Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost 16 August 2009 Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 15B/Ordinary 20B/Pentecost 11 August 16, 2009 Textweek

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

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

There are some delightfully obvious instructions for us from today’s Bible readings and they will be echoed in many churches as they have been through the ages. We have the value of Wisdom that is embodied in the person of Solomon; we have the wake up message from Paul to the Ephesians to live the Christian life: "Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise.’ And then we have in the gospel the centrality of the Eucharist as the path of true salvation: ‘Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.’ Those delightfully obvious themes can easily be padded out into a sermon of anything to ten to forty-five minutes, at the end of which we can all or mostly be satisfied, as always with sermons, with the odd pricked conscience.

It’s that delightfully obvious reading that provides some definitions of the Christian enterprise, but it carries a subtle subtext with it. We Christians are wise; the subtext: others are not wise. The light of Christ shines on us because of our lifestyle; the subtext: others live in the darkness. We who attend the Eucharist are eternally saved; subtext, others are not. Perhaps it is unwise to think that the delightfully obvious is the true depth of what the bible has to offer.

If we look more fully into the scope of today’s readings, there are some opportunities for us to think again. It is now almost, and has been for years, a cultural given that religion and politics should not be mixed - ‘they should be kept, for they are, quite separate’. Why then do we find in the Old Testament reading a political account of the transition of power from David to Solomon. This is an account of a change of government, it is an account of a political movement and there it is, in the holy scriptures. Much of the story of the people of Israel, as documented in the Old Testament, is a political commentary with political analysis and political spin. And if you take all the pages of the Old Testament and pulled out those that related to politics, it is by far the majority of the pages that you would be looking at. Why? Because faith, belief and the Christian way of life, like every spiritual path, is a political activity.

The revelation of the Divine in the holy scriptures is not a God-centred revelation, nor is it a self-centred revelation. It is world-centred and life-centred; it takes us beyond the everyday pettiness of self-centred debate into a realm of wholeness, unity and eternity, a life that is beyond the primary and primitive concerns of mortality. Our focus on our lifespan is what our economic rationalists call short-term profit motivation, it’s as far as we look, to the end of our life, same as a business, just looking to the next dollar, for this year’s bottom line or the government just looking for the vote that will get it in next time. The true politics is to look beyond that.

The transition from David to Solomon speaks of a movement; it speaks of a maturing relationship between humanity and divinity. In verse 4 we see that Solomon used to offer a thousand burnt offerings on the altar at Gibeon. It’s interesting because you’d think that he’s heaping up credits. But even Solomon knows that the burnt offerings are not the cause that initiates that wonderful divine question, "Ask what I should give you." If you’re getting bored about now, take that question and stick it in your pockets, take it home and ponder God asking that of you: "Ask what I should give you." And there is in that question the initiation of a new relationship. It comes not from the practices of Solomon, but rather, as Solomon points out in the following verses, he relates it to the lineage of David, to walking in the path of, and continuing the journey of, David. There is a generational maturity being identified, and that new relationship is even more profound than the obvious change of leadership that’s being narrated. There is something that we can learn from seeing what’s the change from David to Solomon, but even beyond that there is something more.

This is what Solomon asks, ‘Give your servant therefore an understanding mind to govern your people, able to discern between good and evil;" And God replies, because it pleased the Lord, ‘I now do according to your word. Indeed I give you a wise and discerning mind; no one like you has been before you and no one like you shall arise after you. There’s a transition, a movement taking place.

Now contrast that exchange with another account of God’s interaction with humanity, taken from Genesis 2. ‘The LORD God took the man, and put him into the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “you may eat freely of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you shall not eat: for in the day that you eat of it you shall die”. But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die: for God knows that when you eat of it, then your eyes shall be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil”.’ Isn’t that interesting? They’re two quite different interactions, interactions between humanity and divinity. There’s a movement, a change; the relationship is in transition. So where are we? Are we still behaving ourselves nicely in the Garden of Eden? Are we still holding on to our inheritance, never looking beyond our own mortality, never looking at the movement from one generation to another? Are we still offering a thousand burnt offerings, because that’s what we’ve done for years?

The Gospels introduce, or rather provide, another revelation of the Divine, and so another movement, another process of transition, and another political commentary focused on a political figure who confronted the socio-political and the religious order of the day. And John’s gospel is amazingly inspired in its revelation of the mystical relationship between Humanity and Divinity, between us and God:
54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

Primitive Catholic theologians turned themselves inside-out countering the claims at this cannibalistic activity, whilst trying to maintain at the same time that what Catholics were eating was the actual Blood and Body of Christ. Primitive Protestant theologians threw out the whole argument (and with it the mystical revelation of John’s gospel), and they saw the Eucharistic feast as a sort of passion play, a Sunday Oberammergau in which church members act out a moment in history.
54 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day; 55 for my flesh is true food and my blood is true drink. 56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them. John, through Jesus, speaks of a new world order in which we are invited, in fact in which we are expected, to become Christ-like - you are what you eat. You will abide in me and I in you: no separation. This is another movement, another place of transition: the giving fully of oneself, Body, blood and soul, to another, in fact to every other, to see and know one’s self as a given and a giving to the all. It is not a particularly common practice for our political or religious leaders. As we read the scriptures, it can be really helpful - those movements that are there are not the movements of history, they’re the movement of every moment.

Solomon’s story will end with corruption. As we follow the lineage of kings, so we will encounter the fall of the empire, the empire of God’s chosen. Christ’s story, rather than ending in corruption, will end with consummation and the communion of all.

They’re wonderful texts to contemplate, but it hasn’t left time to look at what Paul speaks of today. What was it he said?
"Sleeper, awake! Rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." 15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise [v14]

The Lord be with you
Peter Humphris