Sermon at St Mary Hadlow –Trinity 9- HC(CWO1) – 2 August 2015
2 Samuel 11 v 26 – 12 v 13a Nathan challenges King David regarding Uriah and Bathsheba
John 6 vv 24 – 35 Labour for the bread of eternal life
Introduction. Who would like to be a prophet? Well I suppose it’s not too bad if you just have to go to the king and tell him a story about a rich man and a poor man. In the days before printing the telling of a story was perhaps the chief way of communicating important truths, that and proverbs. The story of the prophet Nathan arouses the King’s indignation. How could the rich man treat the poor man in this cruel way? What utter contempt for the humanity of the poor man. King David was used to making judgements about such situations. The rich man has behaved so abominably that he deserved to die. Then follows the difficult part, when I certainly would not want to be a prophet, when Nathan brings home to the King that like the rich man in the story he has treated the poor man, Uriah in a way that deserves punishment by death, for he in effect murdered Uriah to obtain Uriah’s wife Bathsheba as his own wife, albeit he already had many wives. Nathan turns to David and says “Thou art the man”.
Well has it been said that ‘All power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. Israel was intended to be a theocracy, having God as its supreme ruler. But by having a king like their surrounding nations, in practice the king became almost an absolute monarch. There was though some check of abuse of power, with the priest to challenge a king in the matters of law and the prophets to challenge the king in moral matters and the will of the supreme ruler, namely God. King David, although in many ways an excellent king, began to think that in his old age he could do whatever pleased him. He allowed his lust for Bathsheba to overcome his better judgment. He sought a false path to freedom, through power.
Jesus said in effect to those of the 5000 whom he had fed in the wilderness and who then came seeking him, “Don’t come after me because you got a free lunch but put your trust in me, the bread of eternal life, and I will give you a true freedom.” How today do we find true freedom? I want to give you some pointers and also pitfalls based on a wide sweep of Scripture but with particular reference to our readings today. Freedom is found in community, commitment and communion, – community, commitment and communion.
Community. Freedom and community are I suspect not two words that most people would associate together. If you do an internet search for ‘freedom’ you will find many pictures are of individuals, perhaps hands raised in the air, not a care in the world, looking upward perhaps at the flight of birds, with quotes such as,
“Doing what you like is freedom.”
“The best freedom is to be yourself.”
There was an interesting article in the Church Times two weeks ago, headed “Why personal freedom is a dissatisfying freedom.” The article particularly highlighted some advertisements, including:
A recent Volkswagen car advert that shows a put-upon father sullenly trailing around with his wife and children until at last he can motor off on his own in an otherwise empty car and a satisfied smile on his face. This and other adverts do not indicate where one is going or what one is doing with this freedom. It is all rather pointless, it is illusory.
King David did what he wanted to do without serious consideration of the effect on other people and where he was going, perhaps like a prominent member of the House of Lords who has just resigned. Perhaps many of the 5000 were farm workers who longed to be free of their hard manual labour and thought that they were on to a good thing in following Jesus. There was a term used in the context of missionary work of ‘rice Christians’, who come to faith because the mission provided food as well as faith. One cannot ignore the material needs of poor people and it is a danger that sometimes has to be accepted.
Scripture points us to a true freedom, not in what one can get out of other people but in what one can do for other people in other words of loving one’s neighbour as one’s self. Freedom is found in community. The smallest community is for many people the human family unit, of husband and wife, and then perhaps growing to father, mother and children. Far from driving off into the sunset on some lonely pointless journey, one has the enjoyment and support of others as they serve one another. Not everyone is able to live in this type of nuclear family. There are the single people who either have not yet married or are divorced or are widowed. For them and for all of us there are many other ‘communities’ whether that of work, of church, of neighbours, of clubs and societies. Most people belong to at least one and usually more than one such community. All these communities should ideally be places of freedom. Freedom and community are two words that should be associated more often.
Commitment. After the feeding of the five thousand, Jesus challenges those who come seeking him to make a commitment. He says “Do not work for the food that spoils (i.e. ordinary bread) but for the food that endures to eternal life.” They then ask, “What must we do to do the work God requires?” His reply is, “The work of God is to believe in the one he has sent.” True freedom comes through commitment, not through living an individual life with no responsibilities. In other words it is not a mater of simply being a member of a community but of being active in that community. In the family there is a need for external work to pay the bills. Someone has to do the cooking, the washing up and all the many tasks that go to providing a happy, free and well ordered family life. Our Church invites us to be active members of the Church family, using our talents to support the community, giving, so that the bills can be paid. Work should be a place where we make a contribution to society and do more than the basic minimum that is required of us.
Undergirding all of this is our commitment to Jesus, who is the bread of life, and doing the work that God requires of us, whether that work be paid work or voluntary work. The second collect in the Book of Common Prayer Morning Prayer includes the words, “O God, whose service is perfect freedom.” There is then a great satisfaction and freedom in what we do.
Communion. Community, commitment and finally, communion. Work should be more than standing at a lathe turning out 110 spindles each day, day after day. Thank God for modern technology that enables so much of the monotonous routine work to done automatically as compared with the first 150 years of the industrial revolution. A place of work should be a place of teamwork, where individuals know their responsibility, have the opportunity to use their skills in a satisfying way, and use a degree of initiative without conflicting with the work of other members of the team. There is in such a situation a high degree of communion between members of the team. Such communion leads to freedom, freedom to innovate and develop, freedom to support one another, freedom to support the wider community. For the Christian especially there is communion in the more specialised sense, of this ‘service of communion’. John’s Gospel is in large measure constructed around the three physical elements of the Biblical sacraments of the Church, namely communion and baptism, with their elements of water at baptism and bread and wine at communion. As in today’s gospel, Jesus bids us see beyond the physical to the spiritual, to himself as the Bread of Life, so the bread and wine in this communion service invite us to see beyond the elements of bread and wine to Jesus himself and to ponder his life and death. Such communion is one that brings us not only into relationship with Jesus but with one another. Communion is a corporate act of the Church. Our sharing of the peace emphasises that corporateness. It can never be as simple as ‘making my communion’.
Conclusion. In conclusion true freedom is not found in a goalless individualism. Let us beware of the subtle false philosophy of the commercial world. Rather, freedom is found in commitment to a purposeful community of people in communion with one another and with God.
Word count: 1506 words Christopher Miles