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Sermon for Ordinary 19

Sermon Ordinary 19

The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman

The rhythm of life

There is something about the rhythm of our Christian lives in our readings this morning. 

  • There is a coming before God and expressing how things are
  • There is a coming to Jesus for nourishment and refreshment
  • There is turning the outcomes of those encounters into our daily lives, both our words into actions

In our Old Testament reading King David is at war with the troops of Absalom, whose name rather ironically means ‘father of peace’

Absalom is also David’s third son, which is why he commands Joab and others to be gentle with him, even though they are just about to go into battle.  Absalom has a chequered history and past and has fled from his father and is now in rebellion against him.  A rebellion which ends in a battle.

The battle ensues and David’s troops, who have taken refuge on the other side of the river Jordan, go into battle against Absalom’s troops who are referred to as the troops of Israel and emerge victorious.

As the battle ends, Absalom gets stuck in a tree and then gets killed by Joab’s men.  Absalom had once burnt Joab’s field in a fit of pique (2 Sam 14 v 30) so there’s probably no love lost between Joab and Absalom.

The news of the victory but also Absalom’s death comes back to David who comes out with his cry of anguish at the death of his son, ‘O my son Absalom, Absalom my son, if only I could have died instead of you’.

If only things had turned out differently.

Part of our rhythm of Christian living is coming before God and expressing our joys and the things we are thankful for, but also our lamentations.  Things that didn’t turn out as we expected or hoped.  The things we are sorry for and wished they could be different. 

Acknowledging our sins is the first step along the Christian journey as we turn to Christ and ask for his forgiveness, healing and wholeness, a restored relationship with God

And as we journey along, as we go through life, we each have our joys, and we each probably have our lamentations. 

And it’s right that we come before God and express how we feel.  Lay things out before Him, perhaps at the foot of the cross.  And as we do, we are coming to Jesus, the ‘I am’ the living bread of life, for nourishment and refreshment.

In the exchange Jesus has with the crowds in John’s gospel it’s as if Jesus is challenged by two misconceptions the crowd have, misconceptions which sometimes happen to us today.

There is the misconception that He can’t be greater than his predecessors and ancestors, in Jesus’ case He can’t be greater than the prophets and the law givers of the Old Testament, He can’t have come down from heaven…

There’s also the misconception that He’s nothing but His parents’ child, He is defined by who they are, not by who He is himself.  Ironically, He is His parent’s child, His Father just happens to be God, which they don’t yet understand

It’s a ‘Who do you think you are?’ moment.  Or a ‘he’ll never amount to much’ moment, who does He think He is to say these things and tell us what and who He thinks He is…

Jesus challenges their preconceptions, assumptions and grumbling, a challenge that will ultimately lead to His death, and simply states that He is the ‘I am’ that is the living bread of life.
They are the same preconceptions, assumptions and grumbling that the world often makes today.  Who is Jesus, perhaps a good man but nothing special apart from that.  Wrong!

If there is a God why doesn’t He do more to stop suffering and wars, starvation and oppression.

Just as when the Israelites in the desert had no water they grumble to Moses and Aaron, or when the scouts came back from the promised land and said the inhabitants were like giants and they would never be able to overcome them and inherit the land that God had promised them the people grumble.

Just as today, grumbling erodes and destroys hope, especially hope for a better future.

Jesus says that as the living bread He gives hope and life for today and into eternity.  He gives the nourishment that will last forever, not just for the days of our mortal life.

The bread of His flesh which is the life of the world.  And He invites all to come to the Father through His divine invitation.

Often we know in our heads that Jesus is the living bread of life, but not quite in our hearts and lives.  It’s as if we are in a supermarket and see the bread on the shelves, recognise what it is, but don’t take any ourselves to nourish us on a daily basis.     

It’s as if we think we had some a long time ago and that should be enough.  But if we don’t take the living bread daily, just like any bread, it will go stale and decay from what it once was.  Our relationship with God becomes a bit stale too.

‘Who do you think you are’ they ask of Jesus.  Jesus tells them, He also tells them who they can be, God’s chosen people and children.

And as God’s people there are consequences.  As we answer our call and vocation, as we accept the hope that God gives we are called to be God’s chosen people to be imitators of God. 

Paul gives a glimpse of part of what this might be like in His letter to the Ephesians.

It’s about living in love, being kind to one another, not grumbling against each other.  About turning our faith, our understanding and our words into real actions.

As we experience the goodness of God ourselves, so we become bearers of God’s love, grace and kindness in the world.

Words can often be used to devastating effect, as we’ve heard in the news multiple time recently on multiple stories.  As we live out our lives in the way God has called us we tend to put behind us the very things in which the newspaper headlines revel, we become less newsworthy but more God-worthy as actions match words.

We are called to come to God with our joys and lamentations; we are called to come to Jesus as the living bread of life; and we are called to turn our encounter with Jesus, our faith, understanding and words into actions.

It’s possible to get stuck in any of these stages.  Expressing our lamentations and thanks to God but not moving on.  We can come to Jesus as the living bread, eat it once and forget we need to come to Christ each day for His nourishment.  We can throw ourselves into action, forgetting that we are going it because we are drawn to God through Jesus and are drawn to imitate Him to bring His life and hope (not ours) to the world.

Lord Griffiths said in 2012 at the Durham miners Gala service, ‘Hope can survive if and when words are turned into actions’

Jesus, the living bread of life, invites us to come to Him so we can offer His life and hope to the world.