What Kind of Love Is This?

What Kind of Love Is This?

2 Samuel 13:1-22

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

19 November 2017

 

 

    We may have reached a significant turning point in American culture. In recent weeks, multiple public figures have been accused of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. Women and men of all ages have been sharing their personal stories under the hashtag #MeToo about the times they were victimized.

    I was having beers the other week with the Dean of the Episcopal cathedral and he said that Christianity needs to confess our complicity in developing a culture of misogyny. Reflecting on this conversation, I realized I needed to say something from this pulpit.

    So, I've set aside the sermon I had planned for today and am going to preach a different one. Five years ago, during a series we did on King David in the Hebrew Scriptures, I preached on the story of the Rape of Tamar. That sermon speaks to this cultural moment, so I have adapted it for reuse today.

    Hear now the story of Tamar's Rape as recorded in the book of 2 Samuel:

 

David's son Absalom had a beautiful sister whose name was Tamar; and David's son Amnon fell in love with her. Amnon was so tormented that he made himself ill because of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin and it seemed impossible to Amnon to do anything to her. But Amnon had a friend whose name was Jonadab, the son of David's brother Shimeah; and Jonadab was a very crafty man. He said to him, "O son of the king, why are you so haggard morning after morning? Will you not tell me?" Amnon said to him, "I love Tamar, my brother Absalom's sister." Jonadab said to him, "Lie down on your bed, and pretend to be ill; and when your father comes to see you, say to him, 'Let my sister Tamar come and give me something to eat, and prepare the food in my sight, so that I may see it and eat it from her hand.'"

 

So Amnon lay down, and pretended to be ill; and when the king came to see him, Amnon said to the king, "Please let my sister Tamar come and make a couple of cakes in my sight, so that I may eat from her hand." Then David sent home to Tamar, saying, "Go to your brother Amnon's house, and prepare food for him." So Tamar went to her brother Amnon's house, where he was lying down. She took dough, kneaded it, made cakes in his sight, and baked the cakes. Then she took the pan and set them out before him, but he refused to eat. Amnon said, "Send out everyone from me." So everyone went out from him. Then Amnon said to Tamar, "Bring the food into the chamber, so that I may eat from your hand." So Tamar took the cakes she had made, and brought them into the chamber to Amnon her brother. But when she brought them near him to eat, he took hold of her, and said to her, "Come, lie with me, my sister."

 

She answered him, "No, my brother, do not force me; for such a thing is not done in Israel; do not do anything so vile! As for me, where could I carry my shame? And as for you, you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel. Now therefore, I beg you, speak to the king; for he will not withhold me from you." But he would not listen to her; and being stronger than she, he forced her and lay with her.

 

Then Amnon was seized with a very great loathing for her; indeed, his loathing was even greater than the lust he had felt for her. Amnon said to her, "Get out!" But she said to him, "No, my brother; for this wrong in sending me away is greater than the other that you did to me." But he would not listen to her. He called the young man who served him and said, "Put this woman out of my presence, and bolt the door after her." So his servant put her out, and bolted the door after her.

 

But Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went. Her brother Absalom said to her, "Has Amnon your brother been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother; do not take this to heart." So Tamar remained, a desolate woman, in her brother Absalom's house.

 

When King David heard of all these things, he became very angry, but he would not punish his son Amnon, because he loved him, for he was his firstborn. But Absalom spoke to Amnon neither good nor bad; for Absalom hated Amnon, because he had raped his sister Tamar.

 

 

    At the close of this terrifying story, we are told that despite being angry, David does not punish his son Amnon "because he loved him." Scholar Eugene Peterson asks directly, "What kind of love is this?" For the story does not tell us that David loved his daughter Tamar or that he took any compassion upon her. The Bible indicates that she lived out the rest of her life as a "desolate woman." "David's 'love'," and Eugene Peterson puts that word in quotes, "is a mask for injustice."

    The story opens with Amnon expressing his love for Tamar. And we are shocked that the word isn't lust or obsession or even the more neutral desire. The word is "love." We are told that Amnon loves Tamar, before he rapes her, hates her, and abandons her to desolation.

    Indeed, we must ask, "What kind of love is this?"

          

 

    Rape, abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence are features of our contemporary life. 1/3 of women and 1 out of every 6 men have been victims of sexual violence. 60% of women experience unwanted sexual attention or harassment in the workplace.

