I Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14; Psalm 111; Ephesians 5:15-20; John 6:51-58

Readings for Proper 15 (20) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

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Proper 14B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 20 August, 2006 Textweek

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

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

As we consider the readings Sunday by Sunday, so we can appreciate, sometimes anyway, that they’ve got an orientation, a pointing towards. And probably for most of us and certainly in many of the commentaries that one would look at, the Gospel will be the reading that stands out this week, because on first reading it’s got an obvious orientation to the Eucharist and to the centrality of the sacraments of bread and wine. The gospel today appears to be speaking of our being and our becoming as church and the centrality of communion within that church.

If we go beyond that first reading though and also look at the other readings – the Old Testament reading and the New Testament readings - and ask what is the thread that brings those three readings together, I think we’d find another orientation, a thread that’s perhaps even foundational and upon which the Eucharist can be more fully discovered and appreciated. The readings today, like our faith everyday, provide an orientation towards living and giving. Living and giving.

The reading from 1 Kings – ‘ask what I should give you’; verse 9, ‘give your servant therefore an understanding mind, able to discern between good and evil’; verse 13, ‘I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honour all your life’; verse 14, ‘if you will walk in my ways, then I will lengthen your life’. Remember this is a reading before Christ, before the Eucharist, before the church: the revolution of faith is already glimpsed. Here is the word - the divine utterance is heard and the word is echoed, just as later on it will be more fully revealed in the incarnation. An orientation towards life that is not bounded by the years of this world, a life that is gifted, and life that is made full when it listens to the divine – ‘ask what I should give you’; a life that is full when it receives from the divine. And that receiving, as it is pointed out in the reading, is not for yourself, but for the people of God, knowing ourselves as ‘in the midst of the people whom you have chosen’. And the interesting thing that’s also picked up in that reading is the riches and honour that so many of us spend so much investing in, that becomes just a by-product of our orientation in truth toward the divine. The giftedness of life, the giftedness of life in the reading from 1 Kings reiterates the giftedness of life in Genesis. The interesting thing is that the orthodox view of the gift in Genesis has turned it into the fall of humankind. ‘Give to your servant an ability to discern between good and evil’. Remember the story of the apple? That was also about discerning between good and evil. It’s as if in Kings, in the inauguration speech of King Solomon, there’s a deeper understanding that this is actually about life.

The second reading – we’re still reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians - and again there’s a huge leap made which is why we have the psalm in the middle, to help us make that leap. We’re now moving from before Christ to after Christ, and Paul is speaking in light of the incarnation, providing a summary, almost I think of that same understanding. Verses 11, 14 and 21, Paul says, ‘Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness but instead expose them, for everything that becomes visible is light’; ‘rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’; ‘be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ’. ‘Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’: life and gift, live and give. In our baptism we acknowledge our part in this same truth: ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’ - it’s just the other way round. ‘Rise from the dead and Christ will shine on you’, ‘Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God’: we are given life in Christ so that we may give life in Christ, and that perhaps is the divine activity of the creator.

So with that as the backdrop, we’ve come through those two readings, and then we come to the gospel, that which is revealed in the word-made-flesh, that which is revealed in the life of Christ: the gift of life, the giving of life, the wholeness of life – not life from birth to death, but Life, life that is not bounded by the smallness of the world. Verses 51 and 57: ‘I am the living bread, whoever eats will live forever. The bread I will give for the life of the world, that bread is my flesh. So whoever eats me will live because of me’. As we individually and collectively become aware and conscious of an orientation toward the divine, so we begin to question our own orientation in relation to that divine orientation. What is it that grabs our attention? The living bread - ‘whoever eats will live’ - does that grab our attention, is it that which we turn towards or are there other things that come to mind and seek our attention?

Obviously the ways of our culture, the ways of the world and our worldly needs, be they real or perceived, tend to be the attention grabbers. They’re the things that we use as the guide-posts in life. We then step out of that for a while, we come through – throughout the world on a Sunday people walk through little arched doorways, thinking ‘I know that’s not the right signposts, reference points, I’m going to walk through this arched door and seek others’. There’s a desire inside to know another path, to seek other reference points. The interesting thing is here in the church we also need - the question comes with us, we can’t leave it on the doorstep. We come in and immediately there will be things that grab our attention and rightly so, but we also need to discern, what path do they lead us to and what and why do I seek to look that way?

