Lemonade & Interdepedence
Updated: Aug 6, 2020
This sermon was preached on August 5, 2018 At Broadway United Church of Christ
In New York, New York. Text: 2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a & Ephesians 4:1-16
April 23, 2016—the world will never be the same! There was one reason that I thought this day was special, but I was surprised to find out some other reasons. Here’s a few: world leaders signed the historic Paris Climate Change accord; President Obama called for the removal of anit-LGBTQ legislation in North Carolina and Mississippi; the rights of felons to vote after they served their prison sentences was resorted in Virginia. In addition to such beautiful news, an album that I find to be revolutionary came into the world: Beyoncé’s Lemonade.
Why was this such an important event and what does it have to do with David, Bathsheba, or the early church? Today, I want to argue that through Lemonade, the Bathsheba/David saga, and the letter of Ephesians, there is one important theme that runs throughout and that is interdependence.
But where does Lemonade fit into this web of interdependence? If you don’t know about Lemonade and have not heard its brilliance, let me fill you in. If you’re late to the Beyoncé party, it’s okay; I admit that prior to Lemonade, I had not been a Beyoncé fan. I thought she was just another another pop princess. But when I listened to and watched (that’s right—the whole album is also one long music video), I realized that Beyoncé was not just another pop princess. No! She was a superb artist who told a powerful story that connected with some of my own deepest wounds and the wounds of many who have known what it is to feel deeply connected to another and then to feel equally disconnected from that individual or group.
You see, Beyoncé’s album tells the story of coming to terms with the reality that her husband, Jay-Z, was having an affair—fondly referenced to as “Becky with the good hair.” While many pop songs speak about the hurt of breakup, Beyoncé’s album moves beyond the simple break up song to a journey of exploring the gamut of emotions that she experienced—from suspicion, fear, anger, and resentment to denial and bitterness. Her journey is of course not uncommon. But her willingness to sit with those emotions and allow herself to move through them is something that I marveled at.
As the album builds to her anger, the song “Don’t Hurt Yourself” explicitly speaks to the reality of interdependence that Beyoncé knows exists between her and Jay-Z and her struggle to not allow his actions to negatively impact her life. She sings, “When you hurt me, you hurt yourself/Don’t hurt yourself/When you diss me, you diss yourself/Don’t hurt yourself/When you hurt me/you hurt yourself/Don’t hurt yourself, don’t hurt yourself/When you love me, you love yourself/Love God herself.” Within these lyrics, you hear Beyoncé’s pain, her longing for her husband to acknowledge that his actions impact her, and that in turn, he is impacted when she is hurting. Surprisingly, the chorus ends with a call to “love God herself.” While we could debate what Beyoncé means by this, we could at least make a case based on the rich, religious imagery throughout Lemonade that there is an acknowledgment here that Jay-Z loving Beyoncé is Jay-Z loving God. There is an interdependent relationship between God, Beyoncé, and Jay-Z.
At the end of the day, what we see in Lemonade is a story of deceit, betrayal, hurt, and a search for healing and redemption. These themes are not all that different from the themes we find in the saga of David and Bathsheba. Our passage that we read this evening picked up at a particularly dark part of this story. Prior to our passage, we learn that there is a war between the Israelites and the Ammonites. David chooses to stay at home in Jerusalem instead of joining his troops for the battles. One afternoon, David goes for a walk on his roof to cool down and he lays eyes upon Bathsheba who is taking a ritual bath on her roof.
Moved by her beauty, he sends a messenger to find out who she is. The messenger reveals that she is married to a Hittite man who is fighting in the Israelite army. David sends a messenger again to bring her to his home. The text does not suggest that Bathsheba wanted this or that she consented to having sex with David. In fact, David’s position as king suggests that Bathsheba would have had little power to deny him sex. After the act, David sends Bathsheba home only to receive a message some time later that she is pregnant.
David attempts to resolve the issue by calling Uriah home from battle in the hopes that he will sleep with his wife. After multiple failed attempts, David sends Uriah back to battle with a note for the commander to put Uriah on the front lines. To David’s delight, he learns that Uriah has died in battle.
