The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks –The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost—Proper 14—Year B
II Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; Mark 6:35, 41-51
This morning’s story from II Samuel is nothing short of tragic. These are a lot of messed up, immensely human people adding brokenness upon brokenness upon brokenness.
Context is important.
Remember from last week, David stole Bathesheba from Uriah, and put Uriah in a position where Uriah would undoubtedly be killed, which he was. For this horrific chain of events, God promised that horrific brokenness would come upon David’s house, which it did. The child of David’s liaison with Bathesheba died. One of David’s sons, Amnon, committed a horrible sin against his sister, Tamar (again, for the R-rated version, read II Samuel chapter 13—it is chilling). Another of David’s sons, Absalom, was enraged by Amnon’s violation. Absalom waited, and in due course, with great premeditation, killed Amnon. Absalom then fled, afraid for his life.
So, King David has lost two children to death, has a third child who has suffered a horrible injustice, and a fourth child who now lives in exile. David’s heart is heavy indeed. Absalom eventually finds his way back into the presence of the king and then plots a revolt. In the ensuing battles, father and son’s armies are pitted one against the other. But David’s heart has been broken so many times; he wants his commander, Joab, to deal gently with the young man Absalom. In the battle that follows, Absalom is riding on his mule when the mule goes under the thick branches of a great oak tree. His head got caught in the branches and he was left hanging there, but he was still alive. One of Joab’s men saw this and reported it to Joab. When Joab heard that Absalom was still alive, Joab was furious; he went out with three spears and thrust them into Absalom’s heart. Joab’s ten armorbearers surrounded Absalom, struck, and killed him. When news came to David, his heart broke yet again. He was inconsolable. He wept. All he can do is grieve for his son, Absalom.
It is tragic. So much brokenness. Wrong compounds wrong compounds wrong, never adding up to a right. And while I in no way ascribe to the author of II Samuel’s theology of cause-and-effect, which basically says that our missteps and our misdeeds cause God to visit unbelievable suffering upon us, while I don’t believe that; I do believe that when we sow seeds of brokenness, we reap the fruits of brokenness.
There is so much in this story. Incredible family dysfunction. The myth of redemptive violence—if Absalom could just avenge what happened to his sister Tamar. If Joab could just avenge Absalom’s act of rebellion. And where does it all lead? Death and more death. Brokenness and more brokenness.
This is all pretty drastic and pretty graphic, but do we not participate in these dynamics in our own lives? Think about the most conflicted relationships in your life. Where have you sown seeds of brokenness? Where can you identify this never-ending cycle of hurt-revenge in your own relationships? Where have you been triangled into a conflict and found yourself taking sides, thereby participating in the hurt-avenge cycle? We may not kill, in fact, but we can kill with our words, with our stoney silences, we can kill by withdrawing our affection, our presence. And how do we participate in this myth of redemptive violence on the collective scale? Is this not the source of most war—hurt-revenge, hurt-avenge? Is not this myth at the root of the violent shootings we have seen recently—Aurora, Colorado, the Sihk Temple in Wisconsin? However twisted, do not the shooters somehow believe that this violent act will redeem something or avenge something?
But the beliefs that fuel this myth start so much earlier. Maybe that’s why Paul tells us in no uncertain terms, “Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you…and live in love.”
The end of the road is a violent act, but the beginning of that road rests in bitterness and wrath and anger that becomes a habit and a way of life, that simmers into resentment, that moves into wrangling and slander and malice, and, in no time, becomes a runaway train. We cannot allow these seeds to take root in our souls, and when an injustice is perpetrated against us or against someone we care about, it is so tempting to go there. But just look at the way the Sikh’s have responded, with peace and love and prayer. Or remember the Amish response when Charles Robert shot ten of their little girls at that schoolhouse in Lancaster County in Pennsylvania? Within six hours of the shooting, members of that community expressed forgiveness and words of grace to the widow of Charles Roberts; later that day, they went to his parents and expressed words of forgiveness and support. Money poured in from around the world for the Amish—they decided to give a portion to the Mr. Robert’s widow and his children. The Sikh’s, the Amish, the very people that our society considers to be so “other”, they are showing us what it means to live in kindness, to have tender hearts, to live forgiveness, to live in love.
With so much hate around us, with so many calls to diminish one another, with so many examples from those who lash out in anger against anyone who looks different or holds a different belief or perspective, how are we walking in kindness and living forgiveness? How are we witnessing to the core values of our faith; how are we witnessing to our baptismal vows? How are we “seeking and serving Christ in all persons?” How are we “respecting the dignity of every human being?” How are we “persevering in resisting evil” and when we recognize that we have given into bitterness and wrath, when we recognize that our anger is bleeding through all of our words and actions, when we see that all we do is wrangle, bicker, argue, when we recognize that we are participating in slander and malice, how are we then “repenting of these behaviors and patterns and returning to the Lord?”
We may not be able to stop a crazed shooter, but we can stop these seeds from taking root in our own hearts, and we can call one another to our better selves, and we can stand with those who are targets of such hate. The cycle of violence can only be broken when we do not allow these first seeds to take root. This cycle will only be broken when we name the myth of redemptive violence for what it is, a myth that is a lie.
Our only hope is to feed on the One who broke this cycle on the cross. Jesus did not respond to the violence that nailed him to a cross with revenge, but he responded with forgiveness—“Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” He spread his arms wide-open and kept his heart tender and exposed, and he held all that rage and anger and jealousy and fear until its power drained away and all that was left to rise was love and life. That’s the bread we are invited to eat today. That’s the bread that will change our hearts. That’s the bread for which this world is starving.
So, our work is cut out for us. We’ve got to examine our lives and our relationships. We’ve taken vows in our baptism to live a certain way—how are we doing with those vows? We’ve got to look deep within our own hearts and deep into the heart of our society, and we’ve got to gaze on the cross and let Jesus show us a different way
Amidst so much brokenness, amidst so much death, feed on the bread of life. Take him into your body, into your mind, into your soul, into your heart—let his compassion look through your eyes, let his tender heart beat within yours, let his forgiveness manifest in your words and in your actions. He gave his life so that we could go a different way. Stop the cycle, now, here, today, in your own heart, in your own life. Feed on the bread of life, and then offer this life, now made flesh in you, as bread for the world. Amen.
The Rev. Cynthia K. R. Banks
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Boone, NC
August 12, 2012