Sunday, 16 August 2015

unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you.

Many of us associate the best times in our lives with food, a special meal marks a significant birthday, a moment of joy or loss. Some of us have a favourite meal in the day, is it breakfast or lunch or does the day lead us with anticipation to the joy of an evening meal? All of us use food to define ourselves and our place in this world. Our cultural identity is inextricably bound up with the food we place into our mouths and take into our bodies.

It is not surprising the Jesus chose to use food and special meals to talk about the Kingdom of God, the new community he was creating by his words and works in Galilee. Indeed it often with Jesus at a meal that we learn of the forgiveness offered to sinners and we see the intimacy of those first friendships in the life of his followers that should mark the communion we have as his body the church today.

 Nothing becomes more closely united with us than the food we eat. Jesus loves being united as closely as possible with us, and so it should be of no surprise that he uses the language of bread and wine to define the relationship he offers to us.

In every Eucharist we celebrate the wonder of our redemption and the joy of our salvation. In this sacrament we discover the glory of being a member of Christ’s Church. The Sacrament points to the cross of Christ as our enduring and unsurpassed source of salvation and as our storehouse of grace. Here our Saviour brings his cross to our altar so that we can receive its benefits in a tangible, visible way.

It is of course a wonderful thing that the mystery of our faith is revealed, or is it hidden in the most common and everyday realities, bread and wine.

The Eucharist is so central in the life of the Church because Christ is its centre: Christ is the unseen host: Christ who longs to be an essential part of the life of every Church member calls us to gather round and receive his life in the form of bread and wine.  

Jesus talks as he does in this morning’s Gospel because he not only wants to talk to us, but also to touch us. He not only wants to make an impression on our minds, but he also wants to touch our bodies and confirm his real presence with us in the bread and wine we receive, by impacting on our senses of hearing, seeing, touching and tasting.

As sure as we eat the consecrated bread and drink the sacred wine when we come to his table, so sure we can be that we receive our Saviour, the Friend of sinners. Jesus wants to make our receiving of him in our celebration of the Eucharist as earthly and as physical as his coming to us at Christmas.

Here we’re given the love revealed on the cross, to fire up our love for Christ that sweeps through his church and in to the world. Jesus does more than say “I love you forever”. In the Eucharist, he gives himself to each of us in this marvellous feast of love.

The life that Jesus promised to us - life abundant, life in all its fullness and richness - he gives to us in the Eucharist, so that he might be our true source of satisfaction and contentment. The Eucharist means Jesus is no distant leader or director, but our ever-present help in times of trouble. 

This life is ours if we are prepared to come and take bread and drink wine. It is ours through the greatest miracle of Jesus who changes the bread we eat into his body and the wine we taste into his blood.

 John 6:53, “Very truly, I tell you, unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Those who eat My flesh and drink My blood have eternal life, and I will raise them up on the last day.”

Monday, 10 August 2015

Be imitators of God

Be imitators of God , the author of the letter to the Ephesians exhorts the early church.
It is a bold statement
It is a statement that would have caused some confusion and even contention, these words are startling and upsetting and seem to be an impossible ideal – how can we seriously be expected to be imitators of God?

So what does this challenge we find in scripture mean for you and me?
How is it possible for a sinner like me to be imitate God?

Sometimes it is easier to understand something when we look at what it is not?

The writer is not saying we should try and put ourselves in the place of God. This is something that all of us who believe in God struggle with, the temptation or the desire to be God like.

What do I mean by God like ?– never being wrong, knowing everything, being in control of one’s destiny. We are not called to try and imitate God’s sovereignty. He alone is eternal, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, etc. These are attributes that God cannot or will not share with us, but they are the very things that often come between ourselves and God and lead us away from a life of obedience to God.

So the author is not saying strive to us be like God in that way.

So we return to the question what does it mean to be imitators of God?

For Christians the answer lies in the person of Jesus. We believe that Jesus is God, not just a prophet or a holy man, but God. We state this every time we recite the creed at the Eucharist
God from God
light from light
true God from true God
of one being with the Father

so to be imitators of God we have to look at the person of Jesus in whom we see the fullness of God, not a partial reflection of God but the fullness of God.

It is because of the revelation of God in Jesus Christ that we are able to draw near to God, to know God – through him.

To be imitators of God therefore we need to imitate Jesus, not just admire him or follow him but be him in this world. This is something that we can do without running the risk associated with trying to take on the sovereignty of God.

As imitators of Jesus Christ we too reach out and welcome the stranger the sick and disposed, we too walk along side the poor and the destitute.

This may sound easy but look at how hard just in the last few weeks it has been to do that when we hear the language used to speak about refugees in Calais or fleeing north Africa to find refuge in Europe? And how different our society seems to be from 75 years ago when we did open our doors to those who were fleeing the evils of Nazism, how in this part of London we welcomed the children of Israel who left their parents to be exterminated in the death camps and began new lives here in this part of London.

