2 Sam 11:1-15; Psalm 1; Eph 3: 14-2; John 6:1-21

Readings for Proper 12 (17) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 12B/Ordinary 17B/Pentecost 30 July, 2006 Textweek

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost
30th July 2006

II Samuel 11:1-15; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3:14-21; John 6:1-21

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen

It’s tempting to just carry on from the Gospel reading but let’s just go back to the Old Testament reading, the story of David and Uriah, the story of the corruption of David. It’s a story that gives us an opportunity to reflect on the corruption of divine power, the divine gift that is given to us and to all. It’s also a story that is stunningly contemporary – when you first read it, you can, or I can anyway, go back to these images of kings – you’ve got this image of him walking on the flat roofed top of the palace and he looks down and there’s Bathsheba bathing. But this is a story that we hear so many times over and over and over again. This is the story of Bill Clinton, remember? This is the story of George Bush. He sends others to war and he stays at home and looks after his own selfish lust. That’s what the story is about. It’s also stunningly sadly, our story as well.
We can see where David has strayed, we can see where Bill Clinton strayed, we can see where George Bush strays, funnily enough we can often look at each other and see where the other has strayed as well. But where have we ourselves been diverted from the very call of life? What is it that takes us off life’s path?

If we go to the reading from Paul, the letter to the Ephesians, what we find there, what’s reflected in that small reading is beautifully chosen to go with the other readings today. What we get there is Paul providing his understanding of life with an orientation towards the divine: ‘I bow my knees before the divine from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. I pray that according to the riches of God’s glory, you may be strengthened with power through God’s spirit and grounded in love, filled with all the fullness of God. Now to the one who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to that one be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations for ever and ever.’

There is a sense in that reading of power and abundance and of expectation. Paul illuminates the gospel that for him was revealed in Christ and he affirms an orientation toward life that is revealed in these words that John puts into the words of Jesus later in the gospel. This is Jesus speaking and he says, ‘Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these’.
So now we come to the gospel narrative, the story of loaves and fishes. It’s a story that underpins and reveals the orientation that Paul has just given us in the letter to the Ephesians; it’s as if there’s this narrative and Paul has got it and is then writing a letter to the church at Ephesus saying, ‘Hey, I’ve just read John’s gospel – this is what I got’. Both the readings from Ephesians and the gospel, both of those readings call us and re-call us to the revelation that in each and every moment we can choose between abundance and scarcity. We can choose between them in our attitude toward each other, our own lives, the world and toward the creation of a common tomorrow. The choice is there - abundance or scarcity. And it’s that choice that reveals and reflects our vision of what is real, the reality in which we live and also our willingness to trust, to have faith in the divine power that has been given to us that we might ‘accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine’. It’s amazing really that all the readings are pointing us toward doing greater things than Christ and accomplishing abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine.

Central, right slap bang in the middle of the gospel reading today, is this verse, verse 11: ‘Then Jesus took the loaves. When he had given thanks he distributed them to those who were seated’. It’s as if John deliberately sets the Eucharist in the middle of that narrative of divine revelation. It’s as if John has put the Eucharist there as the central focus of divine orientation, the centre of divine realization – giving thanks, receiving sacramentally the divine presence and then an orientation toward giving and feeding the common. The Eucharist is there in the reading. Picture the Eucharist with the echo of those words that I read before: ‘Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these’. We can come to the church and hear the stories, the stories of miracles or we can become the church and actualize these same stories.

Let’s just reflect on all of that now with the original thought from the Old Testament reading. We can easily see where David has strayed, but maybe it’s not so easy for us to see where or why we have been diverted from the very call to life. And I wonder in reflecting on that, I wonder if the church has become diverted and has turned the life of Christ into an idol to be worshipped. How much of our liturgy, how much even of our own personal devotion, our own language, our own inner reality is about worshipping Christ? If we begin to contemplate that and think, now how would Christ receive that – it’s almost the opposite as to what his life and his words are all about: ‘Greater things than these you will do.’ We will not sit and worship, rather we will continue to be. Have we lost faith in the word that is revealed through Christ because we’ve been diverted to look at Christ as the worker of miracles, rather than the revelation of us becoming the worker of miracles? Each and every time we come together, particularly here, particularly here when we come together for worship, but every opportunity of our being together is an opportunity to find and to renew the power of the divine that is to be ‘grounded in love and filled with all the fullness of God’. In every moment we choose: we choose our grounding and we choose that which fills us, we choose between abundance and scarcity; we choose to either store up for ourselves the food we need for our life journey or we choose and can realize the abundance of food that will eternally feed all.

We can be gentle with ourselves in this because it’s not about feeling guilty that we’ve missed something or lost the plot. It’s just realizing it, for when we realize it we can then continue, and part of the realization is that in our fear-filled world it’s so easy to be distracted from abundance and from love. The messages are - the messages that the world gives us - they’re not messages of love and they’re not messages of abundance. We’re even taught and we teach our kids – we have programmes in primary schools to teach our children not to trust – do not trust, beware of the stranger - and so our faith in ourselves, in humanity and in the divine is constantly being eroded.

The gospel calls us to remember and to reclaim. Our worship, our prayers, our making Eucharist is central to the gospel. ‘To him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus’. What’s central to our life and becoming alive is our building together as church, to be a revelation of the divine, within ourselves, to each other and to the wider community. Our giving, our giving in thanks, in and from the abundance that we can see, is creative of who we are and where we go. It is in our feeding, our creating life where there is hunger, it’s in our recognition that we can only truly eat and be fed when all can sit down and eat and be fed. These are the characteristics that Paul is speaking of, they’re the characteristics of becoming church, a church that can be made real, and as we make the church real so we become real ourselves, we become alive. When we know and when we believe in the word made flesh, the word that speaks to us and to all, the word of life that calls from and into all of eternity – when we know that then we might hear again, ‘Very truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and in fact will do greater works than these’. Those words are not spoken to anyone but us, they’re words that are spoken to everyone. They’re not for special people - the workers of miracles - the feeding of the five thousand are not for charismatic people, they’re for us. It is not to be handed over to the institutions - Centrelink are not the object of the gospel, the United Nations is not the object of the gospel at all. They’re words spoken in fields, for ordinary everyday people.
One of the other interesting things is about the gospel – I just think the way those readings hold together, there’s something quite stunning there. There are two interesting asides. The first one is with the gospel. If you follow the movement in the gospel, the geographical movement and then reflect on that movement within yourself: Jesus went to the other side – what does that mean for you in your journey? It probably doesn’t mean you staying where you are. Jesus went up to the mountain – what does that mean for you in your journey. He then withdrew again to the mountain by himself and his disciples went down to the sea - what does that mean for you in your journey?

And the other aside, which I’m going to ask you to hold until Maundy Thursday, is in the first reading. It’s in verse 8: ‘David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet”’. We know what David was asking of Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet”. It’s really quite interesting to think that when we come together on Maundy Thursday we actually experience something that we don’t experience at other times – but that we wish we did. There’s an intimacy there that’s picked up just in that little one liner.

The readings call us to reflect very much on where we are, where we are in relation to, and also to what it is that we are moving.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris