Sunday, August 19, 2012

Father and Son

2 Samuel 13
August 12, 2012
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling, IL
Christina Berry
2 Samuel 13, Common English Bible
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."

(Now she was wearing a long robe with sleeves; for this is how the virgin daughters of the king were clothed in earlier times.) 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.

After two full years Absalom had sheepshearers at Baal-hazor, which is near Ephraim, and Absalom invited all the king's sons. Absalom came to the king, and said, "Your servant has sheepshearers; will the king and his servants please go with your servant?"
But the king said to Absalom, "No, my son, let us not all go, or else we will be burdensome to you."  He pressed him, but he would not go but gave him his blessing.
Then Absalom said, "If not, please let my brother Amnon go with us."
The king said to him, "Why should he go with you?" But Absalom pressed him until he let Amnon and all the king's sons go with him.

Absalom made a feast like a king's feast. Then Absalom commanded his servants, "Watch when Amnon's heart is merry with wine, and when I say to you, "Strike Amnon,' then kill him. Do not be afraid; have I not myself commanded you? Be courageous and valiant."
So the servants of Absalom did to Amnon as Absalom had commanded. Then all the king's sons rose, and each mounted his mule and fled.

While they were on the way, the report came to David that Absalom had killed all the king's sons, and not one of them was left. The king rose, tore his garments, and lay on the ground; and all his servants who were standing by tore their garments. But Jonadab, the son of David's brother Shimeah, said, "Let not my lord suppose that they have killed all the young men the king's sons; Amnon alone is dead. This has been determined by Absalom from the day Amnon raped his sister Tamar. Now therefore, do not let my lord the king take it to heart, as if all the king's sons were dead; for Amnon alone is dead." But Absalom fled.

When the young man who kept watch looked up, he saw many people coming from the Horonaim road by the side of the mountain. Jonadab said to the king, "See, the king's sons have come; as your servant said, so it has come about." As soon as he had finished speaking, the king's sons arrived, and raised their voices and wept; and the king and all his servants also wept very bitterly.

But Absalom fled, and went to Talmai son of Ammihud, king of Geshur. David mourned for his son day after day. Absalom, having fled to Geshur, stayed there three years. And the heart of the king went out, yearning for Absalom; for he was now consoled over the death of Amnon.

I want to tell you this morning about two women you might not have heard of. The first is the wise woman from Tekoa. The woman from Tekoa, whose name is never mentioned, plays an important role in the story you have just heard about David’s children, Tamar, Amnon, and Absalom. This unnamed woman was engaged by David’s general and chief of staff, Joab. She was sent to confront the king about his son, Absalom.

Before I tell you more about her, let’s review the arc of the narrative. David has several wives, and several sons and daughters with those wives. Amnon is David’s first born, with his wife Ahinoam. Tamar and Absalom are the children of David’s wife Maacah, a princess of Geshur. So when Amnon schemed to rape Tamar, he was also planning to commit incest.

David was an unwitting accomplice in the plot, for when the crafty Jonadab cooked up the ruse to get Tamar into Amnon’s room, it was David’s command that brought her there, to make the cakes. Ironically, they were heart-shaped cakes. Tamar, an obedient daughter, went to her brother’s chamber. When he sent everyone away and grabbed her, Tamar said everything she could think of to talk him out of it. She begged. She reasoned with him. She offered to marry him if he would only ask their father. But Amnon, obsessed with having her, raped her. As frequently happens, when he was finished, he despised her.

When Absalom came upon his grief-stricken little sister, he said what he could to comfort her. And when David found out what had happened, “he got very angry, but he refused to punish his son Amnon.” It took Absalom two years to take his revenge, two years in which he must have waited, plotting, grieving as he saw his sister’s shame. Tamar fades out of the story at this point, although we know she went to live with Absalom, and we know that when Absalom had a daughter, he named her Tamar.

After Absalom killed Amnon, he fled to Geshur, his mother’s homeland. He had been there three years when the woman of Tekoa gained permission to speak to King David. She must have been a woman of great courage, and the scripture account in 2 Samuel 14 says she was a wise woman. The woman of Tekoa, sent by Joab, went to confront the King about his son, Absalom.

David had been grieving over the loss of Amnon, and then over the loss of Absalom in his self-imposed exile. Like Nathan the prophet had before her, she told the King a story. She told how she and her husband had two sons. One son killed the other, and left the country. Now, she said, the whole family wants to bring the other son home, the only surviving heir of the family, and execute him as punishment for the murder of his brother.

David declares that she must bring the son home, and guarantees his safe passage, saying,
“As surely as the Lord lives, not one of your son’s hairs will fall to the ground.”
Then the woman from Tekoa, being given permission to speak, draws the parallel to the king’s own family and the banishment of David’s son Absalom. She points out that everyone must die, “we’re like water spilled out on the ground that can’t be gathered up again. But God doesn’t take life away; instead he makes plans so those banished from him don’t stay that way.”

David sees the logic in her argument, and gives the order for Absalom to come home – not into the king’s presence, but back to Jerusalem. It was only a matter of time before Absalom,  who was next in line for the throne now that Amnon was dead, would raise a rebellion and attempt a coup that would unseat David and make Absalom king. It was in the course of that rebellion that Absalom was killed, inspiring a lament from David that even today rings out with pain: “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Who knows whether David later looked back on this decision with regret – but in this moment, with the woman of Tekoa, David’s one thought is for his son to be restored to him.
She has been courageous, this woman of Tekoa, in confronting a powerful man, and speaking the truth to him. She has shown him, through a story, the importance of reconciling with his son Absalom. She is a wise woman indeed, this woman of Tekoa. That’s one of the women you might not have heard of.

The second is a woman named Vicky Triponey. I hadn’t heard of her until the last week of July, when the report of Louis Freeh came out, the report about Penn State. Freeh’s report revealed a culture at Penn State that was probably a surprise to no one,  a culture of power and influence for Joe Paterno, and the Penn State football program, creating a culture that most certainly contributed to the cover-up of Jerry Sandusky’s repeated crimes.

Vicky Triponey, Vice President of Student Affairs, had confronted that culture more than once, and to no avail. She ended up quitting her job, under great pressure, and thought her career was over.

“It all came to a head, she said, after a major incident in April 2007. More than two dozen Penn State football players forced their way into an off-campus party. What resulted were criminal charges against six players and convictions for two. None of the players ever missed a game. "It was the most manipulated discipline case I've ever experienced in my 30 years of higher education," Triponey said. Manipulated by whom? "Senior leadership of the place," Triponey said. "… It would have been the president, the athletic director, the attorney, and the football coach."[1]

What makes it worse is that when Triponey quit Penn State, under duress, she found that she was a pariah in the community. Colleagues and co-workers wouldn’t speak to her in the grocery store.
It makes you wonder what might have happened, way back in 2005, if someone had listened to Triponey. It makes you wonder whether something might have shifted in the Penn State power structure, something that might have spared those boys who were victimized by Jerry Sandusky. It makes you wonder.

I know that these subjects are unpleasant to hear about. I know that we’d prefer to believe that such things do not happen, and we prefer not to have to think too much about the horror experienced by victims of rape and molestation. We feel a sense of revulsion, disgust as we imagine those scenes, a brother raping his sister, a trusted older man forcing himself on a helpless boy.

It is shocking, and heartbreaking, to know that every year in this country, more than 200,000 people are victims of sexual assault. Nearly half of them are under the age of 30.
Nine out of ten are women. More than 90 percent of juvenile sexual assault victims know their attacker. Victims of sexual assault are
3 times more likely to suffer from depression.
6 times more likely to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
13 times more likely to abuse alcohol.
26 times more likely to abuse drugs.
4 times more likely to contemplate suicide.[2]

Those numbers horrify me. Just writing this gave me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
So why would I want to talk about this in church, of all places? Because we are God’s people. And it is because we are God’s people that we need to talk about these issues. Because it is here that we learn the human stories, our stories, and here that we learn God’s story. Because it is here that we begin to understand how God’s story changes our story.
In God’s story, the wounded find healing.
In God’s story, the banished son comes home.
In God’s story, justice is done, but never at the cost of one person’s dignity over another.
In God’s story, the kingdom is coming.
In God’s story, the kingdom is at hand.
And in God’s story, we find a place to work together for justice, for healing, for care.
In God’s story we are called to work responsibly together to see that every vulnerable person is safe, and that every boy knows his own body belongs to him, and that every girl knows her power to say no, to go, and to tell.

Our impulse, if we are honest, is to brush aside the ugly details of the story, like David did, to let the sadness crowd out the call for truth and for justice. One wonders how the story might have been different, if David had held Amnon to account. One wonders how the story might have been different, had the officials at Penn State listened to the voice of a wise woman.

The good news, friends, is that the story can be different. We can’t change the past, or prevent what has already happened. But we can make sure that we do all we can to prevent such horrors in our congregation, our community, our country and our world.

We can stand up for the victims of assault and violence, work for causes that seek to heal and prevent rape and sexual assault, speak up on behalf of the vulnerable,
especially children.

We can teach our children to be as safe as they possibly can, and we can build structures of safety in our homes and in our churches. We can adopt and implement policies that make sure that no child in our church will be vulnerable to a predator. We can support laws and legislation that protect the most vulnerable people in our society.

This story today is a story of fathers and sons, the tragic family trajectory of King David and his sons, a story of pain and trouble; it is a story of a father who put his own needs above those of his daughter. The bigger story, the great sweeping arc of God’s story, is one that we can only see in part, like seeing just a fragment of a rainbow.

We see glimpses of that in the stories Jesus told,  about the father who welcomes his son home, about the judge who responds to the persistent widow. We see that lived out in the life Jesus led and in his death and resurrection. As the Apostle Paul said, “now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three;
and the greatest of these is love.”

If we have that love, Christ’s love,
for each other,
for our neighbors,
for our world,
and even for our enemies,
we will be open and ready to protect those who are weak or in danger,
and to bravely speak truth to power, with words of wisdom and words of grace.
May God grant us the wisdom and the courage to be such men and women.



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