When I was growing up my dad was in the Navy. We lived in a number of bases, as a little boy it was a dream come true. Helicopters landed in my back yard at one time. I saw jeeps and tanks, and went on destroyers. It was great.
I grew up thinking I wanted to be in the military. Not only because of experience, but because it is a family tradition. There has never been a generation of Anningsons who have not. So I was, for a while, but what I really wanted to be was a US Marine. And I remember my 29th birthday being a sad day indeed… I was now too old to become a Marine
Identity is a hard thing… who are we deep down inside, and what does that mean…. I am a man, a Maritimer, a father, a minister, a writer, an ex-soldier, and an Anningson. All of those things have played a role in making me the person I am today. As have thousands of other things.
The thing is, all of those things come with expectations: There is a standard of behaviour for Anningson’s that I have to live up to in order to make them proud. There are expectations in being a father, and perhaps even more in being a minister.
You know what I am talking about: friends, families, work, they all expect something and we are trying to live up to something.
Today, I want to talk about what we expect at church. What does it mean that we are Christians.
Letting the Big Guy down; King David
When you are the king, you can do anything, right? I am sure we would all feel that way for a little while. Win 16 million dollars and you are going to take advantage of it for a little while. Get your ten minutes of fame and you are going to want the best table in the restaurant… it is just human nature.
David takes this too far a couple of times while he was the king of Israel – this story is about him killing a soldier because he has a crush on his wife…. A little over the top; a little evil to kill someone in order to become husband number two… but like most things in the Bible it is a blown up example to make a point
David decides to put his needs above the needs of others. He decided to forget about who he was deep down inside, and he needed a reminder.
God sent the prophet Nathan to remind him. He did it by telling a story. Which is the way the Bible does it with us… there once was this king who thought he was above the rules… but….
Perhaps we all need reminders every now and again… cautionary tales about getting too big for our britches… maybe we need to be taken down a notch once in a while. The thing is, what Nathan is really trying to do is remind David of who he really is – remember who you are, a shepherd’s son, the smallest brother, given strength by God to face Goliath, chosen by God because of what’s inside you to become king… do not get distracted by the world but stay true to who you are…
He fails miserably a few times at this, so do we all... but in the end, he remembers and choses the right path.
So What Is The Right Way to Live?
I keep saying this, but it is always worth remembering… every time we have an epistle reading… a reading from any book of the New Testament except Matthew, Mark, Luke or John, it is a letter. More specifically it is a letter written to a specific church, a specific congregation, in a specific town. Today, it is the apostle
Paul writing to the church in Ephesus… and he is writing to explain to them what they should be like as a church that follows Jesus:
“…lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called”
Let’s look at that for a second. We are all called, we are all given opportunities and experience for a reason… it doesn’t matter whether you are a mechanic, cut wood, or a housekeeper. It is what you are called to be; at least for right now.
The thing is, in any profession, in any walk of life, in any day – we can lead a life worthy of who we were meant to be, or we can just do it for the money, to the fun, or even out of spite.
Which is going to make you a better person? Which is going to make you happier?
For Paul this means “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity” which sounds pretty good. We should always be trying to be humble, we should be trying to be gentle and patient with one another, and we should try to work together helping each other out.
Sounds easy enough… right. It is too bad that it is not always that easy. Sometimes we make choices that hurt other people. Sometimes we fall prey to our egos or to our lack of self-esteem and we do dumb things, or fight for no reason…
Paul says we do it to build each other up, to make the world a better place, to make it possible for each person to be fulfilled. Sounds like a pretty good reason to me.
So remember who you are and live out of your Christian values, as Jesus taught them. That is the lesson from the first readings. They are realistic lessons, we are talking about a King who actually murdered someone for his own goals, and a church who often gets off track trying to be a better church than others.
And even if you are like that – even if you are far away from who you were meant to be… there is always a chance to turn around, to repent, and to learn.
Running after Signs
What do you want from church?
What do you want from Jesus?
When the crowd chases after Jesus he seems a little annoyed with them… “I gave you a free lunch; you are chasing me down for a free supper too?” he asks; which seems a little unfair, and they push him and the crowd answers, “what are we supposed to do?”
“Well, do you believe in me?” asks Jesus.
And this is the crux of the question – are we going to believe in what Jesus has to say, or are we going to have to test everything out ourselves.
Having two little kids reminds me that I was always the one who tested my parents. When they told me that I would burn myself on the cigarette lighter in the car, I still had to do it first just to see. And it has gone on through my whole life – I want to test things out before I believe in them.
Sure, there are some rules and regulations passed down that I just have to take on faith. But for the most part, I want to experience life for myself and then make decisions.
“Are you just in this for the miracles?” Jesus essentially asks. “Do you just want to see some magic tricks? Or are you going to listen.”
And it is a good question. Because honestly, being a Christian has almost never made my life easier. I make less money than if I had no morals. I have hardly any friends because people are afraid to hang out with someone who they think has a holier than thou attitude. I often have to put my needs aside for the needs of others. I give money to people even when it means I cannot afford what I want…. There are not a lot of perks to following Jesus.
So why do we do it?
Jesus answers with a wacky metaphor that means very little to us – God gives manna from heaven, I am the bread of life. With me you will never be hungry or thirsty…
Which really means that we won’t be hungry for more; which really means that we will be fulfilled.
Chase after the things that others tell you will make you happy, and you might get them, but you still will have something missing. Believe in God, do what God destined you to do, and that hole will be filled with purpose.
Some days it will be a purpose that drives you to do things you do not want to do. Sometimes it will be the hardest thing you can ever imagine to respond in love, or to offer hospitality, or to be gracious…. But when that day is over, there will be a smile on your face.
A Calm Sea Does Not Produce a Skilled Sailor.
I tried this week to find a story, or an illustration to back up what I was trying to say – I couldn’t get anything that was quite right…
The real point is that we were all created with a purpose and a destiny. We all have great potential inside of us. And we often do not realize it and do not even try to live up to who we are called to be.
But it is not that hard – we need to follow the example of Jesus. We need to look to the heroes of the faith and learn from their lives and mistakes, and we need to believe… believe in God’s love and God’s purpose….
When we do that we will live from another place, a deeper place, and we will be happy.