Sermon for Trinity 9 Sunday 5 August 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’ Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.’
We choose to come to the “bread of life”; in him and through him we are fed and nurtured as the church; in word and in sacrament. And through the prompting of the Holy Spirit, we are kept wanting and hoping to receive more. We are of course still hungry, for in our state of imperfection we cannot fully receive perfection, but we aspire, and continue this journey of faith in hope, offering prayer wanting to be nurtured and to be amongst many in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So it will be of no surprise to any of you to be reminded that the journey we are on as Christians is one of constant learning and change for us. For we undertake to live out our baptismal promises, to turn to Christ, and these promises we work out in the context of being members incorporate in the body of Christ, the Church. Metropolitan Anthony writes, “Above all the Church is defined in the words of St Paul: the Church is the Body of Christ. This is an expression which is either so familiar to us that it has lost its meaning, or, on the contrary, so strange that it no longer offers us anything at all. Yet when we speak of the ‘Body of Christ’, we speak of something much more real, much deeper than an organisation which is simply a group of people gathered to face a common task or in a common situation. If we are the body of Christ, as Metropolitan Anthony puts it, we are linked with the Incarnation, and not simply the cohesion of members who might afterwards separate. We are, “an extension of the Incarnation; each and every one of us is “a presence of Christ” in our world.” So through time and discipline, we strive, if we want, to reflect more fully that incarnate presence, and in time and in situations, strive to imitate The Lord. The term WWJD, What would Jesus Do? Might seem trite to some of you who think you are better than passing fads, but it does at least bring to mind readily the desire for Christian people to turn to Christ, and to reflect to the world the mind and will of Christ as best we can understand it.
So the journey in which we are engaged and committed to; challenges us. It challenges us to speak the truth over being solely interested in ourselves; it challenges us to do the right thing, over the expected thing. We are to work or Practice at being Christian towards one another, and towards being restored to that identity which was intended for us at creation because at the moment, it can be said of us Christians, “The apple has fallen far from the tree”.
This is a journey, we choose to make and which we can really only make within the church because it is to take us to the point of death at which point, our spiritual and physical hunger will be met fully, our frustration in this life will be resolved (I believe) and we will come face to face with the true presence of Divine Love and in that love be judged. I hope that all we have grasped and struggled with in this life, all that we have come only to perceive, will be made clear, our past will be resolved, forgiven and our future life in Christ, in God assured.
But we Journey, importantly as individuals, but also as part of the crowd, which forms the body, the church. And from within this crowd, there are plenty of mistakes to be made, yet redemption and restoration are to be hoped for because, as members incorporate of the body of Christ, we are eternally inseparable from one another, and from God. To belong to the body means that even though we might belong in a way which is tragic, or difficult, we still belong for ever. This faith isn’t only for Christmas, it will lead us to eternity. For in eternity, in Christ we are inseparable even though for now we might wish to be different. So we start behaving towards one another, as if you are going to be with one another for ever.
In our Gospel today we hear of a journey of two different crowds; One, God’s people, the other, the people of God both get it wrong, both fail to believe, both are concerned with the physical rather than the eternal. But is one more of God than the other?
There is much to be said about the observation that the crowd is always wrong. But now and again we are given a scene in the Gospel where the crowd is partially right. We can only ever be partially right, so we can fit into the crowd scene very easily, for they are to resonate with us, and we with them.
John’s Gospel can remind us if we choose to read it this way, that even though the crowd might have been physically hungry, even though the crowd might have a misplaced understanding of what Jesus can give them, still, they seek. From this distance, we can clearly see that they pursue God, even though they don’t fully comprehend what they are doing or who they are following. So let us give thanks, that they are at least determined to have one aspect of their life resolved for the moment, in this case it is their hunger, but what they will receive will be more than they can imagine, for what they will receive is the truth, the truth that Jesus is the bread of life who satisfies all hunger and thirst.
In responding to a basic human need they end up pursuing Jesus, coming again come into his presence, to be challenged and be changed! (it’s a little like the church schools issue – parents come to find a school place, in finding a school place, they are challenged and come to faith?) So rather than dismissing the crowd as fools, let their foolishness lead them to faith. Perhaps it is more Christian to recognise that it is better to pursue God making mistakes, than to simply allow God to sail off over the Tiberian sea, out of sight. (if that were ever possible).
Of course our Gospel highlights in part that the men who having been fed by Jesus once, and now pursue him, are foolishly concerned not with the truth, but with food for their bodies. But in pursuing the Lord, St John wants to persuade us that having come close to the presence of God, there is a bread for us, which conveys not earthly but eternal life, and should we think we could earn it, we should think again; we cannot earn it, for it is the gift of the Son of man, whom God has given as a guarantee for us. John’s Gospel is best summarised that Jesus is the Son of man, and it is in communion with him that we have eternal life.
Having found Jesus, having been told of the bread which gives life to the world, they respond, “Sir, give us this bread always”. Later they doubt again, even the disciples say, “this teaching is difficult” and it is a difficult teaching, but we have to rely in that in pursuing Christ we will be fed, and in being fed and nurtured in Christ, we will find eternal life. So the crowd, the church amidst it’s tragic side, is revealed as the mystery of the meeting and the union between God, One in the Holy Trinity, and his creatures, whose dispersion, whose division is overcome and whose unity is realised anew, first in an act of faith and then in the mystery of communion. Amen
Sermon preached by Fr. John Pritchard