In the name of Jesus, the face of God turned in our direction. Amen.
Last week Craig was teasing me about asking for this song to be sung again. Yet each time I preach on this lesson, I have asked for these verses from “Hallelujah” for different reasons.
First because I just liked the song and it fit the lesson. The second time it was to highlight the inaccurate way women were referenced: Bathsheba didn’t cut anyone’s hair! That was Delilah, who cut Samson’s hair. No, Leonard Cohen, these women are not interchangeable, just because they both “overpowered” a great man with their beauty. And today it is because of an increased awareness of sexual assault that I hadn’t seen here as clearly before.
The story of David and Bathsheba used to be taught in Sunday School as a love story (where one kid asked if her name was Bathsheba because she was taking a bath?). When David sees Bathsheba, even after learning she is married to the soldier Uriah, he sends messengers to “get her” and she is brought to the palace and sexually violated. As far as we know, the story begins with a rape, not a romantic encounter.
At that moment, David’s armies are battling the Amorites, but David is home, taking a break. He is restless and wanders up to the roof of the palace and he sees Bathsheba. And he gets her because he can. Then he orders Uriah to the front of the battleline where he is killed. Later David and Bathsheba marry and much later, being confronted by Nathan for his behavior, David writes Psalm 51, begging God’s forgiveness: “Create in me a clean heart, O God,” he writes in words we know well now, ” and renew a right spirit within me.”
Was David a lonely man? There are hundreds of references in the psalms he wrote. Loneliness is no respecter of rank or situation; it is a fact of life. And it is that fact of life I want to talk about today, one of my main takeaways from this pandemic. I live alone — I have been lonely.
It can be embarrassing to admit you’re lonely. It can sound like you’re an antisocial loser who has no friends and lacks the creativity to find any. Someone said that “Loneliness is less to do with being alone and more with the experience of being unseen.” Few of us have escaped thatexperience… when people in their cozy social group won’t make eye contact with you; when you make a comment in a group and things go on as if you hadn’t opened your mouth; when you are single in a married crowd, ill in a heathy crowd, gay in a straight crowd, childless among families with kids.
And yes this happens in church. Some time ago I was assigned to a parish in a Minneapolis suburb. I went there the next Sunday to check it out and no one said a word to me before or after the service so I just left. The next Sunday I appeared in my collar and suddenly I had gained visibility and acquaintances!
Which age group reports the most loneliness? It’s not the elderly; it’s people ages 18-24.
But the pandemic has been a great equalizer, as we were all confined and barred from most social contacts.
We know that Jesus sought time alone. In today’s lesson he withdraws to a mountain by himself, partly to escape the crowds who wanted something he would not provide. And could there be any loneliness like the loneliness and forsakenness of the Cross?
Scripture has little to say about loneliness except that God is with us in it. However, there is one phrase in one verse of Psalm 68 which says this: “In his holy dwelling, God sets the lonely in families.”
The remedy for loneliness is families. And not necessarily biological ones, but ones that God places us in, maybe chosen families through adoption or friends with common bonds or interests or experiences. However, we may need to search out these families ourselves, to risk inviting people out for coffee or into our homes, to search for common ground with others with openness and curiosity — which is not easy!
There is a wonderful segment of the old tv show “Brooklyn Bridge” where a Jewish man and an Irish man are trying to connect for the sake of their kids.
One says, ” You live in Washington Heights. Do you know Solly Moskowitz? Everybody knows Solly.”
“Never heard of him. But wait… You work in the post office? You must know Billy O’Brien. He works in the box section?”
” And I work in the box section. I’m pretty sur this guy doesn’t.
“I used to play baseball in that park over that.”
“I don’t suppose you know Jerry Watson?”
“YES! YES1 I DO! YES!
I have even been lonely for funerals and how the liturgy addresses the isolation of grieving, inviting us to look beyond physical death. I was at a beautiful funeral yesterday for a good and decent man who married his high school sweetheart, was professionally successful, and raised wonderful children. The homily was a work of art in its simplicity and clarity because the rector knew Don well and his main point was that Don was like Jesus. He did what Jesus told us to do.
