Reflection – Rev Dr Phil Wall
Our Family Tree
Last week, in our morning and evening services, we took the time to pause, remember and thank those who came before us; the pilgrims who have encouraged us along The Way. It was lovely to see the images of familiar faces alongside saints unknown to me and to read the messages and explanations that some folk offered with them. A still of a couple on their wedding day who were ‘both saints in their own ways’; a description of a husband and wife who made Viviane ‘a better person by her sharing some of her life with them’; an image of a smiling woman whose grandson ‘doubted that she would ever have considered herself saintly’ but who nevertheless helped to shape the person he would become.
Well, the beginning of the gospel according to Matthew is a little like a literary version of last week’s gallery for it outlines the genealogy of Jesus through Joseph – an interesting feature that we’ll come back to in a future week. Just like our gallery, the list of forty-eight names tells us something of Jesus’ family – of those who were to hand on their stories and shape his life and faith. And also as our gallery, it contains a few individuals who likely wouldn’t have considered themselves saintly. Over the next few weeks, some of our Sunday services will reflect on the stories of five of these ancestors of Jesus – these sometime scandalous parents of God – focusing on the remarkable women who are listed and whose lives and legacies might illuminate our faith today.
This morning, then, we will hear extracts of the stories of two women whose lives were entangled and forever scarred by war. First, we listened to the tale of Rahab – a foreign prostitute who disobeyed orders, sheltered spies, and enabled Israel to achieve a military victory, before hearing the tale of Bathsheba – the wife of Uriah whom King David coveted, slept with and made his wife after arranging for her husband to be killed in battle. Those who say The Bible is bland and boring must be reading the wrong parts!
Selected verses from The Message version of 2 Samuel 11
11 When that time of year came around again, the anniversary of the Ammonite aggression, David dispatched Joab and his fighting men of Israel in full force to destroy the Ammonites for good. They laid siege to Rabbah, but David stayed in Jerusalem.
2-5 One late afternoon, David got up from taking his nap and was strolling on the roof of the palace. From his vantage point on the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was stunningly beautiful. David sent to ask about her, and was told, “Isn’t this Bathsheba, daughter of Eliam and wife of Uriah the Hittite?” David sent his agents to get her. After she arrived, he went to bed with her. (This occurred during the time of “purification” following her period.) Then she returned home. Before long she realized she was pregnant.
Later she sent word to David: “I’m pregnant.”
14-15 [Later…] David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. In the letter he wrote, “Put Uriah in the front lines where the fighting is the fiercest. Then pull back and leave him exposed so that he’s sure to be killed.”
16-17 So Joab, holding the city under siege, put Uriah in a place where he knew there were fierce enemy fighters. When the city’s defenders came out to fight Joab, some of David’s soldiers were killed, including Uriah the Hittite.
25 When the messenger completed his report of the battle, David got angry at Joab. He vented it on the messenger: “Why did you get so close to the city? Didn’t you know you’d be attacked from the wall? Didn’t you remember how Abimelech son of Jerub-Besheth got killed? Wasn’t it a woman who dropped a millstone on him from the wall and crushed him at Thebez? Why did you go close to the wall!”
“By the way,” said Joab’s messenger, “your servant Uriah the Hittite is dead.”
Then David told the messenger, “Oh. I see. Tell Joab, ‘Don’t trouble yourself over this. War kills—sometimes one, sometimes another—you never know who’s next. Redouble your assault on the city and destroy it.’ Encourage Joab.”
26-27 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband was dead, she grieved for her husband. When the time of mourning was over, David sent someone to bring her to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son. But God was not at all pleased with what David had done.
