St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-05-2018


St. Matthew’s Sermon 08-05-2018

All for Our Own Good

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a, Psalm 51:1-12, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O God. Amen

I find it interesting how complex (and complicated) our local, state, and federal laws become. Not that they have to be, but if we keep them simple then there is always someone who will split-hairs to use the law in a way it wasn’t intended to be used and, of course, to their own benefit.

Just for an example: our federal income tax law. It can really be quite simple; if you earn money you pay X percent to the government; easy enough. Okay, we can ease the burden of the poor by making a rule that if you don’t earn enough to live above the poverty level you don’t have to pay anything; fair enough. But then someone receives income other than wages paid for labor such as from dividend stocks; is that “earned money”, should that be taxed? And then there’s deductions: if your job requires that you wear a nice suit every day, shouldn’t that be a deductable expense subtracted from your income?

On and on it goes until the National Tax Code alone is now over 2,600 pages long and if you add in the documentation of case law covering court proceedings (the hair-splitting) it totals to about 70,000 pages.

Just for a reference point, the entire Encyclopedia Britannica is less than half that at a bit over 32,000 pages.

As I have said before, I believe it’s the same with the Law of God. God gave us the Ten Commandments, plain and simple, but then had to use the rest of Exodus andthree more books to explain them to us.

But that still wasn’t enough for the hair-splitters; he had to send in more prophets. And when that didn’t settle it, he sent Jesus, followed-up by the Apostles.

Yet, after 66 books included in our canonical Bible, we so often still can’t seem to get it right. One citation of proof is the number of Christian denominations and the vast number of independent Churches in the world today, all divided from the original body because of some disagreement over what is the truth of God revealed in all that writing.

 

Some of what we read in the Bible, of course, is obvious; but I would argue that those instances are the minority. As an example, we are coming to the end of the reading we commonly refer to as “the story of David and Bathsheba”. In it, David breaks the commandments of God against covetousness and adultery by desiring his neighbor’s wife and laying with her. I think that’s fairly clear. But are they his only sins in the story?

I don’t think we have to do much hair-splitting to include murder for having Uriah set-up to die in battle. But what about the commander of his army, Joab; is he a victim of David’s scheming or an acomplos to murder? And, even though it’s not specifically mentioned in the Ten Commandments it is in the later writings of the Law, what about the offence of rape?

Yes, it does get complicated. And, maybe, we shouldn’t call this example “the story of David and Bathsheba” but rather, the story of David versus Bathsheba, and Uriah, and Joab, and God’s Law.

As the story continues, David’s sons, born to several different mothers turn against each other and some of them against David himself, all trying to claim themselves king; and we have to ask, how much of this would have been avoided had David not complicated matters.

One of the points of the story, then, is that God gives us the Law, not because God’s a control freak, but because we, as individuals and as a society, can’t seem to control our own self destructive ways. God’s Law is for our, individual and societal, own good, not God’s.

But then, when we bring in the mix of ourselves as individuals and ourselves as a society, this brings in another complication.

There are many, as you well know, who will look at the books of the Bible and start splitting hairs to justify their position; they’ll pluck verses out of context, place excessive emphasis on one writing while completely ignoring another, or find any number of other ways to prove themselves right and the other wrong. In the end, it divides the body of Christ; chops it into so many little pieces that it is no longer recognizable. Again, the proof is the number of Christian denominations and the vast number of independent Churches in the world today; each one believing they’re the only one who understands; the only one who got it right.

 

So, how do we sort it all out; how do we know how to act according to God’s Law when our Christian convictions seem to clash, not only with those of the world around us, but with other Christian denominations? How do we maintain (or perhaps I should say how do we restore) the unity of the Christian Church while holding fast to our truths?

I think we can all agree that Jesus made it quite clear in his words and his actions. Jesus didn’t split hairs. In fact he did quite the opposite telling us, simply, to “Love God above all else and to love our neighbor as ourselves. And when someone wanted to split hairs asking “who is my neighbor” he used a ‘despicable, low-life’ Samaritan held against a respectable priest and a Levite as an example of neighborly love. In another instance he insisted that we should even love our enemies. Can you recall any instance of Jesus questioning ones worthiness before giving a blessing of healing? Did he separate the unrighteous in the crowd from the righteous before offering them the bread and fish?

Yet, even in the early Church there were those who didn’t get that message; they still couldn’t get it right. And so, the Apostles had to try again as we can see in today’s reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

Speaking of unity throughout, Paul first calls on us to act with …”humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love…” Then he reminds us that there is “…one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in all”. Notice the 4 times repetition of “all”; there is no hair splitting here. And then he challenges us to “…speak the truth in love…” and further tells us that it is by doing this that we “promote the body’s growth in building itself up in love”.

It’s sad to recognize it, but how often do you hear Christians speaking their truth (and it may well be the truth) not with love, humility, gentleness, and patience; but with anger, judgment, resentment and even hatred?

What is done in love builds up the body, what is done in anger tears down. What is done in love benefits us and all, what is done in anger destroys us and all. What is done in love draws all to God; Father Son and Holy Spirit, where they can work life-changing miracles in every life far better than any one of us can do. What is done in anger drives the lost farther away from God’s grace and power.

We must speak our truth, that is certain; but we must be sure to speak our truth in love for God’s sake; and for other’s sake, and for our own sake.

Amen

 

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a
11:26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.
11:27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD,
12:1 and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.
12:2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;
12:3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.
12:4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”
12:5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;
12:6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”
12:7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul;
12:8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.
12:9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.
12:10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.
12:11 Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.
12:12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”
12:13a David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

 

Psalm 51:1-12
51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.
51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.
51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.
51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.
51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.
51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.
51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.
51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.
51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.
51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.
51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

 

Ephesians 4:1-16
4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,
4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,
4:3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,
4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,
4:6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.
4:7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
4:8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”
4:9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?
4:10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)
4:11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,
4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,
4:13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.
4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.
4:15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

John 6:24-35
6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.
6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”
6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.
6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”
6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”
6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”
6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?
6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’”
6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.
6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”
6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”
6:35 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.