2 Samuel 11:2-17
Adultery. For today’s commandment, I need to lean on the Presiding Bishop of the ELCA, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the American equivalent of the ELCIC. Bishop Eaton gives the best explanation of this commandment that I have ever heard, and so we’re going to hear what she has to say.
Bishop Eaton says that adultery in a relationship, any relationship, is “about using someone for our owns ends or needs.” Isn’t that perfect? It’s clearly what’s happening in the story of David and Bathsheba. David used Bathsheba for his own needs, not considering her well-being at all, thereby committing adultery. But, as Bishop Eaton makes clear, adultery is not just about sex. It’s about polluting relationships, which can happen in lots of different ways. And so we see that David also adulterated his relationship with Uriah, his soldier, using him to try to cover his own sin, and he adulterated his relationship with his commander, Joab, by commanding him to deceitfully kill Uriah. When we use someone for our own purposes, according to Bishop Eaton, we are polluting the relationship, and as we see from the story of David, once we begin adulterating our relationships with others, it’s hard to stop.
We adulterate our relationships “when we are not giving our full selves to another.” On the flip side, the Bishop said, “if we are true to those whom we relate ... that would be an unadulterated relationship.” Pure relationships, which this Commandment is trying to get us to have, are those that are based in truth. Relationships where we present ourselves authentically, with both our strengths and our weaknesses, where we are honest about our hurts and our vulnerabilities, where we know who we are and what we value and we are open about that––these are the kinds of relationships God encourages us to pursue. But relationships where we try to be who we are not––whether that’s in romantic relationships or family relationships, or friendships or even work or church relationships, where we betray our principles because we want others to accept us, where we exaggerate our accomplishments or where we hide our failures because we want others to admire us, these relationships are adulterous ones. They are betrayals, not just of the trust of the other person with whom we are in relationship, but of ourselves.
The key here is that to be true to others, we need to be true to ourselves. “To thine own self be true,” as Shakespeare said. To be in unadulterated relationships with others, we need to start with ourselves, to be honest with ourselves, and from there to be honest with others. If we cannot be honest even with ourselves, if there are things we hide even from our own hearts, we have no hope of being honest with others. But when we are able to do that, when we are able to acknowledge who we are, and more importantly when we are able to accept who we are, to forgive our failures, to have compassion for our flaws, to be authentic in our whole person, when we can do that, then we can be honest and pure and true in our relationships with others.
No problem, right? If only. The reality of our lives is that we live in a fallen world, which means that we live in a world where our relationships with one another are constantly disrupted, and we risk constant hurt. We are trapped in a nasty cycle in which the hurts we have received from others cause us to close ourselves off in order to prevent further hurt, thereby hurting others in the process. When we are in a relationship with someone, and we offer our true and fullest selves, and then we are betrayed, we learn to hide our true selves in order not to be hurt. And then we put up a front and wear a mask in subsequent relationships, which then leads to further pollutions, and more hurt, and more masks, until we can’t be who we are with anyone at all. Until all of our relationships are adulterous.
With one important exception. And that is our relationship with God. It is simply impossible to have an adulterous relationship with God because we can never deceive God about who we are. God knows who we are. God sees us in our totality, even more clearly than we see ourselves. We may be able to hide from others, or from ourselves, but we cannot hide from God.
But this is grace for us. Because God knows us and God loves us. Psalm 139 tells us that even in our mother’s womb, God knew us, and that we are never beyond God’s care for us. When you come forward to this rail, your hearts are utterly exposed before your Creator, and yet God claims you as God’s own and Christ shares his very own body and blood with you. Christ gives himself and becomes one with you, in the purest, most unadulterated, most true relationship there is.
When we are true to ourselves, then we are true to others, and when we are false to ourselves, then we are false to others. To follow this Commandment then, to gather up the courage we need to risk being vulnerable to others, we begin by remembering who we are, which is, first and foremost, children of God, reconciled to God through the cross. We are, as our reading from Ephesians says, “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God ... a holy temple in the Lord.” We are people who have been redeemed by Christ, made whole in Christ, and in whom the Holy Spirit has chosen to live. We are people who, by the grace of God, are blessed to live lives of integrity and love. We are people who have been strengthened by the Spirit to know that we are acceptable in the eyes of God no matter what, and to reach out in love to accept others. Whatever the world might tell you, whatever your family or your friends or your acquaintances might tell you about who you are or who you should be, know that first and foremost, God tells you that you are someone who is deeply loved by God, so loved that the Spirit of God has chosen to live in you. Do not commit adultery. Fear and love God, which is to say, remember that God loves you, so that we might live pure and decent lives in word and deed, loving and honouring one another with unadulterated relationships, as God does with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.