What, then, on this day of remembrance, can we learn from Rahab and Bathsheba? Well, firstly I want to suggest that their stories might help us to remember with shock. On a day in which we wear paper poppies and pause for a minute or two in the comfort of our warm and cosy homes, it can be easy for us to bypass just how tragic and terrible the legacy of conflict has been. To folk such as me who have only ever heard about the reality of war second-hand through family members who served in the forces or through the sterile screen of our TVs and phones as we are told of death and destruction in foreign lands, we can easily fall into the trap of, at best, forgetting, at worst, even romanticizing, the horrors experienced during times of war. But where statistics can assault or anaesthetize us, the stories of individuals might awaken us to this truth. The story of Rahab – a brave woman who knew well the violence of male power-games and who survives them by selling her own body, by risking her life, by betraying her tribe and later watching their slaughter. The story of Bathsheba – an innocent woman who is made an adulterer, a war widow and later, a grieving mother, because the King and Commander-in-chief wanted her. Perhaps you consider David’s actions as rape. Perhaps you interpret them as an abuse of power. Either way – the experience of Rahab and Bathsheba serve to remind us of the brutal nature of war; of the victims of conflict – many of whom are women and children caught up in the surrounding chaos, both in the times of our ancestors and today. We should remember with shock.
More than this though, we should remember with repentance. In Rahab’s story we hear of how a religious war led to the complete destruction of her home city. Chapter 6 of the book of Joshua tells us that only Rahab and her family were spared when ‘The Israelites devoted to destruction by the sword every living being in the city – men and woman, children and the elderly, even the animals’. They then pillaged the city and burnt it to the ground. Thanks be to…God?!
Meanwhile, In Bathsheba’s story, we hear of how David becomes drunk with power and views other people as mere pawns in his game of pleasure. We see him at first indignant that eighteen of his soldiers have been killed in battle, only for him to swiftly change his tune when he realizes that they were merely collateral damage in his plan to have Bathsheba for himself. ‘Don’t trouble yourself’, he tells his soldier-nephew, ‘War kills – sometimes one, sometimes another – you never who’s next’. Thank goodness that this dehumanization of both himself and of his soldiers is said to have disgusted God.
Of course, the battle against the Midianite and Ammonite people was not the last time that men, women and children have been murdered in the name of God. Our family history is one in which we have been both victim and villain, the colonizer and colonized, and we still can be today. How much longer will we justify violent words and actions with the belief that God is on our side, not theirs? How many times will we break God’s law of love to establish what we deem to be good and right and necessary? How many times we will dehumanize our sisters and brothers to satisfy our wants; to see the loss of lives and livelihoods as mere collateral damage? We need to change. We need to confess. We need to remember and repent.
We might also remember with thanks. For even within the darkness of war, acts of kindness, courage and compassion can still shine through. Perhaps we might thank Rahab for the genius and courageous actions that saved the lives of her family; for all those brave women and men who have risked their own safety in a time of conflict and have saved the lives of others in the process. Perhaps we might thank Bathsheba who – like so many other female victims of war – did not allow the murder of her husband or death of her firstborn child to make her lose hope or weaken her resolve to surround other children with sacrificial maternal love. Perhaps we might thank those in the armed forces today who have served their nation with their assistance in the fight against Covid-19. And perhaps we might thank God that we live in a context of peace; that we are currently spared the horrors and heartaches of war; that we belong to a messy and magnificent family of flawed kings and formidable women.
All of which brings us to our last act. We remember with shock, with repentance, with thanks and with hope. In her time, Rahab would have certainly been considered as less than saintly. She was a woman. She was a foreigner. She was a prostitute. And yet this oppressed, abused outcast is today heralded as a mother of our faith; as a child of God; as an integral part of Jesus’ family history. And what of Bathsheba? Well, Matthew doesn’t exactly help the male reputation when he doesn’t name her in the genealogy – when he only refers to her through her relation to men – mother of Solomon, wife of Uriah. And yet Bathsheba takes her place in the larger stream of scripture. Bathsheba takes her place as an ancestor of the Nazarene who spoke of the inherent dignity and worth of every human being. Bathsheba takes her place as a foremother of the saviour who took on human flesh and sanctified it; who ate with prostitutes, listened to women and offered comfort to the grieving; who was put to death by the hands of the Empire and the cries of the religious; and who rose from the grave, showing us that no life is ever lost, no name is ever forgotten, no soldier ever unknown to God.
