Use Things, Love People – July 29, 2018
Many powerful men have been in the news recently. Movie mogul Harvey Weinstein callously used his power and position to force women into having sex with him. He did it with impunity for decades until #meto began to finally out him for the hurt and abuse suffered for so long by so many of his victims. Disgraced USA Gymnastics team doctor Larry Nassar abused hundreds of young women who parents and coaches entrusted to his care. Comedian Bill Cosby drugged his victims before having non-consensual sex with them. He got away with it for decades. Former President Bill Clinton had a very unequal sexual relationship with young intern Monica Lewinski, which he tried to deny. President Donald Trump was caught on tape by his once trusted attorney talking about buying the rights to the story of his own affair with a playboy model in order to silence it during the 2016 presidential campaign. The list of men in powerful positions abusing those under them goes on and on. The latest to be caught is Les Moonves, President of CBS after 6 women came forward to the New Yorker magazine describing his behavior and a culture that tolerated sexual abuse.
As the teacher in Ecclesiastes says, “What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9) And so we read today from 2 Samuel about King David and Bathsheba. Rather than go to battle with his troops King David was resting in Jerusalem. After an afternoon nap on his couch the king went out to the flat roof and there spied a beautiful woman taking a bath He made inquiries and found out that she was Bathsheba, daughter of one of his most trusted advisors, and wife to one of his best soldiers. And yet, knowing he had no right to pursue her he had her brought to his chambers and slept with her. And then, when she was pregnant, he tried to get Uriah, her husband, back in town to sleep with her and cover his tracks. But Uriah couldn’t enjoy himself while his fellow troops were still in battle, so David sent him back to the front carrying sealed instructions of his own death warrant.
What all these men have in common is de-humanization; they treated people as things. David saw Bathseba as an object of his desire, as a thing to bring him pleasure. He did not treat her with respect or honor her relationships. Uriah he treated as a thing as well. When the faithful soldier wouldn’t cover King David’s tracks he assigned him to be killed. Instead of respecting Bathsheba as a woman and a wife, David treated her as an object to give him pleasure. Instead of honoring Uriah as a soldier and a husband, David disposes of him as though he were an annoying, throwaway object. This story packs an emotional punch as it shows the great harm that can be done when we treat people as objects instead of as human beings.
We treat so many people as objects, as things to be used instead of as people made in the image of the living God. The scandal of clergy sexual abuse in the Episcopal Church as well as in the Roman Catholic Church is a flagrant example. Denying people health insurance because of a preexisting condition that might make their desperately needed health care inconvenient and expensive is a different kind of example. Callously separating children from their parents at the border because they are “breaking the law” by entering the country treats children and families as pawns in a political battle. And there are plenty of examples closer to home. Each of us, in our own way, can put our own desires ahead of another person's welfare, or treat someone as a stepping-stone as we pursue our own agendas. Maybe we befriend a fellow student because they can help us pass a test ... hire an immigrant day laborer so that we can pay them a cheaper hourly rate ... date a wealthy person so that they will buy us expensive gifts ... keep our employees at a part-time level so we don't have to pay for health insurance. Treating people like objects is not limited to the world of sexual misconduct. It can happen anywhere and anytime. (Homiletics Online, July 29, 2018)
The simple adage, love people not things; use things not people is a helpful corrective. In fact, I believe our scripture lessons today provide the appropriate biblical antidote and corrective to the abusive and de-humanizing behavior seen in King David. In Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians he gets down on his knees before the Father and prays that God might grant them to be
“strengthened in (their) inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in (their) hearts through faith, as (they) are being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that (they) may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that (they) may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)
Paul prays both for a change of heart and a living experience of God’s love. I like the way Eugene Peterson translates vs. 19 in The Message: “Reach out and experience the breadth! Test its length! Plumb the depths! Rise to the heights! Live full lives, full in the fullness of God. (Eph. 3:19 of Eugene Peterson’s translation, The Message)
St. John’s mission says something similar, to live the love of God with hearts open to all. You see, the flip side of the coin of the experience of God’s love that Paul prays for here in Ephesians 3, is to live out that love in our day to day lives. And that’s our mission! Living out that love is how we experience the breadth, test the length, plumb the depth and rise to the heights of God’s love.
How have we gotten the relationship of people and things wrong? How have we loved things and used people instead of loving and respecting people and using things? I suppose whenever we look at someone as an object, a sexy picture – something to ogle or gawk at – instead of as a sensitive and thoughtful human being, we have already objectified him or her. All too often we value the acquisition of things: of money and wealth and power and prestige above the value of people. We treat people as things in large and small ways. How often all of us fail to take notice of the human dimensions and human cost in the things we buy, whether it be clothes or shoes or a new phone or a car or the food we eat. Who picked that lettuce and were they treated fairly? Did they have to breathe in pesticides as they harvested the crops we enjoy? Who made those shoes? Who stitched that shirt? Did they have the chance to earn a living wage and work in humane conditions? Do any of these social, human issues concern us who use these things? Do we take the time to be considerate and caring with the people who wait on us or serve behind the counter? Do we disdain and diminish some people simply because of the color of their skin, or the language they speak, or the way they dress, or their education, or lack of it, their wealth, or poverty? How do you treat the people behind the wheel of the other cars on the road in your hurry to get from here to there?
We’re all guilty many times and ways of loving things and using people. How can we change? Sometimes using people as things rather than respecting them as persons becomes an ingrained and pernicious habit. We can change, but it takes God’s grace and it takes practice. Let us ask God together for help. Let us pray with Paul for the amazing and wonderful grace to experience and live into the full dimensions of God’s love. Please turn with me to Ephesians 3:14-21 in today’s scripture insert and substitute all second person pronouns (you and your) with “me” and “my” and “I” and let us read that prayer together.
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that, according to the riches of his grace, he may grant that I may be strengthened in my inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in my heart through faith, as I am being rooted and grounded in love. I pray that I may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that I may be filled with all the fullness of God. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.