Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sophmore efforts are not one of my favorite things...

I was asked one more time (gulp, perhaps the last?) to write commentary sermon preparation for the Episcopal Preaching Foundation. It does me good, just not sure if it helps others! This work is intended for the Sunday of August 9, 2009.

Here is the submission before edits:


What sets the tone for today? At root is the question of the human being finding motivation and reason to act even while we acknowledge that what we need above all things is the spirit of God in order to think and do what is right. That tangle presents an ethical challenge to us as individuals, and to the communities that make up the Church. Finding the right thing to do, and to think, means accepting a reliance on God, and that is not something the world-that which is in us and around us that remains apart from God-can readily accept. For some, that rebellion leads to grief. For others, it means transformation at the deepest levels of being. For all of us, it entails an understanding that we are not, and cannot, exist in this world as independent, autonomous individuals. We are bound to each other, and we are bound to God in Christ. From that fount, all choices and actions flow. Some choices are made against the will of God and come to naught. Other choices are made in favor of seeking and acting in God’s will. Those bear fruit.

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

Rebellion and intrigue continue to be the main themes in the life of King David and the people of Judah and Israel. Absalom, David’s son by Bathsheba (widow of Uriah the Hittite), has found what he believes is a clear path to the usurpation of his father’s throne. His rivals have been eliminated and his stature among the people has grown. He is popular and attractive, yet his rebellion is deeply flawed. He relies on advisors and commanders who are torn by conflicting loyalties. Cousin is fighting against cousin. This will end badly for all…but the worst fate falls to Absalom and by extension his father, David. Absalom chooses the wrong day, time and place for a confrontation between his forces and the forces of his father. The terrain and the weather claim as many casualties as battle and in the end, Absalom is forced to flee for his life. Fleeing on a mule, his head is caught in a forked branch. Though David has declared that Absalom not be harmed, he is found and killed by Joab and his men. David laments the death of his son; but at the same time must confront that this entire drama had its root in his own lust for a woman and his contempt for the life of his servants. David’s sorrow is not simply for the loss of his son, but for the death of innocence that his own actions had set in motion. “Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom my son!” is his lament. In conclusion, though, this lament is David’s ultimate act of self-indulgence. He wallows in self-pity and loss just as much as he sorrows over his son.

Psalm 130 Page 784, BCP

One of the great penitential psalms, this piece of scripture speaks volumes to the human experience of loss and grief. It plays a profound role in our liturgical life as one of the recommended selections for the burial offices of the Church. The depths the writer refers to reside within us. The night referred to is that dark night of the soul. The psalm affirms that even in the darkest, most profound losses in this life, God is with us and ultimately we will be lifted up by God’s mercy and love for us.

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

The letter to the Ephesians represents one of the great teachings in the New Testament writings on how to “be” Church. This passage is the crux of the author’s effort to draw the reader away from that which is not God experienced in community with Christ and one another to what IS God experienced in Christ and the neighbor. By putting off the old reality of sin and separation and by taking on the garment of interdependence and grace in Christ, we leave behind a reality of division and separation and embrace the communal experience of being in Christ and thereby seeing Christ in all people. By adjuring the thief to set aside old ways of taking from others by putting their hands to productive labor, we are adjured to refrain from taking without first offering up ourselves and our service to the kingdom. The opportunity to live a new way, setting aside division, malice and complaint gives us the opportunity to embrace our interdependence. I cannot be successful if that achievement causes suffering in another. To be reconciled in Christ means honoring that interdependence, for we cannot live a solitary life in Christ; nor can we persist in that which isolates us from one another.

John 6:35, 41-51

Jesus’ continuing discourse on bread reminds us this week that not only is there a parallel between the food and drink tendered to us in the Eucharist with the manna that sustained Israel in the wilderness, there is also the reality that the Christ is that sustenance and more. The manna, as Israel knows, was given only for the day. It sustained, but it did not end hunger. The bread and drink which Jesus offers ends hunger and thirst. Accepting Jesus as that reality gives us access to that bread, that cup. What makes this hard for his audience to embrace is that he continues to scandalize his community with “I AM” statements. He speaks in a way that expresses and authority that not only flows from God; it IS God. There are those in the crowd who have known him his whole life, who have seen him grow up. For them, of course he lacks authority to speak in such a way. For others, it is easy enough to reject his words…no human being can “be” bread, much less that which comes from heaven. For many, no human should speak in such a way. Still, there is something in Jesus that does feed us, that does slake thirst. He leads us into the still waters of community with God and with each other. He reminds us continually that there is a life beyond the one we know in this body. Hunger and thirst, today, are the focus…and by his discourse he reminds us that Messiah is here to life those distractions from us so that we might focus wholly and solely on God and our mutual experience of the Divine.

Toward the Sermon

As the recession, we are told, begins to “wind down” and as the financial institutions that were able to survive this past year’s economic collapse publicize record profits while unemployment continues to climb, I find myself asking how long we can continue to live our lives divorced from the reality that our greed and exorbitant appetites for consumption are the ultimate source of our separation from God and from each other. It is not easy for human beings to remember what the sufferings in our past really felt like, particularly when comfort and plenty allow us to push those experiences into the shadowed depths of our minds and memories. Still, the cycles of life (both in the economy and in our own biology) remind us again and again that suffering does not lie too far off the grid for us-even in times of plenty.

This week, we face an object lesson in David’s sins of the flesh and his abuses of power coming home to roost. It is not his person that is assaulted. Rather, he comes to the full knowledge of his brokenness with the news that his son has been killed in an ignominious and humiliating fashion. What goes around, comes around, but frankly it is most likely that others will suffer for our transgressions before we feel the full sting of regret.

Perhaps that is the grace behind Jesus’ offering to us the true bread that is him in this world. It is a meal that is outside us, that comes to us by the grace of God. It is also a meal that ends hunger…that one trait in human beings that too often shorts out our ability to function at a higher ethical level. By Jesus ending hunger, we experience an end of fear. By Jesus ending fear, we can truly embrace life. Jesus as the bread of life come into this world does more than supplant a basic staple--or offer up an effective re-branding. He offers a way to be that aligns us in God with each other. He is that spirit that guides us in right thought and action and that reminds us that we will never achieve true community until we are open to relying both on God and upon each other.

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