    Disturbingly, the perpetrators of these crimes often mask their actions with the word "love." Just like Amnon did in this story. We can say unequivocally that love should never involve violence. Love should never involve abuse. Love should never mean engaging in sex when you don't want to. Love does not objectify you or depersonalize you. Love is not about power or control for one party and obedience or submission for the other party. Love never ignores your desires, your pleasure, your health and well-being.

    Unfortunately, religion, including Christianity, has historically been guilty of fostering an environment where these abuses could occur. Christianity taught women to obey their husbands and to submit. It taught women that their pleasures and desires were secondary, maybe even sinful. It encouraged women to be silent, and more than one woman has heard a religious leader tell her that her experience of abuse or violence was "her cross to bear." Which is about as distorted and incorrect a reading of the cross of Jesus Christ as could ever be offered.

    Christianity has done much the same with children. Too often children are taught that their obedience to authority is a requirement for eternal salvation. Children are not taught to appreciate, value, and understand their own bodies. They are denied comprehensive sex education by religious leaders. They are not taught to think critically.

    People were also often victims of a theological distortion of the concept of sacrifice. Rather than focusing on Jesus' empowering life, which was supposed to invite us all into the kingdom of God to experience a new and abundant life, theology and spirituality too often focused on the sacrifice of Jesus and said that we should model that rather than Jesus' full life. If people, particularly women and children, found themselves the victims of abuse, then they were (and sometimes still are) consoled that this was their sacrifice that made them more Christ-like.

    Men too are victims of this culture. Our culture has created a distorted image of masculinity which tells men that if they admit to times when they were victims, then they are less of a man. Our culture has reinforced images of masculinity that emphasize control, domination, and sexual power. Many boys grow up in our culture thinking that a "real man" can make others perform for his sexual pleasure.

    Christianity has helped to reinforce these wider cultural notions and has contributed to them. Historically the mainstream faith did not develop a healthy approach to sex. Christianity also focused too often on obedience to a set of rules and dogmas, instead of living a whole and abundant life.

    We must quit contributing to the problem with a theology that distorts the good news of Jesus Christ. Too often what has passed for "love" is not true love. So, what is?

 

St. Irenaeus, one of the most ancient of the church fathers, wrote, "For the glory of God is a humanity fully alive." The goal of the Christian church ought to be this – helping people to be more fully alive. True love leads to fuller life. True love saves us.

Theologian Monica Coleman writes that our goals for salvation must include "survival, quality of life, and wholeness." Rebecca Parker and Rita Nakashima-Brock write that we must "create places of hospitality for human flourishing" and learn "how to be present, how to choose life." A saving love is committed to justice and growing relationships of care. Theologian Catherine Keller writes that we need a powerful love that "resist[s] the forces of destruction, empower[s] the powerless, and embolden[s] the meek."

True love is patient; it is kind; it is joyful and hopeful. It is fun and enjoyable. It is pleasurable, for everyone involved. It enriches our life and makes us better people. It works for justice and nurtures the hurting.

Saving love responds powerfully to the problems of rape, abuse, sexual assault, and domestic violence in our society. Saving love insists that all Christian teaching and practice be life-giving and add to human flourishing. Saving love provides care and healing for those who have been victimized. Saving love is what we need and what God desires of us.

Ironically, the model for this saving love is in this very story. Tamar is, throughout the story, a model of care and compassion. She comes to her sick brother to nurse him. She prepares a meal for him. Her actions are hospitable and generous. She stands up for herself; speaks up for herself -- demands her rights and her dignity. And when she is wronged, she speaks powerfully for justice and righteousness. She proclaims her violation aloud.

Neither David nor Amnon demonstrate anything like genuine love. Tamar is caring, generous, hospitable, nourishing, justice-seeking, and life-affirming. She contributes to human flourishing. We don't need to ask of Tamar, "What kind of love is this?" Because we recognize immediately that what she models is true love -- the kind that saves us.

 

As the people of God, let us commit to resisting the forces of destruction, empowering the powerless, and emboldening the meek. Let us create places of hospitality for human flourishing. Let us set as our goals survival, quality of life, and wholeness. And let us take Tamar as our model, so that our sister will be desolate no more. Let her love become the model so that others in our time and in the future before us might be saved.

 

Let us love as Tamar taught us, and together we will bring glory to God through a humanity that is fully alive.


Frum criticizes GOP tax bill

David Frum has a good essay, defending the need for corporate tax reform, but arguing that this current effort is a total failure at achieving that goal.

