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.
Proper 16/Trinity 13
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.
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.