This week I helped with Fred’s funeral. Fred was in his 100th year when he died. In the last while he had been quite ill, and there was little that could be done to alleviate his discomfort, or to relieve the sense of helplessness felt by his family. This is when it easier to see death as a blessing.
I felt blessed by was seeing how Fred is loved and respected by his family. His daughter and son gave eulogies. Love shone through in what they said. Today is their first Father’s Day without their dad. My prayers are with Kent, and Diane, and all others whose fathers have died. I pray for those who never knew their fathers, and for those whose father-child relationships have been difficult.
I recently helped with a very different feeling funeral for another man who lived into his nineties. Neither the son or daughter wished to speak. They could not think of anything to say. The daughter told me her last positive memories of her father happened before she was 10 years old. What a sad and powerful statement for a woman in her 60’s.
I wonder how my son and daughter will remember me. You can hear my pride and ego speaking. I hope to live on in good memories. But at a deeper level I recognize we have an obligation to the people in our lives- our children, our partners, our extended family, friends, all those we meet. We have a responsibility to help them believe that love is real. That is our real legacy to our children, to the generations that follow us, to the world.
Every child is born with basic needs for survival and security, affection and approval, power and control. A child needs to feel safe, and loved, and that world we live is predictable, reliable, and not ruled by chaos.
We are not born into perfect families, and it is not a perfect world. In fact, for many children, for many people, the world is a dangerous and difficult place in which to grow up. There is a connection between how the child’s basic needs are met, and the child’s success at establishing a meaningful relationship with God.
If trust in God is not established and encouraged in a healthy, life-giving way, the child may end up, in the words of the old country song by Johnny Lee, “Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places”. They may seek solace, even meaning, in the misuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other addictive substances. They may confuse the fleeting satisfactions of power, wealth, fame, or sex, for real love.
That may be what happened in the bible story I want to reflect on today. David was one of the first kings of Israel. There were people in Israel who did not want a monarchy. They feared the abuses of power they had seen in other places. Others wanted a king, so Israel would be more like its neighbours. Kings provide a central government and a command structure for times of war.
It was during a time of war that David got into trouble. The story in the Bible begins this way:
In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war, David sent Joab out with the king’s men and the whole Israelite army. They destroyed the Ammonites and besieged Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful, 3 and David sent someone to find out about her. The man said, “She is Bathsheba, the daughter of Eliam and the wife of Uriah the Hittite.” 4 Then David sent messengers to get her. She came to him, and he slept with her…. Then she went back home. 5
This is not a love story. David, the powerful king was attracted to Bathsheba, and commanded that she be delivered to him, the way we might send flowers, or order a pizza. This is not a respectful way to treat another person, and this is not a consensual relationship between equals.
Bathsheba might have wanted to forget this up close and personal encounter with raw and brute power, but that was not going to happen. She discovered that she was pregnant. David’s choices set in motion a chain of events. Bathsheba sent word to David that she had conceived. Soon there would be living, breathing evidence of his bad behaviour. If it had been any kind of secret, it would not be for long.
6 So David sent this word to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent him to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked him how Joab was, how the soldiers were and how the war was going. 8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.” So Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 But Uriah slept at the entrance to the palace with all his master’s servants and did not go down to his house.
10 David was told, “Uriah did not go home.” So he asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just come from a military campaign? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 Uriah said to David, “…My commander Joab and my lord’s men are camped in the open country. How could I go to my house to eat and drink and make love to my wife? As surely as you live, I will not do such a thing!”
12 Then David said to him, “Stay here one more day, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day and the next. 13 At David’s invitation, he ate and drank with him, and David made him drunk. But in the evening Uriah went out to sleep on his mat among his master’s servants; he did not go home.
14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 In it he wrote, “Put Uriah out in front where the fighting is fiercest. Then withdraw from him so he will be struck down and die.”
16 So while Joab had the city under siege, he put Uriah at a place where he knew the strongest defenders were. 17 When the men of the city came out and fought against Joab, some of the men in David’s army fell; moreover, Uriah the Hittite died.
26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she mourned for him. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David had her brought to his house, and she became his wife and bore him a son. But the thing David had done displeased the Lord.
When those entrusted to govern and lead, and protect the interests of their country use their position to take what they want, everyone suffers. That was true 3000 years ago, and it is true today.
When our leaders lack integrity, and when people in power seem to be able to make or break the rules at their convenience, it becomes harder to trust. This is true on a national scale, and it is true in our own homes. We may feel little secrets, our quiet selfishness, our cutting of corners are okay. We may feel we deserve a little something, and that if nobody knows about it, it’s not that bad. But our ethical and moral choices have an effect on those around us. Part of how we love each other, is to live in loving, honest, respectful ways, and to call each other to account when necessary.
God is always at work, nudging, whispering, encouraging us to live out of love and compassion rather than out of greed and unrestrained self-interest. There was a man in Israel named Nathan, who the people recognized as a prophet of God. When the previous king had died, and David was chosen to succeed him, it was Nathan who presided at his installation, in the way that the Archbishop of Canterbury crowns the British monarch. Nathan paid a visit to the king, and told him a story.
“There were two men in a certain town, one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had a very large number of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to the rich man, but the rich man refrained from taking one of his own sheep or cattle to prepare a meal for the traveler who had come to him. Instead, he took the ewe lamb that belonged to the poor man and prepared it for the one who had come to him.”
5 David burned with anger against the man and said to Nathan, “As surely as the Lord lives, the man who did this must die! 6 He must pay for that lamb four times over, because he did such a thing and had no pity.”
7 Then Nathan said to David, “You are the man!
Nathan goes on to tell David his mistakes, his corruption, his self-centered choices will change the course of Israel’s history, and have profound effect on the lives of the people closest to him. He even tells David that this child Bathsheba conceived while still married to Uriah will die an early death. This fits with the way people saw things back then, that the sins of the fathers truly were visited upon the children, that a child would pay the price for their parent’s offenses.
While we might cringe at this notion of God punishing children this way, there is a message here. Our actions affect the people we love. Our whole lives matter, and it does not work to try to have a secret part of our lives where we make up our own rules.
Thank God for Nathan, and for the voices in our time, who call us to account, and who remind us of how God would have us live, and love each other. Amen