Harvest Sunday: Jesus the Bread of Life


Deuteronomy 26:1-11
John 6:25-35

Happy Harvest Sunday!

There is no more fooling ourselves – the season is changing! Anyone else got the heating on? Have you noticed more yellow, red and orange leaves than you might want to? The children are back at school and hopefully settled in. I think that there is more change in the autumn season than at New Year. This is the time of year when most changes happen; new things/activities start. The party might be better when the calendar changes, but the change is less. Now is the time to make resolutions!

It may feel difficult to ‘celebrate’ given these recent events but also after the summer we have had. The heat waves and lack of rain that damaged our crops locally, nationally and internationally. The anticipated lack of food in many parts of the world from the war in Ukraine and floods in Pakistan. The impact of this can feel very close to home and worlds away. Harvest this year feels somehow more poignant; there is a maybe a deeper need to be thankful for what we have.

We remember the farmers at this time of harvest and think about where our food comes from. We remember those who do not have as much as we do. We support both One Can Trust and Community Matters with donations of needed items or financially.

Remembrance, thanksgiving and action are very much part of harvest; they are also very much part of any season of change. There is a theme of change running through the readings this morning.

In the final section of Deuteronomy, Moses is preparing the Israelites for their move into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey by giving them some guidelines for life there. The Israelites were to remember what God had done for them when he freed them from Egypt. In return they were to give some of the first fruits of the ground, the harvest and give them back to God. They were his anyway!

Change was coming for Israel; the big move was ahead of them. They were not to forget about God. It’s so easy to do that isn’t it? When a lot of change comes all at once, we can forget that God doesn’t change and is always with us. God brought them out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm.
When we are faced with change, we should be thankful, remember who knows what that change will bring. Even if we can’t see it or understand it – God does.

We know that the Gospel changes things! When people know the Good News of Jesus, lives change, families change and most importantly eternities are changed. The Gospel will bring change.

We are transplanted this week out of Luke and back into John; right into the middle of an interesting chapter too. John 6 starts with the feeding of the 5000 by the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fish brought by a small boy. Later that same day Jesus walked on the water and calmed the wind.

Our reading this morning happened the next day; Jesus and the disciples are being stalked by the crowds who want more from them. The crowd that was following Jesus that day had different ideas about who Jesus was. This was likely the crowd of 5000 that were fed the day before with loaves and fishes. They are back today for more. Jesus knows why they are following him, and he calls them out, ‘Hey guys – you are not following me because of the signs but because your bellies were filled yesterday!’ They clearly saw the sign; the loaves & fishes multiplied but they missed what it signified. The Kingdom of God, Jesus the bread of life.

Jesus came to change people’s minds. He is starting by trying to change the crowd’s understanding of who He is and what He does. Jesus came to give us a different perspective, to see beyond what is right in front of us. Jesus then tells them ‘do not work for the food that spoils, perishes – but the food that lasts for eternal life – which the Son of Man will give you.’

The crowd does not quite get it again. They ask Jesus what they have to do: what work, activity does God require in exchange for more bread? Tell us and we will do it. Jesus’ answer startles them, and it should startle us a bit too or at least remind us. ‘This is the work of God – that you believe in him whom he has sent.’

The crowd, sticking to its original demand, still wants another sign! They are bringing up the past, their ancestors who ate the manna in the wilderness. Jesus corrects their history; it wasn’t Moses who gave them the bread; it was God. They want physical feeding and Jesus is offering them spiritual food, the bread of heaven that gives life to the world – that is Jesus himself. This is better bread!

Jesus is saying that he is the bread of life. Those that come to him will never be hungry and never be thirsty. What do we think about when Jesus says, ‘I am the bread of life’?

Is Jesus the bread of our life?

The crowd still think they will be physically fed. This is not what Jesus means. Of course, they needed physical food as we all do. I think what Jesus is talking about here is our priorities. Do we need to be eating different bread? We can be distracted by many different types of bread.