So we remember with wild hope. For even David was forgiven. Even Jericho became a home of salvation. Even our actions can reveal something of the God who promises a time in which spears will be beaten into pruning hooks, swords will no longer be lifted, and nations will learn war no more. Amen.
 In a talk given during Wales Climate Week last week, Sophie Howe – the Future Generations Commissioner for Wales (the very existence of this world-first position should be a source of pride for Wales) – shared how it could be conceived that we colonize future generations – stealing their resources and sending our problems there.
 Given that we know very little about Bathsheba, some might raise their eyebrow at my interpretation of the story here but I would suggest that with King Solomon – Bathsheba’s son – his unshakable belief in the unconditional love of (most) mothers, as evidenced in 1 Kings 16-28, was a truth he must have experienced first-hand.
Prayers of intercession
Written by Mary Robins Read by Alison Jones
On this Remembrance Sunday we bring before you our prayers for our precious world and all its people.
We thank you for being able to gather on this special day, not as we normally would, but with some relying on the printed word and others through the medium of modern communications.
Although we cannot be with each other, as we would wish, nevertheless we are still of one body, united in seeking your help, guidance and blessing in these stressful, troubled times.
We remember those whose lives were lost, not only in the two great wars, but also in the many conflicts that have taken place since, and those that are still continuing today.
We remember, not only those who fought, many of whom made the ultimate sacrifice, but also the many millions of innocents caught up in those conflicts, with the dreadful consequences that we still see around us to this day.
While today is mainly linked to the historical conflicts that our country, and its allies, have fought in over many years, for several months we have been under attack from a different enemy. This silent, deadly foe has spread unchecked around the globe so that few have been untouched by its advance. We pray that through the skills of our research scientists, together with the dedication of our care and health professionals, that we will overcome this scourge.
On this day of remembrance, we pray for all who have lost loved ones; comfort and support them as they recall precious memories and moments.
Lord, help us to oppose cruelty, injustice and intolerance wherever it is found; let us not walk by on the other side. May we care for our world and use its resources wisely so that future generations will be able to enjoy its bounty
We pray for the leaders of the nations; they are faced with so many difficulties that seem insurmountable. Grant them the wisdom, knowledge and understanding to establish peace and reconciliation throughout the world. Help us truly to become “United Nations.”
Everlasting God, we pray for ourselves as we start the week ahead. We ask that in all we do, we may walk more closely with you at our side, safe in the knowledge that your fatherly love and care knows no bounds.
Merciful Father, accept these prayers for the sake of your son and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
The Peace Prayer
Lead me from death to life,
From falsehood to truth.
Lead me from despair to hope,
From fear to trust.
Lead me from hate to love,
From war to peace.
Let peace fill our hearts, our world, our universe. Amen
We cannot tell why God, the Ground of Being We cannot tell how God was seen, rejected,
Should fall in love with all the human race; With arms stretched out upon a wooden cross;
Or why such love should stoop to come among us Or how the words of pardon were recorded,
And be embodied at a time and place. Eternal triumph in the hour of loss.
But this we know, the darkest gloom was scattered But this we know, the broken hearts were mended;
With beam of light more piercing than the sun; All fear removed and moaning set aside;
The poor and outcast recognized the moment, A mighty chorus mounting from a murmur –
And spread the news, the Saviour of the World has come. Rejoice, He lives, He lives again, the one who died
We cannot tell how God’s New World will flourish,
How true affection will fill every heart;
Or how the noise of war forever vanish,
And foes be best friends, never more to part.
But this we know, our hope will not be conquered,
The songs we sing will not be sung in vain;
There will be answers giv’n to cries of anguish,
And meaning made of every bitter ache and pain.
(John Henson after W.Y. Fullerton ‘I cannot tell’ 1857-1932)