Proper 16: Standing Firm

From Holy Trinity Anglican Church in Utrecht

Proper 16/Trinity 13

Psalm 84
Ephesians 6:10-20
John 6:56-69

We have finally reached the end of John 6 as today is Sunday five of five! I have mentioned the various threads and themes that run through this rather dense chapter over the last few weeks. At each turn, Jesus is ratcheting up what is at stake for both that early crowd and for us now.

One golden thread running through this chapter are the words very truly and believe. They are used a lot! Jesus is telling us very truly to believe in Him. I spoke last week about how the way we trust in things and people can influence how we trust God.

We all have our own ways of coming to trust things and people. Maybe some of us trust the wrong things or don’t consider the things we trust until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Maybe some of us set the bar so high that we trust almost nothing and no one. Jesus wants us to trust him; for anything and everything, all the time and forever. He died for us; his death and resurrection is a very clear indicator of his willingness!

Those first listeners did not yet fully appreciate what Jesus meant about eating his flesh and drinking his blood. The response from many was, ‘this teaching is difficult; who can accept it?’ Jesus has challenged his listeners on everything from their extensive rules on food preparation and eating to what happens (or doesn’t happen) when they die. Jesus has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet. It is time to make a decision and make it now!

Jesus was giving them and still gives us a choice. He asks, ‘do you also wish to go away?’ To follow Jesus or not is a choice; the ultimate one. Christianity is based on making that choice; being a Christian is not an automatic event, it does not just happen.

At some point in this life we all have to make a choice to follow Jesus or not. The people Jesus puts this question to in John’s Gospel are not newbie followers.
These are people who have heard the teaching, seen the miracles, followed him around, maybe some were healed, they were certainly all loved by Jesus.

I have had some interesting conversations recently about the saving work of God and ‘what about those people who never hear about Jesus’ or people of other faiths. I do not worry about them as much as I do about those people who hear the teaching, have been to church, know something about God and choose not to believe.

I think of some of my cousins, my friends, people I have worked with in the past. The only people who cannot or will not be saved are the ones who put themselves beyond the reach of God. God does not put people beyond his reach – people put themselves there.

It is sometimes an hourly, daily, moment by moment decision to choose God and live fully as the people we were made to be. It is hard work. You might notice that Jesus does not make it easier! He doesn’t make excuses or argue back when his followers take offense and claim it is too hard. He is not offering a lighter version.

Debie Thomas, ‘What does it mean to choose God? According to Jesus, it means eating his very essence, taking the incarnation so deeply into our own bodies and souls that we exude the favour of Christ to the world. It means doing what Jesus did and living as Jesus lived. It means turning the other cheek. It means loving our enemies. It means walking the extra mile. It means losing our lives in order to gain them. It means trusting that the first will be last and the last first. It means seeking God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness. It means denying ourselves. It means the cross.’

I think that what is amazing is that Jesus had any followers left! Maybe the real miracle of the bread and fish story is not that the multitudes were fed but a handful of those stuck around when he finished teaching. By asking them, ‘do you also wish to go away?’, those who are left are free to walk away.

It is an uncomfortable question. I imagine Jesus asking it with sadness and compassion. He knows that some will walk away. He knows what is asking them. He wants them to know that his love is a freeing love. I find this an uncomfortable question because sometimes I want to say yes.

Yes I do want to go away. I want to quit, I want to be more comfortable, pick an easier, less demanding, less costly version of the Gospel. However, I know that there is no lighter version. It just does not exist.

In the final verses of Ephesians 6, Paul is telling his readers to get ready for the battle. War was a frequent reality then so this language would not have been strange or off-putting. Paul is putting the struggles of small Christian communities as a cosmic battle against supernatural evil. The people are to stand firm and not run away. They have been given the equipment they need.

We too need to stand firm, ready and rooted, if we are to choose Jesus, choose Christianity. Not only stand firm, but use the equipment we have been given properly.

It is sort of like PPE, great to have but only gives protection if used correctly. It means understanding the truth of the Gospel, being ready to proclaim it, being faithful when the arrows come, and knowing the word of God.

We also need to know, like Peter, that Jesus has the words of eternal life. Who else is there to go to? Nothing and no one will ever satisfy us like Jesus does.
We are called to make that choice over and over again. When we come together to celebrate Communion, this is what we are doing. Coming back, choosing again the one with the words of eternal life. Feeding on Jesus is our only hope. Amen.

