Sunday, August 16, 2015

Sermon: A Party for the Prodigal

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church
Worship led by Beer & Hymns OC 
August 16, 2015

Luke 15:1-3, 11-32

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 3So he told them this parable:

11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

One: This is the Word of God, for us, the people of God.
ALL: Thanks be to God.

            “There was a man who had two sons.” If you have spent any amount of time in or near a church, it is likely that you know how this story goes. It is one of the most recognized stories from the Bible, and one of the most perplexing.  Right away, we are invited to hear about these three characters and are welcomed into their world, their story. There is a father, who is mysteriously singular in his parenting tasks. There are two sons, brothers, who are different in every way. The older son is responsible, frugal, and loyal. The younger son is selfish, short-sighted, and reckless. Of course, you know the end of the story. The younger boy asks for his share of the inheritance, and leaves the farm, spending his money on prostitutes and gambling. He loses everything and realizes that the servants at his father’s house have a better life than he. So he returns, pitiful speech prepared, and is greeted not with judgment but with relief. His father welcomes him home, prepares the fatted calf and they feast. Meanwhile, the older son has become furious over the turn of events. But, the father forgives his brother, nonetheless.
            If I asked you to pick a character in the story with whom you most closely identify, you wouldn’t have much trouble deciding. Either you love the younger son – the one who is welcomed home – or you identify with the older, loyal son. It is rare that we find ourselves identifying with the father figure. He’s a mystery – why did he give the son his inheritance, when this is tantamount to the younger son saying, “You’re worth more to me dead than alive, and I want my share.” And why, even if he is tremendously relieved, did he welcome the younger son home with such reckless abandon? No consequences? No stern lectures about how things are going to be from now on?
            I have always identified most closely with the older brother. He is the responsible one who never rocks the boat. He does what is expected. He stays close to home. He is frugal and wise and completely faithful to his father. He is begrudging of his younger brother and downright hateful upon his return. I cannot say that I blame him. As an only child, I always craved siblings, but this story caught me off guard. It seems as though even siblings aren’t exactly best friends. Or, frankly, the secret to a healthy social life. They can highlight everything you strive not to be, embody the characteristics you pride yourself most in not displaying, and somehow still manage to endear the affection of your parents. Siblings are, in short, the worst. Or, at least, this one is. My sympathies have always been aligned with the older brother, the loyal and faithful one who doesn’t even get a goat with which to celebrate with his friends.
            But, if I’m being fair, what would he celebrate? It seems as though he’s unmarried, so there are no progeny coming his way. Would he delight in a fine day in the fields? A particularly beautiful sunset? The cost of living a very safe and responsible lifestyle is that it is without drama. It has probably never occurred to him to ask for a goat, which it seems likely his father would have happily given him. Rather, he is content to feast on his dinner each night, just like he’s always done. Perhaps he took too much joy in the fact that there was more meat for him once his brother left. Perhaps he noticed the subtle ways in which life was better for him, more plentiful. His father spent nights wondering about his lost son, and this child rejoiced when he got seconds on dessert. No man is without sin.
            The younger brother is certainly a character. He will be remembered through the ages as the “Prodigal Son.” Prodigal, in case you’re curious, simply means “one who spends money in a recklessly extravagant way.” I’ve always assumed there was a redemptive undertone to this title – the one who was lost, and then was found, but this is not the case. He is marked for all of time with the title of Spendthrift. I have a hard time associating with this character, because I find him so distastefully unlike me. He’s arrogant, rude, and cares only of his own way in the world. He is the one who approaches his father and asks for his share of the property. To him, it has no value except for what it can give him. This child has likely not known hardship. He has grown up comfortably, with little concern for day-to-day security. Because of this, it has no value to him. So, he gathers all he has and travels to a distant country, squandering everything in debauchery. Then, of course, things get hard. As it would happen, a famine comes upon the land in which he is living. He has nothing and there is little to spare, so he hires himself out to feed pigs.
            As an older-brother type, I take a certain pleasure in considering the foolish man, who once was rich and arrogant, but finds himself feeding the pigs of a stranger in a strange land. If you’ve ever seen “Avenue Q,” you know that this is called “schadenfreude,” or experiencing joy in the suffering of others. The lofty has been brought low! The first is indeed last! Isn’t this the stuff of Gospel promise?