A key paragraph:

Congressional Republicans well appreciate the unpopularity of what they are doing. That’s why they are short-circuiting the traditional legislative process, bypassing hearings and other opportunities for public comment. The more the public knows, the more jeopardized their plan becomes. Since the Great Recession, the GOP has grown both more extreme in its goals and more radical in its methods. Apocalyptically pessimistic in its view of America’s future, it seems determined to seize for its donors and core constituencies as much as it can, as fast as it can, as ruthlessly as it can. It will then take advantage of the U.S. political system’s notorious antimajoritarian bias in favor of the status quo to defend the grab over the coming years and decades. Repeal and replace failed. The new slogan is: Rush, grab, entrench, and defend.

The strong conclusion:

A rationally conservative party of business and enterprise could, and should, have written a corporate tax-reform bill that is compelling on the merits. The slowdown of U.S. productivity growth would be the country’s leading problem if U.S. constitutional democracy were not being attacked from the White House at the same time. The GOP submitted to Trump in 2016 very largely to reach this moment. The ironic outcome is that his success that year doomed the very prize for which his party sold its soul.


Epistemology--a good poem

 

Epistemology

Catherine Barnett  

Mostly I’d like to feel a little less, know a little more.
Knots are on the top of my list of what I want to know.
Who was it who taught me to burn the end of the cord
to keep it from fraying?
Not the man who called my life a debacle,
a word whose sound I love.
In a debacle things are unleashed.
Roots of words are like knots I think when I read the dictionary.
I read other books, sure. Recently I learned how trees communicate,
the way they send sugar through their roots to the trees that are ailing.
They don’t use words, but they can be said to love.
They might lean in one direction to leave a little extra light for another tree.
And I admire the way they grow right through fences, nothing
stops them, it’s called inosculation: to unite by openings, to connect
or join so as to become or make continuous, from osculare,
to provide with a mouth, from osculum, little mouth.
Sometimes when I’m alone I go outside with my big little mouth
and speak to the trees as if I were a birch among birches.


Annie Proulx's hopeful speech

Receiving a lifetime achievement award, author Annie Proulx delivered a speech commenting on current affairs but looking forward to a happy ending.

As an ethicist and pastor, I thrilled to these sentences:

Yet somehow the old discredited values and longings persist. We still have tender feelings for such outmoded notions as truth, respect for others, personal honor, justice, equitable sharing. We still hope for a happy ending. 

The speech concluded:

Hence the indispensable silver lining, the lovers reunited, the families reconciled, the doubts dispelled, fidelity rewarded, fortunes regained, treasures uncovered, stiff-necked neighbors mending their ways, good names restored, greed daunted, old maids married off to worthy parsons, troublemakers banished to other hemispheres, forgers of documents tossed down the stairs, seducers scurried to the altar, orphans sheltered, widows comforted, pride humbled, wounds healed, prodigal sons summoned home, cups of sorrow tossed into the ocean, hankies drenched with tears of reconciliation, general merriment and celebration, and the dog Fido, gone astray in the first chapter, turns up barking gladly in the last. Thank you.


Election optimism

An optimistic take on the recent elections, asserting that the real majority is taking back control from the "bitter third."

Tuesday’s election allowed millions in the American majority to finally take a deep, cleansing breath after a year of fear and loathing, watching the rampant corruption of our government and the degradation of our culture by the vulgar president and his Putinite coterie. It allowed the world to see that our country has not gone entirely mad.


What's the standard then?

This article grapples with the odd responses coming out of Alabama in support of Roy Moore after these recent allegations of sexual abuse.  This final paragraph raises a significant question for the future of our Republic:

The newest allegations against Moore present Republicans with a choice—not only individual officeholders, but the party as a whole, both nationally and in Alabama. Withdrawing support for Moore, and calling for voters not to support him, would be a bitter pill. It’s too late to replace him on the ticket, and although there’s talk of a Luther Strange write-in campaign, a Moore defeat would probably mean the seat goes to Democrat Doug Jones. And yet if the party’s members can’t bring themselves to set aside narrow partisan interest and condemn a man whom they despise, with a track record of bigotry, and with multiple on-the-record accusations of improper sexual misconduct with underage women, what behavior and which candidate can they possibly rule out in the future?


The Questions of a Toddler

Preparing for next week's classes, there's this great line for parents of toddlers from Susan Neiman--"The adamant child who wants every question answered expresses something about the nature of reason." This is part of a larger conversation on how our reason demands a world that makes sense and that the philosophical impulse arises from this basic childhood need. So your toddler is exhibiting one of the most important traits of human intellect--the demand for reason and morality.


