The source and the example of God’s continual mercy, of God’s cleansing and defending goodness, and of “that spirit of self-denying service” is the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ our Lord. By the gift of the spiritual presence of Jesus Christ dwelling in our hearts by faith, by the truth and power of the Holy Spirit of God, given us in the new birth of baptism and received by faith, we can indeed “lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
We are all examples to one another. Some of us are good examples; most of us are very mixed examples. David was a very mixed example. We saw last week his example of yielding to the sins of lust, and adultery, and murder. Today we hear of the courage of Prophet Nathan, and of David’s example of truth and repentance. Nathan proclaimed the Lord’s judgment, and David had the grace to admit, “I have sinned against the LORD.” David’s sins were many and gaudy, but David did tell the truth, “I have sinned against the LORD.
Many of us have had, or been, children caught with hands in the cookie jar – or the like. And many of know the natural human first reaction to being caught in the cookie jar or the like. What is our first reaction? Do we naturally admit that we have done wrong? That has not been my experience. My experience is that the first reaction is to lie. We all want to be innocent, good children. That is our self-image, and we protect that image - even at the cost of truth. To paraphrase Alexander Pope’s 1711 Essay on Criticism “to lie is human, to forgive divine.” (line 275) And when the lie breaks down, our next human impulse is to blame. I’ve mentioned TEAPOT – Those Evil Awful People Over There.
We see this in Genesis 3:8-13: Adam and Eve “heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden at the time of the evening breeze, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. The Lord God called to the man, and said to him, “Where are you?” He said, “I heard the sound of you in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.” God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you not to eat?” The man said, “The woman whom you gave to be with me, she gave me fruit from the tree, and I ate.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this that you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent tricked me, and I ate.”
When Nathan proclaimed the Lord’s judgment, David had the grace to admit, “I have sinned against the LORD.” In today’s epistle we read of God’s desire that “all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. . . . speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, . . as each part is working properly, promotes the body's growth in building itself up in love.”
The quick lie is easier than the hard truth, but as we grow up we learn that it is the truth that sets us free from the tangles that lies get us into.
St. John tells in chapter 8 of Jesus teaching the disciples, “the Jews who had believed in him, “…you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.”
St. John’s gospel reflects a lifetime of reflection on the meaning of Jesus’ life and resurrection. Archbishop Rowan Williams dates it toward the end of the first century – about as far from the Resurrection as we are from the Korean war. Our Sunday gospels this month focus on the meaning of Jesus’ feeding the 5000.
“The truth will make you free.” The disciples who said, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone,” were not telling the truth. The foundational story of Israel is the Exodus. Slaves in Egypt were set free by the mighty hand of God working through Moses. For over 500 years Israel had been subject to Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Alexander and his successors, and then to Rome. Jesus reminds his disciples, and us, that “everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.” Only by Jesus’ death and resurrection can we be free from sin. Jesus sets free from the spiritual consequences of past sin, and Jesus gives us the spiritual power of the Holy Spirit to resist temptation.
In today’s gospel Jesus encourages the people, and us, to resist the temptation to work only for the food that perishes, but to work “for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you.” We receive that spiritual food, “food that endures for eternal life” given to us in Holy Communion as we remember with present effect, spiritually with the disciples in the upper room on the night in which he was betrayed the Son of Man giving the bread of life, “this is my body given for you,” and the cup of salvation, the new covenant in Jesus’ blood, shed for us and for all who will receive him.