            Except that Jesus tells us in the story that, “he came to himself.” The only way this could happen would be in a moment of desperation and clarity. Here he is, lost, alone in a strange land, far from those who have loved and cared for him and with no way to return because of his shame. There is another part of me who sees not an arrogant man, but a lost little boy. My heart warms a bit. Then he begins his resolution:  ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ Then, I don’t feel so sympathetic. Jesus frames this story as one of repentance and rejoicing over a lost sheep, as though this boy is repentant. But it’s not clear that he has repented of anything except poverty. It is only his own suffering that causes him to return to his father, not a change of heart.
            Then we encounter the most perplexing part of the story. The part I have the most difficult time understanding. The father, seeing his lost son in the distance, runs to him.  Jesus tells us that he was “filled with compassion,” or as I humbly recognize is the opposite of schadenfreude. He feels concern for the suffering of his son, and he runs to him, embraces him, and stops him halfway through his apology (just before the son can insist that his father treat him like one of his hired hands). He tells the servants to bring out a robe – the best one – and to give him a ring for his finger and sandals for his feet.  He is falling all over himself to honor this arrogant and selfish boy.
            On my best day, I can see this as a beautiful reunion between a heartbroken father and a lost son. I can recognize the sense of relief that comes with the reappearance of your precious boy, who left of his own accord with no clear intent to return. I can imagine my own overwhelming relief at the joy of seeing the face of my child whom I worried I would never see again. But, this father is more gracious than me. My embrace would be quickly followed by a lecture, a stern talking-to, finger wagging. But this father says, “Go and
get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’
            Then comes the part of the story that we’re all waiting for. The older son called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ This is when it gets good, right? The older brother becomes angry and refuses to go see his sibling and his father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”
            I share the older son’s fury. This isn’t fair. You and I both know that life isn’t fair, but this seems to highlight the absolute injustice of the world. I stay, and I get nothing, but he squanders everything and gets a party? Where is my party?! But the father reminds his oldest boy what he most needs to hear, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” Including this spendthrift brother, this burden of loss, this terrible anxiety that is now relieved. What they share is more than property or even the bond of family. What they share is the same emotional responsibility for the lost son, and all that entails.
            But this story isn’t about me. And it’s not about the sons. It’s about the father. Jesus tells this story to the grumbling Pharisees because they, like me, are more concerned with the disreputable company Jesus is keeping rather than the awareness of their need for grace and acceptance. If we are to look for ourselves in this story, we cannot be found through the righteous indignation of the older son. We cannot be found in the debauchery of the younger son. We cannot be found in the sympathy of the father. No, we can only be found as the child who receives grace when we deserve none. The only way for us to comprehend this story is for us to recognize ourselves in the relief of forgiveness, even when we don’t ask for it properly.
            That’s because this isn’t just a story about us, and our tendencies. It’s a story about God. Our perspective must shift to comprehend what Jesus is teaching: grace above legality, compassion over shadenfreude, forgiveness without a lecture. We are all homeless prodigals, and all of us deserve less than what God gives. This is not a great comeback story. It’s not the story of a boy pulling himself up by his bootstraps or loyalty being rewarded. It’s not the prodigal’s poor and misguided apology that forces his father to set the banquet table any more than our remorse encourages God to prepare the table for us, THIS table. We cannot throw our own party. The good news is that we don’t have to. It’s already been done for us. All we need to do is show up and celebrate with the one who loves us most.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Above is the call to prayer, "Sweet, Sweet Spirit," led by Lauren Francis, Kristen Howerton and Mandy Flemming. 

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sermon: YOU are the Man!

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church
SundayAugust 2, 2015

“YOU are the Man!”

2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:15

           When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the Lord, and the Lord sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him,
           “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
           Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”
           Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
           Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
           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.”
           David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.” Nathan said to David, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die.”

Then Nathan went to his house. The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.

One: This is the word of God for us, the people of God.
All: Thanks be to God.

Last week, we heard the story of David and Bathsheba, and concluded with the hope that God can redeem the most broken of people, the most blatant of sinners. If God can redeem David, think how much God can redeem us.
           Today, we hear the story of David’s conviction. David, the beloved of God, the one from whom our Savior has descended, the king of Israel, has been caught. After all, before any sort of redemption, there must be confession. The prophet, Nathan, comes to David and tells him a parable about a rich man who has many flocks, but when a traveler comes to visit, he takes the beloved lamb of a poor man. One who has much takes the sole, tender possession of one who has little. David hears the parable, and doesn’t recognize that this story is Nathan’s wise attempt to convict him of his guilt.
           “The bait is set and David seizes it: what the rich man has done is unconscionable. David is incensed and swears a rather elaborate oath in the Lord’s name that the rich man must restore the poor man’s lamb many times over. It may be that David also issues the death penalty for the rich man. At the very least, the rich man will pay dearly; he may also have to pay with his life. ”[1]
           But then the blow is struck by Nathan: “You are that man!” In Hebrew this phrase is only two words long, and is the second of three important two-word phrases that drive the plot in this story. This is a story that includes much detail, but the pivotal moments are told with great economy of language. When Bathsheba comes to David to announce her pregnancy, she says, simply, “harâ anokî,” ָא ֹנ ִכ י ָה ָר ה “I am pregnant.” Two words to change their lives. Two words upon which hang the possibility of choice and consequence. The choice David makes is clearly the wrong one. In a host of already bad decisions, he opts for the most harmful solution to his present problem. He has Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, deliver his own death sentence to the general who sends him to the front lines of battle.
           After David receives word of Uriah’s death, he sends for Bathsheba and makes her his wife. But, these things displeased the Lord, and the prophet Nathan was sent to convey God’s displeasure. Parables are God’s way of speaking to those who have ears to hear. So often, parables seem to confuse more than they explain. But, perhaps this is an indication of David’s connection with God. The parable Nathan shares cuts to the chase; David gets it. And, Nathan’s response to David’s reaction: “You are that man!” (attâ ha-îš) demonstrates the simplicity of his conviction. God knows! Nathan knows. David has not escaped judgment.
But, David’s response is his own two-word phrase after hearing God’s judgment through Nathan, “I’ve sinned against the LORD” (ah-ah-tî la-YHWH). Much is communicated with very few words in this narrative. Big things hang on two-word phrases.
I’m pregnant. harâ anokî
YOU are the man! attâ ha-îš
I’ve sinned against the Lord. ah-ah-tî la-YHWH
This is the entire story of what could have been David’s fall from grace. But, one thing is critical to note. This doesn’t end with a press conference or excuses. David does what many of us can’t: he confesses that he has sinned against the Lord.
           God has every right to be angry. God says to David, “I anointed you king. I rescued you from Saul’s hand. I gave you a house, wives, the house of Israel and Judah. AND, ‘if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.’” WHY, David? Why? Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in God’s sight? For a man who has everything, why has he sought to take what belonged to another?
            The consequences of David’s actions are real. God says that he will give his wives into the hands of his neighbor. Trouble will be raised up in David’s house, and the sword will never depart from it. If ever we wonder about God’s willingness to punish the righteous, we can see from this account that no one is exempt from the judgment of the Lord, including the one “after God’s own heart.”
            There is no doubt in anyone’s mind that what David did was wrong. Nathan’s visit and parabolic re-telling of David’s actions are to ensure that David himself can understand the gravity of his actions. Can he? Is it possible for the anointed one of God to feel contrition, guilt? To be accountable?
            What we hear in David’s response is an absence of denial. “He hears Nathan’s parable, hears the two-word conclusion, attâ ha-îš (“You are that man!”) and replies with a stunningly quick and brief two-word confession: ah-ah-tî la-YHWH (“I’ve sinned against the LORD”). It almost seems too quick, too brief. We’d like to hear David say more, be more contrite, than just two words. And yet, with only two words at hand, David doesn’t deny, he confesses. Immediately, quickly, without excuse -- in front of Nathan and God and all others who witnessed this dialogue. There he is: Great king David, a man after God’s own heart, an adulterous, murderous sinner. And yet, there he is: adulterous, murderous, sinful David,confessing. Perhaps he is a man after God’s own heart after all because he is somehow able to hear God’s judgment and immediately accept it and the results that follow upon it.”[2]
           But, what we want for someone who has done such wrong is an admission of guilt, a litany of sorrow and grief, an acknowledgement of the hurt he has caused. We’d like to hear him talk about how he knows his wrongdoings and how his sin is always right in front of him (Psalm 51:3). We’d like to hear him say that he knows God is correct in judging him (Psalm 51:4b). We’d like to hear him beg for mercy and forgiveness (Psalm 51:1-2, 7-13). But that response doesn’t happen, at least not with Nathan present.
           But, let us not forget that there was “a secret chord that David played and it pleased the Lord.” That chord is what resonates in Psalm 51, the prayer for cleansing and pardon, which David writes after Nathan’s prophetic visit.
            Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
            Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.
           Deliver me from bloodshed, O God, O God of my salvation, and my tongue will sing aloud of your deliverance.
O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. For you have no delight in sacrifice; if I were to give a burnt-offering, you would not be pleased.
The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
           Do good to Zion in your good pleasure; rebuild the walls of Jerusalem, then you will delight in right sacrifices, in burnt-offerings and whole burnt-offerings; then bulls will be offered on your altar.