The next time you are in a grocery store, take a slow walk down the bread aisle as a metaphorical exercise. Marvel at the sheer variety of bread that is available; shapes, sizes, thin, medium or thick cut, white, whole wheat, rye, seeds, nuts, grains. Danish, French, Italian. It was really quite overwhelming!

I also found some fun bread facts:

*According to the Flour Advisory Board Approximately 12 million loaves are bought everyday in the UK.
*99% of households buy bread.
*Men eat more bread than women.
*44% of men eat bread twice a day – only 25% of women do.
*White bread accounts for 76% of all bread sold in the UK.
*About 200 different types of bread are made here
*Sandwiches account for about 50% of bread consumption
*People in the UK spend about £3.6 billion pounds/year on bakery items, mostly bread

However, there is really only one bread that we need. Jesus the bread of life. He will take away the core emptiness that we all have. We will need to feed on him, be dependent on Him for everything we need. We need to go to Him daily, hourly – sometimes minute by minute. If we harvest from Him by learning from him, receiving from him, hearing and seeing Him. Taking up what is offered to us we will not be hungry.

How is the harvest looking today? Are we harvesting the right things? Eating the right bread or is it mouldy? Sometimes we can be harvesting in the wrong fields! Collecting rotten produce? Maybe we are trying to harvest in a field that is barren?

Are we celebrating a harvest that does not last? Working for bread that cannot and will not satisfy? As we celebrate harvest today it is right to give thanks for the material goods that we have; for food, clothes, homes, beds, clean water, gas, electricity and the means to pay for it all.

In this season of change, there is much to be thankful for. Even if you can’t see it or understand it. Let Jesus guide you in the changes of this life. He is the real bread, feed on him. If you want the real harvest then let Jesus be the bread of your life.

Trinity 15: Life That is Really Life

September 25, 2022 – St Mary’s Turville & Hambleden

1 Timothy 6:6-19
Luke 16:19-31

It is probably something of an underestimation to comment that the impact of these past 2 weeks have brought up so much emotion; especially bereavement and grief for many people. This is on top of the normal ‘everyday’ grief that many people carry around. I hope that it was comforting to watch the State Funeral at Westminster and Committal Service in Windsor. I was reminded that many of the words used for The Queen are used across the Church of England day in day, week by week in funeral services all over the country. There has been a spate of deaths in the parishes recently too.

Both of the readings this morning speak of death among other important topics. Paul’s letter to Timothy begins with the stark reminder that we brought nothing into the world so that we can take nothing out. Paul then goes on to give instruction on how to live out the rest of our lives. We are urged to take hold of “the life that is really life’; beyond all the treasures and trappings of this life.

Luke’s Gospel reading does not make for the most comfortable reading in the best of times; let alone in a period of national mourning. We see in this reading there is a separation after death and not everyone ends up in the same place.
In this section of Luke there is an assortment of rather pointed parables designed to teach about stewardship of money, time and talents; the importance of forgiveness and faith, and the primacy of prayer in a disciple’s life. Time is short with Jesus; he knows this although the disciples don’t.

One of the examples is a rich man who held what seemed to be a godless view of wealth and righteousness. He has died and is being tormented in Hades. Hades in basic biblical terms is a subterranean underworld where souls of the dead went after death. Jesus is explaining that there is a chasm, a separation at the time of death between the wicked and the righteous dead.

Paul, in his letter to Timothy, warns that those who want to be rich will fall into temptation and will be trapped by senseless and harmful desires that ultimately plunge people into ruin and destruction. This is what appears to have happened here. The actor and comedian Jim Carrey said, “I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer”.

Each of these readings, letter and parable, at their roots are about attitudes. Jesus was trying to teach that material possessions are a trust, on loan from God. They are to be used responsibly for the good of everyone. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day held the view of wealth as God’s blessing and poverty as God’s judgement. Maybe we feel this way too sometimes when we look at the culture and world around us.

How is our attitude to the Lazarus’ of our day? They are out there and not so far away.
-What goes through our heads:
-Is it their own fault?
-They have chosen to live like…?
-There are agencies to help?
-They should go and get a job?
-If I give money they will only spend it on drink or drugs?