Proper 15: Believing in the Bread

Proper 15/Trinity 12

1 Kings 2:10-12; 3:3-14
Psalm 111
Ephesians 5:15-20
John 6:51-58

This is Sunday four of five in John 6! One of the golden threads running through this chapter are the words very truly and believe. They are used a lot! Jesus is telling us – very truly to believe in Him.

How many of you this morning – before you sat down in a pew asked, ‘can I trust this pew not to collapse under my body weight?’ Or when you went to turn on the bathroom tap – wondered if you could trust the water that was coming out of it?

I am not sure how you go to come to believe in people or things – let alone God. What is your process? I am naturally and rather naively a trusting person. I tend to trust people from the start – it doesn’t take much to win my trust – I will take what I see at face value.

I trust the water that comes out of the tap will be perfectly fine to drink; I did think about the engineering and craftsmanship of the pews and trusted in them – but only asked myself this because I knew that I would be asking you!

We all have our own ways of coming to trust things and people. Maybe some of us trust the wrong things or don’t consider the things we trust until they prove themselves to be untrustworthy. Maybe some of us set the bar so high that we trust almost nothing and no one.

The theme for this morning is to look at the implications of putting our trust in Jesus, the bread of life. I have just had us think about how we trust in people and things. It is likely that these processes can and will influence how we trust Jesus.

If you are a trust-first-ask-questions-later-type like me, you might find it easy to trust Jesus. If you are a slow-truster, what proof do you need to be satisfied that Jesus is trustworthy?

Jesus wants us to trust him; for anything and everything, all the time and forever and He is willing to do anything for us to do that.

There could be a lot of ways to get us to do that however Jesus announces that people need to eat his flesh and drink his blood! Probably not the tactic I would have used!

Jesus intended to shock his audience. This reference to flesh and blood as food would have been particularly startling to the Jewish culture Jesus was speaking into.

Jesus’ eating habits were causing some comment at the time as well; he was seen as a glutton and drunkard who dined in bad company.

The Jewish people were particularly sensitive to food issues – a glance in the OT shows us the vast number of rituals and taboos surrounding food preparation and what could and couldn’t be eaten.

God has always used food to tell his story: the apple in the story of creation, manna and quail in the desert of Exodus, the Passover meal of lamb and unleavened bread. In the NT the stories of Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish is told 6 times in the 4 Gospels. Jesus eating the grain on the Sabbath. The Last Supper is well – about supper. All these stories have food at the heart of them.

Jesus is saying that he is the bread of life, his body and blood are the true food that we all need.

What then are the implications for feeding on the body and blood of Jesus?

The Ephesians reading gives us 3 ways that trusting in and feeding on Jesus will benefit our lives.

Firstly: Wisdom. This is a whole other sermon on its own. It is different from knowledge, which is facts and figures, the things we get from education. Wisdom is deeper than that; it is a knowing that comes from experience and circumstance, wisdom is common sense that isn’t so common.

Ephesians tells us that we are to live not as unwise but as wise people (v15) and this means being careful in how we live. I don’t know about you – but I have never prayed a pray to the effect ‘Dear Lord, I would like to do more stupid things. Please help me do this. Amen.’

You don’t need to be smart to ask for wisdom. We all face situations where we need more wisdom than what we currently have to make the right or best decision. Pray for it!

Secondly, by trusting Jesus we can better understand God’s will for our lives (Eph v. 17). I don’t think that we will fully understand what we are doing on earth apart from God’s plans and purposes.

If we want to know what we are supposed to do then we need to be close to Jesus, feeding and following him. Notice the second plea to avoid foolishness. ‘So do not be foolish, v 17 starts, but understand what the will of the Lord is.

To avoid foolishness and understand God’s will for our lives – we need wisdom. Wisdom comes from trust. Trust comes from feeding on the body and blood of Jesus.

How are you doing on working out God’s will? Not always easy but try to see it as a journey. Maybe a slow one at times but it is not a race. But know that God loves you and has a will for your life. He is not hiding it or keeping it from you – but it is something that needs to be worked out.

Thirdly – trusting in Jesus helps us in being thankful and filled with the Spirit. Ephesians v 20 ‘always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Always and everything.

I led a Bible study in my last parish that included a ‘thankfulness exercise’ where we divided our current age by 4. Then in each quarter of our lives, we had to write down the things/events/people that we were thankful for. It was quite an enlightening exercise.
I had much more to be thankful for as I thought through each of my quarters. This might be helpful if you find yourself struggling to be thankful to God.

