Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 5 August 2018.
The Romans had their circus games in which Christians were given to lions to devour and gladiators killed each other. These days our sports are less blood-soaked, as rival teams compete for control of a ball in one way or another.
But there is another sport in which the misdemeanours of the wealthy, the educated or the pious are ruthlessly exposed. Far from disapproving of this kind of blood sport, the overall response is ‘Isn’t it awful? Tell me more!’ And so reputations are ruthlessly shredded, in the cause of the right to know and the right to publish. And the right to be shocked – or entertained.
So the exposure of King David as an adulterer, murderer and in his attempt to cover it all up would be a special delight to the editors of today’s tabloids.
But there is one problem which does not quite fit the script in that David admitted his sins and begged forgiveness. No evasion or wriggling. And more than that, the prophet Nathan said: ‘The Lord has put away your sin.’
So: there is forgiveness after all. True, David’s reign was visited by many troubles after this but neither his reign nor his life were forfeited.
Indeed, while his sins were grievous they were not beyond forgiveness and if this is true for King David and the seriousness of his sins then they are also true of all others.
The only area I believe where sins are not forgiven is when we put ourselves beyond receiving forgiveness by our rejection of the truth and reality of God and of the forgiveness that He longs for us to receive.
Paul goes further as he writes to the Ephesian church, and urges them to live lives worthy of their calling, and to pursue these lives in humility, gentleness, patience and love. Whatever the differences between them, they still hold to one body, one Spirit, one Lord, one faith and one baptism.
There may be differences of personality and of their areas of service in the life of the church, but not in the nature or the substance of their faith or worship.
The spiritual gifts in the church are all directed to one aim: to equip the church for the work of Christian service, building it up until all come to the unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God.
They were no longer to be children at risk from every kind of doctrine that may be fashionable, but growing into ‘Him who is the head, into Christ who is the head and the mind of the church as a whole.’
It is far more than having personal sins forgiven – it is also about growing into the fullness of Jesus Christ Himself and being inspired and led by His Holy Spirit in all things.
It is far more than getting on with the daily routine of living – it is also about letting that life become something glorious and blessed in the sight of God as it interacts with all others also blessed in this kind of life.
For Jesus the starting point is always a matter of belief. When asked about the works people needed to perform, His answer was simple: None. It is not about their own works but about their faith.
Without faith then their works are meaningless, and with faith then their works are those that Jesus Himself performs in them and through them.
In other words, there is no place for self-selected works, performed at one’s own convenience and then evaluated by oneself. The works that matter are those of Jesus Himself and they start with His death on the cross. In this there is no substitute or alternative.
And when the people asked about the bread from heaven that Moses obtained Jesus replied with something even greater than the Manna in the wilderness.
Rather than being sent out to collect the manna in the desert, Jesus said simply: ‘I am the bread of life.’
There is not even the work of collecting it for themselves – they only had to receive and accept Jesus Himself.
It was a simple as that – to come before Him assured that if King David could be forgiven his sins then all others who came before Jesus would also be forgiven. The only sins not forgiven are those in which we put ourselves beyond forgiveness by our own refusal to believe.
Jesus does not give people spiritual obstacle courses – He gives folk Himself. And He comes as a gift and not a wage so He can never be earned, only received.
This was not the only time in the gospels when Jesus was asked what had to be done in order to receive eternal life, and His answer was always the same: to receive Him and believe in Him.
If we cannot be separated from Him by our sins, then we can only be separated from Him by our own self-will and rejection of Him. It is not what He does to us, but what we do to ourselves.
Yet what He longs for is our growth into the maturity of the fullness of His life, His body, and His Spirit. Nothing less will do.