This morning we celebrate Pride Sunday at Christ Church Cathedral.
Last week Rev. Marnie took us through the story of David and Bathsheba and the betrayal of Uriah. Marnie invited us to get uncomfortable with the way that the story has been told, how David’s actions as the person who held the power were wrong, and how Bathsheba’s described beauty, is irrelevant in the power dynamics of what takes place. We were then invited to question how we own our stories and how we can learn for our future together as a Church and community here at Christ Church Cathedral.
I want to follow on from Marnie’s message this morning, because our reading today from second Samuel that follows last week’s reading, is more discomfort. It provides more questions and problems and is in some ways even harder to read through our modern ears than last week.
This week we are uncomfortable not with David’s acts, but more problematically for us today, we are uncomfortable with what the scripture reading suggests about God’s acts.
This morning we hear the threat of punishment for David’s acts, spoken through the prophet Nathan of God as the following: “Thus says the Lord: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun. For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
This is about as uncomfortable as it can get. If you read this literally, you will read that the Prophet Nathan, says that God threatens David, at the time of his coronation. That threat is that his wives, will be given, by God, to other men to become their property who will themselves have no choice, and their bodies are to be a part of God’s justice. This makes me angry. I hope it makes you angry too. And today of all days, on Pride Sunday I want to affirm the holiness and sacredness of all our bodies in God’s sight, but we are going to go on a bit of a journey to get there. It really does make it sting when it says ‘thus says the Lord’ and then it says something like that doesn’t it?
So. Here is my interpretation: Nathan the prophet is speaking using a metaphor. Now the metaphor is not a good one. I don’t like it. It does not translate or fit with a worldview that we have today through our understanding of consent. But I’m going to explain the metaphor as best as I can.
The metaphor is that the wives of David (notice the plural and understand the power dynamic, they were considered property during this time), the wives of David represent the Kingdom of Israel. And the acts of David’s ownership of Bathsheba and sending Uriah to be killed, represents the people of Israel’s unfaithfulness to God, their failure to properly keep the Law given by God to Moses, and therefore it is those acts which bring upon their eventual downfall in their exile.
The metaphor as intended is prophetic. This very moment in scripture is the beginning of the greatest dynasty that the Kingdom of Israel will know. This very moment is the coronation of the one who God commissioned to rule over God’s people as God’s divine ruler on earth. But this moment of prophecy foretells at its moment of beginning its ending. It tells of the reason for its ending through the message that God does not fail God’s people, it is the people’s failure to live up to the covenant that they made with God.
We see this self-critical interpretation of historical events throughout the Hebrew Bible and this message is re-told many many times. And the comparison of human relationships to the Kingdom of Israel and its covenantal relationship with God is not unique to this passage. But this metaphor as it stands is problematic.
I have to say this morning to make this point clear: I do not believe that God would use women or any person in this way, as an act of retribution purely, to spite David and give him a taste of his own medicine. I do not believe that God’s agency extends to override consent of any living being.
This metaphor as we read it today worryingly infers what we would label as an abuse of power at its best, and a war on women’s bodies at its worst. But as I understand my God My God is one of love, and if God is love, love all inclusive, love never ending, love perfect and unconditional. We know that abuse is not love, but rather the opposite; therefore if God is love then there is no room for abuse in God.
God does not work in that way, humans have the ability to defile love, but God calls us to a better way of being through God’s own perfect love for us. Where nothing we do can make God waver in God's love for us; nor can anything we do, cause God to cause us pain.
We used to think that way: that when bad things happen it is God’s way of punishing us, but over time we have learned that bad things happen in the world, but God's love, unconditional and unbreakable, is there walking with us when bad things happen to us. God cares for us and does not intentionally cause us pain.
Today is an important day to say this. If ever there was a day to show why a literal reading of scripture can prove problematic to our world, that miss shapes our message as a place for love and acceptance, this could be it.
The issue of consent is something that is so relevant in our world, and we are learning more and more how the dynamics of power affect the way that we understand the boundaries of comfort, expression, and health in relationships. That power extends to the power that we give ourselves, the power that we the Church have assumed in society, and that includes the power that we give our scriptures.
What Marnie, me, and everyone here at Christ Church Cathedral are doing when we say that we disagree with how things are framed, or we question why something is chosen to be said in a certain way in the bible, what we are doing is something called biblical criticism. Even though biblical criticism sounds as though we are just criticizing or insulting the bible. What we are doing is using the training and education that we have received, to ask important questions of scripture, we are contextualizing the time and place, and interpreting the message for our own lives today.
Biblical criticism is the tool that we use to filter the socio-historical context of who wrote scripture, when and why into our own modern world. Because, even though this text may spark our senses, prick up our ears and rub us up the wrong way; we interpret through these things because we love scripture enough to ask it questions and hold it accountable. Part of being Anglican, part of the reason that I am Anglican, and why I am here is because we have been doing these things in our Church religiously for hundreds of years.
We in the Anglican Church are happy to have these conversations, to disagree and argue about what the scriptures are saying and how they inspire us and what they teach us.
From our very inception, the first Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer said in his 39 articles which basically define.What it is to be Anglican, he said: “Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation, so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor proved thereby of any... that it should be believed as an article of the faith or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation” Cranmer was saying that everything necessary for salvation is in scripture but not necessarily that everything in scripture is necessary for salvation. This is where we use the image of the “milking stool” or the three legged stool image of anglicanism, scripture tradition and reason. We use scripture, tradition and reason as tools to discern the will of God. Meaning, scripture alone is not enough. We recognize that not all of scripture was written with the intention of being taken literally, scripture is inspired by God; but also written by humans, with all of our faults, for a certain context.
Thereby we should not believe it blindly but use tools of discernment and reason to understand it and out of respect, question and hold it accountable.
So, we don’t believe in the infallibility of our scriptures and we don’t believe in the Infallibility of our Church.
If you take our scriptures at face value, as being infallible, as being something that you can’t have a conversation with. Then you end up making pretty hard to reason arguments: like the world being 6000 years old, you condemn innocent people, you justify a God who appears to discriminate. And we see this in Christianity in the world today.
But our scriptures are precious and we love them. We love them so much that we read them more than many of the Churches who would call us unfaithful for doing so.
We have to accept that our scriptures have done harm through their application in the world. We have to accept that on Pride Sunday where we celebrate our diversity and make our own statements of our belief for the way that we recognize and love everyone.
Our way of being Church at Christ Church Cathedral is too aim to be better than what we have been before. We are proud of our history and our legacy as a place of progressive change. We affirm our ministry as a prophetic voice of acceptance, invitation and affirmation. We worship with a culture of self-assessment, where we critique ourselves and our place in this city and in the world.
We reflect on what brought us to this place, what made us feel at home here, as the thing that drives us to be better, to ask the question of being and belonging, of welcome and hospitality.
How we experience God through our worship, and we use this to ask how we can make this place more welcoming, more holy, more accepting, more understanding, more humble and more gracious so that the people in our city and in our world, who may have experienced Christianity or the Church in ways that made them feel not welcome, find refuge, sanctuary and holiness in our place.
We all have a part to play in making this happen. We all have a responsibility to learn to be Christ-like so that people see the face of Christ when they enter into our place.
We have to be uncomfortable for our place in the world, but resolute in our determination to be the change, to be the Church that we are called to be.This is why we don’t just do days like pride Sunday. This is why we celebrate them. Because we are unapologetic for affirming the equality of all.
Unconditional. Love, above all.
You are welcomed here and called beloved.
You are welcomed home.