Sermon for Sunday August 5th 2012 – 10 after Pentecost Year B – The Serving Heart

Sermon for Sunday August 5th – 10th after Pentecost
2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51
John 6:24-35

‘The Serving Heart’

‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.”
Matthew 7.21-23

This week we have been especially blessed here in Dunedin by the ministry of William Willimon, a Bishop and teacher of the United Methodist Church in Alabama who has been the guest lecturer for the Thomas Burns memorial lectures. If you haven’t heard him yet, and I strongly recommend that you do, then he will be speaking 3 more times this coming week.

It was during his first lecture that as often happens with me, he said something that triggered a stream of thought that for a moment took me away from what he was saying. It’s a dangerous habit, losing concentration in sermons, God may get a word in edgeways! I remember that I was called to ordained ministry in that manner – so PAY ATTENTION 🙂
Well Will was talking about how the presence of Jesus is disturbing and how in the  modern world which we have designed to do away with the need for God, this is especially true. And I thought, ‘how true that is’ – about how when folk say to me, ‘so what brought you to NZ?’, and I say ‘the call of God’ – you can tell they’re disturbed – ‘it scares the hell out of them’, I chuckled to myself, and in an instant heard as clear as a bell the LORD say ‘and I hope it scares the hell out of you too!’.
It was a sharp and necessary reminder that we’re not here to play religious games, to please ourselves. No. This Life that we are All called into is Life and Death – it’s to do with Ark’s which Uzzah touches and perishes on the spot – it is to do with Ananias and Sapphira who don’t realise that Sin is Death – it is replete with the terrifying call to Be Holy, as He is Holy. It is to be called bay and into that which is utterly Strange and odd to us and most disturbingly, upon which we have to stake our all. And so I was reminded that the call to Priestly ministry, is an echo of Baptism to leave everything and follow Jesus and Him alone, and that should scare the hell out of us.

And if that comes as a shock, well Good and also, Bad – where have we been all these years if we think otherwise? Week by week by week we are immersed in this story – it’s all there, in the narrative of Scripture. We are given examples of the lives of those who are called to follow – of Peter, of Abraham and these stories are given to Orient our story with the Story of this Holy and perturbing God as they struggle to do – trying to deal with this Holy God, and getting it wrong with sometimes appalling consequences – Abraham who for fear of the Egyptians passes his wife off as his sister with terrible consequences for the Egyptians – the blasphemous words of Peter ‘this shall never happen to you’ and the Holy is revealed – ‘Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’ What are you trying to do, getting in front of me – get out of my way Peter – you don’t know a thing! Did we miss this? Have we been asleep? Well here’s another go, so Wake Up! We are called – and that should not evoke pride, but Holy Fear.

And we see this worked out in the story of David. HIs fall is Directly related to his loss of the Sense that his ‘work’ is Not about him, it is about the Holy and Strange God of Israel.     As the short lived dynasty of King Saul begins to crumble, Samuel announces to Saul ‘You have done foolishly; you have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which he commanded you. The Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel for ever, but now your kingdom will not continue; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart; – You haven’t done what God called you to – You’ve done what seemed good to you – the LORD is looking for a King who will only do what seems good to his LORD – someone after his own heart. And so David comes onto the scene. and we know his story – we know it so well – Goliath – triumph – Bathsheba – disaster – but have we really heard its message? I wonder. So schooled are we in breaking this huge story of God into little stories of David, we miss the thread that is running through the whole. We are all too aware of the sins of David – he commits adultery, he tries to manipulate Uriah the Hittite, he fails and so murders Uriah, he then takes Bathsheba to be his wife – we are so aware of his sins and then we hear David’s lament in Psalm 51 – Against you and you only have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight and we think ‘Huh?’ but what about poor old Uriah? What about Bathsheba, what about the child who dies as a result of all this [once again those who set the lectionary have chosen to spare us the full horror of what happens when the Life of God is denied – to our great loss] – we are so aware of his sins, that we completely miss his Sin – what is at the heart of it all? What is at the heart of it all?

But it is there in the text, clear as the day, if we will but read the whole story carefully. David as we know starts out well and time and time again – 6 times in all we read 1 Sam 23:2 ‘David enquired of the LORD’; 1 Sam 23:4 ‘David enquired of the LORD; 1 Sam 30:8 ‘David enquired of the LORD; 2 Samuel 2:1 ‘David enquired of the LORD’; 2 Samuel 5:19; 2 Samuel 5:23 ‘David enquired of the LORD. David’s heart is turned towards God and it is the heart of a Servant – What woulds’t thou have me to do? Over and Over again he asks ‘what am I to do?’ – and then a couple of weeks ago we read ‘Now when the king [the narrator suddenly calls him, The King] was settled in his house, and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, the king said to the prophet Nathan, ‘See now, I am living in a house of cedar, but the ark of God stays in a tent.’ Things are easy now – and now he can manage affairs for himself – his heart is no longer God’s – David’s heart is no longer turned towards his LORD, David is ‘The King’ . He asks himself – ‘What shall I do?’ – not asking ‘What would you have me do?’ No longer ‘inquiring of the LORD.’ And Nathan says – do whatever seems good to you – but the LORD steps in and sends Nathan back to David to try and keep him on track Wherever I have moved about among all the people of Israel, did I ever speak a word with any of the tribal leaders of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’ I Never told you to build me a Temple – why did this thought even enter your head? You think you know what its all about?? “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” I never told you to do that stuff – get the hell out of here – says Jesus.

