Sunday, 29 July 2012

Sermon for 29th July 2012


2 Samuel 11:1-15

11In 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. 2It 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 get 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.”

6So 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.

14In 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.”

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There is nothing new under the sun.


In 1998 a scandal erupted in these United States which led to the impeachment of the President.

It was a particularly scuzzy affair. Our Chief Executive was behaving like an out of control frat-house boy.

Awful as that was, former President Clinton compounded his sins by obfuscating and lying.

I was then of the opinion that he should resign, not because of the sexual indiscretions (he was not the first President to have engaged in illicit sex), but because of his lies, and mostly because he took advantage of his position of power and used a young woman to satisfy his lust. I do not know to this day if he has admitted his wrong-doing.

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In 1963 a scandal erupted in my native United Kingdom. The Secretary of State for War, one John Profumo, had in 1961 consorted with a young prostitute named Christine Keeler. That unfortunate woman was also having sex with the senior Soviet Naval attaché in London, one Yevgeny Ivanov.  There was an implied threat to national security.

John Profumo lied to the House of Common in March 1963, denying that he had had sex with Miss Keeler.  Three months later he again stood before the Commons and confessed his lie.  He resigned, not because of the sex, but because of the lie.

For the next forty years John Profumo served the poor as a volunteer at Toynbee Hall in East London. (Toynbee Hall is a “settlement” – it in fact became the inspiration for Jane Adam’s “Hull House” in Chicago).   John Profumo picked up a mop and began his years of service by cleaning toilets.

His wife, an actress named Valerie Hobson stood by and with him.  If ever a man had a faithful wife it was John Profumo.

If ever a man redeemed his sin it was John Profumo. He took full responsibility for his lie.

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In January 1995 the Bishop of Massachusetts took his own life.  He had been Bishop since 1986.  Prior to that, he had been the Rector of a large parish not far from here.

Two weeks later his immediate successor in Massachusetts Bishop Shaw, and the Presiding Bishop issued a press release.

It said that soon after the Bishop’s suicide a number of women had disclosed that he had engaged in extra-marital sex with them, when he was a Rector and also when he was a Bishop.

Bishop Shaw (with the full consent of the late Bishop’s widow) did the Church and society a great favour by being frank and truthful with the press.  There was no attempt at a cover-up.  The wider public was reassured that the Episcopal Diocese could be counted on to tell the truth.

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Some one thousand years before Christ, a King took his rest on the flat roof of his cedar-wood house.  He should not have been there.  He should have been out with his army as they engaged in the almost ritualised spring battles.

But he was at home, and he was a voyeur. What he saw was a woman bathing, and he wanted her.  What the King wants the King gets. The woman is brought to his house, and to use the biblical language “he lay with her”.

That King, David is his name was committing adultery.  What’s more he was a rapist.  There is no indication that the woman, Bathsheba, gave consent. In truth the only words she uses in the whole tale are “I am pregnant”.

David brings the woman’s husband, Uriah, home from battle. He then encourages him to make love to Bathsheba, perhaps with the hope that Uriah would then believe that the child to be born was his own. “Go down to your house, and wash your feet”, is an euphemism!

But Uriah has consecrated himself for battle and he will not break his vow to abstain from sexual intercourse whilst at war.  Uriah – a foreigner – is a man of honour.

David then compounds his adultery and rape with murder. He arranges for this good man Uriah to be placed in the front lines where he would become an obvious target for the enemy.  He is, in fact killed in battle.  Doubtless David breathes a sigh of relief. The relief is temporary.

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For the prophet Nathan gets in on the act,  in a part of the story which continues in a section which we did not read this morning. It’s one of the most dramatic confrontations in Holy Scripture, from 2 Samuel 12 verses 1-7.

“The Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.” Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “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.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man!

“You are the man”, or as many of us remember it “Thou art the man”.

The prophet Nathan hoists David on his own petard in that dramatic bit of truth telling. The man of God speaks truth to power.

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Pat Hunt was a feisty septuagenarian, a member of St. Stephen’s Parish, Pittsfield, MA, when I was the Rector. She spoke her mind.  It was always for the good of the parish.

I asked Pat to serve on the Vestry. “Me?”, she asked, “you know that I always speak my mind”.  I replied “Pat, I could hardly have missed that. And that’s precisely why I want you to serve on the Vestry.
Serve she did, and serve very well.  She knew exactly what questions to ask. She saw when the Emperor had no new clothes.  She was the truth teller which every vestry needs.

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Sam Doak was my very first Senior Warden, back in 1976. Early in my ministry I set up a nominating committee for vestry membership. I gave them a strong hint that I wanted a certain woman to be nominated.  That committee exercised its best judgment and declined to nominate her.

In a state of medium rather than high dudgeon I wrote to the committee members and told them that they were wrong.

Sam Doak came to see me.  He firmly and gently took me to the wood-shed. “You can’t”, he said, “set up a committee and then immediately undermine its work”.  I became very grateful for that paddling.  Like every Rector I needed a warden who would be wise and gracious enough to tell me that I was wrong.

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I believe that All Angels is an essentially healthy parish. As one of your leaders once said to me you are remarkably free of “lay popes”.

Yet we all know that this congregation is in a slow numerical decline. 


 You are not alone.

 What I am saying here could also be said in the other five congregations here in south west Florida where I have been privileged to serve.

I do not know if this parish can grow.  The demographics are against you.


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But I know two things:

First: any diocese or congregation can only get stronger if it is deeply honest about its failings.  We need the John Profumo and Bishop Shaw spirit – so that we can stop making excuses about how and why things went wrong or did not succeed.


Second:  Any diocese or congregations can only get healthier if has open ears for “Nathan the Prophet, Pat Hunt, and Sam Doak like people” who will tell the truth.

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