Just a heads up: this sermon covers sensitive topics and will be trigger to some people. Please don’t feel you MUST read it.
Something that I haven’t mentioned to you all before, not really, is that I was wildly in love with Harry Potter for nearly two decades. This Gospel story reminds me of a moment in Harry Potter, when the ministry of magic has given cars to get Harry and the Weasley’s to the train in book 4, and somehow those cars always seem to be at the front of the line at red lights.
That Jesus showed up and suddenly they were ashore reminds me of that.
I mention Harry Potter though because despite being a loyal and loving fan for many years, something happened recently that deeply hurt my ability to love the magical world of Harry Potter.
JK Rowling, the author of Harry Potter, came out as being anti-trans.
And this absolutely broke my heart.
Until last summer JK had been, at least publicly, pro-LGBTQ. She wrote words about never fitting in to the world you are in and then discovering that the reason you never fit in is because you are not what the world says you must me.
This heart break caused a split between Harry Potter and I, which has resulted in throwing out a lot of clothes, and having to get a tattoo covered.
And JK’s words caused me to look with fresh eyes at this person, who seemed so great, progressive, and kind. And while she did create this magical world where I and so many found such joy, she also refuses to acknowledge the full humanity of everyone.
That’s not ok.
I didn’t know about this when I fell in love with the Wizarding World of Harry Potter. But I know it now. And refuse to ignore what I now know in order to continue to support this thing that I love.
There are a lot of different ways I could relate my story about my love and heartbreak with Harry Potter, and realistically, I’m going to preach on this again someday. Probably more than once.
For today, I’d like to use the way I had to look back on JK Rowling to how the story of David and Bathsheba is told.
We have been told that Bathsheba seduced David. That their relationship was consensual, tender, even that Bathsheba sought it out for her own upward mobility. We’ve even been told that their relationship was, in fact, a relationship.
Even the translation that we have today buys in to the narrative of a consensual, wanted relationship between David and Bathsheba.
Saying that David sent “messengers to fetch her.” When in fact he sent soldiers to take her. The word in Hebrew, la-cak, has a violent connotation. It means “to take.”
This story has been interpreted, or at least presented, in patriarchal societies as being driven by lust, and a mutual lust at that.
That’s how many of us learned this story.
We learned of Bathsheba’s seduction, David’s lust, David’s desire to preserve Bathsheba’s dignity and social standing, and then their love for one another.
However, that isn’t the truth of this story. At least not how it is presented in Scripture.
What Scripture gives us, what I think we as modern listeners and people of faith are supposed to do with this story, is to take examine power, and the ways that otherwise well-regarded people can abuse their power.
David had a lot of power at this time, and he abused some of that power, and misused more.
Kings were expected to lead their armies into war. David elected to stay in the comfort of his palace, with his 7 wives and many concubines.
David would also have known the time of day when women would bathe on the rooftops, and that he should not be on the roof at that time. He went out there anyway. Women were unable to bath in their homes when they had their periods because of purity laws. Bathsheba was bathing on her roof, where no one should have been able to see her because of the height of the roof and the proximity of her house to the palace. And, David was not supposed to be there; he was supposed to be at war with the troops. Leading her husband.
For Bathsheba’s home to be close enough to the palace that David could see how beautiful she was, the house must have been close. At the time, houses were in concentric circles around the palace, with the most important households closest to the palace. Bathsheba and Uriah lived quite close to the palace; they were important people.
David then took her. He sent guards to bring her to him. Bathsheba had no choice but to go. The guards had no choice but to take her. David then saw Bathsheba in person, then took her again.
At no point in this could Bathsheba have said no. In his home, in that very palace, David had 7 wives and several concubines. This was not about sex. This was about power. An utter abuse of power.
A child was conceived. David then misused his power to try to save his own reputation, and as a result murdered Uriah, and then without giving her a choice, forced Bathsheba to marry him.
The story doesn’t get told this way because of the way the English translates a lot of these words, and because the people who stood in this spot for nearly 2,000 years didn’t see this as a story of rape. The murder of Uriah to save Bathsheba’s dignity, is what is passed down.
But now, more of us can look at these stories, we can even read them in Hebrew, and we know that there is more to these stories than what’s easy.
What we must reckon with is the depth of the abuse of David’s power, AND the reasons why the stories were passed down the way they were for so long.
On Thursday we celebrated the Feast Day of Mary Magdalene. Until 591, when Pope Gregory called Mary a sex worker, she was venerated and celebrated as the most important Disciple. The Apostle to the Apostles. The one whom Jesus chose to reveal the resurrection to first.
One man misunderstood her story, or intentional misrepresented her in order to further limit the ability of women to have any power and position away from being wives and mothers. One man, and Mary Magdalene spent 1,500 years being dismissed as a sinner – in a faith that claims all are sinners.
In reality, Mary Magdalene was remarkably important to Jesus and his ministry. It doesn’t matter if she was a sex worker or not. What matters is how amazing, important, and impressive of a follower of Christ she was. She was discredited in order to move power and importance away from her. We know that now.
David did great things. But he also wildly abused his power. He was a remarkable leader and a remarkably imperfect man. His story was spun and told to address some of his imperfections, but not all.
At some point, JK Rowling decided that gender can only be decided by biological sex at birth, and that only women who menstruate can understand what it’s like to be a woman. She is not open to any conversation that in anyway differs from that perspective.
Trans women are real women. Trans men are real men.
Gender and sex are not the same.
Power can be abused in many, many ways. And when we take a deep look at those abuses of power they shape how we think of people.
Taking a deep and intentional look at abuses of power can force us to take a look at things we’d rather not look at. Beloved Biblical figures, cherished literary works, even the founding Fathers of our Country and their views around race, racism, and slavery.
All these things must be examined.
And sometimes that means you have to change behaviors, or even get tattoos covered up.
It’s painful, all of it.
It’s worth it.