2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33
John 6:35, 41-51
The tragedy of the story of David and Absalom is palpable, choices of both David and Absalom lead to Absalom’s death. This past week we remembered the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the horrific end to a horrific war. A whole slew of human choices lead us to that point. So often our choices as human beings collectively and individually lead to tragedy. In history, whether of Israel or our own we are confronted with the tragedy of so much of human existence. I say this at the top because neither the story in Samuel nor the memorial of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the numerous horrors of WWII, not the least being the concentration camps, should be passed over in silence, yet this is not where I want to linger. So, acknowledging that much in this world as it has always been and is not as they should be I direct us to contemplate living in faith, a faith that should satisfy all our longings a faith that leads us to be as children towards God.
This is perhaps challenging view of faith; faith is in this view is neither simply holding certain comforting beliefs about the supernatural world and being, nor is it ones own fundamental belief about the nature of the world. This view of faith challenges us by this exhortation to be like children. What might this mean: As we grow up one of the things we desire is independence. This is especially so for us within our culture that emphasizes individuality, self-sufficiency, and independence. We want to be different from our parents, be on our own, blaze our own trail. Yet in growing up our ability to become self-sufficient and independent is a dependent process. It depends on not only one’s parents but an entire functioning system that is the adult world, which even as one grows up one both wants to enter into and rebel against. Our emphasis on independence and individuality, at times hides from us the ways in which becoming our own person depend on what we push against in this process of individuation. Our ability to become different and move out on our own from our parents depends on the care nurture, and teaching of our parents and other adults. Dependence on others never really ceases, and who we are is due to who others are and how we have been raised, and the options we have been shown. But we often hide ourselves from these webs of dependence, or downplay connection and debt of those who have gone before. This tendency to not see the web of dependence may hide from us a radical notion in our Epistle and Gospel. According to Paul and Jesus we are not meant to become independent of God. Our flowering and fulfillment as human persons depends on God and being in true relationship with God.
This sort of faith is what we reflected on last week, as that faith brings us to the waters of baptism and from the waters of baptism that our faith is sustained. Paul directs our attention to this faith as a calling as Christians members of the body of Christ. In speaking of calling I am not necessarily talking about a specific call from God to do a certain thing with your life or a period of your life, but that call which is shared by all Christians as members of the church. Paul describes what that should look like, and that this way of being is known in seeking to be imitators of God, the way children imitate adults.
Jesus in Johns Gospel pushes further on what is perhaps objectionable about Christianity: the claim that there is only one who gives life to us and the world. There is only one who gives life to the world and as such we are only to have hunger for that one. This assertion of Christ’s reveals to us one of the things that is most difficult to keep attuned to in Christian faith: our responsibility and our dependence. God is the source of all life and existence; Christ is God, the Word who sustains everything. Yet, Ephesians reminds us that all in all of Christ does not negate the importance of our actions. While it is true that God in Jesus Christ is the one who gives life to the world, if we live in death, this life not only doesn't come to us there is that potential that those who we know and the world and the world around us continues to taste death.
According to the Apostle Paul, once we understand all God has done in Jesus Christ once we have received God in Jesus Christ in faith and baptism and recognize that we are part of the people of God, the bodiy of Christ the Temple of the Holy Spirit, we then are to act in ways consistent with this reality, with life. As children we learned from adults around us what it meant to be human and human acculturated into a particular culture, we learned what it meant to be a man or a woman, how to treat people. In fact even as we wanted to be independent we also wanted to act like the adults around us. This is a complex process and there is choosing and sometimes this imitation is not of parents or a blood relative. Imitation can also be something asked up us. Someone gives us a piece of candy or bread and we are instructed to say "Thank you." We want something and the parent will tell the child "say, please may I have some candy." or we tell our children say good buy. Imitation takes on the both subtle things that a parent or another adult may not even be aware of, those things that very from culture to culture but aren't at the front of the mind, and the child imitates, and we take on delight when we see a child mimic some subtleties of someone’s personality. It is through imitation that we learn what it is to be human and what our culture understands to be appropriate human behavior. Paul's instruction here is about imitation, not of human beings but of God. God is the adult world we are to be acculturated to as Christians. We are to become like God, this is the point of faith and Baptism.
We may struggle with the reality that becoming like God is a childlike activity. Accepting this journey of faith accepts our dependence upon a reality outside ourselves, which we can not wholly grasp, comprehend, or control. The language of both our Epistle and Gospel tells us that our relation to God is always like being a child in the adult world. These passages also reminds us that our actions matter although the source of our ability to act in these ways is dependent on another reality, another person, God. When Jesus says that the one who will eat of his flesh, which is the bread of heaven, will no longer hunger is to point to the centrality of this dependence, and also that only God in Jesus Christ satisfies us allows us to be who we truly are to be. Just as children cannot become who they are to be without the nurture support and example of adults around them.
Paul's instruction is what we are to look like Christ as we are sustained by Christ. As we are given life, even as we still find that we are hungering after other things than God, We are to seek only after God to satisfy all we are and desire. Perhaps this feels limiting and constricting? Perhaps this is too much? We want our passions and hungers, they seem to give us life, but they exhaust us and never ultimately satisfy. The one of whom we are to eat and let satisfy our hunger sustains us, and is the creator of the entire universe, all that we see, of our very beings, thus is only what can ultimately satisfy our desires. The truth that in comparison to God we are like infants and toddlers all of humanity: we don't know anything about how to be, or what to eat, or how to live. Only in Christ only by allowing Jesus Christ to satisfy us completely, only by focusing on who God is, seeking to imitate and be sustained by God, can we know what true desire is, and what it means to be truly human. At times certainly this restrains, but like a parent who keeps a child from chasing their favorite ball out into a busy street this sense of restriction is safety and life. In some fashion our culture sees all this when we focus on righting injustices and seek after justice. Yet as a society as a whole in seeking for justice we aren't looking beyond ourselves but solely relying on our human understanding, as if children could know how to be adult without first imitating adult behavior. Our desire for justice is true but we do not want to look to the one who in Jesus Christ’s life death and resurrection showed us the meaning and source of the only justice that deserves the name. The Christian claim the claim of Jesus Christ and his Apostle Paul is that we cannot know life and justice without first learning of them from God, and being sustained by the very flesh of God. Or we have no ability to truly change ourselves and the world, unless, as some mystics have put it, we suckle on the very breasts of God. Amen.