Where Charity & Love Prevail

Where Charity and Love Prevail

Romans 14:13-22a

by the Rev. Dr. E. Scott Jones

First Central Congregational UCC

5 November 2017

 

 

    Our current church is the heir of four different congregations; one of those was St. John's Evangelical Church, which was formed in south Omaha in 1895 by a group of German immigrants. One of the more intriguing passages in our church history books is about St. John's:

 

During World War I, the church was called "The Kaiser's Church" . . . . Although individuals of the congregation were not subjected to harm, one of the pastors had to kiss the American flag or suffer a beating.

 

    I am unable to locate any further information on this episode, though you can discover general information about the anti-German sentiments in Omaha during World War I. An article in last year's Omaha World-Herald said, "While fighting to make the world safe for democracy, Nebraskans nearly lost it at home."
    In Omaha Germans were a majority of the population at the time, but they were still discriminated against. Even after the war, laws were passed to enforce English-only against the Germans. St. John's bravely continued to hold worship in the German language until 1935.

    I have thought often in recent months of this episode from our history as the rhetoric and violence against immigrants and refugees has increased.

 

    In the early 19th century, following the Napoleonic Wars in Europe, thousands of Germans immigrated to the Midwest. The more traditional among them formed the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod while the more liberal created the Evangelical Synod of North America. The UCC's short history book describes these immigrants as "free-thinking rationalists, who placed their hope in science, education, and culture." Our St. John's Evangelical Church was part of this Evangelical Synod of North America.

    This last week was historically significant for these liberal Evangelicals. Not only was it the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the Protestant Reformation, it was also the 200th anniversary of the Prussian Union. On Reformation Day 1817 King Frederick William III united the Lutheran and Reformed churches in his dominion, bringing together this historic division in Protestant Christianity. Our liberal Evangelical predecessors were part of this historic, ecumenical movement.

 

    When the Reformation broke apart the European church, for the first time a great diversity of religious belief and practice began to coexist. This, of course, caused tension and ultimately violence, as war and persecution resulted. But this experience with diversity ultimately changed religious faith.

    Diarmaid MacCulloch, in his magisterial history of the Reformation, writes that "It is possible to argue that the most significant contribution of the two Reformation centuries to Christianity was the theory and practice of toleration, although it would also be possible to argue that the contribution was inadvertent and reluctant."

    We have tried to be honest in our commemoration of this historic event. While honoring the high points, we have not neglected the dark side. The most troubling aspect of Martin Luther's own life was his rabid anti-Semitism, expressed in writing near the end of his life. Earlier this year Fred Nielsen borrowed this volume from the collected writings of Luther, which Fred had donated to this church from his own father's pastoral library. After reading Luther's work against the Jews, Fred sent me a message, "Not good, not good at all. We knew that already, of course, but to actually read it."

    MacCulloch stated simply, "Luther's writing of 1543 is a blueprint for the Nazis' Kristallnact of 1938."

    Fortunately Luther's anti-Semitism did not go unchallenged even in his lifetime. Andreas Osiander, the Protestant pastor in Nuremberg, wrote against anti-Semitism. And the major Lutheran bodies have since faced this despicable part of their heritage, confessed their sin, and sought reconciliation.

 

    Through a long and troubled history, we have learned toleration, pluralism, and inclusion. We have even come to understand that more is expected of us than mere tolerance; hospitality toward others is an expression of God's love.

    Of course that's what Paul was preaching at the birth of the church. In Romans he wrote that we should not pass judgment on one another but should "pursue what makes for peace, and for mutual upbuilding."

    Fortunately, we don't have to earn God's grace. For if we had to earn it, then our biases, our racism, and our exclusion of others would likely get in the way of our salvation. Instead, God's grace is more powerful than our sin. Sin and death and racism were defeated when Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and ushered in a new humanity in a new creation.

    Yet, the powers-that-be continue to challenge the way of God in this world. They continue to sow darkness, doubt, and injury. They divide, exclude, and violently oppress. The Risen One stands to rebuke them. This is not the way of God. It is the way of sin. It is the path to hell.

    We will not be thwarted by their failed philosophies and false doctrines, because we share in the power of the Risen One. We too have been raised with Christ.

Let us make it our habit then to

include the outcast

    liberate the oppressed

    seek justice for the poor

    heal the suffering

    give of ourselves with humility

    be compassionate toward all in a

    community based upon forgiveness and reconciliation

    and be the instruments of God's peace in a world of violence.

    

That's the Good News. Thanks be to God.