O God, you declare your almighty power most chiefly in showing mercy and pity: mercifully grant to us such a measure of your grace, that we, running the way of your commandments, may receive your gracious promises, and be made partakers of your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
God of glory, the end of our searching, help us to lay aside all that prevents us from seeking your kingdom, and to give all that we have to gain the pearl beyond all price, through our Saviour Jesus Christ.
The king gave orders to Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, ‘Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.’ And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.
So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim. The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men. The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.
Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on. And ten young men, Joab’s armour-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.
Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, ‘Good tidings for my lord the king! For the Lord has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.’ The king said to the Cushite, ‘Is it well with the young man Absalom?’ The Cushite answered, ‘May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.’
The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, ‘O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would that I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!’
2 Samuel 18:5–9, 15, 31–33
1 Out of the depths have I cried to you, O Lord;
Lord, hear my voice; •
let your ears consider well the voice of my supplication.
2 If you, Lord, were to mark what is done amiss, •
O Lord, who could stand?
3 But there is forgiveness with you, •
so that you shall be feared.
4 I wait for the Lord; my soul waits for him; •
in his word is my hope.
5 My soul waits for the Lord,
more than the night watch for the morning, •
more than the night watch for the morning.
6 O Israel, wait for the Lord, •
for with the Lord there is mercy;
7 With him is plenteous redemption •
and he shall redeem Israel from all their sins.
So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you. Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.
Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They were saying, ‘Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I have come down from heaven”?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Do not complain among yourselves. No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day. It is written in the prophets, “And they shall all be taught by God.” Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me. Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father. Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live for ever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.’
John 6:35, 41–51
Sermon on Sunday Trinity 11
The reading from Paul today is an exhortation for us to change our ways. Like so many fire-and-brimstone preachers of the past, he is quick to spot the evil practices of the present but in contrast to those very severe preachers Paul is quick to commend the good practices of the coming Kingdom.
Paul wrote, “Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.” Here, I would say, is the proof that Paul does not condemn the good life, the enjoyment of life, contrary to so many who contend that Paul does not want us to enjoy ourselves.
I think Paul wants us to engage in the joy of life in all its fullness. I think he bases this on Jesus’ own words. Paul is quick to condemn those who live a life which does not enhance the fullness of life – and he gives some explicit examples: the angry, the thief, the slanderer, the liar, the wrathful, the contentious and the malicious – all of these people do not enhance life, for they denigrate the people around them. In the case of the thief, it is obvious that he has harmed the victim in the commission of his crime. By taking that object, the thief compromises the world of his victim.
You can see how the wrathful demean the people around them. – Or those who are argumentative. – All of these behaviours Paul wants to change because they do nothing to prove one’s faith in Christ, for they do not enhance the life of anyone around them, they do not show any sign of keeping the love of Christ for everyone.
But I would say that at the same time as these sinners strangle the life out of the objects of their terror, they are snuffing out their own lives. Paul explains that the thief should give up stealing, for the sake of his own personal fulfilment. “Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labour and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.” Everyone knows the work of their own hands creates a worth nothing else can. How can a stolen item compare with something I made myself? When you accept the present I created for you, don’t we both feel so much better – to use a current term – so much more affirmed, than when I present something which was whipped away in the dead of night? You feel treasured, that I would dedicate the time, effort and skill to make you a present. I feel so much more valued for myself because I was able to present you my own work.
I suppose that is why I like my present job. It is good honest toil. I create and make anew for someone else, because they are unable to do so for themselves because of any number of reasons.
That honesty of self is what Paul wishes to establish in this reading. The thief no longer has to lie about his work. He can gladly share what he is doing wherever he is, whenever someone asks. The thief no longer has to move about furtively, staying in the shadows where no light can illuminate what he is up to. If the thief can do this, how much more should we do so in the whole of our lives? We have to say that honesty is the best policy – to use that trite phrase – in a new way, I hope. It is the best policy for myself as well as those around me. The thief becomes an honest worker and he benefits by living a simple life, and everyone benefits by his efforts.
But let us take this another step. Many of the wretched activity Paul named are not physical – like the thief. What are they: slander, anger, lying, wrath, contentiousness and malice. These are not physical evils, but they are just as evil as stealing – they are ways of attacking others in a covert way. I may not be wielding an axe, but when I slander someone I strike at that other’s heart with a word.
We all know how this feels, don’t we? “How could they say that about me?” “Everyone is thinking this about me – what am I to do?” I am destroyed by this ill will towards myself – and it could be someone who I called a friend who has done this to me. Imagine how belittled I would feel at that. And we can see the same thing happening in all of these – anger, lying, wrath, contentiousness and malice. This sort of behaviour is not like waging war with armies or bullying people with sticks and stones, it is more subtle, as we know being bullied need not mean getting beaten up, but words can hurt so very much. These sorts of words do not allow us to appreciate the other, rather it is ourselves – our selfish selves – which is puffed up and distorted. That self displaces everything that could help ourselves and others to get along in life, to enjoy life in all its fulness, just what Jesus wants us to have.
But how do we get away from this usual behaviour, the way people normally live in the world? Don’t we all get angry when others doing something which impinges on our little world, that selfish world we know so very well? When we are angry, don’t we want to quarrel with everyone? Don’t we bear ill will, that malice, toward the world outside? Eventually, don’t we lie to ourselves about everything and then proceed to lie to everyone around us. Then everything turns to dust, doesn’t it?
The relationships we thought we had disappear. Affection is lost. However, most importantly, love seems to be abandoned. What fulness is there in that sort of life? Paul writes: “Let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another.” Here we have the basis of Paul’s hope. That we belong to one another, that we are members of one another, only subsists when there is truth, that openness, the unhidden-ness of a quiet life, a life which in itself is full, a life we find we really enjoy. We enjoy life because we share it – the monastic hermit shares with God, I share it with my family and you, my friends. When it is shared we grow, we expand our horizons and hope flourishes.
In another place Paul asks us to “speak the truth in love”. How else should we speak? He has implied that we “lie in hate” with all those expressions of the bad life.
So with the thief we have to give up those worldly behaviours because we only demean our humanity. I want to speak the truth with my neighbour because I will be able to let them be themselves, just as I can be myself with my honest way of life.
No longer will anyone constrain another by such ill suited behaviour. Like the thief, I will honestly toil with hand and tongue. Love will express itself through everything I do because that is what I want to be. Let’s get rid of slander, anger, lying, wrath, contentiousness and malice. Let us enjoy life in all its fulness honestly, and sinlessly.