A Sermon for the Eleventh Sunday After Pentecost
August 9, 2015
(2 Samuel 18:5-9, 14, 31-33; Psalm 130; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; John 6:35, 41-51)
Absalom is after the throne. David’s son wants power.
And it divides David. He musters his army and asks them to be gentle. His kingdom and life are threatened while his concern remains with his power-hungry offspring.
Our story concludes with this warrior-king in tears over his rebellious son’s demise.
‘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!’To be a parent is to give your heart to another.’ (2 Samuel 18:33, NRSV).
David is known as warrior and king. Beating in his chest, however, is the vulnerable heart of a parent. Absolom murdered his brother Abishai, scattered David’s children, and undermined the kingdom, David continues be a parent before anything else.
This giving, self-sacrificial heart is also reflected in our gospel reading.
Imagine for a moment what it might be like to have a familiar face declare: ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven’ (go on, imagine!).
Perhaps you know the parents of this person. These are normal people who have never made claim to uniqueness. When you look into your friend’s face you recognise that nose. After all, it belongs to a whole family! They eat like you, play and work, laugh and cry. You know they experienced loss and victory because you were there. You know their voice and their scars.
It all points to their coming from here.
So is it any wonder that the Jews question Jesus’ claim. How many exceptional people emerge from Galilee? This is hardly the centre of power for Israel – not to mention the Roman empire. For most of the world Galilee is not even consciously on the map!
So what can we make of Jesus’ words and actions? The feeding miracle on the other side that Jesus aligned with this claim begs explanation. Jesus seems sane enough, but descended ‘from heaven’, doing ‘the will of him who sent me’, willing to ‘raise them up on the last day’?
Abundant loaves and fish is one thing. This claim, however, amounts to an unimaginable development.
They certainly do not understand. They are, however, asking. Yes, on some the sign is working. People seek more. They ask what this means. They wonder where the sign points.
So, after asking for the complaints to cease, Jesus offers a story of God drawing, sending, raising. Sticking with the metaphor that emerged from his generous miracle he speaks of himself as ‘timeless heavenly manna’: ‘Trust me. Eat here and live.’
Jesus is, of course, speaking of his mission on earth. He is here to live, die and rise again for all creation. He offers himself as nourishment in a God-deprived world. As part of this he also invites us: “Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
It is a lot to take in. Perhaps the Jew’s struggle to comprehend reminds us that mere miracle and explanation are never quite enough. Faith also needs repeated opportunity to ask, question, and discover.
To discover the vulnerable, parental heart of God.
We too need to revisit these metaphors (perhaps through the symbols, liturgies, communities and calendars that emerge from them). After all, through these images our vulnerable imaginations are continually invited to soar in fresh God-inspired directions.
We need to heed these signs. They are pointing the way.
As we saw last week, this ongoing discovery of the reality of Jesus is not an arrival. It is a journey.
Today’s Ephesians reading contains wonderful practical advice for this journey. I am struck by this guiding collection of memorable sayings. Each negative is paralleled by its positive: put ‘away falsehood’ and ‘speak the truth’; ‘give up steeling’ and ‘share with the needy’; let no ‘evil talk come out of your mouths’ and let ‘your words…give grace to those who hear’; put away ‘bitterness’, ‘wrath’, ‘anger’, ‘wrangling’, ‘slander’, ‘malice’ and ‘be kind’, ‘tenderhearted’, ‘forgiving’. I suspect we could add ‘do not grieve the Holy Spirit’ and ‘be imitators of God…’
And there is the summary of the whole passage: ‘…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’.
We are invited to live as ‘beloved children of God’ – children God gave himself for in love.
Perhaps David’s aching and loving heart for his rebellious son echoes the heart of God more than we initially realise.