It is clear that the rich man had ample opportunity to ‘do good’ to Lazarus as he sat in his front garden day in and day out. But he did not. The rich man comes to the end of his life and finds himself in a place of eternal punishment. Not because he did not help Lazarus but because he was lacking a relationship with God. This man’s love of money was the root of all kinds of evil. This is Paul again. The evil was selfishness.

At some point during the rich man’s torment he is able to lift his head and he sees Lazarus in a position of honour at Abraham’s side. A place that the rich man was no doubt used to occupying during his earthly life. What I am really interested in are the requests that the rich man makes of Abraham and the responses he is given. His first request shows that old habits die hard as he asks something for himself. Given his circumstances I don’t think that this is at all unreasonable!

We get a glimpse here of what it is to be judged by our own standards. The rich man was so shielded by his riches to the point where he could ignore Lazarus at the gate. He would have had servants to do the errands, he probably travelled in a carriage or on a horse, so he never noticed him. The rich man took no notice of Lazarus’ physical needs and now no notice is being taken of his.

The man’s second request shows greater awareness for others; as he is concerned for the eternal wellbeing of his five brothers. In Jesus’ time, tales of reversal of fortune in the next life were common. Jesus is not doing anything new here. However, in these tales, when someone asks to send a message back to people who are still alive on earth, permission is granted.

Jesus does not allow for that in this parable. This says something about the nature of death; it fixes our destiny and suggests there is no further opportunity for repentance. The response from Abraham to this second request is that ‘the brothers have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ The rich man knows that his brothers won’t listen to Moses and the prophets as they need a little more excitement or wow factor. Jesus suggests here that humanity is so sinful that it is unlikely even to listen to someone who returns from the dead in this manner.

What were the take home lessons then and now? There is an age to come and our attitudes and actions from this life will catch up with us. At the point of death there is no longer an opportunity to repent or make amends.

This leaves us in the present age! We must take seriously what Paul wrote to Timothy in the closing chapter of the letter: ‘There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called. Do good, be rich in good works, generous, ready to share, storing up the treasure of a good foundation for the future. Take hold of life that is really life. ‘

What is life that is really life for us? We know that this life ends in death. The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell opened his sermon with the “For many of us in the United Kingdom, there were two people whose deaths we could never imagine. Our own and the Queen’s.” I suspect that many of us do not want to contemplate our own deaths. The alternative is to take hold of life, that is really life. Show generosity and love. Pursue righteousness, godliness and faith with endurance and gentleness. Not because it will save us from the torment of Hades but because God first loved us. Ultimately there is no fear in death when we place our trust in God.

Commemoration Service for the life of HM Queen Elizabeth II

St Mary’s Hambleden
September 11, 2022

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33
Psalm 121
1 Corinthians 4:16-5:4
John 6:35-40

We come together today to recognise that this is a time of great change and historical significance in our country and around the world. The news has constant commentary. Many people carry grief which events like this bring to the fore. There is fresh grief as we mourn the death of a beloved and faithful Queen. There is joy at the proclamation and accession of our new King.

Where do we go with this? It can be difficult to find time to reflect on all that has happened in only a few days. Not many people seem to know the rules of modern day mourning (if there are any); we are not sure about what is appropriate to do or not do.

A priest posted on a Facebook group to which we belong, about popping into the village bank on Friday afternoon. A man confronted him and shouted, ‘why aren’t you in the church?! The Queen has died!’ The priest engaged in a conversation with the man about the events of the past day. It turns out the man was also upset that the village hall had cancelled bingo that evening.

My prayer is that this morning we can come together to lament the sadness of her death and remember with gratitude all that she was to so many. Also start to get our balance back! The readings were suggested by the Church of England for today. Each of them have the common threads of: time, being lost, life changing and God’s faithfulness.

Time Moves On

It is still less than 72 hours since The Queen’s death was announced. Really it is. Thinking back to Thursday feels like years ago. Everything seems to be happening so fast; keeping in mind that we are mostly spectators to the events going on in Scotland and London. It is difficult to fathom what is happening in the eye of the storm and how those in the inner circle are actually feeling. Yet the plans for this time and event have been in the works for years, if not decades.

