II Samuel 11:26-12:13a; Psalm 51:1-12; Ephesians 4:1-16; John 6:24-35

Readings for Proper 13 (18) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 13B/Ordinary 18B/Pentecost 6 August, 2006 Textweek

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

We’re probably comfortable with the idea that the word of God can be apprehended in many different ways. And so too, the readings that we hear Sunday by Sunday, the readings we maybe sit at home and contemplate from the Bible can also engage us from and towards many different perspectives, and if we look close enough, if we look deep enough, whether in consideration or contemplation, somewhere, somewhere we can see a reflection of life, a reflection of ourselves, a witness to the word made flesh; we can glimpse the overlap, the place where humanity and divinity dwell together.

For me, the reading that we had this morning from Ephesians is one of those readings that’s never required thinking about. Somehow it just speaks – it’s as if it speaks to my soul rather than to another part of me. It’s one of those readings that I understand and yet without having explained it even to myself. The words make sense and I’m sure that occurs for all of us in different times and in different ways. Doesn’t matter if it’s the word of God from the Bible or whether it’s something that’s glimpsed, even just the tint of the sun in the clouds in the morning or in the evening, something makes sense without having to think it through or work it out. There’s a resonance and it’s those moments of resonance, those moments of grace, that we have an opportunity not just to glimpse outwardly but also to glimpse inwardly, for the eye that sees them is the eye of our soul. One of the delights in being the church is that we have the opportunity to glimpse those moments and to share them with each other and to doubt them - you know sometimes you get one of those moments and you need to tell somebody just to make sure that you know what that was.

As we come together then Sunday by Sunday, we come together to make Eucharist. It’s as if we’re drawn, we’re drawn because of those moments of grace, we are drawn to create them, to actually bring them together in thanks. And as we do that so we create even more opportunities. Week by week I sit with these Sunday readings and reflect on them and just wonder, what is the word of God, what is it that these words are speaking to us as a community? And it’s not always the obvious words of the Sunday readings - the first reading, the second reading, the Gospel reading - that speak. This week while I was putting the final bits of the pew sheet together, what struck me was the songs that had been chosen for this morning: ‘The Church’s one foundation’, ‘Spirit of Life’, ‘Take my life’ and ‘We are pilgrims on a journey’. And I wondered, as we sing, as we sing the liturgy do we actually sing into being a sense of movement, do we actually sing a story into being, a tune that we can then follow? So I looked at just the four songs that we’re singing: ‘The Church’s one foundation’. Let’s just think of these songs as being stages of our journey, the realization of ourselves, our truth, our faith, and the one foundation of the church becomes our starting point. When I think of the church’s one foundation, more often than not my first thought is to go to the early church in the Acts of the Apostles – it all seemed more real and more close to the truth, and yet it’s still there, the same energy is still there. It’s not in the institution of the church but it’s to be glimpsed in our seeking to become and to create the church. And I thought as we repair the physical foundations of the buildings, so too we have an opportunity to reconnect and to reclaim the foundations that call us to become the church.

Churches were built as icons of the living presence, of the divine in the world. And in many places, even in Perth, they still – often they’re built on hills – they stand out. These are icons – the living presence of the divine abides here. I might have lost that sense for a moment and some people trawling the alleyways of Garden City still looking and seeking might never have experienced that sense, but the opportunity’s there, one day, one moment – to glimpse that icon, to be drawn and so to move. As we rebuild, repair, reclaim, so we establish ourselves as an icon of the living presence of the divine. As we build and reconstruct around us, we are rebuilt and reconstructed within us.

I also then thought about the first reading, the reading of Nathan telling the story to David and I thought this is also a place in which we come to hear stories, to listen to the priest break open the word of God, and perhaps then like David, for each of us are kings in our own kingdom, perhaps like David, again we might hear a word that generates not necessarily anger, but great passion within, that enables us to see where like David we also have moved away from, and also like David can see and take the opportunity to course-correct and move back toward. And as all this is taking place, the liturgy moves forward: we come to the second song, ‘Spirit of Life’.