Sometimes it is hard to be thankful when we are facing difficulties and there doesn’t seem to be much to say thanks for. But don’t forget the small things! Being thankful for the small things can only help us to be thankful for the big things. It also creates consistency in us.

Don’t let the troubles in the present wipe your memory of the good things in the past. God is faithful and has done things we should all be thankful for – regardless of our current situation. He can be trusted.

If we live in the Spirit, we will never be over or under fed. The body and blood of Jesus will always satisfy every need we can ever have. Feeding on Jesus is our only hope. What the world offers us is not real food as it will not satisfy – however much we eat.

When we give thanks to God we are building trust in Him that he will provide all that we need. In the big and the small stuff. We generally thank people if we have enjoyed a meal together – Jesus has given us the ultimate meal – one that we will all share very shortly. We come together as His family to share in the meal so let us be trusting, wise, understanding and thankful.

Proper 14: I Am the Living Bread

More of John 6 as Jesus ramps up what he means about being the bread of life.

Proper 14/Trinity 11

1 Kings 19:4-8
John 6:35, 41-51

Every three years the lectionary takes us on a winding journey through John 6. If you are looking for some summer reading on these rainy days, I highly recommend a read through it!

John 6 begins with the feeding of the 5000 on a mountainside in Galilee. This crowd had been witness to the miracles Jesus had been performing. They began to follow him and the disciples around with curiosity and the hope of another free lunch after Jesus met the physical hunger of the crowd in the multiplication of the loaves and fishes.

Next, Jesus walks on the water in the middle of the night to stop the storm on the lake to the amazement of the disciples. The next day, the hungry crowd is back for more fish sarnies but none are on the menu.

Jesus tells them not to work that food that will perish but the food that endures for eternal life. The heart-breaking and beautiful proclamation of ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whosoever believes in me will never be thirsty’ follows. This is where we start this morning.

At each turn throughout John 6, Jesus is ratcheting up what is at stake. He is making it clear he is not just a miracle sandwich-maker or a really knowledgeable history teacher as he corrects the beliefs of Jewish people listening to and arguing with him. Jesus is reminding them that what was given to their ancestors came from God; Moses was the means of delivery.

This would have been difficult for the Jews to hear. Their beliefs were firmly held, rules were rules and needed to be followed. Jesus is trying, I think, to expand their thinking and believing about God. Some of the crowd are willfully determined not to understand; using Jesus’ family (son of a poor carpenter) and who does he think he is?!

Jane Williams writes, ‘Patiently, Jesus tries to explain, as he does so often in John’s Gospel, that he is not making claims for himself, but simply building on what they already should know about God. God has been working, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, from our creation, to make our hearts warm to the Son incarnate, just as God has been working from our creation, to bring us to share in his life. What Jesus is offering is something that we should instinctively recognize, which is the source of our true life.’

Like all offers from God, we are free to turn it down or not recognize it at all. We can choose dust and ashes over the bread of life. Jesus knows this. We choose death rather than the life we were made for. Jesus chooses death too. He chooses to be in our death. He chooses to be the bread of life who dies so that we may live.

Elijah, the ‘he’ who went on a journey in the 1 Kings reading, is at the point of choosing death. He has had enough! All of his fellow prophets have been brutally killed, he has been followed and death is looming large for him. He is tired, hungry and death is the only option as far as he can see. I am sure many of us can relate to the effects of hungry and tiredness on our moods and attitudes. The official term is ‘hangry’. It means to become bad-tempered or irritable because of hunger. Elijah is hangry.

During his nap under the broom tree, he is tended to by the angels and provided with cake and water on two occasions. He was provided with enough bread from heaven to keep him going for forty days and forty nights.
We all need to be fed. Physically of course. But also spiritually. This is what we are doing in Communion. In the breaking of the bread we are receiving our bread for the next stage in the journey. We are choosing the bread of life over the dust and ashes. Jesus is the bread of life. May we choose this bread always.

Proper 13: How Fresh is Your Bread?

Jesus is the bread of life. If this is the case – why do we insist on eating mouldy, stale bread. Or why do we always eat the same bread? Jesus has so much more on offer for us!

From Malcolm Guite’s WordPress

Fingest Group Service
August 1st 2021

Exodus 16:2-4; 9-15
John 6:24-35

The next time you are in a grocery store I would suggest you take a slow walk down the bread aisle. Marvel at the sheer variety of bread that is available. The shapes, sizes, thin, medium or thick cut, white, whole wheat, rye, seeds, nuts, grains, no gluten, low sugar. Danish, French, Italian.