Time moves on and so do we. It feels like it is moving fast but there are no more minutes or hours in a day then there was on Wednesday. Lamentations, Psalm 121, and 2nd Corinthians each speak of time changing. God’s mercies are new every morning. God is watching over us day and night, Our inner nature is being renewed day by day.

When someone we love dies it is normal to want the world and everything to stop. To sit still for just a moment. I am not convinced that time heals all wounds. Healing often requires rest and sitting still. This is not what time does! Time waits for no man and no Queen. Even in the deepest grief, God is watching over us and we are changing. Go slowly if you need to but keep moving.

Even if we feel lost, God is not

Sometimes we do move in the wrong direction and can get lost; physically, spiritually, emotionally. Despite all the protocol, instructions and the immaculate planning of Operation London Bridge we still feel adrift in all of this. Again, very easy to do in the midst of grief and uncertainty. Many people have been surprised at the emotion that has surfaced in the last three days.

The pilgrim in Psalm 121 is having a hard time; he is far from home. Likely travelling to Jerusalem for a major feast. This should be a time of celebration with family and friends. Instead he has found himself in the physical and metaphorical wilderness. He has not given up though. He does some very sensible things: he stops, he looks up and rediscovers that his help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. Chin up! It takes all of two verses for this realisation. The pilgrim then spends the next six verses reassuring his fellow pilgrims that God is with them too! He changes from my to your.

In 2000, The Queen decided to speak more about her personal faith in her Christmas Messages and she has ever since. That year she said, “For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life”.

I am bold enough to say that this is the greatest gift that she left us. This is what likely underpinned her life and gave her the strength, grace and fortitude to do all that she did. So when the changes and chances of her life came, she was on solid ground.

Life changes but God’s love is steadfast

Change has come quickly in line with protocols and in some ways it feels cold-hearted. Not only here but in the colonies as well. My sister, a lawyer in Calgary, told me of her utter shock at turning up at the Court of King’s Bench on Friday morning! Wait – what?! Never have pronouns changed so rapidly. Do you remember the last time you sang God Save the Queen? I am glad that I did not know it would be the last time but I am now saddened that we won’t.

Her Majesty was our rock, she has been described by multitudes of people as a constant in their lives. Her consistency runs through the multitude of interviews like a golden thread. It is true that she was the only monarch that many people have ever known.

Her image has been on millions if not billions of coins, bank notes and stamps; her portraits hung in government buildings the world over. She had the wonderful gift of making people feel seen and heard. She was there when we needed her. At home with us on Christmas Day, at the races, on the balcony, on the telly during Covid when we needed her non-anxious presence and messages of peace. She loved us and we love her.

However, she was a rock that was temporary. As we all are. In the words of The Committal, ‘For he knows of what we are made; he remembers that we are but dust. Our days are like the grass; we flourish like the flowers of the field…’ We want people to last though; at least longer than us. Looking in the mirror every morning, this earthly tent, is not the material of eternity.

Paul is talking about our home in heaven that is permanent; not a flimsy, fleshy tent that we walk around in now. Do not lose heart, Paul says at the beginning of 2 Corinthians, even though it is all changing, we are being renewed day by day. Better things are ahead, eternity in heaven. This takes some imagination but much better than holding the notion that there is nothing beyond this life.

God is Faithful in all things

How do we know that there is more beyond this life? God is faithful in all things. Lamentation speaks of the steadfast love of the Lord never ceasing, his mercies are new every morning. There is a quality to this love, it is not fleeting or fickle. John’s Gospel speaks of the long-term will of God that all should be raised up on the last day. God is faithful. When we stand on and in the faithfulness of God, we can love fully and be fully loved.

We are overwhelmed with commentary from the news channels and social media. Many pundits are getting their day! I am not sure if that makes it better or worse? It is at least distracting. However much we watch it, it will not sustain us ultimately. Only Jesus can do that; I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

Much of the commentary is about her virtue and seemingly endless capability in the role of monarch, the influence of her parents and sister, and her marriage to Prince Phillip. All very good and great things. Ultimately though it was her faith that sustained her. She was faithful to us because God was faithful to her and she was faithful to God.

