing so – among other things – makes all who are there part of the public witness for each case and decision; so, the community as a whole is in effect a party to the success and enforcement of each judgment that is made.

In our reading from 2 Samuel, Nathan makes his case to David in just such a setting; which was a wise move on his part! He knew he needed that public witness for the accusations he was about to make.

Imagine the scene: David is sitting in a chair with his scepter and crown on a platform in front of the crowd. People are standing around, waiting for their turn to be heard, or perhaps hoping for some drama to enliven their day. The King’s advisors are off to one side, waiting to be called upon when needed.

Then, Nathan steps forward, and begins to tell his story. The King listens, his anger rising as he hears the tale; and, when he can’t restrain himself any more, his face red, gripping his chair with both fists, he leans forward and says “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die!”

Nathan pauses, then says four simply painful words: “You are the man!” Then, turning his back on his King, he tells the people of all the terrible things David has done: Rape, Deception, Betrayal, Murder.

I imagine David sitting there, mouth open, silent. The sin he’d so carefully hidden from the people, from God and even from himself, is revealed. He has not fooled anyone. He took Uriah’s wife and impregnated her. He engineered the death of one of his greatest and most loyal warriors. He married the grieving widow to make the pregnancy appear legitimate. He tried to deceive everyone, betraying the peoples’ trust and that of the Lord. Yes, he deserved to die: condemned before the people and before God out of his own mouth.

But not one word is said in condemnation of Bathsheba. Nathan does not accuse her, nor does David defend himself through blaming or implicating her. (Unlike Adam’s blaming of Eve and Eve’s blaming of the serpent in the Garden.)

Many have said that Bathsheba enticed David, but doing blames a victim who has lost everything. Nowhere in the Bible is it even hinted that Bathsheba had done anything wrong.

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Power and Silence – First Sunday of Advent

Sermon given at Payson Park UCC Church, Belmont, MA November 28, 2010.

Scripture readings:
2 Samuel 11:2-5; 11:14b-15 and 11:26 – 12:7a (Bathsheba & David)
John 7:40-8:11 (The Story of the Adulterous Woman)

My thoughts today are on two themes, Power and Silence, which are both found in this morning’s scripture readings. We will look at how Power and Silence interact with each other in each story, and how they tie these two stories together across a one thousand year gap in time. Then we’ll close with some reflections on what we’ve learned and how these two themes are reflected in the coming of Christ, and Advent.

Let’s start by considering our Old Testament reading, and the setting of Nathan’s audience with David.

Nathan’s story is presented as a legal dispute. This is significant. For thousands of years throughout the ancient world disputes were brought to the local ruler or wise man for judgment. It was a very public event, with many people there: those seeking a resolution to their disputes, spectators, the King and his Court, all listening to the proceedings.

When Nathan presented his case to David, it was in such a setting; which, given what he intended to do, was a wise move! I suspect that if he had done this in a private audience with the King, he might have succumbed to a “Sword Malfunction.”

Let’s imagine what the scene must have been like: David is there with his badges of authority, a scepter and crown. He is sitting on a simple chair in front of the crowd. Scores, and perhaps hundreds of people are standing around the edges of the courtyard, waiting for their turn to be heard. David’s advisors are waiting off to the side for him to call on, if needed.

Then Nathan steps forward to tell his story. The King listens, his anger rising as he hears the tale, and when he can’t restrain himself any more, his face red, gripping his chair with both fists, he leans forward and says “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!”

And then Nathan said four simple words, “You are the man!”

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