Hypocrisy and Redemption

2 Samuel 11:1-15

Anyone who calls the Bible boring clearly hasn’t read the story of David and Bathsheba. It has the same lust, murder and intrigue we expect to find in a late-night cable TV movie. And of course, there is hypocrisy, deep, deep hypocrisy from a man who was clearly favored by God.

There are many nuances to this story, some difficult to notice if you are not familiar with the traditions of the day and the subtleties of language being used to tell it. Let me point out a few that are important to the story as we have heard it thus far:

  • King David was not where he was supposed to be, doing what he was supposed to do. We’ll come back to that later.
  • Bathsheba certainly was beholden to her king, and some people have described her as being a victim of power rape. That is possible, but as you read further into the Davidic story in 1 Kings, Bathsheba hardly comes across as a passive character. I believe she welcomed the series of events leading to the cuckolding and death of her husband Uriah, events that freed her from a foreign husband and empowered her.
  • The one honorable human early in the story was a foreigner. Uriah the Hittite remained loyal even after he likely has figured out what is going on, knowing the conspiracy between his king and his wife will lead to his death.

As the story continues, we see Uriah was not the only character aware of the king’s hypocrisy. Everyone seemed to know what the king had done: first messengers, soldiers and prophets; later, we can assume, the whole city, thanks to gossips, a swollen belly, and a little math. Again, the evidence for these facts is subtle, but present in the story.

How could one who was so loved by God and who loved God so much fall into such a sad, embarrassing state? Well, David fell into hypocrisy for a simple reason. He stopped being the person he was made to be.

Let’s go back to the very beginning of the story. In a time when kings went out to battle, David stayed home. David was supposed to be fighting a particular kind of battle, one waged against the enemies of God’s plan for the Promised Land. In what we have to remember is a story set in primitive times, David was fighting for what was holy. But at a time when he was still virile enough to pursue and impregnate women, he also had grown to prefer the luxuries of palace life, sending others out to do the hard work he once did so well himself.

In the process, he had become indolent, even lazy. I expect he would have described himself as bored. We are told he saw Bathsheba bathing on her roof after he had arisen from his couch late one afternoon. In other words, David was not only staying home from the war, he was sleeping through key parts of the day. And in the process, he had become a shadow of his former righteous self. Formerly passionate for God, he now simply chased the passions of the moment.

When in such a situation, it helps to have someone come along, someone you trust, who can say, “Look at yourself.” David had such a person in the prophet Nathan. The prophet used a story of a stolen lamb to stir David’s sense of righteousness, and then turned the story on David by revealing to the arrogant king he was the real thief and murderer.

Nathan also revealed the punishment, which was harsh, but not as harsh as the death the repentant David expected. David’s kingdom would be without peace for the rest of his life; also, the child conceived by Bathsheba would die, despite David’s prayer and fasting to convince God otherwise. Sin can have devastating effects in this life, even where there is forgiveness.

Never forget what God has called you to be. None of us are called to be kings, but the day we begin to follow God through Christ we all are called to enhance his kingdom in some way. It may be in public ways, like the preaching or teaching of God’s word; it may be in the equally challenging roles of mother and father to children of the kingdom; it may be in how you bring Christian values into your work or community. Such calls may last for a lifetime or simply for a season, but they are always there.

When you sense boredom in the midst of fulfilling your call, be careful how you choose to relieve it. God’s word and a steady prayer life are always your first, best choices when bored. They will enrich you rather than taking you places that sap you or impoverish you.

And know that if you have fallen from your calling, whatever it may be, you live in a wonderful time. Thanks to Jesus Christ and his sacrifice on the cross, God’s grace is easier to access than ever. Simply make a true repentance and let God lead you back to the person you were made to be.

The repercussions of your sins may follow you, but God’s grace will bring you healing, restoration and a new joy.

Leading from a Cross

Matthew 23:1-12

We use the word “leader” in both secular and Christian settings. Christianized leadership is so different, however, that the task almost needs a different word.

Jesus’ teachings about leadership are the basis for the stark contrast. We look in particular to the words he spoke as he denounced Jewish religious leaders in his day.

One of these confrontations, found in the 23rd chapter of Matthew’s gospel, comes across as harsh, particularly when you consider that just a few breaths earlier Jesus had spoken of the need to root our actions in love. (I suppose there’s a side lesson here: Loving certain people can mean having the courage to point out where they go against God.)

“The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach,” Jesus said.

He went on to point out the hypocrisy of these religious leaders, who were supposed to be working from sound understandings of Jewish scripture—writings filled with lessons about the importance of justice and mercy. Instead, he said, these leaders increased the burdens of the average Jew.

They also took great pleasure in the accouterments and honors that went with their positions. In a long diatribe, Jesus described them as legalistic nitpickers who had been entrusted with words of life but instead were better associated with death.

“All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted,” Jesus said.

Our savior also practiced what he taught, becoming the great example of humble leadership. His trip to the cross brought him to the ultimate low point, death; his resurrection led to great exaltation.

The implications for Christian leadership are enormous. Followers of Christ are people who should turn the very idea of leading upside-down. In a Christian context, leadership becomes sacrifice rather than gain. A Christian leader lives in the mud surrounding the pedestal.

And yes, there is a serious dearth of true Christian leadership in the Christian community today. There are good leaders among both the clergy and the laity. But both the United Methodist Church and the larger, universal church desperately need more.

I’ve never heard anyone in a congregation complain, “We’ve got more good leaders than we know how to use.”

It would help, I am sure, if we who are already leading were better at explaining the basic role of a leader in a Christian community. That way, people could more clearly understand whether they are called to a leadership role.

Right now, we define “leader” mostly by describing a particular function in the church, usually defined as service on a board or a committee. A job description really doesn’t tell us how to lead, though. It just describes what specific task needs to be done.

In 1984, Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder interacted very closely with the New Testament to describe the four basic types of leaders in a Christian community. If you feel you’re equipped to fill one or more of these roles, you’re probably called to lead in the church in some way.

Yoder said good Christian leaders act as:

  • Agents of Direction. These people keep the vision of the kingdom of God before the people. They function like prophets, reminding others of the work God is doing in the world through Jesus Christ, work that ultimately restores creation to its holy state. They make sure the church remembers that it exists to help usher in this kingdom.
  • Agents of Memory. These leaders help the church remember what is in Scripture and what the traditions have been regarding interpretation of God’s word, particularly where these reminders are relevant to a particular issue before the church. They do this largely without judgment.
  • Agents of Linguistic Self Consciousness. In other words, people who are sensitive to how words are used. Think of these people as the cooler heads in the crowd, the peacemakers who calmly untangle what others are saying.
  • Agents of Order and Due Process. People who ensure the unity of the group even in the midst of conflict, encouraging participation by all.

Some people may react to this list of “agents” by saying, “But those are the things the pastor is supposed to do.” And therein, I suspect, lies a significant part of our leadership crisis.

Certainly, a pastor should have a good sense of how to function in all four roles. But at the same time, the pastor should know this in order to equip others to fulfill these roles. We’ve become too reliant on church “professionals.”

A healthy church is full of people so committed to the spiritual disciplines that Jesus’ teachings have shaped their heads and hearts for leadership. Once leading, they simply have to ask themselves a few questions now and then.

Am I making others’ lives easier? Am I willing to do this without fame, title or even acknowledgment? Am I one who learns even while leading? Do I ensure justice, mercy and faith spread because of what I do?

A leader who can answer “yes” to these questions is exhibiting Jesus-style leadership.