The two texts to which I refer in today’s sermon are texts that have long intrigued and engaged me; I am so joyfully fortunate to have yet another opportunity to preach a sermon on texts… for the first time ever!
The sermon text (basically) follows after the sermon audio.
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport, Rhode Island; Sunday August 26th 2018 The Reverend Alan Neale; “Over/Under-whelming”
Today I share with you, from our Scripture readings, two very different experiences on the spiritual journey; they seem poles apart and yet I believe they are connected by a common desire to love, serve and know the Lord.
Professional Christians, clergy, are a “rum lot”… or they can be.
They deal with holy things as a matter of course and with such familiarity comes the danger of nonchalance if not contempt.
They are privy to personal secrets, incongruous hypocrisy, radical foibles (maybe the Episcopal euphemism for sins)… so much so that sometimes they are near to despair that they will ever enjoy personally or observe vicariously divine grace at its most transformative.
This professional caste can be a jaded, church-weary, cynical lot so I am amazed…
… when I read, in our text, that something so profound happened in the temple that these professionals could not stand to minister, were not able to minister… I am in awe and wonder and, frankly, I want/I covet this experience for myself.
The historian of the Kings writes of that “the glory of the Lord filled the whole house”. And in so doing the writer speaks of the powerful and pervasive presence of God.
Powerful… in using a grammatical circumlocution (the glory of the Lord rather than the Lord) reminds the readers that it is a fearful, awesome thing to stand in the presence of God without intermediary.
Pervasive… every aspect, every corner, every vessel is alive with the divine glory and this is the very nature of glory… it seeks to be pervasive, takes up residence throughout our being and strives to pulsate in every facet of our lives.
I want/I covet this experience for myself… for you… for this church community. That all we are, that all we do throb with the beat of divine glory.
This experience is available… it will enable us to stand with dignity (as did the people 8:14, as did King Solomon 8:22); it will enlarge our perspective, extend our embrace, stretch our acceptance so that (8:43) “all the people of the earth may know Your name.”
This is experience is available… I read on Friday these words written by a doctor to an addict; the doctor was writing of the importance of
“…vital spiritual experiences. To me these occurrences are phenomena. They ap¬pear to be in the nature of huge emotional displace¬ments and rearrangements.
Ideas, emotions, and attitudes which were once the guiding forces of the lives of (men and women) are suddenly cast to one side, and a completely new set of conceptions and motives begin to dominate them. In fact, I have been trying to produce some such emotional rearrangement within you.”
I am reminded that a friend recently told me, “Every morning I pray that God will get into my head… before I do.”
So the Lord deals with us… “trying constantly to produce some emotional rearrangement within us” that we may be dominated by the will, the glory of the Lord” instead of our own “self-will, run riot.”
Oh but before, dear listener, you decide that this is not the path for you I have some news… this radical encounter with the Living God, this experience of spectacular transformation though available… is not required.
There is, indeed for some, a “softer, gentler way” that may well suffice… at least for the moment.
Let’s jump centuries ahead to today’s Gospel.
John 6:60 “Many of his disciples found the teaching hard and began to turn back and no longer go about with Jesus”; as some translators wryly comment (given this is all about bread) “many of his disciples found this hard to swallow… and turned away.”
At this point I am fascinated to consider the thinking of Jesus – was he merely concerned, or somewhat alarmed, or rather indifferent that his band of followers was diminishing. Whatever Jesus is thinking, he is prompted to turn to his closest friends, the twelve and he asks them (is this plaintive or not?) (John 6:67 Message Translation) “Do you also want to leave?”
Now at this point it would have been… nice, reassuring, comforting, strengthening to hear a passionate, whole-hearted, unequivocal yes for Jesus… but instead comes this somewhat feeble response from Peter (of all people)… “To whom would we go? What else can we do?”
And St Athanasius observes, “It is the part of true godliness not to compel but to persuade. Our Lord himself does not employ force but offers the choice.”
And this, my friends, is when the more hesitant amongst us can breathe a sigh of relief… sometimes all we can muster on our spiritual journey is this shaky affirmation, “Lord, we’re here… what else can we do? Where else can we go? Whom else can we follow?”
And for some, for a while this is sufficient… as long as we do not lose hope that one day, somehow, we will experience the glory of the Lord that will transform and empower us.
I Kings 8:11 “The priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud: for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.”
Available always… required never. Thank you, Lord. Amen
Today I awake and God is before me.
At night, as I dreamt, God summoned the day;
For God never sleeps but patterns the morning
with slithers of gold or glory in grey.
Today I arise and Christ is beside me.
He walked through the dark to scatter new light,
Yes, Christ is alive, and beckons his people
to hope and to heal, resist and invite.
Today I affirm the Spirit within me
at worship and work, in struggle and rest.
The Spirit inspires all life which is changing
from fearing to faith, from broken to blest.
Today I enjoy the Trinity round me,
above and beneath, before and behind;
The Maker, the Son, the Spirit together
they called me to life and call me their friend.