David’s Heart has turned – he does not enquire of the LORD, he does what seems good to him – and it is brutal. the opening verses of our Old testament reading Are Brutal – 26When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him. 27When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son.
David’s heart has turned – he has forgotten he is a Servant of the LIving God – and he is now serving himself – over and over again in this story of David Uriah and Bathsheba we read – and David sent  – he saw Bathsheba – he sent for her – he sent for Uriah – he sent Uriah – he sent for Bathsheba. Now he is no longer David the servant of God, now he is the king, who serves himself. And his Root Sin is Not the murder and adultery – it is that he has decided to live for himself – to take the apple which was not given.

It was a few years ago I learnt a couple of sharp lessons in this regard. The first happened on a family holiday in Bavaria. We were staying on a campsite and it being Bavaria, the word Campsite doesn’t really do it justice. It was sumptuously appointed and at the heart was a restaurant. It looked fabulous and I was a bit put off, and what is more the menu was in German and I hadn’t a clue. But we took the plunge – and walking in the door were met in impeccable English and menus in English – everything was done for our comfort – we were to be Served. And so the evening passed – my beer glass mysteriously kept refilling, my plate also.
Until pretty late on in the evening. I’d emptied my plate for the severalth time and for a moment, the waiters weren’t in sight. So I helped myself. {Echoes here of Saul}
Big Mistake. the Waiter appeared from nowhere wagging his finger – partly I guess out of shame – but I had broken the code. It was his place to serve, not mine.  Well that was how it was with God and David. David was to serve God, but God would serve David. He was Not to help himself – And through Nathan he gets told in no uncertain terms –  Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul; 8I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and [I] gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more. 9Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites. NOw get the hell out of here – ‘the sword shall never depart from your house . . . because you have despised me’ I gave you everything you needed, but you are my servant – and you acted as if you could serve yourself.
This Christian Life  – this call to follow Christ – should scare the hell out of us – but all too frequently it doesn’t – we sleep walk  – we start off trying to do something for God, something he might appreciate – not asking, just doing, and then we end up doing something for ourselves. HOw many serve themselves under the guise of serving Christ, never having enquired of the Lord. Living as if it wasn’t God who provided, living as if God didn’t exist, and then we wonder why the sword never departs from our house. Doing what seems right in our own eyes – trying to please God, but never asking ‘what would you have me do’ – serving our own idea of God, not the God who speaks and Lives – serving ourselves.
And the problem, our problem David’s problem? David’s heart – he was no longer a man after God’s heart, it was all about David now –  and ‘The LORD sent Nathan’  We all need a Nathan- it is God who sends, not the king – the LORD sent NAthan who skillfully weaves the story of the lamb to unlock the blackness of David’s heart – David is undone by the story. David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; 6he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” And like a Spear Nathan comes back at him ‘YOU are the man’ Who is our Nathan – who unmasks the duplicity of Our hearts?

My second story concerns just this – just before I was ordained I found an excellent Spiritual director, an incredibly Godly and Wise woman – but I wasn’t aware just how good she was until one of my first sessions with her and, well she just undid me – she delved for the reality of my heart and I heard myself say ‘You know, I really think I would prefer to be right and God wrong’ YOU are the man – I was nailed – out of my own mouth, just like David and in that instant it was as if the ground was opening up under me to swallow me. She looked me in the eye and said – ‘You have some praying to do’. And that was it. Well God in his mercy brought me back to himself, but he’s had to do it more than once. ‘You see how it scares the hell out of folk when you say I called you? – I hope it scares the hell out of you too’.
God’s word tells us that there is nothing as deceitful as the human heart – in all of God’s creation, it is that one element that protects its own sovereignty like an angry mother bear with cubs – our hearts are actually the Centre of All that is Wrong in the world. We are called and Baptised and now our lives are entirely at his disposal – that is what Baptism means. It is THE Christian vocation – all that Priestly ministry is is a reminder to us all. This is about all of us. And None of us can be trusted to know the reality of our own hearts – this is why we cannot walk as Christians except together and in mutual accountability. It’s why the church must rigorously test any call to Ordination – and it is why we should be far far more careful with Baptism. Because this is a matter of Life and Death  – We are Servants of the Living God – we live for him alone, baptised as we are into our crucified and risen Lord Jesus Christ, who only does what he sees the Father doing.

So we come to Him, with Hell licking at our tail we have to come to Him – the author and perfector of our faith – When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ What must we do to do the works of God – Lord, what would You have me to do? The question of Faith. It is the first question of Paul when he is converted on the Damascus road – it should be our only question – and Jesus reply? ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ And what is it to believe in Jesus? To Love God with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind and all our strength – to wait on His word, to respond to his word, to live by his word – this word that has become bread from heaven for us.

I was reflecting with Jo the other day about that call which should scare the hell out of us, and together we wondered about how do we respond. Those words “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?” Then I will declare to them, “I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.” shake us – they remind us we are not playing religious games – this is Life and Death in the called into the Life and Death of the holy one of Israel – and that it is all too easy to get diverted by what seem good things for us to do. Actions we have chosen – and that faced with that what can we do but pray and pray and pray. We pray till we know we have heard the Lord, we pray with others to hear the Lord, we refuse to act unless we hear his voice of command, and then we pray Lord have mercy, lest we have mis-heard.

The story of Martha and Mary shows us this perfectly – it is not about the active versus the contemplative life – it is about the life of one who does what appears good in her own eyes and one who sits at the feet of Jesus, listening for his Word –  Truly there is need of only one thing, the Good and perfect life giving command of the God, Bread from heaven, and all those who desire it with all their hearts, from them it shall not be taken away. May God so deal with all our hearts that at the last day we hear ‘Good and faithful servant’ – and until that moment, let us remain alert – awake – paying attention to our LORD. Waiting on him with Glad and Obedient hearts

Amen

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