I am going to end with some borrowed words from my friend and former tutor, the Revd Dr Michael LLoyd…

Her whole life was characterised by unfussy, unflashy, unfailing faithfulness. Her whole life pointed in the same direction, and therefore had integrity and impact. It also made her a reassuring symbol of reliability and dependability. Her Majesty prayed this prayer as she prepared for her Coronation:

Into thy hands, O Lord, we commend ourselves. Be with us in our going out and our coming in. Strengthen us for the work that thou has given us to do. Defend us with thy heavenly grace, that we may continue thine for ever and daily increase in thy Holy Spirit more and more, until we come to thy everlasting Kingdom; though Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

She has now come to the Kingdom. We give thanks for her, we mourn with the Royal Family in their grief, and we pray for our new King, that he, too, may have God’s help in all that lies ahead.

God Saved the Queen.
God Save the King.
God Bless You.

Trinity 10: The Rules According to Jesus

Barbara Schwarz, OP. Dominican Sisters of Amityville

Trinity 10/Proper 16

Isaiah 58:9-14
Hebrews 12:18-29
Luke 13:10-17

Why do you come to church?
What answer would you give to that question if asked by someone who is not a Christian?
Maybe this is a difficult question to answer.

I was asked this question many years ago by a friend and I struggled to come up with an answer. I was very involved in the church I was going to; I was feeling like a ‘good’ Christian. Yet I did not have a clear answer on why I went to church. It didn’t help that she prefaced her question with the wry observation that ‘I didn’t seem the church-going type.’ The answer to be revealed later!

This is something to give thought to in light of the Gospel reading this morning as it takes place in a synagogue on the Sabbath. The Christian equivalent of church on a Sunday morning! We have three main characters: Jesus, the synagogue leader and the crippled woman. All in church on a Sunday morning. This is also the third story in Luke’s Gospel featuring Jesus healing someone in a synagogue on the Sabbath and causing problems with the leaders.

Firstly we need to understand the rules. The preface in the weekly email yesterday asked if you were a rule breaker or a rule keeper. The Jewish faith had very strict rules about the Sabbath going all the way back to Genesis when ‘God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.’

Sabbath rest was a solemn obligation, to set aside the day for rest from work. Its importance is shown as this is one of the Ten Commandments, so serious that to break it was considered a capital offence. There is, however, very little explanation about what is meant by ‘no work’ on the Sabbath. The only specific things in the OT were that fires could not be lit, sticks for the fire could not be gathered and the Israelites could not collect any manna. Sabbath was meant to mark and celebrate the relationship with God but how this worked out in practice was fairly open.

By the time of Jesus, many centuries later, the Sabbath was still very important although many rules had been made up over time. Different groups had different rules about what could and could not be done. How far you could travel, soldiers could not carry weapons, food had to be prepared the day before, no water could be fetched, no sex. It had also become customary to meet in the synagogue for corporate prayer, reading of Scripture and instruction. Church!

Jesus abided by the rules of both the Sabbath and his culture. He attended synagogue services and was allowed to teach there. But Jesus did not always behave himself in church! I am not sure what your reaction is to the people you feel do not behave themselves in church! We like our rules, our particular seats, hymns, people – the list goes on.

What has Jesus done? In this case – Jesus heals the woman who is bent over double in the synagogue and on the Sabbath.

Let’s look at the reactions of the other 2 main characters:

Synagogue leader: upset! Jesus is not behaving. He is breaking the rules. The leader’s idea of the synagogue does not involve God or people. Just rules.

The Isaiah reading reminds us that the point of the Sabbath is to change your daily focus. Jane Williams writes ‘without a day on which you remember what you are for, and who your God is, you can just get into the habit of thinking only of yourself and your own needs. Isaiah sees the sabbath as a day that turns you back to God and so away from yourself and towards others.’

The leader’s argument is that Jesus has broken the Sabbath by healing the woman bent double. This was not an emergency or life-threatening. He is a leader unconcerned for the needs of his congregation. Come back at a more convenient time; there are six other days in the week for this sort of thing.

