Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sin Kills Kids

Scripture for Sunday, August 12th:


This song comes in the second acts of the musical “Into the Woods.”  The characters in the musical selfishly seek after their own wishes- even when it tramples over the rights and needs of others.  At the end of the musical, when so much has gone wrong and tragedy ensues, the now-dead wife of the lead character returns to her husband to give him one last piece of advice now that he must raise their child alone-  “Tell their child the story of the Woods; actions have consequences — even for future generations.”

Actions indeed do have consequences, sometimes expected, sometimes not, for our children and our children’s children.  As we have followed the narrative arc of King David’s life this summer, we’ve reached the point where he is no longer the young shepherd boy, or the fair haired king-  he is now the grizzled, battle-scared King whose accomplishments and failings are largely behind him.  David now has many children from several different wives.  And then this tale comes- a tragic story about 3 of his children- Amnon, Tamar and Absalom.

This is a story that can rival the most outrageous of soap opera plots.  Amnon lusts after his half sister Tamar.  So he sets a trap.  He lures her in.  And against her will, he rapes her.

I’m not sure that there is a more debilitating, disgusting crime described in the bible then the one in this story.  And yet, this happens in the house of David!?!  The house of the king associated with peace and justice-  with the most glorious reign of Israel.  How could such things happen here of all places?

“actions have consequences — even for future generations.”

For the last two weeks- we’ve grappled with David’s most profound sin-  using his power and influence to have sex with Bathsheba- the wife of Uriah.  His sin is revealed to the world, and he confesses.  You would hope the tragedy could end there.  But I believe the author of 2 Samuel intentionally connects the story of David and Bathsheba with the story of the rape of Tamar.  

You see, Amnon is in many ways just repeating the sin of his father.  David and Amnon both saw a woman they desired.  Both wanted to have sex with a woman that all of society and God clearly decreed were off limits.  And then they abandoned right and wrong and forced their way.  Then they threw their victim away afterward.  Immediately after the rape, scripture says that “Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her.”

Amnon rapes her sister and throws her away just as David a generation before threw Bathsheba away.  Now granted, David later takes Bathsheba as his wife.   He pleads with God for forgiveness.  But he can’t take away the consequences of his actions.  His children have seen how David treated their mother (or step mother).  And this story lays bare that despite David’s plea for forgiveness, something in him remains broken.  Perhaps he thought he had put it all behind him-  but when he hears of his sons actions, when he hears of his daughter’s rape-  he did...nothing.  Sure- he got a little angry, but ultimately he did nothing.

David’s sins destroyed his children’s lives.  His actions with Bathsheba set the stage for Amnon’s rape of his half-sister.  His inaction further compounded Tamar’s tragedy when she found her own father wouldn’t lift a hand to protect her or care for her.  By doing nothing, the violence spun out of control as Absalom took vengeance into his own hands and killed his brother.

So what then are we to learn from David this week?  How is it that we can draw what it means to live in God’s kingdom from this tragic story?  This story serves as a warning, a sign pointer saying that if you want to live in God’s kingdom, stay away from this one.

But unfortunately, sexual violence does not stay away.  Its estimated that 20-30% of women have experienced some form of sexual abuse in their lifetime.  That likely means that some here have experienced that too.  Know this-  if you faced or are facing sexual violence, if you have had a David in your life who saw what was happening and did nothing, know that someone cares.  God loves you.  We as a congregation love you.  Seek someone out; seek me out.  I’ll meet you anywhere and work with you to find resources to right this wrong and find healing.

But if you are among those whose life has not been touched with sexual violence, (be grateful), then what can you draw from this story?  I think it highlights the grave responsibility that we as parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, those making vows at the baptism today, have toward the children in our lives.  In the second commandment, it is written that “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

I don’t think God actually punishes children for parents wrong doing, but this highlights, and the Tamar story demonstrates, the way that sin passes from one generation to the next.  

So how do we break the cycle?  If we are David, and all of us here, to a greater or lesser extent, have sinned in a way that affects children around us, how to we change the dynamics?

David sinned.  David pleaded for forgiveness.  David was forgiven by God.  But, it appears he didn’t take the last step- he did fully acknowledge and repent from his sins.