‘The Church’s one foundation’ has been sung, that’s in place. If we have a right foundation, and we all have a right foundation because we hear in the letter that Paul wrote to the Ephesians, each, ‘each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift’. It’s given, we each have it, there’s no letting off the hook – ‘Oh but I wish I was like …’ Each of us has been given grace, the right foundation, an orientation towards the divine, then we have an opportunity to make real the spirit of life. Not that flame that was given at Pentecost – like a red balloon it lasts for a few days. Nor that charismatic spirit of life that fills you, puts a smile on your face that enables you to say ‘Jesus!’ with wide eyes and happiness and can almost knock you off your feet. No, not that spirit. Rather the life force, the spirit and energy that re-creates within us. This is the spirit of life; this is the potential for us to bring an end to war. It’s the place within that is generative of peace; it is that within us that is aligned with the divine; it is that which sees and seeks God. It is that which wants to live a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called – it’s that spirit of life.

In the modern world we have many what used to be called temptations, now they come under many different names, but we have many opportunities to engage other, more worldly spirits of life. The scientific world gives us opportunities to deconstruct, to reconstruct, to break down and to build up – it’s almost as if that spirit is able to do anything. It can certainly do most of what’s described in the Old Testament. Crossing the Jordan - that worldly spirit can block rivers, it can create pathways, it can level mountains, it can make crooked places straight, it can do all of that – that’s the spirit of the world. There’s a spirit of life though, that can make real the grace that was given to each of us. It’s that place which is generative of peace. There’s a different order of spirit to the first one.

And so the service moves on and we come to the next song. Hardly do we have a chance to explore the spirit of life before we come to the hardest song of all. This is known as the gradual hymn, and it’s the one that we sing – sorry this is the one after the gradual hymn, we’ve had the gradual, this is the offertory. This is the one that we sing as we give. It’s a tricky one to sing this week, because it is ‘Take my life’. Where do we go when we sing that? Because when we speak and sing those words come from somewhere within. Follow them, follow the thread, where did that come from when I sang that – that’s if we can sing it, who knows we might get there and think, ‘Gosh I’m not singing this today’ -‘Take my life’ and as we do, we will be giving a part of ourselves symbolically into the offering plate. This is for us - baby boomers, post baby boomers, pre baby boomers - the hardest to sing, because we have to overcome the worldly gravity of selfishness – you know that characteristic, it’s almost a birthmark on our generation – ‘look after yourself and the rest will look after itself’. This is what David had to overcome. David was God’s chosen, David, like Christ was the shepherd, David was of the lineage of Jesus. Now if he had difficulty overcoming selfishness, so will we; we can expect the same. But stay with the song – ‘Take my life’ – stay with the symbolic action of giving of ourselves and perhaps, perhaps the song will sing us into being. It’s quite likely that part way through that song we will give up, but just the moment before losing heart, cheat, turn over the page, just go flick and back again, and look at the next one. For the next one actually gives us a bit more energy to stay with this one: ‘We are pilgrims on a journey’ - we are not alone, we are walking together, we’re getting lost together, we’re bumping into brick walls together, we fall off cliffs together, and yet we also find our way again together, we pick each other up together. As we follow the songs that we sing, step by step, bit by bit, along the way, our souls, our desires are sung into being. We declare, we proclaim the word made flesh and as we give voice to the word made flesh, there is a part of us that can’t help but glimpse and know it as true: Christ abides in me. It is a truth – Christ does not abide in history that wasn’t the song I sang. If you fail, if you can’t get through, do not pass go, don’t collect two hundred dollars, just go back and sing again, ‘The Church’s one foundation’.

It’s only made real, these songs are only given voice, when, like the scriptures, we find ourselves in them, because we are the church, we are the singers and we are the song, Like David we will hear the stories and then suddenly realize or be told by a Nathan, that that story is your story. That is not a story about a lamb who was slain, it was a story about you and your life and the calling to which you have been called. What is the calling, what is our calling, what is a life that we can call worthy? Being Hiroshima Day it’s quite a good day to contemplate: we’re part of a nation that supports war in Iraq, Afghanistan, against Lebanon, against Palestine. Is this the spirit of life within us? Is this the calling to which we have been called?

The unity of the spirit in the bond of peace: the staples of life, the basics of life are often symbolized in bread – ‘I am the bread of life’. For us bread is a symbol of sharing, a symbol of giving thanks and a symbol of divine presence. If we can utter the words, ‘I am the bread of life’, if we can echo the words, ‘I am the bread of life’, then we do become pilgrims on a journey, pilgrims of peace.

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris