Sermon for Trinity 12 Sunday 26 August 2012
Our Gospel offers us a conclusion (for the moment) to Jesus’ teaching about himself as the Bread of Life, that which we receive in the Eucharist today and some of us, day by day.
In this last section of his Eucharistic teaching Jesus is calling upon his listeners to make up their minds whether or not they are going to believe in him and follow him. You will remember from the past weeks, that Jesus says “he is the food that gives life”, he is not manna from heaven like as of old and like their ancestors ate, neither is he like any other bread, but it is through eating his flesh and drinking his blood in the Eucharist that we as believers, are able to share fully in this food. For the invitation towards all of us, is that we share in this Eucharistic meal not only to remember or commemorate one particular event, but through this meal we are, all of us, to share in all of Jesus’ life, including ultimately his death. Our participation in the Eucharist, in this Mass, provides for us a means by which we can enter into a good relationship between Jesus and ourselves. In this relationship we are afforded not only a share in his life and death, but a share in his promise of new life.
So to us and especially towards his audience in John’s Gospel, the challenge from our Lord is sharply put: do you believe? And if you believe, do you follow? The outworking for us in these questions is, in believing and in following, are we transformed to share most fully in his life?
We see then, as perhaps we see now many dessert Jesus rather than accept his teaching about the Eucharist, about encountering God intimately and in a committed relationship of trust through this sacrament. For some, it is simply a step which at the moment, they cannot and will not take.
But this is the decision which faces all of us: are we convinced? Do we believe? Do we trust, follow? Do we receive? And are we transformed by this relationship, this supper which gives us our Lord, his life, death and eternal promise? Only you can answer that, only you and God know what is truthful in your heart, and how you sincerely follow.
Yet, I want to stress, for all our sakes, for all our salvation; that the promises of God, the promises of New life come first, second and third through faith in our Lord Jesus. We do not need to hold the entire gambit of our extensive and somewhat industrially scaled religious belief system in order to be fully part of him. Remember, as he talks to them, there is no ascension for them to contemplate, as of yet though he makes reference to it in our Gospel, there is no resurrection for them to have to struggle with understanding. There is no Assumption, there is as of yet, no doctrine of this, that or the other, there is however, faith and belief in him to contemplate and a consequence to what that faith compels us to be and to do. He is who we are called to believe.
I have absolutely no intention to undermine or frustrate the more elaborate and colourful aspects of our faith, we can come to those in time, if at all, but first we have to decide as a people of faith, what is important. Jesus reminds us that it is through him that we come to God, it is through him that the promises of God are fulfilled, it is through him that we come to share in a new life, it is in him that we are to believe and trust, it is him, his body and blood, his wisdom from on high which we receive in this holy sacrament, it is through him that we are transformed if only we have faith in him and contemplate him in our body’s and in our minds.
I am sure even Jesus was sad to see people leave, but, he let them go, for that moment; I pray in the knowledge that in the power of the Holy Spirit, the apostles would continue the mission, the conversation and the conversion of those who pre-resurrection were at least dismissive, and post-resurrection might be amongst the thousands added to their number of believers in a day.
I suspect teaching great crowds didn’t excite Jesus a great deal, they were to prove to him as we know to be a problematic group. But what mattered to Jesus (and what should matter to the Church, to us), was the authenticity and the sincerity of those who stayed. How they lived in light of faith, and how their faith in him transformed them. Now we cannot live in a state of perpetual judgment upon one another; for we would destroy ourselves. But all of us, need to be accountable towards one another and to God in a way which encourages us to be Christ-like, rather than selfish, bitter and unfulfilled creatures who linger in the shadows waiting to pounce on the brother or sister who trips up. Where is the grace in that? Where is Christ in us, when we are spiteful and cruel and unforgiving to one another? It seems, we have chosen then to belong to the church, without believing in Christ, but we are called to belong and believe, believe and belong and then to be glorious as he is Glorious.
The words of Our Lord, especially his teaching about the Eucharist, offended those who wouldn’t accept that level of challenge. Our faith is not the acceptance of a set of correct beliefs, nor is it about being nice to people: it is however, a passionate commitment to the person of Jesus, and to want to become like the person of Christ, who comes to us in bread and wine for we all know, that right believing and behavior follow from our active and committed participation in the distinctive act of Christian worship. We are to be changed from Glory into Glory. And we have work set before us in order to fulfill that hope.
The gospels we have heard for the last five weeks remind us that the Christian life cannot be lived without the Eucharist, we have made our decision, we believe, it is in believing that we receive and in receiving that w’e are his, and he lives in us and through us; Himself, giving glory to the Father who is in heaven; let this Sacrament influence us, let it change us to reflect his Glory, his truth in our community of faith and in the world.
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard