HOMILY FOR AUGUST 5, 2018 – THE REV. STEPHANIE SHEPARD
2 Samuel 12:1-15
Pentecost X, August 5, 2018
St. John the Apostle
“Confession, Repentance, and Forgiveness”
May only truth be spoken here and only truth be heard, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
We’ve been skipping some of the Hebrew Scripture readings this summer, so let’s start with a quick recap of the plot so far in the book of Second Samuel. King David has taken the throne and fought his way to make Jerusalem his capital city as he continues to do battle with the surrounding enemies of Israel. By this point he is already married to at least three women, but then has committed adultery with Bathsheba. He arranges the death of Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah, and takes the pregnant Bathsheba as his wife. Only one voice dares to cry out against this sexual exploitation. It is Nathan, the prophet of Israel. He confronts David with what he has done by telling him a story, in order to see if the king recognizes right from wrong.
If Bathsheba had lived in modern times, maybe she would have had the courage to speak out as part of the #metoo movement. But we never hear her voice in Scripture. We don’t know if she was ever able to forgive. She has often been portrayed (by men) as a beautiful seductress who tempted King David by flaunting her naked body bathing on a rooftop. But she was never a consenting adult engaging in a sexual encounter of her own free will. When a man in power sends for you, you come. Adultery is the trespass of relationship boundaries that jeopardizes a marriage covenant and hurts all involved. That’s bad enough. This was sexual exploitation. She had no choice. She is the innocent lamb of the story. David is squarely at fault here. And it is with David that we explore forgiveness in all its complexity.
Confession. Repentance. Reconciliation. There’s no easy fix. But each of these is important in the process of forgiveness. Because forgiveness is a process that unfolds over time. Saying “I was wrong, I am sorry, I won’t do it again” once isn’t enough to heal. I had a boyfriend who was even unable to say even those simple things. When he let me down or hurt my feelings, he would buy a single red rose and bring it to me. It wasn’t a substitute. I wasn’t going to forget just because he showed up with a flower in his hand. I believe each of us wants truth and equality and love in our relationships, and the courage to work through the hurts we receive in order to be able to forgive. That takes time and practice.
One of the learnings for our society out of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in Canada and the #metoo movement is that historic wrongs take a long time to heal. No matter how long the hurt has lain buried, it needs to be spoken and validated in order for the individuals and the communities involved to move forward. If we waited for the all the perpetrators to own up, we could be waiting a long time. Especially those who have escaped our judgment by death. But if those who have been hurt can speak their truth and that truth can be held in honour and compassion and safety, then the darkness inside can unclench and be released. Truth-telling is important.
We practice this in the Church with penitential prayers and confession. We do this because, as St. Paul reminds us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. More importantly, we do it because we need to hear that forgiveness is possible. When you or I are the one that has been wounded, we still need to confess our brokenness. Maybe it is that we are unable to forgive ourselves. More often we struggle because we are unable forgive the other. Maybe it is that we want to forgive but do not have the strength. And maybe it is that we ourselves need to be healed of the ugliness that has made its way into our lives. By praying the confession, we are not always saying that what has happened is our fault. But we are confessing that God is the only one with the power to heal us. It is not a coincidence that when we say the Apostles’ or the Nicene Creed we call it a “confession of faith”. We confess that God made us, God loves us, and God redeems us from that which is wrong in our lives. We remind ourselves of this truth so that it can flow into us and change us.
Forgiveness is not just about confession. It is about repentance. Admitting what has happened without changing is a dead end. Repentance means to start turning around what has happened. That’s what Greek word “metanoia” means, and it involves our feeling, our thinking, and our doing. Instead of going to our defensive place (so easy) to explain ourselves and keep up our defences, repentance is becoming vulnerable enough to allow the Holy Spirit to find a home in our hearts. When Nathan finishes the story and David has said to him, “the man who did this thing deserves to die because he had no pity”, the point is driven home: “You are the man!” We may not be ready to forgive someone. We may not be sure if we want God to be able to forgive someone. But if I do not allow for the possibility that things can change, then I have no pity for myself or for the other. Repentance is a cry to God that we need things to be different. We do not want sin to have power over us and to rule our feelings and decisions. We do not want it to poison the intimacy of our relationships.
When we pray the Lord’s prayer and get to the part about forgiving sins, it can sound sort of conditional. It’s “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us” in the modern translation. In the traditional words, we say “trespasses”, which I also like. What others do can feel like violation and unlawful entry into my being; a stomping on my soul. Another version translates that part of Jesus’ prayer as “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”: those things that we owe to God and to each other because we are human. But whether you think of sin as brokenness, violation, estrangement, hurt or anything else that is wrong in the world, Jesus was not implying that you have to forgive it first in order for God to forgive you. God doesn’t wait for us to forgive everyone and everything before offering new life. Forgiveness is a process that happens with God and through God. As we know ourselves beloved and forgiven children, God’s love enables us to embrace the possibility of forgiveness in living each day.
That living out is reconciliation. We move forward into new ways of engaging with the world, with each other, and with God. This doesn’t mean that we forget. “Forgive and forget” is a hurtful phrase that can be thrown in the face of those who have been abused by their abusers. Cheap forgiveness, if it is accepted, only sets up the continuation of an abusive cycle. Jesus’ admonition to forgive your neighbour 77 times wasn’t to say that he or she could just go on behaving the same way to you without consequences. God has the authority to put away our sin as if it had not been, but we are not obliged to do that forget what has happened. It is part of us. It just doesn’t get to control us anymore, because we have learned new ways of relationship. When Jesus met his disciples again after he died and rose from the dead, he still bore the nail-marks of the cross in his hands and feet. Those scars didn’t magically disappear, but remained as signs of reconciliation and hope. They showed God was at work in the crucifixion to reconcile the whole world through the forgiveness of sin.
True reconciliation can and does happen when the person or system that harmed you has confessed and shown repentance. But your reconciliation work with God is not dependent on that. You can move ahead on the path of forgiveness regardless of where others are. In confessing, repenting, and receiving God’s assurance of pardon for yourself, you take the power out of the hands of your enemies.
David is changed after his encounter with God’s prophetic word. He laments his sinfulness and asks for pardon in Psalm 51:
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love;
according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin…
Create in me a clean heart O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me.”
There are consequences for his actions. Not just for him, but for those he holds dear. David accepts them and puts his energy into being a good king and a better man. Whether Bathsheba ever forgave him is unclear. Her first-born son by David dies, but she goes on to give birth to Solomon, who will sit on the throne of Israel. She did not choose what happened to her, but she could choose how to face it, and whether to let hatred or love dwell in her heart. May she have found forgiveness at work in her life. May we find forgiveness at work in ours. That takes practice, and a trust in the God who has shown that He has power over sin. Amen.
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018
August 17, 2018