Yesterday’s sermon had a couple of departures from the norm.
For one, I read the entirety of the Scripture immediately before the sermon. It’s a long narrative from 2 Samuel, shocking enough in its content that you don’t need any other introductory material.
Second, the bottom line is more on the negative side: When you don’t take action, you give permission.
Third, I touched on a geopolitical issue. Or two.
Finally, the highlight of the message is me-in-a-mugshot (see below).
READ II Samuel 13:1-22.
Well, moms and dads, aren’t you glad to now know what bible story your children are reading today in the KZone?! We’ve even got a special nursery edition of it for the toddlers . . . because you can’t start too young! I mean, can you BELIEVE this is actually in the bible? It certainly ranks among the finalists for Worst. Story. Ever. I mean if we had a March Madness Bracket for Icky Bible Stories, this one would have to make the Final Four.
We see the ickiness right at the beginning in 13:1-2:
In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David.
2 Amnon became so obsessed with his sister Tamar that he made himself ill. She was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her.
Uh oh. A lovesick young man and the object of his lovesickness is . . . his half-sister. It’s like the narrator put a neon sign in front of the story: MATURE AUDIENCES ONLY. This is NOT going to be good. And even any attempts at moderating the relationship – “sister of Absalom, son of David” can’t get away from the fact that Amnon is also a “son of David,” making Tamar is ½ sister. A fact which doesn’t really seem to bother a man named Jonadab – and you’ll soon discover why no one names their little boy these days “Jonadab” – whom Scripture describes as a “very shrewd man.” He devises an elaborate scheme whereby Amnon fakes illness to get his sister alone and in a compromising position. Really, Jonadab is an Incest Enabler, which is not something you want to put on your business card.
And the IE’s scheme works to perfection, which enables Amnon to perpetrate this sickening, skin crawling act against Tamar and then – just like you hear with so many serial murderers and serial rapists – that lust-fueled obsession is quickly followed by an intense hatred in 13:14-15:
14 But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her.
15 Then Amnon hated her with intense hatred. In fact, he hated her more than he had loved her. Amnon said to her, “Get up and get out!”
He turns on the one had turned him on. Obsession for becomes disposal of. Tamar then goes public with her victimization by ripping her ornate robe – Joseph’s technicolor dreamcoat laced with tears – in 13:19:
19 Tamar put ashes on her head and tore the ornate robe she was wearing. She put her hands on her head and went away, weeping aloud as she went.
What she does to her robe parallels the violence that has been done to her body AND it declares to a watching world: I am no longer pure. It’s been stolen from me.
What her allies do next is almost as skin crawling. Look at 13:20:
20 Her brother Absalom said to her, “Has that Amnon, your brother, been with you? Be quiet for now, my sister; he is your brother. Don’t take this thing to heart.” And Tamar lived in her brother Absalom’s house, a desolate woman
It’s a pat of the hand, it’s a “there, there,” it’s a “this family has a reputation to preserve so don’t speak of it again.” Move on, get over it, let’s look to the future. The only people who ever offer that kind of glib advice are those who’ve never been victimized! And then, just when it couldn’t get any worse!, David, the patriarch of this dysfunctional brood, the king of Israel, a man who literally has the power of life and death in his hands, the guy who in effect started this whole sordid chain of events with his own adultery with Bathsheba and arranged murder of her husband, has this for a response:
21 When King David heard all this, he was furious.
Furious. PERIOD. In the original language, the suddenness of the end of that sentence reinforces the lack of action. He’s angry, he’s furious, he’s emotional . . . and that’s all he is. He does nothing. His impotent silence is ear-splitting. As much as the incestuous rape makes your skin crawl, I have to say David’s toothless anger does so even more. Amnon very likely deserves death, or at least expulsion from the family and imprisonment for the rest of his life, and instead he gets nothing.
Because toothless is exactly what it is. To feel something and then to take no action is just like a great white shark with no teeth, an eagle with no claw, an army with no guns. It’s all for display and not for making a difference. And it is the kind of anger that makes your skin crawl because I see it replicated these days. The kind of anger that stands there, furious, JUSTIFIED, but impotent. I can see it a mile away. Parents: can we agree that the deepest anger a lot of you will ever feel in your life is toward your kids? Especially those who have become adept at pushing your buttons? You know what gets under my skin?
When I see it at the store. Wal Mart, Target, wherever. Escalate. Escalate. ESCALATE. ESCALATE!!! The child test and prods and pushes & the parent is not really paying attention until finally crosses a line and then BOOOM! Mom or dad explodes – I’ve been that guy – and act as if volume now compensates for no boundaries before and no real consequences after. It’s just that: yelling, shaming, venting followed by NOTHING. You know what I’m saying? Were you parented that way? Are you parenting that way?
If you’re married, does that describe interactions with your mate. Anger builds, anger builds, anger builds . . . but you expect your mate to read your mind and so to know exactly what you are mad about and why. And if they don’t figure it out, God help them later. Honestly, this is how more wives treat husbands, I’ve noticed. But it’s even larger than those intimate relationships. It follows us to work. Sadly, David’s toothless anger parallels some of my worst leadership style. I fume. I get frustrated. I seethe. And I have no poker face so people around me know. But because I am so fearful of conflict, so scared to confront, it stops at the anger and never includes constructive action. Is that how your boss is with you? Those of you who supervise, is that how you are with others? And your temporary paralysis is not doing anyone any favors at all.
