Sermons from St Faith's     


Fred Nye, August 26th, 2012 

One of the most convincing things about the gospels is that they don’t try to be convincing!  As a bit of PR for an undemanding, easy-to-follow way to salvation they fail miserably. and the Bible account of Our Lord’s message and revelation doesn’t always make comfortable reading.

Chapter six of John’s gospel showcases three ways in which Our Lord’s message of salvation can get lost in translation, three ways in which his followers can misunderstand and reject him. The problems begin with the story of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.  Immediately afterwards, the crowd tries to seize Jesus by force and turn him into a king, a political and nationalistic leader. Perhaps he might restore for them the rule of David, the golden age of Jewish history. At best they  misunderstood the nature of Our Lord’s authority and charisma, at worst they understood him well enough but still wanted to manipulate and exploit him for their own purposes.

Jesus then tries to explain who he is, likening himself to the manna, the ‘bread of heaven’ which was sent by God to feed his starving people during their wanderings in the desert. Jesus himself perfectly embodies God’s life and love, and is the one through whom that life and love are now to be shared with God’s people.  Jesus, the bread of heaven, gives himself to the world, and is to be consumed in the process.  But the crowd won’t buy it. ‘How can he say: I have come down from heaven? Surely this is Jesus, the son of Joseph?’ They would not allow Jesus to be who he really was.

And in the passage we heard this morning many of Jesus’ disciples desert him. But why? Earlier on, Our Lord has been talking about discipleship using words like ‘come….see….believe.’  But now he begins to use the language of self-giving. Jesus has become the Passover Lamb of God, through whose sacrificial flesh and blood his people are to be fed, and led to freedom and salvation. ‘He who eats my flesh, and drinks my blood lives in me, and I in him.’  This is spiritual symbolism and poetry at its most profound. The believer shares not only an intimate relationship with Our Lord; ‘bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh’; but is also bound into a sharing of Jesus’ self-giving life and death. We will be there in the Easter garden, but we will also be with Our Lord on the hill of Golgotha. This is difficult language for us to accept, and many of Jesus’ followers couldn’t stomach it. This was not at all what they had in mind; this was not the son of David, the triumphalist leader, that they had been looking for. And so they left him.

Misunderstood, exploited, rejected, deserted.  As human beings -  as parents, children,  partners, spouses, friends – we recognise all too well how relationships can go wrong. We know how, even in a loving relationship, individuals can sometimes so tragically misunderstand one another. We know how difficult it can be to let go, and allow someone close to us to be truly their own person, and not what we would like them to be.  And we know how the demands of an intimate and self-giving relationship can sometimes seem awesome and frightening.  We have enough human insight to understand how the disciples struggled to accept their Master’s message, and how Jesus must have struggled to get it across to them. We are there in Our Lord’s story, along with Peter who denied him, Judas who betrayed him, and with all the disciples who deserted him in the garden of Gethsemane, and ran away.

Our Lord cannot be compromised into being what he is not, nor deflected from the path which he also wants us to follow, however hard at times that can be for us.

In the context of our faith to-day, how often do we want our Christianity and our Church to please us, to be made in our own image, to do what we want them to do. We all have our likes and dislikes in worship, in church music, in how we interpret the Bible, in how we think about marriage or the Eucharist, or who we should ordain as priests and bishops. I’ll be the first to admit that I like my own views to prevail, and that I feel uncomfortable and threatened when they are challenged. It is difficult for us when our church tries to take us to places where we would rather not go. But we risk stagnation and suffocation if we accept only what is familiar to us, and the early church certainly didn’t grow by sticking to the religious and cultural rules of the time. Perhaps these are difficulties we should rightly reflect upon during an interregnum, as we prepare to look for a new shepherd and pastor.

 But the greatest challenge of all is to accept as Saviour the one who offers us unconditional love, the gift of Himself, and who asks us to follow him along his path of self offering, wherever that may lead. He asks us to leave behind our comforting controversies and prejudices, and to take instead the Way of the Cross, with all its glorious risks and uncertainties. This morning in the Eucharist Our Lord, the bread from heaven, the Passover lamb, gives himself to us and claims us as his own. But the bread has been broken, and the grapes bruised and crushed to become the cup of salvation. As we reach out to take the sacrament this morning it would do us no harm if our hands were to tremble, just a little.

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