And I envied the simplicity of that message and the focus of that man’s life. In comparison I seem to have been given such a complex life, so much resilience required, so many hellos and goodbyes, so much change to accommodate – two marriages, two divorces, a serious illness, two careers… five different houses. I know I am I am comparing someone else’s outsiders to my insides but there are moments when your life seems to require a lot. And yet I would never trade my kids or the opportunities I have been given. Yet for a moment I felt lonely for a self I might have been.
And the gentleman whose funeral it was? His mother and father both died before he was two and an aunt took him in and raised him. The homilist said that it was gratitude for that generosity that he drove Don’s life. What drives yours? For me, sometimes anxiety, gratitude, habit, a need to do something.
On a much broader scale this summer the earth is in peril, at once burning up and drying out, great cities being swept away by water; this bright blue ball — our island home –spinning in space holding everything we love and hold dear. How long can it survive our actions? Even the Olympics look lonely with empty stands and an eerie quiet.
So what to do with this litany of problems and heartbreak? With our loneliness and our hurt, with our planet burning. up? In Matthew’s version of today’s Gospel, when the disciples gather up the five loaves and two fish the version Jesus says, “Bring them to me.” And that is what we are called to do — to ring our resources, our riches, our talents, our uncertainties about life, our doubts and fears, our small grasp of truth and our loneliness and ask God to transform them and us. It was said that David knew a secret chord that pleased the Lord. We each have that chord within us, too. We can ask for help to find it. The world and the people in it need each and every note.
This same process of transformation is how David was made king: God tells Samuel that he should go to the home of Jesse and Jesse’s sons will be brought out (like the loaves and fish are brought to Jesus) and God will decide who the next king will be by looking into their hearts and then transform that man into a king.. I’m going to give you my version of this because it’s summer: I know God has a sense of humor and I hope you do too!
Jesse is relishing the fact that his sons being are being considered for this powerful role. But God is guiding Samuel’s decision, looking into the heart of each possible choice.
“Okay, Jesse…. bring ‘em out, ” Samuel says.
“First is Eliab. He’s tall and always dresses well, debonair, .”
“Okay….then here’s Abinadab.Very popular with the ladies, a bit of a rake, always forgets to tie up his camel and thing wanders off….”
“Jesse: shakes head
“Shimma! Several jobs have not worked out for Shimma and he’s home now, reevaluating his interests and skills … We fear it might be “failure to launch’ ” but a good boy…”
“Jesse, are you kidding me?”
“All right then… So … Heerre’s Nathaniel! Strong as an ox, loves his red plaid flannel tunic and his leather tool belt Could hammer together a spare whatever…”
“Jesse?. (Shakes head).
“Well, what about Raddai? Probably my personal favorite, good to his mother, helps out around the tent, and his lamb marinade is to die for!”
“Jesse– Not in a million years.”
“Is that a real name?
“Ozem has some minor eye issues from reading his scrolls for so long …Soon we’ll need to build another tent just for the scrolls. Oh, I should get Nathaniel on that…”
“Jesse: Is this it? Don’t you have anybody else?”
“The kid? Well, he’s out with the sheep but…I suppose …. He’s good with his little harp and his slingshot. ‘Hey, David wipe the stuff off your shoes and get in here…. ‘”
And in comes the youngest, David, with the red hair and who was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. But God loved David’s heart.
“Okay we have a winner. That one That’s the guy!” says Samuel, and
David is transformed into Israel’s greatest king.
Frederick Buechener surmises:( that) on his deathbed “David asks for a glass of wine to make a toast. …. It wasn’t just Bathsheba he was toasting … or their life together, but a much more distant prospect still. He was drinking to the child of their child of their child a thousand years thence who he could only pray would find in it in his heart to think kindly someday of the beautiful girl and the improvident king who had so recklessly and long ago been responsible for his birth in a stable and his death just outside the city walls.”