A note before reading: This sermon addresses violence against women. It wasn’t easy to write or to preach, and I couldn’t have done it without the support of an amazing community of religious leaders, many of whom are young female clergy. This sermon owes a lot to one in particular, the Rev. Jennie Chrien. Read her sermon too. It’s amazing.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be faithful and fruitful in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
A famous theologian named Karl Barth once said that we ought to hold the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.
But sometimes, there is such an awful confluence between the two that I just feel nailed, nailed to the ground by the weight of the world’s news and the brokenness reflected in scripture. I know, even as I stand there, unable to move, that it’s precisely all of that for which Jesus came. But it’s still so, so hard to find a way to speak into that.
This was one of those weeks.
This was the week that the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Latvia voted to change its constitution so that women could no longer be ordained. This was largely a symbolic gesture, because the archbishop of that church has been refusing to ordain women since 1993, but the church still felt the need to get it in nice legal writing: only men could be ordained into church leadership.
This was the week that 19 women were burned to death for refusing to have sex with this ISIS captors.
This was the week that the verdict was handed down in the Stanford rape case. A young man named Brock Turner was found guilty on three felony counts of sexual assault and was sentenced to six months in prison.
The victim, who is anonymous, released her court statement online, and it has been viewed millions of times their week. Have any of you read it? It is heartbreaking and powerful. She describes not only the horrific night when she was raped, but also the months of suffering that followed, and her frustration, anger, and sadness that her rapist did not acknowledge or express remorse for his actions.
That was the newspaper.
Then there is the text.
This is the week we read about Bathsheba and David. Our reading doesn’t cover the backstory, so allow me to outline it for you. One night, Bathsheba, who was married to a man named Uriah, was going about the monthly business of ritually purifying herself. She was bathing on the roof of her house, which was probably the most private place she could find, safe from prying eyes below. But the king, who lived in the tallest building in town, saw her. And he sent his men to bring her back to him.
I don’t know what Bathsheba’s opinion about all that was. I don’t know whether she went willingly with the king’s men. I don’t know if she tried to talk David out of what he wanted to do. I don’t know what she was wearing or whether she wanted it. I don’t know because the Bible doesn’t tell us. And there could be two reasons for that: either whoever recorded this story didn’t give a hoot about what Bathsheba thought of the whole thing, or else they figured that it didn’t really matter. It didn’t matter what Bathsheba did or did not want. When the king summons you to take you to his bed, your consent does not matter. Let us name the truth that the recorder of this story did not: David raped Bathsheba. And then, when she got pregnant, David covered up what he had done by having her husband killed and taking Bathsheba as his wife.
The prophet Nathan arrives on the scene to call the king out on what he has done, and in order to do it, he tells a story about a little lamb. An animal who was the property of a poor man who loved it and treated it like a daughter, until it was killed by a selfish neighbor. When David reacts in righteous anger, Nathan turns the tables, proclaiming, “Thou art the man!”
Whereupon David bows his head utters, “I have sinned against God.”
David has sinned against God. But did he recognize that he had also sinned against Bathsheba? Or was she just the little lamb in this story, a piece of property in a world where all property is owned by men?
David goes on to have a daughter, Tamar, who is raped in his own house by another of David’s sons, her half-brother Amnon. Afterwards, Tamar tears her robe in two, and puts ashes on her head, and walks through the house, crying. David is angry, but will not punish Amnon, because he was his firstborn, and his favorite.
Brock Turner’s own father wrote a letter to the judge, asking for probation instead of jail time for his son. “His life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action.”
In David’s story, David’s choice to perpetuate rape culture within his own family eventually leads to war and fratricide. In ours, our choice to turn a blind eye to the women weeping in our midst means that we live in a country where one in five women has encountered rape or attempted rape and where only one third of those instances are ever reported.
This is the week when an unnamed woman crashes Simon’s dinner party and stands there, weeping, unbinding her hair, washing Jesus’ feet, making everyone uncomfortable.
Many of you probably learned somewhere along the way that this woman’s sin was prostitution. It is equally possible that this woman was a liar, or a thief, or that she dishonored her parents. It is telling, not about her, but about us, that for two thousand years the Church has assumed that her sin is sexual. As though our collective imagination runs out when challenged to think of what other sin a woman can commit. What more might a woman be, besides sex?
This is the week when we hear the names of Susanna and Joanna, two women who followed Jesus throughout his ministry, two women who were there when they crucified our Lord, two women who made his ministry possible by funding and following and serving–two women whose names are nearly forgotten, while everyone knows about Peter and Paul, James and John.
This is the week when Jesus turns to Simon, who is thinking his unspoken thoughts about the weeping woman’s sinfulness, and asks, “Do you see this woman?”
Do you see this woman?
Do you see this woman, whose sins, thought many, have been forgiven? Do you see that she is there, weeping, not because she is still guilty, but because she is finally free? Do you see that Jesus has claimed her, that God has loved her, that she is made in the image of God, and is whole and complicated and irreducible and forgiven?
Because that’s how God sees her.
God sees her, and through Jesus, invites us to see her too. God invites us to look past our defenses, our excuses, our judgments, and see the full humanity of one whom God loves.
Do you see this woman? Do you see the woman who was stolen by a king? Do you see the woman who was raped by her brother? Do you see the woman who was dismissed as a sinner? Do you see the woman whose name we do not know even as her words to her rapist were read by millions?
In part of her statement, addressing her rapist, she wrote, “You said, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin a life. A life, one life, yours, you forgot about mine. Let me rephrase for you, I want to show people that one night of drinking can ruin two lives. You and me. You are the cause, I am the effect… You knocked down both our towers, I collapsed at the same time you did.”
Do you see this woman? Did Brock Turner, her rapist, see her? Apparently not. He said his drinking ruined a life: one life. He forgot about his victim. He didn’t see her, didn’t recognize her humanity, didn’t count her experience as important.
After her statement was viewed by millions, Vice President Joe Biden wrote an open letter in response, in which he said: “I do not know your name—but I see your unconquerable spirit. I see the limitless potential of an incredibly talented young woman—full of possibility. I see the shoulders on which our dreams for the future rest. I see you.”
According to the Bible, it is a woman who is the first to give God a name. In the book of Genesis, Abraham follows Sarah’s urging and casts out Hagar, his slave, along with the little boy he fathered with her. Hagar and Ishmael wander through the desert until they collapse, close to death, and God brings them to a well; brings them back to life. In that moment, Hagar names God: “The one who sees.”
God sees Hagar and Ishmael. God sees Bathsheba. God sees Tamar. God sees Joanna and Susanna. God sees the women in Latvia who are sensing a call to ministry, and cannot find it in their Lutheran church. God sees the 19 Yazidi women.
God also sees Brock Turner, and his father. God sees David, and Simon. God sees us, simultaneously sinners and saints. God sees our sins, which are many, and calls us to genuine repentance, so that we can encounter genuine forgiveness. God’s longing is for each of us to hear, to hear because our broken and repentant hearts are longing to hear it: “Your sins are forgiven. Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.”
People of God, God sees you. Now let’s open our eyes and our hearts, and see.
(Singing🙂 I was once lost, but now am found; was blind, but now I see.