Sermons from St
Making your Choice
Fr John Reed, Sunday 12th August, 2018
It's silly season in the press, and after what has seemed lots of weeks of news about Jeremy Corbyn and the intractable question of what is or isn’t anti-semitic behaviour, which I suspect has its roots in, whether or not it is acceptable to criticise the state of Israel's actions. Then comes the return of Boris to the limelight. Through his newspaper column he makes derogatory remarks about the chosen manner of dress of some Muslim women, and some people leap to his defence while some say the remarks were over the top, and other downright offensive. Boris is a great divider of opinion and does so with amazing regularity, which I suspect helps sell newspapers.
Jesus is a great divider of opinion, to recap on the continuing gospel reading from John over the last two weeks, Jesus has fed 5000 and the people came looking for more miraculous food, then he uses the opportunity of their hunger for food to talk about bread from heaven. Firstly as manna from heaven from the story of the Exodus. The story from Kings today echoes that story.
Elijah has seen God's power at work; a drought that lasted a long time and fire from heaven on mount Carmel leading to the humiliation and destruction of the prophets of Baal. And yet he fears for his life, Queen Jezebel is out for revenge. Elijah has had his name and his mission in life from birth, in a time when names had real meanings. There is only one God – EL, and that is the God of Israel – JAH. And living in a land where those in power liked to ignore that important truth and follow other Gods he was a hunted man. So he goes out into the wilderness, as Moses did when he fled from Egypt as a young man. And sitting under a broom tree, he just wants to go to sleep and never wake up. But he encounters an Angel with a freshly cooked loaf of bread and water, who sends him on a journey. A 40 day journey, mirroring the 40 year journey of the Exodus. To a cave on Mount Sinai where Moses saw the effects of God's power as he passed the cave.
Elijah met God: if you remember the end of the hymn “Dear Lord and Father of mankind” you will know the rest of the story. Elijah feels the Earth quake, feels the heat of a fire, both terrifying manifestations of God’s power, and yet in the silence, in the quietness God speaks in a quiet voice. Like Moses, Elijah has a new mission, he will bring news of the fall and rise of Kings and Prophets. To the tired and exhausted Elijah, trapped between the power of a God who is determined his people will have no other Gods before him, and a King and Queen who have the power of life and death' he has food for the way to do God's will.
Jesus has food for the way, not Manna from heaven, but himself. He described it very graphically, He is the bread of life, the only one capable of filling the hunger there is inside of us all. In our Gospel today he takes the illustration further, “unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood you shall not have life within you!” For most cultures the very idea of eating human flesh and drinking human blood is repugnant. For Jews too the eating or drinking of any blood is strictly forbidden by the law of Moses. Some of his followers in the Gospel reading cannot cope with this graphic description of his self-offering and leave.
St. John does not have a story of the last supper in the same way that the other Gospels do, some would say the Gospel combines Jesus teaching on the Eucharist with the miracle of the feeding of the 5000. The Eucharist is all the food we all need to follow the way of Jesus. Jesus says in the Gospel that he gives his flesh for the life of the world. It is a reminder of the start of John's Gospel - God so loved the world that he gave his only Son and also his passion and death on the cross. Jesus gives of himself not for the church but for the world. St. John writes at the end of his Gospel, these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God. He wants his readers to make a choice, Jesus is a divisive figure in the world of Ephesus with its many places of religion and teachers competing for followers. You either take Jesus as he is, without editing out the controversial words and follow his way or you go another way. And to go his way you need food for the journey, food only found in him and him alone.
In Jesus you find the way of life, and as the writer of Ephesians reminds us his way is a way of giving for the life of the world. There are parallels with the modern craze for self development, but many are self centred interests. We learn to live for the life of others, so we face the very human behaviour of dishonesty, anger and greed within our communities not by just saying the rules are….. because we all fail to live up to rules and expectations. But by putting on Christ like a set of clothes. Being close to Christ through regularly receiving the sacraments, and reminding ourselves through the scriptures and prayer what true goodness is. And then we seek to live that way, learning to speak the truth instead of lying, learning to deal with anger instead of bottling it up and letting it eat away at our spiritual health. Learning not to grasp at things, but learning to give away. Learning to hold back hurtful words, by saying positive things instead, affirming the life of Christ in others.
The way of Jesus as described by Jesus is not a broad straight path, but is narrow and windy. But he not only leads us on that way as he walked it on earth, but gives food for the journey in himself. Someone once described following Jesus like club membership. The joining fee is free, he has already given it. The annual subscription is, and has to be everything you have got.