Truth and Consequences
SERMON: 12 Pentecost B 8 12 18
Did you ever hear of a game show called Truth or Consequences? I did, although I had to look it up to be clearly reminded of what it was about. It was a trivia show in which people would answer a usually impossible trivia question accurately (truth) or suffer consequences. The consequences were sometimes embarrassing, but never onerous.
This show's title came to mind when I was looking at the readings for this Sunday. Before us in our readings and during the baptism slated for the 10 am service we have a series of presentations on the truth, on the reality of our faith and our belief system. We also have some very clear messages on the consequences of our response to these truths. There is a direct correlation.
So the reality --or truth -- of our faith loomed large in front of me as I typed my sermon. Likewise, I seriously want to be clear about the consequences, the risks or benefits, that result from adhering to these truths or ignoring them. In short, we want to know what happens when we are careless about our understanding of our readings, and their truths, and our understanding of Christian Baptism.
Therefore we approach our Sunday readings with certain apprehensions because both our Hebrew Bible readings and our Gospel readings in recent weeks have been increasing in seriousness and, if we look just a little closely, increasing in truth and consequences.
In our Hebrew Bible reading Absalom is caught on a low-hanging tree branch as his mule passes under it. His adversaries in battle are soldiers of the army of King David, Absalom's father. They see him as the enemy for his actions against them personally, despite David's order that Absalom be dealt with gently. They dispatch him at once.
Absalom had been the golden son of David, yet he was unable to follow the rules, not to mention the commandments, like his father. Though his father wanted him treated gently, Absalom had been anything but gentle to the adversaries who found him hanging helplessly from a tree. It's a Biblical version of what goes around comes around.
We could argue about the truth or truths associated with this story, but not the consequences. They are pretty clear. When we abuse people we become damaged souls, harmed by our self-imposed distance from the will of God and what we know to be proper comportment. This played out for David and for Absalom.
Jesus named the truth in the opening line of today's Gospel. He declared himself the bread of life, just as he did last week. But this time, rather than have his declaration welcomed by his disciples who asked to be given this bread forever, Jesus is confronted by religious authorities who are horrified that he has identified himself as descended from heaven. In their minds Jesus is claiming godly authority. They reject this because their earthly authority is threatened. That justify their criticism of Jesus and his assertion by stating they know members of Jesus' immediate family. And they know Jesus' family to be just regular folks. Their rationale is effectively, if he's just one of us, how could he be so special?
The truth spoken by Jesus is laid out quite clearly. Those who seek the spiritual nurture he offers will never thirst or be hungry. By implication, obviously, the consequence of not seeking the spiritual nurture he offers is spiritual hunger and thirst.
It seems a good time, especially on a Sunday when a Baptism is planned, to reflect on the benefit of spiritual nurturing. Those of us who receive it would not do without it for a day. It provides refreshment and courage, cheer and hope, belief in a spiritual guide and companion. As we live our lives day-to-day, who would turn down such an offer?
This is what we have in mind for the future of Macy J: refreshment and courage, cheer and hope, belief in a spiritual guide and companion. As we live our lives day-to-day we desire it for ourselves as well, and we recognize that the way to bring it about is to conform to the truths that Jesus taught. Those truths are especially visible in the Baptismal Covenant, which we refer to informally as the job description of a Christian.
The covenant has two parts, the part that is the Apostles Creed in Question and Answer form and the part that is the five questions at the end:
Will you continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?
Will you persevere in resisting evil, and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?
Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?
Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?
We will recite the covenant (at the 10 am service) on behalf of Macy J and also for ourselves, reminding us of the promises made for us in baptism by those then present, as well as the promises we have made again and again during the baptisms in church of other Christians, young and old.
This return to the baptismal font, to the sacrament and the ceremony of welcoming Macy J into God's church, is joyful and still full of import: for her, of course, but for you and me as well. For those who recognize their commitments, it is fulfilling. Yes, that is what we are about, that is who we are. We are not David, ignoring the sixth and seventh Commandments; we are not Absalom, abusing his power and his natural gifts; we are not the religious leaders who refused to see what Jesus offered as anything but a threat.
Remember that the answer to each of the five questions is, "I will, with God's help."
Let us pray for that help.
Oh, God, our guide, our comfort. Help us this day as this church celebrates the Baptism of Macy J. Help us all be present for her in faith, in confidence, in full conformance with the covenant we have made with you, our Baptismal Covenant. Let her remind us, when we see her in church as she grows up, that we have made these commitments once again and we mean them. Let us recognize in her growth in faith our own spiritual path. And guide us always to fulfill our covenant in your Name. Amen
A sermon preached Aug. 12, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector