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Pentecost 9
August 10, 2003

What Comes Up From The Dirt

II Samuel 18:5-9, 15,31-33
Psalm 130
Ephesians 4:25-5:2
John 6:41-51

"O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!" Saying that, was David’s face like the face of Carroll O’Connor? When asked by an interviewer, “Will this end your crusade?” he replied, “Only my death will end it.” -- Would that I had died instead of you -- I’ve heard parents say, “You don’t get over the death of a child.” “ soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.” (Psalm 130:6) Perhaps this is the meaning of O’Connor’s words, “Only my death will end it.”

Absalom caught his hair in an oak. “...and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.” (2 Samuel 18:8b) Forest? In Palestine? An Israeli tour guide told us that the land used to be covered with trees until the Arabs ruined it with overgrazing. That made sense at the time seeing stretch-Mercedes coming toward us with luggage tied to the roof as if it were a camel. Arabs would do something like that. But, on later reflection, I asked myself what ethnic group had any environmental sensitivity before this century, certainly not Anglo-Americans. Israeli tour guides are government employees and propagandists. If you lead a tour of the Holy Land, try to get a few hours audience with an articulate Arab if you want another view.

Falsehood, anger, thievery, evil talk, bitterness, wrath, wrangling, slander, malice and grieving the Holy Spirit of God in general were all to be found in the Church at Ephesus at the time of Paul’s writing. Otherwise, why would he remonstrate against them? This is the same church Paul addresses as “saints” at the beginning of the letter. The sinfulness of the saints is a confusing idea. It turned out that the man who embezzled a small fortune from the city was a member of the church I had served. In the church newsletter was a note from him thanking the congregation for their support. I couldn’t decide whether to celebrate the saints for their compassion or despise that saint for his thievery and the embarrassment he was to us all. Paul implores the saints to act like saints, but he never backs down from their title and inheritance.

"Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, 'I have come down from heaven'?" (John 6:42) Is this not the church at Ephesus, the scoundrels we know? Is this not the church of Jesus Christ with its checkered history? Is this not the church based on the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth and other fabulous stories? It is with questions like these that the world excuses itself from believing, but these questions ignore what has “come down from heaven” and contemplate only what has come up from the dirt. The truth is that the church is never seen right unless it is seen as both what comes down from heaven and up from the dirt, nor is any human being ever seen correctly unless seen as both what comes up from the dirt and down from heaven. “Then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being.” (Genesis 2:7)

I have observed that the church in its celebration of Holy Communion has a hard time holding together what comes up from the dirt and what comes down from heaven. It is either too spooky to think you belong there or too folksy to believe God belongs there.
Roland McGregor, Pastor
Asbury United Methodist Church, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA

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