It appears rather than addressing his sexual sin head on, David buried it.  Scripture doesn’t show where he sat down with his children, confessed his sins, and showed them the tragic consequences of it.  He didn’t seem to speak to them about valuing women, about remembering to see God’s grace in each and every person.  And, when confronted by that same sin, he chose to ignore it rather than aggressively confront it.  Perhaps he was ashamed at how it reminded him of his own sin.  But folks, our kids see our sin.  Saying nothing about it doesn’t make it invisible.  We have to speak up about our shortcomings if we hope to see our children go a different way.  We have to stop pretending to be so pious in church and admit the faults that we have and are still working on.

After acknowledging our shortcomings, we then have to do something.  Work to repair the damage our sin has done on relationships.  Look to God rather than your battered or damaged family as an example of how to lead with grace and forgiveness.  Follow the humility of our Savior Jesus Christ.

And take our baptismal vows seriously.  We gather here today to baptize Jason.  Many of you may not yet know this family.  But when we baptize Jason- we acknowledge him as God’s child, and is therefore consider him one of our children too.

Come up after church and get to know this family.  Invite them to lunch.  Volunteer to babysit.  Help to entertain Jason during a service.  Volunteer to help in Sunday school to ensure we have enough adults to keep everyone safe. This congregation has rallied well around families before.  Let us do it again.

Let us make our vows to care for this child, and for all children, vows of actions as well as words.  Don’t allow there to be a Tamar in your midst without that Tamar knowing your would fiercely fight for her if she was abused.  Take action in your volunteering, in your giving, in your voting, in your advocacy, to take real steps to love and care for all of God’s children.

When we sin and fall short, our children see it.  But when we seek to strive in our faith, to live into God’s grace, children see that too.  The good news is that God will use those acts of goodness to break the cycle and show love to the thousandth generation.  But only, if we, God’s children, will listen.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Seeing Sin

