PREACHING THE LECTIONARY: THE McGREGOR PAGE
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Pentecost 9 -- Page 204, August 13, 2000
2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
John 6:35, 41-51
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 in 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.
I have been thus confused. 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)
The apparent contradiction in "sinful saints" derives from our underestimating God's ability to make holy that which God touches and our further failure to recognize God's touch. God makes holy all that God touches. We don't become holy in anticipation of God's presence, nor affect holiness to conjure up God's presence. It is God's presence that makes holy, not our behavior or our humble origins. Nowhere is this lack of insight more noticeable than in the sacraments themselves. I have observed that the church in its celebration of holy communion struggles to hold together what comes up from the dirt and what comes down from heaven. The sacrament is either too spooky to think you belong there or too earthy to believe God belongs there. The mystery of faith is God's ability to make us holy with a touch.
United Methodist Preacher
(Comments to Roland at RMAC.PARTI@ECUNET.ORG)
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