How different is our language from 40 years ago when we welcomed hundred and thousands of East African Indians many of whom came to these parishes to begin a new life free from the tyranny and evil of Edi Armin.

Be imitators of God challenges the author of the letter to the Ephesians. If we are to take up this challenge then we will not be able to close our lives, our doors, our boarders to those around us and their needs.

We imitate Jesus in the way in which he loves the way in which he was obedient to God the father even to the point of giving up his own life that we might have life and life in abundance. We see in Jesus the only begotten Son of God and are called to imitate this Son of God and in so doing become one with him as the Son of God

We imitate God by being his children, as surely as Jesus was the Son of God, so you and I are the children of God and through Jesus are offered a new relationship that is defined and transformed by Love.

As children of God we are to live within this relationship of love that begins and ends with the Cross, Where Jesus gave his life to the Father and received it back at the resurrection. So too when we imitate Jesus we give our life to God and he returns it to us for eternity through the promise of the resurrection.

1Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, 2and live in love, as Christ loved us* and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. Ephesians 5.1-2

How does Jesus love us in whom we see the fullness of God, by the way he loves us, forgives us, treat us with compassion and kindness. Thank God we have not been treated as we deserve, in deed how we would be had not Jesus taken up his cross and given himself us for us a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Jesus the bread of life

Over the next month the gospel readings in Church come from the 6th Chapter of St John’s gospel. It an important chapter in the account of Jesus live and teaching according to St John.

The chapter begins with the miracle of the feeding of the 5000, which we looked at together last week, it begins with a miracle of God’s ability to provide for those who place their faith in him, as powerful as when 4,000 years earlier those who placed in their faith in God and his servant Moses were led from Slavery in Egypt, through the red sea and the desert beyond towards to the promise land. The chapter however ends with these words in Verse 66 “Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him”

And what was “this” thing that caused many of the disciples to loose faith in the person of Jesus – the teaching of Jesus in the synagogue at Capernaum. Teaching about the Eucharist, the bread from heaven, his own flesh and blood.

No wonder that there has in the history and life of the church and in the experiences of the church been so much dissent and argument over our understanding of the Eucharist, the Mass, the Holy communion, so much argument over what Jesus and his church mean when they declare “This is the body of Christ”

The parable of the feeding of the 5000, that opens this chapter, makes a bold claim that Jesus is here for both the crowd and the disciples He shows this by seeing to it that the crowd is satisfied and twelve basketfuls are left over—one for each apostle. So the miracle has a message for the world, and a personal lesson for the apostles.

To the multitude, he was saying: I am the bread of heaven. Just like God sent your ancestors manna in the wilderness to sustain their life, he has sent me into the world to give life—eternal life. What Jesus gives is something more than has ever been given before for the life of this world and everyone of us created in God’s image in this world. And personally, he was saying to the apostles: Serve me faithfully, and you will never lack what you need, indeed you will find that you have more than when you first started. I will be for you everything you need, even in the hour of suffering and death.

However it is clear that both the crowd and the disciples run the risk of missing the true significance of this miracle. John’s gospel is sometimes referred to the book of signs. The first miracle that Jesus performs is the transformation of water into wine at a wedding in Cana of Galilee, it is recorded as such. Here in miracle of the feeding of the 5000 is another sign. A sign pointing beyond the miracle itself to an eternal truth.

The danger is that we get caught up in the sign and forget to look where it is pointing. If set out on a walk in a place I have never been before and get lost without a map, the sight of a signpost indicating the direction of travel will be most welcome. Anxiety about the right direction of travel will be replaced with the glowing relief that the direction is now clear, the danger of becoming lost is replaced with certainty that my destination can now be reached.

However the sign in of itself will not ensure that our journey will end well – we cannot simply sit down by the sign and be thankful, we still must continue on the path. But having seen the sign, that path will not be as hard as it was without the sign and with only our doubts and fear to guide us.

Then the disciples in verse 34 say “give us this bread always” what exactly do you think they were asking for?

Was it for the physical bread that could sate their hunger and sustain their lives without them having to labour for the money with which to purchase a life time supply of the bread? Was it that with this bread, always there for them, they could sit down and never again worry about where their next mouthful would come from?

If the answer is yes to these questions then they have missed the point, they have focused on the bread, and ignored the sign and to whom the sign is pointing. What has satisfied them is the product of this miracle, rather than the person, Jesus Christ. Jesus warns in verse 26 “You are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.”
They have labored for that which will perish.

What does the sign point to – to Jesus who will provide us with what we need if we bring what we have to him. It points to Jesus who is the food that endures for eternal life.