By way of example, the things that are likely to grab our attention and the things that have grabbed the attention of the church throughout history are really quite easy to see, particularly if we look at church history and the history of faith. The font is one, and the interesting thing is most of us put the font behind us. We actually seem/seek to be unaware of it. How many of us walk through the door and think ‘Ah, that’s the entrance to the church, the font’? We come in and it’s behind us. Hopefully we’re not going to get a sense of that’s wrong and this is right, just an awareness that that’s how it is. The font is the birthplace of our ministry: I think that’s why many of us put it behind us. I actually don’t want to own that, I’m not prepared to go there, I actually want to be able to walk out the door at the end of the service, not go to where that font will lead me.

The other thing that many of us are distracted by is this thing [Bible] – the Word. The evangelicals and the fundamentalists, they think this is it – this is it. This is the Word. It is so important that they don’t even see the rest – the Word. And there are churches, and in the development of the church there are movements that have sought to get rid of all of this [church interior] in order that you won’t be distracted from this [Bible]. That’s how important this is.

So some of us will have our attention taken by the Word. Others, those of us who are more inclined towards Anglicanism, (for which there is a cure, don’t worry) – this [prayer book] is what takes our attention, because we are the people of the Book. For years and years now there’s an English history of pride in The Book – Cranmer’s Book - ‘Oh they’re not going to touch it, oh I hope they don’t take this out, they’ve changed the wording of that, blah, blah, blah, blah’. This becomes, this really does become it. Then we get the Catholics, now they’re really into the sacraments, the bread and the wine. The little box with the candle becomes so holy that no one can touch it except the priest and only when the priest is vested. Stunningly, stunningly holy. Others are distracted or have their attention taken by the church itself - God bless her and all who sail in her, this wonderful institution. This is it, it is this – not just the building, no, all of it in all its glory and its synods and its bishops and its priests and its archdeacons and its sacristans and all of that. It’s delightful, wonderful - it takes, grabs attention.

Others have their attention taken by the altar. And the funny thing is it’s on the altar that many of those other things come together. For some, it still becomes something that draws. We could almost say if we have our focus here aren’t we always distracted from the font? These things can work together. Others, believe it or not, are distracted by the priest! We’re lucky here, we’re lucky that we’ve got the priest that we’ve got! Now I say that in all honesty, because some churches have stunningly pious, holy-looking and devout creatures called priests, who will actually go ‘aah’ at the whim of any ask, so they actually become the distraction – ‘I can take it all to Father, Father will look after our needs, what does Father say? I want to do this, I’d better check with Father’. That becomes the attention grabber. The interesting thing is for all of us there’s a resonating with some or all of that.

There’s a difference, I realised, between the laity and the priesthood. We are not the same, we are different, we’re different. The gift of the priesthood is what enables that difference to grow and it’s very simple. It’s not theology, it’s not training, it’s not teaching, I don’t think it’s even some divine call that comes out of the sky. It’s stunningly simple: it is the fact that I get to sit here, I get to sit here. The thing that distracts me most, that grabs my attention most from here is you. That’s what I get that you don’t get, and it’s stunning. That’s what gives me growth, that’s what feeds my faith. That’s where I see the bread and the wine, that’s where I see the word of God, that’s where I see the altar filled, that’s what I see gathered round the font. This is the place to sit - it’s not the place for the priest to sit, it’s our place to sit to see each other. And really I do invite anybody, if you want to know that feeling. Some of us do – the choir actually get it and speak about it and the funny thing is you can feel the choir becoming community, you can see it in them. My guess is that some of us would be sitting here on a Sunday thinking, ‘I wish I could be close like them’. Why, because they also get some of that view. The altar is the table around which we gather, it really is the table of Christ and the disciples, it’s not over and against, it’s around, looking into the eyes of each other.

If you want the opportunity to see it and to feel it, it’s going to look awful on a Sunday if we all came in and everyone’s up there. We can’t do that, it wouldn’t work. But just ask - there’s a spare seat there, if someone on a Sunday wants to come and just feel the service from there, I think it’s a worthwhile experience just to go, ‘this is what I feel’. So become aware, become aware of our orientation – what is it that we look toward, because it does shape us, it does shape us. What we see calls out from us a reaction – I see a child running into the road, you will move faster than you ever thought you could move; those of us that can’t run will discover that we’re sprinters. What we see calls something out from us. Be aware and attentive to that which we see. Be aware that the words that we hear are spoken to give life, to cure our blindness: ‘I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live forever. If you will walk in my ways then I will lengthen your life. Be subject to one another out of reverence to Christ.’


The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris