Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 19 August 2018.
I wonder when it was that our news services became part of the entertainment industry, full of garish images and people busy arguing and pressing their own merits.
The notion of reasoned and informed presentation of current affairs and of thoughtful assessment of issues seems to have been overtaken by a sort of beauty contest in which the person who could land the most telling and entertaining insults was considered to be the winner.
And so our elections become contests of emotional responses to the most appealing or indeed repelling of images. Maybe as a former town planner I miss the sense of collecting and thinking about the relevant information and then pondering the possible ways of meeting the needs and problems that had been identified.
And yet when Solomon succeeded to the throne of King David, God met him and said simply: ‘Ask what I should give you.’
Solomon could have asked for victory over his enemies or great personal wealth. Perhaps this was the test – just what should he ask for?
Instead, Solomon asked for wisdom – not as a gift for himself but to enable him to govern his people. And in this God rejoiced and promised him far more than Solomon could have imagined.
But it is the terms of Solomon’s request that are telling. He asked for understanding and for discernment. He wanted to be able to assess what was before him and to be able to respond accordingly. This was not about being able to score debating points or to embarrass or humiliate petitioners. It was about having a right judgment in the decisions before him.
A major part of Solomon’s request was about not projecting himself and not seeking his own advantage. In this there was a deep personal humility even when endowed with all the trappings of kingship.
And so God rejoiced.
When we look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians there is something similar. Here he called on them to be careful in their own lives and to understand the times they lived in, but more important, to understand what the will of the Lord was.
Again this was about discerning the character and temper of the times and of how to maintain godly lives within them.
There would be plenty of skepticism about religion in general – even though the commercial guilds paid lip service to their deities as they pursued their particular ceremonies, laced of course with a due portion of feasting, liquour and sex.
Nobody was going to have much time for a faith of self-denial and faithfulness to their savour who had forsaken all for their atonement. There was not going to be much fun or advantage in this.
But Paul had a new kind of realism about him as he called for the church to be filled with the Spirit – wholly taken up and personally endued with the same spirit that was in Jesus Christ. And that same spirit would lead them and guide them in their prayers and their worship as well as their relations with one another.
So yes, the church should indeed rejoice and be glad. There was no call for permanent grief or regret – rather they were to be led on in life with joyful worship in their prayers and singing together. They would be strengthened as they pondered together the life and times of Jesus Christ and these things affected their own lives.
As they grew closer to Jesus and to one another, as they continued to live in the Spirit so they also would be given the power to comprehend what was the length and the breadth and the height and the depth. They would enter the love and mercy of God and here they would know a new kind of power and authority in their lives.
In the gospel Jesus continues to press His message of ‘I am the Bread of Life’. The message is emphatic and it is centered on Jesus Himself. He does not offer a philosophy but rather Himself.
It is that self-giving and self-pouring that will be the source of life, not just of existing or surviving but of living. There is no alternative and yet it continues to be there for all of human history and for all who will come to Him and receive it.
Jesus does not even offer a set of moral standards to be met or of tasks to be performed. He does not even set forth a set of philosophical principles to be accepted: it is only Himself and none other. The rest can come in due course but first things first.
And the self that He offers is the same self that came down from heaven and was bom in a stable; it is the same self that heals the sick and the lepers, which forgives sins and yet penetrates the deepest secrets and sorrows of the heart.
There is something profoundly disturbing about a salvation that is received but not earned, but which is lived out in the details and relationships of daily life.
He invites us to enter the fullness of His own life by letting go of our own kind of self-determination and self-importance and by receiving His life as He gives it.
For His is the body broken and yet alive to strengthen us; His is the life-blood freely given so that ours will not be put at hazard.