Jabbok Dawn

Tumbling in the Sand

What’s in it for me?

broken community sign

The texts for Sunday August 9, 2015 (11th Sunday after Pentecost, Lectionary 19): 1 Kings 19:4-8; Psalm 34:1-8; Ephesians 4:25-5:2; and John 6:35, 41-51

 

We are on the third week of bread

and I thought that I should maybe preach about bread

about God’s sustaining us

about God’s giving strength for the journey — focusing on Elijah’s experience

of being fed by an angel in the wilderness

But, as I read the appointed texts for this week

I was completely caught by this statement in Ephesians:

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.”

Wait. What?

Did you catch that?

The author of Ephesians

says that thieves should stop stealing

not “because stealing is bad”

(though, they might agree with that
—it is breaking a commandment—one of those on the top ten list)

but that’s not the reasoning the author gives,

Instead they say that thieves should give up stealing

because they should be able to share with the needy

and, I guess, thieving isn’t lucrative enough for that kind of extra.

Right?
Isn’t that what I just read?

“Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.”

I found myself pondering this little gem of a statement all week long

and I think that this single little sentence

reveals a whole lot to us

about community and how people are to relate to community
— how we should relate to community

about the purpose of work and the purpose of wealth

about wealth and what we do with what we have or earn

and about what actually sustains us

So, bear with me while I talk with you through my wandering thoughts

this week that got me to this.

First off, for some reason, upon hearing this text,
I thought of a sermon by St. Basil the Great,
in which he said the following:

“Now, someone who takes a man who is clothed
and renders him naked would be termed a robber;

but when someone fails to clothe the naked, while he is able to do this,
is such a man deserving of any other appellation?

The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry;
the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked;
the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes.
The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need.

Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for,
so many are those whom you wrong.”

As I thought about this connection between not sharing what you have

— this tendency to keep extra for yourself

with stealing,

I found that the statement from Ephesians made more sense to me.

You see, at the heart of both of these ways of handling stuff

— of stealing it from others

— and of keeping it from others

is a primary concern about taking care of your self

with a lack of concern for—and maybe even distain for—the other.

In both of these cases, the care of the community is entirely ignored
at the expense of the individual

And the entire point of this passage in Ephesians is how do we live together
as a faithful, Christian community.

And one of the ways that we do that

is by contributing to the health of the community

by giving to those in need

And, also, by adding the value of the honest work of our hands

The problem with theft, besides it being ultimately selfish and anti-community

is that it adds nothing of value

it simply takes value from one person and gives it to another

while honest work, to use the phrase from Ephesians,

adds to the wealth and strength and health of the whole community.

The problem with theft is not that it’s not lucrative, but it adds nothing

of your creativity, energy, strength, or resources to the whole.

It doesn’t alleviate need, it just moves it around.

There is this overwhelming assumption in our society today that

our primary purpose in life is to be a consumer

And that applies to how we interact with community, too
— including church communities

We want to know what is in it for us
We’re only interested in what we can get out of it

and when we don’t get enough, when we aren’t fed enough,
when we are disappointed,

we leave.

I want to argue that this is no different than a thief who comes

looking for something only for themselves

And I think that the author of Ephesians would argue for something different —

that the only way a community can be healthy and whole

is if we resist the urge to be consumers, worried primarily about

our own needs, our own wants, our own comfort

and instead add our hands to the work of the community

add our resources to the wealth of the community

add our spirit to the energy of the community

And what we might find is that the needy are cared for.

What we might find is that it is a whole lot easier to let go of bitterness
What we might find is that it is a bit less painful to forgive.
What we might find is that God is out and about blessing the work of our hands
and generously pouring out love and joy in our midst.

What we might find is that we are satisfied

Because as Jesus reminded us last week,

working for “food that perishes”

seeking after stuff that we know only satisfies us for a little while

until we consumers need to go in search of more

will never give us life

Instead, we seek the stuff of the eternal to sustain us

stuff found in community — the very bread of heaven

love and forgiveness and hope and faith

and God enfleshed in our midst

in one another

— each of us, thieves

forgiven on the cross

and promised paradise.

 

***

Featured Image:  “Broken Community”  photograph by  SZenz at Deviant Art. Taken at Royal & St. Phillip, French Quarter, New Orleans  See his photography here: SZenz Profile 

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2015 by in Sermons and tagged , , , .

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