“Remembering the fullness of this story can help us see all of life as the theater for God's wily, costly, persistent performance of redemption.”[3]

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sermon: David and Bathsheba

Rev. Mandy Sloan Flemming
Laguna Beach United Methodist Church
Sunday, July 28, 2015

Listen to the sermon audio here. 

David and Bathsheba

In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem. It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house. The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David. When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going. Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king. But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house. When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?” Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.” Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day, David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

One: This is the word of God, for us, the people of God. (?)
ALL: Thanks be to God.

[NB: The text from Leonard Cohen's heartwrenching "Hallelujah" were performed throughout the course of the narrative by the gracious and talented Victoria McGinnis and Daniel Thompson.]

            She scooped up the water in her hand, and watched as it lightly poured out of her palm, onto her knee that was peeking out of the bath’s horizon. She hummed, over and again, a quiet refrain… hallelujah. Hallelujah. She was thinking of her husband returning. He hasn’t been home in months, for it was Springtime – the season in which the kings went to battle. He loved this season. It was what brought him joy, in the strangest of ways.
            She washed the dirt from beneath her fingernails and thought of the mystery of their marriage. She never envisioned this for herself. She thought she’d be married, yes, but not to a Hittite. Her father’s people were always so brutish, and though she loved him, it made her feel all the more different, distinct. Her mind wandered to the scenery around her. She was strangely blessed, to have this view of the kingdom. Her eyes could see into the royal residence, and she often wondered what it was like there.
            King David, ruddy and handsome, had more wives and concubines than she had friends. She knew that they were treated lavishly. She dreamed, sometimes, of what it would be like to live in a palace with other people, rather than in her home, alone, waiting, all the time, for her war-weary husband to return. His loyalty was always to the King. Some days she wondered if he remembered he had a wife. She hummed her hallelujahs as she wondered…
Well I heard there was a secret chord
That David played and it pleased the Lord
But you don't really care for music, do you?
Well it goes like this:
The fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah…

            This bath, to cleanse her after another month had passed in which she failed to bring about a son, felt different. Month after month, she would bathe upon her roof, feeling the guilt and shame of her failure to conceive. And, month after month, she would stay in the bath long after the water was cold; it was a visceral reminder of her failure, her pain. She prayed to God above to open her womb, but her prayers were ignored. Her heart was typically heavy after these baths, weighted down by the burden of longing and hopelessness. She tried to open her heart to the possibility that she might not ever be a mother, but she could see in Uriah’s face each month the bitter disappointment that he masked so badly. He would drain his cup of wine, gulping readily, and leave as she prepared to ritually cleanse herself. His silence was his judgment. His battles became his children.
Baby I've been here before
I've seen this room and I've walked this floor
I used to live alone before I knew ya
And I've seen your flag on the marble arch
And love is not a victory march
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

