Dinner Party Conversation
2 Samuel 11:1-15
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.”
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
According to Emily Gilmore, a character from the TV show “Gilmore Girls,” I am breaking the rules of polite dinner party conversation right now.
In this show that aired over a decade ago, Emily Gilmore is a high society woman with impeccable taste. She plans cotillions and dignified functions and is deeply concerned with propriety and etiquette. And she expects that everyone should follow the same code of conduct she does— which fuels one of the central tensions of the show when her daughter Lorelei rejects her upbringing for a more free-spirited lifestyle.
But Emily always has an opinion on how things should be done. About what sort of food should be served at an event, how far in advance to send out wedding invitations, which fork to use for each course. She is “Dear Abby,” Emily Post, and Miss Manners, personified. And so it’s no surprise that she has strong opinions about what proper dinner party conversation is. In one episode, while seated around a table with others she tells them:
“when the conversation lags, a good guest ought to be prepared to introduce a new topic. Keep it light — no politics, no religion. My little trick? Think of things in the middle three sections of the Sunday New York Times — travel, arts & leisure, Sunday styles — and forget the rest of the paper exists.”
How much of the Bible would we need to throw out if we followed the same rule?
How many of the stories we read and say “this is the word of the Lord” after, would we need to forget if we wanted to keep things light and polite?
Certainly we’d need to scrap any discussion of today’s scripture which includes a lot of politics and very little art, leisure, or style.
Today’s story is heavy, and it’s one of those stories I have difficulty saying “thanks be to God” after.
Because it’s a brutal story of war, and sexual assault, and murder.
It’s a story about a person whose husband had been sent away to war— a risk King David did not take on himself— and must fend for herself.
And in a moment of personal privacy, she was spied upon, assaulted, and then sent back into her life without much compassion.
While the text doesn’t offer us much, by way of characters’ intention or motivation, it’s hard to see David as having any good motivation for his actions. He is not moved by love, an emotion he experiences elsewhere in his story. He sees someone, or something, beautiful, and he wants it, no mention of Bathsheba’s feelings.
After, upon her realization that her stomach is growing and people are starting to ask questions, Bathsheba has no option but to go back to the King who abused her and ask for his help.
I guess, to his credit, David does come up with a solution when he could have pretended not to know her. But his solution is to trick Uriah into thinking the child is his, and when Uriah proves to be more honorable than David, David arranges Uriah’s death and marries Bathsheba himself.
Is this an appropriate story to tell?
Should I tell it at my next dinner party when the conversation lags?
Should I preach it in the pulpit where I am called to share “good news?”
Truthfully, I’m not sure.
It a story filled with pain and trauma I worry even speaking it aloud will make us all a little uncomfortable.
And more than that, it is a story about pains and traumas not isolated to the ancient world, and I worry Bathsheba’s story may hit a little too close to home for some.
It’s a difficult story that doesn’t seem to have much good news in it.
There is a part of me that would prefer to preach the parts of the Bible that would do better as dinner conversation. The stories of light and love and easily explained justice. The stories where heroes are heroes, villains get what they deserve, and we can easily find the good news among these ancient words.
There is a part of me, even in this moment, that wishes I had chosen to preach a passage like Ephesians, words that feel like a breathe of fresh air in a difficult and hard world.
But Bathsheba’s story is the Word of God, even if it’s one that is difficult to feel gratitude for.
Her story, her life with all its heartache, pain, and loss, is the Word of God, inscribed into the story of who God is and who humans are.
Scripture is not just for providing comfort, though that is an important facet of it. Scripture, the stories we call the Word of God, are meant to tell us something true about God and true about the world, even if it is uncomfortable to hear.
And the truth of the world is that Bathsheba is not a fictional character, but a reality far too many people find themselves in.
And the truth of the world is that people who we expect to be good and decent— like David— do terrible things.
And the truth of the world is that our lives are complicated, messy things filled with pain and sorrow and loss.
The truth of the world is uncomfortable. It doesn’t always make for good dinner party conversation.
But the truth of God is that this is okay. It is okay that our lives are not always polite and well-mannered— filled with stories of leisure and art and style.
And if Bathsheba’s story can tell us one thing, it is that God does not shy away from our sadness, our pain, our anger. God does not avert God’s eyes or change topic of conversation to the weather. Instead, God inspires it to be transcribed and inscribed in the Word of God.
Not because we should accept what has happened to Bathsheba as God-ordained or permissible (and God does later punish David for his actions), but because Bathsheba does not hide when what David has done to her could might make others uncomfortable.
And by calling her story the Word of God, we may find courage to share our own broken parts with God, knowing God’s love is not predicated on being perfect guests as a dinner party.
There is comfort in knowing that the depths of the human experience, the parts that may make us uncomfortable are lifted up in scripture as worthy of giving voice to, as something God does not shy away from.
For all of Emily Gilmore’s rules about what is and is not acceptable at her dinner parties, she breaks her own rules a lot. Her own dinner table is often the scene of family arguments and disagreements. Around her immaculately set table with taper candles cut to the right height and the forks lined up perfectly, she and her family rehash old wounds episode after episode. They yell and fight, bicker and storm out sometimes, often in front of guests. They discuss politics and religion and style and leisure and lots of other things. They bring all their baggage with them and lay it out on the table next to the china and crystal.
And then, even though they swear they’d never come back, the Gilmores show up the next week for dinner again, and there is a beautiful table with a seat for them waiting. And it’s around this table, they begin to accept each other as who they truly are, not who they think others should be.
And for all the rules the world might place on who is or is not a good dinner party guest, Bathsheba has a seat at God’s table. A table where she doesn’t have to hide parts of her story. Where she isn’t made to feel ashamed of the ways she has been mistreated. A table where her inclusion reminds us all that there is a place for us as well, even the parts of us that don’t fit into nice dinner conversation.
Thanks be to God. Amen.