  • Bread is big business! It has been eaten for thousands of years and it remains a staple of most diets around the world. According to the Flour Advisory Board Approximately 12 million loaves are bought everyday in the UK. Spending 3.6 billion on bakery items. 
  • 99% of households buy bread
  • 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 even though about 200 different types of bread are made here

Bread is relatively easy to get, it is generally good for us with lots of vitamins and minerals, dietary fibre.  It provides energy, it is affordable for most people to buy and there is a huge selection.

I assume that you are all thinking about bread; if I asked each of you about the bread you are thinking about, we would get many different answers.

So what do we think about when Jesus says: ‘I am the bread of life’?

The crowd that was following Jesus that day had different ideas about who Jesus was. This was mostly the crowd of 5000 that were fed the day before with the miraculous multiplication of the loaves and fishes. They are back today for more!

Jesus knows that this is the reason they are back to see him. Although it appears that bread and fish are not on the menu today. To be fair it is hard to see clearly when we are hungry. The crowd clearly saw the sign yesterday; the loaves and fishes multiplied. Yet they missed what this signified; the Kingdom of God, Jesus the bread of life. This is what Jesus offered them that day and still to us every day.

Jesus then tells the crowd ‘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 bread we buy in the shop will spoil eventually. Everything in this life; bread, people, situations and circumstances will perish one day too.

Although Covid has changed the priorities and given a new perspective on life and death for many people; many of us still work for the food that perishes. We then wonder why life doesn’t get better or God doesn’t do what it is we want him to do too. 

This was the case of the God’s people in Exodus. They had been led out of their slavery in Egypt by Moses. They now find themselves in the wilderness and life is hard. They are complaining about the lack of food, claiming that they sat around in Egypt eating meat by the pot full and endless bread. No mention of the hardship and brutality they lived under. Memories can be short sometimes! 

God, in his great mercy and proving that He did not lead them into the wilderness to starve to death, started sending the quail and manna from heaven each morning and evening. Enough food for the day. Just that day. 

The Israelites would collect it and eat it but they would be hungry again. The same thing would happen the next day…and the next. God fed them so they would know that he is the Lord their God. 

Jesus is saying the same thing to the crowd who returned again for more bread. Throughout chapter 6, Jesus is pushing those listening and being fed. Day 1 was about physical feeding, Day 2 is about spiritual feeding. 

Most of us here can satisfy our physical hunger quite easily. Abundance of bread in the shops, money in hand. Yet many of us are spiritually hungry;  this is a hunger much harder to satisfy. We can’t do it ourselves, there is no shop selling ‘spiritual food’ for us to buy that will fill us up. 

Some people are eating yesterday’s mouldy, stale bread. It’s green and fuzzy and gross. This bread has been stored up and saved. Maybe they have been eating it for so long that they do not know any difference. This is what is in front of them and maybe they never think to look for anything else. This is not the bread that Jesus is offering. Maybe it never occurs to them that fresh bread is available? Jesus offers us fresh, living bread every day. 

Maybe others are only eating white bread. Only ever eat white bread. White bread is boring. 76% of all the bread sold in the UK is white yet 200 other kinds are made. The white bread eaters like what they like but they are missing out. God has so much more on offer for us, if only we would wake up. Work for the things that really matter. It takes courage to do this but Jesus promises that those who come to him will never be hungry or thirsty. 

Where do we find the real, the true bread? 

With thanks to a close friend and brilliant Priest: ‘At the Last Supper the night before he died, he held bread in his hands and said to his friends, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me” (1 Corinthians 11:24). We are going to hear these words shortly at the consecration. Ever since then Christians have been celebrating the breaking of the bread. We come together to share a meal and be fed with the bread and wine that is Jesus. 

This is indeed the meaning of the Eucharist: Jesus Christ is here on earth again in the Eucharist, just as he was two thousand years ago. He is not just present in our memory. He is not just spiritually present. He is here on earth, body and blood, soul and divinity.’

Our hunger will only be satisfied by Jesus in the Eucharist. I think we all know this – but good to be reminded. We bring to him what little we have; he will bless it and multiply it. It will be more than enough! We can trade the mouldy bread for fresh, the white bread for a variety. 

When we are physically full we function better; we just do. It is why schools have breakfast clubs for kids.  We know that with a good breakfast, kids do better in lessons. It is the same for us, when we have had our bread from heaven. We do better – we can be humble, gentle, patient, more loving, more unified. The bread that will never leave us hungry or thirty. The bread that offers us eternal life.