Readings: 2 Samuel 18:5-9, 14b-15, 33, Ephesians 4:25-5:2, John 6:35,41-51
Let us pray. May our minds be alert, our hearts open and our ears attentive to all that you gift to us this day in and through your word. Amen
Last week we talked somewhat about the ways that we use words and stories to both learn and teach about God through Jesus and the challenges and dangers that lurk in isolating those teachings from the love and life of Christ. Today, I would like to take that those teachings and explore our responses, our place in the story of the shaping of the kingdom. Actually kingdom is another one of those words isn’t it that can conjure up negative responses for some of us – pictures of hierarchy, of haves and have nots, of hereditary power and servitude – not always helpful. I have come across one reshaping of the word to more aptly describe what it is that we are aiming to say – and that is kin-dom – hard to say but perhaps more meaningful. So when we use the word kingdom we remind ourselves that it is not as the world means it but as God in Jesus Christ has taught us – a place of reconciliation, justice, equality, compassion and mercy – a here and now world where the driving force is love, the love of God revealed in the people of God.
Today as well as concentrating on the reading from Ephesian, I want to draw on the thoughts and words of Miroslav Volf, whose book I have just begun reading. It’s called “Free of Charge: giving and forgiving in a culture stripped of grace.” 
For both have the same unequivocally blunt message – that we receive the gifts of God not to hug them to ourselves but in order to gift others.
Volf uses the phrase ‘God’s gifts oblige us into something further’. And he is quick to point out that the ‘something further’ is not about reciprocal gifting or negotiated bargaining with God. He tells the story from the film Amadeus where the composer Salieri tries to cut a deal with God – if God will give him fame and glory and musical immortality then he in return will offer God “his chastity, his industry, his deepest humility, every hour of his life, his philanthropy.” His negotiating with God never even got off the ground. Why? Because God needs nothing from us, and nothing we could offer of ourselves would impact on God. God gives unconditionally and there is nothing we can do that changes that. But says Volf, there are what he calls obligations surrounding the giving of gifts that we can neither negotiate or earn. The first is the obligation of receiving and he names this faith – the first part of the bridge he says from self-centredness to generosity. The second is that we are obliged to gratitude – to not only receive the gifts but to receive them well. Thirdly we are obliged into ourselves being generous givers and fourthly we are obliged to flourish and grow so that the gifts flow unconditionally and freely from us.
A final quote from Volf: “God gives so that we can exist and flourish but not only for that. God gives so that we can help others exist and flourish as well.” In other words, we face God and receive the gifts of love and life with faith and gratitude, we grow in the experience and teaching of the risen Christ and we turn and face our neighbours, giving with the same generosity of love and life and grace that has flowed into us. That is what we actually do in a service of worship isn’t it – in praise and confession we acknowledge God’s gifts to us, in the reading and opening up of the Word we are drawn into the way of Christ and our responses of affirmation, gifting and intercession we turn ourselves and our gifts to our neighbours and to the world.
In the letter to the Ephesians, we find a similar exhortation – to make the connection between receiving a new life in Christ and the transforming of the life we live in the real everyday world. That the gift of the cross obligates us to generous and loving gifting to others. Yes we can pretty much agree - that is the lesson taught. But here is the rub – it isn’t easy being generous and onflowing with our gifts to others, no matter how much we want to, it takes a lifetime of learning and it requires serious effort. And we learn too that a changed way of life is more than just stopping doing something bad that might hurt others, it is about replacing that with ways which build up and actively care for others – it requires stepping into new places and ways. What do I mean? Let’s look at some of the suggestions from the reading and, as we do, keep that in mind - that we are to do more than just stop doing something wrong but also are to be generous in new way with others. .
And so the first teaching - let us speak truth to our neighbours – not just as a rule but for a reason – we are members of each other. We are all of the one body and we are inflicting self harm if we lie, promote untruth. It is more than stopping deliberate lying – that is relatively identifiable- it’s also about being truthful with yourself and each other and God about who you are, and letting go of any falsehoods that prevent us gifting honesty and openness to ourselves and our neighbour.
Then there is the instruction on not letting the sun go down on our anger. Note that it not about never getting angry – I think sometimes we believe that to be Christian means to swallow any thoughts of anger and always be ‘nice’ - but rather about not allowing anger to enrage us or to fester or to be buried or to be vindictive, about dealing with our anger truthfully with ourselves and with others. It’s more than swallowing our anger – it requires compassion and care in how we express and deal with our anger.
And then stealing – that we are not just to stop thieving but to actually contribute and work to share with the needy. And what is really interesting here is that there are two only opposing positions discussed – theft or generosity toward people in need. There is no middle position of ‘goodness’ – there is only love or theft – and that love necessitates our taking a good hard look at what we do to support theft of equality, justice, sustenance and doing something active to stop it.
And the last one we will look at is that of how we communicate, especially in our use of words – and that is particularly applicable to us at the moment as we explore our use, our understanding of words in our church, in our faith and in this community. Again we hear the message – it’s not enough to stop using words that hurt and wound, we are instead to use words to build up and make known the gift of grace to others. Now this does not mean that you are all now obligated to tell me that my sermon was nice even if it was abysmal – but you know what I mean.
Can you see the connection with Volf’s concept of obligation? That we are to receive the gifts of God in faith and gratitude, not trying to negotiate or earn them and turn, in the grace and love of Christ Jesus, to flow those same gifts on to our neighbours, our world, Christ’s kingdom come. Not easy, not passive, not automatic, but in the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ and the community of the Spirit we are obliged to be Christ’s purpose to the world. Thanks be to God.
Wise and faithful guide, you lovingly abide in our depths and graciously guide our every step. You lead us to ever stronger growth and draw us more fully towards inner freedom. We thank you this day for the awesome ways in which you constantly enter our lives. We renew now our life’s purpose of being faithful to our relationship with you. We give you our openness, trusting that you will lead us on paths that are meant to help us grow. We re-commit our intention to listen to you in all of life, to love each other and the world, seeking peace, justice, reconciliation as Jesus taught us.
We re-commit ourselves to you, Oh God of grace and truth, trusting in your promise of everlasting love.
Joyce Rupp in ‘Prayers to Sophia’