Scriptures for Sunday, August 5th

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a

Psalm 51


Francine is a beautiful young lady with a soft spoken voice and a shy smile from the Walungu territory in eastern Congo...Francine begins her story by saying, “Sometimes when I think of these things, it makes me sad in my heart.” One night, Francine’s husband went to bed while she stayed up to bathe her sick baby girl— the youngest of four— when she heard a knock on the door.
Eight men entered, and they asked where her husband was. She claimed he was traveling, but they quickly found him under the bed. They lined them up against the wall and had them remove their clothes. The invaders told them to look at each other, and they said this is the last time you will ever consider her your wife because she will now become our wife.
Francine’s husband begged for mercy and asked what they could give as a bribe. The men said, “Give us two picks, a radio, and clothes,” and then they went through the house looting, ultimately demanding a further $100.
“We don’t have $100, only $5,” Francine told them. They told her it was not enough and asked her to lay down.  She refused and her husband said he wouldn’t abandon her even if she were raped. But one of the men forced her down and raped her.  (Reporting from the Enough Project)
The part of the Congo Francine is from is considered by some to be the rape capital of the world.  Bordered by the countries of Rawanda and Uganda, the people who live in the Northeast portion of the Democratic Republic of the Congo suffer under brutal oppression due to the competing militias of this region.  When a militia moves into an area, they intimidate the villagers through violence that often includes rape.  This violence can be meant to punish the villagers from providing harbor to a different militia, to extract cooperation or food, to encourage villagers to flee, or simply because they can. 
So why do these people suffer?  Why are the women here so unlucky to live in the rape capital of the world?  Its because they happen to live near one of the worlds largest deposits of Coltan- a black tar like mineral found in the region.  Over 80% of the Coltan in the world is found in this small region. (Read more about Colton)
“You’d think that having such a rare, expensive and plentiful mineral deposit would be a wonderful find for a poor country. But what if your neighbors, who are also poor and desperate, also knew of this mineral and wanted to profit from it also?” (Source)
And what if international companies were willing to look the other way when it comes to buying Coltan?  What if it didn’t seem to bother them that militias in Rawanda sell Colton by the ton even though the country has no known reserves of the mineral?  And, what if consumers didn’t seem to care about where the mineral came from?  What if they just wanted more and more of it while paying less and less for it?
The net result- rape, pillage, murder.  Who could let this happen?  Who could look the other way when it comes to rape and murder?  What kind of just people would let a thing go on day after day?
You are the people.  Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel:  I have placed you in a prosperous country.  Given you wealth beyond much of the worlds wildest dreams.  I have largely shielded you from violence and despair.  You eat and drink everyday with ease.  And yet, each and everyone one of you with a cell phone, with a lap top, GPS, playstation, hearing aid and more exploit these poor people.  You take their minerals, but don’t seem to care where they come from.  Sure, some company does it on your behalf, you never see it, but it is you, wealthy in technology and gizmos, who cause these peoples pain.
Yea, I bet it was a really long pause after Nathan said something similar to David too.  Perhaps the worlds longest pause in scripture.  David is caught dead to rights.  He can’t deny it. There is no question that he slept with a married woman.  No reasonable doubt that he had a man murdered.  And in fact, David in his indignation has already declared what should be done-  “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die” David’s righteous anger has to be hanging in the air.  The death sentence he proclaims rebounds on him.  Suddenly the anger drains from David’s face.  The burning red checks fade to a pallid white; his indignant posture becomes hunched over in grief.  
Nathan the preacher has delivered one heck of a sermon- a Gospel message designed to incite the listener to get out of his seat and work for God’s justice in the world.  That message was perfect, that message is always perfect, so long as its about somebody else.
In the book Leap Over the Wall, Eugene Peterson writes- ““The gospel is never about somebody else; it’s always about you, about me...It’s both easy and common to lose this focus, to let the gospel blur into generalized pronouncements, boozy cosmic opinions, religious indignation.  That’s what David is doing in this story, listening to his pastor preach a sermon about somebody else and getting all worked up about this someone else’s sin, this someone else’s plight...With each additional word in Nathan’s sermon, David becomes more religious- feeling sorry for the poor man who lost his pet lamb, seething with indignation over the rich man who stole the lamb...And then the sudden, clear gospel focus:  you are the one- you!”
I can’t say I’m the preacher Nathan is.  Unlike David, many of you probably saw the twist coming.  And admittedly, the sin proclaimed today is a little more indirect.  But what was your reaction?  When I rose up and declared full throated that it was you who sinned, you who exploited, you who condoned rape and murder (of course, its also me who does and has done all of these things), how did you respond?  With anger?  Denial?  Indignation?  Rejection?
How many of us could honestly respond like David-  by saying “I have sinned against the Lord.”
Its a simple sentence.  But it requires something profound.  It requires us to look our sin full in our face.  And lets be frank- we have designed our society so we can be blind to as little of our sin as possible.  We move from the cities to the suburbs to avoid poverty and violence.  We move into suburbs where a legacy of discrimination means that most people are of the same race and religious affiliation.  We buy our products prepackaged with our eyes closed to all that goes into making it.  Are the people who pick our vegetables paid a fair days wage?  Are the animals we eat treated humanely?  Are the products we buy the product of human slavery?  Who knows?  Who wants to know?  Don’t we just want to buy some stuff and not worry about it?  That’s certainly easier.  Can’t we just live in our city and let some other city worry about itself?  That seems more peaceful.
Seeing sin, our sin, is painful, ugly and raw.  It cuts us to the core.  And really and truly seeing our sin requires something-  it requires our acknowledgement.  It requires us to ask forgiveness.  And, most importantly, it requires us to do something to change.
Our God is such a gracious God.  Some might even say too gracious.  God forgives the murderer and adulterer David.  But David’s remorse appears genuine.  David takes steps to bring what justice he can do the equation.
Our gracious God waits for you.  Our loving Lord is ready to scrub away your guilt, to soak you in laundry till you come out clean, to set your broken bones to dancing.
God has taken the first step.  God’s grace allows your eyes to be open.  God’s grace gives you the strength to come clean.  But you have to accept the challenge.  You have to come forward and be open to that grace and forgiveness.  
That’s what this table is for.  That’s why we come forward and eat and drink of the bread and juice, the body and blood, the grace and forgiveness of our lord.  We come because our eyes have been open to sin.  We see it now Lord.  We want forgiveness.  We want to be made new.
Like David, you’ve been asked to confront your sin.  You even get a pause to give an offering. 
But after that pause will be a chance to take and eat of God’s grace.  
However the gospel has called to you today, seek God’s forgiveness in communion today.  Be washed clean.  And take from it the strength to change.  Amen.