Why did the synagogue leader go to the synagogue? Duty? Tradition? Maintain the rules?

The Woman. Why did she go to the synagogue that day? Was she a regular? She would have been a social outcast, on the margins. Did she have a family? Her condition was likely seen by others as a result of her sin. We are given the specifics of her condition; bent over double. No NHS. Was it painful? Who helped her? Did she have friends? Always find these people fascinating when you stop to consider their circumstances.

The rabbi and leader would not have had much to do with her as they did not associate with women. Maybe she had some expectations when she went to the synagogue? Something would happen – would she be healed? Made better? Well that Sabbath she was. She walked into the synagogue, not seen by the leaders, bent over double like every day for 18 years. But she walked out straightened up.

Jesus saw her. Jesus took the initiative and with a word and a touch she was healed. This is amazing stuff!

And the synagogue leader is upset.

Jesus has a word for him too!

It was hypocritical for the leader to deny the woman what he would have done for a donkey. The rules that the synagogue leader lived by demanded that compassion be shown to animals in distress including on the Sabbath. Jesus highlights that his priorities were wrong.

This Gospel story reminds us that we can get it wrong. We can miss the point of coming to church. If we make it more about rules and regulations than about the wholeness and abundant life in and with Christ. We become like the synagogue leader; protecting our religious systems as we like them and want them. Yet we are also like the woman with the bent back. Weighed down by the worries of the world and our own situations.

We all need Christ to straighten us up! To release us, unburden us.

So – why do you come to church?

What is our expectation level of Jesus?
Do we expect him to show up?
Do we leave room in our religion to let him in?
When I was unable to answer that question, another, cleverer friend came to my rescue. She said that she went to church to be challenged in her relationship with God.

That was the answer I was looking for and have hung on to.

We would all be (I hope) greatly challenged if Jesus walked through the door and performed some healing this morning. Wouldn’t you?

I go to church to be challenged in my relationship with God.

We need to be regularly straightened up about a few things. We need a challenge and this should come through the musical worship, the words, the readings, the prayers, the preaching (I hope I am doing that for you!). We can, of course, be challenged through our relationships with other people.

Church does not exist apart from God and other people. Sometimes our interpretation of the rules needs to be challenged. Let us pray we do not lose sight of that.

Trinity 9: Run the Race

Proper 15

Jeremiah 23:23-29
Hebrews 11:29-12:2
Luke 12:49-56

I have said a few times in my last few sermons that we are in a season of teaching as we hear again the parables and stories of Jesus’ life and ministry.
This was all well and good with me until I read this week’s readings. All this talk of fire, hammers, torture, unfulfilled promises, division, superficiality, uncertainty! It’s August, it’s supposed to be summertime and living is easy!

Fortunately I came across a story about the great composer Beethoven and a trick he used to sometimes play on polite salon audiences that weren’t really interested in serious music. Beethoven would perform one of his pieces on the piano, usually a slow movement which would be so gentle and beautiful that everyone would be lulled into thinking that the world was a soft, cosy place, where the audience would relax into semi-slumber and think beautiful thoughts.

Then, just as the final notes were dying away, Beethoven would bring his whole forearm down with a crash across the keyboard and laugh at the shock he gave to the assembled company. I think that we have something of the shock of the crash in the readings this morning.

“Many great heroes of the faith,” writes the author of Hebrews, died gruesome deaths, but “did not receive what was promised.” “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! I came to bring division!” Jesus cries as he makes his way towards Jerusalem and death.

Maybe we need a reminder in this summer season that a real Christian faith is not one that is soft or easy, without cost. Maybe a reminder that peace comes with a price and how easily we can misread the signs.

There are a few phrases that I want to highlight from the readings this week and what they might have to say to us:

Run with perseverance the race that is set before us

Hebrews chapter eleven is often called the “Faith Hall of Fame,” since it highlights the remarkable lives and achievements of those who lived “by faith” in the Old Testament. Indeed, the achievements of these faith-filled men and women are awe-inspiring.

