St Luke's Anglican Church in Enmore a lively, inclusive welcoming liturgical community

A life worthy

A life worthy of the calling

Ser­mon preached at Enmore, 11th Sunday after Pente­cost, 5th August 2018

Read­ings: 2 Samuel 11.26–12.13a; Eph­esians 4.1–16; John 6.24–35

The Dav­id we encounter in 2 Samuel 11 is a very dif­fer­ent per­son from the young shep­herd boy we were intro­duced to in 1 Samuel 16, when Samuel anoin­ted him as the new King of Israel. The man ‘after God’s own heart’ has lied, com­mit­ted adul­tery and murder and has shown no hint of remorse. He has assumed a kind of mor­al autonomy which declares, I will do whatever I want because I can- I have the power. Every power­ful Empire in his­tory has at some time fallen for the same line. Empires are adept at coin­ing new words to hide the crimes they com­mit: final solu­tion, eth­nic cleans­ing, col­lat­er­al dam­age, rendi­tion, to name a few. Last week we read of David’s lust after Bathsheba and his attempt to cov­er his actions by hav­ing her hus­band killed in battle. With Uri­ah out of the way Dav­id takes Bathsheba into his house and makes her one of his wives. He thinks he has handled a dif­fi­cult situ­ation rather clev­erly. How­ever, in a won­der­ful piece of under­state­ment, the nar­rat­or com­ments, “but the thing that Dav­id had done dis­pleased the Lord.” David’s guilt was even great­er because he treated so lightly the gifts God had poured out on him.

Nath­an, the proph­et has the unen­vi­able task of bring­ing the King to account. The par­able he tells about the poor man with his one little ewe lamb, gets under David’s defences and touches his sense of injustice. He feels right­eous anger towards the heart­less rich man in the story and in doing so finds he is con­demning him­self. David’s beha­viour has touched not only Bathsheba and Uri­ah, it has touched the nation. The King’s beha­viour influ­ences every­one. Dav­id had Uri­ah killed by the sword and his pun­ish­ment is that the sword will not depart from his house. The sub­sequent his­tory of David’s house­hold will be a bloody one. But in the midst of the guilt and the inev­it­able con­sequences of David’s sin, there is grace. God for­gives Dav­id and later Bathsheba and Dav­id will have a child Solomon, who will suc­ceed Dav­id on his throne. Psalm 51 which is tra­di­tion­ally ascribed to Dav­id as his response to this epis­ode in his life begins with the words, “Have mercy on me.” The Hebrew text is lit­er­ally, “Grace me.” In the Psalm, Dav­id hon­estly describes his situ­ation but casts him­self on the stead­fast love and abund­ant mercy of his God. We do the same, Sunday by Sunday as we too claim God’s mercy and forgiveness.

The Epistle pas­sage today begins with Paul’s plea that his hear­ers lead a life worthy of the call­ing to which they have been called. In this let­ter, Paul seam­lessly segues from theo­logy to Chris­ti­an liv­ing: good theo­logy leads to good beha­viour. Chris­ti­an call­ing or voca­tion is not just for the ordained- in Paul’s view every Chris­ti­an has a call­ing to live a life worthy of Christ wheth­er they are build­ers, bankers, law­yers or labour­ers, or par­ents caring for their chil­dren. If we take the name Chris­ti­an, lit­er­ally Christ’s one, then we must live in a way that hon­ours the name we bear. In this first sec­tion Paul says that liv­ing up to our call­ing involves cel­eb­rat­ing the unity we have with all Chris­ti­ans and doing all that we can to pre­serve it. Now it is dis­turb­ingly obvi­ous that at one level there is pre­cious little unity among Chris­ti­ans; we have many dif­fer­ent Chris­ti­an denom­in­a­tions and with­in our own Anglic­an Com­mu­nion we are pain­fully aware of the things that cur­rently divide us: issues to do with gender roles and human sexu­al­ity, to name just a couple. None the less we have also exper­i­enced the unity that comes when Chris­ti­ans sit down and pray togeth­er or wor­ship togeth­er as we do, for example, with our com­bined Advent and Len­ten stud­ies. In real­ity Paul says there can only be one body of Christ for there is one Holy Spir­it who unites us. We always do bet­ter to focus on the things that unite than on the things that divide. This is also true with­in a con­greg­a­tion. Chris­ti­an com­munit­ies are always diverse- the won­der­ful thing about church is that it brings togeth­er people who are dif­fer­ent- we don’t all vote the same way and we may not all agree on the hot top­ics of the day; be it our treat­ment of asylum seekers, euthanas­ia, or how we should respond to cli­mate change. We are dif­fer­ent in per­son­al­ity, socioeco­nom­ic status and a host of oth­er factors but if we are fol­low­ers of Christ and seek to live out that call­ing then we are all part of the one body wheth­er we like it or not. So Paul says do all you can to affirm and encour­age that unity. In oth­er words be sens­it­ive with each oth­er, try not to be pro­voc­at­ive and be will­ing to listen to anoth­er point of view. Exer­cise humil­ity, gen­tle­ness, patience and bear with one anoth­er in love. In the Greco Roman world, gen­tle­ness and humil­ity were seen as marks of weak­ness — Paul says these things are Christ like.

