Sermon for Sunday 6th August 2006
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6: 24-35
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:1)
That’s a challenge I think you will agree! And like all challenges there will be many who will fail to respond to the challenge and settle for a simpler and easier life. Its certainly tempting but it is not always the road to fulfilment and true happiness. This following story perhaps illustrates what I am trying to say:
One day a couple by the name of Herman and Mary were riding along in their shiny new car. Mary spoke up and said, "You know, Herman, if it weren't for my money, we probably wouldn't have this wonderful new car." And Herman just sat there and didn't say anything at all.
As they pulled into the driveway, Herman turned off the motor and they quietly admired their new home. Then Mary said, "You know, Herman, if it weren't for my money, we probably wouldn't have this new house." And again, Herman just sat there and didn't say anything.
They got out of the car and walked in just as the delivery man finished setting up their new furniture. You know, Herman, said Mary once more, "If it were not for my money, we probably wouldn't have this new carpet and all this new furniture." And once more, Herman didn't say a word.
It happened again as they sat down in their new den and propped their feet up and watched the big screen TV in their new entertainment center. "You know, Herman," said Mary, "if it were not for my money, we probably wouldn't have this huge entertainment center."
And with that, poor Herman had had enough. He turned to Mary and said, "I don't want to hurt your feelings, Honey, but you know if it weren't for your money, I probably wouldn't be here either!" (Maxie Dunnam, Collected Works,2006)
What is it that brings you here? Why do you continue to play an active part in the life of our Church? What is it you are looking for in your Church and do you find it here? These are the sort of questions we need to consider if we are to respond to the challenge before us today and it is a challenge that we must respond to for it addresses the deepest needs of our world at this point in its history – the peace of its peoples – the ability of human beings to reach out to one another in Love and Trust instead of Hate and Fear……or as it is phrased in the Epistle: “bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”.
This is a huge challenge – Look at the division around the world and even within our own country on the current war in Israel and the Lebanon. We as Christians are called to bear with one another in love and I believe that that calling is not restricted to the boundaries of our own faith but to all the people of God. And yet we are inclined to take sides over against one another. Overwhelmingly we in Ireland (particularly in Southern Ireland) have tended to side with the Lebanese and the Palestinians. I suspect in no small part due to a perceived analogy between the unhappy historical relationship between Ireland and our nearest neighbour England and the historic Arab Israeli conflict, and perhaps also because of the presence of a large number of Christians in the Arab territories. (Conversely in some Loyalist areas of Northern Ireland it is not uncommon to find Israeli flags flying alongside the Union Jack). Some do side with the Israelis reflecting the historic and strong links between Ireland and Israel and the once large Jewish community in Dublin. I must confess that I tend to come down on the side of the Israelis but I am also conscious that some of the reasons for my own stance are not terribly scientific or logical. At school in Dublin 4 out of 28 students in my class were Jewish and among those were 2 of my closest friends. I remember doing a project in history on the Holocaust with one of my Jewish friends and being deeply moved and disturbed by what I saw and read in preparing for the project. Also as a student I spent a couple of weeks touring around Israel and witnessed first hand in Jerusalem an attempted bombing in a crowded marketplace which was thankfully was intercepted by Israeli soldiers who fired over the heads of the crowd to disperse them as they made their way to apprehend the suspect. This I watched from the city walls above the marketplace and found myself crouching beside a woman who happened to be from Belfast and who commented that it made her feel at home!
Looking back on it I can laugh and smile at the irony of the event and yet it is experiences like that that shape our opinions and our attitudes. As human beings we want to identify with one group or another – and so we are inclined to stick to what we know and perhaps to stick with what we experienced in our formative years. That’s the easy option – it doesn’t involve grappling with our consciences, questioning the very basis for who we are and what we are and even more fundamentally whether we are living up to the potential that is in each one of us.
To respond to this challenge on the other hand allows us to see beyond the horizon of our lives and see new possibilities and new perspectives. And if we are to achieve the goal that is set before us in Ephesians: “to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” then we have to choose this way.
And once we choose this way there is no going back for otherwise we become nothing more than hypocrites…..This was what David discovered in the lesson we read today. Nathan tells a parable to David in which he David is the villain of the piece. After declaring that the villan should die David is told by Nathan that he is the Villain and in that moment David realises the depth of his sin in taking Bathsheba and having Uriah killed by sending him to the frontline. He now sees what he was blind to before when he gains a new perspective – one which shows him the horror of what he has done. It would have been easier for David never to have had this moment of revelation – he could have gone on in blissful ignorance of his crime but his whole life would have been a failure and he would never have understood the true nature of his calling.
Going back to Ephesians there is much made of the importance of supporting one another, maintaining unity and the image of the Body of Christ is central to the teaching in this passage all of which emphasizes the need for us to be a new community in Christ, a community characterised by Love which overcomes all that gets in the way of our development as the Body of Christ acting in mutual support of one another. This is I think the higher perspective to which we are called, one from which we can see and recognise the face of God in the whole of Creation…..one which does not allow us to pick sides but rather to celebrate the wonderful complexity and richness of the created world. That is what Jesus is about not picking sides but rather drawing the whole diversity of the World to himself. That is what he teaches in todays Gospel from St John Chapter 6: “I am the bread of Life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” Jesus is not into ‘them and us’ – he is about calling us to rise above the language of ‘them and us’ to a new language, a new vocabulary which is neither about ‘them’ or ‘us’ but ‘HIM’! And it is he who has the power to transcend all our divisions and disputes. This is true not just for international politics but for all our relationships – there are times when we do not have the power of ourselves to overcome the difficulties we find ourselves in. There are times when we need to be lifted out of the dark places even if the bright light hurts our eyes for a little while for ultimately it will show us a new way a new path to the peace that can only be found in Christ.
“I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”