1 August – Therefore…

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Pentecost 10

2 Samuel 11:26-12:13a
Psalm 51
Ephesians 4:1-16

Sermon preached by Rev. Dr Rob Gallacher

Therefore is a significant word throughout the Bible. The prophets in particular used it like a fulcrum. Because of this therefore that.

Consider Hosea 10: 13-14 for example: “Because you have trusted in your power and in the multitude of your warriors, therefore the tumult of war shall rise against your people.” Amos, Habakkuk, Micah and Zephaniah all use it in the same way.

And there it is at the beginning of our reading from Ephesians 4:1 “I, therefore, … Beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” It is a little different from the prophets. It is more positive. But the pattern is the same – Because of this, therefore that.

Paul takes three chapters to describe the supremacy of Christ over all things.

1:9 “God has made known to us the mystery of his will …that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and on earth.”

1:20 “God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion….”

And the prayer in the third chapter which leads into the “therefore”, 3:21, “I pray that you may be filled with all the fullness of God … therefore.

Because of the greatness of Christ, lead a life worthy of your calling…. One specific of this worthiness is “speaking the truth in love” (3:15). It is a phrase frequently taken out of context, and with the assumption that the truth referred to is the way you feel, venting your spleen, speaking your mind, like people do on social media, … in love of course.

But the truth Paul refers to is not about your feelings, but the truth about Christ, as described in those first three chapters. We are not very good at this kind of truth speaking. Once a lady returned to the Uniting Church after a sojourn with the Assemblies of God. She observed to me that the difference between the two congregations was that after a service the charismatics talked about the sermon, whereas here people talk about the football. This wasn’t at Mark the Evangelist, of course. But as a denomination we seem to be reluctant to name the name. Therefore our care agencies are just called “Uniting”, our financial service “Uniting Ethical” – It’s starting to sound like chapter 4 of Ephesians without chapters 1-3.

During this lockdown week I had a friend in Cabrini hospital. Unable to visit, I rang the hospital. The lines were busy and I was put on a recorded message which, from memory, went something like this: “Cabrini hospital is owned and run by the Missionary Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. The hospital is an expression of the care and compassion of Mother Frances Cabrini and seeks to bring the love of Christ to the world.” I thought, ‘That’s pretty full on, but it doesn’t seem to be doing them any harm!’

It can be dangerous to speak Paul’s kind of truth. The danger we seem to be afraid of is that non-believers will think us odd, religious fanatics without credibility, or perhaps likely to offend Moslems, or indigenous people, or Buddhists or the devotees of Star Wars. But to say nothing is to say something. Nihilism is real and not uncommon

But there are many times and places where the risk is much greater.

When Nathan approaches David he could well pay with his life, as Uriah did. David has done a despicable thing in the eyes of God. Therefore Nathan rebukes him with a parable. Then we read (2 Samuel 12:10)” Now, therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house…” And, instead of anger and violence, David responds with contrition. Psalm 51 is introduced with “A Psalm of David when the prophet Nathan came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.” Scholars say there are a few anachronisms in this version of the Psalm, but it may be an embellishment of something David wrote.

There are many examples of Biblical figures confronting oppressive and powerful rulers with the word of God. Think of Moses, or Elijah or Jeremiah or Daniel, or Esther, or Peter, or Steven or Paul. Here’s an exercise for you to do over lunch. How many more people can you think of in the Bible who took the risk of speaking God’s truth? And when you have done that, see if you can name a few historical figures like Ambrose, who was so upset by the Roman Emperor, Theodosius, for sanctioning a needless massacre in Thessonolika that he made the Emperor wait in the snow for three days before granting absolution. Or Martin Luther with his “Here I stand” in front of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V. Or Martin Niemoller, the German pastor who at first supported Hitler, but then turned and defiantly opposed him. On one occasion he was asked how he survived when so many other pastors were executed. He replied; “When I was brought before Hitler the conversation became tense. I leaned across the table and said, ‘God is my fuhrer’. Hitler was furious. He thumped the table and shouted, ‘Never let me hear the name of this man again’. So when the death lists were prepared for Hitler to sign, my name was always removed.

In my own lifetime I have seen figures like Martin Luther King, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu confess the truth of Christ and say therefore this oppressive situation must change.

The World Council of Churches is active in many situations where human rights are threatened and there are organisations with an even broader base supporting people in prison. P.E.N. is celebrating its centenary. Founded in 1921, in the aftermath of World War 1, it advocates for imperilled writers around the world. Currently it has just on 1,000 poets, essayists and novelists on its books. When Amnesty began its operations in 1960, it consulted PEN’s constitution and broadened its concern to include all kinds of prisoners of conscience. Now it is a worldwide, international body.

We are well off in Australia. As I posted our last letter to Maurice Payne, criticizing the government for not signing the Nuclear Ban Treaty, it coincided with news of a journalist who had been shot on her front doorstep and I thought that in many countries we would be arrested for less.

But we do need to be vigilant. At the last meeting of Hotham Mission Board attention was drawn to a bill which is currently finding its way through parliamentary process. If passed it will ban all charities for making any comment that is critical of Government policy. Board members saw this as a suppression of truth telling, and unanimously decided to speak out against it. So letters are going in many directions, but especially to the Independents in the Senate, for this is where it could be voted down.

We, who have glimpsed the grandeur of Christ, as Paul describes it in those first chapters of Ephesians, therefore engage in the world, putting God’s power to work. Some of us work at peacemaking, some of us are ecumenists, stressing our unity in Christ, some have a passion for justice, some tackle the problem of food deprivation in our local community, and so on. But wherever that “therefore” takes us, we are all sustained by the bread of life, the living presence of Christ, who is all in all, and received by us in Word and Sacrament.

So go on “thereforing” with boldness and enthusiasm, speaking the truth of Christ in God’s love for this post-modern, secular and troubled world.