Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Sermon

Tamar: A Violated Woman
2 Samuel 13:1-22/John 2

The story we just heard from the Old Testament – the story about Tamar – is not a "good" story.
Like last week’s story as well, it’s not a "nice" story – it doesn’t even, really have a happy ending.
It’s a story we might not even think belongs in church, even though it’s in the Bible.
It’s more like something we would expect to find in the newspaper. It’s a story about a crime.
So in more ways than one, it’s a true story, it’s a real story.
And -- like the story of Jephthah’s daughter and the story of Hagar – it’s a story of one who was neglected, of someone we don’t hear about, of someone we don’t notice.
And this Lent we are taking time to ‘Notice the neglected’ – we are noticing some neglected stories, and we are noticing some neglected people.
And today’s story is particularly difficult to talk about.

Lent is a season of reflection and repentance, a time when, I think it is appropriate to look at some of the hard things of life,
to look at the suffering in the world, and in individuals, and ask God what we can do about it, how we can do things differently.
Lent is a season when we feel God’s sorrow over the things that are, but should not be – poverty, suffering, pain – abuse.
So today we turn to the neglected woman Tamar, to find out who she is, to really look at her.

What do we know about Tamar?
We know, first of all, that she is a princess, a daughter of David the King.
She is not an outsider like Hagar, she is not an unnamed daughter.
She is royalty.
She is also full sister to David’s son Absalom, and half-sister to his son Amnon, who is the prince and next in line to the throne.
We know from the story that she is virtuous, and I think we can even say courageous – she speaks her mind in a dangerous situation, even though Amnon doesn’t listen to her.
So we know that she is virtuous, she is beautiful, and she is innocent, and we know that she is betrayed by people who should protect her
– her father David, who unwittingly sends her into harm’s way, and her brother Amnon, who deceives her.
Perhaps the most striking thing about Tamar, however, is not her beauty, not her status, not her dress, not even her speech, but the fact that no one really listened to her.
Certainly not her half-brother Amnon, who ignored her protests, both before and after.
Not her father David, who seems more concerned about both of his sons than about his daughters.
And even her brother Absalom, who seems concerned and protective of her, but who counsels his sister not to "take this to heart, for he is your brother."
How can she not take this to heart?, we might wonder.
She has been used and then been thrown away, treated as if she were an object instead of a person.

It seems to me then, that the first step for us to take, is really to listen to the voice of Tamar, really to listen to the voice of one who has been abused.
A young woman from this congregation works as a counselor with victims of sexual violence, and she shared with me a story of a woman who she called "Julie", which I would like to share with you:

"I saw Julie", she writes, "for 10 counseling sessions at a non-profit agency.
She was 35, lived in a middle class Minneapolis neighborhood, and was single parent to a 10 year old daughter.
During our first sessions she told me that she was raised in a small town in Minnesota and had four siblings.
Then, with anger, shame and grief she shared that from age 10 to 16 she was sexually abused by her older brother.
Her father was physically abusive to Julie, her sisters, and her mother. Her parents and four siblings lived in a small town in Minnesota.
Julie explained that her parents knew about the abuse, but chose to ignore it and pretend they had a ‘perfect family.’"
"At age 16 Julie developed a trusting relationship with one of her teachers and told her about the horrible abuse happening to her at home
.....until recently she had had limited contact with her family and resented her mother for not speaking up about the abuse
...but now, Julie’s mother was dying, and she felt torn between wanting to return home, and hating her family for the trauma, pain and suffering she had experienced
....she was depressed (felt worthless, decreased energy)... and was having nightmares and flashbacks as well....."

This sounds a lot like Tamar, doesn’t it?
The story from the Bible is true to the stories of violence we hear today.
And the first thing that is necessary for us, as people of God, is to hear it: not to turn away, not to ignore or neglect, but to hear Tamar’s story, to notice her, and to notice her pain and suffering.
We need to know that there are people in our community, and even in our congregation who have wounds, deep wounds.
There are people in our community who need healing.
The woman who shared the story with me also shared a few statistics: one of 4 girls, she told me, is sexually abused before the age of 18.
One out of seven boys is assaulted before the age of 16.
And in 89% of assault cases, the offender is either a relative or person known to the victim.
As well, young people often feel so afraid and ashamed that they tell NO ONE of the abuse – not even a friend or a sibling, not even someone from their church.

Why do you suppose this is?
Why is it so hard for them to tell us?
And why is it so hard for us to listen to these hard stories?
It is hard for us to acknowledge the strength of human sin and evil in the world, hard for us to listen to stories about it.
Many abuse victims have the experience of being dismissed, having others make excuses, and pretend not to notice.
Why do we do this?
And I have one more question – a question about the story of Tamar from the Bible –
Why did her brother Amnon think he could do this?
Certainly, he had his crafty friend Jonadab to help him, but what made him think he had the right to do this to another person
Could it be his own father David’s bad example had an effect on him?
David’s story is more well-known to us, but it is similar – except for the repentance.
So Amnon the prince follows David the king, abusing his power – and the cycle of violence continues.
And this happens not just in the Bible but in families now, too.
And it has happened in the past that we have turned away, ignored or not seen the suffering of Tamar.
We have forgiven sinners, but not offered healing to those sinned against.
Why? Perhaps when we hear these stories, we are confronted with our own wounds, our own need for healing, the evil or grief we have seen or experienced or know.
It is painful, and so we turn away.

But when we turn away, we are also turning away from Jesus.
He is the one who stared evil down, who looked sickness and pain and injustice in the face – and healed it.
He was a king, but he did not take advantage of his power, did not return evil for evil ,
but in his own body broke the cycle of violence.
He held hands with the dead, and raised them to life. He looked at lepers honestly, and restored them to community.
he empowered the poor and fed the hungry.
In our gospel for today, he saw injustice and greed in the temple, and he drove it out.
He was filled with zeal for God’s truth, and he was filled with love for God’s people
– and he was wounded and suffered because of his zeal and because of his love.
– He came to stand for us – and he came to help us to stand, as well.
And he did not neglect or ignore or turn away from those who were weak, who were suffering, who were violated.
He listened to them. He looked at them. He heard their voices. He healed them.
And he raised them up.

Do you wonder what happened to "Julie"?
My friend tells me: "our therapy together focused on giving Julie a voice and validating and honoring her diverse emotions (anger, guilt, grief, disgust, shame).
I helped her to remember that she did nothing wrong, did not deserve what happened to her, and that she was a beautiful, kind, loving, and strong individual.
We worked through the grief and loss she continued to experience from not having her family’s support.
And she became a more active leader in the fight against childhood sexual abuse and gender inequality."

You know, the story of Tamar does not have a happy ending.
At the end of her story, Tamar is a desolate woman, an isolated woman.
She is a woman of wisdom, who has spoken courageously.
But she will live alone with her shame for the rest of her days.
But for us – it can be different.
But for us and for Tamar, there can be new life, there can be healing.
Here in Christ’s church, we can make a stand for all people, weak and strong, old and young, to be protected and valued.
Here in Christ’s church, we can make a stand for all people’s voices to be honored, to be heard, to be respected – and for all people to be empowered.

For Jesus, the wounded one walks the earth with us, not turning away, but raising us up.
He heals all of the wounded ones, and says to them:
"You are a beautiful, beloved child of God. I have borne your shame; You now bear my life."
You – and Tamar – are a true child of the King, risen to live in mercy and work for justice.


LutheranChik said...

That preached...great sermon.

Song in my Heart said...

Thank you.

Pastor Joelle said...

Very difficult subject matter, handled very well.

Rev SS said...

great job of contextualizing and applying scriptural story to our lives today

Lauralew said...

Preach it, Sister. And thank you.

Barbara B. said...

Excellent sermon!

FranIAm said...

Oh Diane... I don't even know where to begin. What the others have said is all true - great sermon, difficult matter handled well, contextualizing and applying - all true.

But for me there is more than that, yet my words fail me. My heart is moved deeply, you have really said so much in this sermon.

Thank you so much.