During their lifetimes, they “administered justice,” “shut the mouths of lions,” “quenched raging fire,” “won strength out of weakness,” and “received their dead by resurrection.” How much more impressive can you get? Yet maybe they feel distant, the persecution they faced as unrealistic to us now and their actions are ancient history; not practical to today. The lions we face are likely to be metaphorical and the foreign armies are over there, somewhere.

There are other things on the list, administration of justice and obtaining promises. If you caught any news this week, maybe you saw 7 year old Tony Hudgell at Downing Street to receive his Shining Light award. Tony was abused by his birth parents, resulting in the amputation of both his legs as an infant. His adoptive parents have fought for Tony’s Law to increase the length of sentences on those who abuse children. They fought for justice and obtained promises with perseverance and love for Tony. Heroic.

What is the race set before us? Whatever it is – physical, social, psychological or spiritual, look to Jesus. The author and perfecter of our faith. We do not have to have a photo finish, Jesus will meet us where we are.

“Yet all these, though they were commended for their faith, did not receive what was promised.”

The “Hall of Fame” has a dark side to triumph and victory. Many of God’s faithful were tortured, flogged, mocked, and stoned to death. Many went about “destitute, persecuted, and tormented.”

Many spent their lives wandering in deserts and mountains, in caves and holes in the ground. And all of them — all of them – died without receiving what was promised to them.

What does this mean? Well, among other things, it means that God’s timing doesn’t always align with ours. It means that crises of absurdity, meaninglessness, pain, and horror are part and parcel of human existence, regardless of whether we profess faith in God or not.

It means that we Christians need to be clear and honest about the faith we profess. Yes, there is joy in the Christian life. Yes, there is beauty. Yes, there is the promise of love, wholeness, healing, and grace. But the life of faith is also hard and risky. The life of faith does not ever guarantee us health, wealth, prosperity, or safety. To suggest otherwise is to lie, and to make a mockery of the Gospel.

Do you think that I have come to bring peace to the earth? NO, I tell you, but rather division!’

The Gospel of Luke begins with the proclamation that Jesus will “guide our feet into the way of peace.” At Jesus’s birth, an angelic choir sings “Peace on earth!” On numerous occasions during his ministry, Jesus offers men and women words of peace: “Go in peace and sin no more.” “Peace I leave with you.” “My peace I give you.” “I have told you these things, so that in me you might have peace.”

Many of us, following Jesus’s example, “share the peace” with each other every Sunday morning: “The peace of the Lord be always with you.” “And also with you.” We assume — the vast majority of us, anyway — that ours is a religion of peace. Of peace-making, peace-loving, and peacekeeping.

It’s not Jesus’s desire or purpose to set fathers against sons or mothers against daughters. It’s certainly not his will that we stir up conflict for conflict’s sake or use his words to justify violence or war. Yet his words are a necessary reminder that the peace Jesus offers us is not the fake peace of denial, dishonesty, and harmful accommodation.

His is a kind of deep, life-changing peace that doesn’t hesitate to break in order to mend and cut in order to heal. Jesus will name realities we don’t want named.
He will expose the lies we tell ourselves out of cowardice, laziness, or stubbornness. He will disrupt all dynamics in our relationships with ourselves and with each other that keep us from wholeness and holiness.
This is not because Jesus wants us to suffer. It’s because he knows that real peace is worth fighting for.

In the gospel Jesus forced choices from just about everyone he met during his years of ministry. No one met him without feeling compelled to change. He consistently brought people to the point of crisis, tension, movement, or transformation. He consistently led people to decisions their families and communities didn’t understand. And he still does. When Jesus speaks of divisions in households, he is talking about the division that his message will bring. Families will split up over it, the OT prophets spoke about this happening too.

Jesus did come to bring peace and wants everyone to put their faith in him. The reminder is that this is not easy or to be undertaken lightly. We are surrounded by a cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on so we can run with perseverance. We have been set examples in the heroes of the faith and our modern heroes like the Hudgell family.

Like Beethoven’s arm coming down on the keyboard and shocking his polite audience, let’s let the words of the readings this morning grab our attention again.