            It’s not as though Uriah was a bad husband. He was generous, he was loyal. He was kind and gentle. He may have been a warrior, but he was like a lamb at home. He was, at one time, as loyal to her as he was to David. She remembered what it was like, just after her father betrothed her to him. He was respectful, but tender. The first year of marriage was a delightful discovery, as strangers became intimate friends.
            Those days were long gone, as Uriah became more focused on his career. He hoped to become a general in David’s army. He fought bravely and successfully, but nothing pleased him more than returning home to his wife. But, these returns were growing more terse, as each month passed with no news of future generations being provided. His heart grew strangely cold. Bathsheba could feel it. Now they were just inhabitants of the same space on the fleeting days that Uriah was home. In the springtime, this was rare.
There was a time when you let me know
What's really going on below
But now you never show that to me, do ya?
But remember when I moved in you
And the holy dove was moving too
And every breath we drew was Hallelujah

And as the water grew tepid, and she watched it stream down her arm, to her elbow, Bathsheba stared at the royal residence and her breath caught in her throat as she noticed that there was a figure on the roof, looking her way. He was alone. It was King David. Out of habit, she averted her eyes, but she had to check… she opened them, quickly, and noticed that he was still there. Staring. At her.
Her cheeks flushed. Her pulse quickened. She was anxious. Nervous. Embarrassed. He could see her. She felt exposed, vulnerable, terrified. So, she stayed very, very still. 
Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah...
 She lifted her eyes again. He was still there, and it appeared as though he might be smiling. Before she could stop herself, she lifted her hand, slightly, in a gesture of reverence. The king, watching her, returned it.
Her head tilted to the side, curious at the strange thing that had just transpired. It was only a moment more before he left the roof, called for by a servant below. She stayed in the bath, letting her breathing slow. The anxiety left her. She climbed out of the bath and retreated indoors. The king saw her. She had been seen. It was difficult to describe the mixture of emotions that accompanied this realization, but the most baffling of which was the strange sense of astonishment. She had been seen, looked upon, witnessed. It was difficult to say if this was true in her own home.
As she dressed, she grew tired. She went to bed, early. The next morning when she awoke, there was a knock at the door. It was loud and notable. When she ran to answer it, she was surprised to see the King’s messengers standing on the other side. Her hand flew to her mouth as she started to ask, “Is he…?” Her first thought was that Uriah had been killed in battle, and this is how she would come to learn the news. But, this was not the message they brought. Instead, they said, “Come with us. The king would like to see you.”
She dressed, quickly, in the finest clothes she could find. The king! The very king! It seemed impossible that this would be happening to her. The events of the previous day flooded her mind. She felt certain she’d done something inappropriate by offering the gesture of respect. Perhaps this was punishment? Perhaps she had offended the king?
 She learned quickly, upon arriving at the king’s residence, that he was not offended, but she couldn’t discern if she was being punished or not. David himself greeted her at the door, walking her onto the roof upon which he’d viewed her. She stood there, in silence, for what seemed like hours, waiting for an explanation. His explanation didn’t come with words, but she understood completely.
A cold and broken hallelujah was all that was on her lips.
Her life changed forever.
She returned home, and went to bed, though she lay awake for hours, rolling the events of the day through her mind. Her tears soaked her pillow, ran rivets down her cheeks and neck. She couldn’t even pinpoint the source of her sorrow. Shame, yes. But a strange sort of longing crept in. Was she longing for the man who did this to her?! No. That wasn’t it. She was longing for the things that made her feel seen, special, known. It made more tears spring from her eyes to realize this.
 A few weeks later, she was preparing to draw another bath. She was preparing to soak her grieving and empty body in the waters that did little to comfort her. But the sign to bathe never came. Days passed, a week, a month… she began to suspect something when breakfast turned her stomach. Two months later, her waistline began to expand, as did her feet. Her sandals and robes were becoming tight. As she lay in bed, her hands rested on her abdomen as she tried to perceive if her prayers had been answered in the worst way possible. What if…?

Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah, Hallelujah.

In the third month, she knew it was time to send word to the king. If he was going to have a child, he had every right to know. She sent word to the king, “I am pregnant.” Those three words were enough to transform him, as well as her. It wasn’t long before she heard that Uriah was being summoned. She had a cousin who worked near the kings’ messengers, and he relayed the news to her. She felt her heart tighten at the thought of seeing him again. David had taken her, yes, but she was the one bearing the burden of shame. Day after day, she waited for Uriah to return, and he never did.
The messengers did, though. They returned one day with Joab, who was a scoundrel and a fighter. It was never good if Joab appeared at one’s doorstep. This time, her instincts were right. Joab came into her home, and described what had happened. Her husband was among the soldiers who were besieging the city, and as a valiant warrior, he was appointed to lead the charge. Some of the servants of David fell in battle. Uriah was one of them.
Maybe there's a God above
But all I've ever learned from love
Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya
And it's not a cry that you hear at night
It's not somebody who's seen the light
It's a cold and it's a broken Hallelujah

            Her cries caught in her throat, as she escorted Joab out the door. She turned away from him, wailing. Her cries filled her ears, her mind, her heart. She sobbed and sobbed until her throat was raw. The only word she could muster was a cold and broken hallelujah. She sat on the floor, alone, running her hands over her swollen belly. The king had taken everything from her. Her dignity, her husband, her body. And, you and I know how sinister the king had been. His pride allowed him to take what was his – this woman, wife of another man, who was a devoted and loyal servant. His privilege permitted him to have Uriah deliver his own death sentence to Joab.
            Bathsheba spent the next 7 days in the customary period of mourning. Her family and friends came to sit and weep with her, and she prayed none of them would notice the signs of her pregnancy. She made lamentation for him, singing her hallelujahs with the little breath she could muster.
            After her time of mourning, the family and friends departed, and she went back to being alone. Her only company was the quickening of the baby in her womb. On the 8th day, a loud and jarring knock came to the door. It was the king’s messengers again. They said the king had sent for her, and she was to pack her belongings and come with them immediately. She did so, slowly, reverently. And, when she arrived, David greeted her with the same gesture they exchanged on the roof. Tears came to her eyes as this man, who had done terrible things to her, welcomed her into his home. She became his wife, and in a matter of months, she bore him a son.
            She knew that this child wouldn’t be theirs to keep. He was stuck with a fever, and Bathsheba watched as her new husband rent his garments and fasted. He prayed to God above, and when their son took his final breath, he went to the house of the Lord and sang his own cold and broken hallelujah, offering his child and his guilt back to God.
            After that, things were different. They shared the same song, David and Bathsheba. He consoled her in her grief by singing it to her, and their melody became their story. She bore another son, Solomon, the king who would build the temple. It was Bathsheba who was with David through his reign, he took no other wives after her. Their home was not immune to the trials of loss, but their shared refrain is what kept them connected. Theirs is a story of selfishness, weeping, brokenness, and sorrow, for love is not a victory march. It is a story of unexpected redemption and grace. Every day that she looked upon David, her first thought would be of the gesture they exchanged. All that transpired after it never ceased to fill her with perplexity. But, as she looked upon Solomon, who grew into the wisest king of their time, she felt a quiet assurance that God would work good into her story.
            It’s why she continued to sing her refrain, and why we hear her story every time we look back to the lineage of our savior, and see that it is filled, not with saints, but with sinners like David, son of Jesse, father of Solomon by the wife of Uriah, who is not forgotten, but memorialized in this litany of generations. Because God can redeem the most broken of people, the most blatant of sinners. If God can redeem David, think how much God can redeem us.

Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelujah...