The theme of our Lenten Evening Services this year is “When Church Hurts.” And you may be here specifically for that reason, or you might be here because evening worship is part of your Lenten practice, or maybe you are not even sure why you are here, but you just are. In Lent, we engage in the difficult work of acknowledging sin - either sin we have committed or sin committed against us or sin that we see others suffering from. We often describe this work using terms of light and darkness. This year in Lent, we will acknowledge the darkness that can exist in church––that can be caused by people in the church, and that people in the church can suffer from. When Church Hurts means both the hurt caused by church, and the hurt suffered by church. My prayer is that you find healing over these next five weeks as we walk together through this, as we walk together towards Easter and the light of the resurrected Christ.
As I read our Scripture for this evening, I invite you to listen to it with an ear to how David betrays those under his rule, and what forms those betrayals take. When church hurts, it is often because there has been a betrayal by someone (or someones) in positions of authority. As I read, keep in mind that David was chosen by God to be the king, and anointed by Samuel. The Spirit of the Lord had come on him in the past, he brought the Ark to Jerusalem, he loved the Lord and wanted to build a Temple for God. David was the spiritual and political leader of Israel. And yet.
2 Samuel 11:1-27
What betrayals came to your mind as you listened?
- v1. - “when kings go out to battle, David sent (everyone), but David remained in Jerusalem
- betrayed the trust of his army in their military leader
- v. 4 - David sent messenger to “get” the wife of Uraiah, and he lay with her
- betrayed the trust of this woman in her king
- when faced with the consequences, David:
- v. 6 - summoned Uriah under false pretenses (how is the army doing?)
- betrayed the trust of Uriah in his king
- v. 8 - ordered Uriah to separate himself from solidarity with his fellow soldiers
- isolated Uriah from those around him, disparaged Uriah’s normal loyalty
- bribed Uriah to do it
- tried to emotionally manipulate
- v. 13 - intoxicated Uriah to do it
- betrayed Uriah’s trust in his king by acting as if he was a generous king but he was really trying to trick Uriak
- v.15 - ordered Joab to allow Uriah to be killed
- Joab could not defy the king’s orders, therefore betrayed Joab’s integrity
- v. 25 - told Joab not to think about it anymore and normalized Uriah’s death
- instituted a “do not talk about what I told you to do” rule on Joab
- tried to establish this kind of death as a normal thing that just happens
We find that leaders of the church hurt us in similar ways
- they send others out to do the work they are supposed to do
- use their authority as spiritual leaders to cross boundaries
- can/do not face consequences or think themselves exempt
- try to separate those who do not follow them from others, disparage their loyalty to their community
- use emotional and spiritual manipulation when direct “orders” don’t work
- use “nice” gestures for ulterior motives so they can’t be blamed
- use others to do their dirty work
- spiritually “kill” or excommunicate those who disagree or disobey from the community
- establish a “do not talk” culture
- normalize their own troubling behaviour
Who was betrayed in the story?
-the army of Israel
-the people of Israel
Who is betrayed in the church when a leader commits a violation?
-the other leaders of the church
-the people of the church, both local and wider
-the leader themself
Who went along with David’s behaviour without challenging it?
-the king’s messengers
(But did they really have a choice, or were they also caught in the king’s system?)
So how does God respond to these betrayals?
This story ends with, “But the thing David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David.”
Nathan was a prophet sent by God to speak the truth. When God sees that God’s people are hurt or betrayed by someone appointed by God, God does something about it. God sends someone to speak the truth. It is often the case that even when church hurts, there is someone who is trying to tell the truth. Maybe you have heard that person, and didn’t know what to think. Maybe you have been that person, and nobody listened to you. But God always hears, and sooner or later, the truth comes out. Nathan, God’s prophet, says that because of what David has done, which was an act against Uriah, which was even more an act against God, the Lord “will raise up trouble against you from within your own house.” And he says, “You did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.” Remember, our God is a God of light, not darkness, and the truth is always brought out into the light of the sun. God desires that you live your lives in the light, and not in the darkness, and when you live in the truth, when you speak the truth, God is always with you.
This year, every Lent service will include an experiential portion of the service, and it will be different every week. This week, I invite you to engage in a breathing exercise that was introduced to us by Dr. Day at a congregational gathering a few weeks ago. Dr. Day pointed out that breathing is an exchange where we breathe out gas that can make us ill (CO2), and we breathe in what makes us healthy (O2). So I’d like to invite you to breathe with some intention for the next few minutes, breathing out the church-hurt, and breathing in God’s light and truth. Perhaps you might think of it as breathing out the times that you have felt betrayed by a spiritual leader, or times when you have felt co-opted into helping in a betrayal, or even times when you have hurt someone in the name of church. Breathe those things out, where they can be out in front of you, where God can gather them up. And perhaps you might think of breathing in as inhaling God’s Holy Spirit, of truth and wisdom and compassion, of truth-telling and light, and let that breathing in fill you with courage and God’s love for you. Let’s begin.
[Breathing for three minutes.]
I invite you to take this exercise home with you this week, and to use it as part of your Lenten prayers or discipline.