My gosh, it even goes to geopolitics. What did we tell Syria? Don’t cross that red line. You cross that red line and use chemical weapons, watch out. What happened? They crossed it. What happened? Don’t cross the next red line. What happened next? ISIS. We point fingers at countries – Democrat & Republican admins alike – and yet we make threats we don’t follow through on. We’re like David: furious and curiously impotent to do anything about it. It’s why renegade nations don’t respect us, why wayward employees don’t respect bosses, why rebellious children don’t respect you. You’re all anger and no action.
Because we sure see that with Amnon the incest rapist and even Absalom the brother. See, what David the father does there in 13:21 with his FURIOUS. THE END. is like the parent yelling in Wal Mart. Except David’s yelling was silent. His lack of follow through was positively ear splitting. And his children heard it loud and clear: “this man merits no respect. We can now do exactly as we please.” The chaos that started with the abuse of Bathsheba, continued to the violation of Tamar, next culminates in a murderous exchange between the two brothers. Look at what happens two years after the rape in 13:28-29:
28 Absalom ordered his men, “Listen! When Amnon is in high spirits from drinking wine and I say to you, ‘Strike Amnon down,’ then kill him. Don’t be afraid. Haven’t I given you this order? Be strong and brave.” 29 So Absalom’s men did to Amnon what Absalom had ordered. Then all the king’s sons got up, mounted their mules and fled.
Absalom feels perfectly free to kill Amnon (because in the vacuum created by David’s refusal to use the authority he has, everyone can do what they want), and Amnon is so untouched by any repercussions from his rape that what is he doing when killed? Living the high life! He deserved death two years earlier; what he got was permission to carry on. Absalom deserved a dad who would take action & enforce justice; what HE got was permission to do the job himself.
And that’s the deal with skin crawling anger: When You Don’t Take Action, You Give Permission. It’s true for parents, it’s true for bosses, it’s true for church folks, it’s true for spouses: on those many occasions when anger is justified and you fail to harness the emotion into concrete solutions, you are merely giving permission for more wrong behavior to occur. Anger, absent action, is so pitiful that it actually energizes and catalyzes the very forces that made you mad in the first place.
Because, moms and dads, I just don’t want you to be like that mom who at the end of a long, frustrating day with a hard to handle son blurted out, “Do whatever you darn well please, Jimmy! Now: I’d like to see you disobey THAT!” No, parents: you’ll want to have plans and boundaries and clear expectations. You can’t establish those in the heat of the moment! In the aftermath of volatile episodes you’re too worked up to come up with a healthy solution; that needs to be established when heads are level and tempers are cool. But be sure of this: the anger you feel must be accompanied by the discipline you enforce. When You Don’t Take Action, You Give Permission
And married folks, I don’t want you to be like that couple where the guy boasted to a friend, “My wife and I have NEVER gone to sleep mad at each other! Of course there was that time when we stayed awake for three straight months.” No, anger felt but anger avoided and consequences escaped helps no one. It makes spouses lose respect for one another. My gosh, on the grand scale can you imagine where our country would be if in the 60s people had just felt rage about the lack of civil rights? If they’d not put those feelings into action? Then the racists would have just received permission to carry on their oppression. Thank God we don’t have to wonder because it didn’t happen! Anger morphed into action and legal equality is now the result. Whether it’s at home or at work or in the Washington Mall, if you don’t take action you just give permission for all the wrong kinds of behaviors to continue. Instead of losing respect, you’ve got to harness anger’s energy in a positive, redemptive way.
Kind of like Florida church that had a series of monthly family friendly events to reach new people. The problem was that a lot of parents dropped their kids off but did not come themselves. Frustrating. ANGER! Yet instead of stomping their feet, they harnessed their emotions into brilliance. The announcement? (AV) The “Magic Of Lassie,” a film for the whole family, will be shown Sunday at 5 p.m. in the church hall. Free puppies will be given to all children not accompanied by parents.” FULL HOUSE. When You Don’t Take Action, You Give Permission
What kind of creative, pro-active, redemption solution is God giving you to the anger you feel but fail to harness? How will you decide NOW – not when your feet are stomping and your skin is crawling – you will create boundaries and establish consequences for misbehavior. Bosses: get it on paper! (Or EverNote.) If you don’t have at least the outline of a plan, you’ll likely end up with fury and no follow through. Which translates to no respect and permission to carry on just as destructively as before.
When I was about six, Davey Baird and I went to what we thought was an abandoned building (the Old Y we called it) and threw some rocks through some window. We called ourselves ‘hoods’ and we thought we were cool.
The police didn’t share our opinion. I so remember following his mother – walking jut-jawed, purposefully, and angrily into the Police Department. My mom not far behind. A six year old with a mug shot!
So what did I spend the rest of that summer doing? Rinsing and cleaning cabinets. No bike rides, no shooting baskets, no neighborhood friends in the Texas summer sun. Just me, a plastic tub, some soapy water, and some dirty cabinets. And once they were clean, I then had to clean clean cabinets. It was a deep, enduring anger my mom had at my mug shot and the Old Y’s broken windows. But the anger turned into action.
And the best thing? I’ve never broken a window since. When You Don’t Take Action, You Give Permission.