June 7: To avoid harm and to know goodness and glory
Rev Neil Whitehouse
June 7 sermon
Today’s readings help us to discern what we can expect, should expect of our religion.
To avoid harm and to know Goodness and Glory. Three readings. What did you hear? I could not help be struck by a contrast between the Old Testament and the Epistle, with Jesus in the Gospel offering Holy common sense. The Old Testament reading is the story the B version, of the choice of David to be King of Israel.
What do you remember of it? So there is King David, President Kennedy, and maybe Justin Trudeau; sometimes our Bible is not politically correct, especially in the Old Testament. How is it that the beautiful people get power, isn’t being attractive enough?
And in this case its God who seems to be encouraging our superficiality. But follow the story of David, and we get an inside seat on how being handsome is not enough. David ends with such a blemished record of behaviour he is not permitted to build The House of God; this honour is given his son Solomon who has wisdom rather than looks.
By the time of the early church in Corinth, there have been huge developments. The extraordinary appeal of the story of Jesus has broken out of Jewish (occupied) territory, with a subversive message of selflessness in an age of domination and violence. Listen again to the carefully chosen words, even though translated into English we receive their power: it is the God who said ‘let light shine out of darkness’ who has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God, in the face of Christ.’
And no face of Christ is known, as handsome, only a face of tears, of suffering, of anger, of love. So I paraphrase this again: Light out of darkness, the first origin, this original creative light, has shone, even in our dark hearts, we have gone from darkness to light, and this has meant something, it has brought knowledge, of the Glory, of God, the story of Jesus has revealed the nature of Christ, God’s chosen One, the Son of David, The face of God then, though of course its not about appearance, its all about quality, nature.
What an amazing claim, and immediately it gets qualified, to avoid the claim becoming a claim to self-importance, Paul and the other Apostles are not to be followed, they are repeatedly at the point of death, no Hollywood ending for the stars of the Christian story. They are continually giving up their lives, simply to make the story known. This is a humility and a letting go, that history tells us subsequent Christians, our generation included, have failed to live up to.
Why? Look to the gospel. Jesus and his followers are on continual pilgrimage, and undoubtedly hungry as they pass a grain field, who’s not going to snack a little but ‘it’s the Sabbath’, and then again Jesus’ reputation is growing as a healer, would he heal on the Sabbath? Religious faith has gone wrong in Jesus’ day. A hardness of heart, that is exposed by the ‘tut, tutting’ around healing on the Sabbath makes him angry: for all the depth, richness and holiness of his peoples’ Faith, it is being reduced to legalism, as if prophets had never gone before him, ‘I hate I despise your feasts’ (Amos) ‘I saw a valley of dry bones, very dry’ (Ezekiel) ‘I will put my law within them and I will write it on their hearts’ (Jeremiah)
None of this – religion has become destructive, bringing death rather than life, denying healing, or food; rules for rules sake. That such a confrontation is the trigger for Jesus’ opponents to begin to plot his death, is a warning to us of religion for religions sake: Common sense on the other hand is made Holy here.
It is Jesus’ Humanity, to have compassion, and then seek justice, end religious exploitation, challenge corrupt leaders, even though he knew it would get him killed, that brings light to his time, light to the hearts of the apostles, when even death is not the end of the story. Nor is death the end of our story. This is the good news. This is what to expect. Now as then, in following Jesus Christ we enter into Goodness and Glory, death and lifeless suffering, evil and hatred, will fall away, they have no hold on us, for we have inherited Holy Common Sense, to have open hearts: for light to shine on our darkness the light of the glory of the knowledge of God, the face of Jesus Christ.