Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 12 August 2018.
It may be fake news, or gossip or just the usual discontents that circulate in any office or organization. It may be within the family or church or the local community: but somehow it is amazing how much more easily the voice of complaint circulates than the voice of praise.
That sense of discontent which lasts so much longer than any cause for satisfaction or praise. It is one thing to be able to praise a favoured sports team or live performer, but another to give as much attention and credit to those who manage us as we do to those who displease us.
And yes the effects are very corrosive. And yes, I also have been quicker to voice my dissatisfaction than to express my praise, especially when being managed by someone else.
And yet it can become very dangerous. Stripped of all the relevant facts, a disappointed set of ambitions can, especially in the hands of a skilled propagandist, become the touch paper for much more violent and explosive events.
And so Absalom’s complaints led him into rebellion, and his father King David had to go out and oppose him. And yet while Absalom had indeed raised insurrection against King David, his father was grieved at having to take up arms against Absalom and was stricken when Absalom came to his own sticky end, dangling by his hair from a tree.
Even though the stability of the kingdom demanded a firm response to Absalom’s rebellion, as a father David was a broken man.
It may look remote from us until we also see how discontent grows like a cancer and when driven by rumour or fake news can undermine a kingdom or a society or a nation, especially when ignored or suppressed for too long.
Paul has a similar view on loose conversation when writing to the Ephesians. The conversations that the early church may have had after worshipping together may not have been very different to our own as we also have cup of tea or coffee together.
But the advice is still the same.
Look for what is inspiring, edifying, informative. Avoid what is critical for its own sake and which uses sarcasm or ridicule instead of humour, or plain balanced judgment.
For Paul speaks of not grieving the Holy Spirit – not just giving vent to our own emotions when a more balanced sense of our situations would be more constructive.
For the Holy Spirit can indeed be grieved if not driven away, undermined and stripped of His voice by our own self-will and self-regard. It is easily done but far more difficult to remedy.
But Paul also points to something else as he writes of Christ loving us and having given Himself as a fragrant sacrifice for us. Since we are the Body of Christ then we also are expected to love Him and love one another – and more than this, we also may be expected to make sacrifices of ourselves on behalf of others.
These sacrifices can be of time, attention, effort, money hospitality, as well as restraint in our own emotions and conversations.
But it is that very fragrance of the community of faith that is the thing that will be noticed, that sense of holding together, even when criticism is justified.
For those of us who have been hurt can easily withdraw into a bitter and sardonic humour, laced with cynicism and I should know for I also have indeed been there.
But Jesus shows how He confronted this kind of cynicism when with His own community. They were already discounting Him by saying ‘Oh yes, who know who He is and what He does, so these claims of being from heaven are just words.’
The voice of contemptuous rejection was loud and clear, yet Jesus kept His cool and held His ground.
He had indeed fed them with bread and recalled the manna of the Exodus. Now He had a bread that would never fail and they would not even have to go out for it. It was there within reach if only they would stretch out for it.
The bread of heaven would do far more than feed their bodies – it would sustain the innermost parts of their lives and persons. This kind of bread would build up and not undermine; it would teach and not confuse; it would bring health and hope without misleading or offering false hopes.
In giving Himself, Jesus was already looking towards the cross where it would all be brought to its completion. His self-giving would complete for all time and all the world what His gifts of bread and fish had started for the Galileans on those hillsides.
So yes, to receive Him is to receive life and to enter it in a new way. It is a life given to us by His life given for us. But more than that, it is a life that we also are free to give for one another as we pour ourselves out to one another.
It is a new way of entering the life He has for us and it consists of giving it away to others.