Sermons from St Faith's     

Rev Sue Lucas, Sunday, August 23rd, 2015

Quite a number of us at St Faith’s are, or have been, teachers of one kind or another.  And if you are a teacher, a familiar experience is taking witness statements when incidents of one kind or another happen in school.  It can be a bit wearing – especially as, even among eyewitnesses, there is seldom agreement, or even consistency among the stories.  It is apparently exactly the same when Police Officers take witness statements – which I suppose is reassuring (likewise car insurance claims! Ed.).  And get three Anglicans in a room talking and you’re likely to have ten different opinions! 

This shouldn’t surprise us really; we remember things differently; even at a physical level, different perspectives mean we quite literally see different things, and what we notice, or choose to emphasise, rather depends on our concerns and preoccupations at the time.  It isn’t human nature to be neutral!

The three Gospels known as the synoptic Gospels, Matthew, Mark and Luke are a bit like this; ironic, really, that ‘synoptic’ means ‘seeing together’ – although there is similar material in all of them, in many ways they ‘see’ rather differently, Mark passing from one event to the next with pressing urgency, Luke emphasising the inclusivity of the Gospel – with important roles for women, Gentiles and children, and Matthew emphasising the covenant with its deep concern for social justice.  They do, however, in one way, very much ‘see together’ – all three are concerned with the gradual uncovering that Jesus is the Son of God – the one in whom the prophetic tense, as it were, changes from future to present; in different ways, in each there is a dawning sense of ‘could it be that…?’

We read each of the Synoptics in turn in Years A, B and C – so, in Year B, now, we are basically reading Mark’s Gospel; but over the last few weeks in the Summer, we have interrupted this to read a portion of John’s Gospel – this ‘interruption’ to read a portion of John occurs at some point in each liturgical year – in year B it tends to be through July and August.  John’s Gospel, written much later than the Synoptics is very different from them – it isn’t just that there is different material, but something different in the tone that perhaps can be summed up like this – the Synoptics are working out, gradually, that Jesus is the Son of God – whereas John, beginning with the meditation on Jesus as the Word – takes it for granted that Jesus is the Son of God – so deal with it!

And in the passages from John 6 that we’ve heard over the last few weeks, this is given expression in Jesus as the ‘Bread of Life’; the Jesus that we encountered at the beginning of John’s Gospel as the Incarnate Word we encounter now as bread, manna in the wilderness, the flesh and blood that is life-giving.  It is in a way, Eucharistic in shape – we encounter the living Word through the sacramental words of scripture in the Ministry of the Word, then we encounter the sacramental Word in the bread and wine of the Eucharist.

All of this is somehow contained in the three short verses that from today’s Gospel, which ends this year’s ‘interruption’ of Mark – in feeding on Christ, we abide in him, live in him, and receive eternal life; we become, that is, what we eat – the sacramental presence of God in the world.

What does this mean?  Well, of course, at one level, it’s a great mystery – at one level, like the eyewitnesses, what it means partly depends on how we receive it, what our concerns and preoccupations are at the time; and partly, that is why we need to try to prepare to receive the sacrament – of course we can’t, of course, God’s grace comes to meet us in any case – but we can open our hearts – through confession, through prayer, through making our peace with one another…

But some themes do emerge from our readings today – and, in particular, just 3: encouragement, challenge and ordinariness.

I am sure there are many times, for those of us in the catholic tradition, when the sacrament has been a source of encouragement; perhaps at a nuptial mass, for a young bride and groom, about to embark on the new phase of life; for a monarch at a coronation; for a few people gathered around an altar in a country church; in times of sickness and anxiety; in times of joy; and, perhaps finally, proclaiming the hope of resurrection when a loved one has died.  But more than this, the Bread of Life speaks of a life of exuberant joy, of feasting, of generosity – the joy of the Resurrection is not simply life, but life in all its fullness.

But this does not come without challenge; for if Jesus the Bread of Life forms us, he also transforms us; we cannot simply consume our faith, cannot make our faith into a way of belonging that just keeps us in our comfort zone, and gives us the reassurance of people we like, people like us; the Spirit that brooded over creation, that descends on Jesus at his baptism, and whom we invoke in the Eucharist blows through our lives and pushes us well out of our comfort zone – after all, in being made into the Body of Christ, we are being made a new creation, and we cannot expect this to leave things exactly as they are, or to be easy or comfortable.

And, finally – Jesus says these things ‘in the Synagogue at Capernaum.’  Capernaum was a  little Galilean town – near Jesus’ home town, in fact.  So those who a few verses earlier had gone seeking Jesus – he is very near at hand.  It is easy to get carried away, and to look for Jesus in great works and grand ceremonies; to look for works of grace perhaps in lands far from us.  The Gospels, however, show a certain preference for the ordinary, the everyday, the humdrum – for this is where the transformative power of the sacramental Christ is most at work.  Where have we overlooked him, earnestly and openly at work amongst us, near us, in our own lives?  And are we willing to find him and be found by him amongst the ordinary things in our lives, where his insistent presence speaks openly to us, feeding us, yes, encouraging us, yes, but also challenging us to become the new creation – the joy and hope of the Gospel, visibly present in the way we live our lives?  Amen.

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