Sermon: “Who We Are Versus Who We Are Called to Be”
St. Paul’s Episcopal – Brookings
Fr. Larry Ort
2 Samuel 11.26-12.13a; Psalm 5 1.1-13; Ephesians 4.1-16; John 6.24-35
Today’s Revised Common Lectionary readings ask that we consider who we are and who God calls us to be. In 2 Samuel 11, God, through the prophet Nathan and the story of one little ewe lamb, confronts David with the realization of what he has done. God asks, “Why have you despised the word of the Lord [i.e., the commandments], to do what is evil in his sight?” David confessed to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord” and Nathan replied, “Now the Lord has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child that is born to you shall die” (2 Samuel 12.9, 13-14; NRSV).
Would God cause the death of an infant due to its father’s sins? I have some difficulty with this understanding or image of God, for this confronts us with a vision of a monstrous God. God may have revealed to Nathan that the child would die, but does it follow that God caused the child’s death? We cannot know for certain, but the account may reflect an earlier understanding of God’s nature.
Psalm 51 presents us with David’s prayer for forgiveness. David knew his transgressions; their weight was crushing. Thus, he prayed, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me” (Vs. 3; BCP). He could not escape the thought of what he had done. Thus, he prayed, he pled, that God would have mercy upon him and blot out his offenses, that God would cleanse him from his sin, that God would make him “hear of joy and gladness,” that God would create in him a “clean heart … and renew a right spirit,” that God would “sustain him with God’s bountiful Spirit.” David’s prayer acknowledged his wickedness from birth and his need for guidance and strength; twice he prayed that God would blot out his offenses and iniquities (Vss. 1 & 10).
Last Sunday, in John 6, we encountered the story of Jesus feeding the multitude with five loaves and two fish provided by a boy. We noted the crowd’s reaction: “When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, ‘This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world’” (John 6.14; NRSV). When Jesus saw that they would “take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself” (John 6.15; NRSV). Meanwhile, the disciples set sail for Capernaum. After having rowed from three to four miles, the sea became rough. They then saw Jesus approaching their boat while walking on the water and they were terrified. Jesus then announced, “It is I; do not be afraid.” They would then have taken him into their boat, but immediately found themselves on the opposite shore. John is recounting several miraculous signs, each of which attested to Jesus as being the Son of God.
Today’s gospel reading picks up where we left off last week. The multitude, noting that Jesus had not departed with the disciples, and not knowing where Jesus was, followed Jesus’ disciples to Capernaum. Upon finding Jesus with them, they asked, “Rabbi, when did you come here?” Note how Jesus responded: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal” (John 6.25-27; NRSV). Jesus chided the multitude for being primarily concerned with finding something to eat which would satisfy their physical hunger. Can we hear Jesus also speaking to us? Aren’t we also primarily concerned with the satisfaction of our physical need for food, water, shelter, and security? But Jesus told them (and us) not to work for the food that perishes. How did the multitude respond?
They next asked, “What must we do to perform the works of God” (John 6.28; NRSV). Note how the multitude understood what Jesus was telling them. Jesus answered, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” And how did they respond? “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat’” (John 6.28-31; NRSV).
But wait a minute! Aren’t they forgetting something? What about miracle of the five loaves and two fishes they witnessed the previous afternoon? Wasn’t that a sign? Apparently, they would have liked to have such bread supplied daily, just as their ancestors in the wilderness could gather manna each morning. But Jesus told them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” The multitude replied, “Sir, give us this bread always.” The multitude was still thinking in terms of physical bread. Jesus then said, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty” (John 6.32-35; NRSV).
Jesus’ reference to thirst may call to mind the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well: “Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life’” (John 4.13-14; NRSV).
Chris Haslam (http://www.montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/bpr18m.shtml) invites us to observe a “progression from ‘bread of heaven” (v. 31) [manna in the wilderness] to ‘bread of God’ (v. 33), to ‘bread of life’ (v.35). Ultimately, Jesus breaks bread at the Last Supper and says, “This is my body that is broken for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11.24; NRSV).
As Paul Neuchterlein (http://girardianlectionary.net/reflections/year-b/proper13b/) observes, we so often think of salvation, of eternal life, in individualistic terms, of ‘going to heaven when we die.’ But as N.T. Wright, Anglican Theologian and Professor of Theology at the University of St. Andrews, points out, eternal life is more of a Greek interpretation of zōēn aiōnion. The Hebrew interpretation considers two aions: the “present age” and the “age to come.” Thus, Wright translates zōēn aiōnion as “life in God’s new age” or “life in God’s coming age.”
One may reasonably argue that “life in God’s new age” is already present among us, for it was ushered in with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, yet it has not yet reach fullness or completion. That will occur when all of creation is renewed. Thus, eternal life entails far more than ‘going to heaven when we die.’ As believers in our Lord, Jesus Christ, we both are and are not yet. We are in the process of transformation. Christ has called us to life in God’s new age. But ultimately, all creation shall be renewed.
Thus, Paul begs us “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. We are called to oneness in Christ – “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one Faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4.1-6; NRSV). Paul further acknowledges that we are given gifts “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
In today’s readings, we are invited to recognize who we are, to own our sinful nature, to pray with David for a clean heart and a right spirit, to ponder our Lord, Jesus Christ as “the bread of life,” as “a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” We are called to recognize who we are called to be as we are living in God’s new age and we are exhorted to live more deeply into humility, gentleness, patience, love and unity. In doing so, we are partners in the new creation. Amen