When we see the feeding of the 5000 as a sign of eternal life how does this affect the way in which we get up tomorrow on Monday morning and go about our daily living?

The key to the answer is found in verses 28–29: “Then they said to him, ‘What must we do, to be doing the works of God?’” Now that question follows from what Jesus just said. He said, “Labour, or work, for the food that endures to eternal life.” And they ask, How? What are those works? How do you work for the bread that gives eternal life?

The answer is simple – to believe in Jesus. Jesus answers in verse 29, “This is the work of God”—this is the kind of work you do - to please God and get the bread that gives life, this is the work that you do—namely, “that you believe in him whom God has sent.”

So what does it mean to “labour for the food that endures to eternal life”? Jesus says in verse 29 that it means believe in Jesus as the bread that God has sent from heaven for the life of the world. “Believe in him whom he has sent.”

And belief in Him whom God has sent will mean that we will not become either distracted or obsessed with the bread (the product of the miracle) that we have in our laps but in the one who makes it possible (the person)

'"Bread for myself," wrote a great Russian thinker, "is a physical question; bread for my neighbour is a spiritual question."

The basic needs of those around me, my neighbours struggle for life and their lack of bread, is not just a political or economic question but a spiritual one as well.

Archbishop Rowan has said “The hunger or need of some is the problem of all, I am not being fed if my neighbour is struggling, nor is my neighbour fed when I am hungry.”

The injunction upon us by our Lord when he teaches his disciples to pray
“Give us to day our daily bread” is one that means we cannot be content only with our own needs but the needs of all God’s children. Praying for daily bread is a way of countering the forces of our modern age that seeks to compartmentalise life so that the over all picture becomes obscure until it is finally lost all together and at this point the evil of which we pray to be delivered -swallows us all.

The hunger or need of some is the problem of all - which is exactly what St Paul says about living in the Body of Christ in his first letter to Corinth: "If one part of the Body suffers, all suffer."

Sunday, 26 July 2015

transforming life through generosity - Feeding of the multitude

In the story of the feeding of the multitude we read of how in spite of the rational, understandable doubt expressed by the disciples the impossible is made possible. From small beginnings Jesus is able to manifest his glory, a little faith goes a long way just as a few loaves and fishes feed the multitude.

Despite these small beginnings, the hungry are fed,
and there are leftovers - indeed in the story involving Jesus there is an abundance of leftovers - there is more than when the feast first began.

The feeding of the multitude, as John calls it, is the only miracle that
Jesus did that is described in all four gospels.  For this reason, if no
other, we need to pay close attention to it.  We need to ask ourselves - why
is this so?  What is it about this miracle - unlike all the other miracles
performed by Jesus - that so catches the attention of all the gospel writers.

I think it has to do with at least three separate things.

The first is the fact that this story tells us that Jesus is used by God -
he has God's blessings, remember at his baptism the voice of God is heard declaring to the world that here is God’s son the beloved in whom he is pleased, and is able to feed the hungry - much as
the people of Israel were fed by God in the wilderness with Manna.

In fact John goes on after the telling of this story to speak of Jesus as the
bread of heaven come down to earth - the one who is not only able to satisfy
the physical hunger of his people - but their spiritual hunger as well.

Jesus has, and is able to use, the power of God to feed the hungry.

The second thing is that the story shows us not only God's power at work in
Jesus, but also God's care for us.  God reaches out through Jesus to meet the needs of those who are following him.

Jesus cares for those who seek him out.  He wants to meet their needs, and he
instructed his disciples, and so he instructs you and I his church, to work together to ensure that the needs of those around us, the multitude are met.

The third thing is that the story shows us is that Jesus is able to take what
is offered to him and to multiply it - so that where there first seemed not
enough it ends up by being more than enough.

There is a story of a man named Paul.

   Paul had received a special pre-Christmas gift from his brother.  It
   was a beautiful new car - fully loaded and ready to go.  On Christmas
   Eve, when Paul came out of his office, a street kid was walking around
   the shiny new car, admiring it.  "Is this your car, mister?", the kid
   asked.  When he replied that it was., and that his brother had given
   it to him for Christmas, the boy said, "You mean your brother gave it
   to you, and it didn't cost you anything?  Free?  For Nothing?  Gosh,
   I wish..."

   The boy hesitated, and Paul knew what he was about to say.  He had
   heard it many times over the past few days.  He was going to wish he
   had a brother like that.  But what the boy said shocked Paul.

   "I wish", the boy said, "I wish I could be a brother like that."

We can be a brother like that.  Or a sister like that.
All it takes is that we offer ourselves and what we have to God.
All it takes is that we cease to worry about how little we have
and begin instead to think about what it is that we can offer.

Praise be to God who multiplies that which is given to him,
day by day.  Amen.