Our text begins here with Bathsheba learning that her husband has died. I imagine that her pain must be immense at this news. Not only must she have been feeling disconnected from her husband, because she was summoned to sleep with the king and now carries a baby that is not her husband’s, but she has now lost the opportunity to ever speak to her husband again. She does not get the chance to explain what happened to her or try to reconnect with him. We don’t know what their relationship was like, but we do know that Bathsheba does mourn for her husband.
Once she has finished the period of mourning, David sends for her one more time. This time, it is to make her his wife. Bathsheba is not the only one who is experiencing disconnection. The text reveals to us that the Lord is also displeased with David. He is disconnected from the divine. He is disconnected from Bathsheba’s personhood, and he is disconnected from Uriah.
Pain and disconnection lie at the center of the story now. David’s attitude has become one of complete independence. He believes that his actions have no impact on those around him. But God has an answer for this disconnection. The answer comes in the form of God sending Nathan, the prophet, who tells David a story of injustice. Just like we often do, David is quick to identify the injustice of someone else but fails to recognize the injustice of his own actions.
Nathan, though, is quick to help David see that his actions are no less unjust than those of the rich man in the scenario. Nathan reminds David of the ways that God has been there for him. David has become king, his life was spared when Saul tried to kill him, he has a family, and he has a kingdom. God says to David, “If that had been too little, I would have added much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in God’s sight?” It is as if God is experiencing the same pain that Beyoncé sings about. The wounded cry out, “Why did you do that? Don’t you know that I love you? Don’t you know that I would have taken care of you? That I was on your team?”
What Nathan is reminding David of is his interdependence. David has certainly taken actions to get to the place that he is in life, but there have been others on his journey that have helped him get there—and certainly God has been working through these people and events just as she is working through Nathan now.
Like David, we too can forget our place in the web of interdependence. We can become persuaded that we are self-made. We can forget the people, the events, the love, the kindness, and the gifts that were bestowed upon us on the journey and believe that we got to where we are on our own. The reason that this thinking is so dangerous is because we can begin to believe that we will get to the next place on our own too. We can begin to believe that the next steps in the journey require total self-reliance and forsaking others or using others as tools on our journey.
In our second text today, the author pleads with the readers to live in such a way that we acknowledge what is true about life: we are already one. Through and in and by the divine reality that upholds all things, we are already one. We do not create unity; it simply exists through the Creator of all things. The invitation to David from Nathan and the invitation to us from Ephesians is to become aware of what is already true and to live accordingly. Both Nathan and the writer of Ephesians speak of remembering the gifts that we have been given. It is through this connection with our own stories and our own pasts that we can begin to see the connection that we share with all people, all creation, and the Creator behind it all. We are invited to subjectively experience the objective truth.
Once we recognize this unity that already exists, we can more easily begin to recognize our place in the web of interdependence. We can recognize the ways that our actions affect others—especially those closest to us. And just as Beyoncé shows us how to speak to the truth about our pain, the author of Ephesians calls us to speak the truth in love to one another. For if we don’t own our truth—own our stories and the ways that we find the divine reality at work in us—we cannot move forward into growth. Healing begins when we can acknowledge what is just as David finally acknowledges, “I have sinned against the Lord.”
If we are to respond to this call to find unity, we must employ our tools of humility, gentleness, patience, and love. Sure, unity does not mean that we are everyone’s best friend or each human gets to have all of us. But it does mean that each human is worthy of dignity. Let us not deceive ourselves, we are not perfect at using these tools and sometimes we miss the mark and hurt those around us. But not all hope is lost. Even though we cause pain and experience pain in this web of interdependence, we have not ruined our chance for unity. We have created more opportunities for nurturing the unity that is still there. As Beyoncé sings towards the end of Lemonade, “True love breathes salvation back into me/With every tear came redemption/and my torturer became my remedy…give me some time to prove that I can trust you again.” Whether the disconnection is close and personal or it is cultural, societal, or global, all hope is not lost.
For we are already united; therefore, let us work together to acknowledge, protect, and nurture this beautiful unity with God, one another, creation, and ourselves.
Benediction Beloved, let us go forth from this place recognizing that in God, we are all one. May God bless you and keep you, May God’s face shine upon you and be gracious unto you, May God’s countenance be lifted upon you, and give you peace. Amen.
May that peace of Christ be with you.