Sermon for Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings: 1 Kings 2:10–12, 3:3–14; Ephesians 5:11–21 & John 6:51–58
When John F. Kennedy campaigned for the presidency of the United States in 1960, he was viewed with suspicion by many Protestants and Evangelicals, as well as many non-Christians, on account of his staunch Roman Catholic background. There were those who believed he would have “dual loyalties” to both the Vatican and the United States, and the argument was that if push came to shove, he would be more loyal to the Vatican because the fate of his eternal soul was at stake.
This same suspicion of potential religious influence on the outcome of political decision-making has also been present in Australian politics recently, when Scott Morrison’s personal faith as a Pentecostal Christian was made known. It was concern such as this that was behind the notion of the “separation of church and state”, which is a both a philosophical and legal concept for defining the political distance in the relationship between religious organisations and the state.
In Australia, the Constitution prevents the Commonwealth from establishing any religion, or from requiring a religious test for any office. Section 116 of the Constitution states: “The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth”.
Though the political context of Australia is obviously different to that of Ancient Israel, the glimpse into Solomon’s life that we get in today’s reading from the First Book of Kings invites us to question the separation of the public and private domains of society, and the relegation of religion to an internal experience. Solomon’s religion impacts on every decision he makes as king. For Ancient Israel, life is the life of faith. The covenant with God governs their entire way of life, and the king reigns as the one anointed by God ruling, if you will, on behalf of God.
When asked by God in a dream for what he wants, Solomon asks, not for riches or honour, but for an understanding mind to govern God’s people; the ability to discern between good and evil. Solomon loves and worships God, and he is dependent upon God.
In today’s reading from the Letter to the Ephesians, the author emphasises the importance of the community worshipping God together. One of our primary obligations as Christians is to praise God, and indeed the primary focus of our service of worship is praise. The author calls us to be authentic in worship, to worship God from the very core of our being. We are called to be both totally committed to God and totally dependent upon God. How then can we possibly separate God from any aspect of our lives?
Unfortunately in the world today, and especially in Western society, the ‘self’ is now at the centre of many lives, with people worshipping consumerism and a lifestyle that feeds their sense of self or self-identity. Often God is pushed to the margins in many lives, and He has no place at all. As Christians we are faced with the challenge of keeping God at the very core of our being, which is so counter cultural to much of modern society.
The author of the Gospel of John tells us that Jesus is the “living bread” that came down from heaven. While many would argue that this passage from the Gospel is John’s version or account of the “institution of the Lord’s Supper” (or Holy Communion) which, by the way, I don’t disagree with, I think that we can also take it to mean that in the same way that material food (bread, wine and water) sustain physical life, Jesus who is both the “living bread” and “living water”, sustains eternal life; the spiritual life both in the “here and now” and in the time to come.
When we receive Jesus into our lives He sustains us in both this mortal life and in the immortal life to come. There is no separation of the two. So if that is the case, how then can we separate Jesus (and therefore God) from any aspect of our lives? God is meant to be at the very centre of our lives, and everything that we do in our lives is meant to be based on our love and commitment to God, and our dependence on God.
For as Jesus himself told us: “‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29–31 NRSV)