The Rev. George C. Wong Sermon for the 1st of August, 2021 - John 6:24-35
“All things come of thee, of Lord, and of thine own have we given thee.”
At the offertory, which ushers in the Great Thanksgiving, in these words or similar words, we acknowledge that all things come from God and that we are invited to respond by giving back freely and generously to God.
We hold firm to the belief that God grants us gifts for the purpose of giving life to each of us, our community AND the world.
Our first reading from 2 Samuel is a case study in the use of the gifts of God. Or perhaps it is more about exactly what not to do. David had received much from God, being raised up from being a lowly shepherd (which was bottom of the barrel low) to being the King of Israel.
David spies Bathsheba bathing. He is then driven by lust, and commits adultery with her; she becomes pregnant. At the time, Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband is in the field fighting for the country.
David orders him back from the battlefield. He wants him back home so that others think the baby is Uriah’s. Upon his return, Uriah does not visit Bathsheba as David had commanded, not willing to have the comforts of home while his troops are fighting. David then sets up Uriah and he is killed on the battlefield.
What do we take-way from such a lurid tale of lies, deceit and murder?
For one, it is hard for us to understand, but King David did not break the law because a person anointed King could essentially decide to do anything and remain above the law.
The issue, of course, came between God and David.
God had raised him up to be King. God held back no worldly glory and honor to David as chosen one, anointed to be the Shepherd King.
David had taken his power and position and using get what he wanted and to commit murder.
Much to David’s credit, once confronted by Nathan, he repented. Psalm 51 is attributed to a repentant David who turns back to God and who is forgiven and redeemed. David goes on to be the all-time great of Jewish Kings. There is good news here--God leaves a generous and easy to find door back home to truth and peace.
Fast forward many years to the community at Ephesus. The reading from Ephesians reveals that the giving and sharing of gifts in a thriving Christian community is about the building up of the community for the sake of Christ. Each member has specific gifts—there are apostles, prophets, evangelists, teachers, and pastors. Each of us is blessed with roles and a set of gifts.
Each member gives out of the gifts they are granted by God, not for recognition, or to fulfill their own vision of the way things should be or to feed our ego, but for the building up of the body and for the unity of the body.
Speaking the truth in love, each member works toward promoting the health and welfare of the larger community. While recognizing and lifting up the gifts of each member, it flies in the face of individualism. True community cannot thrive in a culture of me first or in a setting where we demand things on our own terms and to our own liking. Offering back the gifts of God is a call to be countercultural and to break the bounds of the expected norms. Just as David was called to work for the benefit of his people, each of us is gifted and called to work primarily for the benefit of the community in Christ.
The readings from Samuel and Ephesians are pretty clear illustrations of what is expected: the gifts God has granted to us for the building up of our own spiritual life and for building up of the people of God.
The gospel reading from John approaches gifts from a uniquely Johanine perspective. The text affirms the themes of the other readings, which is that we are to remember God’s desire for us to use the gifts we receive are meant for the life of the community of faith, even if that would mean defying cultural, political or economic realities and norms. You might wonder, if God would desire that an uber-wealthy person launch a personal rocket into space for their satisfaction and fame, or help those in desperate need?
One of the central themes of the gospel of John is that God’s ways and God’s concerns are different from human ways often characterized by violence, divisions and an ethos of scarcity.
-The Samaritan woman receives the water of life, despite being a despised outcast. God cares not a whit about the human views on race, gender and social standing.
-The 5,000 and more are fed with 5 loaves and a few fishes. God transcended the seemingly cast iron bounds of scarcity and of limitations. Jesus builds on these themes of transcendence. Manna comes from God.
God gives us the gift of life. It came to the Israelites in the desert.
Don’t try to store it up.
Don’t try to hoard it.
That would miss the opportunity to trust in God and in God’s gifts given that we might have more life.
Then, we come face to face with the most radical and impactful gift of all. Jesus is the gift of the bread of life. And, we live fully by taking Jesus into our bodies, hearts and minds.
The concept is so far out there and beyond any human ways of thinking because it comes from God.
Sharing and eating the simple bread becomes a means of glimpsing the eternal. This is why we say when we come to the communion table that we are invited to the heavenly banquet. We come in the here and now with the understanding that the gift of the body of Christ in the present, points to the life eternal, the life everlasting.
We, as the faithful body of Christ, are invited to understand that everything we are given--our lives, our talents, our money, our love, our intentions are meant like the Eucharist, and like all good gifts from God, are meant to point back towards God. We cannot, as the people gathered in today’s gospel did, overlook the importance of signs that point to God.
Instead, we are called to recognize as a body of faith rooted in the promises of eternal life that:
“All things come of thee and of thine of own have we given thee.”