St. John’s Episcopal Church
207 Albany Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401

Sermons

  • Love is the Bread of Life – The Rev. Michelle Meech

    August 01, 2021

    The books of 1 and 2 Samuel are a part of the larger history of Israel given to us in the Hebrew Scriptures.  We know that the stories in these books have some basis in evidence found through archeology.  But like any history, it’s always told in a way that tells a particular story.

    We began the season of Pentecost in the first book of Samuel. The elders of Israel asked Samuel to give them a king to govern them.  This upset Samuel because he knew this meant they were preferring worldly power to lives submitted to God. So he prayed to God and God basically said, “Give them what they want.  They aren’t rejecting you, they are rejecting me. But warn them of what it means to follow a king instead of following God.”

    Samuel warned them of the ways of a king:  One who would take the best from what they produced and give it to his friends.  One who will take their children and turn them into servants and militia.  One who is more concerned about the concentration of power than about the lives he is supposed to protect.

    And they responded to Samuel: “No!  We are determined to have a king so that we may be like other nations and have the king fight our battles for us.”

    So, Samuel found Saul and made him king.  Now, Saul did his best to submit to God but he had trouble governing, disobeying God in order to maintain the favor of the people.  In other words, Saul could not withstand the pressure of public opinion.

    We call that a failure of nerve.  He became paranoid and jealous, as a young, charming warrior began acquiring popularity and scheming to gain power in the government, eventually becoming the general of Saul’s army.  This young, charming, scheming politician was David. David’s fame grew as the people of Israel began feeling a sense of pride from his brashness and his military exploits.  David even won over Saul’s son Jonathan and his daughter Michal. And as Saul became more resentful, David became more emboldened.  Until the day Saul killed himself in battle.

    Then David became king.  Of course.

    And, over the past several weeks, our readings from the Hebrew Scriptures have told us about David’s leadership and a few of the more salacious moments – how he blusters and swaggers and brags when he captures the Ark of the Covenant – known as the seat of God.

    And this is when things really start to go off the tracks because, up to this point, David, although brash and somewhat pompous, had been devoted to God.  Understanding himself to be a servant of God and, therefore, a servant of God’s people. But there is a tipping point, where we forget who we are and whose we are.  That is, beloved children of God and therefore, servants of God.  We belong to God.  God doesn’t belong to us.

    We forget this, usually, when we achieve power or comfort in some way.  When we lose a sense of our utter dependence upon God and, therefore, our understanding that we are called to care for one another.  We have what we need so why bother with God?  Right?

    And in today’s lesson, we see the results of that.  Nathan calling out David.  Reminding David that his power isn’t about him doing whatever he wants, to take whomever he wants – pointing to his violation of Bathsheba, in particular.  David’s power, his political and physical skill, are gifts from God so that God can work through David.

    David, in his quest for acquisition, has lost his way.  He’s violated a woman and ordered and arranged for an assassination.  David, like so many other worldly leaders, has forgotten.  And this is the risk of kingship. So, Nathan reminds him of who he is as he speaks on behalf of God: “You are a human.  I gave you everything that you are.”

    Now, why talk about all of this?  Why discuss, at length, the story of the kings of Israel?  Why could this possibly be important to us?

    Because the larger story of the Hebrew Scriptures is the story of humanity.  It’s humanity’s story of learning about God and how God acts in the incarnate world we inhabit. The lesson we learn from the larger story of Israel’s kingship, is that the earthly power of kingship is false power.  Because all earthly power is false power.  And earthly power corrupts, especially those who claim to be anointed by God.

    We learn through these stories because Jesus learned through these stories.  Jesus studied these stories and came to understand that God’s action in the world was about liberating through love, not conquering through power.  In the desert, Jesus was tempted with worldly power in all its forms: satisfaction (appeasement of appetite), pride (the vainglory of domination and popularity), and wealth (materialism).

    And he refused, opting instead for an itinerate life of poverty and earthly struggle because he recognized that God’s action in the world is always one of turning worldly power on its head.  We think that the things of the world will save us. But they don’t.  They never do.

    The story of kingship in Israel is the story of thinking that worldly power, or a worldly king, in this case, is going to be what saves Israel.  Instead, the kingship is the very thing that ensures Israel’s downfall.

    Worldly cravings make us think we have to protect ourselves and the things we’ve gotten from the world, from other people.  And in this protection mode, we marginalize others. Again and again and again.  The tendency sneaks into our hearts in ways that sound like prudent laws and practices and ends up keeping us chained to the things that don’t matter in the end.  Because, in the end, the only thing that matters is God’s love, which leads us to life.

    And that’s what today’s psalm is about – David, being reminded of his sin, recognizes that, objectifying others, taking advantage of them, violating them… is sin against God because it is a sin against that which God loves – all of creation.  David asks to be healed.

    Supper at Emmaus by He Qi

    As Christians, we believe in a way of life. And Jesus tells us that he is the way. He is the way of love.  He is the bread of life.  Jesus tells us that all the law and all the prophets can be summed up in two commandments:  Love God.  Love your neighbor as yourself.  So, our hope, indeed our healing, lies in our willingness to give up our worldly passions and live into our call to love.  In our hunger for the bread of life.

    We think hope lies in that thing we don’t have.  But, in reality, our hope lies in following Jesus ever more faithfully. Our hope lies in being healed of the ways in which we objectify others for our own pleasure and protection. Our hope lies in our willingness to be taught… be taught how to live differently, how to humble ourselves, and how to live in love. Our hope lies in finally realizing that all we have and all that we are, belong to God and therefore, we are wholly loved by God.

    Love: This is the bread of life.

    There are obvious, societal ways that we allow others to be objectified for the purpose of protection and profit.  Ways that we can see from afar: an immigration policy that benefits the stock holders of for-profit prisons; lawmakers’ refusal to create any kind of meaningful gun legislation lest they lose campaign donations from lobbyists… just to name two.

    But then, there are more personal ways we’re called to pay attention: When have we been more concerned about ourselves and unwilling to see how our actions may have affected another person? When have we been more interested in judging other people and unwilling to recognize that we’re all just doing the best we can? When have we been more interested in our convenience than in what our convenience costs someone else?

    Discipleship is not merely stating that we believe in Jesus the Christ.  Discipleship is a way of life that is dedicated to leading with love and, when we miss the mark, asking for mercy. Asking the God who loves us, to cleanse us, to heal us, and to make us whole.  To tell us of joy and gladness and renew our spirit. To remind us of our beloved nature because we belong to God.

    And I think, at the core of our unwillingness to live into our discipleship, is a deep fear… perhaps an unconscious fear… that God doesn’t love us. Why else would we demand to protect ourselves so ruthlessly and so carelessly treat others as if they don’t matter.  But nothing could be further from the truth – God loves us with a wild, extravagant love that knows no bounds.

    In order for Jesus to walk away from those temptations in the desert, it wasn’t a matter of discipline you see… not really. Jesus was able to walk away from those temptations because he came to know God’s love fully. He came to understand that nothing could come between himself and God’s love so he must act as if he believed that. And that meant walking away from all worldly power and wealth.

    So, at its heart, discipleship is the surrender to God’s love. Surrendering so completely that we cannot help but live a way of life in which we lead with love.

    So the question for us is, can we follow our messiah? Can we walk in the way of love that leaves worldly power behind? Can we believe, really believe, that God loves us?  Will we allow ourselves to be healed?