In the second part of the pas­sage from verse 7, Paul talks about the gifts that the ris­en and ascen­ded Christ gives to the dif­fer­ent mem­bers of his body. Before he does so he quotes from a well- known Psalm (68.18), in an attempt to give a con­text for what is to come: “When he ascen­ded on high he made cap­tiv­ity cap­tive; he gave gifts to his people.” Now the way most Jews under­stood this Psalm was as a ref­er­ence to Moses. Moses ascen­ded Mount Sinai, met with God and returned or des­cen­ded car­ry­ing the tab­lets of the law, God’s gift to his people. Schol­ars dif­fer in their under­stand­ing of what Paul is arguing here: one sug­ges­tion is that just as Moses ascen­ded the moun­tain so too Jesus ascen­ded to the heav­enly realms fol­low­ing his death and resur­rec­tion, set­ting us free from our bond­age to sin and death. How­ever, instead of com­ing down again with the law as Moses did, Jesus returned in the per­son of his Holy Spir­it and gave vari­ous gifts to his church. Verses 9 & 10 are undoubtedly rather puzz­ling but the import­ant point Paul is mak­ing is that although there are many diverse gifts giv­en to his people, it is the same Lord, the same Jesus who is at work in each of them, by his Spirit.

Paul’s theme in this sec­tion is about Chris­ti­an growth and matur­ity. The dif­fer­ent gifts that God pours out are to build up the body of Christ. The gifts men­tioned here (some apostles, some proph­ets, some evan­gel­ists, some pas­tors, some teach­ers), are not meant to be exhaust­ive. In oth­er let­ters Paul has dif­fer­ent gifts men­tioned such as help­ers and admin­is­trat­ors, etc. The ana­logy of the church as a body is one we are famil­i­ar with from Paul’s oth­er writ­ings- the point being that we all have a part to play in this body. To func­tion effect­ively we need each oth­er. As Paul argues in 1 Cor­inthi­ans it would be ridicu­lous for the foot to declare that it didn’t need the hand, or the ear to announce that it didn’t need the eye. The inde­pend­ent Chris­ti­an out on his or her own is an unknown concept in the New Test­a­ment. Being called to unity means being called into community.

Paul looked for signs of growth in the Chris­ti­an com­munit­ies he nur­tured. He expec­ted them to grow up. We don’t remain chil­dren forever, we leave behind the books and toys and atti­tudes of child­hood and deep­en our under­stand­ing.  We would think it strange if a Book Group read only children’s stor­ies. We would be puzzled by a driver who wanted to stay on their L plates forever. Sadly some Chris­ti­ans remain con­tent with a very simple under­stand­ing of their faith and don’t do very much to improve their know­ledge of the Bible or to explore their faith more deeply. We should be able to give an account of the hope we have with­in us. We don’t all need to be aca­dem­ics or teach­ers but we should have a faith that is informed. There are plenty of resources avail­able if you want to study the Bible more care­fully. Those who are mature in faith will want to do all they can to build up the church and to strengthen its unity.

When we live a life worthy of our call­ing, when our lives reflect some­thing of Christ’s love and com­pas­sion, then we are liv­ing wit­nesses to the one who said: “I am the bread of life. Who­ever comes to me will nev­er be hungry and who­ever believes in me will nev­er be thirsty.”

Philip Brad­ford