The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost: A Sermon

Readings (Track 1)

What a combination of readings! We might title two of them “The Morning after the Night Before,” so let’s start there.

Last week we heard the story of Jesus feeding the large crowd. The starting point there as in the David story is divine generosity. Recall how Nathan’s oracle begins: “I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 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.” Now the crowd has followed Jesus, and Jesus tries for a debrief: what was that all about?

Jesus leads with this: “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.” That’s an interesting, and an important challenge. Nothing wrong with eating one’s fill, but if the conversation—if the relationship—stays at that level, it doesn’t have much of a future. It’s where many of Jesus’ interactions with folk—then and now—start, with our needs as we define them. And Jesus, being generous, will start there. But if that’s where things stay—my needs as I define them—then there’s about as much future there as in any relationship. Within that model Jesus is at most one of many possible means to fulfill my ends.

Jesus’ statement gives us a way of wondering about how David got so badly off track. “I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; I gave you your master’s house…” David more than got his fill, but did he wonder about what the Lord wanted out of the relationship? Perhaps not often enough. Not often enough for Uriah the Hittite to still be alive. But David chose not to disappear Nathan for his unwelcome words. David chose to repent—recall our psalm. So David ends as a figure of hope, and as a model for the serious acts of repentance most of us need from time to time.

A bit later in the conversation with the crowd: “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” ‘Believe’ is a slippery word. In contexts like this it’s more than thinking certain things are true. Here believing is pretty much synonymous with trusting. (Think, parenthetically, about the Creed. It’s not simply a matter of affirming that these things are true, but of trusting the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, putting my weight on these relationships, letting my past, present, and future be defined by these relationships.) Again, believing is more than a hoop I’m supposed to jump through. How easy it is for baptism or confirmation to become hoops! That works about as well as treating marriage as a hoop, rather than as setting the agenda for the rest of one’s life. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Believing in Jesus, trusting Jesus: paying attention to what Jesus is up to, letting him turn our world upside down and inside out multiple times so that at last we become human.

Become human, or, in Paul’s language, “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” And because God is generous, because, as Paul spells out, God has showered all of us with gifts, this is doable. We’re on a trajectory toward life. Hallelujah? Hallelujah!

Now, in closing, two things to notice about Paul’s vision. First, this life “worthy of the calling” is inescapably corporate. This contrasts with the scripts that reduce the faith to me and Jesus, which in Episcopal circles can translate into “my spirituality is my affair and all I ask of others is that they not make noise.” This life is corporate. The gifts I receive are gifts my neighbor needs and vice versa. Aristotle got it right: the human being is a political animal, an animal of the polis, and it’s worth getting that right. The endgame is a banquet, a celebration, and who wants to party alone?

Second, as many teams are discovering again over in Tokyo, when you’re on the right trajectory, you don’t take your foot off the gas. Notice Paul’s language: “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. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up.” To shamelessly mix metaphors, we may be on the right trajectory, but we’re not out of the woods. “Grow up,” for our own sake and for the sake of the Uriahs among us. And over the next two Sundays we’ll hear Paul getting pretty specific as to how this growing up happens.

“This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” In the coming week we’ll have multiple opportunities to do that work; may we stay awake enough to recognize them.

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